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

Enfin Moland vint ou comment reprendre le flambeau

1. Moland avant Voltaire

Louis-Emile-Dieudonné Moland (1824-1899) ne fut nullement destiné à devenir le troisième volet de ce triptyque si bien connu des dix-huitiémistes: Kehl, Beuchot, Moland. Son père, descendant d’une famille de magistrats, juge au tribunal de Saint-Omer, entendait qu’il suive la même carrière. Ses études au lycée de Douai terminées, il monta donc à Paris pour y faire son Droit. Reçu licencié en août 1846, il prêta serment comme avocat à la Cour d’Appel de Paris (26 novembre 1846), fit même son stage … puis se désintéressa totalement de la carrière qu’on avait voulu lui imposer. L’attrait des recherches historiques et de la composition littéraire s’était avéré irrésistible.

Louis Moland

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

De 1851 à 1862, il devait en fait se faire avantageusement connaître comme spécialiste … du Moyen Age (témoins, par exemple, Peuple et roi au XIIIe siècle, 1851; Nouvelles françaises en prose du XIIIe siècle, 1856; Nouvelles françaises en prose du XIVe siècle, 1858; Origines littéraires de la France, 1862). Fait digne de remarque: c’est l’illustre critique Sainte-Beuve qui, dès 1861, avait porté des jugements remarquables sur ses talents de critique dans l’introduction qu’il rédigea pour Les Poëtes français. Recueil des chefs-d’œuvre de la poésie française depuis les origines jusqu’à nos jours (Paris, Gide, 1861-1863, 4 vols). Confronté aux nombreuses notices que Moland avait rédigées pour les XIIe, XIIIe et XIVe siècles, il ne lésina pas sur ses louanges. Ayant évoqué ‘la plume docte et sûre de M. Moland’, il poursuit sur sa lancée en ajoutant: ‘Ses exposés précis, lumineux, sont plus que des notices: ce sont d’excellents chapitres d’une histoire littéraire qui est encore toute neuve’ (t.1, p.x). Quoique le médiéviste ait eu pour compagnons dans la confection de ce volume Anatole de Montaiglon et Charles d’Héricault, il est évident que Sainte-Beuve lui attribuait (avec raison) la part du lion. Voilà pourquoi le jugement suivant est particulièrement éloquent: ‘Il s’est créé depuis une douzaine d’années une jeune école d’érudits laborieux, appliqués, ardents, enthousiastes, qui se sont mis à fouiller, à défricher tous les cantons de notre ancienne littérature, à en creuser tous les replis, à rentrer jusque dans les portions les plus explorées et censées les plus connues, pour en extraire les moindres filons non encore exploités. Cette jeune école de travailleurs, plus épris de l’étude et de l’honneur que du profit, s’était groupée autour de l’estimable éditeur M. Jannet, dont la Bibliothèque elzévirienne restera comme un monument de cet effort de régénération littéraire érudite’ (p.x-xi).

Louis Moland, Origines littéraires de la France

Louis Moland, Origines littéraires de la France. (University of Michigan)

Or, ce fut en 1862, malgré ce succès indéniable, que Moland décida de changer de cap, faisant publier chez Garnier Frères (1863) les deux premiers volumes des Œuvres complètes de Molière dans une nouvelle édition revue, annotée et précédée d’une introduction. C’est pour la deuxième fois que le public français assista à l’apparition d’un éditeur de textes talentueux. Entre-temps Sainte-Beuve n’avait pas changé d’avis. Séance tenante, dans ses Nouveaux Lundis, l’illustre critique détecta de nouveau chez lui, le lundi 13 juillet 1863, une originalité certaine doublée de talents et de qualités entièrement humains. Ecoutons-le: ‘Non content d’une large et riche Introduction, qui se poursuit et se renouvelle même en tête du second volume par une Etude sur la troupe de Molière, M. Moland fait précéder chaque comédie d’une Notice préliminaire, et il accompagne le texte de remarques de langue, de grammaire ou de goût, et de notes explicatives. Il s’est fait une règle fort sage, de ne jamais critiquer ni discuter les opinions des commentateurs qui l’ont précédé; cela irait trop loin: “Lorsqu’ils commettent des erreurs, dit-il, il suffit de les passer sous silence: lorsqu’ils ont bien exprimé une réflexion juste, nous nous en emparons.” Il s’en empare donc, mais en rapportant à chacun ce qui lui est dû. M. Moland est, en effet, 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; qui affectent d’être de tout temps investis d’une science infuse et plénière, ne reconnaissant la devoir à personne […]. Lui, il ne s’arroge rien d’emblée; il est graduel pour ainsi dire, et laisse subsister les traces; il tient compte de tous ceux qui l’ont précédé et aidé; il les nomme, il les cite pour quelques phrases caractéristiques; il est plutôt trop indulgent pour quelques-uns. Enfin sa critique éclectique, au meilleur sens du mot, fait un choix dans tous les travaux antérieurs et y ajoute non seulement par la liaison qu’il établit entre eux, mais par des considérations justes et des aperçus fins qui ne sont qu’à lui’ (p.274-75). On y trouve déjà l’homme estimable qui, quatorze ans plus tard, se mettra à éditer Voltaire.

Mais évidemment, en 1863, son ‘apprentissage’ en tant qu’éditeur d’auteurs modernes n’est pas encore arrivé à son terme. Il a l’air d’ailleurs de se cantonner de préférence dans des époques qui ne sont pas celles des Lumières. En compagnie de Charles d’Héricault, il se lança dans une nouvelle aventure éditoriale avec La France guerrière, récits historiques d’après les chroniques et les mémoires de chaque siècle (1868, 1873, 1878, 1878-1885) mais où les éditeurs n’ont apparemment pas laissé leurs griffes. Le seul détail de l’Avant-propos, auquel il manque d’ailleurs une ou des signatures, et qui ait attiré mon attention, est le dédain – dédain typiquement Voltairien – réservé aux récits de bataille où foisonnent les vaines descriptions des mouvements de troupe et des détails d’une stratégie monotone. Exactement comme Voltaire ces deux auteurs, dont principalement peut-être Moland lui-même, adoptent une autre approche: ‘Il en est tout autrement, lorsqu’on voit les hommes dans l’action, avec les sentiments qui les animent, avec les mobiles et les passions qui les poussent, avec les formes successives que revêt, pour ainsi dire, l’héroïsme individuel ou collectif’ (p.ii).

