VOLTAIRE, Francois Marie Arouet de (1694-1778). Autograph letter signed ('Voltaire gentilhome ord[inaire] de la chambre du Roy') to an unidentified correspondent ('Sir', i.e . David Hume), 'Au Chatau [sic] de Ferney par Geneve, 12 n[ovem]bre 1763', in English, 2 pages, large 8vo (slightly browned, traces of tape at top and bottom edges, small paper loss (13 x 95mm) in blank lower margin margin, small splits in central vertical fold and lower horizontal fold); and two letters (secretarial, in 3rd person), the first to Mr Ryder and Mr Hatsell, the second to unidentified correspondents [Hatsell and Ellison], both n.p. [Ferney], n.d., in French, the first ('Vendredi a 10 h ½'), one page, small 8vo (traces of tape), the second, five lines on one page, small 8vo, integral blanks; and a wrapper annotated and signed (with initials) by John Hatsell, 'Original letters from Voltaire. One to Mr Hume. Two to myself'.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN ENGLAND AND CENSORSHIP IN FRANCE
'I have been y[ou]r admirer since I read y[ou]r works and I was y[ou]r friend in my heart. These sentiments are due to one who in the investigation of truth had sagacity enough to find it, an[d] enough of bold assurance to tell it. I congratulate and envy my country men who may improve in y[ou]r conversation ... We are generally speaking, half philosophers as we are half free. We dare neither see truth in its full light; nor unveil openly the little glimpses we discover ... The abetters of superstition clip our wings and hinder us from soaring. Te sequimur a longe [We follow you from afar]'. An important unpublished letter condemning the repressive treatment of writers in France. Voltaire was familiar with the tolerance practised in England from the time of his exile there (1726-1729), and referred to it in the Lettres Philosophiques. Opening with a reference to a 'kind letter' from Hume, Voltaire also submits to him a recent composition, 'this little compendium of human follies'.
David Hume (1711-1776), who lived in France from 1734 to 1737, accompanied Lord Hertford to Paris, where he had a wide circle of friends, in the autumn of 1763. His letter which prompted Voltaire to write the present letter to him has not survived, but Voltaire wrote on 9 November 1763 to the Comte d'Argental, expressing his admiration for Hume and proposing to send him, 'les remarques sur l'histoire générale que vous n'avez pas désaprouvées'. He added that, in spite of their conquests of French possessions in Canada and India, he respected the English who not only said what they thought but also published it. Three days later he wrote that he had been writing to Hume when he received a letter from him (Correspondance, ed. T. Besterman, D.11496 and D.11499). Hume referred to a letter he had written to Voltaire 'in which I expressed the Esteem which are [sic] undoubtedly due to his talents' in a letter to Colonel Edmondstone on 9 January 1764 (New Letters, ed. R. Klibansky and E.C. Mossner, 1954).
The two secretarial letters refer elegantly to Voltaire's failing health, in the first expressing his willingness to receive the two gentlemen, the second ending with characteristic irony, 'S'il n'est pas mort demain il aura l'honneur de voir un moment ces Messieurs. S'il est mort, est ultima linea rerum'. Neither Hatsell nor Ryder are listed by Besterman, but John Hatsell (1733-1820) was Clerk of the House of Commons from 1768 to 1797. His letters to John Ley (in the Devon Record Office) include one dated 'Geneva August 27th', quoting Voltaire's 2nd letter which he has just received, while travelling with Mr Ellison. (4)