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Voltaire, Reading. The Corpus des notes marginales and Voltaire’s Annotations to his Books on Spain, Portugal and Latin America

Voltaire, lecteur. Le Corpus des notes marginales et les notes de Voltaire dans ses livres sur l’Espagne, le Portugal et l’Amérique latine

Thomas Bremer

Résumé

Within the different types of documents which illustrate the historic development of reading processes, the manuscript annotations to a printed text are probably the most expressive interaction between an author and his reader and the directest possible response to what a reading person has under his eyes. On this background, it is even more astonishing that the publication of an extensive corpus of marginalia by one of the most important authors of the European Enlightenment—the Corpus des notes marginales de Voltaire, published since 1979 in an unique collaboration between Russian, German and British institutions—has received up to now nearly no attention at all by the researchers on the 18th century.—The article gives a general overview over the traces of Voltaire’s readings in his library sold to the tsarina in 1778, traces which can be found in around 30% of the 3863 works in 6814 volumes. Special attention is given to the documentation of Voltaire’s marginalia in his books on Spain, Portugal and the colonies in Latin America, mostly originating from the time in Verney (1758-1778) and ranging from Don Quijote and the Manuel des inquisiteurs to Las Casas and informations on Mexico, Peru and Paraguay

Parmi les différentes catégories de documents qui illustrent l’évolution des modes de lecture, les notes manuscrites sur un texte imprimé sont sans doute le mode le plus expressif d’interaction entre un auteur et son lecteur ainsi que la réaction la plus immédiate à ce qu’un lecteur a sous les yeux. Dans ces conditions, il est d’autant plus surprenant que les dix-huitièmistes ne se soient quasiment pas encore intéressés à la publication d’un important corpus de notes marginales dont l’auteur compte parmi les plus renommés de l’Europe des Lumières: le Corpus des notes marginales de Voltaire, publié depuis 1979 par un collectif extraordinaire composé de chercheurs russes, allemands et britanniques. Cet article est une étude des traces des lectures de Voltaire dans sa bibliothèque (qu’il vendit à la tsarine en 1778), traces que l’on trouve dans environ 30% des 3 863 œuvres répertoriées dans 6 814 volumes. Une attention toute particulière est accordée à la documentation sur les notes marginales de Voltaire dans ses livres sur l’Espagne, le Portugal et les colonies d’Amérique latine, la plupart effectuées pendant son séjour à Verney (1738-1778) et allant de Don Quijote et le Manuel des inquisiteurs à Las Casas et la documentation sur le Mexique, le Pérou et le Paraguay

Texte intégral

1 A Theory of Marginalia

  • 1 See, for example, Nichols (1991), Toon (1991) and Fera/Ferraù/Rizzo (2002).

1Within the different types of documents which illustrate the historic development of reading processes, the manuscript annotations to a printed text are probably the most expressive interaction between an author and his reader and the directest possible response to what a reading person has under his eyes. What in the Middle Ages may have had the function of explaining a “dark” Latin expression to the subsequent readers of a manuscript1 — i.e. “understanding texts and establishing contexts”, as Thomas Toon puts it — turns in the age of printed books into a form of dialogue with an absent author in the framework of the individual copy of a printed work. Annotations are the immediate reaction by a selfconscious and active “consumer” of the author’s ideas and opinions; they establish, challenge or modify the authority of a text. Even if fragmentary, private, undigested and embryonic, as witnesses to the reading process, they are documents of an intellectual appropriation and constitute a vast resource for a better understanding of literary history and culture.

2It is against this background that in the last ten to twenty years, book historians have given special emphasis to the analysis of direct and material traces of historical reading processes. As Roger Stoddard’s pioneering exhibition catalogue, Marks in Books (1985), shows, readers write in their books for many reasons, annotating them in the most different ways with pencil and ink, but using expressive non-verbal codes such as asterisks, exclamation marks, or turneddown corners as well. The British Library was the first of the European National Libraries to publish in 1994 A Short Title Catalogue of Books with Manuscript Notes under the title Books with manuscripts (R. C. Alston 1994), and between 1980 and 1990 and considering only the field of English-speaking culture, the manuscript annotations in the books of Coleridge, William Blake and Darwin were, among others, subjects of special publications. Discursive notes require an active reader, they express a reaction to a text or an opinion on it, and within a collection of books, they show which of them stimulated their owner most to a critical inquiry. In her study, Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books (2001), H. J. Jackson delivers a beautiful example from the English 18th century. In 1783, the Bishop of Llandaff, Richard Watson, published a Letter to His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury with the aim to have the revenues of the Church of England redistributed, a campaign that finally failed. At least one copy fell into the hands of a member of the Anglican clergy who was opposed to any such change, and who made this opinion very clear in his marginal notes to the text. Every free space of the first eleven pages of the volume is filled with a torrent of invective. Summing up his opinion, he even used the space of the half-title front page and added under the editor’s line “A letter to His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury” his own handwritten baroque subtitle

  • 2 Jackson 2001, 30 ff., citation p. 31; the copy belongs to the Humanities Research Center, Universit (...)

with critical Notes & Observations to elucidate, explain, & clear ye Obscurity false Reasoning not to say palpable gross Lies which this impudent Son of the Church has wrote & published to ye World supposing them to be blind & could not see, ignorant & knew not, & ye worst of Slaves to submit ye Understanding which ye Great GOD ye Fountain of all Knowledge has given them to use for his Glory (to submit I say their Understandings) to ye Devil, ye Pope, his Conclave or any of his Apes, existing in any Kingdom of Utopia.2

2 Voltaire’s Marginalia

  • 3 For a study of the history of the edition project, cf. Ljublinski 1961,14 f.

