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Cherselier, Claude

Cherselier, Claude

(b. Paris, France, 21 March 1614; d. Paris, 13 April 1684),

publication of scientific works.

Clerselier’s fame rests solely on his unswerving admiration of and boundless devotion to Descartes. The son of Claude Clerselier, adviser and secretary to the king, and of Marguerite l’Empereur, Clerselier was a counsel to the Parlement of Paris.

His sister Marguerite was married to Pierre Chanut, the French ambassador to Sweden, who brought Descartes to Queen Christina’s court. Through love of Cartesianism, Clerselier permitted the marriage of his daughter Geneviève to Jacques Rohault (whose Oeuvres postumes he published in 1682) even though the Clerseliers saw this marriage as a misalliance, Rohault being of a much lower social class. Clerselier’s fortune was very large—on 5 November 1630 he had married Anne de Virlorieux, who had brought him a considerable dowry. He was not at all miserly in publishing Descartes’s works and was even less sparing of his time and efforts.

Clerselier was responsible for the first edition of the French translation of the Méditations (1647); he himself translated the “Objections” and the “Réponses.” He completely revised and corrected the second edition (1661). After Descartes’s death he published three volumes of Lettres (1657–1667). In 1659 he brought out in the same volume L’homme and the Traité de la formation du foetus. In 1677 he published a second edition, to which he added Le monde ou Traité de la lumière, based on the original manuscript, which he had in his possession (the first edition of Le monde had been based on a copy).

In his zeal to defend Cartesianism, Clerselier was sometimes lacking in critical judgment; but without him a portion of Descarte’s work would be unknown to us. Descartes himself said of Clerselier, in regard to his quarrels with Gassendi, that Clerselier had been “at once his translator, his apologist, and his mediator.”


Legal documents clarifying the kinship of Clerselier and Chanut are to be found at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Departement des manuscrits, pièces originales, 786. See also, “Extrait d’une lettre écrite à l’auteur de ces nouvelles,” in Nouvelles de la république des lettres (June 1684), 431–433; and “Observations de Monsieur Clerselier, touchant l’action de l’âme sur le corps. (Lettre à Monsieur de La Forge du 4 décembre 1660),” in Lettres de Mr Descartes, III (Paris, 1667), 640–646.

See also Charles Adam, “Clerselier éditeur des lettres de Descartes 1657–1659–1667,” in Séances et travaux de l’Académie des sciences morales et politiques, n.s. 45 (1896), p. 722; Pierre Bayle, “Dissertation où on défend contre les Peripatéticiens les raisons par lesquelles quelques Cartésiens ont prouvé que l’essence des corps consiste dans l’étenduë,” in Oeuvres diverses de Mr Pierre Bayle, 2nd ed., IV (The Hague, 1731), 109–132; and René Descartes, Oeuvres, Charles Adam and Paul Tannery, eds. (Paris, 1896–1913; new ed., rev., 1964–), esp. Correspondance, passim.

Joseph Beaude

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