(texts assembled by Fanny Cosandey, Paris: Editions de l'Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales, 2005)
Is there a correlation between erudition and epistemological doubt? The historians of society have undergone several crises of doubt about their methods and work since the 1940s. There was a golden age when, if the parameters of a class could be established, there was general confidence, if not quite certitude, in the conclusions. Marxist sociology, and other functionalist social-scientific approaches, framed the conclusions supported by statistical data. Unstated in this golden age were two powerful presuppositions. The first is that the accumulation of wealth in one or another group or class would inevitably have political consequences. The wealth-power nexus, in its broad axiomatic status, rests at the heart of Aristotle's Politics. From there, it was only a small step to rising bourgeoisies and declining aristocracies. The second is that legal systems, private law (especially regarding marriage and the transmission of property), and fiscal administrations are manifestations of, or expressions of wealth-distribution among classes and/or social groups.
Boldly stated, these points seem highly acceptable, even true, as first principles. How could any historian fall into doubt about the truth of social history, if the latter was grounded on these principles? It is at this point that Fanny Cosandey's erudition comes into play. She narrates briefly the Labrousse-Mousnier standoff. The debate about ordres versus classes raised so many questions that younger generations of historians in France turned to other questions and approaches. More senior research students turned out remarkable theses in part social history , but often reaching way beyond what had come to be defined. Daumard's chapters on the bourgeois household, on child-rearing, and on moral values go way beyond what Labrousse ever conceived of as social history, just as Yves-Marie Bercé and René Pillorget in their theses on the Périgourdins and the Provençaux went way beyond Mousnier.
But research in social history collapsed, in addition, because of that strong positivist impulse in French culture. Some new theme, some new jargon, or a whole unexplored area, attracted such scholars as Michel Vovelle, Maurice Agulhon, and Denis Richet going way beyond social history but not losing sight of its fundamental significance.
Mousnier's late emphasis on Fidélités, something akin to clientage as developed in ancient and British history (Syme, Neale, and Namier) was perhaps the one big branch on the old social-history tree that ought to have been inspiring (see Sharon Kettering's work); but perhaps it was too close to the ways French society actually works, particularly in the universities, to inspire a new social-political history. Only with Katia Beguin and Marie-Estelle Gordien did these possibilities become realized, that is, a whole generation later. Cosandey notes the plethora of Pyrrhonist critiques that were still being leveled at the older work, while newer approaches such as micro-history and reseau-study did not seem to satisfy the yearning for a more general conceptual framework that could be called social history. The same might be said for the restated corporatist approaches from the 1930s (Emile Lousse and François Olivier-Martin), since a very large percentage of the population simply did not have corporatist identities.
The essentialism underpinning social history Mousnier's ordres as much as Labrousse on class was that the whole person was defined or characterized by the ascribed term. Scepticism was shrill and devastating, even while alternatives were proposed; but none replied to the collapse of this essentialism. Cosandey explores various largely philosophical propositions (my former colleague and friend, Marvin Harris, and Boltanski and Thévenot, and even Wittgenstein!), but no one could put Humpty Dumpty together again.
Consandey mentions Michel Foucault in a note. His work was not only a critique of the old essentialism, it also offered a Nietzschean, very categorical ontology, framed by a critique of state power. An anarchism of the Right? In established institutions there was no Aristotelian fulfilment for the individual. The emphasis on victims and humanity displaced the functionalist sociology at a time when the social vocabulary congruent with them became mentally associated with Stalinism. The collective ecstatic moment in France, in support of Solidarity in Poland, helped to legitimate a new politics (trying to recover the 1830s) and, surprise, political history!
Quite predictably, a debate over the origins and "nature" or "character" of the French Revolution brought the already shaky social history into further doubt. A social interpretation of the French Revolution became almost impossible, as François Furet and Pierre Chaunu (not in the same ways) restored power to discourse. Parenthetically, there were moments when both historians were as categorical about interpreting the Revolution as Mousnier and Labrousse had been about orders and classes! So, is all this the elephant in the room that Cosandey declines to notice? Her summary of criticisms and new approaches in social history is interesting, and no doubt accurate; but it is doubtful that these reached far beyond the seminars of the E.H.E.S.S. For the Revolution, Roger Chartier's formulations about cultural history gained wide acceptance, but they did not include a new social history.
