Étienne Bonnot, Abbé de Condillac (1714-1780)

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Source: Commerce and Government Considered in their Mutual Relationship, translated by Shelagh Eltis, with an Introduction to His Life and Contribution to Economics by Shelagh Eltis and Walter Eltis (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008). Introduction.

Copyright: This book was originally published by Edward Elgar Publishing in 1997, copyright 1997 by Shelagh Eltis and Walter Eltis. Reprinted by permission of Edward Elgar Publishing.

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Étienne Bonnot, Abbé de Condillac, 1714–1780, by Shelagh and Walter Eltis

Birth and Family


Étienne Bonnot, known to posterity as the abbé de Condillac, was born in Grenoble on 30 September 1714.1 He was the youngest child of a large family. His parents both came from families of lawyers and officials which entered the noblesse de robe in the early eighteenth century. The noblesse de robe was an aristocracy built on the purchase of offices under the monarchy. Such offices could be very expensive to purchase. In 1705, Gabriel Bonnot, Étienne’s father, paid 10,000 livres for that of Secretary of the King in the Court of the Parlement of the Dauphiné, which brought him noble rank with the title vicomte de Mably. Local importance, tax exemptions, freedom from having soldiers billeted on one’s household, and the income from fees payable to such officeholders all made such investments worthwhile. For the monarchy it brought desperately needed short-term income and an opportunity to recruit fresh talent.


Gabriel Bonnot amassed a fortune through this and other posts such as receiver of tailles—the main land and personal tax—and as registrar of births, etc., for the Oisan; he was also a royal castellan, though jealousy probably forced him to resign the latter two offices in 1714. He invested heavily in royal stock and in land: it has been calculated that he invested more than 85,000 livres in government stock, and, significantly, he seems to have reached the peak of his fortune in 1720. In 1719 he bought the domain of Mably for 300,000 livres and the following year that of Condillac, near Romans.


Gabriel Bonnot died in September 1726 leaving his wife and dependent children comfortably off, despite losses in his investment income following the collapse of Law’s system. Each son was bequeathed the sum of 25,000 livres on attaining the age of twenty-five. Their mother also held a life interest in annuities in their names. The income from both these sources, reckoned at 1,300 livres a year, would have given Condillac a modest competence. It also meant that he was not to be forced into the Church as a younger son whose family lacked means.


At his father’s death Étienne was nearly twelve years old and, according to the 1836 Encyclopédie des gens du monde, unable to read because his very weak eyesight had forbidden study. The same source states that he then began his studies under a good curé and learnt fast. On 29 August 1728 Étienne acted as proxy godfather to his sister Anne’s firstborn. The baptismal certificate is interesting as the first record of his using the title de Condillac, marking him out as a noble.2 Condillac’s eldest brother Jean was known as M. de Mably from 1727 at least, and his brother Gabriel became famous as the abbé de Mably.

The Young Philosopher


Condillac’s life is largely obscure until he emerges as a very successful philosopher in the 1740s. The Encyclopédie des gens du monde says that aged sixteen he joined Jean de Mably at Lyons where the latter held the office of Provost General of the Maréchaussée, or constabulary, for the Lyonnais, Forez and the Beaujolais, purchased in 1729 with his mother’s assistance. Lyons was the second city in France, and Condillac’s brother a man of standing in it. However, by 1733 Condillac had joined his brother Gabriel, six years his senior, in Paris, a new world for the young provincials, and un-charted territory for the family.


Condillac registered in the Faculty of Arts at Paris. At his graduation as an MA two years later, he is described as a clericus of Grenoble, so he will have received the tonsure in that diocese. This should not lead to the assumption that a career in the Church was already inevitable as many of the literary confraternity began as tonsured clerks, including Marmontel who married late in life, and many eighteenth-century abbés led secular lives after entering orders. Indeed, it was with this background in mind that in 1910 his family biographer, Count Baguenault de Puchesse, was eager to stress Condillac’s proper wearing of clerical garb, regular attendance at mass and general orthodoxy in a century when to some the name philosophe seemed synonymous with free-thinker.3


The stages of his studies in Philosophy, Physics, Mathematics and Theology and his studies for the priesthood have been traced across documents by the authors of Corpus Condillac, a group of scholars who have assembled all the documentary evidence they could find for his life.4 It seems probable that Condillac was at the Collège Mazarin, also known as the Four Nations, for his first two years, pursued theological studies at the Faculty of the Sorbonne and was in a Paris seminary, perhaps St Sulpice, for his preparation for the priesthood. He became a priest in 1741, though he never held cure of souls and is thought never to have said a mass.


Diderot and d’Alembert, distinguished philosophes with whom Condillac was to have close ties, had a similar education but finished their theological studies after three years and did not proceed, as did Condillac, Turgot and Morellet, to the “licence” in Theology, which required another two years’ study and the day-long defence of a thesis.


This account of his studies shows that Condillac was the very opposite of a self-taught man as his own comment that one had to begin one’s studies afresh on leaving the schools led some to suppose falsely. His remark indicated rather that he saw education as a life-long process, a view underlined when he wrote to his former pupil, the prince of Parma:

It is for you Monseigneur, to instruct yourself alone from now on. I have already prepared you for that and even made you used to doing so. . . for the best education is not that which we owe to our teachers; it is that which we have given ourselves. (Condillac, Oeuvres de Condillac, 20:540–41)


In April 1740 Jean-Jacques Rousseau entered the household of Condillac’s eldest brother, Jean Bonnot de Mably, at Lyons, as tutor to his small sons, and it is from his Confessions written in the late 1760s that some human detail about the abbé de Condillac and his brothers, Jean and Gabriel, emerges.


Many of Rousseau’s friends and acquaintances commented on his prickliness and persecution complex. His time in the Mably household saw him caught pilfering wine from the cellar, in addition to which he says he was a failure as a tutor and fell in love with Mme de Mably. Yet he left voluntarily a year later and revisited the family in 1742. He says of M. de Mably that he behaved honourably and sensibly in the matter of the wine, that “he was a very courteous man; beneath a severity of manner in keeping with his employment he concealed a really gentle disposition and a rare kind-heartedness. He was just and equitable and—strange though this may seem in a police officer—he was also most humane” (Rousseau, Confessions, 255). Rousseau struck up a friendly acquaintance with the two abbés in Lyons, and their contacts continued over many years, in Condillac’s case until about a year before Rousseau’s death.


Through their recommendation of Paris lodgings to him we learn that at some point Condillac and his brother had lodged in the rue des Cordiers near the Sorbonne in what Rousseau called “a wretched room, in a wretched house, in a wretched street” (ibid., 266), student life no less! More interesting is his comment in Émile that “at a fairly advanced age” Condillac passed within his family and among his friends as of limited intelligence (esprit borné). Considering the great success of the abbé Mably, who gained European fame for his writings on history and government, and the worldly success of Jean and François Bonnot, intellectual and conversational standards must have been high in their company. It will not be surprising that Étienne, the much younger brother whose education had been delayed, preferred to keep his own counsel. Rousseau added, “Suddenly he showed himself as a philosopher and I do not doubt that posterity will mark out an honourable and distinguished place for him among the best reasoners and the most profound metaphysicians of his century” (Rousseau, Émile, 102).


Referring to the year 1745, Rousseau said in his Confessions:

I had also become intimate with the abbé de Condillac, who, like myself, cut no figure in the literary world, but who was born to be what he has become to-day. I was the first, perhaps, to see his stature, and to estimate him at his true worth. He seemed also to have taken a liking to me; and whilst I was confined to my room in the Rue Jean-Saint-Denis near the Opera, writing my Hesiod act, he sometimes came to take a solitary Dutch treat of a dinner with me. He was then engaged on his Essai sur l’origine des connaissances humaines which was his first work. When it was finished, the problem was to find a bookseller who would undertake it. Paris booksellers are hard and overbearing with authors who are just beginning; and metaphysics, not then in fashion, did not offer a very attractive subject. I spoke to Diderot about Condillac and his work; and introduced them to one another. They were born to agree, and they did so. Diderot induced Durand the bookseller to take the Abbé’s manuscript, and that great meta-physician received from his first book—and that almost as a favour—a hundred crowns [300 livres], which perhaps he would not have earned but for me. As we all lived in widely different quarters the three of us met once a week at the Hôtel du Panier-Fleuri. These little weekly dinners must greatly have pleased Diderot; for though he almost always failed to keep his appointments, even with women, he never missed one of them. (324)

Their friendship must have become less close for a while, since a decade later Rousseau says, “Lacking a single friend who would be entirely mine, I required friends whose energies would overcome my inertia. It was for this reason that I cultivated and strengthened my relationship with Diderot and the Abbé de Condillac” (ibid., 387).