3Against this background, it is even more astonishing that the complete publication of an extensive corpus of marginalia by one of the most important authors of the European Enlightenment has hitherto received nearly no attention at all from the researchers on the 18th century. Apart from a couple of reviews at the moment of the publication of the single volumes (and even those have not been too numerous), an internet inquiry reveals only one more detailed occupation with the subject in a Sorbonne workshop of 2001, whose results have up to now remained unpublished. We speak of the Corpus des notes marginales de Voltaire, which was published between 1979 and 1994 in a unique collaboration between the National Library Saltykov-Chtchedrin in Leningrad/St. Petersburg, the publishing house connected to the Academy of Science in Berlin (Akademie-Verlag), at that time an institution of the GDR, and the Voltaire Foundation in Oxford. The project of this edition had started around the year 1935.3

  • 4 Biblioteka Vol'tera. Katalog knig, see for our context especially the text by Varbanec, p. 72 ff.
  • 5 Cf. Corpus des notes marginales, vol. 1, p. 40; References to the serial are indicated from now as (...)

4As every dix-huitièmiste knows, the library of Voltaire was purchased in 1778 by the Tsarina Catherine II, brought to Petersburg and exhibited there in the Hermitage. The 1961 catalogue4 includes 3863 works and, including the manuscripts, 6814 volumes. It is without doubt that the majority of them originate from the time of Voltaire’s stay in Verney, i.e. that he acquired the books in the last twenty years of his life (1758 to 1778), although some items belong to the periods Voltaire lived in England, Cirey, Berlin and other places. They cover every field of knowledge, including history, philosophy and religion, novels, poetry and theatre, geography and economics as well as chemistry, physics, astronomy, art, architecture, ethnology, medicine and every type of reference works such as dictionaries, maps, the Encyclopédie and reviews of any kind. Some 141 volumes contain brochures, clippings from periodicals and one-side prints, which were bound together according to Voltaire’s main fields of interests, bearing indications like Jésuites, Rousseau/Genève, Tragédies, and others.5 87% of the books are written in French, 4.5% in English, 3.5% in Italian and another 3.3% in Latin, while only 22 books of the library were published in German, 9 in Spanish, 8 in Greek and 7 in Polish. One item is written in Hebrew, 11 are multilingual. To complete our statistical account, we should add the chronological distribution of Voltaire’s book ownership, at least at the moment of the assignment to Catherine II: 88% of his volumes were contemporary, i.e. published in the 18th century, including 26.7% from the period earlier than 1749 and 61.6% printed after 1750.10.3% were printed in the 17th century, 1.4% in the 16th century, whereas incunabula are not included.

  • 6 See Bengesco 1882-1890, II, 427-433.
  • 7 See the bibliography in CV, I, 53-57·

5A large part of these works (around 30%) includes traces of Voltaire’s reading. Actually this has been a well-known fact since at least the end of the 19th century. In his Voltaire. Bibliographie de ses œuvres of 1885, Georges Bengesco had already referred to Voltaire’s annotations.6 Later, and especially after 1945, several Soviet researchers published works on various aspects of the collection.7 The five volumes edited since the late 1970s, include every — even marginal — trace of Voltaire’s reading process and contain, as the material is organized alphabetically by the name of the author, 1,183 books from A nosseigneurs de Parlement en la Grand’chambre assemblée, a printing of 1776, up to a critical reflection on Beccaria’s Dei delitti e delle pene by Muyart de Vouglans. In 1994, the enterprise stopped with the letter M and it is uncertain if and when the remaining three planned volumes of the project will be published, given the changes in Russian research politics as well as in the German publishing landscape after the fall of the wall.

6As it is not possible to present a comprehensive panorama of all the traces left in his books by the reading Voltaire, I will concentrate exemplarily on four major subjects of his reading before I try to give an extensive view of his information on Spain, Portugal and Latin America.

  1. It is obvious that books on religion, theology and church history comprise the largest group of works in Voltaire’s library and that they are under the most frequently and most extensively annotated items. More than one third of the second volume of the Corpus des notes marginales, more than 300 pages, are for example dedicated to the works of Don Calmet, especially to his Commentaire littéral sur tous les livres de l’Ancien et du Nouveau Testament, which had appeared in 23 volumes between 1709 and 1734. The example is also representative because it shows the whole repertoire of Voltaire’s annotation technique, from underlining phrases within the text and marking passages in the margins of the page, to turning in the sides of the pages and inserting slips of paper of any kind (handwritten notes, old envelopes and letters, calculations and bills) between the pages or sticking them in at certain passages of the text. The handwritten annotations move between the addition of headlines to single passages to judgements on the text and ironic remarks on the author or his considerations. To the anti-Jesuit Arrest de la Cour de Parlement from 1762 (CV # 59; I, 150 ff.) Voltaire adds for example, among others, “ce sont la les miseres theologiques dans les quelles un parlement ne doit pas entrer” (131), or “le pape brulera votre arrest, tant mieux vous brulerez le sien, et vous nos déliverez du pape, amen” (151 f.). To some formulations he notes “vague et faux”, to others “bon cela” or “fort bien” (153-5). To La Vraie religion traduite de l’Écriture Sainte, published under the pseudonym of “Gilbert Burnet”, Voltaire adds on the back of the title page, referring to the fact that at this time many writings with criticisms of the church had been attributed to St. Evremont, “ce livre nest et ne peut etre de St evremont. il est tres mal ecrit, et aussi mal fait que scandaleux” (CV # 83; V, 222).

