Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary
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[TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: Greek words in this text have been transliterated and placed between marks.]

Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary

New York




This book does not demand continuous reading; but at whatever place one opens it, one will find matter for reflection. The most useful books are those of which readers themselves compose half; they extend the thoughts of which the germ is presented to them; they correct what seems defective to them, and they fortify by their reflections what seems to them weak.

It is only really by enlightened people that this book can be read; the ordinary man is not made for such knowledge; philosophy will never be his lot. Those who say that there are truths which must be hidden from the people, need not be alarmed; the people do not read; they work six days of the week, and on the seventh go to the inn. In a word, philosophical works are made only for philosophers, and every honest man must try to be a philosopher, without pluming himself on being one.

This alphabet is extracted from the most estimable works which are not commonly within the reach of the many; and if the author does not always mention the sources of his information, as being well enough known to the learned, he must not be suspected of wishing to take the credit for other people's work, because he himself preserves anonymity, according to this word of the Gospel: "Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth."









GOD 151













WHY? 313




A senior magistrate of a French town had the misfortune to have a wife who was debauched by a priest before her marriage, and who since covered herself with disgrace by public scandals: he was so moderate as to leave her without noise. This man, about forty years old, vigorous and of agreeable appearance, needs a woman; he is too scrupulous to seek to seduce another man's wife, he fears intercourse with a public woman or with a widow who would serve him as concubine. In this disquieting and sad state, he addresses to his Church a plea of which the following is a precis:

My wife is criminal, and it is I who am punished. Another woman is necessary as a comfort to my life, to my virtue even; and the sect of which I am a member refuses her to me; it forbids me to marry an honest girl. The civil laws of to-day, unfortunately founded on canon law, deprive me of the rights of humanity. The Church reduces me to seeking either the pleasures it reproves, or the shameful compensations it condemns; it tries to force me to be criminal.

I cast my eyes over all the peoples of the earth; there is not a single one except the Roman Catholic people among whom divorce and a new marriage are not natural rights.

What upheaval of the rule has therefore made among the Catholics a virtue of undergoing adultery, and a duty of lacking a wife when one has been infamously outraged by one's own?

Why is a bond that has rotted indissoluble in spite of the great law adopted by the code, quidquid ligatur dissolubile est? I am allowed a separation a mensa et thoro, and I am not allowed divorce. The law can deprive me of my wife, and it leaves me a name called "sacrament"! What a contradiction! what slavery! and under what laws did we receive birth!

What is still more strange is that this law of my Church is directly contrary to the words which this Church itself believes to have been uttered by Jesus Christ: "Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery" (Matt. xix. 9).

I do not examine whether the pontiffs of Rome are in the right to violate at their pleasure the law of him they regard as their master; whether when a state has need of an heir, it is permissible to repudiate her who can give it one. I do not inquire if a turbulent woman, demented, homicidal, a poisoner, should not be repudiated equally with an adulteress: I limit myself to the sad state which concerns me: God permits me to remarry, and the Bishop of Rome does not permit me.

Divorce was a practice among Catholics under all the emperors; it was also in all the dismembered states of the Roman Empire. The kings of France, those called "of the first line," almost all repudiated their wives in order to take new ones. At last came Gregory IX., enemy of the emperors and kings, who by a decree made marriage an unshakeable yoke; his decretal became the law of Europe. When the kings wanted to repudiate a wife who was an adulteress according to Jesus Christ's law, they could not succeed; it was necessary to find ridiculous pretexts. Louis the younger was obliged, to accomplish his unfortunate divorce from Eleanor of Guienne, to allege a relationship which did not exist. Henry IV., to repudiate Marguerite de Valois, pretexted a still more false cause, a refusal of consent. One had to lie to obtain a divorce legitimately.

What! a king can abdicate his crown, and without the Pope's permission he cannot abdicate his wife! Is it possible that otherwise enlightened men have wallowed so long in this absurd servitude!

That our priests, that our monks renounce wives, to that I consent; it is an outrage against population, it is a misfortune for them, but they merit this misfortune which they have made for themselves. They have been the victims of the popes who wanted to have in them slaves, soldiers without families and without fatherland, living solely for the Church: but I, magistrate, who serve the state all day, I need a wife in the evening; and the Church has not the right to deprive me of a benefit which God accords me. The apostles were married, Joseph was married, and I want to be. If I, Alsacian, am dependent on a priest who dwells at Rome, if this priest has the barbarous power to rob me of a wife, let him make a eunuch of me for the singing of Misereres in his chapel.


