A very swarm of minor philosophes, in the third quarter of the eighteenth century, joined in the attack upon Christianity. They labored with all the industry and enthusiasm of early Christians spreading the new Gospel, or of Spanish Christians expelling Moors. They poured forth a stream of tracts and treatises, and when their own profusion ebbed they translated all the antireligious literature they could find, from Lucretius to Hobbes. They devised a new calendar of saints and martyrs, canonizing Julian the Apostate and idolizing Pomponazzi, Bruno, Campanella, Vanini, Bayle, and other victims of persecution. They condemned the Jews not for charging interest on loans but for having begotten Christianity. They dethroned Jehovah as a monster of cruelty, a god of war, the first of the genocides. They laughed at original sin, and the God who had to send himself down to earth as his son, to be scourged and crucified to appease the anger of himself as Father piqued by a woman’s desire for apples or knowledge. They branded the Crusades as a land-grabbing, commerce-cornering expedition. They scorned the Middle Ages as all Dark Ages, and looked down upon the Gothic cathedrals as barbarous and grotesque. D’Alembert noted about him “a certain exaltation of ideas,” a “fermentation,” a “general effervescence of minds, … [which] with a kind of violence has swept along with it everything that stood in its way.”70
There was Jacques André Naigeon, whom Sainte-Beuve described as “a fanatical beadle of atheism”;71 he came to live and work with d’Holbach as translator and editor; together they published in ten years thirty books, large or small, original or imported, all against Christianity; “it is raining bombs in the house of the Lord,” said Diderot.72 There was Nicolas Boulanger, another friend of d’Holbach, who labored in the cause till his death (1759), and left behind him a manuscript entitled Antiquité dévoilée (Antiquity Unveiled). D’Holbach kept this in storage till 1765, when the chief minister was Choiseul, friendly to the philosophes; then he sent it to the press with a flaming introduction by Diderot. Religion, said Boulanger, arose through primitive man’s fears of floods and other apparently supernatural catastrophes; it was organized by priests and kings in a conspiracy to sanctify tyranny in return for tyrannical enforcement of orthodox belief; and mankind would never escape from that dark conspiracy except by following the light of reason in defiance of priests and kings.73
More important was André Morellet, another Jesuit product, one more abbé wandering in rebel ranks. Born in 1727, he lived long enough to be described by Mme. Necker as “a bear” who nevertheless “had candor, probity, and a thousand good qualities, and enough religion to suspect that there may be a God, and sometimes to admit it to his friends, relying on their discretion not to reveal his credulity.”74 Under Diderot’s tutelage he wrote some articles for the Encyclopédie. At d’Holbach’s dinners he displayed so mordant a wit that Voltaire called him the Abbé Mord-les—“the Reverend Mr. Bite-Them”; but Marmontel wrote that he had “profound ideas … and a heart as upright as it is sound.”75 In 1762 he published a Manuel des Inquisiteurs, composed of selections from the Directorium Inquisitorum of Nicolás Eymerico, who had zealously served as Grand Inquisitor from 1356 to 1399. Frenchmen had almost forgotten the Spanish Inquisition; Morellet refreshed their memory by merely quoting the procedures and penalties of that institution in its heyday. Malesherbes gave Morellet governmental permission to print the book, for, he said, the penal code of France was still practically identical with that of the Inquisitors.76 Morellet could hardly believe it, but in the year that saw his book go to press Jean Calas was broken on the wheel by the Parlement of Toulouse.