    • 8 Voltaire/Besterman, vol. 13, p. 137 f. (Letter 15155 = D 20986); the letter had already been printe (...)

    It is striking how many books of literature, especially of theatre and tragédies, Voltaire read and critically annotated. Given the aesthetic discussions of the time, it is perhaps not surprising that Voltaire read nearly all important Greek and Latin authors of the classical period. His copy of Aristotle’s Poetics (Voltaire uses a 1692 edition) shows an intense study as well as the works of Cicero, Catull, Homer or Euripides. However to what enormous extent Voltaire read and criticized texts by his contemporaries has been far less known up to now. In a letter to La Harpe for example, dated 14th January 1778, Voltaire expresses his disdain of Belloy’s tragedies in the famous phrase, “je vous avoue que la barbarie de Du Belloy et consorts m’est presque aussi insupportable que la barbarie de Shakespeare.”8 In his comments on four of Belloy’s works, we can now specify his objections formulated in a torrent of ironic remarks. To the verse “S’enivrer de ses pleurs, était son seul plaisir”, he puts “des pleurs sont ils du vin?” (CV # 144; I, 261), to the verse “Dont sçait s’envelopper une flâme infidelle”, he adds “une flamme qui sait” (262), to the phrase “Toujours sa Stoïque froideur,/Des passions, en lui, sut étouffer l’ardeur”, Voltaire annotates drastically “ah femme de chambre! du stoique ! un temps nebuleux ! mademoiselle! ah jay la chaude pisse” (264). A detailed analysis of Voltaire’s marginalia on the theatre works of his contemporaries, from Arnaud to Marmontel, would be a most interesting contribution to the theatre aesthetics of the 18th century.

    • 9 Cf. Haven (1933 a), a shorter version in Haven (1933 b).
    • 10 Ljublinski 1961, 118.
    • 11 Ljublinski, “Die Randbemerkungen Voltaires zu Diderots'Pensées philosophiques’”, in Ljublinski 1961 (...)

    Much less frequent, however, is Voltaire’s discussion with those authors whom we would today identify as the intellectual heads of the Enlightenment. Although not yet published in the Corpus des notes marginales, at least the essentials of his annotations to the works of Rousseau are known from G. R. Havens’book from 1933,9 as well as many of his remarks on the Encyclopédie, which would require a specific treatment on the basis of the new edition. The intellectual discussion with Diderot, in contrast, is relatively minor. Only the Pensées philosophiques, of which Voltaire owned one edition of 1746 and another later one of 1777, provoked him to write larger marginalia, while the Lettre sur les aveugles and the Pensées sur l’interprétation de la nature possess only few documented reading traces. The most detailed argumentation we can find in Voltaire’s reading notes refer to some works by Helvétius, d’Holbach and Montesquieu. Despite the quantitative inequality of annotations it would, however, be misleading to underestimate their qualitative importance. In a way Voltaire’s marginalia on his Enlightenment contemporaries may be said to present “a microcosm of all the controversies”,10 which consequently led to early discussions in publications of the 20s and 30s of the 20th century. The few remarks on Diderot’s Pensées philosophiques reflect, for example, all the fundamental questions which were to be discussed 25 years later: the hypothesis of a mechanical accident at the origin of life, the importance of movement as a principle of matter, the compatibility of nature in accordance with the existence of reason or the mortality of the soul.11

    • 12 Voltaire/Besterman, vol. 11, p. 702 f. (Letter 13770 = D 18978).

    If we consider in a fourth cross-sectional view Voltaire’s reading on ethnology, which means, his reception of books on travels and expeditions to unknown or little known parts of the world, we will notice that he was up to date with the contemporary state of the art. The central event of the second half of the 18th century was without any doubt the discovery of the Southern Sea and the recognition that a huge South Continent did not after all exist, as some calculations had predicted. His information on the Southern Sea, especially on Tahiti, to which allusions can be found in many of his works, come from the attentive reading of nearly all the extensive collections of travel descriptions, in the formula of a letter to de Lisle dated 11th June 1774: “Ne pouvant voyager, je me suis mis à lire le voyage autour du monde de MM. Banks et Solander. Je ne connais rien de plus instructif.”12 Banks’description, “undertaken in pursuit of natural knowledge, at the desire of the Royal society”, as the subtitle indicates, refers to James Cook’s 1768 to 1771 voyage, while Bougainville’s Voyage autour du monde refers to the expedition undertaken slightly earlier, from 1766 to 1769. According to the cited letter, it is astonishing that both works, although present in Voltaire’s library, are not much commented on. There are only two brief written remarks on Banks and three on Bougainville. The main source of Voltaire’s knowledge and source of nearly all allusions and anecdotes referring to the Southern Sea was, however, the French version of John Hawkesworth’s collection of reports, i.e. the Relations des voyages entrepris par ordre de Sa Majesté Britannique in 4 volumes, Paris 1774 (cf. CV # 717; IV, 264-276). The marginal remarks “othaïtiens voleurs et bonnes gens”, “rio janeiro 40 000 negres par an”, “femmes”, “peuple enfant et bon”, “mange tabac”, “sacrifice a venus”, “espece d’albinos quon croit maladies” or “peintures des fesses” are remarks referring to the first pages of the printed text, but revealing as well main fields of interest and possible further processing within Voltaire’s polemical and literary works. It is striking that Voltaire’s library includes all the 48 volumes of the Histoire générale des voyages, even if not marked by spectacular traces of reading, as well as de Brosse’s Histoire des navigations aux terres australes (1756) and George Anson’s A Voyage round the world, in the year MDCCXL, I, II, III, IV, which Voltaire read as early as between 1749 and 1752. Annotated single volumes in the field refer above all to the history and costumes of China and Russia.