Equity demands that, having recorded this note in favour of husbands, we should also put before the public the case in favour of wives, presented to the junta of Portugal by a Countess of Arcira. This is the substance of it:

The Gospel has forbidden adultery for my husband just as for me; he will be damned as I shall, nothing is better established. When he committed twenty infidelities, when he gave my necklace to one of my rivals, and my ear-rings to another, I did not ask the judges to have him shaved, to shut him up among monks and to give me his property. And I, for having imitated him once, for having done with the most handsome young man in Lisbon what he did every day with impunity with the most idiotic strumpets of the court and the town, have to answer at the bar before licentiates each of whom would be at my feet if we were alone together in my closet; have to endure at the court the usher cutting off my hair which is the most beautiful in the world; and being shut up among nuns who have no common sense, deprived of my dowry and my marriage covenants, with all my property given to my coxcomb of a husband to help him seduce other women and to commit fresh adulteries.

I ask if it is just, and if it is not evident that the laws were made by cuckolds?

In answer to my plea I am told that I should be happy not to be stoned at the city gate by the canons, the priests of the parish and the whole populace. This was the practice among the first nation of the earth, the chosen nation, the cherished nation, the only one which was right when all the others were wrong.

To these barbarities I reply that when the poor adulteress was presented by her accusers to the Master of the old and new law, He did not have her stoned; that on the contrary He reproached them with their injustice, that he laughed at them by writing on the ground with his finger, that he quoted the old Hebraic proverb—"He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her"; that then they all retired, the oldest fleeing first, because the older they were the more adulteries had they committed.

The doctors of canon law answer me that this history of the adulteress is related only in the Gospel of St. John, that it was not inserted there until later. Leontius, Maldonat, affirm that it is not to be found in a single ancient Greek copy; that none of the twenty-three early commentators mentions it. Origen, St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom, Theophilact, Nonnus, do not recognize it at all. It is not to be found in the Syriac Bible, it is not in Ulphilas' version.

That is what my husband's advocates say, they who would have me not only shaved, but also stoned.

But the advocates who pleaded for me say that Ammonius, author of the third century, recognized this story as true, and that if St. Jerome rejects it in some places, he adopts it in others; that, in a word, it is authentic to-day. I leave there, and I say to my husband: "If you are without sin, shave me, imprison me, take my property; but if you have committed more sins than I have, it is for me to shave you, to have you imprisoned, and to seize your fortune. In justice these things should be equal."

My husband answers that he is my superior and my chief, that he is more than an inch taller, that he is shaggy as a bear; that consequently I owe him everything, and that he owes me nothing.

But I ask if Queen Anne of England is not her husband's chief? if her husband the Prince of Denmark, who is her High Admiral, does not owe her entire obedience? and if she would not have him condemned by the court of peers if the little man's infidelity were in question? It is therefore clear that if the women do not have the men punished, it is when they are not the stronger.


An advocate is a man who, not having a sufficient fortune to buy one of those resplendent offices on which the universe has its eyes, studies the laws of Theodosius and Justinian for three years, so that he may learn the usages of Paris, and who finally, being registered, has the right to plead causes for money, if he have a strong voice.


The great dispute between the ancients and the moderns is not yet settled; it has been on the table since the silver age succeeded the golden age. Mankind has always maintained that the good old times were much better than the present day. Nestor, in the "Iliad," wishing to insinuate himself as a wise conciliator into the minds of Achilles and Agamemnon, starts by saying to them—"I lived formerly with better men than you; no, I have never seen and I shall never see such great personages as Dryas, Cenaeus, Exadius, Polyphemus equal to the gods, etc."

Posterity has well avenged Achilles for Nestor's poor compliment. Nobody knows Dryas any longer; one has hardly heard speak of Exadius, or of Cenaeus; and as for Polyphemus equal to the gods, he has not too good a reputation, unless the possession of a big eye in one's forehead, and the eating of men raw, are to have something of the divine.

Lucretius does not hesitate to say that nature has degenerated (lib. II. v. 1159). Antiquity is full of eulogies of another more remote antiquity. Horace combats this prejudice with as much finesse as force in his beautiful Epistle to Augustus (Epist. I. liv. ii.). "Must our poems, then," he says, "be like our wines, of which the oldest are always preferred?"

The learned and ingenious Fontenelle expresses himself on this subject as follows:

"The whole question of the pre-eminence between the ancients and the moderns, once it is well understood, is reduced to knowing whether the trees which formerly were in our countryside were bigger than those of to-day. In the event that they were, Homer, Plato, Demosthenes cannot be equalled in these latter centuries.

"Let us throw light on this paradox. If the ancients had more intellect than us, it is that the brains of those times were better ordered, formed of firmer or more delicate fibres, filled with more animal spirits; but in virtue of what were the brains of those times better ordered? The trees also would have been bigger and more beautiful; for if nature was then younger and more vigorous, the trees, as well as men's brains, would have been conscious of this vigour and this youth." ("Digression on the Ancients and the Moderns," vol. 4, 1742 edition.)

With the illustrious academician's permission, that is not at all the state of the question. It is not a matter of knowing whether nature has been able to produce in our day as great geniuses and as good works as those of Greek and Latin antiquity; but to know whether we have them in fact. Without a doubt it is not impossible for there to be as big oaks in the forest of Chantilli as in the forest of Dodona; but supposing that the oaks of Dodona had spoken, it would be quite clear that they had a great advantage over ours, which in all probability will never speak.

