The Genesis of Émilie Du Châtelet’s Institutions de Physique:
From the Paris Manuscript (1738–40) to the Printed Editions (1740, 1742)
It is widely agreed that in the Institutions de Physique, Du Châtelet innovatively combines metaphysics and physics, creating a work that is not merely a textbook on natural philosophy, but makes important contributions to the philosophy of science. Moreover, the considerable influence of this work on later Enlightenment thinkers, both in France and abroad, is well documented. Nevertheless, no historical-critical edition of this work as yet exists. The DFG-funded online historical-critical edition of the Paris manuscripts of the Institutions de Physique will fill this gap, making early and alternative versions of this important text freely available to the public.
Through precise text-critical analysis of the complex layers of revision in the manuscript, as well as in the ensuing printed editions of 1740 and 1742, the edition reveals significant additions and alterations in content, as well as illuminating Du Châtelet’s methods and ways of working. Each major stage in the complex revision of individual chapters appears in the critical edition as a separate version, while finer-grained revisions are represented in a variant apparatus. Because the Institutions frequently refers to texts and authors that are no longer well known, the edition includes a concise substantive commentary aimed at providing useful historical information to better enable working with the text. In sum, the edition makes manifest Du Châtelet’s evolving theoretical position, which conjoins metaphysics, epistemology, physics, and the philosophy of science. And it allows readers to retrace how she gradually worked out the relationship of her own independent views to the ideas of predecessors such as Leibniz, Newton, and Wolff.
Our aim is to make the products of our editorial work in progress accessible as soon as possible. The semi-diplomatic transcriptions (see below: Textual Criticism and Transcription Conventions) and the variants will thus be published online step by step and chapter by chapter, so that the scholarly community will be able to refer to them even at an early stage of our editorial work. This will hopefully encourage further scholarly discussion. A reader-friendly version of the edition, adapted to modern French, will be provided at a later stage of the project.
This edition is funded for two years, at the end of which the complete Institutions de Physique, from the manuscript versions to the printed publications (1740, 1742), will have been fully edited in a thorough and accurate historical-critical edition. Apart from the online publication of the edition, a printed publication will be provided as well.
Emilie Du Châtelet’s Institutions de Physique underwent a complex series of revisions. Many of these revisions take place within the manuscript that is presented here. But this edition also allows for comparison between the manuscript and three later versions: a partial set of page proofs from 1740, the Paris edition of the Institutions published later that year, and the Amsterdam edition published in 1742.
This edition documents revisions to the text in two main ways. In some cases, the manuscript contains what amount to multiple versions of the same chapter. In these cases, we include both versions in the main text.
There are also many finer-grained revisions. These levels of revision are represented not in the main text but in the variant apparatus, with precise references to the main text. The variant apparatus also allows for comparison between the manuscript and the three later versions of the text mentioned above, by tracking how passages in the Institutions were revised after Du Châtelet completed the manuscript.
For each chapter, we denote the order in which the variants and versions were revised by a series of manuscript numbers. For example, manuscript 1 of Chapter 1 denotes the earliest variant or version of that chapter in the manuscript, manuscript 2 denotes the next variant or version, and so on. This system of ordering manuscripts is detailed in introductory notes to each chapter.
The edition reproduces, as much as possible, the structure that Du Châtelet intended. Note that this is not always the same as the order in which the manuscript itself is paginated. Because the manuscript was often heavily revised, in many cases later versions do not follow the order of pages. To take a common example: when a particular variant reaches the end of a page, rather than continuing on the next page of the manuscript, a special reference symbol may be included by the author; the symbol refers to a different page where the variant continues. These cases are documented in the textual notes.
The edition makes use of three numbering systems for sheets and pages. The first is based on our count of the number of sheets that appear in the manuscript. The second follows a series of sheet numbers that runs throughout the manuscript, and may be a later addition from an archivist. Third, we find additional numberings of pages (sides of sheets) that typically start at the beginning of a chapter. It is to these numbers that Du Châtelet typically refers in the text. However, these chapter-specific numberings are incomplete. The manuscript includes, for example, various smaller sheets that are unnumbered.
