The life and works of Nicolas Lenglet-Dufresnoy 1674-1755
This thesis endeavours to establish the facts concerning the life of the abbe Lenglet, based on archival, manuscript and printed evidence: his socio-economic background, his chequered 'political' career, his abortive attempts at integration into the church establishment, his many clashes with the royal administration and the resulting numerous periods of imprisonment. It shows how books were, from the early years, a major preoccupation in his life, whether as librarian and book-trader, or bibliographer, editor and author. Having failed to secure a living through either state or church, the abbe's publishing activities became the principle, though never the sole preoccupation of his life. A documented study of the redaction and publication of each of Lenglet's works and editions, and the public response which greeted them, is complemented by a detailed analytical bibliography which adds to our understanding of the material conditions pertaining to the dissemination of ideas in the first half of the eighteenth century. The thesis concludes that the abbe Lenglet's character was deeply marked by inconsistency, dishonesty and cynicism, and that these traits seriously affected the quality of his work. But, at the same time, he was an erudite and enterprising bibliographer, and he had a bold, consistently critical, and sometimes original mind. Thanks to these latter qualities, coupled with an often foolhardy disregara for authority, he wrote or edited a number of important and influential works. In this he was actively helped and encouraged by more 'respectable' scholars, members of the robe class and close to the royal administration, who would not themselves risk any open association with the publication of 'subversive' material; their atttiude to the abbe was highly ambiguous. He was also responsible for popularising, sometimes in a regrettably adulterated form, the works of greater writers. Though he lacked the ability of a major original author, he nonetheless made a significant contribution to the literature of the period. Moreover, the study of such a secondary figure adds a new, and perhaps indispensable dimension to our understanding of the social and intellectual climate of the eighteenth century.