Voltaire editor, edited and re-edited

The first posthumous edition of Voltaire’s complete works, printed in Kehl in 1784 and financed by Beaumarchais, was recently the subject of a 900-page thesis (Linda Gil, Paris-Sorbonne, 2014). The latest volume of the Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, not lagging far behind, at 604 pages, also started life with this 70-volume edition as its focus, in particular the nearly 4000 pages that make up what the editors call the ‘Dictionnaire philosophique’. Under this title, made up in large part of Voltaire’s 1764 Dictionnaire philosophique portatif (later La Raison par alphabet) and the 1770-1772 Questions sur l’Encyclopédie, the Kehl editors included a number of previously unknown articles and fragments.

A manuscript of one of the texts in this volume (article ‘Ame’, in the hand of Voltaire’s secretary, Wagnière). Bibliothèque de Genève, Musée Voltaire: MS 34/1, f.1.

A manuscript of one of the texts in this volume (article ‘Ame’, in the hand of Voltaire’s secretary, Wagnière). Bibliothèque de Genève, Musée Voltaire: MS 34/1, f.1.

Our edition of these texts attempts to pin down what they were, when (and whether) Voltaire wrote them, whether certain groups can be discerned amongst them, and to what degree the printed record of the Kehl edition reflects the manuscripts that were actually found after Voltaire’s death – as much as is still possible, that is, after two hundred years have elapsed, and when most of the manuscript sources have long since disappeared.

As the volume moved through the stages of the editing and publishing process, it proved to be a protean thing, changing shape several times: some texts originally included in the original list of contents were found not to belong in the volume after all; others were discovered or moved in from elsewhere along the way; and once or twice new manuscripts unexpectedly came to light, changing the tentative dating and identification of one or another of the texts. What began as a simple alphabetically ordered series of about 45 texts eventually took shape as a book in four sections (of uneven length) which covers the ground of all posthumous additions to Voltaire’s ‘alphabetical works’, usually under the title ‘Dictionnaire philosophique’, from 1784, through the nineteenth-century, right up to the present day, in the form of a fragment that has in fact never before been published at all.

The chain of editorial decision-making goes further back in time than one initially realises, however, starting with Voltaire’s own apparent intention to produce a compendium of excerpts from other people’s works. As Bertram Schwarzbach adumbrated in 1982, twenty-four of the texts in this volume (with a possible twenty-fifth), show Voltaire (or one of his secretaries, perhaps?) re-working existing writings by others in what sometimes strongly resembles current practices of copying and pasting, much as we move sentences and parts of sentences around using a word processor. This in no way suggests that Voltaire was guilty of plagiarism: to begin with, he did not publish these re-workings in his own lifetime; furthermore, the boundaries of editing, re-publishing and re-purposing in the late eighteenth century were different than they are today. But the fact that these manuscripts were found amongst Voltaire’s papers meant that his early editors believed them to be by him (with one exception, ‘Fanatisme’, which they recognised as an abridged version of Deleyre’s Encyclopédie article). Thus were these texts eventually published under Voltaire’s name in the Kehl edition, leading to a (partly) unintentional distortion of the Voltairean canon, perpetuated in all subsequent editions until the Oxford Œuvres complètes. Questions such as these are soon to be addressed more generally in a one-day conference: ‘Editorialités: Practices of editing and publishing’, and Marian Hobson has written elsewhere about the value of critical editions. It is in part thanks to modern-day editorial work that the editor-generated puzzles of over two centuries ago are now being unpicked: a neat illustration of just how much the role of editor has changed in that time.

– Gillian Pink

Trolling in the eighteenth century: a case study

Voltaire, over the course of his long career, had a taste for publishing works under pseudonyms: perhaps most famously, M. le docteur Ralph, author of Candide, in whose pockets additions to the tale were supposedly found after the good doctor’s death. Also the rabbi Akib, the abbé Bazin, M. de Morza, to list but a few of his many noms de plume. More than a strategy to deflect the consequences of his more provocative and controversial writings (the anonymous Twitter handles and ‘sock-puppet accounts’ of the day), the practice also gave him playful enjoyment in the sheer variety of names and personas that he adopted.

