Voltaire lost almost all of his fortune in some unfortunate banking operations. This greatly affected him, and caused the return of his dyspepsia.
In 1732, his health was “worse than ever”. He found it difficult to work, even to write a simple letter, and he gave a plausible reason for it: “If you knew what it costs me to write!… I can write a tragedy scene in my bed, because I can do it without having to lean over a table, and without my body having to do anything; but, when I have to take up my pen, just the posture needed to do it hurts me; I am presently in the cruellest state in the world.”
It was at this time that he signed his letters “the vaporous, the hypocondriac V”. He no longer had the strength to think… his miserable life was verging on its death throes… he was a dying man approaching his last sunset. But, who didn’t have the vapours in the XVIIIth century?
Voltaire’s friend, Mme de Graffigny, was afflicted by them, and she wasn’t the only one. Voltaire himself was their victim, without admitting it. Like all “vaporous people”, as soon as he was contraried, he became ill again; when he wasn’t tormented, all was well.
In 1734, following the publication of Lettres philosophiques, he feared arrestation and imprisonment in the Bastille. He had to flee Paris quickly, and the Plombieres waters suddenly became necessary for his health. We don’t know a lot about this first stay at the spa, where he returned several times.
In 1748, he arrived there ahead of the Marquise du Chatelet, the “divine Emilie”, who stayed ten days at Plombieres, in the company of Mme de Boufflers, of whom it was said that, “just to be sure”, she made her paradise in this world.
Voltaire returned to Plombieres in 1754, on the advice of a doctor named Coste, doubtless the same one who later became Head Doctor of the Invalides.
Frederic II tried to discourage him from taking this trip, saying that “mineral waters are not lacking in Silesia”. But Voltaire, who wanted to return to grace in the eyes of the King of France, needed to consult with his niece, who was leading the negotiations in this affair, both in Paris and in Versailles.
Mme Denis was to join him at Plombieres, then accompany him to Colmar. This arrangement seemed very natural. It was known that Voltaire was continuously ill. The trip to Plombieres could therefore pass as a real need to take the waters and to repair his bad health. However, this need was really only a front.
The philosopher left Colmar on 8 June 1754, taking only one servant and his copyist.
At Colmar, he had learned that La Condamine and his implacable adversary Maupertuis were both staying at Plombieres. Voltaire, not wanting to meet them, in particular Maupertuis, didn’t go that far, and went to the Abbey of Senones, where he stayed for three weeks as guest of the scholarly Benedictine Dom Calmet, who liked to call him “Friar Voltaire”.
This was where he wrote: “I waited until I had recovered a bit of health before going for my cure at Plombieres. I shall take the waters without believing in them, just like I read the Church Fathers.”
Home from Plombieres, “he is still weak, still languishing; his health is going to the devil; he can’t write with his hand; his head is spinning”. This is the first time that we hear him complain of vertigo, the vertigo a stomacho laeso, which Trousseau described so well.
Seventh part tomorrow.