Abstract This article reads Noël-Antoine Pluche’s bestseller Le Spectacle de la nature, ou, Entretiens sur les particularités de l’histoire naturelle as a contribution to eighteenth-century theories of government. It contends that the work’s didactic as well as entertaining volumes on animals, building on and reinforcing the vogue for natural history among the eighteenth-century reading public, helped formulate and disseminate new ideas about how to increase France’s prosperity. Interpreting Pluche’s descriptions of animals in the light of Foucault’s claims about the emergence of ‘biopolitics’, this article argues that his natural histories of animals provided the upper-class readers of the Spectacle de la nature with tools for rendering the bodies of those lower down the social hierarchy as productive as possible without external coercion and, hence, for contributing to the country’s political economy by exercising their management functions. Through interpretation of several examples from Pluche’s bestiary of hard-working animals, it shows how descriptions of animals were used as an instrument for reconstructing and disseminating the concept of ‘work’. In this way, the article provides an account of the intertwining of natural history, political economy, and the shaping of the individual in the first half of the eighteenth century. In his immensely successful bestseller Le Spectacle de la nature, ou, Entretiens sur les particularités de l’histoire naturelle (1732–50), Noël-Antoine Pluche describes the relationship between humans and domestic animals thus: Ils [les animaux domestiques] sont pleins de force, & ne s’en servent que pour lui [l’homme]. Ils lui obéissent comme à leur seigneur. Le premier ordre qu’il leur donne est suivi de la plus prompte obéissance. Quelle récompense attendent-ils de leur service? Un peu d’herbe, même la plus séche, ou le moindre de tous nos grains leur suffit. […] Des inclinations si sobres & si avantageuses pour nous, sont-elles dûes à nos soins? Est-ce notre industrie qui les fait naître? Non assurément, & Monsieur le Chevalier les a appellés avec raison un des plus beaux présens de Dieu.1 1 Noël-Antoine Pluche, Le Spectacle de la nature, ou Entretiens sur les particularités de l’histoire naturelle qui ont paru les plus propres à rendre les jeunes-gens curieux et à leur former l’esprit, 8 vols (Paris: Veuve Estienne et Fils, 1732–50), i: Première partie, contenant ce qui regarde les animaux et les plantes (1749), p. 339. Rejecting the preference of earlier naturalists (and fabulists) for exotic, rare, or wild beasts, Pluche celebrated instead the humble but useful cat, dog, horse, and ass. Although the eight volumes of the Spectacle de la nature promised a comprehensive overview of the natural and human worlds, they focused, above all, on nature’s humblest and most ordinary creatures. Domestic animals were presented alongside craftspeople and artisans as worthy objects of study, whose productivity, obedience, and sobriety would serve to mould the minds of the book’s readers. Taking these slippages between labouring animals and humans as its basis, this article reads the Spectacle de la nature as a crucial contribution to the contemporaneous reconception of government as the management of productive bodies. It argues that the study of animals in the Spectacle de la nature served as a laboratory for experimenting with and disseminating two related forms of rendering bodies productive: one focused on the discipline of labouring bodies, the other focused on the desires of their aristocratic ‘managers’. The first volume of Pluche’s Spectacle de la nature, though neither a literary masterpiece (like Buffon’s Histoire naturelle générale et particulière)2 2 Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon, and Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton, Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, avec la description du Cabinet du Roy, 15 vols (Paris: Imprimerie royale, 1749–67). On Buffon’s literariness, see Jeff Loveland, Rhetoric and Natural History: Buffon in Polemical and Literary Context, SVEC 2001:03 (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2001). nor a model for meticulous empirical research (as we might characterize Réaumur’s volumes on insects),3 3 René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur, Mémoire pour servir à l’histoire des insectes: sur les chenilles & sur les papillons, 6 vols (Paris: Imprimerie royale, 1734–42). On Réaumur as the prototypical enlightened observer, see Mary Terrall, Catching Nature in the Act: Réaumur and the Practice of Natural History in the Eighteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014). was the most widely read — or at least the most widely bought — work on natural history in eighteenth-century Europe. The Spectacle de la nature was, as Daniel Mornet demonstrated in his famous study of private libraries, the fourth most widely held work to be found on eighteenth-century French shelves.4 4 Daniel Mornet, ‘Les Enseignements des bibliothèques privées (1750–1780)’, Revue d’histoire littéraire de la France, 17 (1910), 449–96. See also Dennis Trinkle, ‘Noël-Antoine Pluche’s Le Spectacle de la nature: An Encyclopaedic Bestseller’, Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, 358 (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1997), 93–134. It was translated in Catholic as well as Protestant countries, and countless pirated editions were produced in an attempt to profit from its popularity.5 5 See Trinkle, ‘Noël-Antoine Pluche’s Le Spectacle de la nature’, and Elena Serrano, ‘The Spectacle de la nature in Eighteenth-Century Spain: From French Households to Spanish Workshops’, Annals of Science, 69 (2011), 257–82. This success might at first puzzle the twenty-first-century reader ploughing through the tomes of the Spectacle de la nature. Indeed, scholars had long dismissed Pluche as a hopeless popularizer and natural theologian intent on finding marvel even in the apparently most mundane details of nature.6 6 Consider, for instance, Jacques Roger’s judgement, taken from his seminal work on the eighteenth-century life sciences: ‘La science n’avait pas plus à gagner que la religion à ce finalisme effréné’; Roger, Les Sciences de la vie dans la pensée française au xviiie siècle , 3rd edn (Paris: Albin Michel, 1993), p. 248. However, as a result of the broader trend within eighteenth-century studies to reconsider the relationship between knowledge of nature and religion, and to link these fields to the so-called ‘popular’ Enlightenment, there has recently been a revival of scholarly interest in Pluche.7 7 See Simon Grote, ‘Review-Essay: Religion and Enlightenment’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 75 (2014), 137–60. Scholars now explain the success of the Spectacle de la nature as being a result of Pluche’s skill at creating a comforting, optimistic natural theology compatible with the enlightened search for ‘useful’ knowledge. Most recently, historian Ann Blair has made the case