Voltaire: Historian

Voltaire: Historian

Voltaire: Historian

Voltaire: Historian

Excerpt

This book first appeared in 1958, and is here reprinted with a bare minimum of corrections. In form and style it would no doubt have benefited from a more complete revision. However, my views on the significance of Voltaire's historical writings have not changed appreciably in the intervening years, and I take this as an indication that the time for such a revision has not yet arrived. Instead, I shall content myself, in this preface, with a short review of some of the more important works on Voltaire as an historian which have appeared in recent years and which amplify, modify, and in some cases contradict, my own arguments.

In the first place, new editions are now available of many of the historical writings themselves. The most valuable of these are the work of René Pomeau. His Pléiade (Euvres historiques, which includes all the historical writings except the Essai sur les méurs and lesser works of controversy, was published in 1957. It was followed, in 1963, by his edition of the Essai itself (Classiques Garnier , 2 vols.). Though neither of these is fully 'critical' in the most rigid sense of the term, both give all the more important variants and have extensive introductions and notes. The edition of the Essai is particularly rich in illustrative material and in explanatory notes drawn largely from information in Voltaire's library at Leningrad. For the general reader, these volumes are likely to remain, for a long time, the most reliable standard text. For the specialist, however, they may soon be superseded by the relevant volumes of the new Complete Works of Voltaire, an edition which is now being prepared by an international team of scholars (M. Pomeau is prominent among them) and published under the aegis of Theodore Besterman and the Institut et Musée Voltaire of Geneva. As I write, only one volume of the historical writings has yet appeared: my own edition of La Philosophie de l'histoire. However, there is much to interest the student of Voltairian historiography in the two volumes of Besterman's new, and much augmented, edition of the Notebooks, and some of the major histories are likely to be published in the next year or two. They will contain a fully critical text and an extensive commentary.

Two major studies of Voltaire the historian have appeared since my own was published; they are both considerably longer than mine, and treat some questions much more fully. The first, Furio Diaz's Voltaire storico (1958), is particularly illuminating in its . . .

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