Antoine D’Esca: first professor of French and German at Trinity College Dublin (1775-1784).

Two professorships of modern languages were established at Trinity College Dublin during the provostship of John Hely-Hutchinson (1774-1794), one to teach French and German, and the other Spanish and Italian, although a degree course was not instituted until 1873. Attendance at the lectures was optional and students paid an extra fee for them. In 1775 Antoine D’Esca was appointed to teach French and German, and R. Antonio Vieyra Transtagano, a Portuguese emigré from London and author of a Portuguese English dictionary, was appointed to teach Italian and Spanish.[1] The two professors were granted honorary degrees of LL.B. by the college on their appointment.[2]

Antoine D’Esca’s background is obscure: born c.1732, his burial record at the French non-conformist church of Peter Street states that he was from Berlin.[3] This suggests that D’Esca was descended from an exiled Huguenot family, as Berlin was the centre of Huguenot life in Prussia with the number of French exiles there put at c.6,600 in 1750.[4] It also suggests a reason for his having been chosen to teach the combination of French and German languages.

John Rocque, An exact survey of the city and suburbs of Dublin (London, 1756), Peter Street French Church is marked FC. Robert Pool and John Cash, Views of the most remarkable public buildings, monuments and other edifices in the city of Dublin (Dublin, 1780).

D’Esca’s main interest, however, seems to have been in French, to the neglect of his German studies. Monies were granted to him from time to time to purchase stock for the college library, which were mainly spent on French books. In 1781 he was awarded £11.7s.6d. to cover a subscription to an edition of Voltaire’s works.[5] This corresponds exactly to the price of the twelve volume quarto set of Voltaire’s Oeuvres with plates, advertised by Luke White, the Dublin bookseller, in November 1777.[6]

It has been claimed that D’Esca left no academic impression on the college. This might well have been the case, especially given the nature of the appointment, to teach French and German as an additional accomplishment to what were held to be the essentials of a solid education. McDowell and Webb considered the early professors of modern languages as no more  than ‘licensed grinders’ who had to ‘supplement their slender salary and the small income they derived from undergraduates’ fees by taking in other pupils from outside the college’; they saw them as ‘language teachers of no literary pretensions’.[7]


Hibernian Journal, 1-4 June 1781.

However, a copy of Voltaire’s Letters curieuses et intéressantes in the British Library shows D’Esca to have been the compiler and editor.[8] The titlepage gives the editor as the cryptic ‘M.A.D.’ The volume was printed in Dublin by William Hallhead and advertised as a new book in June 1781 at 5s.5d. bound or 4s.10½d. sewed, rising by July 1781 to 5s.11½d. bound or 5s.5d. sewed.[9] The Avertissement in the book is dated ‘Trin.Col. 26me Mars’. The copy in the British Library was the property of Henry George Quin, presented to him ‘by the Editor Monsieur D’Esca’ and dated 1781 in manuscript on the flyleaf. It was Quin’s practice to sign all his books ‘Hen: Geo: Quin’ with the date of purchase, or in this case of presentation.[10]

Quin entered Trinity in 1776, graduating in 1781; he may well have attended D’Esca’s lectures while at college. He was a keen book collector and bequeathed his core collection of 110 treasures to the college.[11] The copy of Lettres curieuses et intéressantes was part of his larger library and therefore not part of the bequest. In 1891 the sale catalogues of the book auctions which he attended were presented to Trinity College Library and Veronica Morrow notes that Quin books turn up on the market from time to time.

In spite of his modest salary D’Esca himself was an avid collector of books, especially in French. After his death on 26 December 1784 they were sold at auction by James Vallance, the sale continuing from the 13 until at least the 25 February 1786. The sale consisted of the libraries of ‘Anthony Desca late professor of French and German in Trinity College Dublin, and another gentleman’. More than 5,000 volumes were involved, ‘being the best collection in that line ever offered to sale by auction in this kingdom.’[12] Unfortunately no copy of the auction catalogue seems to have survived.

D’Esca’s commitment to the French language is clear and his purchase of Voltaire’s works for the library in 1781 is testimony to his interest in Voltaire in the year of the publication of his own edition of the Lettres. He was also aware of forthcoming editions of Voltaire as he states in the Avertissement that he hopes ‘que l’on inserera celles [letters] de M. de Voltaire dans l’édition de ses Oeuvres que Mr Panckoucke fait imprimer.’ It is not known what his lectures were like nor how he influenced or encouraged his students in the learning of the French language and the appreciation of its literature.

This note was first published in Long Room, 38 (1993), pp 18-19.

Images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive ( )

[1] Anthony Vieyra Transtagano, A dictionary of the Portuguese and English languages (London, printed for J. Nourse, 1773), ESTC T82137. R. Antonio Vieyra Transtagano (1712-1797) was teacher of Latin and Arabic in London before his appointment to Trinity College.

[2] G. D. Burtchaell and T. U. Sadleir eds, Alumni Dublinenses (Dublin, 1935); M M. Raraty, ‘The chair of German at Trinity College, Dublin, 1755-1866, Hermathena, 102-105 (1966-7), p. 54.

[3] T. P. Lefanu ed., Registers of the French non-conformist churches of Lucy Lane and Peter Street, Dublin (Aberdeen, Publications of the Huguenot Society of London, XIV, 1901), p.125.

[4] Stefi Jersch-Wenzel, ‘De l’importance des Huguenots dans l’économie: l’example de Magdebourg’ in M. Magdelaine et R. von Thadden, Le refuge Huguenot (Paris, 1985), p.186.

[5] Raraty, p. 54.

[6] Hibernian Journal, 3-5 November 1777.

[7] R. B. McDowell and D. A. Webb, Trinity College Dublin 1592-1952: an academic history (Cambridge, 1982), pp 57-8.

[8] Letters curieuses et intéressantes de Monsieur de Voltaire, et de plusieurs autres personnes, distinguées par leur rang & par leur mérite. Avec des reflexions & des notes par M.A.D. (à Dublin, chez W. Hallhead, 1781), ESTC T154631.

[9] Hibernian Journal, 1-4 June 1781. Saunder’s News Letter, 7 July 1781.

[10] Veronica Morrow, ‘Bibliotheca Quiniana: a description of the books and bindings in the Quin Collection in the library of Trinity College Dublin’, University of London thesis for Diploma in Librarianship 1970.

[11] Veronica Morrow, ‘Bibliotheca Quiniana’, in Peter Fox ed., Treasures of the library, Trinity College Dublin (Dublin, 1986), pp 184-96.

[12] Dublin Journal, 4-7 February 1786; 23-25 February 1786.


The Encyclopédie in Eighteenth-Century Ireland.

The eighteenth century was a period of considerable contact between Ireland and continental Europe. Well-to-do Catholic families sent their children to the continent to be educated. Catholics remained in Europe to join the church, or the continental armies, or returned to Ireland as doctors, or to take up a career in trade. Both Protestant and Catholic merchants had trade links with the continent, especially the Atlantic ports of France and Spain. Younger sons often joined an Irish trading house in one of these ports and daughters frequently went to the continent to be educated and to marry Irishmen there. Young men of fortune visited the continent on their Grand Tour, especially in the second half of the century. Intellectual currents were not slow to reach Ireland either as scholars throughout Europe corresponded with each other and shared news and information in their fields of interest.

Because of this contact with Europe Ireland became quite cosmopolitan in outlook, particularly from mid-century. French was the language of culture and scholarship in eighteenth-century Europe, replacing Latin as the lingua franca of educated people. The Mentor Universel of 1785 claimed that French was spoken: ‘de Volga à Dublin et des campagnes d’Enna aux glaces d’Islande’.[2] French was taught in schools in Ireland throughout the eighteenth century, and in 1776 Trinity College Dublin introduced university courses in French, German, Italian and Spanish. French books were imported into Ireland from the late seventeenth century, and those imports increased during the eighteenth century. Some titles in French were even printed in Ireland, mostly in Dublin, but also in Cork and Belfast, to cater for local demand.

