Primary Sources

Émilie du Châtelet: Bibliography

Dissertation sur la nature et la propagation du feu (1738)

In 1737, the Académie Royale des Sciences announced a competition devoted to the question of the nature and the propagation of fire. It was Voltaire who had the idea to compete. To begin with, he and Du Châtelet collaborated on this issue, but then Du Châtelet broke with his ideas and worked out her own draft (she could work only by night, so that Voltaire did not suspect anything of her project). Neither Voltaire nor Du Châtelet were among the winners, because both adhered to Newton’s physics, which was not recognised by the Académie. However, after some intervention by Voltaire, focused on various members of the Académie, they published the works of these two natural philosophers in 1738. Du Châtelet’s edition from 1744 shows some major changes: Du Châtelet refers more strongly to Leibniz and less to Descartes, while remaining supportive of most of Newton’s ideas.


Published during her lifetime:

[some changes in regard to the first draft in 1737, but with no turning away from Newton’s ideas].


Later editions:


Spanish translation:

  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (1994): Disertación sobre la naturaleza y la propagación del fuego. Traducción de Carmen Mataix. Madrid: Universidad Complutense.


« Lettre sur les Eléments de la Philosophie de Newton » (1738)

Du Châtelet published a paper in the Journal des sçavans, which the Journal editors described as an “extrait” of Voltaire’s book. This is potentially misleading since it is more akin to a book review: it summarizes the contents but also offers plenty of opinions and evaluations, and contextualises the Elements in the debates of the time. The book review was published twice: first in Paris in September 1738, and then in Amsterdam in December 1738.

Published during her lifetime:

Recent publication:

  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (1968): Lettre sur les ‘Elements de la Philosophie de Newton’. In The Complete Works of Voltaire, Vol. 84, ed. by Theodore Besterman, pp. TBC. Geneva & Toronto: Institut et Musée Voltaire; University of Toronto Press.


Institutions de physique (1740)

The Institutions de physique is introduced in the Preface as an introductory text for her son’s education but in fact aims to develop a metaphysically founded physics in the broader sense of knowledge of nature. Initially published anonymously, it was arguably the first general introductory text on theoretical physics to appear in France since 1671, and generated heated debate. In the Institutions de Physique, Du Châtelet innovatively combined metaphysics and physics, creating a work that is not merely a textbook on natural philosophy, but made important contributions to the philosophy of science. Moreover, the considerable influence of this work on later Enlightenment thinkers, both in France and abroad, is well documented. She is the first author to reconcile strong Leibnizian and Wolffian rationalist roots with the newly discovered Newtonian laws of physics. In line with this, the account of knowledge presented in the Institutions de Physique is based on absolute and a priori principles of knowledge and on experience. Unlike the dominant conception of first principles as innate principles in the rationalist tradition, she emphasises their role in our experiential knowledge in physics and conceives of them as principles of beings themselves. In the manuscript, which can be found in Paris, she reorganised larger parts of her text by focusing more specifically on Leibniz, Wolff and a philosophical foundation of physics. In the 1742 printed edition, an especially intriguing change is that she made her authorship as a female author public, by inserting the feminisation of the endings of the verbs. The most interesting changes, however, are in the later chapters, where Du Châtelet revised the parts on Newton and gravitation and added the letter exchange with Mairan.


Published during her lifetime:

[with considerable changes regarding the first, handwritten version]

  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (1741a): Institutions de physique. Amsterdam: Pierre Mortier.
  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (1741b): Institutions de physique. London: Paul Vaillant.

[there are no substantives changes from the 1740 edition to these printings]

[Du Châtelet revised even the printed version, added some new paragraphs, reorganised and restructured the existing paragraphs, and corrected the feminization of some ends of the verbs]

Reprint of the 1742 edition (Amsterdam):

  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (1988): Institutions physiques. Nouvelle édition. In: Christian Wolff, Gesammelte Werke, edited by Jean Ecole. Hildesheim/Zürich/New York: Olms (volume 28, series 3: Materialien und Dokumente).