A few minor points: the "culture de l'honnête homme," or civilités, did, in certain specific social sites, suspend or at least weaken social hierarachy (p. 27). To be sure. This is Humanist culture in its essence the worlds of Erasmus, Vives, Della Casa, Castiglione, and all their readers and commentators. But civility may also be used by individuals, corps, and groups, to enforce social difference and hierarchy. I am much more on the side of Irving Goffman here, as I tried to show in an article published on courtesy in the Journal of Modern History in 1980 (see Claude Fleury's Devoir des domestiques). But see the excellent volume edited by Daniela Ramagnoli, La Ville et la Cour ... (Paris: Fayard, 1995).
In this stimulatingly philosophical essay, it might have been useful to explore just what is meant by title and titulaire in the Ancien Régime. When Prion d'Aubais, secretary to the Marquis d'Aubais, is asked by his master to prepare a meal, he muses that he has become a cuisinier en titre. While it is correct to stress the avant-noms (modes of address) and titles recorded by notaries, it could be useful to explore just how much a notary could go beyond recording what was stated before him. Jean-Paul Poisson's studies of formularies suggest this. Thus, if Prion were to go before a notary and state that he was a cook, would the notarial response depend on village hearsay or on familiarity? A notary in Paris might well accept a client's statements more freely than would his colleague in a village or a town. Prion was joking. What I am suggesting is further close reading on this question: When are only the witnesses' signatures are present, sans titles? And when are avant-noms required, to mention only one example? And when do avant-noms and titres seem obligatory?
Cosandey recognizes the value of studies such as Jean Nagle's about the dues the marc d'or that centered on a classification system, but the limits are of consequence. Only elites owed these dues, and there are indications that wealth as a factor, as in the capitation, distorted the results. What is at issue is the disappointment and the failure to establish a single, general social vocabulary. Hierarchies and classifications are only part of the problem; there remains the question of change over time. While the critiques remain, using avant-noms and titles in notarial records to reconstruct social attributions must continue. The grand systems must be put aside, in favor of precise research such as the model studies published in this volume.
The chapter by Christophe Blanquie is a brilliant and highly accomplished study of a single document, the personal record, or the journal of 1621-1654, kept by the notary Simon Robert, who lived in Germond, a village northeast of Niort. Written on an old seigneurial document and a fifteenth-century formulary, the text is carefully mined for every avant-nom, and also, of course, all the titles and dignities that follow names.
When functionalist social history came to be doubted concerning the reality described, not a few historians turned to venerable art-history terms, to frame their findings. In their analyses of the social, historians as eminent as Georges Duby and Denis Crouzet employed such terms as imaginaire, reflet, représentation as a way of inoculating themselves from the attacks that a rigorous functionalist might make. Christophe Blanquie could have read Panofsky's Idea (1924!) and found the intellectual frame for his really quite systematic use of the words vision, silhouettes, and représentation. I find this highly satisfactory. The claims to scientific truth have been abandoned in favor of art.
Is the formulaire from the fifteenth-century part of the nineteenth-century edition of the document? Whether yes, or no, and irrespective of whether the original survives, it might be interesting to pursue some test comparisons on the titles, avant-noms, and qualités mentioned, and compare them with seventeenth-century ones. Why not? Measuring, or comprehending change over the centuries, is such an important part of social history. Blanquie finds no real change in social nomenclature from 1621 to 1654.
There's also arithmetic and medical recipes in the same "journal," as Blanquie prefers to call it. But was something written into it every day a journal? Sourches' "journal" is pretty much that. But pressing the definition of genres here will not reveal much, although as Blanquie notes, there are strong similarities between Blanquie's source and] the Terrades' "livre de raison" so wonderfully studied by Nicole Lemaître (see my review in Archives). Simon Robert is certainly a notary as writer, but this particular text is not official. To be sure, some practices (a technical word here!) appear in the journal, but these by no means tip the scales away from the socially authentic. The notary probably did have all that much social distance from his middling- and lower-elite neighbors, fellow vestrymen, and clients. I am struck by the existence of this parallel text and the Terrade one. But two notaries do not make a "typical" comportment. See J. Hardwick's The Practice of Patriarchy (University Park: P.S.P, 1998).
