Baron d’Holbach by Max Pearson Cushing

Baron D’Holbach: A Study of Eighteenth Century Radicalism in France by Max Pearson Cushing (27-Oct-1886 to 12-Jan-1951) Originally published 1914 This e-text transcribed by David Ross BARON D’HOLBACH A Study of Eighteenth Century Radicalism in France by MAX PEARSON CUSHING Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, in
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Baron D’Holbach: A Study of Eighteenth Century Radicalism in France by Max Pearson Cushing (27-Oct-1886 to 12-Jan-1951) Originally published 1914

This e-text transcribed by David Ross

A Study of Eighteenth Century Radicalism in France



Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, in the Faculty of Political Science,
Columbia University

New York

Press of
The New Era Printing Company
Lancaster, PA




Early Letters to John Wilkes.

Holbach’s family.

Relations with Diderot, Rousseau, Hume, Garrick and other important persons of the century.

Estimate of Holbach. His character and personality.


Miscellaneous Works.

Translations of German Scientific Works.

Translations of English Deistical Writers.

Boulanger’s _Antiquité dévoilée_.

Original Works: _Le Christianisme devoilé_. _Théologie portative_.
_La Contagion sacrée_.
_Essai sur les préjugés_.
_Le bons-sens_.


Voltaire’s correspondence on the subject.

Goethe’s sentiment.

Refutations and criticisms.

Holbach’s philosophy.


Five unpublished letters to John Wilkes.



Part I. Editions of Holbach’s works in Chronological Order.

Part II. General Bibliography.


A une extréme justesse d’esprit il joignait une simplicité de moeurs tout-à-fait antique et patriarcale.

J. A. Naigeon, _Journal de Paris_, le 9 fev. 1789


Diderot, writing to the Princess Dashkoff in 1771, thus analysed the spirit of his century:

Chaque siècle a son esprit qui le caractérise. L’esprit du nôtre semble être celui de la liberté. La première attaque contre la superstition a été violente, sans mesure. Une fois que les hommes ont osé d’une manière quelconque donner l’assaut à la barrière de la religion, cette barrière la plus formidable qui existe comme la plus respectée, il est impossible de s’arrêter. Dès qu’ils ont tourné des regards menaçants contre la majesté du ciel, ils ne manqueront pas le moment d’après de les diriger contre la souveraineté de la terre. Le câble qui tient et comprime l’humanité est formé de deux cordes, l’une ne peut céder sans que l’autre vienne à rompre. [Endnote 1:1]

The following study proposes to deal with this attack on religion that preceded and helped to prepare the French Revolution. Similar phenomena are by no means rare in the annals of history; eighteenth-century atheism, however, is of especial interest, standing as it does at the end of a long period of theological and ecclesiastical disintegration and prophesying a reconstruction of society on a purely rational and naturalistic basis. The anti-theistic movement has been so obscured by the less thoroughgoing tendency of deism and by subsequent romanticism that the real issue in the eighteenth century has been largely lost from view. Hence it has seemed fit to center this study about the man who stated the situation with the most unmistakable and uncompromising clearness, and who still occupies a unique though obscure position in the history of thought.

Holbach has been very much neglected by writers on the eighteenth century. He has no biographer. M. Walferdin wrote (in an edition of Diderot’s Works, Paris, 1821, Vol. XII p. 115): “Nous nous occupons depuis longtemps à rassembler les matériaux qui doivent servir à venger la mémoire du philosophe de la patrie de Leibnitz, et dans l’ouvrage que nous nous proposons de publier sous le titre “D’Holbach jugé par ses contemporains” nous espérons faire justement apprécier ce savant si estimable par la profondeur et la variété de ses connaissances, si précieux à sa famille et à ses amis par la pureté et la simplicité de ses moeurs, en qui la vertu était devenue une habitude et la bienfaisance un besoin.” This work has never appeared and M. Tourneux thinks that nothing of it was found among M. Walferdin’s papers. [2:2] In 1834 Mr. James Watson published in an English translation of the _Système de la Nature_, _A Short Sketch of the Life and the Writings of Baron d’Holbach_ by Mr. Julian Hibbert, compiled especially for that edition from Saint Saurin’s article in Michaud’s _Biographie Universelle_ (Paris, 1817, Vol. XX, pp. 460-467), from Barbier’s _Dict. des ouvrages anonymes_ (Paris, 1822) and from the preface to the Paris edition of the _Système de la Nature_ (4 vols., 18mo, 1821). This sketch was later published separately (London, 1834, 12mo, pp. 14) but on account of the author’s sudden death it was left unfinished and is of no value from the point of view of scholarship. Another attempt to publish something on Holbach was made by Dr. Anthony C. Middleton of Boston in 1857. In the preface to his translation to the _Lettres à Eugenia_ he speaks of a “Biographical Memoir of Baron d’Holbach which I am now preparing for the press.” If ever published at all this _Memoir_ probably came to light in the _Boston Investigator_, a free-thinking magazine published by Josiah P. Mendum, 45 Cornhill, Boston, but it is not to be found. Mention should also be made of the fact that M. Assézat intended to include in a proposed study of Diderot and the philosophical movement, a chapter to be devoted to Holbach and his society; but this work has never appeared. [3:3]

Of the two works bearing Holbach’s name as a title, one is a piece of libellous fiction by Mme. de Genlis, _Les Diners du baron d’Holbach_ (Paris, 1822, 8vo), the other a romance pure and simple by F. T. Claudon (Paris, 1835, 2 vols., 8vo) called _Le Baron d’Holbach_, the events of which take place largely at his house and in which he plays the rôle of a minor character. A good account of Holbach, though short and incidental, is to be found in M. Avézac-Lavigne’s _Diderot et la Société du Baron d’Holbach_ (Paris, 1875, 8vo), and M. Armand Gasté has a little book entitled _Diderot et le cure de Montchauvet, une Mystification littéraire chez le Baron d’Holbach_ (Paris, 1895, 16vo). There are several works which devote a chapter or section to Holbach. [3:4] The French critics and the histories of philosophy contain slight notices; Rosenkranz’s “Diderot’s Leben” devotes a chapter to Granval, Holbach’s country seat, and life there as described by Diderot in his letters to Mlle. Volland; and he is included in such histories of ideas as Soury, J., “Bréviaire de l’histoire de Matérialisme” (Paris, 1881) and Delvaille, J., _Essai sur l’histoire de l’idée de progrès_ (Paris, 1910); but nowhere else is there anything more than the merest encyclopedic account, often defective and incorrect.

The sources are in a sense full and reliable for certain phases of his life and literary activity. His own publications, numbering about fifty, form the most important body of source material for the history and development of his ideas. Next in importance are contemporary memoirs and letters including those of Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Grimm, Morellet, Marmontel, Mme. d’Epinay, Naigeon, Garat, Galiani, Hume, Garrick, Wilkes, Romilly and others; and scattered letters by Holbach himself, largely to his English friends. In addition there is a large body of contemporary hostile criticism of his books, by Voltaire, Frederick II, Castillon, Holland, La Harpe, Delisle de Sales and a host of outraged ecclesiastics, so that one is well informed in regard to the scandal that his books caused at the time. Out of these materials and other scattered documents and notices it is possible to reconstruct–though somewhat defectively–the figure of a man who played an important rôle in his own day; but whose name has long since lost its significance–even in the ears of scholars. It is at the suggestion of Professor James Harvey Robinson that this reconstruction has been made. If it shall prove of any interest or value he must be credited with the initiation of the idea as well as constant aid in its realization. For rendering possible the necessary investigations, recognition is due to the administration and officers of the Bibliothèque Nationale, the British Museum, the Library of Congress, the Libraries of Columbia and Harvard Universities, Union and Andover Theological Seminaries, and the Public Libraries of Boston and New York.

M. P. C.

July, 1914.


Paul Heinrich Dietrich, or as he is better known, Paul-Henri Thiry, baron d’Holbach, was born in January, 1723, in the little village of Heidelsheim (N.W. of Carlsruhe) in the Palatinate. Of his parentage and youth nothing is known except that his father, a rich parvenu, according to Rousseau, [5:5] brought him to Paris at the age of twelve, where he received the greater part of his education. His father died when Holbach was still a young man. It may be doubted if young Holbach inherited his title and estates immediately as there was an uncle “Messire Francois-Adam, Baron d’Holbach, Seigneur de Héeze, Léende et autres Lieux” who lived in the rue Neuve S. Augustin and died in 1753. His funeral was held at Saint-Roch, his parish church, Thursday, September 16th, where he was afterward entombed. [5:6] Holbach was a student in the University of Leyden in 1746 and spent a good deal of time at his uncle’s estate at Héeze, a little town in the province of North Brabant (S.E. of Eindhoven). He also traveled and studied in Germany. There are two manuscript letters in the British Museum (Folio 30867, pp. 14, 18, 20) addressed by Holbach to John Wilkes, which throw some light on his school-days. It is interesting to note that most of Holbach’s friends were young Englishmen of whom there were some twenty-five at the University of Leyden at that time. [6:7] Already at the age of twenty-three Holbach was writing very good English, and all his life he was a friend of Englishmen and English ideas. His friendship for Wilkes, then a lad of nineteen, lasted all his life and increased in intimacy and dignity. The two letters following are of interest because they are the only documents we have bearing on Holbach’s early manhood. They reveal a certain sympathy and feeling–rather gushing to be sure–quite unlike anything in his later writings, and quite out of line with the supposedly cold temper of a materialist and an atheist.

[Footnote: These letters, contrary to modern usage, are printed with all the peculiarities of eighteenth century orthography. It was felt that they would lose their quaintness and charm if Holbach’s somewhat fantastic English were trifled with or his spelling, capitalization and punctuation modernized.]


HÉEZE Aug. 9, 1746

_Dearest Friend_

I should not have felt by half enough the pleasure your kind letter gave me, If I had words to express it; I never doubted of your friendship, nor I hope do you know me so little as to doubt of mine, but your letter is full of such favorable sentiments to me that I must own I cannot repay them but by renewing to you the entire gift of my heart that has been yours ever since heaven favour’d me with your acquaintance. I need not tell you the sorrow our parting gave me, in vain Philosophy cried aloud nature was still stronger and the philosopher was forced to yield to the friend, even now I feel the wound is not cur’d. Therefore no more of that–_Hope_ is my motto. Telling me you are happy you make me so but in the middle of your happiness you dont forget your friend, What flattering thought to me! Such are the charms of friendship every event is shar’d and nothing nor even the greatest intervals are able to interrupt the happy harmony of truly united minds. I left Leyden about 8 or 10 days after you but before my departure I thought myself obliged to let Mr Dowdenwell know what you told me, he has seen the two letters Mr Johnson had received and I have been mediator of ye peace made betwixt the 2 parties, I don’t doubt but you have seen by this time Messrs Bland & Weatherill who were to set out for Engelland the same week I parted with them. When I was leaving Leyden Mr Vernon happen’d to tell me he had a great mind to make a trip to Spa. So my uncles’ estate being on ye road I desir’d him to come along with me, he has been here a week and went on afterwards in his journey, at my arrival here, I found that General Count Palfi with an infinite number of military attendants had taken possession of my uncles’ house, and that the 16 thousd men lately come from Germany to strengthen the allies army, commanded by Count Bathiani and that had left ye neighborhood of Breda a few days before and was come to Falkenswert (where you have past in your journey to Spa) one hour from hence. Prince Charles arrived here the same day from Germany to take ye command of the allies, the next Day the whole army amounting to 70thd men went on towards the county of Liège to prevent the French from beseiging Namur, I hear now that the two armies are only one hour from another, so we expect very soon the news of a great battle but not without fear, Count Saxes army being, by all account of hundred ten thoud. men besides. Prince Counti’s army of 50 thd. this latter General is now employ’d at the siege of Charleroy. that can’t resist a long while, it is a report that the King of France is arrived in his army, I hope this long account will entertain you for want of news papers: Mr. Dowdeswell being left alone of our club at Leyden I Desir’d him to come and spend with me the time of his vacations here, which proposal I hope he will accept and be here next week. What happy triumvirat would be ours if you were to join: but that is impossible at present; however those who cant enjoy reality are fond of feeding their fancies with agreable Dreams and charming pictures; that helps a little to sooth the sorrow of absence and makes one expect with more pati[ence] till fortune allows him to put in execution the cherish’d systems he has been fed upon fore some [time] I shall expect with great many thanks the books you are to send me; it will be for me a dubble pleasure to read them, being of your choice which I value as much as it deserves, and looking at them as upon a new proof of your benevolence, as to those I design’d to get from Paris for you, I heard I could not get them before my uncles’ return hither all commerce being stopt by the way betwixt this country and France.

