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L’Inde des Lumières

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Marie Fourcade
, 
Ines G. Županov

De l’émergence des discours sur l’Inde // Emerging discourses on India

Race, Climate and Civilization in the Works of François Bernier

Race, climat et civilisation dans l’œuvre de Bernier

Joan-Pau Rubiés

Résumé

Un paradigme dominant aujourd’hui identifie une transformation importante dans les théories ethnologiques amorcées au cours de la seconde moitié du xviiie siècle, par lequel les explications naturalistes des différences culturelles sont devenues plus racialisées, avec un glissement de l’écologie classique vers un racisme généalogique. Ce modèle a cependant fait l’objet d’une révision et d’une critique, souvent au motif que l’on peut peut faire remonter le racisme à des sources et à des contextes plus anciens. L’un des textes qui ont été utilisés pour illustrer ce changement précoce est la « Nouvelle division de la Terre » publié par le voyageur philosophe et penseur libertin François Bernier en 1684. Ce que je propose ici, est le réexamen de ce texte dans le contexte plus large de l’œuvre Bernier, en particulier ses lettres à propos de ses voyages en Inde publiés en1670-1671 comportant une analyse pénétrante des thèmes du despotisme oriental et de la superstition païenne. Je suggère que la classification raciale de Bernier dans sa « Nouvelle division » n’est pas, en dépit de son vocabulaire apparemment moderne, proto-raciste ou anti-monogéniste, bien qu’elle reflète l’essor des taxonomies naturalistes (à cet égard, en dépit d’une utilisation différente de la notion d’espèces, elle s’oriente en direction du travail influent de Buffon). En fait, la « Nouvelle division » a été une pièce d’de circonstance conduite par des observations personnelles (y compris un vif intérêt pour la beauté féminine) plutôt que par des débats théoriques. Sous l’angle de l’anthropologie médicale, les opinions de Bernier conjuguaient des critères de relativisme climatique et humoral avec une classification raciale qui était en grande partie limitée à des traits physiques. Au contraire, son interprétation des particularités de la civilisation indienne était profondément influencée par sa fréquentation étroite des élites mogholes, et visait un ensemble de situations très différent. La véritable explication des différences de civilisation était institutionnelle et culturelle, supposant à la fois une nature humaine universelle et aussi des valeurs politiques et morales universelles. De par ce penchant pour l’institutionnel, le voyageur philosophe était beaucoup plus proche de la position développée plus tard par Montesquieu, lecteur attentif de Bernier, que des idées polygénistes d’un Voltaire ou d’un Kames.

Texte intégral

  • 1 Bernier spent eight years in India, primarily at the court of Aurangzeb, from 1659 to 1667, with th (...)
  • 2 Bernier’s account of India was highly influential, especially in relation to the themes of politica (...)
  • 3 For ease of reference, I use the title of the second edition, Voyages de François Bernier… (Amsterd (...)

1The French traveller and physician François Bernier (1620-1688) has long been recognized as a key example of the kind of philosophical traveller that emerged in the Republic of Letters throughout the seventeenth century. As a disciple of Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655) who spent many years in Mughal India, and then returned to the salons of France under Louis XIV, he was in a unique position to offer the kind of observations that went beyond a mere description of diverse manners and customs, and to delve deeply, for example, into the ways in which the political culture of Mughal India, or its cities, were different from those of Europe.1 Together with educated merchant travellers such as the English consul Paul Rycaut, who wrote about the Ottoman Monarchy, or the French Huguenot Jean Chardin, universally applauded for his systematic account of Safavid Persia, Bernier offered to the Republic of Letters an authoritative account of one of the great monarchies of Asia.2 These independent lay travellers of the late seventeenth century—all three of them writing from the 1660s to the 1680s—exerted a huge impact upon the early Enlightenment, and were still essential reading many decades later, when Montesquieu produced his De l’Esprit des Lois and Voltaire his Essai sur les Mœurs. In particular, Bernier’s Voyages (Paris, 1670-71), in effect not a conventional treatise on manners and customs, but rather a compilation of various pieces in different genres involving a tragic history, four philosophical letters, and a travelogue of a particular journey, saw various editions, including a rapid English translation, and were soon read and commented upon by the likes of John Locke, Pierre Bayle, or Jean-Frédéric Bernard.3

  • 4 Bernier’s interpretation of Gassendi’s philosophy is also explored by Paganini 1992.
  • 5 “Nouvelle division de la Terre par les differentes espèces ou Races d’hommes”, Journal des Sçavans, (...)

2Over the last twenty years a number of aspects of Bernier’s writings have attracted the attention of historians. Sylvia Murr, in particular, paid close attention to his role as popularizer of Gassendi’s philosophy, and also wrote an important article for Puruṣārtha about his analysis of Mughal politics, a topic to which I returned some years ago with an assessment of the traveller’s contribution to the evolution of the European debate on oriental despotism (Murr 1992a, 1991; Rubiés 2005).4 Bernier’s account of Mughal politics and religion, especially in relation to the debate on orientalism, has also been the subject of analysis by Peter Burke and Nicholas Dew, whilst Frédéric Tinguely has written about his religious libertinism, and his rhetorical strategies as historian of the Mughal civil war to succeed Shah Jahan (Burke 1999; Dew 2009: 131-67; Tinguely 2006). However, besides his prominent work on the politics, religion and civilization of Mughal India, and his popularization of Gassendi’s philosophy, Bernier also wrote about other subjects, including a number of Etrenes dedicated to Marguerite de La Sablière (1636-1693), whose Parisian salon the traveller attended after returning to France. These essays, offered to the Madame as part of an extended conversation, and published in two installments in the Journal des Sçavans in April 1684 and June 1688, ranged very widely, including among other things a brief essay on racial classification, and an extract from his summary of the philosophy of Confucius (in effect, an enthusiastic popularization in French of an important Jesuit publication, the Confucius Sinarum Philosophus).5

3The question of how the different strands of Bernier’s oeuvre relate to each other has seldom been explored. In particular, whilst his essay on racial classification has been hailed (in some recent essays by Siep Stuurman and Pierre Boulle) as a very significant contribution to the invention of a “modern” racial discourse, there are grounds to suggest that the significance of this text can be interpreted more accurately if we consider Bernier’s views on human diversity more widely (Stuurman 2000; Boulle 2003). My aim in this article is to re-consider Bernier’s racial thought in relation to his views on political, religious and cultural diversity more generally.

Bernier on Race and Climate

  • 6 For manuscript variants see Murr 1992b: 280-1. I have provided my own translations. An existing Eng (...)
  • 7 Bernier had been to Danzig (Gdansk) during a voyage he undertook in 1648-50 as part of a French emb (...)
  • 8 Nelson translates “vilains animaux” as “nasty creatures”. The manuscript version has an additional (...)

4Bernier’s “Nouvelle division de la Terre par les differentes espèces ou races d’hommes qui l’habitent”, published in the Journal des Sçavans in April 1684, proposed a division of the world according to racial types, rather than regionally. He distinguished five human types: Eurasians (which included most of Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, much of South-East Asia, North Africa, and probably the Americas); Sub-Saharan “black” Africans; white Orientals (encompassing Tartary, China, Japan, Siam and the northern parts of South-East Asia); and Lapps, who for some reason merited a special place ( “Nouvelle division de la Terre”, pp. 134-7).6 Physical traits such as the shape of the face were more important than mere colour in this division. For example, Africans (excepting the northern coasts) had thick lips and flat noses, oily skin, sparse beards, woolly hair, white teeth, red tongues, and a dark skin colour that was constitutional rather than superficial, that is, transmitted genetically. This was an important criterion: although Indians or Egyptians were slightly darker than Europeans, this dark colour Bernier believed to be accidental, due to the effects of the sun, and in this respect these peoples were like the Spanish in relation to other Europeans. The essay’s attempt to distinguish substantial from accidental differences was however rather rough: the black people (Noirs) from the Cape of Good Hope (the Khoikhoi) were of the same race as other Africans, even though they were generally shorter and thinner, more agile, and spoke very differently. Similarly American Indians were of a slightly different colour than Europeans, and their faces were also distinctive, but these differences were not sufficient to make them a separate race. It is likely that Bernier had never seen any. By contrast, he made a race apart of the Lapps (Sámi) after seeing two individuals in Danzig.7 Of no race was he so willing to follow popular prejudice: from what he had heard, they were like vile animals, des vilains animaux (ibid.: 136).8

  • 9 This observation echoed what he wrote in his letters about his journey to Kashmir: Un libertin, p.  (...)

