The century of Voltaire

Eugène Delacroix
Photo by Félix Nadar

Eugène Delacroix, born in 1798, was a profoundly influential French Romantic artist who came to be renowned for his dramatic, emotive works, his use of bold colour and brushwork setting him apart. But his influence extended beyond the canvas, as at the age of twenty-three he began to keep a journal that would later become famous in its own right, filled with reflections on art and the creative process, musings on philosophy, observations about everyday life, and many amusing anecdotes about his numerous encounters with noteworthy figures. He wrote the following entry in May of 1824 after a visit to the theatre.

The Diary Entry

Monday, May 31.

This evening saw the Barber [of Seville] at the Odéon. It was very satisfying. I sat next to an old gentleman who has seen Grétry, Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, etc. He saw Voltaire in a certain salon, paying his famous gallantries to the ladies. In leaving, he said, “I see in you a century that is beginning; in me, one that is ending: the century of Voltaire.” We see that the modest philosopher took the trouble of naming his century for posterity in advance. [The old gentleman] was taken by one of his friends to breakfast with Jean-Jacques in the Rue Plâtrière. They went out together. In the Tuileries, some children were playing ball. “There,” said Rousseau, “that is how I should like Emile to play,” and then more in that vein. But the ball of one of the children happened to strike the philosopher’s leg. He flew into a passion and chased the child with his cane, abruptly leaving his two friends.

Further Reading

Eugene Delacroix’s journal has been published in many forms over the years. Too many editions to list, in fact. The one I’ve read, partially, can be found at the Internet Archive. Translated by Walter Pach and first published in 1937, it’s a fascinating book, and a diary so rich that you could flick to almost any page and find a captivating passage.

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