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.

 

from the “Philosophical Dictionary

Read the article on “Intolerance” in the great “Encyclopædia.” Read the treatise on “Toleration” composed on occasion of the dreadful assassination of John Calas, a citizen of Toulouse; and if, after that, you allow of persecution in matters of religion, compare yourself at once to Ravaillac. Ravaillac, you know, was highly intolerant. The following is the substance of all the discourses ever delivered by the intolerant:

“You monster; you will be burned to all eternity in the other world, and whom I will myself burn as soon as ever I can in this, you really have the insolence to read de Thou and Bayle, who have been put into the index of prohibited authors at Rome! When I was preaching to you in the name of God, how Samson had killed a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass, your head, still harder than the arsenal from which Samson obtained his arms, showed me by a slight movement from left to right that you believed nothing of what I said. And when I stated that the devil Asmodeus, who out of jealousy twisted the necks of the seven husbands of Sarah among the Medes, was put in chains in upper Egypt, I saw a small contraction of your lips, in Latin called cachinnus (a grin) which plainly indicated to me that in the bottom of your soul you held the history of Asmodeus in derision.

“And as for you, Isaac Newton; Frederick the Great, king of Prussia and elector of Brandenburg; John Locke; Catherine, empress of Russia, victorious over the Ottomans; John Milton; the beneficent sovereign of Denmark; Shakespeare; the wise king of Sweden; Leibnitz; the august house of Brunswick; Tillotson; the emperor of China; the Parliament of England; the Council of the great Mogul; in short, all you who do not believe one word which I have taught in my courses on divinity, I declare to you, that I regard you all as pagans and publicans, as, in order to engrave it on your unimpressible brains, I have often told you before. You are a set of callous miscreants; you will all go to gehenna, where the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched; for I am right, and you are all wrong; and I have grace, and you have none. I confess three devotees in my neighborhood, while you do not confess a single one; I have executed the mandates of bishops, which has never been the case with you; I have abused philosophers in the language of the fish-market, while you have protected, imitated, or equalled them; I have composed pious defamatory libels, stuffed with infamous calumnies, and you have never so much as read them. I say mass every day in Latin for fourteen sous, and you are never even so much as present at it, any more than Cicero, Cato, Pompey, Cæsar, Horace, or Virgil, were ever present at it—consequently you deserve each of you to have your right hand cut off, your tongue cut out, to be put to the torture, and at last burned at a slow fire; for God is merciful.”

Such, without the slightest abatement, are the maxims of the intolerant, and the sum and substance of all their books. How delightful to live with such amiable people!

 

As you have it in your power, sir, to do some service to letters, I implore you not to clip the wings of our writers so closely, nor to turn into barn-door fowls those who, allowed a start, might become eagles; reasonable liberty permits the mind to soar–slavery makes it creep.

Had there been a literary censorship in Rome, we should have had to-day neither Horace, Juvenal, nor the philosophical works of Cicero. If Milton, Dryden, Pope, and Locke had not been free, England would have had neither poets nor philosophers; there is something positively Turkish in proscribing printing; and hampering it is proscription. Be content with severely repressing diffamatory libels, for they are crimes: but so long as those infamous calottes are boldly published, and so many other unworthy and despicable productions, at least allow Bayle to circulate in France, and do not put him, who has been so great an honour to his country, among its contraband.

You say that the magistrates who regulate the literary custom-house complain that there are too many books. That is just the same thing as if the provost of merchants complained there were too many provisions in Paris. People buy what they choose. A great library is like the City of Paris, in which there are about eight hundred thousand persons: you do not live with the whole crowd: you choose a certain society, and change it. So with books: you choose a few friends out of the many. There will be seven or eight thousand controversial books, and fifteen or sixteen thousand novels, which you will not read: a heap of pamphlets, which you will throw into the fire after you have read them. The man of taste will read only what is good; but the statesman will permit both bad and good.

