1
APPRENTICESHIP

THE age of historical Pyrrhonism and of attempts to solve the problems which it presented was also the age in which Voltaire grew to manhood and achieved fame as poet and dramatist. But the young Voltaire was, for the most part, unaware of the problems which beset the historians. He could never have said, as Gibbon did of his childhood, that:

The dynasties of Assyria and Egypt were my top and cricket ball, and my sleep has been disturbed by the difficulty of reconciling the Septuagint with the Hebrew computation.1

References to historical questions in his early works and his early correspondence are extremely few. It was not until 1731 that he produced his first historical work of real significance, and it was not until the later thirties and the forties that he began to elaborate his own theory of history and to write the major works which appeared in the following decade.2

Indirectly, however, the attitude of the future historian was already being formed in his early years. For if he was not concerned with the interpretation of the past, the young Voltaire took considerable interest in the political events of the world around him. At the Collège Louis-le-Grand he came into contact with fellow pupils, such as the brothers D'Argenson, who were later to hold important office in the state. One of his teachers, P. Porée, remarks of him that 'il aimait à peser dans ses petites balances les grands intérêts de l ' Europe',3 and he himself, in later years, confirms this.4 That something of his later republican spirit had also developed at a relatively early age is revealed by his letters from Holland with their comments on Dutch democracy and commercial prosperity.5 The future social historian was already interested in society, if not yet in its origins and development.

____________________
1
Gibbon, The Autobiographies (ed. J. Murray, London, 1896), p. 59.
2
Le Siècle de Louis XIV, 1751; Essai sur les mæurs, 1756.
3
See Desnoiresterres, Voltaire et la société au 18e siècle, i.? 28.
4
In a letter to D'Olivet, xxxv. 19.
5
e.g. xxxiii. 73.

-5-

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Voltaire: Historian
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents ix
  • Abbreviations x
  • Introduction 1
  • I - Apprenticeship 5
  • II - Voltaire and His Predecessors 26
  • III - Social History 46
  • IV - Universal History 76
  • V - The Philosophy of History 95
  • VI - Historical Method 129
  • Conclusion 165
  • Bibliography 170
  • General Index 175
  • Index of References to Voltaire's Works 177
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