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Title: Voltaire: A Sketch of his Life and Works
Author: Wheeler, J. M., Foote, G. W. (George William), 1850-1915
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Voltaire: A Sketch of his Life and Works" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.





                     *J. M. Wheeler & G. W. Foote.*




    The Population Question
    Nature’s Way
    Doubt and Speculation
    Dr. Pangloss and the Dervish
    Motives for Conduct
    Go From Your Village
    Religious Prejudices
    Sacred History
    Dupe And Rogue
    “Delenda Est Carthago”
    Jesus and Mohammed
    How Faiths Spread
    The Bible
    Dreams and Ghosts
    Mortifying the Flesh


My share in this little book on Voltaire is a very minor one. My old
friend and colleague, Mr. J. M. Wheeler, had written the greater part of
the following pages before he brought the enterprise to my attention. I
went through his copy with him, and assisted him in making some
alterations and additions. I also read the printer’s proofs, and
suggested some further improvements—if I may call them so without
egotism. This is all I have done. The credit for all the rest belongs to
him. My name is placed on the title-page for two reasons. The first is,
that I may now, as on other occasions, be associated with a dear friend
and colleague in this tribute to Voltaire. The second is, that whatever
influence I possess may be used in helping this volume to the
circulation it deserves.

  G. W. FOOTE.

November, 1891


He would be a bold person who should attempt to say something entirely
new on Voltaire. His life has often been written, and many are the
disquisitions on his character and influence. This little book, which at
the bicentenary of his birth I offer as a Freethinker’s tribute to the
memory of the great liberator, has no other pretension than that of
being a compilation seeking to display in brief compass something of the
man’s work and influence. But it has its own point of view. It is as a
Freethinker, a reformer, and an apostle of reason and universal
toleration that I esteem Voltaire, and I have considered him mainly
under this aspect. For the sketch of the salient points of his career I
am indebted to many sources, including Condorcet, Duvernet,
Desnoisterres, Parton, Espinasse, Collins, and Saintsbury, to whom the
reader, desirous of fuller information, is referred. Mr. John Morley’s
able work and Col. Hamley’s sketch may also be recommended.

That we are this year celebrating the bicentenary of Voltaire’s birth
should remind us of how far our age has advanced from his, and also of
how much we owe to our predecessors. The spread of democracy and the
advance of science which distinguish our time both owe very-much to the
brilliant iconoclasts of the last century, of whom Voltaire was the
chief. In judging the work of the laughing sage of France we must
remember that in his day the feudal laws still obtained in France, and a
man might be clapped in prison for life without any trial. The poor were
held to be born into the world for the service of the rich, and it was
their duty to be subject to their masters, not only to the good and
gentle, but also to the froward. Justice was as easily bought as jewels.
The Church was omnipotent and freethought a crime. If Voltaire’s
influence is no longer what it was, it is because he has altered that.
We can no longer keenly feel the evils against which he contended. His
work is, however, by no means fully accomplished. While any remnant of
superstition, intolerance, and oppression remains, his unremitting
warfare against _l’infâme_ should be an inspiration to all who are
fighting for the liberation and progress of humanity.

Nov. 1894. J. M. WHEELER.


Two hundred years ago, on November 21st, 1604, a child emerged on the
world at Paris. The baptismal register on the following day gave the
name François Marie Arouet, and the youth afterwards christened himself
Voltaire.(1) The flesh was so weakly that the babe was _ondovc_ (the
term employed for informal sprinkling with water at home), lest there
might be no time for the ecclesiastical rite.

    1.  He was a younger son. The name Voltaire is, perhaps, an
    anagram of the Arouet 1. j. (le jeune) the u being converted
    into r, and the j into r. In like manner, an old college- tutor
    of his, Père Thoulié, transformed himself, by a similar
    anagrammatic process, into the Abbé Olivet— omitting the
    unnecessary h from his original name. This method of reforming a
    plebeian name into one more distinguished-looking seems not to
    have been uncommon in those times, as Jean Baptiste Pocquelin
    took the name of Molière, and Charles Secondât that of

Something may have been wrong with the performance of the sacred
ceremony, since the child certainly grew up to think more of “the world,
the flesh, and the devil” than of the other trinity of Father, Son, and
Holy Ghost. His father was a respectable attorney, and his mother came
of noble family. His godfather and early preceptor was the Abbé de
Chateauneuf, who made no pietist of him, but introduced him to his
friend, the famous Ninon l’Enclos, the antiquated Aspasia who is said to
have inspired a passion in the l’Abbé Gedouin at the age of eighty, and
who was sufficiently struck with young Voltaire to leave him a legacy of
two thousand francs, wherewith to provide himself a library.

Voltaire showed when quite a child an unsurpassed facility for
verse-making. He was educated at a Jesuit college, and the followers of
Jesus have ever since reproached him with Jesuitism. Possibly he did
imbibe some of their “policy” in the propaganda of his ideas. Certainly
he saw sufficient of the hypocrisy and immorality of religious
professors to disgust him with the black business, and he said in
after-life that the Jesuits had taught him nothing worth learning.

He learnt a certain amount of Latin and a parcel of stupidities. But,
indifferent as this education was, it served to encourage his already
marked literary tendency. Voltaire is said to have told his father when
he left college, at the age of fifteen, “I wish to be a man of letters,
and nothing else.” “That,” M. Arouet is reported to have replied, “is
the profession of a man who wishes to be a burden to his family and to
die of starvation.” He would have no such nonsense. Francois must study
law; and to Paris he went with that intent. For three years he was
supposed to do so, but he bestowed more attention on the gay society of
the Temple, to which his godfather introduced him, “the most amusing
fellow in the world,” and which was presided over by the Abbé de
Chaulieu. The time which he was compelled to spend in law studies, and
at the desk of a _procureur_, was by no means lost to his future
fortunes, whether in the pursuit of fame or wealth. During that hated
apprenticeship he doubtless caught up some knowledge of law and
business, which stood him in good stead in after years. He tells us that
his father thought him lost, because he mixed with good society and
wrote verses. For these he got sufficient reputation to be first exiled
to Tulle, then to Sully, and finally thrown into the Bastille on
suspicion of having written lampoons on the government. The current
story tells how the Regent, walking one day in the Palais Royal, met
Voltaire, and accosted him by offering to bet that he would show him
what he had never seen before. “What is that?” asked Voltaire. “The
Bastille.” “Ah, monseigneur! I will take the Bastille as seen.” On the
next morning, in May, 1717, Voltaire was arrested in his bedroom and
lodged in the Bastille.

After nearly a year’s imprisonment, during which he gave the finishing
touches to his tragedy of _Œdipus_, and sketched the epic _Henriade_, in
which he depicts the massacre of Bartholomew, the horrors of religious
bigotry, and the triumph of toleration under Henry IV., he was released
and conducted to the Regent. While Voltaire awaited audience there was a
thunderstorm. “Things could not go on worse,” he said aloud, “if there
was a Regency above.” His conductor, introducing him to the Regent,
said, repeating the remark, “I bring you a young man whom your Highness
has just released from the Bastille, and whom you should send back
again.” The Regent laughed, and promised, if he behaved well, to provide
for him. “I thank your Highness for taking charge of my board,” returned
Voltaire, “but I beseech you not to trouble yourself any more about my

In his first play, _Œdipe_, appeared the celebrated couplet:

    _“Nos prêtres ne sont pas ce qu’un vain peuple pense!_

    _Notre crédulité fait toute leur science.” (1)_

    1. “Our priests are not what foolish people suppose; all their
    science is derived from our credulity.”

These lines were afterwards noted by Condorcet as “the first signal of a
war, which not even the death of Voltaire could extinguish.” It was at
this period that he first took the name of Arouet de Voltaire. He
produced two more tragedies, _Artemire_ and _Mariamne_; a comedy, _The
Babbler_; and prepared his world-famous _Henriade._ A portrait, painted
by Largillière at about this period, has often been engraved. It
exhibits a handsome young gentleman, full of grace and spirit, with a
smiling mouth, animated eyes, intellectual forehead, and a fine hand in
a fine ruffle.


The story of how Voltaire came to England is worth the telling, as it
illustrates the condition of things in France in the early part of last
century. Voltaire left France for England, which his acquaintance with
Lord Bolingbroke induced him to desire to visit. It was his Hegira,
whence he returned a full-fledged Prophet of the French. He went a poet,
he returned a philosopher. Dining at the Duke of Sully’s table he
presumed to differ from the Chevalier de Rohan—Chabot, a relative of
Cardinal Rohan. The aristocrat asked, “Who is that young fellow who
talks so loudly?” “Monsieur le Chevalier,” replied Voltaire, “it is a
man who does not bear a great name but who knows how to honor the name
he does bear.”(1) It was insufferable that the son of a bourgeois should
thus speak his mind to a Rohan. A few days afterwards, when again dining
with the Duke, he was called out by a false message, and seized and
caned by ruffians until a voice cried “Enough.” That word was a fresh
blow, for the young poet recognised the voice of the Chevalier. He
returned to the Duke and asked him to assist in obtaining redress. His
grace shrugged his shoulders and took no further notice of this insult
to his guest. Voltaire never visited the Duke again, and, it is said,
erased his ancestor’s name from the _Henriade_. He was equally
unsuccessful in seeking redress from the Regent. “You are a poet, and
you have had a good thrashing; what can be more natural?” He retired, to
study English and fencing; and reappeared with a challenge to the
Chevalier, who accepted it, but informed his relations. It was against
the law for a commoner to challenge a nobleman. Next morning, instead of
meeting de Rohan, he met officers armed with a _lettre de cachet_
consigning him to the Bastille. After nearly a month’s incarceration he
was liberated on condition that he left the country. Having no wish to
spend a second year in prison, he had himself applied for permission to
visit England. Voltaire felt keenly the indignity to which he had been
subjected. In a letter of instruction written from England to his agent
he says: “If my debtors profit by my misfortune and absence to refuse
payment, you must not trouble to bring them to reason: ’tis but a
trifle.” Yet a book has been written on Voltaire’s avarice.

    1.  Some of the accounts say that Voltaire said, “You, my lord,
    are the last of your house; I am the first of mine.”

Voltaire was conducted to Calais and arrived in England on Whit-Monday,
1726. He landed near Greenwich and witnessed the Fair. All seemed
bright. The park and river were full of animation. Here there was no
Bastille, no fear of the persecution of the great or the spies of the
police. He had excellent introductions. Bolingbroke he had met in exile
at La Source in 1721, and he had learnt to regard the illustrious
Englishman who possessed “all the learning of his country and all the
politeness of ours.” Voltaire, like Pope, may be said to have been, at
any rate for a time, an eager disciple of the exiled English statesman.
Now Voltaire was the exile; Bolingbroke, for a while, the host, at
Dawley, near Uxbridge. But he had other English friends, notably Mr.
(afterwards Sir Everard) Falkener, an English merchant trading in the
Levant, from whose house at Wandsworth most of his letters are dated.
For Sir Everard, Voltaire always retained the warmest feelings of
friendship, and forty years later returned hospitality to his sons.

Voltaire spent two years and eight months in England, living during part
of the time in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, and during another part at
Wandsworth. This visit was probably the most important event in his
life. It was here he lit the torch of Freethought with which he fired
the continent. Here he mastered the arguments of the English deists,
Bolingbroke, Toland, Tindal, Shaftesbury, Chubb, Collins, and Woolston,
which he afterwards used with such effect. Here he saw the benefits of
parliamentary government. Here he imbibed the philosophy of Locke and
the science of Newton. Indeed it may be said there is hardly one of
Voltaire’s important works but bears traces of his visit to our country.
Yet of this momentous epoch of his life the records are scanty. When he
grew famous every letter and anecdote was preserved, but in 1727
Voltaire was but a young man of promise. Carlyle, in the tenth book of
his _Frederick the Great_, says: “But mere inanity and darkness visible
reign in all his Biographies over this period of his life, which was
above all others worth investigating.” Messrs. J. C. Collins and A.
Ballantyne have since done much to elucidate this noteworthy period.

Pope was one of the persons Voltaire desired to see. He had already
described him as “the most elegant, most correct, and most harmonious
poet they ever had in England.” Pope could only speak French with
difficulty, and Voltaire could not make himself understood. The result
being unsatisfactory, Voltaire did not seek further company until he had
acquired the language. An anecdote in Chetworth’s _History of the Stage_
relates that he was in the habit of attending the theatre with the play
in his hand. By this method he obtained more proficiency in the language
in a week than he could otherwise have obtained in a month. Madame de
Genlis had the audacity to assert that Voltaire never knew English, yet
it is certain he could, before he was many months in this country, both
speak and write it with facility. By Nov. 16, 1726, he wrote to Pope,
after that poet’s accident while driving near Bolingbroke’s estate at
Dawley. In writing to his friend Thieriot, in France, he sometimes used
English, for the same reason, he said, that Boileau wrote in Latin—not
to be understood by too curious people. Voltaire is said to have once
found his knowledge of English of practical use. The French were
unpopular, and in one of his rambles he was menaced by a mob. He said:
“Brave Englishmen, am I not already unhappy enough in not having been
born among you?” His eloquence had such success that, according to
Longchamp and Wagnière, the people wished to carry him on their
shoulders to his house.

While in this country he wrote in English a portion of his tragedy
_Brutus_, inspired by and dedicated to Bolingbroke,

and two essays, one on the Civil Wars of France, and one on Epic Poetry.
In the introduction to the essays he expresses his conception of his own
position as a man of letters in a foreign country. As these essays,
although popular at the time, are now rare, I transcribe a paragraph or
two from them:

“The true aim of a relation is to instruct men, not to gratify their
malice. We should be busied chiefly in giving a faithful account of all
the useful things and extraordinary persons, whom to know, and to
imitate, would be a benefit to our country. A traveller who writes in
that spirit is a merchant of a nobler kind, who imports into his native
country the arts and virtues of other nations.”

In his _Essay on Epic Poetry_ Voltaire shows he had made a study of
Milton, though his criticism can scarcely, be considered an advance upon
that of Addison. He displays constant admiration for Tasso, to whom he
was perhaps attracted by his sufferings at the hands of an ignoble
nobility. He says:

“The taste of the English and of the French, though averse to any
machinery grounded upon enchantment, must forgive, nay commend, that of
Armida, since it is the source of so many beauties. Besides, she is a
Mahometan, and the Christian religion allows us to believe that those
infidels are under the immediate influence of the devil.” In this essay
appears the first mention of the story of Newton and the apple tree.

Voltaire closely studied all branches of English literature. He read
Shakespeare, and admired his “genius” while censuring his
“irregularity.” He was the first to introduce him to his countrymen,
though he subsequently sought to lessen what he considered their
exorbitantly high opinion. The works of Dryden, Waller, Prior, Congreve,
Wycherley, Vanbrugh, Rochester and Addison were all devoured, and he
took an especial interest in Butler’s witty _Hudibras_. He was
acquainted with the popular sermons of Archbishop Tillotson and the
speculations of Berkeley. He had read the works of Shaftesbury, Tindal,
Chubb, Garth, Mandeville and Woolston.

Voltaire became acquainted with most of the celebrities in England. He
visited the witty Congreve, who begged his guest to consider him not as
an author but as a gentleman. Voltaire answered with spirit: “If you had
the misfortune to be merely a gentleman, I should never have come to see
you.” He knew James Thomson of _The Seasons_, and “discovered in him a
great genius and a great simplicity.” With didactic Young, of the _Night
Thoughts_, who glorified God with his “egoism turned heavenward,” he
formed a friendship which remained unbroken despite their differences of
opinion on religion. He pushed among his English friends the
subscription list for the _Henriade_, which proved a great
success—although King George II. was not fond of “boetry”—reaching three
editions in a short period. The money thus obtained formed the
foundation of the fortune which Voltaire accumulated, not by his
writings, but by his ability in finance. At that time, in France, as our
author remarked, “to make the smallest fortune it was better to say four
words to the mistress of a king than to write a hundred volumes.” His
sojourn in England may be said to have secured him both independence of
mind and independence of fortune.

What pleased him most in England was liberty of discussion. In the year
in which he came over, Elwall was acquitted on a charge of blasphemy,
the collected works of Toland were published, and also Collins’s _Scheme
of Literal Prophecy_, and the First Discourse of Woolston on Miracles.
The success of this last work, which boldly applied wit and ridicule to
the Gospel narrative, struck him with admiration. In the very month,
however, when Voltaire left England (March 1729) Woolston was tried and
sentenced to a year’s imprisonment and a fine of £100. Voltaire
volunteered a third of the sum, but the brave prisoner refused to give
an assurance that he would not offend again, and died in prison in 1733.
Voltaire always spoke of Woolston with the greatest respect.

Voltaire retained his esteem for England and the English to the last.
Oliver Goldsmith relates that he was in his company one evening when one
of the party undertook to revile the English language and literature.
Diderot defended them, but not brilliantly. Voltaire listened awhile in
silence, which was, as Goldsmith remarks, surprising, for it was one of
his favorite topics. However, about midnight, “Voltaire appeared at last
roused from his reverie. His whole frame seemed animated. He began his
defence with the utmost elegance mixed with spirit, and now and then he
let fall his finest strokes of raillery upon his antagonist; and his
harangue lasted until three in the morning. I must confess that, whether
from national partiality or from the elegant sensibility of his manner,
I never was more charmed, nor did I ever remember so absolute a victory
as he gained in this dispute.”

Voltaire corresponded with English friends to the latest period of his
life. Among his correspondents were Lord and Lady Bolingbroke, Sir E.
Falkener, Swift, Hume, Robertson, Horace Walpole, George Colman and Lord
Chatham. We find him asking Falkener to send him the _London Magazine_
for the past three years. To the same friend he wrote from Potsdam in
1752, hoping that his _Vindication of Bolingbroke_ was translated, as it
would annoy the priests, “whom I have hated, hate, and shall hate till
doomsday.” In the next year, writing from Berlin, he says: “I hope to
come over myself, in order to print my true works, and to be buried in
the land of freedom. I require no subscription, I desire no benefit. If
my works are neatly printed, and cheaply sold, I am satisfied.”

To Thieriot he said: “Had I not been obliged to look after my affairs in
France, depend upon it I would have spent the rest of my days in
London.” Long afterwards he wrote to his friend Keate: “Had I not fixed
the seat of my retreat in the free corner of Geneva, I would certainly
live in the free corner of England; I have been for thirty years the
disciple of your ways of thinking.” At the age of seventy he translated
Shakespeare’s _Julius Cœsar_. Mr. Collins says: “The kindness and
hospitality which he received he never forgot, and he took every
opportunity of repaying it. To be an Englishman was always a certain
passport to his courteous consideration.” He compared the English to
their own beer, “the froth atop, dregs at bottom, but the bulk
excellent.” When Martin Sherlock visited him at Ferney in 1776, he found
the old man, then in his eighty-third year, still full of his visit to
England. His gardens were laid out in English fashion, his favorite
books were the English classics, the subject to which he persistently
directed conversation was the English nation.

