Martin Folkes and Voltaire

John Smith, Martin Folkes after Jonathan Richardson Senior, mezzotint, 1719 (1718), 340 x 249 mm paper size, © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Qui sera sera, ‘Who or What will be, will be’ is the opening phrase that Martin Folkes (1690-1754) chose as his personal motto and inscribed in his travel diaries of his Grand Tour in the 1730s. Folkes was Sir Isaac Newton’s protégé, an antiquary, freethinker, mathematician, numismatist and astronomer and the only simultaneous president of the Royal Society and of the Society of Antiquaries. Due to his Grand Tour and a subsequent voyage to France in 1739, Folkes became a member of the Académie royale des sciences, participant in French salon culture and a correspondent of one of its doyennes, Madame Marie Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin.

Folkes also had a wide circle of friends, including Voltaire with whom he corresponded. On 10 October 1739 Voltaire wrote to Folkes from Paris in reference to his Réponse aux objections principales qu’on a faites en France contre la philosophie de Newton, a tract he wrote in support of his Eléments de la philosophie de Newton (1738). Voltaire conceived of the Eléments as a ‘machine de guerre directed against the Cartesian establishment, which he believed was holding France back from the modern light of scientific truth’. Voltaire and Emilie Du Châtelet engaged in a campaign on behalf of Newtonianism, putting in their sights ‘an imagined monolith called French Academic Cartesianism as the enemy against which they in the name of Newtonianism were fighting’, the main artillery of their battle being Voltaire’s Eléments de la philosophie de Newton. Voltaire’s letter was written in a fit of pique (Voltaire, Correspondence, D2088):

Portret van Marie-Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin, anonymous, engraved by veuve Delpech (Naudet), between 1818 and 1842, 273 x 180 mm paper size, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

“Sir, I Do my self the honour to send you this little answer I was oblig’d to write against our antineutonian cavillers.

“I am but a man blind of one eye expostulating with stark blind people who deny, there is such Thing as a sun.

“I’ll be very happy if this conflict with ignorant philosophers may ingratiate my self with a such a true philosopher as you are.”

In 1743, upon his election to the Royal Society, three years before he was elected to the Académie française, Voltaire wrote to Folkes, again in some frustration with his continued fight for Newtonianism and against those irritatingly persistent Cartesian vortices. Voltaire also reminded Folkes of his visit to England fifteen years earlier and his acquaintance with Charles Lennox, the 2nd Duke of Richmond, James Jurin, scientist and physician, and ‘Mr Turner’, who was Shallet Turner, Regius professor of modern history and modern languages at Cambridge. For all his support of Newton, and his comments about Newton’s funeral and monument in Westminster Abbey, Newton and Voltaire had not met before Sir Isaac died in March 1727. During his stay in England from May 1726 until the autumn of 1728, Voltaire did, however, meet Newton’s niece Catherine Barton Conduitt, who told him the apple story, a story that Folkes also related, and Voltaire related twice in his writings.

William Hogarth (attributed to), Examining a watch; two men seated at a table, the older (Martin Folkes) looking through his eyeglasses at a watch, a paper headed ‘Votes of the Commons’ (?) on the table. Pen and brown (?) ink and wash, over graphite, c. 1 (British Museum).

The correspondence between Voltaire and Folkes, Newtonian to Newtonian, suggests a long acquaintance, though the letters were not frequent, as was also the case with Voltaire’s correspondence with other English philosophers. Was Voltaire introduced to Folkes before the 1730s, perhaps during Voltaire’s visit to London in 1726-28? It is possible. Lennox and Jurin were close friends of Folkes. As Norma Perry showed, Voltaire lived at the White Wig (known also as the White Peruke) on Maiden Lane, and was said to have dined at the Bedford Head Tavern, one of the places in the 1720s in which Folkes attended Masonic meetings as a Deputy Grand Master. As J. B. Shank has indicated, ‘given his other activities, it is also likely that Voltaire frequented the coffeehouses of London even if no firm evidence survives confirming that he did’.

Nicolas de Largillière (1656–1746), Voltaire, oil on canvas, c.1718-24, Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris (detail).