A few days before my departure from Leyden I receiv’d a letter from Mr Freeman from Berlin, he seams vastly pleas’d with our Germany, and chiefly with Hambourg where a beautiful lady has taken in his heart the room of poor Mss. Vitsiavius, my prophesy was just; traveling seems to have alter’d a good deal his melancholy disposition as I may conjecture by his way of writing. He desired his service to you. As to me, Idleness renders me every day more philosopher every passion is languishing within me, I retain but one in a warm degree, viz, friendship in which you share no small part. I took a whim to study a little Physic accordingly I purchased several books in that Way, and my empty hours here are employ’d with them. I am sure your time will be much better employ’d at Alesbury you’ll find there a much nobler entertainment Cupid is by far Lovlier than Esculapius, however I shall not envy your happiness, in the Contrary I wish that all your desires be crown’d with success, that a Passion that proves fatal to great many of men be void of sorrow for you, that all the paths of love be spred over with flowers in one Word that you may not address in vain to the charming Mss. M. I am almost tempted to fall in love with that unknown beauty, ‘t would not be quite like Don Quixotte for your liking to her would be for me a very strong prejudice of her merit, which the poor Knight had not in his love for Dulcinea.

I shall not ask your pardon for the length of this letter I am sure friendship will forgive the time I steal to Love however I cannot give up so easily a conversation with a true friend with whom I fancy to speak yet in one of those delightfull evening walks at Leyden. It is a dream, I own it, but it is so agreable one to me that nothing but reality could be compared to the pleasure I feel: let me therefore insist a little more upon’t and travel with my Letter, we are gone! I think to be at Alesbury! there I see my Dear Wilkes! What a Flurry of Panions! Joy! fear of a second parting! what charming tears! what sincere Kisses!–but time flows and the end of this Love is now as unwelcome to me, as would be to another to be awaken’d in the middle of a Dream wherein he is going to enjoy a beloved mistress; the enchantment ceases, the delightfull images vanish, and nothing is left to me but friendship, which is of all my possessions the fairest, and the surest, I am most sincerely Dear Wilkes

Your affectionate friend and humble servant DE HOLBACH
Heze the 9th august 1746 N. S.

I shall expect with impatience the letter you are to write me from Alesbury. Will it be here very soon!

[HÉEZE Dec. 3rd. 1746]

_Dearest Wilkes_

During a little voyage I have made into Germany I have received your charming letter of the 8th. September O. S. the many affairs I have been busy with for these 3 months has hindered me hitherto from returning to you as speedy an answer as I should have done. I know too much your kindness for me to make any farther apology and I hope you are enough acquainted with the sincerety of my friendship towards you to adscribe my fault to forgetfulness or want of gratitude be sure, Dear friend, that such a disposition will allways be unknown to me in regard to you. I don’t doubt but you will be by this time returned at London, the winter season being an obstacle to the pleasures you have enjoyed following ye Letter at Alesbury during the last Autumn. I must own I have felt a good deal of pride when you gave me the kind assurance that love has not made you forget an old friend, I need not tell you my disposition. I hope you know it well enough and like my friendship for you has no bounds I want expressions to show it. Mr Dowdeswell has been so good as to let me enjoy his company here in the month of August, and returned to Leyden to pursue his studies in the middle of September. We often wished your company and made sincere libations to you with burgundy and Champaigne I had a few weeks there after I set out for Germany where I expected to spend the whole winter but the sudden death of my Uncle’s Steward has forced me to come back here to put in order the affairs of this estate, I don’t know how long I shall be obliged to stay in the meanwhile I act pretty well the part of a County Squire, id est, hunting, shooting, fishing, walking every day without to lay aside the ever charming conversation of Horace Virgil Homer and all our noble friends of the Elysian fields. They are allways faithfull to me, with their aid I find very well how to employ my time, but I want in this country a true bosom friend like my dear Wilkes to converse with, but my pretenssions are too high, for every abode with such a company would be heaven for me.

I perceive by your last letter that your hopes are very like to succeed by Mss Mead, you are sure that every happines that can befall to you will make me vastly happy. I beseech you therefore to let me know everytime how far you are gone, I take it to be a very good omen for you, that your lovely mistress out of compliance has vouchsafed to learn a harsh high-dutch name, which would otherwise have made her starttle, at the very hearing of it. I am very thankful for her kind desire of seeing me in Engelland which I dont wish the less but you know my circumstances enough, to guess that I cannot follow my inclinations. I have not heard hitherto anything about the books you have been so kind as to send me over by the opportunity of a friend. I have wrote about it to Msrs Conrad et Bouwer of Rotterdam, they answered that they were not yet there. Nevertheless I am very much oblided to you for your kindness and wish to find very soon the opportunity of my revenge. Mr Dowderswell complains very much of Mrs Bland and Weatherill, having not heard of them since their departure from Leyden. I desire my compliments to Mr Dyer and all our old acquaintances. Pray be so good as to direct your first letter under the covert of Mr Dowderwell at Ms Alliaume’s at Leyden he shall send it to me over immediately, no more at Mr Van Sprang’s like you used to do. I wish to know if Mr Lyson since his return to his native country, continues in his peevish cross temper. If you have any news besides I’ll be glad to hear them by your next which I expect very soon.

About politicks I cannot tell you anything at present, you have heard enough by this time the fatal battle fought near Liège in 8ber last; everybody has little hopes of the Congress of Breda, the Austrian and Piedmontese are entered into provence, which is not as difficult as to maintain themselves therein, I wish a speedy peace would enable us both to see the rejoicings that will attend the marriage of the Dauphin of France with a Princess of Saxony. I have heard that peace is made between England and Spain, which you ought to know better than I. We fear very much for the next campaign the siege of Maestrich in our neighborhood. These are all the news I know. I’ll tell you another that you have known a long while viz. that nobody is with more sincerity My Dear Wilkes

Your faithfull humble Servant and Friend HOLBACH
Heeze the 3 d Xber 1746 ns

By 1750 Holbach was established in Paris as a young man of the world. His fortune, his learning, his sociability attracted the younger literary set toward him. In 1749 he was already holding his Thursday dinners which later became so famous. Among his early friends were Diderot, Rousseau and Grimm. With them he took the side of the Italian _Opera buffa_ in the famous musical quarrel of 1752, and published two witty brochures ridiculing French music. [12:9] He was an art connoisseur and bought Oudry’s _Chienne allaitant ses petits_, the _chef d’oeuvre_ of the Salon of 1753. [12:10] During these years he was hard at work at his chosen sciences of chemistry and mineralogy. In 1752 he published in a huge volume in quarto with excellent plates, a translation of Antonio Neri’s _Art of Glass making_, and in 1753 a translation of Wallerius’ _Mineralogy_. On July 26, 1754, the Academy of Berlin made him a foreign associate in recognition of his scholarly attainments in Natural History, [12:11] and later he was elected to the Academies of St. Petersburg and Mannheim.

All that was now lacking to this brilliant young man was an attractive wife to rule over his salon. His friends urged him to wed, and in 1753 he married Mlle. Basile-Genevieve-Susanne d’Aine, daughter of “Maître Marius-Jean-Baptiste Nicolas d’Aine, conseiller au Roi en son grand conseil, associé externe de l’Acad. des sciences et belles letters de Prusse.” [12:12] M. d’Aine was also Maître des Requêtes and a man of means. Mme. d’Holbach was a very charming and gracious woman and Holbach’s good fortune seemed complete when suddenly Mme. d’Holbach died from a most loathsome and painful disease in the summer of 1754. Holbach was heart-broken and took a trip through the provinces with his friend Grimm, to whom he was much attached, to distract his mind from his grief. He returned in the early winter and the next year (1755) got a special dispensation from the Pope to marry his deceased wife’s sister, Mlle. Charlotte-Susanne d’Aine. By her he had four children, two sons and two daughters. The first, Charles-Marius, was born about the middle of August, 1757, and baptized in Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, Aug. 22. He inherited the family title and was a captain in the regiment of the Schomberg-Dragons. [13:13] The first daughter was born towards the end of 1758 and the second about the middle of Jan., 1760. [13:14] The elder married the Marquis de Châtenay and the younger the Marquis de Nolivos, “Captaine au régiment de la Seurre, Dragons.” Their Majesties the King and Queen and the Royal Family signed their marriage contract May 27, 1781. [13:15] Of the second son there seem to be no traces. Holbach’s mother-in-law, Madame d’Aine, was a very interesting old woman as she is pictured in Diderot’s _Mémoires_, and there was a brother-in-law, “Messire Marius-Jean-Baptiste-Nicholas d’Aine, chevalier, conseiller du roi en ses conseils, Maître des requêtes honoraire de son hôtel, intendant de justice, police, et finances de la généralité de Tours,” who lived in rue Saint Dominique, paroisse Saint-Sulpice. There was in Holbach’s household for a long time an old Scotch surgeon, a homeless, misanthropic old fellow by the name of Hope, of whom Diderot gives a most interesting account. [14:16] These are the only names we have of the personnel of Holbach’s household. His town house was in the rue Royale, butte Saint-Roch. It was here that for an almost unbroken period of forty years he gave his Sunday and Thursday dinners. The latter day was known to the more intimate set of encyclopedists as the _jour du synagogue_. Here the _église philosophique_ met regularly to discuss its doctrines and publish its propaganda of radicalism.

Holbach had a very pleasant country seat, the château of Grandval, now in the arrondisement of Boissy St. Léger at Sucy-en-Brie. It is pleasantly situated in the valley of a little stream, the Morbra, which flows into the Marne. The property was really the estate of Mme. d’Aine who lived with the Holbachs. Here the family and their numerous guests passed the late summer and fall. Here Diderot spent weeks at a time working on the Encyclopedia, dining, and walking on the steep slopes of the Marne with congenial companions. To him we are indebted for our intimate knowledge of Grandval and its inhabitants, their slightest doings and conversations; and as Danou has well said, if we were to wish ourselves back in any past age we should choose with many others the mid-eighteenth century and the charming society of Paris and Grandval. [14:17]

Holbach’s life, in common with that of most philosophers, offers no events, except that he came near being killed in the crush and riot in the rue Royale that followed the fire at the Dauphin’s wedding in 1770. [15:18] He was never an official personage. His entire life was spent in study, writing and conversation with his friends. He traveled very little; the world came to him, to the _Café de l’Europe_, as Abbé Galiani called Paris. From time to time Holbach went to Contrexéville for his gout and once to England to visit David Garrick; but he disliked England very thoroughly and was glad to get back to Paris. The events of his life in so far as there were any, were his relations with people. He knew intimately practically all the great men of his century, except Montesquieu and Voltaire, who were off the stage before his day. [15:19] Holbach’s most intimate and life-long friend among the great figures of the century was Diderot, of whom Rousseau said, “À la distance de quelques siècles du moment où il a vécu, Diderot paraîtra un homme prodigieux; on regardera de loin cette tête universelle avec une admiration mêlée d’étonnement, comme nous regardons aujourd’hui la tête des Platon et des Aristote.” [15:20] All his contemporaries agreed that nothing was so charged with divine fire as the conversation of Diderot. Gautherin, in his fine bronze of him on the Place Saint-Germain-des-Près, seems to have caught the spirit of his talk and has depicted him as he might have sat in the midst of Holbach’s society, of which he was the inspiration and the soul. Holbach backed Diderot financially in his great literary and scientific undertaking and provided articles for the Encyclopedia on chemistry and natural science. Diderot had a high opinion of his erudition and said of him, “Quelque système que forge mon imagination, je suis sur que mon ami d’Holbach me trouve des faits et des autorités pour le justifier.” [16:21] Opinions differ in regard to the intellectual influence of these men upon each other. Diderot was without doubt the greater thinker, but Holbach stated his atheism with far greater clarity and Diderot gave his sanction to it by embellishing Holbach’s books with a few eloquent pages of his own. Diderot said to Sir Samuel Romilly in 1781, “Il faut _sabrer_ la théologie,” [16:22] and died in 1784 in the belief that complete infidelity was the first step toward philosophy. Five years later Holbach was buried by his side in the crypt of the Chapel of the Virgin behind the high altar in Saint-Roch. No tablet marks their tombs, and although repeated investigations have been made no light has been thrown on the exact position of their burial place. According to Diderot’s daughter, Mme. Vandeuil, their entire correspondence has been destroyed or lost. [16:23]

