Rethinking Voltaire’s Lettres sur les Anglais: in the footsteps of Gustave Lanson

With the publication of volume 6B, containing the full annotated text of the Lettres philosophiques, we have just moved one step closer to celebrating the completion of the Complete works of Voltaire in 2021. We are familiar with the challenge of trying to make sense of a text that has hitherto been little studied – the recently completed edition of the Précis du siècle de Louis XV is a case in point. A challenge of a different sort is presented by the small number of texts that are well known and much edited: in these cases, is there anything left to say? That problem is especially stark in the case of the Lettres philosophiques, where one epoch-making critical edition, that of Gustave Lanson, casts a long shadow over those of us following in his footsteps.

Gustave Lanson

Gustave Lanson at work at the Sorbonne. (Bibliothèque de la Sorbonne; photographer unknown)

Lanson was a devoted lycée teacher much involved in the reform of the school syllabus before he became professor at the Sorbonne in 1904. He didn’t just edit the Lettres philosophiques, he pretty much invented the work for the twentieth century and beyond. The title was scarcely known in the nineteenth century, and the Lanson edition of 1909 (re)created it very deliberately to turn it into a teaching text.

In the years before the First World War, when Lanson was lecturing on Voltaire at the Sorbonne, the French faculty in Oxford was still in its infancy – its only significant contribution to Enlightenment studies was from Miss Eleanor Jourdain, vice-principal of St Hugh’s, who published an account of meeting the ghost of Marie-Antoinette at the Petit Trianon… but that story must wait for another blog. Voltaire first came onto the Oxford French syllabus in 1923, when the Siècle de Louis XIV was set for the Pass School (how many students read that work now?). Then, as part of a comprehensive revision of the syllabus in 1927, it was resolved, rather boldly, that the nineteenth century should begin in 1715, and so Voltaire became a prescribed author on the Finals syllabus (where he has remained ever since): the two works chosen for ‘special study’ were Candide (in the 1913 edition of André Morize, a pupil of Lanson) and the Lettres philosophiques (in Lanson’s own edition, of course). During World War II the teaching of Voltaire carried on unchanged and, given the impossibility of importing books from France, the Oxford publisher Basil Blackwell commissioned student editions of Candide and the Lettres philosophiques. The editors had to work quickly, and Owen Taylor’s edition of Candide came out in 1942, followed the year after by the Lettres philosophiques, edited by Frank Taylor, a tutor at Christ Church. This excellent edition remains in print and was still the prescribed edition in Oxford when I studied Voltaire as an undergraduate in the 1970s. I remember my surprise when I discovered at Thornton’s in Broad Street a copy of the original 1943 printing, produced on poor-quality paper with the ‘Book production war economy standard’ logo at the front. I didn’t know it at the time, but my introduction to Voltaire by way of the Lettres philosophiques was entirely due to Gustave Lanson.

Lettres philosophiques, ed. Gustave Lanson

Lettres philosophiques, ed. Gustave Lanson (1909).

Lanson taught literature at the Sorbonne at a time when ‘French literature’ was considered inferior to ‘History’ as a university subject. He devoted much of his career to defending the seriousness of literary study, hence the pressing need to produce a ‘scientific’ edition of a literary work that would prove the credentials of this emerging subject. So, the importance of Lanson’s Lettres philosophiques was not just that it was the first proper critical edition of any Voltaire work; it was intended to be the model for all future literary scholarship, no less. As he writes in his edition of the Lettres:

‘Il m’a paru utile de donner une édition critique des Lettres philosophiques, une édition qui fût non seulement la première édition critique de cet ouvrage, mais la première aussi, à ce que je crois, d’un écrit de Voltaire, et qui inaugurât une série de travaux qu’il serait vraiment temps de commencer.’

These circumstances help to explain both the strengths and some of the oddities of Lanson’s pioneering work. The bibliographical descriptions, for example, are needlessly complicated and confusing, with their stemmas of different textual traditions that Lanson seems to have borrowed from medievalist colleagues such as Joseph Bédier. This aspect of his editorial work has not been emulated, and we hope that the bibliographical section in our new edition will be simpler and clearer to follow.

Lettres philosophiques, ed. Gustave Lanson

Lanson’s stemma from the second edition. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

The annotation is a remarkable feature of Lanson’s edition. He explains that he does not aim to produce a historical commentary on the work, still less to say whether Voltaire’s judgements are well founded; nor does he wish to put Voltaire’s text in the context of earlier travel accounts to England (something that F. A. Taylor does in his edition). Instead, his goal is to identify and explain as precisely as possible the sources of Voltaire’s text:

‘Mon but a été d’aider à comprendre comment Voltaire a fait son livre, comment et sur quels matériaux son esprit a travaillé. J’ai voulu présenter un commentaire de “sources”, rien de plus. L’idéal eût été d’arriver à découvrir pour chaque phrase le fait, le texte ou le propos qui avait mis en branle l’intelligence ou l’imagination de Voltaire: on se fût ainsi rendu compte du travail intérieur qui les a utilisés, fécondés, déformés, transformés. Je n’ai pas besoin de dire que je n’ai pas atteint cet idéal.’

This ‘ideal’ of attempting to pin down the sources of every single phrase in the book strikes us now as somewhat surreal, and of course Lanson has been much mocked by later generations for his unrelenting positivism. Where Lanson produced his commentary in the form of long endnotes, our style of annotation is not only different in approach, it is also more concise. That said, we remain enormously indebted to Lanson’s work, which in important respects remains unsurpassed.

Letters concerning the English nation, first edition

Letters concerning the English nation, first edition.

A particular challenge posed by this text lies in the choice of base text and the presentation of (so-called) variants. The problem begins with the fact that there is not really one first edition. The work was initially published by William Bowyer in London, in English, as the Letters concerning the English nation (1733). Early in 1734 Bowyer produced in London the first French edition, the Lettres écrites de Londres sur les Anglais (with the false imprint ‘A Basle’); and then later that year, another enlarged French edition was published, without privilège, by Jore in Rouen. For Lanson, there was no problem: the English edition could be dismissed as a mere translation; and the first French edition had the double disadvantage of being foreign and of being less complete (it lacked the 25th letter on Pascal). It seemed obvious to him that the ‘real’ version of the text was the one published in France, the one that had caused the scandal that nearly landed Voltaire in jail. And so this multi-faceted work became reduced to the Lettres philosophiques, and the other two early versions, though noted, were eclipsed. There have been many editions of this work since 1909, and all editors have followed Lanson in their basic decision to choose the Jore printing over the other two.

Lettres écrites de Londres sur les Anglais, first edition in French

Lettres écrites de Londres sur les Anglais, first edition in French.

It was an American scholar, Harcourt Brown, who first confused this picture by arguing intriguingly in an article of 1967 that Voltaire had composed about half of the text in English, and that the Letters concerning the English nation were in fact part English original and part translation. His arguments were taken further by André-Michel Rousseau, who in 1964 had updated Lanson’s edition of the Lettres philosophiques, and who wrote a remarkable doctorat d’état on L’Angleterre et Voltaire. A.-M. Rousseau was originally invited to edit this work for the Complete works of Voltaire, and in a lecture given at the Taylor Institution in Oxford in 1978, celebrating the bicentenary of Voltaire’s death, he laid out his plan for an edition that would break radically with the Lanson tradition: he argued forcefully that the Jore French text was in many respects inferior to the Bowyer French version printed in London and, crucially, that it was this London version that lived on in later editions. He proposed therefore to side-line the Jore edition, and present the two London editions as a bilingual edition, with the English and French on facing pages:

‘Au lecteur du vingtième siècle, on doit la vérité: une édition bilingue. A main gauche, comme sur un clavier, l’anglais de Voltaire; à main droite, le français de Voltaire, non le texte imprimé par Jore, déjà légèrement, mais nettement marqué par la sénescence, mais la rédaction verte, drue, candide, de l’édition de Londres. En somme, les vraies “Lettres anglaises” – et parfois “philosophiques” – en un seul concert visuel.’