5Whilst the criteria for classifying peoples of the “Nouvelle division” according to physical traits were rather loose, the little essay came to life in a second part devoted to describing female beauty in the different races observed ( “Nouvelle division”; Murr 1992b: 282-3). He praised especially the black African women (les noires d’Afrique) he had seen naked in the slave market of Moka, although he noted that they were three times more expensive than the others. He was also very positive about Indian women, and even offered a fairly comprehensive regional survey, revealing the personal roots of his appreciation (for example he ranked the women of Lahore above those of Kashmir, even though the latter were famously beautiful, and whiter).9 Concerning Persian women, he was less enthusiastic, whilst amongst the Turks he echoed the views of other travellers such as his friend Jean Chardin (or indeed of the Turks themselves) that the most beautiful were Circassians. Although this second part of the essay fits in well with Bernier’s reputation as a moral (rather than philosophical) libertine, genuine scientific curiosity was always combined with the pursuit of pleasure, and he also speculated about the reasons for the irregular distribution of beauty. In particular, he questioned the idea that it only depended on environmental factors, such as the climate, air, water and diet: genetics, la semence, also had a lot to do with racial differences.

  • 10 In this respect it may also be significant that the manuscript version sent to La Sablière in Janua (...)
  • 11 According to Gassendi himself in his life of Peiresc of 1641. See Miller 2000: 44, and more general (...)

6It seems clear that the piece, full of sexual innuendo, was meant as a clever divertimento for his circle of friends in the salon, although one may speculate what Madame de La Sablière made of it (Bernier’s final sentence, “of the beauties of Europe, you know as much as I do”, was an invitation to complicity, but it may have worked better with the abbé de la Chambre than with La Sablière).10 In this respect Bernier’s moral libertinism was that of a successful member of the Parisian salons in the 1670s and 80s, and offers an interesting contrast with the ideal of Christian Stoic virtue of the previous generations, whether his master Gassendi, who was a cleric, or his master’s master Peiresc, who seems to have been celibate and shunned the company of women, on the grounds that their conversation was trivial.11 Going beyond the merely personal reasons why Bernier stayed single, we could perhaps perceive an important intellectual evolution throughout the seventeenth century, from the curious erudition of Peiresc the antiquarian, through Gassendi’s Christian Epicureanism, to Bernier’s sceptical attack upon political despotism, Platonic philosophy, and religious superstition. What connects the three generations, Bernier’s sexual freedom and conversations with women not with standing, was an idea of philosophical virtue, and a commitment to empiricism as a method.

  • 12 In the 1680s La Sablière, having lived many years with a lover, the marquis de la Fare (also a poet (...)
  • 13 As Bernier noted: “vous pourrez vous souvenir de ce que vous m’avez dit autrefois sur cette nouvell (...)

7It was this commitment that made Bernier an authoritative figure. There is evidence that Marguerite de La Sablière showed appreciation for the more scientific aspects of the essay, whatever she felt about Bernier’s talk about naked female slaves (she was a remarkable woman, from a wealthy Huguenot background, who had separated from her abusive husband in order to lead an independent life).12 As she told Bernier at some point between the essay’s first publication in 1684 and the version of the Etrenes he sent in 1688, the new classification was “an idea to ponder”.13 Similarly, modern historians, focusing on the first part of the essay rather than the second, have emphasized the modernity of its conception, both in terms of its Baconian-Gassendist empiricism and, above all, as a revolutionary act of “natural-historical classification of mankind”, one which created a new foundation for dividing peoples according to physical-biological traits (Stuurman 2000).

  • 14 Bernier’s relations with Gassendi went back to the 1640s, when as a young man in his twenties he we (...)
  • 15 La Peyrère was a messianic heterodox thinker rather than an anti-Biblical scholar, but his views ca (...)
  • 16 Abrégé de la Philosophie de Gassendi. 8 vol., Lyon, 1678, vol. V, pp. 25-26, “S’il y a des habitant (...)
  • 17 Had Bernier been more systematic, he would have connected the thesis of a Tartar origin to his raci (...)
  • 18 Hence his own letter to Colbert on the political economy of Mughal state was mobilized a few years (...)

8Without denying the striking use of a racialist vocabulary, one might question the extent to which the “Nouvelle division” broke with the assumptions of sacred universal history, because Bernier’s analysis was taxonomic rather historical, and did not really seek to confront Biblical genealogies one way or the other. There was nevertheless one context in which the kind of racial classification according to physical type proposed by Bernier could have serious impact. This was the scandal created by the overt polygenism defended by Isaac la Peyrère in his Prae-Adamitae (1655), a text which had been circulating in Paris since the 1640s. Antiquarians, philosophers and men of letters of Bernier’s generation, from those who admired Gassendi at the Montmor Academy in the early 1650s (the time when Bernier became his secretary and gained access to the intellectual network of Jean Chapelain and François de La Mothe Le Vayer) to those who socialized with La Fontaine and Racine at the salon of Madame de La Sablière twenty years later (at which point Bernier, already famous as a traveller, acquired his reputation as a joli philosophe who excelled in the art of conversation), would have learnt about the great controversy that in the early 1640s pitted Hugo Grotius against Joannes de Laet concerning the origins of the American Indians, a war of scholarly Latin pamphlets that would leave a long trail in the Republic of Letters.14 One of the keys to the controversy—and possibly the only point in which Grotius and Laet seemed to agree—was that it was crucial to establish a connection between the peoples of the New World and those of the Old, so that the authority of the Bible in relation to the unity of mankind would not be challenged.15 Is there any sense in which Bernier’s libertine and sceptical views about philosophy and religion might have made him sympathetic towards heretical polygenism? In fact we do not find Bernier at all making that connection. He wrote as a monogenist, most clearly in his Abrégé de la philosophie de Gassendi, where he followed his master in adopting the religious orthodox line for the origin of the population of the Americas, either by land, possibly from North-East Asia through “Anian”, or by navigating straits and channels.16 This was exactly the same solution proposed by the Jesuit Acosta, and defended by Laet.17 Lest one were to think that the Abrégé, as a supreme act of piety, did not reflect Bernier’s own ideas, it may be worth noting that Bernier did not hesitate on occasion to appeal to his experience as traveller and to his own reasoning to either support Gassendi, or to express some doubts about the atomist system he had popularized.18

9More generally, it is easy to exaggerate the significance of Bernier’s proposal. As we have seen, the brief essay was at least in part a pièce d’occasion offered to Madame de la Sablière and her circle. Probably for this reason it was analytically quite loose, and driven by claims to empiricism rather than by any existing theoretical debate. As a famous philosophical traveller in the world of Parisian salons, Bernier was most proud of his personal observations. However, although his expertise on Mughal India and knowledge of the Persian language were exceptional, his experience of other parts of the world outside Europe was casual. As a consequence, his treatment was highly impressionistic: extremely vague for America, about which he had only read; fairly rich for the maritime routes that connected the Ottoman empire to the Indian subcontinent, which he had travelled; exaggerated about the far north of Europe, with an emphasis on the Lapps that reflected an isolated experience (and a vogue) rather than a systematic survey; and very partial about Africa, since he only knew well Egypt and the Red Sea. As we have seen, Bernier seems to have derived many of his ideas about Sub-Saharan Africans from his observations in the slave market.

  • 19 That is, in his letter to Colbert, Bernier noted that amongst the Mughals, a whiter skin colour had (...)
  • 20 Boulle (2003) offers a useful contextualization, but is not convincing when associating Bernier wit (...)

