3.00 FYI France: Ejournal and archive

by Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us

April 15, 2004 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on April 15, 2004.

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Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Ejournal subscriptions may be obtained via email request to: kessler@well.sf.ca.us

Here this file is one of a number made available -- hopefully attractively, all in one place, and relevant to libraries and online digital information work in France and Europe -- as part of FYI France (sm)(tm), an online service to which anyone can subscribe for 12 months by postal mailing a check for US $45, payable to Jack Kessler, to PO Box 460668, San Francisco, California, USA 94146 (site licenses also are available): please write your email address on the front of your check. Please email suggestions for improvements to me at kessler@well.sf.ca.us


Voltaire digital library, Paris & St. Petersburg

It is an election year, again, here in the US, and in an election year it is a useful thing to sit down and re-read Voltaire. His descriptions, and ironies, seem more up-to-date and topical than anything which I myself read, anyway, in the current US media:

-- in a US election year it does get pretty tiring, hearing how so very rich, or so very poor, or so very noble or not so, the various candidates all are or claim to be or accuse each other of being... And when they and their "political advisors" get to plumping up personal claims and achievements, and then the political hoo-rahs begin praising the infinite goodness and wisdom of the US, and of its forever-benevolent policies, well,

All of Voltaire's writings now may be read, in their original French, and that in the elegant 18th c. editions which initially presented it to the world, online at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France's Gallica digital library:

-- and there is a digital library exhibit there, too, showing the fruits of a new France / Russia / pan-European effort --

This last Website offers four files, each containing texts and other materials in both French and Russian:

  1. "Fonds Voltaire"

    • "La bibliothèque de Voltaire à St.-Pétersbourg", by Nikolaï Alexandrovitch Kopanev, Conservateur de la Bibliothèque de Voltaire, Chef du Département des livres rares de la Bibliothèque nationale de Russie.

    • "Voltaire à la Bibliothèque nationale de France", by Annie Angremy, Conservateur général à la Bibliothéque nationale de France, Responsable de la section française du département des Manuscrits

    • "Voltaire dans Gallica": links to the wonderfully - complete offering, by the BnF's Gallica digital library, of digitized works by or about Voltaire -- including,

      • Bibliographie (mode image)
      • Oeuvres complètes (mode image)
      • Oeuvres (mode image)
      • Oeuvres (mode texte)
      • Autour de Voltaire (mode image)

  2. "Helvetius"

    • "De l'Esprit d'Helvétius numérisé sur la Toile", by Anton Olegovitch Diomine, candidat ès-sciences philologiques, Institut de littérature russe (Maison Pouchkine)

    • "Voltaire-Helvétius", by Gerhardt Stenger, Directeur du département des lettres modernes Université de Nantes

    • "De l'Esprit"

    • "Helvétius dans Gallica"

  3. "Rousseau"

    • "La Lettre à Christophe de Beaumont", by Robert Thiéry, Conservateur du patrimoine, Musée Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Martine-Drouet, Docteur ès Lettres

    • "La Lettre à Christophe de Beaumont annotée par Voltaire : la réception en Russie de la controverse Rousseau-Voltaire et ses paradoxes", by Alla Avgoustovna Zlatopolskaïa, candidat ès-sciences philosophiques, chargée de recherches à la Bibliothèque de l'Académie des Sciences de Russie

    • "Lettre à M. de Beaumont"

    • "Rousseau dans Gallica"

  4. "Bibliothèque Voltaire (site)"

      "The cultural heritage of Europe is well-represented in the collections of the museums and libraries of Russia, among these the French collections held at St. Petersburg.

      "The Voltaire Library of the National Library of Russia at St. Petersburg is unique. The importance of this monument of the European culture of the 18th century is difficult to overestimate. It contains nearly 7,000 books most of which contain marginalia written by Voltaire, manuscripts, notebooks, draft copies, works of Voltaire published during his lifetime and containing remarks written in his own hand. By virtue of its size and scientific importance, both historical and cultural, the Voltaire Library completes the principal center for the study of the heritage of this celebrated French writer, at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

      "The National Library of Russia began the project to create its Voltaire Library to provide for both conservation and study, and for both researchers and the general public. It will be a project composed of several long-term phases: from the initial financial establishment -- the creation of conditions for conservation and study at the Voltaire Library -- through to the organization of a Center for the Scientific and Cultural Study of Voltaire.

      "The Voltaire Center will become a museum project familiarizing the public with the unique monuments of 18th century culture. Under development:

      • the creation of an exposition, "The Voltaire Library"

      • the creation of a Museum of the 17th-18th c. Encyclopedists

      • the presentation of the project (publication of posters, post cards, calenders, and other sorts of printed information, in order to popularize the heritage of Voltaire and the Encyclopedists)

      • the presentation in the mass media of the different phases of the project" (tr. JK)

And the story of how Voltaire's books got to Russia makes for fascinating "provenance" reading: from "Fonds Voltaire" --



As I said here initially, I myself can think of no better remedy for the headaches, heartaches, and stomach aches of a US presidential year than a thorough re-reading of Voltaire.

It's all part of what John Saul, who has read too much of Voltaire perhaps, refers to as "the dotage of the Age of Reason": in a book which Saul entitled Voltaire's Bastards (1992), a thoughtful and eloquent study of, inter alia, why modern politics has erected Reason as a surrogate for Religion. "Must I be re-crucified for every generation?", wails G.B. Shaw's Saint Joan: the reply to her being, it seems, "Well yes, you must..."

And it is a wonderful thing to be able to read Voltaire online in the original, courtesy of the BnF's Gallica: just now I am reading through the 1759 edition of Candide --

-- easily found, read, and marvelled over, online at the BnF --

Various new tricks, from the BnF and from Adobe, make it possible to view not only the fulltext of the original edition, in fine reproduction, but also very convenient pagination, a fullscreen version for just reading through the work, downloading for free, and even document delivery for a fee.


The Lettres Anglaises was written near the beginning of a long and productive literary life, and Candide, ou l'Optimisme was written near its end -- and, in between these two, there is much else that is very worth reading -- particularly the voluminous Correspondance, which has much to teach the Soundbyte Era and The Age of Internet about the roles of simplicity and felicity of phrasing, and of thoughtful prose, in communication.

In a brief introduction to the Lettres Anglaises which praises Voltaire's open-mindedness, his ability to focus upon the important as vs. the frivolous although enraging issues of life, and his talent for seeing, "that which is positive in religions which he himself does not share", Fernand Massé observes,

One recipe for much that ails modern society, then, in this US election year, might be a reading by any or all of us of the entire corpus of Voltaire's writing. If, as John Saul and others have suggested, the Modern Era not only is descended from Voltaire's but represents the ultimate corruption of "The Enlightenment" -- if, at least, the values of Rationality developed by Voltaire and his fellow Lumières now are in need of a thorough dusting-off and re-examination, following a century of disastrous global warfare, and during a century in which the killing continues albeit "unofficially" now -- and if modern information technology has taken a soundbyte turn leading, for many of us, to less communication rather than to more -- then Voltaire has much to teach us all, again.

At least, this time, a reader need only "point and click": at the immense and accessible Voltaire digital library, presented now so ably online by the BnF and the National Library of Russia -- in editions giving any book-lover or history buff the authentic flavor of Voltaire's own very promising and in fact optimistic 18th c. era. No longer necessary to trek to "the library", then, or to be a member of an educated and wealthy elite, to gain access to these texts: for increasing numbers of us, anyway...





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Last update: April 16, 2004