Nature is not bizarre; but it is possible that she gave the Athenians a country and a sky more suitable than Westphalia and the Limousin for forming certain geniuses. Further, it is possible that the government of Athens, by seconding the climate, put into Demosthenes' head something that the air of Climart and La Grenouillere and the government of Cardinal de Richelieu did not put into the heads of Omer Talon and Jerome Bignon.

This dispute is therefore a question of fact. Was antiquity more fecund in great monuments of all kinds, up to the time of Plutarch, than modern centuries have been from the century of the Medicis up to Louis XIV. inclusive?

The Chinese, more than two hundred years before our era, constructed that great wall which was not able to save them from the invasion of the Tartars. The Egyptians, three thousand years before, had overloaded the earth with their astonishing pyramids, which had a base of about ninety thousand square feet. Nobody doubts that, if one wished to undertake to-day these useless works, one could easily succeed by a lavish expenditure of money. The great wall of China is a monument to fear; the pyramids are monuments to vanity and superstition. Both bear witness to a great patience in the peoples, but to no superior genius. Neither the Chinese nor the Egyptians would have been able to make even a statue such as those which our sculptors form to-day.

The chevalier Temple, who has made it his business to disparage all the moderns, claims that in architecture they have nothing comparable to the temples of Greece and Rome: but, for all that he is English, he must agree that the Church of St. Peter is incomparably more beautiful than the Capitol was.

It is curious with what assurance he maintains that there is nothing new in our astronomy, nothing in the knowledge of the human body, unless perhaps, he says, the circulation of the blood. Love of his own opinion, founded on his vast self-esteem, makes him forget the discovery of the satellites of Jupiter, of the five moons and the ring of Saturn, of the rotation of the sun on its axis, of the calculated position of three thousand stars, of the laws given by Kepler and Newton for the heavenly orbs, of the causes of the precession of the equinoxes, and of a hundred other pieces of knowledge of which the ancients did not suspect even the possibility.

The discoveries in anatomy are as great in number. A new universe in little, discovered by the microscope, was counted for nothing by the chevalier Temple; he closed his eyes to the marvels of his contemporaries, and opened them only to admire ancient ignorance.

He goes so far as to pity us for having nothing left of the magic of the Indians, the Chaldeans, the Egyptians; and by this magic he understands a profound knowledge of nature, whereby they produced miracles: but he does not cite one miracle, because in fact there never were any. "What has become," he asks, "of the charms of that music which so often enchanted man and beast, the fishes, the birds, the snakes, and changed their nature?"

This enemy of his century really believes the fable of Orpheus, and has not apparently heard either the beautiful music of Italy, or even that of France, which in truth does not charm snakes, but does charm the ears of connoisseurs.

What is still more strange is that, having all his life cultivated belles-lettres, he does not reason better about our good authors than about our philosophers. He looks on Rabelais as a great man. He cites the "Amours des Gaules" as one of our best works. He was, however, a scholar, a courtier, a man of much wit, an ambassador, a man who had reflected profoundly on all he had seen. He possessed great knowledge: a prejudice sufficed to spoil all this merit.

There are beauties in Euripides, and in Sophocles still more; but they have many more defects. One dares say that the beautiful scenes of Corneille and the touching tragedies of Racine surpass the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides as much as these two Greeks surpass Thespis. Racine was quite conscious of his great superiority over Euripides; but he praised the Greek poet in order to humiliate Perrault.

Moliere, in his good pieces, is as superior to the pure but cold Terence, and to the droll Aristophanes, as to Dancourt the buffoon.

There are therefore spheres in which the moderns are far superior to the ancients, and others, very few in number, in which we are their inferiors. It is to this that the whole dispute is reduced.


What a pitiful, what a sorry thing to have said that animals are machines bereft of understanding and feeling, which perform their operations always in the same way, which learn nothing, perfect nothing, etc.!

What! that bird which makes its nest in a semi-circle when it is attaching it to a wall, which builds it in a quarter circle when it is in an angle, and in a circle upon a tree; that bird acts always in the same way? That hunting-dog which you have disciplined for three months, does it not know more at the end of this time than it knew before your lessons? Does the canary to which you teach a tune repeat it at once? do you not spend a considerable time in teaching it? have you not seen that it has made a mistake and that it corrects itself?

Is it because I speak to you, that you judge that I have feeling, memory, ideas? Well, I do not speak to you; you see me going home looking disconsolate, seeking a paper anxiously, opening the desk where I remember having shut it, finding it, reading it joyfully. You judge that I have experienced the feeling of distress and that of pleasure, that I have memory and understanding.

