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The Voltaire Correspondence

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1726


Cher England,

You have Voltaire. Give him back.

Cordialement,

France.


Dear France,

Sod off.

Sincerely,

England.


Cher England,

I don't know why I'm being so friendly. I should just invade you. In fact, if I were in any state to, I probably would have. Luckily for you, I have my hands full with my colonies right now. But you have my writer. Give him back. There's enough political nonsense going on over here. The least you can do for me is let me have one of my favourite writers back.

Cordialement – although you don't deserve it,

France.


Dear France,

Oh, is that a declaration of war? Are you threatening me? Is that really a good idea? You're bankrupt. Your monarchy is teetering. I could snap my fingers at you and your armies would crumble. 'Your colonies' are keeping you busy? You've always been a bad liar, old chap.

Anyway, why do you even want Voltaire back? Your king sent him here, for heaven's sake! Does your Louis XV not know you're writing to me? Oh dear, this will be interesting. Secret letters to another country, sent behind the boss's back. So typically French.

I'm not giving him back. I like him. He likes my nation. And he seems rather interested in my constitutional monarchy. I think I'll keep him a while.

Sincerely,

England.


Cher England,

You're playing a mind game with me now, mon ami. Do not taunt me. Do not rub it in my face. I'm miserable, I'm sick, and I have a constant migraine trying to sort out the hassles between the nobility, the clergy, and the working class. It's a nightmare, not that you actually care. And I'm not lying about the colonies. They do keep a country busy!

Also,  François-Marie Arouet – for that is his real name – is a human being. Stop referring to him as though he is a pet dog. And do convince him to come back to Paris, s'il vous  plaît ! I'll help him. Nobody has to know. It can be a secret between the three of us. Come now, we've known each other long enough for you to do me this small favour, oui? Reading his books, having intellectual conversations with him, it eases my mind.

And what do you mean when you said he was interested in your constitutional monarchy?! Do not toy with me, England! Your political system is a joke. Return Voltaire at once!

Not-so-Cordialement,

France.


Dear France,

Ah, see, you wouldn't have this problem if you had a constitutional monarchy. Your absolutist rulers are running you to the ground. Mine don't bother me so much anymore. It's a relief. Oh, sure, my people are still working through this 'democracy' thing, but I do rather like it. Elections stress me out a bit though. Nothing compared to your situation. Ha. Maybe having Voltaire study my government is a good thing. He also likes the fact that I don't victimise citizens based on religion.

He has a very long name, France. I shall call him 'Voltaire'. And while we're on that topic, you started it! You asked me to 'return' him, like he was your pet. Or a borrowed quill. And if you're so desperate for intellectual conversations, go talk to some of your other thinkers. Rousseau, perhaps?

Anyway, even if I did want to return Voltaire to you – and I don't – I wouldn't be able to. He really likes England. Take that, wanker. And guess what? He likes Shakespeare, too. Oh, and he attended Isaac Newton's funeral, and congratulated me for honouring a 'heretic' by burying Newton in the Westminster Abbey.

I believe Voltaire shall make a fine Englishman.

Sincerely and thoroughly amused,

England.


1728


Cher England,

Constitutional monarchy is strange and it confuses me. Mon dieu, I can't even think right now.

I've been speaking with Rousseau. And with the others, too. Diderot, Montesquieu. Oh mon dieu, forget it. My head hurts too much. Montesquieu speaks highly of your government too. I'm not flattered, let me tell you.

Shakespeare? Who is he? Please don't tell me he's a chef. If Voltaire likes English cooking, too…I'm suddenly feeling nauseated, and I'm not sure if it's because I just thought of haggis, or because the economy is on the verge of collapse.

All of this is proof that I need Voltaire back in Paris. At least try to convince him!

(And don't talk to me about religion right now. For all I care, everyone in my country could be anti-Christs. For that is how it feels. I think there's a revolution on the horizon…)

Cordialement,

France.