And at one of the coffee-houses, called Button’s, which was near Covent Garden Piazza on Russell Street, we may have some firmer evidence that Voltaire met Folkes. A sketch attributed to Hogarth c.1720 at Button’s depicts Martin Folkes examining a watch (he was a known collector of watches) with an unknown gentleman sitting beside him, handing him an obscure object, perhaps a knife to pry the watch open, a coin, or another timepiece. (For a discussion of this sketch, see note below.) In 1786, Samuel Ireland did an aquatint of Hogarth’s work, where he identifies the figures as Martin Folkes and playwright, author, and journalist Joseph Addison. Folkes’s physiognomy is readily discernible, but the latter identification is impossible, as Addison died in 1719.

The sketch of the unknown man sitting with Folkes does, however, have similarity to an oil portrait (and its copy) of the young Voltaire painted by Nicolas de Largillière done immediately before Voltaire’s visit to England. I had the great pleasure of examining the original drawing in the British Museum’s Print Room with Nicholas Cronk. With the proviso that likeness is not proof, the sketch and Largillière’s portrait both portray a heart-shaped face with defined cheekbones, straight eyebrows, a dimpled chin, and pronounced nose, with the same facial proportions. The artist was also known for his character studies, in which he skilfully delineated the salient features of the figure.

Closeup and reverse of the anonymous figure in the Hogarthian sketch.

The Hogarthian sketch also shows a young man of very slender body, a physiognomy borne out by Voltaire’s acquaintances when he was in London. As Ballantyne remarked, Voltaire ‘seems undoubtedly to have been in a sickly state of body during the whole period of his residence in England’; in a letter to Nicolas-Claude Thiriot of February 1729 (D344), Voltaire proclaimed: ‘j’y ai été très mal. J’y suis arrivé très faible.’ At the Palladian mansion of Eastbury in Dorset Voltaire had met Edward Young, the author of Night thoughts, who wrote the famous description of him after a discussion of Milton’s Paradise Lost: ‘You are so witty, profligate and thin, At once we think thee Milton, Death and Sin’.

As Voltaire did not speak English when he came to England, he spent a large portion of his time with the London Huguenot refugee community, with whom Folkes was well acquainted through the mathematician Abraham de Moivre, his childhood tutor, and he natural philosopher and clergyman John Theophilus Desaguliers, both of whom he also knew from his work in The Royal Society. Folkes also spoke fluent French and was intimately familiar with French natural philosophy. As Voltaire wished to publish his La Henriade, he also sought out Huguenot printers, who ultimately published it. Voltaire had presented a copy of his Essay upon the Civil Wars of France (1727) to Sir Hans Sloane, inscribing it in his own handwriting, indicating they had been acquainted; Folkes and Sloane, of course, knew each other intimately, serving together in The Royal Society. The evidence suggests that Voltaire and Folkes may have met in London and if so, Folkes would have been pleased that the relatively unknown young man he encountered in the 1720s had so distinguished himself to be admitted to The Royal Society two decades later. Whatever the case may be, the sketch presents an intriguing picture of eighteenth-century coffee-house life, and Folkes as an intriguing figure in intellectual history.

Cover of Anna Marie Roos, Martin Folkes (1690-1754): Newtonian, antiquary, connoisseur (Oxford, April 2021).

If you’d like to read more about Folkes, see my recently published book with Oxford University Press: Martin Folkes (1690-1754): Newtonian, antiquary, connoisseur. The portrait on the cover is by William Hogarth, presented by Folkes to The Royal Society in 1742.

Note on the Button’s sketch:

This drawing is part of a set of four owned by engraver and prints dealer Samuel Ireland, described in his Graphic illustrations of Hogarth (1794-1799) as a series of characters in Button’s coffee-house. Although Ireland is known for spurious attributions of characters portrayed in Hogarth’s works, Lawrence Binyon thought ‘the most plausible of Ireland’s identifications is that of Martin Folkes’, due to its similarity with the later Hogarth oil portrait; Binyon also firmly considered the drawings by Hogarth (Lawrence Binyon, Catalogue of drawings by British artists and artists of foreign origin working in Great Britain preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, 4 vols, London, 1898-1907, vol.2, p.321). In the catalogue raisonné of Hogarth’s drawings, A. P. Oppé also mentions Ireland’s problematic attributions, but Hogarth is still identified by him as the artist due to the ‘careful, sensitive treatment of the faces’ and the clumsy bodies typical of Hogarth’s other works done at the time. He does note, however, that the drawing style and use of media are different from Hogarth’s early drawing style (A. P. Oppé, The Drawings of William Hogarth, New York, 1948, p.30-31). On the other hand Sheila O’Connell, retired assistant keeper of Prints and Drawings, British Museum, believes the set of drawings suspicious because of the Hogarthomania of the later eighteenth century (email of 15 August 2020). See also Sheila O’Connell, ‘Appendix: Hogarthomania and the collecting of Hogarth’, in David Bindman, ed., Hogarth and his times: serious comedy (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1997), p.58-61, on p.59. However, if the drawing is not by Hogarth, that does not mean it is not Folkes and Voltaire sketched by a contemporary. My thanks to Sheila O’Connell and Elizabeth Einberg for discussing the drawing with me.

