Penn in the pantheon of philosophy

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From the printed "Guide du promeneur" of the Parc Jean-Jacques-Rousseau, near the site of the workshop where I spent the past couple of days, I learned a new French word, or more exactly a new meaning for a common French word:

De petites fabriques dédiées aux vertus de la nature humaine et disséminées ici ou là, illustrent ce project révolutionnaire d'un nouvel espace social où l'homme vit en harmonie avec le milieu naturel.

My small mental lexicon of French glosses fabrique as "factory", but this is clearly not what the word means here:

Little factories (?!) dedicated to the virtues of human nature, and scattered here and there, illustrate this revolutionary plan for a new social space where man lives in harmony with the natural environment.

I deduced that fabrique must mean something like "structure" in this context. And indeed the Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française confirms this

ARCHIT. Petite construction destinée à l'ornement d'un parc, d'un jardin. Les fabriques du XVIIIe siècle. Une fabrique de treillage. Une fabrique chinoise. – PEINT. Élément architectural, bâtiment, ruine, pont, etc., qui entre dans la composition d'un tableau, par opposition aux personnages et au paysage. Les fabriques des scènes mythologiques de Poussin.

An interesting side note, as explained in the Wikipedia article:

Temple de la Philosophie Moderne: c'est l'une des fabriques majeures du Grand Parc qui domine le deuxième tableau, autour du grand étang. Son concepteur fut Hubert Robert. Le temple est consacré à Michel de Montaigne, et les six colonnes toscanes à six hommes qui étaient utiles à l'humanité par leurs écrits ou leurs découvertes. Ce sont Isaac Newton (pour ses découvertes), René Descartes (pour ses théories), Voltaire, (pour ses combats contre les préjugés et la superstition) William Penn (pour son action dans la création de la Pennsylvanie), Montesquieu (pour sa défense de la justice) et Jean-Jacques Rousseau (pour sa célébration de la nature).

Temple of Modern Philosophy: This is one of the main structures of the Great Park, dominating the second scene, around the large lake. Its architect was Hubert Robert. The temple is dedicated to Michel de Montaigne, and the six tuscan columns are dedicated to six men who were useful to humanity through their writings or their discoveries. These are Isaac Newton (for his discoveries), René Descartes (for his theories), Voltaire (for his fight against prejudice and superstition), William Penn (for his activity in the creation of Pennsylvania), Montesquieu (for his defense of justice), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (for his celebration of nature).

It comes as a surprise to most visitors, I think, to find William Penn ranked in this pantheon of philosophers with Newton, Descartes, Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rousseau.  The fact that this attitude prevailed among French intellectuals in the period 1765-1776, when the park was planned and constructed, sheds new light on the warm welcome that Benjamin Franklin found in France when he arrived in 1776 as the ambassador of the rebelling American colonies.





  1. Levantine said,

    November 23, 2013 @ 4:50 am

    Isn't this sense of 'fabrique' equivalent to the English 'folly'? French also has 'folie', but I believe it's used to describe functional pleasure palaces as opposed to decorative garden structures.

  2. amandachen said,

    November 23, 2013 @ 5:53 am

    From the OED:

    fabric, n.
    I.I A product of skilled workmanship.
    1.I.1 An edifice, a building.

  3. Bob Ladd said,

    November 23, 2013 @ 9:11 am

    I always get thrown, in a similar way to MYL, by the Italian word fabbricato, which sounds as if it ought to mean something manufactured, like maybe a frying pan or a shirt. In fact, it only ever applies to a building, usually a large one. Not sure whether the fabriques that MYL visited would count in Italian as fabbricati or not.

  4. arthur waldron said,

    November 23, 2013 @ 9:45 am

    Perhaps we can build a little whatever-it-is-called in the semi-ruined Woodlands Cemetery that is so near to Penn? In honor of–what?

  5. mistah charley, ph.d. said,

    November 23, 2013 @ 9:50 am

    Penn was both a theoretical and an applied philosopher, one of the earliest of the "planned community" thinkers/doers – Pennsylvania is the exalted ancestor of smaller-scale and completely secularized twentieth century developments such as Reston, VA and Columbia, MD. His Quaker faith is notably different from other Christian denominations in its view of Jesus's promised return and the triumph of the Kingdom of God. From a Quaker website:

    "A physical return of Christ with its complete destruction of the world, so widely speculated on, is not true. Rather, Christ appears a second time, the Revelation (revealing) of Christ, in the hearts of individual believers, who have prepared the way for him to be revealed in them; he, who has been hidden within, is revealed. As Paul said: it has pleased the Father to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him. The appearance of Christ, his revelation within you, and entering the Kingdom of Heaven is the completion of salvation. Thousands have already experienced Christ's second appearance as revealed within as documented in scripture and in the writings of George Fox and several other 17th Century Quakers."

    Motivated by this view, Penn strove to create social institutions that would be suitable for free men – he was a revolutionary social democrat working within and to some extent against the power structure of his time – the Wikipedia biography is eye-opening.

    Unfortunately, his sons and successors departed from his vision –

    "Penn’s family retained ownership of the colony of Pennsylvania until the American Revolution. However, William's son and successor, Thomas Penn, and his brother John, renounced their father’s faith, and fought to restrict religious freedom (particularly for Roman Catholics and later Quakers). Thomas weakened or eliminated the elected assembly's power, and ran the colony instead through his appointed governors. He was a bitter opponent of Benjamin Franklin and Franklin's push for greater democracy in the years leading up to the revolution. Through the infamous Walking Purchase of 1737, the Penns cheated the Lenape out of their lands in the Lehigh Valley." — Wikipedia

  6. Coby Lubliner said,

    November 23, 2013 @ 12:16 pm

    The primary meaning of fabrique is more like a workshop than an industrial factory, which is usine.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    November 23, 2013 @ 8:20 pm

    William Penn was certainly a much better and more enlightened man than his son Thomas, who played such a key role in the early funding of the College. He and Franklin hated each other. Samuel Hughes wrote a long piece for the Gazette (UPenn alumni magazine) about the 18th century catfight among Franklin, Provost Smith, and Thomas Penn that included this:


    While Thomas Penn may have been William Penn's son, he had been married in the Anglican Church, was living in London, and had effectively repudiated the politics and the religious ethos of his father. He and Smith, observes Middlekauff, were "tied to one another by interest, politics, and what became a passionate hatred of Benjamin Franklin."
    Opposing the Proprietary Party in the popularly elected Assembly was a then-dominant faction known as the Quaker Party, led by Franklin. Franklin was not a Quaker, and he had his share of disagreements with the "stiffrumps," as he sometimes called the more unyielding members, but he did respect their principles and their religious tolerance. He did not respect Thomas Penn, or most of the men who worked for him. After a confrontation with Penn in 1757, Franklin wrote: "I was astonished to see him thus meanly give up his Father's Character and conceived at that moment a more cordial and thorough Contempt for him than I ever before felt for any Man living — a Contempt that I cannot express in Words."

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