Wednesday, 22 April 2020 02:49

From Émilie to the Comte d’Argental, February 1737

Poor Émilie! Stuck at Cirey while Voltaire is in Holland having some of his most controversial works published--because they were refused by the French royal censor. Today I should be bringing you a letter from Voltaire (I'm alternating their letters between 1735-38, to give you the pattern of their lives) but at the moment, because of coronavirus lockdown, I have no access to V's letters in French. If you know where I can access them online, kindly send me a bulletin on my Contact page! Meanwhile I'm translating extracts from Émilie's letters, in chronological order, more or less weekly.

I’m not going to suggest that Voltaire returns just to put himself into hiding as the ministry requires. For as long as they want him to return incognito, and insist that no one must know where he is, he’s in danger. Now, if he’s to run any kind of risk, how can I possibly be the one to ask him to come back? Besides, it’s impossible to keep him hidden where absolutely no one can find him. Concealment is a humiliating procedure that he will never consent to: it makes him look guilty, plus he’s well known in these parts, and wherever he happens to live, he always draws attention.

There are priests and monks all around us; he’s adored by honest folk in the province but there are also bigots here, as everywhere. In short, if he’s to be genuinely safe, it can’t be known that he’s at Cirey—it’s useless even considering it.

I did suggest to you at one stage that we might get him back and make sure his return is not publicly known, but I’ve no confidence that it could be kept from the minister; and if he were discovered and ran risks in consequence, how we would reproach ourselves! Moreover, what a triumph it would be for our enemies, to know that he was trying to hide himself away! I repeat, it’s too humiliating and he’d never consent to it. What I wanted was for him to stay at Cirey without anyone being aware—that is, without his sending any letters, and without his return being bruited about Paris; but that was when I thought he might do so without any danger of being caught—I could never ask anyone to run that kind of risk.

I feel as though I’m going to lose him precisely because I want to save him, and thus die from grief. But I’m also appalled by the thought of his coming back solely for my sake—and I could never give him any advice that would make him sorry for having followed it! I prefer to see him free and happy in Holland than living the life of a criminal in his own country. I’d rather die of grief than tempt him into a false step.

Last modified on Wednesday, 22 April 2020 06:29