I think the above captures the spirit of Voltaire’s La Henriade. But it also describes Voltaire who spent a lifetime combating fanaticism, injustice and superstitions. Our subject is New France in its earliest days. We wish to know what happened during the half century separating Cartier’s attempt to found a settlement and Dugua de Mons’ similar endeavour. This period has not been chronicled, but Huguenots had been involved in the fur trade. Our King is no longer François Ier, but Henri IV.
The contents of this post may seem repetitive, but they sum up Cartier’s era and Henri IV’s brief reign. More importantly, although New France has Huguenot roots, I am portraying a good king who was attempting to put away a divided Kingdom. He was assassinated in 1610.
Many Huguenots (French Protestants) or former Huguenots, were the founders of what became Canada. Dugua de Mons converted to Catholicism in 1593, at approximately the same time Henri IV became a Catholic. As King of Navarre, he had been a Huguenot.
Nothing suggests that Jacques Cartier was a Huguenot, but he settled Charlesbourg-Royal in 1541, a settlement that ended in 1543. François Ier (Francis Ist), had commissioned Pierre de La Rocque, sieur de Roberval, known as Roberval, a nobleman, to build the first French settlement in North America, but Roberval did not set sail until 1542. Although sources differ, Charlesbourg-Royal was settled, almost undoubtedly, by Jacques Cartier, rather than Roberval.
Jacques Cartier left France in 1541, a year before Roberval sailed for the New World. Jacques Cartier met Roberval, near Newfoundland, but refused to turn around to assist Roberval, as the King had requested. Jacques Cartier was not a nobleman, but he is the explorer who discovered Canada and named it Canada, after Kanata, its Amerindian name.
Francis 1st, King of France, did not ask Jacques Cartier to build a settlement. As we know, the person he commissioned was Pierre de La Rocque, sieur de Roberval, a nobleman. This may have been an affront to Jacques Cartier who had discovered “Canada.” Jacques Cartier lost 35 men during the first winter he spent at Charlesbourg-Royal, pictured above. By 1543, the settlement was abandoned. Then came a seemingly inactive period spanning nearly a half-century, but was it?
The settlements that survive are Dugua de Mons’ Port-Royal and Quebec City. As a noted, Champlain founded Quebec City, as Dugua’s employee. In fact, he and Mathieu da Costa were Dugua’s employees. So, Mathieu da Costa, the first Black in Canada, may have co-founded Quebec City, as an employee of Dugua de Mons. Mathieu de Coste is also Canada’s first linguist and he died in the settlement he co-founded. He was a free Black.
Had he not been a fur-trader, it is very unlikely that Pierre de Chauvin de Tonnetuit could have built a trading-post. The Huguenots had been fleeing the Wars of Religion. Henri IV reigned from 1589 to 14 May 1610, when he was assassinated, and events do not suggest that during his reign Henri IV encouraged the growth of Protestantism. As we know, he signed the Édit de Nantes promoting religions toleration.
When Henri IV died he had yet to finish unifying France and, given Richelieu’s concept of absolutism, Huguenots would have to convert. Richelieu’s notion of absolutism required that all French citizens practice the same religion. As conceived by Richelieu, absolutism consisted of one religion, one language, and one King. When the Siege of Larochelle began, so did the Anglo-French War of 1627-1629. England was defeated and the Edict of Nantes, revoked in 1685, unleashing a reign of terror a Voltaire could not accept.
Acadie had just begun, when Marc Lescarbot wrote and published his Histoire de la Nouvelle-France. He had been in Acadia for one year, 1607-1608. He also produced a play, leThéâtre de Neptune, in Port-Royal. His History of Nouvelle-France is not a bad history. On the contrary. It is a good story. But Nouvelle-France consisted of one settlement, or habitation: Port-Royal that was about to crumble to be reborn again. The picture above features Lescarbot reading his play. The artist is William Jefferys (photo-credit: wiki2.org).