J.-J. Le Franc de Pompignan (Anonymous), Hotel d’Assézat, Toulouse.

J.-J. Le Franc de Pompignan (Anonymous), Hotel d’Assézat, Toulouse.

All of Voltaire’s pseudonyms were not imaginary characters, however, and in the early days of 1764 a letter appeared in print, apparently a reply from his secretary Wagnière to one Ladouz, former secretary of one of Voltaire’s arch-enemies, the academician Jean-Jacques Le Franc de Pompignan (who in 1763 had arranged for his local church to be restored, an enterprise which provided Voltaire with the opportunity to poke fun in a series of amusing pamphlets). This Ladouz has supposedly written to Voltaire, seeking a formal attestation that he has not betrayed his erstwhile employer by sending compromising documents to Ferney.

Ladouz has not betrayed his master’s confidence, ‘Wagnière’ confirms; his own master’s knowledge of Mr Le Franc de Pompignan is confined to:

1. Some rather bad verse;

2. His speech to the Académie Française, in which he insults all men of letters;

3. A memorandum to the king in which he tells His Majesty that he has a fine library at Pompignan-lès-Montauban;

4. The description of a magnificent celebration that he organised at Pompignan, the procession in which he walked behind a young Jesuit, accompanied by local pipers, and the great feast for twenty-six that was the talk of the province;

5. A beautiful sermon of his own composition, in which he is said to be amongst the stars in the firmament, whilst the clergymen of Paris and all men of letters are in the mud at his feet.

If indeed Ladouz did write to Voltaire, the letter provided an excellent pretext to trot out again these lines of ridicule, which had already appeared under Voltaire’s own pen the year before. The Lettre du secrétaire de M. de Voltaire, au secrétaire de M. Le Franc de Pompignan may have begun life as a genuine letter, as the editor of his correspondence, Theodore Besterman, tells us, but anyone familiar with Voltaire’s writings against Le Franc will recognise the style and content of the Lettre. In fact, the author wrote to D’Alembert on the subject of the Lettre, quoting Renaissance poet Clément Marot (D11628):

     Monsieur l’abbé et monsieur son valet
     Sont faits égaux, tous deux comme de cire.


Drop-title of the Lettre du secrétaire de M. de Voltaire (Bibliothèque nationale de France, 8-LN27-12065).

If anything, this aptly quoted verse is a tacit sign that his secretary has lent him his name – although even after the master’s death, Wagnière took responsibility for the piece. So was this then in fact a real letter, or does the epistolary form only serve further to broadcast material ridiculing Le Franc in a different guise and from a – supposedly – different pen? If it was a letter, how does its publication fit with eighteenth-century epistolary protocols?

The Lettre du secrétaire appears in Voltaire’s correspondence (D11616), and also appears in his complete works since the piece benefitted from a separate publication at his hands. This new edition has the advantage of focussing attention on the ambiguities of such a document, a short text that would otherwise be lost in the great mass of Voltaire’s writings and letters. It is published this month, along with the Lettre de M. de L’Ecluse, the Hymne chanté au village de Pompignan, the Relation du voyage de M. le marquis Le Franc de Pompignan, the Lettre de Paris, du 28 février 1763 and an Avis des editeurs, under the umbrella title ‘Writings on Jean-Jacques Le Franc de Pompignan’ in OCV, volume 57A.

– G.P.

Visite virtuelle de la Bibliothèque de Voltaire

L’histoire des négociations entourant la bibliothèque de Voltaire après la mort de l’auteur et qui ont culminé dans le transfert de tous les livres de Ferney à Saint-Pétersbourg a souvent été racontée.[1] Loin d’être la seule bibliothèque d’écrivain à avoir survécu à la mort de son propriétaire, elle est cependant peut-être la plus grande (avec presque sept mille volumes) et la plus célèbre. Sa particularité est celle, bien sûr, des nombreuses notes marginales et autres traces de lecture dont les volumes sont remplis. Nous savons que les livres de Diderot ont pris, eux aussi, le chemin de la Russie, mais aujourd’hui l’identité de cette collection a été dissoute au sein du fonds des imprimés de la Bibliothèque nationale de Russie et demande à être reconstituée. La bibliothèque de Montesquieu a connu un sort plus heureux et une partie des volumes du philosophe de La Brède constitue un ‘fonds Montesquieu’ à la Bibliothèque de Bordeaux. Plus éloignés, dans l’espace et dans le temps, des livres ayant appartenu à Alexander Pope et à William Warburton sont conservés à la Hurd Library à Hartlebury Castle en Angleterre, et la presque intégralité de la bibliothèque de Flaubert peut encore être visitée à la Mairie de Canteleu.

