Traité du Beau. [with: De la Philosophie des Chinois.] Amsterdam, ie Paris, 1772.
12mo (164 x 90 mm), pp. [ii], 3-118, , 121-180, corner torn from final page and restored, not touching text, occasional browning in text, in modern green vellum with new endpapers, spine lettered in gilt, red edges, from the library of Claude Lebédel.
Two important articles written by Diderot for the Encyclopédie and bound here in modern green vellum. The first article in the volume was originally entitled ‘Beau’ in the Encyclopédie (tome II, 1751) and this is the first appearance under this title and the first printing of both essays outside the Encyclopédie.
In this key work on aesthetics, Diderot discusses many writers - Crouzas, Hutcheson, Wolf - but acknowledges a superior debt to Yves-Marie André, who has ‘most furthered the understanding of this subject... and formed the truest and most solid principles’. Diderot echoes André’s work when he explores the relationship between feeling and beauty: ‘But tell me, is a thing beautiful because it pleases, or does it please because it is beautiful? There is no problem; it pleases because it is beautiful’. Diderot’s essay brings together his first-hand knowledge of artists and their work (learnt from friends like Chardin and Falconet as well as from his experience as critic of the Salons), with a broader moral and civic aesthetic in which art becomes an instrument of social change.
Diderot’s essay De la philosophie des Chinois was the second of two entries on China supplied by Diderot for the Encyclopédie. The first one, ‘Chine’, concentrated on the known facts and merits of China and its culture. By contrast, this essay was a virulent attack both on the Jesuits and on the idolatry and superstitions of the Chinese. Criticising the Sinophilia prevalent in France at the time, Diderot argues that much of what was praised about Chinese culture was based on unreliable translations and he presents in its place a poor picture of an idle, idolatrous and uncivilised nation.
Traité du beau and De la philosophie des Chinois were first reprinted as part of the third volume of the first collected edition of Diderot’s works, Œuvres philosophiques et dramatiques, Amsterdam 1772, from which these two titles have been taken. Given the modern binding, it is impossible to know if it was originally bound and offered for sale separately or if it was extracted more recently. Adams notes that individual volumes of this six volume collected works as well as works within the volumes were frequently offered separately.
‘On trouve souvent imprimés à part les volumes de cette édition, qui furent mis en vente tels quels à l’époque, sans le faux-titre et le titre général et avec le titre particulier seulement. Parfois, les œuvres dont se composent certains volumes furent également détachés et mises en vente’ (Adams, I, p.84).
Adams also notes a German translation of De la philosophie des Chinois by Johann Jakob Engel which was published in Philosophische Werke des Herrn Diderot, Leipzig, 1774.
Adams, Bibliographie des œuvres de Denis Diderot, A1 (3).