Voltaire à Frédéric, avec la réponse du Roi, (septembre 1743)

Traductions allemandes

Das Autograph dieses Briefes wurde im Oktober 2006 auf der Frankfurter Antiquariatsmesse von Lion Heart Autographs, Inc. (David Lowenherz, New York) angeboten. Der Katalogeintrag lautete:
Voltaire, Francois-Marie Arouet. (1694-1778) and Frederick the Great (1712-1786). AMs. (Unsigned). 4pp. Small 4to. N.p. (Berlin), N.d. (September 5, 1743). On four sides of a single sheet of paper. The justly famous and unique "Doppelbrief" (or "double letter") between Voltaire and Frederick in which these intellectual and powerful figures of 18th century Europe have written back and forth to each other. Frederick`s acerbic and sly responses are penned in the margins of each page next to Voltaire`s often fawning questions. In French. 20.000,00 EUR
Voltaire`s opening gambit in this epistolary chess game begins: "[Voltaire] Would your Majesty be kind enough to put in the margin your reflections and orders? 1. Your Majesty is to know that master Bassecoure, chief Burghermaster of Amsterdam, has come to beg M. de la Ville, minister of France, to make proposals of peace. La Ville answered, if the Dutch had offers to make, the King his master could listen to them. [Frederick]: 1. This base cour [a pun on the name Bassecoure in which Frederick changes the meaning to "backyard"] seems to be the gentleman that has charge of fattening the capons and turkeys for their High mightinesses? [Voltaire]: Is it not clear that the peace party will infallibly carry it, in Holland, since Bassecour, one of the most determined for war, begins to speak of peace? Is it not clear that France shows vigor and wisdom? [Frederick]: I admire the wisdom of France, but God preserve me from ever imitating it... [Voltaire]: 3. Do you not cover yourself with an immortal glory in declaring yourself, in effect, the protector of the Empire? And is it not of most pressing interest to your Majesty to hinder the English from making your Enemy the Grand-Duke [Maria Theresa`s Husband] King of the Romans? [Frederick]: 3. France has more interest than Prussia to hinder that. Besides, on this point, dear Voltaire, you are ill informed. For there can be no Election of a King of the Romans without the unanimous consent of the Empire, so you see, that always depends on me... [Voltaire]: 5. If you were but to march a body of troops to Cleves, do you not inspire terror and respect, without worrying that anyone would dare to make war on you? Is it not, on the contrary, the one method of forcing the Dutch to concur, under your orders, in the pacification of the Empire, and re-establishment of the Emperor, who will thus a second time be indebted to you for his throne, and will aid in you splendor? [Frederick]: 5. You will have me then like a "deus ex machina" in a play, Swoop in and arrive for the resolution/That to the English, to the Pandours [Austrian light-infantry], and to that insolent people/I go to administer Discipline/But take a better look at my face/I am not nasty enough. [Vous voulez donc, qu`en Vrai dieu de machine, J`arrive pour le Denouement. Qu`aux Anglais, aux Pandours, a ce peuple insolent, J`aille donner la Discipline, Mais exsaminé mieux ma mine, Je ne suis pas assez mechant.]... [Voltaire]: 7. If during the short journey that I must make this autumn to see his majesty, he could make me the bearer of some good news to my Court, I would beseech him to honor me with such a commission. [Frederick]: 7. I am not in any connection with France; I have nothing to fear nor to hope from Her. If you would like, I will make a Panegyric on Louis XV in which there will be not a word of truth, but as to political business, there is, at present, none to bring us together, and furthermore it is not for me to be the first to speak. If one asks me something, it is time to reply to it, but you, who are so reasonable, feel well what ridicule I would take on if I gave projects of policy to France... and especially that written in my own hand! [Voltaire]: 8. Do whatsoever you may please, I shall always love your Majesty with all my heart. [Frederick]: 8. I love you, I esteem you, I will do all to have you, except follies, and things which would make me forever ridiculous in Europe, and would be, in the end, contrary to my interests and to my glory. The only commission I can give you for France is to advise them to behave