The Voltaire Foundation publishes in hardback and online the correspondences of key French thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, including those of Voltaire, Rousseau, Bayle, Graffigny, Morellet and La Beaumelle.
Voltaire’s correspondence has been called his masterpiece, and Theodore Besterman’s edition (1968-1977), containing 21,221 letters is the reference edition – the first and only edition to be based accurately on manuscripts. New letters regularly come to light and are included in the Electronic Enlightenment database, making it possible to study the letters in new ways.
‘Voltaire’s correspondence superbly represents a critical period of history in a picture composed day by day during more than sixty years; it gives us a close-up of the society of an entire epoch, in all its grandeur and baseness, and makes us the familiars of its thinkers and artists, kings and statesmen, tax gatherers and tripe sellers; it variously reflects the mind, the feelings, the doings of a very great man; every page illustrates the insight, the poetry of a genius, expressed in an incomparable style; and these things make Voltaire’s correspondence the great classic of letter-writing, and indeed a masterpiece of literature’ (Theodore Besterman, Introduction to the edition).
Also included in Electronic Enlightenment, Ralph Leigh’s masterly French edition (1965-1998) of Rousseau’s correspondence provides essential information about the public as well as the private life of one of the most important figures of 18th-century intellectual history.‘The result of exceptional scholarly vigour, this edition brings into sharp focus the entire work of this major Enlightenment figure. The 7,000 letters paint a picture of the life of a most singular author, and reveal his fascinating interior dialogue. With huge research potential, the Correspondance continues to offer new and deeper insights into Rousseau and his time’ (Nathalie Ferrand, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique).
PIERRE BAYLE, PIONEERING 17TH-CENTURY THINKER
From humble beginnings in rural France, Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) became one of the most well known and admired philosophers and man of letters of the seventeenth century. His key works were universally admired and a great source of inspiration for the Enlightenment philosophers. The edition (1999-2017) was edited by a team of specialists, led by Elisabeth Labrousse and Antony McKenna. Read more about the project here (le même document en français).
‘This expertly prepared critical edition is undoubtedly a major event in the world of early Enlightenment studies for the study of the Republic of Letters. Bayle is turning out to be central to every key issue relating to the early Enlightenment and his correspondence is clearly an indispensable source for understanding the complex background to his publications’ (Jonathan Israel, Institute for Advanced Study).
MME DE GRAFFIGNY
THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS WOMAN WRITER OF HER TIME
Françoise de Graffigny (1695-1758), French novelist and playwright whose talent was celebrated all over Europe after the publication of her novel Lettres d’une Péruvienne (1747), and her play Cénie (1750), knew many leading figures of the time, including Voltaire. Her 2500 letters offer a unique insight into France’s intellectual, social, political and literary history, as well as the female condition in the eighteenth century. The fifteen-volume print edition (1985-2016) was edited by a team of specialists based at the University of Toronto, led by J. A. Dainard and English Showalter. Volume 16 (Index, Corrections and Additions), in electronic format, will complete the correspondence. Read a sample letter.
‘One can hardly imagine a more fascinating account of life in the mid-eighteenth century than the letters of Françoise de Graffigny, splendidly edited in the ‘Correspondance’. Her letters, which comment in full and intimate detail on everything from literature and current events to money, love and house furnishings, astonish and delight the modern reader’ (Joan Hinde Stewart, President Emerita, Hamilton College).
LA BEAUMELLE, HUGUENOT WRITER AND VOLTAIRE ADVERSARY
Translator of Horace and Tacitus, Freemason, teacher, poet, journalist, historian, polemicist feared by Voltaire, and champion of toleration, La Beaumelle (1726-1773), ranks among the great writers of his period. His letters reflect the contemporary social and intellectual scene, and range across politics, literature, philosophy, history, religion, and the book trade. The edition (2005- ) is edited by Hubert Bost, Claude Lauriol and Hubert Angliviel de La Beaumelle.
‘We find La Beaumelle, skilled with a sharp mind and with an innate curiosity for knowledge, engaged in reading all that was being newly published all over Europe, and this is why he corresponds with many of the men variously contributing to the eighteenth century’s cultural renewal. […] It is one of the major correspondences of the century […] and promises the public, and especially the eighteenth-century scholar, an extraordinary amount of information of the utmost value, based on the unique standpoint of La Beaumelle’s experience’ (Franco Piva, Studi Francesi).
MORELLET, LAW REFORMER AND POLITICAL ECONOMIST
André Morellet (1727-1819), law reformer and political economist, played an important role in the dissemination of philosophical thought and in the principal debates of his day and participated actively in the intellectual movement that led to the publication of the Encyclopédie. Revised by editor Dorothy Medlin, and incorporated into Electronic Enlightenment in 2011, this edition of correspondence considerably enriches our understanding of the society, literary circles and the history of ideas relating to the Enlightenment.
‘Un instrument de travail exemplaire…’ (Roland Desné, Dix-huitième siècle).