  • 13 Voltaire/Besterman, vol. 8, p. 771 f. (Letter 9771 = D 13735).

7In conclusion to this analysis we can say: annotating the books read means, in the case of Voltaire, adding marginalia as an aid to memory in order to find important “spots” as well as a short characteristic of the author or work, angry contradictions, scribbled in the margins of the disliked works, sometimes peppered with personal insults to their authors (for example if he adds after the title “Poésies” the remark “a faire vomir” or after the indication of the author Crébillon, “Visigoth”). In the case of Gachet d’Artigny, he adds “cet ouvrage est a peu près la besogne dun chifonier qui ramasse des guenilles dans les rues” (CV # 633; IV, 17), in the case of Crébillon more than once “inutile, puerile mal ecrit” (CV # 437; II, 819). Other remarks might indicate immediate consent or disagreement, like “tres bon” or “sot.” A third category of Voltairian marginalia aims, as indicated, at a specific discussion of content as in the cited points of disagreement to Diderot. All of these annotations, including the “silent” ones, indicate an engaged discussion of the works read. “Ma coutume est d’écrire sur la marge de mes livres ce que je pense d’eux”, Voltaire writes to Mme de Saint Julien on 15th December 1766, “Vous verrez quand vous daignerez venir à Ferney les marges du Christianisme devoilé chargées de remarques qui démontrent que l’auteur s’est trompé sur les faits les plus essentiels.”13

3 Voltaire’s Marginalia in Books on Spain and Portugal

8If we consider in this macrocontext Voltaire’s information on Spain, Portugal and Latin America, it is easy to recognize that it is not very systematic. Screening the Corpus des notes marginales, we find, however, that his knowledge of the Iberian countries and their respective cultures was more detailed than one could have imagined, and much broader than supposed.

  • 14 Cf. the “Supplement” (# 3) in CV IV, 665 ff.
  • 15 Cf. the edition by René Pomeau, Paris 1963, vol. II, p. 845.

9The first and perhaps least expected surprise is that Voltaire tried apparently in a serious way to read Cervantes in the original version. In one Spanish edition of the Ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha of 1617 we find turned down corners on two occasions, as well as the handwritten remark in a French translation of 1723, “cela ne parait pas bien traduit” (CV # 328, 329, II, 483). One surprise was the 1984 discovery of another copy of the novel which had been in Voltaire’s possession but was located outside the Hermitage although belonging to its stocks. In this edition (Den Haag 1744) Voltaire added nearly 30 translation and vocabulary aids, which demonstrate his careful reading of at least various chapters of the original text.14 Commenting on the episode of dreaming of Dulcinea, he annotated “comment ce fou peut il etre assez bete pour convenir serieusemt que sa princesse vannait du bled?” (669). It is a wellknown fact that Voltaire used his reading for a detailed appraisal of the text in the “Chapitre des arts” of his Essais sur les mœurs,15 and he proves to be interested in some supplementary information on the author as well: In Chauffepiés Nouveau dictionnaire historique et critique (1750-1756), which was intended to be the continuation of Bayle’s Dictionnaire, he marked the headword “Saavedra (M. de Cervantes)” in the fourth volume (CV # 350; II, 613). Other titles of the Iberian literatures read at least in part by Voltaire, are the works of Gracián in a Spanish edition and three translations, as well as those by Camões in the translation by La Harpe.

  • 16 Cf. CV # 655; IV, 91-141 with a huge amount of underlining, papillons and dog's ears, but without w (...)
  • 17 Cf. CV # 1167; V, 784. Voltaire comments this text in various occasions in his correspondence; cf. (...)

10In addition and above all, Voltaire read, however, an impressive amount of political and social information on the Peninsula and its colonies, but was apparently not content with many of his sources. Although he used information from Desormeaux’ Abrégé chronologique de l’histoire de l’Espagne of 1758/59 (5 vols.) on various occasions again in his Essais sur les mœurs, he added on the title page of its second volume “ouvrage aussi plat que touttes les autres histoires de ce plat desormaux” (CV # 490; III, 130). In his copy of the État présent du Royaume de Portugal of 1775, marks — executed apparently with a finger-nail — proof his reading. Other sources include Pietro Giannone’s Histoire civile du Royaume de Naples, Naples being for a long time a dominion of the Spanish crown and Giannone one of the authors whose reliability Voltaire stressed on various occasions,16 and the Manuel des inquisiteurs, à l’usage des inquisitions d’Espagne et de Portugal, ou abrégé de l’ouvrage intitulé: Directorium inquisitorum, indicating Lisbon as the place of publication, but printed in Paris.17

