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W. S. Lewis Collection of Marie du Deffand

Call Number: LWL MSS 11

Scope and Contents

The papers in the W. S. Lewis Collection of Marie du Deffand provide a view into the personal life and relationships of a well-connected woman in eighteenth-century France. Although du Deffand had little formal education, her intelligence and wit attracted philosophers, intellectuals, and politicians to her circle, and her papers reflect the breadth and depth of her acquaintance. The collection is particularly rich in correspondence. With over one hundred letters sent between them, her friends Louise Honorine Crozat, duchesse de Choiseul (1734-1801), l’Abbé Barthélemy (1716-1795), and Marguerite-Jeanne, baronne de Staal (1684-1750) are the most well-represented, but also of note is her correspondence with Etienne-François, duc de Choiseul (1719-1785), Jean-Baptiste-Nicolas de Formont (-1758), Jean-Baptiste-Nicholas, chevalier de L’Isle (-1784), Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu, (1689-1755), Carl Fredrik Scheffer (1715-1786), Voltaire (1694-1778), and Horace Walpole (1717-1797). The third-party letters in the collection demonstrate du Deffand’s interest in the relationships among other members of her circle, including Jean Le Rond d'Alembert (1717-1783), Stanislas-Jean de Boufflers (1738-1815), Frederick II, King of Prussia, (1712-1786), Charles-Jean-François Hénault (1685-1770), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), and Marie-Anne de La Trémoille, princesse des Ursins (1642-1722).

In addition to the correspondence, du Deffand's papers include her journal and her iconic character word portraits. The word portraits she drew of her friends and acquaintances offer unique insight into some of the prominent figures of the eighteenth century, colored by du Deffand’s witty observations. In addition to these documents, the collection also contains a variety of writings from both identified and unidentified authors, including songs, verses, and extracts of works by Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Stanislas-Jean de Boufflers, presumably made for du Deffand’s reference. In total, these papers illustrate the breadth of her intellectual interests and offer insight into du Deffand’s personal life as one of the foremost salonnières of Paris in the eighteenth century.

Most of the manuscripts in the collection are in the hand of du Deffand’s secretary, Jean-François Wiart, unless otherwise noted. Some hands were identified based on previous research by du Deffand’s nineteenth-century editor the marquis de Sainte-Aulaire, and in the twentieth century, Yale University’s Warren Hunting Smith and Catherine Jestin. Handwriting that remains unidentified or is surmised is noted as such. Catherine Jestin did much to identify the individuals associated with the papers in the collection, and the organization of this collection is based on her work.

For the most complete description of the Marie du Deffand Collection, see Volume 3 in the Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1939), the first of the six volumes in that series devoted to Walpole’s relationship with du Deffand, her bequest of her papers to him, and the subsequent history of the material.


  • 1706 - 1858
  • Majority of material found within 1760 - 1780


Language of Materials

Chiefly in French with some materials in English.

Conditions Governing Access

This material is open for research.

Conditions Governing Access

Items in Box 14 are photostat copies of manuscripts not owned by the Lewis Walpole Library. They may be consulted in the reading room but may not be copied or reproduced.

Conditions Governing Use

The W. S. Lewis Collection of Marie du Deffand is the physical property of the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the W. S. Lewis Librarian/Executive Director.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Bequest of Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis (Yale 1918), 1979.


Organized into three series: I. Correspondence, 1706-1830. II. Personal Papers, 1779-1780. III. Other Papers, 1710-1858.


3.55 Linear Feet (14 boxes)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The W. S. Lewis Collection of Marie du Deffand contains correspondence and other papers created, owned by, or relating to Marie Anne de Vichy Chamrond, marquise du Deffand (1697-1780), a friend and correspondent of the English author Horace Walpole. The collection was compiled by author, editor, and collector Wilmarth S. Lewis (1895-1979). It includes letters exchanged between du Deffand and her wide circle of friends and acquaintances, manuscripts including verses, essays, memoirs, word portraits, and songs by du Deffand or members of her circle, and later materials relating to du Deffand’s nineteenth-century editors.

Biographical / Historical

Marie de Vichy Chamrond, marquise du Deffand (1697-1780) is remembered as one of the foremost salonnières of Paris in the mid-eighteenth century. In 1718 at the age of 21, du Deffand was married to her cousin Jean Baptiste de la Lande, marquis du Deffand, but the couple separated within three years. Afterward, du Deffand immersed herself in life at court and carried on several affairs, even briefly becoming the mistress of the Regent Philippe II, duc d'Orléans (1725-1785), before forming what would become a long-term attachment with Charles-Jean-François Hénault (1685-1770), president of the Chambre des Enquêtes. Following her separation, du Deffand was supported by income from a variety of sources, including pensions obtained on her behalf by friends, inheritances from both her grandmother Marie Bouthillier, duchesse de Choiseul (1646-1728), and her aunt Marie Brulart, duchesse de Luynes (1685?-1763), as well as the reversion of her dowry upon the death of her husband in 1750.

Known for her keen intellect and sharp wit, Marie du Deffand entertained a small circle of friends at her winter quarters on the Rue de Beaune and at the court of the duchesse du Maine, before expanding her salon in 1747 to a rented apartment in the Convent of the Filles de St-Joseph. There she attracted political leaders from across Europe, entertaining such luminaries as Voltaire, (1694-1778), Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755), Marguerite-Jeanne, baronne de Staal (1684-1750), Jean Le Rond d'Alembert (1717-1783), and Hénault. In its later years in particular, her salon gained a reputation as a center of wit and gossip.

