Columbia Library columns (v.14(1964Nov-1965May))

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  v.14,no.2(1965:Feb): Page 11  


Voltaire Jottings


(T'TT^HERE are many who, viewing the French Enlighten¬
ment in retrospect, would concur that Voltaire was the
age itself. Certainly his name—along with that of Rous¬
seau—is the most familiar to those looking back on eighteenth-
century France today. For instance, it is doubtful whether any
work of that century is as well known nowadays as the little
masterpiece, Candide, which is required reading for freshmen
in so many American institutions of higher learning, and which
has been translated into well over a hundred languages under
the auspices of the United Nations.

Voltaire's was a restless, ever-alert, quick and penetrating mind;
its interests were multiple and varied. On the one hand, the
philosophe was chiefly concerned with destroying prejudices,
traditions, and standards that were outmoded, and, on the other,
with introducing new ideas that would, perhaps, improve the
human condition. The physical and intellectual activity of this
seemingly frail man was prodigious, and it was lifelong. Com¬
menting on Voltaire's frequent complaints of ill-health, Co¬
lumbia's late Professor Horatio Smith often repeated: "He was
born, so to say, with one foot in the grave and maintained that
asymmetrical position for eighty-four years." Voltaire, the most
versatile man of letters of his day, cultivated all accepted literary
genres and added others of his own, especially the modem
philosophical tale. His production was enormous. The Aloland
edition of his works comprises no less than fifty-two impressive
volumes. And now, the Institut et Musee Voltaire (Geneva) has
completed the pubhcation of his letters in 102 volumes.
  v.14,no.2(1965:Feb): Page 11