11Some minor sources of his knowledge on Spain and Portugal can only be summarized. From Juan Alvarez de Colmenar’s Annales d’Espagne et de Portugal (translated by Pierre Massuet and published in eight volumes in Amsterdam 1741) he takes the information on the “langue biscaiene”, which is reported as “toute particulière, et qui n’a aucun rapport avec les autres Langues de l’Europe”, annotates “hospitaux” when the author speaks about Marie-Anne of Austria’s refugees for unmarried mothers of the time (“un Hôpital pour les filles de médiocre vertu”), and finally comments on the report of an Inquisition prisoner who is allowed to change his shirt every Saturday, “changer de chemise le samedi preuve de christianisme” (CV # 24; I, 91-93). Some less interesting proof of reading can be found in Claude Jordan’s Voyages historiques de l’Europe, vol. 2: Qui comprend tout ce qu’il ya de plus curieux en Espagne (the book dates from 1693-1698), in the Journal encyclopédique of 1758 and in Gregorio Lett’s Vie de Philippe II, roi d’Espagne, (by the way Voltaire was also in possession of Leti’s biographies of Cromwell, Pope Sixt V and Don Pedro Girón.) For his judgements on Spanish books as well as for the way in which at least some of them arrived in Ferney, it is instructive to quote the letter of May 1771 to Tabareau, a text which has already been included in Beaumarchais’famous Kehl edition of Voltaire’s works and could be read by contemporaries:

Je me souviens bien, Monsieur, qu’un Espagnol qui passa à Ferney il y a quelques mois, me dit qu’il m’enverrait quelques livres epagnols assez curieux; il me les envois par la voie de Marseille, mais je ne les crois pas curieux du tout; je crois qu’il n’y a de curieux en Espagne que Don Quijote.

12And he continues:

  • 18 Letter to Tabareau, 4th may 1771, cf. Voltaire/Besterman, vol. 10, p. 710 (Letter 12371 = D 17173); (...)

Le négociant de Marseille peut en toute sûreté de conscience envoyer ces rogatons. Il doit savoir qu’on n’imprime rien dans ce pays-là qu’avec l’approbation du Saint-Office, et je serais bien fâché de lire un ouvrage qui ne serait pas muni de ce sceau respectable.18

4 Voltaire’s Reading on Latin America

13Compared to his information on Spain and Portugal, Voltaire’s reading on Latin America shows some marked centres of special interest, namely the history of Mexico and Peru, the influence of the Jesuits in Latin America, as well as general information related to slavery and to the economic development of the colonies.

14One of the works with a remarkable amount of reading traces in Voltaire’s library as well as one of the books where his interest in Latin America may be recognized in a broader context is William Burke’s Account of the European settlements in America (London 1758). The first and second volume (of six) contain not only eight handwritten annotations but also 23 “papillons” which document an intense occupation with the text’s information on the history of the Conquista and its influence on the original inhabitants, whereas, strangely enough, the four volumes dealing with the further development of the European settlement (vol. 3: Of the Spanish Settlements; vol. 4: Of the Portuguese; vol. 5: Of the French, Dutch, and Danish; vol. 6: Of the English) do not reveal any trace of reading (cf. CV, # 277; I, 619-623). The revenues of Mexico, the clergy’s share of it, the cacao production “found in the greatest perfection” and its profits, “so great, that a small garden of the cacaos is said to produce twenty thousand crowns a year” (619 f.) are among the passages stressed by “papillons.” Beside the notice on the earthquake of Callao (near Lima) “no more than one of all the inhabitants escaping”, Voltaire notes the information “un seul homme sauvé” (620); Burke’s formulation in the second volume, that “earthquakes, and hurricanes, and floods, are as necessary to the well-being of things, as calm and sun-shine” — an opinion worthy of discussion, especially two years after the Lisbon earthquake of 1756 — he adds the critical remark “tremblem[en]t de terre etc nécessaires! pour l’ordre belle necessité! verole pest est elle necessaire” (621). Other remarks refer to the situation in Northern America, especially to the prices of farmland in Pennsylvania and to the animals in New England and Virginia (“opossum<m> sous-ventre!”, 622).

15Further information on Mexico and Peru come from the works by Buffon, Boulanger, Marmontel and Juan y Santacilia.

  • 19 Cf. the note on the front page, “embleme de cet ouvrage, de ce bon damilaville et de Diderot” and u (...)

16In Boulanger’s anonymously printed work Recherches sur l’origine du despotisme oriental (1761), which Voltaire obviously attributed to Diderot,19 we find within the context of a discussion of the climate theory on the behaviour of men the affirmation that “Quel que soit le pouvoir des climats sur les divers habitans de la terre, nous pouvons être certains [...] qu’il n’y a aucune action physique qui puisse éteindre dans l’homme le sentiment naturel de ses plus chers intéres, à moins que l’éducation et les préjugés n’y coopèrent, en ne lui présentant dès l’enfance que de faux principes sur son bonheur réel et sur ses vrais devoirs. Tout fait sentir au jeune Asiatique qu’il est esclave, et qu’il doit être; tout apprend à l’Européen qu’il est raisonnable, et l’Américain voit qu’il est libre.” Voltaire adds the marginalia, “est ce le peruvien et le mexicain”, although in other points he is much more sceptical about Boulanger’s opinions, adding for example “qui te l’a dit!” or “as tu des memoires de tout cela.” (499)

  • 20 “Mon cher ange, il n'y a que vous à qui j'ose écrire, dans l'état assez désagréable où je suis. J'a (...)

