Robert Darnton The Literary Underground of the Old Regime.
Harvard University Press, 258 pages, $16.50

In The Literary Underground of the Old Regime Robert Darnton introduces us to an eighteenth-century French Enlightenment most of us are unaccustomed to, one populated by libelists, hack writers, and pornographers who, although scorned by the illustrious philosophes and others in French literary society, committed themselves all the same to the values of Diderot, Rousseau, and d’Alembert and carried those values up to the very outbreak of the Revolution. A gamy lot for the most part, denizens of a full-fledged Grub Street, they were as quick to betray one another to the police as to pen a piece of scurrility on any of the leading lights of the Old Regime. Nevertheless, they composed a formidable group in the war against church, nobility, monarchy, and the academies.

Darnton’s...