The St. Petersburg Manuscripts

The Center for the History of Women Philosophers and Scientists, Paderborn University (HWPS) and the National Library of Russia/Российская национальная библиотека, St. Petersburg (NLR) recently agreed upon a collaborative digital edition of the Du Châtelet manuscripts preserved in the Voltaire Collection of that library (NLR/BV).

The digitization and online presentation, including the physical description of the manuscripts, will be realized by the NLR/BV.

The transcriptions, constitution of critical apparatus, annotations and indices, as well as scholarly commentaries on the texts will be realized by the HWPS in cooperation with affiliated scholars. A Russian translation of the commentaries will subsequently be provided by the NLR/BV.


Du Châtelet, É. (2020-2023). The Saint Petersburg Manuscripts. A historical and critical online edition. Edited by R. E. Hagengruber, A. Brown, S. Ertz, U. Kölving.

  • Project Description

    Aside from some shorter notes on Descartes and on diverse scientific issues, the St. Petersburg manuscript corpus essentially comprises

    • Mme Du Châtelet’s translation of Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees (in two copies of the entire text, of which our reference copy comprises 63 folios/126 p.)
    • Three chapters (VI – VIII) from a Grammaire raisonnée (17 f./33 p.)
    • The Chapitre 5 De la liberté, probably intended to be part of the Institutions de physique (6 f./12 p.)
    • The Chapitre 4 Des couleurs (17 f./33 p.) from the Traité sur l’optique, of which an integral critical edition is presently being prepared by Michel Toulmonde. (A preliminary online edition based on the Basel manuscript of the Essai sur l’optique has recently been published by Project Vox.)

    Whereas these latter writings are, by and large, already known due to their first publication in Ira O. Wade’s 1947 Volume Studies on Voltaire. With some unpublished papers by Mme Du Châtelet, our edition will, furthermore, include

    • Mme Du Châtelet’s extensive annotations to the St. Petersburg copy of Voltaire’s Traité de métaphysique (as only recently discovered by Andrew Brown and Ulla Kölving).

    Traité de métaphysique. St. Petersburg copy. Marginal annotations by Mme Du Châtelet.

    • and, as our own discovery, an early (undated) version of the Préface du traducteur to the Mandeville-translation (10 f./20 p.)

    Préface [du traducteur]. Early version. The Incipit.

    Préface [du traducteur]. Early version. Marginal redrafting by Mme Du Châtelet.

    With the exception of Mme Du Châtelet’s Mandeville-translation (where the existence of two (broadly identical) copies, only the younger of which includes contentual reworking by Mme Du Châtelet) seems to give evidence of the termination of that work, we have, in all other cases, to do with notes or fragments that obviously represent cross sections from working processes about which there is, if at all, only conjectural contextual information at present.

    In the time preceding the release of the first edited texts, we will periodically inform about the progress of our work.

    For a start, we will, in the weeks to come, successively publish an extended (exemplified) version of our provisional edition principles. Minor alterations may occur as we proceed and will be published when appropriate.

    We consider this to be an apt approach for several reasons.

    Firstly, the edition of the St. Petersburg manuscripts will be the first institutionalized international cooperation project in the area of Du Châtelet-edition and research; it will also be the first historical-critical edition project at the HWPS, and the first digital edition project in the field of classical humanities at Paderborn University.

    Secondly, only a small amount of the St. Petersburg manuscripts are autographs, the great majority of the pages (including all above-mentioned major pieces) being copies by different, altogether unidentified (and thus most obviously professional) scribes. Whereas all these copies bear traces of more or less extensive corrections and reworkings by Mme Du Châtelet, no autograph source to any of them seems to have survived.

    The resulting graphological and orthographic heterogeneity as well as the number of related (partly perhaps even insoluble) contextual and genetic questions, and last but not least, the possibility that new source material might surface, require, to our opinion, particular methodical caution as well as the highest possible transparence.

    To which relates, thirdly, that edition principles and, in particular, the choice of appropriate transcription levels are obviously among the last things to be easily agreed upon; so that even the diverse accomplished and/or current Du Châtelet-edition projects have applied different methods of transcribing, registering, and annotating.

    However, different methodical choices do not only (as of conditioned necessity, or by teleological causality) correspond to the relative purposes, and chosen publication formats, of scholarly editions. They also correspond (by material causality, or restriction of liberty) to the specific conditions of the sources; so that, in this last case in particular, specific answers rather than one-for-all-solutions may be required in some cases.

    Last but not least, it almost goes without saying that our edition project is to be considered as a work in progress, which is as much indebted to past and present research on Mme Du Châtelet, and her intellectual networks, as it will, hopefully, in turn contribute to the further progress of the latter – whether it be via a further deepening of already established fields of research, such as concerning Mme Du Châtelet’s position in early eighteenth century debates on free will, affect theory and moral anthropology, for which several pieces from the St. Petersburg corpus – the translation of Mandeville, the Chapitre V. sur la liberté and her comments on the Traité de métaphysique – are of central relevance, or by exploration of new fields of research on the basis of the hitherto unknown material from St. Petersburg.

