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  • Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, 6oB: Œuvres de 1764–1766 par Voltaire
  • James Hanrahan
Voltaire. Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, 6oB: Œuvres de 1764–1766. Édition de Marielène Cotoni, Fabrice Brandli, Lorenzo Bianchi, Simon Davies, Andrew Hunwick, Edouard Langille, Helder Mendes Baiao, Ralph A. Nablow Et John Renwick. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2018. 340 pp.

This is the second of four volumes containing some of Voltaire's shorter texts from the period from 1764 to 1766. The volume includes letters and fragments, parables, short verse, and a series of texts relating to conflict in Geneva in the 1760s. The majority of the texts are presented with their own introduction, while some are grouped thematically where a single editor or two co-editors have prepared them. As ever with the volumes in this collection, all the texts are presented with a helpful critical introduction, including descriptions of editions, variants, and comprehensive annotation. Voltaire, at this point in his early seventies, had since the start of the decade expressed his wish to 'écraser l'infâme', and elements of this campaign appear in some of the texts. The Mandement du révérendissimepère en Dieu, Alexis is typical of Voltaire's texts from the 1760s in that it relies on a critical analysis of the history of Christianity to challenge the claims of the Catholic Church to any temporal authority. Voltaire adopts the voice of an Orthodox archbishop in order to question the very notion that there are 'deux puissances', papal and royal. Another text, relating to Voltaire's campaigns of the 1760s, is the Lettre de M. de Vol. . . à M D'Am. . ., which was originally published in the correspondence, but, as Helder Mendes Baiao shows, belongs in the complete works given its public nature and its importance in capitalizing on the success of the rehabilitation of Jean Calas in order to help the case of another Protestant victim of the justice system, Pierre-Paul Sirven. Six of the texts in this volume relate to the conflict between the magistrates of Geneva's Petit Conseil (the Négatifs) and the citizens (the Représentants) over questions of representation and legal procedure, all of which are overlaid with Voltaire's animus towards Rousseau. It would have been preferable if all six texts had been introduced together as this would have provided a clearer contextualization of the complex issues involved. The best starting point for an understanding of the background is Fabrice Brandli's edition of three texts prepared as part of Voltaire's unsuccessful attempt to act as a mediator in the conflict, including the Propositions à examiner pour apaiser les divisions de Genève. Brandli explains Voltaire's evolving position in relation to the Représentants, whose calls for political and civil liberty he supported in 1765, even though he personally shared the magistrates' disdain for Rousseau. These contradictions do not reflect well on Voltaire, whose pious posture in Sentiment des jurisconsultes is particularly hypocritical. Lorenzo Bianchi and John Renwick's edition of Idées républicaines is of interest because it shows how both Voltaire and Rousseau shared the same fundamental view on the rights of Geneva's citizens, while at the same time Voltaire wilfully misinterpreted Rousseau's Contrat social. These editions add nuance to our understanding of the fraught relationship between two of the century's most influential thinkers.

James Hanrahan
Trinity College Dublin, University of Dublin


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