François-Vincent Toussaint  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

François-Vincent Toussaint (1715, Paris - 1772) was a French writer most famous for Les Mœurs (The Manners). The book was published in 1748 and immediately prosecuted and burned by the French court of justice.

He contributed to the first volumes of the Encyclopédie of Jean le Rond d'Alembert and Denis Diderot. With the latter and Marc-Antoine Eidous he had worked before on the French translation of Dr. Robert James's A Medicinal Dictionary, London, 1743-1745, fol. 3 vols to Dictionnaire universel de medicine, Paris, 1746-1748, fol. 6 vols.

Besides writing he was a novelist, proof reader, project maker, a publisher of magazines and a translator. He translated Tobias Smollett's The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle and composed the table of contents for a 1749 edition of L'Esprit des Lois (The Spirit of the Laws) by Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu.

He was a trained lawyer, yet always involved in the booktrade. He had luck when Les Mœurs came out, because he was acquainted with the minister of the Navy, Maurepas. The book was a scandal (and a huge success, reprinted 13 times in the very first year) for several reasons, including a character depicted in it which was believed to depict the oversanctimonious queen Marie Leszczynska.

It was only in 1757 that Toussaint got into trouble over his book. This was the period when Robert Damiens attempted to assassinate Louis XV of France. On the other hand, Claude Adrien Helvétius legally published his book De l'Esprit in 1758. It was then that the enemies of the Enlightenment saw their chance to destroy the hated Encyclopédists. This was the moment when Les Mœurs came to be regarded as a book that could lead to regicide. Also Toussaint illegally sold 400 exemplaires of an illegal reprint of De l'Esprit.

He left for Brussels, and in 1764 moved to Berlin. He had become external member of the Prussian Academy of Science in 1751, but now he was appointed proper member. He published an Éclaircissement (Explanation) of his book Les Mœurs in 1763, in which he showed that every one was mistaken and the book was not at all offensive. Besides that he worked as a teacher in Frederick II of Prussias newly founded military school.

When he died in 1772, he was quite poor, leaving behind a wife and several children.

As for Les Mœurs, even if it were his biggest success, he felt sorry for having written it almost all his life. Parts of the book were re-used in several articles of the Encyclopédie.


A short summary is to be found in

  • The Encyclopedists as individuals: a biographical dictionary of the authors of the Encyclopédie by Frank A. Kafker and Serena L. Kafker. Published 1988 in the Studies of Voltaire and the Eighteenth century. ISBN 0-7294-0368-8

It is basically an excerpt of a more extended discussion, the unpublished thesis of

  • Margaret Elinor Adams: François Vincent Toussaint: Life and Works. Dissertation, Boston University Graduate School 1966.

She also corrects lots of flaws and errors in the other bigger research on Toussaint by

  • Toussaint, François-Vincent: Anecdotes curieuses de la cour de France sous la régne de Louis XV. Texte original publié pour la première fois avec une notice et des annotations par Paul Fould. Paris: Plon 1905.

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