In the early years of the century the main French language imports were literary works of French Classicism, scholarly works in literature and the sciences, Protestant religious works, French language periodical works, and newspapers. As authors of the French Enlightenment began to publish, their works found a market in Ireland, as elsewhere in Europe. The most widely owned authors of the French Enlightenment among Irish readers were Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Crébillon fils, Marmontel, Raynal and Mercier.[3] To cater for this growing demand Irish booksellers increased their stocks of foreign language works. Several Dublin booksellers specialized in continental imports, establishing contacts in France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, and even going abroad in person to fulfill orders.[4] By the 1780s an extensive entrepreneurial wholesale trade was carried on by Dublin booksellers with publishing centres in Europe, and their imports were distributed to booksellers in Cork, Belfast, Limerick, Waterford, Kilkenny, and other major towns.

Among the most notable importations of French books to Ireland from the 1750s were the various editions of the Encyclopédie, the quintessential work of the French Enlightenment, an expensive multi-volume set which could only be acquired by the prosperous reader. The first Encyclopédie was inspired by Chambers’ Cyclopaedia, published in London in 1728. Initially the Encyclopédie was intended to be a translation of Chambers, but under the editorship of Denis Diderot and Jean d’Alembert it became a forum for the leading intellectuals of the French Enlightenment to rethink their world rationally. The original plan was for a shorter, and less expensive work, amounting to 10 volumes folio, including plates. The plates published in Chambers’ Cyclopaedia were considered too few, and their quality too poor, by the French editors, who decided to include up to 600 copper-plate engravings to illustrate the techniques and processes described in the text.[5] The resulting volumes of plates contained engravings derived from Chambers and from published technical works, which were verified and corrected before publication.

Volume one of the Encyclopédie appeared on 1 July 1751, preceded by a Discours préliminaire by d’Alembert. An Irish literary journal, The Compendious Library or Literary Journal Revived, carried news of its publication in the issue of January-February 1752, noting that it: ‘is now in the press and is to consist of 10 volumes folio’.[6] Irish readers were thus aware of the publication from its earliest days. The folio editions were luxurious works aimed at the wealthy reader, and were well outside the range of most book buyers of the period. In the 1770s and 1780s, however, cut-price editions were published outside the borders of France. Folio editions were issued from Geneva in Switzerland (1771-1776), Lucca (1758-1776) and Leghorn (1770-1779) in Italy. Smaller format quarto editions were published in Geneva (1777-1779), Neuchâtel (1778-1779), and Yverdon (1770-1780) in Switzerland, and octavo editions were published by the Sociétés typographiques of Lausanne and Berne in partnership (1778-1782).[7] The sets produced outside the frontiers of France were not only cheaper editions, but the texts were substantially changed. The Italian editions needed to appease the Vatican, while the Swiss editions sought to give an orthodox Protestant view, both eschewing the heretical tendencies of the original. The Yverdon quarto edition, in particular, is significantly different in content and tone to be considered less a reprint, and more an independent reworking based on the original Paris edition.[8]

Plates from the Encyclopédie showing the processes of composing type and printing.

When the first volume of the Encyclopédie appeared in 1751 it inspired a group of London booksellers to publish a pirated reprint in London in quarto format, which could be sold for half the price of the Paris edition. It was reprinted verbatim from the Paris edition and was offered for sale at 18 shillings in half binding. Their reprinting of the remaining projected nine volumes was dependent on the reception of the first, and no subsequent volumes appear to have been issued.[9]  As there is no surviving copy of the London reprint its existence has often been doubted, however, contemporary notices appeared for it in the Gentleman’s Magazine of January 1752 and the London Magazine of April 1752 .[10] The London Magazine names ‘Innys &c.’ as the source of the volume. William Innys, of St Paul’s Churchyard, was in business until at least 1756; he had been master of the Stationers’ Company in 1747-8.[11] He may have been one of a group of London booksellers responsible for the reprinting; Lough suggests that Nourse and Vaillant were also possibly associated with the project.[12]

To date there is evidence for the importation of different editions of the Encyclopédie by five separate Dublin booksellers, John Smith prior to 1758; William Watson from 1769-1780; Laurence Flin in 1770; William Wilson in March 1779 and Luke White in 1779/80. John Smith (1719-1758), printer and bookseller on the Blind Quay, Dublin, with his cousin William Bruce, had been an importer of French books since 1726, when he established contacts in Amsterdam through his uncle, William Smith. Smith and Bruce issued catalogues of their imported material in 1726 and 1728.[13] The 1726 Catalogue comprises 78 pages, of these 28 list books in Latin,  and 17 list books in French. The range of books listed in the 1728 catalogue is very similar; the French books occupying 20 of the 86 pages. 1728 also saw the publication by Smith and Bruce of a French language book, Gaspar Caillard’s Sermons sur divers textes.[14] John Smith, whose ‘Shop and Warehouse are furnished with an excellent Collection of Foreign Books, in most Languages and Faculties’,[15] continued in business until 1758 when he retired and his stock was auctioned. Two copies of the first volume of the Diderot and d’Alembert Encyclopédie were auctioned as part of his bookstock.[16] They were copies of the 1752 London pirated edition in quarto, showing that volume one was published, as indicated by contemporary accounts, and for sale in bookshops.

William Watson (1768-1801) was bookseller and printer at the Poet’s Head in Capel Street, Dublin, and printer to Trinity College. There is little evidence to show that he had a particular specialization in imported foreign literature, but like many other Dublin booksellers he reprinted translations of French works. In November 1769, however, he advertised in French for the forthcoming Encyclopédie of Yverdon.[17] The Encyclopédie: ou dictionnaire universel raisonné des connoissances humaines was published by Fortuné-Barthélemy de Félice at Yverdon in Switzerland between 1770 and 1780. This was a quarto edition of the Encyclopédie, completely rewritten to conform with Protestant views, with contributions from savants all over Europe. It had a good reputation in the eighteenth century, especially in Protestant states, and even among the intellectual community it was considered a superior text to the original. The projected set was to amount to 34 volumes of text and 6 volumes of plates. Irish subscribers to the work would receive the volumes as they were printed. Watson held the prospectus which was available free to intending purchasers. The set finally came to 48 volumes of text and 10 volumes of plates, in all 58 volumes against the 40 volumes originally advertised. One subscriber to the set was the Hon. Thomas Conolly of Castletown House, County Kildare, whose household accounts show that Watson was paid £2.14s.2d. in March 1779 for volumes 6 and 7 of the plates and £4.1s.3d. in July 1780 for volumes 8, 9 and 10.[18] The cost amounted to £1.7s.1d. per volume of plates, although the volumes of text would have been cheaper. The cost to the original subscribers was 12 French livres per letterpress volume, and 24 livres per volume of plates.[19]

Laurence Flin (1754-1771) was bookbinder, bookseller and publisher at the Bible in Castle Street, Dublin. From 1758 he held auctions at the Golden Ball on College Green. In 1759 he published an edition of The new testament in Irish, using roman letter. During the 1760s he issued annual catalogues of his imported stock; this method of sale by yearly or twice yearly priced catalogue was employed by many booksellers, especially those who wished to appeal to a dispersed clientele. Flin issued his main catalogue in October or November of the year with a supplementary volume in January; the sale of stock from the catalogue covered the period November to May. The titles were in English, Latin and Greek, French, Italian and a small number in Dutch; the works in English included translations of continental works. His catalogue of 1770 offered L’Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire universel des arts et des sciences in 2 volumes quarto (London 1761) for £1.2s.9d.[20] This was almost certainly the Encyclopédie françoise, a down-market imitation of the Encyclopédie, which was printed at Lyons in a 2 volume quarto edition in 1761, using London as a false imprint.[21]