17Voltaire’s marginalia to Buffon, whose Histoire naturelle he read apparently only in the second edition and after 1767, would be worthy of a separate and detailed study including their use in his critique of Buffon’s opinions in La défense de mon oncle (1767) and Des singularités de la nature (1768). Referring to Latin America, Voltaire uses the information on the geography of Panama, Mexico and Peru and enters into a broad discussion of the distribution of shells all over the world, which according to La Condamine do not, however, exist in Peru (CV # 267,I, 579). In Jorge Juan y Santacilia’s Voyage historique de l’Amérique Méridionale [...] Ouvrage [...] qui contient une Histoire des Yncas du Pérou, et les observations astronomiques et physiques, faites pour déterminer la figure et la grandeur de la terre, which Voltaire read in the French version and provided with various “papillons” (2 vols., Amsterdam/Leipzig 1752; cf. CV # 802; IV, 630-633), he was most interested in information on the discovery of gold mines in 1710 and of the prices of land in Peru while the “History of the Incas of Peru” and the astronomical observations, both announced in the subtitle of the work, do not carry any traces of reading. With Marmontel’s famous Les Incas, ou la destruction de l’empire du Pérou (evidently no work of immediate factual information) Voltaire remains disappointed. On the front page of the first edition (1777) he notes “plat ouvrage” (CV # 1077; V, 520), to d’Argental he writes on the 7th April 1777, “J’espérais que ces Incas m’amuseraient beaucoup dans ma convalescence. Je vous avoue que j’ai été bien trompé.”20

18His knowledge of some details of the history of the Conquista, cited on various occasions (especially again in the Essais sur les mœurs), Voltaire borrowed however from the early and “classic” description of their horrors by Las Casas whose text he owned in the early French version of 1582 (cf. CV # 305; II, 377 f.). Here we find references not only to the famous debate with Sepúlveda on the possibility of doing missionary work with the Indians, but also marginalia to Las Casas’calculation of 12 million killed native inhabitants in the first 40 years of the conquest (“12 m<illi>ons égorgés”) and to his famous description of how the Spaniards set their dogs on them (“[tien]nent boucherie de chair humaine”).

  • 21 For other sources on the Societas from Voltaire's library, see the bibliographical list in Ljublins (...)
  • 22 CV # 340; II, 506-515.-A first study on “Voltaire und der Jesuitenstaat in Paraguay” by Lev Gordon (...)

19It is surely not unexpected that Voltaire’s most prominent target of attacks, also in the context of his Latin American readings, are the Jesuits. As is well known, the Paraguay chapter of Candide refers as early as 1759 to their reducciones in what has been called “the Jesuit State”, and recent editions of Voltaire’s conte philosophique coincide unanimously in assuming that Charlevoix’ Histoire du Paraguay (Paris 1756) was one important source of information for it.21 The Corpus des notes marginales shows indeed that not many of Voltaire’s books contain such an amount of peppered marginalia. “Si les jesuites l’ont brulé, ils doivent l’etre. si cest un miracle, cest un miracle du diable”, Voltaire comments on the burning of one of the cacique’s cabin; “pour quils ne dependent que des jesuites on ne soufre point quils aprennent lespagnol”, he annotates the corresponding information, whereas the Jesuit author as well as the members of his order in Paraguay are called “ah fripons”, “ah tirans! ah moines!”, “imbécille!”, “furfants”, followed by “fat impertinent vieux fou imbécille absurd”, “extravagante te tairas tu!”, “miserables qui portez vos querelles en amerique!”, to cite only some of the furious exclamations in Voltaire’s copy of the book.22

  • 23 “Il est assez plaisant que le jésuite Lafitau prétende, dans sa préface de l'Histoire des Sauvages (...)

20It is therefore not surprising that a second work, again written by a Jesuit and at least in part referring to Latin America, attracts similar mockery. Lafitau’s Mœurs des sauvages américains, comparées aux mœurs des premiers temps of 1724 is again one of the most annotated works in Voltaire’s whole library, and certainly one of the six or seven books with the most engaged and passionate marginalia in it. Used and criticized in his Essai sur les mœurs, where the chapter “De l’Amérique” cites his book in the very beginning,23 Voltaire speaks of the “impertinences du jésuite Lafitau sur l’Amérique.” In his copy he annotates on the title page directly under the author’s name: “sot ignorant sans jugement qui veut faire le savant” (CV # 841; V, 123-137), and following the text we find nearly 30 times the annotation “sot”, “sottise enorme”, “sottise épouvantable”, “impertinente sottise”, and around ten times the annotation “fable” and “plus sot que jamais.” In the discussion of Lafitau’s opinion that it is “le consentement unanime de tous les Peuples à reconnaître un État supérieure”, Voltaire adds the remark, “quelle pauvre preuve! et la magie et les influences de la lune, et les predictions et le charlatanisme ne sont il pas de touttes les nations” (123), whereas commenting on Lafitau’s consideration, “Mon sentiment est donc que la plus grande partie des Peuples de l’Amerique viennent originairement de ces Barbares qui occuperent le Continent de la Grece et ses Isles”, he adds “americains venus des grecs! Hem” (135). It is in the discussion of Lafitau’s work that we find Voltaire’s most engaged plea of “les sauvages” showing a vivacious and critical interest in the results of early anthropology. Even if Lafitau is already the bête noire in Voltaire’s Essai sur les mœurs, he is still more explicit in his marginalia:

va. javais cru que tu netais qu’un sot. mais je vois que tu es le plus grand fou qui ait jamais barbouillé du papier, aussi t’a t’on fait éveque. (135)

21And when Lafitau speaks of the eskimo at the Labrador region, Voltaire concludes “va t’en informer, restes-y.”