Restant toujours bien loin du siècle de Voltaire, il s’était tourné en parallèle vers Brantôme dont il édita (1868) les Vies des dames illustres. Si l’introduction qu’il y signa (p.[i]-xxxviii) est frappée au coin de l’homme cultivé, versé dans l’histoire littéraire de France, nous ne pouvons réserver à ses notes explicatives, ou à son appareil critique, qu’un accueil moins positif: on y trouve un minimum d’éclaircissements de différentes sortes, parfois lapidaires et banales, moins souvent franchement utiles. Mais en gros l’impression qu’il nous laisse est celle d’une édition faite (peut-être selon les vœux des Frères Garnier), non pas pour des érudits, mais pour des honnêtes hommes. En somme, on dirait que – pour un critique capable de prestations beaucoup plus impressionnantes – cette édition représentait sans doute une commande qui ne l’intéressait que médiocrement. Par contre, il est évident que Moland redevenait pleinement lui-même quand il se trouvait à proximité du Moyen Age: ainsi son édition des Œuvres de Rabelais (1873, 2 vol.), qui avait mérité tous ses soins, est le comble de l’érudition: textes collationnés sur les éditions originales; vie de l’auteur d’après les documents les plus récemment découverts; le tout assorti de notes savantes.

Œuvres de Rabelais, éd. Moland

Œuvres de Rabelais, éd. Moland, Le Quart Livre, illustration de Gustave Doré. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

A la maison Garnier Frères, il est évident que Louis Moland était un collaborateur fort estimé. Précédant de peu son Rabelais, il avait entrepris une édition des Œuvres oratoires de Bossuet (1872, 4 vol.), la présentant au public comme une ‘nouvelle édition […] améliorée et enrichie à l’aide des travaux les plus récents sur Bossuet et ses ouvrages’. Et de préciser qu’il s’agissait d’une ‘édition purgée des erreurs graves et des altérations importantes qui y ont été signalées’ car ‘il s’agissait de concilier le respect plus profond du texte de l’auteur et la fidélité plus scrupuleuse qu’on réclame’. Si donc, la plupart du temps – quand l’auteur l’intéressait – Moland était capable d’adopter les mêmes scrupuleuses approches critiques, assorties d’introductions et de commentaires totalement appropriés aux genres dont il s’agissait (voir, par exemple, les Œuvres complètes de La Fontaine, 1872-1876, 7 vol.), il faut néanmoins reconnaître que d’autres auteurs semblent l’avoir intéressé beaucoup moins, ne méritant que le minimum d’attention. Obéissait-il à une certaine idée bien arrêtée quant à la valeur individuelle de toute une gamme de littérateurs français? Y aurait-il eu chez lui un ordre hiérarchique ou même un ordre de préférences individuelles? Ou obéissait-il tout bonnement à des consignes imposées intra muros? Ce qui m’a frappé, c’est la longueur quasi-invariable de ses notices, préfaces ou introductions dans les ouvrages suivants: Œuvres complètes de Beaumarchais (1874, xvi pages), Œuvres poétiques de Malherbe (1874, viii pages), Théâtre choisi de Marivaux (1875, viii pages), Théâtre de Regnard (1876, xvi pages). Les quatre ouvrages sont d’ailleurs remarquables par leur absence d’interventions éditoriales.

Contes de La Fontaine, éd. Louis Moland

Contes de La Fontaine, éd. Louis Moland (Paris, Garnier, s.d.).

Malgré cette incertitude, toujours est-il que nous arrivons, grâce à un rapide survol de l’ensemble, à définir les caractéristiques de cet éditeur qui s’est vite fait une réputation enviable. Parlons de cette dernière: dès son apparition dans le monde des lettres, il mérita de la part d’Ernest Prarond (De Quelques écrivains nouveaux, Paris, 1852, p.123-30) un accueil chaleureux. En 1861 et puis en 1863, Sainte-Beuve, qui était difficile à contenter, n’avait pas été avare d’éloges sur ses talents de novateur et d’homme de goût. En 1865, à la mort de Joseph-Victor Le Clerc, la Maison Garnier Frères n’hésita pas à faire appel à ses compétences reconnues: ‘La mort de l’honorable savant nous a forcés de confier ce soin [celui de continuer la publication des Essais de Montaigne] à un autre collaborateur. Nous ne pouvions mieux nous adresser qu’à l’écrivain distingué dont le beau travail sur Molière a si bien démontré la compétence en matière de goût et de bonne érudition. M. Louis Moland a bien voulu, sur notre demande, accepter cette tâche’ (Avis des éditeurs, en tête du t.4, 1866). En 1873, la mort de l’académicien Saint-Marc Girardin voulut à son tour que les mêmes éditeurs aient songé à lui confier, dès le tome 3, la continuation de l’édition de Racine (tomes 3-8). Ce sont là des appréciations éloquentes qui trouvaient constamment écho dans la presse, que ce soit en France, en Grande-Bretagne ou aux Etats-Unis. Ce qui séduisait surtout ces publics cultivés, ce fut la nature exhaustive de son exégèse, sa volonté de proposer un texte de base irréprochable, de profiter des travaux de ses prédécesseurs sans jamais leur voler leur bien, sa volonté enfin de combler des carences et de mettre à profit les découvertes les plus récentes. Ainsi armé, Moland était tout indiqué pour éditer les Œuvres complètes de Voltaire que la Maison Garnier Frères songeait à faire paraître dès 1877.