that Pluche’s Jansenist natural theology successfully combined ‘some aspects of the Enlightenment agenda’ with the Christian ‘need for reason to accept its limits’.8 8 Ann Blair, ‘Noël-Antoine Pluche as a Jansenist Natural Theologian’, Intellectual History Review, 26 (2016), 91–99 (p. 95). Others, notably Cynthia Koepp and Andreas Gipper, have argued that Pluche should be seen as a progressive social thinker who was one of the first Enlightenment authors to use his religious interpretation of nature to urge his contemporaries ‘to respect the workers and peasants who made life possible and more comfortable for everyone’.9 9 Cynthia Koepp, ‘Advocating for Artisans: The Abbé Pluche’s Spectacle de la nature (1732–51)’, in The Idea of Work in Europe from Antiquity to Modern Times, ed. by Josef Ehmer and Catharina Lis (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), pp. 245–73 (p. 247); Andreas Gipper, ‘La Nature entre utilitarisme et esthétisation: l’abbé Pluche et la physico-théologie européenne’, in Écrire la nature au xviiie siècle: autour de l’abbé Pluche, ed. by Françoise Gevrey, Julie Boch, and Jean-Louis Haquette (Paris: Presses de l’université Paris-Sorbonne, 2006), pp. 25–37. See also André Viala, ‘Les Idées de Pluche sur la société’, in La Régence, ed. by Henri Coulet (Paris: Armand Colin, 1970), pp. 307–16. These critics, then, have read the Spectacle de la nature as a work exemplary of an enlightened ‘utilitarisme chrétien’.10 10 Gipper, ‘La Nature’, p. 29. Pluche’s text can also, however, help us see the connection between natural history and ‘political oeconomy’ in a broader sense than the focus on utility allows. As the eighteenth century progressed, political economy was increasingly understood as the question of how to govern human as well as natural bodies so as to increase the wealth of French society as a whole; wealth, in turn, was understood to include natural resources as well as the bodies capable of harnessing and producing them.11 11 For definitions of ‘political (o)economy’, see Neil De Marchi and Margaret Schabas, ‘Introduction to Oeconomies in the Age of Newton’, History of Political Economy, 35 (2003), 1–13. In the Spectacle de la nature, the observation and control of animal bodies served as a tool for disseminating new theories of government that focused not on the sovereign’s laws and orders nor on the roles of nobles and courtiers, but on the art of rendering bodies productive. As I will show, the example of the Spectacle de la nature demonstrates that the increasing hunger of the eighteenth-century reading public for natural-historical accounts of animals needs to be understood in the context of these new theories and practices of government. Readers enjoyed the Spectacle de la nature because it served two related purposes. Firstly, it was written as a manual for its aristocratic readers — the intended audience, the author states, is ‘notre jeune noblesse’12 12 Pluche, Spectacle de la nature, i, vii (henceforth cited parenthetically in the main text). — on how to conduct themselves as ‘good’ subjects within the emerging political economic regime. For this purpose, the Spectacle de la nature developed readers’ libido sciendi: the desire to know the world around them and the ability to willingness to observe and then use plants, animals, and other objects for productive purposes.13 13 Emma Spary has analysed another text aimed at popularizing the natural history of insects, Gilles Augustin Bazin’s Histoire naturelle des abeilles (Paris: Guérin, 1744), as teaching ‘the exercise and understanding of civic duty and the cultivation of the mind’ and as allowing readers to access polite circles; here, I focus on the importance of the body. See E. C. Spary, ‘The “Nature” of Enlightenment’, in The Sciences in Enlightened Europe, ed. by William Clark, Jan Golinski, and Simon Schaffer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), pp. 272–304 (p. 285). Secondly, the Spectacle de la nature taught them how to observe and manage the peasants, artisans, and animals working in their service. These, as we shall see, were presented less as desiring animals than as ceaselessly labouring machines; the volumes’ lessons in how to observe them therefore also promised greater control over them and their labour.14 14 Simon Schaffer has made a similar argument with regard to the depiction of artisans in the Encyclopédie, which in turn relied heavily on the Spectacle de la nature; Schaffer, ‘Enlightened Automata’, in The Sciences in Enlightened Europe, ed. by Clark, Golinski, and Schaffer, pp. 126–65. The volumes of the Spectacle de la nature are constructed on the model of the pedagogical dialogue, with the key difference, as the author points out in his preface, that the interlocutors are not the famous philosophers of the Platonic dialogue, but characters with whom the readers are invited to identify. In this way, the natural-historical information is framed as the recording of the conversations, observations, and experiments of a set of fictional characters. A young nobleman, the chevalier Du Breuil, is imagined spending his summer holidays at the provincial estate of friends of his parents, the comte and comtesse de Jonval. The comte decides to educate the chevalier on walks in the countryside, accompanied by the learned local prieur-curé, in order to ‘jetter dans son esprit les semences du bon goût, & d’une philosophie qui soit partout de service & de mise’ (i, xvi). The prieur-curé — described as a man ‘estimable par ses connoissances’, equipped with ‘un grand fond de politesse, & sur-tout de piété’ (ibid.) — can plausibly be read as a mouthpiece for Pluche, given that he was himself both an abbé and a pedagogue, first at the Collège de Laon and then, following the outlawing of Jansenism, as a private tutor in Rouen.15 15 For biographical information, see Benoît De Baere, Trois introductions à l’abbé Pluche: sa vie, son monde, ses livres (Geneva: Droz, 2001). In contrast to the more famous eighteenth-century natural histories, written by members of the Académie des sciences such as Réaumur or Buffon, Pluche’s Spectacle de la nature served an explicitly didactic purpose. Instead of adding to the stock of knowledge, Pluche was concerned with disseminating it, particularly among the young (embodied by the chevalier) and, we can assume, female readers (embodied by the comtesse), so that the knowledge might be of use (‘de service’) to them. My argument that Pluche’s Spectacle de la nature is an exploration as well as an application of theories of government is informed by the framework of Michel Foucault’s investigations into what he saw as the transformation of the relationship between knowledge and power in the eighteenth century. Analysing texts on political economy from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Foucault concluded that a new form of power, centring not on the soul or on rational consent, but on the body, emerged over the course of this period. As he explained in a 1976 lecture at the Collège