Voltaire 1766

On The de la Barre Affair: To the Count d'Argental

Source: Oeuvres de Voltaire, volume 63, Edited by M. Beuchot. Paris, Chez Lefevre, 1832;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor.

At the waters of Rolle, Switzerland, July 16, 1766

I throw myself at your nose, at your feet, at your wings, my divine angels. I beg you to inform me if there is anything new. I implore you to obtain for me the lawyer’s consultation. It is a monument of generosity, of firmness, and wisdom, which I incidentally have great need of. If you only have one copy and you don’t want to lose it I will have it transcribed and will then send it back to you.

The atrociousness of this adventure grips me with horror and anger. I repent for having ruined myself in constructing and doing good on the outskirts of a country where, in cold blood and while going to dine, they commit barbarous acts that would make drunken savages shiver. And this is the so kind, so light, so gay people! Man-eating harlequins I no longer want to hear about you! Run from the stake to the ball, from the place de la Grève to the Opéra-Comique; crush Calas on the wheel, hang Sirven [1], burn five unfortunate young men who, as my angels said, should have spent six months at Saint-Lazare. I don’t want to breathe the same air as you.

My angels, I implore you again, to tell me all you know. The Inquisition is a pale thing compared to your Jansenists of the great chamber and the Parlement in Paris. There is no law that commands such horrors in a case like this one. Only the devil is capable of burning five men despite the law. Can it be that the whims of five old madmen suffice to inflict tortures that would have made Busiris [2] tremble? Let me stop, for I could say much more. I've talked enough about demons and want nothing but to love my angels.

1. Pierre-Paul Sirven (1709-177) – A Protestant whose daughter was taken from him and placed in a convent. Sirven protested this and escaped imprisonment by fleeing France. Voltaire took up his cause and he was, in fact, exonerated, not hung.

2. King of ancient Egypt notorious for sacrificing visiting strangers.