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The Style of Paris: Renaissance Origins of the French Enlightenment. (Reviews).

George Huppert, The Style of Paris: Renaissance Origins of the French Enlightenment.

Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999. 139 pp. $35 (cl), $14.95 (pbk). ISBN: 0-253-33492-6 (cl), 0-253-21274-X (pbk).

Many Enlightenment philosophes may have distanced themselves from the excesses they associated with the Renaissance humanists of years past, whether poetry; piety, or infatuation with the ancients. Yet the connections and continuities that bound the two movements were many, and those ties merit continued exploration. One contribution to that effort is this recent study by George Huppert. Huppert focuses upon a number of humanistically educated men of letters in sixteenth-century France, men who were especially attracted to, and influenced by Stoic, Epicurean, and Skeptical thought. These men adopted attitudes towards learning, intellectual authority, and the evaluation of evidence that are now more commonly identified with the Enlightenment. They acquired this education at the new colleges, schools that arose first at the edges of Paris's university community. These schools incorporated the newer, humanistic curricula and methods of study, innovations that found a warmer welcome there than at the center of th e university itself. These schools spread in turn to the provinces, bringing with them the newer learning Huppert has identified as the "style of Paris" and has examined in some of his earlier work.

The work begins with a portrait of the botanist Pierre Belon, his trip to Constantinople as part of the entourage of French Ambassador to the Sultan, and the subsequent publication of his Observations (1553). These carefully empirical observations, published in French to reach a broader audience than mere academics, concerned not only the regional flora and fauna but human customs, all recounted with an even-handed interest in local practices and a particular concern for the presence or absence of learning. Along the way Belon did his best to debunk a number of legends and superstitions, for example about the purportedly miraculous medical properties of terra sigillata. Huppert links Belon to Lazare de Baif, father of the poet Jean-Antoine; Jean-Antoine and the college of his tutor, Jean Dorat, are connected in turn to a host of others, among them Estienne Pasquier. Pasquier engaged in some debunking as well, in his case about the supposed Trojan origins of the Franks, in favor of more sober historical resear ch following that of Beatus Rhenanus. Pasquier had studied at the Parisian college of Petrus Ramus, not far from that of Dorat. Ramus, of course, promoted his reforms not only through his college but through his appointment to the royal chair of philosophy.

Through vignettes of these figures and others, Huppert builds his case for this cluster of like-minded figures of the mid sixteenth century, whose new readings of ancient texts attracted students, while threatening the scholastic establishment and religious conservatives of a number of stripes. The educations these schools provided was found more suitable than that of the older theology-centered models for educating the sons of provincial elites and lesser lights; so regional counterparts of these Parisian colleges established themselves, and began to claim such stars as Montaigne among their educational progeny.

Some of these groups fell victim, like Ramus himself, to the violence of the religious wars. In any case, the colleges found themselves subject to more control by religious authorities (notably the Jesuits) in the early seventeenth century, though they persisted nonetheless.

Huppert's seventeenth-century examples for the survival of these sixteenth-century models include Pierre Gassendi, the characters presented by Moliere, and the provincial priest Jean Meslier, whose writings were discovered posthumously and published by Voltaire. From this eighteenth-century vantage point, Huppert notes Voltaire's regard for Ramus and compares Kant's arguments in his essay on enlightenment to those expressed in the sixteenth century by Etienne de La Boetie The eighteenth-century philosophes were raised on a diet of classical writers little different from those of the sixteenth century, after all, and one presented in the descendants of their schools.

Huppert's study is at its best in engaging the reader with the writings and the interlinkled lives of the sixteenth-century philosophes, particularly those aspects of their thought normally associated with the eighteenth century. The institutional connections between them and the philosophes of the Enlightenment are suggested by means of occasional example rather than thoroughly documented. Yet to have done otherwise would have required a far longer -- and a different -- book. The Style of Paris provides us with important tools for rethinking the connections between the humanist movement and the Enlightenment.
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Author:Moyer, Ann E.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2001
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