Dictionary room at the Musée de TrévouxDictionary room at the Musée de Trévoux
©Dictionary room at the Musée de Trévoux|Paula GARCIA

When Trévoux's dictionary

shone on the Europe of the Enlightenment

The Dictionnaire and Mémoires de Trévoux, treasures that are part of Trévoux’s literary heritage and history.

The literary epic of Trévoux

In the 17th century, printers and booksellers from Lyon moved to Trévoux, in order to circumvent French censorship. Trévoux was not in France at the time; it was the capital of the Souveraineté de Dombes, located on the imperial bank of the Saône. Since the king’s authority was not directly exercised there, certain trades found conditions more favorable to the development of their activity.

In 1671, Anne-Marie-Louise d’Orléans, sovereign of Dombes, granted a printer-librarian from Lyon permission to open a printing works in Trévoux. The business gradually expanded, and the Duc du Maine, successor to Anne-Marie-Louise d’Orléans, brought it to full bloom in the 18th century, when it passed into the hands of Parisian printer-booksellers; its reputation became European. At the beginning of the 18th century, the Compagnie de Trévoux, a group of booksellers founded by Étienne Ganeau, had a staff of around 30 and seven presses. The workshop still seems to operate in fits and starts to the benefit of other Lyonnais and Parisians until the principality of Dombes is annexed to the Kingdom of France in 1762.

Trévoux's dictionary

The Dictionnaire de Trévoux was printed from 1704 to 1771, first in Trévoux, then in Nancy and Paris. It bears precious witness to life in the 18th century, covering not only linguistic but also scientific, technical, philosophical and religious aspects. It was distributed throughout Europe. The work was partly coordinated by the Jesuits, but lay authors also contributed. Constantly evolving with each new edition, the Dictionnaire de Trévoux, unlike the Encyclopédie, emphasized the value of local languages at a time when patois was being combated. Voltaire decried the dictionary, which led to a number of clashes with the Jesuit Berthier, editor of the Trévoux journal.

Mémoires de Trévoux

For, in addition to the Dictionnaire, the Jesuits also printed the Journal (or Mémoires) de Trévoux. This was a collection of small-format works critiquing all the publications of the time, in the sciences, arts and letters.

Today, on the windows of the façades of the cultural space La Passerelle, some of the Dictionary’s definitions have been reproduced to encourage people to come and discover it at the Musée Trévoux et ses Trésors where it is on display.