The Voltaire Room came into being as the result of a gift (January 1975) from Theodor Besterman (1904-1976). Theodor Besterman was a self-taught Voltaire scholar. He founded the Institut et Musée Voltaire in Voltaire’s former house called Les délices in Geneva in 1952.
Not content with founding a museum he published a complete edition of Voltaire’s correspondence in 107 volumes (1953-1965). In the late 1960s after a disagreement with the Geneva authorities he returned to the UK where he set up the Voltaire Foundation. In his will he left his money to the university of Oxford for the sole purpose of continuing the series which he had founded: Studies on Voltaire and the 18th century (SVEC) (now known as Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment). The university accepted the bequest and assigned premises for a publishing house for the Voltaire Foundation.
The money was used to purchase the principal materials for the study of the Enlightenment and these materials were combined with the holdings of the Taylorian and placed in the Voltaire Room. In the Voltaire Room, we have a complete and growing set of the series Studies on Voltaire and the 18th Century (SVEC). We have Besterman’s edition of Voltaire’s correspondence. We also have works by Rousseau, Diderot and Voltaire and other 18th century authors – mostly original editions. We have various 18th century journals and newspapers as well as critical works on Rousseau, Diderot and Voltaire. Last but not least, we have three edition’s of Diderot’s Encyclopédie.
On January 7th 2016 a book-launch was held for a collection of Enlightenment texts translated into English by Prof. Caroline Warman and Oxford undergraduates. The work was entitled Tolerance: beacon of the Enlightenment. This anthology was based on an earlier French-language anthology Tolérance :le combat des Lumières. A small exhibition of 18th century works (mostly French) was displayed in the Taylorian to accompany the book-launch.
in 2009 a small exhibition was held at the Taylor Institution Library celebrating 250 years since the publication of Candide in 1759. Thanks to Giles Barber, Taylor Librarian, 1970-1996, we have a collection of all seventeen of the editions of this work published in 1759. Our collection is rivalled only by that of the New York Public Library under the Presidency of the Voltaire scholar Paul Leclerc.