The Lisbon earthquake of 1755

representations and reactions

Volume: 2005:02

Series: SVEC

Volume Editors: Theodore E. D. Braun and John B. Radner

Series Collaborators: Anne-Sophie Barrovecchio, Université de Paris Sorbonne – Paris IV; Theodore E. D. Braun, University of Delaware; Russell R. Dynes, University of Delaware; Carmen Espejo Cala, University of Seville; Luanne Frank, University of Texas at Arlington; Matthias Georgi, University of Giessen; Monika Gisler, University of Basel and Swiss seismological service, ETH Zurich; Robert G. Ingram, Ohio University; Malcolm Jack; Charles D. James, University of California, Berkeley; Jan T. Kozak, Geophysical Institute, Czech Academy of Science; Gilbert Larochelle, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi; Jeff Loveland, University of Cincinnati; Grégory Quenet, Université de Versailles – Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines; John B. Radner, George Mason University; Anne Saada, CNRS, Lyon; Catriona Seth, Université de Rouen; Jean Sgard, Université de Stendhal – Grenoble III; Diego Téllez Alarcia, University of La Rioja; Estela Vieira, Yale University; Robert Webster, Oriel College, Oxford.<br>

Publication Date: 2005

Pages: 363

ISBN: 978-0-7294-0857-8

Price: £75


The most momentous natural disasters are not necessarily those with the most victims, but rather those producing the greatest shockwaves in intellectual history. The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 forced thinkers to re-engage with many of the greatest metaphysical and scientific questions of the day.

Humanity, claiming control of its condition through its search for knowledge, was confounded by its sudden and brutal reduction to the role of passive victim by an unpredictable and incomprehensible Nature. Reason and faith had been reconciled in their understanding and celebration of a divine law reflected and echoed by the laws of science, but the Lisbon earthquake shattered the euphoria of this reconciliation.

The debate was metaphysical and scientific, but it was also aesthetic, as the earthquake reopened interest in the sublime: everything that threatened man’s personal security, and that enthralled the imagination. Voltaire’s intervention made the earthquake one of the great dramas of the century. It even became a metaphor of the French Revolution, shifting the emotion from the trauma of a natural phenomenon to that of a political event. Casanova dreamed of a disaster that might raze the Doge’s palace, while Mercier was ambivalent in his Tableau de Paris, imagining a catastrophe capable of laying waste to Paris. Behind the obligatory pathos lay a veiled desire for regeneration through destruction.

This is the first major work in half a century to assess the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, both as it was represented at the time, and the reactions it provoked in large areas of western and central Europe, including Portugal, Spain, France, England, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Topics considered include its coverage in the popular press, its social and political aftermath, the theological and scientific debates it engendered, as well as twenty-first century assessments of its causes and effects. Literary responses – both serious and parodic – are discussed, through the centuries up to our own time.

List of illustrations
Michel Delon, Avant-propos
Theodore E. D. Braun and John B. Radner, Introduction
Malcolm Jack, Destruction and regeneration: Lisbon, 1755
Charles D. James and Jan T. Kozak, Representations of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake
Russell R. Dynes, The Lisbon earthquake of 1755: the first modern disaster
Diego Téllez Alarcia, Spanish interpretations of the Lisbon Earthquake between 1755 and the war of 1762
Carmen Espejo Cala, Spanish news pamphlets on the 1755 earthquake: trade strategies of the printers of Seville
Matthias Georgi, The Lisbon earthquake and scientific knowledge in the British public sphere
Robert G. Ingram, ‘The trembling Earth is God’s herald’: earthquakes, religion, and public life in Britain during the 1750s
Robert Webster, The Lisbon earthquake: John and Charles Wesley Reconsidered
Grégory Quenet, Déconstruire l’événement. Un séisme philosophique ou une catastrophe naturelle?
Theodore E. D. Braun, Voltaire and Le Franc de Pompignan: poetic reactions to the Lisbon earthquake
Anne-Sophie Barrovecchio, A propos de Voltaire, de maître André et du Tremblement de terre de Lisbonne: histoire d’une supercherie tragique de l’avocat Jean-Henri Marchand
Catriona Seth, ‘Je ne pourrai pas en faire le récit’: Le tremblement de terre de Lisbonne vu par Le Brun, Marchand et Genlis
Jeff Loveland, Guéneau de Montbeillard, the Collection académique and the great Lisbon earthquake
Anne Saada et Jean Sgard, Tremblements dans la presse
Gilbert Larochelle, Voltaire: du tremblement de terre de Lisbonne à la déportation des Acadiens
Monika Gisler, Optimism and theodicy: perceptions of the Lisbon earthquake in protestant Switzerland
Luanne Frank, No way out: Heinrich von Kleist’s Erdbeben in Chile
Estela J. Vieira, Coping and creating after catastrophe: the significance of the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 on the literary culture of Portugal


British Journal of Eighteenth-Century Studies

The chapters on history, politics, scientific debate, press coverage and illustrations are invaluable: well written and highly informative. These make up the majority of the volume, twelve out of eighteen chapters, and will be of interest to a wide variety of specialists from many disciplines. For that reason alone, I would recommend this volume highly. The four or so articles which deal specifically with Voltaire and his contemporaries will no doubt be of relevance to specialists in that particular field and are entirely appropriate in the context of his volume.

The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer

One cannot often say of a volume of scholarly essays that it makes for absorbing reading, but it is true in this case.


The anthology’s strength lies in the presentation of a multifaceted evaluation of the Lisbon earthquake, analogous to the international response it provoked in the eighteenth century.

Voltaire Foundation

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