de France: [C]’est que, au xviie et au xviiie siècle, on a vu apparaître des techniques de pouvoir qui étaient essentiellement centrées sur le corps, sur le corps individuel. C’étaient toutes ces procédures par lesquelles on assurait la distribution spatiale des corps individuels (leur séparation, leur alignement, leur mise en série et en surveillance) et l’organisation, autour de ces corps individuels, de tout un champ de visibilité. C’étaient aussi ces techniques par lesquelles on prenait en charge ces corps, on essayait de majorer leur force utile par l’exercice, le dressage, etc.16 16 Michel Foucault, Il faut défendre la société: cours au collège de France (1975–1976), ed. by Mauro Bertani and Alessandro Fontana (Paris: Seuil, 1997), p. 215. As Foucault explains, the kind of power emerging in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was no longer focused on the figure of the sovereign, who had the right to demand his subjects’ death in the name of their own protection. With the emergence of ‘biopower’, the governed were no longer wilful subjects, but bodies whose desires and needs could not be fully controlled or suppressed. Hence, the task of government became one of managing life, so as to make individuals — now human bodies endowed with animal desires — as productive and useful as possible. The abbé de Saint-Pierre, for instance, in his Un projet pour perfectionner l’éducation, insisted that the task of government was to increase the resources of both state and individual, and to do so through the harnessing of the human body; this was possible only, he argued, if governors and educators took into account that men were fundamentally and by nature driven by the search for pleasure and the avoidance of pain.17 17 Charles Irenée Castel de Saint-Pierre, Projet pour perfectionner l’éducation: avec un discours sur la grandeur & la sainteté des hommes (Paris: chez Briasson, 1728). Foucault famously called this type of government — which continues to inform political theory and practice today — biopolitical.18 18 Michel Foucault, Histoire de la sexualité, i: La Volonté de savoir (Paris: Gallimard, 1976), p. 183. He presented biopolitical techniques of government focused on the management of bodily desires as an animalizing force: with disciplinary power, man becomes ‘un animal dans la politique duquel sa vie d’être vivant est en question’.19 19 Foucault, Histoire de la sexualité, i, 188. The phrase ‘animalizing force’ is used by Agamben, though in a slightly different sense than I am using here; see Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. by Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), p. 3. Despite the interest Foucault had shown in natural history in his Les Mots et les choses — particularly in the natural history of plants — he treats the field only very briefly in his later work on biopower and governmentality.20 20 Michel Foucault, Sécurité, territoire, population: cours au collège de France (1977–1978) (Paris: Gallimard, 2004), p. 80; Les Mots et les choses: une archéologie des sciences humaines (Paris: Gallimard, 1966). Though persuasive, the later Foucault’s general account of the shifts in theories and practices of power neglects observations of the natural world as a crucial source for these developments. This article, instead, will argue that research into the lives of non-human animals was used as an exploratory space for thinking through and testing knowledge about human bodies and their government. As the example of Pluche’s Spectacle de la nature shows, during the very period that Foucault designated as the origin of biopower, animal bodies became a crucial instrument for both exploring and disseminating ideas about how to harness the individual’s labour so that it would serve the ‘state’ (the founding question for eighteenth-century political economy).21 21 See Ann Firth, ‘From Oeconomy to “the Economy”: Population and Self-Interest in Discourses on Government’, History of the Human Sciences, 11 (1998), 19–35. It should also be noted that Pluche’s account did not teach his readers how to classify natural objects, thereby contradicting Foucault’s claim in Les Mots et les choses that natural things in the early modern period were understood to be related by common visible traits. The first volume of the Spectacle de la nature, which is my focus here, described not so much the visible, exterior characteristics of animals or plants that provided the basis for classificatory schemes; instead, its pages talk about living things. Humans, animals, and plants thus form part of an interrelated natural world in which every living body contributes productively to what some eighteenth-century commentators called the ‘oeconomy of nature’. Humans, in the Spectacle de la nature, are a kind of animal, even though they are endowed with souls; plants, too, are a kind of animals: ‘Ce sont des espéces d’animaux qui ne marchent pas à la vérité, mais qui se nourrissent, & qui deviennent peres d’une nombreuse postérité comme ceux qui marchent’ (i, 412). For Pluche, in other words, the fundamental characteristic of the living being, whether human, animal or plant, was its capacity to nourish and reproduce itself, thereby contributing to nature’s ‘oeconomic’ system. While plants are part of Pluche’s productive nature, however, he draws direct analogies only between human bodies and animals, from insects to elephants. Human bodies were (and are) difficult to observe and discipline; naturalists’ methods for observing animals, on the other hand, became increasingly sophisticated, enabling observers to ask questions they were unable to answer when observing humans. At a time when influential political economists began to refocus the question of government from ensuring the obedience of subjects to the management of their bodies, they frequently had recourse to the vocabulary used in descriptions of animals. The example of the Spectacle de la nature shows how animals were used to suggest ways of rendering bodies productive by feeding, as Pluche puts it, ‘selon leurs inclinations’ (i, 338) nature’s perfectly efficient labouring bodies. Within this vision of nature, all bodies contribute to the production of wealth and all depend on one another’s labour; this also applies to the noblemen who figure in the dialogues, as their task becomes one of managing the bodies of their subordinates. This vision of the relationship between natural and human bodies is illustrated, for instance, by Pluche’s hierarchical ordering of the animal kingdom. In the Spectacle de la nature, the noblest animal is no longer the tyrannical, idle lion, but the horse, with its ‘port noble’ and, most importantly, its willingness to serve its master because it is ‘sensible à cet honneur’ (i, 343).22 22 As John Shovlin discusses in detail, honour was seen as the fundamental motivating desire of aristocrats; Shovlin, ‘Toward a Reinterpretation of Revolutionary Antinobilism: The Political Economy of Honor in the Old Regime’, Journal of Modern History, 72 (2000), 35–66. As the example of the horse shows, the anthropomorphic language renders the analogies between hard-working animals and humans explicit, and instructs the reader as to which animals serve as models for, or illustrations of, which kinds of humans. Pluche’s horse, like the dialogues’ interlocutors, is noble and driven by its desire for honour. The donkey, on the other hand, with its ‘façon d’agir toute naïve & toute simple’ is compared to a peasant who, as long as his master sees to his modest needs, fulfils a range of important and difficult tasks (i, 353–57). While writers of treatises of political economy, concerned with the question of how to govern so as to increase the wealth of the state, used a vocabulary that could equally apply to soulless animals, a study of Pluche demonstrates that this worked the other way, too: observing the activities of animals would teach a political economy centred on the labouring bodies of both humans and animals. Most historians interested in the intersections between knowledge of nature and eighteenth-century theories and practices of political economy have focused on plants as natural resources to be mined, cultured, and traded across the globe (following the example set by Foucault in Les Mots et les choses).23 23 Crucial contributions can be found in Oeconomies in the Age of Newton, ed. by Margaret Schabas and Neil De Marchi (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003). As my reading of the Spectacle de la nature suggests, the natural history of animals, too, was an important testing ground for ideas on government based on the control, improvement, and visibility of bodies, though in a different way than described by historians of botany. Instead of viewing natural history solely as a tool for cataloguing and classifying resources for global market exchange, focusing on animals reminds us that natural history also played a crucial role in thinking about the labouring bodies responsible for extracting and harnessing resources. Through the study and observation of animals, eighteenth-century thinkers learnt how to make living and moving bodies visible and hence easier to survey and render productive. After all, as historians of economics insist, political economists of the early eighteenth century laid the groundwork for thinking of production rather than of commerce as the fundamental building block for the creation of wealth.24 24 See Gianni Vaggi and Peter Groenewegen, A Concise History of Economic Thought: From Mercantilism to Monetarism (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), pp. 3–8. Pluche’s Spectacle de la nature was, like many texts by mid-century political economists, not written for the benefit of government officials and state administrators, but for noble readers forging a role for themselves as crucial contributors to the wealth and prosperity of France.25 25 On the vogue for political economy among the lower and middle ranks of the nobility, see John Shovlin, The Political Economy of Virtue: Luxury, Patriotism, and the Origins of the French Revolution (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007). The book’s task, accordingly, was not to map strategies for organizing and exploiting subjects or natural resources, but to provide its readership with instructions on how they could render the bodies of those lower down the social hierarchy (and here we might include domestic animals) as productive as possible without external coercion, and so contribute to the country’s political economy by exercising their management functions. For Pluche, all parts of the natural and human worlds had a role to play in increasing prosperity.26 26 This becomes very clear not only in the volume on animals and plants, but also in volumes vi and vii, which address ‘l’homme en société’ and deal with a range of political economic questions from Colbertian policies to breastfeeding. In what follows, we shall see how Pluche uses the growing knowledge on animals for the purpose of forming productive human subjects. Cynthia Koepp argues that Pluche’s Spectacle de la nature should be read as an exemplary Enlightenment text championing the dignity of workers.27 27 Koepp, ‘Advocating for Artisans’. Pluche does indeed pay sustained attention to labouring bodies, both in the animal and human worlds, and praises them for their contributions to the common good. As Koepp shows, a consideration of his text, in the wider context of the contemporaneous recrafting of theories and practices of government, underlines that Pluche is advocating not only for artisans, but also for the management of their craft on the part of noble readers, in such a way as to increase the productivity of the craftspeople. It is worth pausing for a moment to remind ourselves of Pluche’s likely intended readership. Sentences such as the following, for instance, make it very clear that Pluche was writing not for artisans, but for those benefiting from their labour: ‘Nous devons donc estimer & trés réellement aimer l’humble artisan, dont le travail nous épargne des peines & nous fournit quelques-uns des soutiens de notre corps.’28 28 Pluche, Le Spectacle de la nature, ou, Entretiens sur les particularités de l’histoire naturelle, qui ont paru les plus propres à rendre les jeunes-gens curieux, & à leur former l’esprit, vi: Contenant ce qui regarde l’homme en société (Paris: Frères Estienne, 1770), p. 277. The young chevalier, as the embodiment of the ‘jeunes esprits’ addressed by the work’s subtitle, would, one day, take on the task of managing his father’s estates, including those artisans labouring under his service. Like most of the consumers of natural-historical works in the eighteenth century, he was part of the class of well-off landowners, members of the ‘beau monde’ who were not necessarily members of the nobility but could increasingly afford to buy noble titles.29 29 See Spary, ‘The “Nature” of Enlightenment’, pp. 280–81. The fundamental purpose of this new knowledge of the arts and crafts was, in short, to enable their masters to render the artisans more productive and consequently enjoy new ‘soutiens de corps’. As the prieur-curé points out in his praise of the donkey, noblemen such as the chevalier depended on the work of peasants and artisans just as the latter depended on the labour of the donkey; together, these human and animal bodies form ‘comme le nerf de la république, & le soutien de notre vie’ (i, 356). By describing animal bodies so carefully, Pluche could instil techniques of attentive observation, which made the labouring body and its activities visible and therefore open to improvement, control, and discipline.30 30 In his discussion of optics, Pluche similarly proposes the use of new optical instruments for the surveillance and improvement of labourers; see Pluche, Le Spectacle de la nature, ou, Entretiens sur les particularités de l’histoire naturelle, qui ont paru les plus propres à rendre les jeunes-gens curieux, & à leur former l’esprit. Première partie, contenant ce