The business ethos of Guillaumin (1846)


Letter from Gilbert Guillaumin to P.-J. Proudhon

20 October 1846

Translated by Benoît Malbranque 

[Bibliothèque municipale de Besançon,
Archives Proudhon, Ms 2956, f° 175.]


[LETTER FROM P.-J. PROUDHON TO G. GUILLAUMIN, 29 SEPTEM-BER 1846. — Extract.] … The time is approaching, Mr. Guillaumin, when an all-out fight will be fought between Socialism and Political Economy; between prohibition and non-prohibition, between democracy and monarchy, etc. This battle must not use the cannon, but the press. If you want it, you are in a position to make your store [1] the battleground of all ideas. Remain impartial, seize all opportunities, create them if necessary, and your part in the revolution which is brewing will be one of the best. You know what role the printer and bookseller Panckoucke [2] played in the 18th century; you can surpass it by all the superiority that our century has over the previous one. Like any other, I intend to do my duty in this fight, and I have no doubt, Mr. Guillaumin, that we will always find ourselves in an agreement, except on the attacks on the government, an issue on which I give you the sovereignty of the scissors … [3] (Sainte-Beuve, Proudhon, p. 250-251.)


Paris, 20 october 1846

Mr. Proudhon in Lyon

My dear Mr. Proudhon,

I am sending you by post and along with the present letter, the 14 copies of your Contraditions économiques that I owed you. I am very guilty of not having done this sooner and I regret it very much. It is the result of curious events [4], because this very morning I was still telling Mr. Defresne, our partner, that I did not understand why you had not yet giving me an order to allow me to send out copies, and just as I was reading again your letter of 20 October, I realized that it ended precisely on this order, which therefore I hasten to carry out, and which I had always been searching in the document related to the use of the other copies.

You will also find enclosed my payment of 1000 fr., in four separate notes of 250 fr. each, for the end of November, January 15th, the end of February, and April 15th. You can pay later or during your trip here, which is said to be very soon, what you owe us for the mailings you made of your other corrections.

Prévost took 7/6 copies of your book as you had expected and we bought him 13/12 Lettres à Blanqui [5] for which he charges us at a third of the selling price. When this dozen will be sold out, we will remove this item from our catalog.

In the battle which is brewing, as you say, between socialism and political economy, neutrality is not a path for me; my publishing firm is in the hands of my friends [6]. It may be wrong for business, but it is impossible for me not to be influenced by my ideas and opinions, however narrow they may be. It is as much about affinity for me as it is about business. When I was in the topic of politics, 12 to 15 years ago, it was the same thing. I was not printing anything that was in direct opposition to my views and that of the men in my party. From the glory of Panckoucke, I only aspire to the millions that his descendant has amassed and which I know are more likely to come through the role he played than through mine. [7]

Please receive my kind regards,

G. Guillaumin.


[LETTER FROM P.-J. PROUDHON TO G. GUILLAUMIN, 31 OCTOBER 1846. — Extract.]… I cannot but regret the kind of heroism that you are professing… Be careful, Mr. Guillaumin, not to offer yourself freely as the confessor and martyr of ideas to which you understand nothing, and for which your friends the economists are not sure guarantors. It is only through a free, complete and loyal controversy that the works of the sect of which I am very much afraid that you will one day be the scapegoat, can pass into the hands of their adversaries … (Sainte-Beuve, Proudhon, p. 251-252.)


[1] Guillaumin was publishing the Journal des économistes along with the books and booklets written by promoters of classical liberalism in France. Bastiat’s first book was released by this publisher in 1845.

[2] Charles-Joseph Panckoucke (1736-1798), publisher of the famous Encyclopédie co-edited by Diderot and d’Alembert.

[3] Guillaumin had just published Proudhon’s Système des contradictions économiques. While reviewing the page proofs, the publisher demanded the removal of a few lines which were found to be overly critical towards the incumbent governement.

[4] In every one of his unpublished letters to P. J. Proudhon, Guillaumin proves that he was working at a rather frenetic pace and sometimes with a sort of precipitation. These facts create a new context in which one can understand his final death, aged 63, on 15 December 1864, from a heart attack in the middle of the street.

[5] Lettres à M. Blanqui sur la propriété (1841), a booklet answering Adolphe Blanqui’s critics towards Proudhon’s previous publication, Qu’est-ce que la propriété (1840).

[6] Notably Horace Say, associate and financial backer.

[7] When Guillaumin died, he left behind two girls who would not inherit a fortune, but an on-going and sound publishing business which they effectively ran until 1910, when it was sold to Félix Alcan.

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