Would there ever be a King of France so loved that a young Voltaire would praise him in long cantos, or “fictions” “drawn from the regions of the marvelous” (Voltaire, 1859)? There wouldn’t, except in “fictions.”
« La Prusse n’est pas un pays qui a une armée, c’est une armée qui a un pays. » (See Frederick the Great, Wiki2.org.)
The Monarch as a Young Man
Frederick was the son of Frederick William I of Prussia a disciplinarian who did not shy away from beating his son. Young Frederick attempted to flee to England with a friend, Hans Hermann von Katte ( 1704 – 1730), intending to work for George II of Britain. George II was the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover). Flight was impeded. Frederick William I had the two lads imprisoned, at Küstrin. King Frederick William I spared his son’s life, but Hans Hermann von Katte was beheaded and Frederick William I insisted that his son watch the execution.
Although Frederick married Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel-Bevern when he was crown prince, he did not live with his wife. It appears he was not attracted to women. As a very young man, he may have been attracted to boys, but one can only speculate on Frederick the Great’s sexuality. Although he was not attracted to women, Frederick made sure his wife lived comfortably. He was succeeded by his nephew, Frederick William II of Prussia.
Frederick the Composer
Frederick’s passion was his “profession,” to quote Catherine the Great of Russia. He was an aristocrat and “born to rule.” Other than his “profession,” Frederick was an excellent musician. He played the flute and was a surprisingly prolific composer. Harmony, counterpoint and form are demanding disciplines. Additionally, one’s melodies are the product of inspiration. Frederick was gifted. Frederick the Great (Wiki2.org) provides a list of Frederick’s compositions. It may not be a complete, but it is very impressive: 100 sonatas for the flute as well as four symphonies, etc. Frederick had a music room at Sanssouci, his castle in Potsdam, and his flute teacher was no less than Johann Joachim Quantz (30 January 1607 – 12 July 1773).
Voltaire in Prussia
King Friedrich der Große admired all things French, Voltaire especially. Frederick, who learned French as a child, initiated a correspondence with Voltaire in 1736, before Frederick William I’s death. In the 1750’s, Voltaire moved to Prussia, at Frederick’s invitation. He was named chamberlain and appointed to the Order of Merit. Voltaire also received a salary of 20,000 French livres a year. He had rooms at Sanssouci (without worries), Frederick the Great’s castle at Potsdam, and also lived at Charlottenburg Palace. French was spoken at the Prussian court. Voltaire spent three years in Prussia. A misunderstanding separated host and guest, but the two reconciled. Frederick the Great was delighted to have known Voltaire. (See Voltaire, Wiki2.org.)
The influence of French philosophes and British intellectuals led Frederick the Great to write an “idealistic refutation” (Wiki2.org.) of Niccolò Machiavelli’s 16th-century’s Prince, entitled the Anti-Machiavel, published in 1740. Voltaire edited Frederick the Great’s Anti-Machiavel, also providing footnotes. A combined edition was published. Summarizing the Anti-Machiavel would be difficult, but, basically, it describes the king as “the first servant of the state.”
Peter the Great and Catherine the Great westernized Russia, but they also organized it. As for Frederick the Great, the most enlightened of despots, he modernized Prussia. All three despots also promoted, to a greater or lesser extent, religious tolerance. King Frederick the Great joined Freemasonry, as did many of his contemporaries.
In Prussia, the heart of the future German Empire, it became possible to occupy positions formerly reserved for the nobility. Bourgeois could be judges and senior bureaucrats. Frederick welcomed immigrants and he allowed freedom of the press and literature. Moreover, not only was he a musician, but he was also a patron of musicians and artists. He reformed the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Although it is incomplete, one of Frederick’s finest achievements was the Prussian Civil Code. Civil codes organize a nation. Catherine II the Great of Russia also worked on devising a code of laws.
Frederick the Great was a fine and well-educated leader. He believed, however, that his “profession” had made him what he was. It hadn’t. One does not need to be an aristocrat to govern well. In short, Frederick was an exceptional leader and an extremely gifted gentleman, brilliant, who happened to be a king, and a despot.