qui regarde l’homme considéré en lui-même, v (Paris: chez la veuve Estienne & fils, 1751), pp. 521–96. Given the importance of the production of wealth in Pluche’s political and natural economy, it is no wonder that he finds the natural world to be populated by hard-working animals. Projecting human ideas about ‘work’ onto animal bodies, and particularly its importance for the prosperity of the whole, he could subsequently conceptualize human work on the basis of what he had described in animals.31 31 This process is analysed in Lorraine Daston, ‘Attention and the Values of Nature in the Enlightenment’, in The Moral Authority of Nature, ed. by Lorraine Daston and Fernando Vidal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), pp. 100–26. Pluche’s practices of observation and description allowed him to teach his conception of government as if it were ‘natural’ and thus true; since these claims were hard to see in the human world, he turned to the much more visible lives of animals, and in particular of insects. Pluche’s natural theology — that is, his insistence on the idea that God had arranged nature in as orderly and productive a way as possible — thereby provided the rationale for using animals to explain the human world. Since God had created all living creatures, the arrangement of parts to form a harmonious whole — whether in the body of an individual animal, in animal societies, or in the wider balance of nature — could be used to prove the existence of a similarly harmonious order in other bodies: Vous êtes surprise, sans doute, de voir la nature si occupée de la parure & de l’équipage de guerre de ces insectes que nous méprisons. Votre surprise seroit toute autre, si vous examiniez en detail l’artifice des organes qu’elle leur a donnés pour vivre, & des outils avec lesquels ils travaillent tous selon leur profession. Car chacun d’eux a la sienne. Les uns savent filer & ont deux quenouilles, & des doigts pour façonner leur fil. […] Il y’en a qui travaillent en cire, & dont l’atelier est garni de ratissoires, de cuillieres & de truelles. (i, 9–10) Each insect had been given the anatomical features it needed to fulfil its role in God’s order of nature. Pluche’s anthropomorphic descriptions are not merely naïve remnants of an earlier way of viewing the world, but they indicate that nature’s basic order applies to all its inhabitants, from insect to human. Crucially, of course, nature’s driving force is work; without the ‘outils’ and ‘professions’ given to animal (or, by implication, human) workers, nature’s ‘oeconomic’ order would break down. While these insects resemble human artisans, this does not mean that the noble observers of either human or insect workers remain idle. At a time when political treatises increasingly decried noble idleness,32 32 For more on the debate on the dangers of noble idleness, see Istvan Hont, ‘The Early Enlightenment Debate on Commerce and Luxury’, in The Cambridge History of Eighteenth-Century Political Thought, ed. by Mark Goldie and Robert Wokler (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 379–418. Pluche’s description of a world in which all elements contribute productively to the prosperity of the whole offered a new role for France’s comtesses and chevaliers as active managers of labouring bodies and improvers of natural resources. It is no coincidence that the artisan-insects are the first animals described by the prieur-curé. Eight out of a total of fifteen entretiens in the first volume are concerned with insects (in the loose early eighteenth-century definition, which included, for example, arachnids and scorpions), even though the volume is dedicated to the entire animal and plant realms. Historians have thus far explained Pluche’s focus on insects and domestic animals (the two categories to which most animals in the dialogue on ‘Animaux terrestres’ belong) as the effect of his providential world view: these humble creatures, according to the most common line of argument, were useful to natural theologians such as Pluche because they allowed them to explain the wonders of God even in the seemingly insignificant.33 33 On insects, see Véronique Le Ru, ‘Pluche et la théologie des insectes’, in Écrire la nature au xviiie siècle, ed. by Gevrey, Boch, and Haquette, pp. 69–75. The most famous insects used for thinking through political economic ideas were, of course, Bernard Mandeville’s; his Fable of the Bees was also vigorously debated in France; see Elena Muceni, ‘Mandeville and France: The Reception of The Fable of the Bees in France and its Influence on the French Enlightenment’, French Studies, 69 (2015), 449–61. Pluche’s bestiary, however, is also a reaction against the focus on rare and exotic beasts in works such as Claude Perrault’s anatomy of animals at the Versailles menagerie.34 34 Claude Perrault, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire naturelle des animaux (Paris: Imprimerie royale, 1671). No species naturally lends itself to certain kinds of political meanings, of course, but rare birds, rhinoceroses, and lions had been over-determined by scholars in the seventeenth century who had emphasized their spectacular bodies and behaviours. As Peter Sahlins has argued, Louis XIV exhibited exotic animals at his menagerie in Versailles so that seventeenth-century courtiers could learn the correct social behaviour of the aristocracy and those aspiring to their ranks.35 35 Peter Sahlins, ‘The Royal Menageries of Louis XIV and the Civilizing Process Revisited’, French Historical Studies, 35 (2012), 237–67. See also Peter Sahlins, 1668: The Year of the Animal in France (New York: Zone Books, 2017). The tamed wild animals provided a model for the behaviour of the nobles who came to see them; it demonstrated that such a transformation was both plausible and desirable. Although naturalists outside of France, most notably Jan Swammerdam from the (republican) Netherlands, did publish important volumes on insects, the natural-historical programme of the Paris Académie des sciences, instituted by Louis’s minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, was heavily weighted towards ‘nobler’ beasts.36 36 See Anita Guerrini, The Courtiers’ Anatomists: Animals and Humans in Louis XIV’s Paris (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015). Pluche’s aim, of course, was not to tame aristocrats, but to render all of the crown’s subjects productive. In contrast to the pomp of the Sun King’s regime, encapsulated in the display of individual ‘spectacular’ beasts at the Versailles menagerie, Pluche’s Spectacle de la nature celebrates the everyday sight of insects, exhibited not individually but appearing in large, harmonious groups. These creatures featured so heavily because they were particularly suited for imparting techniques of making visible: most people, as the comte de Jonval laments, are so blinded by ‘le tumulte de Paris’ that they have become incapable of seeing ‘ce qui est beau & satisfaisant’: ‘le spectacle de la nature’ (i, 3–4). The most obvious