Blanquie's findings are organized in a way that would not have displeased Mousnier: the clergy, the nobles, the officers, the others, and the family:
Tout se passe comme si les titulaires, au lieu de former une hierarchie, esquissaient des pôles de réferences distincts aux sein de la communauté. La cohérence de chaque pôle est très forte, que domine l'usage presque exclusif d'un titre messire pour les religieux, ecer sr pour les nobles, Me suivi de la mention de l'office pour les officiers..." (p. 58)
In this excellent study, "le Bon Dieu est dans les détails" too numerous to note here. Well-informed about complementary studies, eager to compare, but also eager to convince the reader of the essentially local features of the social that he is discerning, Blanquie's approach could be tried out, with interest, on other sources. Perhaps Prion d'Aubais! The section on domestics and family groups confirms and develops what Anne Zink and Alain Collomb have found. There were very few family names, therefore requiring a system of differentiation that is grounded on titles, events, and other associations.
There is evidently a description of the family house. Blanquie notes the importance of the description as part of the social, but he sticks to his subject: titles, qualities, etc. He could not discipline himself sufficiently, and rightly so, regarding the descriptions of the vestments of two religious, one dead, the other alive. These asides assure us of Simon Robert's strong powers of observation. Blanquie has accomplished much in this brief model study.
There are scholars who write whole books to say what could be said in a small article; there are scholars who say, in an article, what others would say in a book.
With magisterial and learned brevity, Descimon writes a book in this chapter on the language of dignity. He first draws on Fustel de Coulanges to characterize terms such as vir illustre, which the ancient Romans used to signify a distinct title "... attaché comme sous l'Empire romain, à des dignités ou à des fonctions du gouvernement monarchique" (p. 70). Not personal merit, not military courage, but a dignity of office that might even be communicated to his wife. The implication is that there was a linguistic longue longue durée of offices of duties and that Loyseau's project is deeply grounded in Roman social and legal experience, with Cicero's De Offici being helpful for such important distinctions as "real," "personal," "private," and "fictive person." As Descimon draws on these distinctions, the social and the political Ancien Régime start to make sense:
"A l'époque moderne, les epithètes d'honneur, comme 'noble' ou 'honorable,' et les avant-noms, comme 'messire' ou 'monsieur,' ne semblent pas avoir changé de signification fondamentale: ils servaient aussi à qualifier et à légitimer l'autorité politique, d'où une impression de continuité qui pourrait être trompeuse." (p. 71)
With the fundamental antique language characterized, Descimon goes on to explore the very binary terms prevailing in the feudal era: dominance and servitude. Titles as such, the socially-conditioned action of using titles, blurred the feudal contribution into a quite single "language of dignity." To be sure, there were regional differences, and there would be glosses and more glosses by jurists, canonists, and theologians. The fifteenth century elaboration of Humanist thought about the individual (e.g., Pico's On the Dignity of Man) empowered the learned and learning by offering an alternative dignity, but often a blurred answer to arguments and titles grounded on arguments from nature and the possession of property.
There is much evidence to support the understanding of the individual and the dignified as two persons Kantorowicz's The King's Two Bodies refracts the title of king and the individual king, as in the tombs at Saint-Denis: above, Louis XII is shown in majesty, and below he is a humble sinner with a decaying body. The chains, plural, of dignities (church nobility royal service commoners) were anything but stable over the centuries. Use of the baptismal name in the church was (is) a measure of its enormous power; yet habit perhaps left an unawareness around that power. When Richelieu was bishop of Luçon, he signed "Armand"; when he became a prince of the Church he signed "Richelieu." This business of changing names as required by changing dignities has its equivalent in the nobility, especially, but not exclusively, the highest dignities. Enghien became Condé the minute his father died. Préséances and other titles changed as well. On the more common side, Descimon found someone named "Alexandre Legrand"!
