Tours of the
Tour Hours, Map
and Places Nearby
Emilie du Chatelet
A Love Story
Voltaire and Emilie
The Little Theater
Restoration of the Chateau
Poetry Tribute to Voltaire
This page has examples of Voltaire's writing.
Epigrams and Memorable Statements
Voltaire often wrote epigrams (short poems) and memorable statements. These are often found in inscriptions, letters, and compliments written for special occations. Here are several examples:
The following were written about the Chateau de Cirey:
This house, begun on a vast scale, becomes small; but time passes here happily and well; it is large enough.
Asylum of the fine arts, solitude in which my heart is always occupied in profound peace, it is you that give the happiness which the world would promise in vain.
A traveller, who never lies,
Passes by Cirey, admires it, contemplates it;
At first he believes it is only a palace;
But he sees Emilie. "Ah," he says, "it is a temple."
Statement on idleness:
Understand idleness better. It is either folly or wisdom; it is virtue in wealth and vice in poverty. In the winter of our life, we can enjoy in peace the fruits which in its spring our industry planted. Courtiers of glory, writers or warriors, slumber is permitted you, but only upon laurels.
Poetry was Voltaire's first love, and his first published work was poetry. He had the gift of being able to write poetry from the time he was a child. The amount of verse that he wrote is enormous, and it was said he often thought in rhyme rather than in prose.
Chateau de Cirey was Voltaire's residence during the fifteen years that he spent with Emilie. Voltaire's great wit made him a sought after guest in the great salons of Paris and his absence during this time was a frequent topic of discussion. Society gossips wondered what was so extraordinary about Emilie that she could keep Voltaire at Cirey. Friends wrote to Voltaire asking what he was doing at Cirey, so far from the all the excitment of Paris. Voltaire responded by writing a poem titled "The Answer".
You ask me, and I'll tell in rhyme,
How we at Cirey pass our time: What we are doing at Cirey
What need I to you this relate,
Our master, you we imitate:
From you we've learned the wisest rules,
Taught in famed Epicurus' schools.
We here all sacrifice like you,
To every art and nature too. We study the arts and nature
And yet we but at distance follow
Your steps, though guided by Apollo.
Thus when the brilliant god of day
Casts from heaven's height a shining ray,
Upon some chamber dark as night,
Of those blest rays the shining light,
The chambers deep obscure pervades
And dissipate the gloomy shades,
Then the spectators cast their eyes on
A miniature of the horizon.
Such a comparison may show
That some philosophy I know,
That I've read Newton and Kirkherus, I have been studying Newton
Authors both learned, profound and serious. and other authors
Perhaps my muse this tone assuming,
May be by many thought presuming;
Perhaps I spoil at the same time
As well philosophy as rhyme,
But novelties have charms for me
From laws poetic I'd be free;
Let others in their lyric lays
Say the same thing a thousand ways,
The world with ancient fables tire, I tire of old fables
I new and striking truths admire. I am finding new truths
Ye deities adored by swains,
Naiad and nymphs that trip the plains,
Satyrs to dancing still inclined,
Ye boys called Cupids by mankind,
Who whilst our meadows bloom in spring,
Inspire men love's soft joys to sing,
Assist a poet with your skill,
The charms 'twixt sense and rhyme to fill.
The enchanting pleasures well I know
Which from harmonious numbers flow;
The ear's a passage to the heart,
Sound can to thought new charms impart;
But geniuses I must prefer Emilie and guests
Though even nobly wild they err, even if they make errors
To pedants whose exact discourse to those who make a show of
Is void of genius as of force. knowledge that has no genius
Gardens where symmetry's displayed,
Trees which in rows yield equal shade, gardens at Versailles
Who thus arranged you on the plain
May boast his art and skill in vain:
Gardens from you I must retire, says has left formal gardens
Too much of art I can't admire.
