Friedrich Melchior, Baron von Grimm

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Friedrich Melchior Baron von Grimm (1769), engraved by John Swaine

Friedrich Melchior, Baron von Grimm (26 December 1723 – 19 December 1807) was a German-born French-language journalist, art critic, diplomat and contributor to the Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.[1] In 1765 Grimm wrote Poème lyrique, an influential article for the Encyclopédie on lyric and opera librettos.[2][3][4][5][6] Like Christoph Willibald Gluck Grimm became interested in opera reform. According to Jonathan Israel Grimm symphatized with Enlightened absolutism.[7] The main-belt asteroid 6912 Grimm was named after him.

Early years[edit]

Grimm was born at Regensburg, the son of a pastor. He studied at the University of Leipzig, where he came under the influence of Johann Christian Gottsched and of Johann August Ernesti, to whom he was largely indebted for his critical appreciation of classical literature. When nineteen he produced a tragedy, Banise, which met with some success. After two years of study literature and philosophy he returned to home town, where he was attached to the household of Count Schönborn. In 1749 he accompanied his pupil, the young Schönborn, to Paris. There August Heinrich, Count Friesen appointed him as his secretary. Rousseau wrote in his Confessions Grimm acted also as reader to the eldest son of Frederick, the young hereditary prince of Saxe-Gotha.

Denis Diderot and Friedrich Melchior Grimm, drawing by Louis Carrogis

His acquaintance with Rousseau soon ripened into intimate friendship, through a mutual sympathy in regard to music and theater, and led to a close association with the encyclopaedists, like Diderot, Baron d'Holbach, d'Alembert, Marmontel, Morellet and Helvétius, who were meeting at Marie-Charlotte Hippolyte de Campet de Saujon. He rapidly obtained a thorough knowledge of the French language, and acquired so perfectly the tone and sentiments of the society in which he moved that all marks of his foreign origin and training seemed effaced. In 1750 he started to write for the Mercure de France on German literature and the ideas of Gottsched. In 1752 he wrote Lettre de M. Grimm sur Omphale.[8] Grimm complained that the text of the libretto had no connection with the music.[9] A witty pamphlet entitled Le Petit Prophète de Boehmischbroda (1753), in defence of Italian as against French opera, established his literary reputation. It is possible that the origin of the pamphlet is partly to be accounted for by his vehement passion for Marie Fel, the prima donna of the Paris Opera,[10] who was one of the few French singers capable of performing Italian arias.[11] When she refused him, Grimm fell into lethargy.[12] Rousseau and abbé Raynal took care of him. Two years later, in 1753, he would fall in love with Louise d'Épinay, who was already in a relation with Rousseau and Jean-François de Saint-Lambert.

Correspondance littéraire[edit]

Louise d'Épinay (1726–1783)

In 1753 Grimm, following the example of the abbé Raynal, and with Raynal's encouragement, began a literary newsletter with various German sovereigns.[13] The first number of the Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique was dated May 15, 1753. With the aid of friends, especially of Diderot [14] and Mme d'Épinay, who reviewed many plays, always anonymously, during his temporary absences from France, Grimm himself carried on the Correspondance littéraire, which consisted of two letters a month that were painstakingly copied in manuscript by amanuenses safely apart from the French censor in Zweibrücken, just over the border in the Palatinate.

Catherine II with her family (1791)

Between 1763-66 Grimm attempted to recruit Frederick the Great as a subscriber. Eventually he counted among his 16 (or 25) subscribers Princess Luise Dorothea of Saxe-Meiningen, Catherine II of Russia, Henry of Prussia, Stanislas Poniatowski, Gustav III of Sweden, Karl August, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach and many princes and princesses of the smaller German states. Mme Geoffrin, whose Parisian salon Grimm frequented, enrolled Stanilaus as a subscriber, writing him "Here is your first number, together with Grimm's accompanying letter. Your Majesty will see that it is important that no copies be made. The German courts are very loyal to Grimm in this particular. I may even say to Your Majesty that negligence on this point could have serious consequences for me, the matter having passed through my hands."[15]