Bring the same judgment to bear on this dog which has lost its master, which has sought him on every road with sorrowful cries, which enters the house agitated, uneasy, which goes down the stairs, up the stairs, from room to room, which at last finds in his study the master it loves, and which shows him its joy by its cries of delight, by its leaps, by its caresses.

Barbarians seize this dog, which in friendship surpasses man so prodigiously; they nail it on a table, and they dissect it alive in order to show the mesenteric veins. You discover in it all the same organs of feeling that are in yourself. Answer me, machinist, has nature arranged all the means of feeling in this animal, so that it may not feel? has it nerves in order to be impassible? Do not suppose this impertinent contradiction in nature.

But the schoolmasters ask what the soul of animals is? I do not understand this question. A tree has the faculty of receiving in its fibres its sap which circulates, of unfolding the buds of its leaves and its fruit; will you ask what the soul of this tree is? it has received these gifts; the animal has received those of feeling, of memory, of a certain number of ideas. Who has bestowed these gifts? who has given these faculties? He who has made the grass of the fields to grow, and who makes the earth gravitate toward the sun.

"Animals' souls are substantial forms," said Aristotle, and after Aristotle, the Arab school, and after the Arab school, the angelical school, and after the angelical school, the Sorbonne, and after the Sorbonne, nobody at all.

"Animals' souls are material," cry other philosophers. These have not been in any better fortune than the others. In vain have they been asked what a material soul is; they have to admit that it is matter which has sensation: but what has given it this sensation? It is a material soul, that is to say that it is matter which gives sensation to matter; they cannot issue from this circle.

Listen to other brutes reasoning about the brutes; their soul is a spiritual soul which dies with the body; but what proof have you of it? what idea have you of this spiritual soul, which, in truth, has feeling, memory, and its measure of ideas and ingenuity; but which will never be able to know what a child of six knows? On what ground do you imagine that this being, which is not body, dies with the body? The greatest fools are those who have advanced that this soul is neither body nor spirit. There is a fine system. By spirit we can understand only some unknown thing which is not body. Thus these gentlemen's system comes back to this, that the animals' soul is a substance which is neither body nor something which is not body.

Whence can come so many contradictory errors? From the habit men have always had of examining what a thing is, before knowing if it exists. The clapper, the valve of a bellows, is called in French the "soul" of a bellows. What is this soul? It is a name that I have given to this valve which falls, lets air enter, rises again, and thrusts it through a pipe, when I make the bellows move.

There is not there a distinct soul in the machine: but what makes animals' bellows move? I have already told you, what makes the stars move. The philosopher who said, "Deus est anima brutorum," was right; but he should go further.


Have you sometimes seen in a village Pierre Aoudri and his wife Peronelle wishing to go before their neighbours in the procession? "Our grandfathers," they say, "were tolling the bells before those who jostle us to-day owned even a pig-sty."

The vanity of Pierre Aoudri, his wife and his neighbours, knows nothing more about it. Their minds kindle. The quarrel is important; honour is in question. Proofs are necessary. A scholar who sings in the choir, discovers an old rusty iron pot, marked with an "A," first letter of the name of the potter who made the pot. Pierre Aoudri persuades himself that it was his ancestors' helmet. In this way was Caesar descended from a hero and from the goddess Venus. Such is the history of nations; such is, within very small margins, the knowledge of early antiquity.

The scholars of Armenia demonstrate that the terrestrial paradise was in their land. Some profound Swedes demonstrate that it was near Lake Vener which is visibly a remnant of it. Some Spaniards demonstrate also that it was in Castille; while the Japanese, the Chinese, the Indians, the Africans, the Americans are not sufficiently unfortunate to know even that there was formerly a terrestrial paradise at the source of the Phison, the Gehon, the Tigris and the Euphrates, or, if you prefer it, at the source of the Guadalquivir, the Guadiana, the Douro and the Ebro; for from Phison one easily makes Phaetis; and from Phaetis one makes the Baetis which is the Guadalquivir. The Gehon is obviously the Guadiana, which begins with a "G." The Ebro, which is in Catalonia, is incontestably the Euphrates, of which the initial letter is "E."

But a Scotsman appears who demonstrates in his turn that the garden of Eden was at Edinburgh, which has retained its name; and it is to be believed that in a few centuries this opinion will make its fortune.

The whole globe was burned once upon a time, says a man versed in ancient and modern history; for I read in a newspaper that some absolutely black charcoal has been found in Germany at a depth of a hundred feet, between mountains covered with wood. And it is suspected even that there were charcoal burners in this place.

Phaeton's adventure makes it clear that everything has boiled right to the bottom of the sea. The sulphur of Mount Vesuvius proves invincibly that the banks of the Rhine, Danube, Ganges, Nile and the great Yellow River are merely sulphur, nitre and Guiac oil, which only await the moment of the explosion to reduce the earth to ashes, as it has already been. The sand on which we walk is evident proof that the earth has been vitrified, and that our globe is really only a glass ball, just as are our ideas.