William Wilson (1768-1801), of Dame Street, Dublin, was the son of Peter Wilson, whose wide-ranging activities in the book trade included the publication of Wilson’s Dublin directory from 1751. Peter Wilson retired in 1771, handing the entire business over to his son. William, however, went bankrupt in 1781, but was rescued by his father who declared that William ‘was possessed of a spirit beyond his income, and of abilities superior to the common ranks of tradesmen’.[22] Peter Wilson had published editions of Les aventures de Télémaque c.1747 and in 1756,[23] as well as translations of French authors. William published another edition of Les avantures de Télémaque in 1775, followed by Raynal’s Révolutions de l’Amérique in 1781.[24] He was one of four publishers undertaking Madame de Genlis’ Théâtre de société in 1783. In March 1779 he advertised 44 French titles ‘importé et vendue par Guill. Wilson’.[25] From this list he offered 55 volumes of de Félice’s Encyclopédie of Yverdon, in quarto including plates at £34.2s.6d. sewed, noting that: ‘Toutes les Livres sont bien relié, excepte l’Encyclopédie qui n’est que broché’.

Luke White (1776-1803), bookseller, printer and importer of foreign language books at 86 Dame Street, Dublin, was listed in the Dublin directories as a wholesale bookseller from 1793 to 1803, when he appears to have given up retail bookselling.[26] He printed many popular French language books, especially those of Madame de Genlis. His earliest title printed in French is from 1777, Les lettres de Mademoiselle Ninon de l’Enclos au Marquis de Sévigné, in two volumes duodecimo. He imported foreign language literature from at least 1777, when he informed the nobility and gentry that: ‘he will be regularly supplied with the new publications from France, Italy and London’.[27] By 1784 he could claim to be: ‘constantly supplied with every Book of Merit in the English, French and Italian Languages’.[28] He issued an annual sale catalogue, concentrating on French and Italian literature. White began trading with the Société Typographique de Neuchâtel (STN) late in 1779.[29] That year he was supplied with the 39 volume quarto edition of the Encyclopédie by the STN, availing himself of the Société’s offer of a 25% price reduction on the set. He subscribed to 12 copies which entitled him to a 13th copy free. The STN reprinted the Encyclopédie in quarto format from 1777 to 1779, the set consisting of 36 volumes of text, and 3 volumes of plates. The Encyclopédies were shipped from Ostend in 1779/80 with works by Rousseau, Voltaire, and Buffon, and copies of La vie privée de Louis XV.[30] They took eight months to arrive as the shippers were forced to wait for a safe neutral ship to transport them, due to French involvement in the American War of Independence. White may have had subscribers for some of the sets, but he seems to have ordered at least some for stock, as a set was advertised in his sale catalogue of 1784, priced at £30.[31]

Several editions of the Encyclopédie were present in Irish libraries, but it is not known if they were purchased from Irish booksellers or imported especially for the library. To date thirty-one sets of the Encyclopédie have been traced to contemporary purchasers, twenty-nine in private libraries, one in the Dublin Library Society and one in Trinity College Dublin. This figure must be regarded as a minimum level. Fourteen sets of the Yverdon quarto edition have been traced, making it the most popular edition in Irish libraries. Seven sets of the first Paris folio edition, five sets of the Encyclopédie méthodique, three sets of the Geneva quarto edition in 39 volumes, and two unidentified sets have also been traced. None of the thirteen sets of the Neuchâtel quarto edition imported by Luke White has been located in contemporary collections.[32]

Sets of the quarto editions of the Encyclopédie cost from £30 to £35, making it available only to a minority of readers. In the 1770s, when the Encyclopédie was offered for sale, the penny loaf weighed six or seven ounces; butter was selling at 32s. to 40s. per hundredweight and beef at 17s. to 20s. per hundredweight.[33] Book prices can be best compared with other luxury items where the scales are comparable; tea was priced from 2s.2d. to 12s. per pound, brandy from 6s.6d. per gallon and claret from 14s. to 22s.9d. per dozen.[34] In the late 1770s and early 1780s when the Conollys of Castletown House paid £2.14s.2d. for two volumes of plates for the Encyclopédie, they expended £2.5s.6d. for eight dancing lessons, and £2.5s.6d. to the tutor for writing, accounts and geography for one month.[35] For the thirtieth anniversary performance of Handel’s Messiah held in the Smock Alley theatre in April 1772 places in the boxes and lattices were 5s.5d., in the pit 3s.3d., in the middle gallery 2s.2d. and the upper gallery 1s.1d.; corresponding to a small format book in plain binding priced at 2s.2d. to 3s.3d., or to one issue of a monthly periodical at 1s.1d.[36] In 1784 when Luke White was charging £30 for the Neuchâtel quarto edition of the Encyclopédie the yearly rent on a house in Grafton Street was £27.6s.[37] These comparable prices show the luxury nature of the books acquired for some of the country’s finest libraries. It is not surprising that the market was limited for such works.

The Irish purchasers of the Encyclopédie correspond to their continental counterparts, as identified by Darnton. The folio editions appealed to the luxury market in Paris and Versailles, while the quarto editions fell more within the range of provincial book buyers. In France it was the administrators, lawyers and professionals who subscribed to the Encyclopédie, with clergy and businessmen also significant.[38] In Ireland the higher level Anglican clergy [8 examples], represented by such figures as Dr William Newcome (1729-1800), Archbishop of Armagh; Dr William Knox (1762-1831), Bishop of Derry; Dr William Hales (1747-1831) and Dr Richard Murray (1727-1799), both of Trinity College Dublin; and those in the administrative and parliamentary professions [8], such as William Burton Conyngham (1733-1796), antiquarian and officer of the Treasury Department; Judge Robert Hellen (1725-1792); and Andrew Caldwell (1733-1808), barrister and one of the Wide Streets Commissioners, formed the main categories of buyer for the Encyclopédie.[39] They were followed by aristocracy and landowners [6], represented by Lord Charlemont (1728-1799); the Marquess of Downshire (1718-1793), Benjamin Franklin’s host in Ireland; and Thomas Wogan Browne (d.1812); intellectuals and scholars [5], such as Horace Hone (1756-1825), the portrait painter, who moved to London after the Union; and Richard Kirwan (1733-1812), the chemist.[40] A preference for the Yverdon quarto edition was shown by the clergy, and for the Paris folio by the landowners. Three individuals each possessed two sets of the Encyclopédie. Rev. Dr Thomas Wilson (1727-1799), Fellow of Trinity College and professor of Natural Philosophy, owned 7 volumes of the first Paris folio edition and the 39 volume Geneva quarto edition.[41] John Claudius Beresford (1766->1832), banker, M.P., alderman and Lord Mayor of Dublin (1814), held the 58 volume Yverdon quarto edition and 20 volumes of the Encyclopédie méthodique.[42] Horace Hone held the 39 volumes Geneva quarto edition, and 178 volumes of the Encyclopédie méthodique.[43]