One of the most consequential figures in du Deffand’s life was Julie de Lespinasse (1732-1776), the illegitimate daughter of her brother Gaspard-Nicolas de Vichy, comte de Champrond (1699-1781). When du Deffand began to lose her eyesight in 1752, she invited her niece to Paris to live as her companion. By the time Lespinasse arrived in 1754, du Deffand had become totally blind. After several years the relationship between the two women eventually deteriorated, and in 1764 Lespinasse left to start her own rival salon, taking with her many of her aunt’s more literary and intellectual followers. Although several of du Deffand’s aristocratic friends remained in her salon, she deeply felt her niece’s betrayal.

An important and constant presence in du Deffand’s life, especially after the loss of her sight, was Jean-François Wiart, who served as her secretary for nearly thirty years. Another principal relationship was her friendship with the English antiquarian, collector, and author Horace Walpole (1717-1797). Although du Deffand never traveled to see Walpole in England, he visited her regularly in France between 1765 and 1775, and the two are estimated to have exchanged nearly two thousand letters between them. Marie du Deffand spent her final years surrounded by a smaller yet devoted group of friends; she died in Paris in 1780. Such was her regard for Walpole that du Deffand left her collection of papers—as well as her dog Tonton—to him upon her death.

Custodial History

Marie du Deffand bequeathed her papers to her friend Horace Walpole, who kept them during his lifetime in a cedar chest at his home, Strawberry Hill, in Twickenham. The papers remained at Strawberry Hill following Walpole’s death, until they were sold in 1842 to D. O. Dyce-Sombre as Lot 107 on the sixth day of the great Strawberry Hill sale. In 1920, the son of Dyce-Sombre’s nephew W. R. Parker Jervis sold the papers, which were divided into eight individual lots, in a March 10-12 Sotheby’s sale. The antiquarian book and manuscripts firm Maggs Bros. purchased three of the lots (390, 392, and 394) and later sold them to Wilmarth S. Lewis. Three lots (388, 391, and 393) initially went to others but were eventually acquired by Lewis. The two remaining lots are now at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford (387) and the Bibliotheque National (389).

While most of the material in this collection was at one point owned by Horace Walpole, not all of du Deffand’s papers made it into Walpole’s hands after her death. Madame de Choiseul and Abbé Barthélemy removed their own correspondence from du Deffand’s home before her papers passed to Walpole, an action that caused a rift between them and Walpole (see the Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, volume 3). Walpole, in turn, bequeathed his correspondence with du Deffand to Mary Berry, who published a selection in her 1810 edition of du Deffand’s correspondence and likely destroyed many of the letters. According to the Yale edition, the marquis de Sainte-Aulaire acquired several of du Deffand’s manuscripts, including letters of madame de Choiseul and Abbé Barthélemy, from comte Joseph d’Estourmel, although it is unclear where or how Estourmel acquired these papers. Sainte-Aulaire used these letters for his 1859 edition of du Deffand’s correspondence.

Once the du Deffand material arrived at Wilmarth Lewis’s library (after 1980, Yale University’s Lewis Walpole Library), various call numbers were assigned, including 49 2545 [volumes] I-V, which are listed in Allen T. Hazen’s A Catalogue of Horace Walpole's Library, 49 2545 [volume] VI, LWL MSS 11, and LWL MSS Vol. 137. Material under call number 49 2545 VI, a portfolio of loose letters owned by Sainte-Aulaire, had formerly been cataloged as MS. Vol. 138. It was reclassed to 49 2545 VI because evidence, including annotations in Walpole’s hand, points to the fact that it belonged to Walpole although it is not included in Hazen’s catalogue of Walpole's library.

Whether or not Walpole once owned Sainte-Aulaire’s collection of du Deffand’s correspondence is unclear. Lewis purchased Sainte-Aulaire’s collection from Henry Sorensen in 1950, and correspondence between Lewis and Sorensen indicates that Lewis did believe that the letters had been in Walpole’s possession. This conclusion is supported by the presence of a penciled “cross-crosslet,” a mark he associated with Walpole, on the two letters from du Deffand to Walpole in this group. This mark is explained in an unsigned letter to the dealer Henry Sorensen in 1971 (likely from Lewis), located in the object file for LWL MSS 11. However, the 1939 Yale Walpole edition identifies this mark as an editorial mark of Mary Berry, who did possess these letters. An undated letter from Warren Hunting Smith also supports the idea that these letters did not actually pass to Walpole and were thus never part of the Strawberry Hill sale or the Parker Jervis sale and did not pass through the hands of Maggs Bros.

A set of typed cards was made to index volumes 49 2545 III-V and LWL MSS 11 by title or correspondent, while cards handwritten by the Yale edition editor Warren Hunting Smith index volume 49 2545 VI by correspondent and selected subjects or contents of each letter, but only offer minimal descriptive information. Additionally, the cards for LWL MSS 11 bear red flags to denote specific Walpole annotations and marks. Volumes 49 2545 I-II and LWL MSS Vol. 137 have title cards but were not further indexed. The catalog cards with their original call numbers have been preserved and may be consulted in the reading room.

A preliminary finding aid covering the material in LWL MSS 11 and volumes 49 2545 I-VI was completed by library staff in 2015, with contents extracted from the library’s catalog cards. In summer 2021, all manuscript material once owned by Marie du Deffand was combined under the single call number LWL MSS 11. The reorganization provided the opportunity to arrange and describe all the correspondence and writings by author, and for the staff to research the authors of previously unidentified manuscript fragments of verse and prose. The entire collection was rehoused. Many of the items had been stored in acidic folders bearing manuscript notes in the hand of Wilmarth Lewis’s librarian Catherine Jestin (1920-2004), who had stayed on at the library after his death to work for Yale University. In 2021 her notes were photocopied onto archival paper and annotated with the 2015 box and folder numbers; those photocopied notes remain with the relevant items in their new folders.

Guide to the W. S. Lewis Collection of Marie du Deffand
by Eileen A. Horansky
August 2021
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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