10The classification of peoples according to skin colour and a few other traits was a relative novelty (others, such as the Jesuit Alessandro Valignano, as early as the 1580s had already suggested that degrees of darkness were an important marker of cultural capacity, with “white” peoples unsurprisingly the most rational). However, what one does not find in Bernier’s essay is a a connection betwen those phenotypic traits and the analysis of civilization or, indeed, any moral traits, and in this respect it is hard to argue that the new classification was connected to a new way of defining Europe’s sense of cultural superiority according to race. The higher prestige for whiter skin in India was a Mughal tradition he reported, rather than his own European construct, and he accounted for it in relation to the way Iranian and Turkish inmigrants became accustomed to the local climate.19 Commentators who have read a notion of cultural superiority in Bernier’s classification therefore seem mistaken.20 Rather the contrary, he thought that peoples of temperate Europe, the Americas and India, culturally very different, belonged to roughly the same racial group, and he explained the differences between the civilizations of India and Europe through climate and institutional history. By contrast, he was most negative towards the inhabitants of the extreme North of Europe. Although Bernier seems to have accepted the reality of slavery without further comment, it is hard to see how his racial classification should be connected to the practice in any significant manner, beyond the mere anecdote of his having observed some pretty black slaves in a Red Sea port. In this respect, the chronological coincidence between the publication of Bernier’s text and the Code Noir in France could be misleading.

11All this is not to dismiss the scientific pretentions of the essay. Above all, Bernier offered a distinction between essential genetic differences and accidental ones that depended on environmental factors. He also suggested that the latter criterion might be relevant to distinguish sub-types. However, this also shows that the role of climate was not marginalized in the explanation of human diversity, because the biological classification of racial types never sought to go beyond its physical contents. In this respect, we need to turn to Bernier’s other writings—especially his letters from India—in order to obtain a full picture of how climate and history may have contributed to interpreting the differences between men, and between their various civilizations.

  • 21 This combination of medical theory and astrology is discussed by Glacken. As Glacken notes, latitud (...)
  • 22 Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, immensely influential in Renaissance Europe, argued that moral hab (...)

12As a trained medical doctor Bernier worked within the mainstream tradition of medical anthropology, although as a “modern” empiricist he might have questioned some of its elements (he was for example keen to adopt the anatomical ideas of William Harvey). This medical legacy included the theory of climates that had been developed by ancient writers such as Hippocrates and Galen in relation to a theory of humours. The guiding idea was that climatic extremes led to exaggerated anthropological traits, while a temperate zone ensured the best possible combination of humours, that is, a balanced temperament. This Greek emphasis on moderation was used to derive political principles, and had been embraced by European writers in the Middle Ages and throughout the Renaissance, culminating in the work of Jean Bodin. We are talking therefore about a fairly consistent intellectual tradition harking back to classical models. Aristotle, in fact, provided the most authoritative source for the application of environmental theory to the political sphere, by opposing Europe to Asia as two extremes, with Greece participating in both the energetic spirit of colder climates, and the intelligence of warmer ones, all of which helped explain the unique Greek political genius (Aristotle, Politics, VII: 7). Unsurprisingly, early modern writers like Bodin had transferred the temperate middle to European countries like France. Although heat and cold, dryness and humidity, and levels of sunlight, were the obvious starting points for the division of climates into progressive zones, more obscure astrological influences were often added to the rationalization of climatic differences, especially when latitude failed to produce a homogeneous anthropological picture.21 The common idea was that peoples from colder climates had to make up for lack of external heat and therefore were more vigorous and industrious, but slow-witted; those from hot, tropical areas were more indolent but also of subtler disposition, and much given to sensuality. At best, “southerners” (in the northern hemisphere) were creative and contemplative, at worst cruel and lustful. Complementing this climatic theory was the Aristotelian notion of habitus, a settled disposition, becoming a second nature (Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, II: 1).22 This made it possible to combine climate and history when explaining national temperaments.

  • 23 “Relation du voyage fait en 1664 à la suite du Grand Mogol… au royaume de Cachemire”, written from (...)
  • 24 “Les Cachemiris ont la réputation d’être tout à fait spirituels, beaucoup plus fins et adroits que (...)

13As we have seen, Bernier in India had been responsive to the theories of local physicians, who (among other things) believed that the quality of water and the fertility of the land were important for producing the most beautiful bodies. It was precisely as part of his drive to question tradition and modernize science that he came up with the idea that genetic inheritance also had an important role to play. In fact in his account of a journey to Kashmir in 1664 with Aurangzeb’s army, which reads like an extract from a travel journal, Bernier was also struck by the debilitating effects of the heat. “The heat is so extreme that I am reduced to not knowing in the morning if I will still be alive in the evening”.23 The journey was, for this reason, an ordeal. Bernier’s comment that it was dangerous for a European to expose himself to such heat, which might easily kill him, suggests that he thought that the local inhabitants were better acclimatized, although towards the end of the journey he observed that, despite their hardened dark skins, his Indian servants were also giving up (Un libertin 2008: 400). Moving to a region with a temperate climate, on the other hand, was like being in Europe, and indeed looking at the new landscape from the mountains between Bhimbar and Kashmir—which were like a wall separating the torrid and temperate zones—transported him to the mountains of the Auvergne (ibid.: 414). It is clear that Bernier, utterly relieved, found an affinity between the climate and landscape of Kashmir —India’s terrestrial paradise—and that of Europe, and that this connection also encompased the people, their bodies, and their temperaments. Hence Kashmiris were more industrious than Indians, but also more refined and spiritual. They were also whiter, and the women very beautiful. In fact, the Mughal elites sought to marry Kashmiris in order to have lighter-skinned children “who could pass as authentic Mughals” (ibid.: 413). Elsewhere in his letter to Colbert, as we have seen, Bernier had discussed the gradual loss of social prestige of the descendants of Iranian, Arab, Uzbek and Turkic inmigrants within the Mughal elite, and he connected a darker skin with a slower humour, although he did not specify whether climatic influences (as opposed to breeding with local women) were alone responsible for this change (ibid.: 204-5). In fact, in Bernier’s writings both climate and genetics seem to be relevant to skin colour and to temperament. Hence, rather than a mere European prejudice about the Orient, what we find here is a convergence between Mughal-Persian and European hierarchies vis-à-vis local Indian populations: a more temperate climate and fertile environment produced in Kashmir “well-made bodies like those of Europeans”, and a lighter skin, but also a quicker humour and more refined temperaments which, in their inclination to science and poetry, recalled those of Persians (ibid.: 411).24

  • 25 On La Mothe Le Vayer’s sceptical vein of libertinism, which was indebted to Montaigne and Charron a (...)

14Beyond echoing the traditional connection between a temperate climate and a balanced inclination, elsewhere Bernier used climate as a means to explaining differences in civilization. This is particularly clear in the letter he sent in 1663 to an elderly François de la Mothe Le Vayer (1588-1672), devoted to the comparison of the great cities of India with those of Europe: “I know”, it began, “that one of the first questions you will ask when I have returned to France, will be whether Delhi and Agra are as beautiful, big and populous as Paris” (ibid.: 235). Bernier’s answer is in effect an essay on comparative urban aesthetics, one which shows Bernier at his most relativist (which was entirely appropriate, considering La Mothe Le Vayer’s sceptical type of libertinism).25 Both the buildings and the uses of urban space have to be adapted to local climatic conditions, such as rain and especially temperature: “our cities, without doubt, have many beautiful aspects, but these are necessarily particular and adapted to a cold climate”. Indeed, “if Paris, London or Amsterdam stood in the same location where Delhi is, it would become necessary to demolish them, in order to build them in a different fashion” (ibid.). Because to a very large extent urban aesthetics depend on fulfilling practical functions, any aesthetic judgments must be relative as well. The hot climate of India obliges everybody, rich and poor, and this affects the clothes people wear no less than the food they eat, or the way they spend their time. There is therefore a parallel between the effects of the climate upon human bodies, through health and diet, and its effects on cities: in northern India, because of the heat, many illnesses are less common and less virulent than in Europe, but at the same time, one has less energy, and the summer leads to a kind of perpetual illness (announcing one of the themes developed during the journey to Kashmir). Sleeping on the roofs, or being surrounded by gardens, becomes a necessity, and this has implications for the way buildings must be made, and urban space organized. Of course, one can still distinguish between the comfortable houses of the rich, and the much more numerous humble dwellings of the poor, made with mud and straw (in this respect, Delhi, a new city, bears some resemblance to a permanent military camp). However, the nice houses of Delhi are truly beautiful, however different from those of Europe (ibid.: 244).