Descimon cites works about royal medieval fiscal records, noting that they do not regularly include avant-noms and dignities. Is this an expression of royal power, a proto-bureaucratic leveling transferred from the "space" around dignities in ecclesiastical fiscal documents? I do not know. Some dignities are noted in a Rôle des Taxes drawn up during the Parisian Fronde (B.N., ms. fr. 19786), but they do not have the inflationary or ronflant tone found in notarial acts. On fol. 119, for example, one finds: "la rue qui descend de l'hostel des Ursins, Monsieur Charpentier, secrétaire de M. Bruxelle, conseiller, qui tient sa maison de Madame Criou," and on fol. 120v, "Monsieur de Bruxelles, conseiller au Parlement et M. Hotman tiennent leur maison...." One is tempted to note a similarity to the états d'âme (cf. Georges Couthon on the subject), in their tendency to record dignities and qualities only for purposes of identification. Another parallel is the absence of dignities in letters that lords adressed to their vassals (Descimon, p. 79).
In a recent issue of the Revue d'Histoire littéraire de la France, Marc Fumaroli and Hélène Merlin-Kajman cross swords over the gender of so many dignities. "Monsieur le Chancelier," "Madame la Chancellière"? When he asserts that it is the office as such that has the gender, Fumaroli is defending the distinction that Descimon is so brilliantly describing for the Ancien Régime.] Thus it would be right for him to say (I agree) "Madame le Chancelier." Not to do so, is to blur, or ignore, the distinction between the dignity and the person.
Just how the chains of dignities squared with society particularly ranges in wealth, profession, skill, and spiritual-secular is really the great question that Descimon faces in this, and in several of his other works. The chapter on the Robe Nobility in the volume edited by Michael Wolfe (Durham, Duke University Press, 1996) complements the more general findings here. Not content just to cite jurists such as Loyseau, or even royal decrees, Descimon looked up and worked through the specific law cases that framed the dignity of the Robe! The result is as much a history of property as one of dignity, and it does a lot to confirm the general notion that governing elites shaped (and still shape!), to their own advantage, the law and the institutions that enforce it. Yet something happened. The Robe did not become an estate. Perhaps that was neither to the Robe's advantage , nor their aim as they climbed toward the second estate.
Descimon has much of interest to say about the language of the notary, yet he also confesses to not understanding it in all its aspects. He says it is not "natural." But what is more "natural" than a pretention by socially quite low-down profession creating a special language, capturing a niche in the social where their claim to a monopoly over certain legal actions take place? And once technology made it possible to create blank forms to fill in, thereby vastly simplifying (beyond rentes, which were printed) their activities and reducing costs to the client, a quite specialized handwriting developed that was unreadable for all but the initiated. Is the notary all that different from M. Jourdain's garçon tailleur who inflates his client into "mon gentilhomme," then into "Monseigneur," and finally into "Votre Grandeur," each time for a tip. Jourdain (bas, à part) says: "Ma foi, s'il va jusqu'à l'Altesse, il aura toute la bourse." Prior to the 1660s, notaries were not yet the quite well-educated and sober professionals, and they perhaps knew how to play the game of testing their clients' self-esteem by asking questions, or by avoiding certain questions. Descimon is correct to share his learned puzzlement about notarial language. As two parties provided the necessary information for drawing up an act (and very probably did so separately), it was not in either's interest to challenge a vagueness or a little inflation of titles here and there.
There is much solid information here about Loyseau's almost neo-stoic sense of an ordre as part of nature, with the Crown creating "fictive," non-natural nobles (p. 85), and Descimon is certainly right to characterize other social sources (for example, city governments, universities, and the Church) as producers of dignities. I, for one, would accept all the titles of the artisans and rurals as also constituting dignities. This may seem to stretch the Roman concept, but was it not dignitas that gave self-esteem? The carpenter, the master carpenter, the jardinier, the laboureur we come back to Prion, the cuisinier en titre. Where do dignities stop and titles begin? In English English, the word "title" is usually reserved for someone with a noble or gentle title. But what is interesting here is not demarcations, but general social mechanisms. For the jardinier and the chimneysweep, the laboureur and the vicaire were up there and had to comport themselves in certain ways, in order to "live as ...."
