History and structure of our Traité des trois imposteurs

  • Bertram Eugene Schwarzbach
  • A. W. Fairbairn
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 148)


Other papers presented here cover the material we are about to treat here from diverse points of view. Their authors are philosophers and historians of philosophy, of ideas, of the Huguenot diaspora, of Dutch intellectual history.... The Traité des trois imposteurs can surely support discussion from all these points of view, and indeed profit from them. We shall adopt a literary point of view since literature is our discipline. However, we are dix-huitiémistes, and the professional deformation of anyone in that field is a tendency to study the history of ideas, whether in the old-fashioned, teleological sense of ‘how did humanity, i.e., European and American thought, get from there—whatever starting-point seems most pertinent—to the optimum where it is now’, or in the Foucaldian sense that examines diversity, lines of thought with little or no posterity, because such historians who follow his example are much less certain that where (Occidental) humanity is now represents a moral or political optimum. We shall thus try to apply to the Traité des trois imposteurs both the perspective of the history of ideas and some of the techniques that one of us (Schwarzbach) half recalls from the late Jean Hytier’s lectures and from his remarkable book on Gide.2 Of course, Hytier would never have dreamt of working on the Traité des trois imposteurs, not literary enough for him.


Eighteenth Century Late Seventeenth Century Manuscript Tradition Enlightenment Thought Primitive Version 
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    This lecture is a synthesis of our two articles, ‘Sur les rapports entre les éditions du “Traité des trois imposteurs” et la tradition manuscrite de cet ouvrage’, Nouvelles de la république des lettres, 1987/11: 111–136, and ‘Notes sur deux manuscrits clandestins’, Dix-huitième siècle, 22 (1990): 433–440. Unfortunately, there are many typographical errors, skipped lines, and other faults in the first article, for which the compositors and not the authors are responsible, which render it incomprehensible in spots, and one error in the second article, p. 435, towards the bottom, IV.7 for VI.7, for which we are indeed responsible, so this lecture corrects details and refines the arguments of its two predecessors. We refer often to Silvia Berti’s ‘La Vie et l’Esprit de Spinosa (1719) e la prima traduzione francese dell’Ethica’, Rivista storica italiana, 98/1 (1986): 5–46, whose English version is The first edition of the “Traité des trois imposteurs” and its debt to Spinoza’s “Ethics”‘, in M. Hunter and D. Wootten (eds.), Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), and to her ‘Scepticism and the Traité des trois imposteurs’, in Richard H. Popkin and Arjo Vanderjagt (eds.), Scepticism and irreligion in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Leiden, New York, and Cologne: E. J. Brill, 1993), 216–29, and to four overlapping articles by Françoise Charles-Daubert, ‘Les Principales Sources de l’Esprit de Spinosa, traité libertin et pamphlet politique’, Travaux et documents du Groupe de recherches spinozistes, No. 1 (1989): 61–108; ‘Les Traités des trois imposteurs et l’Esprit de Spinosa’, Nouvelles de la république des lettres, 1988/1: 21–50, ‘L’Image de Spinoza dans la littérature clandestine et l’Esprit de Spinosa’, in Spinoza au XVIII e siècle, ed. Olivier Bloch (Paris: Méridiens Klincksieck, 1990), 51–74, and ‘Les Traités des trois imposteurs aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècle’, in Guido Canziani (ed.), Filosofia e religione nella letteratura clandestina, secoli XVII e XVIII (Milan: Francoangeli, 1994) which has just reached us (April 1995), so we have not yet been able to analyse it and the evolution of Charles-Daubert’s position. At a glance she appears to have accepted several of the theses first advanced here. We must also add to the bibliography Gianluca Mori, ‘Un frammento del “Traité des trois imposteurs” di Etienne Guillaume’, Rivista di storia della filosofia (1993, no. 2): 359–76, which we have not yet studied thoroughly. We shall have occasion to refer to clandestine tracts by their number in Miguel Benítez’s localization list, ‘Matériaux pour un inventaire des manuscrits philosophiques clandestins des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles’, Rivista di storia della filosofia (1988, no. 3): 501–31. Professors Berti, Benitez, and McKenna have kindly read a draft of this paper and have called our attention to several errors. This does not constitute an endorsement of its theses because each of these colleagues has his/her own theory regarding the composition of the Traité.Google Scholar
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bertram Eugene Schwarzbach
  • A. W. Fairbairn

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