But if fire has changed our globe, water has produced still finer revolutions. For you see clearly that the sea, the tides of which mount as high as eight feet in our climate, has produced mountains of a height of sixteen to seventeen thousand feet. This is so true that some learned men who have never been in Switzerland have found a big ship with all its rigging petrified on Mount St. Gothard, or at the bottom of a precipice, one knows not where; but it is quite certain that it was there. Therefore men were originally fish, quod erat demonstrandum.

To descend to a less antique antiquity, let us speak of the times when the greater part of the barbarous nations left their countries, to go to seek others which were hardly any better. It is true, if there be anything true in ancient history, that there were some Gaulish brigands who went to pillage Rome in the time of Camillus. Other Gaulish brigands had passed, it is said, through Illyria on the way to hire their services as murderers to other murderers, in the direction of Thrace; they exchanged their blood for bread, and later established themselves in Galatia. But who were these Gauls? were they Berichons and Angevins? They were without a doubt Gauls whom the Romans called Cisalpines, and whom we call Transalpines, famished mountain-dwellers, neighbours of the Alps and the Apennines. The Gauls of the Seine and the Marne did not know at that time that Rome existed, and could not take it into their heads to pass Mount Cenis, as Hannibal did later, to go to steal the wardrobes of Roman senators who at that time for all furniture had a robe of poor grey stuff, ornamented with a band the colour of ox blood; two little pummels of ivory, or rather dog's bone, on the arms of a wooden chair; and in their kitchens a piece of rancid bacon.

The Gauls, who were dying of hunger, not finding anything to eat in Rome, went off therefore to seek their fortune farther away, as was the practice of the Romans later, when they ravaged so many countries one after the other; as did the peoples of the North when they destroyed the Roman Empire.

And, further, what is it which instructs very feebly about these emigrations? It is a few lines that the Romans wrote at hazard; because for the Celts, the Velches or the Gauls, these men who it is desired to make pass for eloquent, at that time did not know, they and their bards, how either to read or write.

But to infer from that that the Gauls or Celts, conquered after by a few of Caesar's legions, and by a horde of Bourguignons, and lastly by a horde of Sicamores, under one Clodovic, had previously subjugated the whole world, and given their names and laws to Asia, seems to me to be very strange: the thing is not mathematically impossible, and if it be demonstrated, I give way; it would be very uncivil to refuse to the Velches what one accords to the Tartars.



All the philosophers thought matter eternal but the arts appear new. There is not one, even to the art of making bread, which is not recent. The first Romans ate pap; and these conquerors of so many nations never thought of either windmills or watermills. This truth seems at first to contradict the antiquity of the globe such as it is, or supposes terrible revolutions in this globe. The inundations of barbarians can hardly annihilate arts which have become necessary. I suppose that an army of negroes come among us like locusts, from the mountains of Cobonas, through the Monomotapa, the Monoemugi, the Nosseguais, the Maracates; that they have traversed Abyssinia, Nubia, Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor, the whole of our Europe; that they have overthrown everything, ransacked everything; there will still remain a few bakers, a few cobblers, a few tailors, a few carpenters: the necessary arts will survive; only luxury will be annihilated. It is what was seen at the fall of the Roman Empire; the art of writing even became very rare; almost all those which contributed to the comfort of life were reborn only long after. We invent new ones every day.

From all this one can at bottom conclude nothing against the antiquity of the globe. For, supposing even that an influx of barbarians had made us lose entirely all the arts even to the arts of writing and making bread; supposing, further, that for ten years past we had no bread, pens, ink and paper; the land which has been able to subsist for ten years without eating bread and without writing its thoughts, would be able to pass a century, and a hundred thousand centuries without these aids.

It is quite clear that man and the other animals can exist very well without bakers, without novelists, and without theologians, witness the whole of America, witness three quarters of our continent.

The newness of the arts among us does not therefore prove the newness of the globe, as was claimed by Epicurus, one of our predecessors in reverie, who supposed that by chance the eternal atoms in declining, had one day formed our earth. Pomponace said: "Se il mondo non e eterno, per tutti santi e molto vecchio."


Astrology may rest on better foundations than Magic. For if no one has seen either Goblins, or Lemures, or Dives, or Peris, or Demons, or Cacodemons, the predictions of astrologers have often been seen to succeed. If of two astrologers consulted on the life of a child and on the weather, one says that the child will live to manhood, the other not; if one announces rain, and the other fine weather, it is clear that one of them will be a prophet.

The great misfortune of the astrologers is that the sky has changed since the rules of the art were established. The sun, which at the equinox was in Aries in the time of the Argonauts, is to-day in Taurus; and the astrologers, to the great ill-fortune of their art, to-day attribute to one house of the sun what belongs visibly to another. However, that is not a demonstrative reason against astrology. The masters of the art deceive themselves; but it is not demonstrated that the art cannot exist.