There is a thoughtful discussion of women's titles, and about how some, but not all, depend on the titles of their spouses. The pages on usurpations amuse, as they relate what the learned and the poorly-educated alike would do to obliterate, or in some way insure that their "living nobly," or higher, could not be challenged. The paragraphs on corps are a formidable and clear summary of decades of research and reflection, the central point being that one could only really belong to one corps. Cooptive and exclusive in many cases, the Crown recognized these corps by titles of foundation, but frequently enlarged (or, far less often, reduced) the royally chartered corps by creating new offices, masterships, and so forth.
Descimon proceeds farther in his dialogue with Loyseau, who was probably a "prophète du passé," but whose thought may be found resonating over the rest of the seventeenth century. Notarial language is returned to again, more generally, and with examples of how titles and qualities in certain specific contexts dishonor rather than honor. The quotation from Alain Giry on the distinction between a title and a quality (p. 83) is a major observation that always merits attention. This does not change, though some avant-noms disappear and others are given to different social persons. Descimon characterizes the League and the Fronde as hastening these long-range shifts, with no return to the status quo ante, as was the case for the rank of duke bestowed on less ancient and less distinguished noble families during the Fronde, although the trend reversed itself during the personal reign, as Jean-Pierre Labatut found. Descimon makes a generalization:
"Mais il n'en reste pas moins que le processus du changement n'est pas d'ordre linguistique, mais bien purement social, sur le socle de causalités à la fois économiques et politiques avec, éventuellement, traduction juridique." (p. 105)
This is the same view as Laurence Stone's, a view which Eileen Spring challenged. A powerful social group such as a Parliament or a Parlement, may legislate in the overall interest of the aristocracy or the Robe; but of course, in these groups there are individuals and families that genuinely suffer because their properties, testaments, entails, offices, etc., do not conform to the laws. They are fined, or they lose status and wealth. The old social history did not study losing individuals and families very much. Descimon's study of Le Boindre is exemplary here: he is a conseiller in the Parlement, but for various reasons his estate and his rank do not really rise!
In his conclusion, Descimon sums up the three positions on social history, the functionalist social-scientific; the postulate that a society is entirely contained or manifest in language; and the middle way, that language emanating from a society has sense, or meaning, and that the results, always partial, are worthwhile and interesting. I admit my failure here. I should sum up the results of the studies on avant-noms and titles-qualities, and compare these with the findings of other authors in this volume; but I lack the discipline to make myself work that hard! The history of these changes is very complex. Descimon finds the League, the Fronde, and the Colbert administration to be the three upheavals that prompt the most change. Calling these social-political is reductionist, but it would be fair to say that none was economic, in the sense that one could attribute economy as the central issue, as in the Industrial Revolution. The slow shift from more complex systems of avant-noms, titles, and qualities, to simpler ones, fascinates as a source for understanding what was still a long way off: mass society.
When Descimon wanted to learn about the social and property foundations of the Robe, he went to law cases. One wonders if soundings in them would confirm what has been learned from notarial archives. And there are all those fiscal records that, like the shawls woven by children in nineteenth-century Persia, are susceptible to increasing the number of blind historians among those who dare make a life of deciphering them.
Taking as his samples the 16 administrators of the confraternity at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and the four beadles from the parishes of Saint-Merry and Saint-Gervais from 1620 to 1730, to evaluate changing titles, qualities, and avant-noms, Laurence Croq presents her evidence with rigor and clarity. I like some of the social-science vocabulary she uses effectively, particularly the phrases "marqueurs sociaux" and "inégalités de considération." The latter reminds me of Richelieu's point that a government official has to have land, titles, and wealth, or he will not be "considered" well by the grands and others with whom he must deal.
