[Footnote 2: Lettres de la Marquise du Deffand a Horace Walpole (1766-80). Premiere Edition complete, augmentee d’environ 500 Lettres inedites, publiees, d’apres les originaux, avec une introduction, des notes, et une table des noms, par Mrs. Paget Toynbee. 3 vols. Methuen, 1912.]
The visit of Voltaire to England marks a turning-point in the history of civilisation. It was the first step in a long process of interaction—big with momentous consequences—between the French and English cultures. For centuries the combined forces of mutual ignorance and political hostility had kept the two nations apart: Voltaire planted a small seed of friendship which, in spite of a thousand hostile influences, grew and flourished mightily. The seed, no doubt, fell on good ground, and no doubt, if Voltaire had never left his native country, some chance wind would have carried it over the narrow seas, so that history in the main would have been unaltered. But actually his was the hand which did the work.
It is unfortunate that our knowledge of so important a period in Voltaire’s life should be extremely incomplete. Carlyle, who gave a hasty glance at it in his life of Frederick, declared that he could find nothing but ‘mere inanity and darkness visible’; and since Carlyle’s day the progress has been small. A short chapter in Desnoiresterres’ long Biography and an essay by Churton Collins did something to co-ordinate the few known facts. Another step was taken a few years ago with the publication of M. Lanson’s elaborate and exhaustive edition of the Lettres Philosophiques, the work in which Voltaire gave to the world the distilled essence of his English experiences. And now M. Lucien Foulet has brought together all the extant letters concerning the period, which he has collated with scrupulous exactitude and to which he has added a series of valuable appendices upon various obscure and disputed points. M. Lanson’s great attainments are well known, and to say that M. Foulet’s work may fitly rank as a supplementary volume to the edition of the Lettres Philosophiques is simply to say that he is a worthy follower of that noble tradition of profound research and perfect lucidity which has made French scholarship one of the glories of European culture.