Readers respond to a war of 18th century editions: the case of Anti-Machiavel

 Call number: (Ex) 7510.606.36.12


Frederick II, King of Prussia, 1712-1786. Essai de critique sur le prince de Machiavel. A Londres, 1751. French translation of Machiavelli’s Il principe by Amelot de La Houssaye and Essai in parallel columns together with ms. annotations in ink headed ‘Différences entre cette édition a cette faite chez a Van Duren que l’on tient être l’originale.’ Call number: (Ex) 7510.606.36.12

The publishing history of Anti-Machiavel is admirably told by Kees van Strien in his Voltaire in Holland 1736-1745 (Louvain: Editions Peters, 2011) p. 103-134, 391-440. Attributed to Frederick II (1712-1786), this refutation of Machiavelli’s The Prince was praised by the enlightened and disparaged by Roman Catholics, strict monarchists, and other conservatives. The Dutch publisher Jean van Duten (1687-1757) published the text in full on October 4, 1740 to the dismay of Voltaire, who had delivered the manuscript to him. Evidently, Voltaire thought some passages should be softened so as not to offend powerful individuals not in sympathy with Frederick’s tenets on government and religion. Voltaire immediately countered with a revised edition. Partnering with the publisher Pierre Paupie, he issued it about 15-17 October, 1740 with the imprint “A la Haye, aux depens de l’Editeur. M. DCC. XL.’ It claimed to correct the errors of the earlier edition.

In this competition of editions, readers wanted both texts together in one book such as this exemplar combining print and manuscript in hybrid (van Strien, p. 127.) In the exemplar illustrated above, the printed text consists of the sheets of the ‘l’Editeur’ [Voltaire] / Paupie edition (1740). Added in manuscript are the bits of original text expunged or otherwise modified. (Who made these transcriptions in ink is not known.) Also preceding the text is a printed title page with imprint ‘Londres. 1751.’ (No such edition appears in ESTC.) In these edition wars, ‘Londres’ was a code for the original unaltered text because one of the opening salvos was Van Duten’s production of the full original text with the imprint of London publisher William Mayer / Meyer (ESTC T191141 and T91110.) (As to ‘1751’, it’s difficult to answer why this year appears, rather than an earlier year during the 1740s when the edition war was active.)

Hybrid copies such as the Princeton exemplar were edged from the market by the publication in 1741 of editions replicating the manuscript annotations of a hybrid in the printed text. Voltaire was the force behind these editions, which appeared under the false imprints of ‘les Frères Columb’ (Marseille) and ‘Jaques La Caze’ (Amsterdam).

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