Yet Frederick was also convinced that the Prussian landed noblemen, the Junkers, were the backbone of the state, and he continued accordingly to uphold the alliance between crown and aristocracy on which his kingdom had been built.
I read a post and the comments that followed it. I will not quote the post nor will I quote the entire comment. The post was about a scientist being denied tenure at a university, i. e. a permanent position, because he felt God had something to do with the creation of our universe. Basically, the comment was about “Jesus’ words about people thinking they are serving God by killing believers…”
We do not live in a perfect world. Terrorists wrap bomb(s) around themselves and wreak destruction in the name of God. In short, we have killed thinking that we were “serving God” (the Crusades, Jews, sorceresses, etc.).
Marble head representing Emperor Constantine the Great, at the Capitoline Museums(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Jesus and the Christian Church as an Institution
Yes, we have killed in the name of God. Jesus, however, did not leave a sacred text and he talked in “parables” which is what a fabulist does, according to La Fontaine (see his Preface to his first volume of fables (1668), paragraph 6. Jesus, Isa ibn Maryam, did not write a sacred text nor did he found a Church. There were followers of Christ before 325 AD (CE), but the Christian Church was not founded until the First Council of Nicaea, which took place near the current Istanbul, Turkey. The Christian Church was founded under Roman Emperor Constantine I (27 February 272 CE – 22 May 337 CE), Saint Constantine or Saint Constantine the Great, Equal-to-the-Apostles, in the Eastern Church (Orthodox). (See Constantine the Great, Wikipedia.) Istanbul was first named Byzantium, It was the capital of the Byzantine Empire. On 11 May 330 AD, it became Constantinople, the holy see of the Christian Church. (See Constantinople, Wikipedia.) Constantinople was renamed Istanbul after the Turkish War of Independence, fought between 19 May 1919 and 24 July 1923.
Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have asked several theologians about the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. After studying the Gospels, reports not sacred texts, they have concluded that Jesus taught what is often summarized as “unconditional love,” (mercy, compassion, etc).
“In almost all cases the phrases used in the Beatitudes are familiar from an Old Testament context, but in the sermon Jesus gives them new meaning. Together, the Beatitudes present a new set of ideals that focus on love and humility rather than force and exaction[.]” (See Sermon on the Mount, Wikipedia)
« Cemonde est une horloge et cette horloge a besoin d’un horloger. » in Poésies et « L’univers m’embarrasse, et je ne puis songer / Que cette horloge existe et n’ait point d’horloger » in Les Cabales de Voltaire (1694-1778).
“This world is a clock and this clock needs a clockmaker.” in Poésies and “I am intrigued by the universe, and cannot help thinking / That this clock should exist and there not be a clockmaker.”
There is “candour” in Voltaire’s statement. He is the author of Candide(1762). If God is good why did He allow such a calamity as the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon. It destroyed the city and its surroundings. (See 1755 Lisbon earthquake, Wikipedia.)
One can also say that, if there is a God, why did He allow Otto Warmbier to die. Not only is nature cruel, but so are certain human beings. Evil is a problem.
These are the “big” questions. The human condition is a “big” question. We are born and we give birth, but we die. One accident can shatter our dreams, take away a person’s dearest, perfectly legitimate and realistic expectations.
On the day my mother died, I sat next to her and spent hours telling her that she would see her dead children, her mother, her brothers and sisters, and angels everywhere. On that day, had there not been a God, I would have invented a God, a clockmaker, and an afterlife, which is perhaps the finest gift nature has bestowed upon us. We die, poor or rich, but we also live and can make our life and the life of those we know a happier passage. We can create and overcome what is otherwise absurd (see Albert Camus, Wikipedia). We compensate.
No, we should not kill in the name of God. We must protect our planet, be good and spread what happiness we can.