In the 1740s Condillac saw much of his brother Gabriel, the abbé de Mably, himself the author of a very successful work, Parallèle des romains et des français par rapport au gouvernement, published in 1740. The abbé de Mably worked as secretary for the minister, Cardinal de Tencin, from 1742 to around 1747. The Cardinal’s sister, Mme de Tencin, a former nun and mistress of the Regent Orléans, held a renowned salon where the two brothers met such distinguished men of letters as the baron de Montesquieu, the abbés Prévost and de St Pierre, the playwright Marivaux and the historian Duclos, who was still close to Condillac twenty years later.5 D’Alembert, the mathematician and philosophe, a Member of the Académie from 1754, was her unacknowledged, illegitimate son.


Until the publication of Condillac’s first book in 1746, his brother will doubtless have seemed his mentor. However, the abbé de Mably separated himself increasingly from the philosophes and moved out to Marly, while Condillac with his further philosophical publications was in close contact with Diderot and d’Alembert.


In 1748 Condillac had published anonymously the dissertation Les monades, with which he won a prize awarded by the Academy of Berlin. Maupertuis, the French President of the Academy of Berlin, may have been influential in securing Condillac’s election to the Academy in 1749. Condillac wrote to him on Christmas Day 1749 to express his pleasure and gratitude at being elected to that body. Their correspondence corrects the mistaken later date of Condillac’s election given by Puchesse.6


In the letter Condillac said that it was a friend, M. d’Alembert, who had given him the news. In two more letters in 1750 to Maupertuis, Condillac refers to d’Alembert, saying in a postscript to that of 12 August from Segrez, “We shall just make one parcel of our letters, M. d’Alembert and I: we are at the home of Monsieur the Marquis d’Argenson where one meets the best society” (Condillac, Oeuvres de Condillac, 2:535). D’Alembert was known to all as the wittiest of guests, so those later writers who have wished to show Condillac as dry, retiring and boring have to explain away their pleasure in each other’s company. Marmontel, speaking of Mme Geoffrin’s salon wrote, “Of that gathering, the gayest, most animated man, the most amusing in his gaiety, was d’Alembert. . . he made one forget in him the philosopher and scholar, to see only the lovable individual” (Marmontel, Mémoires, 1:300). When a false rumour of Condillac’s death circulated in 1764 d’Alembert wrote to Voltaire that had it been true, “for my part I should have been distraught” (Voltaire, Correspondance, 57:4).


An important correspondent of Condillac’s in the late 1740s was the Genevan mathematician and philosopher Gabriel Cramer. Cramer was ten years older than Condillac and had an international reputation: he was a member of the Royal Society of London and of the Academy of Berlin. Condillac welcomed his comments on his philosophical ideas and hoped to visit him in Geneva in the autumn of 1749, but events precluded this.


Their correspondence mentions an especially close friend of Condillac’s, Mlle Ferrand, a mathematician who commanded respect.7 It has been suggested that she may have been the model for Mlle de la Chaux, Diderot’s “femme savante,” shown by Laurence Bongie to be a fictitious character, though her salon is one that Puchesse had Condillac and Mably attending.8 Condillac gave Mlle Ferrand the credit for exposing logical problems in his early work, and said that, though she had no pretensions to authorship, hers was the major contribution to his Traité des sensations, published in 1754, after her death.9 This work has been the most highly regarded of Condillac’s philosophical writings. It received favourable scholarly attention in the Jesuit Journal de Trévoux, while the readership of the Gazette littéraire was informed of it by the Chevalier Grimm whose generally hostile and patronising tone may reflect cooling relations between his close friend Diderot and Condillac. Reviewing this work Grimm attacked Condillac’s celebrated device of gradually giving life to a statue, saying, “This idea, in itself poetic, has not been embellished in this Treatise by the decoration of poetry, nor by the wealth of a brilliant imagination. Our author has treated it with all the wisdom of a philosopher, and all the subtlety of a metaphysician” (Raynal et al. Correspondance Littéraire, 2:438). Buffon too had a statue in his Histoire naturelle which Grimm preferred, “The first movement of M. de Buffon’s statue is to stretch out its hand to seize the sunshine. What a notion! what poetry!” (ibid., 442).10


None the less Grimm was clearly moved by Condillac’s dedication of the work. He wrote, “If we believe M. l’abbé de Condillac, Mlle Ferrand had a very large hand in the Traité des sensations, and I do not know if this admission does more honour to her or to the person who makes it. What is certain is that the introduction is not the least interesting part of the Traité. Our Philosopher, in speaking of Mlle Ferrand, delivers the eulogy from his own heart, and one likes to read an author who has the fortune to know the price of friendship” (ibid., 438).


The dedication of the 1754 book was to the comtesse de Vassé who lived in the same house as Mlle Ferrand, her close friend, and held a salon alone after Mlle Ferrand’s death. The two women sheltered the Young Pretender, who was supposed to have been expelled from France as a term of the 1748 peace treaty between Britain and France. We are told that he listened in concealment to the conversations at their salon.11 Mlle Ferrand left Condillac 6,000 livres in her will in 1752 to buy books. Mme de Vassé was to die in 1768 in Condillac’s Paris home.


The salon of the wealthy bourgeoise Mme Geoffrin was for the 1750s what Mme de Tencin’s had been a decade earlier. Puchesse relied on Lemonnier’s painting entitled Une soirée chez Mme Geoffrin en 1755 to assert that Condillac attended her salon in the distinguished company shown. Unfortunately, this picture is worthless as an historical record and was only composed for the Empress Josephine half a century later. It may simply be taken as indicating those who were regarded as the most distinguished Frenchmen of the mid-century.12

Philosopher with an International Reputation


By the mid-1750s Condillac was a philosopher with an international reputation. He was an admirer of Locke, whose works he had only read in translation, as he himself stated.13 He demanded a scienti fic approach based on observation.


In 1749 his Traité des systèmes appeared. This, we learn from Condillac, in a letter to Cramer, particularly impressed Diderot.14 In 1755 his Traité des animaux was published, seen primarily as an attack on Buffon. His dissertation on freedom of December 1754 is often not separately mentioned, as it was described as an extract from his Traité des sensations. Jacques Proust deals at length with the controversy on human free will as against determinism which involved many men of letters at the time and ended with the publication of Voltaire’s Candide in 1759. He concludes, “Condillac like Locke and Diderot absolutely rejects the traditional theory of freedom. . . But while Diderot, in reaction, radically affirms determinism, Condillac keeps the notion and the name of freedom, without however making the useful distinction Locke made between freedom and free-will.” Proust regards Condillac’s position as “lame, philosophically contradictory, and in addition lacking in clarity” (Proust, Diderot et l’Encyclopédie, 321).


This was all dangerous territory. Diderot was imprisoned for some time in Vincennes by order of a lettre de cachet after the publication of his Lettre sur les aveugles in 1749. So one may wonder whether Condillac was thinking in part of the censorship. Yet here one might quote what Condillac wrote of himself in 1747 to Cramer, “I follow experience, when it leaves me, I no longer have a guide and I stop. That is all I can do as a philosopher. As a theologian, faith comes to my aid when experience ceases to enlighten me” (Condillac, Lettres inédites, 82).


The best known publication of these years in France was the Encyclopédie which was principally Diderot’s undertaking, though d’Alembert and a host of other scholars were involved. The first volume appeared in 1751. It has been reckoned on grounds of style and content that many entries could be by Condillac, but all that is certain is that in the entry Divination Diderot gives a free résumé of Condillac’s Traité des systèmes, and refers to him by name.15


Bongie comments that Condillac’s and Diderot’s friendship lapsed soon after the mid-century. However, they were closely studying each other’s work during the 1750s, and Diderot commended Condillac’s later Cours d’études to the Empress Catherine of Russia in 1775, calling it an excellent work of an excellent instructor (Diderot, Oeuvres complètes, 15:814–15).