There is no absurdity in saying: Such and such a child is born in the waxing of the moon, during stormy weather, at the rising of such and such star; his constitution has been feeble, and his life unhappy and short; which is the ordinary lot of poor constitutions: this child, on the contrary, was born when the moon was full, the sun strong, the weather calm, at the rising of such and such star; his constitution has been good, his life long and happy. If these observations had been repeated, if they had been found accurate, experience would have been able after some thousands of years to form an art which it would have been difficult to doubt: one would have thought, with some likelihood, that men are like trees and vegetables which must be planted and sown only in certain seasons. It would have been of no avail against the astrologers to say: My son was born at a fortunate time, and nevertheless died in his cradle; the astrologer would have answered: It often happens that trees planted in the proper season perish; I answered to you for the stars, but I did not answer for the flaw of conformation you communicated to your child. Astrology operates only when no cause opposes itself to the good the stars can do.

One would not have succeeded better in discrediting the astrologer by saying: Of two children who were born in the same minute, one has been king, the other has been only churchwarden of his parish; for the astrologer could very well have defended himself by pointing out that the peasant made his fortune when he became churchwarden, as the prince when he became king.

And if one alleged that a bandit whom Sixtus V. had hanged was born at the same time as Sixtus V., who from a pig-herd became Pope, the astrologers would say one had made a mistake of a few seconds, and that it is impossible, according to the rules, for the same star to give the triple crown and the gibbet. It is then only because a host of experiences belied the predictions, that men perceived at last that the art was illusory; but before being undeceived, they were long credulous.

One of the most famous mathematicians in Europe, named Stoffler, who flourished in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and who long worked at the reform of the calendar, proposed at the Council of Constance, foretold a universal flood for the year 1524. This flood was to arrive in the month of February, and nothing is more plausible; for Saturn, Jupiter and Mars were then in conjunction in the sign of Pisces. All the peoples of Europe, Asia and Africa, who heard speak of the prediction, were dismayed. Everyone expected the flood, despite the rainbow. Several contemporary authors record that the inhabitants of the maritime provinces of Germany hastened to sell their lands dirt cheap to those who had most money, and who were not so credulous as they. Everyone armed himself with a boat as with an ark. A Toulouse doctor, named Auriol, had a great ark made for himself, his family and his friends; the same precautions were taken over a large part of Italy. At last the month of February arrived, and not a drop of water fell: never was month more dry, and never were the astrologers more embarrassed. Nevertheless they were not discouraged, nor neglected among us; almost all princes continued to consult them.

I have not the honour of being a prince; but the celebrated Count of Boulainvilliers and an Italian, named Colonne, who had much prestige in Paris, both foretold that I should die infallibly at the age of thirty-two. I have been so malicious as to deceive them already by nearly thirty years, wherefore I humbly beg their pardon.




It seems to me that in the "Encyclopedic Dictionary" the opinion of the Jesuit Richeome, on atheists and idolaters, has not been refuted as strongly as it might have been; opinion held formerly by St. Thomas, St. Gregory of Nazianze, St. Cyprian and Tertullian, opinion that Arnobius set forth with much force when he said to the pagans: "Do you not blush to reproach us with despising your gods, and is it not much more proper to believe in no God at all, than to impute to them infamous actions?"[1] opinion established long before by Plutarch, who says "that he much prefers people to say there is no Plutarch, than to say—'There is an inconstant, choleric, vindictive Plutarch'";[2] opinion strengthened finally by all the effort of Bayle's dialectic.

Here is the ground of dispute, brought to fairly dazzling light by the Jesuit Richeome, and rendered still more plausible by the way Bayle has turned it to account.[3]

"There are two porters at the door of a house; they are asked: 'Can one speak to your master?' 'He is not there,' answers one. 'He is there,' answers the other, 'but he is busy making counterfeit money, forged contracts, daggers and poisons, to undo those who have but accomplished his purposes.' The atheist resembles the first of these porters, the pagan the other. It is clear, therefore, that the pagan offends the Deity more gravely than does the atheist."

With Father Richeome's and even Bayle's permission, that is not at all the position of the matter. For the first porter to resemble the atheists, he must not say—"My master is not here": he should say—"I have no master; him whom you claim to be my master does not exist; my comrade is a fool to tell you that he is busy compounding poisons and sharpening daggers to assassinate those who have executed his caprices. No such being exists in the world."

Richeome has reasoned, therefore, very badly. And Bayle, in his somewhat diffuse discourses, has forgotten himself so far as to do Richeome the honour of annotating him very malapropos.

Plutarch seems to express himself much better in preferring people who affirm there is no Plutarch, to those who claim Plutarch to be an unsociable man. In truth, what does it matter to him that people say he is not in the world? But it matters much to him that his reputation be not tarnished. It is not thus with the Supreme Being.

