The Works of the 1680’S

  • Craig B. Brush
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Idees / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 14)


Bayle’s entrance into the republic of letters came in March 1682 with the publication in Rotterdam by Reinier Leers of the Lettre à M. L. A. D. C., docteur de Sorbonne, où il est prouvé, par plusieurs raisons tirées de la philosophie et de la théologie, que les comètes ne sont point le présage d’aucun malheur; avec plusieurs réflexions morales et politiques, et plusieurs observations historiques, et la réfutation de quelques erreurs populaires. His name did not appear as the author of the Lettre sur les comètes, which bore the fictitious notation that it had been printed in Cologne by Pierre Marteau, the kind of literary deception that was absolutely normal prodecure during the time. Having originally hoped to disseminate his work in France, Bayle had adopted the guise of a Catholic author; but the attitudes taken in the work hardly concealed its Protestant source.1 He evidently sincerely intended to maintain his anonymity and did not tell even his closest friends of his authorship.2 His publisher, however, informed Adrian Paets, Bayle’s patron in Rotterdam, of the identity of the author; and the fact was soon common knowledge among men of letters.3 The book was well received, and the following year a second edition considerably enlarged appeared under the title Pensées diverses, écrites à un docteur de Sorbonne, à l’occasion de la comète qui parut au mois de décembre 1680.


Good Faith Personal Attack Opening Page Suspended Judgment Alert Reader 
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  1. 1.
    See Walter Rex, Essays on Pierre Bayle and Religious Controversy (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1965).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Jurieu was offended to learn at second hand that Bayle was the author of the Lettre sur les comètes (OD II, 719 /). He may have had some reservations about the work, but nonetheless he did recommend it to a friend as worth reading (OD II, 746 r).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    It would be false to suppose that Bayle wished to keep his authorship secret for fear that his work might be judged harmful to the interests of religion; for he sent copies of it to both his brothers, revealing that it was his work. In October 1682 he wrote Joseph telling him “sub sigillo confessionis” that the Lettre sur les comètes was his (OD I B, 143 l). Far from hurting his reputation in Protestant circles, the work seems to have made it. Largely on the basis of this book and the Critique générale de l’Histoire du calvinisme de Maimbourg, he was offered a position as professor of philosophy in the University of Franeker. See Elisabeth Labrousse’s “Documents relatifs à Poffre d’une chaire de philosophie à Bayle à l’université de Franeker au printemps de 1684,” in Pierre Bayle, le philosophe de Rotterdam. Google Scholar
  4. 1.
    Edited with an introduction and notes by A. Prat for the series of the Société des Textes Français Modernes, 2 vols. (Paris: Droz, 1939). As far as I know, Beuchot’s edition of the Dictionnaire is the only nineteenth-century publication of a woik of Bayle’s.Google Scholar
  5. 2.
    In his review of the contemporary treatises devoted to the question of comets A. Prat finds that almost all of them had demonstrated that comets were subject to natural laws, Pensées diverses, p. xiii. Cornelia Serrurier, in Pierre Bayle en Hollande, pp. 47–51, discusses the works of Graevius and Balthasar Bekker on the same subject.Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    In the “Avis au Lecteur” of the Lettre sur les comètes, Bayle makes it clear that these digressions may be the part of his work that will be most admired (OD III, 4 r; AP I, 7).Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    The letter to his brother has already been cited, supra p. 204. Desmaizeaux gives May 27, 1681 as the date of the letter to Visé: Vie de Bayle, DHC, XVI, 63 /. Cornelia Serrurier comes to the same conclusion about the absence of skepticism in the Pensées diverses. See her Pierre Bayle en Hollande, pp. 66–67. She destroys Albert Cazes’s opinion to the contrary by citing Cazes’s own sentence, “Il ne veut reconnaître comme vrai que ce qui est évident, et chacune de ses négations affirme, la toute-puissance ou la compétence unique de la raison,’’ in his Pierre Bayle, sa vie, son influence, son œuvre (Paris: Dujaric, 1905). Cazes’s concept of skepticism is strikingly original.Google Scholar
  8. 1.
