Whether exchanged orally in a café, scribbled on a scrap of paper, or combined as paragraphs in a newssheet, anecdotes operated as the primary unit in a system of communication. Many of them found their way into print. They were picked up by famous writers like Voltaire, but more often they appeared in anonymous tracts known as “libelles.” The spiciest “libelles” —works such as Anecdotes sur Mme la comtesse du Barry and Vie privée de Louis XV—became bestsellers. If you read them carefully, you find that they contain a great many passages that were lifted from one another or from common underground gazettes. They were really collages pieced together from pre-existing material and whatever new items that were available—just like today’s blogs, which serve up compilations of tidbits collected from around the web. Instead of imagining this literature as a corpus of books written by distinct authors, you should think of it as a shifting repertory of anecdotes, which were endlessly rearranged as they passed from one form to another.
The anecdotes constituted the early-modern equivalent of a blogosphere, one laced with explosives; for on the eve of the Revolution, French readers were consuming as much smut about the private lives of the great as they were reading treatises about the abuse of power. In fact, the anecdotes and the political discourse reinforced each other. I would therefore argue that the early-modern blog played an important part in the collapse of the Old Regime and in the politics of the French Revolution.Share