Anna Marie Roos

Theatre and colonialism: the show goes on

The cover image of Colonialism and slavery in performance: theatre and the eighteenth-century French Caribbean shows a black and white detail from a wonderful color map of Le Cap, from the collection of the John Carter Brown Library, which can be viewed in exquisitely high detail here. I encourage strolling through the city! The theatre, pictured on the cover of the volume, occupies a rectangular corner lot below the government complex gardens, with its shorter face spilling onto the Place de la Fontaine Montarcher, and its longer face allowing for dramatic arrivals along the end of the broad cours of the Rue Espagnole. Theatre was literally at the heart of the Saint-Domingue’s cultural capital, a haven of spectacle that, as the essays in our collection show in so many ways, was adopted and adapted in the Caribbean slave colonies, to lasting effect.

Place et Fontaine Montarcher. (Manioc – Bibliothèque numérique caraïbe)

As editors of this volume, Karine Benac-Giroux and I are delighted to share this collection of essays with scholarly communities around the world. We feel that this is a particularly opportune time to look back at how popular entertainment shaped perceptions and identities in the transatlantic French empire, and the ways in which the legacy of these eighteenth-century cultural practices has continued to inform the artistic production and historical understanding of the modern Francophone Caribbean. By presenting these essays in English, we also hope that they can help to extend the growing body of research around slavery and culture across early modern European colonial empires.

Over the course of the time that this volume was in preparation the world has been rocked by a number of epoch-defining events. The international wave of protests set off by the killing of George Floyd in 2020 has shone a bright light on the continued structural disadvantages imposed on descendants of African slaves in America and abroad. These events unfolded during a worldwide public-health crisis that has, amongst other depredations, forced the closing of almost all live performance venues. While we join the world in our outrage and mourning over these trials, we also recognize the rare timeliness of essays on eighteenth-century studies and theatre, to reflect on the cultural and representational apparatus of a slave-labor driven political empire that was an important contributor to the mentalities and practices that continue to shape the lives of Black people around the world. Performance, in the eighteenth century as today, retains a unique ability to reflect and mold our social perception; each of these essays confirms this power, offering a range of critical tools and past examples to underscore the long history that led up to this point, and how we might seize on these same representational tools to forge a more equitable future.

Map of Saint-Domingue (Hispaniola), by Nicolas de Fer (1646-1720). (John Carter Brown Library)

Here is a quick summary of the volume’s contents. The volume is divided into three parts. The first looks at the cultures of performance in France’s most profitable eighteenth-century colony, Saint-Domingue. Before the Haitian revolution made this colony into the New World’s first Black Republic, Saint-Domingue’s economy was driven by slave labor at the island’s sugar plantations. Life in Saint-Domingue may have lacked much of the refinement of life in Paris, but in addition to importing unspeakably brutal labor practices, the colonists also brought a semblance of French theatrical life to the Caribbean. Travelling companies from Europe could profitably tour the colony with popular works from France, where the reigning théâtromanie made playhouses an important site for the negotiation of national values, tastes, and identity, all functions that theatre at once retained and modified in colonial Saint-Domingue. Logan Connors’ exploration of military-themed entertainment played in the colony reflects the increasing importance of an armed presence necessary for the commercial success of the slave-driven plantation economy, just as Julia Prest’s close reading of blackface performance illuminates the ways in which theatre helped to metabolize the conflicting moral valence of the racialized other under the ancien régime. In her exploration of the changes made to a successful pantomime spectacle when it was brought to Saint-Domingue by a traveling company of actors from France, Béatrice Ferrier’s research shines a light on the preferences of local audiences, while Bernard Camier details the emergence of a Creole theatrical culture articulated around the sophisticated use of the island’s homegrown idiom, notably in the works of the author and composer Clément, whose adaptation of Rousseau’s smash hit Le Devin du village provides a compelling case study for the emergence of a new identity – not French, but in dialogue with France – in Saint-Domingue.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Le Devin du village.