And because the sample is manageable, little differences may be discerned: for example, at approximately the same date, two notaries give different avant-noms to exactly the same beadles! They are marchands bourgeois in both instances; but for one notary each is an "honorable homme," and for the other, a "sieur." Downright astonishing is the difference in epithets of honor that a single notary gave to Mme de Sévigné over a brief period! (note 9)
Croq finds very impressive changes in the vocabulary of avant-noms and titles for this period. The vocabulary becomes simpler. "Honorable homme" and "noble homme" virtually ceased being used and were frequently replaced by "sieur" or "maître" for commoners. Was there something of an egalitarian tendency in the fabrique, a sense of corporate membership of more or less equals? Sometimes a single avant-nom is followed by the names of several members.
The beadles seem to be increasingly chosen hierarchically, two of them being higher than the other two. Professional equivalencies (approximate) correspond to these increasingly binary choices. The more vague and middling "noble homme" and "noble homme maître" disappear. Similarly, the high-ranking robins, led by the presidents of the Parlement and the other presidents, bear ever loftier avant-noms previously reserved for the sword. The lesser parlementaires, like the still lesser legal professionals, are left at "Monsieur maître, and the higher ones are écuyer.
Croq reproduces the familiar grid of marriages, ranks, and dowries given by Furetière in Le Roman bourgeois (p. 157), but she does not offer a critical perspective on it, in the light of the empirical research she has done. It is as if she wishes to keep her quite social-scientific style pure and unsullied by a literary source. Similarly, the comment on the use of "M." on an engraving, in lieu of the usual avant-noms of some Parisians, is relegated to the notes out of strict respect for the source as samples in social scientism (n. 5).
Infinitely more complex is the shift that Croq discerns toward a greater consideration of the professions and of how they are ranked in the scales of prestige and honor, at the expense of the variegated avant-noms. As the latter decline and/or become routine for many (e.g., people in the lower legal positions), "honor" becomes something that all possess, but in varying degrees. Mousnier struggled to elucidate a move from orders to classes. It never quite came off, but there was something there, especially for delineating noble from commoner. I am sure that I have not been fair to this very informed and learned analysis that, like Blanquie's and like Descimon's, is very accomplished and a model for further research and analysis.
Here is a brillant and convincing demonstration of how préséances are part of social history. Rank, hierarchy, powers and dignities are all carefully characterized in 1570 to interpret a quarrel over rank by the highest peers of the realm. Charles IX does not really strongly support the official charged with deciding such disputes, who has insufficient legitimacy because he is perceived to have client links to one of the parties. Two councils of different ranks give advice, and Charles ruled that the chronological order of the duchies would determine the order of the march, thereby excluding claims that the title of prince étranger should be a factor. The complainer (Nevers) went off in a huff: thus on the surface it would seem that Charles failed. In fact, however, his ruling on excluding foreign titles would stick, and become very important (ask Saint-Simon!). Thus a failed resolution and a successful ruling come of the same quarrel.
Cosandey makes very sound general remarks on hierarchies and dignities, speaces and ranks. Sometimes "to go before" may actually be to follow, especially in ecclesiastical ceremonies, but the issues are the same: refined social order and conduct had predictable fissures, witness the quarrels among the guilds over marching order.
At one point Cosandey remarks: "Le prix de l'honneur dépasse celui des pensions" (p. 173). Yes, this was profoundly the case, as Y. Castan likewise found in studying slander trials in eighteenth-century Languedoc.
The monarch's claims to absolute power, especially by creating new titles and filling offices, was just that, a claim. The social order had an inertia power so that families came to hold offices over generations, and pensions were rarely cut or denied once they had been established. These features were part of the hierarchies of rank. A king could alter these hierarchies only slowly, through a process of court judgments, as R. Descimon found about the Robe.
If Consandey wishes to work further on quarrels over préséance, she might wish to look at Ms. 2887 of the Mazarine Library, which has as its title: "Relation des querelles et disputes, accommodements faits en consequence, soit par le Roi, les mareschaux de France, ou amis des parties, 1551-1643." Note the order in the peace-makers, especially the shift from office to a social relation, friendship. At once learned, insightful, and programmatic, Cosandey's chapter ought to inspire research in many different directions.