  • 26 Bernier added that this referred to artificial urban views only, because he considered the view of (...)

15Bernier does point out that he personally prefers the civic spectacle of bourgeois life of Paris as contemplated from Pont-Neuf during the evening promenade with the Louvre in the background, “the most beautiful, superb and magnificent artificial view on earth, unless there is something comparable in China or Japan, where I have not been” (ibid.: 282).26 However, he chose to end the letter with a powerful statement about the achievements of the unique Indian aesthetic, “different and particular” in its rules, by describing the Taj Mahal as a magnificent, marvellous building: “I do not know whether my taste has become a little too Indian, but I believe that it should be placed among the marvels of the world ahead of these shapeless masses that are the pyramids of Egypt, which I saw twice with little satisfaction, as I only found in the outside heaps of large stones arranged by degrees one on top of the other, while in the inside there was little evidence of human art or invention” (ibid.: 300).

Interpreting Indian civilization: despotism and superstition

16By contrast with the aesthetic relativism proposed in his letter to François de La Mothe La Vayer, Bernier’s discussion of the politics and religion of India in the other two philosophical letters of the Voyages, respectively addressed to Colbert and to Jean Chapelain, was driven by a powerful critique of what the traveller perceived as fundamental institutional and intellectual flaws: politics and religion were not a matter of taste, and there was little room for accommodation to the natural environment. Although the problems Bernier discussed related directly to the Mughal state and to the beliefs of the Gentiles of India, his targets were universal, and deeply implicated Europe.

  • 27 For a more extended analysis see Murr 1991 and Rubiés 2005.

17The Letter to Colbert on political economy has often been noted for offering a thorough and remarkably influential analysis of the negative effects of excessive royal claims to power, in particular in relation to private property.27 It was also an essay on the structural causes for economic decline. Although he did not use the word “despotism”, instead writing about “la décadence des États d’Asie”, Bernier created a general type of oriental monarchy (a type which included the Ottoman Empire, Persia and Hindustan) around a detailed analysis of the Mughal case (albeit not detailed enough, one could claim: his perspective was top-down and ignored the intermediate classes in rural India, such as the zamindars). The key idea was that because the prince owned the rights over the rents of all the lands of the realm, the elites lacked any stable jurisdiction over specific areas, and there was no legal protection for the common people. Hence, the kingdom became poorer rather than richer, notwithstanding its huge extent and its positive balance of payments. The lack of sufficient legal protection for property rights, especially but not exclusively in rural areas, in effect meant that nobody had a long-term commitment to prosperity.

18Bernier’s analysis of the Mughal example was by implication also a defence of a moderate type of monarchy. Arguably, it was inspired by Bodin’s concept of natural law rather than the classical mixed constitution, or at least this is what a comparison with Bernier’s summary of Gassendi’s political philosophy suggests (Rubiés 2005: 147-9). Bernier was not interested in whether sovereignty could or should be divided: rather, he sought to warn against a very specific danger, the abuse of the powers of the sovereign - what other writers were soon to call despotic tendencies - at the expense of the civil liberties of both the aristocracy and the common people. The problem was not simply that the king might claim ownership of any rents administered by the military aristocracy, and transfer them arbitrarily, but that governors, holders of jagirs and tax-farmers would in turn abuse the peasants, even merchants and artisans under their jurisdiction. If there was no legal and institutional limitation to royal power, the equivalent of French parliaments for example, the productive classes also lacked any protection against the tyrannical abuses of those ruling elites who could claim to represent absolute royal authority (Un libertin 2008: 219). The economic consequences, but also cultural ones, were disastrous, because workers could hardly survive, and nobody other than the king himself was in a position to support educational institutions. The argument that Colbert was urged to consider was that, in France no less than in India, an attack upon rights to property in the name of absolute royal authority would be, in the long term, economically counter-productive (it may also be unjust, but from the point of view of comparative politics the arguments that counted were those of reason of state).

  • 28 As I noted in Rubiés 2005: 150-3.

19Thus, Bernier’s letter to Colbert represented a transfer to India of a long and complex European debate about how to moderate monarchical power without weakening the state. In other words, as has often been noted, with his letter to Colbert Bernier was addressing a European audience through a discussion of India, and he was doing so in the idiom of the politics of France under Louis XIV. That does not mean that his analysis of the Mughal state was arbitrary (although it could be said to have been at points superficial or incomplete).28 It means, rather, that a comparison of different kinds of monarchies under the assumption that the aims and means of politics were universal was deemed to be both possible and convenient. From the point of view of our previous analysis of race and climate, the letter to Colbert demonstrates that Bernier was inclined to consider European civilization as superior to the three great Islamic empires of Asia on legal and institutional grounds, rather than on the basis of race or material culture.

20But what about religion and philosophy? Was it not inevitable that Bernier would assume the superiority of Christian Europe and its intellectual legacy over India, whether in relation to Hinduism or Islam? Or was his libertinism such that this was no longer such a simple proposition? Bernier’s third philosophical letter, devoted to the “superstitions and doctrine” of the Hindus, and addressed to the influential man of letters and founder of the French Academy Jean Chapelain (1595-1674), allows us to answer this final question.

  • 29 “Lettre à Monsieur Chapelain, envoyée de Chiraz en Perse, le 4 Octobre 1667, touchant les superstit (...)
  • 30 Bernier’s reference to “the strange ways and doctrine of the Hindus” (and not only “brahmins”) as a (...)
  • 31 This pandit was the same one Bernier had conversed with in Delhi alongside his Muslim patron Danish (...)

21The very title of the letter announced its key theme: “there is no opinion so ridiculous or extravagant which the human spirit is incapable of” (Un libertin 2008: 301).29 Although the main targets of the letter were the belief system and superstitious practices of the gentiles of India, or Hindus (Bernier is one of the first European writers to call them so), the implication was that this was no peculiarity of the peoples of India, but rather a universal human proclivity.30 That this involved Europe no less than Asia was apparent from the very start, when Bernier compared the irrational fear of an eclipse amongst French peasants in 1654, to a similar reaction amongst the Hindu masses in 1666 (ibid.: 305-6). Popular credulity and superstition were, therefore, common to baptized Christians and gentile idolaters, and it was not hard to imagine that a parallel could also be drawn between the Brahmins who, for their own selfish interest (social, economic, and even sexual), propagated such errors and superstitions, and those Catholic priests who might have done something similar in Europe. For example, when Bernier asked the chief pandit of Benares (Varanasi) about their “worship of idols”, and the Hindu replied that the statues were not real gods, but only representations of a single omnipotent God, “because in order to pray one must have something which focuses the mind in front of one’s eyes”, it was impossible not to hear echoes of the Catholic justification for the use of images of Mary or the saints, so often deplored by Protestants. Bernier suspected that the chief pandit’s explanation was too much in agreement with Christian ideas, and did not represent the popular religious feeling (ibid.: 338-9).31

22But Bernier did not stop here: the structural analogy between Europe and India was not limited to the priestly manipulation of ignorant masses through the idea of a double truth, it also affected the often no less ignorant religious and intellectual elites. In effect, the heart of the letter was devoted to proving that the beliefs of the Hindu pandits were full of irrational fables, “des extravagances” (ibid.: 324). Not only their religious doctrines, for example their doctrine of transmigration of souls, which echoed the teachings of Pythagoras, but the whole system of sciences “of the famous ancient Brahmins of India” was full of confusion: he surveyed their physics, astronomy, medicine, anatomy and geography, only to demolish their claims with ironic contempt (ibid.: 333-7). Most crucially, their philosophical reasoning also lacked cogency and, when under pressure, they resorted to metaphors, for example when arguing that the world perceived by the senses is an illusion, or a kind of dream, and that created reality is in fact an emanation from God that will eventually return to its source: “But ask them for some reason for their speculation, or that they explain how this emanation and return of substance takes place, this extension, this apparent diversity… they will never give you nothing but some fine comparisons, such that God is like an immense Ocean, within which move many vessels full of water… they will give you nothing, I repeat, but these kinds of comparisons, which bear no proportion to God, and which are only good in order to throw dust at the eyes of an ignorant people” (ibid.: 342-3).