This was fighting talk – how I wish we had a podcast of that lecture, and how I wish Rousseau had gone on to produce his edition as planned. When I prepared the first modern edition of the Letters concerning the English nation, I still went along with the Harcourt Brown thesis that Voltaire had begun to write this book in English. But I soon began to have doubts, which I discussed over the years with a good friend, the late Pat Lee: in due course, we each found evidence disproving Harcourt Brown’s central argument, and there is now a scholarly consensus that Voltaire wrote this book in French, and that the English version is in its entirety a translation by John Lockman.

But that does not mean that Lanson was right to dismiss the English version out of hand. They may be a translation, but the Letters concerning the English nation are still, strictly speaking, the first edition of our work. More than that, there is clear evidence that from the start Voltaire intended his Lettres to appear in both French and English (even if he didn’t originally intend the English version to come out first). Lanson’s stirring declaration that the Lettres philosophiques were ‘the first bomb thrown at the Ancien Régime’ (the quote that launched a thousand essay questions…) makes sense in the context of the Third Republic, but is simply not sustainable when we examine the work’s complex international publishing history. Voltaire was clearly writing not just for a French readership, but also for English and European readers more widely. So, in the new Oxford edition, we will include the English version as a text possessing its intrinsic interest as part of the overall European reception of this work.

Where does that leave us with regard to the choice of copy text? Should we stay with Lanson in choosing the Jore edition, the Lettres philosophiques? Or should we follow A.-M. Rousseau’s preference for the Bowyer text, the Lettres écrites de Londres sur les Anglais? Rousseau was not wrong to say that the Bowyer printing is technically of higher quality than the Jore edition – the Rouen printer was producing a clandestine edition, and no doubt had to work fast. It is also true that because subsequent reworkings of the text mostly took the Bowyer edition as their starting point, the recording of variants to that edition is in practical terms simpler than recording variants to the Jore edition. Only the Jore edition, however, has the 25th letter, the Anti-Pascal, which was a key part of the book’s polemical impact; and Lanson is right to say that this edition provoked the censorship storm that overwhelmed Voltaire in 1734. Our decision was finely balanced but, in the end, we decided to keep Jore as the base text, not least so as to give the Anti-Pascal its proper prominence.

We resolved, however, to present the variants in a different way from Lanson. The variants in his edition are scrupulously recorded, of course, yet they are frankly hard to interpret, and we need to ask why that is. The censorship of the Lettres philosophiques was savage, and given that Voltaire was legally obliged to abandon the title, he worked to recast the work in a disguised form, under a different name. While individual ‘letters’ largely survive, redesignated as ‘chapters’ from 1739, they are in places substantially rewritten and transformed, and entirely new chapters are added. In other words, we are not dealing here with ‘one’ book and its textual ‘variants’, but rather with a shifting text that continued to evolve throughout Voltaire’s lifetime – so much so, indeed, that Voltaire really questions our received notion of a ‘fixed’ or ‘closed’ text. The challenge for the editor of a print edition is to find a way of taming this shifting entity within the two dimensions of the printed page. So, in our new edition, while we have retained the Lettres philosophiques as base text, we have given full prominence to the other French version, the Lettres écrites de Londres, by including its distinctive paratexts and index in a separate section, and we have created a third section, ‘Mélanges (1739-1775)’, which seeks to track and explain as clearly as we can the various permutations (not variants!) of the letters as they evolve over four decades.

This leaves the dilemma of the title. Our decision to name the overall edition the Lettres sur les Anglais certainly breaks with recent tradition, although the more familiar Lettres philosophiques has only been standard since Lanson imposed it in 1909. Before that, the work was habitually referred to as the Lettres anglaises or Lettres sur les Anglais, titles that Voltaire himself used in his letters. Writing after Voltaire’s death, both Condorcet and Frederick II refer to the Lettres sur les Anglais, and we have followed their example. The great advantage of this title is that it can designate collectively a whole cluster of related printed texts (and the associated manuscript Lettre sur M. Locke). In choosing this title, we wanted to emphasise the fundamentally fluid nature of the Lettres and not to single out any one expression in print.

For all Lanson’s supposedly ‘scientific’ critical approach, his edition of the Lettres philosophiques is a highly politicised work. The Entente cordiale of 1904 was an ambitious diplomatic attempt to strengthen the links between England and France at a moment when war with Germany seemed imminent. For this first exemplary scholarly edition, Lanson’s choice of a work in 1909 that celebrated European Enlightenment and the cultural connections between France and England was hardly fortuitous. And what of the new Oxford edition of the Lettres sur les Anglais, which emphasises Voltaire’s European readership, and that we have been working on in lockdown in 2020 while the UK was discussing severing its ties with the European Union? Whether its editors realise it or not, no critical edition is ever neutral.

Nicholas Cronk

Lettres sur les Anglais (II) was published in December 2020, an edition by Nicholas Cronk, Nick Treuherz, Nicolas Fréry and Ruggero Sciuto.


The history of the book that never was: Voltaire’s Histoire de la guerre de 1741

Louis XV in 1748, by Maurice Quentin de La Tour

Louis XV in 1748, by Maurice Quentin de La Tour (1704-1788). (Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia commons)

‘Je doute qu’il y ait à présent un homme dans l’Europe aussi bien au fait que moi de l’histoire de la dernière guerre’, wrote Voltaire in June 1752 about what he describes a few lines later as the ‘plus difficile de mes ouvrages’ (D4907, to the duc de Richelieu). The work was never published by him, however, so what went wrong? Voltaire sometimes delayed publication of his work until the time was ripe, or after a water-testing first draft that found the water chilly, but he rarely abandoned an entire book-length work. Yet this was the sad fate of the Histoire de la guerre de 1741 (War of the Austrian Succession), now entering Voltaire’s complete works for the first time (OCV, vol.29C). Circumstances were against him all along, so that the time, the place and the loved one never did come together.

In 1745 the ‘loved one’ was Louis XV – ‘le bien aimé’. Louis’s personal presence during the Flanders campaigns of 1744 and 1745 showed him at his best, and so he is portrayed by Voltaire, writing as newly appointed historiographe de France in what became the relevant chapters of the Histoire de la guerre de 1741. The first thing to go wrong was the time. Had an honourable peace for France been agreed at the end of 1745, as there was every reason to hope once the succession question had been resolved, the time would have been ripe for Voltaire, still living in Versailles, to have put down his pen and published his account of the ‘campagnes du Roi’, of which a manuscript had been sent to the king in 1746.

Stanislas Leszczynski by Jean Girardet

Stanislas Leszczynski (1677-1766) by Jean Girardet (1709-1778), court painter in Lunéville.

The war dragged on, however, until 1748, by which time Voltaire, disillusioned by life at Versailles, was on a protracted visit to King Stanislas Lesczynski at Lunéville where he still was when Mme Du Châtelet died in 1749. This catastrophe induced Voltaire to accept a long-standing invitation from Frederick II to stay in Potsdam. Here the Guerre de 1741 was eventually completed, but Voltaire never returned to live in Paris or Versailles, the sources of his inspiration and material and the natural springboard for his history.