Bongie comments that Diderot himself said of his Lettre sur les sourds et muets, addressed to the abbé Batteux, that it could just as well have been addressed to the abbé de Condillac or to M. du Marsais. He regards Diderot as having let Condillac down by not defending him against the charges of plagiarism levelled at him by Grimm, Buffon and Fréron. He points out that Condillac’s letter of 12 August 1750 to Maupertuis shows that he was already working on his statue. Condillac’s own words to Maupertuis in the same letter indicate how his way of going about his writing could have delayed publication. He wrote:

I have several works that I set about in turn: the one I am concerned with at present deals with the origin and generation of feeling. It is a statue which I bring to life step by step. I have found some problems in it, but I think I have overcome them. I am going to leave it to one side for a few months in my usual way. (Condillac, Oeuvres philosophiques, 2:535)

Condillac and the Censorship


The intellectual excitement of that decade alarmed the orthodox and conservative. The case of the abbé Prades alerted the censorship, not all hostile to the encyclopedists and philosophes. The thesis of the abbé Prades had been accepted by the Sorbonne in December 1751, but in early 1752 the Parlement of Paris, or supreme law court, hastened to attack it as undermining the miracles of the Gospels. The thesis was condemned to be burned, and the abbé had to leave France. Since the abbé’s earlier theses had won golden opinions and he had been seen as a promising theologian, the Parlement’s reaction might seem strange. The abbé’s known collaboration in the Encyclopédie is plausibly thought to have brought the censorship troubles upon him.16 Morellet commented that after the Prades incident he continued to see Diderot, but in secret.


Voltaire wrote to Helvétius in 1766, when falsely denying that he was the author of a book attributed to a long-dead abbé, “It is doubtless better to be ignored and in peace than to be known and persecuted” (Helvétius, Correspondance générale, 3:264–65). Rousseau was about to be arrested when he fled France in 1762 after the publication of Émile, and Voltaire spent many years abroad, fearful to return to France, though his reputation and reader-ship grew in his absence.


Condillac himself had some trouble with the censorship: the abbé de Mably wrote to a friend in May 1744 that the censor was holding up Condillac’s first book, Essai sur l’origine des connoissances humaines, for a long time. But it was not only the government censorship that had the power to have books banned, confiscated or burned and their authors pursued. In 1759, following the uproar over Helvétius’s book De l’esprit, seen as atheistic, the Parlement of Paris undertook a general revision of all the “dangerous” books that had appeared in the previous ten years. The Procurator General, Joly de Fleury, intended to denounce the Encyclopédie, De l’esprit, Diderot’s philosophical works Lettre sur les sourds et muets and Lettre sur les aveugles, some works by Voltaire, Rousseau’s Discours sur l’origine et la fondation de l’inégalité, and Condillac’s Traité des sensations. On further reflection he omitted Diderot’s and Condillac’s works, and the Parlement’s decree was declared inoperative for encroaching on the Chancellor’s authority. The Chancellor was none other than the father of Malesherbes, who was in charge of the printing houses and whom he had appointed.


The legislation in force in eighteenth-century France regarding the production and distribution of books was draconian. As an example, the declaration of April 1757 punished with death all authors, editors, printers or bookcarriers of works tending to attack religion, to excite opposition and undermine the king’s authority. It condemned to the galleys for life or for a period of time anyone who had not obeyed all the formalities. All authors were supposed to submit their completed manuscripts to a royal censor and to obtain letters of privilege for them, or, in the case of cheap works or short lea flets, from the lieutenant of police. The privileges were registered, and printing was not permitted until all the written formalities had been completed. There were more than a hundred censors, all in Paris, who were supposed to have specialist knowledge. Diderot and Condillac themselves worked as censors.17 After the censor had given his approbation he could be in trouble as much as the author if the work caused a stir.


Practice modified the law. Already towards the end of Louis XIV’s reign, tacit permissions were introduced. They were given by the censor who signed the approval and signed the manuscript or a printed copy. The list was held at the Syndical Chamber of the Parisian booksellers. But as they were not sealed with the Great Seal, and as they were not printed at the end of the work, the public did not know who had given the approval. This was the only way for foreign printers to bring themselves within the law. As Belin said, in general the censors were not very hard on these foreign editions which it was difficult to modify and often cruel to prohibit. Often the author’s nationality and his religion were taken into account, and a book was authorised which would not have been approved if its author had been French, because it was the work of a non-Catholic republican. And then certain over-bold passages were ignored in consideration of the difficulty of asking for corrections.


The practice of French authors to pretend that their works had been printed abroad or were even by pretended foreign authors can be understood in the light of this. Malesherbes explained the “simple tolerances”:

Often the need to allow a book was felt and yet one did not want to admit that one was permitting it; so one did not wish to give any express permission: for example that was what happened when a foreign edition had been made of some books which displeased the clergy and hence some cardinal minister, and this edition had spread in France despite obstacles placed in its way.

In that case and in many others one took the course of saying to a bookseller that he could undertake his edition, but secretly; that the police would pretend to be unaware of it and would not have it seized; and since one could not foresee just how far the anger of the clergy and the law would go, one warned him always to be on the ready to make his edition disappear as soon as he was warned, and he was promised advanced warning before his premises were searched. (Malesherbes, Mémoire, 254)

It is not known how Condillac navigated these treacherous waters, but he obtained warm reviews from the Jesuit Journal de Trévoux for all his philosophical works. About his 1749 Traité des systèmes the reviewer wrote, “This essay bears all the characteristics of works which deserve to pass to posterity, great clarity in style, much force and exactness in reasoning, and an exact and rigorous analysis” (Journal de Trévoux, 44:469). Though the reviewer did not share Condillac’s aversion to systems, he praised him for his examples, which he said did more than prove: “they enlighten, instruct and develop very tricky questions which needed to pass through the crucible of the metaphysical and geometrical spirit of M. l’abbé de Condillac.” Described as “An avowed partisan of Locke, he has attacked the thought of Descartes and Malebranche with more method, clarity and success than the English philosopher; but like the English philosopher he is happier destroying than building.” By 1755 the Journal notes that Condillac’s Traité des sensations is seen by some critics as exuding materialism, “a hateful suspicion” which the reviewer does not share and which should not be advanced without the strongest proof (ibid., 60:165). In Condillac’s defence he says, “Besides the author holds forth so learnedly on the Creation and on revelation that in all these respects his orthodoxy seems beyond attack.” However, in the same year at the end of a very long review of Condillac’s Traité des animaux the reviewer concludes, “One hopes that he will set out in full what one finds here in the two chapters, the one on ‘The existence and attributes of God’ and the other on ‘Principles of Morality’; and that he will also work on a truth which is only stated at the end of the seventh chapter of the second part, namely that true Philosophy cannot be contrary to Faith” (ibid., 726).

Director of Studies to the Prince of Parma


Don Philippe, the Duke of Parma, was the husband of Louis XV’s eldest daughter, Louise Élisabeth. He was also son of the Bourbon King of Spain by his second wife, Elisabeth Farnese. The appointment of a tutor to their son was therefore of interest to both courts. Enlightenment had secured a hold in the French court where, in Mme de Pompadour’s time as official royal mistress, Quesnay and Marmontel were among those who benefited from her patronage. Official Spanish and Italian circles were less receptive. Madame Élisabeth was well aware that the Jesuits would be put out at Condillac’s appointment as he would displace one of their number. She wrote to her husband that she had consulted many people on Condillac’s fitness for the post with regard to his orthodoxy and noted that there was murmuring about his rather metaphysical book (she is almost certainly referring to the Traité des sensations), but she adds firmly, “Our son must be a good catholic and not a doctor of the Church: it would be pointless for him to study all the controversies” (Bédarida, Parme et la France, 412). Since the Queen and the powerful minister the duc de Choiseul are also said to have wanted Condillac, he took up this prestigious position.