In turn, Sean Anderson turns his focus on the dance performances of enslaved people, detailing how increasing colonial efforts at regulating this cultural expression were nevertheless unable to suppress this vital embodied expression of community and identity among slaves. Laurence Marie rounds out this section, and provides a transition into the next part of the book, with an attentive reading of the theatrical notices in the Saint-Domingue newspaper, Les Affiches américaines, analyzing how this publication reflected and promoted the unique theatrical culture in the Atlantic colonies, both within the Caribbean space and before the curious public in continental France.

The second part of the book turns its focus to how Atlantic slavery was represented on Europe’s stages, beginning with Catherine Ramond’s review of the theme of slavery in eighteenth-century French theatre, where the topic received largely comic treatment until the early days of the revolution. My own article, on the representation of slaves in Revolution-era theatre focuses on linguistic caricature (the infamous ‘baragouin’ of Black characters on the French stage), is followed by Pierre Saint-Amand’s penetrating analysis of an explicitly abolitionist play, La Liberté générale, written following the declaration of universal emancipation by the Convention nationale in 1794, a scathing denunciation of the machinations of the colonial planter class in Paris.

La Liberté générale. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

The view then moves to a larger European stage, with Fredrik Thomasson’s chronicle of slave-plays in Stockholm, triggered by the Swedish crown’s takeover of the slave island of Saint-Barthélémy, ceded by France in 1784, making Sweden a slave-holding colonial power for the first time in its history. While the Haitian Revolution is now recognized as a signal realization of the French Revolution’s ostensible goals of liberty and equality, it was nevertheless experienced as a deep trauma for the French nation, a trauma that Pascale Pellerin situates in the cultural context surrounding Napoleon’s Egypt expedition through her reading of two plays written by Népomucène Lemercier during this campaign, whose focus on North African slavery comes to stand in for the anxieties of a diminished France following the loss of Saint-Domingue.

The final section pivots to look at the inheritance of this eighteenth-century theatrical culture in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Laurent Dubois and Kaiama Glover’s collaborative contribution probes the porous borders of history and fiction through the intellectual relationship between Jean Fouchard, the pioneering mid-century historian of Saint-Domingue’s eighteenth-century theatre culture, and Marie Vieux-Chauvet, whose novel La Danse sur le volcan (1957) draws on Fouchard’s research to fill in the story of the mixed-race performer Minette, the colony’s most celebrated actress. Following this, Emily Sahakian turns her attention to two contemporary Guadeloupian artists, LénaBlou and Gilbert Laumord, whose respective artistic practice enters into dialogue with the experience of the enslaved people – their ancestors – whose voices are muted in eighteenth-century stage culture, but whose testimony lives on through the Caribbean dance and music traditions that form the basis of these artists’ work.

Colonialism and slavery in performance, Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, March 2021.

The final two essays look at contemporary creations in Martinique, beginning with Karine Bénac-Giroux’s reflections on Histoires de valets, her Creole-feminist adaptation of Louis de Boissy’s La Surprise de la haine, performed by Martinican college students in Schoelcher in 2017, in which she stages a literal confrontation between eighteenth-century theatre and the lives of contemporary French citizens, descendants of slaves, who live in France’s overseas departments. Nadia Chonville closes our collection with an analysis of gender construction in a Daniely Francisque’s 2018 play Ladjablès, illustrating how the stage remains as important a site for exploring the contours of a French-Caribbean identity that is forever marked by the legacy of ancien régime slavery.

Jeffrey M. Leichman, Louisiana State University

Jeffrey M. Leichman and Karine Bénac-Giroux are co-editors of the March volume in the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series, Colonialism and slavery in performance: theatre and the eighteenth-century French Caribbean.

A version of this blog first appeared in the Liverpool University Press blog, March 2021.

Enfin Moland vint ou comment reprendre le flambeau

La première partie de cette notice, ‘Moland avant Voltaire’, peut se lire ici.