Voltaire was evidently keen to test the waters in Paris with a revised version of the first part, up to the battle of Fontenoy, but his principal adviser, the comte d’Argental, warned him – ‘sans être obligé d’entrer dans les détails’ – on no account to publish it without approval (see D4843; 19 March 1752).

Although the war was no doubt still a sore subject with the king, d’Argental’s oblique hint shows that Voltaire was already aware of the justified criticisms that he had unduly flattered his friends, in particular by exaggerating the part played at Fontenoy by his friend and hero the duc de Richelieu and consequently downplaying that of the true victor, the maréchal de Saxe. Voltaire had been carried away, one might almost say that he had replaced one loved one with another.

Plan of the battle of Fontenoy, 11 May 1745, by Jean de Beaurain

Plan of the battle of Fontenoy, 11 May 1745, by Jean de Beaurain (1696-1771). (Bibliothèque nationale, public domain)

Maurice de Saxe by Maurice Quentin de La Tour

Maurice de Saxe (1696-1750), by Maurice Quentin de La Tour (1748). (Public domain)

Voltaire evidently cut his losses. From his base in Potsdam he had another string to his bow – publication of the full manuscript by Conrad Walther in Dresden. The idea had been mentioned in March (see D4841) but in August Voltaire was nervous, telling Walther that he would want a small printing in anticipation of an early second edition, as happened with the Siècle de Louis XIV on which Walther was then engaged (D4994). This unpromising request would explain why the work was not printed by Walther, if indeed the final manuscript was ever sent, but it is hard to account for Voltaire’s unease other than fear of mockery about the flattery of his friends.

So when three years later in 1755 the manuscript of the first part of the Guerre was ‘stolen’ and published under Voltaire’s name with an Amsterdam title-page, had he jumped or was he pushed? His disclaimers were not seriously believed either then or now. More interesting, and curious, is the fact that Voltaire did not proceed to publish his own authorised edition, nor did he take steps to publish the complete text to 1748 as promised to Walther. Once more he bided his time, but for what?

Histoire de la guerre de mil sept cent quarante et un

Histoire de la guerre de mil sept cent quarante et un, title page of part 1 (Amsterdam [Paris], 1755). (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

By late 1755 Voltaire was already in the process of preparing the edition of his complete works of 1756, where he was joining the Siècle de Louis XIV to the end of what became the Essai sur les mœurs […] depuis Charlemagne jusqu’à nos jours. What better solution than to tack on as well the early chapters of an abbreviated Guerre de 1741? The decisive nail in the coffin of the Guerre de 1741 may well have been the reversal of alliances in 1755 which transposed Austria, the adversary of 1745, into France’s new ally. At a stroke the Guerre was relegated to the status of a redundant curiosity. Voltaire had missed the boat.

The Collection complète des œuvres de Voltaire of 1756 contains truncated versions of the text up to the battle of Fontenoy. Subsequent editions were augmented by further pared-down chapters until the whole was subsumed into the Précis du siècle de Louis XV in 1768 (OCV, vols. 29A and 29B).

Thus it was that the Histoire de la guerre de 1741 was never published as a complete text in Voltaire’s lifetime. Nineteenth-century editors of his complete works, starting from Beuchot, found the strands of the Guerre and Précis hard to unravel. This is understandable but they undoubtedly missed a trick. (The OCV edition is able to use shading to highlight the passages from the Guerre that are carried forward into the Précis.)

The Guerre de 1741 is fully deserving of its place in Voltaire’s complete works. It is more than a historical narrative; it is a picture of Voltaire at work and revealing of the pains he took. It also shows that for the ci-devant historiographer writing about his own time was not as easy as all that – not easy at all in fact.

Janet Godden

L’Essai sur les mœurs: une lecture personnelle

L’Essai sur les mœurs est en grande partie un recensement de la souffrance infligée par la cruauté humaine sous toutes ses formes (nous dirions aujourd’hui le sadisme), et de la quête de liberté au moins sous certaines formes. Véritable tour de force de synthèse, atteignant à la perfection du langage, il s’agit d’un ouvrage dérangeant qui fait voir un homme révolté devant l’Histoire telle qu’il la présente. Voltaire s’en est pris à l’Histoire comme il a l’habitude de s’en prendre à la Bible. Sa virtuosité en impose, mais cette histoire du monde et l’analyse du devenir historique qui en découle génèrent autant de perplexité chez le lecteur qu’elles ne l’éclairent, et ce pour plusieurs raisons, dont les moindres ne sont pas la partialité de l’auteur et sa conception atemporelle de l’Histoire. L’Essai sur les mœurs, fascinant par ses méandres, est sans doute l’œuvre de Voltaire la plus complexe du point de vue du sens qui saurait être attribué à l’ensemble.

Page de titre de la première édition

Page de titre de la première édition.

Ce n’est sans doute pas là un enjeu essentiel, mais à la toute fin, au dernier chapitre (‘Résumé de toute cette histoire’), Voltaire s’interroge sur les leçons à tirer de ce vaste panorama des actions humaines qu’il a voulu présenter à travers les mœurs, un concept qui confère une unité sémantique à son travail mais dont la spécificité est difficile à cerner. Aurait-il perçu les camps de concentration nazis comme mœurs des Allemands? Voltaire a voulu éblouir avec ses obsessions; il a créé un vertige moral en contemplant l’hypocrisie des gens de pouvoir, et s’en repentira en cherchant à atténuer le tableau morbide des abominations commises au cours de l’histoire de l’humanité qu’il a peint en parallèle avec les plus grandes réalisations de l’esprit humain. Il adoucit – un peu tard – son agressivité habituelle (‘jamais on n’a vu aucune société religieuse, aucun rite institué dans la vue d’encourager les hommes aux vices. On s’est servi dans toute la terre de la religion pour faire le mal; mais elle est partout instituée pour porter au bien; et si le dogme apporte
 le fanatisme et la guerre, la morale inspire partout la concorde’, ch.197, p.330) et crée une ouverture vers un optimisme intellectuel (‘Quand une nation connaît les arts, quand elle n’est point subjuguée et transportée par les étrangers, elle sort aisément de ses ruines, et se rétablit toujours’, ch.197, p.334).

Son ambition initiale était claire. Il a expliqué sa frustration, et celle conjointe de Mme Du Châtelet, devant la lecture de l’Histoire à laquelle il avait accès: ‘nous avons jusqu’à présent dans la plupart de nos histoires universelles, traité les autres hommes comme s’ils n’existaient pas. La Grèce, les Romains se sont emparés de toute notre attention, et quand le célèbre Bossuet dit un mot des mahométans, il n’en parle que comme d’un déluge de barbares, cependant beaucoup de ces nations possédaient des arts utiles que nous tenons d’elles; leurs pays nous fournissent des commodités et des choses précieuses que la nature nous a refusées, et vêtus de leurs étoffes, nourris des productions de leurs terres, instruits par leurs inventions, amusés même par les jeux qui sont le fruit de leur industrie, nous ne sommes ni justes ni sages de les ignorer’ (‘Nouveau Plan d’une Histoire de l’esprit humain’, OCV, t.27, p.157). Il serait difficile de contester une telle affirmation. ‘Mon principal but avait été de suivre les révolutions de l’esprit humain dans celles des gouvernements. Je cherchais comment tant de méchants hommes conduits par de plus méchants princes ont pourtant à la longue établi des sociétés où les arts, les sciences, les vertus mêmes ont été cultivés’ (‘Lettre de M. de V*** à M. de ***, professeur en histoire’, OCV, t.27, p.179). C’est donc un univers moral qui le préoccupe; Voltaire n’est pas en quête d’exotisme.