Condillac was at the same time seen by the doyen of the philosophes, Voltaire, as one of them. In a letter of 1756, Voltaire wrote to him saying that at last he had had time to read Condillac with the attention he merited. Voltaire knew the Essai sur l’origine des connaissances humaines, the Traité des sensations and the Traité des animaux. He suggested that Condillac might consider writing another work bringing together the ideas in these books. He goes on to say that the country is better than Paris for bringing thoughts together and diffidently suggests that Condillac might like to come to his home. Voltaire was ready to be Condillac’s “elderly disciple” and offered his niece, Mme Denis, as a younger one, adding that Condillac would find plenty of people ready to take his dictation. The letter is important evidence that Condillac’s problems with his eyesight were chronic. As Voltaire wrote, “I know that physically speaking you have eyesight as weak as the eyes of your mind are penetrating” (Correspondance, 30:142). In 1758, when the news that Condillac was to be tutor to the Prince of Parma had reached him, Voltaire wrote to Mme de Dompierre asking her if she knew whether the Prince was to be taught in Paris or whether Condillac was to go to Parma. In the latter case he hoped she would have the courage to persuade him to travel via Geneva and Turin, in which case Voltaire planned aloud to meet him at Lausanne, take him to his home, “Les Délices,” and then meander to the Duchy (ibid., 33:78–79).


In a letter to d’Alembert of 1760 Voltaire is in no doubt of the acceptability of the education that the Prince will receive, “It seems to me that the Parmesan Prince is well encircled. He will have a Condillac and a Leire [Deleyre, later a regicide]. If with that he becomes a bigot, grace must be strong” (ibid., 44:159). Nothing had caused Voltaire to change his mind by December 1764 when false rumours of Condillac’s death were current. Then, writing to Count d’Argental, representative of the court of Parma at Versailles, and his wife, Voltaire said, “We lose in him a good philosopher, a good enemy of superstition” (ibid., 66:198).


The Duchy, in which Condillac arrived in April 1758 to instruct his seven-year-old pupil, already had a considerable French presence. Its chief minister Dutillot, marquis de Felino, had begun his career attached to the Spanish court, but he was a major figure of the French Enlightenment and brought the latest books to the Duchy. Bédarida states that Dutillot knew Quesnay’s Tableau économique from 1758 and his Maximes générales from 1760.18 The ducal library had works by Voltaire, subscribed to the Encyclopédie and the Gazette littéraire de l’Europe and bought an Essai sur le luxe, which Bonnet, the Duke’s Parisian banker and man of affairs, said was essential reading. Seventeenth-century classics were well represented in the library, which also acquired new works such as Rousseau’s, his Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse, his Lettres de la montagne, and we are told by Mme de Chenonceaux that Condillac had his young pupil studying the Contrat social.19 Father Paciaudi, himself a noted bibliophile, was busy adding to the library classical texts, French history and legal collections besides building up a renowned collection of English works. These are said in part to have come to Parma because of Condillac’s reputation in England.


Dutillot was anxious to improve Parma’s economy, its agriculture and industries by introducing more up-to-date French practice. He was also ready to learn from England, and received Duhamel’s treatise on Jethro Tull’s method of cultivation in 1751. In 1756 he wanted a subscription to Du Pont de Nemours’s Journal de l’agriculture, du commerce et des finances. He head-hunted the famous printer Giambattista Bodoni to set up a press that would be the envy of other states. Though Bodoni and Condillac were not at Parma at the same time, it was his press that was to print the Cours d’études, the works based on Condillac’s lessons to the Prince. The books of that press are now collectors’ items.


Condillac was to receive every consideration at Parma. He had an annual income of 12,000 French livres. He seems to have had carte blanche with regard to books for his pupil, and he rapidly set about getting the very expensive (2,400 livres), and exceedingly rare, Ad usum Delphini, the course of studies written for the Grand Dauphin. From 1761 he had Deleyre, the young friend of Rousseau, to help him by making résumés of books too long for his pupil. Deleyre should have helped with the latter’s historical instruction but does not appear to have been up to the task, so Condillac enlisted the help of his own brother, the abbé de Mably. In 1761 he received an early version of Mably’s Observations sur l’histoire de France, and the volume Étude d’histoire in the Cours d’études was by Mably’s hand though it is thought Condillac toned down some republican enthusiasms. Mably was handsomely thanked and rewarded by the Prince in December 1765.20


Claude Bonnet had instructions from Dutillot that Condillac was to be among a favoured few whose parcels could go by the official courier, saving expense and four days’ delay. In 1765 Condillac was specially mentioned with Keralio and the bailli de Rohan as a person to whom the newly appointed French ambassador, baron de La Houze, should pay attention.21


While at Parma Condillac seems to have found plenty of congenial company. In later years he was still in touch with his colleague the under-governor, baron Keralio, jokingly known as “the Ogre.” Condillac had his own nickname, “the Great Grumbler,” which he happily applied to himself. The picture some have given of an austere and unsympathetic teacher is belied by Condillac’s letter to Dutillot of 31 January 1761. Self-mockingly he begins, “Monsieur, I should really like to grumble.” His plaint is of postal delays between the Minister’s residence at Colorno and the capital, Parma. He goes on to say that the dismantleable “plan of defence” that Louis XV’s engineers had made so that the little Prince could study the art of war had arrived. He continues:

All is executed with great clarity and great precision. Nothing is more instructive; and that makes me want to learn warfare. We are agreed that the Prince will give me lessons when he has profited from those of M. de Keralio. If he makes a good pupil out of me he will not be ignorant. (Bédarida, “Lettres inédites,” 243–44)22

He got on well with the Jesuit mathematicians Fathers Jacquier and Le Sueur and with the librarian Father Paciaudi. Letters between Deleyre, Rousseau and their and Condillac’s mutual friend Mme de Chenonceaux show him walking in the park at Colorno with Deleyre and his wife. The visiting physician, Tronchin, took him to task after he had eaten twelve small birds, ortolans, at one sitting, and noticed that the lesson had some effect as he only ate six at the next meal!23 He became a member of an Arcadian assembly with the name Auronte, and the poet Frugoni noted his fondness for wine in a poem he wrote to celebrate the philosopher’s recovery from smallpox.24 Condillac’s letter to his good friend and patron Louis Jules Mancini Mazarin, duc de Nivernais, when the latter had been looking for accommodation for Condillac on his return to Paris, said, “I prefer a few more bottles of wine in my cellar and less splendour in my furnishing and lodgings.”25 This letter is a reminder that, though Condillac had not yet learnt that he was to have a life pension in addition to the income from his abbey, he was never to know the wealth of an abbé Véri with his countless servants and six-horse coach. Condillac said he would just take on two lackeys on his return to France.


It would be wrong to think that Condillac was deprived of intellectual stimulation in Parma. The ducal family was intelligent. Before her marriage to the Habsburg Archduke Joseph, they were searching for a German translation of Racine’s “Télémaque” so that Don Ferdinand’s sister, the Infanta Isabelle-Marie, could learn the language. Don Ferdinand was such an apt pupil that already in 1763 the end of Condillac’s task was seen as approaching. Don Philippe and his son were keen on the theatre, and they and many courtiers read a great deal. The duc de Nivernais teasingly pitied Condillac for only being able to hear concerts three or four times a week.26


Throughout his time in Parma Condillac and Nivernais kept up a regular correspondence. The Duke was ambassador to the court of Frederick of Prussia in 1756 and a plenipotentiary for France in the negotiations with England which led to the Peace of Paris of 1763. He was also highly regarded as a man of letters, and he was a Member of the French Academy from 1743. Their correspondence reads as letters between friends for all the careful respect for rank. Condillac nevertheless had in the Duke a powerful acquaintance who could use his influence both for Condillac and, at his request, for his family.