2. Moland et Voltaire

Portrait de Louis Moland dans H. Carnoy, Dictionnaire biographique des hommes du Nord, I. Les contemporains (Paris, 1894), p.134. (artiste inconnu)

Commençons par dire qu’en l’état présent de nos connaissances nous ne savons rien de concret concernant la genèse de l’édition des Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, ni si Moland lui-même en était l’initiateur. Le prospectus initial, qui annonce une édition d’environ quarante-cinq volumes in-8o cavalier, attire surtout l’attention du lecteur sur le fait que ‘Ceux qui voulaient placer les Œuvres de Voltaire à côté des belles éditions de nos grands écrivains, qui se multiplient de toutes parts, ne trouvaient aucune édition qui pût les satisfaire. C’est cette lacune que nous entreprenons de combler.’ D’une part, il se peut que les Garnier aient tout simplement subodoré un créneau béant dans un marché lucratif; d’autre part – cas de figure peut-être plus probable – il se peut que Moland ait plaidé la cause d’une édition selon ses propres critères d’excellence qui pût en effet profiter des résultats des recherches entreprises – sur une période d’une quarantaine d’années – depuis l’époque de l’édition Beuchot. Ce même prospectus pourrait très bien porter la trace de sa propre plume: ‘Publiée sous la direction de M. Louis Moland, la nouvelle édition de Voltaire [présentée en tête du prospectus comme étant ‘conforme pour le texte à l’édition de Beuchot’] sera la plus complète de toutes, celle qui présentera un plus remarquable ensemble de notices, de commentaires et de travaux accessoires: études biographiques et bibliographiques, table générale analytique, enfin ce que les lecteurs sont accoutumés de trouver dans nos grandes éditions modernes. Le nom de l’éditeur si considéré des Œuvres de Molière, de La Fontaine, de Racine, de Rabelais, etc., suffit à garantir que notre édition ne laissera rien à désirer sous le rapport littéraire.’

Le nom de Beuchot dans ce contexte, comme inspirateur, n’a rien d’étonnant: de toutes les éditions de Voltaire, parues depuis la grande édition de Kehl, il n’y avait que la sienne qui pût satisfaire un critique comme Moland dont les préférences éditoriales étaient évidemment panoramiques. Si pour les uns, intellectuellement ou culturellement peu exigeants, les 72 volumes de Beuchot étaient un capharnaüm indigeste, pour d’autres – dont évidemment Moland – ils constituaient un véritable coffre aux trésors. Son édition à lui sera donc, qu’il l’ait dit ouvertement ou non, un hommage à un éditeur dont il admirait l’engagement indéfectible, et qu’il tenait à mettre à jour de la manière la plus efficace possible. L’édition de base sera donc celle de Beuchot, complétée de diverses manières par un Moland que l’on peut qualifier de disciple.

Voltaire. (estampe: Gallica, BnF)

A comparer les deux, nous ne discernons que peu d’innovations du côté de celui qui reprend un flambeau si brillamment porté en 1828-1833, car même si Moland arrive à ajouter au dossier Voltaire de nombreuses pièces inédites aussi importantes qu’éclairantes, même s’il arrive à ajouter par-ci par-là (au niveau des variantes et des notes) des compléments d’information essentiels, même s’il arrive à rédiger lui-même des introductions liminaires à une multitude de textes de toutes sortes, il ne s’écartera nullement de la marche de son modèle. Bref, il ne fait que l’actualiser de manière intelligente tout en y mettant son sceau personnel.

