The Château de Cirey was for Voltaire an earthly paradise where he found Asylum with his friend and mistress Emilie.
A philosopher of the Enlightenment
His real name François Marie Arouet was born on November 21, 1694 in Paris. Son of a notary, he was brought up by the Jesuits and received a solid education. He then took a liking to the art of rhetoric, theater and literature and became interested in science. He is one of the most famous French authors and the best known representative of the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Voltaire marked the 18th century with his literary work but also with his political battles. His positions earned him a tumultuous life, first imprisoned in the Bastille, he was exiled to England, a country he particularly appreciated. Inspired by this forced stay, in 1734 he published the « Lettres Philosophiques », sharp criticism of French institutions for the benefit of England, which earned him the threat of imprisonment again.
A period of intense literary production
From then on, he found asylum with his friend and mistress, Emilie, the Marquise du Châtelet, in her Château de Cirey. He will thus make it his residence until 1749, the year of the death of the latter. If he is sensitive to the charms of Emilie, the philosopher succumbs very quickly to those of his home. He undertook, at his own expense, major restoration work, enlarged Château de Cirey to install his own apartments and had an imposing door dedicated to the arts and sciences carved. He also set up a scientific cabinet and ordered the instruments from Abbé Nollet, the great specialist of the time. Outside, he is interested in gardens. Grid, terrace, long alleys, orangery, grove of lime trees are arranged. This stay is for Voltaire a period of intense literary production. It was in Cirey that he wrote: « Le Mondain », the essay « Discours en vers sur l’homme », the comedies « Le Comte de Boursoufle » and « l’Enfant prodigue », and the tragedies « Alzire ». , “Mahomet” and “Mérope.” To satisfy his passion, the philosopher set up a small theater in the château, which is still visible today.
Emilie’s point of view
For her part, Madame du Chatelet is not left out. At Cirey, she translated and commented from Latin on the famous « Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy » by Isaac Newton, describing in particular the principle of universal gravitation. This major scientific work requires a translation into French because it was the only language of communication for the elites in Europe at the time. Voltaire will also write in the historical preface of the work that Latin lacks words to explain the new « mathematical and physical truths ». This monumental work occupied Emilie for the last five years of her life and the posthumous publication was made in 1756. It was at this time that the Marquise also wrote the « Discourse on Happiness » between 1744 and 1746 which was published in 1779, after her death. Happiness is one of the great philosophical themes treated during the Age of Enlightenment, but essentially by men. Emilie du Châtelet’s text offers a new point of view on the subject. Voltaire and Emilie receive many personalities in Cirey who share their passion for science, such as Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis, Claude Clairaut, Count Algarotti and Father François Jacquier…
The death of Emilie
If amorous passion gradually gives way to friendship, Voltaire and Emilie never leave each other. At 42, she became pregnant by her last lover, the poet Saint Lambert, and died following childbirth. In extremis, she managed to finish the translation of Newton’s treatise and send it to the King’s library. Voltaire will take care of finalizing its publication. Voltaire, very affected by this disappearance then leaves the Château de Cirey, “his earthly paradise”. Little Adélaïde, born of the love of Emilie and Saint Lambert, although recognized by Monsieur du Châtelet and ultimately abandoned, died in the arms of her nurse in 1751.