2020-05-14Zeitschriftenartikel DOI: 10.18452/21469
Excerpts in a Time of Untruth, or Voltaire's Practice of Excerpting and the Rehabilitation of Justice
Sprach- und literaturwissenschaftliche Fakultät
In the history of scholarly practice, Voltaire stands out among eighteenth‐century authors for his critical attitude towards erudite reading habits. His contempt for the “compilateurs” is a radical expression of the Enlightenment desire to write free of the traditions and burdens of the past. His famous interventions in Ancien Régime court cases are also emblematic of the action‐oriented philosophy of the period. This article investigates the role played in the case of the Chevalier de La Barre by documents that Voltaire called “excerpts.” The case was the last Voltaire was involved in and concerned a young man, charged with blasphemy, who was eventually beheaded and burnt in 1766, Voltaire's Dictionnaire philosophique portatif (1764) nailed to his torso. With reference to two texts in particular—Relation de la mort du chevalier de La Barre (1766) and Le Cri du sang innocent (1775)—I focus on Voltaire's practice of excerpting from the court transcripts and on their specific role in his fight for the rehabilitation of the victims.