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«Raynal, Guillaume, and N. M. Chompré. Inédits de correspondances littéraires. Edited by É. Lizé and El. Wahl. Preface by Fr. Moureau. (Correspondances littéraires érudites, philosophiques, privées ou secrètes, III.). Geneva : Slatkine, 1988. Pp. 253», dans The Eighteenth Century. A Current Bibliography. n.s. 14 — for 1988, New York, AMS Press, 1995, p. III.132.

Benoît Melançon

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This third volume of the “Correspondances littéraires érudites, philosophiques, privées ou secrètes” series includes two correspondences of the eighteenth century that are typical of the different ways in which literary information was disseminated at that time. Raynal’s correspondence is more professional than personal : the letters he sent were payed for by rich foreigners who wanted to be informed of the latest events on the Parisian scene. They are known as nouvelles à la main, a bimonthly manuscript magazine aimed at a very limited public. On the other hand, Chompré writes from Paris to one of his friends, Boissy d’Anglas. Even though their subject matter may be of the same nature (daily life in the République des Lettres, for instance) these two writers differ in their attitudes.

Raynal’s nine letters were written between November 1751 and March 1753. They were edited by the late Émile Lizé, who found them in the Bayerische Staatsbibliotek (Munich) in the papers of Newbrook, entrepreneur de presse in various German cities. The letters complete the Gotha collection of Raynal’s Nouvelles littéraires (ed. Maurice Tourneux, 1877), which lacks many issues for the years 1751-1753. Although all the missing letters are not to be found in this edition, these new additions are useful to anyone interested in Parisian life in the 1750s. Raynal writes about new books (mostly novels) and theatrical or musical performances (this is the period of the Querelle des Bouffons), as well as scientific debates and judicial decisions. He quotes poetry and epigrams at length, and summarizes books and plays. His Nouvelles littéraires were more audacious than the articles he wrote at the same time for the Mercure de France, for they were sent to readers outside France and needed no official blessing.

Nicolas-Maurice Chompré’s letters are more personal than Raynal’s. These 76 short letters were sent between 1774 and 1780, and are now kept at the municipal library in Versailles. Not only are they an account of Parisian cultural activity, but they also enable the reader to follow the evolution of the relationship between Chompré and Boissy d’Anglas, then both very young men. Whereas Raynal did not fear to comment upon the events he described, Chompré (we do not have Boissy’s letters) is less interested in judging art exhibitions (the Salons), theatre, and politics, than in sharing news about common friends or asking about Boissy’s intimate life. He is torn in his correspondence between his desire to relive Parisian cultural activities for his absent friend, and his will to annihilate the distance between Paris and the Languedoc. The reader may consider the letters from a historical point of view as well as a literary one, even though they are not, as François Moureau points out in his preface, free of conventions.

The critical apparatus of both correspondences is minimal (ten pages, including the preface), but serves its purpose of introducing the principal characters of this epistolary exchange. Nonetheless, one must deplore that some of Elisabeth Wahl’s footnotes are too sketchy to be of much help. In his preface, Moureau has some insightful remarks about letter writing in the eighteenth century.

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