An illness to which Voltaire seemed to attach little importance, and which is however very painful, was his strangurie.

From the age of thirty-nine until his death, he had bladder problems, for which he was bled and bathed, even in the middle of winter.  At the same time, his “two spindley legs have become fat like barrels”.

Was it hypertrophia of the prostate, which would explain the cystitis; or an albuminous nephritis, which would justify the oedema of the lower members?  The first one seems the more likely.

In 1759, Voltaire had  “a fit of dizziness, a je ne sais quoi which doesn’t much help the mind”.  Tronchin had “to come to the aid of his pia mater and his dura mater”.  But this congestion was only temporary and left no trace.

Several years later, he complained of an intermittent pulse.  Frederic, who had consulted for him an English doctor, who was visiting his court, told him that it was nothing, and not to worry about it.

However, he mentions it again in a later letter, telling him a few things which are not completely senseless:  “For your intermittent pulse, I am not surprised;  after a long life, veins begin to solidify, and it takes time for this to progress to the vena cava, which gives you a few years of respite.”  If we substitute “arteries” for “veins”, the explanation given by the King of Prussia is almost acceptable.  Because of his great age, Voltaire could have been atherosclerotic, which is typical in arthritic people.

This diagnosis was justified later.  In the month of March 1776, he announced to Count d’Argental that he had just had “a sort of apoplexy”.  “It is ridiculous to fall into a sort of apoplexy when one is as thin as I am;  however, I was that ridiculous.”

The following year, he sent a message to the Duke of Richelieu that he had lost his memory for two days, and that he had lost it “so absolutely that he couldn’t find any word in the language”.  It is certain that he had had a stroke this time, but without any paralysis.

In spite of his eighty-three years, he still found the strength to undertake the long and tiring trip from Ferney to Paris.  Just as Tronchin had predicted, he did not survive this effort.

He vomitted blood almost on his arrival, and shortly after, had another attack of his strangurie.  It has been said that it was because of his ingestion of high doses of opium that his bladder pains reappeared, and that, far from calming his suffering, his abuse of the medication had made it worse.

This indestructible invalid finally died at the age of eighty-four.  Voltaire was able to combat the disastrous effects of the remedies of his time, by creating for himself a personal life-style which was hygienic, healthy and efficient.

By doing this, “the eternal moaner” succeeded in having a long career, while conserving intact his lucid intelligence, which made him the brightest personification of a French intellectual.

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