John Renwick, Professeur émérite, University of Edinburgh

La suite, ‘Moland et Voltaire’, sera publiée dans ce blog en avril.

Annotation in scholarly editions and research

It has been, alas, almost exactly a year since our last face-to-face Besterman Workshop at 99 Banbury Road. Of course, webinars allow more people to join, and to do so, most importantly, from the comfort of their homes, where they can sit comfortably and set their thermostats to the temperature that suits them best. The advent of the Zoom/Teams era, however, has brought with it a number of unfortunate consequences: discussions are not as lively as they used to be, asking a follow-up question is nearly impossible, and so are chats with friends and colleagues, before, during, or after the talk. Worst of all, we no longer get a chance to eat our beloved Leibniz or Belgian biscuits – but those, to be fair, had already become something of a rarity towards the beginning of 2018. Anyway: those of you who did attend our last face-to-face Besterman Workshops may remember this gloomy and cumbersome poster of mine hanging from the mantelpiece.

This poster was presented at a conference in Wuppertal, Germany, at the end of February 2019: ‘Annotation in Scholarly Editions and Research: Function – Differentiation – Systematization’. Organised by Julia Nantke (Universität Hamburg) and Frederik Schlupkothen (Bergische Universität Wuppertal), this two-day bilingual Anglo-German colloquium was a wonderful occasion to reflect on the age-old human habit of glossing, commenting, and generally interfering with other people’s work.

Alongside some theoretical papers (to mention but one, Willard McCarty’s brilliant keynote lecture on annotation as a knowledge-producing practice), the symposium featured several more practice-oriented talks that would have certainly been of interest to many of our Digital Humanities followers: some focused on how best to structure and visualise annotation in digital scholarly editions; others raised the question as to how to annotate audio-visual materials; and yet others investigated the extent to which annotation can be automated.

Some of the papers given at the ‘Annotation in Scholarly Editions and Research’ conference can now be read in a volume published last year (yes, in 2020!) by De Gruyter and available in print as well as an Open Access eBook.

My own contribution to the volume (which you can find here, should you want to read it) presents what I think might be an efficient and user-friendly three-level annotation system, the ‘reversible annotation system’, which I developed while working on Digital d’Holbach, a born-digital scholarly edition of Paul-Henri Thiry d’Holbach’s complete works. On this model, I argue, a single set of notes can be so structured as to cater to very different audiences, meaning that the edition can hope simultaneously to be user-friendly and cost-efficient. Should you have any comments or suggestions for improvement, please do not hesitate to let me know!

Ruggero Sciuto, University of Oxford

A publishing challenge – the metamorphosis of a major work

Every project in the Complete Works of Voltaire corpus seems to have its own special features that make it not quite fit into the mould of what has gone before. Our team meetings ring to the sounds of editors wailing ‘But this is different !’ The principles that have served us well over the 50-year duration of the project have had to be agile and adaptable to cover the astonishing range of genres and styles covered by Voltaire.

Histoire de la guerre de 1741

Histoire de la guerre de 1741, Amsterdam 1755 (left: Bnf, Paris; right: Bodley, Oxford)

Even by the standards of the Voltaire Foundation, though, the Précis du siècle de Louis XV presents a unique challenge because of its complex genesis. Much of the material in the chapters of the Précis which cover the War of the Austrian Succession was first written by Voltaire for his Histoire de la guerre de 1741, a project enthusiastically started when he was appointed as historiographe de France in the 1740s. He never published it himself (though it was published, supposedly unofficially, and at least twice, in 1755), but rewrote and integrated large parts of it in his ambitious universal history, the Essai sur les mœurs. Later, he separated the material on Louis XIV (to become the Siècle de Louis XIV) and Louis XV, and the Précis (which was by this time not really a précis) became a work in its own right in 1769, with later chapters added in the 1770s to take account of, amongst other things, the king’s unexpected death in 1774.

Essay sur l’histoire générale

Essay sur l’histoire générale, [Geneva], 1756 (Bodley, Oxford)

This genesis means that the collation and presentation of variants is different from what we usually do. Our usual process goes something like this:

  1. Select a work by Voltaire
  2. Assess the different editions and manuscripts of the work and choose the most appropriate base text (for example, the version that was last overseen by Voltaire, or sometimes the first edition, or else the edition that was most widely read during his lifetime).
  3. Collate significant textual variants from other editions and manuscripts against the base text and present them neatly at the foot of the page.

Sometimes (particularly for example in the theatrical corpus) the variant versions are too divergent from the base text to be presented on the same page, and so in such cases we would print whole scenes or sections as an appendix, with a reference on the relevant page of the base text to direct the reader to where this material could be found.

Louis XV donnant la paix à l’Europe

Louis XV donnant la paix à l’Europe. Laurent Cars after François Lemoyne (BnF, Réserve QB-201 (170, 9)-FT 4). By kind permission of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

In the case of the Guerre/Précis project, though, it was clear that we were dealing with not one but (at least) two separate works. The remit of the Précis is much wider than the War of the Austrian Succession, the primary focus of the Guerre. Not to mention what we might call the Essai sur les mœurs stage in the middle, where the titles are dispensed with but the material is reused and moved around to create a narrative that fits into the wider universal history.

We decided early on that the Guerre needed therefore to be treated as a separate text, and, for the first time in a collection of Voltaire’s complete works, it is published in full. This has avoided some horrendous complexities of page layout had we tried to show all the Guerre material as variants to the Précis, as well as the awkwardness of chopping it up into gobbets for appendices. Being able to read the Guerre in its entirety allows the reader a richer understanding of this little-known and underrated text as well as of how it fits into the context of the Précis project. It has also allowed us to separate the manuscripts relating to the composition of the Guerre from those which relate specifically to the Précis, and to present variants from these in the most appropriate context.

