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Lire l’autre dans l’Europe des Lumières

Introduction (en anglais)

Thomas Bremer

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1Reading in the age of Enlightenment may be regarded as a revolution of the media with an important (if not a complete) change within the system of knowledge, the literary market, its agents, motivations and appearances.

  • 1 See Bremer (2006), with the corresponding sources.
  • 2 Raven 1996:175; for a study on Europe, see Dann 1981.
  • 3 Censer 1994: 7, 215 ff.; see also Bots 1988 and Sgard 1991.

2The aspect of quantity is only the most obvious part of it. As we have already pointed out in the introduction to the first volume of the papers read at the CIRBEL conference in Wittenberg on “Reading in Enlightenment Europe”, a fact which can be observed all over Europe, is the increasing number of printers, booksellers, and publishers, as well as a new structure of readers. This “new readership” included persons who had been removed from nearly any kind of intellectual life, as for example domestic servants. In the same period the leading European booksellers (of which Giles Barber listed a total of 34 in the mid eighteenth-century) acted on an ever increasing international level. The Société Typographique of Neuchâtel produced 500 editions on its four printing presses in 20 years and today still holds a well-preserved correspondence of around 250,000 letters (Darnton, 1979). A commercial circulating library like Johan Bell's “British Library” claimed to house 10,000 volumes in 1771, 31,000 in 1776, 50,000 in 1778 and 150,000 in 1793 (Raven, 1996: 181),1 and within the “library revolution in eighteenthcentury England” (Raven), the twenty circulating libraries operating only in London in 1760 had increased to more than 200 nationwide by 1800.2 The increase in the number of reviews — of titles as well as copies — is a well-known fact. For the French bookmarket, Jack Censer shows the enormous speed with which this process occurred; the number of periodicals available to the reading public in France, that lasted three or more years, increased from 15 in 1745 to 37 in 1765 and to 82 in 1785.3 And as far as the German language library market is concerned, figures in recent research indicate similar developments: in 1740, 1144 new books were published, against 2569 in 1800, 38.54% being in Latin in 1740, against only 3.97% sixty years later. In 1740, 38.54% of the new publications in the German speaking countries refer to theological subjects, against a third of that number, namely 13.55%/in 1800. In the same period, the proportion of belles lettres increases from 5.83% to 21.45% (Mix, 2005).

3Aspects which are less present in the recent reasearch on reading processes in the European eighteenth century refer, however, to cross-cultural studies. It is precisely this point which is highlighted by the contributions of the present volume. “Reading the Other” points to the intercultural aspects of knowledge which find their reference in translating, printing and reading texts of the respective non-domestic culture. The contributions range from analyzing the print history of German language works edited in London (Jefcoate), the distribution and reception of French philosophy in Italy (Schwarze) and of French novels in German speaking countries (Ferrand), to a study on the translations of works from other European cultures in eighteenth century Portugal (Maffre) or of Voltaire's marginal notes in books he read to get information on Iberian culture (Bremer), to cite only some examples. The République des lettres gets increasingly supranational, the rising number of periodicals and encyclopedias being only one sign of a broader distribution of critical information on foreign knowledge and debates, and the “Europeanization” of communication finds its most prominent expression in reprints, pirate editions, translations and adaptations of spectacular texts originated from outside the domestic culture. A Social History of Knowledge does not only consist of professing, establishing, classifying, controlling and of course selling knowledge, as Peter Burke reminds us, but also of locating and importing knowledge (Burke, 2000: 53 ff., 61 ft.). Let's keep in mind that “Reading the Other” may also mean reading to understand one's self (Ingram, Sim), get a critical perspective on one's society (Bender) or create an enlightened review far away from the centres of Enlightenment (Sommerlat).

  • 4 Chartier 2000, ch. 2 and 3, discussing explicitly Jürgen Habermas'study on the Public Sphere ( Str (...)

