Voltaire, he “continues to act his own pieces upon his own stage”

Today would have been the 238th birthday of Francois-Marie Arouet.  Better known by his nom de plume Voltaire, he was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher.  He advocated freedom of religion, freedom of speech and separation of church and state.

Voltaire

Portrait of Voltaire by French painter Nicolas de Largillierre, 1724 or 1725, displayed at the Palace of Versailles

During his European tour, the young Henry Temple, second Viscount Palmerston, stayed with Voltaire at Ferney in September 1763. He had already travelled through much of Switzerland and was on his way to Italy.

I dined yesterday with Voltaire who lives about 4 miles from hence [Geneva] upon the French territory: he is just now 70 complete. He seems feeble and complains of continual pains in his head; but notwithstanding seems to have lost nothing of his spirits or intellects and still continues to act his own pieces upon his own stage. […] He received us with much politeness and attention. [Broadlands Archives BR11/2/7]

I am now settled at Voltaire’s house and am regretting the time I wasted in the neighborhood before I came hither. My recommendations to him were such and from such quarters as could not fail to procure me great civilities. [Broadlands Archives BR11/2/8]

Palmerston served as an MP for many years but his first love was travel and culture and he collected antiques, paintings and sculptures, many of which now adorn what was his country estate, Broadlands, in Hampshire. The Special Collections hold travel diaries and correspondence which provide a detailed account of Palmerston’s life.

BR101/34 List of pictures and marbles purchased by Henry Temple, second Viscount Palmerston, in Italy, 1764

BR101/34 List of pictures and marbles purchased by Henry Temple, second Viscount Palmerston, in Italy, 1764

Some commentators have criticized Voltaire for his attitude towards Jewish people while others state he was hostile to all religions, and not specifically anti-Semitic. The Parkes Library on Jewish/non-Jewish relations contains a selection of texts concerning Voltaire and his views including Antoine Guénée’s Lettres de quelques Juifs Portugais, Allemands et Polonais à M. de Voltaire, avec up petit commentaire, extrait d’un plus grand, à l’usage de ceux qui lisent ses oeuvres, suivies des mémoires sur la ferilité de la Judée (Pairs 1828): letters from Jewish correspondents to Voltaire, with commentary.

The Library holds 18th- and 19th-century editions of Voltaire’s works including The Dictionnaire philosophique (Philosophical Dictionary), an encyclopaedic dictionary first published by Voltaire in 1764; it was a lifelong project for Voltaire and continually edited and reprinted throughout his life.

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