How critical should critical be? (Corpus Part Three)

I am polishing two papers connected to Louis de Beausobre, whose correspondence is the third of the four corpora we will edit first (at least part of it). As good an occasion as any other to post on that corpus and the edition problems I am seeing coming.

Louis de Beausobre was born in 1730 in Berlin as the son of the French reformed pastor Isaac de Beausobre (for those who understand French, take a little look at the French wikipedia page on him: the comparison between the French and the English version illustrate pretty well the point of my last post on wikipedia and biographies) and a much younger Prussian pastor’s daughter. Louis de Beausobre should not be mistaken with his older half-brother Charles Louis de Beausobre (1690-1753) who was a theologian and followed his father’s steps as a pastor before reaching, in the last three years of his life, the status of a member of the Berlin Academy of Science (in the theological section).

Louis’ career path is very different and it gives an accurate account of the way Frederick II. actually constituted a francophone elite in Berlin and Potsdam – beyond such symbolical measures as the invitation of d’Alembert and Diderot or the no less symbolical outcome of Voltaire’s stay in Potsdam.

Louis de Beausobre went to school at the local French Highschool (Collège Francois), where he was greatly influenced by his philosophy teacher Jean Henri Samuel Formey (who was himself in a major intellectual debt towards father Isaac de Beausobre). He then went to Frankfurt/Oder to study philosophy (the letters to Formey suggest it was mainly Baumgarten who counted as a teacher for him). I don’t think he really had a lot of occasions (or for that matter any reasons) to work on his German until that point, but it probably happened then. In 1752, Frederick, who had promised Isaac de Beausobre to support (financially, but, as it turned out, also institutionally) Louis, funded a two-year-stay in Paris. When he returned, Louis de Beausobre was received as a member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences – as a philosopher – and stayed  there until his death in 1783.

Beausobre developed a philosophy that turned out to be very close to Frederick’s. Who did influence whom? Can it be considered a tendency in terms of history of ideas, or did a few persons – among which Beausobre, who definitely profited from insider input on the Sanssouci doings – see the opportunity to create a closeness of interest with the king and seized it? The situation seems to me so intricate that it is not possible to have a clear overview of it in the current state of research – we need much more archives to be made accessible (working on it!!). Anyway, Beausobre was a skeptical philosopher just like Frederick, as I have shown in my paper “Pyrrhonismus und Politik an der Akademie der Wissenschaften um 1750” (that will be published this year in the volume Liaisons culturelles. Französisch-deutsche Kulturlandschaft um 1800, ed. by Anna Busch, Nana Hengelhaupt and Alix Winter).

The letters addressed to Beausobre and the few ones we have by him have – just like for the other corpora – a specificity I have to somehow make fit into our general editorial guidelines. Ironically enough, what I first considered would be easier to handle in that corpus than in others is now worrying me: the language. For the German texts, we have established clear rules as to what belongs to the diplomatical and what belongs to the critical version of the text (concerning the difference between diplomatical and critical, see this post and this presentation of the edition in German). Writing out abbreviations in the critical part I can implement on a French text, no question. But what I am confronted with now – and it will be the case in other corpora for sure – is that 1) the gap between 18th century French and today’s French seems to me to be bigger than between 1800-German and today’s German and 2) People who are no native speakers and still write in French because it is the usual communication language in Europe in the 18th century make mistakes or write in such an approximate way that makes it even harder to understand. So now I have to choose: Should I be “more critical” with the French texts than with the German ones, and correct things I assume are not “readable”? While taking a look at René-Marc Pille’s dissertation on the French letters by Adelbert von Chamisso last week, I found for instance a letter to a mister “Chamuseau”: as long as it is a person’s name, we have a way to tag and identify it as the Chamisso it actually is. But for substantives, verbs? I am afraid the over-correction would drag me too far though, and I think that in the end the French texts might be rather “less critical” than the German ones. So: polish your 18th-century French to get ready to Beausobre (and his German correspondence partners who write in French to him)!

Source: The first Beausobre manuscripts we will edit are preserved at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-PK.


My first thoughts on Frederick and pyrrhonism are to be found in the edition of Frederick I was part of until recently, in the volume: Friedrich der Grosse – Philosophische Schriften, ed. by me and Brunhilde Wehinger in 2007 (Akademie-Verlag Berlin)

The second paper I was mentioning is called “Louis de Beausobre, entre cour et Académie. La correspondance d’un intellectuel francophone en Prusse au XVIIIÈme siècle” and will be published in: Entrer en communication de l’âge classique aux Lumières, ed. by Pierre-Yves Beaurepaire and Heloise Hermant, Paris, Classiques Garnier, in preparation for 2012.



Cite this blog post
Anne Baillot (2012, January 14). How critical should critical be? (Corpus Part Three). Digital Intellectuals. Retrieved May 28, 2024, from

Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université. My areas of research include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.

You may also like...

1 Response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search