    Towards the end of the book (OD III, 143 r; AP II, 248–249) Bayle resumes this thought in a manner reminiscent of Montaigne. He imagines a comet about to cause the Trojan War dispensing certain atoms with the mission to make Helen adulterous, others to make Menelaus jealous and warlike, and so forth. This reminds me somewhat of Montaigne’s comments on a drug destined to heat the kidneys (see supra, p. 131.)Google Scholar
  9. 4.
    Bayle cites Montaigne’s chapter “Des boyteux” (III: xi) here (4 in Appendix II).Google Scholar
  10. 2.
    The same opinion had been expressed by Bossuet in the Defensio declarationis cleri gallicani, Part I, Book I, Section II, Chapter V. “Perfectum regimen, quod attinet ad ordinem et jura societatis humanae, sine vero sacendotio, ac sine vera religione esse potest.” Note that Bayle includes both Spinoza and Epicurus among the atheists although he knew full well that each had a God in his philosophical system. (See their articles in the DHC.) Their cardinal error was to deny God’s Providence, or His action in the affairs of this world. To Bayle and many writers of his century this appeared to be one of the most frightful forms of atheism (see OD III, 925–933 for several citations). In general it was far more dangerous than an atheism which denied God’s existence because the second brand was so unnatural that few men, if any at all, held it (OD III, 170 l and section CVI of the Pensées diverses). Google Scholar
  11. 1.
    Montaigne’s remarks on the conduct of Christians in the opening pages of the “Apologie” (supra, pp. 111–112) and his general opinion that religion cannot be relied on to produce moral conduct (supra, p. 154) are essentially the same idea that Bayle expresses here. Bayle quotes the “Apologie” on how easy it is to have faith that is only lip-service (5). Here is another sentence that corresponds to Montaigne’s remarks in the “Apologie” on Christian conduct, “J’avoue que si on donnoit à deviner les moeurs des Chretiens à des gens d’un autre monde à qui l’on diroit simplement que les Chretiens sont des créatures douées de Raison & de bon sens, avides de la felicité, persuadées qu’il y a un Paradis pour ceux qui obéissent à la loy de Dieu & un Enfer pour ceux qui n’y obéissent pas; ces gens d’un autre monde ne manqueroient pas d’asseurer que les Chretiens font à qui mieux mieux pour observer les préceptes de l’Evangile…” (OD III, 87 l; AP II, 8) Of course, these ideas are all commonplaces of Christian sermons.Google Scholar
  12. 1.
    Bayle himself had referred without comment to this usage in his Cours (OD IV, 521). Sextus Empiricus (Hypotyposes II: v) and Montaigne (II: xii, 545a and 563–5640) had both argued against universal consent as a criterion of truth.Google Scholar
  13. 2.
    Montaigne too regarded the effects of nature as every bit as miraculous in one sense as any supernatural occurrence. See supra, p. 145. In the Nouvelles de la république des lettres, October 1685, VI, Bayle repeats his remark on the miraculous nature of biological reproduction.Google Scholar
  14. 2.
    Belgic Confession, Article II, “Nous le cognoissons [God] par deux moyens. Premièrement par la creation, conservation, et gouvernement du monde universel, d’autant que c’est devant nos yeux comme un beau Livre.… Secondement il se donne à se cognoitre à nous manifestement par sa saincte et divine parole; voire autant pleinement qu’il nous est de besoin en cette vie pour sa gloire et le salut des siens.”Google Scholar
  15. 3.
    “La bonne philosophie” is a favorite expression of Bayle’s (See the quotation on p. 219). It often designates Cartesian thinking, as it does here.Google Scholar
  16. 1.
    This proof is given in the Cours de philosophie (OD IV, 416) and in DHC 2 Pomponace F. In the Meditations Descartes himself admitted he had no proof of the soul’s immortality because the soul’s preservation was contingent on God’s will.Google Scholar
  17. 2.
    See Elisabeth Labrousse, Inventaire critique de la correspondance de Pierre Bayle, p. no.Google Scholar
  18. 1.
    Bayle’s rules for “le pyrrhonisme historique” in the opening pages of the Critique générale will be discussed later, infra pp. 254–255.Google Scholar
  19. 1.
    Whenever he speaks of sexual attraction or parental love, Bayle uses a mechanistic terminology in order to explain these passions, a way of thought typical of Cartesians. Although the Nouvelles Lettres is the work in which Bayle cites Montaigne most frequently, there is no reference to “De l’affection des pères aux enfans” (II: viii) despite numerous opportunites, for Bayle makes the essayist’s point that the natural affection for children should be held in check by reason.Google Scholar
  20. 1.