Translations during her lifetime of the 1742 edition:

Recent edition:

  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (2013): Les institutions de physique. Edited and annotated by Gérard Chazal. Paris : Société française d’étude du dix-huitième siècle.

Recent English translation:

[The translations of the chapters 15 and 18 are missing]

Recent Spanish translation:

  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (2010): Las Institutions de Physique. Capítulos escogidos. Un manual de física en el siglo XVIII, partially translated by Ángeles Macarrón Machado, Tenerife: Fundación Canaria Orotava de Historia de la Ciencia (translated chapters: 1, 4, 5, 7, 21)


Correspondence with M. de Mairan (1741)

Both the letter from Dortous de Mairan and the reply from du Châtelet have been preserved. In his dissertation (1728) Disseration sur l’estimation et la mesure des forces motrices des corps, Mairan claimed that he settled the living forces dispute. Du Châtelet, however, disagreed and made some objections to Mairan’s theory in her Institutions de physique, especially in chapter XXI. The letters take up this discussion. In the midst of this controversy, in April 1741, Voltaire presented a paper at the Académie des Sciences (“Doutes sur la mesure des forces motrices et sur leur nature”), basically taking Mairan’s side.

Letter from Mairan:

  • Dortous de Mairan, Jean-Jacques, (1741): Lettre de M. de Mairan,… à Madame *** [la marquise du Chatelet] sur la question des forces vives, en réponse aux objections qu’elle lui fait sur ce sujet dans ses “Institutions de physique”.Paris: Jombert.

Du Châtelet’s response:

German translation:

Italian translation of both letters:

  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (1743) : Istituzioni di Fisica di Madama la Marchesa du Chastelet Indiritte a suofi Gliuolo. Traduzione dal Linguaggio Francese nel Toscano, Accresciuta con la Dissertazione Sopra le Forze Motrizi di M. de Mairan. Venice: Presso Giambatista Pascali.

Recent partly German translation:

  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (1999): Zwo Schriften, welche von der Frau Marquise von Chatelet und dem Herrn von Mairan, das Maaß der lebendigen Kräfte betreffend, gewechselt worden sind. In: Inka Kording (ed.), Louise Gottsched – “mit der Feder in der Hand“, Briefe aus den Jahren 1730-1762. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 104–108.


Report on living forces presented in the form of a letter to M. Jurin (1747)

James Jurin was in a lengthy debate over the interpretation of Newton’s limits and fluxions with some other British Newtonians, namely Robins and Pemberton. This was prompted in part by Berkeley’s criticisms of calculus in his Analyst. Part of this debate came down to questions of how to translate or understand specific Latin phrases in Newton’s Principia, such as “fiunt ultima aequales.” “Du Châtelet’s first contact with James Jurin, the eminent English mathematician, had come through Maupertuis. In 1738, he had arranged for Algarotti to take a copy of her Dissertation sur la nature du feu to Jurin on his trip to London. Du Châtelet herself sent him her response to Mairan’s criticism in February 1741. That summer, Jurin complimented her in a letter to Voltaire […] Jurin had already responded to Du Châtelet’s critique of his hypothetical boat in chapter XXI. […] The final version ran to five pages and gave the reasoning and the mathematics in great detail. Du Châtelet sent it to Jurin with the second edition of the Institutions” (see Judith P. Zinsser, Emilie du Châtelet: Daring Genius of the Enlightenment, Penguin Books, 2007, p. 209). In turn, Florian Cajori has argued that Du Châtelet’s translation of the Principia tacitly supports Jurin’s interpretation of fluxions in this controversy.