Page de titre d’une édition de 1754

Page de titre d’une édition de 1754, t.3. (Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal)

L’Essai est l’histoire des pratiques humaines, non pas celle des idées, et c’est pourquoi il ne retiendra pas comme titre l’Histoire de l’esprit humain auquel il avait songé. Voltaire aurait pu intituler son ouvrage ‘Histoire de la condition humaine’, mais il ne l’a pas fait. Il utilise le terme une seule fois, au chapitre 155: ‘Ce gouvernement [de la Chine], quelque beau qu’il fut, était nécessairement infecté de grands abus attachés à la condition humaine’ (lignes 168-69). L’objet de sa recherche n’était pas tant de décrire les mœurs comme telles à travers l’histoire de l’humanité, que de créer une occasion pour en critiquer, à la lumière de sa propre échelle de valeurs, certaines d’entre elles qui choquaient sa sensibilité morale et esthétique – et critiquer sa propre société par la même occasion.

L’histoire universelle devient un monde peuplé de personnages réels travaillés par l’imagination de Voltaire qui entretient avec eux le même genre de rapport ambivalent qu’il entretient de façon chronique dans ses relations affectives d’amour ou d’amitié. Il a traité les faits historiques comme il traite ses relations personnelles: tout devient une affaire pratiquement personnelle, lui-même étant omniprésent dans son texte, d’où son originalité. Il tire les ficelles de l’Histoire et anime un théâtre de marionettes à son gré. Laurent Avezou, dans son article ‘Autour du Testament politique de Richelieu’ (Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des chartes, t.162, 2004, p.421-53) a bien perçu cette tendance chez Voltaire (‘Le philosophe a transformé le Testament en affaire personnelle’, p.449) en dévoilant son ambivalence vis-à-vis certaines des grandes figures de l’histoire ‘qui transparaît dans son Essai sur les mœurs’ (p.448).

Lettre de Voltaire au comte d’Argenson

Lettre de Voltaire au comte d’Argenson. (Arsenal,  MS 8. H. 2243; D5903)

Voltaire nous a tenu moralement en suspens, on pourrait presque dire en otages, parce que nous ne sommes pas à même de savoir exactement quel est le jugement qu’il porte sur une quantité d’événements et de phénomènes historiques, son attitude par rapport à la découverte du Nouveau Monde et ses conséquences, par exemple. Son admiration est suivie d’une désillusion qui prend sur lui le dessus, et son dégoût pour les atrocités commises l’emporte sur la considération des avantages ou désavantages au plan économique. L’exploitation et l’esclavage sont mentionnés, mais ne font pas l’objet d’un approfondissement: ‘Les Européens n’ont fait prêcher leur religion depuis le Chili jusqu’au Japon, que pour faire servir les hommes, comme des bêtes de somme, à leur insatiable avarice’ (OCV, t.26A, p.187-88); ‘Des milliers d’Américains servaient aux Espagnols de bêtes de somme’ (p.244). Pour une région différente, parlant des ‘nègres’ de la ‘côte de Guinée, à la côte d’Or, à celle d’Yvoire […] Nous leur disons qu’ils sont hommes comme nous, qu’ils sont rachetés du sang d’un Dieu mort pour eux, et ensuite on les fait travailler comme des bêtes de somme’ (p.285). La révolte de Voltaire s’arrête à ce genre de remarques. Il faut peut-être placer ces commentaires (qui ne sont rien d’autre) en parallèle avec ceux-ci pour comprendre sa position: ‘le travail des mains ne s’accorde point avec le raisonnement, et le commun peuple en général n’use ni n’abuse guère de son esprit’ (p.66); ‘nous ne prétendons pas parler de la populace; elle doit être en tout pays uniquement occupée du travail des mains. L’esprit d’une nation réside toujours dans le petit nombre qui fait travailler le grand, qui le nourrit et le gouverne’ (p.321).

Son attitude face au cannibalisme aussi fait voir son ambivalence et la division de sa pensée: ‘La véritable barbarie est de donner la mort, et non de disputer un mort aux corbeaux ou aux vers’ (p.214); ‘Comment des peuples toujours séparés les uns des autres, ont-ils pu se réunir dans une si horrible coutume?’ (p.215). Ces points de vue ne sont pas mutuellement exclusifs, et c’est là un des traits qui fait la spécificité de l’Essai: la multiplicité des regards.

Page de titre de l’édition Cramer de 1756

Page de titre de l’édition Cramer de 1756.

Ce que Voltaire voulait accomplir pour Mme Du Châtelet, l’a-t-il réellement fait? Sans doute pas. Voltaire n’est pas librement à l’écoute des phénomènes qu’il décrit. Il ne cherche pas à comprendre, mais à imposer un point de vue normatif et provocateur; il s’adonne davantage à une esthétique des civilisations qu’à une anthropologie. S’il n’y a pour lui qu’un seul univers moral, il n’éprouve pas le besoin d’en faire la démonstration. Il a juxtaposé l’abominable au sublime sans percevoir ce qui mène à l’un ou à l’autre. Et qui le pourrait? Mais il a été à même de rattacher la psychologie individuelle aux grands mouvements historiques. Sa pensée synthétique hallucinante et ses sarcasmes sont susceptibles d’intéresser particulièrement les jeunes générations et capables tout autant de les égarer. Il a dit beaucoup de choses vraies, et si sa vérité reste incomplète ce n’est qu’un encouragement à explorer de nouveau toute une série de perspectives sur le devenir historique. L’Essai sur les mœurs est autre chose qu’un objet de musée littéraire. Les problèmes sur lesquels Voltaire s’est penché resteront toujours actuels. La connaissance du passé et de la diversité culturelle telle que présentée par un observateur du siècle des Lumières hautement original qui nous instruit autant sur son siècle que sur le monde entier s’avérera toujours utile, surtout dans le monde monoculturel où nous vivons aujourd’hui.

Dominique Lussier

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).

Voltaire’s Louis XV, from bien-aimé to mal-aimé

The French victory at Fontenoy in 1745 provided Voltaire, newly appointed historiographe de France, with a welcome opportunity. Present with the French army on 11 May had been Louis XV himself, at his best on campaign and already nicknamed le bien-aimé. Voltaire had a distinct turn for flattery when it suited him. What could be more fitting than the composition of an account of the ‘campagnes du Roi’?

This is the context for the first half of what became Voltaire’s Précis du siècle de Louis XV (OCV, vol.29A). After Fontenoy Voltaire looked with the rest of France for a favourable and honourable peace, with French glory personified in the figure of the king. But the war dragged on until 1748, by which point Voltaire’s enthusiasm for reporting it had dwindled: ‘les détails en sont si ennuyeux’, as he said to Frederick II. It was not ideal subject matter for Europe’s most renowned poet and dramatist.

The second volume of the Précis, now published (OCV, vol.29B), completes the text, showing how what began as a celebration of the king’s campaigns transforms itself into a history of Voltaire’s time.

Accordingly, the succession of endless marches and manoeuvres, the clash and clang of victory and defeat, give way to a series of chapters featuring men whose deeds provide heroic highlights beyond the battlefield. What do Admiral George Anson, Bonnie Prince Charlie, and the naval adventurer Mahé de la Bourdonnais have in common? Not much, except that Voltaire bunches them together to fill out his account of the final years of a war in which he had lost interest. These characters – their literary function is as relevant as the historical examples they provide – are all instances of personal heroism and perseverance in the face of long odds.