  • Editorial Principles

    Editorial Principles

    1. General

    As our edition aims to meet the standards of a scholarly edition and, at the same time, to grant non-exclusive accessibility to Mme Du Châtelet’s writings, all edited texts will be presented

    (1) as critical texts, based on (moderately standardized) diplomatic transcriptions

    (2) in a modernized version (adapted to modern French).

    Both versions will equally be provided with editorial notes and common indices.

    Whereas the modernized version will essentially represent the final stage of the texts, the diplomatic version will include a critical apparatus documenting all text stages, variants and occasional corrections.

    If technically feasible, parallel views of both text versions shall be possible, as well as a parallel (page-wise) comparison between each single version and the corresponding manuscript pages, of which high quality scans will be placed online by the NLR.


    2. Encoding Principles

    Encoding, annotating and indexing will be made in conformity with the TEI P5 Guidelines for Electronic Text Encoding and Interchange. Using the XML-format grants both software-independent storage and readability and, as specifically useful for our purposes, the generation of multiple text versions from one single XML-file. To ensure methodical transparence, a full scheme declaration will be published in due course.


    3. Transcription Principles

    Our transcriptions will be made according to two key rules.

    Firstly, they will strictly follow the criterion of semantic relevance; which means that we will abstain from documenting all phenomena that pertain to the physical rather than to the intellectual production of the texts, such as (as far as not immediately pertaining to the text structures) the specific localization on a manuscript page, or the kind of rendition of additions or deletions; intermediary changes of writing media; shifted accents, apostrophes, punctuations, and the like. Where appropriate, however, certain phenomena of this kind may still be referred to in the critical apparatus (see below, 4. Apparatus and notes (forthcoming!)).

    Secondly, they will be aiming at what we hold to be the strictest arguable diplomatic rendition of the original texts; which is as much as to say that, whereas meticulously retaining the original orthography – the style ancien and the premodern (not always consequently applied) usage rules of i, j, y or u, v as well as other, more individual orthographic idiosyncrasies, we decided upon standardization in all cases where irregularities are not so much to be considered as pertaining to the latter, but as, immediately or mediately, due to the specific kind of ‘shorthand’ writing style frequently used by Mme Du Châtelet. Not only would the diplomatic rendition of the pertaining features (abbreviations and contractions) cause (as we judge) throughout unnecessary impediments to the proper reading and understanding of the texts; but also the transcriptions would be prone to internal inconsistences or even misreadings without a respective standardization policy, of which the basic rules – strictly limiting our interventions to the restoration of lexical and syntactical units – shall be explained and exemplified in the following.


    3.1. Lexical units

    The arbitrary contraction of distinct lexical units (most frequently the contraction of apostrophized definite articles or particles with substantive nouns, and of pronouns with verbs) is a phenomenon that frequently occurs both in autographs and copies (although, obviously, for different reasons – hastiness with Mme Du Châtelet, uncertainty or calligraphic writing with the copyists).

    Multiple contractions in an autograph (Notes on Descartes).

    Contraction of articles and substantive nouns, pronoun and verb in a copy (Grammaire raisonnée).

    As a further complication, there are, in autographs and copies alike, numerous cases where it is nearly impossible to decide with certainty whether there is a contraction or not – seeming contractions in autographs possibly merely resulting from compact writing, those in the copies possibly, besides the copyists’ uncertainty and/or hesitance as regards unauthorized emendations, merely from calligraphic style (e.g. underscores).

    In order to avoid an unmanageable multiplication of uncertainties (which would mean, either, respectively, a multiplication of documentary input, or, a multiplication of lastly arbitrary case-to-case readings), we decided to apply the following rules to this particular problem.

    1. We will not resolve any kind of contraction that most evidently appears to be ubiquitously and persistently characteristic of Mme Du Châtelet’s handwriting.
    2. We will generally transcribe according to lexical, not according to (suspected) graphical units in all cases of respective uncertainty.
    3. We will generally (tacitly) resolve contractions in all cases where non-contracted variants, either of the respective, or of closely related, items frequently occur in Mme Du Châtelet’s handwriting and/or in the respective source, or which Mme Du Châtelet herself, if occasionally, corrected in the copies.

    In the majority of cases, the resolution of contractions requires the replacement of apostrophes. In this case, we also decided upon tacit interventions; for, as in most cases contractions involve a variety of elements adjacently, express marking (bracketing) any of them would lead to obstructive results rather than to an emendation, which would be to reverse their original purpose.

    Diverse contractions, occasionally corrected by Mme Du Châtelet (Grammaire raisonnée).

    3.2. Abbreviations

    Of the diverse kind of abbreviations that occur, mainly in autograph texts, we will, for similar reasons, tacitly expand all those pertaining to Mme Du Châtelet’s individual ‘shorthand’ writing style – such as ns for nous, certainemt for certainement, and the like. By contrast, we will not expand any abbreviated rendition of bibliographic references (such as vol., t., etc.) or self-explaining name components (such as M./mr.), which will, as customary, be recorded in a general index.

