03 February 2006

Creator: Voltaire

Voltaire fascinates me: like his contemporary Benjamin Franklin, he was one of those people who seems too big for a single human life. Although he is not much read anymore -- outside of Candide -- he still commands enough interest to warrant first-class biographies. He wrote many plays, novels, and works of history, as well as 20,000 letters, through which he carried on conversations with many of the great minds of his day.

As for those letters: In the future, I wonder how historians and biographers will regard the e-mails (and blog posts, etc.) of bygone writers. Many of these records will be missing -- do you have all the meaningful e-mails you ever wrote? -- and with them will go great examples of the wit or dullness, turns of thought or expressions of opinion, that marked the great correspondents of the past. Whatever the case, writers' jobs won't be aided by the great troves of paper correspondence we have for writers from Erasmus to Theodore Roosevelt.

"If you could write lucidly, simply, euphoniously and yet with liveliness, you would write perfectly: you would write like Voltaire."
—W. Somerset Maugham


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