It has been estimated that, in a career which stretched over sixty years, Voltaire’s extant writings ran to some fifteen million words: everything concerning the Œuvre seems larger than life, and it is hard to make any simple assessment of it. ‘Complete’ editions appeared in Voltaire’s lifetime; the last, published by Cramer in Geneva in 1775, ran to forty volumes (the so-called édition encadrée). The first complete edition of Voltaire’s writings after his death, known as the Kehl edition, was published on the eve of the Revolution (1785-1789) in seventy octavo volumes (there was also a duodecimo edition in ninety-two volumes). Many complete editions followed in the nineteenth century, culminating in the Moland edition (1877-1883) in fifty-two volumes, which remains – pending the completion of the Oxford edition – the standard edition of reference.
Theodore Besterman’s ‘definitive’ edition of Voltaire’s correspondence (1968-1977) includes more than 15,000 letters, but these surviving letters must represent only a fraction of the total number written by Voltaire in his lifetime, probably in excess of 40,000. This edition is part of the larger Complete Works of Voltaire, a complete and critical edition of all Voltaire’s writings currently being published by the Voltaire Foundation in Oxford; when complete, it will exceed two hundred volumes.