In 1759 the Encyclopédie was placed on the Index librorum prohibitorum and Catholics were warned to have it burned by a priest, or face excommunication. Nevertheless Catholics purchased the various editions of the Encyclopédie in France and elsewhere. In Ireland evidence for book ownership among Catholics is slight before the end of the eighteenth century due to the low profile adopted by well-off Catholics because of the Penal laws. Two of the Encyclopédie owners were practising Catholics, and a number of others had Catholic backgrounds, but they or their families had conformed to the established church during the eighteenth century in order to retain their status and lands, or to advance in their careers. Richard Kirwan, the renowned chemist, exemplifies this situation. He was born a Catholic and educated for the priesthood at the Jesuit novitiate at St Omer. When his brother was killed in a duel he succeeded to the family estates, and converted in order to retain them. Kirwan held 94 volumes of the Encyclopédie méthodique.[44] The two Catholic purchasers were Dr John Fergus (1700-1761) and Christopher Dillon Bellew (fl.1790-1815). Dr John Fergus was considered ‘the most eminent Roman Catholic Physician in Dublin in his time and a great collector of books and manuscripts’. He was a patron of Gaelic scribal work and possessed a celebrated collection of Irish language manuscripts. His library and that of his only son, Dr Macarius Fergus (d.1763), were sold by auction in 1766; the catalogue lists the first seven volumes of the Paris folio Encyclopédie.[45] The Bellews were one of the few Catholic gentry families to retain their lands during the eighteenth century. Christopher and his brothers were educated in France, and the family fortunes were maintained through trade, especially flour milling. From about 1790 Bellew began to build up the library at Mount Bellew in Galway. In an inventory of 1813 the ten volumes of plates to the Yverdon Encyclopédie were present in the library, but there is no mention of the volumes of text.[46]

Two of Ireland’s most celebrated book collectors held sets of the first Paris folio edition, Lord Charlemont and the Hon. Denis Daly. Charlemont’s library at Charlemont House in Dublin was one of the sights to be seen by visitors to Dublin; it was also frequented by scholars and other interested readers.[47] The Hon. Denis Daly was M.P. for Galway; he lived at Athenry, County Galway and in Dublin. His library was famous throughout Ireland and Britain; when it was put up for auction in 1792 catalogues were available from booksellers in Ireland, Britain and the continent.[48]

At the highest social level there was no distinction between metropolitan and provincial in Ireland; those who could afford to do so had a house in Dublin and an estate in the country. At least part of each year was spent in Dublin, for the parliamentary season and the social life connected with it, for the sessions of court, university terms etc. Travel abroad to London, Bath and the continent was also a feature of life at this level. Several of those in the parliamentary and other professions divided their time between Ireland and London. Most of the Encyclopédie owners belonged to this privileged group, with a townhouse and a country estate, or in the case of the clergy a townhouse and a residence in their diocese. The counties in which they had their seats include Kildare, Meath, Wicklow and Longford in Leinster; Armagh, Down, Tyrone, Derry, Donegal and Cavan in Ulster; Cork and Waterford in Munster; and Galway in Connacht. The spread of ownership was countrywide, but all purchases of the Encyclopédie would have been made in Dublin, if not imported personally from London. The audience for the Encyclopédie in Ireland was a conservative one, limited to the wealthy book buyer with an interest in current, fashionable works of the Enlightenment. These readers formed part of the mainstream cosmopolitan European elite of the eighteenth century.

Considering the diffusion of the Encyclopédie outside France, Darnton has shown that the European market was supplied mainly by the first two folio editions and the octavo edition from Paris, while the other editions had a more concentrated market in certain areas. The Encyclopédie d’Yverdon, which current evidence indicates was the most widely owned edition in Ireland, sold mainly in the Low Countries; the bookseller Pierre Gosse of The Hague purchased most of the edition from de Félice in the 1770s.[49] This distributive pattern is significant, as the Irish book trade was supplied with a large percentage of its continental works from Amsterdam, The Hague and other centres in the Netherlands. It is very likely that these Encyclopédies were imported by Dublin booksellers from their suppliers in the Netherlands. Given the nature of Irish ownership for the Encyclopédie, wealthy, largely Anglican, and upholders of the status quo, the more conservative approach of the Encyclopédie of Yverdon, compared with the original Paris folio, was of greater appeal, and it was perhaps a more toned-down Enlightenment with a distinctly Protestant viewpoint, which was supported by this readership.

[1] An earlier version of this article was published in The Book Collector, 45, no. 2 (Summer 1996), pp 201-13.

[2] Le Mentor Universel, 4 (1785), p.61.

[3] Máire Kennedy, ‘The Top 20 French authors in eighteenth-century Irish private libraries’, Linen Hall Review, 12, no. 1 (Spring 1995), pp 4-8.

[4] Gough, Hugh ‘Book imports from continental Europe in late eighteenth-century Ireland: Luke White and the Société Typographique de Neuchâtel’, Long Room, 38 (1993), pp 35-48. Máire Kennedy, ‘The domestic and international trade of an eighteenth-century Dublin bookseller: John Archer (1782-1810)’, Dublin Historical Record, XLIX, no. 2 (Autumn 1996), pp 94-105.

[5] Lael Ely Bradshaw, ‘Ephraim Chambers’ Cyclopaedia’ in Frank A. Kafker, ed. Notable encyclopedias of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: nine predecessors of the Encyclopédie (Oxford, The Voltaire Foundation, 1981), pp 123-40.

[6] The Compendious Library or Literary Journal Revived (Dublin: printed by S. Powell and sold by J. Leathley, G. and A. Ewing, W. Smith, J. Smith, G. Faulkner and H. Bradley, Booksellers, Jan.-Feb. 1752), pp 178-9.

[7] Robert Darnton, The business of Enlightenment: a publishing history of the Encyclopédie 1775-1800 (Cambridge, Mass., The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1797). Kathleen Hardesty Doig, ‘The Yverdon Encyclopédie’ in Frank A. Kafker, Notable encyclopedias of the late eighteenth century: eleven successors of the Encyclopédie (Oxford, The Voltaire Foundation, 1994), pp 85-116; Kathleen Hardesty Doig, ‘The quarto and octavo editions of the Encyclopédie’ in Kafker (1994), op. cit., pp 117-42.

[8] John Lough, Essays on the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1968), pp 48-51.

[9] Monthly Review, VII (July 1752), pp 69-70. Eighteenth-Century Short Title Catalogue (ESTC).

[10] John Lough, The Encyclopédie in eighteenth-century England and other studies (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Oriel Press, 1970), pp 3-6; Gentleman’s Magazine, XXII (Jan. 1752), pp 46-7; London Magazine, 48 (Apr. 1752), p.194.

[11] H.R. Plomer et al. A dictionary of the printers and booksellers who were at work in England Scotland and Ireland from 1726 to 1775 (Oxford, Printed for the Bibliographical Society at the Oxford University Press, 1932 (for 1930)). D.F. McKenzie, ed., Stationers’ Company apprentices 1701-1800 (Oxford, Oxford Bibliographical Society, 1978).

[12] Lough (1970), op. cit., pp 4-5.

[13] A catalogue of books newly arrived from England, Holland and France. To be sold by Smiths and Bruce (Dublin, printed by S. Powell, 1726). A catalogue of books. Sold by John Smith and William Bruce (Dublin, Printed by S. Powell, 1728).

[14] Gaspar Caillard, Sermons sur divers textes de l’Ecriture Sainte (Dublin, pour J. Smith and W. Bruce, 1728).

[15] Faulkner’s Dublin Journal, 1 March 1755.

[16] Catalogue of books being the bound stock of John Smith, bookseller on the Blind-Quay, which will begin to be sold by auction by William Ross at the Rt Hon. the Lord’s Coffee-Room in the Parliament House on Thursday 13 April 1758. Remainder of the stock of John Smith will be sold by auction at his late house on the Blind-Quay by William Ross, 7 Dec. 1758. Lot 2092 in the catalogue of April 1758 and lots 1031       and 1320 in the catalogue of December 1758, ‘remainder of stock, left-overs from the first sale’. Universal Advertiser, 16-19 December 1758.

[17] Freeman’s Journal, 14-16 November 1769.

[18] Trinity College Dublin: Ms. 3939-3940, Tradesmen’s Receipts, Thomas Conolly, 2 volumes (1778-1795).

[19] Doig, loc. cit., p. 91.

[20] Flin’s sale catalogue for the year 1770, the sale begins on Wednesday 1st November 1769, lot 3722.

