Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Books that Made the European Enlightenment: A History in 12 Case Studies, by Gary Kates. A great read and fuel for further exploration and blog posts!


I recently completed reading this wonderful study of books that impacted the early Enlightenment (1699-1780) under the general rubric of social history.  The primary source material was bespoke databases of archival materials from the era , an example of the rapidly expanding efforts in the digital humanities, providing insightful reactions to the content, both public and private, at the time of publication and during the 18th Century.  The author is masterful in presenting the publishing history of key authors and works, the drama that was publishing during the 18th Century, reader reactions, Government and Religious reactions, and the influence of the published content on the evolution of Enlightenment thought.  This is one of the most enjoyable reads I have completed in the past few years! 

The Books that Made the European Enlightenment:  A History in Twelve Case Studies, Gary Kates, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2022


The Content via Chapter Titles.

List of Illustrations
1. The Enlightenment Reading Public
2. Fénelon's Adventures of Telemachus (1699)
3. Montesquieu's Persian Letters (1721)
4. Voltaire's History of Charles XII (1731) & Montesquieu's Considerations on the Greatness and Decline of the Romans (1734)
5. Voltaire's Philosophical Letters (1733-1734)
6. Richardson's Pamela (1740)
7. Hume's Essays Moral, Political, and Literary (1741-1742)
8. Graffigny's Letters from a Peruvian Woman (1747)
9. Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws (1748)
10. Rousseau's Emile (1762)
11. Smith's Wealth of Nations (1776)
12. Raynal's Philosophical and Political History of the Two Indies (1770-1780)


Focusing on 12 authors (and their publications) I was excited to learn about the original publication, early translations, and reception of these classic enlightenment works in the 18th century and beyond.   For many years I have acquired first edition first printings of key books that have greatly influenced my intellectual (and life) journey and while every book discussed in this book are one’s I would covet for my private library they are all to expensive for my collecting budget!  As I studied the content, I kept finding motivation to search for Open Access digital facsimiles of these true First Editions to experience the content as a reader of the time did.  The artifact, the typography, the content as was experienced upon publication places me within the aura of initial publication and that means something, at least to me. I can’t own an original, but I hoped to be able to experience on screen, the experience of reading that first appearance (in English translation where necessary).  I often wonder if the earliest publication of works that are still important to read, but now, with the look and feel of 21st Century publication practice, impacts the reader experience differently.  While modern editions certainly are helpful for the reading experience today, the extra effort it takes to experience the original publication must impact the reader’s reaction to the content and ideas on offer.  That is often my main motivation to acquire a First Edition and while that is a slow and often expensive quest to acquire a book I have come to appreciate; I enjoy reading or browsing digital editions as a viable alternative to the physical artifact.  The books presented here included a few I was unfamiliar with, most notably, The Life and Adventures of TelemachusPamela: or Virtue Rewarded, and Letters of a Peruvian Princess. Three titles added to my TBR list and if possible, I hope to read them in digital facsimile and not a contemporary reprint!  

I hope to be able to continue this focus by posting a link to the original publications, in English, so that others may easily access these key titles from the 18th Century.  Today I share one to get me started as I am still searching for and befuddled that the Benjamin Franklin edition of Pamela: or Virtue Rewarded is not available online and I really want to read a digital facsimile of that particular artifact, the first novel printed in Colonial America.  Seems like a missed opportunity for digitizing Franklin’s key printing efforts.  While my overall goal is to focus on the first appearance in English, publishing practice in the 18th Century makes this difficult to pursue.  In the end, I accepted the complex publishing history and am linking to translations from that era, or at least, shortly after, that are available and represent an early complete translation of respected editions.  

François de Salignac de La Mothe Fénelon, The Adventures of Telemachus was first published in French in 1699.  While originally an authorized publication celebrated for story and writing, the popular book eventually was banned for reasons involving an attack on Royalty and Religion which finally caused the French authorities to ban the book which, as is often the case, propelled it into best seller status in France and in translation.  I am sharing the



The Adventures of Telemachus, The son of Ulysses, Fénelon, François de Salignac de La Mothe-, Manchester, UK, Thomas Johnson (Publisher), Translator- John Hawksworth, 1847, Retrieved from The Internet Archive, California Digital Library Collection (accessed 03/19/2023)

Critique of the Monarchy?  A Religious purpose?  For children/young adults? Popularized political philosophy?  A grand tale adored by young and old readers?


A collection of illustrations from 1808:


Bartolomeo Pinelli, The Dream of Telemachus, from The Adventures of Telemachus, Book 4, 1808, Bartolomeo Pinelli, The Art Institute of Chicago, CCO 1.0

From the Art Institute of Chicago website:

“These twelve drawings depict scenes from the French novel The Adventures of Telemachus (Les aventures de Télémaque) by François Fénelon. First published in 1699, it was one of the most popular books of the 1700s and 1800s. Telemachus is the son of Ulysses from Homer’s Odyssey, the first four books of which describe the hero’s search for his father. Fénelon invented further adventures for Telemachus, in which he undergoes many trials while accompanied by his tutor, Mentor, who is actually the goddess Minerva (the embodiment of wisdom) in human disguise. A scathing critique of autocratic government and a diatribe against war, the book denounces luxury and decadence and calls for the simplicity and equality Fénelon believed ancient Greece best exemplified.

(The Art Institute of Chicago, accessed 05/30/2023



As I explored the digital edition, I discovered a set of illustrations from the same era available from The Art Institute of Chicago’s digital collection.  I was amused by viewing the illustrations as I read through the content of Book 4!  While a publication 148 years after the original publication in French, this appeared to me to be a fine edition that met my interest in reading an early complete English translation.