Voltaire letters brought to light

Chateau Ferney, Voltaire’s home near Geneva, Switzerland.

Chateau Ferney, Voltaire’s home near Geneva, Switzerland.

French author Francis Voltaire’s English alter ego has been unmasked by new letters, according to Oxford University.

Nicholas Cronk, director of the university’s Voltaire Foundation, said two of the 14 letters shed light on the extent of the writer’s interactions with the English aristocracy.

In one letter the author even signs his name Francis Voltaire – something which has never before been recorded, he said.

Prof. Cronk, who is also a lecturer in the mediaeval and modern languages faculty, said the letters have been made available online in the Bodleian Library’s electronic enlightenment project.

He said: “Voltaire spent two important but relatively undocumented years in England in his early thirties at a time when he was best known as a poet.

“He arrived with only a recommendation from the British Ambassador to Paris.

“While here, he was exposed to ideas of English writers and later took empiricism back to the continent where it became the basis for the enlightenment.

“These newly-discovered letters are therefore very interesting because they show how Voltaire’s close interaction with the English aristocracy exposed him to enlightenment ideas and help us to piece together the nature of those interactions.”

Prof. Cronk came across the letters while carrying out re­search in the New York Public Library, the University of Morgan library and the library at the University of Columbia.


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