As I translate and study French Literature, I am always looking for connections to my experiences in France, specifically Paris, and the great French authors of littérature: Hugo, Balzac, and Voltaire. My French Quest is to connect the the footprints of France of the 18th and 19th centuries in modern day.
Recently, I revisited a book I purchased in Paris, LETTRES D’ALSACE from 1753, a compilation of 100 letters written by Voltaire to his niece Madame Denis, while he lived in Strasbourg and Colmar (see post🙂
So this is cool. In LETTRES D’ALSACE, Voltaire asks his niece to take his current edition of “L’Abrége de l’Histoire Universelle depuis Charlemagne jusqu’à Charles-Quint » (the Abridged History from Charlemagne to Charles V) to his libraire-imprimeur in Paris named Hérissant. His printing shop was located on the corner of rue Saint-Jacques and rue la Parcheminerie. It is no longer in business but there are many libraires where I have bought many French books over the years in this area of the Latin Quarter. We also rent an apartment when we visit Paris right across the street from where Hérissant’s print shop was located. How fun to imagine Voltaire and his contemporaries walking through these same neighborhoods with their important essays ready for publication! Alas, my purposes are not quite as auspicious.
Voltaire trusted Hérissant not only to protect and produce his valuable writings but also to have utmost discretion of the incendiary content. What a critical business of this time: to be custodian of important, handwritten documents that, if lost, could not be replaced. Essays this will change the course and purposes of the future. There is a catalogue of books which were printed by Hérrissant in his Libraire-Imprimeur in the 18th century (see link).
In 1753, Voltaire began to circulate in Paris copies of the “L’Abrége de l’Histoire Universelle, under his nom de plume, Voltaire. Voltaire’s work was drawn from his Essai sur les Moeurs, (essays on morals) as well as some elements from his Annales de l’Empire.
Of course, Frederic II would later use these works to compromise Voltaire’s reputation and would lead to the expulsion from his court. They would also induce the King of France’s ire against him.
Voltaire also references a “nouvelle” Histoire cronologique d’Allemagne which was co-authored in part by M Shafling, a history professeur at the Université in Strasbourg and monsieur de Malzerbes of Colmar. Voltaire expresses concern in Lettres that this Histoire cronologique will be considered as his work; however, he will be slow to deny this honor!
I am concurrently reading The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and his early days as a printer in Boston. Franklin, 72, and Voltaire, 83, would meet in Paris in 1778, when Voltaire was returning from a long exile, and only had a few months to live. Franklin was on a diplomatic mission to secure foreign assistance for America in the Revolutionary War with Great Britain. Because of this mission, Louis XVI would sign a treaty of alliance with the United States. Franklin and Voltaire talked of the government and constitution of a free government.
As I revisit LETTRES D’ALSACE, I am looking for references that Voltaire had with the great Swiss mathematician, Leonhard Euler.
Voltaire: Lettres D’Alsace A Sa Niece Madame Denis. (1938). Paris: Librarie Gallimard
Copyright 2019 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)