Holbach’s relations with Rousseau were less harmonious. The account of their mutual misunderstandings contained in the _Confessions_, in a letter by Cerutti in the _Journal de Paris_ Dec. 2, 1789, and in private letters of Holbach’s to Hume, Garrick, and Wilkes, is a long and tiresome tale. The author of _Eclaircissements relatifs à la publication des confessions de Rousseau…_ (Paris, 1789) blames the _club holbachique_ for their treatment of Rousseau, but the fault seems to lie on both sides. According to Rousseau’s account, Holbach sought his friendship and for a few years he was one of Holbach’s society. But, after the success of the _Devin du Village_ in 1753, the _holbachiens_ turned against him out of jealousy of his genius as a composer. Visions of a dark plot against him rose before his fevered and sensitive imagination, and after 1756 he left the Society of the Encyclopedists, never to return. Holbach, on the other hand, while admitting rather questionable treatment of Rousseau, never speaks of any personal injury on his part, and bewails the fact that “l’homme le plus éloquent s’est rendu ainsi l’homme le plus anti-littéraire, et l’homme le plus sensible s’est rendu le plus anti-social.” [17:24] He did warn Hume against taking him to England, and in a letter to Wilkes predicted the quarrel that took place shortly after. In writing to Garrick [17:25] he says some hard but true things about Rousseau, who on his part never really defamed Holbach but depicted him as the virtuous atheist under the guise of Wolmar in the _Nouvelle Heloïse_. Their personal incompatibility is best explained on the grounds of the radical differences in their temperaments and types of mind and by the fact that Rousseau was too sensitive to get on with anybody for any great length of time.

Two other great Frenchmen, Buffon and d’Alembert, were for a time members of Holbach’s society, but, for reasons that are not altogether clear, gradually withdrew. Grimm suggests that Buffon did not find the young philosophers sufficiently deferential to him and to the authorized powers, and feared for his dignity,–and safety, in their company. D’Alembert, on the other hand, was a recluse by nature, and, after giving up his editorship on the Encyclopedia, easily dropped out of Diderot’s society and devoted himself to Mlle. Lespinasse and Mme. Geoffrin. Holbach and Helvetius were life-long friends and spent much time together reading at Helvetius’s country place at Voré. After his death in 1774, Holbach frequented Mme. Helvetius’ salon where he knew and deeply influenced Volney, Cabanis, de Tracy, and the first generation of the Ideologists who continued his and Helvetius’ philosophical doctrines. Among the other Frenchmen of the day who were on intimate relations with Holbach and frequented his salon were La Condamine, Condillac, Condorcet, Turgot, Morellet, Raynal, Grimm, Marmontel, Colardeau, Saurin, Suard, Saint-Lambert, Thomas, Duclos, Chastellux, Boulanger, Darcet, Roux, Rouelle, Barthès, Venel, Leroy, Damilaville, Naigeon, Lagrange and lesser names,–but well known in Paris in the eighteenth century,–d’Alinville, Chauvelin, Desmahis, Gauffecourt, Margency, de Croismare, de Pezay, Coyer, de Valory, Charnoi, not to mention a host of others.

Among Holbach’s most intimate English friends were Hume, Garrick, Wilkes, Sterne, Gibbon, Horace Walpole, Adam Smith, Benjamin Franklin, Dr. Priestley, Lord Shelburne, Gen. Barré, Gen. Clark, Sir James MacDonald, Dr. Gem, Messrs. Stewart, Demster, Fordyce, Fitzmaurice, Foley, etc. Holbach addressed a letter to Hume in 1762, before making his acquaintance, in which he expressed his admiration of his philosophy and the desire to know him personally. [18:26] In 1764 Hume came to Paris as secretary of the British Embassy and immediately called on Holbach and became a regular frequenter of his salon. It was to Holbach that he wrote first on the outbreak of his quarrel with Rousseau and they corresponded at length in egard to the publication of the _Exposé succinct_, which was to justify Hume in the eyes of the French. Hume and Holbach had much in common intellectually, although the latter was far more thoroughgoing in his repudiation of Theism.

David Garrick and his wife were frequent visitors at the rue Royale on their trips to Paris where they were very much liked by Holbach’s society. Nothing is more cordial or gracious than the compliments passed between them in their subsequent correspondence. There are two published letters from Holbach in Mr. Hedgecock’s recent study of Garrick and his French friends, excellent examples of the happy spontaneity and sympathy that were characteristic of French sociability in the eighteenth century. [19:27] Holbach in turn spent several months with Garrick at Hampton.

Holbach’s early friendship for Wilkes has already been mentioned. Wilkes spent a great deal of time in Paris on the occasion of his exiles from England and became very intimate with Holbach. They corresponded up to the very end of Holbach’s life and there was a constant interchange of friendly offices between them. [19:28] Miss Wilkes, who spent much time in Paris, was a very good friend of Mme. Holbach and Mlle. Helvetius. Adam Smith often dined at Holbach’s with Turgot and the economists; Gibbon also found his dinners agreeable except for the dogmatism of the atheists; Walpole resented it also and kept away. Priestley seems to have gotten on very well, although the philosophers found his materialism and unitarianism a trifle inconsistent. It was at Holbach’s that Shelburne met Morellet with whom he carried on a long and serious correspondence on economics. There seem to be no details of Holbach’s relations with Franklin, who was evidently more assiduous at the salon of Mme. Helvetius whom he desired to marry.

Holbach’s best friend among the Italians was Abbé Galiani, secretary of the Neapolitan Embassy, who spent ten years in the salons of Paris. After his return to Naples his longing for Paris led him to a voluminous correspondence with his French friends including Holbach. A few of their letters are extant. Beccaria also came to Paris at the invitation of the translator of his _Crimes and Punishments_, Abbé Morellet, made on behalf of Holbach and his society. Beccaria and his friend Veri, who accompanied him, had long been admirers of French philosophy, and the Frenchmen found much to admire in Beccaria’s book. One _avocat-général_, M. Servan of the Parlement of Bordeaux, a friend of Holbach’s, tried to put his reforms in practice and shared the fate of most reformers. Holbach was also in correspondence with Beccaria, and one of his letters has been published in M. Landry’s recent study of Beccaria.

Among the other Italians whom Holbach befriended were Paulo Frizi, the mathematician; Dr. Gatti; Pincini, the musician; and Mme. Riccoboni, ex-actress and novelist; whose lively correspondence with Garrick whom she met at Holbach’s sheds much light on the social relations of the century.

Among the other foreigners who were friends or acquaintances of Holbach were his fellow countrymen, Frederich Melchon Grimm, like himself a naturalized Frenchman and the bosom friend of Diderot; Meister, his collaborator in the _Literary Correspondence_; Kohant, a Bohemian musician, composer, of the _Bergère des Alpes_ and Mme. Holbach’s lute-teacher; Baron Gleichen, Comte de Creutz, Danish and Scandinavian diplomats; and a number of German nobles; the hereditary princes of Brunswick and Saxe Gotha, Baron Alaberg, afterwards elector of Mayence, Baron Schomberg and Baron Studitz.

Among the well known women of the century Holbach was most intimate with Mme. d’Epinay, who became a very good friend of Mme. Holbach’s and was present at the birth of her first son, and, in her will, left her a portrait by Rembrandt. He was also a friend of Mme. Geoffrin, attended her salon, and knew Mlle. de Lespinasse, Mme. Houderot and most of the important women of the day.

There are excellent sources from which to form an estimate of this man whose house was the social centre of the century. Just after Holbach’s death on January 21, 1789, Naigeon, his literary agent, who had lived on terms of the greatest intimacy with him for twenty-four years, wrote a long eulogy which filled the issue of the _Journal de Paris_ for Feb. 9. There was another letter to the _Journal_ on Feb. 12. Grimm’s _Correspondance Littéraire_ for March contains a long account of him by Meister, and there are other notices in contemporary memoirs such as Morellet’s and Marmontel’s. All these accounts agree in picturing him as the most admirable of men.

It must be remembered that Holbach always enjoyed what was held to be a considerable fortune in his day. From his estates in Westphalia he had a yearly income of 60,000 _livres_ which he spent in entertaining. This freedom from economic pressure gave him leisure to devote his time to his chosen intellectual pursuits and to his friends. He was a universally learned man. He knew French, German, English, Italian and Latin extremely well and had a fine private library of about three thousand works often of several volumes each, in these languages and in Greek and Hebrew. The catalogue of this library was published by Debure in 1789. It would be difficult to imagine a more comprehensive and complete collection of its size. He had also a rich collection of drawings by the best masters, fine pictures of which he was a connoisseur, bronzes, marbles, porcelains and a natural history cabinet, so in vogue in those days, containing some very valuable specimens. He was one of the most learned men of his day in natural science, especially chemistry and mineralogy, and to his translations from the best German scientific works is largely due the spread of scientific learning in France in the eighteenth century. Holbach was also very widely read in English theology and philosophy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and derived his anti-theological inspiration from these two sources. To this vast fund of learning, he joined an extreme modesty and simplicity. He sought no academic honors, published all his works anonymously, and, had it not been for the pleasure he took in communicating his ideas to his friends, no one would have suspected his great erudition. He had an extraordinary memory and the reputation of never forgetting anything of interest. This plenitude of information, coupled with his easy and pleasant manner of talking, made his society much sought after. Naigeon said of him (in his preface to the works of Lagrange):

Personne n’était plus communicatif que M. le baron d’Holbach; personne ne prenait aux progrès de la raison un intérêt plus vif, plus sincère, et ne s’occupait avec plus de zèle et l’activité des moyens de les accélérer.

Également versé dans la plupart des matières sur lesquelles il importe le plus à des êtres raisonnables d’avoir une opinion arrêtée, M. le baron d’Holbach portait dans leur discussion un jugement sain, une logique sévère, et une analyse exacte et précise. Quelque fut l’objet de ses entretiens avec ses amis, ou même avec des indifférens, tels qu’en offrent plus ou moins toutes les sociétés; il inspirait sans effort à ceux qui l’écoutaient l’enthousiasme de l’art ou de la science dont il parlait; et on ne le quittait jamais sans regretter de n’avoir pas cultivé la branche particulière de connaissances qui avait fait le sujet de la conversation, sans désirer d’être plus instruit, plus éclairé, et surtout sans admirer la claret, la justesse de son esprit, et l’ordre dans lequel il savait présenter ses idées.

This virtue of communicativeness, of _sociabilité_, Holbach carried into all the relations of life. He was always glad to lend or give his books to anyone who could make use of them. “Je suis riche,” he used to say, “mais je ne vois dans la fortune qu’un instrument de plus pour opérer le bien plus promptement et plus efficacement.” In fact Holbach’s whole principle of life and action was to increase the store of human well being. And he did this without any religious motive whatsoever. As Julie says of Wolmar in _La Nouvelle Heloïse_, “Il fait le bien sans espoir de récompense, il est plus vertueux, plus désintéressé que nous.” There are many recorded instances of Holbach’s gracious benevolence. As he said to Helvetius, “Vous êtes brouillé avec tous ceux que vous avez obligé, mais j’ai gardé tous mes amis.” Holbach had the faculty of attaching people to him. Diderot tells how at the Salon of 1753 after Holbach had bought Oudry’s famous picture, all the collectors who had passed it by came to him and offered him twice what he paid for it. Holbach went to find the artist to ask him permission to cede the picture to his profit, but Oudry refused, saying that he was only too happy that his best work belonged to the man who was the first to appreciate it. Instances of Holbach’s liberality to Kohant, a poor musician, and to Suard, a poor literary man, are to be found in the pages of Diderot and Meister, and his constant generosity to his friends is a commonplace in their Memoirs and Correspondence. Only Rousseau was ungrateful enough to complain that Holbach’s free-handed gifts insulted his poverty. His kindness to Lagrange, a young literary man whom he rescued from want, has been well told by M. Naigeon in the preface to the works of Lagrange (p. xviii).