with more wisdom than they have done hitherto. That Monarchy is a body with much strength, without soul and without nerve." Frederick engaged in a broad exchange of letters with philosophers that included an incomparable epistolary relationship with Voltaire begun in 1736. Their correspondence "was to last nearly forty-two years and fills three entire volumes of Frederick`s collected works," ("Frederick the Great, A Life in Deed and Letters", MacDonogh). Voltaire published Frederick`s "Antimachiavel", a refutation of the precepts laid out in Machiavelli`s 16th-century masterpiece, "The Prince", while continuing to exchange gifts, witty repartee and philosophical ideas. But Frederick`s interests and responsibilities went far beyond merely philosophizing with the great intellectuals of his age. His role as a leader commenced upon his ascent to the Prussian throne in 1740, where he quickly proved himself a skilled strategist. Although he took care not to offend Frederick, Voltaire became increasingly disillusioned with the new militaristic king and criticized his ruthlessness. Far from being insulted, Frederick invited Voltaire to live at his court and Voltaire readily accepted. "He convinced the government that it would be a good thing for him to accept Frederick`s offers of asylum, for then the king, considering him to be out of favour in France, would reveal to him his political and military intentions," ("Voltaire", Besterman). Voltaire arrived at Frederick`s court on August 30, 1743 and "although he was as smitten as ever, Frederick was suspicious that he had not been asked for the usual travel expenses and correctly surmised that Voltaire was spying on him. He was therefore hesitant about discussing matters of state with his friend. Voltaire bought off his employers with letters stressing his intimate relationship with the Prussian king, who spent four hours a day closeted in Voltaire`s apartment," (op. cit., MacDonogh). France thanked Voltaire for his letters but, "when weary of the king`s generalities, Voltaire finally got down to brass tacks by sending Frederick a set of questions, the king amused himself by answering them with marginal comments," (op. cit., Besterman). Frederick`s evasive responses to Voltaire`s queries indicate the level of his bemused distrust. In fact, Voltaire scholar Nancy Mitford states that Frederick`s answers "were so flippant that most people would have thrown the whole thing into the fire instead of preserving it to amuse posterity," ("Voltaire in Love", Mitford). Frederick`s use of disinformation is evinced in the line "I will make a Panegyric on Louis XV in which there will be not a word of truth," because he did in fact write a poem insulting to Louis XV that he attributed to Voltaire and sent to the French court by way of his ambassador. "He did not hesitate to add, in clear terms and in writing, `I want to embroil him for ever with France, so that I can get him to Berlin`. Fortunately for Voltaire, Frederick`s literary skill was far below his powers of intrigue, and he made a mess of his plot," (op. cit., Besterman). Although the correspondence between Voltaire and Frederick the Great was voluminous, our remarkable "double" letter is unique, according to Christiane Mervaud, honorary president of Oxford`s Complete Works of Voltaire. Published in Theodore Besterman`s "Voltaire`s Correspondence", Thomas Carlyle`s "History of Friedrich II of Prussia" vol. 14 and "Œuvres complètes" edited by Bernard Guyon and Henri Coulet. Besterman notes that our letter passed from Voltaire`s niece and heir Marie Louise Mignot Denis to the publisher Charles Joseph Pancoucke who gave it to French writer and Mozart`s librettist Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799) who penned a cover sheet that accompanies our letter. Translated from French, it reads in full, "Valuable original letter of Voltaire and the King of Prussia." According to Thomas Carlyle`s History of Friedrich II of Prussia (vol. 14) our letter was "saved by Beaumarchais, who did not give it in his famous Kehl Edition of Voltaire, but "had it in Autograph ever after, and printed it in his Decade Philosophique," in the summer of 1799, noting that "Beaumarchais had several other Pieces of the same sort." Our extraordinary missive has several fold tears affecting two words. A remarkable artifact connecting two titanic figures of the 18th century!