[21] Encyclopédie françoise, latine et angloise, ou dictionnaire universel des arts et des sciences françois (Londres: et se trouve à Lyon chez Jean-Marie Bruyset, imprimeur-libraire, 1761).

[22] Wilson’s Dublin directory 1802, p.4.

[23] There is no surviving copy of the earlier edition, but it was advertised in 1747. Dublin Courant, 21-24 November 1747.

[24] Freeman’s Journal, 28-30 August 1781. His ordinary edition was published at 2s.2d. or 2s.8½d. bound, but ‘some copies were printed in superfine paper, large octavo, to match the Author’s other works’.

[25] Freeman’s Journal, 20-23 March 1779.

[26] Wilson’s Dublin directories 1793-1803.

[27] Independent Chronicle, 3-5 November 1777.

[28] Volunteer’s Journal, 4 October 1784.

[29] Gough, loc. cit.

[30] Darnton, op. cit., p. 309; Appendix B, p. 592.

[31] General Evening Post, 15 July 1784.

[32] Máire Kennedy, French books in eighteenth-century Ireland (Oxford, Voltaire Foundation, SVEC – 7, July 2001). A sample of 193 catalogues of Irish private libraries, dating from 1715 to 1830 has been used to assess ownership of French language books. The catalogues were mainly issued as auction catalogues for the sale of libraries, though in some cases an inventory of a library was made by the owner. Only catalogues of named private owners were used. As the catalogues are mainly of libraries which were auctioned after the owner’s death, this indicates a certain value accorded to the collection.

[33] Darnton uses the price of bread to give an indication of the price range of the Encyclopédies. Calculating at 8 sous for a four-pound loaf, a first folio was worth 2,450 loaves, a quarto 960 loaves, and an octavo 563 loaves; the folio equaling 4 years’ bread supply for a labourer and his family. Darnton, op. cit., p. 275. In Ireland a four-pound loaf would have cost about 8d., in equivalent terms this makes the cost of the Yverdon quarto edition the same as 900 to 1,050 four-pound loaves of bread.

[34] Prices are taken from contemporary newspaper advertisements.

[35] Trinity College Dublin: Ms 3939, Tradesmen’s Receipts, Thomas Conolly (1778-1785).

[36] Freeman’s Journal, 14-16 April 1772.

[37] Dublin Public Libraries Gilbert Collection: Ms lease, William and Mary Rainsford to Thomas Williams, 29 September 1782.

[38] Darnton, op. cit., pp 295-8.

[39] Catalogue of books, being the library of the late Most Rev. Dr William Newcome, Archbishop of Armagh, and Primate of All Ireland (Dublin, James Vallance, 31 March 1800), lot 2679. Catalogue of a choice and extensive collection of books forming the library of the late Hon and Right Rev William Knox, Bishop of Derry (Dublin, Edward Maguire, 11 April 1832), lot 2341. Catalogue of a valuable and select collection of books, forming the Library of Rev. Dr Hales, deceased, Rector of Killeshandra (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 1 February 1826; 2 June 1831), lot 413. Catalogue of the library of the late Rev. Richard Murray, D.D., Provost of T.C.D. (Dublin, Richard Edward Mercier & Co, 26 May 1800), lot 2483. Catalogue of the extensive and valuable collection of books, antiquities, books of prints and manuscripts, being the family library of a gentleman of distinction, deceased, [Burton Conyngham] (Dublin, Thomas Jones, 16 April 1810), lot 1833. Catalogue of books, prints and drawings, being the collection of the late Hon. Judge Hellen (Dublin, James Vallance, 10 February 1794), lot 368. Catalogue of books, being the library of the late Andrew Caldwell, Esq. (Dublin, Thomas Jones, 3 May 1809), lot 1055.

[40] Royal Irish Academy: Ms. 12.R.8, Catalogue of the important, extensive and valuable library of a deceased nobleman, of great literary and artistic taste, [Lord Charlemont] (11 August 1865; 27 September 1865), lot 896. Public Record Office of Northern Ireland: Ms. D.671/A38/1A, Catalogue of the library at Hillsborough [c.1800]. Bibliotheca Browniana. Catalogue of the valuable and extensive library of the late Wogan Browne Esq., of Castle Browne, in the County of Kildare (Dublin, Thomas Jones, 3 August 1812), lot 856. Catalogue of books, prints, drawings, mathematical and philosophical Instruments &c., being the collections of two gentlemen and H. Hone Esq., miniature painter to His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, going to reside in England (Dublin, James Vallance, [1798]), lots 671 and 672. Catalogue of a large and valuable collection of miscellaneous books, the library of the celebrated Richard Kirwan, Esq., deceased, LLD, FRS, PRIA and member of most of the Literary Societies of Europe (Dublin, Thomas Jones, 12 April 1813), lot 1778.

[41] Catalogue of books, being the library of the late Rev. Dr Wilson (Dublin, James Vallance, 27 October 1800), lots 1105 and 1177.

[42] Catalogue of a valuable and excellent collection of miscellaneous books and capital books of prints, the library of John Claudius Beresford, Esq. (Dublin, Thomas Jones, 28 February 1811), lots 764 and 765.

[43] Catalogue of … H. Hone, op. cit., lots 671 and 672.

[44] Catalogue of … Richard Kirwan, op. cit. Royal Irish Academy: Ms. 3.A.6., Catalogue of books bequeathed to the Royal Irish Academy by Richard Kirwan, 1813.

[45] Catalogue of the library of John Fergus M.D. and his son [Macarius Fergus] (Dublin, L. Flin, 3 February 1766), lot 162. Diarmaid Ó Catháin, ‘John Fergus MD eighteenth-century doctor, book collector and Irish scholar’, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 118 (1988), pp 139-62.

[46] National Library of Ireland: Ms. 5514, Catalogue of the library of Mount Bellew (Galway, printed by Geo. Conolly, 1813). Karen J. Harvey, ‘The family experience: the Bellews of Mount Bellew’ in T.P. Power, and Kevin Whelan, eds., Endurance and emergence: Catholics in Ireland in the eighteenth century (Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 1990), pp 171-97.

[47] Maurice James Craig, The Volunteer Earl: being the life and times of James Caulfeild, First Earl of Charlemont (London, The Cresset Press, 1958), pp 198-223.

[48] Catalogue of the library of the late Rt Hon. Denis Daly which will be sold by auction by James Vallance on 1 May 1792 (Dublin, printed for the proprietors John Archer and William Jones, 1792), lot 684. Dublin Chronicle, 24 March 1792. Thomas U. Sadleir, ‘An eighteenth-century Irish gentleman’s library’, Book Collector, 2 (1953), pp 173-6.

[49] Darnton, op. cit., pp 299-300; Doig, loc. cit., pp 88-91.


The Top 20 French Authors in Eighteenth-Century Irish Private Libraries.

Throughout Europe in the eighteenth century French began to replace Latin as the scholarly and cultural language of the educated. Ireland was no exception to this general trend. From the late seventeenth century French was a significant language among certain sections of the population, most notably the scholarly community and the upper levels of the Catholic and Protestant aristocracies. From the middle of the eighteenth century the use of the French language as a cultural, and indeed fashionable, accomplishment, was spreading to the metropolitan and provincial middle classes. French was taught in private schools and academies to both boys and girls, not only as a social accomplishment, but as a desirable skill for business, the army and navy.

French language books were imported into Ireland from the late seventeenth century. Importation of continental literature in French from Paris, Amsterdam, The Hague and London characterized the foreign language book market in Ireland. French language titles were printed in Dublin and other Irish cities also. In the early decades of the eighteenth century they were mainly produced for the Huguenot population in Dublin, Portarlington, Lisburn, Cork, and other areas of settlement. In the last three decades of the century French language reprints of more popular works for a general audience were issued by Dublin booksellers.

