UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Decade of literary criticism in the Memoires secrets of Bachaumont (1762-1771) Almstrom, Marjorie Elsie


Almost two centuries have passed since the publication began, in 1777, of the Memoires secrets de Bachaumont. This journal, regarded by many as the mirror of its age, was the outgrowth of a unique and highly successful experiment in group journalism undertaken by the cultured and aristocratic members of an almost-forgotten salon, the paroisse of Madame Doublet. Despite its acknowledged value to students of the Ancien Regime, few studies have been made of this lengthy and complex work. This thesis examines a limited aspect of the Memoires secrets: the literary criticism found in the first five of the thirty-six volumes together with that in the corresponding supplements for the years 1762-1771. The decade thus reviewed ends with the death of Bachaumont, a leading paroissien who first conceived the idea of recording for posterity items chosen from Madame Doublet's registers and from whose manuscript these early volumes of the Memoires are derived. The first two chapters are devoted to a consideration of the background of the journal, situating it within the nouvelliste tradition and dwelling at some length upon the paroisse that gave it birth. The chapters that follow investigate the treatment afforded by the Memoires to Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot, outline the developments in the theatre during the decade in question and offer a general account of the poetry and miscellaneous prose writings reviewed in the journal together with an inquiry into trends and contemporary attitudes. They provide, then, a general picture of the literary activity of this period as reflected in the Memoires secrets rather than a complete analysis of the many items in these volumes of interest to the student of French literature. The most striking feature of the journal is its wealth of content, evidence of the intellectual ferment of the 1760*s and of the journalistic zeal of the paroissiens. In general, the critical comments are brief, succinct and often elegantly phrased. The reviews of the more controversial writings must frequently be read in the light of their underlying irony, the careful wording being presumably a deliberate attempt to confuse the censorship authorities. The opinions expressed appear to be the result of group discussion, although the extent to which these volumes of the Memoires reflect the personal views of Bachaumont or his successor Mairobert remains uncertain. Ideologically, the tenor of the journal appears to be parlementaire and strongly pro-philosophe. As for literature, the Memoires reveal an awareness of current trends and an acceptance of innovations tempered, however, with a certain conservatism of outlook. Among the writers, Voltaire, understandably, emerges as the dominant figure of the decade. The limited scope of this investigation precludes any firm assessment of the Memoires as a whole. Certainly the abundance and diversity of their contents invite further study. A more adequate index would appear to be a prior necessity for continued investigation of this journal whose pages not only record the advance of the "republique des lettres" but also have preserved for us the picture of a vanished society.

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