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Palissot’s attempt to denounce literary enemies and “move” the parterre into agreeing with Counter-Enlightenment principles comes forth throughout the entire comedy. In fact, Palissot’s first criticism of the philosophes occurs during the initial scene of the play, which introduces the audience to Marton, a servant, and Damis, the young “hero” of the story, patriotic military officer, and chief critic of encyclopedic thought. Damis has just returned from what is probably a long tour of war duty and soon finds out that the woman he was destined to marry (Rosalie) is now set to wed Valère.48 As the discussion between Damis and Marton reveals, the philosophe is uninterested in respecting engagements between departed soldiers and their betrothed. Here, the playwright implies that philosophes are benefiting from the hard-work and duty of good
According to Marton, Cydalise wants to choose a philosophe—a social type that he distinguishes from the military ranks (“d’une autre étoffe”)—to be Rosalie’s groom.
Throughout the play, Palissot’s criticisms become more severe; the audience will later learn that the philosophes not only refuse to fight during wartime, but also view politics and patriotism as useless in general.
The criticism of philosophe disinterest in national affairs was already a major topos in Counter-Enlightenment rhetoric by 1760. The theme was vigorously employed Not only does Palissot’s first criticism of philosophe attitudes occur in very beginning of his play, but also his first reference to contemporary events in France. 1760 marked the middle of the Seven Years’ War (French and Indian War) and saw many French men leaving and returning from battle. Here, Palissot may be trying to establish a parallel between his hero and spectators of the play who had served in the war.
by the abbé Moreau and Fougeret de Monbron against Voltaire and Diderot during the Cacouacs campaign in 1757. Through this series of nasty pamphlets, CounterEnlightenment writers accused philosophes of cosmopolitanism, and more specifically, of an unpatriotic attraction to England.49 This is a first example of how Palissot recognizes a variety of different spectators in his dramaturgical construction. By raising the “patriotism” issue so early in the play, Palissot immediately evokes the Cacouacs campaign for members of the audience who followed the exciting pamphlet battles of
1757. At the same time, he charges the philosophes with crimes of unpatriotic sentiment—a claim that undoubtedly struck a visceral chord among any group of French spectators during wartime, and not just learned members of the audience who kept up to date on literary polemics.
Shocked at the possibility of losing his betrothed simply because he fulfilled a patriotic duty, Damis tries to reason with Marton, evoking the importance of law, and more specifically, the legal status of a marriage promise (“un hymen conclu”).
Unfortunately for Damis, the ideological atmosphere at the estate has changed since the hero’s departure, and Marton responds apologetically that, “Quelque temps, dans le cercle, on parla politique;/Enfin tout disparut sous la métaphysique” (1.1). At Cydalise’s estate, socially engaged behavior (and discussion) has been replaced by detached “métaphysique”—a change that jars with the young hero’s patriotism, and later, passion for Rosalie.
Later in the first scene, Palissot introduces the audience to Cydalise, Rosalie’s mother and chief decision-maker. Cydalise is also a “philosophe-in-training” under For more information on the Cacouacs campaign, see Ferret’s La Fureur de nuire, pp.
81-129; or, Russel Goulbourne’s Voltaire comic dramatist, p. 205.
Valère’s tutelage, and she has recently written her first book, which emerges over the next few scenes as a pitiful novel and nothing more than a grouping of paltry philosophical platitudes.50 But on a narrative level, we might be able to understand Cydalise’s novel as a sort of tabula rasa on which Palissot, through the citation of titles and authors, paints a unsightly picture of philosophe works such as Diderot’s Les Bijoux indiscrèts51 and Helvétius’s De l’Esprit. 52 Palissot uses “Cydalise’s novel” as a theatrical location to discuss philosophical modes of literary criticism, and over the course of the play, the audience realizes that when the characters begin speaking about the book, Palissot is about to cite philosophe works from the 1750s. For example, a discussion about Cydalise’s novel hides Palissot’s
criticism of philosophe hypocrisy in judging merit:
According to some contemporary critics, Palissot’s character Cydalise could be a nuanced dig at Madame de Graffigny. For more information on this possible link, see English Showalter’s article, “’Madame a fait un livre’: Madame de Graffigny, Palissot et Les Philosophes” (see works cited for complete bibliographic information). However, most contemporary scholars, as well as writers at the time of Les Philosophes’ first performances, agree that Palissot aims his attack more at the salonnière and friend of Diderot’s, Madame de Geoffrin, rather than at Madame de Graffigny—especially given the fact that Graffigny had died two years earlier, in 1758.
