Thursday, 07 January 2021 03:36

Voltaire to the Crown Prince of Prussia, October 1737

In this first month of a new year I bring you the forty-first letter I’ve translated from the correspondence of Émilie du Châtelet and François-Marie de Voltaire. With these letters I aim to give you a picture of their lives together at Cirey, up until the amazing event in 1738 that sparks the action of the opera Émilie & Voltaire.

Monseigneur, I find it very hard that Cirey should be so far from the throne in Remusberg. The blessings and the commands that you send me take a long time to arrive. On 10 October I received a letter sent on 16 August, full of verses and excellent morality, and fine metaphysics, and grand sentiments, along with a goodness that enchants my heart. Ah, monseigneur—why are you a prince? Why couldn’t you be a man like any other, just for a year or so? Then we would have the happiness of seeing you—the only pleasure missing from my life since you deigned to write to me …

Our little paradise at Cirey sends its very humble respects to your empyrean heights, and the goddess Émilie bows before the god Frédéric. And so after a thousand detours I’ve received your beautiful letter, the ode, and the third folio of the metaphysics of [Christian] Wolff. Here is another instance of those benefits that other kings—those poor fellows who are only kings—are incapable of bestowing.
I must tell you that this piece of metaphysics—rather long, a little too full of commonplaces, but otherwise admirable, well put together and often most profound—I must tell you, monseigneur, that I understand not one iota of that simple being named Wolff. In an instant he transports me into an atmosphere in which I cannot breathe, onto ground where I cannot set foot, amongst people whose language I cannot understand. If I dared to think that I did understand it, I believe I might be brave enough to argue with Monsieur Wolff—with the greatest respect, of course …

The photo is of Rheinsberg Castle, then known in France as the Remusberg.