Family ties and obligations were important to Condillac throughout his life. In 1761 a very awkward problem had to be resolved when the duc de Choiseul gave the succession to the post of Provost of the Maréchaussée, held by the recently deceased M. de Mably, to his son-in-law and not to one of his sons. The recipient was later to be officially separated from his wife and may have misrepresented the family’s wishes. Apparently the abbé de Mably should have handled the matter. Condillac was left to sort it all out from a distance. Nivernais gave sensible advice and all was put right, so an important source of income was not lost to Condillac’s nephews. It can be seen from Condillac’s letter that he had already had other correspondence about this.27 Again the help of well-placed persons was invoked to gain entry for his niece, Mlle de Marsan, to the exclusive school of Saint-Cyr. Dutillot, d’Argental and Nivernais all worked to this end, and the young girl was admitted in April 1762 accompanied by the Parmesan Minister Plenipotentiary.28


When a promised French benefice was unforthcoming after Condillac had held his post for four years, many important individuals busily pressed his claims on Louis XV and on the bishop of Orléans whose dossier it was. The bishop had to deal with so many claimants that his polite fending off of the representations on Condillac’s behalf does not necessarily indicate hostility to the philosopher. Despite the urgings of the Dukes of Nivernais and Choiseul-Praslin, of Dutillot, d’Argental and even Don Philippe, it probably took Condillac’s near-miraculous recovery from smallpox to obtain for him in 1765 the titular abbacy of Mureau in the diocese of Toul.29


Smallpox was a scourge of even affluent society in the eighteenth century. There was great interest in the risks of inoculation as against its benefits, and several of Condillac’s letters show his readiness to obtain information about it for his correspondents who included La Condamine and the Italian nobleman and famous jurist Beccaria.30 In November 1764 Condillac expected soon to be free from his post, when instead he was fighting for his life. The Court was preparing for the isolation of Don Ferdinand who was to be inoculated. There is no question of Condillac’s having caught smallpox from his pupil’s inoculation, since such was the fear of the disease that strict isolation of the Prince with the minimum of attendants plus his doctor had been arranged.31


Condillac was likewise closely confined in his illness, and, when his life was despaired of, instructions were given for the rapid sealing of his wardrobes and trunks in the event of his death. So close was that supposed to be that the church had already been draped for his burial. The bells of the convent precincts within which his house lay had been kept silent when he was critically ill, a considerate action for which the Duke thanked the abbess. It seems that he would have left many grieving friends and a pious reputation among the common people, since they believed, according to Deleyre, that he had gone to Heaven and returned. Certainly concern for his recovery was not confined to Parma. Deleyre gives the touching story of Condillac spending what he thought were his last hours dictating a letter to the Prince, his pupil, and after it was done asking to be left alone. Deleyre added that his recovery was complete. But Deleyre was writing in the following February, and his main point was that Condillac’s very weak eyesight had received no further damage.32 Dutillot, writing to d’Argental at the end of December, spoke of his being in a very weak state.33


According to Puchesse, after his recovery Condillac stayed on at Parma in order to attend the marriage of another sister of his pupil, Princess Marie-Louise, to the heir to the Spanish King.34 This marriage, that of Isabelle-Marie to the future Emperor, and the later one of Don Ferdinand to another daughter of the Empress Maria Theresa show the important role of the Parmesan family in French diplomacy. The Family Compact of 1743 had already strengthened ties between the two major Bourbon houses.


However, Puchesse was mistaken. The wedding was to take place in Spain, and Condillac was not even part of Don Philippe’s train accompanying the princess. Condillac still held the position of a gentleman of the Chamber given him by Don Philippe, but he was at leisure to visit Venice with Father Paciaudi in the spring of 1765.35 They were received by the best company. Condillac was clearly delighted by the casini, small apartments that the nobility had near the cathedral of San Marco. In the eighteenth century, women too wanted them as salons for receiving guests, for concerts and for gaming. It seems that their reputation was not always above suspicion.


Writing on his return to Parma to Sagramoso, a Veronese diplomat who had been their guide, Condillac warmly thanks him, hopes that they are beginning a long friendship and asks him to convey his thanks to the Erizzo family.36 In June, in another letter to Sagramoso, Condillac hopes he may have a further visit to Venice and writes delightfully, “While waiting, I should like to know just how long Madame Cordemila will be at her country house. It is not that I dare flatter myself that I shall be able to go there, but I may at least occupy myself with the thought, and who knows if it will not come true? A metaphysician can do a lot with ideas” (ibid., 82). Condillac was on the point of leaving for the baths of Lucca and reports from there in mid-July.


However, the death of the Duke, Don Philippe, from smallpox in July 1765 forced Condillac’s return to Parma before he had seen anything of Tuscany. In a letter of 18 August to Sagramoso Condillac gives an interesting account of how his pupil reacted to becoming sovereign of the duchy:

On my arrival I found the young prince like a lion. His situation goads him: he remembers things he has learnt, he explains them to himself, he watches over himself, he wants to do well, he wishes to inform himself; in a word, he is affected by emulation, the only thing he had lacked, since he has intelligence and facility. (Piva, “Condillac a Venezia,” 83)

Condillac also informs Sagramoso that his time as tutor has ended. In the autumn he was at Genoa and then Milan, where he met the Marchese Beccaria whose Dei Delitti e delle pene gained much attention in France. Beccaria was himself honoured to meet Condillac as he wrote to Morellet.37 A letter of Father Jacquier shows Condillac in his company at Rome in March. In June Condillac was at Naples, in July at Florence, then at Lucca again and back at Parma in September. He returned to Paris in early March 1767.

The Academician


The Mémoires secrets chose to see Condillac as returning a disappointed man, no decoration, no bishopric, etc., to obscurity.38 That was far from the truth. In October his impending election to the Académie française was being talked about, though his brother was thought to be a rival for the place. On 22 October d’Alembert wrote to inform Voltaire that Condillac was to take the chair made vacant by the death of the abbé Olivet. Voltaire applauded the choice.39 The inaugural ceremony on 22 December was attended by a crowd of fashionable ladies, though one observer considered that only the witty fables of the duc de Nivernais would have saved them from boredom.40 Voltaire read Condillac’s speech and approved it in a letter to Charles Bordes.41 It is interesting that Voltaire describes the Académie as a company dedicated uniquely to eloquence and poetry, so he has to defend the intrusion of philosophy.


Condillac was paid an unusual favour by being summoned to an audience with the King to present his Académie speech. He was afterwards presented to the Dauphin and the royal children. Lafaye in the nineteenth-century Encyclopédie des gens du monde said that the reine-mère, though he must have meant Queen Marie Leszcynska, told him she wished he would undertake the education of the sons of the Dauphin, who later ruled as Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X. “He declined such a dangerous honour, fearing failure. . . and because he did not want to stir up powerful enmities against him” (Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 91). Later in his life Condillac crossed out the whole passage dealing with his personal relations with Louis XV from his Académie speech.42


As Condillac had tasted freedom in his Italian travels and as he had good company in friends such as Nivernais and Duclos, a quieter life was doubtless inviting. It never seemed likely that the man whose letters show a delight in company would flee it on his return to France. Fortunately the team of scholars who produced Corpus Condillac have seen the Registers of the Académie française which contradict Puchesse’s assertion that he did not often attend its sessions.43 In fact he was present at 316 sessions, and his attendance only drops markedly in 1774, by which time he was living in Flux. Even so it is only in the last two years of his life that he attended just once a year.44


Philosophes were strongly represented in the Académie when Condillac joined it, though the King expected to have a veto over appointments to its ranks, and this became an issue when Suard was first elected. The philosophes were accepted in society, whereas the Jesuits were being expelled from country after country. At the reception given for the Danish monarch on 20 November 1768 Condillac was in the company of d’Alembert, l’abbé Barthélemy, Bernard, Diderot, Grimm, Helvétius, d’Holbach, Marmontel and Morellet among others.45 Voltaire could be confident that d’Alembert would pass on to Condillac suggested material for his acceptance speech to the Académie.


Condillac seems to have had an uninterrupted friendship with d’Alembert, whereas the absence of any mention of him in the correspondence between Mme d’Epinay and the abbé Galiani covering the years after Condillac’s return from Italy until he moved from Paris to the Loire valley in 1773 indicates that he was distanced from the society of Diderot and Grimm.