Specialization in the foreign language booktrade in the last quarter of the century provides evidence of a sufficient demand for such literature among bookbuyers. It also points to the diversity on offer to the Irish reading public as booksellers sought to import the latest and best publications from the continent. Expanded importation from printing centres in Europe, through personal and business contacts, was initiated by Dublin wholesale booksellers, who in turn distributed their imports to centres around the country. Thus the importation of French language books developed from the direct importation by major booksellers for their own clientele, to a more streamlined entrepreneurial wholesale trade by the 1780s. Luke White had an account with the Société Typographique de Neuchâtel, while R.E. Mercier traded with Wild and Altheer at Utrecht, and John Archer and Antoine Gerna travelled abroad to purchase books and negotiate terms in person.[2]

A sample of 193 catalogues of Irish private libraries has been used to compile the Top 20 list.[3] The catalogues date from 1715 to 1830. They were mainly issued as auction catalogues for the sale of the library, though in some cases a listing of a library was made as an inventory by the owner. Only catalogues of named private owners were used, as anonymous sale catalogues do not necessarily represent the holdings of a single individual library. The readers represented by the book sale catalogues are the nobility and landowners, clergy and professionals, whose libraries were mainly auctioned after the owner’s death, thus indicating a certain value accorded to the collection. Full coverage of all relevant readers is not possible in this situation, as the less well off segment of the population is not represented. All inferences concerning the diffusion of books drawn from auction catalogues must be tempered by the knowledge that the source is limited, unevenly representative, and weighted in favour of the more prestigious collections. By their nature book sale catalogues are oriented in their descriptions towards saleable books, lots of lesser value are often not described or itemized. Thus, bundles of pamphlets or plays, schoolbooks and cheap quality books are not included in the sale, or else are sold together as a lot. This results in a gap in our knowledge of ephemeral or cheap material and an over-emphasis on special editions and fine bindings.

Top-20-tableThe level of education of readers is significant for the ownership of foreign language books. Only those with a good level of post-elementary education, or those privately educated to a certain standard could read French or Italian. 40% of the library owners in the sample were educated at Trinity College Dublin or the King’s Inns in Dublin, and a further 6% at Oxford or Cambridge. The 16% with a continental education comprised Catholic clergy trained in the Irish colleges in France, Spain and Italy; doctors and Catholic gentry educated in continental universities. Several of the library owners, especially the nobility, did not attend university, but were privately educated by tutors and often went on the Grand Tour to complete their education. The readership under consideration therefore is that of the higher socio-economic groups, the educated segment of the population, those who were highly literate and had the financial means necessary to assemble a collection of books.he French books most widely held in the private libraries examined were French Dictionaries, in 73% of libraries, and French Grammars, in 64% of libraries. They were written and compiled by a wide range of authors, and published in France, the Netherlands, London or Dublin. In the majority of cases French was an acquired and not a native language for book purchasers in Ireland, especially in the second half of the century, therefore dictionaries and grammars were not discarded, but retained as working tools in a library. Similarly, many of the most frequently occurring French titles were those chosen by readers wishing to perfect their French by reading works renowned for the style and quality of the language or for their appeal to younger readers. Henry Joy McCracken, the United Irishman, and his family learned French from an old weaver, a native French speaker in Belfast. Henry’s French however must never have been perfected, as his sister, Mary Ann, advises him in a letter: ‘Do not neglect the use of your French dictionary and grammar – John Templeton keeps his always either in his hand or in his pocket’. While in jail in Dublin he read Fénélon’s Les Avantures de Télémaque but he had to receive assistance from a French prisoner, arrested for spying.[4] Mrs Mary Delany of Delville, in a letter to her niece Mary Dewes, in September 1760, advised: ‘I shall be very glad to receive your French performances, and if you write or translate but six lines every day it will improve you very much, and at least keep what you have learnt’.[5]

The Top 20 list shows a strong preference on the part of library owners for French Classicism. The French language gained prestige across Europe during the reign of Louis XIV, both for the style of the language and its literature, and this reputation persisted into the eighteenth century. Works of French Classicism were present in private libraries throughout the century. These works were not superseded by Enlightenment authors in the course of the century, but retained their popularity, and co-existed with them. The reading of Enlightenment literature did not occur in Ireland as a new radical introduction, it developed and grew out of the existing tradition of reading French authors. French texts found in Jonathan Swift’s library of 1715 remained an integral part of a cultured library of the 1790s.

The four works of literature most in evidence in the sample examined were the Oeuvres of Boileau in 81 collections, the Oeuvres of Molière in 80 collections, Les avantures de Télémaque by Fénélon in 78 collections, and Les avantures de Gil Blas de Santillane by Le Sage in 55 collections. Boileau was among the great representatives of French Classicism, who published widely as a poet. Eighty five of the libraries examined held at least one work by him, and many held several. Copies of the Oeuvres were beautifully illustrated by Picart or Moreau, and in fine bindings. Henry Grattan’s copy of the Oeuvres in four volumes, (Amsterdam 1729), was awarded to him by Trinity College Dublin as a premium in 1765.

Molière became famous for his comedies of manners, the style of his writing was esteemed and considered worth imitating in speech and reading. Extracts from his plays appeared in anthologies and in textbooks. His plays were not printed in French in Ireland but were imported from the continent and from London. In September 1782 Le medecin malgré lui was one of six French language plays performed at a public reading in the Exhibition Room in William Street, Dublin.[6] The Oeuvres were present in handsome and costly editions in Irish libraries with plates after Boucher (Paris 1734), Coypel (Paris 1734), and Moreau (Paris 1773).

The two individual titles most notably present in libraries throughout the century were Fénélon’s Les avantures de Télémaque, (1699), and Le Sage’s Les avantures de Gil Blas de Santillane, (1715-35). Both books were used as readers by those learning French, and both appear in multiple copies in private libraries. Fénélon, Archbishop of Cambray, was well known for his spiritual writings, but in Irish libraries his importance lies primarily in the authorship of Les avantures de Télémaque. It was favoured reading in most European countries and was the standard text for teaching manners and language. It worked for readers on several levels, closely paralleling Virgil’s Aeneid and fulfilling readers’ classical expectations in its imitation of the ancients; the fineness of the writing also appealed to those improving or perfecting their French. Its appeal spanned the denominational divisions in Ireland, appearing in both Protestant and Catholic libraries. It remained popular until the end of the century, being published in a parallel text in Cork in 1800.

Le Sage drew his inspiration from the Spanish picaresque novel, adapting it to mirror the manners of the French society of his day. Gil Blas earned him his fame, it was considered suitable for the instruction of children in the French language, though later in the century it was thought a little too colourful. Its success in Ireland can be measured by the number of local printings in French, several Dublin editions of 1763 and later, and a Belfast edition of 1798. Le Sage’s other novels also had a following, especially Le Diable boiteux, (1707), but none had the mass appeal of Gil Blas.

Racine and Pierre Corneille, writers of tragedies, are often considered the precursors of Classicism. Their works are derived from classical models, but they were in advance of the main age of Classicism, which reached its apogee during the personal reign of Louis XIV (1661-1715). Racine achieved success as a tragic poet with his plays Andromaque (1667), Iphigenie (1674), and Phèdre (1677). Maria Edgeworth went to a performance of Andromaque in Brussels in 1802, with Madame and Monsieur Talma in the leading roles, she writes: ‘we read the play in the morning, an excellent precaution otherwise the novelty of the French mode of declamation would have set my comprehension at defiance’.[7]

Pierre Corneille, the elder of the Corneille brothers, was more prolific and achieved greater success than Thomas, and his works were more numerous in Irish libraries. Though he began his career by writing comedies, it is as a tragic poet that he was best known, with plays in the classical style such as Medée (1635), Le Cid (1636-7), and Polyeucte (1642). Henry Grattan’s son writes that Grattan:

‘laid aside the cultivation of the language [French] for a considerable time, but in the latter part of his life he amused himself translating into French Miss Edgeworth’s Tales and other light works. He admired Racine and Corneille, and used to read them with much pleasure’.[8]

La Bruyère’s Les caractères de Théophraste (1688-1696), originally translated from the Greek of Theophrastus, mirrored the foibles and vanities of his own time, with portraits of many living people, under disguised names. It was popular in England, having been translated into English in 1699. It retained its popularity in Ireland throughout the eighteenth century, and was printed in French by William and Henry Whitestone in 1778, to supply their extensive wholesale market in Dublin and the provinces.

