Eight letters of Georges Bengesco to Alfred Dumaine (1893–1921)
The Romanian academician George Bengescu (Georges Bengesco, 1842–1922) is considered worldwide as the greatest specialist in Voltaire’s work (he edited a scholarly edition in ten volumes). He is also known as the translator into French of the work of Queen Elisabeth (Carmen Silva), as a monographist of the writers in the Golescu family in the 19th century, and as a researcher interested in the history of the Romanians, especially in the Oriental Issue.
Recent studies have clarified certain less known aspects of his life, which became accessible first of all as a result of his published memoirs (1899) and a biographical note (1909), as well as due to the memoirs of Zoe Cămărășescu (his niece who evoked his last years in a dramatic manner). Despite all this, there are not many historians of Bengesco’s level, who are quite little known by the public and even by specialists.
This article wishes to contribute important details on the life and work of Bengesco, as they emerge from a set of eight unpublished letters addressed to his friend, Alfred Chilhaud Dumaine (1852–1930), a French historian and diplomat. These letters cover a period of almost thirty years, between 1893 (two) and 1921 (five), as well as one of 1913. This correspondence offers additional and authentic information about the author’s character (he sometimes showed an innocent self-pride), the influence exerted by him in political and intellectual areas (he intervened in favor of Carol Davila, the son of the physician Davila, or of his sister, Maria), on his literary projects, but also regarding the life and activity of the Romanian elite in Bucharest, under the occupation of the Central Powers’ military forces. From these letters we can learn, for example, that the manuscript and the notes of a projected work, dedicated to the ladies with whom Voltaire had corresponded, was confiscated by the German troops at his residence in Grand-Leez, Belgium, together with his medals and decorations, which have never been recovered.
Georges Bengesco’s unpublished correspondence represents an essential source for understanding and reconstituting the destiny of a first-rank cultural and political personality who had an enormous contribution in the approach between the Romanian and the French cultural spaces.