Comment illustrer cette affirmation? Elle se recommande à nous, comme un phénomène incontournable, dès le premier tome chez l’un comme chez l’autre. Dans sa Préface générale (t.1, p.[i]-xxxviii), Beuchot, conscient du fait que son édition à lui est infiniment plus scientifique que celles qui l’ont précédée, en conclut qu’elle sera donc infiniment plus utile qu’elles. Il s’applique donc, à l’exclusion de toute autre considération, à la situer comme l’apogée d’une longue lignée d’éditions de toutes sortes (dont évidemment il nous propose l’historique circonstanciée) et non point à nous proposer une explication raisonnée des dispositions internes de la sienne. Il nous propose comme qui dirait une explication éclatée: ‘comme j’ai mis, en tête de chaque division ou de chaque ouvrage ou opuscule, des préfaces ou notes, dans lesquelles je donne les explications que j’ai jugées nécessaires, je n’ai point à en parler ici’ (t.1, p.xxxi-xxxii). Les raison de son classement des parties intégrantes des Œuvres complètes ne sont donc pas immédiatement évidents. Moland, par contre, dans sa propre Préface générale (t.1, p.[i]-vii) tient d’emblée à donner, comme entrée en matière, ‘quelques explications sur le plan et sur l’économie de cette nouvelle édition […], tel est l’objet de cette préface’ (t.1, p.[i]). Dans dix paragraphes qui se tiennent, il définit et justifie ce qu’on peut appeler l’architecture interne de l’édition, laquelle n’est à tout prendre qu’un véhicule à proposer (quoique grossièrement) une présentation chronologique de la production voltairienne … aveu que fait Moland, de manière à éviter la controverse, en écrivant dans son Introduction au théâtre de Voltaire (t.2, p.[i]): ‘La présente édition commence, conformément à un usage traditionnel, par le théâtre. Cet usage ne tient aucunement, comme on l’a dit, à l’espèce de préséance qu’on accordait à la poésie sur la prose. Mais c’est qu’il est bon que, dans la suite des œuvres complètes, l’auteur apparaisse successivement tel qu’il s’est montré à ses contemporains, et que l’on assiste autant que possible au développement graduel de son esprit. […] Sous quel aspect se révèle d’abord Voltaire? Il se révèle d’abord comme poète dramatique et comme poète épique’ (p.[i]). D’où, par la suite, apparemment selon les avatars successifs de son personnage (mais en même temps selon une échelle de valeurs esthétiques bien connue, propre à ne pas froisser les tenants de l’école néo-classique), son classement ‘logique’ (Préface générale, p.ii-iii) en tant qu’historien, philosophe, romancier, nouvelliste et conteur, pour aboutir enfin à l’auteur des pamphlets qu’il nommait lui-même ses ‘élucubrations’, ‘petits pâtés chauds’, ‘rogatons’ ou ‘fromages’. C’est ainsi que Moland, à la différence de Beuchot, se met immédiatement au diapason de son lecteur qui est avide de comprendre quel est le ‘fil d’Ariane’ qui doit le mener à une meilleure compréhension de l’auteur et non moins à cette confiance indispensable qui doit s’instaurer entre éditeur et lecteur.

Or si, toutefois, j’ai plus haut caractérisé Moland de disciple de Beuchot, c’est que je m’intéresse tout particulièrement à certaines innovations vraiment révolutionnaires, faites par ce dernier, qui devaient être entérinées de tout cœur par ce premier. Comment, en effet, en tant que membre de l’équipe éditoriale que je suis, recruté il y a bien longtemps par Theodore Besterman pour aider à échafauder une édition à la fois synchronique et diachronique, présentée comme inédite, pouvais-je rester insensible devant une telle approche, évidemment inattendue, chez un éditeur du XIXe siècle? La présentation de textes de manière chronologique n’était en aucune façon pour Beuchot terra incognita. En vérité il s’y aventura délibérément quand il jugeait le procédé utile et éclairant. S’intéressant depuis longtemps aux éditions modernes de Voltaire (voir sa Préface générale, t.1, p.[i]-xxxviii), il n’ignorait pas que, dans l’édition Dalibon (1824-1832), Jean Clogenson avait décidé de classer toutes les lettres de Voltaire (LXVIII-XCV) de façon chronologique, ‘sans distinction des personnes à qui ou par qui elles sont écrites, c’est-à-dire sans les subdivisions de correspondances particulières établies dans les éditions de Kehl, et conservées depuis’ (t.1, p.xxvi et xxxi). Disposition qu’il adopta lui-même quelques années plus tard dans sa propre édition (LI-LXX).