St_PetersburgTant qu’on ne s’est pas rendu sur place, le concept d’une bibliothèque d’auteur pourrait sembler abstrait, bien qu’il s’agisse avant tout d’une collection d’objets matériels. Tout change après une visite: la bibliothèque de Voltaire ne peut qu’impressionner le visiteur. Elle fait aujourd’hui partie de la Bibliothèque nationale de Russie à Saint-Pétersbourg qui, comme on le voit sur la bannière de son site web, est encore située dans le bâtiment du dix-huitième siècle commandité par Catherine II à l’angle de la rue Sadovaya et de la Perspective Nevsky, bien qu’il existe également de nos jours un nouveau site plus éloigné du centre-ville. L’entrée des lecteurs a été modernisée, avec vestiaire et tourniquet actionné par les cartes de lecteurs. Pour accéder à la bibliothèque de Voltaire, on prend à droite et on traverse un long couloir aux murs couverts de boiseries, qui donne une impression d’étroitesse grâce à sa hauteur et aux vitrines où sont exposées livres et documents présentant les riches collections de la Bibliothèque, y compris celle de Voltaire. On monte deux marches et on est dans un hall spacieux. En prenant la porte à droite et en descendant quelques marches le lecteur se retrouve devant la plaque commémorant l’inauguration officielle du ‘Centre d’Etude du Siècle des Lumières “Bibliothèque de Voltaire” ’ par les premiers ministres russe et français le 28 juin 2003.

Au-delà des portes sécurisées, on entre enfin dans les deux salles voûtées consacrées à la mémoire de Voltaire et à ses livres. Enjolivée par un parquet et des vitraux faits sur mesure qui incorporent les initiales ‘A.d.V.’ (Arouet de Voltaire), la première salle, disposée en forme de ‘T’ (l’entrée étant à la jonction de la verticale et de l’horizontale), contient les volumes du patriarche de Ferney. Mais c’est d’abord la statue qui frappe, face à la porte: le célèbre ‘Voltaire assis’ de Houdon, une copie de celle qui se trouve à deux kilomètres seulement de la Bibliothèque, à l’Ermitage. Les murs sont tapissés de livres, et les rayons sont protégés par des portes en verre dont seuls les conservateurs détiennent les clefs. Les cotes reflètent l’ordre des livres à l’époque où la bibliothèque était encore conservée à l’Ermitage, et ce classement est censé être celui de Ferney, respecté par Wagnière, le secrétaire de Voltaire qui accompagna et déballa les caisses de livres en Russie. Au milieu de chaque ‘aile’ de la salle se trouve une vitrine, avec des expositions temporaires. Actuellement l’une expose quelques volumes emblématiques de la collection, tel l’exemplaire du Contrat social de Rousseau annoté par Voltaire,[2] alors que l’autre montre le catalogue de la bibliothèque dressé par Wagnière, un plan dessiné au dix-huitième siècle du château de Ferney, et des échantillons de tissu apportés par Wagnière pour Catherine II, qui avait initialement projeté de construire une reproduction fidèle du château de Ferney pour y conserver les collections voltairiennes.