Another important structural feature of the text is that Du Châtelet typically wrote in a two-column format. Often, the left column on a page is written first, with additions and corrections (if any) in the right column. In the transcription, this feature of the text is represented by two kinds of symbol for line breaks. A single stroke (‘|’) designates a line break in text in the left margin; a double stroke (‘||’) designates a line break in the margin in which parts of the main text are revised or corrected.
Finally, the manuscript contains many notes, usually in the margins, that were not intended as part of any version or variant of the text. For example, Du Châtelet may note questions about what she has written, with an eye to future revisions. Such notes appear not in the variant apparatus, but in separate textual notes which also describe other characteristics of the notes, such as their location on the page.
This online edition makes the text available in two transcription formats. First, to convey the details of the original manuscript accurately, we provide a semi-diplomatic transcription with a supporting text-critical apparatus. Second, for ease of reading, we will provide a modernized transcription in a later stage of the project.
The transcription is semi-diplomatic in that it modernizes the text only in certain ways. Capitalization at beginning of sentences, and periods at ends of sentences, are supplied when necessary. Certain consistent features of hands are silently amended. For example, when a ‘v’ follows a ‘u’ within a word, Du Châtelet’s hand often writes as if there were two consecutive ‘u’s; this is amended in the transcription. As an example in context, ‘mouvoir’ at line 169 of the Avant-Propos resembles ‘mouuoir’ as written.
Spacing between words is somewhat standardized. Longer gaps between words are not reproduced. Nor are spaces that have been inserted (or filled with dashes) merely to avoid a line break or to keep columns justified. Inkblots, false starts, and tildes used to imply omitted letters are not included in the transcription.
Furthermore, because of the structure of the edition, Du Châtelet’s strikethroughs are omitted. Instead, text that has been struck through is treated as an earlier variant or version. Similarly, interlineal text is usually not explicitly noted, since it is typically part of a variant or version.
The semi-diplomatic transcription makes use of typographic conventions for indicating the hand or format of the relevant part of the original manuscript. Institutions de Physique ms. 12265 is a hybrid manuscript: it was written in multiple hands, and some of it is not handwritten at all, but consists of printed proof sheets. In the semi-diplomatic transcription’s main text, text from printed proof sheets is distinguished in italics. The multiple hands however, will be denoted in the introduction to each chapter as soon as other hands apart from that of Du Châtelet are identified.
In other respects, however, the transcription is diplomatic in reproducing many of the characteristics of the original manuscript. All original spellings are reproduced, including Du Châtelet’s common practice of omitting letters from words which is meant to be appreviations. Examples include ‘vs’ for ‘vous,’ ‘pr’ for ‘pour, ‘mouvemt’ for ‘mouvement,’ and (in a different hand) ‘coe’ for ‘comme.’ Some hands in the manuscript write initial or terminal ‘i’ as ‘j,’ and this has been reproduced in the transcription. The portions of the manuscript in Du Châtelet’s hand frequently omit spaces between words, and this is also reproduced in the semi-diplomatic transcription. We retain original superscripts, as well as ligatures used in the printed portions of the manuscript.
Editorial notes on spelling and related issues appear in the text-critical apparatus. Where the manuscript is indecipherable, or read conjecturally, the main text is enclosed in roman-text square brackets.
In addition to the variant apparatus, text-critical apparatus, and textual notes, the edition includes a concise substantive commentary on the manuscript. The aim of the commentary is to provide useful information for working with the text, rather than to give a detailed interpretation of substantive issues, such as, for example, how important Descartes, Newton, Leibniz, or Wolff might have been for Du Châtelet.
The commentary includes full references for quotations appearing in the manuscript, and (when possible) original texts corresponding to Du Châtelet’s paraphrases (if identified as such). Also provided in the commentary are brief biographical information on figures mentioned in the manuscript or on cultural, medical and other conventions that for the reader might be difficult to understand. An example is Du Châtelet’s mention of “quinquina,” or china-bark, in the earlier versions of the Avant-Propos.
Du Châtelet, E. The Paris Ms 12.265. A Critical and Historical Online Edition (2021-2022). Edited by Ruth E Hagengruber, Jil Muller, Hanns-Peter Neumann, Aaron Wells.