  • 32 The “new reason” (Navya Nyāya) was a revisionist philosophy inspired by Raghunātha Siromani, active (...)
  • 33 Anatomia ridiculi muris, hoc est dissertationculae J.B. Morini astrologi, adversus expositam a Petr (...)

23This pitiless attack upon the rational claims of India’s native intellectual elite suggests of course a deeply Eurocentric judgment. A recent assessment of this same intellectual milieu in Mughal India by Jonardon Ganeri suggests a very different picture, a period of intellectual vibrancy and cosmopolitan encounters involving Muslims, Hindus and Jains which one might term as an “age of reason” due to a new spirit of enquiry, Bernier’s criticisms notwithstanding. In particular, whilst Bernier engaged critically with the monist tradition of Advaita Vedānta perfected by Sankara, admittedly the most influential, he ignored the “new philosophy” (Navya Nyāya) which flourished in Varanasi and Navadvīpa in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, even though its pluralistic realism and critical epistemology offered potential similarities to Gassendi’s atomist system (Ganeri 2011).32 And yet, leaving aside the question of whether the revisionist philosophies of India and Europe in the seventeenth century were fully comparable, technically or ideologically (and I certainly have doubts that they can be brought together under the common umbrella of a global “early modernity”), the crucial point for us is that Bernier was not simply attempting to stake a European claim to superior knowledge by connecting Hindu beliefs to popular superstition. Bernier’s home target, as we have noted, was not limited to the ignorant masses: European astrologers, and even many philosophers, also failed the test of critical thinking. In this respect, it may be worth noting that Bernier had first risen to notoriety in France by launching an attack, on behalf of Gassendi and his Epicurean physics, upon the beliefs of the Aristotelian philosopher and royal astrologer Jean-Baptiste Morin.33

  • 34 As far as Indian philosophy was concerned, Bernier was also reflecting upon the impact of the Upani (...)
  • 35 Back in Paris, Bernier continued to be concerned with the critique of what he considered to be irra (...)

24In other words, in the same way that popular superstitions in India and Europe were perfectly comparable, so was the irrationality of some elite philosophical traditions. The Catholic Church, which had resisted the doctrines of Galileo that Bernier sought to popularize in his Abrégé, potentially fell under this kind of criticism. Without any concessions to relativism, Bernier clearly understood modern empirical science and the neo-Epicurean philosophy of Gassendi as the rational standard against which all other systems of thought should be judged. The point of the letter, therefore, was to attack the lack of philosophical rigour of some ideas current in Europe which resembled those of Hindus and Muslim Sufis. He singled out in particular the idea that the human soul was a divine spark, or, more radically, that all reality was an emanation from the divinity, leading to an immanent divine principle or anima mundi. With this he targeted the metaphysical system of Hermeticists such as Robert Fludd, which in reality only echoed those of ancient Pythagoreans, Platonists, Stoics, and even Aristotle (Bernier’s tendency to conflate Platonic transcendentalism with Stoic naturalistic pantheism does of course raise important problems, but that is another issue) (Un libertin 2008: 341).34 The theories of most ancient Greek philosophers, quite a few modern European ones, and the vast majority of Sufis and pandits (Muslim or Gentile) were all rather similar, and all equally implausible.35

  • 36 Bernier was careful however to question too close a comparison between Hinduism and Christianity. W (...)
  • 37 Locke’s use of Bernier (and of Rycaut for the Turkish dervishes) as evidence that intuitive knowled (...)

25Bernier did not attack all religion—he certainly did not attack Christianity as such—but his drive towards philosophical cogency implied a rationalization of belief which could not fail to put tension upon a religious system built around miracles, saints and the Devil, no less than the power of God’s Providence.36 Without engaging in theological controversy, Bernier demolished the intellectual underpinnings of a magical belief system by questioning Renaissance Platonism (no less than late scholastic Aristotelianism) as an acceptable philosophical and scientific paradigm. His letter to Chapelain, in effect, illustrates the way the libertine analysis of gentilism as superstition could not fail to open the way for the analysis of Christianity as superstition — a tendency which would become especially clear in the following decades, with the sceptical and Deist attack upon oracles, miracles, the authority of scripture, priestcraft, ceremonies and Trinitarian beliefs. However, there was no linear evolution from orthodoxy, Catholic or Protestant, towards any particular form of libertinism, because the critique of religious excess could be mobilized for a wide range of confessional and philosophical causes. Although Bernier’s attack on miracles and superstition can be seen as part of his religious libertinism, in fact he followed Gassendi (an orthodox Catholic believer by most accounts) over Epicurus in supporting a Providential God, albeit on fideist grounds. Hence, it is only an apparent paradox that whilst John Locke read Bernier’s letter as evidence for how religious enthusiasm could be generated irrationally by fancy (and he expected Christians to have a more rational foundation for their beliefs than the ecstatic visions and illuminations also found amongst “false religions”), Pierre Bayle, a sceptical fideist, was able to mobilize Bernier’s attack upon philosophical pantheism against Spinoza.37

  • 38 The pandit has been tentatively identified as Kavīndra Sarasvatī, known for collecting manuscripts (...)
  • 39 Thus Bernier congratulated himself on his intervention, using his Muslim agha’s authority, to stop (...)
  • 40 In his letter to La Mothe Le Vayer. Ibid.: 284-7.

26It may be worth emphasizing again that Bernier’s analysis of Hinduism was not simply a European philosophical enquiry into Gentile beliefs, but rather the result of conversations in an elite Mughal milieu. Bernier was for many years under the protection of a Mughal lord, Danishmend Khan, who was governor of Delhi under Aurangzeb and used Bernier as informer about Europe and as an intellectual partner. Bernier, among other things, translated Descartes and Gassendi for him. As Nicholas Dew rightly notes, there was an intellectual convergence between the two men at the expense of the Hindu pandit with whom they conversed, because a Christian rationalist who espoused the new atomist physics and astronomy was able to find common ground with a Muslim rationalist who was interested in science, against the mysteries and mystifications of an irrational priestly caste (Dew 2009: 151-5).38 Whilst Bernier objected to Muslim Sufism no less than to Christian Neoplatonist mysticism, he could agree with a Muslim monotheist that belief in a Revealed divine Providence should be separated from irrational fables and popular superstitions, especially if those led to objectionable social practices such as sati (at which point there was no room for relativism).39 Bernier understood that Mughal tolerance of what he considered to be Hindu superstitions was of a political nature. His attitude to the Christian mission led by the Jesuits at the Mughal court is also revealing of this relative sympathy for Islam.40 These missionary efforts were futile, because Muslims were more devout than Christians, and aggressive tactics turned out to be counter-productive. Moreover, the law of Islam was too convenient for the libertine instincts of men (a peculiar comment coming from a man who seems to have shared a similar kind of enjoyment of life: it almost suggests that Bernier secretly found the combination of simple monotheist piety and sexual freedom attractive). Bernier did echo the condemnation of Islam as an aggressive religion, “a plague of a religion introduced by force of arms, and which continues to expand through these”, but at the same time he seemed to suggest that Christian proselytism should be reserved for savages (ibid.).

27If we consider the letters to Colbert and Chapelain together as two sides of the interpretation of Indian civilization as an artificial human creation, what matters on both occasions was Bernier’s intervention in a European debate. If when discussing politics the universal standard for subjecting the power of absolute monarchs to the pursuit of the common good was the Bodinian notion of natural law, which meant, to begin with, respect for private property, when it came to religion the aspiration was to rationalize Christian philosophy on the basis of Epicurean materialism. These two debates, on the power of the state and on irrational beliefs, crystallized around the experience of India (but not exclusively of India) precisely because Mughal power and Hinduism could be construed as powerful negative images of two problems understood to be universal: despotism and superstition. The key targets, let us insist, were the monarchy of France under Louis XIV and the Catholic Church.

