King Charles presented President Emmanuel Macron with the Oxford edition of Voltaire’s Lettres sur les Anglais (Letters on the English) during the royal state visit to France last week.
The gift is an extract from a University of Oxford research project to produce and publish the first ever scholarly edition of the Œuvres complètes de Voltaire (Complete works of Voltaire) begun in 1968, completed over 50 years later, in 2022, made up of 205 volumes.
Following the State visit, the King will gift to the President of the French Republic a complete set of all 205 volumes of the Œuvres complètes de Voltaire.
Lettres sur les Anglais (Letters on the English) is one of the most significant writings of the European Enlightenment, first published by Voltaire in London in 1733 as Letters concerning the English Nation. Inspired by Voltaire’s stay in London in the 1720s, when he was presented to George I, this book sets out a programme for a modern liberal and tolerant society, which proved highly influential.
The new edition, produced by the Voltaire Foundation in Oxford in 2022, is the most extensive ever undertaken of the work, and shows for the first time how Voltaire intended his book to reach not just a French, but a European audience. It is part of a much larger project undertaken at Oxford, to produce the first ever scholarly edition of the totality of Voltaire’s vast writings.
Professor Nicholas Cronk, director of the Voltaire Foundation at the University of Oxford, and general editor of the Voltaire edition, said:
‘It has always seemed curious, even to us, that we have been producing the definitive text of this great French writer in Oxford. So, it is an especial honour for us that the King is giving this most English of Voltaire’s works back to France.’
The Voltaire Foundation has over the last forty years built an international reputation for its world-leading research on the eighteenth century and the Enlightenment, and its editorial team is now busy reimagining the Voltaire corpus as a digital edition that will reach a new and wider audience.
The Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Lord Patten, said:
‘The University of Oxford is immensely proud to have produced the definitive modern edition of the complete writings of Voltaire, one of the greatest writers in the French language, and a thinker whose belief in tolerance makes him a beacon of Enlightenment values across Europe. This Voltaire edition is an important symbol of the enduring cultural and political links between France and Great Britain.’