5 Conclusion

  • 24 Voltaire/Besterman, vol. 8, p. 771 f. (Letter 9771 = D 13735).
  • 25 Voltaire/Besterman, vol. 11, p. 165-167 (Letter 13052 = D 18067). The marginalia to Chastellux' tex (...)

22It was our aim to show within the enormous and not even completely published amount of material, Voltaire’s marginalia to the books in his possession which he used to inform himself on the Iberian peninsula and the Latin American colonies. Just as every marginal note is a document of the intellectual appropriation of a text, they reveal the wide range of Voltaire’s critical discussion of contemporary texts between adding a headword in order to find a passage again more easily, critical questioning of a detail and peppered insults to an author he does not regard highly. “Ma coutume est d’écrire sur la marge de mes livres ce que je pense d’eux”, Voltaire autocomments his attitudes in an already cited passage of a letter to Mme de Saint Julien (15th December 1766).24 Six years later he adds in a letter to Chatellux, dated 7th December 1772 and signed “le vieux malade de Ferney”, “Je chargeai de notes mon exemplaire; et c’est ce que je fais que quand le livre me charme et m’instruit. Je pris même la liberté de n’être pas quelquefois de l’avis de l’auteur.”25 His marginalia to works related to the peninsula and their colonies definitely document a keen interest in a region which for a long period had been regarded as backward and without relevant Enlightenment structures. It is to be hoped that the remaining material of the Corpus des notes marginales can be published in the near future. Voltaire’s position on Raynal’s Histoire critique du commerce des Deux Indes, one of the most widespread and most censored works on the history of the European conquest of Latin America, would especially be extremely interesting.

Bibliographie

Bibliography

Alston, R.C. (1994): Books With Manuscripts. A Short Title Catalogue of Books with Manuscripts Notes in the British Library, London: British Library.

Barney, Stephen A. (ed.) (1991): Annotations and Its Text, New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bengesco, Georges (1882-1890): Voltaire. Bibliographie de ses œuvres, Paris: Perrin, 4 vols.

Biblioteka Vol’tera. Katalog knig (1961), Moscow/Leningrad: AN SSSR.

Fera, Vincenzo/Ferraù, Giacomo/Rizzo, Silvia (eds.) (2002): Talking to the Text. Marginalia from Papyri to Print. Proceedings of a Conference held at Erice, Messina: Università degli Studi (Percorsi dei classici 4; 5), 2 vols.

Gordon, Lew S. (1972): “Voltaire und der Jesuitenstaat in Paraguay” and “Voltaire als Leser von Bayle und Necker”, both in Gordon, Studien zur plebejisch-demokratischen Tradition in der franzosischen Aufklärung, Berlin (Rütten & Loening), 225-240 and 241-253.

Haven, G.R. (1933 a): Voltaire’s marginalia on the pages of Rousseau. A comparative study of ideas, Columbus (Ohio) 1933.

Haven, G.R. (1933 b): “Les notes marginales de Voltaire sur Rousseau”, in RHLF 1933, 434-440.

Jackson, H. J. (2001): Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books, New Haven/London: Yale University Press.

Ljublinski, W.S. (1961): Voltaire-Studien, Berlin: Akademie-Verlag.

Nichols, Stephen G. (1991): “On the Sociology of Medieval Manuscript Annotations”, in Barney 1991, 43-73·

Stoddard, Roger (1985): Marks in Books, Cambridge/Mass: Houghton Library.

Toon, Thomas Ε. (1991): “Dry Point Annotations in Early English Manuscripts: Understanding Texts and Establishing Contexts”, in Barney 1991, 74-93·

Varbanez, N.V. (1961): “Osobennosti sostava biblioteki Vol’tera i ee opisanie”, in Biblioteka Vol’tera 1961, 68-96.

Voltaire (1963): Essais sur les mœurs (ed. René Pomeau), Paris: Garnier.

Voltaire (1963-1993): Correspondance (ed. Théodore Besterman), Paris: Gallimard (Editions de la Pléiade), 13 vols.

Voltaire (1979 ff.): Corpus des notes marginales de Voltaire, Berlin: Akademie (5 vols, until 1994).

Notes

1 See, for example, Nichols (1991), Toon (1991) and Fera/Ferraù/Rizzo (2002).

2 Jackson 2001, 30 ff., citation p. 31; the copy belongs to the Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin.

3 For a study of the history of the edition project, cf. Ljublinski 1961,14 f.

4 Biblioteka Vol'tera. Katalog knig, see for our context especially the text by Varbanec, p. 72 ff.

5 Cf. Corpus des notes marginales, vol. 1, p. 40; References to the serial are indicated from now as CV followed by the number of the alphabetically organized entrance, the volume and the page.

