Residence of Voltaire France


Diderot, oil painting by Louis-Michel van Loo, 1767; in the Louvre, Paris


Wiremaking - from Encyclopedie volume on Trades and Industries


Fashion - from Encyclopedie volume on Trades and Industries



Printed matter had to be approved by the King's censors before one was allowed the "priviledge" to print it. Avec privilege du Roi (With Privilege of the King) appeared on printed items that passed the censors.
Denis Diderot

born: 10/5/1713
died: 7/31/1784

In 1745 André Le Breton, a publisher, asked Diderot to assist in translating the English Cyclopedia of Ephraim Chambers into French. Diderot agreed to work as a co-editor on the project along with the mathematician, Jean Le Rond d'Alembert, who was a member of the Academy of Sciences.

Diderot soon changed the nature of the publication by broadening its scope. The goal of the Encyclopédie was to outline the present state of knowledge about the sciences, arts, and crafts, and to make the knowledge possessed by the few accessible to the many. Each subject was assigned to be written by the person or persons best acquainted with it, and was to be handled with as near an approach to freedom as the censors would permit. It was revolutionary in that it was the first encyclopedia to bring together the great minds of the time. Also among the contributors were many craftsmen who provided the details for technical articles about trades and industries.

Most of the 71, 818 articles in the Encyclopédie were written by Diderot and d'Alembert. Other contributors included Rousseau, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Baron d'Holbach, Necker, Turgot, Buffon and other known writers of the day.

Jean d'Alembert, wrote the introduction to the Encyclopédie, and contributed the articles on mathematics and the sciences. He used his position in society and the world of letters to obtain the moral and financial support of the leading salons and the cooperation of the best scholars and philosophes.

Diderot worked tirelessly on the hundreds of articles that explained how products were made in the trades and industries. He went to workshops, bazaars, shops, vineyards, farms, and factories to gather information from people who actually worked in the many occupations that were illustrated in the publication.

There were originally 17 volumes of text and 11 volumes of plates with one or two new volumes being printed each year between 1751 and 1772. The great Encyclopédie was the most ambitious publishing enterprise of the century. It promoted the new view of scientific empiricism -- the concept that one should rely on observation and experiment, especially in the natural sciences.

Voltaire contributed anonymous articles to the encyclopedia and was one of the greatest supporters of this ambitious project. Leaders of the Church in France viewed the Encyclopédie as a threat to their authority and the authority of the king.

The first seven volumes of the first edition of the Encyclopédie were published in Paris under a royal privilege. After this was withdrawn in 1759, printing continued clandestinely, and the last ten volumes of the first edition were printed in Paris, but issued under the false imprint of Samuel Faulche, Neuchâtel. Unlike the text, the accompanying eleven volumes of plates were not considered subversive and were all published in Paris.

Only about 4,000 copies were made.

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