Descartes: « Je pense, donc je suis » and the Tabula Rasa
We associate Descartes with the Cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”), his proof of his existence and, by extension, the existence of other human beings. The Je pense, donc je suis (The Discourse on the Method) is more easily understood if rewritten using the verb “to doubt.” If Descartes doubts, he is thinking, and if he is thinking, he is. By the way, the Discourse on Method, as it is usually referred to, was written in French. It was the first ever philosophical work written in the French language. However, his tabula rasa(cleared up table) sums up the Age of Enlightenment as it unfolded in 18th-century France. Built-in mental content was rejected.
The Age of Enlightenment did not happen in France alone. Voltaire was particularly impressed by England, where he was exiled and was inspired to write the Letters on England, first published in translation in England (London, 1733) and, one year later, in French (London, 1734). An unauthorized copy was published in France in 1734, and was censored. He escaped to Cirey-sur-Blaise, Madame du Châtelet‘s castle, which they refurbished. Madame du Châtelet, a mathematician and a physicist, was Voltaire’s companion until her premature death, at the age of 42, in 1749, which was before the Calas affair.
The Salons and Cafés
Brilliant men gathered in salons, a “key institution” (see Women’s Involvement in the French Salons) and French cafés. You will remember Madame de Geoffrin‘s salon, rue Saint-Honoré, and the Café Procope, the oldest café in Paris. Voltaire was an habitué, a regular, of salons and cafés, but he had to live away from Paris in order to escape authorities who could have thrown him into the Bastille prison. Descartes chose to live in Holland, as reason was a tool feared by a repressive Church. As for Voltaire, having spent 11 months, maybe more, in the Bastille, he ended up living near the Swiss border.
Voltaire’s château de Ferney, Kassandra Kasparek (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
At that time in the history of France, one could incarcerate a man without the benefit of a trial or the possibility for him to defend himself. One obtained a lettre de cachet, signed by the King or the Regent, countersigned by an official, and sealed: le cachet. In order to avoid imprisonment, Voltaire seldom resided in Paris. He claimed that philosophes (intellectuals) needed two dens or tanières, so they could flee easily from one to the other.
Voltaire expressed a philosophe‘s need for two lairs, deux tanières, in a letter he wrote to Madame Denis, his niece and companion.
« Rampant ainsi d’une tanière dans une autre, je me sauve des Rois…, car il faut toujours que les philosophes aient deux ou trois trous sous terre contre les chiens qui courent après eux. » (Voltaire, Lettre à madame Denis, 1745)
(“Thus crawling from one lair into another, I escape Kings…, for philosophes always need two or three holes underground against the dogs running after them.”)
Voltaire had transformed an inheritance into a fortune and could afford to own a château. He purchased Ferney, one hour away from Switzerland, where he bought a house, at Lausanne. After Madame du Châtelet’s death, to whose castle he had fled when the Lettres philosophiques were censored, Madame Denis, Voltaire’s niece, became his permanent companion.
Jean Calas (19 March 1698, Lacabarède, Fr.—died 10 March 1762, in Toulouse) was a Huguenot (French Calvinist Protestant) merchant whose son, Marc-Antoine, committed suicide by hanging in his father’s cloth shop. His body was found on 14 October 1761. It appears Marc-Antoine planned to convert to Catholicism.
Suicide was a crime, punishable by death if one survived, and the bodies of persons who had committed suicides were defiled. The family therefore claimed they had found their son dead hanged. They made the suicide look like a murder.
