Reading the Bibliothèque de l'homme public in the Hub

Leave a Comment

The Intertextual Hub ( is an NEH funded project to develop a reading environment that aims to situate specific documents in their broader context of intertextual relations, whether in the form of direct or indirect borrowings, shared topics with other texts or parts of texts, or other kinds of lexical similarity. Relationships discovered by text mining algorithms among texts in large, heterogeneous collections can fruitfully inform and guide traditional close-reading approaches.  

The document collections in the Intertextual Hub can approached in several ways. Viewed from the top or most abstract level, one may search the entire set of collections for specific topics or themes (see related discussion) What follows here is, is an examination of a specific document or a set of documents from, as it were, the bottom up. Using the Bibliothèque de l’homme public (BHP) as a point of departure we are interested in aspects of reading the document which include:
  • similar passage identification, such as reuses, citations, paraphrasing,
  • identification of similar chapters, parts and selections, and,
  • thematic and semantic relationships between documents. 
All of these relationships are established from wider patterns identified by techniques generally known as distant reading. The slides shown below present a step by step itinerary of how one can navigate in the Hub starting from a single document.

The BHP was published between February 1790 and April 1792 by Condorcet and several others, spanning some 28 tomes.  The full title gives an indication of the nature of the project: Bibliothèque de l'homme public et Analyse raisonnée des principaux ouvrages français et étrangers sur la politique en général, la législation, les finances, la police, l'agriculture et le commerce en particulier, et sur le droit naturel et public.  (BNF Link
It was one of numerous efforts by Condorcet to contribute to public instruction and he published a number of pieces, most notably his Cinq Mémoires sur l'instruction publique (1791) and the discussion of Smith referenced below.  As Tourneux notes, however that his role was not clearly defined: 
Barbier l'attribue à l'abbé Balestrier de Canilhac, dont le nom ne figure ni sur les titres, ni dans les avant-propos. Celui de Peyssonnel disparait au tome VI et Condorcet est seul nommé à partir du tome XI. Ce recueil, qui avait pour but de mettre autant que possible la science du gouvernement et de l'administration à la portée de tout le monde.... (Tourneux, Vol 2 p. 648).

While the BHP was aimed the education and raising awareness of newly minted French citizens by publishing the "analysis of well-known works, both ancient and modern.” (Faccarello-Steiner 2002, p. 82), it was not always well received as noted in the Journal des révolutions, 1790, VII, p. 9-10 link):

Bibliothèque de l'homme public, par MM. de Condorcet, Chapelier et Peyssonnel ; le premier n'y travaillera point, le second n'y travaillera guère ; le dernier est vieux et cacochyme, il est froid et lent, deux qualités que n'avaient point Bayle, le Clerc et l'abbé Prévost.

It featured extended discussions and extracts of numerous French, English as well as classical authors, including major figures such as Aristotle, Machiavel, Bodin, Hobbes, Locke, Smith, Montesquieu, and Hume, as well a contemporary figures such as Mirabeau and Raynal and lesser known authors such as Guicciardini.  While generally expository, not all of the discussions were intended to be positive:

La vivacité naturelle à l'esprit françois, l'économie du tems , l'ennui qu'entraîne un long ouvrage sur des matières, aussi sérieuses, le caractère national, tout concourt à nous faire adopter la méthode Analytique. [...]  On fera connoître aussi tous les ouvrages relatifs à ce plan, à mesure qu'ils paroîtront: on se permettra même des réflexions critiques, sans toutefois blesser l'amour-propre des auteurs: la malignité aigrit, & n'éclaire pas mieux qu'elle ne corrige.  (Bib homme public, 1790, vol 1 pp. vi & viii)
Smith's Wealth of Nations, for example, is extensively covered, taking up some 220 pages of the BHP. Diatkine (1993) argues that the summary is "very inaccurate", going on to suggest 
[T]he summary published by Bibliotheque de I'Homme Public is the Wealth of Nations minus the 'Invisible Hand'. This shortcoming is too systematic to be attributed to a casualness of approach or to technical difficulties. We are in the presence paradox: here is a book which seems to be very important, yet completely misunderstood. (pp 219-220)
The (BHP) is a highly intertextual collection with a significant number of direct and indirect references to a large number of major authors as well as relatively minor texts. It reflects a distillation and selection of late Enlightenment views on the nature of government and society.  Reading the BHP in the context of the Intertextual Hub allows one to navigate this collection with an eye to the intellectual inheritance and as well as later influences of the authors and texts had during the Revolution.

There are, of course, a great number of texts in the collects deployed in the Intertextual Hub that have many borrowed, reused, or paraphrased passages that can be identified.  For example, the two volume  Les délassemens d'un homme d'esprit, ou nouveau recueil de pensées amusantes, extraites des meilleurs auteurs (1780) is made up of numerous extracts (link to search) organized by theme or subject, such as chapters on SPECTACLES and JALOUSIE.  

This post will be followed by others which we hope will outline the various search and navigation facilities of the Intertextual Hub with a focus on step itineraries from specific starting points.  

Please do post comments below or email us at  


Diatkine D. (1993), "A French Reading of the Wealth of Nations in 1790". In: Mizuta H., Sugiyama C. (eds) Adam Smith: International Perspectives. Palgrave Macmillan, London.  (DOI)

Faccarello, Gilbert and Steiner, Philippe. 2002. The diffusion of the work of Adam Smith in French Language. In Tribe, Keith (ed.), A Critical Bibliography of Adam Smith, London, Pickering and Chatto, pp. 61-119 (link)

Tourneux, M., Bibliographie de l'histoire de Paris pendant la Révolution française, Paris 1890-1913 (BNF)

Next PostNewer Post Previous PostOlder Post Home


Post a Comment