[This work contains texts in Latin, French and Italian; Châtelet’s letter to Jurin is signed from Cirey, 30 May 1744]


Posthumously published works


Translation of Newton’s Principia (1749)

In the 1740s, the Marquise du Châtelet translated Newton’s Principia (1731, third edition) into French. Hers remains the standard translation. In addition, she wrote an extensive commentary in which she gave her own description of the System of the World, and analytical solutions to key disputed aspects of Newton’s theory of universal gravitation. She also included summaries of two mathematical essays that clarified and confirmed Newton’s application of his theory to observed phenomena: Aléxis–Claude Clairaut’s on the shape of the Earth and Daniel Bernoulli’s on the effects of the Sun and Moon on the tides. (see Judith P. Zinsser in The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science,


Printed versions:

[Incomplete edition]

[Complete edition. The second volume includes Du Châtelet’s “Exposition Abrégée du Système du Monde, et Explication des Principaux Phénomènes Astronomiques Tirée des Principes de M. Newton.”]

Recent printed versions:

  • Du Châtelet, Émilie; Newton, Isaac, (1966): Principes mathématiques de la philosophie naturelle de Newton. par feue madame la marquise Du Chastellet. Paris: Albert Blanchard.
  • Du Châtelet, Émilie; Newton, Isaac, (1990): Principes mathématiques de la philosophie naturelle. Sceaux: Jacques Gabay.

[Facsimilie reprint]

  • Du Châtelet, Émilie; Newton, Isaac, (2005): Principia. Principes mathématiques de la philosophie naturelle. Translated from English by the marquise Du Châtelet. Preface of Voltaire. Paris: Dunod.
  • Du Châtelet, Émilie; Newton, Isaac, (2015): Principes mathématiquesde la philosophie naturelle. La traduction française des Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica, 2 vols, critical edition of the manuscript by Michel ToulmondeFerney-Voltaire, Centre international d’étude du xviiie siècle.


Discours sur le bonheur (1779)

The ‘Discours’ was probably written around 1746 and published posthumously in 1779. It is her only personal work, in which she follows in the footsteps of great predecessors on this theme like Lucretius, Pascal and Seneca. In this work, combining intellectual, sentimental and even sensual experiences, Du Châtelet traced the balance of her personal ambitions, her love affair with Voltaire and her hopes, in an attempt to answer questions that haunted her time: “How can one be happy on this earth, and more particularly how can one be happy when one is a woman who, even if exceptional, is forbidden most of the ambitions and glories permitted to men? How to be happy when you are a passionate, exclusive and tyrannical lover?,” as Elisabeth Badinter writes in her Preface.


  • Discours sur le Bonheur. Mazarine: no. 4.344.
  • Réflexions sur le Bonheur. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fr. 15.331 or fr. 13.084.

Printed versions:

Reprinted versions:

[This work includes Dissertation sur l’existence de Dieu (Ch. 2 of Institutions de Physique) and Les Réflexions sur le Bonnheur.]

Recent Italian translation:

  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (1992, ²1993): Discorso sulla felicità. Con una nota di Giuseppe Scaraffia. by Maria Cristina Leuzzi. Palermo: Sellerio editore.

Recent Spanish translations:

  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (1996): Discorso sobre la felicidad y correspondencia. by Isabel Morant Deusa. Translated by Alicia Martorelli. Madrid: Cátedra.
  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (2000): Acerca de la felicidad.  Translated by Luis Hernán Rodríguez Felder. Buenos Aires: Grupo Imaginador de ediciones.
  • Du Châtelet, Emilie, (2002): Discurso sobre a felicidade. Preface by Elisabeth Badinter. Translated by Marina Appenzeller. São Paulo: Martins Fontes.

Recent German translations:

  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (1998, ²1999): Rede vom Glück. In: Ruth Hagengruber (ed.): Klassische philosophische Texte von Frauen. München: Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag.
  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (1999): Rede vom Glück. Discours sur le bonheur. Mit einer Anzahl Briefe der Mme du Châtelet an den Marquis de Saint-Lambert. by Iris Roebling. Berlin: Friedenauer Presse.

Recent English Translation:

  • Du Châtelet, Émilie (2009): Discourse on Happiness. In Judith Zinsser (ed.), Isabelle Bour and Judith Zinsser, translators. Emilie Du Châtelet: Selected Philosophical and Scientific Writings. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Recent Hungarian Tranlsation:

  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (2019): “Émilie du Châtelet: A boldogságról”. Translated by Eszter Kovács. Magyar Filozófiai Szemle 63, no. 3 (July): 191-208.