However, it has meant that the overlap between the material in the Guerre and that of the Précis has to be shown in other ways. We decided to adopt the method of lightly shading passages in the Guerre to show when there is textual overlap between that text and the later Précis text. This has had the great advantage of showing the reader at a glance the scale of the reuse of this material, as well as allowing us to concentrate in greater detail on the text that is unique to the Guerre. For the shaded sections, readers are referred to the annotation of the Précis, whereas the unique Guerre text is annotated in full in that volume. As Voltaire edited the text as he reused it, we have ignored small differences in phrasing for the purposes of this exercise (see image for example) – but it does sometimes throw into relief small amendments made during the reuse process, for example, deciding to name someone, or amending figures of battlefield casualties etc. in response to new information.

Histoire de la Guerre de 1741 / Précis du siècle de Louis XV

Above: Histoire de la Guerre de 1741, ch.24, l.264-69. Below: Précis du siècle de Louis XV, ch.26, l.78-83.

This decision necessitated another choice: should we shade only the material that was used in our base text of the Précis (Voltaire’s revised 1775 edition, amended by him shortly before his death in anticipation of a new version of his complete works), or should we include all the material that was taken forward from the Guerre, through the Essai and early standalone Précis editions, even if it was subsequently deleted? After discussion with the general editors, it was decided in the end that in the Guerre it was important to distinguish between what Voltaire reused, and what was only ever used in the Guerre. This means that not all the highlighted text will be found in the base text of our edition of the Précis – much of it can be found instead in the variants. The critical thing is that all the shaded text is accounted for and commented on in our edition of the Précis (OCV, vols.29A and 29B).

The Histoire de la guerre de 1741, OCV, vol.29C, publishing in October 2020, completes the three-volume set of the Précis du Siècle de Louis XV, with volumes 29A and 29B published earlier in the year, the general editors being Janet Godden and James Hanrahan.

Alison Oliver

Lettres philosophiques 4D – coming soon to libraries near you!

Letters concerning the English nation

Title page of 1733 edition. (Taylor Institution, Arch.8o.E.1733)

Lettres philosophiques! Lettres philosophiques!’, I hear you cry. And I bring you glad tidings: the time has almost come and your thirst will soon be quenched; volume 6B of the Œuvres complètes de Voltaire will be released in a matter of months.

The cherry on the cake of our 200-volume edition, vol.6B has been a somewhat tough row to hoe, and for good reason. One of Voltaire’s most iconic texts, the Lettres philosophiques also had a terribly complicated publication history: originally appearing in English in 1733, they were only published in French the following year, simultaneously in London and Rouen. No sooner had they been released than the letter about Locke and the nature of the soul, significantly reworked by the author himself, began to circulate clandestinely (ask Antony McKenna and Gianluca Mori, whose great edition of the ‘Lettre sur M. Locke’ only appeared a few months ago!). Met with more than a bit of resistance by the French authorities, the Lettres soon stopped being printed under their original title, and were merged into the Mélanges de littérature, d’histoire et de philosophie first, and, after Voltaire’s death, into the big potpourri that is the Kehl Dictionnaire philosophique.

Lettres philosophiques

Title page of 1734 Jore edition. (British Library, 8465.aa.3.(1.) DRT)

As they moved from one edition to another, from one miscellany to the next, the individual ‘letters’ underwent several changes. And we are not talking about occasional, minor corrections; we are talking about entire ‘letters’ being suppressed, combined with others, or replaced by brand new content. An example? The Jore edition of 1734, the one that we still read today, contained no fewer than four chapters on Newton; by 1756, however, ‘Sur le système de l’attraction’ and ‘Sur l’optique de M. Newton’ were entirely suppressed, and the first half of letter 17 (‘Sur l’infini et la chronologie’) met with the same, tragic destiny. In their place stood ‘De Newton’, a much shorter text in which gravitation and optics were mostly passed over in silence, pre-eminence being rather given to some not particularly laudatory anecdotes: the great Newton – Voltaire writes, possibly gesturing to his own niece, Marie-Louise Denis, who, at the time, also happened to be his lover – would have never risen to fame had it not been for ‘[sa] jolie nièce’ [Catherine Barton]. After all, in 1756 the Eléments de la philosophie de Newton also underwent major cuts, and all elements conspire to suggest that, by the mid-50s, Voltaire’s infatuation with the British mathematician had significantly lost momentum.

Gaining a better understanding of how the Lettres philosophiques may have changed over the forty-odd years between their publication and Voltaire’s death – looking at them in four dimensions, if you like – may cast much-needed light also on the history of other texts. Take, for instance, the Traité sur la tolerance. The impression that one gets from reading the letters that Voltaire sent and received between 1762 and 1763 is that this work was written almost impromptu in the months immediately following the execution of Jean Calas. But is that really the case? To a certain extent, yes. But it is also true that an early version of what would later become chapters 7, 8, 12, and 13 of the Traité could already be found in a rewriting of Letter 13, dating from about 1750: ‘Que les philosophes ne peuvent jamais nuire’. After all, as shown by Gianluigi Goggi, Catherine Volpilhac-Auger, and Olivier Ferret in a wonderful collection of essays published in 2007, Voltaire was an undisputed master of réécriture.[1]

Simple variant readings printed at the bottom of a page of a critical edition are usually sufficient to give the reader a sense of how a text evolved over time. But with the Lettres philosophiques we soon realised that things had to be scaled up a little. Alongside the canonical 25 letters, each with its own variants, vol.6B will therefore contain twenty substantial rewritings as texts in their own right, all furnished with footnotes and (guess what?!) variants! Any overlaps and repetitions between ‘letters’ and variants, or even between variants and substantial rewritings, will be highlighted in grey, and footnotes will guide readers and help them to navigate these somewhat intimidating waters. But might there be other, even better ways of editing a text with such a complex history? Well, that’s one of the questions that we are addressing, as we begin to work on Digital Voltaire.

– Ruggero Sciuto

[1] Copier/coller: écriture et réécriture chez Voltaire. Actes du colloque international (Pise, 30 juin – 2 juillet 2005) (Pisa, 2007).