    Abbreviated title (Chap. 4 sur les couleurs)

    We will extend in [brackets] only express abbreviations like the following (sample from extracts from the Histoire et mémoires de l’Académie royale des sciences de l’année 1727).

    If the meaning of some abbreviation is uncertain – the p.c. in this sample, for example, could mean either [par cela] or [pour cela] –, we will add a respective note, resp., suggest alternative readings.

    3.3. Accents and diacritical signs

    We will retain the original usage (or omission) of accents and diacritical signs even in those cases where our sources are deviant from the contemporarily already prevailing grammatical usage of accentuation (such as in the distinction of the third person form of avoir, a, from the preposition à, the article la from the preposition , the disjunction ou from the preposition ). Not only do we judge the indifference towards semantic accentuation among the persistent characteristics of Mme Du Châtelet’s writing style rather than among the more or less ‘mechanical’, irregularly occurring disturbing factors; but in the rendition of accents full diplomatic truth seems all the more required as otherwise some idiosyncratic arguments from her Grammaire would hardly be intuitive, which we wished them to be, at least, in the critical text.

    3.4. Upper and lower cases

    The usage of upper and lower cases differs significantly between the different copies. Whereas Mme Du Châtelet normally wrote small letters, some copyists used capital letters in the beginning of each sentence; but some (in particular the copyist of the Grammaire raisonnée) rather seemed to consider capitalization as a means to highlight certain terms. This observation, however, cannot be made without reservation, for in all cases, there are a number of borderline phenomena (for, certainly, change of shape is not always required for the capitalization of a letter, and change of size is a rather uncertain criterion for distinguishing upper and lower cases). Whereas we hold it to be the most reasonable solution to transcribe all such borderline cases in small letters, we will, in turn, capitalize personal names in cases of respective uncertainty.

    3.5. Personal names

    With this exception, personal names will be transcribed diplomatically; but they will be provided with a register-ID so as they may be searched for independently of their different spellings.

    3.6. Punctuation marks

    Missing punctuation marks will be supplied in square brackets; the first word of the following sentence will be capitalized tacitly.

    3.7. Emendations

    Orthographic faults are rather seldom to be found and if so, rather in the copies than in the autographs. Their emendation will be indicated by square brackets […], and the original spelling will be indicated in the apparatus. Grammatical errors will only be corrected if only one single, or very few words are concerned, and if they allow an unambigous correction. In all other cases, we will only bracket the relating items by the usual <sic>.

    3.8. Illegible text, uncertain readings, supplied text and gaps

    Illegible text will be indicated by angle brackets. < – > will indicate one single, < – – > two, < – – – > will indicate three and more illegible words.

    Uncertain readings will also be indicated by angle brackets; <item(s)> will indicate the most probable reading, to which we will add a note that either indicates some reason for this uncertainty and/or suggests alternative readings.

    Supplied text will be indicated by square brackets accordingly.

    Gaps will be marked by [ – ], [ – – ], or [ – – – ] according to their extension and provided with a note indicating the reason (e.g., paper loss or covered words).


    Quotes will be rendered in italics; omissions in quotes will be indicated by […]. References to the sources will be indicated in the notes either page-wise or, in the case of cross-page quotations, according to the thematic unity established by Mme Du Châtelet.

    3.10. Highlighted text

    All highlighting of semantic relevance will be retained.

    3.11. Distinction of hands

    We will carefully document all different hands involved in the production of the manuscripts; each of them will be provided with a specific ID so that it should be possible to include, in the online version, the possibility of visual differentiation. As, however, the technical implementation of our philological work will be the very last step, reliable information about relating visualizing options will also only be published when appropriate.

  • Online Edition
  • Wade Edition

    In the 1940s, Ira O. Wade transcribed a number of manuscripts written by Emilie Du Châtelet found among the papers contained in the Bibliothèque de Voltaire at the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg. These papers had been inadvertently obtained by Catherine the Great when she purchased Voltaire’s library after his death in 1778. Wade published these transcriptions in 1947 in his Studies on Voltaire. “Part Two – Unpublished Papers of Madame Du Châtelet” of the Wade book contains the following items

    • Translation of the Fable of the Bees, pp. 131-187.
    • L’Essai sur l’optique. Chapitre 4: De la formation des couleurs, pp. 188-208.
    • La Grammaire raisonnée. Chapters 6, 7, and 8, pp. 209-241.

    These scans were made from the 1967 edition of Wade’s Studies on Voltaire (New York: Russell & Russell). The titles listed here are as they appear in the Table of Contents of the book, which differ slightly from those found in the files themselves.

    Copyright NoticeFrom STUDIES ON VOLTAIRE: With Some Unpublished Papers of Mme du Châtelet by Ira O. Wade. Copyright © 1947, renewed 1975 by Princeton University Press. Reprinted by permission. This content may not be reproduced in any form by digital or mechanical means without prior written permission of Princeton University Press.

  • Release of the Project

    Release and Celebration of the project

    17.12.2020, with Ruth Hagengruber, Andrew Brown, Natalia Speranskaya and Ana Rodrigues

Back to top  

You cannot copy content of this page