The memory of Voltaire has been but scurvily treated in the land he
loved so well. For over a century, calumny and obloquy were poured upon
him. Johnson said of Rousseau: “I would sooner sign a sentence for his
transportation than that of any felon who has gone from the Old Bailey
these many years.” _Boswell_: “Sir, do you think him as bad a man as
Voltaire?” _Johnson_: “Why, sir, it is difficult to settle the
proportion of iniquity between them.” And this represents an opinion
which long endured among the religious classes. But it is at length
being recognised that, with all his imperfections, which were after all
those of the age in which he lived, he devoted his brilliant genius to
the cause of truth and the progress of humanity. He made his exile in
England an occasion for accumulating those stores of intelligence with
which he so successfully combated the prejudices of the past and
promulgated the principles of freedom, and justified his being ranked
foremost among the liberators of the human mind.


Several incidents combined to direct Voltaire’s attention to clericalism
as the enemy of progress and humanity. Soon after his return to France,
the famous actress, Adrienne Lecouvreur, for whom he had a high esteem,
and who had represented the heroines of his plays, died. The clergy of
Paris refused her Christian burial because of her profession, and her
corpse was put in a ditch in a cattle-field on the banks of the Seine.
Voltaire, who regarded the theatre as one of the most potent instruments
of culture and civilisation, at once avenged and consecrated her memory
in a fine ode, burning with the fire of a deep pathos, in which he takes
occasion to contrast the treatment in England of Mrs. Oldfield, the
actress, who was buried in Westminster Abbey. Mr. Lecky says: “The man
who did more than any other to remove the stigma that rested upon actors
was unquestionably Voltaire. There is, indeed, something singularly
noble in the untiring zeal with which he directs poetry and eloquence,
the keenest wit, and the closest reasoning to the defence of those who
had so long been friendless and despised.”

When Voltaire published his _Letters on the English Nation_ the copies
were seized by the Government and the publisher was thrown into the
Bastille. The author would have again tasted the discomforts of that
abode if he had not had timely warning from his friend D’Argental, and
taken refuge in Lorraine, and afterwards on the Rhine, while his book
was torn to pieces and burned in Paris by the public executioner, as
offensive to religion, good morals, and respect for authority. Voltaire
had apparently good reason to apprehend treatment of unusual rigor if he
had obeyed the summons to give himself up into custody, as he took good
care not to do. “I have a mortal aversion to prison,” he wrote to
D’Argental. “I am ill; a confined air would have killed me, and I should
probably have been thrust into a dungeon.”

Voltaire’s _Letters on the English_ reads at the present day as so mild
a production that it is hard to understand its suppression. Yet it was a
true instinct which detected that the work was directed against the
principle of authority. The introduction of English thought was destined
to become an explosive element shattering the feudalism of Europe. There
were, moreover, some hard hits at the state of things in France. “The
English nation,” says Voltaire, “is the only one which has succeeded in
restricting the power of kings by resisting it.” Again: “How I love the
English boldness, how I love men who say what they think!”

Voltaire gives a peculiar reason for the non-appreciation by the English
of Molière’s _Tartuffe_, the original of Mawworm if not of Uriah Heep.
He says they are not pleased with the portrayal of characters they do
not know. “One there hardly knows the name of devotee, but they know
well that of honest man. One does not see there imbeciles who put their
souls into others’ hands, nor those petty ambitious men who establish a
despotic sway over women formerly wanton and always weak, and over men
yet more weak and contemptible.” We fancy Voltaire must have seen
society mainly as found among the Freethinkers. Could he give so
favorable a verdict did he visit us now? The same remark applies to his
statement that there was “no privilege of hunting in the grounds of a
citizen, who, at the same time, is not permitted to fire a gun in his
own field.” But this, as well as the more important passage that “no one
is exempted from taxation for being a nobleman or priest,” was probably
intended exclusively for the benefit of his compatriots. He was,
however, not without a little touch of ridicule at the incongruities he
detected in our countrymen. Thus he notes in one of his letters: “They
learn Vanini and translate Lucretius for Monsieur le Dauphin to get by
heart, and then, while they deride the polytheism of the ancients, they
worship the Congregation of the Saints.”

Those educated in the current delusion that Voltaire was a mere mocker
will be surprised to find the temperate way in which he speaks of the
Quakers. Here, where there was such excellent opportunity for raillery,
Voltaire shows he had a genuine admiration for their simplicity of life,
the courage of their convictions, their freedom from priestcraft, and
their distaste for warfare. In these _Letters,_ as in all his writings,
he proves how far he was the embodiment of the new era by his boldly
expressed preference for industrial over military pursuits.

In his remarks on the Church of England, Voltaire, however, gives an
unmistakable touch of his quality: “One cannot have public employment in
England or Ireland, without being of the number of faithful Anglicans.
This reason, which is an excellent proof, has converted so many
Nonconformists that not a twentieth part of the nation is out of the
pale of the dominant church.”

After alluding to the “holy zeal” of ministers against dissenters, and
of the lower House of Convocation, who “from time to time burnt impious
books, that is, books against themselves,” he says: “When they learn
that, in France, young fellows noted only for debauchery and raised to
the prelacy by female intrigue, openly pursue their amours, compose
love-songs, give every day elaborate delicate suppers, then go to
implore the illumination of the Holy Spirit, boldly calling themselves
the successors of the Apostles—they thank God they are Protestants. But
they are abominable heretics, to be burnt by all the devils, as Master
François Rabelais says; and that is why I do not meddle with their

The Presbyterians fare little better, for Voltaire relates that, when
King Charles surrendered to the Scots, they made that unfortunate
monarch undergo four sermons a day. To them it is owing that only
genteel people play cards on Sunday: “the rest of the nation go either
to church, to the tavern, or to see their mistresses.”

His admiration for English philosophy was startling to the French mind.
Locke’s Essay became his philosophical gospel. “For thirty years,” he
writes in 1768, “I have been persecuted by a crowd of fanatics because I
said that Locke is the Hercules of Metaphysics, who has fixed the
boundaries of the human mind.”


A common admiration for Locke and Newton cemented his attachment to the
Marquise du Châtelet, a lady distinguished from others of her age by her
love of the sciences. With her Voltaire lived for over fifteen years at
the Chateau of Cirey, in Campagne, “far from the madding crowd’s ignoble
strife,” and, as Voltaire phrased it, “nine miles from a lemon.”
Voltaire was at the outset forty and Madame twenty-seven, neither
handsome nor well-formed, yet pleasing. She united learning with a zest
for pleasure, and with the handsome fortune which Voltaire brought to
the establishment was enabled to satisfy both tastes. Life at Cirey was
varied by jaunts to Paris, Brussels and Sceaux, at which last place he
wrote _Zadig_, one of his lightest and most characteristic burlesque

Madame du Chàtelet has been much laughed at; but in the days when ladies
take prizes in mathematics, that should be a thing of the past. Hard
intellectual labor rather than the pursuit of pleasure characterised
life at Cirey, or rather its inmates found their pleasure in their work.
Madame would be translating Newton or studying Leibnitz. Her
mathematical tutor worked at physical science in a gallery which had
been built expressly for him. Voltaire would be aiding each in turn, or,
ever faithful to his first love the drama, occupied with the writing or
production of a tragedy or comedy for the theatre also attached to the
premises. His production was as ever incessant. At the time of his first
settlement there, Pope’s _Essay on Man_ had been published. It suggested
a _Discourse on Man_, in which he sought not to justify the ways of God
to man, but to make man contented with his lot, not vainly inquiring
into the why and wherefore of things. With Madame he wrote _Elements of
the Newtonian Philosophy_, a work highly praised by Lord Brougham, who
says: “The power of explaining an abstract subject in easy and accurate
language, language not in any way beneath the dignity of science, though
quite suited to the comprehension of uninformed persons, is
unquestionably shown in a manner which only makes it a matter of regret
that the singularly gifted author did not carry his torch into all the
recesses of natural philosophy.” The French Government, despite the
influence of aristocratic friends, refused to print a work opposed to
the system of Descartes, and the volume had to be printed in Holland.
For Madame, who despised the “old almanack” histories then current, in
place of which Voltaire aimed at producing something more profitable to
the readers, he wrote his _Essay on the Manners and Spirit of Nations_,
in which for the first time in modern literature he applied philosophy
to the teaching of history. He dissipated the dull dreams and deceits of
the monks, and fixed attention on the real condition of things. With
Voltaire, the commonest invention which improves the human lot is of
more importance than battles and sieges. He gives importance to the
physical and intellectual improvement of man. Brougham remarks that
Voltaire’s Philosophy of History was written as a prelude to the Essay
on the Spirit of Nations, but the whole work deserves that title. Buckle
classes him with Bolingbroke and Montesquieu, the fathers of modern
history, and all sceptics; and even now, says Lecky, no historian can
read him without profit. Other contributions to history were the
_History of Charles XII._, a masterpiece of vivid and vigorous
narrative, and _The Age of Louis XIV_. It was here he wrote his too
famous _Pucelle_, which he afterwards described as “piggery,” as well as
some of the most famous of his plays, including. _Ilzire, Zuline,
L’Enfant Prodigue, Mahomet and Mérope_, the best of his tragedies. With
that impish spirit in which he ever delighted, he induced the Pope to
accept the dedication of his play of _Mahomet_, and then laughed at his
infallible Holiness for being unable to see that the shafts supposed to
be directed at the impostor of Arabia were really aimed at fanaticism in
another quarter.

To his first and last love, the French theatre, Voltaire contributed
nearly sixty pieces, the majority of which are tragedies. _Zaire_ and
_Mérope_ suffice to show the excellence he obtained in the classic
drama. The first-named was written in three weeks, a wonderful _tour de
force. Olympic_—written in old age—occupied but six days, though in this
we must agree with the friend who told the author that he should not
have rested on the seventh day. Voltaire’s plays indeed contain
occasional fine passages, but they have not the rich delineation of
character necessary for works of the first rank. It has been well
remarked that in his dramas, as in history, he sought to portray not so
much individuals as epochs. In _Mahomet_ his subject is a great
fanaticism; in _Alzire_, the conquest of America; in _Brutus_, the
formation of the Roman power; in the _Death of Cœsar_, the rise of the
empire or the ruin of that power. It is noteworthy that, despite his
excess of comic talent, Voltaire preferred to devote his mind to tragedy
rather than to comedy, in which one might have fancied he would have
excelled. In truth, his desire to support the dignity of the stage stood
in the way of his shining in comedy. Voltaire also at this period wrote
a _Life of Molière_, in which he mingled criticism with biography.

Madame de Grafigny, who visited at Cirey, says he was so greedy of his
time, so intent upon his work, that it was sometimes necessary to tear
him from his desk for supper. “But when at table, he always has
something to tell, very facetious, very odd, very droll, which would
often not sound well except in his mouth, and which shows him still as
he has painted himself for us—

    _Toujours un pied dans le cercueil,_

    _De l’autre faisant des gambades.”(1)_

      1. Ever one foot in the grave,

    And gambolling with the other.

“To be seated beside him at supper, how delightful!” she adds. Voltaire
at Cirey was out of harm’s way, and could and did devote himself to his
natural bent in literary work. Madame du Châtelet was sometimes “gey ill
to live with.” but she preserved him from many annoyances and helped him
somewhat at Court. Thanks to the Duc de Richelieu, his patron and
debtor, he was appointed historiographer-royal in 1745, with a salary of
two thousand livres attached, and in the following year was elected one
of the Forty of the French Academy.

His life with Madame du Châtelet had shown him the possibility of woman
being man’s intellectual companion. With what scorn does he make a lady,
who claims equal rights in the matter of divorce with her husband, say:

“My husband replies that he is my head and my superior, that he is
taller than me by more than an inch, that he is hairy as a bear, and
that, consequently, I owe him everything and that he owes me nothing.”
This was long before woman’s rights were thought of.

Voltaire and Frederick the Great.

While still at Cirey, Voltaire received many a flattering invitation
from the Prince Royal of Prussia. Their correspondence, in the words of
Carlyle, “sparkles notably with epistolary grace and vivacity,” though
now mainly interesting as an illustration of two memorable characters
and of their century. Voltaire helped him with his _Anti-Machiavelli_,
remarking afterwards that had Machiavelli had a prince for a pupil, the
very first thing he would have advised him to do would have been so to
write. Frederick was bent on having the personal acquaintance and
attendance of the renowned poet and philosopher. Much incense and mutual
admiration passed, and at length, when he ascended the throne, Voltaire
paid him several visits. On one occasion it was a diplomatic one, to
cement a union between France and Prussia. Macaulay sneers at this
“childish craving for political distinction,” and Frederick remarks that
he brought no credentials with him. The correspondence and mutual
admiration continued. Carlyle characteristically says: “Admiration
sincere on both sides, most so on the Prince’s, and extravagantly
expressed on both sides, most so on Voltaire’s.” In one of his letters,
Frederick says “there can be in nature but one God and one Voltaire.” If
Voltaire was more extravagant than this, at least the paint was laid on
more delicately. Frederick’s flattery, indeed, was not very carefully
done. Thus, in writing to Voltaire he says: “You are like the white
elephant for which the King of Persia and the Great Mogul make war; and
the possession of which forms one of their titles. If you come here you
will see at the head of mine, ‘Frederick by the Grace of God, King of
Prussia, Elector of Brandenburg, Possessor of Voltaire, &c., &c.’” But
the Marquise du Chàtelet considered that no King should displace a lady.
She loved him; _“jamais pour deux”_ she says; and perhaps, at the bottom
of her heart, regretted the reputation which must have been ever a
rival. At her death, Frederick renewed his invitation, expressing
himself as now “one of your oldest friends,” and Voltaire, cut loose
from his moorings, submitted to be tempted to the atmosphere of a court
which he had before found little suited to a lover of truth, justice,
and liberty.

The first of these visits, in September 1740, is thus satirically
described by Voltaire: “I was conducted into his majesty’s apartment, in
which I found nothing but four bare walls. By the light of a wax candle
I perceived a small truckle bed, two feet and a half wide, in a closet,
upon which lay a little man, wrapped up in a morning gown of blue cloth.
It was his majesty, who lay sweating and shaking, beneath a beggarly
coverlet, in a violent ague fit. I made my bow, and began my
acquaintance by feeling his pulse, as if I had been his first physician.
The fit left him, and he rose, dressed himself, and sat down to table
with Algarotti, Keizerling, Maupertuis, the ambassador to the
states-general, and myself; where, at supper, we treated most profoundly
on the immortality of the soul, natural liberty, and the _Androgynes_ of
Plato.” Frederick says, in a letter to Jordan, dated September 24th: “I
have at length seen Voltaire, whom I was so anxious to become acquainted
with; but, alas! I saw him when I was under the influence of my fever,
and when my mind and my body were equally languid. Now, with persons
like him, one must not be ill; on the contrary, one must be very well,
and even, if possible, in better health than usual. He has the eloquence
of Cicero, the mildness of Pliny, and the wisdom of Agrippa: he unites,
in a word, all that is desirable of the virtues and talents of three of
the greatest men of antiquity. His intellect is always at work; and
every drop of ink that falls from his pen, is transformed at once into
wit. He declaimed to us _Mahomet_, an admirable tragedy he has composed,
which transported us with delight: for myself, I could only admire in

The intercourse and disruption of the friendship between Voltaire and
Frederick—“the two original men of their century,” as Carlyle calls
them—has been inimitably told by that great writer whose temperament and
training enabled him to do so much justice to the one and so little to
the other. Voltaire must be excused for wishing to lead the King in the
path of reason and enlightened toleration to peace. But the Court of
Potsdam was in truth no place for him, and the Frenchmen not unnaturally
regarded him as a deserter. Macaulay says: “We have no hesitation in
saying that the poorest author of that time in London, sleeping in a
hulk, dining in a cellar with a cravat of paper and a skewer for a
shirt-pin, was a happier man than any of the literary inmates of
Frederick’s Court.” Voltaire’s position was sure to excite jealousy, and
his scathing wit was bound to get him in trouble. He could touch up the
King’s French verses for a consideration, but could not be kept from
laughing at his poetry. “I have here a bundle of the King’s dirty linen
to bleach,” he said once, pointing to the MSS. sent to him for
correction; and the bearers of course conveyed the sarcasm to his
Majesty. On the other side Voltaire heard from Julien Offray de la
Mettrie, author of _Man a Machine_, whom Voltaire called the most frank
atheist in Europe, that the King had said: “I still want Voltaire for
another year—one sucks the orange before throwing away the skin.” That
orange-skin stuck in Voltaire’s throat, and when atheist La Mettrie died
11th November,

1751, from eating a pie supposed to be of pheasant but in reality of
eagle and pork, Voltaire observes: “I should have liked to put to La
Mettrie, in the article of death, fresh inquiries about the orange-skin.
That fine soul, on the point of quitting the world, would not have dared
to-lie. There is much reason to suppose that he spoke the truth.”
Voltaire could neither submit to the domination of the Court coterie nor
to that of their master. He offended Frederick, not so much by writing
as by publishing his merciless ridicule of Maupertuis, the President of
the Berlin Academy of Sciences—an institution suggested by Voltaire, who
had indeed recommended Maupertuis as President—in his inimitable
_Diatribe of Doctor Akakia, Physician to the Pope_, which Macaulay says,
even at this time of day, it is not easy for any person who has the
least perception of the ridiculous to read without laughing till he
cries. But a public insult to the President of his Academy was an insult
to the King, and the work was publicly burnt and Voltaire placed under
arrest. But the matter blew over, though Voltaire sent back his cross
and key of office, which the King returned. Voltaire wisely tried to rid
himself of the intolerable constraint, and made ill-health the pretext
of flight, going first to Plombières to take the waters. But he could
not resist sending another shot at poor Maupertuis; and the King,
perhaps considering he had forfeited claim to consideration, resolved to
punish him. At Frankfort, nominally a free city but really dominated by
a Prussian resident, he was arrested, together with his niece Madame
Denis, and detained in an inn, even after he had given up his gold key
as chamberlain, his cross and ribbon of the Order of Merit, and his copy
of a privately printed volume of the royal rhymester’s poetry, for which
he was ordered to be arrested. The volume was evidently the most
important article in such mischievous hands, especially as it was said
to contain satires on reigning potentates. Voltaire had left it at
Leipsic, and had to wait, guarded by soldiers, till it arrived, and also
till the King’s permission was accorded him to pass on to France.
Voltaire relieved his rage by composing what he called _Memoirs of the
Life of M. de Voltaire_, in which all the king’s faults and foibles,
real and imaginary, as well as his literary pretensions, were
unsparingly ridiculed. Frederick forgave Voltaire for having been
ill-used by him, and some time after took the first step in
reconciliation by sending him back the volume of poems. An amicable
correspondence was renewed, though probably each felt they were better
at a distance. Voltaire, even while he kept in his desk this libellous
_Life_ which perhaps he never, intended to publish, was generous and
far-sighted enough to seek to make peace between Prussia and France at a
time when Frederick was at the lowest ebb of his fortunes; while
Frederick was great enough to permit the free circulation of the libel
in Berlin. Morley says: “To have really contributed in the humblest
degree, for instance, to a peace between Prussia and her enemies, in
1759, would have been an immeasurably greater performance for mankind
than any given book which Voltaire could have written. And, what is
still better worth observing, Voltaire’s books would not have been the
powers they were but for this constant desire in him to come into the
closest contact with the practical affairs of the world.” “What
sovereign in Europe do you fear the most?” was once asked of Frederick,
who frankly replied “_Le roi Voltaire_,” for here he knew was a
potentate whose kingdom had no bounds, and who would transmit his
influence to posterity. Frederick lived to pronounce a panegyric upon
him before the Berlin Academy, in the year of his death. “The renown of
Voltaire,” he predicted, “will grow from age to age, transmitting his
name to immortality.”