The spacious forest suits my mind, and prefers the forests
Where nature wanders unconfined,
Its shades with awe spectators fill,
They baffle all the artist's skill.
But in my free and artless strain,
Nature I imitate in vain,
Though wild, I can't like nature please,
I can't boast charming nature's ease.
This rhapsody, great prince, excuse, Excuse my emotional work
'Tis but the folly of my muse,
Reason had o'er me lost her sway, I have lost reason and judgement
When I composed this hurried lay, when composing
Judgment was from my breast expelled,
For fair Emilia I beheld. because I saw Emilie
The Works of Voltaire, A Contemporary Version,
Volume 36, Poems, pp. 97-99
New Translations by William F. Fleming
Copyright 1901 by E.R. DuMont
Samples of the Writing of History
Voltaire wrote the following major historical works:
History of Charles XII, King of Sweden (2 volumes 1731 age:37)
The Age of Louis XIV (3 volumes 1752 age 58)
written at Cirey
The Age of Louis XV (3 Volumes 1746 age 52 to 1752 age 58)
written at Cirey
Annals of the Empire - Charlemagne, A.D. 742 - Henry VII 1313, Vol. I (1754 age: 60)
Annals of the Empire - Louis of Bavaria, 1315 to Ferdinand II 1631 Vol.II (1754 age: 60)
History of the Russian Empire Under Peter the Great ( Vol I, 1759 age: 65; Vol. II 1763 - age 69)
Excerpts from Age of Louis XIV
The following excerpts are from the Age of Louis XIV Chapter XXIII Private Anecdotes of the Reign of Louis XIV:
p. 116 - 117 (Louis XIV on dancing)
Dancing, which may now be reckoned among the arts, because it is tied down to rules, and adds grace to motion, was one of the greatest amusements of the court.
Louis XIV excelled in grave dances, which were agreeable to the majesty of his figure, and did not injure that of his rank.
p. 137 (a court fool)
Here also was to be seen a court fool. These wretched fellows were still much in vogue. This was a relic of barbarism
The want of amusements, and the inability of procuring such as are agreeable and virtuous in times of ignorance and bad taste, had given occasion to the invention of this wretched pleasure, which degrades the human mind.
p. 141 (courtier's coats)
In order to distinguish his principal courtiers, he invented blue short coats embroidered with gold and silver. The permission of wearing these was a great favor to such as were guided by vanity.
p. 245 (military uniforms)
He was the legislator both of his people, and of the armies. It was strange, that, before his time, uniforms among the troops was a thing not known. It was he, who in the first year of his administration, ordered that each regiment should be distinguished, either by the color of their clothes, or by different marks; a regulation which was adopted soon after by all nations.
Source: Age of Louis XIV in Two Volumes, Vol II, from The Works of Voltaire A Critique and Biography by The Rt. Hon. John Morley. Volume XXIII, Copyright 1901, by E.R. DuMont, pages 116-117, 137, 141, and 245.
The following excerpts appear as an introduction (or Prefix) to the History of Charles XII, that was first published in 1731. These passages were selected because they express Voltaire's view that those who deserve to be remembered by history are those who have benefitted mankind.
Few are the princes of whose lives merit particular history. In vein have most of them been the objects of slander, or of flattery. Small is the number of those whose memory is preserved; and that number would be still more inconsiderable were none but the good remembered.
The princes who have the best claim to immortality are such as have benefited mankind. ...
It is for a very different reason, that the memory of bad princes is preserved; like fires, plagues and inundations, they are remembered only for the mischief they have done.
Conquerors hold a middle rank between good kings and tyrants, but are most akin to the latter. As they have a glaring reputation, we are desirous of knowing the most minute circumstances of their lives; for such as the weakness of mankind, that they admire those who have rendered themselves remarkable for wickedness, and talk with greater pleasure of the destroyer than of the founder of an empire.
