With so many good reasons for visiting Amsterdam, the idea of going there to read 70 or so bibliographies in two days might not seem the most compelling. None the less, I and five other people interested in book history did exactly that in October, as guests of the Breslauer Foundation of New York, which awards a prize for the best bibliography published in the previous four years in any language. Publishers are invited to submit entries for consideration, and the winner will receive the prize of $10,000 at a gala dinner in Paris next year.
Polémique sur les espèces en voie de disparition? Non. Fable de La Fontaine? Non plus... Il s’agit des illustrations du dernier tome des Questions sur l’Encyclopédie.
Cher Denis Diderot, happy 300th birthday!
Voltaire wrote on most subjects under the sun but his particular area of expertise in his own eyes – and one about which he probably felt more entitled to offer an informed opinion than almost any of his contemporaries – was undoubtedly literature, and more specifically theatre. For although the modern reader will be familiar with the great man’s œuvre chiefly through his contes, his dramatic output far exceeded that of his tales. Consequently Voltaire saw himself first and foremost as a dramatist and a poet.
In 1770 a group of Voltaire’s friends decided over a boozy dinner that a subscription should be started to commission a monumental statue of France’s most famous living writer. The chosen sculptor was Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, the tercentenary of whose birth falls this coming January. Pigalle’s work was widely admired, and he was a favourite of Louis XV, who sent Frederick the Great a marble copy of the sculptor’s Mercure attachant ses talonnières, a work that may seem somewhat bland to modern eyes but was hugely popular at the time.
L’histoire des négociations entourant la bibliothèque de Voltaire après la mort de l’auteur et qui ont culminé dans le transfert de tous les livres de Ferney à Saint-Pétersbourg a souvent été racontée. Loin d’être la seule bibliothèque d’écrivain à avoir survécu à la mort de son propriétaire, elle est cependant peut-être la plus grande (avec presque sept mille volumes) et la plus célèbre. Sa particularité est celle, bien sûr, des nombreuses notes marginales et autres traces de lecture dont les volumes sont remplis.
We are very sad to learn the news of the death of Nikolai Kopanev, head of the Voltaire library in St Petersburg. We last had the pleasure of welcoming him to Oxford in 2009, as part of the celebrations of the 250th anniversary of Candide; more recently we published his article 'V. S. Lioublinski et le Corpus des notes marginales' in the reissue of volume 5 of Voltaire's marginalia which appeared in 2012 (OCV, vol.140, p.947-50).
Mark Ravenhill is now in his second year as Writer in Residence at the RSC. His latest play, Candide, ‘inspired by Voltaire’, is currently in rehearsal and opens at the Swan Theatre in Stratford on 29 August, where it will run until 26 October.