Correspondance littéraire 1813

The correspondence of Grimm was strictly confidential, and was not divulged during his lifetime. It embraces nearly the whole period from 1750 to 1790, but the later volumes, 1773 to 1790, were chiefly the work of his secretary, the Swiss Jakob Heinrich Meister (de), with whom he made acquaintance in the salon of Suzanne Curchod, the wife of Jacques Necker. At first he contented himself with enumerating the chief current views in literature and art and indicating very slightly the contents of the principal new books, but gradually his criticisms became more extended and trenchant, and he touched on nearly every subject — political, literary, artistic, social and religious — that interested the Parisian society of the time. His notices of contemporaries are somewhat severe, and he exhibits the foibles and selfishness of the society in which he moved; but he was unbiased in his literary judgments, and time has only served to confirm his criticisms. In style and manner of expression he is thoroughly French. He is generally somewhat cold in his appreciation, but his literary taste is delicate and subtle; and it was the opinion of Sainte-Beuve that the quality of his thought in his best moments will compare not unfavourably even with that of Voltaire. His religious and philosophical opinions were entirely skeptical.

Content of the Correspondance[edit]

For several years Grimm reported on the painters and paintings in the Salon de Paris, and was successfully succeeded by Diderot;[16] he appreciated the architects Jacques-Germain Soufflot, and Claude-Nicolas Ledoux,[17] the zoologist Buffon, the mathematician Leonhard Euler, and the political scientist Condorcet. Grimm paid attention to the case Jean Calas,[18] the problems between Rousseau and David Hume,[19] the Montgolfier brothers, and Madame de Stael when she published her Letters on the works and character of J.J. Rousseau.[20] The Correspondance became one of the influential media to spread malicious and false information on Rousseau.[21]

Grimm did not appreciate Mondonville's Daphnis et Alcimadure, though he approved the use of the Occitan language, as being closer to Italian; according to Grimm "In Zoroastre it is day and night alternately; but as the poet...cannot count up to five he has got so muddled in his reckoning that he has been compelled to make it be day and night two or three times in each act, so that it might be day at the end of the play". He wrote about Caffarelli (castrato) Grimm summed up his qualities; about Pierre-Augustin de Beaumarchais;[22] on Antoine de Léris Grimm didn't think much of the second collection: "The author claims that the public received his work with indulgence. If perfect oblivion may so be called, the author is right to be grateful";[23] The diminished Correspondance continued without Grimm until the revolutionary year 1790.[citation needed]


The Mozart family on tour: Leopold, Wolfgang, and Nannerl. Watercolor by Carmontelle, ca. 1763[24]

In 1751, Grimm was introduced by Rousseau to Mme d'Épinay, with whom he formed a liaison two years later, which led after four years to an irreconcilable rupture between him, Diderot and Rousseau.[25] Rousseau was induced by his resentment to give in his Confessions a malicious portrait of Grimm's character, although Grimm's betrayals of his closest friend, Diderot, finally led Diderot to bitter denunciations of him too in his "Lettre apologétique de l'abbé Raynal à M. Grimm" in 1781.

In 1755, after the death of Count Friesen, who was a nephew of Marshal Saxe and an officer in the French army, Grimm secured a sinecure worth 2000 livres a year as secretaire des commandements to the Louis Philippe, duc d'Orléans, a lover of theatre; he accompanied Marshal d'Estrées on the Westphalia campaign of 1756–57. He was named envoy of the town of Frankfort at the French court in 1759, but was deprived of his office for criticizing the comte de Broglie in a dispatch intercepted by Louis XV. In 1763 he helped the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performing in Paris and Versailles with his sister and father. After hearing Conservati fedele and "Va, dal furor portata" (K. 21) written by the nine year-old Mozart, Baron Grimm predicted that "the boy would have an opera performed in an Italian theatre before he was twelve".[26]