The Shooting of Admiral Byng

The Shooting of Admiral Byng, on board the Monarque, 1757. (British Museum)

After the war Voltaire may have felt that he had finished with writing about conflict, but although he regarded the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) as a truce rather than a lasting peace, he did not anticipate the outbreak of the Seven Years War in 1756, over which he passes with comparative brevity. While the earlier war is spread across twenty-five chapters in the Précis, its sequel is compressed into just five (ch.31-35). The first of these centres on the execution of the British Admiral Byng, ‘pour encourager les autres’, followed by that of the Franco-Irish general Lally, condemned for his military failures in India. The struggle for Canada is reduced to a dispute over a few acres of snow. The struggle in Europe is reduced to a personal contest between Frederick II and the duc de Richelieu. War is no longer a realm of heroism, and it is painted in a harshly negative light. Louis XV is nowhere to be seen. Voltaire, settled into life as seigneur of Ferney, no longer had to try to flatter his king.

Thomas Arthur de Lally, condamné par arrêt du parlement de Paris d'avoir la tête tranchée

‘Thomas Arthur de Lally, condamné par arrêt du parlement de Paris d’avoir la tête tranchée en place de grève le 8 mai 1766’. (BnF/Gallica)

The later chapters – mostly written in the 1760s, soon after the events they describe – allow Voltaire to move beyond war. They reflect the preoccupations of the philosophe engagé that he was soon to become. Religious questions are ever-present: the problems surrounding the papal bull Unigenitus and the refusal of sacraments; the expulsion of the Jesuits from Bourbon Europe. The dangers of religious fanaticism are highlighted through chapters on Damiens’s attack on Louis XV, or the attempt on the life of the king of Portugal. Voltaire’s campaign for justice and tolerance comes to the fore in his strongly argued advocacy of judicial reform.

Le vrai portrait de Robert François Damiens

‘Le vrai portrait de Robert François Damiens, infâme parricide de Louis XV, le bien-aimé’. (BnF/Gallica)

These later chapters demonstrate the melding of Voltaire’s historical and philosophical concerns. The final chapter reviews the progress of l’esprit humain in Voltaire’s own time. His findings are mixed: despite some advances in certain areas, notably science, literature is in decline and can do no more than distract the reader, who would otherwise be ‘trop accablé de la contemplation des misères humaines’. As for the king, Voltaire almost blames him for bringing about his own death by sanctioning France’s failure to adopt the practice of smallpox inoculation. Louis le bien-aimé has by now become le mal-aimé.

Voltaire’s Précis du siècle de Louis XV tracks its author’s development as a philosophe, but also as a historian, analyst and commentator on his own time, making it both a summary account of the age of Louis XV and a reflection of Voltaire’s concerns over the last thirty-three years of his own career.

– Janet Godden and James Hanrahan

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

L’âme de Voltaire dans tous ses états: l’édition critique de la version clandestine de la Lettre sur Locke

John Locke, par Godfrey Kneller (1697)

John Locke, par Godfrey Kneller (1697).

En 1733, la première version de la Lettre sur Locke est écartée par Voltaire des Lettres sur les Anglais à cause de ses audaces quasi-matérialistes qui risquent d’entraîner la censure de l’ensemble du recueil. Une nouvelle version sensiblement remaniée et édulcorée est finalement publiée en tant que lettre 13 de l’ouvrage. Mais Voltaire reprend la version d’origine en 1736 et développe la comparaison entre l’homme et l’animal, en allant bien au-delà des allusions prudentes de Locke dans son Essai sur l’entendement humain (1690): de la possibilité d’une “matière pensante”, le pas est glissant vers l’affirmation d’un lien essentiel entre l’“organisation” des corps et leurs propriétés cognitives. La Lettre lui échappe alors et connaît une circulation manuscrite et de nombreuses éditions au cours du dix-huitième siècle.

Paris, BnF (Arsenal): Ms 2557

Paris, BnF (Arsenal): Ms 2557.

Notre édition critique a exigé une véritable enquête de détective selon plusieurs pistes ouvertes par les “nouvelles à la main” qui annoncent au mois de juin 1736 la diffusion d’une version inédite de la Lettre sur Locke. Toutes ces pistes ont conduit à un recueil de manuscrits clandestins conservé à l’Arsenal, qui s’est révélé être la source de toutes les copies manuscrites connues et des très nombreuses éditions publiées au cours du dix-huitième siècle. Chemin faisant, il s’agissait de démasquer les ennemis de Voltaire et leurs complices – une bande de “usual suspects” – qui ont œuvré à la diffusion de la Lettre et d’autres écrits audacieux de Voltaire. On découvre ainsi au bout de l’enquête une stratégie concertée de comploteurs qui exploitent un aspect des compositions de Voltaire qui le rend vulnérable: son irréligion. Voltaire a beau tempêter, multipliant les dénégations et les désaveux; il porte plainte, il fait lancer des enquêtes, des perquisitions, des saisies, des arrestations et des interrogatoires; imprimeurs, libraires, colporteurs, pamphlétistes, journalistes, auteurs petits et grands, et un violoniste de l’opéra, tous y passent, mais rien n’y fait: dans l’ombre, les autorités de l’Etat veillent au grain et assurent l’impunité aux coupables.

Alexis Piron.

Alexis Piron, gravure de Nicolas Le Mir d’après un tableau de Nicolas Bernard Michel Lépicié, dans Œuvres choisies (Paris, Duchesne, 1773).

Nos recherches révèlent une série d’initiatives malveillantes de la part des ennemis de Voltaire, Alexis Piron en tête: il est jaloux des succès de Voltaire et indigné de la désinvolture méprisante que le poète-philosophe affiche à son égard. Or, Piron fréquente Moncrif à la Société du Bout du Banc; il obtient une copie de la Lettre clandestine et la fait publier par son complice “calotin”, le journaliste La Varenne. La Marre, le protégé de Voltaire, est déjà entré dans le complot : dès 1735, il collabore avec Moncrif dans la publication d’un Recueil du cosmopolite (1735) comportant la première édition – ignorée jusqu’ici – de l’Epître à Uranie. Ce recueil fait partie d’une véritable campagne de publication des écrits compromettants de Voltaire, comme le révèle le conte anti-voltairien de Piron intitulé La Malle-Bosse, publié pour la première fois dans les Mémoires de l’Académie des colporteurs (1748) et de nouveau dans les Voltariana (1749).

François-Augustin Paradis de Moncrif

François-Augustin Paradis de Moncrif, portrait attribué à Maurice-Quentin de La Tour.

Notre enquête fondée sur les ornements typographiques a permis d’identifier les principaux coupables: Prault fils, d’abord, qui recueille tout écrit compromettant qui sort de la plume de Voltaire; Simon fils, ensuite, qui se cache derrière le pseudonyme de “Pierre Poppy” et publie en 1738 la première édition française de la Lettre sur Locke. Quelques années plus tard, ce même Simon fils – imprimeur officiel de l’archevêque de Paris – publie, avec l’ornement caractéristique de la “tête de philosophe ébouriffé”, les Pensées philosophiques de Diderot et l’Essai sur lorigine des connaissances humaines de Condillac. Les ennemis de Voltaire publient ainsi les œuvres scandaleuses de Voltaire dans l’intention de le compromettre auprès des autorités en mettant en évidence ses convictions anti-chrétiennes. Maurepas n’attend qu’un tel prétexte pour le faire condamner.

Page de titre de l’édition publiée chez Pierre Poppy en 1744.

