This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for July 1, 2017: Renaming the Planets

July 1, 2017: published: Diderot’s Encyclopédie

On this day in 1751, the first volume of Diderot’s Encyclopédie was issued. His publishers wanted him to translate Chamber’s Encyclopedia, published in Britain in 1723, but Diderot decided to embark on a bigger project. He set about to catalog all of human knowledge, and included illustrated articles describing the manufacture of common household objects, information that was considered beneath the dignity of educated inquiry. The scholar Voltaire liked the early volumes so much that he started to contribute articles to the project, but his irreverent treatment of religious subjects got the Encyclopédie banned. One night at dinner in the palace of Louis XV, Madame de Pompadour confessed that she had no idea how her silk stockings had been made, and the king’s hidden copy of the Encyclopédie was fetched to answer the question. A servant told Voltaire later that the dinner guests fell upon the volumes “as if they were jewels.”