example of this misdirected gaze, which was focused on the decadent entertainment of the city rather than on the useful natural world of the countryside, are insects, useful both as resources (such as bees, silkworms, or cochineal) and as lessons in self-disciplined labour. Pluche’s aim in teaching his readers how to observe natural bodies was not, of course, to create a new generation of professional naturalists; rather, he considered natural history a useful vehicle for the formation of citizens whose curiosity and willingness to be productive would help increase national wealth. As young readers of the Spectacle de la nature learned to be curious of the natural world, they also learned to find potentially useful purposes for natural objects.37 37 Réaumur, too, emphasized in his work on insects that the curious exploration of nature could lead to unexpected and useful discoveries: ‘Si on n’eût jamais observé les Chenilles, eût-on découvert celle qui fournit à tant d’arts & à tant de manufactures différentes?’; Réaumur, Mémoire pour servir à l’histoire des insectes, i (1734), p. 4. Pluche’s dialogues, then, supplied the moral training needed in order to increase individuals’ ‘productive force’, not through the external application of violence, but through the fostering of the individual’s useful passions.38 38 Pluche’s Spectacle de la nature could be cited as evidence for Albert O. Hirschman’s famous thesis of the reconception of the passions as a force to be harnessed rather than suppressed; see Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before its Triumph (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977). The comtesse describes the prieur-curé’s pedagogy thus: ‘Votre but étoit de le rendre curieux, parce que la curiosité est une passion agissante, qui ne sauroit demeurer oisive’ (i, 93). Through the observation of nature, in other words, young people such as the chevalier could develop not only factual knowledge but, more importantly, the desire to know in order to be productive. The idea that animals were flawless ‘oeconomists’, rather than spectacular models for court nobility, is echoed across the descriptions of the various species. The beaver, for example, attracted Pluche’s attention because of its elaborate social life: Ils s’associent au nombre de dix ou douze, ou quelque peu plus: tous bons amis & gens de connoissance, sur qui on peut compter pour passer agréablement l’hiver ensemble. Ils ont une, qui leur fait proportionner la place & les provisions aux besoins de la compagnie; & comme c’est un usage parmi eux de demeurer chacun chez soi sans jamais découcher, ils font point de dépense inutile pour des survenans. (i, 368) By including a description of the beaver, despite the fact that it did not fit Pluche’s own criteria of domestic, useful, or common animal, the author was following a tradition of beaver lore that goes back to the French presence in New France.39 39 See Gordon Sayre, ‘The Beaver as Native and a Colonist’, Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue canadienne de littérature comparée, 22 (1995), 659–82. One of the best-known texts emerging from and exploiting this tradition is Jean de La Fontaine’s ‘Discours à Mme de La Sablière’. And it is worth remembering that the fabulist was an avid visitor of the Versailles menagerie: Chaque Castor agit; commune en est la tâche; Le vieux y fait marcher le jeune sans relâche. Maint maître d’œuvre y court, et tient haut le bâton. La république de Platon Ne serait rien que l’apprentie De cette famille amphibie. Ils savent en hiver élever leurs maisons, Passent les étangs sur des ponts, Fruit de leur art, savant ouvrage; Et nos pareils ont beau le voir, Jusqu’à présent tout leur savoir, Est de passer l’onde à la nage.40 40 Jean de La Fontaine, ‘Discours à Mme de La Sablière’, in Fables, ed. by Alain-Marie Bassy and Yves Le Pestipon (Paris: Flammarion, 1995), p. 290. Although both Pluche’s and La Fontaine’s beavers work together in order to build their elaborate homes, and although both of their descriptions might strike us as anthropomorphic fables, these two descriptions differ in crucial ways. La Fontaine’s poetic animal is an artist, and its dam is a beautiful product of its ‘art’. What is more, the beaver of the Fables is a model of obedience, both to the older citizens of its republic and to its ‘maître d’œuvre’ (an accolade, we might infer, attributed to its best artists). Pluche’s beavers, on the other hand, are ‘amis’, distinguished not by their artistic merits, but their ‘arithmétique naturelle’; they are ‘oeconomists’, producing and consuming their resources as efficiently as possible, so that no ‘dépense inutile’ is made. While in La Fontaine’s poem, the beaver society is organized hierarchically, in Pluche’s version all animals are equally considered as productive contributors to their ‘compagnie’. Pluche, in short, depicts animal societies as utopian spaces where each individual takes pleasure in working and producing constantly for the benefit of the common good. In an aside on weavers, which is inserted into the description of the (hard-working and tirelessly weaving) spider, Pluche renders explicit how knowledge of animal bodies might help discipline (male) human bodies. Having learned the basics of natural-historical observation, the chevalier is ready to apply them to human workers; this being so, his tutor invites him to a weavers’ workshop so that he can observe the artisans at work. Explaining the success of his pedagogical method through the example of his former pupil the comtesse’s son, the tutor outlines the young comte’s curriculum. In the mornings, the tutee would study ‘la Physique, ou les plus belles parties de la nature’; in the afternoons, he would visit one workshop after the other: [S]e faisant une affaire très-sérieuse de saisir le véritable objet, & la méthode la plus estimable de chaque metier. Il suivoit un tireur d’or, un imprimeur, un horloger, & un teinturier des quinze jours & trois semaines: il donnoit autant au menuisier & au serrurier, encore plus au charpentier. Il ne quittoit point son homme, qu’il ne l’eût vû dans toutes les entreprises de sa profession. La vûe réitérée des mêmes ouvrages, les entretiens naïfs des ouvriers, les éloges ou les plaintes des maîtres, les difficultés, les précautions, les remarques des acheteurs, lui rendoient chaque métier & chaque art familier […]. Il connoît les noms & l’usage des outils: il sait quelles sont les matières que les ouvriers employent, les pays d’où on les tire, les marques de leur bonne ou mauvaise qualité, & le prix qu’elles valent de la première ou de la seconde main. Il sait discerner la main d’ouvrier, & faire une juste différence d’un ouvrage solide & de bon goût, d’un ouvrage brillant, & fait à la légère. Un ouvrier fripon ne le trompera pas: mais il sait aussi rendre justice à l’ouvrage d’un habile maître. (i, 91–92) This description of the prieur-curé’s pedagogical aims and methods is worth quoting in full here because it highlights both the close