Bernardin de Saint-Pierre project

4. Principles of the edition

In this edition we present all known letters to and from Bernardin de Saint-Pierre exactly as they were written by the correspondents of the day. We follow the spelling, punctuation and format, regardless of any errors and inconsistencies.

The letters raise certain difficulties for the transcriber, especially the rough drafts of Bernardin’s own letters held in the Municipal Library of Le Havre. Occasionally, the use of majuscules among other correspondents also causes problems in that it is unclear whether a letter is indeed a capital or not. However, our aim is to transcribe everything as faithfully as possible, even though the results may seem odd. Very rarely we correct the original text in order to make the sense clearer, although we always draw attention to any corrections made.


We have adopted certain conventions to make the task of the reader easier. We work chiefly by means of digitized images of the manuscripts. For this reason we number the folios of the libraries of Le Havre and the Paris Institute in a particular way: every second ‘page’ of a letter is numbered, whether or not the recto/verso designation is a genuine one. We have taken the decision to treat the page that is numbered as the recto and the page that follows as the verso, even though, because of the layout adopted by some correspondents, the verso may simply be a second column of writing on the same side. Any useful information added by archivists on the first page of a letter is recorded, but this practice is not continued for subsequent pages as it would not enhance our understanding of the letter. For similar reasons, we do not record details of official stamps, libraries or archives. For the majority of letters, the reader can access such information by visiting the Le Havre or Institute websites where the digitized images are held. Reference numbers for the images accompany each edited letter, allowing the reader to view the images on the sites.

An electronic edition

From the outset this substantial correspondence was conceived as an electronic edition, being part of the Electronic Enlightenment (EE) project at Oxford’s Voltaire Foundation. As a consequence, the reader has at his/her disposal the search facilities offered by EE, allowing searches to be perfomed on names, places, themes and works cited by the correspondents.

Our aim in the carefully composed annotations is to provide whatever useful information we can, however the great advantage of an electronic edition is that it can be designed with a capacity for development. Further letters will doubtless be discovered; further information will allow us to enhance or modify our notes, and we appeal to the academic community of both the present and future to become involved and to get in touch so that, one day, we might dare to call our correspondence ‘definitive’. (Please contact Malcolm Cook, director of the team.)


This introduction allows us to make a number of acknowledgements. Without the assistance of the British Academy for a period of over ten years, beginning in 1992, we would neither have been able to pursue this work nor be in sight of the end. We are indeed very grateful. We also thank the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for providing funds that have allowed us to employ research assistants, to visit archives and to meet regularly as a team, an essential part of an enterprise such as this. Money from the Modern Humanities Research Association has paid for a research assistant to work on the letters of Mesnard de Conichard, a major correspondent of Bernardin, and we are grateful to them for this. We are likewise grateful for the help we have received from the many librarians, especially those at the Municipal Library in Le Havre, where most of Bernardin’s manuscripts are held, together with those at the library of the Institute in Paris, which holds the manuscripts of Bernardin’s most important correspondent Pierre-Michel Hennin. It is thanks to these two libraries that we have been able to microfilm the manuscripts and then digitize the films to allow our whole team access to the letters. This latter task has been carried out by Paul Ellison of the Computer Services Department at Exeter University, and we express our wholehearted gratitude to him.

I am grateful, of course, to all members of the team who have worked on this edition and whose names appear on these project pages. I thank also our publisher, the Voltaire Foundation, without whose help this edition would not have progressed to where it is today.

Malcolm Cook
November 2007

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