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Jean-Baptiste Salaville


  1. Annales patriotiques et littéraires journalist
  2. Défense du peuple anglais sur le jugement et la condamnation de Charles Premier, roi d'Angleterre, par Milton: Ouvrage propre à éclairer sur la circonstance actuelle où se trouve la France. Réimprimé aux frais des administrateurs du département de la Drôme translation has paratext translator
  3. La Décade philosophique, littéraire et politique journalist
  4. Théorie de la royauté, d’après la doctrine de Milton. Par le comte de M******* translation has paratext has other edition translator
  5. Théorie de la royauté d'après les principes de Milton, avec sa Défense du peuple, par Mirabeau translation translator


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Jean-Baptiste Salaville (Saint-Léger-de-Peyre, 1752-Paris, 1832) was a revolutionary, journalist, man of letters and translator.

Salaville was one of the many intellectuals of the second plan who were active in the Revolution. We are not informed in detail about his life since he has largely been forgotten by later historians. Only recently is he being rediscovered as a contributor to the revolutionary political debate, especially under the Directory. Salaville was a patriot and a convinced democrat. He moved in the circles of Mirabeau, probably acting as his secretary. He co-edited his Lettres à mes commettants along with Étienne Clavière and Jean-Baptiste Say. It was also for Mirabeau that he wrote Théorie de la royauté, d’après la doctrine de Milton (1788; 1789), which was published with a long introduction by his patron. In 1789 Salaville wrote a treatise on the ‘vices’ of the French monarchy and the necessity of a constitution. He was close to the Girondins and frequented the salon of Helen-Maria Williams. He was an editor of Sébastien Mercier’s Annales patriotiques et littéraires and probably collaborated to the Décade philosophique.

He returned to the subject of English republicanism in his De la Révolution française, comparée à celle de l’Angleterre (1798), positing the essential difference between the French Revolution and the English Revolution of 1640. His concern in doing so was to dispel any hope of the monarchists for a restoration of monarchy in France. By that time his thinking had undergone a profound evolution; he now counted as one of the ‘philosophes’ of the Directory. He was among the ‘democratic republicans’ who worked for a leftist reform of the regime. He laid out his ideas in his most important theoretical treatise L’Homme et la société, ou nouvelle théorie de la nature humaine et de l’état social (1798). Reconsidering the theoretical base of the social contract, he proposed a way out of the crisis of the French Republic by rooting his moral philosophy of liberty in natural law rather than in contractualism. His work did not receive much attention at the time and soon became irrelevant as the Directory made way for the Consulate and the Empire, which he silently opposed. In 1817, however, it was praised by Benjamin Constant. Salaville also published on mesmerism and (after 1800) on duelling, the death penalty, the relation between humans and animals and the perfectibility of social relations. He died of cholera in 1832.

Salaville’s translations have not been numerous. His literary work comprised the translation of the complete works of Lawrence Sterne. The political translation that he is most remembered for today is his Théorie de la royauté, d’après la doctrine de Milton. Along with Théophile Mandar’s translation of The Excellencie of a Free State (which cites Théorie de la royauté work in its preface), this translation was important for Milton’s revival in the context of the revolutionaries’ interest in English republicanism prior to the debates over the Constitution. The exact contributions of Salaville and Mirabeau respectively are hard to establish. It is supposed that Salaville translated the text while Mirabeau authored the lengthy introduction to Milton and his works that serves as preface. Interestingly, Mirabeau included a long extract from his translation of Milton's Areopagitica, which had appeared not long before as Sur la liberté de la presse, (1788).

The book was favourably reviewed in Révolutions de France et de Brabant. Demoulins commented that it was ‘an imitation rather than a translation’. This is confirmed by Mirabeau in his introduction where he writes that he has ‘extracted the political principles from the details of circumstances and verbose erudition in which they were drowned’ and that he had mainly (but not exclusively) based himself on Milton’s A defence of the people of England (1691, first published in Latin as Pro populo Anglicano defensio, 1651). Salaville’s translation acquired a new relevance when it was republished in 1792 (without Mirabeau’s introduction) by order of the council of the Drôme department under the title Défense du peuple anglais sur le jugement et la condamnation de Charles Premier, roi d'Angleterre, par Milton. Ouvrage propre à éclairer sur la circonstance actuelle où se trouve la France. This time, the goal was to convince the public of the necessity of Louis XVI’s conviction.




R.N. Fasel, ‘The Old “New” Dignitarianism’, Res Publica 25 (2019), p. 531–552.

Minchul Kim, ‘Sociability, Natural Jurisprudence, and Republicanism in the French Revolution: Jean-Baptiste Salaville’s Empiricist Science of the Legislator’, French Studies, Volume 72 (2018/4), p. 505–520.

James Livesey, Making Democracy in the French Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001).

J.M. Quérard, La France littéraire, ou dictionnaire biographique, p. 484.