After this disastrous termination of court life Voltaire determined to
try complete independence. Permission to establish himself in France
being refused, he purchased an estate near Geneva. His residence here
brought him into correspondence, at first amicable, with the most famous
of her citizens, Jean Jacques Rousseau. There was a natural
incompatibility of temper which speedily led to a quarrel. Both were
sensitive, and Rousseau could not bear even kindly-meant banter. On
Rousseau’s _Social Contract_ Voltaire said it so convinced him of the
beauty of man in a state of nature that, after reading it, he ran round
me room on all fours. His reply to Rousseau’s rebuke for his pessimist
poem on the earthquake of Lisbon was the immortal _Candide_, and
Rousseau’s revenge was to say, slightingly, that he had not read it.
When Rousseau thought fit to include Voltaire in the imaginary
machinations against him, with which he absurdly changed Hume, Voltaire
wrote to D’Alembert: “I have nothing to reproach myself with, save
having thought and spoken too well of him.”

Voltaire at first seems to have been captivated by the doctrine of
Pope’s _Essay on Man._ He, however, afterwards wrote: “Those who exclaim
that all is well are charlatans. Shaftesbury, who first made the fable
fashionable, was a very unhappy man. I have seen Bolingbroke a prey to
vexation and rage, and Pope, whom he induced to put this sorry jest into
verse, was as much to be pitied as any man I have ever known, misshapen
in body, dissatisfied in mind, always ill, always a burden to himself,
and harassed by a hundred enemies to his very last moment. Give me, at
least, the names of some happy men who will tell me ’All is well.’” His
optimism got injured during his journey through life, and was completely
shattered by the earthquake at Lisbon in 1755. On this subject he
produced a grave poem, notable for its confession of the difficult
reconciling the evil of the world with the Beneficence of God? The same
subject was dealt with in grotesque fashion in _Candide_, one of the
wisest as well as one of the wittiest of works. A philosophy was never
more triumphantly reasoned and ridiculed out of court than is optimism
in _Candide_. Incident crowds on incident, argument jostles satire,
illustration succeeds raillery, all to show the miseries of existence
disprove this being the best of all possible worlds. At one moment we
are forced to tears at contemplating the atrocities of inhumanity; the
next we are forced to laugh at its absurdities. Prudes may be shocked at
some incidents. Voltaire said he was not born to sing the praises of
saints. He was himself no saint, but rather one of those sinners who had
done the world more good than all its saints. But the influence of the
work is profoundly good. It is purely humanitarian, War, persecution for
religion, slavery, torture, and all forms of cruelty are made hateful by
a recital of their facts; and all this is done in so charming, even
flippant a manner, that we are laughing all the while we are most
profoundly moved. Schopenhauer and Hartmann both enjoyed life, while
Voltaire was an invalid most of his days; but they never threw into
their pessimism the gaiety of _Candide_. And his peculiarity is, that he
makes all man’s lower instincts ridiculous as well as detestable.

This character appears in all his work, but, as a fantastic tale,
_Candide_ stands alone. It brings out Voltaire’s most characteristic
qualities: his keen eye for whimsicalities and weaknesses; his
abhorrence of cruelty and iniquity in high places; his contempt for
shams and absence of all veneration for the majesty of nonsensical
custom. For mordant satire it is surpassed by _Gulliver’s Travels_. But
it is briefer; the touch is lighter, and instinct not with morose
misanthropy, but hearty philanthropy. The characters are gross
caricatures. Was there ever so preposterous an absurdity as Dr.
Pangloss? And the incidents are improbable. Was ever so luckless a hero
as Candide? What a succession of misfortunes! Candide travels the world
in search of his lost beloved Cunégonde, meeting war, the Inquisition,
torture, shipwreck, piracy, and slavery, with all their attendant
horrors. Even the earthquake of Lisbon is brought in; yet with whimsical
pertinacity, Pangloss clings to his flimsy philosophy.

When he re-meets Candide, who had left his tutor as dead, he thus
relates his adventures: “But,” my dear Pangloss, “how happens it that I
see you again?” said Candide. “It is true,” answered Pangloss, “you saw
me hanged; I ought properly to have been burnt; but, you remember, it
rained in torrents when they were going to roast me. The storm was so
violent they despaired of kindling the fire; so I was hanged, because
they could do no better. A surgeon bought my body, carried it home, and
dissected me. He made first a crucial incision from the navel to the
neck. One could not have been more badly hanged than I. The executioner
of the Holy Inquisition was a sub-deacon, and truly burnt people
capitally, but, as for hanging, he was a novice; the cord was wet, and
not slipping properly, the noose did not join—in short, I still
continued to breathe. The crucial incision made me shriek so that my
surgeon fell back, and, imagining it was the devil he was dissecting,
ran away in mortal fear, tumbling downstairs in his fright. His wife,
hearing the noise, flew from the next room, and saw me stretched upon
the table with my crucial incision. Still more terrified than her
husband, she ran down also, and fell upon him. When they had a little
recovered themselves, I heard her say to the surgeon, ‘My dear, how
could you think of dissecting a heretic? Don’t you know that the devil
is always in them? I’ll run directly to a priest, to come and exorcise
the evil spirit.’ I trembled from head to foot at hearing her talk in
this manner, and exerted what little strength I had left to cry out,
‘Have pity on me!’ At length, the Portuguese barber took courage, sewed
up my wound, and his wife even nursed me. I was upon my legs in about a
fortnight. The barber got me a place as lacquey to a Knight of Malta,
who was going to Venice; but finding my master had no money to pay me my
wages, I entered into the service of a Venetian merchant, and went with
him to Constantinople. One day I took the fancy to enter a mosque, where
I saw no one but an old Iman and a very pretty young female devotee, who
was saying her prayers. Her neck was quite bare, and in her bosom she
had a fine nosegay of tulips, roses, anemones, ranunculuses, hyacinths,
and auriculas. She let fall her bouquet. I ran to take it up, and
presented it to her with a bow. I was so long in replacing it, that the
Iman began to be angry, and, perceiving I was a Christian, he cried out
for help. They took me before the Cadi, who ordered me to receive one
hundred bastinadoes, and sent me to the galleys. We were continually
whipt, and received twenty lashes a day, when the concatenation of
sublunary events brought you on board our galley to ransom us from

“Well, my dear Pangloss,” said Candide to him, “now you have been
hanged, dissected, whipped, and tugging at the oar, do you continue to
think that everything in this world happens for the best?” “I have
always abided by my first opinion,” replied Pangloss; “for, after all, I
am a philosopher; it would not become me to retract. Leibnitz could not
be wrong, and ‘pre-established harmony’ is, besides, the finest thing in
the world, as well as a ‘plenum’ and the ‘materia subtilis’.”

When Cunégonde is at last found, she is no longer beautiful—but
sunburnt, blear-eyed, haggard, withered, and scrofulous. Though ready to
fulfil his promise, her brother, a baron whom Candide has rescued from
slavery, declares that sister of his shall never marry a person of less
rank than a baron. The book is a mass of seeming extravagance, with a
deep vein of gold beneath. All flows so smoothly, the reader fancies
such fantastic nonsense could not only be easily written, but easily
improved. Yet when he notices how every sally and absurdity adds to the
effect, how every lightest touch tells, he sees that only the most
consummate wit and genius could thus deftly dissect a philosophy of the
universe for the amusement of the multitude.

Voltaire tried to save England from the judicial murder of Admiral Byng,
who was sacrificed to national pride and political faction in 1757, yet
how lightly he touches the history in a sentence: “Dans ce pays ci il
est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres.”
The pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war had no charms for
Voltaire. He shows it in its true colors as multitudinous murder and
rapine. Religious intolerance and hypocrisy, court domination and
intrigue, the evils attendant on idlers, soldiers and priests, are all
sketched in lightest outline, and the reader of this fantastic story
finds he has traversed the history of last century, seen it at its
worst, and seen, too, the forces that tended to make it better, and is
ready to exclaim: Would we had another Voltaire now!

The philosophy of _Candide_ is that of Secularism. The world as we find
it abounds in misery and suffering. If any being is responsible for it,
his benevolence can only be vindicated by limiting his power, or his
power credited by limiting his goodness. Our part is simply to make the
best of things and improve this world here and now. “Work, then, without
disputing; it is the only way to render life supportable.”

Carlyle did much to impair the influence of Voltaire in England. Yet
what is Carlyle’s essential doctrine but “Do the work nearest hand,” and
what is this but a translation of the conclusion of _Candide_: “Il faut
cultiver nôtre jardin”?

Those who forget how far more true it is that man is an irrational
animal than that he is a rational one, may wonder how Voltaire, having
in _Candide_ sapped the foundations of belief in an all-good God by a
portrayal of the evils afflicting mankind, could yet remain a Theist.
The truth seems to be that Voltaire had neither taste nor talents for
metaphysics. In the _Ignorant Philosopher_ Voltaire seeks to answer
Spinoza, without fully understanding his monistic position. He appears
to have remained a dualist or modern Manichean—an opinion which James
Mill considered was the only Theistic view consistent with the facts.
Writing to D’Alembert on the 15th of August, 1767, Voltaire says: “Give
my compliments to the Devil, for it is he who governs the world.” It is
curious that on the day he was writing these lines, one Napoleon
Bonaparte had just entered upon the world.

Voltaire appears to have been satisfied with the design argument as
proving a deity, though he considered speculation as to the nature of
deity useless. He showed the Positivist spirit in his rejection of
metaphysical subtleties. “When,” he writes, “we have well disputed over
spirit and matter, we end ever by no advance. No philosopher has been
able to raise by his own efforts the veil which nature has spread over
the first principles of things.” Again: “I do not know the _quo modo_,
true. I prefer to stop short rather than to lose myself.” Also:
“Philosophy consists in stopping where physics fail us. I observe the
effects of nature, but I confess I know no more than you do about first
principles.” But a deist he ever remained.

Baron de Gleichen, who visited him in 1757, relates that a young author,
at his wits’ end for the means of living, knocked one day at the poet’s
door, and to recommend himself said: “I am an apprentice atheist at your
service.” Voltaire replied: “I have the honor to be a master deist; but
though our trades are opposed, I will give you some supper to-night and
some work to-morrow. I wish to avail myself of your arms and not of your

He thought both atheism and fanaticism inimical to society; but, said
he, “the atheist, in his error, preserves reason, which cuts his claws,
while those of the fanatic are sharpened in the incessant madness which
afflicts him.”

Voltaire seems to have been at bottom agnostic holding on to the narrow
ledge of theism and afraid to drop.

He says: “For myself, I am sure of nothing. I believe that there is an
intelligence, a creative power, a God. I express an opinion to-day; I
doubt of it to-morrow; the day after I repudiate it. All honest
philosophers have confessed to me, when they were warmed with wine, that
the great Being has not given to them one particle more evidence than to
me.” He believed in the immortality of the soul, yet expresses himself
dubiously, saying to Madame du Deffand that he knew a man who believed
that when a bee died it ceased to hum. That man was himself.

On the appearance, however, in 1770 of the Baron d’Holbach’s _System of
Nature_—in which he was very considerably helped by Diderot—Voltaire
took alarm at its openly pronounced atheism. “The book,” he wrote,

“has made all the philosophers execrable in the eyes of the King and his
court. Through this fatal work philosophy is lost for ever in the eyes
of all magistrates and fathers of families.” He accordingly took in hand
to combat its atheism, which he does in the article _Dieu_ in the
_Philosophical Dictionary_, and in his _History of Jenni_ (Johnny), a
lad supposed to be led on a course of vice by atheism and reclaimed to
virtue by the design argument. Voltaire’s real attitude seems fairly
expressed in his celebrated mot: “S’il n’y avait pas un dieu, il
fraudrait l’inventer”—“If there was not a God it would be necessary to
invent one,” which, Morin remarks, was exactly what had been done.
Morley says: “It was not the truth of the theistic belief in itself that
Voltaire prized, but its supposed utility as an assistant to the


Voltaire was a great stimulator of the French _Encyclopædia_, a work
designed to convey to the many the information of the few. Here again
the inspiration was English. It was the success of the _Cyclopcedia of
Arts and Sciences_, edited by the Freethinker Ephraim Chambers, in 1728,
which suggested the yet more famous work carried out by Diderot and
D’Alembert, with the assistance of such men as Helvetius, Buffon,
Turgot, and Condorcet. Voltaire took an ardent interest in the work, and
contributed many important articles. The leading contributors were all
Freethinkers, but they were under the necessity of advancing their ideas
in a tentative way on account of the vigilant censorship. Voltaire not
only wrote for the _Encyclopædia_, but gave valuable hints and
suggestions to Diderot and D’Alembert, as well as much sound advice. He
cautioned them, for instance, against patriotic bias. “Why,” he asks
D’Alembert, “do you say that the sciences are more indebted to France
than to any other nation? Is it to the French that we are indebted for
the quadrant, the fire-engine, the theory of light, inoculation, the
seed-sower? _Parbleu!_ you are jesting! We have invented only the

Voltaire wrote the section on History. The first page contained a
Voltairean definition of sacred history which even an ignorant censor
could hardly be expected to pass. “Sacred History is a series of
operations, divine and miraculous, by which it pleased God formerly to
conduct the Jewish nation, and to-day to exercise our faith.” The iron
hand beneath the velvet glove was too evident for this to pass the
censorship. Vexatious delay and the enforced excision of important
articles attended the progress of the work.

It was the attempted suppression of _l’Encyclopcedie_ which showed
Voltaire that the time had come for battle.

In 1757 a new edict was issued, threatening with death any one who
wrote, printed, or sold any work attacking religion or the royal
authority. The same edict assigned the penalty of the galleys to whoever
published writings without legal permit. Within six months advocate
Barbier recorded in his diary some terrible sentences. La Martelière,
verse-writer, for printing clandestinely Voltaire’s _Pucelle_ and other
“such” works, received nine years in the galleys; eight printers and
binders employed in the same printing office, the pillory and three
years’ banishment. Up to the period of the Revolution nothing could be
legally printed in France, and no book could be imported, without
Government authorisation. Mr. Lecky says, in his _History of England in
the Eighteenth Century_: “During the whole of the reign of Lewis XV.
there was scarcely a work of importance which was not burnt or
suppressed, while the greater number of the writers who were at this
time the special, almost the only, glory of France were imprisoned,
banished, or fined.” Voltaire determined to render the bigots odious and
contemptible, and henceforth waged incessant war, continued to the day
of his death. In satire on one of the bigots he issued his _Narrative of
the Sickness, Confession, Death and Reappearance of the Jesuit
Berthier_, as rich a burlesque as that which Swift had written
predicting and describing the death of the astrologer Partridge, in
accordance with the prediction. Every sentence is a hit. A priest of a
rival order is hastily summoned to confess the dying Jesuit, who is
condemned to penance in purgatory for 333,333 years, 3 months, 3 weeks,
and 3 days, and then will only be let out if some brother Jesuit be
found humble and good enough to be willing to apply all his merits to
Father Berthier. Even putting his enemy in purgatory, he only condemned
the Jesuit every morning to mix the chocolate of a Jansenist, read aloud
at dinner a Provincial Letter, and employ the rest of the day in mending
the chemises of the nuns of Port Royal.

From Ferney he poured forth a wasp-swarm of such writings under all
sorts of pen-names, and dated from London, Amsterdam, Berne, or Geneva.
He had sufficient stimulus in the bigotry, intolerance, and atrocious
iniquities perpetrated in the name of religion.

Voltaire, moreover, determined himself to uphold the work of the
_Encyclopædia_ in more popular form. He put forward first his _Questions
upon the Encyclopædia_, in which he deals with some important articles
of that work, with others of his own. This was the foundation of the
most important of all his works, the _Philosophical Dictionary_, which
he is said to have projected in the days when he was with Frederick at
Berlin. In this work he showed how a dictionary could be made the most
amusing reading in the world. Under an alphabetical arrangement, he
brought together a vast variety of sparkling essays on all sorts of
subjects connected with literature, science, politics and religion. Some
of his headings were mere stalking-horses, under cover of which he shot
at the enemy. Some are concerned with matters now out of date; but, on
the whole, the work presents a vivid picture of his versatile genius. An
abridged edition, containing articles of abiding interest, would be a
service to Free-thought at the present day.

Here is a slight specimen of his style taken from the article on
Fanaticism: “Some one spreads a rumor in the world that there is a giant
in existence 70 feet high. Very soon all the doctors discuss the
questions what color his hair must be, what is the size of his thumb,
what the dimensions of his nails; there is outcry, caballing, fighting;
those who maintain that the giant’s little finger is only an inch and a
half in diameter, bring those to the stake who affirm that the little
finger is a foot thick. ‘But, gentlemen, does your giant exist?’ says a
bystander, modestly.

“‘What a horrible doubt!’ cry all the disputants; ‘what blasphemy! what
absurdity!’ Then they all make a little truce to stone the bystander,
and, after having assassinated him in due form, in a manner the most
edifying, they fight among themselves, as before, on the subject of the
little finger and the nails.”