Our cast is:
Marc-Antoine Calas, the victim, who planned to convert to Catholicism;
Jean Calas, his father and a Protestant (called Huguenot in France) merchant;
Anne-Rose Babibel, Jean Calas’ wife and a Protestant;
Pierre Calas, Marc-Antoine’s brother, a convert to Catholicism;
On the evening of 13 October 1761, Marc-Antoine left the dinner table and hanged himself in his father’s shop. His body was discovered the next day, 14 October;
On 15 October 1761, the family and their guest were interrogated. At first, they lied, but were advised to tell the truth;
They told the truth. Marc-Antoine had been found dead. He had studied Law, but had difficulty entering his profession. As noted above, he was planning to convert to Catholicism;
On 18 November 1761, Toulouse magistrates concluded, rather summarily, that Marc-Antoine had been murdered by Jean Calas, Anne-Rose (mother), Pierre Calas (brother), Jeanne Viguière (governess, servant), and Gaubert Lavaysse, a guest;
The accused appealed the decision to the Parlement de Toulouse
On 9 March 1762, Jean Calas was tried and found guilty;
On 10 March 1762 he was executed: he was broke to death on the wheel;
On 18 March 1762, Pierre, Marc-Antoine’s brother, was banished, but the other suspects were acquitted.
Jean Calas, broke on the wheel(Photo credit: l’Affaire Calas)
Voltaire was informed of this event by Dominique Audibert, from Marseilles. He soon suspected an injustice. How could Jean Calas, aged 64, strangle his robust son alone? In fact, how could he lift his son’s body and hang him? Why was he the only person to be found guilty and “roué?” The monitoire or chefs d’accusation (the charges) did not make any sense. Besides, Jean Calas had claimed he was innocent until the very end.
For three months, Voltaire sought the truth: “cette vérité qui importe au genre humain,” (this truth which is important to humankind). By the middle of June, he was convinced that there had been a miscarriage of justice.
« Je suis persuadé plus que jamais de l’innocence des Calas et de la cruelle bonne foi du Parlement de Toulouse qui a rendu le jugement le plus inique sur les indices les plus trompeurs ». (21 juin 1762) Read more: http://www.site-magister.com/afcal.htm#ixzz3Ti70UVCz
(“I am persuaded more than ever of the innocence of the Calas family and of the cruel good faith of the Parliament of Toulouse who ruled most inequitably on the most deceptive evidence.” [21 June 1762])
Voltaire sent for Pierre and Donat, Donat being Pierre’s brother. They were refugees in Switzerland. This too was puzzling. Why had Pierre been banished? A person is either guilty or innocent.
“The only person Voltaire would incriminate was the magistrate, called a Capitoul, David de Beaudrige, who had been hostile to the Calas from the very start and had neglected to conduct a thorough enquiry.”
« Il incriminera le seul David de Beaudrigue, ce Capitoul [magistrate] qui, d’emblée [from the very start], s’était montré hostile aux Calas et avait négligé son enquête[.] »
He wrote anonymous pamphlets, libelles, as well as letters to Choiseul, the foreign minister, and Mme de Pompadour, Louis XV’s official mistress. He also sent Madame Calas to Paris where she met ministers and was introduced at Court. Moreover, he published a print by Daniel Chodowiecki showing Jean Calas bidding farewell to his grieving family.
On 1 March 1763, the Callas’ appeal was deemed admissible;
In November 1764, Voltaire published his Traité sur la Tolérance à l’occasion de la mort de Jean Calas (Treatise on Toleration, on the Death of Jean Calas.);
On 4 June, the old verdict was nullified by the Court of Cassation, and the family returned to jail briefly to hear the new sentence;
A famous engraving, from a drawing by Carmontelle, was sold in order to raise money for the family;
In February 1765, David de Beaudrigue, the magistrate, was removed from office;
On 9 March 1765, the Calas family was fully rehabilitated.
Voltaire surrounded himself with royals and other influential people. He won the sympathy of French Protestants and Protestants outside France, thus advancing the cause for religious tolerance. He also discredited the judiciary. When Voltaire worked on a case, he was extremely persistent.
Montesquieu published his Spirit of the Laws in 1748, bringing absolutism into disrepute; it seemed despotic. Voltaire proved that the execution of Jean Calas was an injustice. He showed the merciless treatment of Huguenots, French Protestants. He mobilized the whole of Europe, yet, he never left home.
However, Europe was inundated with letters, etc.