Of another abbé, Guillaume Raynal, the usually calm Grimm reported in his Correspondance for 1772: “Since Montesquieu’s Esprit des lots our literature perhaps has produced no monument that is worthier to pass to the remotest posterity, and to consecrate the progress of our enlightenment, than Raynal’s Philosophical and Political History of European Settlements and Commerce in the Two Indies.”77 Probably Grimm was especially well disposed to the author because it was Raynal who had inaugurated in 1753, and bequeathed to Grimm in 1755, the Correspondance littéraire which ever since had buttered Grimm’s bread; moreover, Grimm’s friend Diderot had had a hand in preparing Raynal’s immortal and now unopened book. Grimm’s judgment seemed confirmed by the immediate popularity of the Histoire philosophique et politique des établissements et du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes, published in 1772. Forty editions were sold out before 1789; there were uncounted pirated editions and translations; Franklin, Gibbon, and Robertson praised it; Toussaint L’Ouverture found in it the inspiration for his slave-liberating devotion and campaign (1791). An erudite critic thought it had more influence upon the French Revolution than even the Social Contract of Rousseau.78
Raynal had entered Paris as a poor priest. A legend that reveals the gay mood of the rebels ascribed his escape from starvation to the fact that the Abbé Prévost had received twenty sous to say a Mass for a dead soul; that Prévost had paid the Abbé de Laporte fifteen sous to say it in his stead; and that Laporte had paid Raynal eight sous to say it in his stead.79 Raynal was glad to eat at the tables of Helvétius and d’Holbach; he proved to be pleasant company, and seems to have secured the aid of several authors besides Diderot in collecting material, even in writing sections of his book. Rousseau, who-quarreled with all and sundry, found Raynal unquarrelable, and thanked him, in the Confessions, for unswerving friendship and financial aid.80
Raynal must have made money somehow, for he is said to have bribed the censor for permission to issue his book.81 Twenty years of labor had gone into its preparation. It detailed and denounced the greed, treachery, and violence of the Europeans in dealing with the natives of the East and West Indies, and it warned the white man of the terrible revenge that the colored races might take if ever they came to power.82 It was the first French indictment of colonial exploitation; it was among the first books to stress the importance of commerce in determining modern history; it contributed, in passing, to the idealization of Indian natives, and to the cult of Chinese civilization by European liberals. Running through the diffuse volumes were the dominant themes of the Enlightenment: hatred of superstition and priestcraft, and resentment of state-and-Church tyranny over life and thought. Raynal passionately subscribed to the view that Catholicism was an imposture by which prelates and rulers had joined forces to support each other through myths, miracles, propaganda, oppression, and massacre. He appealed to the rulers of Europe to dissociate themselves from all ecclesiastical ties, to allow freedom of speech and publication, and to prepare the way for democratic government. He did not spare Protestantism; this too, he said, had been guilty of intolerance; and he described the fanaticism of the Puritans in New England, the “witch” persecution in Salem.
Despite its long preparation, Raynal’s book was ultimately condemned to oblivion by its faults. Careless in its facts, it mistook legends for history, neglected dates, gave no references to authorities, confused its materials, and engaged (or allowed Diderot to engage) in oratorical effusions and emotional appeals hardly becoming in a work of history. But those were no times for calm impartiality; a book was a weapon, and could not be dulled by presenting opposed sides; literature was war. The French government so assumed; the Parlement of Paris ordered the book to be burned, and Raynal was ordered to leave France. He fled to the Netherlands, but thought it safe to return in 1784 under the mildest of Bourbon kings.
He was one of the few philosophes to see and survive the Revolution. He was shocked by its violence and its use of all the old machinery of intolerance. On May 31, 1791, aged seventy-eight, he addressed to the Constituent Assembly a letter warning it against excesses. “I have long dared to tell kings of their duties,” he wrote; “let me today tell the people of its errors.” He pointed out that the tyranny of the populace could be as cruel and unjust as the despotism of monarchs. He defended the right of the clergy to preach religion, so long as the opponents of priestcraft were left free to speak their minds; he protested against the laws enforcing a state religion, and against the outrages of the mob upon priests. Robespierre persuaded the Assembly to let the old man escape the guillotine, but Raynal’s property was confiscated by the government, and he died in destitution (1796) amid the triumphs and terrors of the Revolution.