Catherine Goldstein's chapter on the mathematicians in Paris, c. 1630-1660, is much more settled and definitive than some of the other jalons de recherche. As a result, its very definitiveness makes it the most important chapter in the volume.
Through Mersenne's and Peiresc's correspondence, plus other sources, the names of virtually everyone with any pretense of interest in and/or knowledge of math, is listed. Mersenne's informal gathering ran up to 140 persons, and there was a considerable range of profession and social ranks.
This common interest never became strong enough to create a truly corporate identity; the usual avant-noms continued to be used. Individuals were very careful to use the appropriate ones when writing one another, thus while math brought them together, it did not lead to a distinct form of conversation or mark of respect. A few were close to Mersenne, which made them somewhat closer to each other, but egalitarian impulses were never fully realized. No great personnage played a general role as protector either. As they perceived each other, however, recognition by some of more important work than by others occurred. They knew about one another, and they also took interest in what the major figures Fermat, Desargues, Pascal, Descartes were working on. To group them into short robe, lesser gentilhomme, etc., has little real significance. Thus while highly specialized, this group may have had something "normative" about it. Elizabeth of the Palatinate expressed interest; Descartes remarked that persons of high social rank would not do all that well presumably a remark about effort and time. The Comte d'Alais probably had little of either!
By the careful examination not only of titles but of terms of address (avant-noms), as found in notarial texts, juridical treatises, correspondence, and even plays, Hélène Merlin-Kajman confirms and extends understanding of the fundamental differences between the two. Her attention to possible changes, especially in the use of avant-noms, clarifies a hierarchical distinction between sieur and Monsieur, already noticed by other contributors to this volume; but she goes further by proposing distinctions between the actor and the person acted upon. Referring to someone as le Sieur Dupont might not have been offensive from a notary in 1600, but it might have become such by 1660, especially if the actor is characterizing himself as Monsieur. The inflation of avant-noms by the Tailor in Le Bourgeois gentilhomme at Monsieur (sic!) Jourdain's expense, comes immediately to mind. Across the century there was something of a movement toward equality through using Monsieur, more socially neutral than the older, less frequently-used sieur. But by the phrase "gens de qualité," Molière supports Merlin-Kajman's findings: dignities and modes of address were essentially distinct and hierarchical.
Hélène Merlin-Kajman cites another of her works when she remarks: "à partir du XVIe siècle, l'authorité sur les mots se déplace du droit et de la logique vers la grammaire." The rise of the courtesy movement (Erasmus-Castiglione) is met again, coinciding with Henri-Jean Martin's findings about the decline of legal scholarship and publication in the seventeenth century.
Her approach to what lexicographers are seeking to do that is, to capture "current usage and its abuses" probably did come to prevail over programs to "correct" French in the light of more historically understood ancient Latin; but the Académie had a big agenda about "bienséance" that distorted efforts to simply list "current usage."
Within the Christian Humanist framework we are not surprised to find Erasmus and Port-Royal offering a radical critique of any and all ontologies grounded on "nature" and "custom." These are superb texts about how humans are more impressed by words than by the things they "represent" or signify. And Montaigne is also here, with his famous remark about the Mayor of Bordeaux. I am not sure that this radical Nominalism helps us understand, however, why some wrote in the third person. Imitating Caesar helps us understand Turenne (his Mémoires are in the third person), but some "professional" attitude, little understood, often led notaries to the use of the third person.
And what about the use of on? My former colleague, J.M.W. Bean, once remarked that the use of "one" in English is much more frequent among the lower classes. Some child psychologists also argue that using the first person comes fully with maturity; there are children who refer to themselves in the third person.
And there was a time when sieur was appropriate to address kings! There is a longue durée, and very slow changes, that merits attention, as does the joining of mon and sieur to make Monsieur, as in Monseigneur. And why did this not happen to mon père? Merlin-Kajman invokes the concept of social distance in the conscious choices made by greeting and returning a greeting. She rightly perceives this relation as what the Romans called honestas, decorum, what is deemed appropriate.