Plutarch even does not broach the real object under discussion. It is not a question of knowing who offends more the Supreme Being, whether it be he who denies Him, or he who distorts Him. It is impossible to know otherwise than by revelation, if God is offended by the empty things men say of Him.

Without a thought, philosophers fall almost always into the ideas of the common herd, in supposing God to be jealous of His glory, to be choleric, to love vengeance, and in taking rhetorical figures for real ideas. The interesting subject for the whole universe, is to know if it be not better, for the good of all mankind, to admit a rewarding and revengeful God, who recompenses good actions hidden, and who punishes secret crimes, than to admit none at all.

Bayle exhausts himself in recounting all the infamies imputed by fable to the gods of antiquity. His adversaries answer him with commonplaces that signify nothing. The partisans of Bayle and his enemies have almost always fought without making contact. They all agree that Jupiter was an adulterer, Venus a wanton, Mercury a rogue. But, as I see it, that is not what needs consideration. One must distinguish between Ovid's Metamorphoses and the religion of the ancient Romans. It is quite certain that never among the Romans or even among the Greeks, was there a temple dedicated to Mercury the rogue, Venus the wanton, Jupiter the adulterer.

The god whom the Romans called Deus optimus, very good, very great, was not reputed to encourage Clodius to sleep with Caesar's wife, or Caesar to be King Nicomedes' Sodomite.

Cicero does not say that Mercury incited Verres to steal Sicily, although Mercury, in the fable, had stolen Apollo's cows. The real religion of the ancients was that Jupiter, very good and very just, and the secondary gods, punished the perjurer in the infernal regions. Likewise the Romans were long the most religious observers of oaths. Religion was very useful, therefore, to the Romans. There was no command to believe in Leda's two eggs, in the changing of Inachus' daughter into a cow, in the love of Apollo for Hyacinthus.

One must not say therefore that the religion of Numa dishonoured the Deity. For a long time, therefore, people have been disputing over a chimera; which happens only too often.

The question is then asked whether a nation of atheists can exist; it seems to me that one must distinguish between the nation properly so called, and a society of philosophers above the nation. It is very true that in every country the populace has need of the greatest curb, and that if Bayle had had only five or six hundred peasants to govern, he would not have failed to announce to them the existence of a God, rewarder and revenger. But Bayle would not have spoken of Him to the Epicureans who were rich people, fond of rest, cultivating all the social virtues, and above all friendship, fleeing the embarrassment and danger of public affairs, in fine, leading a comfortable and innocent life. It seems to me that in this way the dispute is finished as regards society and politics.

For entirely savage races, it has been said already that one cannot count them among either the atheists or the theists. Asking them their belief would be like asking them if they are for Aristotle or Democritus: they know nothing; they are not atheists any more than they are Peripatetics.

In this case, I shall answer that the wolves live like this, and that an assembly of cannibal barbarians such as you suppose them is not a society; and I shall always ask you if, when you have lent your money to someone in your society, you want neither your debtor, nor your attorney, nor your judge, to believe in God.


We are intelligent beings: intelligent beings cannot have been formed by a crude, blind, insensible being: there is certainly some difference between the ideas of Newton and the dung of a mule. Newton's intelligence, therefore, came from another intelligence.

When we see a beautiful machine, we say that there is a good engineer, and that this engineer has excellent judgment. The world is assuredly an admirable machine; therefore there is in the world an admirable intelligence, wherever it may be. This argument is old, and none the worse for that.

All living bodies are composed of levers, of pulleys, which function according to the laws of mechanics; of liquids which the laws of hydrostatics cause to circulate perpetually; and when one thinks that all these beings have a perception quite unrelated to their organization, one is overwhelmed with surprise.

The movement of the heavenly bodies, that of our little earth round the sun, all operate by virtue of the most profound mathematical law. How Plato who was not aware of one of these laws, eloquent but visionary Plato, who said that the earth was erected on an equilateral triangle, and the water on a right-angled triangle; strange Plato, who says there can be only five worlds, because there are only five regular bodies: how, I say, did Plato, who did not know even spherical trigonometry, have nevertheless a genius sufficiently fine, an instinct sufficiently happy, to call God the "Eternal Geometer," to feel the existence of a creative intelligence? Spinoza himself admits it. It is impossible to strive against this truth which surrounds us and which presses on us from all sides.


Notwithstanding, I have known refractory persons who say that there is no creative intelligence at all, and that movement alone has by itself formed all that we see and all that we are. They tell you brazenly:

"The combination of this universe was possible, seeing that the combination exists: therefore it was possible that movement alone arranged it. Take four of the heavenly bodies only, Mars, Venus, Mercury and the Earth: let us think first only of the place where they are, setting aside all the rest, and let us see how many probabilities we have that movement alone put them in their respective places. We have only twenty-four chances in this combination, that is, there are only twenty-four chances against one to bet that these bodies will not be where they are with reference to each other. Let us add to these four globes that of Jupiter; there will be only a hundred and twenty against one to bet that Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury and our globe, will not be placed where we see them.

