Transforming the Republic of Letters

Transforming the Republic of Letters

Pierre-Daniel Huet and European Intellectual Life, 1650-1720

April G. Shelford


University of Rochester Press



A multi-faceted study of intellectual transformation in early modern Europe as seen through the eyes of a leading French scholar and cleric, Pierre-Daniel Huet (1630-1721).
Early modern Europe's most extensive commonwealth -- the Republic of Letters -- could not be found on any map. This republic had patriotic citizens, but no army; it had its own language, but no frontiers. From its birth during the Renaissance, the Republic of Letters long remained a small and close-knit elite community, linked by international networks of correspondence, sharing an erudite neo-Latin culture. In the late seventeenth century, however, it confronted fundamental challenges that influenced its transition to the more public, inclusive, and vernacular discourse of the Enlightenment.

Transforming the Republic of Letters is a cultural and intellectual history that chronicles this transition to "modernity" from the perspective of the internationally renowned scholar Pierre-Daniel Huet (1630-1721). Under Shelford's direction, Huet guides us into the intensely social intellectual world of salons, scientific academies, and literary academies, while his articulate critiques illumine a combative world of Cartesians versus anti-Cartesians, ancients versus moderns, Jesuits versus Jansenists, and salonnières versus humanist scholars. Transforming the Republic of Letters raises questions of critical importance in Huet's era, and our own, about defining, sharing, and controlling access to knowledge.

April G. Shelford is Assistant Professor in the History Department at American University, Washington, D.C.


August 2007
7 line illustrations
275 pages
9x6 in
Changing Perspectives on Early Modern Europe
ISBN: 9781580462433
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC HIS037040, LCO011000, HIS010000
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Table of Contents

The Road to Parnassus, 1648-61
The Lives of Poems, 1653-63
The Empire of Women, 1651-89
The Gate of Ivory, 1646-90
Defending Parnassus, 1666-92


A very welcome and accomplished contribution to our growing understanding of early modern European intellectual history. JOURNAL OF MODERN HISTORY

Shelford's rich and fascinating study . . . succeeds not only in offering an integrated and more complete study of Huet, but also in providing a more subtle and nuanced account of the means by which the old Republic of Letters operated. . . . (A) meticulously researched study . . . of an important period in the history of ideas. AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW, June 2008 (Rachel Hammersley)

Huet is a formidable subject to treat in a single book, but Shelford has done an admirable job with full documentation in the notes, mainly from the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Laurenziana, since few of Huet's works are available in modern editions. RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY, May 2008 (Charles Fantazzai)

Shelford's book is a well-researched, thoughtful, and critical study of Huet and the transformation of the older Republic of Letters into the more widely studied one of the eighteenth century. (It) provides us with a more subtle understanding of the cultural changes in the period that does not read contemporary ideals backward, proleptically, into the past. SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY NEWS

Transforming the Republic of Letters is a formidable book about a formidable man: Pierre-Daniel Huet. A deft and vivid narrator, April Shelford recreates Huet's career, his friendships with learned men and women, his projects and his quarrels with erudition, tenacity and deep historical insight. . . . This finely observed biography is also an original and striking work of cultural history. --Anthony Grafton, Princeton University

At a time when Enlightenment historians are re-discovering the critical importance of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, April Shelford offers us a sophisticated and beautifully written study of the birth of the siècle des lumières as witnessed by a man present throughout its long and difficult gestation. That Huet's relationship to the child was ambivalent -- even hostile -- only renders his story the more compelling. Reading it, we are reminded of how closely death attends to life, and of what is lost as the world is made anew. Huet's tragedy of displacement becomes, in Shelford's skillful handling, in some measure our own. --Darrin M. McMahon, Department of History, Florida State University

Author Bio

April Shelford is assistant professor of history at American University

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