I am not quite convinced that avant-noms and dignities are as delineated from one another as Merlin-Kajman finds. There used to be some contestation about this issue, though formulated differently. Emmanuel Le Roy-Ladurie rejected Elias in a sense because he found courtesy including modes of address not at all descending from courtly culture. Yves Castan has much wisdom on this issue, grounded on profound knowledge of Languedocian culture. Prion d'Aubais found his neighbors to be very demanding about honnêtetés!
Hélène Merlin-Kajman is a brilliantly trained and mature historian. Like Descimon she searches for over-arching continuities and changes in the social. Here the stakes are high, as she discerns the rise of familiarity in and through the study of modes of address. The modern world comes a bit closer.
But I cannot conclude without citing Abbé de Bourdelon, who wryly remarks on Voiture, at once illuminating and beyond verification:
"Hélas, dit Voiture en secouant la tête, quel plaisir aurai-je en me familiarisant, si nous sommes tous égaux? C'est la disproportion qui était entre les grands et moi qui m'excitait à me familiariser avec eux, parce que je prétendais par cette familiarité me distinguer de mes égaux, m'élever au-dessus d'eux et me faire de ma petitesse une espèce de grandeur qui était soutenue par mon assiduité familière auprès des grands." (p. 259)
Rare it is these days to find a conclusion as thoughtful and analytical as the one in this volume. It is not clear who wrote it: e.g., in it Fanny Cosandey and Robert Descimon are referred to by name. Unless they are playfully being like Caesar, this leads the reader to reflect on the very high level of intellectual exchange that took place in the Descimon Seminar, long before the writers in this volume put pen to paper.
There is an admitted frustration. Certain terms cannot seem to be neatly used, to serve as a foundation for social history, because they recognizably have philosophical, even theological resonances. The hierarchical poses less of a problem, but the move from plural dignities to singular ones raises questions, as does the word honneur ("plus d'honneur que d'honneurs" is the old d'Adhémar devise!). It seems to have been difficult for Loyseau to acknowledge that roture titles were dignities.
I was going to let it pass, but since it is brought up again here in the conclusion, it is necessary to account for Richelieu's creation of the title généralissime. It was not ridiculous, rather it offered a solution to a quarrel over precedents, not unlike the one Henri III faced in 1570 over the Duc de Nevers's claims to a higher rank than some other dukes. The siege of Fontarabie was very largely a failure, owing to a quarrel over the order of command that involved the Condés and the Epernons. How to create a supreme commander in a war theater, when the king could not be present and when several people, all generals or marshals, wanted the supreme command? The royal power to create new offices, define their duties (and many cases, their cost), and the time of service? Louis XIII was deeply engaged in every aspect of the military command. It is probable that he approved of Richelieu's recommendation. I am not sure Balzac can be entirely trusted here, but that is not the question. (Didn't some French minister decide, a few years back, that facteurs should be préposés? It is state power creating titles.) Elizabeth Marvick wrote a quite brilliant article on the complexities of command hierarchies, and David Parrot makes several sound observations on the subject. And Richelieu did not solve the problem: Le Tellier and Louis XIV would.
Yes, it must have been a burden to bear the name Alexandre Legrand in the seventeenth century, And there was a parlementaire named Pénis. The aesthetic dimension of a name certainly is part of the social. The distinguished name, Porcelet, with its armes parlantes, submerges the meaning of the word. I tried to capture this many years ago by studying a Grignan marriage contract (it is in the Mélanges Roger Duchêne). Erec R. Koch points out (Publications of the Modern Language Association, March 2006, pp. 405-420) that (aesth)etics, if a word in the seventeenth century, lacked the strength to be a concept (note 4). His study nonetheless concludes that the Cartesian body is an aesthetic one. He also accepts Merlin's conclusion that sens commun and sentiment commun are both authentic and moral.
This volume should attract many readers. It is a perfect assignment for a graduate Seminar in history.