Autre piste qui impose, elle aussi, une révision de la biographie voltairienne: la Lettre de Voltaire est connue à la cour du prince royal Frédéric (futur roi Frédéric II) à Rheinsberg, malgré l’étroite surveillance dont celui-ci fait l’objet de la part du “diable” Manteuffel, qui défend l’autorité de la philosophie de Wolff, conçue comme indispensable à l’Etat de Brandebourg à la fois comme philosophie politique de la souveraineté et comme philosophie religieuse de l’immatérialité et de l’immortalité de l’âme. La diffusion de la Lettre au Brandebourg s’explique par une indiscrétion de Thiriot, le fidèle ami et secrétaire de Voltaire, qui se fait valoir auprès du futur roi Frédéric II de Prusse en lui envoyant la Lettre clandestine de Voltaire au mois de juin 1736, bien avant que Voltaire ne décide de le faire à son tour au mois de novembre: cet envoi par Thiriot entraîne, par l’intermédiaire du marquis de La Chétardie, la conversion philosophique du prince, qui rejette désormais l’autorité de Manteuffel et le système de Wolff. Il s’avère que la diffusion secrète de la Lettre sur Locke provoque la “conversion” philosophique du prince royal, la disgrâce de Manteuffel ainsi que la rupture définitive entre l’Aufklärung wolffienne et les Lumières voltairiennes.

C’est donc une histoire doublement secrète que révèle l’édition de la version clandestine de la Lettre sur Locke. C’est grâce à ces trahisons et à cette circulation clandestine que la Lettre de Voltaire a pu jouer son rôle – avec les réflexions de Guillaume Lamy, de Bayle, de Collins et de Toland – dans l’émergence de la pensée matérialiste au cœur des Lumières françaises.

– Antony McKenna et Gianluca Mori


‘Depuis Charlemagne jusqu’à nos jours’ – mission accomplished

Many readers picking up Voltaire’s Précis du siècle de Louis XV for the first time might find it all too easy to put down again as not living up to its title. By only a stretched definition is the work a précis; it is not about a siècle; and only in a few places does it focus on Louis XV. But to put it down too quickly would be a mistake. There are many reasons why the Précis – published by the Voltaire Foundation in 3 volumes, the first of which (vol.29A) has just come out – deserves our attention. Here are some of them.

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.

Foremost perhaps is the picture of Voltaire in action as a historian of modernity. We know from earlier writings that he thought the study of modern history important for the instruction of future generations. He also thought it essential for the historian to be both accurate and impartial, but then when it came to writing about his own day – events that he had witnessed himself or involved people he knew – he was not always able to put these ideals into practice. The need for impartiality may be behind the detachment with which Voltaire treats Louis XV, but elsewhere he frequently sails too close to the wind, particularly in the polemical chapters at the end of the work. Accuracy he strove for conscientiously, as he had done with the Essai and the Siècle, although sometimes within his own compass of taking the mean position of several authorities without naming any of them. He allows himself to embroider, but if he occasionally seems to invent it is probably in error or where strict accuracy needed to be set against readability, as pointed out by a correspondent of 1768: ‘Vous attachez tant par la magie de votre diction que l’on aime presque mieux s’égarer avec vous que s’instruire pesamment avec d’autres’ (vol.29A, p.140).

The Précis also has a remarkable history as the culmination of Voltaire’s plan, announced in 1742, to write a universal modern history and take it up to his own day. This was the launching pad for the Essai sur les mœurs. The nascent Siècle de Louis XIV, he said in 1745, was destined to ‘[entrer] dans ce grand ouvrage et doit le terminer’ (vol.29A, p.6, n.3). But as the following reign rolled on the distance between an end point of 1714 and continuing the history ‘jusqu’à nos jours’ became too great to be bridged. In 1768, in preparation for the new quarto edition of his Œuvres complètes, Voltaire uncoupled the Siècle from the Essai, reducing the subtitle to ‘jusqu’au règne de Louis XIII’, and using the chapters that carried his history beyond 1714 as the basis of the new Précis du siècle de Louis XV.

Voltaire thus uses the word précis not in the sense of an abridgement of a longer account, as might be expected of a detached published work, but of a summary of what he sees as the essentials of the age in a series of capsules. This enables him to pick and choose his material, pausing to give anecdote and detail in some places, particularly the early years when he himself was in Paris, passing rapidly over the middle years of the reign and dwelling again at length on aspects of the later years that attracted his attention as philosophe. Throughout his style is light, never flippant, and his sometimes provocative leaps, summaries or asides beckon the reader to further research.

As for ‘siècle’, Voltaire had felt from the outset that the achievements of France in the glorious era of the roi soleil should be defined not in terms of a reign, but as an ‘age’ or epoch. This is the sense in which the word is used again of the reign of Louis XV, although the king did not dominate his own reign and was noteworthy only in the wrong ways. For most of the book Louis XV himself stands silently to one side, but the events portrayed seem none the worse for that, highlighting the difference between his ‘siècle’ and that of his great-grandfather.

In 1768 Voltaire brings the Précis up to date with further chapters on more recent matters, and extends the themes of some of these into the self-contained Histoire du parlement de Paris. He closes the resulting gap between the early and later years of the reign of Louis XV by bringing in a précis in the more usual sense of the word. This was the first authorised appearance, albeit in shortened form, of Voltaire’s Histoire de la guerre de 1741, undertaken in 1745 in his capacity of historiographe du roi, as an account of the ‘campagnes du roi’ in Flanders of 1744 and 1745. These campaigns covered years that showed the king at his best and France as victorious; they were soon extended both backwards and forwards to take in the whole war, but that is another story, to be read with the full text in volume 29C. Circumstances conspired against Voltaire’s intention to publish the Guerre de 1741 until he was settled in Geneva, by which time France was involved in another war and any thirst for details of the War of the Austrian Succession had long evaporated. By the mid 1760s, therefore, the Guerre was a work in search of a home, and the incipient Précis a work with a beginning and potential end but no middle. The solution was obvious.

Having difficulty keeping up? Unsurprising – the complexities defeated the Kehl editors as well as Beuchot and Moland, who omitted the original complete Guerre entirely. The Introduction in vol.29A of this edition analyses the sequence of the composition of both texts and the eventual assembly of the whole in 1768.

But Voltaire was unable to call it a day. Another edition of his complete works in 1775 saw him taking up his pen once more at the age of eighty to record the death of the king, who in the course of nature – and perhaps Voltaire’s original conception of this work – would have been expected to outlive Voltaire. And Voltaire was then spurred on to review the whole. Annotations preserved in a copy of the 1775 edition now in St Petersburg show the Précis to be among the most heavily corrected texts under revision at the time of Voltaire’s death, truly taking his modern history ‘jusqu’à nos jours’. Looking at the years since 1742 and the water that had flowed beneath Voltaire’s many bridges since then, his readers can only respond, Chapeau!

– Janet Godden



Les index des OCV : principes, entraves et usage

Les avis diffèrent sur ce qui fait un bon index, cet outil devant répondre à toutes sortes d’impératifs parfois contradictoires. Quel doit en être le niveau de détail, par exemple? Un travail détaillé nécessite du temps, et donc de l’argent. De ce fait, il n’est pas rare de trouver des ouvrages pourvus d’un index tellement général qu’il ne sera que de peu d’utilité au lecteur. D’autres index, comme celui compilé par Theodore Besterman pour la première édition de sa Correspondance complète de Voltaire, sont le résultat d’un travail considérable dont le seul coût, de nos jours, suffirait à dissuader la plupart des éditeurs. Ce même index de la correspondance révèle un autre problème: bien qu’il constitue une mine d’informations pour les chercheurs, l’information recherchée n’y est pas toujours facile à trouver. Le défi, pour les Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, était donc de trouver le bon équilibre.