But perhaps the most touching instances of Holbach’s benevolence are his relations with the peasants of Contrexéville, one of which was published in the _Journal de Lecture_, 1775, the other in an anonymous letter to the _Journal de Paris_, Feb. 12, 1789. The first concerns the reconciliation of two old peasants who, not wanting to go to court, brought their differences to their respected friend for a settlement. Nothing is more simple and beautiful than this homely tale as told in a letter of Holbach’s to a friend of his. The second, which John Wilkes said ought to be written in letters of gold, deserves to be reproduced as a whole.

L’éloge funèbre que M. Naigeon a consacré à la mémoire de M. le Baron d’Holbach suffit pour donner une idée juste de ses lumières, mais le hasard m’a mis à portée de les juger encore mieux. J’ai vu M. le Baron d’Holbach dans deux voyages que j’ai faits aux eaux de Contrexéville. S’occuper de sa souffrance et de sa guérison, c’est le soin de chaque malade. M. le Baron d’Holbach devenait le médecin, l’ami, le consolateur de quiconque venait aux eaux et il semblait bien moins occupé de ses infirmités que de celles des autres. Lorsque des malades indigens manquaient de secours, ou pécuniaires ou curatifs, il les leur procurait avec un plaisir qui lui faisait plus de bien que les eaux. Je me promenais un soir avec lui sur une hauteur couverte d’un massif de bois qui fait perspective de loin et près duquel s’élève un petit Hermitage. Là, demeure un cénobite qui n’a de revenu que les aumônes de ceux dont il reçoit les visites. Nous acquittâmes chacun notre dette hospitalière. En prenant congé de l’Hermite, M. le Baron d’Holbach me dit de le précéder un instant et qu’il allait me suivre. Je le précédai, et comme il ne me suivait pas je m’arrêtai, pour l’attendre sur un terte exhaussé d’où l’on découvre tout le pays. Je contemplais le canton que je dominais, plongé dans une douce rêverie. J’en fus tiré par des cris et je me retournai vers l’endroit d’òu ils partaient. Je vis M. le Baron d’Holbach environné d’une vieille femme et de deux villageois, l’un vieux comme elle et l’autre jeune. Tous trois, les larmes aux yeux, l’embrassaient hautement. Allez vous-en donc, s’écrait M. le Baron d’Holbach; laissez moi, on m’attend, ne me suivez pas, adieu; je reviendrai l’année prochaine. En me voyant arriver vers eux, les trois personnes reconnaissantes disparurent. Je lui demandai le sujet de tant de bénédictions. Ce jeune paysan que vous avez vu s’etait engagé, j’ai obtenu de son colonel sa liberté en payant les cents écus prescrits par l’ordonnance. Il est amoureux d’une jeune paysanne aussi pauvre que lui, je viens d’acheter pour eux un petit bien qui m’a coûté huit cent francs. Le vieux père est perclus, aux deux bras, de rhumatismes, je lui ai fourni trois boîtes du baume des Valdejeots, si estimé en ce pays-ci. La vieille mère est sujetté à des maux d’estomac, et je lui ai apporté un pot de confection d’hyacinthe. Ils travaillaient dans le champ, voisin du bois, je suis allé les voir tandis que vous marchiez en avant. Ils m’ont suivi malgré moi. Ne parlez de cela à personne. On dirait que je veux faire le généreux et le bon philosophe, mais je ne suis que humain, et mes charités sont la plus agréable dépense de mes voyages.

This humanity of Holbach’s is the very keynote of his character and of his intellectual life as well. As M. Walferdin has said, the denial of the supernatural was for him the base of all virtue, and resting on this principle, he exemplified social qualities that do the greatest honor to human nature. He and Madame Holbach are the only conspicuous examples of conjugal fidelity and happiness among all the people that one has occasion to mention in a study of the intellectual and literary circles of the eighteenth century. They were devoted to each other, to their children and to their friends. Considering the traits of Holbach’s character that have been cited, there can scarcely be two opinions in regard to completeness with which he realized his ideal of humanity and sociability. M. Naigeon has well summed up in a few words Holbach’s relation to the only duties that he recognized, “He was a good husband, a good father and a good friend.”


Holbach’s published works, with the exception of a few scattered ones, may be divided into three classes, viz., translations of German scientific works, translations of English deistical writings, and his own works on theology, philosophy, politics and morals. Those which fall into none of these categories can be dealt with very summarily. They are:

1. Two pamphlets on the musical dispute of 1752; _Lettre à une dame d’un certain âge sur l’état présent de l’Opéra_, (8vo, pp. 11) and _Arrêt rendu à l’amphithéâtre de l’Opéra_, (8vo, pp. 16,) both directed against French music and in line with Grimm’s _Petit Prophète_ and Rousseau’s _Lettre sur la musique française_.

2. A translation in prose of Akenside’s _The Pleasures of Imagination_ (Paris, 1759, 8vo).

3. A translation of Swift’s _History of the Reign of Queen Anne_ in collaboration with M. Eidous (Amsterdam, 1765, 12mo, pp. xxiv + 416).

4. Translations of an _Ode on Human Life_ and a _Hymn to the Sun_ in the _Variétés littéraires_ (1768).

5. Articles on natural science in the _Encyclopédie_ and article _Prononciation des langues_ in the _Dictionnaire de Grammaire_ of the _Encyclopédie méthodique_.

6. Translation of Wallerius’ _Agriculture reduced to its true principles_ (Paris, 1774, 12mo).

7. Two _Facéties philosophiques_ published in Grimm’s _Correspondence Littéraire. _L’Abbé et le Rabbin_, and _Essai sur l’art de ramper, à l’usage des courtisans_.

8. Parts of Raynal’s _Histoire philosophique des deux Indes_.

9. Notes to Lagrange’s _Vie de Senèque_.

Holbach’s translations of German scientific works are as follows: (Complete titles to be found in Bibliography, Pt. I.)

1. _Art de la Verrerie de Neri, Merret, et Kunckel_ (Paris, Durand, 1752). Original work in Italian. Latin translation by Christopher Merret. German translation by J. Kunckel of Löwenstern. Holbach’s translation comprises the seven books of Antionio Neri, Merret’s notes on Neri, Kunckel’s observations on both these authors, his own experiments and others relative to glass-making. The translation was dedicated to Malesherbes who had desired to see the best German scientific works published in French. In his _Préface du Traducteur_ Holbach writes:

L’envie de me rendre utile, dont tout citoyen doit être animé, m’a fait entreprendre l’ouvrage que je présente au Public. S’il a le bonheur de mériter son approbation, quoiqu’il y ait peu de gloire attachée au travail ingrat et fastidieux d’un Traducteur, je me déterminerai à donner les meilleurs ouvrages allemands, sur l’Histoire Naturelle, la Minéralogie, la Métallurgie et la Chymie. Tout le monde sait que l’Allemagne possede en ce genre des trésors qui ont été jusqu’ici comme enfouis pour la France.

2. _Minéralogie ou Description générale du règne mineral par J. G. Wallerius_ (Paris, Durand, 1753) followed by _Hydrologie_ by the same author. Second edition, Paris, Herrissant, 1759. Originally in Swedish (Wallerius was a professor of chemistry in the University of Upsala). German translation by J. D. Denso, Professor of Chemistry, Stargard, Pomerania. Holbach’s translation was made from the German edition which Wallerius considered preferable to the Swedish. He was assisted by Bernard de Jussien and Rouelle, and the work was dedicated to a friend and co-worker in the natural sciences, Monsieur d’Arclais de Montamy.

3. _Introduction à la Minéralogie… oeuvre posthume de M. J. F. Henckel_, Paris, Cavelier, 1756, first published under title _Henckelius in Mineralogiâ redivivus_, Dresden, 1747, by his pupil, M. Stephani, as an outline of his lectures. Holbach’s translation made from a German edition, corrected, with notes on new discoveries added.

4. _Chimie métallurgique… par M. C. Gellert_. Paris, Briasson, 1758, translated earlier. Approbation May 1, 1753, Privilege Dec. 21, 1754. Originally a text written by Gellert for four artillery officers whom the King of Sardinia sent to Freyburg to learn mining-engineering.

5. _Traités de physique, d’histoire naturelle, de mineralogy et de métallurgie_. Paris, Herrissant, 1759, by J. G. Lehmann, three vols. I. L’Art des Mines, II. Traité de la formation des métaux, III. Essai d’une histoire naturelle des couches de la terre. In his preface to the third volume Holbach has some interesting remarks about the deluge, the irony of which seems to have escaped the royal censor, Millet, _Docteur en Théologie_.

“La description si précise et si détaillée que Moïse fait du Deluge dans la Genèse, ayant une autorité infaillible, puis qu’elle n’est autre que celle de Dieu même, nous rend certains de la réalité et de l’universalité de ce châtiment terrible. Il s’agit simplement d’examiner si les naturalistes, tels que Woodward, Schenchzer, Buttner et M. Lehmann lui-même ne se sont points trompés, lorsqu’ils ont attribué à cet événement seul la formation des couches de la terre et lorsqu’ils s’en sont servis pour expliquer l’état actuel de notre globe. Il semble que rien ne doit nous empêcher d’agiter cette question; l’Ecriture sainte se contente de nous apprendre la voie miraculeuse dont Dieu s’est servi pour punir les crimes du genre humain; elle ne dit rien qui puisse limiter les sentiments des naturalistes sur les autres effets physiques que le déluge a pu produire. C’est une matière qu’elle paroît avoir abandonnée aux disputes des hommes.” He then proceeds to question whether the deluge could have produced the results attributed to it and argues against catastrophism which, it must be remembered, was the received geological doctrine down to the days of Lyell. “Les causes les plus simples sont capables de produire au bout des siècles les effets les plus grands, surtout lorsqu’elles agissent incessament; et nous voyons toutes ces causes réunies agir perpétuellement sous nos yeux. Concluons, donc, de tout ce qui précède, que le déluge, seul et les feux souterrains seuls ne suffisent point pour expliquer la formation des couches de la terre. On risquera toujours de se tromper, lorsque par l’envie de simplifier on voudra dériver tous les phénomènes de la nature d’une seule et unique cause.”

6. _Pyritologie_ by J. F. Henkel, Paris, Herrissant, 1760, a large volume in quarto, translated by Holbach. It contains _Flora Saturnisans_ (translated by M. Charas and reviewed by M. Roux), Henkel’s _Opuscules Minéralogiques_ and other treatises. Original editions: _Pyritologia_, Leipzig, 1725, 1754; _Flora Saturnisans_, Leipzig, 1721; _De Appropriatione Chymica_, Dresden, 1727, and _De Lapidum origine_, Dresden, 1734, translated into German, with excellent notes, Dresden, 1744, by M. C. F. Zimmermann, a pupil of M. Henkel. Holbach’s translations seem to have been well received because he writes in this preface: “Je m’estimerai heureux si mon travail peut contribuer à entretenir et augmenter le goût universel qu’on a conçu pour le saine physique.”

7. _Oeuvres métallurgiques_ de M. J. C. Orschall, Paris, Hardy, 1760. Orschall still accepted the old alchemist tradition but was sound in practice and was the best authority on copper. Holbach does not attempt to justify his physics which was that of the preceding century. Orschall was held in high esteem by Henckel and Stahl.

8. _Recueil des mémoires des Académies d’Upsal et de Stockholm_, Paris, Didot, 1764. These records of experiments made in the Royal Laboratories of Sweden, founded in 1683 by Charles XI, had already been translated into German and English. Holbach’s translation was made from the German and Latin. He promises further treatises on Agriculture, Natural History and Medicine.

9. _Traité du Soufre_ by G. E. Stahl, Paris, Didot, 1766. In speaking of Stahl’s theories Holbach says: “Il ne faut pas croire que ces connaissances soient des vérités stériles propres seulement à satisfaire une vaine curiosité, elles ont leur application aux travaux de la métallurgie qui leur doivent la perfection où on les a portés depuis quelques temps.” Holbach understood very clearly the utility of science in his scheme of increasing the store of human well-being, and would doubtless have translated other useful works had not other interests prevented. There is a MSS. note of his in the Bibliothèque Nationale to M. Malesherbes, then Administrateur de la Librairie Royale; suggesting other German treatises that might well be translated. (MSS. 22194).



J’ai l’honneur de vous envoyer ci-joint la liste des ouvrages dont M. Liège fils pourrait entreprendre la traduction. Je n’en connais actuellement point d’autres qui méritent l’attention du public. M. Macquer m’a écrit une lettre qui a pour objet les mêmes choses dont vous m’avez fait l’honneur de me parler, et je lui fais la même réponse.