Ernst II of Saxen-Gotha

His introduction to Catherine II of Russia took place at Saint Petersburg in 1773, when he was in the suite of Wilhelmina of Hesse-Darmstadt on the occasion of her marriage to the Tsarevitch Paul.[27] A few weeks later Diderot arrived. On 1 November they both became members of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Grimm became minister of Saxe-Gotha at the French court in 1776. In 1777 he again visited to Saint Petersburg, where he remained for nearly a year. He acted as Paris agent for the empress in the purchase of works of art, and executed many confidential commissions for her. With his help the libraries of Diderot (in 1766) and Voltaire (in 1778) were bought and sent to the Russian capital. In 1779 Grimm introduced Giacomo Quarenghi as architect and Clodion as sculptor, when Étienne Maurice Falconet came back to Paris.

In 1776, the Académie royale de musique, the (Paris Opéra), was once again in dire straits. A "Consortium of capitalists", to quote the critic Baron Grimm,[28] proposed Chevalier de Saint-Georges as the next director of the opera. After his mother died in Paris, Mozart stayed there with Melchior Grimm, who, as personal secretary of the Duke, lived in the mansion.[29] By that time, Grimm and Mozart did not go along very well and Mozart was sent away to Strasbourg. At the same time he helped Saint-Georges, living around the corner in Chaussée d'Antin with Madame de Montesson, the wife of his employer. That Mozart spent over two months under the same roof with Saint-Georges, confirms that they knew each other.[30] In 1783, he lost his most intimate friend, Mme d'Épinay, and in the following year Diderot. He also showed Prince Henry of Prussia around in Paris. In 1787, Catherina asked Grimm to burn her letters to him, "or else put them in save keeping, so no one can unreveal them for a century."[31]


Schloss Friedenstein

From "Erinnerungen einer Urgrossmutter" it becomes clear he left Rue de Mont Blanc in 1792, and settled in Gotha, living in the ducal palace Schloss Friedenstein. His poverty was relieved by Catherine, who shortly before her death appointed him minister of Russia at Hamburg. Although not very exited, he traveled with Émilie de Belsunce, Mme d'Épinay's granddaughter, later comtesse de Bueil. Grimm gave up his new post when he suddenly became blind on 17 January 1797. (Grimm had problems with his eyesight since 1762.) Grimm and the young Émily stayed a few weeks in Altona. They travelled to Braunschweig and stayed there Summer 1797 until June 1800. There Émilie was educated by Willem Bilderdijk. Then he was reinvited by Ernest II, Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. He died at Gotha on 19 December 1807.


Front page of a reprint published in 1879 of the Correspondance littéraire

Grimm's Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique ..., depuis 1753 jusqu'en 1769, was edited, with many excisions, by Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Suard and published at Paris in 1812, in 6 vols. 8vo; deuxième partie, de 1771 a 1782, in 1812 in 5 vols. 8vo; and troisième partie, pendant une partie des années 1775 et 1776, et pendant les années 1782 a 1790 inclusivement, in 1813 in 5 vols. 8vo. A supplementary volume appeared in 1814; the whole correspondence was collected and published by Jules-Antoine Taschereau (fr), with the assistance of A. Chaudé, in a Nouvelle Édition, revue et mise dans un meilleur ordre, avec des notes et des éclaircissements, et oil se trouvent rétablies pour la première fois les phrases supprimées par la censure impériale (Paris, 1829, 15 vols. 8vo); and the Correspondance inédite, et recueil de lettres, poésies, morceaux, et fragments retranchés par la censure impériale en 1812 et 1813 was published in 1829. The standard edition is that of Jean Maurice Tourneux (16 vols., 1877–1882). It is now being replaced by the new edition published by Ulla Kölving at the Centre international d'étude du XVIIIe siècle, Ferney-Voltaire.

