Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Voltaire : dog lover?

I recently came across this photograph on Flickr which, sadly, forces me to revise my assumption that Voltaire was not a dog lover.

Collar of Voltaire's dog, Château de Ferney
 photo by Renaud CamusLe Jour ni l'Heure 6199

I also failed to notice the dog in this familiar picture  - probably the very mutt in question!

Voltaire's levée by Jean Huber, Musée Carnavalet
The similar picture in the Hermitage omits the dog

So how extensive were Voltaire's canine affections?

"Utopia for a dog"?

In Summer 2011 the Château of Ferney hosted a contemporary art exhibition entitled Utopie pour un chien  which was part of a "Monuments and animals" event held in various historic locations throughout France. The  installation art took inspiration from its surroundings - dogs, we are informed, were part of everyday life at Ferney, though in Voltaire's case mostly intellectual and literary life (Mme Denis had the lapdogs)

The exhibition notice manages to produce only two actual Voltaire references;  the letter to Rousseau of 30 August 1755 criticising the Discours sur  l'Inégalité in which Voltaire claims he is  too old to walk on all fours (like a dog) and his later reference to Rousseau as "that bastard of Diogenes's dog".  Neither of these is  a. Complimentary to dogs   b. Anything at all to do with real dogs.

More interesting is the mention of a gouache depicting doggy accessories destined for Mme Denis's apartment.  Unfortunately I haven't been able to trace this picture.

"Dog" in Questions on the Encyclopédie (1770)

This late piece contains the most widespread Voltaire "dog" quote on the internet:
"It seems as if nature had given the dog to man for his defence and pleasure; it is of all animals the most faithful; it is the best possible friend of man". 
The article waxes lyrical on canine sagacity, obedience and loyalty; there is also a section on the difference between a Spaniel and a greyhound which suggests an acquaintance with dogs. Even so it is more a hodgepodge of literary references and platitudes than the testament of a proselytising dog lover.

I guess the jury is out on Voltaire's enthusiasm for dogs; he clearly had them around, at least in old age, but they don't seem to have much exercised either his day-to-day preoccupations or his intellectual interest.  (Personally I prefer to believe the mutt belonged to Mme Denis)


Utopies pour un chien:
À la une - Actualités - Centre des monuments nationaux
This is what it says in French about "the dog": "Il fait partie du cadre de vie quotidien à Ferney. S’il est essentiellement intellectuel et littéraire du côté de Voltaire, il est surtout un compagnon fidèle chez sa nièce. C’est ce qu’atteste une gouache de l’époque montrant les accessoires mobiliers (coussin, niche d’intérieur) qui lui sont destinés dans l’appartement de Madame Denis".

Notice in the Tribune de Genève

Article "CHIEN" from Questions sur l'Encyclopédie, part 3 (1770)
Dictionnaire philosophique/Garnier (1878)/Chien - Wikisource

It seems as if nature had given the dog to man for his defence and pleasure; it is of all animals the most faithful; it is the best possible friend of man.
It appears that there are several species absolutely different. How can we believe that a greyhound comes originally from a spaniel? It has neither its hair, legs, shape, ears, voice, scent, nor instinct. A man who has never seen any dogs but barbets or spaniels, and who saw a greyhound for the first time, would take it rather for a dwarf horse than for an animal of the spaniel race. It is very likely that each race was always what it now is, with the exception of the mixture of a small number of them.
It is astonishing that, in the Jewish law, the dog was considered unclean, as well as the griffin, the hare, the pig, and the eel; there must have been some moral or physical reason for it, which we have not yet discovered.
That which is related of the sagacity, obedience, friendship, and courage of dogs, is as extraordinary as true. The military philosopher, Ulloa, assures us that in Peru the Spanish dogs recognize the men of the Indian race, pursue them, and tear them to pieces; and that the Peruvian dogs do the same with the Spaniards. This would seem to prove that each species of dogs still retained the hatred which was inspired in it at the time of the discovery, and that each race always fought for its master with the same valor and attachment.
Why, then, has the word “dog” become an injurious term? We say, for tenderness, my sparrow, my dove, my chicken; we even say my kitten, though this animal is famed for treachery; and, when we are angry, we call people dogs! The Turks, when not even angry, speak with horror and contempt of the Christian dogs. The English populace, when they see a man who, by his manner or dress, has the appearance of having been born on the banks of the Seine or of the Loire, commonly call him a French dog — a figure of rhetoric which is neither just to the dog nor polite to the man.
The delicate Homer introduces the divine Achilles telling the divine Agamemnon that he is as impudent as a dog — a classical justification of the English populace.

The most zealous friends of the dog must, however, confess that this animal carries audacity in its eyes; that some are morose; that they often bite strangers whom they take for their master’s enemies, as sentinels assail passengers who approach too near the counterscarp. These are probably the reasons which have rendered the epithet “dog” insulting; but we dare not decide.

Why was the dog adored and revered — as has been seen — by the Egyptians? Because the dog protects man. Plutarch tells us that after Cambyses had killed their bull Apis, and had had it roasted, no animal except the dog dared to eat the remains of the feast, so profound was the respect for Apis; the dog, not so scrupulous, swallowed the god without hesitation. The Egyptians, as may be imagined, were exceedingly scandalized at this want of reverence, and Anubis lost much of his credit.
The dog, however, still bears the honor of being always in the heavens, under the names of the great and little dog. We regularly record the dog-days.

But of all dogs, Cerberus has had the greatest reputation; he had three heads. We have remarked that, anciently, all went by threes — Isis, Osiris, and Orus, the three first Egyptian divinities; the three brother gods of the Greek world — Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto; the three Fates, the three Furies, the three Graces, the three judges of hell, and the three heads of this infernal dog.
We perceive here with grief that we have omitted the article on “Cats”; but we console ourselves by referring to their history. We will only remark that there are no cats in the heavens, as there are goats, crabs, bulls, rams, eagles, lions, fishes, hares, and dogs; but, in recompense, the cat has been consecrated, or revered, or adored, as partaking of divinity or saintship in several towns, and as altogether divine by no small number of women.

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