J’ai l’honneur d’être avec respect, Monsieur,

Votre très obéissant serviteur
à Paris ce 6 d’avril 1761

The list of books was as follows:

1. Johann Kunckel’s _Laboratorium Chymicum_, 8vo.

2. Georg Ernest Stahl’s _Commentary on Becher’s Metallurgy_, 8vo.

3. _Concordantia Chymica Becheri_, 40º, published by Stahl.

4. _Cadmologia_, or the _Natural History of Cobalt_, by J. G. Lehmann, Berlin, 1760, 4°.

After 1760 Holbach became interested in another line of intellectual activity, namely the writing and translation of anti-religious literature. His first book of this sort really appeared in 1761 although no copies bear this date. From 1767 on however he published a great many works of this character. It is convenient to deal first with his translations of English deistical writers. They are in chronological order.

1. _Esprit du clergé, ou le Christianisme primitif vengé des entreprises et des excès de nos Prêtres modernes_. Londres (Amsterdam), 1767. This book appeared in England in 1720 under the title of _The Independent Whig_; its author was Thomas Gordon (known through his Commentaries on Sallust and Tacitus) who wrote in collaboration with John Trenchard. The book was partially rewritten by Holbach and then touched up by Naigeon, who, according to a manuscript note by his brother, “atheised it as much as possible.” It was sold with great secrecy and at a high price– a reward which the colporters demanded for the risk they ran in peddling seditious literature. The book was a violent attack on the spirit of domination which characterized the Christian priesthood at that time.

2. _De L’imposture sacerdotale, ou Recueil de Pièces sur le clergé_, Londres (Amsterdam), 1767. Another edition 1772 under title _De la Monstruosité pontificale_ etc.

Contains translations of various pamphlets including Davisson, _A true picture of Popery_; Brown, _Popery a Craft_, London 1735; Gordon, _Apology for the danger of the church_, 1719; Gordon, _The Creed of an Independent Whig_, 1720.

3. _Examen des Prophéties qui servent de fondement à la religion Chrétienne_, Londres (Amsterdam), 1768. Translation of Anthony Collins, _A Discourse on the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion_, London, 1724. Contains also _The Scheme of literal Prophecy considered_, 1727, also by Collins in answer to the works of Clarke, Sherlock, Chandler, Sykes, and especially to Whiston’s _Essay towards restoring the text of the Old Testament_, one of the thirty- five works directed against Collins’ original _”Discourse”_. Copies of this work have become very rare.

4. _David, ou l’histoire de l’homme selon le coeur de Dieu_. Londres (Amsterdam), 1768. This work appeared in England in 1761 and is attributed to Peter Annet, also to John Noorthook. Some English eulogists of George II, Messrs. Chandler, Palmer and others, had likened their late King to David, “the man after God’s own heart.” The deists, struck by the absurdity of the comparison, proceeded to relate all the scandalous facts they could find recorded of David, and by clever distortions painted him as the most execrable of Kings, in a work entitled _David or the Man after God’s Own Heart_, which formed the basis of Holbach’s translation.

5. _Les prêtres démasqués ou des iniquités du clergé chrétien_. Londres, 1768. Translation of four discourses published under the title _The Ax laid to the root of Christian Priestcraft by a layman_, London, T. Cooper, 1742. A rare volume.

6. _Lettres philosophiques…_ Londres (Amsterdam, 1768). Translation of J. Toland’s _Letters to Serena_, London, 1704. The book, which had become very rare in Holbach’s time, had caused a great scandal at the time of its publication and was much sought after by collectors. It contains five letters, the first three of which are by Toland, the other two and the preface by Holbach and Naigeon. The matters treated are, the origin of prejudices, the dogma of the immortality of the soul, idolatry, superstition, the system of Spinoza and the origin of movement in matter.

Diderot said of these works, in writing to Mlle. Volland Nov. 22, 1768 (_Oeuvres_, Vol. XVIII, p. 308): “Il pleut des bombes dans la maison du Seigneur. Je tremble toujours que quelqu’un de ces téméraires artilleurs-là ne s’en trouve mal. Ce sont les _Lettres philosophiques_ traduites, ou supposées traduites, de l’anglais de Toland; c’est _l’Examen des prophéties_; c’est la _Vie de David ou de l’homme selon là coeur de Dieu_, ce sont mélle diables déchainés.–Ah! Madame de Blacy, je crains bien que le Fils de l’Homme ne soit à la porte; que la venue d’Elie ne soit proche, et que nous ne touchions au règne de l’Anti-christ. Tous les jours, quand je me lève, je regarde par ma fenêtre, si la grande prostituée de Babylone ne se promène point déjà dans les rues avec sa grande coupe à la main et s’il ne se fait aucun des signes prédits dans le firmament.”

7. _De la Cruauté religieuse_, Londres (Amsterdam). _Considerations upon war, upon cruelty in general and religious cruelty in particular_, London, printed for Thomas Hope, 1761.

8. _Dissertation critique sur les tourmens de l’enfer_ printed in an original work, _L’Enfer détruit_, Londres (Amsterdam), 1769. A translation of Whitefoot’s _The Torments of Hell, the foundation and pillars thereof discover’d, search’d, shaken and remov’d_. London, 1658.

9. In the _Recueil philosophique_ edited by Naigeon, Londres (Amsterdam), 1770.
I. Dissertation sur l’immortalité de l’âme. Translated from Hume. II. Dissertation sur le suicide (Hume).
III. Extrait d’un livre Anglais qui a pour titre le Christianisme aussi ancien que le monde. (Tindal, Christianity as old as Creation.)

10. _Esprit de Judaïsme, ou Examen raisonné de la Loi de Moyse_. Londres (Amsterdam), 1770 (1769), translated from Anthony Collins. With the exception of some of Holbach’s own works this is one of the fiercest denunciations of Judaism and Christianity to be found in print. In fact, it is very much in the style of Holbach’s anti-religious works and shows beyond a doubt that Holbach derived his inspiration from Collins and the more radical of the English school. The volume has become exceedingly rare.

After outlining the history of Judaism the book ends thus:

Ose, donc enfin, ô Europe! secouer le joug insupportable des préjugés qui t’affligent. Laisse à des Hébreux stupides, à des frénétiques imbéciles, à des Asiatiques lâches et dégradés, ces superstitions aussi avilissantes qu’insensées: elles ne sont point faites pour les habitans de ton climat. Occupe-toi du soin de perfectionner tes gouvernemens, de corriger tes lois, de réformer tes abus, de régler tes moeurs, et ferme pour toujours les yeux à ces vraies chimères, qui depuis tant de siècles n’ont servi qu’à retarder tes progrès vers la science véritable et à t’écarter de la route du bonheur.

11. _Examen critique de la vie et des ouvrages de Saint Paul_, Londres (Amsterdam), 1770. A free translation of Peter Annet’s _History and character of St. Paul examined_, written in answer to Lyttelton. New edition 1790 and translated back into English “from the French of Boulanger,” London, R. Carlile, 1823. A rather unsympathetic account, but with flashes of real insight into “le système religieux des Chrétiens dont S. Paul fut évidemment le véritable architecte.” (Epître dédicatoire.)

Annet said of Paul’s type of man “l’enthousiaste s’enivre, pour l’ainsi dire, de son propre vin, il se persuade que la cause de ses passions est la cause de Dieu (p. 72), mais quelque violent qu’ait pu être l’enthousiasme de S. Paul, il sentait très bien que la doctrine qu’il prêchait devait paraître bizarre et insensée à des êtres raisonnables” (p. 141).

12. _De la nature humaine, ou Exposition des facultés, des actions et des passions de l’âme_, Londres (Amsterdam), 1772. (Thomas Hobbes.) Reprinted in a French Edition of Hobbes’ works by Holbach and Sorbière, 1787. Appeared first in English in 1640, omitted in a Latin Edition of Hobbes printed in Amsterdam. In spite of its brevity, Holbach considered this one of Hobbes’ most important and luminous works.

13. _Discours sur les Miracles de Jesus Christ_ (Amsterdam, 1780?). Translated from Woolston, whom Holbach admired very much for his uncompromising attitude toward truth. He suffered fines and imprisonments, but would not give up the privilege of writing as he pleased. The present discourse was the cause of a quarrel with his friend Whiston. He died Jan. 27, 1733, “avec beaucoup de fermeté… il se ferma les yeux et la bouche de ses propres mains, et rendit l’esprit.” This work exists in a manuscript book of 187 pages, written very fine, in the Bibliothèque Nationale (Mss. français 15224) and was current in France long before 1780. In fact it is mentioned by Grimm before 1770, but the dictionaries (Barber, Quérard) generally date it from 1780.

Before turning to Holbach’s original works mention should be made of a very interesting and extraordinary book that he brought to light, retouched, and later used as a kind of shield against the attacks of the parliaments upon his own works.

In 1766 he published a work entitled _L’Antiquité dévoilée par ses usages, ou Examen critique des principales Opinions, Cérémonies et Institutions religieuses et politiques des différens Peuples de la Terre_. Par feu M. Boulanger, Amsterdam, 1766. This is a work based on an original manuscript by Boulanger, who died in 1759, preceded by an excellent letter on him by Diderot, published also in the _Gazette Littéraire_.

The use made by Holbach of Boulanger’s name makes it necessary to consider for a moment this almost forgotten writer. Nicholas Antoine Boulanger was born in 1722. As a child he showed so little aptitude for study that later his teachers could scarcely believe that he had turned out to be a really learned man. As Diderot observes, “ces exemples d’enfans, rendus ineptes entre les mains des Pédans qui les abrutissent en dépit de la nature la plus heureuse, ne sont pas rares, cependant ils surprennent toujours” (p. 1). Boulanger studied mathematics and architecture, became an engineer and was employed by the government as inspector of bridges and highways. He passed a busy life in exacting outdoor work but at the same time his active intellect played over a large range of human interests. He became especially concerned with historical origins and set himself to learn Latin and Greek that he might get at the sources. Not satisfied that he had come to the root of the matter he learned Arabic, Syriac, Hebrew and Chaldean. Diderot says “Il lisait et étudiait partout, je l’ai moi-même rencontré sur les grandes routes avec un auteur rabinnique à la main.” He made a _mappemonde_ in which the globe is divided in two hemispheres, one occupied by the continents, the other by the oceans, and by a singular coincidence he found that the meridian of the continental hemisphere passed through Paris. Some such rearrangement of hemispheres is one of the commonplaces of modern geography. He furnished such articles as, _Deluge, Corvée, Société_ for the Encyclopedia and wrote several large and extremely learned books, among them _Recherches sur l’origine du Despotisme oriental_ and _Antiquité dévoilée_. He died from overwork at the age of thirty-seven.

Boulanger’s ideas on philosophy, mythology, anthropology and history are of extraordinary interest today. Diderot relates his saying–“Que si la philosophie avait trouvé tant d’obstacles parmi nous c’était qu’on avait commencé par où il aurait fallu finir, par des maximes abstraites, des raisonnemens généraux, des réflexions subtiles qui ont révolté par leur étrangeté et leur hardiesse et qu’on aurait admises sans peine si elles avaient été précédées de l’histoire des faits.” He carried over this inductive method into realm of history, which he thought had been approached from the wrong side, i.e., the metaphysical, “par consulter les lumières de la raison” (p. 8). He continues, “j’ai pensé qu’il devait y avoir quelques circonstances _particulières_. Un fait et non une spéculation métaphysique m’a toujours semblé devoir être et tribut naturel et nécessaire de l’histoire.” Curiously enough the central fact in history appeared to Boulanger to be the deluge, and on the basis of it he attempted to interpret the _Kulturgeschichte_ of humanity. It is a bit unfortunate that he took the deluge quite as literally as he did; his idea, however, is obviously the influence of environmental pressure on the changing beliefs and practices of mankind. Under the spell of this new point of view, he writes, “Ce qu’on appelle l’histoire n’en est que la partie la plus ingrate, la plus uniforme, la plus inutile, quoi qu’elle soit la plus connue. La véritable histoire est couverte par le voile des temps” (p. 7). Boulanger however was not to be daunted and on the firm foundation of the fact of some ancient and universal catastrophe, as recorded on the surface of the earth and in human mythology, he proceeds to inquire into the moral effects of the changes in the physical environment back to which if possible the history of antiquity must be traced. Man’s defeat in his struggle with the elements made him religious, _hinc prima mali labes_. “Son premier pas fut un faux pas, sa première maxime fut une erreur” (p. 4 sq). But it was not his fault nor has time repaired the evil moral effects of that early catastrophe. “Les grandes révolutions physiques de notre globe sont les véritables époques de l’histoire des nations ” (p. 9). Hence have arisen the various psychological states through which mankind has passed. Contemporary savages are still in the primitive state–Boulanger properly emphasizes the relation of anthropology to history–“On aperçoit qu’il y a une nouvelle manière de voir et d’écrire l’histoire des hommes” (p. 12) and with a vast store of anthropological and folklorist learning he writes it so that his assailant, Fabry d’Autrey, in his _Antiquité justifiée_ (Paris, 1766) is obliged to say with truth, “Ce n’est point ici un tissus de mensonges grossiers, de sophismes rebattus et bouffons, appliqués d’un air méprisant aux objets les plus intéressants pour l’humanité. C’est une enterprise sérieuse et réfléchie” (p. 11).

