Armchair Philosophy: Raynal’s Bestseller
‘It is yet too soon to write the history of the revolution’. So declared Tom Paine from Philadelphia in the summer of 1782. His comment was prompted by Abbé Raynal’s premature attempt to produce just such a history. The Frenchman’s 180-page pamphlet, The Revolution of America had appeared in 1781 — the year of Yorktown. The English translator seems to have obtained the text by underhand means, before Raynal could publish it. While claiming to deplore the pirating of the pamphlet, Paine is chiefly concerned to expose Raynal’s misunderstandings and misrepresentations of America. The title of Paine’s riposte is characteristically explicit: A Letter Addressed to the Abbé Raynal on the Affairs of North America in which the Mistakes in the Abbé’s account of the Revolution of America are Corrected and Cleared Up. Paine’s excuse for writing is that ‘to be right is the first wish of philosophy, and the first principle of history’. So his purpose is simply to put the record straight, and to point out those passages where the Abbé has ‘extolled without a reason, and wounded without a cause’.1
KeywordsPagan Time Armchair Philosophy Sacred Fire General Practical Advice Sassafras Tree
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- 1.Paine, A Letter Addressed to the Abbé Raynal in Complete Works of Thomas Paine: Political and Controversial (London, 1850) 185; for the development of Raynal’s ideas see J. H. M. Salmon, `The Abbé Raynal 1713–1796, An Intellectual Odyssey’ History Today XXVI (February 1976).Google Scholar
- 2.Paine, Complete Works 185, 187–9, 205, 209.Google Scholar
- 2.G. T. P. Raynal, The Revolution of America (London, 1781) 92.Google Scholar
- 7.Raynal, A Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade in the East and West Indies trans. J. Justamond 5 vols ( London, 1776 ) I ix.Google Scholar