Men’s thoughts have become an important article of commerce. The Dutch publishers make a million [francs] a year, because Frenchmen have brains. A feeble novel is, I know, among books what a fool, always striving after wit, is in the world. We laugh at him and tolerate him. Such a novel brings the means of life to the author who wrote it, the publisher who sells it, to the moulder, the printer, the paper-maker, the binder, the carrier–and finally to the bad wine-shop where they all take their money. Further, the book amuses for an hour or two a few women who like novelty in literature as in everything. Thus, despicable though it may be, it will have produced two important things–profit and pleasure.

The theatre also deserves attention. I do not consider it a counter attraction to dissipation: that is a notion only worthy of an ignorant curé. There is quite time enough, before and after the performance, for the few minutes given to those passing pleasures which are so soon followed by satiety. Besides, people do not go to the theatre every day, and among our vast population there are not more than four thousand who are in the habit of going constantly.

I look on tragedy and comedy as lessons in virtue, good sense, and good behaviour. Corneille–the old Roman of the French–has founded a school of Spartan virtue: Molière, a school of ordinary everyday life. These great national geniuses attract foreigners from all parts of Europe, who come to study among us, and thus contribute to the wealth of Paris. Our poor are fed by the productions of such works, which bring under our rule the very nations who hate us. In face, he who condemns the theatre is an enemy to his country. A magistrate who, because he has succeeded in buying some judicial post, thinks that it is beneath his dignity to see Cinna, shows much pomposity and very little taste.

There are still Goths and Vandals even among our cultivated people: the only Frenchmen I consider worthy of the name are those who love and encourage the arts. It is true that the taste for them is languishing: we are sybarites, weary of our mistresses’ favours. We enjoy the fruits of the labours of the great men who have worked for our pleasure and that of the ages to come, just as we receive the fruits of nature as if they were our due […] nothing will rouse us from this indifference to great things which always goes side by side with our vivid interest in small.

Every year we take more pains over snuffboxes and nicknacks than the English took to make themselves masters of the seas […]. The old Romans raised those marvels of architecure–their amphitheatres–for beasts to fight in: and for a whole century we have not built a single passable place for the representation of the masterpieces of the human mind. A hundredth part of the money spent on cards would be enough to build theatres finer than Pompey’s: but what man in Paris has the public welfare at heart? We play, sup, talk scandal, write bad verses, and sleep, like fools, to recommence on the morrow the same round of careless frivolity.

You, sir, who have at least some small opportunity of giving good advice, try and rouse us from this stupid lethargy, and, if you can, do something for literature, which has done so much for France.

Voltaire-Baquoy

It is above all the prose deals with which modern-day readers are familiar, and again the works cover a broad spectrum: histories, belligerent satires, handouts of all types, discussions, short fictions or contes, and letters both actual and fictive. The obvious absentee from this list is the unique, a category which, like the prose drame, Voltaire thought base and minor. To understand the strength of his dislike for these ‘new’ categories, we have to keep in mind that Voltaire was a product of the late seventeenth century, the moment of the Quarrel between Ancients and Moderns, and this literary debate continued to influence his visual views all through his life. Controversial spiritual and political views were frequently revealed in the literary kinds (classical tragedy, the verse satire) perfected in the seventeenth century; the ‘conservatism’ of these kinds appears, to modern readers at least, to jeopardize the post, though this noticeable traditionalism may in reality have actually assisted Voltaire mask the originality of his business: it is at least feasible that in a work such as Zaïre (1732), the kind of the classical disaster made its concepts of religious toleration more tasty.

Voltaire’s contribution to the history of Enlightenment approach is very little, and he can not be thought about a significant or original thinker. In terms of the history of concepts, his single crucial accomplishment was to have helped in the 1730s to present the idea of Newton and Locke to France (therefore to the rest of the Continent); as well as this accomplishment is, as Jonathan Israel has actually just recently revealed, barely as radical as has in some cases been believed: the English thinkers in question served essentially as a deistic bulwark versus the more radical (atheistic) currents of believed in the Spinozist custom. Voltaire’s deist beliefs, stated throughout his life, concerned appear significantly outmoded and defensive as he got older and as he ended up being more and more exercised by the spread of atheism. Voltaire’s failure to produce an original viewpoint was, in a sense, reversed by his deliberate cultivation of a philosophy of action; his ‘good sense’ crusade versus superstitious notion and prejudice and in favour of religious toleration was his single biggest contribution to the development of Enlightenment. ‘Rousseau composes for composing’s sake’, he stated in a letter of 1767, ‘I write to act.’.

