Princess Dashkova, May 1771

The Russia princess's autobiography was published posthumously as Memoirs of the princess Daschkaw (London 1840). Theodore Besterman reproduces the following passage in his critical edition of Voltaire's correspondence (

Also read the Letters pertaining to this visit, below.

I . . . shall therefore only speak of the different persons, of any celebrity, with whom I happened to be acquainted. The principal one was Voltaire.

The day after our arrival at Geneva, I sent to beg permission to call on him, accompanied by my friends. Although very unwell, he assured me of the pleasure he should have in seeing me, and that I was at liberty to bring whom I pleased.

On the appointed evening, Mrs. Hamilton, Lady Ryder, Mlle. Kamensky, my cousin Worontzov, and Mr. Campbell of Shawfield, went along with me to his house. The night before, he had lost some ounces of blood, and, though very ill, desired it should be kept a secret, that we might not be deterred from the projected visit.

On entering his room, we found him Iying back in a great chair, weak, and apparently in pain. I went up to him, and half-upbraidingly insisted that in his present situation our visit must be considered an intrusion, and that the most flattering proof I could receive of his esteem was to be thought capable of appreciating the value of his health so far as to have suspended for some days the pleasure of his society.

He disconcerted me excessively by raising up his arm in a theatrical manner, and with a tone of astonishment, exclaiming, "What is this I hear? even her very voice is the voice of an angel!"

As I came only to admire him, to be flattered so extravagantly was certainly the last thing in my thoughts,--which I believe I told him. A few compliments followed, and then we talked about the Empress of Russia.

After making a pretty long visit, when I proposed returning home he earnestly requested us to go to his niece Madame Denists apartment, where he hoped we would indulge him with our company at supper. We agreed, and were not long with Madame Denis before we were joined by her uncle.

In a parenthesis it may be added, that, considering her as the niece of Voltaire, I was surprised to find her so very common-place a sort of woman as she appeared.

Voltaire was supported into the room by his valet-de-chambre, and placed on his knees in a great chair, over the back of which he leant, and continued opposite to me in this uneasy posture during the whole of supper time. This sort of constraint, perhaps, and the addition to our party of two rich farmers general from Paris, whose portraits hung in the saloon below, and to whom both uncle and niece paid the greatest court, disappointed a good deal the expectations I had formed from such a visit.

As we took our leave, Voltaire begged to see me often during our stay at Geneva. I requested permission sometimes to call on him in the mornings, and to enjoy his society tête-à-tête in his cabinet or in his garden--a permission which he willingly granted, and of which I frequently availed myself. At those times he was a very different creature, and appeared in reality everything which his works and my imagination had represented.

In the first few days that we spent at Geneva we made acquaintance also with M. Hubert, "L'Oiselieur," as he was usually called, from his love of hawking. He was a person of considerable genius, possessing a thousand agreeable talents: he was a poet, musician, and painter; and to infinite sensibility and gaiety of manners added all the charms of perfect good breeding. Voltaire was very much afraid of him, as Hubert well knew his peculiarities, and represented circumstances on canvas in which Voltaire recognised several of his own weaknesses of character. They used to be frequent combatants at chess. Voltaire was almost always the loser, and on those occasions he never
failed to be put out of humour.

Hubert had a little favourite dog, with which he used to divert himself at the other's expense by making him snap at a piece of cheese, which, after two or three twists in his mouth, was turned out so exact a likeness of Voltaire, that one would have said it was a miniature copy of the famous bust of Pigal....

Letters pertaining to this visit

The letters in English are taken from the Memoirs. The letter in French appears in Voltaire's correspondence.

c.8 May 1771 [Princess Dashkova to Voltaire]

L'illustre Voltaire étant l'atrait qui nous a Attiré en Suisse, pourez Vous nous reffuser le plaisir de Vous voir ne fût ce que pour un instant? La réputation dont Vous jouissez en Russie come dans Ie reste du Monde, et la Vénération particulière que je Vous ai Voué me donne un vif désir de Vous voir. Je Vous demande cette même faveur pour mes Amis qui Viendront avec moi, à l'heure et le jour que Vous Voudrez nomer, et qui serat sans doute le plus agréable et le plus intéressant pour celle qui se fait une gloire d'avoir poiur Vous les Sentimens d'Estime et de Considération les plus étendus Etant pour toujours

Votre très humble servante Princesse de Daschkaw

Ferney, Thursday, May 9th, 1771 [Voltaire to Princess Dahkova]

The old man of Ferney, grown nearly blind, and overwhelmed with infirmities, wouid have hastened to throw himself at the feet of the princess Daschkaw, had not his sad state of health prevented him. If the princess wouid come to-morrow (Friday), about seven o'clock in the evening, to honour us with her presence, and sup in our coitage along with her party, madame Denis will do, the honours of it, and the old invalid will consider this favour as one of the bright days of his life. He entreats permission to remain en robe de chambre, being a long time unable to dress otherwise. He begs the princess to accept his respectful homage.

Ferney, May 12th, 1771 [Voltaire to Princess Dahkova]


The old man whom you have almost rendered young, thanks as much as he regrets you. I shall not fail to boast to her imperial majesty of a sermon worthy of Plato the Grecian himself, presented me by one who is no less worthy to be the friend of Tomeris. Happy those, madam, who accompany you to Spa!--unhappy we who remain behind on the banks of the lake of Geneva! Our mountains will long resound to echo of your name--a name which will dwell for ever in my heart with admiration and respect.

The old invalid of Ferney

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