St Petersburg Dialogues: Or Conversations on the Temporal Government of Providence


407 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-0982-8
DDC 844.6




Edited by Edited and translated by Richard A. Lebrun
Reviewed by Leonard Adams

Leonard Adams is a professor of French Studies at the University of


Joseph de Maistre’s Soirées de Saint Pétersbourg, published
posthumously in 1821, continued the well-established tradition of the
philosophical dialogue used by thinkers ranging from Plato to Voltaire.
Popular with polemicists, the genre aimed at analyzing controversial
political or metaphysical questions, elucidating an ideology, or placing
in the mouths of two or more discussants subversive answers that might
normally invite reprisals if the writer dared to express them too
directly. This was the medium that de Maistre chose for the expression
of his innermost feelings on the rule of Providence; here he speaks his
mind with remarkable freedom. A dedicated royalist, sceptical of new
scientific theories, and a severe critic of the philosophies, de Maistre
covers a wide range of metaphysical questions.

His three characters—the Senator, the Chevalier, and the
Count—argue back and forth. The last, de Maistre’s mouthpiece,
defends theological orthodoxy, often adopting the sermonizing attitude
of the determined right-wing apologist. Lebrun’s English translation
has, for the first time, made available to scholars a text that reflects
not only the dynamics of the original French but also the atmosphere of
the salon culture that remained very much alive in Western Europe after
the French Revolution. The presentation of de Maistre’s thoughts is
clear and coherent; what is more, the translation captures the tone of
the well-known witty exchanges so prevalent during the period. De
Maistre’s incisive, lapidary style is pervasive throughout the text.

A work of this nature and magnitude, where the editor relies on
original sources, demands meticulous checking and proofreading.
Editorial lapses do occur. Nevertheless, the copious notes, shared by de
Maistre and his editors (and clearly differentiated in the work), an
excellent introduction, and a detailed index, cannot but enhance the
usefulness of the St. Petersburg Dialogues. Lebrun has now made
available an important piece of research, and scholars will be grateful
for this invaluable contribution to de Maistrian

studies. This book is a logical sequel to his biography of de Maistre,
published in 1988.


Maistre, Joseph compe de., “St Petersburg Dialogues: Or Conversations on the Temporal Government of Providence,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 12, 2024,