4At a national level this development may be understood — as Roger Chartier insists4 — as the formation of a new type of civil public and public sphere in the sense of Habermas'well-known thesis, and as a consequence of the restructuration of the whole intellectual field from about 1750 in nearly every national culture in Europe. Henri-Jean Martin says the process was like an intellectual acceleration around 1770, when he writes, “on a le sentiment qu'aux environs des années 1770 la circulation du livre s'accélère à travers l'Europe” (Martin, 1987: 125). At a non-national level this development may be interpreted as an emerging constitution for the new pan European space of communication. Voltaire reads on Portugal and Paraguay, is reprinted in Switzerland and the Netherlands, read in Spain and translated in Italy and Germany, and his library is sold to the Russian tsarina; the Encyclopédie, despite its enormous price, can be found in the libraries of most European court cities, even in Scandinavia, Hungary and the Balean states, and is a perfect example of the business of Enlightenment (Darnton, 1979); and the smuggling of books (those of philosophy as well as those of pornography) is an economic factor for more than one European frontier region. The increasing “circulation of ideas” (not necessarily from books) within the changing landscape of the media in the last third of the eighteenth century also implies the chances of an intellectual decentralization and an increasing independence from the previous centres of knowledge with their ports and the “geography of libraries” (Burke, 2000: 67), as they had still existed a few decades back, and were substituted (at least in part) by an increasing network of intellectual exchange in this pan-European space of communication, which tried to ignore political and religious restrictions.

5These questions may give some clues for further considerations like those we are glad to present in this and the previous volume of the European Spectator which were presented at the Wittenberg colloquium of the CIRBEL. Once more the organizers wish to express their warmest thanks to all who contributed to the success of the meeting and the present publication.



Barber, Giles (1981): “Who Were the Booksellers of the Enlightenment”, in Barber, Giles/Fabian, Bernhard (eds.): Buch und Buchhandel in Europa im achtzehnten Jahrhundert/The Book and the Book Trade in Eighteenth-Century Europe, Hamburg: Hauswedell, 211-224.

Bots, Hans (ed.) (1988): La diffusion et la lecture des journaux de langue française sous l'Ancien Régime, Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Bremer, Thomas (2006): “Introduction”, in Bremer, Thomas/Gagnoud, Andréa (eds.): Reading Processes in Enlightenment Europe/Modes de lecture dans l'Europe des Lumières (= The European Spectator, 7), Montpellier: Presses universitaires, x-xx.

Burke, Peter (2000): A Social History of Knowledge. From Gutenberg to Diderot, Cambridge: Polity.

Censer, Jack R. (1994): The French Press in the Age of Enlightenment, London/New York: Routledge.

Chartier, Roger (ed.) (1995): Histoires de la lecture — un bilan de recherches. Paris: IMEC/Maison des Sciences de l'homme.

Chartier, Roger (ed.) (2000): Les origines culturelles de la Révolution française [Paperback edition with new Postface, 1st ed. 1990], Paris: Seuil.

Dann, Otto (ed.) (1981): Lesegesellschaften und bürgerliche Emanzipation. Ein europdischer Vergleich, München: C.H. Beck.

Darnton, Robert (1979): The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie, 1775-1800, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Martin, Henri-Jean (1987): “La librairie française en 1777/1778” and “Pour une histoire de la lecture”, both in: Martin, Le livre français sous l'Ancien Régime, Paris: PROMODIS/Cercle de la librairie, 113-129 and 227-246.

Mix, York-Gothart (2005): “Schreiben, lesen und gelesen werden. Zur Kulturökonomie des literarischen Feldes 1770-1800”, in Adam, Wolfgang/Fauser, Markus/Pott, Ute (eds.): Geselligkeit und Bibliothek. Lesekultur im 18. Jahrhundert, Göttingen: Wallstein, 283-309.

Raven, James (1996): “From promotion to proscription: arrangements for reading and eighteenth-century libraries”, in Raven, James/Small, Helen/Tadmor, Naomi (eds.): The Practice and Representation of Reading in England, Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 175-201.

Sgard, Jean (ed.) (1991), Dictionnaire des journaux (1600-1789), Paris: Universitas, 2 vols.


1 See Bremer (2006), with the corresponding sources.

2 Raven 1996:175; for a study on Europe, see Dann 1981.

3 Censer 1994: 7, 215 ff.; see also Bots 1988 and Sgard 1991.

4 Chartier 2000, ch. 2 and 3, discussing explicitly Jürgen Habermas'study on the Public Sphere ( Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit, 1962).


Martin-Luther-Universitat Halle-Wittenberg
Professeur et directeur du Département de Littérature ibérique et ibérico-américaine à l’université de Halle-Wittenberg. Auteur d’un grand nombre de publications, notamment dans le domaine des littératures espagnole, italienne et latino-américaine depuis le XVIIIe jusqu’au XXe siècle, il est co-éditeur de plusieurs périodiques et revues internationales. Il est dix-huitièmiste et sa recherche actuelle porte sur les rapports entre la littérature espagnole et les autres littératures du Siècle des lumières, ainsi que sur l’histoire du livre et de son commerce. Dans le Spectateur européen, vol. 1, il a publié un article sur la contrebande vers l’Espagne des gravures de la Société Typographique de Neuchâtel

© Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée, 2007

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