A passage from the count d’Angivilliers’ memoirs, Épisodes de ma vie, quoted in a footnote to Helvétius’s correspondence, says that Mme de Vassé, whose character he could not praise too much, had bound him in close friendship with the brothers Mably and Condillac, her close friends who had fallen out with each other. There is no detail of the quarrel nor of its seriousness. Happily, d’Angivilliers says that he and she reunited the brothers. Mme de Vassé died from cancer in Condillac’s Paris home on 2 June 1768 in the presence of d’Angivilliers and Condillac.46 D’Angivilliers adds that she was equally a friend of the “fanatic and madman, Helvétius.” He was writ ing after the Revolution when the philosophes, especially those whose books had offended, were held responsible for it. It seems quite likely that Condillac saw something of Helvétius too. What is certain is that in 1776 Condillac was staying with the widowed Mme Helvétius at Auteuil when he wrote to the Marquis Rangoni.47


The general view held in philosophical circles was that, though Condillac had done an excellent job in educating his Prince, the latter was a dull and ungrateful pupil. In this context it is particularly interesting to look at letters that Condillac wrote to Don Ferdinand from Paris in 1767 and 1768. In one of May 1767 Condillac tells how he was received at Court and questioned about his pupil. He says that he related the positive things about his pupil but kept quiet about the negative ones. He challenges his former pupil to apply himself so that this picture of him may become true. He continues:

it would be a mortal disappointment for me if the public did not estimate you to the extent that I love you. Try, Monseigneur, to write some letters to me in which there will be something to show how you are thinking, that you are reflecting and that you are occupying yourself usefully. Your style must show that you find pleasure in your diversions, that you find pleasure in your occupations, that you apply yourself to everything, and that you do nothing with indifference. (Condillac, Oeuvres philosophiques, 2:547)

An August letter shows that the now sovereign Duke had written to Condillac, who, after giving him much instruction on his Latin, goes on to tell him that he has shown the letter to the duc de Nivernais, the comtesse de Rochefort, the historian Duclos and assembled company where he was dining. It met with approval in that distinguished company, but Condillac still thought exhortations to continue improving were necessary. He gave advice on letter-writing. Here the contemporary practice of handing round letters and even writing them for publication should be held in mind: “letters and conversations should only be an exchange [commerce] of enlightenment, of friendship, of entertainment, there should be no constraint, for the absence of freedom is the ruin of trade [commerce]” (ibid., 548). The metaphor seems revealing for the later author of Le Commerce et le Gouvernement.


When Condillac writes in October of the same year, he thanks the Duke for the dinner service he has been given and says he has sent more history notebooks and will continue to do so in order that Don Ferdinand may have enough to read in the winter. He again praises him for his letter which he has shown to the same named individuals. The next letter is a year later, and his praise is this time for the Duke’s feeling when Dutillot’s life was in danger. He also praises his bearing during a visit to Mantua. He writes:

you conducted yourself like an angel, and I have been delighted at it. However I have kept on delaying complimenting you on it because I found myself in very sad circumstances, but, Monseigneur, you must always scold your tutor when he does not write to you; because if you do not make me reproaches I shall be in the right to reproach you, I shall say that you do not care about having my news, since you do not ask me for it, so you see that my silence puts you in the wrong. You must realize that sovereigns are often obliged to make the first moves, and that no one goes up to them unless they cover half the way, or even more. . .

What, Monseigneur, are your pursuits and your entertainments? For I am interested in both. As for me, I am waiting with impatience for the news of your marriage, then I shall have the pleasure of paying court to you, and it will be a real holiday for me. I hope it will be for next Spring, I shall see the start of the happiness you promise yourself; you will be happy, Monseigneur, I hope and I wish for it with all my heart. (Ibid., 2:549)

The relationship between them sounds affectionate at this point, and the Duke is still ready to make an effort for his former tutor. However, later events such as Don Ferdinand’s sanction of the interference with the printing of the Cours d’études show that the Duke turned against Condillac. The usual explanation is that under the influence of his Habsburg wife, Don Ferdinand became a bigoted Catholic: it is not documented by further correspondence between them.


During the 1770s Condillac’s presence has been noted at several salons, those of Mlle de Lespinasse and Mme du Bocage and also “chez Collé” twice a week. Nivernais had arranged for him to have the use of two small boxes at the Comédie française. None of this fits the picture of a man who avoided society and was awkward in it that some nineteenth-century accounts, and some twentieth-century accounts relying on them, would have one see.48


Julie de Lespinasse was a remarkable woman. Like d’Alembert, she was the illegitimate child of an aristocrat. Her mother had her educated, but she was left with little money on her mother’s death, and Mme du Deffand’s patronage rescued her from work as a governess.49 She helped with her salon from 1754 to 1764, until a quarrel with her patroness led to her setting up her own. Marmontel in his memoirs sang her praises in encouraging conversation, adding, “And take good note that the heads which she stirred at her will were neither feeble nor frivolous; Condillac and Turgot were among them; d’Alembert was like a simple docile child in her company” (Marmontel, Mémoires, 1:415). Others who attended her salon were Condorcet, Suard, Morellet, Galiani, Mably, Shelburne, d’Argenson, Diderot, Thomas.50 This does not mean that all were attending at the same time; Galiani, for instance, had had to leave France in June 1769 on the orders of the duc de Choiseul.


Condillac, the Academician, writer and man in society, was also commendatory abbot of Mureau in the diocese of Toul. Business connected with the abbey, the reward for his service as tutor to Louis XV’s grandson, took some of his time in these years. It is thought improbable that he ever visited Mureau. However, he had to employ lawyers to represent his and the community’s property interests in tithes.51 His income from the abbey was 8,000 livres a year, the same as his pension from Parma, and together with other investment income will have enabled him to keep up his accommodation at Paris and pursue his writing without financial worries.

Retirement to Flux and Final Publications


A major development in Condillac’s later life was the purchase in April 1773 of the property of Flux near Beaugency which bordered the river Loire. It was Condillac’s money in large part which enabled this house with chapel and land to be acquired by Mme de Sainte-Foy, his niece. The property is thought to have been bought with serious cultivation in mind. It was his chief home until his death, though for a number of years he also kept a Paris apartment, and he continued to visit Paris even when he no longer had any place there. Family tradition, as given by his great-great-nephew, Count Baguenault de Puchesse, the grandson of Mme de Sainte-Foy, has it that life in the country stimulated his interest in economic debate.


Condillac had trouble in publishing his Cours d’études which was to establish him as an enlightened educator and make his pupil famous. Initially all went well. Bodoni began work on it shortly after his arrival in Parma in 1768, which indicates Dutillot’s personal interest in the task. Condillac busied himself with correcting manuscripts and began receiving volumes from the Bodoni press with a view to an additional French edition.


Dutillot was brusquely dismissed in mid-1771; but his Spanish successor, Llano, let the printing continue, and the great enterprise was finished by the end of 1772. However, the Church could operate its separate censorship. Count Lalatta, bishop of Parma, opposed publication. The work was given to Father Andrea Mazza to examine. He found in it the mark of a free-thinker, bold comments on the Church’s deeds and great scorn towards the Spanish and their rulers. No printed volumes could leave Bodoni’s workshops.52


If de Loynes d’Autroche was correct, Condillac was faced with a huge task as some of his manuscripts of volumes in the Cours d’études had been lost in transit from Parma to France, and he had to begin them afresh since his request for printed versions was refused. By that time he is believed to have had just four of the printed volumes.53 Condillac’s industriousness was remarkable as he managed none the less to have a French edition prepared, which came out in 1775. The coincidence in time with Turgot’s ministry is surely significant. The decision to allow publication infuriated the authorities in Parma, and a proclamation in the Duke’s name denied the false and calumnious pretence that the works had issued from the Duchy’s press and ordered any copies found to be surrendered. However, in 1782, after Condillac’s death, the Parma edition eventually appeared, though with the false date of the French Deux Ponts edition.54


