1854-June 1855

The Collected Letters, Volume 29


TC TO HARRIET GROTE; 8 February 1855; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18550208-TC-HG-01; CL 29: 246-247


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea 8 feby 1855—

Dear Mrs Grote,

My Wife says you spoke about Voltaire last night, and charitably mentioned that you had a good many Books upon the Life of him, and otherwise relating to him.

I am greatly in want of such Books in these times,—and indeed obliged to take my measures for doing with a very minimum of such; I could never see any Life but Condorcet's and “M. Mxx's,”1 neither of which is good for almost anything; the 5 or 6,000 Letters of Voltaire himself are definable as unedited (notes, if any, full of mistakes) and often dark as London-fog to the inquiring eye; no Frenchman that I apply to can give me the least account of him (I never saw one who could even tell me why he was called “Voltaire,” what Brothers, Nephews he had &c):2 in fact all is involved in indolent disgraceful ignorance on that hand;—and tho' I have no pretension to dispel or conquer such ignorance, I do, as you perceive, much want any light that can be had towards my own small class of objects with the man. This induces me to write to you, on hint of what you said last night.

The Lettres de Graffigny; do of Du Châtelet (no not Lettres, but a kind of fractional Autobiography, I think):3 those and 12 or 13 volumes (editn 1818) of Voltaire's own Works (his Letters,4 that is) are all the Books I have quite at hand, just now, on that subject; many others I should of course like to have in the same accessible condition, if I cd get them: but you know the Proverb about “cutting one's Coat”;5—the tailor withal is required to have art on that side!

At all events, well knowing your good nature, I send you hastily an inkling of my case: you will soon see what, or whether anything, can be tried on behalf of me.

Voltaire is not a Hero of mine, nor does he tend to become so the more I ascertain of him and his performances;—nevertheless I do sincerely esteem him one of the best men of his utterly rotten 18th Century, in fact a very fit Priest to the Prussian Frederic as King,—which two taken together are nearly all I can find of worthy or perennial in said sordid forgettable dungheap of a century.

With many kind regards to Mr Grote; many apologies as well as regards to yourself, I remain Dear Mrs Grote

Yours sincerely

T. Carlyle