Examens de la Bible

Around 1742, Du Châtelet wrote a devastating commentary on the Old and New Testaments, which she was careful to leave unseen and unpublished. It remained unknown for a long time: even Voltaire never dared to publish it. Recently, Schwarzbach’s complete, annotated edition has been published, along with Zinsser and Bour’s partial English translation. Even Schwarzbach’s edition, however, is based on three manuscripts whose origin remains unknown. Their history can only be traced from dates well after her death in 1749. The manuscript on which Schwarzbach’s edition is based belonged to Countess Marie-Thérèse le Pellerin de Gauville in the 19th century. The second manuscript, consisting of 5 volumes in 16°, has been in the Bibliothèque municipale de Troyes since 1855 and the third in the Bibliothèque royale de Bruxelles, probably since 1815. The Examinations of the Bible shows a ruthless binary logic and, in its impiety, also has its paradoxes: the work draws almost exclusively on pious or learned sources, evoking neither the free thinkers of the 17th century nor the “clandestine philosophers”.


  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (ca. 1742): Examen de la Genèse. Manuscrits non autographés. Bibliothèque de Troyes: no 2376, tome 1, 1855.
  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (ca. 1742): Examen du livre de Josué.Manuscrits non autographés. Bibliothèque de Troyes: no. 2376, tome 2, 1855.
  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (ca. 1742): Examen du premier livre des Machabées.Manuscrits non autographés. Bibliothèque de Troyes: no. 2376, tome 3, 1855.
  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (ca. 1742): Examen des livres du Nouveau Testament. Manuscrits non autographés. Bibliothèque de Troyes: no 2377, tome 1, 1855.
  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (ca. 1742): Examen des actes des apôtres.Manuscrits non autographés. Bibliothèque de Troyes: no. 2377, tome 2, 1855.
  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (ca. 1742): Preuves que l’auteur de la Religion chretienne analisée a simplement indiquées, sans les avoir rapportées. Manuscrits non autographés. Bibliothèque de Troyes : no. 2378.
  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (ca. 1742): Manuscripts at the Brussels National Library, ms. 15188 and 15189.

Posthumously published excerpts:

Printed, recent versions:

  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (1947, ²1967): Examen de la Genèse. In: Ira Owen Wade (ed.): Voltaire and Madame du Châtelet: An essay on the intellectual activity at Cirey. Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 48–107.
  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, marquise Du Châtelet-Lomond (2011): Examens de la Bible. Edited and annotated by Bertram Eugene Schwarzbach. Paris: Honoré Champion.

Recent Partial English Translation:

  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (2009): Examinations of the Bible. In Judith Zinsser (ed.), Isabelle Bour and Judith Zinsser, translators. Emilie Du Châtelet: Selected Philosophical and Scientific Writings. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Translation with commentary and Preface of Mandeville’s The Fable of the Bees

Around 1735, Du Châtelet began a translation of selections from Bernard Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees, originally written in English. This translation was not published in her lifetime, but like her biblical commentary was circulated clandestinely in Enlightenment circles. Her translation significantly modifies the original and adds a number of ideas that differ significantly from Mandeville’s; Du Châtelet explicitly differentiates these additions from verbatim translations of Mandeville. As Judith Zinsser has put it, with this translation Du Châtelet “created a book of ethics that is very much her own work” (Emilie Du Châtelet: Selected Philosophical and Scientific Writings, 2009, 36). There is also a noteworthy “Translator’s Preface” in which Du Châtelet not only lays out her views on translation, but also considers the challenges faced by women intellectuals of the eighteenth century. She writes, for example, of “the full weight of prejudice that excludes” women “so universally from the sciences” (Selected Writings, 48). Three distinct manuscript versions of the translation survive among Du Châtelet’s St. Petersburg papers.


  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (n.d.): The Fable of the Bees. National Library of Russia, Saint Petersburg, Voltaire Collection, MS 5-240, vol. 9, ff. 229–285.