A libertine novel published anonymously by Denis Diderot in 1748, Les Bijoux indiscrèts allegorically depicted Louis XV under the guise of Mangogui du Congo.
Because of this book and other scandalous writings, Diderot was sentenced to prison for several months in 1749.
In De l’Esprit (1758), Helvétius, who rivaled Condillac as the quintessential philosopher of senses, argues that the self-interest of human beings to strive for what is pleasurable and avoid pain leads to correct judgment and the general amelioration of society.
Eux! Ils se moquent d’elle:
Ils ont tous conspiré de gâter sa cervelle;
Surtout votre rival. Comme il connaît son goût, Il ne se borne pas à l’applaudir en tout;
Il la fait admirer par messieurs ses semblables Tous charlatans adroits, et flatteurs agréables, Ravis de présider dans sa société. (1.1) Here, Palissot asserts that philosophes only praise literary works or philosophical ideals to attain personal goals. Valère understands perfectly well the difference between good and bad literature, as indicated by the fact that he and his friends “se moquent d’elle” and her philosophical ideas. But Valère chooses to lie to Cydalise and cover her in flattery in order to secure his position as Rosalie’s fiancé. This argument emerges as Palissot’s most nuanced critique of the philosophe program. Rather than merely contesting philosophe ideas, the playwright chooses instead to put into play polemically the constellatory bonds among members of the philosophe cohort as well as the way that their ideas are disseminated into society.53 Throughout the rest of the play, Palissot will emphasize how philosophe literary allegiances to one another are little more than ephemeral bonds that are subject to abrupt fissions and personal disagreements.54 In addition, Palissot harps on the fact that This criticism harks back to late 1750s pamphlets which portrayed philosophes as a tightly-knit, dangerous sect. For example, in Abraham Chaumeix’s 1758 pamphlet, the Préjugés légitimes contre l’Encyclopédie, the counter-enlightenment critic warns his reader about a group of “pernicious” charlatans who are trying to ruin traditional French values of family, religion, and royalty. For more information on Chaumeix’s pamphlets, see O. Ferret’s La Fureur de nuire, chapter II.1, pp. 92-96.
Palissot’s insistence on discordance inside the philosophe circle is possibly a reference to the 1758 strife between Rousseau and other Encyclopedistes over D’Alembert’s article “Genève.” According to Frank Kafker, D’Alembert’s controversial claim that Genevan pastors more closely resembled deists than 16th century Calvinists prompted several important contributors to quit the Encyclopédie project and eventually led to D’Alembert’s own resignation as editor of the volume in 1759 (107).
philosophes fail to look at a work with “disinterest” and merely boost mediocre literary pieces from inside of their circle. Instead of measuring works to verifiable aesthetic standards or against previous examples from French history or antiquity, philosophes favor their friends’ paintings, novels, and ideas—no matter how pompous, bland, or detrimental to society those works may be.