The Abbé Vertot, the French historian, is probably best known for his History of the Knights of Malta. His main works present in the libraries examined were Les révolutions de la république romaine (1719), Histoire des révolutions de Suède (1696), and Histoire des révolutions de Portugal (1689).

La Fontaine made his reputation with his Fables, the first collection of which appeared in 1668, and his Contes et nouvelles en vers, (1664-1666), based on the tales of Boccaccio and Ariosto. Even though La Fontaine produced a great variety of work it is the Fables and Contes that were purchased and produced in very many editions, often beautifully illustrated. One of the most lavish editions was the 4 volume set of Fables with 246 plates by Oudry offered to the public by Luke White in 1777 at the remaindered price of £9.2.6. The presence of so many luxury editions, illustrated and in fine bindings, in the private libraries examined, points to the perception that these works were of lasting quality, to be read and re-read, given as gifts and school premiums.

The French Enlightenment is well represented in the libraries in the sample. Irish printers responded to the demand for Enlightenment literature in the last quarter of the century by the domestic printing of some of the more popular titles. The catalogues, however, show that a great number of Enlightenment works were imported from the early years of the century. Continental imprints, led by Paris and Amsterdam as centres of publication, were by far the most numerous.

Two of the authors on the list mark the early phase of the Enlightenment, Bayle and Fontenelle. Bayle, with his critical and scientific approach, a belief in reason, political reform and religious toleration, is considered one of the earliest exponents of the philosophical writing which characterized the French Enlightenment. His Dictionnaire historique et critique, (1695-1697), was the most widely held in Irish libraries, but his Oeuvres were also present. Fontenelle’s Oeuvres were the most commonly held, followed by Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes, (1686), a popular non-specialist introduction to astronomy, and Dialogues des morts, (1683), an attack on preconceived ideas.

Voltaire was the most owned author in Irish libraries, but no one single work predominated. Several editions of Oeuvres and Oeuvres complètes were present in 35 collections, many of them illustrated and in costly editions. One of the most prized sets was the 70 volume octavo edition of the Oeuvres complètes, published at Kehl in 1785-89 by the playwright Beaumarchais, using the printing equipment purchased especially for the purpose from the widow of John Baskerville, the celebrated English typographer. This work was also printed in a 90 volume duodecimo edition by Beaumarchais. Several editions of Voltaire’s works, sold in sets or in separate volumes, were on sale in Dublin from the late 1770s. Voltaire’s epic La Henriade, first published in Rouen in 1723 under the title La ligue, began to be published under the new title in 1728. The French language London edition of 1728 was published by subscription, and in December 1727 Voltaire wrote to Jonathan Swift from London requesting him to solicit subscriptions in Ireland:

‘In the mean time can j make bold to intreat you to make some use of yr interest in irland about some subscriptions for the henriade, which is almost ready and does not come out yet for want of little help the subscriptions will be but one guinea in hand’.[9]

After its publication in March 1728 Voltaire wrote that he had sent ‘a cargo of French dulness (sic.)’ to the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Carteret. Swift retained a copy of La Henriade in his library, and it appears in the sale catalogue of his library in 1745.

Candide ou l’optimisme by Dr Ralph was first published surreptitiously in Geneva in January 1759. In February 1759 Voltaire wrote to Gabriel Cramer, his Genevan publisher, informing him that: ‘il s’est vendu six mille Candide’. By mid March it was available in French in London from John Nourse, and two weeks later the English translation appeared. English booksellers, such as Nourse, would purchase a holding edition in French of a book likely to be popular and reprint it in England, as this was cheaper than importing in bulk. This was the case with Candide which was immediately reprinted in French in London. For all its popularity at the time of publication Candide was held as an individual title in only five of the libraries, though it was also present in most Oeuvres and in the Romans et contes. Individual titles by Voltaire and Rousseau, known to have been purchased, are present in very small numbers and are greatly outnumbered by sets of Oeuvres. This can be attributed to the more lasting quality of a set of Oeuvres, but also to the saleability factor in an auction catalogue.

Three titles by Voltaire were printed in French in Dublin, La Tragédie de Sémiramis in 1750, Lettres curieuses et intéressantes de M. de Voltaire in 1781, and Mémoires de M. de Voltaire écrites par lui même in 1785, and very many appeared in translation. While these three titles were printed for the home market there is little evidence for them in the private libraries examined. Voltaire’s works were present in private libraries of both Anglican and Catholic owners and clergy of both denominations. However, it is clear that the historical and dramatic works were often held when the anti-religious works were absent, and a number of those works which denounced his anti-religious beliefs occur in the libraries. For instance, both Les erreurs de Voltaire, written by the Abbé Nonotte, and Lettres de quelques Juifs à M. de Voltaire, attributed to the Abbé Guenée, were held in Irish libraries, and a subscription edition of Claude Duplain’s La réligion vengée des blasphèmes de Voltaire was published in Dublin in 1783, attracting 154 subscribers.

Montesquieu was well represented in Irish libraries, with four of his works occurring frequently in the sample. De l’esprit des lois (1748), was the most widely owned of his works, followed by sets of Oeuvres, Les causes de la grandeur des Romains (1734), and Lettres Persanes (1721). In De l’esprit des lois Montesquieu examined the nature of human and natural laws in the widest sense including different forms of government, questions of major interest to eighteenth-century thinkers. This broad philosophical treatment appealed to a wide readership, and De l’esprit des lois was translated into English as The spirit of laws and published in Dublin in 1751 and later years. Henry Grattan owned a copy in French which he received as a premium from Trinity College Dublin in 1765. De l’esprit des lois was the most widely owned of the French language works on jurisprudence. Significant reading for professional career purposes is of particular interest as it shows that the reading of works in French was not simply a fashionable pastime for the dilettante, but also a serious activity necessary for those wishing to be to the fore in their professional knowledge.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s novel La Nouvelle Heloïse (1761), is considered by Robert Darnton to have been the ‘biggest best-seller’ of the century:

‘the demand for copies outran the supply so badly that booksellers rented it out by the day and even by the hour, charging twelve sous for the sixty minutes with one volume, according to L-S Mercier. At least seventy editions were published before 1800 – probably more than for any other novel in the previous history of publishing’.[10]

In Irish libraries La nouvelle Heloïse was marginally more popular than Émile ou l’éducation (1762), while 67% of readers of Rousseau had a set of Oeuvres. There was no Irish edition in French of either title, however, suggesting that they were not so popular in Ireland. Rousseau was very much admired by certain circles in Ireland, in fact most of his readers held several titles by him. Emily, Duchess of Leinster, and her family were among his readers. In her library at Carton, however, only the Collection complète des oeuvres in the four volume London edition of 1774, with 2 plates after Moreau, remained, while initially individual copies of the separate titles were present. Émile had been purchased in London from Mrs Dunoyer in 1762 and read immediately.

