4 May 2004


Both Chris Brooke of Virtual Stoa (see link on left) and Mike Berlin tell me that, contrary to my assertion (click here) the use of the term “republic of letters” predates Thomas Jefferson by more than a century. Berlin writes:
“The ‘republic of letters’ goes back to the late 17th century, and referred to a pan-European network of intellectuals, primarily interested in shared and mutually varifiable information on natural philosophy circulating in print. I think the term is Pierre Bayle's, from his Nouvelles de La Republique des Lettres, published in exile in Amsterdam, 1684-87.

“You are however absolutely right that the original spirit of Bayle's publication and similar publications was dissident, heterodox and free from the influences of church and state. And the question of anonymity is related. Because of censorship in France, pseudonyms and clandestine or exile presses were widely used - think of Arouet aka Voltaire. But this was less of an issue in 18th-century England with its relatively free press.”

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