In 1767 Holbach published his first original work, a few copies of which had been printed in Nancy in 1761. This work was _Le Christianisme dévoilé ou Examen des principes et des effets de la religion Chrétienne_. Par feu M. Boulanger. Londres (Amsterdam), 1767. There were several other editions the same year, one printed at John Wilkes’ private press in Westminster. It was reprinted in later collections of Boulanger’s works, and went through several English and Spanish editions. The form of the title and the attribution of the work to Boulanger were designed to set persecution on the wrong track. There has been some discussion as to its authorship. Voltaire and Laharpe attributed it to Damilaville, at whose book shop it was said to have been sold, but M. Barbier has published detailed information given him by Naigeon to the effect that Holbach entrusted his manuscript to M. De Saint-Lambert, who had it printed by Leclerc at Nancy in 1761. Most of the copies that got to Paris at that time were bought by several officers of the King’s regiment then in garrison at Nancy, among them M. de Villevielle, a friend of Voltaire and of Condorcet. Damilaville did not sell a single copy and even had a great deal of trouble to get one for Holbach who waited for it a long time. This circumstantial evidence is of greater value than the statement of Voltaire who was in the habit of attributing anonymous works to whomever he pleased. [39:2]

The edition of 1767 was printed in Amsterdam as were most of Holbach’s works. We have the details of their publication from Naigeon _cadet_, a copyist, whose brother, J. A. Naigeon, was Holbach’s literary factotum. In a manuscript note in his copy of the _Système de la Nature_ he tells how he copied nearly all Holbach’s works, either at Paris or at Sedan, where he was stationed, and where his friend Blon, the postmaster, aided him, passing the manuscripts on to a Madame Loncin in Liège, who in turn was a correspondent of Marc-Michel Rey, the printer in Amsterdam. Sometimes they were sent directly by the diligence or through travellers. This account agrees perfectly with information given M. Barbier orally by Naigeon _aîné_. After being printed in Holland the books were smuggled into France _sous le manteau_, as the expression is, and sold at absurd rates by colporters. [40:3]

Diderot writing to Falconet early in 1768 [40:4] says: “Il pleut des livres incrédules. C’est un feu roulant qui crible le sanctuaire de toutes parts… L’intolérance du gouvernment s’accroit de jour en jour. On dirait que c’est un projet formé d’éteindre ici les lettres, de ruiner le commerce de librairie et de nous réduire à la besace et à la stupidité… _Le Christianisme dévoilé_ s’est vendu jusqu’à quatre louis.”

When caught the colporters were severely punished. Diderot gives the following instance in a letter to Mlle. Volland Oct. 8, 1768 (Avézac-Lavigne, _Diderot_, p. 161): “Un apprenti avait reçu, en payment ou autrement, d’un colporteur appelé Lécuyer, deux exemplaires du _Christianisme dévoilé_ et il avait vendu un de ces exemplaires à son patron. Celui-ci le défère au lieutenant de police. Le colporteur, sa femme et l’apprenti sont arrêtés tous les trois; ils viennent d’être piloriés, fouettés et marqués, et l’apprenti condamné à neuf ans de galères, le colporteur à cinq ans, et la femme à l’hôpital pour toute sa vie.”

There are two very interesting pieces of contemporary criticism of _Le Christianisme dévoilé_, one by Voltaire, the other by Grimm. Voltaire writes in a letter to Madame de Saint Julien December 15, 1766 (_Oeuvres_, XLIV, p. 534, ed. Garnier): “Vous m’apprenez que, dans votre société, on m’attribue _Le Christianisme dévoilé_ par feu M. Boulanger, mais je vous assure que les gens au fait ne m’attribuent point du tout cet ouvrage. J’avoue avec vous qu’il y a de la clarté, de la chaleur, et quelque fois de l’éloquence; mais il est plein de répétitions, de négligences, de fautes contre la langue et je serais très-fâché de l’avoir fait, non seulement comme académicien, mais comme philosophe, et encore plus comme citoyen.

“Il est entièrement opposé à mes principes. Ce livre conduit à l’athéisme que je déteste. J’ai toujours regardé l’athéisme comme le plus grand égarement de la raison, parce qu’il est aussi ridicule de dire que l’arrangement du monde ne prouve pas un artisan suprême qu’il serait impertinent de dire qu’une horloge ne prouve pas un horloger.

“Je ne réprouve pas moins ce livre comme citoyen; l’auteur paraît trop ennemi des puissances. Des hommes qui penseraient comme lui ne formeraient qu’une anarchie: et je vois trop, par l’example de Genève, combien l’anarchie est à craindre. Ma coutume est d’écrire sur la marge de mes livres ce que je pense d’eux, vous verrez, quand vous daignerez venir à Ferney, les marges de _Christianisme dévoilé_ chargés de remarques qui montrent que l’auteur s’est trompé sur les faits les plus essentiels.” These notes may be read in Voltaire’s works (Vol. XXXI, p. 129, ed. Garnier) and the original copy of _Le Christianisme dévoilé_ in which he wrote them is in the British Museum (c 28, k 3) where it is jealously guarded as one of the most precious autographs of the Patriarch of Ferney.

Grimm’s notice is from the _Correspondance Littéraire_ of August 15, 1763 (Vol. V, p. 367). “Il existe un livre intitulé _le Christianisme dévoilé ou Examen des principes et des effets de la religion Chrétienne_, par feu M. Boulanger, volume in 8º. On voit d’abord qu’on lui a donné ce titre pour en faire le pendant de _l’Antiquité dévoilée_; mais il ne faut pas beaucoup se connaître en manière pour sentir que ces deux ouvrages ne sont pas sortis de la même plume. On peut assurer avec la même certitude que celui dont nous parlons ne vient point de la fabrique de Ferney, parce que j’aimerais mieux croire que le patriache eût pris la lune avec ses dents; cela serait moins impossible que de guetter sa manière et son allure si complètement qu’il n’en restât aucune trace quelconque. Par la même raison, je ne crois ce livre d’aucun de nos philosophes connus, parce que je n’y trouve la manière d’aucun de ceux qui ont écrit. D’òu vient-il donc? Ma foi, je serais fâché de le savoir, et je crois que l’auteur aura sagement fait de ne mettre personne dans son secret. C’est le livre le plus hardi et le plus terrible qui ait jamais parti dans aucun lieu du monde. La préface consiste dans une lettre où l’auteur examine si la réligion est reéllement nécessaire ou seulement utile au maintien ou à la police des empires, et s’il convient de la respecter sous ce point de vue. Comme il établit la négative, il entreprend en conséquence de prouver, par son ouvrage, l’absurdité et l’incohérence du dogme Chrétien et de la mythologie qui en résulte, et l’influence de cette absurdité sur les têtes et sur les âmes. Dans la seconde partie, il examine la morale chrétienne, et il prétend prouver que dans ses principes généraux elle n’a aucun avantage sur toutes les morales du monde, parce que la justice et la bonté sont recommandées dans tous les catéchismes de l’univers, et que chez aucun peuple, quelque barbare qu’il fut, on n’a jamais enseigné qu’il fallût être injuste et méchant. Quant à ce que la morale chrétienne a de particulier, l’auteur pretend démontrer qu’elle ne peut convenir qu’à des enthousiastes peu propres aux devoirs de la société, pour lesquels les hommes sont dans ce monde. Il entreprend de prouver, dans la troisième partie, que la religion chrétienne a eu les effets politiques les plus sinistres et les plus funestes, et que le genre humain lui doit tous les malheurs dont il a été accablé depuis quinze à dix-huit siècles, sans qu’on en puisse encore prévoir la fin.

Ce livre est écrit avec plus de véhémence que de véritable éloquence; il entraine. Son style est châtié et correct, quoique un peu dur et sec; son ton est grave et soutenu. On n’y apprend rien de nouveau, et cependant il attache et intéresse. Malgré son incroyable témérité, on ne peut refuser à l’auteur la qualité d’homme de bien fortement épris du bonheur de sa race et de la prospérité des sociétés; mais je pense que ses bonnes intentions seraient une sauvegarde bien faible contre les mandements et les réquisitions.” This is a clear and fair account of a book that is without doubt the severest criticism of the theory and practice of historical Christianity ever put in print.

The church very naturally did not let such a book pass unanswered. Abbé Bergier, a heavy person, triumphantly refuted Holbach in eight hundred pages in his _Apologia de la Religion Chrétienne contre l’Auteur du Christianisme dévoilé_, Paris, 1769, which finishes with the fatal prophecy, “Nous avons de surs garans de nos espérances: tant que le sang auguste de S. Louis sera sur le trône, _il n’y a point de révolutions à craindre ni dans la Religion ni dans la politique_. La religion Chrétienne fondée sur la parole de Dieu… triomphera des nouveaux Philosophes. Dieu qui veille sur son ouvrage n’a pas besoin de nos faibles mains pour le soutenir” (Psaume 32, vs. 10, 11).

2. There already existed in 1767 another work by Holbach entitled _Théologie portative ou Dictionnaire Abrégé de la Religion Chrétienne. Par Mr Abbé Bernier_. Londres (Amsterdam), 1768 (1767). This book went through many editions and was augmented by subsequent authors and editors. Voltaire was already writing to d’Alembert about it August 14, 1767. [44:5]

In a letter to Damilaville, October 16, he writes (Vol. XIV, p. 406):

Depuis trois mois il y a une douzaine d’ouvrages d’une liberté extrême, imprimés en Hollande. _La Théologie portative_ n’est nullement théologique: ce n’est qu’une plaisanterie continuelle par ordre alphabétique; mais il faut avouer qu’il y a des traits si comiques que plusieurs théologiens mêmes ne pourront s’empêcher d’en rire. Les jeunes gens et les femmes lisent cette folie avec avidité. Les éditions de tous les livres dans ce goût se multiplient.

And on February 8, 1768, he wrote:

On fait tous les jours des livres contre la religion, dont je voudrais bien imiter le style pour la défendre. Y a-t-il de plus salé, que la plupart des traits qui se trouvent dans la _Théologie portative_? Y a-t-il rien de plus vigoreux, de plus profondément raisonné, d’écrit avec une éloquence plus audacieuse et plus terrible, que le _Militaire philosophe_, ouvrage qui court toute l’Europe? [by Naigeon and Holbach] Lisez la _Théologie portative_, et vous ne pourrez vous empêcher de rire, en condammant la coupable hardiesse de l’auteur. Lisez _l’Imposture sacerdotale_–vous y verrez le style de Démosthène. Ces livres malheuresement inondent l’Europe; mais quelle est la cause de cette inondation? Il n’y en a point d’autre que les querelles théologiques qui ont révolté les laïques. _Il s’est fait une révolution dans l’esprit humain que rien ne peut plus arrêter: les persécutions ne pourraient qu’irriter le mal_. [Footnote: the italics are mine.]

