The Abbé (a clergyman) was Voltaire’s business manager in Paris; he and his brother took care of V’s enterprises (amongst these being a paper factory), publishing his writing (through booksellers), lending money to aristocrats (including friends like the Duc de Richelieu) and sending purchases to Cirey. There are very long lists in this letter: I give just a few items from each.
Your patience, my dear Abbé, is about to be sorely tried; I tremble lest it collapse under the strain. I count entirely on your friendship. Temporal affairs, spiritual affairs—these are the subjects of the long chat I’m about to begin with you.
Monsieur de Lezeau owes me three years’ interest—you need to press him for it without being too harsh … Villars and d’Auneuil owe me for two years; you must politely and properly remind these gentlemen of their duties to their creditors. Please settle with Monsieur de Richelieu also … although I have great objections to what he proposes, I much prefer agreement to making an objection.
Prault must hand over fifty francs to your brother. I insist: it’s a bagatelle compared with what he’s made from my sales [of The Prodigal Son, a hit play] … Your brother will then berate Prault on my behalf—every time he sends me books there are delays that torment my patience; nothing ever arrives on the due date. Your brother will then ask him, or someone else, for Mariotte’s On the Nature of Air and On Heat and Cold … Boyle, De ratione inter ignem et flammam …
Other commissions. Two reams of writing paper and the same of letter paper (from Holland); twelve sticks of Spanish spirits-of-wine sealing wax, a Copernican sphere … two globes on stands … two barometers—the longest are the best … When purchasing, my friend, please choose the fine and the good at some expense, rather than the mediocre for less.
What follows is for the physical man, who has poor digestion, who greatly needs (so he’s told) to take exercise and has other social needs besides. Consequently, please buy me a good shotgun, a nice-looking game bag with appurtenances … diamond shoe-buckles, further diamond buckles for garters … two enormous pots of orange-flower pomade … finally three pairs of well-padded slippers; and then I can’t remember anything more.
All this will make one big package, or two if necessary, or three if you must … Send it all via Joinville, not to my address, because I’m in England (I beg you to remember), but to Madame Champbonin’s [a neighbour near Cirey].
All this costs money, you’ll tell me; and where to find it? Wherever you like, dear Abbé—one does discreetly own shares. One must never neglect pleasure, because life is short. I’ll be all yours for this short life.