Voltaire had other provocations to his attack on the bigots, and as he
greatly concerned himself with these, they must be briefly mentioned. In
1761 a tragedy of mingled judicial bigotry, ignorance, and cruelty was
enacted in Languedoc. On October 13th of that year, Marc Antoine, the
son of Jean Calas, a respectable Protestant merchant in Toulouse, a
young man of dissolute habits, who had lived the life of a scapegrace,
hanged himself in his father’s shop while the family were upstairs. The
priestly party got hold of the case and turned it into a religious
crime. The Huguenot parents were charged with murdering their son to
prevent his turning Catholic. Solemn services were held for the repose
of the soul of Marc Antoine, and his body was borne to the grave with
more than royal pomp, as that of a martyr to the holy cause of religion.
In the church of the White Penitents a hired skeleton was exhibited,
holding in one hand a branch of palm, emblem of martyrdom, and in the
other an inscription, in large letters, “abjuration of heresy.’’ The
populace, who were accustomed yearly to celebrate with rejoicing the
Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day, 1572, were excited against the
family. The father, who for sixty years had lived without reproach, was
arrested, with his wife and children. The court before whom the case was
brought, at first was disposed to put the whole family to the torture,
never doubting that the murder would be confessed by one or other of
them. But they ended by only condemning the father to be tortured, in
order to extract a confession of guilt before being broken on the wheel,
after which his body was to be burned and the ashes scattered to the
winds. He was submitted first to the _question ordinaire_. In sight of
the rack he was asked to reveal his crime. His answer was that no crime
had been committed. He was stretched on the rack until every limb was
dislocated and the body drawn out several inches beyond. He was then
subjected to the _question extraordinaire_. This consisted in pouring
water into his mouth from a horn, while his nose was pinched, till his
body was swollen to twice its size, and the sufferer endured the anguish
of a hundred drownings. He submitted without flinching to all the
excruciating agony. Finally, he was placed upon a tumbril and carried
through the howling mob to the place of execution. “I am innocent.” he
muttered from time to time. At the scaffold he was exhorted to confess
by a priest: “What!” said he, “you, too, believe a father can kill his
own son!” They bound him to a wooden cross, and the executioner, with an
iron bar, broke each of his limbs in two places, striking eleven blows
in all, and then left him for two hours to die. The executioner
mercifully strangled him at last, before burning the body at the stake.
To the last he persisted in his innocence: he had no confession to make.
By his unutterable agony he saved the lives of his wife and family. Two
daughters were thrown into a convent, and the property was confiscated.
The widow and son escaped, and were provided for by Voltaire.

He spared no time, trouble, or money to arrive at the truth, and that
once reached, he was as assiduous in his search for justice. He went to
work with an energy and thoroughness all his own. He interested the
Pompadour herself in the case. By his own efforts he forced justice to
be heard. “The worst of the worthy sort of people,” he said, “is that
they are such cowards. A man groans over his wrong, shuts his lips,
takes his supper, and forgets.” Voltaire was not of that fibre. Wrong
went as a knife to his heart. He suffered with the victim, and might
have justly used the words of Shelley, who compared himself unto “a
nerve, o’er which do creep the else unfelt oppressions of the world.”
Voltaire had to fire others with his own fervor. He issued pamphlet
after pamphlet in which the shameful story was told with pathetic
simplicity. He employed the best lawyers he could find to vindicate the
memory of the murdered man. For three years he left no stone unturned,
until all that was possible was done to right the foul wrong of those in
authority. During this time no smile escaped him of which he did not
reproach himself as a crime. Carlyle speaks of this as “Voltaire’s
noblest outburst, into mere transcendant blaze of pity, virtuous wrath,
and determination to bring rescue and help against the whole world.”

He had his pamphlets on the Calas case, seven in number, translated and
published in England and Germany, where they produced a profound effect.
A subscription for the Calas family was headed by the young Queen of
George III. When at length judgment was given, reversing the sentence,
he wrote to Damilaville: “My dear brother, there is, then, justice upon
the earth! There is, then, such a thing as humanity! Men are not all
wicked rascals, as they say! It is the day of your triumph, my dear
brother; you have served the family better than anyone.”

It was while the Calas case was pending that Voltaire composed his noble
_Treatise on Toleration_, a work which, besides its great effect in
Europe, caused Catherine II. to promise, if not to grant, universal
religious toleration throughout the vast empire she governed.

This Calas case was scarce ended when another, almost as bad an
exhibition of intolerance, occurred. Sirven, a respectable Protestant
land surveyor, had a Catholic housekeeper, who, with the assent of the
Bishop of Castres, spirited away his daughter for the good of her soul,
and placed her in a convent, with a view to her conversion. She returned
to her parents in a state of insanity, her body covered with the marks
of the whip. She never recovered from the cruelties she had endured at
the convent. One day, when her father was absent on his professional
duties, she threw herself into a well, at the bottom of which she was
found drowned. It was obvious to the authorities that the parents had
murdered their child because she wished to become a Roman Catholic. They
most wisely did not appear, and were sentenced to be hanged when they
could be caught. In their flight the married daughter gave premature
birth to a child, and Madame Sirven died in despair.

It took Voltaire eight years to get this abominable sentence reversed,
and to turn wrong into right. He was now between seventy and eighty
years of age, yet he threw himself into the cause of the Sirvens with
the zeal and energy which has vindicated Calas; appealing to Paris and
Europe, issuing pamphlets, feeing lawyers, and raising a handsome
subscription for the family.

Another case was that of the Chevalier de la Barre. In 1766 a crucifix
was injured—perhaps wantonly, perhaps by accident. The Bishop of Amiens
called for vengeance. Two young officers were accused; one escaped, and
obtained by Voltaire’s request a commission in the Prussian service. The
other, La Barre, was tortured to confess, and then condemned to have his
tongue cut out, his hand cut off, and to be burned alive. Voltaire,
seventy years old, devoted himself with untiring energy to save him.
Failing in that, he wrote one of his little pamphlets, a simple, graphic
_Narrative of the Death of Chevalier de la Barre_, which stirred every
humane heart in France. For twelve years this infidel vindicated the
memory of the murdered man and exposed his oppressors. One of the
authorities concerned in this judicial atrocity threatened Voltaire with
vengeance for holding them up to the execration of Europe. Voltaire
replied by a Chinese anecdote. “I forbid you,” said a tyrannical emperor
to the historiographer, “to speak a word more of me.” The mandarin began
to write. “What are you doing now?” asked the emperor. “I am writing
down the order that your majesty has just given me.” Voltaire had sought
to save Admiral Byng. He contended in a similar case at home. Count
Lally had failed to save India from the English, had been taken
prisoner, but allowed to go to Paris to clear his name from charges made
against him. The French people, infuriate at the loss of their
possession, demanded a victim, and Lally, after a process tainted with
every kind of illegality, was condemned to death on the vague charge of
abuse of authority. The murdered man’s son, known in the Revolution as
Lally Tollendal, was joined by Voltaire in the honorable work of
procuring revision of the proceedings, and one of the last crowning
triumphs of Voltaire’s days was the news brought to him on his dying bed
that his long effort had availed.

“Ecrasez L’infàme.”

These are samples of what was occuring when Voltaire was exhorting his
friends to _crush the infamous_—a phrase which gave rise to much
misunderstanding, and which priests have even alleged was applied to
Jesus, their idol. A sufficient disproof, if any were needed, is that
Voltaire treats “l’infàme” as feminine. _Si vous pouvez écraser
l’infâme, ecrasez-la, et aimez-moi.” That oft-repeated phrase was
directed at no person. Nor was it, as some Protestants have alleged,
directed only at Roman Catholicism. As Voltaire saw and said, “fanatic
Papists and fanatic Calvanism are tarred with one brush.” “L’infàme” was
Christian superstition claiming supernatural authority and enforcing its
claim, as it has ever sought to do, by pains and penalties. He meant by
it the whole spirit of exclusiveness, intolerance, and bigotry,
persecuting and privileged orthodoxy, which he saw-as the outcome of the
divine faith. Practically, as D. F. Strauss justly remarked, “when
Voltaire writes to D’Alembert that he wishes to see the ‘Infâme’ reduced
in France to the same condition in which she finds herself in England,
and when Frederick writes to Voltaire that philosophers flourished
amongst the Greeks and Romans, because their religion had no
dogmas—‘*mais les dogmes de notre infàme gâtent tout_’—it is clear we
must understand by the ‘Infâme,’ whose destruction was the watchword of
the Voltairian circle, the Christian Church, without distinction of
communions, Catholic or Protestant.”

The Catholic Joseph de Maistre shrieks: “With a fury without example,
this insolent blasphemer declared himself the personal enemy of the
Savior of men, dared from the depths of his nothingness to give him a
name of ridicule, and that adorable law which the Man-God brought to
earth he called ‘l’infame.’” This is a judgment worthy of a bigot, who
dares not look into the reason why his creed is detested. Let us try and
understand this insolent blasphemer to-day.

Voltaire looked deep into the heart of the atrocities that wrung his
every nerve with anguish. They were not new: only the humanity and
courage that assailed them were new. They were the natural outcome of
what had been Christian teaching. It was not simply that, as a matter of
fact, priests and theologians were the opponents of every kind of
rational progress, but their intolerance was the logical result of their
creed. These atrocities could not have been perpetrated had not priests
and magistrates had behind them a credulous and fanatical populace,
whose minds were suborned from childhood to believing that they had
themselves the one and divine faith, and that all heretics were enemies
of God. He saw that to destroy the intolerance he must sap the
superstition from which it sprang. He saw that the core of the Christian
superstition lay in Bibliolatry, and that while Christians believed they
had an exclusive and infallibly divine revelation, they would deem all
opposition to their own beliefs a sin, meriting punishment. Mr. Morley
says, with truth: “If we find ourselves walking amid a generation of
cruel, unjust, and darkened spirits, we may be assured that it is their
beliefs on what they deem highest that have made them so. There is no
counting with certainty on the justice of men who are capable of
fashioning and worshipping an unjust divinity; nor on their humanity, so
long as they incorporate inhuman motives in their most sacred dogma; nor
on their reasonableness, while they rigorously decline to accept reason
as a test of truth.”

Voltaire warred on Christian superstition because he keenly felt its
evils. He saw that intolerance naturally flowed from the exclusive and
dogmatic claims which alone differentiated it from other faiths. Its
inducements to right-doing he found to be essentially ignoble, appealing
either to brutal fear of punishment or base expectation of reward, and
in each case alike mercenary. He saw that terrorism engendered
brutality, that a savage will think nothing of slaughtering hundreds to
appease his angry God. He saw that it had been a fine religion for
priests and monks—those caterpillars of the commonwealth, living on the
fat of the land while pretending to hold the keys of heaven, a race of
parasites on the people, who toil not neither do they spin, and whose
direct interest lay in fostering their dupes ignorance and credulity.
The Christian tree was judged, as its founder said it should be, by its
fruits. Men do not gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles. He
saw Christianity as Tacitus described it—“a maleficent superstition.” It
was a upas tree, to be cut down; and hence he reiterated his terrible
_Delenda est Carthago,_ “Ecrasez l’Infàme”—“Destroy the monster.”

He wrote to D’Alembert from Ferney: “For forty years I have endured the
outrages of bigots and scoundrels. I have found there is nothing to gain
by moderation, and that it is a deception. I must wage war openly and
die nobly, ’on a crowd of bigots slaughtered at my feet.’” His war was
relentless and unremitting. He assailed “l’Infàme” with every weapon
which learning, wit, industry, and indignation could supply.

Frederick wrote to him from the midst of his own wars: “Your zeal burns
against the Jesuits and superstitions. You do well to combat error, but
do you credit that the world will change? The human mind is weak.
Three-fourths of mankind are formed to be the slaves of the absurdest
fanaticism. The fear of the devil and hell is fascinating to them, and
they detest the sage who wishes to enlighten them. I look in vain among
them for the image of God, of which the theologians assure us they carry
the imprint.” Madame du Deffand wrote in a similar strain. She assured
him that every person of sense thought as he did; why then continue? No
remonstrance moved him. He had enlisted for the war, and might have said
with Luther: _Hier stehe ich; ich kann nicht anders_.

Much nonsense has been written about Voltaire’s employment of ridicule
against religious beliefs. I am reminded of Bishop South’s remark to a
dull brother bishop, who reproved him for sprinkling his sermon with
witticisms. “Now, my lord, do you really mean to say that, if God had
given you any wit, you would not have used it?” Voltaire ridiculed what
he esteemed ridiculous. But there is nothing more galling to
superstitionists than to find that others find food for mirth in their

“You mock at sacred things,” said the Jesuits to Pascal when he exposed
their casuistry. Doubtless the priests of Baal said the same when Elijah
asked them whether their God was asleep, or peradventure on a journey.
The artifice of inculcating a solemn and reverential manner of treating
absurdities is the perennial recipe for sanctifying and perpetuating
superstition. “Priests of all persuasions,” says Oliver Goldsmith, “are
enemies to ridicule, because they know it to be a formidable antagonist
to fanaticism, and they preach up gravity to conceal their own
shallowness of imposture.” Approach the mysteries of the faith with
reverence and you concede half the battle. Christian missionaries do not
thus treat the fetishism and sorcery of heathen lands. To overcome it
they must expose its absurdities. Ridicule has been a weapon in the
hands of all the great liberators, Luther, Erasmus, Rabelais, Bruno,
Swift, but none used it more effectively than Voltaire. Buckle well
says; “He used ridicule, not as the test of truth, but as the scourge of
folly.” And he adds: “His irony, his wit, his pungent and telling
sarcasms produce more effect than the gravest arguments could have done;
and there can be no doubt he was fully justified in using those great
resources with which nature had endowed him, since by their aid he
advanced the interests of truth, and relieved men from some of their
most inveterate prejudices.” Victor Hugo puts the case in poetic fashion
when he declares that Voltaire was irony incarnate for the salvation of
mankind. “Ridicule is not argument”! Well, it is a pointed form of
polemic, the _argumentum ad absurdum_. “Mustapha,” said Voltaire, “does
not believe, but he believes that he believes.” To shame him out of
hypocrisy, there is nothing better than laughter; and if a true
believer, laughter will best free him from terror of his bogey devil and
no less bogey god. Ridicule can hurt no reality. You cannot make fun of
the multiplication table. The fun begins when the theologians assert
that three times one are one. Shaftesbury, who maintained that ridicule
was a test of truth, remarked with justice, “’tis the persecuting spirit
that has raised the bantering one.” Ridicule is the natural retort to
those who seek not to convert but to convict and punish. Ridicule comes
like a stream of sunlight to dissipate the fogs of preconceived
prejudice. A laugh, if no argument, is a splendid preparative. Often, in
Voltaire, ridicule takes an argumentative form. Thus, alluding to a
Monsieur Esprit’s book on the Falsity of Human Virtues, he says: “That
great genius, Mons. Esprit, tells us that neither Cato, Aristotle,
Marcus Aurelius, nor Epictetus were good men, and a good reason why,
good men are only found among Christians. Again, among the Christians,
Catholics alone are virtuous, and of the Catholics, the Jesuits, enemies
of the Oratorians, must be excepted. Therefore, there is scarce any
virtue on earth, except among the enemies of the Jesuits.”

All his characteristic scorn and ridicule come out when dealing with the
fetish book of his adversaries. The _Philosophical Dictionary_ is full
of wit upon biblical subjects. I content myself with an excerpt from the
less known _Sermon of Fifty_: “If Moses changed the waters into blood,
the sages of Pharoah did the same. He made frogs come upon the land;
this also they were able to do. But when lice were concerned, they were
vanquished; in the matter of lice, the Jews knew more and could do more
than the other nations.”

“Finally, Adonaï caused every first-born in Egypt to die, in order that
his people might be at their ease. For his people the sea is cloven in
twain; and we must confess it is the least that could be done on this
occasion. All the other marvels are of the same stamp. The Jews wander
in the desert. Some husbands complain of their wives. Immediately water
is found, which makes every woman who has been faithless to her husband
swell and burst. In the desert the Jews have neither bread nor dough,
but quails and manna are rained upon them. Their clothes are preserved
unworn for forty years; as the children grow, their clothes grow with
them. Samson, because he had not undergone the operation of shaving,
defeats a thousand Philistines with the jaw-bone of an ass. He ties
together three hundred foxes, which, as a matter of course, come quite
readily to his hand.

“There is scarcely a page in which tales of this sort are not found. The
ghost of Samuel appears, summoned by the voice of a witch. The shadow of
a dial—as if miserable creatures like the Jews had dials—goes back ten
degrees at the prayer of Hezekiah, who, with great judgment, asks for
this sign. God gives him the choice of making the hour advance or
recede, and the learned Hezekiah thinks that it is not difficult to make
the shadow advance, but very difficult to make it recede. Elijah mounts
to heaven in a chariot of fire; children sing in a hot and raging
furnace. I should never stop if I entered into the detail of all the
monstrous extravagances with which this book swarms. Never was common
sense outraged so vehemently and indecently.” Noticing the comparison in
the Song of Solomon, “Her nose is like the tower of Damascus,” etc., he
says: “This, I own, is not in the style of the Eclogues of the author of
the Æneid; but all have not a like style, and a Jew is not obliged to
write like Virgil.”

This, it may be objected, is caricature and not criticism. But all that
Voltaire sought was that his blows should tell. He did not expect to be
taken _au pied du lettre_. Some of his biblical criticism is faulty, but
it is hard for the reader to recover from the tone of banter and
contempt with which he treats the sacred book. When the idol is
shattered, it is not much use saying its mouth was not quite so big and
ugly as it was represented to be. Priests have never yet been troubled
by dull criticism. They left Tindal and Chubb alone; but when Woolston,
Annet and Paine added liveliness to their infidelity, they loudly called
for the police.

Leslie Stephen well says: “Men have venerated this or that grotesque
monstrosity because they have always approached it with half-shut eyes
and grovelling on their faces in the dust: a single hearty laugh will
encourage them to stand erect and to learn the latest of lessons—that of
seeing what lies before them. And if your holy religion does really
depend upon preserving the credit of Jonah’s whale, upon justifying all
the atrocities of the Jews, and believing that a census was punished by
a plague, ridicule is not only an effective but an appropriate mode of

Voltaire is often sneered at as a mere destructive. The charge is not
true, and, even if it were, he would none the less deserve the
admiration of posterity for his destructive work. It is as necessary for
the gardener to clear away the rubbish and keep down the weeds as to sow
and water. Mr. Morley justly observes: “He had imagination enough and
intelligence enough to perceive that they are the most pestilent of all
the enemies of mankind, the sombre hierarchs of misology, who take away
the keys of knowledge, thrusting truth down to the second place, and
discrowning sovereign reason to be the serving drudge of superstition or
social usuage.”

Voltaire was the arch iconoclast of his age, a mere destructive, if you
will. Buckie truly remarks: “All great reforms have consisted, not in
making something new, but in unmaking something old.” W. J. Fox
eloquently said: “The destruction of tyranny is political freedom. The
destruction of bigotry is spiritual and mental emancipation. Positive
and negative are mere forms. Creation and destruction, as we call them,
are just one and the same work, the work which man has to do—the
extraction of good from evil.”

Much has been made of the pseudonymous character of his attacks on
Christianity, and of the subterfuges and fibs with which he sought to
evade responsibility. One might as well complain of ironclads wearing
armor in warfare.