    Delvolvé calls this “le providentialisme naturel,” Religion, critique, et philosophie…, p. 104. The expression “la sagesse de Dieu,” is a recurrent one in Bayle’s thought. It appears usually in the context of the problem of evil. One could say that whenever he attempts to account for the existence of evil, he has recourse to the vague concept of the wisdom of God.Google Scholar
  21. 2.
    Malebranche’s correspondance has been recently published in an excellent format by André Robinet as volumes XVIII and XIX of the Œuvres complètes (Paris: Vrin, 1961). The exchange of letters, which ceased with the termination of the journal, concerned entirely literary matters. (Bayle recommended a Latin translation of the Recherche de la vérité by his friend Jacques Lenfant, and later undertook the disagreeable task of proofreading one of Malebranche’s replies to Arnauld.)Google Scholar
  22. 1.
    Five of Malebranche’s books (April 1684, II; May 1684, IV; August 1684, III; May 1685, III; and April 1686, III) and four of Arnauld’s (September 1684, II; March 1685, VI; July 1685, VIII; and August 1685, III). In the catalogue of the June 1686 issue (OD I, 589 r), Bayle promised to discuss three more works of Arnauld’s that he had received, including the second and third volume of the Réflexions sur la Traité de la nature et de la grace. He never wrote those reviews, perhaps because he did not wish to seem to turn against the philosopher whose cause he had previously championed. In August 1684 (OD I, 104 r), he had called Malebranche “le premier Philosophe de ce siecle”; by March 1686, he referred to him and his Jansenist adversary as “les deux premiers Philosophes du monde” (OD III, 570 l). The interchange between Bayle, Malebranche, and Fontenelle, parts of which do not appear in OD, has been published in the Œuvres complètes de Malebranche XVII, 567–594.Google Scholar
  23. 2.
    See OD I, 427–428 (December 1685, I), for Arnauld’s “Avis” to Bayle and OD I, 444–461 for the journalist’s answer, in which he argues very convincingly that Arnauld’s good faith is suspect in his treatment of Malebranche.Google Scholar
  24. 3.
    For a summary of the philosophical debate, see Ralph W. Church, A Study in the Philosophy of Malebranche (London: Allen & Unwin, 1931), especially chap. VI. For a summary of the theological debate, see Ginette Dreyfus’ critical edition of Le Traité de la nature et de la grace (Paris: Vrin, 1958), pp. 47–127. A large part of Malebranche’s writings are concerned with a detailed theory of sense perception. And yet Bayle hardly ever discusses it, so little was he concerned with the kind of skepticism Montaigne had embraced. He called the Catholic father’s theory of ideas “des équivoques perpétuelles” in a letter to Desmaizeaux (OD IV, 866 r, 16 October 1705).Google Scholar
  25. 1.
    The miracles of Jesus present no problem because He was God. In his review of Arnauld’s Reflections, the book that eventually decided him against Malebranche (whether in this volume or in the succeeding two is difficult to say), Bayle may be suggesting that Malebranche’s system requires “volontés particulières.” “Or si Dieu n’avoit qu’une volonté générale de mouvoir les corps selon les Loix de la communication des mouvements, il ne voudroit pas directement les effets qui se produisent dans le monde; il voudroit seulement de cette manière les voyes simples & générales d’agir, & par conséquent il aimeroit moins l’ouvrage même qui resuite de la communication des mouvemens que la communication des mouvemens, ce qui ne paroît conforme ni à l’idée d’un Agent raisonnable, ni à ce que Dieu a fait dans la création du monde, puisqu’il est certain qu’il y a négligé ces voyes simples & générales & qu’il a mieux aimé se servir de volontez particulières” (OD I, 347 r, August 1685, III). Bayle’s remarks in the last piece of the series are extraordinarily cautious. “Il y a des gens qui souhaiteroient que le P. Mallebranche eût dit sans nulle exception que l’ordre ne permet jamais que Dieu trouble la simplicité de ses voyes:… Mais ces gens-là n’examinent pas s’il est toujours en notre puissance d’exclure toute exception. Ils croyent qu’on peut remédier à tout inconvenient par la seule combination des causes occasionnelles, & peut-être qu’ils se trompent” (OD I, 533 /, April 1686, III).Google Scholar
  26. 1.