Conclusion

28What we see in all of Bernier’s philosophical essays, in the form of the traveller’s letters to his European friends, is not an essential opposition between the men of Europe and those of the Orient, but rather the use of comparisons in order to suggest a fundamental anthropological similarity: the politics of despotism that prevailed in the East could also be pursued, with fatal consequences, in France, and the ridiculous superstitions and philosophical mystifications of India were far from absent from the intellectual traditions of Europe. The struggle against despotism and superstition was therefore, in principle, universal, although Europeans, thanks to their legal protection for private property, and thanks to their modern post-sceptical philosophy and probabilistic science, may have important advantages — in this respect Bernier did point towards the idea of a hierarchy of civilizations. The notional opposition between the savage and the civilized was widespread in the seventeenth century, but seventeenth-century philosophical travellers were keen to go beyond that mere opposition, and sought to analyze what was distinctive about Eastern civilizations — Muslim or Gentile — compared to Europe. Bernier made a decisive contribution to a sharpening of these distinctions. However, only the more ideological writers, for example Jesuits like José de Acosta and Alessandro Valignano, had sought to create a universal hierarchy of civilizations that clearly placed China, Japan, India or Persia below Christian Europe.

  • 41 The scope for intervention was of course very limited, but as the example of the sati shows, it poi (...)
  • 42 Only a small extract of the “Introduction a la lecture de Confucius” was published in 1688: Le Jour (...)
  • 43 Hence at some point Bernier planned a French translation of a history of Kashmir commissioned by Ja (...)
  • 44 That is, Bernier’s talk about different species of men did not imply a rejection of Buffon’s eventu (...)
  • 45 This article has benefited from the comments of various audiences in Oxford ( “Climatic Determinism (...)

29Strikingly, and unlike (for example) Valignano, Bernier did not connect his racial typology to the history of civilization. Those differences in forms of civility that did exist — including those that could lead to political and economic failure, and to moral abuse — could be best explained with reference to climate and history. In relation to climate, material culture, and everyday life, Bernier was a relativist, but as far as politics and religion were concerned he assumed universal values, and he did not hesitate to pass judgment and, if possible, intervene.41 However, it is clear from his positive assessment of the moral philosophy of Confucius, on the basis of the translation of Chinese classics publicized by the Jesuits, that Bernier did not assume a European superiority in philosophical capacity.42 He also showed a great deal of respect for Persian historiography in India.43 In this context of fundamental anthropological comparability, regional differences in physical type might be noted as another fruit of modern empirical observation, but did not constitute a fundamental attack on the unity of mankind, at least not in terms of the rational or cultural capacities of the different “races”. Rather the contrary, in the “Nouvelle division” he thought that Europeans, Native Americans and the people of India belonged to roughly the same racial group. It would only be one hundred years later, during the final decades of the Enlightenment, that is, after the authority of the Bible as a literal account of universal history had been thoroughly discredited, and a Eurocentric theory of the history of civilization through stages of technological, economic and moral development had gained intellectual cogency, that the temptation emerged to explain differences of civilizations not historically, but rather in terms of supposed fundamental differences in moral capacity that could be associated to racial typologies. In the transformed context of the turn of the nineteenth century, Bernier’s loose talk about different human races or different human species, one which had omitted any consideration of the criterion (subsequently made explicit by Buffon) of the capacity for biological reproduction as a natural marker of taxonomic unity, could acquire a different meaning altogether.44 Yet it is only retrospectively, and anachronistically, that a libertine pièce de salon about the genetic diversity of physical types, and in particular of female bodies, could herald the emergence of a new kind of racial thought.45

30J. P. R.

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Notes

1 Bernier spent eight years in India, primarily at the court of Aurangzeb, from 1659 to 1667, with the intention of acquiring an encyclopaedic knowledge about the country and its history and culture, albeit in a spirit of philosophical rather than antiquarian curiosity. Although at first he gained employment as a medical doctor (he had trained at Montpellier), he eventually attached himself to an agah, that is Mughal Lord, who was keen to learn more about Europe and its sciences. Besides his knowledge of Delhi, Bernier undertook trips to Kashmir, Bengal, Golkonda and Gujarat (his point of entry and exit) before leaving India in 1668.

2 Bernier’s account of India was highly influential, especially in relation to the themes of political despotism and religious superstition, for which he offered ethnographic support. However, these remained controversial themes, and European readers had many alternative sources at their disposal, hence it would be wrong to assume that Bernier constituted a definitive image of India for the Enlightenment.

3 For ease of reference, I use the title of the second edition, Voyages de François Bernier… (Amsterdam, 1699), often reprinted in the first decades of the eighteenth century. The first Parisian edition (as well as a pirated copy of it that appeared at The Hague in 1671-2) had a more cumbersome title: Histoire de la dernière revolution des Etats du grand Mogol (1670) and the Suite des Memoires du Sr Bernier sur l’Empire du grand Mogol (1671). All my references are to the excellent recent edition by Frédéric Tinguely, whose introductory study can also be recommended: Un libertin dans l’Inde moghole. Les voyages de François Bernier (1656-1669), édition intégrale s. dir. F. Tinguely, Paris, Chandeigne, 2008. The first edition was also translated into English, Dutch, German and Italian in the 1670s.

4 Bernier’s interpretation of Gassendi’s philosophy is also explored by Paganini 1992.

5 “Nouvelle division de la Terre par les differentes espèces ou Races d’hommes”, Journal des Sçavans, 24 April 1684, pp. 133-40 (published anonymously as an extract from a letter to Abbé de la Chambre). To be noted are the variants in the edition of a booklet or “brochure” by Sylvia Murr, representing an epistle to La Sablière written from Montpellier in January 1688, immediately after he completed his summary of the philosophy of Confucius. See Murr 1992b: 275-86. This longer text shows that the edition of 1684 was only an extract from a larger work, although given the variants, their exact relationship is hard to determine. The most logical hypothesis is that the “Nouvelle division”, published anonymously in 1684, was an extract from a larger miscellany, one not exclusively written for Madame de La Sablière, but rather circulated within her salon (a circle in which the abbé de la Chambre participated). In 1688, after completing his work on China and Confucius, Bernier wrote to La Sablière, and sent her an expanded set of “Etrenes”. Bernier also indicated that he was eager to see the remaining sections published, as indeed happened in June 1688, just three months before the author passed away.

6 For manuscript variants see Murr 1992b: 280-1. I have provided my own translations. An existing English translation by Janet Nelson follows Murr’s text (Nelson 2001).

7 Bernier had been to Danzig (Gdansk) during a voyage he undertook in 1648-50 as part of a French embassy to Poland led by the viscount of Arpajon. During this voyage he also travelled with one of his future patrons, François Boysson, seigneur de Merveilles, who eventually helped organize his journey to the East.

8 Nelson translates “vilains animaux” as “nasty creatures”. The manuscript version has an additional sentence which suggests that “vile” or “disgusting” is probably meant: “de vilains buveurs d’huile de poisson qu’ils trouvent meilleure que toutes les plus agreables liqueurs du monde” (Murr 1992b: 281). The peculiar vogue for the Lapps in France in the 1670s and 80s, precisley when Bernier wrote his “Nouvelle division”, can be associated to the publication of a French translation of J. G. Scheffer’s monograph: Histoire de Laponie, sa description, l’origine, les moeurs, la manière de vivre de ses habitants, Paris, 1678. There were also journals of voyages that circulated in manuscript, such as the young playwright J.-F. Regnard’s Voyage de Laponie, written c.1681 upon his return from Finland and Sweden. Some of the stereotypes that Bernier reproduced from hearsay can be found in these sources, for example the idea that the Lapps were ugly and different to other men, almost like animals. Regnard, for example, offered a physical description under the rubric that “ces hommes sont faits tout autrement que les autres”, and concluded with the observation that “ce petit animal qu’on appelle Lapon” was, after the monkey, the closest to a man one could find. See Regnard 1992: 87-8. This mythology, largely built upon hearsay rather than direct observations, helps explain why Bernier singled them out as a separate race.

9 This observation echoed what he wrote in his letters about his journey to Kashmir: Un libertin, p. 413.

10 In this respect it may also be significant that the manuscript version sent to La Sablière in January 1688 changed the sentence from “doubtless you know as much as I do”, to “you know as much, or more, than I do”. The published version had been sent to the abbé.