It was the necessity of his position. He wanted to do his work, not to
become a martyr, leaving it to unknown hands. It should be remembered
that Voltaire had sometimes to bribe publishers to bring out his
writings; and, in such circumstances, the pseudonymity is surely open to
no suspicion of baseness. His poem on _Natural Religion_ was condemned
to the flames by the decree of the Parliament of Paris, 23rd January,
1759. His _Important Examination of the Scriptures_, which he falsely
attributed to Lord Bolingbroke, was condemned with five other of his
pieces by a decree of the Court of Rome, 29th November, 1771. Could the
author have been caught, he would have had a good chance, if not of
sharing the fate of his book, at least of permanent lodgment in the
Bastille, of which he had already sufficient taste. He knew that
although Bolingbroke had no hand in its composition he largely shared
its ideas, and he obtained at once publicity and security by attributing
it to the dead friend who, Morley says, “was the direct progenitor of
Voltaire’s opinions in religion.” If he stuck at no subterfuge to
achieve his work, his lies injured no one. One of the funniest was the
signing one of his heterodox publications as the Archbishop of
Canterbury, a lie which may remind us of the drunken Sheridan announcing
himself as William Wilberforce. Voltaire had been Bastilled twice, and
verily believed that another taste would end his days. “I am,” he said,
“a friend of truth, but no friend at all to martyrdom.” Shelter behind
any ambush was necessary in such guerilla warfare as his. Over fifty of
his works were condemned, and placed upon the Index. Voltaire used no
fewer than one hundred and thirty different pen-names, which have
enabled bibliographers to display their erudition.(1) But for this
underground method, he might have been laid by the heels instead of
living to old age, with the satisfaction of seeing the world becoming a
little more humane and tolerant through his efforts. In such warfare the
only test is success, and the fact remains that Voltaire’s blows told.
He cleared the course for modern science, and it is not for those who
benefit by his labors to sneer because he did not become a martyr in the

    1. Special mention should be made of the _Bibliographie
    Voltairienne_ of M. L. Querard, and _Voltaire: Bibliographie de
    ses Œuvres_, in four volumes, by M. G. Bengesco, 1882- 1890.

Condorcet says: “His zeal against a religion which he regarded as the
cause of the fanaticism which has desolated Europe since its birth, of
the superstition which had burst about it, and as the source of the
mischief which the enemies of human nature still continued to do, seemed
to double his activity and his forces. ‘I am tired,’ he said one day,
‘of hearing it repeated that twelve men were enough to establish
Christianity. I want to show them that one will be enough to destroy
it.’” What one man could do he did. But it took not twelve legendary
apostles, but the labor of countless thousands of men, through many
ages, to build up the great complex of Christianity, and it will need
the labors of as many to destroy it. Voltaire himself came to see this,
and wrote, in the year before his death, “I now perceive that we must
still wait three or four hundred years. One day it cannot but be that
good men will win their cause; but before that glorious day arrives, how
many disgusts have we to undergo, how many dark persecutions, without
reckoning the La Barres of whom they will make an _auto de fe_ from time
to time.”

John Morley remarks: “The meaner partisans of an orthodoxy, which can
only make wholly sure of itself by injustice to adversaries, has always
loved to paint the Voltairean school in the characters of demons,
enjoying their work of destruction with a sportive and impish delight.
They may have rejoiced in their strength so long as they cherished the
illusion that those who first kindled the torch should also complete the
long course and bear the lamp to the goal. When the gravity of the
enterprise showed itself before them, they remained alert with all
courage, but they ceased to fancy that courage necessarily makes men
happy. The mantle of philosophy was rent in a hundred places, and bitter
winds entered at a hundred holes; but they only drew it the more closely
around them.”

It may remain an inspiration to others, as it assuredly is a proof of
the temperance and moderation of his own life, that much of Voltaire’s
best work was done after he had reached his sixtieth year. _Candide_,
his masterpiece, was written at the age of sixty-four. Four years later
he produced his _Sermon of the Fifty_, and he was sixty-nine when he
published his epoch-making _Treatise upon Toleration_, and _Saul_, the
wittiest of his burlesque dramas. At the age of seventy he issued his
most important work, the _Philosophical Dictionary_, and his burlesque
upon existing superstitions, which he entitled _Pot-Pourri_. This was,
indeed, the period of his greatest literary activity against “l’Infame.”
His _Questions on the Miracles_, his _Examination of Lord Bolingbroke_,
the _Questions of Zapata_, the _Dinner of Count de Boulainvilliers_ (the
charming _resumé_ of Voltaire’s religious opinions, which had the honor
to be burnt by the hand of the hangman), the _Canonisation of St.
Cucufin_, the romance of the _Princess of Babylon_, the _A. B. and C._,
the collection of _Ancient Gospels_, and his _God and Men_, all being
issued while he was between seventy and seventy-five. It was at this
time he edited the _Recueil Nécessaire avec l’Evangile de la Raison_, a
collection of anti-Christian tracts dated Leipsic and London, but
printed at Amsterdam. He was eighty when he put forth his _White Bull_
(one of the funniest of his pieces, which was translated by Jeremy
Bentham), and his ridiculous skit on Bababec and the Fakirs; eighty-two
when he wrote _The Bible Explained_ and _A Christian against Six Jews_;
and eighty-three when he published his _History of the Establishment of

It was thus in the last twenty years of his long life that Voltaire did
his best work for the destruction of prejudice and the spread of
enlightenment. At the same time he maintained a large correspondence,
both with the principal sovereigns of Europe, whom he urged in the
direction of tolerance, and with the leading writers, whom he wished to
combine in a great and systematic attempt to sap the creed he believed
to be at the root of superstition and intolerance.

It is in his lengthy and varied correspondence with intimates, extending
over sixty years, that Voltaire most truly reveals himself. He is
therein his own minute biographer, revealing not only his actions, but
their actuation. We see him therein not merely the prince of
_persifleurs_, but the serious sensitive thinker, keenly alive to
friendship, love, and work for the higher interests of humanity. His
letters are among the most varied, interesting, and delightful of any
left by a great man of letters. Like all his other productions, they
display the fertility of his genius. Over ten thousand separate letters
are catalogued by Bengesco. Their very extent prevents their being
widely read, but they reveal the perennial brightness of his mind, his
delight in work, his love of literature and liberty, his constant gaiety
and goodness of heart, with here and there only a flash of indignation
and contempt. They are imbued with the spirit of friendship, abound in
anecdotes and pleasantries, mingled with a passionate earnestness for
the interest of mankind. Constantly we find him endeavoring to elevate
the literary class, to raise the drama, continually seeking to encourage
talent, to relieve suffering, and to defend the oppressed.


With the authorities at Geneva Voltaire had got into dispute, owing to
his attempt to establish a private theatre in the territory still
dominated by the ghost of Calvin. Moreover, he was continually reminding
them of Servetus. When D’Alembert’s article on Geneva appeared the
citizens were enraged, and Voltaire thought proper to also purchase an
estate near Lausanne, in the Vaud Canton, which was somewhat less
austere in theatrical matters. Here Gibbon was also residing at the

Stupid stories have been told of Gibbon’s attempts to see Voltaire, and
of their mutual laughter at each other’s ugliness. Voltaire is said to
have refused himself to the young Englishman, which is very unlikely,
and that he replied: “You are like the Christian God: he permits one to
eat and drink, but will never show himself.” It is said that he got
Voltaire’s mare let loose on purpose to see the old man chase after him.
Voltaire sent a servant to charge him twelve sous for seeing the great
beast, whereupon he gave twenty-four, with the remark, “that will pay
for a second visit.” Gibbon himself, speaking of the winter of 1757-58,
which he spent in the neighborhood of Lausanne, says: “My desire of
beholding Voltaire, whom I then rated above his real magnitude, was
easily gratified. He received me with civility as an English youth, but
I cannot boast of any peculiar notice or distinction. The highest
gratification which I derived from Voltaire’s residence at Lausanne was
the uncommon circumstance of hearing a great poet declaim his own
productions on the stage. He had formed a company of gentlemen and
ladies, some of whom were not destitute of talents. My ardor, which soon
became conspicuous, seldom failed of procuring me a ticket.... The wit
and philosophy of Voltaire, his table and theatre, refined in a visible
degree the manners of Lausanne; and, however addicted to study, I
enjoyed my share of the amusements of society.”

This taste for directing theatrical representations was shared, perhaps
we might say followed, by his great German admirer Goethe. It was
Voltaire’s relaxation. One of his most particular friends was the great
actor Le Kain. The drama was with him an instrument of education. He
believed it to be a means both of softening and refining manners, and
also of dispersing intolerance and superstition.

Voltaire soon afterwards purchased a third estate at Ferney, just a
little over the French border, and here, eventually, he lived _en grande
seigneur_, and was known as the “patriarch of Ferney.” A philosopher, he
said, with hounds at his heels, like a fox should never trust to one
hole. Accordingly, he had within easy distance the choice of three
distinct governments wherein to find a place of refuge, for, as Carlyle
remarks, he “had to keep his eyes open and always have covert within
reach, under pain of being torn to pieces, while he went about in the
flesh, or rather in the bones, poor lean being.” He now had wealth,
independence, and an assurance of safety, and had come to that time of
life when most men who are able think they may fairly retire from their
labors. But now was the time when he, casting aside all other pleasures
and ambitions, threw himself with unflagging energy and unsurpassed
industry into the great task of his life. It was from Ferney he issued
all the remarkable works of his later years.

At Ferney, the old church obstructing his view of the Alps, he built a
new one, and got into trouble for doing so. He had inscribed on it, “Deo
erexit Voltaire, 1761,” a phrase which betrayed rather patronage than

“It is,” he remarked, “the only church dedicated to God alone; all the
others are dedicated to saints. For my part, I would rather worship the
master than the valets.” On another occasion, he said: “Yes, I adore
God; but not monsieur his son, and madame his mother.” It was observed
of the inscription that he had only a single word between himself and
God. From the wall of his church he also built a tomb for himself. “The
wicked will say that I am neither inside nor outside,” he remarked. Of
the church he remarked: “The wicked will say, no doubt, that I am
building this church in order to throw down the one which conceals a
beautiful prospect, and to have a grand avenue; but I let the impious
talk, and go on working out my salvation.” If the wicked made the
remarks predicted, they doubtless spoke the truth. It was even reported
that Voltaire personally superintended the removal of the old ruinous
one, saying, “Take away that gibbet” when pointing to the crucifix. The
_cure_ of Moens, the parish adjoining Ferney, cited Voltaire before the
ecclesiastical official of Gex as guilty of impiety and sacrilege, and
Wagnière, Voltaire’s secretary, says: “Those gentlemen indulged the
confident hope that M. de Voltaire would be burned, or at least hanged,
for the greater glory of God and the edification of the faithful. This
they said publicly.” Voltaire was enabled to strike terror to his
persecutor by producing a royal ordinance of 1627 forbidding a _cure_ to
serve either as prosecutor or judge in such cases. The church remains,
but the celebrated inscription was effaced during the Restoration of the

Ferney became an asylum for the oppressed both from France and
Switzerland. Many of these Voltaire located in and about his château,
but, as their number increased, he built nice stone houses, and, in a
little time, the miserable hamlet which before his arrival had been a
wilderness, became a prosperous colony of twelve hundred individuals and
a veritable free State. There were both Protestants and Catholics among
them, but such was the unanimity in which they lived under his
protection, that we are told no one could conceive that different
religions existed among them. Among this colony he established the
manufacture of weaving and of watches, by means of which his people
presently became wealthy; the Empress Catherine II., even when engaged
in her Turkish campaigns, paying her _bon ami_ Voltaire the compliment
of assisting the Ferney colony by an order for watches to the value of
some thousand roubles. He pushed the work of his colonists into repute
throughout the world, and was justified in saying to the Duke of
Richelieu, “Give me a fair chance, and I am the man to build a city.”

Though everywhere maligned as an infidel and a scoffer, his life was one
long act of benevolence. The watches of Ferney became known as those of
Geneva. “Fifteen years ago,” said a visitor, “there were barely at
Ferney three or four cottages and forty inhabitants; now it is
astonishing to see a numerous and civilised colony, a theatre, and more
than a hundred pretty houses.” “His charities,” says General Hamley,
“were munificent. When the Order of Jesuits was suppressed he took one
of the body, Father Adam, into his house, and made him his almoner, a
post which was far from being a sinecure.” Hearing that Mademoiselle
Corneille, the grandniece of the poet, was in poverty, Voltaire, in the
most delicate manner, invited her to his house, treated her as a
relation, and gave her an education suitable to her descent. “It is,” he
said, “the duty of an old soldier to be useful to the daughter of his
general.” That she might not feel under personal obligation, he devoted
to her dowry the profits of his _Commentaries on Corneille_.

“A description is given of him in his last days at Ferney, seated under
a vine, on the occasion of a _fête_, and receiving the congratulations
and complimentary gifts of his tenantry and neighbors, when a young
lady, whom he had adopted, brought him in a basket a pair of white doves
with pink beaks, as her offering. He afterwards entertained about 200
guests at a splendid repast, followed by illuminations, songs, and
dances, and was himself so carried away in an access of gaiety as to
throw his hat into the air. But his merriment ended in a tempest of
wrath; for learning, in the course of the evening, that the two doves
which had figured so prettily in the _fête_ had been killed for the
table, his indignation at the stolid cruelty which could shed the blood
of the creatures they had all just admired and caressed, knew no

Diderot, who shares with Voltaire the glory of being the intellectual
landmark of last century, and who equalled him as an artist and excelled
him as a philosopher, only met Voltaire a little before his death. The
fame of Voltaire’s wealth had kept him from Ferney. Speaking of Voltaire
in old age, Diderot says: “He is like one of those old haunted castles,
which are falling into ruins in every part; but you easily perceive that
it is inhabited by some ancient magician.” Diderot was the better
critic, and controverted the patriarch as to the merits of Shakespeare,
whom he compared to the statue of Saint Christopher at Notre
Dame—unshapely and rude; but: such a colossus that ordinary petty men
could pass between his legs without touching him.

Late in life, Voltaire adopted Reine Philiberte de Vericourt, a young
girl of noble but poor family, whom he had rescued from a convent life,
installed in his own house, and married to the Marquis de Villette. Her
pet name was _Belle et Bonne_, and no one had more to do with the
happiness of the last years of Voltaire than she. She watched by the
dying Voltaire’s bedside, and Lady Morgan thus records her report: “To
his last moment everything he said and did breathed the benevolence and
goodness of his character. All announced in him tranquility, peace,
resignation; except a little moment of ill-humor which he showed to the
_cure_ of St. Sulpice when he begged him to withdraw, and said, ’Let me
die in peace.’”

Voltaire himself wrote to Mme. du Deffand: “They say sometimes of a man,
’He died like a dog’; but, truly, a dog is very happy to die without all
the ceremony with which they persecute the last moments of our lives. If
they had a little charity for us, they would let us die without saying
anything about it. The worst is that we are then surrounded by
hypocrites, who worry us to make us think as they do not in the least
think; or else by imbeciles, who desire us to be as stupid as they are.
All this is very disgusting. The only pleasure of life at Geneva is that
people can die there as they like; many worthy persons summon no priest
at all. People kill themselves if they please, without any one
objecting; or they await the last moment, and no one troubles them about

Under suffering, age, and impending death, Voltaire’s bearing, as
Carlyle acknowledges, “one must say is rather beautiful.” Voltaire had
all his life “enjoyed” bad health. He had always a feeble constitution,
and was a confirmed invalid for the greater part of his life, suffering
from bladder disorder, and a variety of other diseases that would have
soon finished an ordinary man. We may say he was sustained by his work,
which was ever gay, even when most pessimistic. “My eyes are as red as a
drunkard’s,” he writes, “and I have not the honor to be one.” His wit
lasted in old age. A visitor to Ferney, hearing him praise Haller
enthusiastically, told him that Haller did not do him equal justice.
“Ah,” said Voltaire, lightly, “perhaps we are both mistaken.” To Bailly,
the astronomer, he wrote, at the age of eighty-one: “A hundred thanks
for the book of medicine which you sent me, together with your own
[_History of Ancient Astronomy_], when I was very unwell. I have not
opened the first. The second I have read and feel much better.” He kept
himself at work with coffee. His interest was ever in his work. At the
very last, the new dictionary he had proposed to the Academy was on his
mind; it was not proceeding as rapidly as his indefatigable spirit
desired. “J’ai fait un pen de bien; c’est mon meilleur ouvrage”—“I have
done a little good; that is my best work,” was one of his latest

His physicians gave their opinion that he might have lived even longer
than he did had he not been lured to Paris by his niece (unprepossessing
Madame Denis) to superintend the production of his last tragedy _Irene_.
Asked at the barrier if there was anything contraband in the carriage,
he replied, “Only myself.” On entering Paris he received a shock in the
news that his friend Le Kain, the actor, had been buried the day before.
He was visited by Benjamin Franklin, who brought his grandson, whom they
desired to kneel for the patriarch’s blessing. Pronouncing in English
the words, “God, Liberty, Toleration”—“this,” said Voltaire, “is the
most suitable benediction for the grandson of Franklin.” Poems,
addresses and deputations came thick upon him, and his hotel was
thronged with visitors of rank and eminence. The popular voice hailed
the aged patriarch, especially as the defender of Calas, the apostle of
universal toleration; and this title was more gratifying to him than any

In one house where Voltaire called on his last visit to Paris, the
mistress reproached him for the obstinacy with which, in extreme old age
(over eighty-three), he continued to assail the Church and its beliefs.
“Be moderate and generous,” said she, “after the victory. What can you
fear now from such adversaries? The fanatics are prostrate (_à terre_).
They can no longer injure. Their reign is over.” Voltaire replied: “You
are in error, madame; it is a fire that is covered but not extinguished.
Those fanatics, those Tartuffes, are mad dogs. They are muzzled, but
they have not lost their teeth. It is true they bite no more; but on the
first opportunity, if their teeth are not drawn, you will see if they
will not bite.” All that one man could do was done by Voltaire. More
than any other, he helped to muzzle the mad dog of religious
intolerance, lassoing it dexterously with his finespun silken thread,
since replaced by a stronger cord. But the beast even yet is not dead;
its teeth are not all drawn. Give it a chance and it will still bite.
What we have to thank Voltaire for is, that he has left works which, as
he himself said, are “scissors and files to file the teeth and pare the
talons of the monsters.”

Voltaire was, as he said, stifled in roses. He sat up at night
perfecting _Irene_, and his unwearied activity induced him at his great
age to begin a Dictionary upon a novel plan which he prevailed upon the
French Academy to take up. At the performance of his tragedy he was
crowned with laurel in his box, amid the plaudits of the audience. To
keep himself up under the excitement, he exceeded even his usual excess
of coffee. These labors and dissipation brought on spitting of blood,
and sleeplessness, to obviate which he took opium. Condorcet says the
servant mistook one of the doses, which threw him into a state of
lethargy, from which he never recovered. He lingered for some time, but
at length expired on the 30th of May, 1778, in his eighty-fourth year.

Of course lying tales of dying horrors were floated, and disbelieved in
by all who knew him. He wished to rest in his own churchyard, and let
the _abbé_ Gaultier and the _curé_ de St. Sulpice squabble as to who
should have, the honor of his conversion. His secretary, being alone
with him, begged him to state what his view continued to be when he
believed himself dying; and received this written declaration: “I die
adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, detesting
superstition”—“Je meurs eti adorant dieu, en aimant mes amis, en ne
baissant pas mes ennemis, de testant superstition.” This dying
declaration may be seen at the _Bibliothèque Nationale_, Paris (Fr.
11,460), written, signed and dated by him in a still firm hand,
February, 1778.

Into the stories told of Voltaire’s dying moments and many similar
legends, my colleague, Mr. G. W. Foote, has fully entered in his
_Infidel Deathbeds_. He quotes the following extract from a letter by
Dr. Burard, who, as assistant physician, was constantly about Voltaire
in his last moments:

“I feel happy in being able, while paying homage to truth, to destroy
the effect of the lying stories which have been told respecting the last
moments of Mons. de Voltaire. I was, by office, one of those who were
appointed to watch the whole progress of his illness, with MM.
Tron-chin, Lorry, and Try, his medical attendants. I never left him for
an instant during his last moments, and I can certify that we invariably
observed in him the same strength of character, though his disease was
necessarily attended with horrible pain. (Here follow the details of his
case.) We positively forbade him to speak, in order to prevent the
increase of a spitting of blood, with which he was attacked; still he
continued to communicate with us by means of little cards, on which he
wrote his questions; we replied to him verbally, and if he was not
satisfied, he always made his observations to us in writing. He
therefore retained his faculties up to the last moment, and the
fooleries which have been attributed to him are deserving of the
greatest contempt. It could not even be said that such or such person
had related any circnmstance of his death, as being witness to it; for
at the last, admission to his chamber was forbidden to any person. Those
who came to obtain intelligence respecting the patient, waited in the
saloon, and other apartments at hand. The proposition, therefore, which
has been put in the mouth of Marshal Richelieu is as unfounded as the

“Paris, April 3rd, 1819.

“(Signed) Burard.”

The actual facts are thus told by Mr. Parton: “Ten minutes before he
breathed his last he roused from his slumber, took the hand of his
valet, pressed it, and said to him: ‘Adieu, my dear Morand; I am dying.’
These were his last words.”

D’Alembert, in a letter to Frederick, written after Voltaire’s death,
thus recorded the impression made on him by the dying man. Having
described the stupefying effects of the opium which left his head clear
only for brief intervals, D’Alembert, who saw him during one of them,
proceeds: “He recognised me and even spoke to me some friendly words.
But the moment after he fell back into his state of stupor, for he was
almost always dying. He awoke only to complain and to say ‘he had come
to Paris to die.’” Throughout his illness, D’Alembert adds, “he
exhibited, to the extent which his condition permitted, much tranquility
of mind, although he seemed to regret life. I saw him again the day
before his death, and to some friendly words of mine he replied,
pressing my hand, ‘You are my consolation.’”

It is certain the heads of the French Church did not consider that
Voltaire had made a death-bed conversion, for they refused his body
burial in consecrated ground. They had anathematised him when alive and
proscribed him when dead. He had prepared a tomb for himself under the
sky, where he had grown old and done good, but he was cheated out of his
rights, and it was decided that he who built the church had no right to
have his bones bleach in the cemetery. Letters were sent to the Bishop
of Annecy, in whose diocese Ferney was, enjoining him to prohibit the
_cure_ thereof from giving Voltaire’s remains Christian burial in his
own churchyard. Voltaire’s nephew, the _abbé_ Mignot, held a ruined
abbey at Scillieres, in Champagne, a hundred miles or so from Paris; and
here the body was secretly hurried off and interred. On the very day of
interment the Bishop of the diocese wrote to the Prior forbidding the
burial. There was even some talk of having the body exhumed, and the
clergy clamored for the expulsion of the Prior. Grimm relates that “the
players were forbidden to act M. de Voltaire’s pieces till further
orders, the editors of the public papers to speak of his death in any
terms, either favorable or unfavorable, and the preceptors of the
colleges to suffer any of their scholars to learn his verses.”

In 1791, by a decree of the National Assembly and amid the acclamation
of the people, his body was brought and placed in the Pantheon, where it
rested beside that of Rousseau. At the Restoration in 1814 some bigoted
Royalist stole away the bones, which were thrown into a hole with lime
poured on them.

In person Voltaire was always slim, with the long head which, Carlyle
says, “is the best sign of intelligence.” His thinness is commemorated
by the poor but well-known epigram attributed to Young, and identifying
him at once with “Satan, Death, and Sin.” In old age he became a mere
skeleton, with eyes of great brilliancy peering beneath his wig. He was
sober and temperate save in coffee, which he drank as inveterately as
Johnson did tea. Conversation and literature were, as with Johnson, the
gods of his idolatry.


Bolingbroke finely said of Marlborough: “He was so great a man that I
forget his errors.” One can as justly say the same of Voltaire. I have
scant sympathy with those who, dealing with great men, seek every
opportunity of bringing them down to the common level. Voltaire was by
no means a faultless character. He was far indeed from being an
immaculate hero: he had the failings of his age and of his training. But
they form no essential part of his work. How much has been made of the
coarseness and immorality of Luther by men like Father Anderdon! All men
have the defects of their qualities. Condorcet, in his _Life of
Voltaire_, has placed on record this just criticism: “The happy
qualities of Voltaire were often obscured and distorted by a natural
mobility, aggravated by the habit of writing tragedies. He passed in a
moment from anger to sympathetic emotion; from indignation to
pleasantry. His passions, naturally violent, sometimes transported him
too far; and his excessive mobility deprived him of the advantages
ordinarily attached to passionate tempers—firmness in conduct—courage
which no terrors can withhold from action, and which no dangers,
anticipated beforehand, can shake by their actual presence. Voltaire has
often been seen to expose himself rashly to the storm—seldom to meet it
with fortitude. These alternations of audacity and weakness have often
afflicted his friends, and prepared unworthy triumphs for his envenomed

He was too ready to lash the curs who barked at his heels, thereby
stimulating them to further noise. Scandalous ex-Jesuit Desfontaines,
L’Ane de Mirepoix, Thersites Fréron and the rest, would be forgotten had
he not condescended to apply the whip. Voltaire was always something of
a spoilt child, over-sensitive to every reproach. His petulance impelled
him to absurd displays of weakness and frenzy, which he was the first to
regret. He was generous even to his enemies when they were in trouble.
The weaknesses of Voltaire were, like his smile, on the surface, but
there was a great human heart beating beneath.

The restlessness of Voltaire has been contrasted with the repose of
Goethe, and Gallic fury with calm Teutonic strength. But which of the
two men did most for humanity? Voltaire might have been as calm as
Goethe had he been indifferent to everything but his own culture and
comfort. No! he loved the fight. When the battle of freedom raged, there
was he in the thick of it, considering not his reputation, but what he
could do to crush the infamous. An enemy said of him: “He is the first
man in the world at writing down what other people have thought.” Mr.
Morley justly considers this high and sufficient praise.

The life of a writer was defined by Pope as “a warfare upon earth.”
Never was this truer than in the case of Voltaire, who himself said:
“_La vie à’un homme de lettres est un combat perpétuel et on meurt les
armes à la main._” He was ever in the midst of the fight, and usually
alone and surrounded by enemies. And his unfailing resources not merely
kept them at bay, but compelled their surrender of an immense territory.
His was a life of creation and contest. In the war against despotism and
Christianity he achieved a new kingship of public opinion, and proved
that the pen was indeed mightier than the sword.

Heine said: “We should forgive our enemies—but not until they are hung.”
Voltaire forgave his when he had gibbeted them in his writings. People
who find it difficult to understand his bitterness against “L’Infàme”
should remember the revolting cruelty of which religious bigotry was
still capable in his day. The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the
prolonged horrors of the Thirty Years’ War, and the Massacre of St.
Bartholomew vibrated still. Condorcet wrote: “The blood of many millions
of men, massacred in the name of God, still steams up to heaven around
us. The earth on which we tread is everywhere covered with the bones of
the victims of barbarous intolerance.” His rhetoric expressed the
feeling of a generation who knew by experience the evils of religious
bigotry and fanaticism.

It is as a champion of Freethought that Voltaire deserves chiefly to be
remembered. In that capacity I can only find words of praise. Complaints
of his flippancy, his _persiflage_, his ridicule, his scurrility, his
etc., came, and still come, from the enemy, and show that his blows told
and tell. If he did not crush the infamous he at least crippled it. No
doubt, under different circumstances,

Voltaire would have fought differently. But he would never have thought
of treating atrocities without indignation, or absurdities without
ridicule. Gravity is a part of the game of imposture, and there is
nothing the hypocrites and humbugs resent so much as having their solemn
pretensions laughed at. .

He knew the subtle power of ridicule. It was the most effective weapon,
not only for the time and the nation in which he wrote, but for our time
also. His blows were all dealt with grace and agility; his pills were
sugar-coated. Grimm well said of him: “He makes arrows of every kind of
wood, brilliant and rapid in their flight, but with a keen, unerring
point. Under his sparkling pen, erudition ceases to be ponderous and
becomes full of life. If he cannot sweep the grand chords of the lyre,
he can j strike on golden medals his favorite maxims, and is j
irreproachable in the lighter order of poetry.” But, I contend, there
was a fundamental earnestness in his character; he was the apostle of
plain every-day common sense and good feeling.

Voltaire is judged by the character which distinguishes him from other
writers, his light touch and superficial raillery. Because he is _par
excellence_ a _persifleur_, he is set down as merely a _persifleur_.
Never was there a greater mistake. It is forgotten that he did not write
witty tales and squibs only; that he made France acquainted with the
philosophy of Locke and the science of Newton; that he wrote the _Age of
Louis XIV._, the _History of the Parliament of Paris_, and the _Essay on
Manners_ (which revived the historic method), and that he wrote more
than twenty tragedies which transformed the French theatre. Voltaire was
no mere mocker: his _manner_ was that of a _persifleur_, but his matter
was as solid as that of any theologian.

M. Louis de Brouckere, of the University of Brussels, justly claims for
Voltaire a double share in the formation of modern culture and the
development of modern science. He contributed to it directly by his
personal works, and indirectly by antagonising the forces retarding
knowledge and creating an intellectual environment eminently favorable
to the formation of synthetic knowledge, and a new public opinion common
to the intellectual _élite_ of Europe.

Voltaire knew how to marshal against reigning prejudices and errors all
the resources of vast learning and an incomparable wit; but no one more
clearly than he saw that the doctrines he destroyed must be replaced by
others, that humanity cannot get along without a body of common beliefs;
and he contributed more than any one else to the elaboration of the new
intellectual code by uniting and harmonising the efforts of special
_savants_ and isolated thinkers, by giving them a clear consciousness
that what they aimed at was the same thing and common to them all.

He never slackened his efforts to appease the quarrels which broke out
in the camp of the philosophers, to group all his _spiritual brothers_
in one compact bundle, capable of joint action, to unite them in a laic
_church_ which could be utilised to oppose existing churches. The words
I here italicise were underlined by him; they are found on every page of
his correspondence, and he loses no opportunity to reiterate them and
explain their meaning precisely.

If the publication of the _Encyclopœdia_ was the work of Diderot, the
union of the group of men who rendered that publication possible was, in
great measure, the work of Voltaire. If Condorcet wrote just before his
death his immortal _Sketch_, Voltaire took a preponderating part in the
creation of the intellectual atmosphere in which Condorcet lived and
could develop his genius.

Voltaire was assuredly not so coarse as Luther, nor even as his
contemporary Warburton. He carried lighter guns than Luther, but was
more alert and equally persistent. His war against superstition and
intolerance was life-long. Luther smote powerful blows at the church
with a bludgeon; Voltaire made delicate passes with a rapier. Catholics
often declaim against the coarseness of the monk-trained Protestant
champion. They also protest against the trickery of the Jesuit-trained
Freethinker. It is sufficient to say Luther could not have done his work
had he not been coarse. Nor could Voltaire have done his had he not been
a tricksy spirit. Judged by his work, he was one of the best of men,
because he did most good to his fellows, and because in his heart was
the most burning love of truth, of justice and toleration. In the words
of Lecky, he did “more to destroy the greatest of human curses than any
other of the sons of men.” His numerous volumes are the fruit and
exposition of a spirit of encyclopaedic curiosity. He assimilated all
the thought and learning of his time, and brought to bear on it a wit
and common sense that was all his own.

Voltaire is never so passionately in earnest as when he speaks against
cruelty and oppression. Every sentence quivers with humanity. He
denounces war as no “moralist for hire” in a pulpit has ever done, as a
scourge of the poor, the weak, and the helpless, to whom he is ever
tender. Whenever he sees tyranny or injustice, he attacks it. He wrote
against torture when its employment was an established principle of law.
He denounced duelling when that form of murder was the chief feature of
the code of honor. He waged warfare upon war when, it was considered
man’s highest glory.

His attacks on the judicial iniquity of torture—so often callously
employed on those supposed instruments of Satan, heretics and
witches—were incessant, and it was owing to his influence that the
practice was abolished in France by Turgot, his friend, as it had been
in Prussia by Frederick, and in Russia by Catherine, his disciples. He
advocated the abolition of mutilation, and all forms of cruelty in
punishment. He satirised the folly of punishing murder and robbery by
the same capital penalty, and thus making assassination the interest of
the thief; the barbarity of confiscating the property of children for
the crime of the father; and the intricacies and consequent injustice of
legal methods. He sought to abolish the sale of offices, to equalise
taxation, and to restrict the power of priests to prescribe degrading
penances and excessive abstinences. He wrote with fervor against the
remnants of serfdom, and defended the rights of the serfs in the Jura
against their monastic oppressors. Mr. Lecky says: “His keen and
luminous intellect judged with admirable precision most of the popular
delusions of his time. He exposed with great force the common error
which confounds all wealth with the precious metals. He wrote against
sumptuary laws. He refuted Rousseau’s doctrine of the evil of all

Voltaire’s work went deeper than political reform. He dealt with ideas,
not institutions. In a little treatise called the _Voyage of Reason_,
which he wrote as late as 1774, he enumerates with exultation the
triumphs of reforms which he himself had witnessed. He had previously
written, in 1764: “Everything I see scatters the seeds of a revolution
which will indubitably arrive, and which I shall not have the happiness
to witness.” Buckle notes that “the further he advanced in years, the
more pungent were his sarcasms against ministers, the more violent were
his invectives against despotism”; and it was said of him in the early
days of the Revolution, when it was sanguine but not yet sanguinary, “He
did not see what has been done, but he did all that we see.”

He teaches no mystery, but the open secret of Secularism—_il faut
cultiver nôtre jardin_ (we must cultivate our garden). “Life,” he said,
“is thickly sown with thorns. I know no other remedy than to pass
rapidly over them. The longer we dwell on our misfortunes the greater is
their power to harm us.” Economy, he declared, is the source of
liberality, and this maxim he reduced to practice. He ridiculed all
pretences; those of the physician as well as of the metaphysician. “What
have you undertaken?” he said, smiling, to a young man, who answered
that he was studying medicine. “Why, to convey drugs of which you know
little into a body of which you know less!” “Regimen,” said he, “is
better than physic. Everyone should be his own physician. Eat with
moderation what you know by experience agrees with your constitution.
Nothing is good for the body but what we can digest. What medicine can
procure digestion? Exercise. What recruit strength? Sleep. What
alleviate incurable evils? Patience.”

The tone of Voltaire is not fervid or heroic, like, for instance, that
of Carlyle; but he worked, as Carlyle did not, for a great cause. He
felt for suffering outside himself. Without mysticism or fanaticism,
aiming at no remote or impracticable ideal, he ever insisted on meeting
the problems of life with practical good sense, toleration, and
humanity. He sought always for clear ideas, tangible results, and as Mr.
Lecky says, “labored steadily within the limits of his ideals and of his
sympathies, to make the world wiser, happier, and better place than he
found it.”

Voltaire wrote: “My motto is, ‘Straight to the fact,’” and this was a
characteristic which equally marked him and Frederick. He had a horror
of phrases. “Your fine phrases,” said one to him. “My fine phrases!
Learn that I never made one in my life.” His style is indeed marked by
restraint and simplicity of diction. He wrote to D’Alembert: “You will
never succeed in delivering men from error by means of metaphysics. You
must prove the truth by facts.” As an instance of his apt mingling of
fact with reason and ridicule, take his treatment of the doctrine of the
Resurrection in the _Philosophical Dictionary_. “A Breton soldier goes
to Canada. He finds by chance he falls short of food. He is forced to
eat an Iroquois he has killed over-night. This Iroquois had nourished
himself on Jesuits during two or three months, a great part of his body
has become Jesuit. So there is the body of this soldier composed of
Iroquois, Jesuit, and whatever he had eaten before. How will each resume
precisely what belonged to him?”

Magnify his failings as you may, you cannot obliterate his one
transcendent merit, his humanity ever responsive to every claim of
suffering or wrong. He stood for the rights of conscience, for the
dignity of human reason, for the gospel of Freethought.

Voltaire may not be placed with the great inspiring teachers of mankind.
But it must be acknowledged that, as Mr. George Saintsbury, no mean
critic, says: “In literary craftsmanship, at once versatile and
accomplished, he has no superior and scarcely a rival.”

He declared that he loved the whole of the nine Muses, and that the
doors of the soul should be open to all sciences and all sentiments. He
employed every species of composition—poetry, prose, tragedy, comedy,
history, dialogue, epistle, essay or epigram—as it suited his purpose,
and he excelled in all. Argument or raillery came alike. He made reason
amusing, and none like him could ridicule the ridiculous. His charm as a
writer has been the occasion of the obloquy attached to his name by
bigots. They can never forgive that he forced people to smile at their

Much, of course, of Voltaire’s multitudinous work was directed to
immediate ends, and but for his grace of style would be of little
present interest. But after all winnowings by the ever-swaying fan of
time much is left of enduring value. The name of Voltaire will ever be a
mighty one in literature: a glorious example of what a man may achieve
who is strong in his love of humanity.


As a contrast to the views of Dr. Johnson and De Maistre, which for
generations represented the current opinion of Protestants and
Catholics, I bring together a few independent testimonies. As time goes
on his admirers increase in volume, while his detractors now are mainly
those who have an interest in or secret sympathy with the abuses he
destroyed. And first, I will give the testimony of Goldsmith who had met
him. It was written while Voltaire was alive, but when a false report of
his death had been received in England. “Should you look for the
character of Voltaire among the journalists and illiterate writers of
the age, you will find him there characterised as a monster, with a head
turned to wisdom, and a heart inclining to vice—the powers of his mind
and the baseness of his principles forming a detestable contrast. But
seek for his character among writers like himself, and you will find him
very differently described. You perceive him, in their accounts,
possessed of good nature, humanity, greatness of soul, fortitude, and
almost every virtue: in this description those who might be supposed
best acquainted with his character are unanimous. The royal Prussian,
D’Argens, Diderot, D’Alembert, and Fontenelle conspire in drawing the
picture, in describing the friend of man, and the patron of every rising

Lord Byron’s lines on Voltaire and Gibbon (_Childe Harold_, iii.,
105-107) are well known. He says:

    They were gigantic minds, and their steep aim
    Was, Titan−like, on daring doubts to pile
    Thoughts which should call down thunder, and the flame
    Of Heaven again assail’d, if Heaven the while
    On man and man’s research could deign do more than smile.

    The one was fire and fickleness, a child
    Most mutable in wishes, but in mind
    A wit as various,—gay, grave, sage, or wild,—
    Historian, bard, philosopher, combined;
    He multiplied himself among mankind,
    The Proteus of their talents:
    But his own
    Breathed most in ridicule,—which, as the wind,
    Blew where it listed, laying all things prone,—
    Now to o’erthrow a fool, and now to shake a throne.

    The other, deep and slow, exhausting thought,
    And having wisdom with each studious year,
    In meditation dwelt, with learning wrought,
    And shaped his weapon with an edge severe,
    Sapping a solemn creed with solemn sneer;
    The lord of iron,—that master−spell,
    Which stung his foes to wrath, which grew from fear,
    And doom’d him to the zealot’s ready Hell,
    Which answers to all doubts so eloquently well.

Warton, the learned critic and author of a _History of Poetry_
(Dissertation I.) remarked: “Voltaire, a writer of much deeper research
than is imagined, and the first who has displayed the literature and
customs of the dark ages with any degree of penetration and
comprehension.” Robertson, the historian, similarly observed that, had
Voltaire only given his authorities, “many of his readers who only
consider him as an entertaining and lively writer would have found that
he is a learned and well informed historian.”

Lord Holland wrote, in his account of the _Life and Writings of Lope de
Vega_: “Till Voltaire appeared there was no nation more ignorant of its
neighbors’ literature than the French. He first exposed and then
corrected this neglect in his countrymen. There is no writer to whom the
authors of other nations, especially of England, are so indebted for the
extension of their fame in France, and, through France, in Europe. There
is no critic who has employed more time, wit, ingenuity, and diligence
in promoting the literary intercourse between country and country, and
in celebrating in one language the triumphs of another. His enemies
would fain persuade us that such exuberance of wit implies a want of
information; but they only succeed in showing that a want of wit by no
means implies an exuberance of information.”

Goethe said: “Voltaire will ever be regarded as the greatest name in
literature in modern times, and perhaps even in all ages, as the most
astonishing creation of nature, in which she united, in one frail human
organisation, all the varieties of talent, all the glories of genius,
all the potencies of thought. If you wish depth, genius, imagination,
taste, reason, sensibility, philosophy, elevation, originality, nature,
intellect, fancy, rectitude, facility, flexibility, precision, art,
abundance, variety, fertility, warmth, magic, charm, grace, force, an
eagle sweep of vision, vast understanding, instruction rich, tone
excellent, urbanity, suavity, delicacy, correctness, purity, cleanness,
eloquence, harmony, brilliancy, rapidity, gaiety, pathos, sublimity and
universality—perfection indeed—behold Voltaire.”

Lord Brougham, in his _Lives of Men of Letters and Science who
flourished in the time of George III_., devotes a considerable section
to Voltaire. After censuring “the manner in which he devoted himself to
crying down the sacred things of his country,” he continues: “But,
though it would be exceedingly wrong to pass over this great and
prevailing fault without severe reprobation, it would be equally unjust,
nay, ungrateful, ever to forget the immense obligations under which
Voltaire has laid mankind by his writings, the pleasure derived from his
fancy and his wit, the amusement which his singular and original humor
bestows, even the copious instruction with which his historical works
are pregnant, and the vast improvement in the manner of writing history
which we owe to him. Yet, great as these services are—among the greatest
that can be rendered by a man of letters—they are really of far inferior
value to the benefits which have resulted from his long and arduous
struggle against oppression, especially against tyranny in the worst
form which it can assume, the persecution of opinion, the infraction of
the sacred right to exercise the reason upon all subjects, unfettered by
prejudice, uncontrolled by authority, whether of great names or of
temporal power.”

Macaulay, in his _Essay on Frederick the Great_, observes: “In truth, of
all the intellectual weapons which have ever been wielded by man, the
most terrible was the mockery of Voltaire. Bigots and tyrants, who had
never been moved by the wailing and cursing of millions, turned pale at
his name.”

Carlyle, in his depreciatory essay, acknowledged: “Perhaps there is no
writer, not a mere compiler, but writing from his own invention or
elaboration, who has left so many volumes behind him; and if to the
merely arithmetical we add a critical estimate, the singularity is still
greater; for these volumes are not written without an appearance of due
care and preparation; perhaps there is not one altogether feeble and
confused treatise, nay, one feeble and confused sentence to be found in
them.” And at the end he admits: “He gave the death-stab to modern
Superstition! _That_ horrid incubus, which dwelt in darkness, shunning
the light, is passing away; with all its racks and poison chalices, and
foul sleeping-draughts, is passing away without return. It was a most
weighty service.”

One of the strangest of tributes to Voltaire is that from Ruskin, the
disciple of Carlyle. In his _Fors Clavigera_ (vol. viii., p. 76) he
says: “There are few stronger adversaries to St. George than Voltaire.
But my scholars are welcome to read as much of Voltaire as they like.
His voice is mighty among the ages.”

Dr. D. F. Strauss wrote: “Voltaire’s historical significance has been
illustrated by the observation of Goethe that, as in families whose
existence has been of long duration, Nature sometimes at length produces
an individual who sums up in himself the collective qualities of all his
ancestors, so it happens also with nations, whose collective merits (and
demerits) sometimes appear epitomised in one individual person. Thus in
Louis XIV. stood forth the highest figure of a French monarch. Thus, in
Voltaire, the highest conceivable and congenial representative of French
authorship. We may extend the observation farther, if, instead of the
French nation only, we take into view the whole European generation on
which Voltaire’s influence was exercised. From this point of view we may
call Voltaire emphatically the representative writer of the eighteenth
century, as Goethe called him, in the highest sense, the representative
writer of France.”

Victor Hugo, in the magnificent oration which he pronounced on the
centenary of Voltaire’s death, said: “Voltaire waged the splendid kind
of warfare, the war of one alone against all—that is to say, the grand
warfare; the war of thought against matter; the war of reason against
prejudice; the war of the just against the unjust; the war of the
oppressed against the oppressor; the war of goodness; the war of
kindness. He had the tenderness of a woman and the wrath of a hero. He
was a great mind and an immense heart. He conquered the old code and the
old dogma. He conquered the feudal lord, the Gothic judge, the Roman
priest. He raised the populace to the dignity of people. He taught,
pacified, and civilised. He fought for Sirven and Montbailly, as for
Calas and La Barre. He accepted all the menaces, all the persecutions,
calumny, and exile. He was indefatigable and immovable. He conquered
violence by a smile, despotism by sarcasm, infallibility by irony,
obstinacy by perseverance, ignorance by truth.”

Buckle, in his _History of Civilisation_ (vol. ii., p. 304) says: “It
would be impossible to relate all the original remarks of Voltaire,
which, when he made them, were attacked as dangerous paradoxes, and are
now valued as sober truths. He was the first historian who recommended
universal freedom of trade; and although he expresses himself with great
caution, still, the mere announcement of the idea is a popular history
forms an epoch in the progress of the French mind. He is the originator
of that important distinction between the increase of population and the
increase of food, to which political economy has been greatly indebted,
a principle adopted several years later by Townsend, and then used by
Malthus as the basis of his celebrated work. He has, moreover, the merit
of being the first who dispelled the childish admiration with which the
Middle Ages had been hitherto regarded. In his works the Middle Ages are
for the first time represented as what they really were—a period of
ignorance, ferocity, and licentiousness; a period when injuries were
unredressed, crime unpunished, and superstition unrebuked.” Again (page
308): “No one reasoned more closely than Voltaire when reasoning suited
his purpose. But he had to deal with men impervious to argument; men
whose inordinate reverence for antiquity had only left them two ideas,
namely, that everything old is right, and that everything new is wrong.
To argue against these opinions would be idle indeed; the only other
resource was to make them ridiculous, and weaken their influence by
holding up their authors to contempt. This was one of the tasks Voltaire
set himself to perform; and he did it well. He therefore used ridicule,
not as the test of truth, but as the scourge of folly. And with such
effect was the punishment administered that not only did the pedants and
theologians of his own time wince under the lash, but even their
successors feel their ears tingle when they read his biting words; and
they revenge themselves by reviling the memory of the great writer whose
works are as a thorn in their side, and whose very name they hold in
undisguised abhorrence.”

Mr. Lecky, in his _History of Rationalism in Europe_ (vol. ii., p. 66)
says: “Voltaire was at all times the unflinching opponent of
persecution. No matter how powerful was the persecutor, no matter how
insignificant was the victim, the same scathing eloquence was launched
against the crime, and the indignation of Europe was soon concentrated
upon the oppressor. The fearful storm of sarcasm and invective that
avenged the murder of Calas, the magnificent dream in the _Philosophical
Dictionary_ reviewing the history of persecution from the slaughtered
Canaanites to the latest victim who had perished at the stake, the
indelible stigma branded upon the persecutors of every age and of every
creed, all attested the intense and passionate earnestness with which
Voltaire addressed himself to his task. On other subjects a jest or a
caprice could often turn him aside. When attacking intolerance he
employed, indeed, every weapon; but he employed them all with the
concentrated energy of a profound conviction. His success was equal to
his zeal; the spirit of intolerance sank blasted beneath his genius.
Wherever his influence passed, the arm of the inquisitor was palsied,
the chain of the captive riven, the prison door flung open. Beneath his
withering irony, persecution appeared not only criminal but loathsome,
and since his time it has ever shrunk from observation and masked its
features under other names. He died, leaving a reputation that is indeed
far from spotless, but having done more to destroy the greatest of human
curses than any other of the sons of men.”

Mr. Lecky, in his _History of England in the Eighteenth Century_ (v.,
312), observes: “No previous writer can compare with him in the wideness
and justness of his conceptions of history, and even now no historian
can read without profit his essays on the subject. No one before had so
strongly urged that history should not be treated as a collection of
pictures or anecdotes relating to courts or battles, but should be made
a record and explanation of the true development of nations, of the
causes of their growth and decay, of their characteristic virtues and
vices, of the changes that pass over their laws, customs, opinions,
social and economical conditions, and over the relative importance and
well-being of their different classes... (p. 315). Untiring industry, an
extraordinary variety of interests and aptitudes, a judgment at once
sound, moderate, and independent, a rare power of seizing in every
subject the essential argument or facts, a disposition to take no old
opinions on trust and to leave no new opinions unexamined, combined in
him with the most extraordinary literary talent. Never, perhaps, was
there an intellect at once so luminous, versatile, and flexible, which
produced so much, which could deal with such a vast range of difficult
subjects without being ever obscure, tangled, or dull.”

Colonel Hamley wrote: “But after the winnowings of generations, a wide
and deep repute still remains to him; nor will any diminution which it
may have suffered be without compensation, for, with the fading of old
prejudices, and with better knowledge, his name will be regarded with
increased liking and respect. Yet it must not be supposed that he is
here held up as a pattern man. He was, indeed, an infinitely better one
than the religious bigots of that time. He believed, with far better
effect on his practice than they could boast, in a Supreme Ruler. He was
the untiring and eloquent advocate at the bar of the universe of the
rights of humanity.”

Mr. Swinburne has well expressed this characteristic. “Voltaire’s great
work,” he says, “was to have done more than any other man on record to
make the instinct of cruelty not only detestable, but ludicrous; and so
to accomplish what the holiest and the wisest of saints and philosophers
had failed to achieve: to attack the most hideous and pernicious of
human vices with a more effective weapon than preaching and
denunciation: to make tyrants and torturers look not merely horrible and
hateful, but pitiful and ridiculous.”

Edgar Quinet, in his lectures on the Church, says: “I watch for forty
years the reign of one man who is himself the spiritual direction, not
of his country, but of his age. From the corner of his chamber he
governs the realm of mind. Everyday intellects are regulated by his; one
word written by his hand traverses Europe. Princes love and kings fear
him. Nations repeat the words that fall from his pen. Who exercises this
incredible power which has nowhere been seen since the Middle Ages? Is
he another Gregory VII? Is he a Pope? No—Voltaire.”

And Lamartine, in similar strain, remarks: “If we judge of men by what
they have _done_, then Voltaire is incontestibly the greatest writer of
modern Europe. No one has caused, through the powerful influence of his
genius alone and the perseverance of his will, so great a commotion in
the minds of men. His pen aroused a sleeping world, and shook a far
mightier empire than that of Charlemagne, the European empire of a
theocracy. His genius was not _force_, but _light_. Heaven had destined
him not to destroy, but to illuminate; and wherever he trod, light
followed him, for Reason—which is light—had destined him to be, first
her poet, then her apostle, and lastly her idol.”

Mr. Alexander A. Knox, writing in the _Nineteenth Century_ (October
1882), says: “That the man’s aspirations were in the main noble and
honorable to humanity, I am sure. I am equally so that few men have
exercised so great an influence upon their fellow creatures.... The
wonderful old man! When he was past eighty years of age he set to work,
like another Jeremy Bentham, to abolish the admission of hearsay
evidence into French legal proceedings. But his great work was that by
his wit and irony he broke down the _principle of authority_ which had
been so foully abused in France. Would the most strictly religious man
wish to see religion as it was in France in the eighteenth century?
Would the greatest stickler for authority wish to find a country
governed as France was governed in the days of Voltaire?”

Du Bois-Reymond, the eminent German scientist, remarks: “Voltaire is so
little to us at present because the things he fought for, ‘toleration,
spiritual freedom, human dignity, justice,’ have become, as it were, the
air we breathe, and do not think of except when we are deprived of it.”

Col. R. G. Ingersoll, in his fine _Oration on Voltaire_, observes:
“Voltaire was perfectly equipped for his work. A perfect master of the
French language, knowing all its moods, tenses, and declinations—in fact
and in feeling playing upon it as skilfully as Paganini on his violin,
finding expression for every thought and fancy, writing on the most
serious subjects with the gaiety of a harlequin, plucking jests from the
mouth of death, graceful as the waving of willows, dealing in double
meanings that covered the asp with flowers and flattery, master of
satire and compliment, mingling them often in the same line, always
interested himself, therefore interesting others, handling thoughts,
questions, subjects as a juggler does balls, keeping them in the air
with perfect ease, dressing old words in new meanings, charming,
grotesque, pathetic, mingling mirth with tears, wit and wisdom, and
sometimes wickedness, logic and laughter. With a woman’s instinct,
knowing the sensitive nerves—just where to touch—hating arrogance of
place, the stupidity, of the solemn, snatching masks from priest and
king, knowing the springs of action and ambition’s ends, perfectly
familiar with the great world, the intimate of kings and their
favorites, sympathising with the oppressed and imprisoned, with the
unfortunate and poor, hating tyranny, despising superstition, and loving
liberty with all his heart. Such was Voltaire, writing _Œdipus_ at
seventeen, _Irène_ at eighty-three, and crowding between these two
tragedies the accomplishment of a thousand lives.”

The Right Hon. John Morley testifies: “Voltaire was the very eye of
modern illumination. It was he who conveyed to his generation in a
multitude of forms the consciousness at once of the power and the rights
of human intelligence. Another might well have said of him what he
magnanimously said of his famous contemporary, Montesquieu, that
humanity had lost its title-deeds, and he had recovered them. The
four-score volumes which he wrote are the monument, as they were the
instrument, of a new renascence. They are the fruit and representation
of a spirit of encyclopaedic curiosity and productiveness. Hardly a page
of all these countless leaves is common form. Hardly a sentence is there
which did not come forth alive from Voltaire’s own mind, or which was
said because some one else had said it before. Voltaire was a stupendous
power, not only because his expression was incomparably lucid, or even
because his sight was exquisitely keen and clear, but because he saw
many new things, after which the spirits of others were unconsciously
groping and dumbly yearning. Nor was this all. Voltaire was ever in the
front and centre of the fight. His life was not a mere chapter in a
history of literature. He never counted truth a treasure to be
discreetly hidden in a napkin. He made it a perpetual war cry, and
emblazoned it on a banner that was many a time rent, but was never out
of the field.” We may fitly conclude with Browning’s incisive lines in
_The Two Poets of Croisie_:—

    _“Ay, sharpest, shrewdest steel that ever stabbed_

    _To death Imposture through the armour joints.”_



The world is old, but history is of yesterday.—_Mélanges Historiques_.

If you would put to profit the present time, one must not spend his life
in propagating ancient fables.—_Ibid_.

A mature man who has serious business does not repeat the tales of his

Search through all nations and you will not find one whose history does
not begin with stories worthy of the Four Sons of Aymon and of Robert
the Devil.—_Politique et Legislation._

Ancient histories are enigmas proposed by antiquity to posterity, which
understands them not—_Dict. Phil._ (Art. “Histoire”).

A real fact is of more value than a hundred antitheses.—_Melanges

I have a droll idea. It is that only people who have written tragedies
can throw interest into our dry and barbarous history. There is
necessary in a history, as in a drama, exposition, knotty plot, and
_dénouement_, with agreeable episode.—_Corr. gén._ 1740.

They have made but the history of the kings, not that of the nation. It
seems that during fourteen hundred years there were only kings,
ministers, and generals among the Gauls. But our morals, our laws, our
customs, our intelligence—are these then nothing?—_Corr_., 1740.

Is fraud sanctified by being antiquated?—_Sottisier_.

I have ever esteemed it charlatanry to paint, other than by facts,
public men with whom we have had no connection.—_Corr. gen._, 1752.

If one surveys the history of the world, one finds weaknesses punished,
but great crimes fortunate, and the world is a vast scene of brigandages
abandoned to fortune.—_Essai sur les Mœurs_, c. 191.

Since the ancient Romans, I have known no nation enriched by
victories.—_Contant d’ Orville_, i. 337.

To buy peace from an enemy is to furnish him with the sinews of
war.—_Ibid_, p. 334.

The grand art of surprising, killing, and robbing is a heroism of the
highest antiquity.—_Dial_. 24.

Murderers are punished, unless they kill in grand company to the sound
of trumpets; that is the rule.—_Dict. Phil_. (Art. “Droit”).

We formerly made war in order to eat; but in the long run, all the
admirable institutions degenerate.—_Dial._ 24.

It suffices often that a mad Minister of State shall have bitten another
Minister for the rabies to be communicated in a few months to five
hundred thousand men.—_Ibid_.

In this world there (are) only offensive wars; defensive ones are only
resistance to armed robbers.—_Ibid._

Twenty volumes in folio never yet made a revolution. It is the portable
little shilling books that are to be feared. If the Gospel cost twelve
hundred sesterces, the Christian religion would never have been
established.—_Correspondence with D1 Alembert_, 1765.


C.: What, you do not admit there are just wars?

A.: I have never known any of the kind; to me it appears contradictory
and impossible.

C.: What! when the Pope Alexander VI. and his infamous son Borgia
pillaged the Roman States, strangled and poisoned the lords of the land,
while according them indulgences: was it not permissible to arm against
these monsters?

A.: Do you not see that it was these monsters who made war? Those who
defended themselves from aggression but sustained it. There are
constantly only offensive wars in this world; the defensive is nothing
but resistance to armed robbers.

C.: You mock us. Two princes dispute an heritage, their right is
litigious, their reasons equally plausible; it is necessary then that
war should decide, and this war is just on both sides.

A.: It is you who mock. It is physically impossible that both are right,
and it is absurd and barbarous that the people should perish because one
of these two princes has reasoned badly. Let them fight together in a
closed field if they wish, but that an entire people should be
sacrificed to their interests, there is the horror.—_l’ A.B.C._


They have discovered in their fine politics the art of causing those to
die of hunger who, by cultivating the earth, give the means of life to

Society has been too long like a game of cards, where the rogues cheat
the dupes, while sensible people dare not warn the losers that they are
deceived.—_Questions sur les Miracles_.

They have only inculcated belief in absurdities to men in order to
subdue them.—_Ibid._

The most tolerable of all governments is doubtless the republican, since
that approaches the nearest towards natural equality.—_Idées

A Republican is ever more attached to his country than a subject to his,
for the same reason that one loves better his own possessions than those
of a master.—_Pensées sur le Gouvernement._

Give too much power to anybody and be sure they will abuse it. Were the
monks of La Trappe spread throughout the world, let them confess
princesses, educate youth, preach and write, and in about ten years they
would be similar to the Jesuits, and it would be necessary to repress
them.—_Mél. Balance Egale_.

What are politics beyond the art of lying a propos?—_Contant D’Orville_.

“Reasons of State” is a phrase invented to serve as excuse for
tyrants.—_Commentaire sur le traité des Délits._

The best government is that where there are the fewest useless
men.—Dial. 4.

Man is born free. The best government is that which most preserves to
each mortal this gift of nature.—_Histoire de Russie_.

To be free, to have only equals, is the true life, the natural life of
man; all other is an unworthy artifice, a poor comedy, where one plays
the rôle of master, the other of slave, this one a parasite, and that
other a pander.—_Dial. 24._

Why is liberty so rare? Because it is the best possession.—_Dict. Phil_.

Those who say that all men are equal, say truth if they mean that men
have an equal right to liberty, to the property of their own goods, and
the protection of the laws. They are much deceived if they think that
men should be equal in their employments, since they are not so by their
faculties.—_Essai sur les Mœurs_, i.

Despotism is the punishment of the bad conduct of men. If a community is
mastered by one man or by several, it is plainly because it has not the
courage and ability necessary for self-government.—_Idées
Republic-aines_, 1765.

I do not give myself up to my fellow-citizens without reserve. I do not
give them the power to kill or to rob me by plurality of votes. I submit
to help them, and to be aided, to do justice, and to receive it. No
other agreement.—_Notes on Rousseau’s “Social Contract”_

The Population Question

_The Man of Forty Crowns_: I have heard much talk of population. Were we
to take it into our heads to beget double the number of children we now
do; were our country doubly peopled, so that we had forty millions of
inhabitants instead of twenty, what would happen?

_The Geometrician_: Each would have, instead of forty, but twenty crowns
to live upon; or the land would have to produce the double of what it
now does; or there would be the double of the nation’s industry, or of
gain from foreign countries; or one half of the nation sent to America;
or the one half of the nation should eat the other.—_The Man of Forty

Nature’s Way

Nature cares very little for individuals. There are other insects which
do not live above one day, but of which the species is perpetual. Nature
resembles those great princes who reckon as nothing the loss of four
hundred thousand men, so they but accomplish their august designs.— _The
Man of Forty Crowns._


When the man of forty crowns saw himself the father of a son, he began
to think himself a man of some weight in the state; he hoped to furnish,
at least, ten subjects to the king, who should all prove useful. He made
the best baskets in the world, and his wife was an excellent sempstress.
She was born in the neighborhood of a rich abbey of a hundred thousand
livres a year. Her husband asked me, one day, why those gentlemen, who
were so few in number, had swallowed so many of the forty crown lots?
“Are they more useful to their country than I am?”—“No, dear
neighbor.”—“Do they, like me, contribute at least to the population of
it?”—“No, not to appearance, at least.”—“Do they cultivate the land? Do
they defend the state when it is attacked?”—“No, they pray to God for
us.”—“Well, then, I will pray to God for them, and let us go
snacks.”—_The Man of Forty Crowns._

Doubt and Speculation

_The Man of Forty Crowns_: I have sometimes a great mind to laugh at all
I have been told.

_The Geometrician_: And a very good mind it is. I advise you to doubt of
everything, except that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two
right ones, and that triangles which have the same bases and height are
equal to one another; or like propositions, as, for example, that two
and two make four.

_The Man of Forty Crowns_: Yes; I hold it very wise to doubt; but I am
curious since I have made my fortune and have leisure. I could wish,
when my will moves my arm or my leg, to discover the spring, for surely
there is one, by which my will moves them. I wonder sometimes why I can
lift or lower my eyes, yet cannot move my ears. I think—and I wish I
could know a little how—I mean,—there, to have my thought palpable to
me, to touch it, as it were. That would surely be very curious. I want
to find out whether I think from myself, or whether it is God that gives
me my ideas; whether my soul came into my body at six weeks, or at one
day old; how it lodged itself in my brain; whether I think much when in
a profound sleep, or in a lethargy. I torture my brains to know how one
body impels another. My sensations are no less a wonder to me; I find
something divine in them, and especially in pleasure. I have striven
sometimes to imagine a new sense, but could never arrive at it.
Geometricians know all these things; kindly be so good as to teach me.

_The Geometrician_: Alas! We are as ignorant as you. Apply to the

Dr. Pangloss and the Dervish

In the neighborhood lived a very famous dervish, who was deemed the best
philosopher in Turkey; him they went to consult. Pangloss was spokesman
and addressed him thus:—

“Master, we come to beg you to tell us why so strange an animal as man
has been formed?”

“Why do you trouble your head about it?” said the dervish; “is it any
business of yours?”

“But, reverend father,” said Candide, “there is a horrible amount of
evil on the earth.”

“What signifies it,” says the dervish, “whether there is evil or good?
When His Highness sends a ship to Egypt does he trouble whether the rats
aboard are comfortable or not?”

“What is to be done, then?” says Pangloss.

“Be silent,” answers the dervish.

“I flattered myself,” replied Pangloss, “to have reasoned a little with
you on causes and effects, the best of possible worlds, the origin of
evil, the nature of the soul, and on pre-established harmony.”

At these words the dervish shut the door in their faces.—_Candide_.

Motives for Conduct

_Countess_: Apropos, I have forgotten to ask your opinion upon a matter
which I read yesterday in a story by these good Mohammedans, which much
struck me. Hassan, son of Ali, being bathing, one of his slaves threw
over him by accident some boiling water. His servants wished to impale
the culprit. Hassan, instead, gave him twenty pieces of gold. “There
is,” said he, “a degree of glory in Paradise for those who repay
services, a greater one for those who forgive evil, and a still greater
one for those who recompense involuntary evil.” What think you of his
action and his speech?

_The Count_: I recognise there my good Moslems of the first ages.

_Abbé_: And I, my good Christians.

_M. Fréret_: And I am sorry that the scalded Hassan, son of Ali, should
have given twenty pieces of gold in order to have glory in Paradise. I
do not like interested fine actions. I should have wished that Hassan
had been sufficiently virtuous and humane to have consoled the despair
of the slave without even dreaming of being placed in the third rank in
Paradise.—_Le Diner du Comte de Boulainvilliers_.


Self-love and all its off-shoots are as necessary to man as the blood
which flows in his veins. Those who would take away his passions because
they are dangerous resemble those who would deplete a man of all his
blood lest he should fall into apoplexy.—_Traité de Metaphysique._

Go From Your Village

A stupid said: “I must think like my _bonze_ (priest), for all my
village agrees with him.” Go from your village, poor man, and you will
find ten thousand others who have each their _bonze_, and who all think

Religious Prejudices

If your nurse has told you that Ceres presides over corn, or that Vishnu
or Sakyamuni became men several times, or that Odin awaits you in his
hall towards Jutland, or that Mohammed or some other travelled to
Heaven; if, moreover, your preceptor deepens in your brain what the
nurse, has engraved, you will hold it all your life. Should your
judgment rise against these prejudices, your neighbors, above all your
female neighbors, will cry out at the impiety and frighten you. Your
dervish, fearing the diminution of his revenue, may accuse you before
the Cadi, and this Cadi impale you if he can, since he desires to rule
over fools, believing fools obey better than others; and this will
endure till your neighbors, and the dervish, and the Cadi begin to
understand that folly is good for nothing and that persecution is
abominable.—_Dictionnaire Philosophique_.

Sacred History

I abandon to the declaimer Bossuet the politics of the Kings of Judah
and Samaria, who only understood assassination, beginning with their
King David (who took to the trade of brigand to make himself king, and
assassinated Uriah when he was his master); and to wise Solomon, who
began by assassinating Adonijah, his own brother, at the foot of the
altar. I am tired of the absurd pedantry which consecrates the history
of such a people to the instruction of children.—_l’A.B.C._

Dupe And Rogue

Are there theologians of good faith? Yes, as there have been men who
believed themselves sorcerers.—_Le Diner du Comte de Boulainvilliers._

Enthusiasm begins, roguery ends. It is with religion as with gambling.
One begins by being dupe, one ends by being rogue.—_Le Diner du Comte de

Every country has its bonzes. But I recognise that there are as many of
them deceived as deceivers. The majority are those blinded by enthusiasm
in their youth, and who never recover sight; there are others who have
preserved one eye, and see all squintingly. These are the stupid
charlatans.—_Entre deux Chinois._

“Delenda Est Carthago”

Theology must absolutely be destroyed, just as judicial astrology,
magic, the divining rod, and the Star Chamber have been

Jesus and Mohammed

_L’Abbé_: How could Christianity have established itself so high if it
had nothing but fanaticism and fraud at its base?

_Le Comte_: And how did Mohammedanism establish itself. Mohammed at
least could write and fight, and Jesus knew neither writing nor
self-defence. Mohammed had the courage of Alexander, with the mind of
Numa; and your Jesus, sweat, blood, and water. Mohammedanism has never
changed, while you have changed your religion twenty times. There is
more difference between it, as it is to-day, from what it was in the
first ages, than there is between your customs and those of King
Dagobert.—_Le Diner du Comte de Boulainvilliers._

How Faiths Spread

But how do you think, then, that my religion became established? Like
all the rest. A man of strong imagination made himself followed by some
persons of weak imagination. The flock increased; fanaticism commences,
fraud achieves. A powerful man comes; he sees a crowd, ready bridled and
with a bit in its teeth; he mounts and leads it.—_Dial, et entr. ph.,
Dialogue 19._


The superstitious man is to the knave what the slave is to the tyrant;
nay, further, the superstitious man is governed by the fanatic, and
becomes one.—_Dict. Phil. (Art. “Superstition”)_.

The Bible

If there are many difficulties we cannot solve, mysteries we cannot
comprehend, adventures which we cannot credit, prodigies which display
the credulity of the human mind, and contradictions which it is
impossible to reconcile, it is in order to exercise our faith and
to-humiliate our reason.—_Dict. Phil._ (Art. “Contradictions”).


Julius II. makes and eats God; but with armor on his back and helmet on
his head he wades in blood and carnage. Leo X. holds God in his body,
his mistresses in his arms, and the money extorted by the sale of
indulgences in his coffers, and those of his sister.—_Dict. Phil._ (Art.

Dreams and Ghosts

Have you not found, like me, that they are the origin of the opinion so
generally diffused throughout antiquity touching spectres and manes? A
man deeply afflicted at the death of his wife, or his son, sees them in
his sleep; they have the same characteristics; he speaks to them, they
reply; they have certainly appeared to him. Other men have had similar
dreams. It is impossible, then, to doubt that the dead return; but it is
certain at the same time that these dead—whether buried or reduced to
ashes, or lost at sea—could not reappear in their bodies. It is, then,
their soul that has been seen. This soul must be extended, light,
impalpable, since in speaking with it we cannot embrace it. _Effugit
imago per levibus vetitis_ (Virgil). It is moulded, designed upon the
body which it habited, since it perfectly resembles it. It is given the
name of shade or manes, and from all this a confused idea remains in the
head, which perpetuates itself all the better because nobody understands
it.—_Dict. Phil._ (Art. “Somnambulists and Dreams” ).

Mortifying the Flesh

Had vanity never any share in the public mortifications which attended
the eyes of the multitude? “I scourge myself, but ’tis to expiate your
faults; I go stark naked, but ’tis to reproach the luxury of your
garments; I feed on herbs and snails to correct your vice of gluttony; I
put an iron ring on my body to make you blush at your lewdness.
Reverence me as a man cherished by the gods, who can draw down their
favors on you. When accustomed to reverence, it will not be hard to obey
me; I become your master in the name of the gods; and if you transgress
my will in the least particular, I will have you impaled to appease the
wrath of heaven.” If the first fakirs did not use these words, they
probably had them engraven at the bottom of their hearts.—_Dict. Phil._
(Art. “Austerities”).


_Kon._: What is meant by “the heaven and the earth: mount up to heaven,
be worthy of heaven”?

_Cu Su._: ’Tis but stupidity, there is no heaven; each planet is
surrounded by its atmosphere, and rolls in space around its sun. Each
sun is the centre of several planets which travel continually around it.
There is no up nor down, ascension nor descent. You perceive that if the
inhabitants of the moon said that some one ascended to the earth, that
one must render himself worthy of earth, he would talk nonsense. We do
so likewise when we say we must be worthy of heaven; it is as if we said
we must be worthy of air, worthy of the constellation of the Dragon,
worthy of space.—_Catéchisme chinois._


All the fathers of the Church, without exception, believed in the power
of magic. The Church always condemned magic, but she always believed it;
she excommunicated sorcerers, not as deluded madmen, but as men who
really had intercourse with devils.—_Dict. Phil._ (Art. “Superstition”).


There are vices which it is better to ignore than to punish.

One should not pronounce a word in public which an honest woman cannot

I know no great men but those who have rendered great services to

Honor has ever achieved greater things than interest.

Occupation and work are the only resources against misfortune.

My maxim is to fulfil all my duties to-day, because I am not sure of
living to-morrow.

Most men die before having lived.

It is necessary to combat nature and fortune till the last moment, and
to never despair till one is dead.

Work without disputing; it is the only way to render life supportable.

Passions are the winds that swell the sails of the ship. It is true,
they sometimes sink her, but without them she could not sail at all. The
bile makes us sick and choleric; but without the bile we could not live.
Everything in this world is dangerous, and yet everything in it is

We should introduce into our existence all imaginable modes, and open
every door of the minds to all kinds of knowledge, and all sorts of
feelings. So long as it does not all go in pell-mell, there is room
enough for all.

It is the part of a man like you [Vauvenargues] to have preferences, but
no exclusions.

The unwise value every word in an author of repute.

Opinion governs the world, and philosophers in the long run govern

We enjoin mankind to conquer their passions. Make the experiment of only
depriving a man, in the habit of taking it, of his pinch of snuff.

Do we not nearly all resemble the aged General of ninety years, who,
seeing some young fellows larking with the girls, said to them angrily:
“Gentlemen, is that the example which I give you?”

Passions are diseases. To cure a man of a criminal intention, we should
give him not counsel, but a dose of physic.

Women are like windmills, fixed while they revolve.

I fear lest marriage may not rather be one of the seven deadly sins than
one of the seven sacraments.

Divorce is probably of about the same date as marriage.

I believe, however, that marriage is several weeks the elder.

War is an epitome of all wickedness.

The race of preachers inveigh against little vices, and pass over great
ones in silence. They never sermonise against war.

What strange rage possesses some people to insist on our all being
miserable? They are like a quack, who would fain have us believe we are
ill, in order to sell us his pills. Keep thy drugs, my friend, and leave
me my health.

Can one change their character? Yes, if one changes their body.

Men are fools, but ecclesiastics are their leaders.

I do not believe even eye-witnesses when they tell me things opposed to
common sense.

The fanatics begin with humility and kindness, and have all ended with
pride and carnage.

The Pope is an idol, whose hands are tied and whose feet are kissed.

What an immense book might be composed on all the things once believed,
of which it is necessary to doubt.

That which can be explained in many ways does not merit being explained
in any.

Theology is in religion what poison is among food.

Theology has only served to upset brains, and sometimes States.

That which is an eternal subject of dispute is an eternal inutility.

To pray is to flatter oneself that one will change entire nature with

Names of sects; names of error. Truth has no sect.

No man is called an Euclidian.

Henry IV., after his victories, his abjuration, and his coronation,
caused a cross to be erected in Rome, with the following inscription:
_In hoc signa vincis_. The wood of the cross was the carriage of a

A revolution has been accomplished in the human mind which nothing again
can ever arrest.

It is never by metaphysics that you will succeed in delivering men from
error; you must prove the truth by facts.

If fortune brings to pass one of a hundred events predicted by roguery,
all the others are forgotten, and that one remains as a pledge of the
favor of God, and as the proof of a prodigy.

Every one is born with a nose and five fingers, and no one is born with
a knowledge of God. This may be deplorable or not, but it is certainly
the human condition.

If God made us in his own image, we have well returned him the

Nature preserves the species, and cares but very little for individuals.

To fast, to pray, a priest’s virtue; to succor, virtue of a citizen.

When Bellerophon, mounted on Pegasus, wished to ascend to heaven to
discover the secrets of the gods, a fly stung Pegasus, and he was

“Why do you receive so many fools in your order?” was said to a Jesuit.
“We need saints.”

Rousseau [J. B.] having shown his antagonist [Voltaire] his _Ode to
Posterity_, the latter said: “My friend, here is a letter which will
never reach its address.”

If a tulip could speak, and said, “My vegetation and I are two distinct
beings, evidently joined together,” would you not mock at the tulip?

Why all these pleasantries on religion? They are never made on morality.

A fanatic of good faith, always a dangerous kind of man.

The consolation of life is to say out what one thinks.


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