Recent editions:

  • Wade, Ira Owen (ed.), (1747): Studies on Voltaire. With some unpublished papers of Mme. du Châtelet (pp. 131–187). Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (2020): La Favola delle api. Critical Italian edition edited by Elena Muceni. Bologna: Marietti 1820.
  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (2021): The Critical Online Edition of the Saint Petersburg Manuscripts of Émilie Du Châtelet. Edited by Ruth Hagengruber, Stefanie Ertz, Ulla Kölving, and Andrew Brown. Online edition.


Essai sur l’Optique

Sometime in the late 1730s, Du Châtelet composed a never-published essay on optics. Du Châtelet treats such topics as light, the nature of transparent and opaque bodies, and the theory of colours. She engages with the work of Huygens, Newton, Mairan, and Fermat, among others. Multiple manuscript versions of the work exist, though not all are publicly available. The extant complete edition is based on the so-called Basel manuscript, which was found in the Basel Bernoulli archives.

Recent editions:

  • Wade, Ira Owen (ed.), (1747): Studies on Voltaire. With some unpublished papers of Mme. du Châtelet (pp. 188–208). Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[Wade publishes just one chapter of the Essai, Chapitre IV, which is concerned with colors. Wade follows the St. Petersburg manuscript rather than the Basel Manuscript]


De la Liberté

This short essay has a complex history. Voltaire sent it to Frederick of Prussia, claiming that he had written it, and the work is still most easily available in the standard edition of Voltaire’s works. However, an examination of the manuscript shows extensive revisions in Du Châtelet’s hand, as well as cross-references to numerous specific sections of Du Châtelet’s Institutions de Physique. The current scholarly consensus is that the work was written in the late 1730s as a chapter of the Institutions—it is labeled as “Chap. 5”—but was ultimately not included. In any case, the essay is philosophically significant, delving in depth into Du Châtelet’s conception of human and divine freedom.


  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (n.d.): “Chap. 5 de la liberté.” National Library of Russia, Saint Petersburg, Voltaire Collection, MS 5-240, vol. 9, ff. 126–132.

Recent editions:

  • Wade, Ira Owen (ed.), (1747): Studies on Voltaire. With some unpublished papers of Mme. du Châtelet (pp. 92–108). Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (1989): “Sur la liberté.” In W. H. Barber (ed.), Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire (vol. 14, pp. 484–502). Oxford: Voltaire Foundation.


Grammaire Raisonée

A few chapters of a general grammar have been found among Du Châtelet’s St. Petersburg manuscripts. The date of composition is unknown. The surviving chapters seem to form the middle of a larger work. They deal primarily with words and their signification: both at a general level, and for more specific categories of word, such as articles, comparatives, pronouns, and substantives.


  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (n.d.): [Grammaire raisonnée]. National Library of Russia, Saint Petersburg, Voltaire Collection, MS 5-240, vol. 9, ff. 136–220.

Recent editions:

  • Wade, Ira Owen (ed.), (1747): Studies on Voltaire. With some unpublished papers of Mme. du Châtelet (pp. 209–241). Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Translation of extracts of Woolston’s Discours

This summary extract of Thomas Woolston’s work on Jesus’s miracles was recently discovered in St. Petersburg. Trapnell, the editor of the modern edition of these extracts, argues that they were not intended for publication. They may instead be notes connected to the broader project of Du Châtelet’s Examens de la Bible. Schwarzbach has argued (e.g. in “Les études bibliques à Cirey,” 2017) that Woolston’s work was a source both for the Examens and for Voltaire’s parallel project in biblical criticism (the Bible enfin expliquée, eventually published in 1776).

Recent edition:

  • Du Châtelet, Émilie, (2001): Extrait d’un livre intitulé Discours sur les miracles de Iesus traduit de l’anglois. In: Thomas Woolston: Six discours sur les miracles de notre Sauveur. Deux traductions manuscrits du XVIIIesiècle dont une de Mme Du Châtelet. by William Trapnell. Paris: Champion, S. 329–372.







Back to top