Louis Sébastien Mercier (1740-1814) • Dreams and Utopia

Two works by Songes Philosophiques, Première [-Seconde] Partie. Par M. Mercier. A Londres, et se trouve à Paris, chez Lejay, Libraire, Quai de Gêvres, au grand Corneille. 1768. Call number: (Ex) HX811 .M42

L’anno due mila quattrocento quaranta. Sogno di cui non vi fu l’eguale. Seguito dall’Uomo di ferro. Opera del cittad. L.S. Mercier … Traduzione dal Francese sull’ultima Edizione fatta in Parigi l’Anno VII della Repubb. Francese. Corretta, Riveduta, ed Augmentata dall’ Autore. Prima Edizione Italiana. In Genova. Stamperia de’ Cittad. Domenico Porcile, e C. nella strada della Posta vecchia no. 487. Anno II. della Repubb. Ligure [1798]. Call number: (Ex) 2007-3277N


Songes Philosophiques contains ten philosophical dream sequences, eight of which were reused in Mercier’s Mon bonnet de Nuit, 1784-1785 and seven of which were used in his landmark utopia L’An deux mille quatre cent quarante, 1785. This practice of borrowing and rebranding his own work was very much part of what became Mercier’s distinctive style. — Amanda Hall

‘He published prodigiously by recycling passages from one book to another and stretching essays into multivolume tracts. His major works – L’An 2440, Tableau de Paris, and Mon Bonnet de Nuit – therefore have a formless character. They are composed of short chapters on a wide variety of subjects, which Mercier cobbled together without worrying about narrative coherence. When a book caught on, he expanded it, cutting and pasting and fighting off pirates as he advanced from one edition to the next. The result was never elegant, but it often had a gripping quality, because Mercier knew how to observe the world around him and to make it come alive in anecdotes and esays. There is no better writer to consult if one wants to get some idea of how Paris looked, sounded, smelled, and felt on the eve of the Revolution’ (Darnton, The Forbidden Best-Sellers, 1996, p. 118).


First edition in Italian of Mercier’s famous utopian novel L’an 2440. Placed on the Index on 26th August 1822. Only copy recorded to be in an American library.

‘The translator was thought to be Filippo Castelli’, writes Everett C. Wilkie, ‘however, in his Saggi di Eulogia, Genoa, 1838, he himself takes credit for having translated only ‘L’Homme de Fer’. One possibility for the translator of L’An 2440 is Elisabetta Caminer, who translated several of Mercier’s dramas into Italian … Nevertheless, Caminer had died in 1796, two years before this translation appeared. However, this translation has one of the hallmarks of her work, liberties with the original text; and her other translations of Mercier’s works show her sustained interest in his writings. One can speculate that she was the one who began the translation, finishing only a part of it before her death. Castelli might well have finished the translation and gone ahead to do ‘L’Homme de Fer’, which was the last part of the book. Castelli was in Genoa at this time and was active translating other French works into Italian’

Everett C. Wilkie, “Mercier’s L’An 2440: Its Publishing History During the Author’s Lifetime,” in the Harvard Library Bulletin, Vol. XXXII, 1984, p. 393.