11 According to Gassendi himself in his life of Peiresc of 1641. See Miller 2000: 44, and more generally chapter 5: 49-75 for the radical transformation in the relationship between learning and sociability represented by the rise of the salons.

12 In the 1680s La Sablière, having lived many years with a lover, the marquis de la Fare (also a poet), whilst presiding over scientific and literary conversations in a beautiful Parisian house, saw the affair peter out and experienced some kind of religious conversion. She spent a great deal of time helping in the hôpital des incurables, and guided by a Jesuit, father Rapin, turned to Catholicism, although she also continued to correspond with Bernier and to patronize the poet La Fontaine. There is no adequate work on La Sablière, but for an introduction see Craveri 2005: 209-17.

13 As Bernier noted: “vous pourrez vous souvenir de ce que vous m’avez dit autrefois sur cette nouvelle division du monde qui va suivre, que c’estoit un pensée à cultiver, et qu’il y auroit plaisir de sçavoir si ceux qui habitent le milieu de l’Afrique, la terre Australe, et les autres lieux qui nous sont encore presque inconnus, seroient assez differents de nous pour faire une espèce ou race differente.” See Murr 1992b: 280.

14 Bernier’s relations with Gassendi went back to the 1640s, when as a young man in his twenties he went to Paris and sat at his lessons alongside his friend Chapelle, natural son of Bernier’s patron François Luillier. It was also at that time that he became familiar with the circle of libertins érudits, which included La Mothe Le Vayer, that used to gather at the house of the Dupuy brothers. In the early 1650s Habert de Montmor, who hosted a famous scientific academy, became Gassendi’s late patron, but he does not seem to have appreciated Bernier a great deal, or at least not enough to send him a copy of Gassendi’s Opera Omnia, published posthumously in 1658, to India.

15 La Peyrère was a messianic heterodox thinker rather than an anti-Biblical scholar, but his views came at a time when the authority of the Bible was beginning to suffer from the transformation of religious controversy into antiquarian scholarship, leading to the works by Hobbes, Spinoza or Simon.

16 Abrégé de la Philosophie de Gassendi. 8 vol., Lyon, 1678, vol. V, pp. 25-26, “S’il y a des habitants tout alentour du Globe de la Terre”. The analysis of the possible routes to the Americas by land and across straits mentioned the hypothesis made famous by Grotius of a migration from Norway, through Iceland and Greenland. For some reason, the edition of 1684 was a little briefer did not include this passage. It may be significant that the Lucretian model of a spontaneous and gradual generation from many locations— “que les hommes estoient sans commencement, et que par une certaine propagation perpetuelle ils se laissoient les unes les autres par tout où on les voit”— was also mentioned, only to be dismissed on the grounds that “nous sommes obligez de croire que tous les hommes tirent leur origine d’un seul homme” (my emphasis).

17 Had Bernier been more systematic, he would have connected the thesis of a Tartar origin to his racial classification, placing the American Indians with the Tartars and Chinese, rather than with Europeans. His hesitation reflects the empirical nature of his geographical expertise, confined to the Old World.

18 Hence his own letter to Colbert on the political economy of Mughal state was mobilized a few years later to expand the discussion of the connection between moderate monarchy and the protection of private property, in the first complete edition of the Abrégé de la Philosophie de Gassendi, Lyon, 1678, a passage still present in the subsequent revised edition (Lyon, 1684, vol. VII, pp. 364-5); for a discussion see Rubiés 2005: 148. On the other hand, in between these two editions of his Abrégé, Bernier decided to publicize his doubts about the neo-Epicurean system of Gassendi which he had helped popularize. This affected his atomic system: Doutes de Mr Bernier sur quelques-uns des principaux chapitres de son Abrégé de la Philosophie de Gassendi, Paris, 1682; but also his ethics: Traité du libre et du volontaire, Paris, 1685. Thus the review of the third edition of the Abrégé in the Journal des Sçavans was right to note that although Bernier generally defended Gassendi against the Cartesians, sometimes he also developed his own independent ideas (Journal des Sçavans, Paris, 24 juillet 1684: 241-44). Murr also observed that Bernier had actively worked to help Gassendi adopt the new anatomical ideas of Harvey, against those of Galen, and generally tended to update the scientific contents of Gassendi’s Syntagma Philosophicum (for example in relation to astronomy) when he wrote the Abrégé. See Murr 1992a: 115-135.

19 That is, in his letter to Colbert, Bernier noted that amongst the Mughals, a whiter skin colour had more social prestige (Un libertin, pp. 204-5).

20 Boulle (2003) offers a useful contextualization, but is not convincing when associating Bernier with a Eurocentric hierarchy (his views of India were largely shaped by his Mughal friends), with polygenism (his notion of espèce d’homme carried no such connotation) or with aristocratic prejudice (he was in fact of peasant origins).

21 This combination of medical theory and astrology is discussed by Glacken. As Glacken notes, latitude was rarely sufficient to explain differences between peoples, and other considerations were also added: longitude, landscape and weather, for example (Glacken 1967).

22 Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, immensely influential in Renaissance Europe, argued that moral habits (customs) became like second nature because a regular disposition to act in a certain way would create a regular pattern of actual behaviour. Hence good habits, or character, were the foundation of moral virtue—by contrast, nature as such was not malleable.

23 “Relation du voyage fait en 1664 à la suite du Grand Mogol… au royaume de Cachemire”, written from Delhi at the end of the year in the form of a series of letters to Monsieur de Merveilles (one of Bernier’s Provençal patrons). For the comments on the heat see Un libertin, p. 398 ff.

24 “Les Cachemiris ont la réputation d’être tout à fait spirituels, beaucoup plus fins et adroits que les Indiens, et propres à la poésie et aux sciences autant que les Persans”. Clearly Bernier was reporting an elite Mughal point of view.

25 On La Mothe Le Vayer’s sceptical vein of libertinism, which was indebted to Montaigne and Charron and included reflections on travel and cultural diversity, see O’Flaherty 1987. More generally, Pintard [1943] 1983. Late in his life Bernier, revealed the continuing influence of La Mothe Le Vayer’s De la vertu des payens (1641) in his work on Confucius, the “Chinese Socrates”.

26 Bernier added that this referred to artificial urban views only, because he considered the view of Constantinople from the Bosphorus—a kind of enchanted natural amphitheatre—as even more beautiful.

27 For a more extended analysis see Murr 1991 and Rubiés 2005.

28 As I noted in Rubiés 2005: 150-3.

29 “Lettre à Monsieur Chapelain, envoyée de Chiraz en Perse, le 4 Octobre 1667, touchant les superstitions, étranges façons de faire, et doctrine des Hindous ou gentils de l’Hindoustan; d’où l’on verra qu’il n’y a opinion si ridicule et si extravagante dont l’esprit de l’homme ne soit capable”. Although the letter was sent from Persia during Bernier’s journey home, some passages indicate clearly that the text was revised in France before publication. In particular, it is worth noting (ibid.: 330-1) the reference to having read the books discussing Indian religion by Athanasius Kircher and Abraham Roger, the first published in Amsterdam in 1667, the French version of the latter in 1670. Bernier makes it clear that he consulted them upon returning, and that because Kircher already offered examples of Sanskrit characters and an iconography of the Hindu Gods, he had decided to omit these materials, although he had them noted in his “mémoires”. This procedure is not surprising: following humanist conventions, letters were rhetorically addressed to individual members of the Republic of Letters, but often meant for a wider readership. The evidence suggests that Bernier often re-wrote his compositions, and that his apparently easy, clear and succinct style was the product of laboured artifice.

30 Bernier’s reference to “the strange ways and doctrine of the Hindus” (and not only “brahmins”) as a valid description of the religion of the “Gentiles” of India or “Hindustan” is important evidence for the modern historiographical debate about the “invention of Hinduism” as a religion, which too often takes British colonialism as its analytical staring point. Bernier’s background in India also suggests that it might have been adopted from his Mughal (Muslim) friends, and that therefore the concept was not, to begin with, an exclusive “western” construct, although it did involve a kind of external perspective.

