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Caroline Warman

21. Voltaire, La Henriade, 17231

Texte intégral

  • 1 Voltaire, La Henriade, ed. Beuchot, Paris: Lefèvre & Firmin-Didot, 1723, X, pp. 87-93.

1Voltaire is supposed to have composed the first canto of La Henriade, his epic poem about the French Wars of Religion and the peacemaker King Henri IV, during his time in the Bastille in 1717-18. With no paper at his disposal, he must have done so entirely in his head. He was young, ambitious, and dreamed of making his name as a writer. The first edition was published clandestinely; he was already expressing himself with his trademark audacity and conviction, notably in the lines dealing with the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572, one of the most violent episodes of the Wars of Religion.

While all was dark and night lay black and still,
They raised the signal, gave the call to kill.
The fate of Coligny, a bleak presage, Was only a mild foretaste of their rage. Unbridled soldiers of a murderous race,
With eyes that burnt like fire marched on apace,
To carnage sworn through duty and through zeal, Whilst treading our kin’s corpses under heel.
There at the head strode Guise, with wrath aflame,
And on us sought to venge his father’s name,
Nevers, Gondi, Tavanne, with daggers raised,
Aroused by savage hate, by fervour crazed,
Had in their hands a list of those infractions
For which they sought revenge with murderous actions.
I shan’t tell of the chaos and the screams,
The blood that flowed through Paris in full streams.
The boy, his corpse atop his father’s piled,
Sister with brother, mother and her child;
Here, man and wife are burnt alive in homes,
There, infants dashed on rocks with broken bones.
We ought not to be shocked by human vice,
But in the future no words will suffice
To justify what you won’t understand:
That these cruel monsters with blood on their hand,
Roused by the voices of bloodthirsty priests,
Invoked their God whilst brothers bled like beasts,
The blood of innocents dripping from their swords,
Offering it up as incense to the Lord.

Read the free original text online (facsimile), 1834 edition:​books?id=dg44AQAAIAAJ&pg=PA87


1 Voltaire, La Henriade, ed. Beuchot, Paris: Lefèvre & Firmin-Didot, 1723, X, pp. 87-93.

Table des illustrations

Titre Illustration from La Henriade, 1728 edition
Fichier image/jpeg, 314k


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