The Correspondence of Jean Le Clerc

Primary Contributors:

Mario Sina and Maria Grazia Zaccone-Sina, with La Casa Editrice Leo S. Olschki

Detail from a portrait of Jean Le Clerc in 1657, by Bernard Picart. 1730. Engraving. (Source of image: Bibliothèque publique et universitaire, Neuchâtel)

Jean Le Clerc (1657–1736)

Jean Le Clerc is regarded as one of the major paradigmatic representatives of the golden age of the république des lettres. The theologian and philosopher published numerous critical works and was renowned for his intensive activity as a journalist. Born in Geneva on 19/29 March 1657, he was the second son of Étienne Le Clerc (1599–1676), a professor at the Académie in Geneva, and his second wife, Suzanne Gallatin. Le Clerc was educated at the Collège de Calvin and the Académie, where he studied under Louis Tronchin and Jean-Robert Chouet, before taking up a position as tutor to the son of the Grenoble magistrate Sarrasin de la Pierre.

Following his ordination in Geneva in 1680, Le Clerc moved to France when he accompanied his pupil, Gabriël de la Pierre, to the Huguenot Académie de Saumur. Here he engaged in theological debates over grace and predestination, his first book being published in 1681.The following year the young theologian visited London, where he remained for six months in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a position and where his appointment as curate to the French church at the Savoy ended in disagreement with senior members of the congregation. In 1683, against the background of increasing political instability in England, Le Clerc moved to Amsterdam and, with the help of Philippus van Limborch (1633–1712), a prominent Arminian, obtained a post at the Remonstrant seminary as professor of philosophy, Hebrew, and the humanities. Under Limborch’s influence, Le Clerc moved increasingly towards Remonstrant theology.

It was in Amsterdam that Le Clerc was introduced to the English philosopher John Locke. Although Le Clerc made an attempt to return to Geneva, the theological atmosphere there proved uncongenial and with the support of English friends such as Locke and Joseph Addison he continued to seek a position in England. But, despite complaining of the expense of living in Amsterdam, his lack of an English appointment caused him to remain in the city, where he published prodigiously on a wide range of topics while translating and editing also theological, historical, and philosophical works. A number of Le Clerc’s publications carry dedications to English friends, including Robert Boyle and John Locke (Logica [1692]); in 1705 he published his Eloge, a work that was to become the foundation upon which Locke’s biographers worked. Le Clerc’s scholarly journals — for which he is best known and in which he reviewed a significant proportion of English publications —  included Bibliothèque Universelle et Historique (1686–93), the Bibliothèque Choisie (1703–13), and the Bibliothèque Ancienne et Moderne (1714–27). It was primarily through the journals that Le Clerc was able to disseminate the work of England’s leading scholars and scientists.

Le Clerc sought consistently to interpret passages in the Bible as he would any other text and advocated they should be placed in context with due consideration given to historical meaning. As early as 1703, publication of his French translation of the New Testament had resulted in an accusation of the propagation of Socinianism and from 1712 when, on the death in post of his friend and mentor, Philipp van Limborch, Le Clerc succeeded to the chair of ecclesiastical history at the seminary, he continued to become embroiled in theological controversy.

Le Clerc had married Maria Leti, the daughter of the historian Gregorio Leti (1630–1701) in 1691. From 1728 until her own death in 1734, Maria nursed her husband through his series of strokes; thereafter, Le Clerc was cared for by a second cousin. He died on 28 December 1735 (Julian) / 8 January 1736 (Gregorian) in Amsterdam.

Partners and Additional Contributors

The metadata for this listing of Le Clerc’s correspondence have been drawn from Mario Sina and Maria Grazia Zaccone-Sina’s edition of Le Clerc’s correspondence, which was published to scholarly acclaim between 1987 and 1997 by Casa Editrice Leo S. Olschki. EMLO is indebted deeply to Mario Sina and Maria Grazia Zaccone-Sina both for their generosity regarding this catalogue in EMLO and for their encouragement more broadly of the aspirations of the Cultures of Knowledge project, as well as to Filippo Polenchi and the publishing house of Olschki for collaborative support.

Doctoral student and EMLO intern Cristiano Amendola collated the metadata as part of his work in Oxford with Cultures of Knowledge, and thanks are extended to EMLO Digital Fellow Lucy Hennings and to EMLO’s Editorial Assistant Charlotte Marique for their help to prepare the inventory for upload and publication.

EMLO would like to thank Professor Howard Hotson and Dr Philip Beeley for their contributions to the text on this introductory page.


Key Bibliographic Source(s)

Jean Le Clerc, Epistolario, ed. Mario Sina and Maria Grazia Zaccone-Sina, 4 vols (Florence: L. S. Olschki, 1987–97).


It is the journalistic aspect of Le Clerc’s multifarious activities which illustrates best the extraordinary geographical and thematic breadth of his correspondence. He corresponds with figures as diverse as Joseph Addison, Gilbert Burnett, Bernard de Fontenelle, John Locke, Antonio Magliabechi, and Jean Alphonse Turrettini. He engages in debate with the Huguenot Pierre Bayle, the French Catholic critic Richard Simon, and the English clergyman Richard Bentley. His interests are broad and all encompassing: from Stockholm, Olaf Benzelius proposes an edition of Hugo Grotius’s unpublished letters to Queen Christina and Alex Oxenstierna; from Naples, Niccolò Saverio Valletta writes to introduce, inter alia, the latest historiographical reflections of his colleague, Gianbaptista Vico; from Leipzig, Gottfried Thomasius (son of Jakob) sends the latest number of the Academiae Caesareo-Leopoldinae Naturae Curiosorum Ephemerides which includes his own contribution on cataracts and glaucoma; and from Dublin comes a painstaking correction of the review of his Essay towards a New Theory of Vision, together with a copy of his recently published Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, by the ‘obscurus homuncio‘, George Berkeley.

Whilst Le Clerc’s epistolary exchanges are usually conducted in French or Latin, a significant number of letters are written in English, Italian, or Dutch, and a very large number contain philological notes in both Greek and Hebrew. Users will find each letter record in EMLO links out to a digital copy of the text mounted on the Bibliothèque nationale de France‘s platform Gallica.


Further resources

Jean Le Clerc, Epistolario, ed. Mario Sina, vol. 1 (Florence: L. S. Olschki, 1987), on Gallica.

Jean Le Clerc, Epistolario, ed. Maria Grazia Zaccone-Sina and Mario Sina, vol. 2 (Florence: L. S. Olschki, 1991) on Gallica.

Jean Le Clerc, Epistolario, ed. Maria Grazia Zaccone-Sina and Mario Sina, vol. 3 (Florence: L. S. Olschki, 1994) on Gallica.

Jean Le Clerc, Epistolario, ed. Maria Grazia Zaccone-Sina and Mario Sina, vol. 4 (Florence: L. S. Olschki, 1997) on Gallica.


A. Barnes, Jean Le Clerc (1657–1736) et la République des Lettres (Paris, 1938).

Maria-Cristina Pitassi, Entre croire et savoir: Le problème de la méthode critique chez Jean Le Clerc (Leiden, 1987).

Maria-Cristina Pitassi, ‘Le Clerc, Jean (1657–1736), Genevan multilingual author and biblical scholar’, tr. Sylvia J. Cannizzaro and Ruth Whelan, in Alan Charles Kors, ed, Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment (Oxford, 2002).

Marja Smolenaars, Le Clerc, Jean (1657–1736), theologian and philosopher (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, rev. 2008; accessed 28 February 2018).


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