Chaque volume des Œuvres complètes de Voltaire comporte un index des noms propres. L’Essai sur les mœurs et les Questions sur l’Encyclopédie présentent de surcroît un index analytique. Un index cumulatif regroupe les différents index établis pour les volumes d’un même ouvrage pris séparément, et ceci vaut également pour le Siècle de Louis XIV.

La nature d’un index des noms propres dans les OCV a pu varier au fil des ans, mais dans l’ensemble les lignes directrices qui sous-tendent ces index ont obéi à certains critères de sélection ou d’exclusion, ce qui explique, par exemple, la présence des noms de personnes et l’absence des noms de lieux. En règle générale, tous les auteurs et ouvrages précèdant le dix-neuvième siècle apparaissent dans un index. Au-delà de cette limite, seuls les auteurs qui sont cités ou qui font l’objet d’une discussion sont incorporés.

Avec le temps, les index ont eu tendance à être plus englobants et plus systématiques. Les correspondants de Voltaire mentionnés dans l’annotation sont pris en ligne de compte. L’identification des individus est devenue plus précise, en partie grâce à un outil de recherche tel que Electronic Enlightenment. Autrement, nous nous basons autant que faire se peut sur Le Petit Robert des noms propres. Les personnes auxquelles il est fait référence uniquement par leur statut, leur titre ou par un lien de parenté ont été progressivement identifiées et leurs noms apparaissent dans les index. La translitération des noms issus d’une langue autre que le français ou l’anglais pose d’inévitables problèmes difficilement contournables. Contrairement au texte des OCV, nous ne respectons pas dans les index l’orthographe de Voltaire pour les noms propres mais nous l’indiquons entre parenthèses lorsque l’écart est trop grand, ou bien nous faisons un renvoi.

Voltaire sait de qui il parle et se trompe rarement. Il peut d’une fois sur l’autre faire erreur sur les liens de parenté ou sur un nom, mais ces cas restent exceptionnels et sont plutôt dus aux sources. Ceci dit, Voltaire peut être vague si son propos ne nécéssite pas une nomenclature élaborée. Dans un texte intitulé Lettre de Monsieur de Voltaire
 sur son Essai de l’Histoire de Louis XIV
 à Milord Harvey, garde des sceaux d’Angleterre (OCV, t.11B, p.192, lignes 7-9 de la variante 34-43), on lit à propos de Louis XIV: ‘Il chargea de l’éducation de son fils et de son petit-fils les plus éloquents et les plus savants hommes de l’Europe’. Le fils est Monseigneur, le Grand Dauphin, Louis de France, et le petit-fils est le duc de Bourgogne, fils de ce dernier, qui porte également le nom de Louis de France; les plus éloquents et les plus savants hommes sont Bossuet et Fénelon, mais ils ne sont pas indexés parce que la référence telle que Voltaire la présente est trop générale. Voltaire parle de Louis XIV et de l’importance qu’il attachait à l’éducation de ses enfants, et si point n’est besoin ici pour Voltaire de spécifier le nom de ces enfants, le lecteur pourra toutefois apprécier de les retrouver dans l’index.

Dans les Annales de l’Empire (OCV, t.44C, p.406, lignes 159-61), on lit:

“Le 7 juillet l’empereur Léopold, l’impératrice sa belle-mère, l’impératrice sa femme, les archiducs, les archiduchesses, toute leur maison abandonnent Vienne et se retirent à Lintz.”

Nous identifions les deux impératrices parce qu’il s’agit d’individus pris isolément, mais non pas les archiducs et les archiduchesses dans la mesure où il s’agit de plusieurs personnes regroupées sous un même vocable; des limites s’imposent afin de ne pas surcharger un index inutilement.

L’identification des personnes en cause présente différents degrés de difficulté. Dans une variante longue de 485 lignes du chapitre 24 du Siècle de Louis XIV (voir OCV, t.11B, p.127 et suivantes), nous lisons aux lignes 201-206:

“Le roi Stanislas, beau-père de Louis XV déjà nommé roi de Pologne en 1704, fut élu roi en 1733, de la manière la plus légitime et la plus solennelle. Mais l’empereur Charles VI fit procéder à une autre élection appuyée par ses armes et par celles de la Russie. Le fils du dernier roi de Pologne, électeur de Saxe, qui avait épousé une nièce de Charles VI, l’emporta sur son concurrent.”

Le dernier roi de Pologne est Auguste II ou Frédéric-Auguste II, électeur de Saxe; son fils est Auguste III; la nièce de Charles VI est Marie-Josèphe de Habsbourg, archiduchesse d’Autriche, fille de Joseph Ier. Ces personnages sont historiquement connus et il n’est pas difficile de les identifier. Les choses se compliquent pour les figures de moindre envergure. Ainsi dans les Annales, OCV, t.44B, nous avons plusieurs personnes qui portent le nom de Jean.

Et même chose pour Frédéric:

Le travail des annotateurs apporte une aide indispensable à la compréhension du texte et à l’établissement d’un index, mais il existe toujours des lacunes qui nécessitent une recherche étendue et requièrent un retour aux sources utilisées par Voltaire. Même là, les choses ne sont pas toujours évidentes si les sources elles-mêmes manquent de précision. Ainsi en va-t-il du baron de Gonsfeld chez Vanel (OCV, t.44C, p.412, note 36), ou du comte de Thaun chez Barre (OCV, t.44C, p.434, note 69): impossible d’en savoir davantage sur eux. Les Annales de l’Empire, qui sont pour l’essentiel une suite de noms ou de titres de personnages ininterrompue à la manière d’un dictionnaire chronologique, abondent en problèmes semblables. Alors pourquoi chercher à les identifier de façon précise? D’abord, parce qu’ils sont mentionnés; ensuite, parce que sinon les textes de Voltaire et leur annotation restent peuplés de fantômes.

L’index analytique compilé par mes soins pour l’Essai sur les mœurs s’organise en fonction des principes exposés ci-dessous. Voltaire n’étant pas un penseur conceptuel, nous nous sommes efforcés de cerner ses thèmes de prédilection, ses points d’ancrage, sa géographie politique (les villes apparaissent dans ces index analytiques). Les thèmes que nous avons repérés sont ses catégories analytiques et aident à comprendre la causalité historique telle que la perçoit Voltaire: les traits de caractère, la psychologie des sentiments, son obsession pour la bâtardise (qui pour lui annonce parfois – mais pas toujours – l’hypocrisie, et renvoie donc aux traits de caractère), le fanatisme, l’intolérance, la cruauté, l’idée d’usurpation. Puis viennent les facteurs économiques (commerce, finances, marine) et techniques (armement, inventions, voies de communication); les jugements de valeur (à propos de l’anarchie, la barbarie, le goût, l’ignorance, la superstition). Il faut distinguer les éléments qui permettent à Voltaire de comprendre le devenir d’une nation à travers le gouvernement d’un monarque ou d’un pape, et celui d’un individu pris en particulier: ils ne sont pas du même ordre mais ils peuvent s’entrecroiser. Doivent s’ajouter les emprunts culturels, les comparaisons et les relations entre les peuples ou entre individus, les mariages dynastiques, l’adultère, le climat, la démographie, le droit, la critique biblique, la critique littéraire, les fables historiques: la liste est longue et instructive.

A des fins de comparaison et pour mieux apprécier la différence entre un index d’une œuvre de Voltaire au dix-huitième siècle et ceux des OCV, le lecteur pourra se reporter utilement à l’analyse de l’index établi pour l’Essai sur les mœurs par Simon Bigex que Voltaire louangeait (voir OCV, t.27, p.413-19).