The works of Crébillon fils are far more evident in Irish libraries than those of his dramatist father, the latter represented only by his Oeuvres. The erotic novel had immense popularity during the eighteenth century, and Crébillon fils was one of the most successful writers in this genre. His novel Le Sopha, a licentious tale which satirized contemporary manners and morals, was much imitated in his day. His Oeuvres were most commonly found in the Irish libraries examined, followed by Les égarements du coeur et de l’esprit, ou Mémoires de M. de Meilcour (1736), L’écumoire ou Tanzaï et Néaderné, histoire japonaise (1734), and Le sopha, conte moral (1740).

Marmontel’s Contes moraux (1761), and Nouveau contes moraux (1789-92), first published individually in the Mercure, were the most popular of his works in Irish libraries, followed by Bélisaire (1766), and Les Incas (1777). One of his tragedies, Aristomène, was published in French in Dublin in 1750. His moral tales were sufficiently popular to be reprinted in translation in the Freeman’s Journal in the spring and early summer of 1788.

The Abbé Raynal is best known for his Histoire philosophique et politique des deux Indes (1770), which was very successful when it was first published, and went into several editions during the eighteenth century. It is Raynal’s most frequently occurring title in Irish libraries, although his other works are also present, most notably La révolution de l’Amérique (1781), and Anecdotes historiques, militaires et politiques de l’Europe (1753). La révolution de l’Amérique was printed in French in Dublin in 1781. Several translations of The philosophical and political history appeared from Dublin printers, and a copy in French was possibly also printed, but there are no extant copies.

Evidence of reading in the realm of literature is extremely difficult to determine, the use of correspondence and diaries is valuable but it only gives evidence of reading among certain groups and anecdotal information is not transferable to the wider reading public. The correspondence of Emily, Duchess of Leinster, Maria Edgeworth, Jonathan Swift, and Mrs Mary Delany, in which they discuss books and reading gives a clue as to the books read by those in their circle and their opinions on authors read. This perspective is by its nature narrow and weighted in favour of certain groups, who may not be at all representative. However, it does show that the French books present in Irish private libraries could be read by their owners, and in some cases at least, were read, understood, discussed and quoted. Evidence exists for reading in French among professional and middle class readers, showing that it was not confined to the more rarified Carton-Castletown circle. The provenance of surviving eighteenth-century editions of French books shows signatures or bookplates of readers who were not major collectors, and for whom we have no evidence of a private library. Contemporary signatures on French language books also indicate readership among women, which is not reflected in the book sale catalogues. This points to a more widespread diffusion among the general reading public which is suggested by the booksellers’ stocks.

The later years of the eighteenth century saw a movement away from the dominance of religious works in private libraries. The large number of clerical libraries in the sample, (30.5%), however, ensured the popularity of a wide range of religious works, and it can be seen that throughout the century a place, albeit less prominent, was given to religious material in all private libraries. A number of authors had cross-denominational appeal while others appealed only to their co-religionists. Huguenot exiles in Ireland carried on their public worship in the French language until the early nineteenth century, Protestant religious works in French were to be found in Irish bookshops, and were published by Irish printers for this market. Among the wider Anglican educated readership too the works of Protestant religious writers were owned in French. Up to 1795 Catholic clergy were trained on the continent, books of continental origin in Latin, French, Italian and Spanish were a prominent feature of these clerical libraries, especially in the areas of divinity and Catholic devotional literature. Copies of La Sainte Bible and separate editions of Le Nouveau Testament were present in 81 of the libraries in the sample. Both Protestant and Catholic Bibles and Nouveau Testaments were present, the Protestant Bibles were more common, Martin’s, Diodati’s, Ostervald’s and Des Marets’; while the Catholic versions, the Vulgate and De Carrière’s Bible were less common. Most of the Protestant Bibles in Irish libraries originated in Amsterdam and most Catholic Bibles in Paris.

Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux and preceptor to the Dauphin, was probably the most celebrated pulpit orator of his time. In Ireland his books were owned by all denominations, though as a theologian his doctrinaire Catholic views did not endear him to Protestants. However, his works such as Discours sur l’histoire universelle (1681), written for the instruction of the Dauphin, gained a wide readership, 62% of readers of Bossuet in Ireland. He was appreciated for his Sermons and especially for his Oraisons funèbres. Also present were his Histoire des variations des églises protestantes (1688), and Exposition de la doctrine de l’église catholique (1671).

Blaise Pascal, who also wrote under the pseudonym Louis de Montalte, is most widely represented by his literary works. Other than his scientific and mathematical works his main published work during his lifetime consisted of a series of 18 letters, supposedly written to a friend in the provinces, Les Lettres provinciales (1656-7). At the time of his death he was working on a defence of the Catholic religion entitled Apologie de la religion catholique. It was not far enough advanced, however, to be fit for publication, but his fragmentary notes were published under the title Pensées de M. Pascal sur la religion (1670). Voltaire dates the commencement of the modern French language to the prose style of Les provinciales. Pascal’s works were held by all denominations in Ireland, Les lettres provinciales was the most widely held, in 40 libraries, while Les pensées was held in 36 libraries.

The book sale catalogues reveal a fairly homogeneous, cultured, well-educated segment of the population, comprising Protestant and Catholic readers of the middle and higher socio-economic levels. This is clearly a very limited profile, denying the complexities and variety of the multi-layered society that was eighteenth-century Ireland. Yet, as the most comprehensive source available to the researcher of the history of the book in Ireland, the evidence they produce has to be considered seriously, while acknowledging the major deficiencies which they present.

The bulk of French language reading matter evident in the catalogues is imported, Paris provides the greatest frequency of imprints, closely followed by Amsterdam, with London and The Hague also significant. Ireland’s situation on the periphery of western Europe allowed its book importers a choice of several centres of production. Centres in the Netherlands rivalled those in France for cost and availability of titles, and London and Dublin printers also figured in the reprint trade. The catalogues point to an interest in French Classicism among private library owners, developing to include works of the French Enlightenment as they were published. By the end of the century works of Classicism and the Enlightenment shared an important place in Irish libraries. The French Enlightenment in Ireland was represented not just by the publications issued with a privilege from Paris, but by the broader cosmopolitan publications of the philosophes scattered across Europe, purveying a more diverse Enlightenment. Religious works were evident in all libraries examined, and one of the most noteworthy features of these works was the cross-denominational appeal of many religious authors.

All images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive ( )

[1] This article was first published in Linen Hall Review, 12, no. 1 (Spring 1995), pp 4-8.

[2] Máire Kennedy, ‘The domestic and international trade of an eighteenth-century Dublin bookseller: John Archer (1782-1810)’, Dublin Historical Record, XLIX, no.2 (Autumn 1996), pp 94-105. Also available as a post on

[3] See Máire Kennedy, French books in eighteenth-century Ireland (Oxford, Voltaire Foundation, 2001) for the complete list of catalogues.

[4] Mary McNeill, The life and times of Mary Ann McCracken 1770-1866: a Belfast panorama (Dublin, Allen Figgis & Company Ltd, 1960), pp 40, 128, 139.

[5] Mary Delany, Letters from Georgian Ireland: the correspondence of Mary Delany, 1731-1768, ed. by Angélique Day (Belfast, The Friar’s Bush Press, 1991), p.285.

[6] Freeman’s Journal, 5-7 September 1782; 12-14 September 1782; 19-21 September 1782.

[7] F.V. Barry, Maria Edgeworth: chosen letters (London, Jonathan Cape, 1931), pp 103-4.

[8] Henry Grattan, Memoirs of the life and times of the Rt. Hon. Henry Grattan. By his son Henry Grattan, Esq., M.P. 2 vols (London, Henry Colburn, 1839), i, p.248.

[9] Harold Williams, ed. The correspondence of Jonathan Swift, 5 vols (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1963).

[10] Robert Darnton, ‘Readers Respond to Rousseau: the fabrication of Romantic sensitivity’ in The great cat massacre and other episodes in French cultural history (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1985), pp 209-49.