Le Commerce et le Gouvernement also had problems with the censorship. Since the edict of 1764 that allowed the export of grain from France, a debate had raged on that policy and on the wisdom or otherwise of keeping police regulation of grain sales and movements. This is discussed in detail in the next chapter (pp. 45–50). Another matter which involved people of importance was the revocation of the Compagnie des Indes’ monopoly of trade with India and the Indies. Condillac has much to say about both these controversial matters, though he does not enter into personalities. While Turgot’s views will have carried influence, he was not all-powerful in matters of censorship,55 and even the philosophes had been split over free trade in grain. Diderot defended his friend the abbé Galiani’s Dialogues sur le commerce des bleds, which Turgot and the abbé Morellet, whom he encouraged to write against it, saw as pernicious. So it is hardly surprising that there were those in official circles who would not welcome the intervention of such a distinguished scholar in this debate. Grimm’s review in the Correspondance littéraire noted that the book gained attention for having been held up at the Syndical Chamber.56 This is a useful reminder that then as now knowledge that a book was considered controversial could considerably aid its sales. Turgot may have helped to have it released to the censor. Senneville gave it a tacit permission which is on record, as customary. His conclusion was, “This work can only be useful. The author has never crossed the borders of the discussion and truth can only gain from such works.” He gave some indication why Condillac’s book may have met with opposition when he speculated that theologians and the dévots were likely to protest at the chapter on usury. But he cheered himself with: “I know that people with an axe to grind do not find me zealous enough, but I am what I am” (Belin, Le commerce des livres, 32).57


Other evidence confirms that its publication was delayed for at least seven months. Before the end of July 1775, Diderot wrote in his Plan d’une université for Catherine the Great of Russia that “M. l’abbé de Condillac has just published the elements of commerce considered in relation to government. It is a simple, clear and exact work” (Diderot, Oeuvres complètes, 11:815). Later, in December 1775, Diderot wrote to Catherine that she had not received Le Commerce et le Gouvernement because it had not yet appeared (ibid., 1124). It was actually published in February 1776, but Diderot had known of its general content, the subject of the next chapter, at least seven months previously.


Despite difficulties with the censorship and advancing years, Condillac was not ready to rest on his considerable laurels as a scholar. He was only too happy to provide a new text on logic for the Poles. His brother, the abbé de Mably, had written a constitution for the Polish state, and French influence was significant in Poland. Count Potocki approached Condillac in September 1777, after an international competition in 1775 to provide books for the Palatinate schools had failed to produce a work of sufficient quality. On completion of the manuscript in June 1778—true to his promise it was ready before the deadline of December 1779—Condillac wrote to Potocki saying that he had sent it to Keralio in Paris from whom it could be collected or who would forward it if requested. He said that, while not wanting to make them wait for the work, he had not rushed it. He was eager to show that he had given it great thought and tailored it to their needs. The Education Commission seems to have been delighted as he was given two gold medals as well as the 100 gold florins promised in the competition.58


Condillac’s friendship with mathematicians has been noted, and his last, posthumously published work was the Langue des calculs. The Mémoires secrets also mention in September 1780 that when he died he was writing a dictionary which they called a vast task which had daunted all the other philosophes.59 This is the Dictionnaire des synonymes which his niece found among his papers at Flux. Puchesse saw it as ready for publication, but it probably missed being included in the twenty-three-volume 1798 Oeuvres as it was not among the corrected manuscripts intended for a full edition of all his works that passed to the abbé de Mably on Condillac’s death. Condillac had obtained a privilege in his own name for the publication of his complete works in 1778.60


During Condillac’s time in Parma, news and advice was passing from him to Rousseau through their mutual friends such as Mme de Chenonceaux and Deleyre. Only a fraction of Condillac’s correspondence survives,61 so it is impossible to know how far they subsequently kept in touch. However, in 1776 Rousseau was desperate to bring his Dialogues, which he considered his masterpiece, to the attention of the world. He saw himself beset by schemers and initially had the notion that he would circumvent them by leaving the manuscript on the high altar of Notre Dame and that this would bring it to the King’s attention. Thwarted by finding access to the altar barred, he soon persuaded himself that his idea had been absurd and suddenly thought of his old friend Condillac whom he had not seen for some time and who was opportunely visiting Paris. He left the manuscript with the abbé, expecting on his return to be greeted with the excitement that recognition of a masterpiece warranted. He regarded himself as betrayed when Condillac merely received him courteously and offered to undertake the production of an edition of Rousseau’s collected works. Rousseau saw this helpful offer as a sign that Condillac had been influenced by his enemies and rejected it. Even so he recounted that he saw his old friend a few more times, and it was to Condillac that he entrusted the manuscript for safe-keeping with instructions that it was not to be opened until the next century.62 This undertaking may indicate some courage on Condillac’s part, to judge from the extreme reluctance of the abbé de Reyrac to accept custody of it from Condillac on his deathbed.63


Puchesse describes Condillac in his last years as “Always serious, thoughtful, preoccupied” (Puchesse, Condillac, 166–67),64 but this sits uneasily with the statements which he quotes from Condillac’s friend Claude de Loynes d’Autroche who delivered the customary eulogy to the Royal Agricultural Society of Orléans in 1781. D’Autroche had been made a member of the Society on the same day as Condillac, 5 February 1776. He wrote of his friend:

To escape the distressing sight of ever-growing corruption in the Capital, near the end of his days the abbé de Condillac chose a country retreat in our district: it is here that in the midst of the nature that he loved, he whiled away days that were as peaceful and as pure as his heart; it is in this refuge, beautified by his taste, that he loved to entertain and that he received real friends with such true warmth, and with such affecting satisfaction. . . (Puchesse, Condillac, 166)

D’Autroche was thirty years younger than Condillac and a great traveller; he was interested in the classics and later translated Horace’s Odes. He owned extensive lands and a fine château dominating the Loire valley. Other friends were local clergy and magistrates who included Le Trosne, the economist.65


Later disputes between Mme de Sainte-Foy and her family over the Flux estate have brought speculation that Condillac’s last years may have been unhappy, and his shortness of temper in these years is commented upon.66 What seems certain from their own words is that he retained the affection of his two surviving elder brothers, Mably, who was to be his literary executor, and Saint-Marcellin.67


Condillac’s death on 3 August 1780 was sudden and occurred shortly after his return from a visit to Paris. Accounts of it are incompatible. The family tradition given by Puchesse is that Condillac ascribed his last illness to a bad chocolate drink he had at Condorcet’s house. As he says that Condillac disliked Condorcet this may just have been a grumbling reaction when the abbé felt unwell on his journey home.68 A medical account has it that he fell victim to a fever that was going through the neighbourhood of Flux.69


Accounts of his funeral tally well. It was movingly described by Lablée, a local lawyer who said he was present: “It was at harvest-time. His corpse escorted by a man of affairs had been carried across the fields to the small parish of the burgh of Lailly. Bare-legged peasants wearing chasubles sang the mass. The corpse was buried without the slightest mark, in a small cemetery open on all sides, and I doubt one will be able to find any trace of it” (Rousseau, Correspondance générale, 20:368–69). Several local clergy witnessed the burial certificate. Mme de Sainte-Foy’s absence is not noteworthy, as it was not customary at the time for women to attend funerals.


Condillac’s posthumous reputation has rested chiefly on his philosophical works. Puchesse, who traced his posthumous reputation, says that his Traité des systémes was on university syllabuses in the early years of this century.70 Since the Second World War, there appears to have been a revived interest in his philosophy in Italy as well as in France. On a recent visit to Grenoble we learnt that his works are on the syllabus of the university of his native town. The New Cambridge Modern History devotes equal space to his contributions to education and to philosophy. The significance of Commerce and Government has received less attention. Its reception by the physiocrats when it appeared, and its growing reputation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, are discussed in the next chapter.


[1. ]Condillac’s birth date is established beyond question by his baptismal certificate, which says on 1 October 1714 that he was born on the previous day (see Jean B. Sgard, ed., Corpus Condillac [Geneva and Paris: Slatkine, 1981], 31). Yet many accounts of his life, such as that in Auguste Lebeau, Condillac: Économiste (Paris, 1903), erroneously give the year of his birth as 1715.


[2. ]The above account of Condillac’s family and early years is drawn from Sgard, Corpus Condillac, which also has a family tree and much more detailed information about his wider family.


[3. ]Count G. Baguenault de Puchesse, Condillac, sa vie, son oeuvre, son influence (Paris: Plon-Nourrit, 1910), 9,20.


[4. ]This is under the editorship of Jean Sgard and is referred to as Sgard, Corpus Condillac.


[5. ]Puchesse, Condillac, 15.


[6. ]L’abbé Étienne Bonnot de Condillac, Oeuvres philosophiques de Condillac, ed. Georges Le Roy, vol. 33 of Corpus générale des philosophes françaises (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1947–51), 2:533.