Ever since the time the Christian princes have been endeavoring to cheat one another, and have alternately been making war and peace, they have signed an immense number of treaties, and fought as many battles; they have performed many glorious, and many infamous actions. Nevertheless, should all this heap of transactions be transmitted to posterity, they would most of them destroy and annihilate each other; and the memory of those only would remain which have produced great revolutions, or which being related by able writers, are preserved from oblivion, like the pictures of obscure persons, drawn by a masterly hand. ...
In this work we have not ventured to advance a single fact, without consulting eye-witnesses of undoubted veracity; a circumstance that renders this history very different from those gazettes which have already been published under the title of lives of Charles XII. ...
... Should any prince or minister meet with disagreeable truths in this book, let them remember that, as they act in a public station, they ought to give the public an account of their conduct. Such is the price they must pay for their greatness. The business of a historian is to record, not to flatter; and the only way to oblige mankind to speak well of us, is to contribute all that lies in our power to their happiness and welfare.
Source: Passages from A Discourse on the History of Charles XII (Prefixed to the First Edition). The Works of Voltaire A Critique and Biography by The Rt. Hon. John Morley. Volume XX, Copyright 1901, by E.R. DuMont, pages 5-10.
Voltaire wrote a number of short stories. Candide is the most popular of his stories that is still read today. One of his stories, The World As It Goes presents what is likely to be Voltaire's view of the "men of letters" whom he met frequently when he attended the salons and dinners held in the homes of members of upper class Paris society.
Note: In this story, the main character, Babouc, is a person who can afford to have guests and would be in a position to hire servants who were men of letters.
On his return home, he sent for some new books to alleviate his grief, and, in order to exhilarate his spirits, invited some men of letters to dine with him. There came twice as many as he had asked, like wasps attracted to a pot of honey. These parasites were equally eager to eat and to speak; they praised two sorts of persons, the dead and themselves; but none of their contemporaries, except the master of the house. If any of them said a witty thing, the rest cast down their eyes and bit their lips for vexation that they had not said it themselves. They had less dissimulation than the maji, because they had not such grand objects of ambition. Each of them intrigued at once for the situation of a valet, and the reputation of a great man; they said to each other's face the most insulting things, which they took for strokes of wit. They had some knowledge of the purport of Babouc's mission; one of them entreated him aside to extirpate an author who had not praised him sufficiently about five years before; another requested the ruin of a citizen who had never laughed at his comedies; and a third demanded the destruction of the Academy, because he had never been able to get admitted into it. The repast being ended, each of them departed by himself; for in the whole crowd there was not two men who could endure the company or conversation of each other, except at the houses of the rich, who invited them to their tables. Babouc thought that it would be no great loss when all these vermin perished in the general catastrophe.
As soon as he was rid of these men of letters, he began to read some new books. In them he discovered the true spirit by which his guests had been actuated; he observed with particular indignation those scandalous gazettes, those records of bad taste, dictated by envy, baseness, and hunger; those cowardly satires, where the vulture is treated with consideration, and the dove torn in pieces; those dry romances, devoid of all imagination filled with characters of women to whom the author was an utter stranger.
All these detestable writings he committed to the flames, and went to pass the evening in walking.
Source: The World As It Goes from Romances in Three Volumes Vol. 2, The Works of Voltaire A Critique and Biography by The Rt. Hon. John Morley (42 volumes), Volume III, Copyright 1901, by E.R. DuMont, pages 180-181
Note: Voltaire and Emilie created their own small salon at the Chateau de Cirey by inviting scientists and intellectuals to visit them for as long as several weeks to several months. More notable as a gathering place for intellectuals was Voltaire's chateau at Ferney-Voltaire, near Geneva, Switzerland. During the last twenty years of his life, Voltaire had as many as twenty to fifty guests at a time, and referred to himself as the "Innkeeper of Europe."
More examples of the literary forms used by Voltaire will be added to this page.
Château de Cirey
Copyright 2001 Jane M. Birkenstock
Last Updated: March 30, 2007