Digital Voltaire project

firstpreviousDocumentation 1 of 2 nextlastreturn to Documentation

Preface — Select Letters of Voltaire

My edition of Voltaire's Correspondence will contain, when completed, about 20,000 letters addressed to over 1,200 correspondents. It is therefore impossible to give anything like a complete picture of this universal genius in a single volume, which cannot contain even as many as one in a hundred of the surviving letters. An effort has nevertheless been made to give a glimpse of nearly every important aspect of Voltaire's long and varied life and activities: in fact I have translated letters taken from practically every year of his active life, and addressed to as many as one in twelve of his correspondents.

This is a representative collection of letters, not an anthology limited to purple passages or exciting anecdotes: all texts are therefore given in full, thus enabling the flavour of the correspondence to be savoured just as did those who received the letters. The notes prefixed to each letter explain obscure allusions, and constitute a continuous outline of Voltaire's life.

Essential facts to bear in mind are the date of Voltaire's birth and death, 1694 and 1778; and the value of the mid-eighteenth-century franc (the same thing as the livre), which was roughly equivalent to today's dollar; the écu consisted of three francs or livres.

Many previously unknown manuscripts have been discovered since the publication of the successive volumes of Voltaire's Correspondence. And whenever one of these letters has been printed or translated in the present volume the authentic text has been used rather than the published one. The number in square brackets at the head of each letter is the one it bears in Voltaire's Correspondence, as far as published (vols. i-lxxix, 1704-July 1771).

The letters printed in Voltaire's Correspondence are drawn from about 300 collections in many countries. The manuscripts used for the present volume are the property of H. M. the Queen of The Netherlands; Archives nationales; Archives du Ministère des Affaires étrangères; the Marquess of Bath; Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal; Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire, Lausanne; Bibliothèque historique de la ville de Paris; Bibliothèque municipale et universitaire, Clermond-Ferrand; Bibliothèque nationale; Bibliothèque publique, Caen; Bibliothèque publique, Rouen; Bibliothèque publique et universitaire, Genève; Earl of Bristol; British Museum; Burgerbibliothek, Bern; the late Louis C. G. Clarke (now Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge); Viscount Cobham; Deutsches Zentralarchiv; Gos. publichnaya biblioteka im. M. E. Saltuikova-Shchedrina; Heineman foundation (now deposited in the Pierpont Morgan Library); Landesbibliothek, Gotha; Comte de Launoit (now Bibliothèque royale, Brussels); Oeffentliche wissenschaftliche Bibliothek, Berlin; Pierpont Morgan Library; Public Record Office; the late Romain Rolland; Royal Society; Stadtarchiv, Frankfurt-am-Main; Württembergisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; to all of whom it is a pleasure to express my most cordial thanks. Many manuscripts are also preserved in the library of the Institut et Musée Voltaire, where photocopies of all manuscripts of Voltaire's correspondence can be consulted.

— Th. B.
Institut et Musée Voltaire
Les Délices, Genève

return to top

subscriber icon Subscribers have full access to the results of this project and much more.
Find out about subscribing to EE.

what's new : about ee : content : collaborate : publish : subscriber services : contact us : login