Mme Helvétius enjoyed an active widowhood, welcoming to her salon in Auteuil a group of intellectuals who came to be known as the Idéologues. A close friend of Benjamin Franklin, she was involved in political events before and during the French Revolution, as well as in Napoleon's coup d'état. In the last letter of the series her grandson describes her burial in her garden, which took place without religious or revolutionary ceremony in the presence of all her favourite pets.
Most of the newly discovered letters are addressed to Helvétius by figures as important as d'Alembert, Boulanger, Chastellux, Saint-Lambert, Servan, Thieriot, and Trublet. Some of these complete an existing exchange, others provide dates for letters already published.
The fifth and final volume will be devoted primarily to a comprehensive index. It will also include a chronological list of all the letters, corrections and modifications, and other useful material.
Claude Adrien Helvétius (1715-1771) was a French philosopher, freemason, and littérateur.
David Smith is a professor emeritus of French at the University of Toronto.
Peter Allan is a professor of French at Mount Allison University.
Alan Dainard is a professor of French at University of Toronto.
Marie-Thérèse Inguenaud is a professor of French at the University of Paris VII
Jean Orsoni is a professor of French at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivères.
Claude-Adrian Helvétius (1715-71) was a wealthy and high-ranking member of French society. He was acquainted with the leading political and social figures of his time and, through family, with the court and government which he occasionally served in a diplomatic capacity. Philosopher, encyclopedist, and author of the explosive De l'Esprit, he and his wife, Anne Catherine de Ligneville, corresponded with the great and influential throughout Europe.
The letters in this volume were written between 1761 and 1774, a period in which Helvétius enjoyed the fruits of his fame, travelled to England (1764) and Prussia (1765), and produced two books, Le Bonheur and De l'homme, which were published after his death.
In the meantime De l'Esprit provoked an uprecedented outcry from the court and from the religious and civil authorities. Denigrated as the epitome of all dangerous philosophic trends of the age, condemned as atheistic, materialistic, sacriligious, immoral, and subversive, it enjoyed an immense succes de scandale.
Rather than examining the puzzles and paradoxes which surround the affaire de l'Esprit, this volume presents the documents upon which solutions may be based. Helvétius' own letters, often written hastily, under stress, and in fear they might be opened by the Cabinet noir, are less revealing than the letters between other protagonists in the affaire: the Cardinal de Bernis and the Duke de Choiseul, Jean-Omer Joly de Fleury, Malesherbes, Saint-Florentin, Tercier, and Louis xv himself.
It is these letters, together with the appendixes containing edicts, retractions, an condemnations that shed new light not only on the development of the affaire but also on the complex workings of the ancien regime
The previous volumes of this edition have enjoyed international acclaim. "All students of the French Enlightenment will be deeply indebted to D.W. Smith and his team for this superbly conceived and organized collaborative achievement. When complete the Toronto Helvétius will rank among the truly outstanding examples of twentieth-century editorial and bibliographical scholarship." (David Williams, French Studies)