Voltaire’s Luck by Roger Pearson [Lapham's Quarterly] “It was once said of Voltaire, by his friend the Marquis d’Argenson, that “our great poet forever has one foot on Mount Parnassus and the other in the rue Quincampoix.” The rue Quincampoix was the Wall Street of eighteenth-century Paris; the country’s most celebrated writer of epic and dramatic verse had a keen eye for investment opportunities. By the time d’Argenson made his remark, in 1751, Voltaire had amassed a fortune. He owed it all to a lottery win. Or, to be more precise, to several wins.”
After the Charlie Hebdo killings, Voltaire's Treatise on Tolerance is flying off the shelves. [more inside]
"During his days as Harvard’s influential president, Dr. Charles W. Eliot made a frequent assertion: If you were to spend just 15 minutes a day reading the right books, a quantity that could fit on a five-foot shelf, you could give yourself a proper liberal education. Publisher P. F. Collier and Son loved the idea and asked Eliot to compile and edit the right collection of works. The result: a 51-volume series of classic works from world literature published in 1909 called Dr. Eliot’s Five Foot Shelf, which would later be called The Harvard Classics." (Via) [more inside]
Today Cambridge University offered a complete free digital archive of the personal papers of Sir Isaac Newton, including the Principa Mathematica and his first published research paper. The archives join a number of efforts to open original works of scientific greatness to the world:
- Charles Darwin's entire personal library, complete with annotations and handwritten marginalia, digitized, indexed, and searchable, part of the Biodiversity Heritage Library (previously)
- Mapping The Republic of Letters and Electronic Enlightenment, wonderful sites showing the communication and social connections of Enlightenment writers.
Mapping the Republic of Letters is a cartographic tool designed by students and professors at Stanford that seeks to represent the Enlightenment era Republic of Letters, the network of correspondence between the finest thinkers of the day, such as Voltaire, Leibniz, Rousseau, Newton, Diderot, Linnaeus, Franklin and countless others. Patricia Cohen wrote an article about Mapping the Republic of Letters as well as other datamining digital humanities projects in The New York Times. The mapping tool is fun to play with but I recommend you read the blogpost where Cohen explains how to use Mapping the Republic of Letters.
Few books written in the 18th Century are better known or more read today than Candide, Voltaire's great satire of optimism. The New York Public Library's Candide exhibition has many delights, including Rockwell Kent's famous illustrations. Many other artists have illustrated Candide, and many of those images can be seen in the University Library of Trier's Candide image database. If your eyes are tired, you can also download an audiobook of Candide for free from LibriVox, or you can listen to a lecture on Candide [iTunes] by Stanford professor Martin Evans. Adam Gopnik explains how Candide fits in Voltaire's life and what it can teach us today. And don't miss this old post about Leonard Bernstein's Candide operetta.
The University of Michigan's collaborative translation of Diderot and d'Alembert's Encylopédie has completed some 650 selections from the Enlightenment keystone, including articles on California, vanilla, werewolves, the English language, beauty, and the complete structure of human knowledge. [more inside]
Aphorisms: "A minimum of sound to a maximum of sense." [ram] Journalist, gnomologist and author James Geary has just released Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists [Amazon. recent NPR interview here]. It draws from such aphorists as Shakespeare, Voltaire, Emerson, Shaw, Mae West, Woody Allen and Steven Wright. Also discussed is chiasmus, the Jefferson Bible and some meta. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in your reading have been like the blast of triumph..." [more inside]
The scientist whom history forgot: Emilie du Châtelet. Lover of Voltaire, genius without a beard, female scientist, mathematician and philosopher.