connection between the practices of observing natural bodies (such as that of the spider) and human bodies, and their usefulness for maximizing the labouring bodies’ productivity. Just as the prieur-curé had instructed his students, over the course of the first three entretiens on insects, the comte had learnt to observe animals and therefore, according to the Spectacle de la nature, men. The emphasis on the visual (‘qu’il ne l’eût vû’; ‘la vûe réitérée’) is combined with a focus on details (each of the worker’s tools and materials), so that the observer can grasp not the labour process as a whole, but only its most efficient version (‘le véritable objet, & la méthode la plus estimable’). Just as the spectacle of the animal body had been stripped down to its visible, essential details, so the labouring process was made observable, that is, controllable, by first attentively observing and then reducing it to its most essential steps, instruments, and materials. Having learnt to observe insects and beavers attentively, the chevalier was ready to observe and manage his employees so that they would be productive in the service of the community. In line with his re-appraisal of lowly tasks as fundamental to the order and prosperity of the commonwealth, Pluche places great emphasis on the domestic and particularly reproductive activities of female — animal as well as human — bodies. These tasks, like any other activity, are deemed important insofar as they can be considered labour benefiting the community as a whole. Just as with the male artisans and labourers, the female workers populating the pages of the Spectacle de la nature follow perfectly regimented working days, designed to render their bodies as (re)productive and as ‘useful’ as possible to both the family and the community as a whole. With the descriptions of female animals and their supposedly ‘natural’ roles in the lives and reproduction of their species, Pluche’s choice of bestial subjects is significant. It is certainly no coincidence that he focused on domestic, or at least ordinary, animals, just as theorists increasingly emphasized women’s roles as mothers on the one hand and managers of the household on the other. The Spectacle de la nature, it seems, uses domestic animals to discipline — or domesticate — women. Pluche’s descriptions of the supposedly ‘natural’ labours of females provided support for the idea that the main function of the female body was to labour for the reproduction of her community. This is evident, for instance, in the attention the author pays to a previously despised creature: the wasp. In earlier periods, when naturalists and moralists looked at insects they were above all interested in the honeybee, considering its hive to be a model for the organization of monarchy: the hive had gentle kings (it was not until the seventeenth century that the gender of the chief bee had been confirmed to be female) and loyal, obedient subjects.41 41 See Jonathan Woolfson, ‘The Renaissance of Bees’, Renaissance Studies, 24 (2010), 281–300. Until the work of Swammerdam, wasps had attracted comparatively little scholarly attention and were discussed mostly in relation to bees. As the Dutch observer claimed in his anatomical and behavioural work on social insects, wasps’ social organization did not lend itself to the discovery of natural models of the ideal sovereign, ‘for these insects suffer many females at once in the nest’.42 42 Jan Swammerdam, The Book of Nature, or the History of Insects, trans. by Thomas Flloyd, 2 vols (London: Seyffert, 1758), p. 190. Pluche, however, like the theorists of government writing at the same time, is much less interested in the figure of the sovereign than he is in the labouring bodies producing sustenance and offspring for the hive as a whole. Wasps were decried in medieval and early modern bestiaries as the enemies of the noble honeybees. Charles Butler, in his treatise The Feminine Monarchy (1609), for instance, concludes his examination of the ferocious wasp with the counsel, ‘[w]herefore, if you love your Bees, suffer not a Waspes nest about you’.43 43 Charles Butler, The Feminine Monarchie, or the Historie of Bees: Shewing Their Admirable Nature, and Properties, Their Generation, and Colonies, Their Government, Loyaltie, Art, Industrie, Enemies, Warres, Magnamimitie, &c. Together with the Right Ordering of Them from Time to Time: And the Sweet Profit Arising Thereof (Oxford: Joseph Barnes, 1609), Chapter 1 [unpaginated]. The prieur-curé, by contrast, promises his listeners that they will find a world full of wonders (he insists that these are observable, which means ‘true’, or ‘sans mélange de mensonge’; i, 122).44 44 The description of the wasps is accompanied by three large plates, which further underlines the importance of this animal for the aims of the Spectacle de la nature. Although the prieur-curé does mention the wasps’ brutality and their habit of stealing bees’ produce, their ‘industrie’ and ‘police’ redeem the insects and turn them into a worthy subject for his teaching. The attribution of ‘police’ to wasps is worth dwelling on briefly here as a particularly telling case of naturalizing ideas of government. As historians have outlined, the word ‘police’ in the eighteenth century carried a far broader meaning than it does today.45 45 Vincent Milliot, L'Admirable police: Tenir Paris au siècle des Lumières (Ceyzérieu: Champ Vallon, 2016); Marc Raeff, ‘The Well-Ordained Police State and the Development of Modernity in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Europe: An Attempt at a Comparative Approach’, American Historical Review, 80 (1975), 1221–43. The anonymous author of the Encyclopédie article ‘Police’, for example, notes that the administrative forces of the ‘police’ were responsible for the organization and ordering of almost all aspects of individual as well as communal life: ‘la religion, les mœurs, la santé, les vivres, la sûreté, la tranquillité, la voirie, les Sciences & arts libéraux; le commerce, les manufactures & arts méchaniques, les domestiques, manœuvres & pauvres’.46 46 ‘Police’, in Encyclopédie, ou, Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, par une société de gens de lettres, ed. by Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond D’Alembert, 28 vols (Paris: Briasson, David, Le Breton, Durand, 1751–72), xii (1765), p. 905. To state that wasps have a ‘police’ is to present their communal life as consisting of a series of perfectly regulated details; every wasp in the hive contributes to the (re)productivity of the hive as a whole.47 47 As Foucault put it in his analysis of the eighteenth-century police, it manages everything so as to ‘faire croître les forces de l’État tout en maintenant le bon ordre de cet État’ (Foucault, Sécurité, territoire, population, p. 304). In wasps, the chevalier (and the readers) could observe the workings of a ‘natural’ — and consequently flawless — police in action. In the wasp hive described by Pluche, two different models of government are at