It is to be noted however that Voltaire’s sentiments varied according to the point of view of the person to whom he was writing. In a letter to d’Alembert, May 24, 1769 (Vol. LXV, p. 453), he calls the _Théologie portative_ “un ouvrage à mon gré, très plaisant, auquel je n’ai assurément nulle part, ouvrage que je serais très fâché d’avoir fait, et que je voudrais bien avoir été capable de faire.” But in a letter to the Bishop of Annecy June, 1769, he writes (Vol. XXVIII, p. 73): “Vous lui [M. de Saint Florentin] imputez, à ce que je vois par vos lettres, des livres misérables, et jusqu’à _la Theologie portative_, ouvrage fait apparemment dans quelque cabaret; vous n’êtes pas obligé d’avoir du goût, mais vous êtes obligé d’être juste” (Vol. XXVIII, p. 73). Diderot even said of the book: “C’est un assez bon nombre de bonnes plaisanteries noyées dans un beaucoup plus grand nombre de mauvaises” and this criticism is just. A few examples of the better jokes will suffice:

_Adam:_ C’est le premier homme, Dieu en fait un grand nigaud, qui pour complaire à sa femme eut la bêtise de mordre dans une pomme que ses descendans n’ont point encore pu digérer.

_Idées Innées:_ Notions inspirées des Prêtres de si bonne heure, si souvent répétées, que devenu grand l’on croît les avoir eu toujours ou les avoir reçus dès le ventre de sa mère.

_Jonas:_ La baleine fut à la fin obligée de le vomir tant un Prophète est un morceau difficile à digérer.

_Magie:_ Il y en a de deux sortes, la blanche et la noire. La première est très sainte et se pratique journellement dans l’église.

_Protestants:_ Chrétiens amphibies.

_Vierge:_ C’est la mère du fils de Dieu et belle-mère de l’église.

_Visions:_ Lanternes magiques que de tout temps le Père Eternel s’est amusé à montrer aux Saintes et aux Prophètes.

3. Holbach furnished the last chapter of Naigeon’s book _Le Militaire philosophe, ou Difficulties sur la religion_, Londres (Amsterdam), 1768. Voltaire ascribed the work to St. Hyacinthe. Grimm recognized that the last chapter was by another hand and considered it the weakest part of the book. It attempts to demonstrate that all supernatural religions have been harmful to society and that the only useful religion is natural religion or morals. The book was refuted by Guidi, in a “_Lettre a M. le Chevalier de… [Barthe] entraîné dans l’irreligion par un libelle intitulé Le Militaire philosophe_ (1770, 12mo).

4. Holbach’s next book was _La Contagion sacrée ou l’Histoire naturelle de la Superstition_, Londres (Amsterdam), 1768. In his preface Holbach attributed the alleged English original of this work to John Trenchard but that was only a ruse to avoid persecution. The book is by Holbach. It has gone through many editions and been translated into English and Spanish. The first edition had an introduction by Naigeon. According to him manuscripts of this book became quite rare at one time and were supposed to have been lost. Later they became more common and this edition was corrected by collation with six others.

[PG transcriber’s note: at this point there appears to be a break in the original text. A sentence introducing the fifth book in this list, “Letters to Eugenie”, has evidently been lost.]

The letters were written in 1764, according to Lequinio (_Feuilles posthumes_), who had his information from Naigeon, to Marguerite, Marchioness de Vermandois in answer to a very touching and pitiful letter from that lady who was in great trouble over religion. Her young husband was a great friend of the Holbachs, but having had a strict Catholic bringing up she was shocked at their infidelity and warned by her confessor to keep away from them. “Yet in their home she saw all the domestic virtues exemplified and beheld that sweet and unchangeable affection for which the d’Holbachs were eminently distinguished among their acquaintances and which was remarkable for its striking contrast with the courtly and Christian habits of the day. Her natural good sense and love for her friends struggled with her monastic education and reverence for the priests. The conflict rendered her miserable and she returned to her country seat to brood over it. In this state of mind she at length wrote to the Baron and laid open her situation requesting him to comfort, console, and enlighten her.” [47:7] His letters accomplished the desired effect and he later published them in the hope that they would do as much for others. They were carefully revised before they were sent to the press. All the purely personal passages were omitted and others added to hide the identity of the persons concerned. Letters of the sort to religious ladies were common at this time. Fréret’s were preventive, Holbach’s curative, but appear to be rather strong dose for a _dévote_. Other examples are Voltaire’s _Epître à Uranie_ and Diderot’s _Entretien d’un Philosophe avec la Maréchale de…_.

6. In 1769 Holbach published two short treatises on the doctrine of eternal punishment which claimed to be translations from English, but the originals are not to be found. The titles are _De l’intolérance convaincue de crime et de folie_ as it is sometimes given, and–

7. _L’Enfer détruit ou Examen raisonné du Dogme de l’Eternité des Peines_. Londres, Amsterdam, 1769. This letter was translated into English under the title _Hell Destroyed!_ “Now first translated from the French of d’Alembert without any mutilations,” London 1823, which led Mr. J. Hibbert to say, “I know not why English publishers attribute this awfully sounding work to the cautious, not to say timid d’Alembert. It was followed by Whitefoot’s _’Torments of Hell,’_ now first translated from the French.” [47:8]

Of Holbach’s remaining works on religion two, _Histoire critique de Jésus Christ_ and _Tableau des Saints_, date from 1770 when he began to publish his more philosophical works.

8. The _Histoire critique de Jésus Christ ou Analyse raisonnée des Evangiles_ was published without name of place or date. It was preceded by Voltaire’s _Epître à Uranie_. It is an extremely careful but unsympathetic analysis of the Gospel accounts, emphasizing all the inconsistencies and interpreting them with a literalness that they can ill sustain. From this rationalistic view-point Holbach found the Gospels a tissue of absurdities and contradictions. His method, however, would not be followed by the critique of today.

9. The _Tableau des Saints_ is a still more severe criticism of the heroes of Christendom. Holbach’s proposition is “La raison ne connaît qu’une mesure pour juger et les hommes et les choses, c’est l’utilité réelle et permanente, qui en résulte pour notre espèce,” (p. 111). Judged by this standard, the saints with their eyes fixed on another world have fallen far short. “Ils se flattèrent de mériter le ciel en se rendant parfaitement inutile à la terre” (p. xviii). Holbach much prefers the heroes of classical antiquity. The book is violent but learned throughout, and deals not only with the Jewish patriarchs from Moses on but with the church fathers and Christian Princes down to the contemporary defenders of the faith. After a rather one-sided account of the most dreary characters and events in Christian history, Holbach concludes: “Tel fut, tel est, et tel sera toujours l’esprit du Christianisme: il est aisé de sentir qu’il est incompatible avec les principes les plus évidens de la morale et de la saine politique” (p. 208).

10. In _Recueil philosophique_, Londres (Amsterdam), 1770, edited by Naigeon. Réflexions sur les craintes de la Mort. Problème important–La Religion est-elle nécessaire à la morale et utile à la Politique. Par M. Mirabaud.

11. _Essai sur les préjugés, ou De l’influence des opinions sur les moeurs et sur le bonheur des Hommes_. Londres (Amsterdam), 1770, under name of Dumarsais. The book pretended to be an elaboration of Dumarsais’ essay on the _Philosophe_ published in the _Nouvelles libertés de penser, 1750.

The special interest connected with it was the refutation Frederick the Great published under the title _Examen de l’Essai sur les préjugés_, Londres, Nourse, 1770 (16 mo). The King of Prussia writing from the point of view of a practical, enlightened despot, took special exception to Holbach’s remarks on government. “Il l’outrage avec autant de grossièreté que d’indécence, il force le gouvernement de prendre fait et cause avec l’église pour s’opposer à l’ennemi commun. Mais, quand avec un acharnement violent et les traits de la plus âcre satire, il calomnie son Roi et le gouvernement de son pays, on le prend pour un frénétique echappé de ses chaînes, et livré aux transports les plus violens de sa rage. Quoi, Monsieur le philosophe, protecteur des moeurs et de la vertu, ignorez vous qu’un bon citoyen doit respecter la forme de gouvernement sous laquelle il vit, ignorez vous qu’il ne convient point à un particulier d’insulter les Puissances…” (p. 28).

“Non content d’insulter à toutes les têtes couronnés de l’Europe, notre philosophe s’amuse, en passant, à répandre du ridicule sur les ouvrages de Hugo Grotius. J’oserais croire qu’il n’en sera pas cru sur sa parole, et que le _Droit de la guerre et de la paix_ ira plus loin à la postérité que _l’Essai sur les préjugés_” (p. 39).

Holbach in his anti-militaristic enthusiasm had used the words “bourreaux mercenaires”; “epithète élégante,” continues Frederick, “dont il honore les guerriers. Mais souffrions nous qu’un cerveau brûlé insulte au plus noble emploi de la Societé?” (p.49). He goes on to defend war in good old-fashioned terms. “Vous déclamez contre la guerre, elle est funeste en elle-même; mais c’est un mal comme ces autres fléaux du ciel qu’il faut supposer nécessaires dans l’arrangement de cet univers parce qu’ils arrivent périodiquement et qu’aucun siècle n’a pu jusqu’à présent d’en avoir été exempt. J’ai prouvé que de tout temps l’erreur a dominé dans ce monde; et comme une chose aussi constante peut être envisagée comme une loi général de la nature, j’en conclus que ce qui a été toujours sera toujours le même” (p. 19).

Frederick sent his little refutation to Voltaire for his compliments which were forthcoming. A few days after Voltaire wrote to d’Alembert:

Le roi de Prusse vous a envoyé, sans doute, son petit écrit contre un livre imprimé cette année, intitulé _Essai sur les préjugés_, ce roi a aussi les siens, qu’il faut lui pardonner; on n’est pas roi pour rien. Mais je voudrais savoir quel est l’auteur de cet _Essai_ contre lequel sa majesté prussienne s’amuse à écrire un peu durement. Serait-il de Diderot? serait-il de Damilaville? serait-il d’Helvetius? peut-être ne le connaissez-vous point, je le crois imprimé en Hollande (Vol. LXVI, p. 304).

D’Alembert answered:

Oui, le roi de Prusse m’a envoyé son écrit contre _l’Essai sur les préjugés_. Je ne suis point étonné que ce prince n’ait pas goûté l’ouvrage; je l’ai lu depuis cette réfutation et il m’a paru bien long, bien monotone et trop amer. Il me semble que ce qu’il y de bon dans ce livre aurait pu et dû être noyé dans moins de pages et je vois que vous en avez porté à peu près le même jugement (Vol. LXVI, p. 324).

In spite of these unfavorable judgments the _Essai_ was reprinted as late as 1886 by the Bibliotheque Nationale in its _Collection des meilleurs auteurs anciens et modernes_, still attributed to Dumarsais with the account of his life by “le citoyen Daube” which graced the edition of the year I. (1792)

12. Early in 1770 appeared Holbach’s most famous book, the _Système de la Nature_, the only book that is connected with his name in the minds of most historians and philosophers. It seems wiser, however, to deal with this work in a chapter apart and continue the account of his later publications.

13. The next of which was _Le bon-sens, ou idées naturelles opposées aux idées surnaturelles. Par l’Auteur du Système de la Nature_, Londres (Amsterdam), 1772. This work has gone through twenty-five editions or more and has been translated into English, German, Italian and Spanish. As early as 1791 it began to be published under the name of the curé Jean Meslier d’Etrépigny, made so famous by Voltaire’s publication of what was supposed to be his last will and testament in which on his death bed he abjured and cursed Christianity. Some editions contain in the preface Letters by Voltaire and his sketch of Jean Meslier. The last reprint was by De Laurence, Scott & Co., Chicago, 1910. The book is nothing more or less than the _Système de la Nature_, in a greatly reduced and more readable form.

Voltaire, to whom it was attributed by some, said to d’Alembert, “Il y a plus que du bon sens dans ce livre, il est terrible. S’il sort de la boutique du _Système de la Nature_, l’auteur s’est bien perfectionné.” D’Alembert answered: “Je pense comme vous sur le _Bon-sens_ qui me paraît un bien plus terrible livre que le _Système de la Nature_.” These remarks were inscribed by Thomas Jefferson on the title page of his copy of _Bon-sens_. The book has gone through several editions in the United States and was sold at a popular price. The German translation was published in Baltimore on the basis of a copy found in a second-hand book store in New Orleans. The most serious work written against it is a long and carefully written treatise against materialism by an Italian monk, Gardini, entitled _L’anima umana e sue proprietà dedotte da soli principi de ragione, dal P. lettore D. Antonmaria Gardini, monaco camaldalese, contro i materialisti e specialmente contro l’opera intitulata, le Bon-Sens, ou Idées Naturelles opposées aux idées Surnaturelles. In Padova MDCCLXXXI Nella stamperia del Seminario. Appresso Giovanni Manfré, Con Licenza de Superiori e Privilegio_ (8vo, p. xx + 284).