We rarely know with certainty what Voltaire really believed or thought; what mattered to him was the impact of exactly what he composed. The terrific crusades of the 1760s taught him to appreciate the importance of popular opinion, and in popularizing the clandestine ideas of the early part of the century he played the role of the journalist. He might have been old-fashioned in his nostalgia for the classicism of the previous century, but he was completely of his day in his consummate understanding of the medium of publishing. He controlled the book trade to accomplish maximum publicity for his concepts, and he well understood the value of exactly what he called ‘the portable’. In 1766, Voltaire wrote to d’Alembert: ‘Twenty in-folio volumes will certainly never cause a revolution; it’s the little portable books at thirty sous which are to be feared.’.

This would also be a simplification, for notwithstanding his obvious literary conservatism, Voltaire was in reality a relentless reformer and experimenter with literary genres, ingenious virtually despite himself, specifically in the domain of prose. He never ever turned his back on verse drama and philosophical poetry, he experimented with various kinds of historical writing and tried his hand at different designs of prose fiction. Above all, he appears to have found late in his career the satirical and belligerent uses of the piece, especially in his alphabetic works, the Dictionnaire philosophique portatif (1764), including 73 posts in its very first edition, and the Questions sur l’Encyclopédie (1770-1772). The latter work, whose first edition included 423 articles in nine octavo volumes, is a vast and challenging compendium of his idea and ranks among Voltaire’s unacknowledged masterpieces. When he passed away, Voltaire was dealing with what would have been his third ‘philosophical’ dictionary, L’Opinion en alphabet.

It was for that reason Voltaire’s literary and rhetorical contributions to the Enlightenment which were really distinct. Interested neither in music (like Rousseau) nor in art (like Diderot), Voltaire was essentially a man of language. Through force of style, through skilful choice of literary category, and through the achieved adjustment of the book market, he discovered means of popularizing and promulgating concepts which up until then had actually usually been clandestine. The range of his writing is enormous, accepting practically every category. In verse, he wrote in every form– impressive poetry, ode, satire and epistle, and even periodic and light verse; his drama, likewise written in verse, includes both comedies and catastrophes (although the tragedies have not endured in the modern theatre, lots of survive on in the opera, as, for example, Rossini’s Semiramide and Tancredi).

Voltaire’s ironic, fast-moving, deceptively simple style makes him among the greatest stylists of the French language. All his life, Voltaire enjoyed to act in his own plays, and this fondness for role-playing finished into all his writings. He used something like 175 various pseudonyms in the course of his profession, and his writing is identified by an expansion of various personalities and voices. The reader is continuously drawn into dialogue– by a footnote which contradicts the text, or by one voice in the text which suggests versus another. Using the mask is so ruthless and the presence of humour, paradox, and satire so pervasive that the reader has lastly no idea of where the ‘real’ Voltaire is. His autobiographical works are couple of and totally unrevealing: as the title of his Commentaire historique sur les Å�uvres de l’auteur de la Henriade suggests, it is his works alone which constitute their author’s identity.

Voltaire was likewise modern-day in the way he invented himself by fashioning a public image from his adopted name. As the patriarch of Ferney, he turned himself into an organization whose fame reached throughout Europe. As an engaged and militant intellectual, he stood at the start of a French tradition which anticipated Emile Zola and to Jean-Paul Sartre, and in modern-day republican France his name stands as a cultural icon, a sign of rationalism and the defence of tolerance. Voltaire was a man of paradoxes: the bourgeois who as de Voltaire gave himself aristocratic pretensions, but who as plain Voltaire later on ended up being a hero of the Revolution; the conservative in aesthetic matters who appeared as a radical in religious and political concerns. He was, above all, the master ironist, who, perhaps more than any other author, gave to the Enlightenment its characteristic and specifying tone of voice.