I should note in closing that Voltaire loved the theater, he enjoyed acting, wrote several plays. In short, to rehabilitate Calas, it seems he staged a huge drama. He even sent the grieving widow to Paris and to Court. Having prints engraved to move people or to get donations was brilliant. But this is where I must stop.
Towering figures: Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau
Montesquieu (18 January 1689 – 10 February 1755), François-Marie Arouet (21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778), who renamed himself Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778) are the three figures who dominate the Age of Enlightenment in France, the 18th century. They were its most prominent philosophes (intellectuals).
There were other philosophes, such as the encyclopédistes, Denis Diderot (5 October 1713 – 31 July 1784) and Jean le Rond d’Alembert (16 November 1717 – 29 October 1783). Many are associated with la Querelle des bouffons (“Quarrel of the Comic Actors”), a paper war waged between 1752 and 1754 and opposing reason and sentiment. Others, I will not mention to avoid a truly lengthy post.
A Constitutional Monarchy
The philosophes, however, could not have envisaged the events of the French Revolution and, in particular, the death by guillotine of Louis XVI (23 August 1754 – 21 January 1793), Marie-Antoinette (2 November 1755 – 16 October 1793), and Louis-Philippe II, Duke of Orleans (13 April 1747 – 6 November 1793), also known as Philippe Égalité. A revolution and a regicide, they could not have predicted.
The constitutional government held as a model, was England’s Constitutional Monarchy. A constitution limits the power of a monarch. Given his advocacy of a constitution, Montesquieu opposed absolute monarchy, which was France’s government. However, the word monarchy could include the concept of a constitution, spoken inaudibly.
After the death, in 1715, of Louis XIV, France had heirs to the throne: the illegitimate children of Louis XIV’s mistresses whom Louis had legitimized. However, the royal family quarrelled and it was decided that the next king would not be a légitimé. He would be the grandson of Louis XIV, the future Louis XV (15 February 1710 – 10 May 1774), but he was only five when the Sun King passed away. A regent (the Regency) would therefore rule France until 1723. He was Louis-Philippe, duc d’Orléans, the son of Philippe I, duc d’Orléans, Louis the XIV’s brother, known as Monsieur.
Voltaire thrown into the Bastille
Voltaire was a bit of a rebel as an adolescent. For instance, he would not attend law school, his father’s wish. He wanted to be a man of letters. He produced a few obnoxious verses on the Regent’s “incestuous” love life. Such audacity had a major impact on the remainder of Voltaire’s life. He would keep fleeing. Voltaire was thrown into the Bastille prison, in Paris, where he spent 11 months, or 18 months. Sources differ. He was imprisoned without the benefit of a trial or the opportunity to defend himself.
Justice would become his cause. Upon his release, he was sent on a retreat. The Duke de Béthune invited him to the château de Sully.
Voltaire would not have suffered this gratuitous imprisonment had he lived in England where there was a constitution and a bill of habeas corpus. England had its MagnaCarta, its great charter or liberties since the 13th century.
In 1718, Voltaire feared being sent to the Bastille once again, but the Regent sent him to Sully. So, the plea for justice expressed in Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws (1748) would be Voltaire’s plea. It nearly summarizes his life, and England would be a source of inspiration.
The lettre de cachetwas an infamy. It made it possible to incarcerate a man without the benefit of a trial and the possibility of his defending himself. The letter was signed by the king, or by his regent, countersigned by an official, sealed (le cachet) and then delivered. It was arbitrary, which fully explains why Montesquieu insisted that “[a] man is innocent until a jury finds him guilty.”
As we have seen, Voltaire had spent 11 to 18 months (sources differ) in the Bastille because of verses that had offended the Regent. He had a narrow escape in 1718. The Regent spared him the Bastille by sending him to Sully, the duc de Béthune’s castle. However, in 1726, after insulting the chevalier de Rohan-Chabot, Voltaire, who was at Sully, was beaten by men hired by the chevalier who had also obtained a lettre de cachet.
