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  Voltaire Foundation logo Voltaire's correspendence Oxford University rectangle

Voltaire’s correspondence has been called his masterpiece, but he did not systematically keep copies of the letters he sent and seldom kept those he received. In a sense, it was his first posthumous editors who, in assembling 4,500 letters, ‘created’ his correspondence.

Later editions continued to add to the number, so that Theodore Besterman’s second, so-called ‘definitive’ edition of the correspondence contains 21,221 letters, of which more than 15,000 are by Voltaire. It remains the reference edition, even though new letters regularly come to light.

Voltaire’s correspendence is included in the Electronic Enlightenment database and new discoveries are gradually being added, making it possible to study the letters in new ways.

To refer to Voltaire’s letters, it is standard to use the numbering of the Besterman edition, where each number is preceded by a D (for ‘definitive’), for example D123. In the case of letters discovered since the completion of this edition, there is a protocol for creating an identification number: see Nicholas Cronk, ‘La correspondance de Voltaire: la première mise à jour (2011) de l’édition de Th. Besterman’, Revue Voltaire 11 (2011), p.195-96.

  Sample of Voltaire's handwriting in one of his letters

A letter in Voltaire’s own hand: Voltaire to Mme de Saint-Julien (25 August 1772, D17885).
(Click on image to enlarge.)

Further updates

If you know of any eighteenth-century letters that resemble the handwriting of Voltaire or his secretary Wagnière, please contact us.

Correspondences

Other correspondences published by the Voltaire Foundation.

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Please help the Voltaire Foundation to keep adding to Voltaire s known correspondence.

Electronic Enlightenment

Electronic Enlightenment, Bodleian Libraries research project publishing online the correspondence between key 18th-century writers, is currently available for free institutional trial. Please fill in a recommendation form for your librarian.

Print editions

Correspondence and related documents

Ed. Theodore Besterman

Besterman’s monumental edition of Voltaire’s correspondence in 51 volumes is the first and only edition to be based accurately on manuscripts, and contains over 21,000 letters from and to Voltaire, or between third parties. Also reproduced are more than 500 documents that shed light on various aspects of Voltaire’s long career.

Voltaire et sa ‘grande amie’ – Correspondance complète de Voltaire et de Mme Bentinck (1740-1778)

Ed. Frédéric Deloffre et Jacques Cormier

Document nouveau sur la vie sentimentale de Voltaire, exemplaire pour l’histoire des Lumières en Europe, totalement inattendu sur la genèse de Candide, ce Voltaire et sa grande amie s’impose encore par la qualité constante de l’écriture des deux correspondants.

Volume 45C: Paméla – Mémoires pour servir à la vie de Monsieur de Voltaire, écrits par lui-même

Ed. Jonathan Mallinson

Letters written by Voltaire to Mme Denis from Prussia pose a particular problem. Furious at the treatment that he had received from Frederick the Great, Voltaire embarked upon an epistolary novel, Paméla, that rewrote his letters after the event.

Online edition

Digital correspondence of Voltaire

Ed. Theodore Besterman
2011 online supplement: ed. Nicholas Cronk et al.

Voltaire’s correspondence has been extended with the addition of 14 unpublished letters, and over 30 notes making significant revisions. High-quality images of all the Voltaire letters at the New York Public Library are also included.