Voltaire and the Philosophes, 1755-1760
Voltaire renamed his new home "Les Délices," because, he said, "there is nothing more delightful than to be free and independent." He had learned how important a certain flexibility in movement was to freedom, and Les Délices was well situated in that respect--within the republic of Geneva, but almost on the border of the Sardinian province of Savoy and half an hour's ride from France along the Lyon road. So long accustomed to the pleasures of the city and court, Voltaire now threw himself enthusiastically into the life of the lord of a country manor. He tore down walls to improve the view, planned new rooms, expanded the gardens. He wrote in March that his conversation was no longer of literature, politics, and culture, but of "masons, carpenters, and gardeners" ( VC, XXVI, 159). But, while Voltaire was no longer circulating in the world, the world would, during the following years, begin coming to him. A visit to one of the philosopher's homes in Switzerland became a necessary part of a European tour for any traveller with a truly deep regard for contemporary culture.
The first guest at Les Délices, in April of 1755, was Lekain, now firmly established as a leading actor in Paris and freed from the Comédie because of the annual Easter closing. In his letter of invitation, Voltaire warned: "You will find me become a mason, carpenter, gardener; only you will be able to restore me to my proper calling" ( VC, XXVI, 174). Indeed, Lekain's arrival did inspire a desire to stage some theatre and Zaïre was rehearsed and performed in one of the large rooms of the house. According to Voltaire, almost the entire council of Geneva was in the large audience and, "I have never seen so many tears; never were Calvinists so tender" ( VC, XXVI, 192). Mme Denis and Lekain played the leading roles, with Voltaire in his favorite