Friedrich Melchior Grimm and the “Corréspondance Littéraire”

Friedrich Melchior Grimm and the
“Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique”

Friedrich Melchior Grimm’s “Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique” provides a priceless portrait of French society, literature, theater, and music in the 1750s and 1760s, and perhaps most importantly, of the daily lives of the philosophers of the French Enlightenment.

Grimm himself was born in Germany in 1723 and moved to France in 1748. A member of the circle around the baron d'Holbach, in 1753 he began the “Correspondance littéraire” for which he was to become famous, with the assistance of his friends, most famously Denis Diderot, a frequent contributor. The “Correspondance littéraire” was precisely that: Grimm was able to escape censorship by handwriting his biweekly journal and mailing it in diplomatic pouches to his subscribers, who included Catherine the Great of Russia and Fredrick the Great of Prussia. His journal included reviews of plays, of musical performances, of new books; commentary on fads of the day and on the cases of injustice that were rife in France, like the judicial murder of Jean Calas. He was also a first-hand witness to the public falling out between David Hume and Rousseau, and his account of this is priceless.

Introduced to Rousseau in 1754, their friendship turned to bitter enmity, and if Rousseau had unflattering things to say about Grimm in his “Confessions,” Grimm’s portrait of Rousseau in the “Correspondance” is equally biting, as was his analysis of Rousseau’s ideas. “Emile,” one of Rousseau’s most influential works, was dismissed with one word: “useless.”

Though the “Correspondance” was to live on until 1790, Grimm abandoned it in 1773, the same year he went to Russia to meet Catherine the Great. Catherine was to provide him with financial support in his later years. Grimm, by this time a bitter reactionary, died in his native Germany in 1807.

On Voltaire’s “The Century of Louis XIV”, 1753
The Death of Montesquieu, 1755
The Mode for Inoculations, 1756
On Helvétius, 1759
On Candide, 1759
The Calas Affair, 1763
The Hume-Rousseau Feud, 1766
The Delabarre Affair, 1766
Discovery of a Manuscript by Montaigne, 1772