120 Days: an itinerary

The ‘Things That Matter’ summer school, developed in collaboration with the Universities of Durham, Groningen, and Uppsala, took place on the week beginning 15th June. Due to current circumstances, the course took place online, and I was fortunate enough to be in attendance. Morning sessions focused on the tensions between material objects and their digitisation, the opportunities represented by new and developing technologies and techniques, and what might risk being missed when researchers focus solely on digital sources – a series of questions which appear more relevant that ever in this new age of social distancing and limited travel.

Afternoon sessions were focused on group projects, for which we are asked to trace, examine, and analyse the itineraries of our chosen historical objects. The course participants came from a wide range of disciplines, areas, and indeed countries, which was reflected in the rich and diverse range of objects chosen. My team consisted of myself, Daria Segal (PhD candidate, University of Iceland), and Meggy Lennaerts (Master’s candidate, University of Groningen), and our chosen object was the Marquis de Sade’s infamous Les Cent vingt journées de Sodome manuscript, a literary and historical object which has had a long, varied, and at times scandalous journey.

Manuscript of Les Cent vingt journées de Sodome.

Manuscript of Les Cent vingt journées de Sodome.

The study of the itinerary of the Sodome manuscript seemed to us to be particularly pertinent and timely, especially given its relatively recent declaration as a national treasure. Furthermore, while its travels are well told in editions of the text, the journey of the manuscript is often absorbed as part of the history of the text itself, rather than viewed as the itinerary of a separate, material object in its own right. Of course, the limited study of the materiality of the manuscript is likely largely due to the fact that it has always been in private hands, but its unique form, the author’s intensely emotional and physical relationship to the manuscript, the circumstances under which it was created, and the visceral nature of its contents, mean that a study of the materiality of the manuscript and its itinerary feels fitting, if not essential.

The manuscript began its life in the Bastille, and was written on tightly rolled, tissue-thin paper in miniscule handwriting, in just thirty-seven days. It was left behind when Sade was transferred from the Bastille to Charenton on 3rd July 1789; Sade spent the rest of his life believing it lost. It was not, however, lost; the story goes that it was rescued by a man named Arnoux de Saint-Maximin, although there appears to be little record of why, or indeed who he was, and then sold or given to the Marquis de Villeneuve-Trans. It remained in the Villeneuve-Trans family for three generations, where it was likely seen by very few people; it is mentioned in Henry Ashbee’s 1877 Index Librorum Prohibitorum but as a rumour, rather than a text he had seen first-hand.

In the late 19th or early 20th century, the manuscript was sold to German sexologist Iwan Bloch, who had already published a biography of Sade, and who saw in Sade’s work, and particularly in Sodome, a great source for the study of sexual perversion. Bloch had the manuscript transcribed, and published it in 1904 under the pseudonym Eugène Dühren. After Bloch’s death in 1922, the manuscript’s location is unknown, but it resurfaces again in 1929, when it is bought by Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, a direct descendant of Sade’s. The Noailles were influential patrons of the arts, their circle including, among others, Salvador Dalí, Balthus, and Man Ray, who photographed the manuscript. Under the auspices of the Noailles family, Maurice Heine was allowed to produce a second, more accurate transcription of the manuscript, which was published in the 1930s.

In 1982, the manuscript passed from the Noailles’ daughter, Nathalie de Noailles, to Swiss collector of erotica Gérard Nordmann, although not without scandal; the manuscript had allegedly been stolen from the Noailles family before being sold to Nordmann, although a Swiss court ruled that Nordmann had purchased the manuscript legally and in good faith. After Nordmann’s death in 2004, the manuscript was sold to Gérard Lhéritier, French manuscript dealer and founder of the firm Aristophil, who exhibited it in the Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits. In 2015, however, an investigation was opened against Lhéritier, due to a suspected pyramid scheme fraud. The manuscript, along with others in Aristophil’s collection, was seized by French authorities, and is still being held to this day.

The itinerary of the manuscript of Les Cent vingt journées de Sodome is a rich and complex one, and makes for a fascinating study in its own right. But even a brief examination of the itinerary of the manuscript throws up enriching angles for the study of the text, its reception, and influence, especially as the text only existed in manuscript form for the first hundred years of its life. As our study of the manuscript’s itinerary develops, so too, hopefully, will our understanding of the itinerary of the text and the ideas within. This project, and the ‘Things That Matter’ course, has furnished me with a renewed appreciation of tensions between the material and the digital and the rich potential of emerging software, which can only be of benefit to my other ongoing research, particularly as regards the iconography of Voltaire.

– Josie Dyster, Research Assistant, Voltaire Foundation, Oxford

(Josie is a research assistant in the Digital Enlightenment. She is currently building on existing research by Professor Samuel Taylor (St Andrews) to create a digital Voltaire iconography database.)

In memoriam Frank A. Kafker (1931-2020)

Frank A. Kafker (1931-2020)

Frank A. Kafker (1931-2020). Picture courtesy of the Kafker family.

The Voltaire Foundation learned with regret last week of the passing of Professor Frank Arthur Kafker on April 1 due to complications arising from Parkinson’s disease. Kafker figured among the luminaries of eighteenth-century studies, specializing in the French Enlightenment, the Revolution, and the relationship between the two.

Born in Brooklyn to a family of Russian Jewish immigrants during the Depression and coming of age just after the Second World War, Kafker entered adulthood and academic life at a time of expansion of the American academy and professoriate, and he became a historian in the 1950s and early 60s during a tremendously fertile moment for the discipline, when intellectual and social history, and French studies, came to the fore. Across the four decades of his career, he made signal contributions to the broad renewal of historiography of the French Enlightenment and French Revolution in post-War American research universities.  He became a pioneer in his pursuit of manuscript sources, his deployment of social historical methods, and his abiding interest in humanistic inquiry as a collaborative endeavor.