Theodore Deodatus Nathaniel Besterman (1904-1976). (Studio Harcourt, Paris)

Mais Beuchot ne s’arrêta pas là. Il décida d’extrapoler cette méthodologie vers une multitude d’autres écrits qu’il intitule Mélanges (XXXVII-L). Si, dans sa Préface du volume 37, il annonce tout simplement la publication de cette masse par ordre chronologique, ce n’est que dans sa Préface générale qu’il s’en était expliqué: les sections discrètes, intitulées dans les éditions de Kehl et leurs imitations Mélanges historiques, Politique et Législation, Philosophie, Physique Dialogues, Facéties, Mélanges littéraires, devaient être classées ‘sous le titre de Mélanges, dans l’ordre chronologique, sans distinction de genre ni de matière’. Et de se justifier: ‘La classification que j’ai adoptée fait suivre au lecteur la marche de l’esprit de Voltaire. En commençant l’édition, je craignais d’être obligé de justifier longuement cette disposition; cela est superflu aujourd’hui, qu’elle a eu la sanction d’un grand nombre de personnes’ (t.1, p.xxxi). Non pas contre toute attente, Moland reprit le flambeau: ‘L’ordre chronologique donne seul une idée juste des travaux de cette existence extraordinaire, de leur multiplicité et de leur variété. […] C’est en mettant chaque œuvre à sa date qu’on permet au lecteur de se rendre compte à peu près de la marche suivie par le chef des philosophes, de voir ses prudents détours, ses diversions habiles, de deviner sa tactique […]. L’intérêt de certains morceaux augmente ainsi par juxtaposition et par contraste’ (t.1, p.iii). La seule différence que l’on puisse remarquer entre les deux érudits, ce sont des différences d’opinion sur la date de composition de tel ou tel écrit, car l’ordre de leurs tables chronologiques de la totalité des écrits de Voltaire (Beuchot, t.70, p.498-519; Moland, t.1, p.525-42), reflète l’ordre de leur publication de part et d’autre. Mais c’est l’existence même de ces tables qui autorise une question capitale: serait-on, par voie de conséquence, en droit de soupçonner qu’ils auraient pu découvrir, bien avant William Barber et Owen Taylor, les vertus d’une édition des Œuvres complètes entièrement chronologique?

L’Inspiration de l’artiste (c.1761-1773), par Jean-Honoré Fragonard. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

M’étant penché sur les travaux de Moland, j’admire sa constante fidélité à une conception très ardue de son rôle d’éditeur et d’érudit. Mais il y a un autre aspect de son portrait qui séduit sur le plan humain: c’est sa générosité d’esprit. Déjà le 13 juillet 1863, Sainte-Beuve lui reconnaissait la même qualité. Répétons-en l’essentiel: ‘M. Moland est […] le contraire de ces critiques dédaigneux qui incorporent et s’approprient sur le sujet qu’ils traitent tout ce qu’ils rencontrent et évitent de nommer leurs devanciers [et] dont le premier soin est de lever après eux l’échelle par laquelle ils sont montés’ (Nouveaux Lundis, t.5, p.274-75). En rendant constamment hommage aux efforts et aux découvertes de ses devanciers et de ses contemporains, qu’il nomme chaque fois sans faute, il prouve à l’évidence, quant à moi, qu’il était conscient du fait que le monument à Voltaire qu’il érigeait en 52 volumes était le fruit d’un travail collaboratif. En quoi n’est-il pas notre semblable et notre frère? Car, arrivés enfin au terme de tous les efforts consentis depuis cinquante ans pour donner vie à cette édition qui concrétise le rêve de Theodore Besterman, il me semble que, dignes successeurs de Moland, nous avons tous à notre tour érigé un monument, non seulement à l’érudition la plus pointue, mais aussi aux ressources inépuisables du travail en équipe qui a été bien mené et bien encadré.

John Renwick, Professeur émérite, University of Edinburgh

Lenten fasts and Easter feasts chez Voltaire

A new government financial year begins in the UK today, which is why the Chancellor delivered the Budget last month. Voltaire’s housekeeper at Ferney may have engaged in some budgeting as well, though all that has come down to us to date are the account books of expenses paid, mainly kept by Jean-Louis Wagnière, Voltaire’s secretary, with the occasional addition by the master of the house himself. The ledgers are held by the Morgan Library in New York, and were published in a facsimile edition by Theodore Besterman in 1968. They allow us a certain degree of insight into the running of Voltaire’s household, and sometimes enable us to corroborate (though never disprove) claims and statements made in his published works and correspondence, or in writings by other people about him. As Easter is nearly upon us, it seemed apposite to look back at a rather singular Easter in Ferney to see what the household accounts can tell us.

Château de Ferney

Château de Ferney, engraving from Beat Fidel Zurlauben’s Tableaux topographiques (1777-), drawn by Michel Vincent Brandoin, engraved by Jean Benjamin de La Borde.

