Louis-Sébastien Mercier

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Louis-Sébastien Mercier
Louis-Sébastien Mercier.jpg
Born (1740-06-06)6 June 1740
Paris, France
Died 25 April 1814(1814-04-25) (aged 73)
Paris, France
Occupation Writer
Nationality French

Louis-Sébastien Mercier (6 June 1740 – 25 April 1814) was a French dramatist and writer.

Early life and education[edit]

He was born in Paris to a humble family: his father was a skilled artisan who polished swords and metal arms. Mercier nevertheless received a decent education.

Literary career[edit]

Mercier began his literary career by writing heroic epistles. He early came to the conclusion that Boileau and Racine had ruined the French language and that the true poet wrote in prose.

He wrote plays, pamphlets, and novels and published prodigiously. Mercier often recycled passages from one work to another and expanded on essays he had already written. Mercier's keen observations on his surroundings and the journalistic feel of his writing meant that his work remained riveting despite the nature of its composition. "There is no better writer to consult," Robert Darnton writes, "if one wants to get some idea of how Paris looked, sounded, smelled, and felt on the eve of the Revolution."[1]

The most important of his miscellaneous works are L'An 2440, rêve s'il en fut jamais (1770); L'Essai sur l'art dramatique (1773); Néologie ou Vocabulaire (1801); Le Tableau de Paris (1781–1788); Le nouveau Paris (1799); Histoire de France (1802) and Satire contre Racine et Boileau (1808).

He decried French tragedy as a caricature of antique and foreign customs in bombastic verse and advocated the drame as understood by Diderot. To the philosophers he was entirely hostile. He denied that modern science had made any real advance; he even carried his conservatism so far as to maintain that the earth was a circular flat plain around which revolved the sun.

Mercier wrote some sixty dramas, among which may be mentioned Jean Hennuyer (1772); La Destruction de la ligue (1782); Jennval (1769); Le Juge (1774); Natalie (1775) and La Brouette du vinaigrier (1775).

L'An 2440 (The Year 2440)[edit]

Louis-Sebastien Mercier; L'An Deux Mille Quatre Cent Quarante. Vol.II; Paris: Lepetit Jeune et Gerard, 1802

Mercier's L'An 2440, rêve s'il en fut jamais (literally, "The Year 2440: A Dream If Ever There Was One"; translated into English as Memoirs of the Year Two Thousand Five Hundred [sic]; and into German as Das Jahr zwey tausend vier hundert und vierzig: Ein Traum aller Träume) is a utopian novel set in the year 2440. An extremely popular work (it went through twenty-five editions after its first appearance in 1770), the work describes the adventures of an unnamed man, who, after engaging in a heated discussion with a philosopher friend about the injustices of Paris, falls asleep and finds himself in a Paris of the future. Darnton writes that "despite its self-proclaimed character of fantasy...L'An 2440 demanded to be read as a serious guidebook to the future. It offered an astonishing new perspective: the future as a fait accompli and the present as a distant past. Who could resist the temptation to participate in such a thought experiment? And once engaged in it, who could fail to see that it exposed the rottenness of the society before his eyes, the Paris of the eighteenth century?"[2]

Mercier's hero notes everything that catches his fancy in this futuristic Paris. Public space and the justice system have been reorganized. Its citizens' garb is comfortable and practical. Hospitals are effective and based on science. There are no monks, priests, prostitutes, beggars, dancing masters, pastry chefs, standing armies, slavery, arbitrary arrest, taxes, guilds, foreign trade, coffee, tea or tobacco and all useless and immoral previously-written literature has been destroyed.

Mercier's future is not wholly utopian. The extremes of wealth and poverty have been abolished; nevertheless, the poor still exist. There is little economic development and the population of France has increased only by 50%.

Political views[edit]

In politics he was a moderate, and, as a member of the Convention, he voted against the death penalty for Louis XVI. During the Reign of Terror, he was imprisoned, but he was released after the fall of Robespierre, whom he termed a "Sanguinocrat" (roughly, ruler by bloodshed).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robert Darnton, The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996), 118.
  2. ^ Darnton, Forbidden Best-Sellers, 120.

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 


  • (French) Bibliotheca Augustana
  • Léon Béclard, Sébastien Mercier, sa vie, son œuvre, son temps d'après des documents inédits, Paris: Honoré Champion, 1903, réimp. Hildesheim ; New York: G. Olms, 1982.
  • Jean-Claude Bonnet, Le Paris de Louis Sébastien Mercier : cartes et index topographique, Paris, Mercure de France, 1994.
  • Jean-Claude Bonnet, Louis Sébastien Mercier (1740–1814) : un hérétique en littérature, Paris, Mercure de France, 1995.
  • Élisabeth Bourguinat, Les Rues de Paris au XVIIIe siècle : le regard de Louis Sébastien Mercier, Paris, Paris Musées, 1999.
  • Paulette L. Castillo, Les Deux Paris de Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Thèse d’honneur de 1977 de Smith College, Northampton.
  • Anne-Marie Deval, Sébastien Mercier, précurseur, Thèse de l’Université de Californie à Los Angeles, 1968.
  • R. Doumic in the Revue des deux mondes (15 July 1903)
  • Louis de Bordes de Fortage, Sébastien Mercier à Bordeaux, Bordeaux, Gounouilhou, 1918.
  • Gilles Girard, Inventaire des manuscrits de Louis-Sébastien Mercier conservés à la Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Reims, Département de français de l’université, 1974.
  • Hermann Hofer, Louis-Sébastien Mercier précurseur et sa fortune : avec des documents inédits : recueil d’études sur l’influence de Mercier, Munich, Fink, 1977.
  • Anne Le Fur, Le Paris de Louis Sébastien Mercier : cartes et index toponymique, Paris, Mercure de France, 1994.
  • Mario Mormile, La Néologie révolutionnaire de Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Rome, Bulzoni, 1973.
  • René Pomeau, L’Imaginaire d’anticipation de Louis-Sébastien Mercier à George Orwell, Paris, Palais de l’Institut, 1998.
  • Enrico Rufi, Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Paris, CNRS éditions, 1996.
  • Laurent Turcot, Le promeneur à Paris au XVIIIe siècle. Paris, Gallimard, 2007.
  • Nedd Willard, La Moralité du théâtre de Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Paris, [s.n.], 1955.
  • Nedd Willard, Le Génie et la folie au dix-huitième siècle, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1963.

External links[edit]