Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2021 Issue

Chaumaix, or the Power of Wit

1a167af1-2c9a-49f3-91f7-21ece19d05a3

The 18th century will always be remembered as the century of Philosophy. Many conservative writers opposed it at the time by underlining some “philosophical absurdities”. But at the end of the day, they went unheard; partly because of their lack of wit—or esprit. Thus I was surprised to come across a little anti-philosophical book full of wit and humour. It is entitled La Petite Encyclopédie—The Small Encyclopedia (Anvers, 1772), and it is attributed to Abraham-Joseph de Chaumaix (1725-1773).

 

Wit played a key role in the triumph of Philosophy—Voltaire used, and even abused it at times. After underlining a few inconsistent details from the Genesis regarding the creation of the world, he cunningly concludes: “I guess God sent us the Bible so we would become better Christians, and no better geologists”—this is what boxers call a liver kick. Even when he was wrong, Voltaire was brilliant, and as he once put it: “We forgive everything to those who have talent.” On the contrary, most anti-philosophers authors were devoid of humour. Standing as the defenders of the Faith, they took themselves seriously. Consequently, they were often boring—and who wants to listen to a boring speaker? Notwithstanding, I must confess that I have developed a sort of fascination for anti-philosophical writings. Two hundred and fifty years later, they tell us half of the story that is hardly told nowadays. Plus, their point of view is so radical that they make me laugh in retrospect. Yet, Chaumaix was different—he knew the power of wit, as shown by the epigraph of La Petite Encyclopédie: Ridicule more often settles things more thoroughly and better than acrimony (Horace, Satires). He probably didn’t like Voltaire’s writings, but he shared with him a certain “esprit”.

 

In 1752, Voltaire wrote to D’Alembert regarding the famous Encyclopédie (Paris, 1751-1772): “You are working on a project that will make your country glorious and put those who persecute you to shame.” As often, Voltaire was right—but Chaumaix disagreed, and he published Préjugés légitimes contre l’Encyclopédie—Legitimate Criticism of the Encyclopedia in 1753. Yet, when our small book came out in 1772, Chaumaix had long left the country to join the more welcoming Court of Catherine II, in Russia. Thus, La Petite Encyclopédie, said to be a compilation of his first work, is only “attributed” to Chaumaix. It is a thin book: “The circumference of our ideas is very limited,” the short preface reads. “Furthermore, isn’t the multitude of terms responsible for all the mistakes in the world? Therefore, my dictionary shall be very short.” Praising the Encyclopédie as the pride of learnt people, and his own work as the delight of true wise men, Chaumaix then explains: “I’ve borrowed from this piece of work the method of using references to other entries to link various ideas.” Giving the definition of BEAUTY, he writes: “The reign of beauty and love has nowadays become the reign of virtue (...). Ô mankind! You shall cherish your benefactors, who made virtue so easy, and pleasant. SEE Love, Concubine, Adultery, Women, Libertinage, etc.” Noticing that some philosophers considered that animals were almost equal to man, he says: “It would be very pretentious to think that animals will never become greater philosophers than we are—(...) their only problems being that they have hooves instead of hands, (...) and that they do not know boredom.” He quotes another philosopher, La Méttrie: “Animals were formed from an eternal germ, no matter which one; and by mixing among themselves again and again, they’ve eventually given birth to this wonderful monster we call Man.” Chaumaix is ecstatic: “Thus, animals are our forefathers—and we owe them respect. This also explains the various inclinations of men: some are closer to donkeys, others to monkeys, lions or magpies. Philosophers being all of them at once.”

 

When Chaumaix gives his definition of APOSTROPHE, we can’t help laughing. “This is what makes our philosophers so eloquent. When I hear them shout: “Ô men! Ô nature!” I am carried away!” Voltaire would have appreciated. In fact, it reminds us of Marmontel’s style in Les Incas or of certain passages in Raynal’s Histoire des Européens dans les deux Indes... where the author seems to have over the top reactions: “Thinking of some much innocent blood, my eyes shed so many tears that my paper is wet, and—Ô I must stop writing.”

 

Satires are good only when they are relevant. And Chaumaix had a point to make. At the entry LIBERTY, he writes: “Philosophers who think that pain and pleasure are the two active principles of the moral world; that everything we do in order to avoid pain or to seek pleasure is legitimate; that the laws should preserve personal interest; that probity itself is nothing but the habit of useful actions; that the soul is mortal, and has no duty on earth, and shall suffer no consequences in the afterlife; (...) shouldn’t care so much to know whether they are free or not.” But as I write those lines, Ô reader! Tears of contrition fall from my eyes on my keyboard that starts to bug—and, Ô must stop writing!

 

 

 

