The Palace of Versailles is mounting a magnificent exhibition entitled ‘Le Roi est mort’ to mark the tercentenary of the death of Louis XIV. The exhibits, artefacts, texts, and background music document the king’s last days, how his body was treated after his death on 1 September 1715, and the rituals of mourning imposed during the long period which followed until his funeral in St Denis on 23 October.
After the killings on 7 January 2015 in the offices of Charlie Hebdo, Voltaire of all people suddenly rushed into public prominence in France, serving as a symbol of (one supposes) free speech, satire, tolerance, and a certain insolence éclairée. His image sprang up on walls and lampposts, quotations and misquotations appeared on placards, and the Traité sur la tolérance flew off bookstore shelves across the country.
Pour la France, et pour Paris en particulier, l’année 2015 se sera terminée aussi douloureusement qu’elle avait commencé. Il nous a paru opportun, pour cette dernière livraison avant le nouvel an, de revenir sur la place centrale qu’occupait le combat contre l’intolérance chez Voltaire et ses amis philosophes.
At the beginning of his 1791 Les Ruines, Constantin-François de Volney describes himself sitting amidst the ruins of Palmyra, on the edge of the Syrian desert. As his gaze shifts back and forth between the ancient monuments and the open horizon, he sinks into a profound reverie. It is the beginning of a long meditation on the principles that govern the rise and fall of civilizations.
In one of the letters recounting his travels around Europe, Johann III Bernoulli describes the events of a bitterly cold day in Geneva in November 1774. The day begins with a meeting with Voltaire’s publisher Cramer, and an offer to be taken to visit the great man, followed by a walk around town and an unexpected meeting with an old man in Turkish dress. Bernoulli correctly guesses that this is the painter Jean-Etienne Liotard,  famed for the truthfulness of his portraits and the exquisite depiction of his subjects’ dress.
Dans son livre De l’esprit paru en 1758, Helvétius s’efforce de montrer, au chapitre 25 du discours III, que la force des passions est proportionnelle à la grandeur des récompenses qu’on leur propose pour objet.
All of us at the Voltaire Foundation express warmest solidarity with our friends and colleagues in France, in the wake of the tragic and brutal events of 13 November.
On the tercentenary of the death of Louis XIV, and the publication of Voltaire’s seminal Siècle de Louis XIV by the Voltaire Foundation, 2015 is a better year than most to search for the legacies and impacts of Louis’s reign closer to the Voltaire Foundation’s home on Banbury Road in Oxford.