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Journal of Early Modern Studies

Volume 1, Issue 1, Fall 2012

Shaping the Republic of Letters: Communication, Correspondence and Networks in Early Modern Europe

Koen Vermeir
Pages 109-149
DOI: 10.7761/JEMS.1.1.109

The Dustbin of the Republic of Letters: Pierre Bayle’s “Dictionaire” as an encyclopedic palimpsest of errors

Pierre Bayle’s Dictionnaire Historique et Critique, a landmark in intellectual history, is a curious text. Originally intended as a collection of all errors, it became an encyclopedia of everything, enfolding rampantly growing footnotes that commented on every imaginable topic. Instead of looking at Bayle’s theoretical statements in the Dictionnaire, I explore Bayle’s writing practice, his critical method and his practice of forming judgments. A close study of the textual, paratextual and contextual characteristics of the first entry of the Dictionnaire (the entry “Abaris”) allows me to find out how Bayle made up his mind at every stage during a contemporaneous controversy on divination. In this way, we are able to see Bayle’s mind in action while he is judging the contradictory information he receives and the to-and-fro movement of changing opinions he is confronted with. This examination yields new insights to Bayle’s practical attitudes towards key issues in his oeuvre, including scepticism, rationalism, superstition and tolerance. At the same time, the article clarifies how Bayle was involved in the Republic of Letters and how he related to his local context in Rotterdam.