Utopian novel with hints of Socialism
1. ANONYMOUS [PECHMEJA, Jean] Télephe en XII livres. Londres [i.e. Paris]: Et se trouve à Paris, chez Pissot, 1784. First Edition.
8vo, pp. ,264pp.; [*]4 A-Q8 R4; woodcut title page vignette, head- and tail-pieces; full contemporary red imitation morocco, double ruled in gilt, flat spine decorated in gilt. Extremities rubbed with boards occasionally exposed, contemporary blue ribbon marker detached but present. A Very Good, attractive copy.
Pechmeja's best-selling prose poem, published anonymously under the patronage of one Madame de Beauvau, presumably the Marquise de Boufflers. The work enjoyed both enthusiastic and scathing reviews from the most celebrated literary figures of the time. Readers admired the work's literary beauty and its touching description of friendship, while others found fault with the moral message (socialist in the modern sense). Among the most notable Télephe detractors was the author Jean-François de la Harpe, who wrote "[The author] seems, like Rousseau, to make a crime out of private property, without which no society could exist. He doesn't want children to inherit their fathers' fortunes, as if inheritance wasn't a natural right, and as if the fathers themselves didn't work for the sake of their children" (my translation). Others, including the relatively enthusiastic reviewer the Baron von Grimm, were nonplussed by Pechmeja's dour description of the fate of man and the injustices of oppression, maintaining that while virtue must always be exercised, little happiness can ultimately be experienced even with the purest intentions (my paraphrase of Michaud and Grimm). Grimm rejects comparisons made to Fénelon's novel Les Aventures de Télemaque (1699), saying that if Marmontel's Les Incas (1747) is the Télemaque for the age of the encyclopedia, then Télephe is the Télemaque for economists. Within three weeks of publication, sales had dropped dramatically and while the book was reprinted once in the 1790s and subsequently translated into English and German, Télephe never re-experienced its initial popularity. ESTC T132203.
Baron von Grimm and Denis Diderot's Correspondance Littéraire, Philosophique et Economique, Vol. XII, mars, 1794, pp. 80-3.
Joseph Fr. Michaud, Biographie Universelle, Ancienne et Moderne, Vol. 33, pp. 244-6.