14. In 1773 Holbach published his _Recherches sur les Miracles_, a much more sober work than his previous writings on religion. In this book he raises the well known difficulties with belief in miracles and brings a great deal of real learning and logic to bear on the question. The entire work is in a reasonable and philosophic spirit. His conclusion is that “une vraie religion doit avoir au défaut de bonnes raisons, des preuves sensibles, capables de faire impression sur tout ceux qui la cherchent de bonne foi. Ce ne sont pas les miracles.” The same year he published two serious but somewhat tiresome works on politics.

15. _La politique naturelle_.

16. _Système social_ in which he attempts to reduce government to the naturalistic principles which were the basis of his entire philosophy. The first is also attributed to Malesherbes. There is a long and keen criticism of the _Système Social_ by Mme. d’Epinay in a letter to Abbé Galiani Jan. 12, 1773 (Gal. _Corresp._, Vol. II, p. 167).

But the most interesting reaction upon it was that of the Abbé Richard who criticized it from point of view of the divine right of kings in his long and tiresome work entitled _La Défense de la religion, de la morale, de la vertu, de la politique et de la société, dans la réfutation des ouvrages qui ont pour titre, l’un Système Social etc. Vautre La Politique Naturelle par le R. P. Ch. L. Richard, Professeur de Théologie_, etc., Paris, Moulard, 1775.

In a preface of forty-seven pages the fears of the conservative old Abbé are well expressed. The aim of these modern philosophers who are poisoning public opinion by their writings is to “démolir avec l’antique édifice de la religion chrétienne, celui des moeurs, de la vertu, de la saine politique etc. rompre tous les canaux de communication entre la terre et le ciel, bannir, exterminer du monde le Dieu qui le tira du néant, y introduire l’impiété la plus complète, la licence la plus consomnée, l’anarchie la plus entière, la confusion la plus horrible.”

17. Holbach’s next work, _Ethocratie ou Gouvernement fondé sur la Morale_, Amsterdam, Rey, 1776, is interesting mainly for its unfortunate dedication and peroration, inscribed to Louis XVI, who was hailed therein as a long expected Messiah.

18. Holbach’s last works dealt exclusively with morals. They are _La morale universelle ou les devoirs de l’homme fondés sur la nature_, Amsterdam, 1771, and

19. A posthumous work, _Elements de la Morale universelle, ou catechisme de la nature_, Paris, 1790. This is a beautiful little book. It is simple and clear to the last degree. There have been several translations in Spanish for the purposes of elementary education in morals in the public schools. It was composed in 1765. Holbach’s attitude towards morals is indicated by his _Avertissement_–“La morale est une science dont les principes sont susceptibles d’une démonstration aussi claire et aussi rigoureuse que ceux du calcul et de la géometrie.”


Early in 1770 appeared the famous _Système de la Nature, ou Des Loix du Monde Physique et du Monde Morale, Par M. Mirabaud, Secrétaire Perpétuel et l’un des Quarante de l’Académie Française_, Londres (Amsterdam), 1770. This work has gone through over thirty editions in France, Spain, Germany, England and the United States. No book of a philosophic or scientific character has ever caused such a sensation at the time of its publication, excepting perhaps Darwin’s _Origin of Species_, the thesis of which is more than hinted at by Holbach. There were several editions in 1770. A very few copies contain a _Discours préliminaire de l’Auteur_ of sixteen pages which Naigeon had printed separately in London. The _Abrégé du Code de la Nature_, which ends the book was also published separately and is sometimes attributed to Diderot, 8vo, 16 pp. [54:1]

There is also a book entitled _Le vrai sens du Système de la Nature_, 1774, attributed to Helvetius, a very clear, concise epitome largely in Holbach’s own short and telling sentences, and much more effective than the original because of its brevity. Holbach himself reproduced the _Système de la Nature_ in a shortened form in _Bon-sens_, 1772, and Payrard plagiarized it freely in _De la Nature et de ses Lois_, Paris, 1773. The book has been attributed to Diderot, Helvetius, Robinet, Damilaville and others. Naigeon is certain that it is entirely by Holbach, although it is generally held that Diderot had a hand in it. It was published under the name of Mirabaud to obviate persecution. The manuscript, it was alleged, had been found among his papers as a sort of “testament” or philosophical legacy to posterity. This work may be called the bible of scientific materialism and dogmatic atheism. Nothing before or since has ever approached it in its open and unequivocal insistence on points of view commonly held, if at all, with reluctance and reserve. It is impossible in a study of this length to deal fully with the attacks and refutations that were published immediately. We may mention first the condemnation of the book by the _Parlement de Paris_, August 18, 1770, to be burned by the public hangman along with Voltaire’s _Dieu et les Hommes_, and Holbach’s _Discours sur les Miracles_, _La Contagion sacrée_ and _le Christianisme dévoilé_, which had already been condemned on September 24, 1769. [55:2]

The _Réquisitoire_ of Seguier, _avocat général_, on the occasion of the condemnation of the _Système de la Nature_ was so weak and ridiculous that the _Parlement de Paris_ refused to sanction its publication, and it was printed by the express order of the King. As Grimm observed, it seemed designed solely to acquaint the ignorant with this dangerous work, without opposing any of its propositions. One would look in vain for a better example of the conservatism of the legal profession. [55:3]

Le poison des nouveautés profanes ne peut corrompre la sainte gravité des moeurs qui caractérise les vrais Magistrats: tout peut changer autour d’eux, _ils restent immuables avec la loi_ (page 496).

N’est-ce pas ce fatal abus de la liberté de penser, qui a enfanté cette multitude de sectes, d’opinions, de partis, et cet esprit d’indépendance dont d’autres nations ont éprouvé les sinstres révolutions. Le même abus produira en France des effets peut-être plus funestes. La liberté indéfinie trouveroit, dans la caractère de la nation, dans son activité, dans son amour pour la nouveauté, un moyen de plus pour préparer les plus affreuses révolutions (p. 498).

The most interesting private attacks on the _Système de la Nature_ came from two somewhat unexpected quarters, from Ferney and Sans Souci. Voltaire, as usual, was not wholly consistent in his opinions of it, as is revealed in his countless letters on the subject. Grimm attributed his hostility to jealousy, and the fear that the _Système de la Nature_ might “renverse le rituel de Ferney et que le patriarcat ne s’en aille au diable avec lui.” [56:4] George Leroy went so far as to write a book entitled _Réflexions sur la jalousie, pour servir de commentaire aux derniers ouvrages de M. de Voltaire_, 1772. Frederick II naturally felt bound to defend the kings who, as Voltaire said, were no better treated than God in the _Système de la Nature_. [56:5]

Voltaire’s correspondence during this period is so interesting that it seems worth while to quote at length, especially from his letters to Fredrick the Great. In May 1770, shortly after the publication of the _Système de la Nature_ Voltaire wrote to M. Vernes: [56:6] “On a tant dit de sottises sur la nature que je ne lis plus aucun de ces livres là.” But by July he had read it and wrote to Grimm: [56:7] “Si l’ouvrage eut été plus serré il aurait fait un effet terrible, mais tel qu’il est il en a fait beaucoup. Il est bien plus éloquent que Spinoza… J’ai une grande curiosité de savoir ce qu’on en pense à Paris.” In writing to d’Alembert about this time he seemed to have a fairly favorable impression of the book. “Il m’a paru qu’il y avait des longueurs, des répétitions et quelques inconséquences, mais il y a trop de bon pour qu’on n’éclate avec fureur contre ce livre. Si on garde le silence, ce sera une preuve du prodigieux progrès que la tolérance fait tous les jours.” [57:8] But there was little likelihood that philosophers or theologians would keep silent about this scandalous book. Before the end of the month Voltaire was writing to d’Alembert about his own and the king of Prussia’s refutations of it, and the same day wrote to Frederick: “Il me semble que vos remarques doivent être imprimées; ce sont des leçons pour le genre humain. Vous soutenez d’un bras la cause de Dieu et vous écrasez de l’autre la superstition.” [57:9] Later Voltaire confessed to Frederick that he also had undertaken to rebuke the author of the Système de la Nature. “Ainsi Dieu a pour lui les deux hommes les moins superstitieux de l’Europe, ce que devrait lui plaire beaucoup” (p. 390).

Frederick, however, hesitated to make his refutation public, and wrote to Voltaire: “Lorsque j’eus achevé mon ouvrage contre l’athéisme, je crus ma réfutation très orthodoxe, je la relus, et je la trouvai bien éloignée de l’être. Il y a des endroits qui ne saurait paraître sans effaroucher les timides et scandaliser les dévots. Un petit mot qui m’est échappé sur l’éternité du monde me ferait lapider dans votre patrie, si j’y étais né particulier, et que je l’eusse fait imprimer. Je sens que je n’ai point du tout ni l’âme ni le style théologique.” [57:10] Voltaire, in his “petite drôlerie en faveur de la Divinité” (as he called his work) and in his letters, could not find terms harsh enough in which to condemn the _Système de la Nature_. He called it “un chaos, un grand mal moral, un ouvrage de ténèbres, un péché contre la nature, un système de la folie et de l’ignorance,” and wrote to Delisle de Sales: “Je ne vois pas que rien ait plus avili notre siècle que cette énorme sottise.” [58:11] Voltaire seemed to grow more bitter about Holbach’s book as time went on. His letters and various works abound in references to it, and it is difficult to determine his motives. He was accused, as has been suggested, by Holbach’s circle “de caresser les gens en place, et d’abandonner ceux qui n’y sont plus.” [58:12] M. Avenel believed that he suspected Holbach himself of making these accusations. Voltaire’s letter to the Duc de Richelieu, Nov. 1, 1770, [58:13] seems to give them foundation.

A very different reaction was that of Goethe and his university circle at Strasburg to whom the _Système de la Nature_ appeared a harmless and uninteresting book, “grau,” “cimmerisch,” “totenhaft,” “die echte Quintessenz der Greisenheit.” To these fervent young men in the youthful flush of romanticism, its sad, atheistic twilight seemed to cast a veil over the beauty of the earth and rob the heaven of stars; and they lightheardedly discredited both Holbach and Voltaire in favor of Shakespeare and the English romantic school. One would look far for a better instance of the romantic reaction which set in so soon and so obscured the clarity of the issues at stake in the eighteenth century thought. [58:14]

The leading refutations directed explicitly against the _Système de la Nature_ are:

1. 1770, Rive, Abbé J. J., Lettres philosophiques contre le _ Système de la Nature_. (Portefeuille hebdomadaire de Bruxelles.)

2. Frederick II, _Examen critique du livre intitulé, _Système de la Nature_. (Political Miscellanies, p. 175.)

3. Voltaire, Dieu, Réponse de M. de Voltaire au _Système de la Nature_. Au château de Ferney, 1770, 8 vo, pp. 34.

4. 1771, Bergier, Abbé N. F., Examen du matérialisme, ou Réfutation du _Système de la Nature_. Paris, Humbolt, 1771, 2 vols., 12mo.

5. Camuset, Abbé J. N., Principes contre l’incrédulité, a l’occasion du _Système de la Nature_. Paris, Pillot, 1771, 12mo, pp. viii + 335.

6. Castillon, J. de (Salvernini di Castiglione), Observations sur le livre intitulé, _Système de la Nature_. Berlin, Decker, 1771, 8vo. (40 sols broché.)

7. Rochford, Dubois de, Pensées diverses contre le système des matérialistes, à l’occasion d’un écrit intitulé; _Système de la Nature_. Paris, Lambert, 1771, 12mo.

8. 1773, L’Impie démasqué, ou remontrance aux écrivains incrédules. Londres, Heydinger, 1773

9. Holland, J. H., Réflexions philosophiques sur le _Système de la Nature_. Paris, 1773, 2 vols., 8vo.

10. 1776, Buzonnière, Nouel de, Observations sur un ouvrage intitulé le _Système de la Nature_. Paris, Debure, père, 1776, 8vo, pp. 126. (Prix 1 livre, 16 sols broché.)

11. 1780, Fangouse, Abbé, La religion prouvée aux incrédules, avec une lettre à l’auteur du _Système de la Nature_ par un homme du monde. Paris, Debure l’aîné, 12mo, p. 150. Same under title Réflexions importantes sur la religion, etc., 1785.

12. 1788, Paulian, A. J., Le véritable système de la nature, etc.,