Educated in New York City public schools in the 1940s, he met in high school Serena who became his wife, intellectual collaborator, co-author, and lifelong companion. Kafker studied History at Columbia University (BA, 1953; MA, 1954), where he first discovered the French Enlightenment and French Revolution in a course taught by Ralph Bowen. Bowen at the time was writing on Denis Diderot, whose manuscripts had recently been unearthed by Herbert Dieckmann. Bowen encouraged Kafker to pursue his curiosity about the relationship of the Enlightenment to the Revolution and recommended that he pursue a doctorate under the direction of Jacques Barzun, then the Seth Low Professor of History at Columbia.

Benefitting from the then newly established Fulbright grant program, Kafker and Serena (who served as his research partner and became his co-author, before launching her own scholarly career) pursued a year of research in provincial archives, documenting the identities, backgrounds, social origins and political orientations of 139 of the contributors to the Encyclopédie.  He completed his doctorate in 1961 for a dissertation entitled ‘The Encyclopedists and the French Revolution’, and acquired teaching experience at a community college in upstate New York, before taking up a position at the University of Cincinnati, where he served on the faculty for 36 years, retiring as Professor of European History in 1998.

Kafker was a thoughtful and careful editor of historical scholarship. He co-edited two widely influential compendia, The French Revolution: Conflicting Interpretations (with James Laux and Darlene Gay Levy, first published in 1976 followed by four subsequent editions, the latest in 2002), and Napoleon and His Times (1989, with James Laux). He also served as editor of the journal French Historical Studies (1985-1992).

Kafker’s most cited and intellectually ambitious works were his books on the encyclopédistes and the publication of encyclopedias in the age of Enlightenment. He published five books on these topics with the Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century. Two were studies of the predecessors and successors to Diderot’s and D’Alembert’s great work, Notable encyclopedias of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: nine predecessors of the Encyclopédie (1981), and Notable encyclopedias of the late eighteenth century: eleven successors of the Encyclopédie (1993). He also co-edited, with his colleague Jeff Loveland, and contributed to a volume on the first editions of another important encyclopedia, The Early Britannica: the growth of an outstanding encyclopedia (2009).

Certainly, though, his greatest intellectual contributions were two books that set forth the fruits of his years of archival research and sociological analysis on the contributors to the Encyclopédie, The Encyclopedists as individuals: a biographical dictionary of the authors of the Encyclopédie (1988) with Serena L. Kafker, and The Encyclopedists as a group: a collective bibliography of the authors of the Encyclopédie (1996). The former of these remains among the two most widely circulated books in the history of SVEC, and its capsule biographies are now available in direct proximity to the relevant articles on the ARTFL edition of the Encyclopédie.

The latter, in many ways the culmination of the original research query that launched his dissertation, remains an influential model of historical prosopography and the social history of ideas. His biographical and sociological approach, and the unmatched precision of his research, on the encyclopedists and their networks has found new use in digital humanities such as in the aforementioned ARTFL edition of the Encyclopédie and in Mapping the Republic of Letters, as seen in the article ‘The French Enlightenment network’. Melanie Conroy has discussed further the significance of Kafker’s findings for the study of Enlightenment social networks in two peer-reviewed blog posts, published on the Age of Revolutions website.

Beyond his own teaching and scholarship, Kafker also made important contributions to the scholarly community of eighteenth-century studies and French history. He was part of the trans-Atlantic efforts of the 1960s and 70s to establish new scholarly societies to study the Enlightenment in an international, interdisciplinary environment that would foreground the philosophes and their contribution. Accordingly, he was an active member over many years of the American, Scottish and International Societies for Eighteenth-Century Studies; the Sociétés Diderot and Voltaire; the American Historical Association; and the Society for French Historical Studies.

Kafker is survived by Serena, his sons Scott and Roger Kafker, their wives, four grandsons, and a sister.

– Gregory Brown (Voltaire Foundation / University of Nevada, Las Vegas), Melanie Conroy (University of Memphis), Jeff Loveland (University of Cincinnati)

The typesetting challenges of OCV84

The Voltaire Foundation asked our typesetter, Tom Garland, of Academic & Technical Typesetting, to write about the recent challenge of setting volume 84, which contained several tricky layouts and graphical elements.

The challenge from a typesetting perspective with the volume was how to capture Voltaire’s original hand-drawn markings and then incorporate them into a complex page layout where their required positioning could very likely clash with sidenotes, line numbers, variant notes or footnotes.

Voltaire’s original markings, taken from photographs from original manuscripts, were quite faint and grey. This meant that there was no possibility of simply scanning the images and using the scans in a typeset page.

These marginal and textual markings fell into two categories, each causing its own problems.

Firstly, all pages with these markings were scanned and then separated into their relevant elements. With the marginal notes, an industry standard vector-based drawing package was used. Each individual scan of a page containing a marginal mark was imported into a template, where a freehand pen ‘tool’ was used to draw around the outline of Voltaire’s mark and then given an appropriate width to match the thickness of the original marking.

The textual markings, which often covered the manuscript width or encircled a word or number of words, caused a somewhat different problem. Again, a freehand tool was used, this time to encompass the required word or section of text. A ‘clipping mask’ was created, which effectively isolated the required markings, and made the background transparent. This allowed our typesetting system to import the image without blocking out any of the printed text (see the illustrations for p.215 and 250, below).

Complete Works of Voltaire, vol.84, p.215

Page 215.

Complete Works of Voltaire, vol.84, p.250

Page 250.

The publishing software used to typeset volume 84 was Arbortext Print Publisher (Unicode). A template for importing the text and images was created, which would normally allow for all different styles and types of articles found in an OCV publication. The template would automatically create line numbers and display the current line number value at intervals of five lines. These would be displayed in the left margin of right-hand pages and in the right margin of left-hand pages. Sidenotes would be positioned in the opposite side margin to the line numbers.