play, one embodied by the females and one by the males and neuters. The bodies of the female wasps, described as ‘mères de famille’ rather than as queens, are completely driven by their reproductive functions.48 48 Dror Wahrman has argued that the shift to naming the egg-laying bee signified a shift in the role of women in the late eighteenth century; Pluche’s discussion precedes the texts discussed by Wahrman, but similarly emphasizes women’s role as mothers. See Wahrman, ‘On Queen Bees and Being Queens: A Late-Eighteenth-Century “Cultural Revolution”?’, in The Age of Cultural Revolutions: Britain and France, 1750–1820, ed. by Colin Jones and Dror Wahrman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), pp. 251–80. Tasked not only with laying eggs and nurturing the young, the wasp mothers also fulfil the role of police in order to ensure the survival of their hive. Each of her tasks is carried out, as the prieur-curé describes, with the greatest possible efficiency, including even the necessary killing of her own offspring before the winter because she would be unable to feed them, and ‘on ne veut plus se charger d’un travail inutile’ (i, 135–36). The female wasp has no desires of her own but works as a tireless and efficient reproductive machine. In his description of the insects, the chevalier notes the comparatively privileged status of wasp mothers (called ‘mères’ rather than ‘reines’) within the hive: ‘Je trouve que la condition de mère est bien douce dans ce pays-là’. His tutor, though conceding that they receive ‘tous les bons mets, toutes les attentions des maris’, points out that unlike the other members of the hive they labour tirelessly: Elles ont un terrible ménage à conduire. Tant d’œufs à pondre, tant de petits à nourrir: aller sans cesse d’étage en étage, & de chambre en chambre, visiter tout le monde, & recommencer sans fin le même travail, sans sortir du logis. (i, 137) Their hard work is essential for the functioning of the hive and sympathy for them would be misplaced. After all, the wasp mother’s entire being is directed towards the purpose her work fulfils in the hive, which is, of course, that of procreation. As the chevalier explains, underlining the ‘natural’ conjunction between motherhood and female bodies, her body is perfectly adapted to this task: while all other wasps die before the winter, wasp mothers’ bodies are built to resist the cold, so they can survive and rebuild the hive once spring returns (i, 136). The male and sterile wasps, on the other hand, although they also contribute to the productivity of the hive, are said to possess more freedom, and even their own desires. The male wasp is allowed to ‘play’ before it goes on to ‘faire sa cour à la reine’, while the neuters, responsible for collecting the pollen, ‘vont chercher leur vie’ and ‘voyagent en liberté’ (i, 135). Interestingly, in the dialogue on the wasp, the comtesse is absent because she has to look after her household while her two male guests discuss the female wasp’s tasks alone. Like the wasp mothers, other female animals in the Spectacle de la nature appear to be destined to ensure the reproduction of their ‘families’; everything in their bodily ‘oeconomies’ (the term referred to the organization of bodies as well as of societies) and behaviours is geared towards this duty. Even the brutal spider, whose capacity to pierce a wasp’s body is described in gruesome detail (i, 108), is shown to possess an inborn love for her young: ‘sa tendresse pour ses petits’ means that to protect them, ‘elle y passe tous les jours & les nuits’ (i, 111). The spider is even presented as a perfect housekeeper, as she ensures that her home is in order, but without wasting her time and efforts: Elle ôte de tems en tems la poussière qui chargeroit trop sa toile: elle balaye le tout en y donnant une secousse d’un coup de patte: mais elle pèse ce qu’elle fait; & elle mesure si bien la force du coup, qu’elle ne rompt rien. (i, 102) The spider becomes a perfectly ‘oeconomic’ actor, in the eighteenth-century sense of the measured and orderly management of the household and its resources.49 49 ‘Oeconomie. s.f. L’ordre, la regle qu’on apporte dans la conduite d’un menage, dans la dépense d’une maison. Avoir de l’oeconomie. entendre l’oeconomie. vivre avec oeconomie. avec une grande oeconomie. il a de l’oeconomie dans sa dépense. il n’a point d’oeconomie’; ‘Oeconomie’, Dictionnaire de l’Académie française (Paris: Vve J. B. Coignard et J. B. Coignard, 1694), p. 140. In Pluche’s model of the ‘oeconomy’, women played a crucial role as labourers in the households: by applying anthropomorphic vocabulary to the descriptions of female insects, Pluche could make his own vision of the household economy appear to be rooted in nature. Pluche’s bestiary of ordinary animals was just as much of a civilizing instrument as the rare and exotic animals of the Versailles menagerie. Like Louis XIV’s menagerie, as analysed by Sahlins, Pluche’s insects and useful beasts served to teach readers and onlookers the ‘repression of biological drives’ and the suppression of ‘aggression and affect’.50 50 Sahlins, ‘The Royal Menageries of Louis XIV and the Civilizing Process Revisited’, p. 255. The Spectacle de la nature, however, unlike its seventeenth-century bestial forebears, did not offer instructions to a privileged few who were looking for and at models of civilized courtly behaviour. (In order to visit the menagerie, subjects needed a special letter of recommendation.) Instead, the wasps, asses, and beavers we have encountered in this article served to highlight the importance of the bodies of less noble but productive bodies so that they would, one day, contribute to the wealth of their state. At the same time, the Spectacle de la nature offered a new and useful role for its noble readers as managers of the work of others. In instructing his readers to see the contribution of animals to the productivity of both their own societies and of the natural world as a whole, Pluche’s bestseller contributed to the formation and dissemination of a conception of government based not on the immaterial soul and the absolute obedience to the sovereign on the part of loyal subjects, but on the productivity of the body of noble, curious managers and of ceaselessly productive artisans and labourers. Accordingly, his continued popularity over the course of the eighteenth century was not only ensured by his ability to marry religion and knowledge of nature, but also by the continued relevance of his behavioural models to Enlightenment theories of government. In Pluche’s presentation of the spectacle of nature, animal and human bodies, men and women, and the natural and social worlds are all interconnected to form one ceaselessly productive and prosperous whole. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: email@example.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
French Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jun 4, 2018
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