Publishing and Pirating: The World of Books on the Eve of the French Revolution

French Literature/Early Modern History

An important part of the book I am writing concerns the dominance of the French language among educated people in 18th-century Europe.  French was the lingua franca among the European elite, but it was much more. It conveyed a powerful cultural system and even a way of life that evoked the glory of France during "le grand siècle" under Louis XIV. It was not surprising that Gibbon first meant to write in French rather than English, that Goethe's education was saturated with French, or that the Royal Academy in Berlin conducted its meetings in French and even sponsored an essay contest on "The universality of the French language." Publishers understood that throughout Europe the reading public consumed far more books in French than in any other language.

I would make good use of a student researcher who could ferret out information about the use of French outside France during the 18th century. Sources would include memoirs (Casanova), correspondence (Frederick II), the proceedings of academies (Berlin), journals (La Gazette de Leyde), and primary material cited in works like Marc Fumaroli's Quand l'Europe parlait français

I also need information on the market for French books outside France, a subject that has attracted historians like Jeroom Vercruysse and Raymond Birn. My purpose is to set the background for sections on publishing in Paris, the great capitol of the 18th century, and in French Switzerland, the heartland of the industry for pirating Parisian books.

This research need not be exhaustive and should not require a heavy commitment of time. But it will require an excellent knowledge of French and intellectual curiosity—that is, an ability to sense themes worth pursuing and to follow them in unexpected ways.