Fragment 48a was by far the most complex to typeset. This contained in excess of forty hand-drawn images, most of which were to be positioned within the left- or right-hand margin, or even within a sidenote. The typesetting package will automatically generate sidenotes, placing them alongside the position where they are referenced, e.g. <?”||SideNote”,3><mn id=48>. However, in Fragment 48a, both the hand-drawn images and sidenotes were required in both the left- and right-hand margins of a page. This made page make-up particularly difficult as there were numerous occasions where either the hand-drawn images or sidenotes would clash with automatically generated line numbers or text. There were also occasions (see page 238, illustration below) where the sidenote was required to move further to the left of its normal position to allow for an image to appear between the sidenote and the main text. A manual command <?tpr=6pt> (add a 6-point space to the right-hand margin) was added at the start of the sidenote to separate it from the hand-drawn image to prevent them clashing with one another.

Complete Works of Voltaire, vol.84, p.238

Page 238.

In summary, the object for any typesetter is to add as much automation into a template as possible to save time and ensure consistency throughout a publication. OCV volume 84 presented a challenge where it was necessary to add manual commands to override some of the template’s automation to position some images and sidenotes that did not conform to the usual OCV style.

The OCV volumes vary considerably from other typesetting projects we undertake. One striking difference from other books is the many different types of footnotes that appear within an OCV volume. There may be notes from the original text, textual variants and editorial footnotes that will be positioned, in that order, at the foot of the page where they belong. There might also be side notes appearing in the opposite margin to line numbers. To make things even more complicated, the call for a footnote might well appear in one of the other footnote types (see OCV 84, fragment 48a). This can result in difficulty placing footnotes at the bottom of the page where the corresponding note calls appear.

The challenges of typesetting OCV vary greatly from one volume to the next. Some volumes conform to the usual layout, whereas others have chapters that are typeset in a unique style (e.g. OCV 84, Fragment 46b). These chapters can result in additional production time due to the typesetting template requiring changes in order to display the material in the required format.

– Tom Garland

Gillian Pink at the Voltaire Foundation: thirteen years and counting

As we approach the completion of the Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, I sat down with team co-ordinator Gillian Pink to find out more about how joining the editorial team led to becoming a researcher in her own right.

Gillian Pink and Birgit Mikus

Gillian Pink and Birgit Mikus.

You are one of the research editors working on the critical edition, a huge task. How did you come to work for the VF? Did you start editing OCV immediately?

I came to the VF almost by accident. I was studying for an MA in Publishing at Oxford Brookes University and Clare Fletcher, who was responsible for work placements on the MA, also did marketing here. She took one look at my CV – which at that point included work on a critical edition of an eighteenth-century sequel to Candide – and said ‘I think I know someone who would be very interested in this CV!’ That person turned out to be Janet Godden.

I arrived at 99 Banbury Road one afternoon in January 2007 for what I think I expected to be an interview, and was put to work straight away collating variants for Le Pyrrhonisme de l’histoire [since published in OCV, vol.67]. The rest, as they say… I did work briefly on Electronic Enlightenment before I started my full time employment on OCV in the autumn of that year, so an early introduction to digital editing, checking instances of words using non-Latin alphabets, as well as certain types of metadata.

So you have been at the VF for thirteen years – how many volumes have you worked on? Do you have a favourite text or volume?

Oh my! How many volumes… Taking a quick look at the shelves… twenty-five, perhaps, depending on your definition of ‘worked on’, and there are still a few more to go too. I don’t know if I have a single all-time favourite, but many favourites, which tend to be the ones I’ve contributed to as an author, rather than only as an in-house editor.

Questions sur l'Encyclopédie

The complete set of Questions sur l’Encyclopédie on the VF bookshelf.

One of my favourite Voltaire texts, I suppose, would have to be the Questions sur l’Encyclopédie, a glorious collection of mostly short articles summing up his thoughts on just about every topic under the sun as he approached the end of his life. I had some involvement with all of the eight volumes that make up the set in OCV, was lead in-house editor on six of those and annotated articles in four. Last year, along with the general editors Nicholas Cronk and Christiane Mervaud, we published a version of this text for a wider readership with Robert Laffont. But I also love the very humorous poem ‘Le Pauvre Diable’ that I edited in volume 51A, and of course the notebook fragments just published in the latest volume, 84, and the marginalia in volumes 136-145 are close to my heart and research interests as well…

Tell me more about the marginalia, please! What is your research interest in them?

If you had told me when I first joined the VF that a few years down the line I’d have completed a D.Phil. and become an expert on Voltaire’s marginalia, I’d have found it quite hard to believe. As you may know, the project of publishing Voltaire’s marginal notes was begun by colleagues in St Petersburg at the National Library of Russia, but after the Berlin wall came down, their publisher, Akademie Verlag, went through a period of upheaval and the project stalled. The VF picked it up and incorporated it (quite rightly) into OCV.

But the lady in St Petersburg who had been writing all the editorial notes had sadly died before she got to the final volume, so it was suggested that I might like to take this on as a doctoral project. In the end, I did a more typical thesis, while the annotation ended up being a separate project. Until then, while the marginalia had been studied to some degree, by far most of the articles published looked at Voltaire as a reader of a particular author. There was no proper study at that point looking at the marginalia as an ensemble, as a genre, looking for patterns in what we present as a corpus, although of course it wasn’t conceived as a corpus by Voltaire at all – rather like his correspondence in that way. And I was lucky to have an excellent supervisor in Nicholas [Cronk]. The result of all this was my book, Voltaire à l’ouvrage (Voltaire at work), which came out – nearly two years ago already!

Since then I played a leading role in bringing out a final volume of Voltaire’s marginalia in OCV, based on an even more disparate corpus, which is to say those books and manuscripts that for various reasons are not part of his library in St Petersburg, and so were not part of the original Russian project. While I still find marginalia fascinating for the direct insights they provide into readers’ responses to books (although they can’t always be taken completely at face value), I’m now extending this interest to reading notes in a broader sense, and Voltaire’s notebooks are a wonderfully challenging mix of reading notes, ideas of various sorts, and jottings that probably reflected snippets that he gleaned from oral sources.