Dear France,

It's simple, really. There's a king, but he's just a figurehead. Instead, you have a leader elected through a majority vote. And this leader – in my case, the Prime Minister – works only for a fixed term, unlike a monarch, who rules indefinitely.

Ah, that sounds terrible. The headache, I mean. Well, too bad. Your absolutist monarchy, your problem.

Shakespeare was a playwright. I've attached one of his plays along with this letter, so you can read it at leisure. He was marvellous. I'm sure Romeo and Juliet shall provide temporary reprieve from your political, economic, and social problems.

You might be in luck, France. I think Voltaire's going back. And I didn't convince him, so don't thank me. I'm not exactly hankering for your French sentimentality.

(Anti-Christs? Goodness, don't even say that!)

A revolution? Oh, those are always so interesting.

Sincerely,

England.


1735


Cher England,

I understand it has been some time since I responded to your letter. So much has been happening here. It's been keeping me busy. But more than anything, I've just been too tired to write. I feel like my body is revolting against itself.

I read and re-read that Shakespeare play. It was actually beautiful. I think Shakespeare might just become popular here too. (I just complimented an Englishman. May the Lord have mercy on my soul.) But it seems to be happening quite a lot over here. Montesquieu went to England a while ago, didn't he? Your constitutional monarchy seems to be popular with the thinkers here.

As for Voltaire – oui, he did return. And I read one of his books. I believe it was called Lettres philosophiques sur les Anglais . Oh, what is the English title? 'Philosophical Letters'. About the English! He wrote a book about the English! The French publisher released it without a royal censor, so that caused quite a bit of drama. Voltaire kept praising your constitutional monarchy and denouncing our system. He even said the English were more tolerant towards religious minorities. It was a scandal of such epic proportions, let me tell you. His book was banned and then burnt. And now, Voltaire has been forced to flee.

Basically, Voltaire is gone once more. But I believe he is still in France. At least I shall rest easy knowing that.

Revolutions are…interesting? What on earth is that supposed to mean?

Cordialement,

France.


Dear France,

And here I was thinking that your letter simply got lost in the mail. I'm sorry to hear you've been so under the weather. I've been through it. We all have, I suppose. Hang in there. Humans are fickle and temporary. The bad times won't last forever.

Oh, so you like Shakespeare? A stuck-up Frenchman like you enjoyed an English playwright's work? I shall never let you forget that. But thank you, France. Shakespeare is a favourite of mine, too.

Ah, yes. This whole Letters scandal. I heard about that. This is none of my business, but maybe a revolution is a good thing. And yes, of course they're interesting. Revolutions are all about change! For if there is no change, we'll just be stagnant.

Good luck.

Sincerely,

England.


1752

During the French and Indian Wars

Two years before the start of the Seven Year's War


Cher England,

If I pass out and accidentally drop ink all over this letter, I'm sorry. I think I'm dying. If anything, it's just getting worse! How long must I endure this? My economy is in serious merde right now.

(I know we're at war, and what a complicated war it is, but that is for our human friends to sort out, non? Surely you don't take it personally. After all, we've been at each other's throats for long enough to become good friends.)

Also – if there is no change, we'll be stagnant? Incredible, England. I would never have figured that out on my own.

Merci for the luck. It's the only thing keeping me going.

By the way, Voltaire is in Prussia now. He's friendly with Frederick the Great. Although I think they're having some disagreements. Prussia – our dear Gilbert, I mean – says he might be heading back to France! A little bit of good news that resonates through my aching temples.

Now I must go sort out some war-related things. I remember the days when this used to be fun.

Cordialement,

France.


1765

Britain passes the hugely unpopular Stamp Act in America

Two years after the end of the Seven Year's War

Two years after the end of the French and Indian Wars


Dear France,

Aren't you being just a little bit dramatic?