Voltaire was exiled to England where he spent the following two years (sources differ), from 1726 to 1728. During his stay in England, he learned English, mingled with fine minds, met the King of England, and drew information and inspiration for his Lettres philosophiques(The Letters on England).
The Letters on England
The Letters Concerning the English(a translation, not by Voltaire) were first published in London, in 1733. A year later, the letters were published in the original French (London, 1734), but a French version was also published in France. The Letters were censored immediately. Prudence dictated that the 25 letters be entitled Lettres philosophiques, rather than Lettres anglaises or Lettres sur les Anglais, and that, henceforth, they be published abroad. As I wrote above, Voltaire kept fleeing. The complete text of both the English translation and a French edition may be read online:
The Letters on the English are difficult to summarize as they consist in 25 short articles, letters, on various subjects. The topics are listed under Wikipedia’s entry on the Letters on the English. I would therefore invite you to supplement the quotations I have inserted below this summary and the quotations inserted below.
In the first seven Letters on England, Voltaire discusses religions or sects: the Quakers (1–4), the Anglicans (5), the Presbyterians (6), and the Socinians (7). Socinians are nontrinitarians. Socinians are Deists, as was Voltaire who also became a Freemason the year of his death. Deists believe in a single creator of the universe and reject the knowledge of religious authorities. They favour tolerance. (See Deism, Wikipedia.)
On the Quakers (Letter I), Voltaire quotes a Quaker who says that Quakers are not baptised:
“Friends [Quakers]… swear not; Christ indeed was baptised by John, but He himself never baptised anyone. We are the disciples of Christ, not of John.” Friends are not circumcised.
They have no communion. “Only that spiritual one,” replied he, “of hearts.”
“We never swear, not even in a court of justice, being of opinion that the most holy name of God ought not to be prostituted in the miserable contests betwixt man and man.”
“Quakers have no priests (Letter II): “Why should we abandon our babe to mercenary nurses, when we ourselves have milk enough for it?”
On the Church of England (Letter V)
“England is properly the country of sectarists. Multæ sunt mansiones in domo patris mei (in my Father’s house are many mansions). An Englishman, as one to whom liberty is natural, may go to heaven his own way.”
In this letter, we read that: “With regard to the morals of the English clergy, they are more regular than those of France[.]”
The ceremonies of the Church of England are at times too “Romish.”
On the Presbyterians (Letter VI)
Voltaire speaks of another Cato, the first being Cato the Younger (95 – 46 BCE), a Stoic:
“The latter [Voltaire’s Cato] affects a serious gait, puts on a sour look, wears a vastly broad-brimmed hat and a long cloak over a very short coat, preaches through the nose, and gives the name of the whore of Babylon to all churches where the ministers are so fortunate as to enjoy an annual revenue of five or six thousand pounds, and where the people are weak enough to suffer this, and to give them the titles of my lord, your lordship, or your eminence.”
“These gentlemen, who have also some churches in England, introduced there the mode of grave and severe exhortations.”
Of Parliament (Letter VIII)
Voltaire uses ancient Rome as a point of reference.
“But here follows a more essential difference between Rome and England, which gives the advantage entirely to the latter—viz., that the civil wars of Rome ended in slavery, and those of the English in liberty. The English are the only people upon earth who have been able to prescribe limits to the power of kings by resisting them; and who, by a series of struggles, have at last established that wise Government where the Prince is all-powerful to do good, and, at the same time, is restrained from committing evil; where the nobles are great without insolence, though there are no vassals; and where the people share in the Government without confusion.”
“The Romans never knew the dreadful folly of religious wars, an abomination reserved for devout preachers of patience and humility.”
“House of Lords and that of the Commons divide the legislative power under the king, but the Romans had no such balance.”
Of the Government (Letter IX) (taxes)
“Liberty in England sprang from the quarrels of tyrants. The barons forced King John and King Henry III to grant the famous Magna Charta, the chief design of which was indeed to make kings dependent on the Lords; but then the rest of the nation were a little favoured in it, in order that they might join on proper occasions with their pretended masters. This great Charter, which is considered as the sacred origin of the English liberties, shows in itself how little liberty was known.”
