Voltaire 1766

The de la Barre Affair

Source: M. Beuchot, editor: Oeuvres de Voltaire, Paris, Chez Lefevre, 1833;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor.

See The Delabarre Affair for the background.

July 18, 1766
To M. D'Alembert

You are going to be shocked when you read the Rélation [2] I'm sending you. Who could believe that the sentencing to the most horrible death of five young men of good families could be the fruit of the love and jealousy of an old elected scoundrel from Abbeville? The first idea that occurs to me is that the elected representative is a pariah, but there is no occasion for laughter in such horrible circumstances. Did you know that several lawyers submitted a report that demonstrates the absurdity of that frightful decree? Can I have a copy of this consultation?

It is said that the presiding judge wanted to issue them a condemnation and that they responded to him with the nobility and firmness worthy of their profession. It’s an abominable thing that the deaths of men and the even more terrible tortures depend on five drivellers who, by the majority of their votes, carry the day over the ten most enlightened and just counselors of Parlement. I am certain that if His Majesty had been informed of the basis of the affair he would have issued a pardon; he is just and beneficent, but two of the unfortunates allowed their heads to be turned and they did themselves in.

I implore you, my dear brother, to send a copy of the Rélation to M. de Beaumont along with the letter I've written him.

I embrace you with as much ardor as tenderness.

Have they burned Of crimes and punishments?[3]

1. Etienne Noël Damilaville (1723-1768) – An officeholder under Louis XV and friend of Voltaire. Thanks to his high position his correspondence was uncensored.

2. La Rélation de la Mort du chevalier de la Barre

3. Work by the Italian father of penology Cesare Beccaria, published in 1764. It condemned torture and the death penalty.