(Friends? Are you out of your mind? India is my territory. Don't you forget it. Oh, and Canada asked me to say 'bonjour' to you. That French word is an insult to the paper I'm writing on, honestly.)

Oh, that's embarrassing. I wrote that letter in a hurry, and posted it without drafting it three more times.

Really, France, what is this obsession with Voltaire?

Oh, by the way, enclosed with this letter is another Shakespeare play, King Lear. I just watched the performance last night! Wonderful, absolutely wonderful! Give it a read when you're feeling better. Hopefully, you'll be able to see it in theatres soon, if you're up to it.

The wars weren't fun for you because you're a poor, sentimental old fool who can't fight for all the wine and cheese in the world. I, however, enjoyed myself thoroughly.

Also, forgive me if my responses become more sporadic. America is giving me trouble. I swear that child is brattier than he has the right to be.

Sincerely,

England.


Cher England,

No, I am not being dramatic.

(Tell 'Canada' I said bonjour! And his name is NEW FRANCE, by the way.)

You draft your letters to me? Aren't we past that stage now? I mean, we've insulted each other in literally every way possible, non? How does it matter any more?

I could ask you the same about your Shakespeare. Speaking of which, I read the play you sent me. It was truly wonderful. I enjoyed it, and I wish to see the performance some day. Thank you for sharing it with me. But did he only write tragedies?

Well, if you stopped bossing over America so much…I can sympathise with him, you know. Also, brace yourself, England. I can sense a war coming. And if it comes down to it, I'll be on America's side.

Cordialement,

France.


1778

During the American Revolutionary War


Cher England,

We haven't spoken in a while, have we? I know we're on opposing sides of America's revolution, mais…

Well, I just wanted to inform you, in case you didn't know:

Voltaire died.

Cordialement,

France.


Dear France,

I hate you. We've fought so much in the past, and there were times when I've really wanted to shove you off a cliff, but this time, I really, really, really mean it. You interfered with America when you absolutely shouldn't have. Things get personal when you interfere with America and I. I will win this war. He is my little brother, my responsibility, and my colony.

And I'm sorry about Voltaire. You have my condolences.

Sincerely,

England.


1783

The end of the Revolutionary War


Dear France,

You wanker. You absolute bloody wanker. You better have a decent place for me to stay in your damn city, or I'll curse you with my black magic.

Oh goodness. I'm not looking forward to signing the Treaty of Paris…

Sincerely,

England.


Cher England,

I'm broke too, you know. America's war didn't really do wonders for my economy either, and I wasn't doing very well in the first place. Nevertheless, I've prepared the guest bedroom of my home for you. Don't worry – America is staying with his people. It'll just be us. I figured we could have some wine and talk about old times. Also, we could read Voltaire and Shakespeare out loud to each other and try and mend our age-old friendship. How does that sound?

Ah, don't worry, mon ami. America was just one colony. Doesn't it make you just the slightest bit proud to see how he's all grown up? Anyway, you have more colonies, don't you? Of course, no colony is ever truly replaceable...

Cordialement,

France.


Dear France,

'How does that sound?' Like we're children. And 'friendship', really? When have we ever been friends?

Sincerely,

England.


15th July 1789

One day after the Fall of Bastille


Cher England,

Bastille fell yesterday. And have I ever told you how much I've been reading Rousseau over the years? Of course, America's revolution also gave me some ideas...But that is not the point!

The French Revolution has begun! My poor oppressed people and I shall finally overthrow those cruel monarchs!

Cordialement – and extremely excited,

France.


Dear France,

Yes, you mentioned Rousseau about twenty-five times when I last visited.

Hurrah. Be careful.

Sincerely,

England.


During the Reign of Terror

1793


Dear France,

Things don't seem to be going too well for you. Are you all right?

Sincerely,

England.


Still during the Reign of Terror

1794


Dear France,

Do respond. It's starting to become slightly concerning. Your country has been thrown into absolute anarchy.

Sincerely,

England.


