Recently we had an opportunity to acquire a volume with five works by the French writer, historian and philosopher Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) (1694-1778). They were printed between 1766 and 1769.
But the really exciting thing about the volume (RB.s.2875(1-5)) is not its contents, but its provenance: it was formerly in the library of the eminent Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776)! We know this because it contains Hume’s armorial bookplate on the front pastedown, and a handwritten listing of the contents on the front free endpaper in Hume’s own hand.
The five works of Voltaire are: “La guerre civile de Geneve”, “Le philosophe ignorant”, “Le diner du Comte de Boulainvilliers”, “Lettres a son altesse monseigneur le prince de ****” and “La defense de mon oncle”.
The presence of works by the Frenchman in Hume’s library is hardly surprising. Both men were key figures of the Enlightenment in Europe, and their works were hugely influential. Although Voltaire entertained the likes of James Boswell, Adam Smith and Edward Gibbon in his home in Ferney near the Swiss Border, he never met Hume.
No precise listing of the volumes originally in Hume’s book collection exists. However, some idea of its contents can be ascertained from a catalogue produced by the Edinburgh bookseller Thomas Stevenson in 1840. There are over 200 French-language works in the Stevenson catalogue, including other works by Voltaire. If you are interested in his book collection, check out “David Hume’s Library” (GNE.1998.1.1).