En passant dans la seconde salle on trouve  une copie de la maquette du château de Ferney (dont l’original se trouve, lui aussi, au musée de l’Ermitage), exécutée en 1777 par Morand, le menuisier de Voltaire. C’est dans la seconde salle, bien pourvue en outils de travail (Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, catalogue de sa bibliothèque, etc.) que les lecteurs peuvent s’installer pour consulter les livres du grand écrivain. Là on peut feuilleter ses manuscrits, déchiffrer les ratures, parcourir les notes qu’il a laissées en marge des volumes imprimés. Toutes les traces de lecture de Voltaire ont été recensées et sont en cours de publication dans le Corpus des notes marginales. Nous regrettons le récent décès de Nikolai Kopanev, qui a joué un rôle important dans la continuation de cette publication essentielle par la Voltaire Foundation. C’est en partie grâce à lui que les voltairistes de tous les pays du monde sont si chaleureusement accueillis dans la bibliothèque de Voltaire pour étudier – et pour contempler aussi l’ampleur de la marque laissée par Voltaire sur le patrimoine mondial.

-Gillian Pink

[1] Notamment par Sergueï Karp, Quand Catherine II achetait la bibliothèque de Voltaire (Ferney-Voltaire, 1999); Christophe Paillard, De la “bibliothèque patriarcale” à la “bibliothèque impériale” – Grimm, Wagnière, Mme Denis et l’acquisition de la bibliothèque de Voltaire par Catherine IIGazette des Délices 14 (été 2007); Gillian Pink, ‘Voltaire in St Petersburg: the Voltaire Library and the marginalia project’ au colloque ‘Was there a Russian Enlightenment?’, Ertegun House, Oxford (novembre 2012).

[2] La reproduction en fac-similé a été publiée sous le titre Du contrat social. Edition originale commentée par Voltaire (Paris, 1998). L’annotation de Voltaire, ainsi que les autres marques de lecture, a été reproduite et commentée par Kelsey Rubin-Detlev dans Voltaire, Corpus des notes marginales, t.8 (Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, t.143, p.165-83 et p.493-515 pour le commentaire).



Claire Trévien discussed in an earlier post the Candide iPad app which the Voltaire Foundation has produced in association with the Bibliothèque nationale de France and Orange. There have been over 7000 downloads since January, so if you haven’t seen it yet, take a look – it’s beautiful and free!

At the core of the app is René Pomeau’s critical edition of Candide published by the Voltaire Foundation (OCV, volume 48), but lots more has been added. A guiding idea behind the project was to make the text accessible to teenage readers (for example, by supplying a parallel set of annotations aimed specifically at that group), and to judge by the tweeted and blogged responses, it is succeeding. In what is certainly the best (and shortest) review ever given to a VF publication, one French fan has written that the app is “bien foutue”.

But the app is interesting to readers at all stages. You can listen to Candide as well as read it, and the actor Denis Podalydès gives a beautifully clear and cool reading. It’s great to discover the music of Voltaire’s prose: I find that hearing the text read aloud brings out nuances of humour and irony that I’ve missed in silent reading.

Another special feature of the app are the images of the La Vallière manuscript, which dates from 1758, the year before Candide was published. This manuscript has been well known since the 1950s, when it was discovered by Ira Wade, and for this app, the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal has made new high-resolution images. It is possible to study in a split screen images of the manuscript alongside the subsequent published version of the text, or to look at the manuscript on a full screen and even to enlarge any part of it.

The quality of the images is amazing: as you enlarge them, you can almost feel the secretary Wagnière writing as Voltaire dictated, and you can experience in close-up the moments when Voltaire in his own hand intervenes or corrects his secretary’s draft. In Chapter 1, we remember how Pangloss is introduced, as a teacher of “la métaphysico-théologo-cosmolonigologie”. In the manuscript, we can see how Voltaire first tried “métaphisico-theolo-cosmolo-méologie”, then changed the last word to “mattologie” – here you can actually catch Voltaire in the process of inventing a new word. In Chapter 4, Candide recalls his love for Cunégonde: “il ne m’a jamais valu qu’un baiser et vingt coups de pied au cul”… When you look at the manuscript, you can see how the words “dans le cu” are added, in Voltaire’s own hand, as an afterthought, squeezed into the right-hand margin. Of course all this information is in the apparatus of the VF edition, but no description, however accurate, quite replaces the experience of looking at the original manucript. Digital images of this quality give us a vivid sense of spying on Voltaire while he is writing.

Nicholas Cronk, Director