    A printer’s error in OD reads “démontrer” in line 2. The second edition of the journal (Amsterdam: Desbordes, 1686) provides the correct reading.Google Scholar
  27. 1.
    La Placette uses the same argument in a treatise, known by Bayle, De insanabili romanœ ecclesiœ scepticismo (DHC 1 Nicolle, n. 13). But Bayle in all his remarks about transubstantiation never refers to the argument of the senses on his own count.Google Scholar
  28. 2.
    This distinction is made several times in other articles devoted to the controversy raised by Nicole’s book (OD I, 528 l, April 1686, I; OD I, 590 r, June 1686, I). It also appears in the closing pages of the Nouvelles lettres de l’auteur de la Critique générale (OD II, 334 r) where conscience and science are differentiated.Google Scholar
  29. 1.
    In a letter to Desmaizeaux (OD IV, 584 l, 17 October 1704), Bayle says that Jurieu and his wife were also taken in. Fontenelle remained on good terms with the refugee journalist, evidently because he believed Bayle’s claim not to have understood the meaning of the tale.Google Scholar
  30. 1.
    See Annie Barnes, Jean Le Clerc (1657–1736) et la république des lettres, chap. III.Google Scholar
  31. 2.
    See Annie Barnes, Jean Le Clerc, p. 113, and Elisabeth Labrousse, Inventaire critique de la correspondance de Pierre Bayle, p. 142. Bayle had originally compared Le Glerc’s Biblical criticism to Spinoza’s, an accurate remark but a great insult at the time. In his letter enclosing the review, Bayle is even franker concerning his disapproval of the Sentimens. Among other things, he writes: “… tout votre Traitté sur l’inspiration des Prophetes et des Apotres ne peut que jetter mille doutes et mille semences d’Atheisme dans les Esprits.” The letter is reprinted in Abraham des Amorie van der Hoeven, De Joanne Clerico et Philippo a Limborch, dissertationes duœ (Amsterdam: Frederick Muller, 1843), pp. 262–264.Google Scholar
  32. 1.
    The reply to Jurieu occupies a large part of the preface. Bayle’s sardonic method is to compare passages from Le Vrai Système de l’église and the Traité des droits des deux souverains, both by Jurieu, but both officially anonymous. The two works are in fundamental contradiction, and Bayle hopes that the author of the one will refute the author of the other.Google Scholar
  33. 2.
    See OD IV 633 r (letter to Lenfant, 3 February 1687), OD IV, 830 r (letter to Desmaizeaux, 17 October 1702), and OD IV, 104/(in the Entretiens de Maxime et de Thémiste, the work Bayle was writing when he died).Google Scholar
  34. 3.
    Livre synodal contenant les articles résolus dans les synodes des Eglises wallonnes des Pays-bas publié par la Commission de l’Histoire des Eglises Wallonnes (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1904), II, 92, 104–105. Bayle received support from a surprising quarter. The magistrates of Amsterdam, irked at the Synod’s intrusion in matters of civil tolerance, threatened to send surveillants to future Synods (OD IV, 652–653, 5 January 1691, to Constant de Rebecque).Google Scholar
  35. 1.
    Note that this contradicts to a certain extent what Bayle had taught about the clarity of moral principles in the Cours de philosophie (see supra, p. 207). Likewise, the whole thesis of the Pensées diverses that man does not act in accord with his principles must mean that Bayle cannot expect his arguments to have too much effect. These opening chapters of the Commentaire philosophique seem to me to be a position taken for purposes of debate, and not a profound conviction of Bayle’s. If he believed that morality could be founded in theory on reason, he was well aware that practice and theory often clashed. Moreover, if the general outlines of ethics can be found by rational examination, the more specific rules belong to revelation, for example the laws of monogamy. In my opinion Delvolvé exaggerates the importance of these pages when he makes moral rationalism a fundamental assumption or Bayle’s thinking, Religion, critique et philosophie…, pp. 99–111. Elisabeth Labrousse discusses this matter in detail, Pierre Bayle: Hétérodoxie et rigorisme (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1964), chap. 9. She finds Bayle struggling to believe in an innate morality in the face of other stands of his. There may be a genuine parallel here between Bayle and Montaigne; neither would abandon the belief that reason could guide man in ethics although his own reasoning indicated otherwise.Google Scholar
  36. 1.
