Voltaire 1776

To Frederick the Great: “You Would Perfectly Resemble Apollo...”

Source: M. Beuchot, editor, Oeuvres de Voltaire, Vol LXIX, correspondence. Paris, Chez Lefevre, 1834;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitch Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2012.

January 29, 1776


I have just this moment received the charming letter of December 2 your majesty honors me with. It gives me strength, makes me forget the ills to which I am often close to succumbing.

I in no way compare you to emperor Kien-long, even though he is the great-grandson of a celestial virgin, sister of God. I took the liberty of amusing myself with this genealogy, which is much more common than believed. I engaged in this badinage only in order to dissipate my sufferings. If it amuses Your Majesty for a moment my efforts have not been for naught.

The old religion of the Brahmans is obviously the origin of Christianity. You would be convinced of this if you were to deign to read the letter on India, and this might well amuse your philosophical spirit. All I say of the Brahmans is drawn word for word from authentic writings that M. Pauw knows better than I.

I think exactly as he does concerning those who think they know China better than Father Parennin, a scholarly and wise man who loved in Peking for thirty years.

What is more, these letters are written under the name of a young Benedictine who takes himself for a philosopher and who addresses M. Pauw as his teacher, despite Saints Benedict and Idulphe.

It is true, sire, that I make more of your 76,000 journaux [1] of prairies and the 7000 cows who owe you their existence than of the theological novels of the Chinese and the Indians. But Emperor Kien-long also clears the land as well, and it is even claimed that his plow is worth more than his lyre. You are assuredly the only king on this earth who is superior in all genres.

You would perfectly resemble Apollo if you hadn’t spent so much time with Mars as your patron saint for, like you, Apollo built palaces, cultivated prairies, was the god of music and poetry. Even more, you, like him, are a doctor, since you extend your bounty so far as to send me a vial of balm from Mecca. This is a sovereign remedy for the chest malady that attacks my niece and for my state of extreme weakness. Not only is Your Majesty the charm of my life, but he prolongs it. The rest of my days must be dedicated to him.

I thank him for the Ammien-Marcellin, whose notes I was told were very instructive. This Ammien was a superstitious character who believed in flying demons and witches, as did everyone of his time, as did the Welsh at the time of Louis XIV, and as the Poles still believe more than ever, for it is said they recently burned seven poor old women accused of having caused the harvest to fail through magic spells.

I don’t know, sire, if resigned the marquisat you offered me: I didn’t want to accept any reward for the little trouble I've taken for the small country I made my homeland.

I'm 82-years old and have no children. The building of a land into a marquisat demands work beyond my strength. I desire no other honor today than that of being forever protected by the King Frederick the Great, to whom I am attached by the greatest respect until the final moment of my life.

1. Alternative word for the unit of measure arpent.