There is a gap in the accounts in 1768, with most of February absent altogether, so the beginning of Lent is lost to us. It is difficult to say whether any meat was obtained during this period: on 3 March the household seems to have paid part of an amount owed to two butchers: fifteen ‘Louis d’or à compte’ to Vérat, and eighteen to the ‘veal butcher’, Bernier, but it is not clear whether any new purchases were made from either. An enigmatic line in Voltaire’s own hand under the date of 21 March, ‘portées sur le livre in quarto’ (carried over to the quarto book) also suggests that there was a further ledger which may have detailed expenses not recorded here. According to our document, however, Voltaire’s food shops in the weeks leading up to Easter included butter (‘for melting’ is specified), lemons, eggs, cheese (and Gruyère cheese appears separately), brandy, salt, oil, tuna, olives, anchovies and herrings. A few years later, Voltaire was to offer sarcastic words about ‘the small number of rich people, financiers, prelates, magistrates, important lords and ladies, who deign to be served a lean diet at table, who fast for six weeks on sole, salmon, weevers, turbots and sturgeons’ (Questions sur l’Encyclopédie, article ‘Carême’, OCV, vol.39, p.505), but perhaps tuna, anchovies and herrings do not fall in quite the same category. One assumes that the gardens at Ferney kept the household in vegetables, potatoes and the like.

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, La Raie

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, La Raie (1725). (Musée du Louvre)

Easter fell on 3 April that year, and on the 2nd we see visits from the jam-maker and the two butchers, purveyors of beef and veal, whose goods may have featured on the Easter menu. True, all three tradesmen were paid the balance owed to them, but the words ‘à ce jour’ perhaps imply that new purchases were also made on the day. More spiritual fare also required preparation: on 28 March we see that some of the eggs bought were held in reserve for baking communion bread, and on 1 April the yeast for said communion bread was obtained. Writing many years later, after Voltaire’s death, Wagnière recalls the communion bread of that Easter of 1768 in his posthumous revisions to Voltaire’s Commentaire historique: ‘Nous accompagnâmes M. de Voltaire à l’église, à la suite du superbe pain bénit [sic] qu’il était dans l’usage de faire rendre toutes les années le jour de Pâques’ (OCV, vol.78B, p.284).

Voltaire's account books

Account books, 1 April: ‘pain béni’.

The reason that Wagnière was still remembering that particular Easter so many years later was that Voltaire had unusually taken it upon himself in 1768 to attend mass on Easter Sunday, to take communion and to preach a sermon to the assembled faithful on the eighth commandment, following a recent incident of theft in the village. The surprised curate subsequently informed Jean-Pierre Biord, the bishop of Annecy, which provoked a drawn-out and increasingly acrimonious exchange between Voltaire and the bishop, which can be read in the Œuvres complètes (OCV, vol.70B).

Church built by Voltaire

The church built by Voltaire, drawn by Michel Vincent Brandoin, engraved by Jean Benjamin de La Borde.

One curious detail in this widely publicised incident is the matter of the altar candles mentioned in the telling of this event in the Correspondance littéraire, which was not confirmed by Wagnière and has been treated with scepticism by some. The Correspondance littéraire recounts that Voltaire ‘had ordered six large altar candles from Lyon and, having them carried ahead of him with a missal, and escorted by two gamekeepers, he made his way to the Ferney church’. The accounts record that on 18 April a sum was paid to the courier from Saint-Claude, ‘who carried the candles’ (flambeaux), and on the 26th payment is made for ‘the postage of the provisions from Lyon, and the candles’. The fact that these candles are mentioned in a Lyon-related context, as well as the fact that someone had been hired to carry them, adds weight to the Correspondance littéraire account, though nothing can be said about the presence of the gamekeepers.

Voltaire's account books

Account books, 26 April: carriage of provisions, including ‘flambeaux’, from Lyon.

After Easter, Lenten fasting is over, with chickens bought (four braces on 20 April, and the same again on the 30th), Voltaire’s beloved coffee (13 April) and the habitually prodigious consumption of eggs (8½ dozen bought on 14 April). One remarks, as well, how quickly the household appeared to go through brooms: seventeen purchased on 28 March, more on 14 April and still more only five days later. On 24 April Voltaire pays for a certificate to prove that he is still alive: normal life has resumed at Ferney.

Gillian Pink