Imagine gathering ten of your contemporaries and compiling their knowledge and point of view into a reference book for the whole world: Philosophy, Arts, Science, Linguistics, Theology, History, Nature, Psychology, etc. How cool would that be! Who would you invite? I have my ten in mind, including a blogger or two that I follow! Isn’t this one purpose of our blogosphere? To share knowledge, thoughts and experiences with the world? Do you have your ten? Are any bloggers that you follow included in that list?

In this blog, I review a poem by an eighteenth century French satirist, Alexis Piron (1689-1773). Piron wrote witty epigrams and other light verse and is the author of La Métroraminie. In this short poem, he criticizes the controversial l’Encyclopédie which was published between 1751 and 1772 in order to “change the way people think” and for the bourgeoisie to be able to inform themselves of all things in the world! It was edited by Denis Diderot and included contributions from the philosophers: Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu and Jaucourt. I’m not sure why Piron singled out Voltaire in his epigram; could have been personal I suppose.

Why would volumes of human knowledge be controversial? For one thing, in addition to science and the arts, the topics range from philosophy to theology and was based on human reason instead of by nature or theology. Therefore, there was much criticism from the Kings Council, the Catholic Church over the authenticity of presupposed historical events cited in the Bible. In addition, the Encyclopédie was seen as a strong influence for the French Revolution as Diderot and others emphasized the shift of political authority from the church to the people.

There were also political and economic controversies. It might be easier to try and identify what was NOT controversial!

CONTRE VOLTAIRE by Alexis Piron

Son enseigne est à l’Encyclopédie.
Que vous plait-il? De l’anglais, du toscan?
Vers, prose, algèbre, opéra, comédie?
Poème épique, histoire, ode ou roman?
Parlez! C’est fait. Vous lui donnez un an ?
Vous l’insultez!…En dix ou douze veilles,
Sujets manqués par l’aîné des Corneilles,
Sujets remplis par le fier Crébillon,
Il refond tout…Peste! Voici merveilles!
Et la besogne est-elle bonne?…Oh non!

MY ENGLISH TRANSLATION

His teaching is in l’Encyclopédie.
What pleases you? some English, some Tuscan?
Verse, prose, algebra, opera, comedy?
Epic poems, stories, odes or novels?
Speak! It is done. You give him a year?
You insult him!… In ten or twelve vigils,
Missed subjects by the eldest of the Corneille’s,
Full subjects by the proud Crébillon,
He has rewritten all…Peste! such wonders!
And is the work, is it good?…Oh! non!

Work Cited

Canfield, Arthur G., and Patterson, W.F. French Poems. New York: Holt & Co. 1941.

“Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire Raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers, edited by Denis Diderot (1751-1780)”.