Voltaire’s correspondence has been called his masterpiece, and Theodore Besterman’s ‘definitive’ edition (1968-1977), containing 21,221 letters from and to Voltaire, or between third parties, is the reference edition – the first and only edition to be based accurately on manuscripts. All known letters are printed in full, and each one is extensively annotated. Also reproduced are more than 500 documents that shed light on various aspects of Voltaire’s long career. 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).