Cher England,

I do hope my handwriting is readable. My hands are shaking so much.

Arthur, tell me something. What are we, the French, doing wrong? I expected a 'Bloodless Revolution' just like yours. But I'm drawn into violence and anarchy. The guillotine both fascinates and frightens me. I know, as nations, we hold conflicting beliefs in our minds. On one hand, I support the revolutionaries who are at the forefront of this horror. But on the other hand, I just want it to end. Does that make me unpatriotic? And out of these conflicting desires, which one is real? Which one is MINE? What do I want?

Cordialement – and in desperate need of reassurance,

France.


Dear France,

All right now, your letter is making me panic. There were bloodstains on the paper, Francis! Bloodstains!

Well, you began your revolution by beheading your rulers? How peaceful did you expect it to be, really?

And if it makes you feel any better, France, the Bloodless Revolution was not bloodless. That name is actually misleading. It wasn't nearly as bad as yours, but still. And your question puts me in an odd situation. You know just as well as I do that there's no way I can know what you want. Only you can know that. But if you really want my opinion, then I shall be happy to oblige.

I think you want to enter into a shining new era with peace and stability. While on one hand that required getting rid of the absolutist Bourbons, on the other, it requires you to end the revolution. It's gone on long enough. Find yourself an intelligent, democratic leader.

Don't worry, Francis. You'll be fine. You've survived worse.

Sincerely,

England.


1799

The end of the French Revolution


Cher England,

In our grand tradition of irregular correspondence, this letter finds you five years after the last time we wrote to each other. I believe the revolution is over. You were right. It was interesting. Bloody, nightmarish, but necessary, n'est-ce pas? But I am stronger for it, I know I am.

Mon ami, merci. Your support has been truly appreciated. During the worst of it, I clung onto your letters to remind myself that we are countries, and these things come and go.

My new boss is a man called Napoleon Bonaparte. He is rather ambitious.

And I would just like to inform you - so that you don't complain later - that I don't think he likes Great Britain very much.

Cordialement and with much gratitude,

France.


1803


Dear France,

IF NAPOLEON WISHES TO FIGHT THE BRITISH EMPIRE, A FIGHT HE SHALL HAVE!

Seriously, you overthrow an absolutist monarchs and bring in a dictator? What the hell is wrong with you? I mean, I've had Cromwell come in with his military politics right after the Glorious Revolution, but this Napoleon chap seems mental.

Sincerely pissed off,

England.

P.S: I don't like Napoleon's advances and dreams of invading England one bit. See you on the battlefield, wanker.


1806

Introduction of the Continental System by Napoleon to challenge British naval supremacy


Dear France,

Oh, really, a 'Continental System' to overthrow my oceanic monopoly? Are you really trying to defeat my navy? Are you an idiot?

Good luck – you're going to need it.

Sincerely,

England.


1815

Defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in the Battle of Waterloo against Anglo-Prussian forces


Dear France,

Ah, victory tastes delicious.

I've enjoyed these Napoleonic Wars. Waterloo was especially fun. How about a round two?

Sincerely and thoroughly amused,

England.


Cher England,

I hate you.

Cordialement,

France.


Dear France,

So is that a yes or a no for round two?

Sincerely and thoroughly amused,

England.


1821

After the death of Napoleon


Cher England,

Remember how friendly we were during the days of Voltaire?

Cordialement,

France.


Dear France,

You nostalgic, sentimental git.

Sincerely,

England.


1840

After the British and French cooperate to bring Napoleon Bonaparte's remains to Paris


Cher England,

Thank you for your help. It has been a month since we put Napoleon in his final resting place. Everything seems well.

But that is not why I am writing to you.

I feel like watching a Shakespeare play.

Cordialement,

France.


Dear France,

Othello is running next month. Should I buy tickets?

Sincerely,

England.


Cher England,

OUI.

And I shall bring the wine and food.

See you there!

Cordialement – and very keen,

France.