31 This pandit was the same one Bernier had conversed with in Delhi alongside his Muslim patron Danishmend Khan, hence it was not implausible that he was rationalizing his doctrine according to what he knew to be audience expectations. Similarly, Bernier noted that there were those who explained the Incarnations of Vishnu and similar myths as mystic allegories to represent the attributes of a single deity, and even others, the most learned, who openly confessed that ‘there was nothing more fictional than all these incarnations, and they were nothing but an invention of the legislators in order to keep the people in a religion” (ibid.: 330). Clearly, Bernier distinguished different levels of belief and interpretation within the Hindu religious system, pointing towards the Enlightenment’s analysis of religion as a human creation.

32 The “new reason” (Navya Nyāya) was a revisionist philosophy inspired by Raghunātha Siromani, active in Navadvīpa in Bengal (also known as Nadia) in the early sixteenth century, and harking back to Kanāda’s Vaisesika Sūtra (c. 2nd century BCE) and Gautama’s Nyāya Sūtra (c. 3rd century CE). It was influential amongst Jains as well as Hindus. Ganeri speculates that despite his silence Bernier might have been introduced to Jayarāma, one of the new philosophers in Varanasi who wrote a commentary on the methodological sections of the Nyāya Sūtra (Ganeri 2001: 74).

33 Anatomia ridiculi muris, hoc est dissertationculae J.B. Morini astrologi, adversus expositam a Petro Gassendi Epicuri philosophiam, Paris, 1651. Among other things Morin had been foolish enough to predict Gassendi’s death in 1650, and Bernier exploited the error as part of his spirited refutation of judicial astrology. This was only the first of a series of virulent exchanges which, incidentally, might have encouraged Bernier to leave France after Gassendi’s death (since Morin sought to mobilize Cardinal Mazarin against him). For a history of the controversy see Martinet 1992: 47-64.

34 As far as Indian philosophy was concerned, Bernier was also reflecting upon the impact of the Upanishads upon Shah Jahan’s eldest son Dara Shukoh, whom he had served. In this respect, he targeted the syncretism of Sufi mysticism, Hindu Advaita Vedanta and, potentially, Christian Neoplatonism.

35 Back in Paris, Bernier continued to be concerned with the critique of what he considered to be irrational forms of religion, notwithstanding his friendship with an increasingly pious Madame de La Sablière. Late in his life, in an essay comparing the mysticism of those who followed Molinos (the quietists), to the mysticism of various oriental religions (Sufis, yogis and bonzes), Bernier made the universal anthropological assumptions underlying his analysis of religious superstition again explicit: “Given that all over the world men have basically the same temperament, and therefore the same bodily illnesses, they also have, roughly speaking, the same illnesses of the mind, the same thoughts, the same kinds of madness, and the same extravagances”. See “Mémoire de Mr Bernier sur le Quietisme des Indes”, Histoire des Ouvrages des Sçavans, September 1688: 47-52.

36 Bernier was careful however to question too close a comparison between Hinduism and Christianity. When the Hindus suggested that their priests were “like the padres of the Hindus”, he noted in private that this was impertinent. He also ridiculed the comparison of the Christian Trinity and the Hindu pantheon, with Vishnu standing as the “second person”, a thesis championed by the Jesuit father Roth, who could read Sanskrit and was one of Bernier’s sources (as well as Kircher’s). This could have been a rhetorical safeguard, separating the doctrinal core of Christianity, never scrutinized, from the anthropological analysis of religion, which was universalistic.

37 Locke’s use of Bernier (and of Rycaut for the Turkish dervishes) as evidence that intuitive knowledge of God, or religious enthusiasm, lacked a rational foundation can be documented in a manuscript of 1682, most recently published in Locke 1997: 289- 90. Locke and Bernier knew each other personally. As for Bayle, whose account of Spinozism as a kind of spiritual materialism became extremely influential, he may of course have wilfully misinterpreted Spinoza. In the 1680s he also corresponded with Bernier in very friendly terms (they had a common friend in Madame de La Sablière): see Gigas 1890: 184-94. It is to be noted that Bernier’s attack on spiritual pantheism (built upon the Platonic idea of sparks of divinity within each soul, human or animal) was balanced by an attack on extreme materialism concerning the human and animal mind, which he associated to Descartes rather than to Epicurean atomism. See in this respect his Lettre à Monsieur Chapelle concerning the doctrine of atoms and the nature of the human mind, sent from Shiraz in 1668, and published alongside the other three philosophical letters in the second volume of the Voyages.

38 The pandit has been tentatively identified as Kavīndra Sarasvatī, known for collecting manuscripts and who acted as intermediary between the Mughal court and the Sanskrit scholarly elite. See Ganeri 2011: 14.

39 Thus Bernier congratulated himself on his intervention, using his Muslim agha’s authority, to stop a sati sacrifice from taking place (Un libertin, pp. 308-9). He did so not with sweet words, which accomplished nothing, but by threatening the widow with leaving her children destitute and without a pension if she went ahead!

40 In his letter to La Mothe Le Vayer. Ibid.: 284-7.

41 The scope for intervention was of course very limited, but as the example of the sati shows, it pointed towards the future themes of liberal interventionism under the colonial regime.

42 Only a small extract of the “Introduction a la lecture de Confucius” was published in 1688: Le Journal des Sçavans, 7 June: 17-26 (published as part of “diverses pieces envoyées pour etrenes par Mr. Bernier à Madame de La Sablière”, where the text is much more extensive than the fragment within the booklet that Bernier had sent to her in January, published by Murr). The full version of the translation remained a manuscript, now kept in Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal. For a discussion, see Pinot 1932: 376-84. However, Pinot’s idea that Bernier was seeking to create a purely moral pressure on the monarchy of Louis XIV is questionable in the light of the letter to Colbert. Bernier’s enthusiasm for the universal value of the moral philosophy of a Gentile, and his willingness to embrace the Jesuit interpretation of the chronology of China, seem more significant, as they represent the core of libertine sinophilia.

43 Hence at some point Bernier planned a French translation of a history of Kashmir commissioned by Jahangir, although he never completed it (possibly because the Abrégé of Gassendi’s Latin volumes took precedence). Although he confessed that he did not read Sanskrit, Bernier must have been fairly competent with the Persian language, because he translated Descartes and Gassendi for Danishmend Khan, and explained to him Harvey’s anatomical discoveries.

44 That is, Bernier’s talk about different species of men did not imply a rejection of Buffon’s eventual concept of the unity of mankind as a single species through its capacity to reproduce: for Bernier species of men were simply kinds of men which were physically distinct.

45 This article has benefited from the comments of various audiences in Oxford ( “Climatic Determinism and Political Moderation”, Maison française, May 2009), Dublin ( “Europe and India in the Early Modern period”, June 2010) and Paris ( “L’Inde les lumières”, CEIAS, May 2011). I am grateful to the organizers of these events, Jean-Frédéric Schaub & Jean Louis Labarrière; Dan Carey, Derval Conroy & Jane Conroy; Ines G. Županov & Marie Fourcade. I am also grateful to the various audiences that heard the papers, and especially to specific comments from Maaike van der Lugt, Dirk van der Cruysse, Dan Carey, Rolando Minuti, Silvia Sebastiani, and Ines G. Županov.

Auteur

He is Research Professor at the Catalan Institution for Advanced Research-Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. His main fields of interest lie in European intellectual and cultural history, and the comparative study of early-modern empires. He has written extensively about travel writing and cultural encounters and about the impact of ethnography in the intellectual culture of early modern Europe.
Publications
– 2000 Travel and Ethnology in the Renaissance : South India through European Eyes, 1250-1625, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press (Past and Present Publications).
– 2007 Travellers and Cosmographers. Studies in the History of Early-Modern Travel and Ethnology, Aldershot, Ashgate (Variorum).
– 2009 “From antiquarianism to philosophical history : India, China and the world history of religion in European thought (1600-1770)”, in P. N. Miller & L. François, eds., Antiquarianism and Intellectual Life in Early Modern Europe and China, 1500-1800, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, pp. 313-367.

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