Grimm's Mémoire Historique sur l'origine et les suites de mon attachement pour l'impératrice Catherine II jusqu'au décès de sa majesté impériale, and Catherine's correspondence with Grimm (1774–1796) were published by J. Grot in 1880, in the Collection of the Russian Imperial Historical Society. She treats him very familiarly, and calls him Heraclite, Georges Dandin, etc. At the time of the Revolution she begged him to destroy her letters, but he refused, and after his death they were returned to Saint Petersburg. Grimm's side of the correspondence, however, is only partially preserved. He signs himself "Pleureur". Some of Grimm's letters, besides the official correspondence, are included in the edition of Tourneux; others are contained in the Erinnerungen einer Urgrossmutter of K. Beuil von Bechtolsheim, edited (Berlin, 1902) by Count C. Oberndorff.



  1. ^ Frank A. Kafker: Notices sur les auteurs des dix-sept volumes de « discours » de l'Encyclopédie. Recherches sur Diderot et sur l'Encyclopédie. 1989, Volume 7, Numéro 7, p. 142
  2. ^ Larousse Dictionnaire de la musique
  3. ^ Music and the Origins of Language: Theories from the French Enlightenment by Downing A. Thomas, p. 148. [1]
  4. ^ Lully Studies by John Hajdu Heyer, p. 248
  5. ^ A History of Western Musical Aesthetics by Edward A. Lippman, p. 171
  6. ^ King's College London, seminar 1. Music: universal, national, nationalistic
  7. ^ Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights 1750–1790 by Jonathan Israel, p. 270, 272. [2]
  8. ^ The Birth of the Orchestra: History of an Institution, 1650-1815 by John Spitzer, Neal Zaslaw, p. 186. [3]; [4]
  9. ^ Jean-Jacques: The Early Life and Work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1712-1754 by Maurice Cranston, p. 276.[5]
  10. ^ Spectacles de Paris, 1752, p. 87
  11. ^ M. Grimm, Lettre sur Omphale, 1752, p. 50.
  12. ^ Jean-Jacques: The Early Life and Work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1712-1754 by Maurice Cranston, p. 252-253.[6]
  13. ^ Raynal's own letters, Nouvelles littéraires, dispatched to various German courts, keeping the European aristocracy abreast of current cultural developments in Paris, ceased early in 1755.
  14. ^ Diderot´s Madame de La Carlière and Supplément au voyage de Bougainville were first published in the journal Correspondance littéraire.
  15. ^ Mme Geoffrin to Stanislaus Augustus, quoted in Francis Steegmuller 1991:249 note 1.
  16. ^ Grimm's heirs by Alan Jacobs
  17. ^ The Architecture of the French Enlightenment von Allan Braham, S. 30
  18. ^ Grimm’s Correspondance Littéraire 1763
  19. ^ Grimm’s Correspondance Littéraire
  20. ^ Historical & literary memoirs and anecdotes by Friedrich Melchior Grimm (Freiherr von), Denis Diderot, p. 353. [7]
  21. ^ Jean-Jacques: The Early Life and Work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1712-1754 by Maurice Cranston, p. 310. [8]
  22. ^ Claude Manceron (1972) Les Hommes de la liberté I. Les vingt ans du Roi 1774-1778, p. 160.
  23. ^ L'auteur prétend que le public reçut alors son ouvrage avec indulgence. Si le parfait oubli peut s'appeler ainsi, l'auteur a raison d'être reconnaissant (Grimm, Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique February 1763).
  24. ^ Solomon 1995, p. 44
  25. ^ The Rousseau Affair
  26. ^ Notes from Mozart: The Concert Arias / Te Kanawa, Gruberova, et al.
  27. ^ He was made a baron of the Holy Roman Empire in 1772, paid by Landgravine Caroline Louise of Hesse-Darmstadt.
  28. ^ Grimm, Melchior, Baron (1877–82). Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique (in French) IX. Paris: Garnier Frères. p. 183. 
  29. ^ Mozart letters from Paris, Nancy, Strasbourg, Mannheim, Munchen, 1778–1779
  30. ^ Banat, Gabriel (2006). The Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow. Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press. p. 171. 
  31. ^ Inna Gorbatov, S. 223