* Half-title page, title page, Preface (4pages), 136 pages.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>iGavel Auctions<br>Antiquarian and Other Books<br>September 14 – October 12</b>
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> Athanasius. <i>Illustrium Virorum Opuscula,</i> Paris, 1500. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> <i>The New Testament of Jesus Christ, Translated Faithfully into English,</i> Rheims, John Fogny, 1582. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> Stith, William. <i>The First History of Virginia printed in America,</i> [Williamsburg, 1747]. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <center><b>iGavel Auctions<br>Antiquarian and Other Books<br>September 14 – October 12</b>
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b><br>S. Bonaventure. <i>Commentarius in Secundum Librum Sententiarum Petri Lombardi,</i> Venice, 1477. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> Juvenalis, Junii. <i>Satyrae,</i> with the commentary of Domitius Calderinus, Venice, 1475. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> Horatius Flaccus, Quintus. <i>Opera.</i> Ed. with commentary of Christophorus Landinus, Florence, 1482. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <center><b>iGavel Auctions<br>Antiquarian and Other Books<br>September 14 – October 12</b>
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> Scotus, Duns. <i>Quaestiones in Quattuor Libros Sententiarum,</i> 1476-1477. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> Polidori, John. <i>The Vampyre, A Tale,</i> Paris, 1819. $1,000 to $2,000.
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom's Cabin,</i> Vol. I and II, 1852, and a Later Edition, 1885. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <center><b>iGavel Auctions<br>Antiquarian and Other Books<br>September 14 – October 12</b>
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> Book of Hours, Illuminated Vellum, Calendar of Months, 15th century. $600 to $900.
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> <i>Picturesque,</i> America, Europe, Palestine, and Russia, 1872-1885. $400 to $600.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> C.F. Payne, <i>Micawber—Imitating Norman Rockwell's "Triple self-portrait,"</i> acrylic, watercolor & colored pencil, 2002. Sold June 2021 for $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Jane Russell, archive of letters written during a whaling voyage, 1840s. Sold July 2021 for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Guild of Women Binders, exhibition binding of A.F. Pollard’s <i>Henry VIII,</i> London, 1902. Sold July 2021 for $12,350.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Robert Frost, <i>Collected Poems,</i> author’s presentation copy, signed, with entirety of <i>Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening</i> inscribed, NY, 1930. Sold June 2021 for $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> James Joyce, <i>Ulysses,</i> deluxe limited issue, signed, London, 1936. Sold June 2021 for $21,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Mercator [family], <i>[World and Continents],</i> 5 double-page maps, Amsterdam, c. 1633. Sold June 2021 for $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> George Schlegel, <i>New York, Taken from Central Park,</i> hand-finished color-tinted lithograph, 1874. Sold June 2021 for $11,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolaus Copernicus, <i>De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium,</i> second edition, Basel, 1566. Sold April 2021 for $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Book of Hours, Use of Utrecht, illuminated manuscript, c. 1435-45. Sold April 2021 for $60,000.
  • <b><center>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>& Works on Paper<br>30th September 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> Bible, English. The Holy Bible, Second Folio edition, the "Great She Bible", engraved More-Speed 1611 map of Canaan, Robert Barker, 1613-11. £7,000 to £10,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> Galilei (Galileo). <i>Opere,</i> 2 vol., first collected edition, Bologna, Heirs of Dozza for Carlo Manolessi, 1656-1655. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> Venetian choirbook.- Single leaf from a 13th century Venetian antiphonal, with large decorated initial, manuscript on vellum, Venice, [c.1260]. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <b><center>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>& Works on Paper<br>30th September 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> Petrarca (Francesco). <i>Rerum vulrgarium fragmenta,</i> decorated manuscript on paper, Italy, [second half of the 15th century]. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> New York School of abstract expressionists.- Abbott (Mary Lee). [Sketch book of original artwork], [New York], 1945. £5,000 to £7,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> Contemporary colouring.- Nitzschewitz (Hermannus). <i>Novum beatae Mariaevirginis psalterium,</i> Zinna, Press of the Cistercian Monastery, 1493. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b><center>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>& Works on Paper<br>30th September 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> Shakespeare source book.- Montemayor (Jorge de). Diana of George of Montemayor: translated out of Spanish into English by Bartholomew Yong, first edition in English, B[ishop]., 1598. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> Milton (John). Poems of Mr. John Milton, Both English and Latin, Compos'd at several times, first edition, state with "S" in "S. Pauls" in imprint, 1645. £12,000 to £18,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>The Power and the Glory,</i> first edition, 1940. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <b><center>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>& Works on Paper<br>30th September 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> Crowley (Aleister). View of the Tyrrhenian Sea, probably from the hill behind the abbey of Thelema, Cefalù, Sicily, charcoal, [1921]. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> Fleming (Ian). <i>Casino Royale,</i> first edition, 1953. £12,000 to £18,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> China.- Thomson (John). <i>Illustrations of China and Its People,</i> 4 vol., first edition, 96 photographic plates, 1873-74. £15,000 to £20,000.
  • <b><center>Doyle<br>Rare Books, Autographs & Maps<br>September 23, 2021</b>
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 20. ADAMS, JOHN QUINCY. Letter to the editors of the Boston Atlas on slavery and its political ramifications, 1842. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 208. HEMINGWAY, ERNEST. <i>A Farewell To Arms.</i> New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1929. First edition. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 237. ADDAMS, CHARLES. Original drawing "Now Remember-act casual." $5,000 to $7,000.
    <b><center>Doyle<br>Rare Books, Autographs & Maps<br>September 23, 2021</b>
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 4. SMITH, ADAM. <i>An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations.</i> Philadelphia, 1789. The first American edition. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 131. BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VON. <i>Cinquieme Sinfonie en ut mineur: C Moll de Louis Van Beethoven. Oeuvre 67.</i> First edition of the complete score. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 73. Chinese Export Painting. Album of twenty-three original Chinese natural history studies of flowers and insects. Likely Canton: circa 1850. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b><center>Doyle<br>Rare Books, Autographs & Maps<br>September 23, 2021</b>
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 241. GOREY, EDWARD. Original drawing "Cat Drawing Wallpaper." Signed in Pencil in lower right margin. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 36. LINCOLN, ABRAHAM. Autograph note signed instructing Edwin Stanton to meet with the important African American abolitionist and officer Martin Delany. [Washington:] 21 February 1865. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 112. JONSON, BEN. <i>Workes</i>. London: William Stansby, 1616; Together with <i>Workes.</i> London: Richard Meighen,1640-41. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 161. STURGIS, LEE. <i>Salmon Fishing on Cain River, New Brunswick.</i> (Chicago:) Privately printed (for the author by Ralph Fletcher Seymour), 1919. First edition. $3,000 to $5,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions