Towards the year 1707, the time at which the English gained the battle of Saragossa, protected Portugal, and for some time gave a king to Spain, Lord Boldmind, a general officer who had been wounded, was at the waters of Barèges. He there met with Count Medroso, who having fallen from his horse behind the baggage, at a league and a half from the field of battle, also came to take the waters. He was a familiar of the Inquisition, while Lord Boldmind was only familiar in conversation. One day after their wine, he held this dialogue with Medroso:

Boldmind.
You are then the sergeant of the Dominicans? You exercise a villainous trade.

Medroso.
It is true; but I would rather be their servant than their victim, and I have preferred the unhappiness of burning my neighbor to that of being roasted myself.

Boldmind.
What a horrible alternative! You were a hundred times happier under the yoke of the Moors, who freely suffered you to abide in all your superstitions, and conquerors as they were, arrogated not to themselves the strange right of sending souls to hell.

Medroso.
What would you have? It is not permitted us either to write, speak, or even to think. If we speak, it is easy to misinterpret our words, and still more our writings; and as we cannot be condemned in an auto-da-fé for our secret thoughts, we are menaced with being burned eternally by the order of God himself, if we think not like the Jacobins. They have persuaded the government that if we had common sense the entire state would be in combustion, and the nation become the most miserable upon earth.

Boldmind.
Do you believe that we English who cover the seas with vessels, and who go to gain battles for you in the south of Europe, can be so unhappy? Do you perceive that the Dutch, who have ravished from you almost all your discoveries in India, and who at present are ranked as your protectors, are cursed of God for having given entire liberty to the press, and for making commerce of the thoughts of men? Has the Roman Empire been less powerful because Tullius Cicero has written with freedom?

Medroso.
Who is this Tullius Cicero? I have never heard his name pronounced at St. Hermandad.

Boldmind.
He was a bachelor of the university of Rome, who wrote that which he thought, like Julius Cæsar, Marcus Aurelius, Titus Lucretius Carus, Plinius, Seneca, and other sages.

Medroso.
I know none of them; but I am told that the Catholic religion, Biscayan and Roman, is lost if we begin to think.

Boldmind.
It is not for you to believe it; for you are sure that your religion is divine, and that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. If that is the case, nothing will ever destroy it.

Medroso.
No; but it may be reduced to very little; and it is through having thought, that Sweden, Denmark, all your island, and the half of Germany groan under the frightful misfortune of not being subjects of the pope. It is even said that, if men continue to follow their false lights, they will soon have merely the simple adoration of God and of virtue. If the gates of hell ever prevail so far, what will become of the holy office?

Boldmind.
If the first Christians had not the liberty of thought, does it not follow that there would have been no Christianity?

Medroso.
I understand you not.

Boldmind.
I readily believe it. I would say, that if Tiberius and the first emperors had fostered Jacobins, they would have hindered the first Christians from having pens and ink; and had it not been a long time permitted in the Roman Empire to think freely, it would be impossible for the Christians to establish their dogmas. If, therefore, Christianity was only formed by liberty of opinion, by what contradiction, by what injustice, would you now destroy the liberty on which alone it is founded?

When some affair of interest is proposed to us, do we not examine it for a long time before we conclude upon it? What interest in the world is so great as our eternal happiness or misery? There are a hundred religions on earth which all condemn us if we believe your dogmas, which they call impious and absurd; why, therefore, not examine these dogmas?

Medroso.
How can I examine them? I am not a Jacobin.

Boldmind.
You are a man, and that is sufficient.

Medroso.
Alas! you are more of a man than I am.

Boldmind.
You have only to teach yourself to think; you are born with a mind, you are a bird in the cage of the Inquisition, the holy office has clipped your wings, but they will grow again. He who knows not geometry can learn it: all men can instruct themselves. Is it not shameful to put your soul into the hands of those to whom you would not intrust your money? Dare to think for yourself.

Medroso.
It is said that if the world thought for itself, it would produce strange confusion.

Boldmind.
Quite the contrary. When we assist at a spectacle, every one freely tells his opinion of it, and the public peace is not thereby disturbed; but if some insolent protector of a poet would force all people of taste to proclaim that to be good which appears to them bad, blows would follow, and the two parties would throw apples of discord at one another’s heads, as once happened at London. Tyrants over mind have caused a part of the misfortunes of the world. We are happy in England only because every one freely enjoys the right of speaking his opinion.

Medroso.
We are all very tranquil at Lisbon, where no person dares speak his.

Boldmind.
You are tranquil, but you are not happy: it is the tranquillity of galley-slaves, who row in cadence and in silence.

Medroso.
You believe, then, that my soul is at the galleys?

Boldmind.
Yes, and I would deliver it.

Medroso.
But if I find myself well at the galleys?

Boldmind.
Why, then, you deserve to be there.

voltaire

What harm can the prediction of Jean Jacques do to Russia? Any? We allow him to explain it in a mystical, typical, allegorical sense, according to custom. The nations which will destroy the Russians will possess the belles-lettres, mathematics, wit, and politeness, which degrade man and pervert nature.

From five to six thousand pamphlets have been printed in Holland against Louis XIV., none of which contributed to make him lose the battles of Blenheim, Turin, and Ramillies.

In general, we have as natural a right to make use of our pens as our language, at our peril, risk, and fortune. I know many books which fatigue, but I know of none which have done real evil. Theologians, or pretended politicians, cry: “Religion is destroyed, the government is lost, if you print certain truths or certain paradoxes. Never attempt to think, till you have demanded permission from a monk or an officer. It is against good order for a man to think for himself. Homer, Plato, Cicero, Virgil, Pliny, Horace, never published anything but with the approbation of the doctors of the Sorbonne and of the holy Inquisition.”

“See into what horrible decay the liberty of the press brought England and Holland. It is true that they possess the commerce of the whole world, and that England is victorious on sea and land; but it is merely a false greatness, a false opulence: they hasten with long strides to their ruin. An enlightened people cannot exist.”

None can reason more justly, my friends; but let us see, if you please, what state has been lost by a book. The most dangerous, the most pernicious of all, is that of Spinoza. Not only in the character of a Jew he attacks the New Testament, but in the character of a scholar he ruins the Old; his system of atheism is a thousand times better composed and reasoned than those of Straton and of Epicurus. We have need of the most profound sagacity to answer to the arguments by which he endeavors to prove that one substance cannot form another.

Like yourself, I detest this book, which I perhaps understand better than you, and to which you have very badly replied; but have you discovered that this book has changed the face of the world? Has any preacher lost a florin of his income by the publication of the works of Spinoza? Is there a bishop whose rents have diminished? On the contrary, their revenues have doubled since his time: all the ill is reduced to a small number of peaceable readers, who have examined the arguments of Spinoza in their closets, and have written for or against them works but little known.

For yourselves, it is of little consequence to have caused to be printed “ad usum Delphini,” the atheism of Lucretius—as you have already been reproached with doing–no trouble, no scandal, has ensued from it: so leave Spinoza to live in peace in Holland. Lucretius was left in repose at Rome.

But if there appears among you any new book, the ideas of which shock your own–supposing you have any–or of which the author may be of a party contrary to yours–or what is worse, of which the author may not be of any party at all–then you cry out “Fire!” and let all be noise, scandal, and uproar in your small corner of the earth. There is an abominable man who has printed that if we had no hands we could not make shoes nor stockings. Devotees cry out, furred doctors assemble, alarms multiply from college to college, from house to house, and why? For five or six pages, about which there no longer will be a question at the end of three months. Does a book displease you? refute it. Does it tire you? read it not.

Oh! say you to me, the books of Luther and Calvin have destroyed the Roman Catholic religion in one-half of Europe? Why say not also, that the books of the patriarch Photius have destroyed this Roman religion in Asia, Africa, Greece, and Russia?

You deceive yourself very grossly, when you think that you have been ruined by books. The empire of Russia is two thousand leagues in extent, and there are not six men who are aware of the points disputed by the Greek and Latin Church. If the monk Luther, John Calvin, and the vicar Zuinglius had been content with writing, Rome would yet subjugate all the states that it has lost; but these people and their adherents ran from town to town, from house to house, exciting the women, and were maintained by princes. Fury, which tormented Amata, and which, according to Virgil, whipped her like a top, was not more turbulent. Know, that one enthusiastic, factious, ignorant, supple, vehement Capuchin, the emissary of some ambitious monks, preaching, confessing, communicating, and caballing, will much sooner overthrow a province than a hundred authors can enlighten it. It was not the Koran which caused Mahomet to succeed: it was Mahomet who caused the success of the Koran.

No! Rome has not been vanquished by books; it has been so by having caused Europe to revolt at its rapacity; by the public sale of indulgences; for having insulted men, and wishing to govern them like domestic animals; for having abused its power to such an extent that it is astonishing a single village remains to it. Henry VIII., Elizabeth, the duke of Saxe, the landgrave of Hesse, the princes of Orange, the Condés and Colignys, have done all, and books nothing. Trumpets have never gained battles, nor caused any walls to fall except those of Jericho.

You fear books, as certain small cantons fear violins. Let us read, and let us dance–these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.