Il est clair, à la lecture de ce qui précède, qu’il n’existe pas de recette miracle pour faire un bon index. On a souvent dit que l’avènement du traitement de texte informatique simplifierait considérablement la création des index, mais à moins que l’ordinateur ne soit programmé pour tout indexer (ce qui produit inévitablement une masse de données difficilement exploitable), l’intervention d’une personne humaine qualifiée demeure indispensable à l’élaboration d’un index cohérent. Nous osons espérer que les indexeurs des OCV sont parvenus à atteindre cette cohérence.

– Dominique Lussier
(avec la participation de Martin Smith)

Eighteenth-century studies, Besterman and Voltaire

Edinburgh castle.

Edinburgh welcomed dix-huitiémistes this year for the fifteenth ISECS congress. The Voltaire Foundation’s newest staff member, who joined in April 2019, experienced ISECS for the first time and was impressed by the strong ties in the research community. Meeting many of the OCV authors at the book stand was also a very welcoming and enlightening experience.

In July 2017, 50 years after the idea of the OCV was formed, the Voltaire Foundation published a blogpost summarising its first 25 years. Now, as we approach the end of the print edition, only a little later than hoped (does Achilles ever catch the tortoise?), it is time to look at the next 25 years, from 1993-1994 to 2018-2019, where the dominant theme has been scholarly collaboration.

The Voltaire Foundation at 99 Banbury Road, Oxford.

In 1993 the Voltaire Foundation bought a large Victorian house at 99 Banbury Road, giving much more space than the cramped modern offices it had previously occupied near the city centre. The first OCV volumes published from 99 were by key colleagues who are still being published in OCV, including Christiane Mervaud, with her edition of the Dictionnaire philosophique (vol.35-36) and her introduction to the Questions sur l’Encyclopédie (vol.37, 2018), Henri Duranton (vol.21, Essai sur les mœurs, 2018), Ralph Nablow (Le Dimanche and Lettre de Monsieur de La Visclède, vol.77A, 2014), John Renwick (Annales de l’Empire, vol.44, publication in 2019), and David Williams (Corpus des notes marginales: complément, vol.145, 2019). The ISECS conference of this period took place in Münster, Germany, in 1995.

Two members of staff who transferred to 99 are also still publishing in OCV: Janet Godden (vol.29, Précis du siècle de Louis XV, 2019) and Martin Smith (vol.146, 2020). The earliest members of staff to join the VF at the new premises and who are still at 99 working on OCV were Pippa Faucheux (1998) and Nicholas Cronk. The latter joined the editorial board and became Director of the edition in 2000.

News Bulletin for the 1999 ISECS congress in Dublin.

International collaboration continued in other ways. By the time of the ISECS congress in Dublin in 1999, the general editor of OCV was Haydn Mason, soon joined by Nicholas Cronk (current general editor) who took sole responsibility for the series on Haydn’s retirement in 2001.

In 2002 regular annual Besterman lectures were instituted, bringing eminent scholars from the UK and other European countries and the USA to talk on a vast range of subjects related to eighteenth-century studies, from Jesuits in China to the French Revolution, from problems of editing to the progress of plagiarism, from the late Renaissance to digital culture, and many other topics.

In the same year the British Academy commenced its longstanding, ongoing and valuable support for OCV. At the same time, another event of great importance for international collaboration was the signing of the contract to complete the publication of the Corpus des notes marginales, originally a project of the Russian State Library in St Petersburg, and to incorporate it into OCV.

2003 brought the next ISECS congress, in Los Angeles, the first in the USA since Yale in 1975.

In 2005 the OCV in-house team began to expand with Paul Gibbard, who is still contributing from Australia, as author in vol.144 (2018). Our current research editors joined the team from 2006 to 2010, enabling the high-calibre work on the edition to be continued at increased pace and scale. In 2006 the first of the new Corpus des notes marginales volumes (no.6, vol.141) was published, and enhanced re-issues of the first five volumes appeared between 2008 and 2012.

Coffee with M. de Voltaire.

In 2007 the Voltaire Foundation initiated a process whereby a younger scholar is introduced to an established Voltaire scholar to collaborate on the critical edition of a particular text. The first of these partnerships was between Tom Wynn and Haydn Mason, for the Poème sur la loi naturelle in vol.32B. Many more successful collaborations followed.

In the same year important progress was made on the major multi-volume editions within the Complete works: the first of eight volumes of the Questions sur l’Encyclopédie appeared (vol.38), the work of a large team of collaborators, and the Voltaire Foundation also received a five-year AHRC award to support the publication of the nine-volume Essai sur les mœurs project. The first Essai volume would be published in 2009. 2007 was also the year of the twelfth ISECS conference, in Montpellier.

At this time, the Voltaire Foundation also declared a completion date for the OCV of 2019-2020, which would be achieved by publishing six volumes a year, making the edition a roughly fifty-year project, like the Oxford English Dictionary.

In 2009 the Voltaire Foundation continued its support of younger researchers by introducing another newer scholar to a well-established name, in this case Renaud Bret-Vitoz (then in Tunisia, now Professor at the Sorbonne) with Basil Guy (Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley), who co-signed the edition of L’Orphelin de la Chine (vol.45A).

Supporting post-doctoral work on Voltaire, the VF was pleased to welcome Antonio Gurrado, who was awarded a Marie Curie Fellowship for two years to work in Oxford on Voltaire’s religious works of 1776 (vol.79B, published in 2014). By 2010 all the current team of in-house OCV research editors (Gillian Pink, Alison Oliver and Georges Pilard) were working at 99 Banbury Road.

News Bulletin for the July 2011 ISECS congress in Graz, Austria.

Also in 2010, the Fondation Wiener-Anspach, which fosters academic exchanges between the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, provided support for the collaborative research project that was the Essai sur les mœurs edition. The OCV also received the Prix Hervé Deluen from the Académie française ‘in recognition of the fifty-year OCV project publishing the complete and critical works of Voltaire for the first time, so changing the image of Voltaire’.

The following year, 2011, eighteenth-century scholars of the world gathered at Graz for the thirteenth ISECS congress.

In 2013 the Voltaire Foundation began a collaborative blog and benefitted from the first of two MHRA one-year research associateships supporting new scholars: Nick Treuherz, working on vol.83 (published in 2015), followed by Helder Mendes Baiao, working on vol.60A (published in 2015). In 2014 a three-year Leverhulme research grant provided support for the preparation of the introductions to Voltaire’s historical works (Essai sur les mœurs, Siècle de Louis XIV and Précis du siècle de Louis XV, all published in 2019). The following year brought support from the Château de Versailles research centre for the first volume of Siècle de Louis XIV, and Nicholas Cronk received AHRC research support for his work on vol.6 (Lettres sur les Anglais).

The Voltaire Foundation’s stand welcoming dix-huitiémistes at the fifteenth ISECS congress in 2019.

Since the fourteenth ISECS conference, in Rotterdam in 2015, the last few years have seen the fruition of various collaborative projects. In 2016, unidentified texts published for the first time in the Kehl edition appeared in vol.34. In 2017 LVMH started supporting one volume per year (vol.20C, vol.65B and vol.21). In 2017 the Voltaire Foundation’s new website went live, replacing one dating from before 2002! This improvement was instigated by Alice Breathe, who is still contributing from Switzerland. In 2018 Christiane Mervaud’s introduction completed the eight-volume set of Questions sur l’Encyclopédie, and 2019 saw the completion of the eight-volume set of Essai sur les mœurs, the seven-volume set of Siècle de Louis XIV and the ten-volume set of the marginalia.

Theodore Besterman.

Theodore Besterman.

More than fifty years after Theodore Besterman held the first Congress in Geneva, he would probably be moderately pleased with the progress that has been made…

– Clare Fletcher et al.