The Maurists' Unfinished Encyclopedia

BookThe Maurists' Unfinished Encyclopedia

The Maurists' Unfinished Encyclopedia

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2017:02


February 7th, 2017



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In this groundbreaking study, Linn Holmberg provides new perspectives on the Enlightenment ‘dictionary wars’ and offers a fascinating insight into the intellectual reorientation of a monastic community in the Age of Reason.
In mid-eighteenth-century Paris, two Benedictine monks from the Congregation of Saint-Maur – also known as the Maurists – began working on a universal dictionary of arts, crafts, and sciences. At the same time, Diderot and D’Alembert started to compile the famous Encyclopédie. The Benedictines, however, never finished or published their work and the manuscripts were left, forgotten, in the monastery archive. In the first study devoted to the Maurists’ unfinished encyclopedia, Holmberg explores the project’s origins, development, and abandonment and sheds new light on the intellectual activities of its creators, the emergence of the encyclopedic dictionary in France, and the Encyclopédie of Diderot and D’Alembert.
Holmberg adopts a multidisciplinary approach to the challenges of studying a hitherto unexplored and incomplete manuscript. By using codicology and handwriting analysis, the author reconstructs the drafts’ order of production, estimates the number of compilers and the nature of their work, and detects comprehensive editorial interferences made by nineteenth-century conservators at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Holmberg’s meticulous work proves, with textual evidence, the Maurist dictionary’s origins as an augmented translation of a mathematical dictionary by Christian Wolff. Through comparing the Maurists’ manuscripts to the Encyclopédie and the Jesuits’ Dictionnaire de Trévoux, the author highlights striking similarities between the Benedictine project and that of Diderot and D’Alembert, showing that the philosophes were neither first with their encyclopedic innovations, nor alone in their secular Enlightenment endeavours.

'Meticulous and erudite study.'
Jacob Soll, University of Chicago Press

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Cover 1
Title Page4
Copyright Page5
List of illustrations and tables10
List of abbreviations16
1. Introduction18
Reasons for studying an unfinished encyclopedia19
The discovery of the manuscripts, and earlier research31
2. The Maurists’ manuscripts under the loupe46
The history of the physical documents49
Determining the number of writers59
3. The history of a dictionary in the making72
The Congregation of Saint-Maur: organisation anderudition72
Dom Pernety revisited79
The dictionary project: picking up the trail97
The first phase: translating Wolff’s lexicon (c.1743-1747)109
Competition with the embryonic Encyclope´die (1746)122
Turning point: interruption and transformation(c.1747)133
The second phase: continuation and abandonment(c.1747-1754/1755)140
4. The Maurists’ manuscripts compared156
Establishing limits: comparison to the Dictionnaire de Tre´voux159
Creating clusters of knowledge: comparison to the Encyclope´die166
Other aspects of order: classification and cross references173
Identifying the Maurists’ sources179
Mechanical arts and crafts185
Natural history205
Medical arts212
Mathematical sciences222
5. The Maurist enterprise and Enlightenment thought232
A monastic community in transformation233
Responding to the tastes of the time238
The middle ground that could have been249
Conclusion: ‘To change the way people think’258
Appendix 1: nomenclature264
Appendix 2: working lists272
Appendix 3: illustrations278
Appendix 4: fields of knowledge288
Appendix 5: transcriptions and translations292