    Later in the Commentaire he will make admissions that seriously undermine the contentions of the theologians he is discussing here. For an interesting analysis of this shift see Walter E. Rex’s monograph, Essays on Pierre Bayle and Religious Controversy (The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff, 1965), chap. V. Rex emphasizes the contradiction between the skepticism of the final section and the rationalist arguments of the opening pages. The contradiction does not appear so total to me. For Bayle the moral issues at stake are clear and incontrovertible, and his argument is based mainly on these issues.Google Scholar
  37. 2.
    Bayle had already expounded his views on the erring conscience in the Critique générale (OD II, 85–88) and at great length in the Nouvelles Lettres (OD II, 217–228).Google Scholar
  38. 1.
    Cf. Belgic Confession, Article XXXII, “… nous rejettons toutes inventions humaines, et toutes loix qu’on voudroit introduire pour servir Dieu, et par icelles lier et estreindre les consciences en quelque sorte que ce soit…”Google Scholar
  39. 1.
    Bayle says that even the angels do not understand the mysteries of nature (OD II, 514/).Google Scholar
  40. 2.
    In the Supplément Bayle writes: “Car le même Juif qui est si opiniâtre dans ses erreurs, seroit un Chretien à brûler, si à l’âge de deux ans on l’eût oté à son père pour le faire élever par de bons & zélez Chretiens” (OD II, 506 l). The similarity to Montaigne is inescapable: “Nous sommes Chretiens à mesme titre que nous sommes ou Perigordins ou Alemans” (II: xii, 422e).Google Scholar
  41. 1.
    From the Nouvelles Lettres. This resembles Malebranche strikingly: Recherche de la vérité Book I, Chap. XX.Google Scholar
  42. 2.
    There is one minor passage in La Cabale chimérique (OD II, 656 l) where Bayle claims that except for the truths of religion, he regards all disputes as a “jeu d’esprit,” in which he is indifferent to the pros and cons of a question. Like a good Academic philosopher (he is thinking of Carneades) he accepts any opinion the moment it seems to have probability on its side.Google Scholar
  43. 3.
    See Desmaizeaux’s Vie de Bayle, the years 1690–93. Dr. J. B. Kan published the acts of the Consistory of the Walloon Church of Rotterdam concerning the affair in the Bulletin de la Commission de l’Histoire des Eglises Wallones, IV (1890), 171–202. Delvolvé, Serrurier, and Robinson all review the dispute.Google Scholar
  44. 4.
    See Antoine Adam, Histoire de la littérature française au XVIIeme siècle (Paris: Domat, 1956) V, 236–238. Elisabeth Labrousse accepts this interpretation, Inventaire, p. 373, and Pierre Bayle, le philosophe de Rotterdam, p. 128. The important articles on this subject in the past are Charles Bastide, “Bayle est-il l’auteur de l’Avis aux réfugiés?” Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire du Protestantisme Français, LVI (1907), 544–558, andGoogle Scholar
  45. 4a.
    Georges Ascoli, “Bayle et l’Avis aux réfugiés d’après des documents inédits,” Revue d’Histoire Littéraire de la France, XX (1918), 517–545. Delvolvé believes Bayle is the author of the Avis. Serrurier disagrees. Robinson also rejects Bayle’s authorship.Google Scholar
  46. 1.
    The affair did not die there, but was continued before the Walloon Consistory until August 1695. Two years later the publication of the Dictionnaire saw Bayle called up once again before the Consistory. The inquiry continued for almost two years (16 June 1697 to 28 March 1699) ending with the condemnation of several articles and Bayle’s promise to revise his Dictionnaire. Google Scholar
  47. 1.
    In a similar vein Bayle closes the preface to the Commentaire philosophique with an expression of his surprise that the violence committed in the name of religious zeal had not produced more freethinkers (OD II, 367 r).Google Scholar
  48. 1.
    See Walter H. Rex 3d, “Pierre Bayle, Louis Tronchin et la querelle des Donatistes: Etude d’un document inédit du XVIIe siècle,” Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire du Protestantisme Français, GV (1959), 97–116.Google Scholar

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© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1966

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  • Craig B. Brush

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