6 See Bengesco 1882-1890, II, 427-433.

7 See the bibliography in CV, I, 53-57·

8 Voltaire/Besterman, vol. 13, p. 137 f. (Letter 15155 = D 20986); the letter had already been printed in the Kehl edition of Voltaire's Œuvres complètes by Beaumarchais (vol. 63, p. 434 f.) and was known to contemporary readers.

9 Cf. Haven (1933 a), a shorter version in Haven (1933 b).

10 Ljublinski 1961, 118.

11 Ljublinski, “Die Randbemerkungen Voltaires zu Diderots'Pensées philosophiques’”, in Ljublinski 1961,144 ff.

12 Voltaire/Besterman, vol. 11, p. 702 f. (Letter 13770 = D 18978).

13 Voltaire/Besterman, vol. 8, p. 771 f. (Letter 9771 = D 13735).

14 Cf. the “Supplement” (# 3) in CV IV, 665 ff.

15 Cf. the edition by René Pomeau, Paris 1963, vol. II, p. 845.

16 Cf. CV # 655; IV, 91-141 with a huge amount of underlining, papillons and dog's ears, but without written comments; for the commentary on Giannone cf. p. 678, note 69.

17 Cf. CV # 1167; V, 784. Voltaire comments this text in various occasions in his correspondence; cf. the letter to Fyot de La Marche, 26th January 1762, “Je vous exhorte à lire le Manuel des inquisiteurs, si vous ne l'avez pas lu, et si vous l'avez lu, je ne vous exhorte à rien”, to Olivet the same day, “Le petit livre sur l'inquisition est un chef d'œuvre”, and to d'Alembert two weeks later (10th february 1762), “Si j'ai lu la belle jurisprudence de l'Inquisition! et oui mordieu je l'ai lue; et elle a fait sur moi la même impression que fit le corps sanglant de César sur les Romains.” (Voltaire/Besterman, vol. 6, p. 772 f. (Letter 7020 = D 10285); P· 773 f· (Letter 7022 = D 10287); p. 799 f. (Letter 7050 = D 10323).

18 Letter to Tabareau, 4th may 1771, cf. Voltaire/Besterman, vol. 10, p. 710 (Letter 12371 = D 17173); the text in the edition by Beaumarchais (Kehl 1785-1789), vol. 15, p. 334-335.

19 Cf. the note on the front page, “embleme de cet ouvrage, de ce bon damilaville et de Diderot” and under the signature “Votre très humble [...] serviteur” the addition “diderot” (CV # 234; I, 498).

20 “Mon cher ange, il n'y a que vous à qui j'ose écrire, dans l'état assez désagréable où je suis. J'ai reçu, comme vous savez, un petit avertissement de la nature qui m'a fait souvenir que j'avais près de quatre-vingt-trois ans, et que ce n'était pas le temps de faire l'amour à Melpomène. [...] Il faut que je vous confie mes scrupules sur Les Incas, que mon confrère de l'Académie et en historiographerie, m'a fait parvenir.” (Voltaire/Besterman, vol. 12, 791-793; Letter 14918 = D 20625; already printed in the Kehl edition by Beaumarchais). In various former letters to Marmontel Voltaire documented his substantial interest in the text.

21 For other sources on the Societas from Voltaire's library, see the bibliographical list in Ljublinski (1961), 68-71. Of especial interest are Quesnels' Histoire des religieux de la Compagnie de Jésus (3 vols., Utrecht 1741), used as the base of L'Ingénu, and in relation to the order's history in Spain, Campomanes' Sur l'azile demandé en Espagne par les Jésuites chassés de France (in Potpourri Jésuites) and even two copies of Carlos III' Sanction pragmatique dated 2nd april 1776 and ordering the ban of the order in Spain.

22 CV # 340; II, 506-515.-A first study on “Voltaire und der Jesuitenstaat in Paraguay” by Lev Gordon (Gordon 1972: 225-240; originally in Russian, Moscow/Leningrad 1947) quoting some of Voltaire's marginalia to Charlevoix remained, as far as I can see, without any reception.

23 “Il est assez plaisant que le jésuite Lafitau prétende, dans sa préface de l'Histoire des Sauvages américains, qu'il n'y a que des athées qui puisse dire que Dieu a créé les Américains.”

24 Voltaire/Besterman, vol. 8, p. 771 f. (Letter 9771 = D 13735).

25 Voltaire/Besterman, vol. 11, p. 165-167 (Letter 13052 = D 18067). The marginalia to Chastellux' text are one of the early (if not the earliest) publications of marginalia by Voltaire in the reedition of the text by Chastellux'son; De la félicité publique, Paris 1822.

Auteur

Professeur et directeur du Département de Littérature ibérique et ibérico-américaine à l’université de Halle-Wittenberg. Auteur d’un grand nombre de publications, notamment dans le domaine des littératures espagnole, italienne et latino-américaine depuis le XVIIIe jusqu’au XXe siècle, il est co-éditeur de plusieurs périodiques et revues internationales. Il est dix-huitièmiste et sa recherche actuelle porte sur les rapports entre la littérature espagnole et les autres littératures du Siècle des lumières, ainsi que sur l’histoire du livre et de son commerce. Dans le Spectateur européen, vol. 1, il a publié un article sur la contrebande vers l’Espagne des gravures de la Société Typographique de Neuchâtel

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