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How England Fell off the Map of Voltaire's Enlightenment
Journal Article
Modern Intellectual History image

Voltaire's Letters Concerning the English Nation (Lettres philosophiques) have left the indelible impression that the French philosophe was fundamentally marked by his exposure to English thought in the late 1720s. On the map of his epistolary correspondence, however, England is hardly to be found. What are we to make of this discrepancy? In this article, we demonstrate that the missing letters to England are unlikely to be the result of a data glitch, but rather reflect a lack of interest in contemporary English matters. The only England that Voltaire seems to have cared about lay in the past, during the reign of Charles II. Moreover, this period of English history was (in his view) intrinsically French, given the English monarch's close ties to Versailles. Voltaire's limited admiration of English thought, accordingly, formed part of his broader philosophy of history, which was centered at the court of Louis XIV.

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