We all know that the paper publication of OCV is nearing its completion this year. Do you have a new project lined up, for example regarding Voltaire’s notebooks you mentioned?

You’re quite right to ask. I do have several research ideas concerning the notebooks. I can’t go into too much detail because a couple of them need to be finalised with publishers and/or other colleagues, but I think there is much to be done in this area.

I’ll be talking about the notebooks at the annual ‘Journées Voltaire’ conference at the Sorbonne in June. I think the notebooks can be perceived as a bit ‘scary’, in part because of the wide variety of topics and the considerable lack of order within them, but also the fact that they were amongst the first volumes published in OCV. In those days scholarly practices didn’t demand the fuller sort of annotation that we tend to provide for readers nowadays, so Besterman’s notes are quite laconic and his perspective perhaps isn’t quite the one we would adopt these days either. For me, as someone whose approach tends to be based on material bibliography, I find it really helpful and revealing to look at the original manuscripts. Often, physical characteristics will strongly suggest – for example from the colour of the ink, the margins, the spacing – which sections were written at the same time, and so give a sense of which bits belong together or not. This is an area in which I hope our future digital edition of Voltaire’s complete works may build on the print and add real value, as there would be an opportunity to supplement the print transcription with digitised images.

Of course, the really interesting question to me is how Voltaire used his notebooks and other loose papers, how they were generated, and how they fed into his more public writings. I think there are still discoveries to be made in this area, and I’m lucky to be able to work with a great network of colleagues, from friends based in Voltaire’s library in St Petersburg, to digital humanities scholars at the Sorbonne and the University of Chicago, and research groups interested in textual genetics and the extract as a genre at ITEM [in Paris] and the IZEA [Halle, Germany]. So the future is full of exciting possibilities.

Birgit Mikus with Gillian Pink

Hacking Voltaire

The Voltaire Foundation’s first ever Hackathon took place on Friday 24th January 2020, as part of a generous John Fell Fund grant. It was held in the suitably historic St Luke’s Chapel in the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, a now deconsecrated chapel which once formed part of the Radcliffe Infirmary. The event was attended by over twenty students and researchers from a range of disciplines and institutions, including a large contingent of our colleagues from the Sorbonne. We were also joined by a number of specialist advisers, and of course our judges: Nicholas Cronk (Voltaire Foundation), Marian Hobson (Queen Mary), Glenn Roe (Sorbonne), and Kathryn Eccles (OII).

For the uninitiated, a hackathon (or, in French, ‘un hackathon’), is an event which brings together a large group of people to engage in collaborative digital projects. In the case of the Voltaire Hackathon, participants were asked to bring together their expertise and passion for the written word to conceive and realise projects drawn from an almost intimidatingly broad corpus: the collected works and correspondence of Voltaire, as found in TOUT Voltaire and Electronic Enlightenment, which were made available both as plain text and TEI-XML files. Armed with this corpus, participants in teams of three to five would compete for the ultimate prize: a small 3D-printed bust of the man himself.

Voltaire or bust! The winners’ trophy.

Voltaire or bust! The winners’ trophy.

Following a warm welcome from Nicholas Cronk and an introduction to the dataset from Glenn Roe, participants were given time to mix, mingle, and form their teams under the guidance of Kathryn Eccles. Each individual brought to the team their own strengths and skillset, with each group trying to find a balance of Voltaire specialists, French speakers, and digital specialists. Once teams had formed, participants set about the challenging task of finding just one project among the vast corpus of Voltaire’s literary and personal output – a project which needed to be at a working prototype stage within the six or so hours allotted to complete it. Some groups had clearly arrived with a concept already in mind, while others played around with a few ideas before settling on one point of focus. The room was soon abuzz with discussion and excited planning, in French, English, and the odd smattering of Franglais.

Having introduced themselves, established individual skillsets, and settled on a plan, teams set to work. By lunchtime, it was already clear that there were a wide range of interests represented: imagistic language in Voltaire’s poetry; mapping place in Candide’s journey and Voltaire’s correspondence; visualising the spread and reception of the Lettres Philosophiques in Voltaire’s correspondence; and analysing the presence of and response to the ideas of 17th-century philosophers within Voltaire’s œuvre. Each project presented its own unique challenges, not least of all the sheer size of the corpus available to each group, but over the course of the day, each project began to take a tangible shape.

Hacking away in St Luke’s Chapel.

Hacking away in St Luke’s Chapel.

At the end of the day, each team presented their work back to the judges and the other groups, explaining their concept, method, and the initial findings. The final products engaged not only with a wide range of works from the corpus, but also in a wide range of techniques, including building user interfaces for public engagement, and producing linguistic analysis, data visualisation, and geospatial analysis. All of the projects presented represented a huge amount of hard work, talent, and passion from the Hackathon participants, and it was exciting to get a sense of the huge potential in a digital approach to Voltaire and the Enlightenment more widely. However, there could only be one winner, and the much-coveted prize was award to Olle Hammarstrom, Maria Florutau, and Andrei Sorescu for their innovative work on Voltaire’s engagement with earlier philosophers.

The winning team: Maria Florutau, Olle Hammarstrom and Andrei Sorescu.

The winning team: Maria Florutau, Olle Hammarstrom and Andrei Sorescu.

However, without intending to sound trite, it was not the winning, but the taking part that counts. Although all of the participants would have been thrilled to win a tiny Voltaire of their very own, the day was a rewarding experience in and of itself, pushing all the attendees out of their comfort zones. For those with little experience in the digital humanities, it opened eyes to the techniques and insight available to them in the realm of computing, while those with little or no background in Voltaire were able to find a new interest; even in our internet age, it was evident from the smiles and laughter from participants that there is still a great deal of humour to be found in Voltaire’s work and correspondence. Overall, the day was a great success, both productive and enjoyable, and will, with a bit of luck, be repeated again in the not-so-distant future.

– Josie Dyster, Research Assistant, Voltaire Foundation, Oxford