German science, French translations, and the global market of books (1810-1850)

Throughout the eighteenth century and for much of the nineteenth, the French language was the equivalent of the English language today: it was the language of diplomacy, of national elites, of culture in general, of science and medicine in particular. During the early decades of the XIX century, two major French publishers, Charles-Louis Panckoucke (1780-1844) and Jean-Baptiste Baillière (1797-1885) entered the market of transnational and global communication, by making available translations from the German language into French. Panckoucke, the son of the publisher linked to the editorial enterprise of Diderot’s and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie, published a Dictionnaire des sciences médicales (60 vol., 1811-1822). The work was heavily indebted to German medicine, and made him a millionaire. From the late 1820s until the late 1850s, Baillière produced multi-volume translations of German works in medicine, physics, chemistry, the history of medicine and the history of philosophy – with a marked predilection for homeopathy and macrobiotics. He opened a highly profitable shop in London, and sent members of his family to establish branches in Australia, Canada, the United States, and Spain, thus becoming the first global scientific publisher – and a very rich man.