[7. ]L’abbé Étienne Bonnot de Condillac, Lettres inédites à Gabriel Cramer, ed. Georges Le Roy (Paris, 1953), 35, 52, 59, 77.


[8. ]Laurence L. Bongie, “Diderot’s femme savante,” in Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: The Voltaire Foundation at the Taylor Institution, 1977), 166:149–63, and Puchesse, Condillac, 13.


[9. ]L’abbé Étienne Bonnot de Condillac, Traité des sensations, in Oeuvres de Condillac (Paris, 1798), 3:52.


[10. ]Eighteenth-century taste valued poetry very highly, and Turgot wrote a lot of it, while it launched Marmontel on his career when he won a prize which brought him to Voltaire’s attention (Jean François Marmontel, Oeuvres complètes, vol. 1, Mémoires [Paris: Amable Costes, 1819], 87, 118)


[11. ]L’abbé Raynal, baron Friedrich Melchior Grimm, and Denis Diderot, Correspondance littéraire, ed. Maurice Tourneux (Paris: Garnier Frères, 1877), 12:343.


[12. ]John Lough, “Lemonnier’s painting, Une soirée chez Mme Geoffrin en 1755,French Studies 45, no. 3 (1991): 268–78.


[13. ]L’abbé Étienne Bonnot de Condillac, Oeuvres de Condillac, vol. 1, l’Essai sur l’origine des connoissances humaines (Paris, 1798), 230.


[14. ]See Condillac, Lettres inédites, 54.


[15. ]Denis Diderot, Oeuvres complètes, vol. 15 (Paris: Le Club Française, 1973), 224.


[16. ]John S. Spink, “Un abbé philosophe: l’affaire de J.-M. de Prades,” Dix-huitième siècle 3 (1971): 157–59.


[17. ]See Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 63–64.


[18. ]H. Bédarida, Parme et la France de 1748 à 1789 (Paris: Champion, 1928), 89.


[19. ]Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Rousseau, ses amis et ses ennemis, correspondance, ed. M. G. Streckeisen-Moultou (Paris, 1865), 237.


[20. ]Bédarida, Parme et la France, 257.


[21. ]Bédarida, Parme et la France, gives an exhaustive account of the French presence in Parma based on archival material.


[22. ]In Émile (234), Rousseau advocated that the tutor learn a new craft alongside his pupil, as the only sure way of seeing that the pupil learnt well. Condillac probably expected his correspondent to be aware of this.


[23. ]Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 72.


[24. ]Bédarida, Parme et la France, 446, summarises the poem in French. The original Italian poem is in Carlo I. Frugoni, Opere poetiche, collected and published by P. Manara and C. C. Rezzonico (Parma, 1779), 7:339–46.


[25. ]Condillac, Oeuvres philosophiques, 2:545.


[26. ]Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 151.


[27. ]Ibid., 148, 150.


[28. ]H. Bédarida, “Lettres inédites de Condillac,” Annales de l’université de Grenoble (1924): 233.


[29. ]Ibid., 236–37.


[30. ]See Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 152, for the Beccaria letter, and François Moureau, “Condillac et Mably: dix lettres inédites ou retrouvées,” Dix-huitièmesiècle 23 (1991): 199, for that to La Condamine.


[31. ]U. Benassi, “II precettore famoso d’un nostro Duca,” Bollettino Storico Piacentino 18, no. 1 (1923): 9.


[32. ]Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 74.


[33. ]Benassi, “II precettore famoso,” 10.


[34. ]Puchesse, Condillac, 126.


[35. ]F. Piva, “Condillac a Venezia. Conalcune lettere inedite,” in Studi Francesi, no. 64, Anno 22 (1) (1978): 77.


[36. ]Ibid., 81–82.


[37. ]Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 76.


[38. ]Mémoires secrets (London: Adamson, 1777–89), 3:194.


[39. ]Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), Correspondance, ed. Theodore Besterman (Geneva: Institut et Musée Voltaire, and University of Toronto Press, 1968), 70:127, letter 14319.


[40. ]Mémoires secrets, 4:177–80.


[41. ]Voltaire, Correspondance, 71:21.


[42. ]Puchesse, Condillac, 140–41.


[43. ]Ibid., 18.


[44. ]Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 92.


[45. ]Claude-Adrien Helvétius, Correspondance générale (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation and University of Toronto Press, 1991), 3:264–65.


[46. ]Ibid., 304. Her death may have been the sad circumstance referred to in Condillac’s letter of 9 October 1768 to the Prince of Parma (Condillac, Oeuvres philosophiques, 2:549).


[47. ]Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 154–55.


[48. ]The first chapter of Sgard, Corpus Condillac, “Réalites et légendes,” summarises many different and sometimes contradictory accounts of his personality given in mostly nineteenth-century works. Modern scholars have had as varied views as Roger Lefèvre, who entitled his book Condillac, ou la joie de vivre (Paris: Seghers, 1966), and Isabel Knight (The Geometric Spirit: The Abbé de Condillac and the French Enlightenment [New Haven, Conn., 1968], 6), who saw his life as austere.


[49. ]Mme du Deffand was the correspondent of Horace Walpole over many years.


[50. ]Julie de Lespinasse, Lettres inédites, introduction by M. Charles Henry (1887), 8.


[51. ]See Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 82–85, for some details of the management of the abbey.


[52. ]Bédarida, Parme et la France, 417.


[53. ]Ibid., 417 footnote.


[54. ]Ibid., 418.


[55. ]Turgot, as a friend and colleague of Malesherbes, preferred public opinion to judge works, provided they were not seditious or blasphemous; and as a man eager to extend toleration into religious matters, he was hesitant to use his influence to have work censored even when it was opposed to his policies. Thus he allowed Necker’s De la législation et du commerce des grains to pass the censors in 1775.


[56. ]Raynal, Grimm and Diderot, Correspondance littéraire, March 1775, 11:53ff.


[57. ]Belin gives the mss. no. of the Archives de la Chambre syndicate des libraires et imprimeurs de Paris 22016, 273.


[58. ]It forms volume 22 of the 1798 edition of Condillac’s Oeuvres. Count Potocki’s invitation and Condillac’s reply are printed on pp. 199–202. Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 101–2, gives an excerpt from the third letter. Condillac’s brother Mably thought highly of the work (see letters to Wielhorski, quoted in Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 121).


[59. ]Mémoires secrets, 16:10.


[60. ]Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 101.


[61. ]The Sgard catalogue of his letters mentions fifty-eight, but it is clear both from their content and from what some of his correspondents wrote to him that he was a busy and quite chatty letter-writer.


[62. ]Rousseau wrote his own account of these events, the Histoire du précédent écrit (1782). It is printed with his Dialogues in Rousseau, Juge de Jean Jacques, texte présénté par Michel Foucault (Paris: Armand Colin, 1962), 321–22.


[63. ]This is referred to in Mémoires secrets (vol. 22, for 10 Jan. 1783). The abbé Reyrac is said to have taken the manuscript, while trembling, only on the assurance that it contained nothing against the state, morals or religion. He later handed it over to the family. This source contains the inaccuracy that the abbé de Condillac was Rousseau’s pupil. It was his nephew, M. de Mably’s son, also known as Condillac, whom Rousseau found an unsatisfactory pupil.


[64. ]Though Baguenault de Puchesse can speak of family tradition about his distinguished ancestor, it must be noted that he was writing over a century after Mme de Sainte-Foy’s death in 1807. On the abbé’s character the testimony of d’Autroche, speaking to an assemblage of intelligent men who will have had some acquaintance with Condillac, carries more weight.


[65. ]Puchesse, Condillac, 166.


[66. ]Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 102, 106.


[67. ]Ibid., 107. Mably’s letter of 6 January 1780 to a cousin, printed in Puchesse, Condillac, 273–74, shows that the brothers kept in touch, though by that time Condillac’s visits to Paris where Mably lived were very brief. In a letter to a Polish count after Condillac’s death, he spoke of his sharp sorrow on the loss of his brother whom he loved tenderly (Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 121), and for Bonnot de Saint-Marcellin, see ibid., 22.


[68. ]Puchesse, Condillac, 23–24.


[69. ]Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 102–3.


[70. ]Puchesse, Condillac, v.

No sources assigned