Palissot criticizes the enclosed circle of philosophe favor and their “gentlemen’s club” methodology of literary criticism. Shifting the debate from works to modes of production, Palissot goes beyond an attack on the Encylopédie, Les Bijoux indiscrèts or De l’Esprit, and argues against cultural practices of intellectual patronage and non-merit based methods for judging artistic value—thus attacking the entire philosophe literary product. With this example, Palissot seems to stage his personal disdain at the schools and academies under philosophe tutelage—a personal anger which may date back to his 1757 near-expulsion from the Nancy Académie or earlier. Palissot tips his hat here to the “grub” writers and lesser-known dramatists who may have been discarded by the philosophes as nothing more than “literary hacks,” and barred from entry into a number of regional academies that were increasingly controlled by philosophes during the middle of the eighteenth-century.
With this scene, Palissot foreshadows a possible literary hegemony that would become a reality later in the century. Palissot feared a domination by philosophes over the Academies, and saw first-hand in Lorraine what could happen when they achieved this influence. Writing about the Académie-Française during the 1770s, the famous socio-literary historian, Robert Darnton, attests that “It became a sort of clubhouse for them [the philosophes], an ideal forum for launching attacks against l’infâme, proclaiming the advent of reason, and co-opting new philosophes as fast as the old guard academicians would die off. This last function, virtually a monopoly of the philosophic salons, assured that only party men would make it to the top” (Darnton, “High Enlightenment” 89).55 However, in 1760, the war had yet to be won, and philosophes were still in a fierce battle for control of the Académie-Française and the various regional literary societies that dotted France. In March of that year, the selection of the Voltaire-hating Le Franc de Pompignan to replace Philippe-Louis Maupertuis at the Académie-Française highlights the precariousness of the philosophes’ plight at this time. An avid antiphilosophe and enemy of both Diderot and Voltaire, Pompignan’s election must have felt like a dagger in the side of philosophes who did not yet have their own fauteuils, such as Diderot, Marmontel, and Michel-Jean Sedaine. Over the next ten years, philosophes secured a majority at the Académie, but at the time of Palissot’s play, they were still in the midst of a vicious war against their rivals for writers’ stipends, titles, and prizes.
Philosophical Considerations: Taking On Helvétius, Diderot and the Encyclopédie During the first act, Palissot criticizes the philosophes’ motives for literary production as well as their literary and philosophical sources. For example, in scene 4, Cydalise is in need of inspiration for her novel and asks her servant for some reading
Other writers paralleled Palissot’s critique of philosophe exclusion of those who didn’t tow a party line. For instance, Gregory Brown paints an interesting picture of how this group came into fruition during the second-half of the eighteenth-century in “The Counter-Enlightenment and the Low Life of Literature in Pre-Revolutionary France” (1998).
Prenez mes clefs, allez renfermer mon Platon.
De son monde idéal j’ai la tête engourdie.
J’attendais à l’instant mon Encyclopédie ;
Ce livre ne doit plus quitter mon cabinet…(1.4) Palissot masks a nuanced dig of the philosophes’ belief in their own novelty behind a more overt criticism of the encyclopedic project. Palissot wants the audience to realize the ridiculousness of discarding Plato in order to adopt a completely new philosophical standpoint. Palissot criticizes the iconoclastic nature of encyclopedists and hints that their work is only modern in its publication date rather than in its ideas. The playwright slowly builds a case against the lead female character, showing that Cydalise’s idolatry of the philosophes has skewed her literary tastes toward lauding only the extreme contemporary. It is clear that here, Palissot, for the first of many times, associates Cydalise’s favor with his own disapproval.
In the second act, Palissot criticizes the philosophes from a more interdisciplinary position and continues to make precise attacks against specific philosophes and their works. During this part of the play, the “good” characters mount a counter-attack against the philosophes, and Palissot shows a three-pronged strategy against Valère, Dortidius, and their cohort. First, he uses Helvetius’ De l’Esprit as an example of philosophe self interest, emphasizing the vain disagreements inside their group. Then, he furthers his argument against the apolitical nature of some philosophes and increases the intensity of this criticism with denunciations of treason. Lastly, Palissot condemns the overt didacticism of some philosophe works such as Diderotian theater and Rousseau’s philosophical discourses.