Throughout his life Voltaire was an ardent supporter of inoculation against
small-pox. The eleventh letter of the Lettres Philosophiques, which was first
published in 1727, is devoted to the history and description of the method. In this
letter, speaking of Lady Wortley Montagu, he remarks that if the French
Ambassador's wife had brought the secret of inoculation from Constantinople to
Paris she would have rendered an eternal service to the nation.
" Not only would the members of several noble houses such as the Duke of Villequier, the
Prince of Soubise, and the grandfather of Louis XV have escaped the disease, but 20,000 who
had died of smallpox in Paris during 1723 would still be alive." 2
In a letter to D'Argental (October 3, 1753), he alludes to the Bishop of
Worcester preaching in London in 1752 before Parliament in favour of inoculation
and showing that it saved the lives of 2,000 persons in the capital every year.
About the same time he tells the Comtesse de Lutzelbourg (October 24, 1753) that
she will never hear of any lady dying of small-pox in London, and that if he had
a son, he would have him inoculated before teaching him his catechism.
The prohibition of inoculation by an edict of the French Parliament of June 8,
1763, as the result of an address by the Attorney-General, Omer Joly de Fleury,
attributed to the action of Bouvart, an enemy of Tronchin,5 provoked bitter protests
from Voltaire. Writing to Damilaville (June, 1763) he says:-
" The absurdity of this new decree was the only one left for my dear country. . . We are
the laughing stock of Europe."