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Saturday, 16 January 2021 04:43

Émilie to Maupertuis, September 1737

How Émilie would have loved texting! Distances can be so frustrating ...

So at last, monsieur, here you are back from the other world (because we can’t count Lapland as belonging to this one). I would have let you know how delighted I am before now, if I’d thought you would have time to read my letter. You have so many people asking you questions that I shan’t ask you a single one. My wish is that you’ve returned from your icicles in good health and with a little friendship for me …

I imagine you’re stuck in Paris on holiday. Which means we’ll be stuck here for ten years before we can see you again. Joking apart, if you were ready to snatch some time away from the gaping crowds and come to see a man who admires and loves you much more than they do, I’m offering to send a carriage for two, whenever you like, for you and Monsieur Clairault—because, despite his strictures [Clairault was a mathematical mentor for Émilie], I’d be enchanted to see him. I think if I want my compliments to be well received I should send them through you, so I’m asking you to say lots of nice things to him from me. While you, monsieur, know how genuine my friendship is for you, so I believe you’ll be happy for me to assure you of it once again, without the compliments.

The image is of Julie Lea Goodwin as Émilie and John Longmuir as Maupertuis during a break in the shooting of the concept film, Émilie & Voltaire.

Published in Blog

In this first month of a new year I bring you the forty-first letter I’ve translated from the correspondence of Émilie du Châtelet and François-Marie de Voltaire. With these letters I aim to give you a picture of their lives together at Cirey, up until the amazing event in 1738 that sparks the action of the opera Émilie & Voltaire.

Monseigneur, I find it very hard that Cirey should be so far from the throne in Remusberg. The blessings and the commands that you send me take a long time to arrive. On 10 October I received a letter sent on 16 August, full of verses and excellent morality, and fine metaphysics, and grand sentiments, along with a goodness that enchants my heart. Ah, monseigneur—why are you a prince? Why couldn’t you be a man like any other, just for a year or so? Then we would have the happiness of seeing you—the only pleasure missing from my life since you deigned to write to me …

Our little paradise at Cirey sends its very humble respects to your empyrean heights, and the goddess Émilie bows before the god Frédéric. And so after a thousand detours I’ve received your beautiful letter, the ode, and the third folio of the metaphysics of [Christian] Wolff. Here is another instance of those benefits that other kings—those poor fellows who are only kings—are incapable of bestowing.
I must tell you that this piece of metaphysics—rather long, a little too full of commonplaces, but otherwise admirable, well put together and often most profound—I must tell you, monseigneur, that I understand not one iota of that simple being named Wolff. In an instant he transports me into an atmosphere in which I cannot breathe, onto ground where I cannot set foot, amongst people whose language I cannot understand. If I dared to think that I did understand it, I believe I might be brave enough to argue with Monsieur Wolff—with the greatest respect, of course …

The photo is of Rheinsberg Castle, then known in France as the Remusberg.

Published in Blog