26 May 1778
[ Tallentyre's Commentary: General Lally, the father of Lally-Tollendal, the man to whom this letter is addressed, was an Irish Jacobite who had plotted in France for the restoration of the Stuarts: and in India, unsuccessfully, against the British East India Company.
On his return to France, partly to punish him for his failure and partly to please England, the French Government threw him into the Bastille: absurdly charging him with having sold Pondicherry to his enemies, the English, and on many other counts, not less ridiculous. On May 6, 1766, being then sixty-four years old, he was gagged, handcuffed, and beheaded. A month later, Voltaire was writing to d'Alembert, "I will stake my neck on it he was not a traitor." Seven years later Lally's son implored Voltaire's help to exculpate his father's memory, and for many weeks Voltaire was engaged "night and day" in writing The Historical Fragments of the History of India and of General Lally which ably and conclusively proved the wronged man's innocence.
On May 26, 1778, when old Voltaire was dying at the Hotel Villette in Paris, Louis XVI in council publicly vindicated General Lally.
By a last mighty effort, the dying man recalled the splendid intellect, now waning fast, which had so nobly served him, and dictated the following letter to the Comte de Lally-Tollendal. Then he made someone write in a large hand on a sheet of paper, which he caused to be pinned to his bed hangings, the following words:
"On May 26th, the judicial murder committed by Pasquier (Councillor to the Parliament) upon the person of Lally was avenged by the Council of the King."
It was his last conscious act. He died four days later, on May 30, 1778. There have been few men with whom the ruling passion of hatred of tyranny, oppression, injustice, has been so strong in death: and better men, who, in their last hours have found it impossible to think of any soul but their own. ]
[ The text of Voltaire's letter runs only two lines. ]
May 26, 1778.
The dying man returns to life on hearing this great news: he tenderly embraces M. de Lally: he sees that the King is the defender of justice: and he dies content.