Up until the age of fifty, Voltaire’s stomach will be the seat of his tortures, the source of all his apprehensions.

He started talking about his bad digestion from 1720, at the age of twenty-six.  Three years later, he wrote to one of his correspondents that “his health and his business affairs are in an incredibly delapidated state […] that he is so ill that his pen is dropping from his hand”.

That is when, on the advice of people who had benefited from it, he thought about taking the waters at Forges on his way back from his first trip to Holland, where he went as an exile, and where he led “a life of dissipation, which went as far as disorder”.  He had hoped that the Forges waters would restore his health but, far from being successful, they tired him more.

“I won’t take waters again,” he declared.  “They do me a lot more ill than they do me good.  There is more vitriol in a bottle of Forges water than in a bottle of ink.”  Which didn’t stop him from returning to these same waters the following year.

He started to feel better, but the amelioration didn’t last and, with his habitual exaggeration, he declared that these waters were more than harmful.  “The Forges waters have killed me,” he wrote to a friend.  At most, their prolonged use would have made his dyspepsia worse.

This is when he decided to treat himself with whey.  However, almost at the same time, he called in a doctor who made him take cinnamon essence, while another doctor prescribed something entirely different.  In the end, he didn’t know which drug to take.

On the advice of Mme de Bernieres, he decided to consult Silva, the fashionable doctor to see at the time, the doctor for delicate dispositions.  The oracle assured him that “the pieces of an iron ball were as good as the whole ball”, and that there is nothing better for the digestion.  Voltaire was weak enough to believe the oracle but, after experimenting, he gave up this weird digestive remedy and recognized that “diet is better than all the balls in the world […]”.

“Health has at last been given back to me,” he wrote joyfully to Mme de Bernieres.  “I have found my gaiety again […].  I warn you, my dear queen, that Mr de Gervasi and all the doctors of the Faculty of Medicine will be of no use to you, if you do not have a strict diet, and with this diet you will be able to do marvellously well without the waters… “.

However, Voltaire cried victory too soon.  This calm will be short-lived.

Sixth part tomorrow.

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