On the subject of taxes, Voltaire writes that: “When the Bill has passed the Lords and is signed by the king, then the whole nation pays, every man in proportion to his revenue or estate, not according to his title, which would be absurd.”
“No one is exempted in this country from paying certain taxes because he is a nobleman or a priest. All duties and taxes are settled by the House of Commons, whose power is greater than that of the Peers, though inferior to it in dignity.”
Letter X is on Trade
In the above letters on England, Voltaire praises:
England’s religious pluralism (tolerance);
its balance between the monarchy and the parliament, i.e. a constitutional monarchy; and
its Magna Carta, the charter of liberties that has long protected the English.
The Letters on England continued
Voltaire goes on to praise inoculation which the English have accepted and which prevents smallpox: death or disfigurement. He praises Lord Bacon (Letter XII) and Mr Locke (Letter XIII).
“Philosophers will never form a religious sect, the reason of which is, their writings are not calculated for the vulgar, and they themselves are free from enthusiasm.” (XIII)
Voltaire admired not only England’s scientists and intellectuals, but also Descartes.
“Descartes was injuriously accused of being an atheist, the last refuge of religious scandal: and he who had employed all the sagacity and penetration of his genius, in searching for new proofs of the existence of a God, was suspected to believe there was no such Being.” (Letter XIV)
“The progress of Sir Isaac Newton’s life was quite different. He lived happy, and very much honoured in his native country, to the age of fourscore and five years. It was his peculiar felicity, not only to be born in a country of liberty, but in an age when all scholastic impertinences were banished from the world. Reason alone was cultivated, and mankind could only be his pupil, not his enemy.” (Letter XIV)
“Descartes gave sight to the blind.” (Letter XIV)
[I have left out a few letters, devoted to great minds.]
In England merit is rewarded:
“Merit, indeed, meets in England with rewards of another kind, which redound more to the honour of the nation.” (Letter XXIII)
[I have left out a few letters.]
In the following letter, Voltaire discusses the English Royal Society (XXIV) and other learned societies. He praises the French Academy.
Letter XXV is devoted to Pascal who insists that man is “miserable.” It has been omitted from the English edition I used, but can be read in French. Lettres philosophiques pdf FR
Let me now summarize the letters I omitted using Britannica:
“A stay in England (1726–28) led to the Lettres philosophiques (1734; Letters on England), which—taking England as a polemical model of philosophical freedom, experimental use of reason, enlightened patronage of arts and science, and respect for the new merchant classes and their contribution to the nation’s economic well-being—offered a program for a whole civilization, as well as sharp satire of a despotic, authoritarian, and outdated France.”
In the Letters Concerning the English, Voltaire expresses his admiration for a country where tolerance allows religious pluralism.
“Take a view of the Royal Exchange in London, a place more venerable than many courts of justice, where the representatives of all nations meet for the benefit of mankind. There the Jew, the Mahometan, and the Christian transact together, as though they all professed the same religion, and give the name of infidel to none but bankrupts. There the Presbyterian confides in the Anabaptist, and the Churchman depends on the Quaker’s word.” (Letter VI)
Religion is a crucial component of the Letters concerning the English, which led to censorship. Publication of his Lettres philosophiques forced him to go into hiding. He would otherwise have been imprisoned.
However, Voltaire admired French literature as well as many British authors. He is eclectic in his choice of authors and texts and shows a surprizing knowledge of both the literature of France and that of England. Would that merit be rewarded in France! Descartes was not given a pension. Fortunately, members of the Académie française were remunerated.
I have introduced the famous lettre de cachet as a biographical element. In Voltaire’s days, an individual could have another individual incarcerated by obtaining a lettre de cachet, signed by the king and sealed. Next, I would like to tell about Jean Calas. France had l’affaire Dreyfus, but it also had l’affaire Calas.
Candide, a novella and Voltaire’s jewel, will be introduced latter.