"Add finally Saturn: there will be only seven hundred and twenty chances against one, for putting these six big planets in the arrangement they preserve among themselves, according to their given distances. It is therefore demonstrated that in seven hundred and twenty throws, movement alone has been able to put these six principal planets in their order.

"Take then all the secondary bodies, all their combinations, all their movements, all the beings that vegetate, that live, that feel, that think, that function in all the globes, you will have but to increase the number of chances; multiply this number in all eternity, up to the number which our feebleness calls 'infinity,' there will always be a unity in favour of the formation of the world, such as it is, by movement alone: therefore it is possible that in all eternity the movement of matter alone has produced the entire universe such as it exists. It is even inevitable that in eternity this combination should occur. Thus," they say, "not only is it possible for the world to be what it is by movement alone, but it was impossible for it not to be likewise after an infinity of combinations."


All this supposition seems to me prodigiously fantastic, for two reasons; first, that in this universe there are intelligent beings, and that you would not know how to prove it possible for movement alone to produce understanding; second, that, from your own avowal, there is infinity against one to bet, that an intelligent creative cause animates the universe. When one is alone face to face with the infinite, one feels very small.

Again, Spinoza himself admits this intelligence; it is the basis of his system. You have not read it, and it must be read. Why do you want to go further than him, and in foolish arrogance plunge your feeble reason in an abyss into which Spinoza dared not descend? Do you realize thoroughly the extreme folly of saying that it is a blind cause that arranges that the square of a planet's revolution is always to the square of the revolutions of other planets, as the cube of its distance is to the cube of the distances of the others to the common centre? Either the heavenly bodies are great geometers, or the Eternal Geometer has arranged the heavenly bodies.

But where is the Eternal Geometer? is He in one place or in all places, without occupying space? I have no idea. Is it of His own substance that He has arranged all things? I have no idea. Is He immense without quantity and without quality? I have no idea. All that I know is that one must worship Him and be just.


Can one say that the parts of animals conform to their needs: what are these needs? preservation and propagation. Is it astonishing then that, of the infinite combinations which chance has produced, there has been able to subsist only those that have organs adapted to the nourishment and continuation of their species? have not all the others perished of necessity?


This objection, oft-repeated since Lucretius, is sufficiently refuted by the gift of sensation in animals, and by the gift of intelligence in man. How should combinations "which chance has produced," produce this sensation and this intelligence (as has just been said in the preceding paragraph)? Without any doubt the limbs of animals are made for their needs with incomprehensible art, and you are not so bold as to deny it. You say no more about it. You feel that you have nothing to answer to this great argument which nature brings against you. The disposition of a fly's wing, a snail's organs suffices to bring you to the ground.


Modern natural philosophers have but expanded these so-called arguments, often they have pushed them to trifling and indecency. They have found God in the folds of the skin of the rhinoceros: one could, with equal reason, deny His existence because of the tortoise's shell.


What reasoning! The tortoise and the rhinoceros, and all the different species, are proof equally in their infinite variety of the same cause, the same design, the same aim, which are preservation, generation and death.

There is unity in this infinite variety; the shell and the skin bear witness equally. What! deny God because shell does not resemble leather! And journalists have been prodigal of eulogies about these ineptitudes, eulogies they have not given to Newton and Locke, both worshippers of the Deity who spoke with full knowledge.


Of what use are beauty and proportion in the construction of the snake? They may have uses, some say, of which we are ignorant. At least let us be silent then; let us not admire an animal which we know only by the harm it does.


And be you silent too, seeing that you cannot conceive its utility any more than I can; or avow that in reptiles everything is admirably proportioned.

Some are venomous, you have been so yourself. Here there is question only of the prodigious art which has formed snakes, quadrupeds, birds, fish and bipeds. This art is sufficiently evident. You ask why the snake does harm? And you, why have you done harm so many times? Why have you been a persecutor? which is the greatest of all crimes for a philosopher. That is another question, a question of moral and physical ill. For long has one asked why there are so many snakes and so many wicked men worse than snakes. If flies could reason, they would complain to God of the existence of spiders; but they would admit what Minerva admitted about Arachne, in the fable, that she arranges her web marvellously.

One is bound therefore to recognize an ineffable intelligence which even Spinoza admitted. One must agree that this intelligence shines in the vilest insect as in the stars. And as regards moral and physical ill, what can one say, what do? console oneself by enjoying physical and moral good, in worshipping the Eternal Being who has made one and permitted the other.

One more word on this subject. Atheism is the vice of a few intelligent persons, and superstition is the vice of fools. But rogues! what are they? rogues.


Let us say a word on the moral question set in action by Bayle, to know "if a society of atheists could exist?" Let us mark first of all in this matter what is the enormous contradiction of men in this dispute; those who have risen against Bayle's opinion with the greatest ardour; those who have denied with the greatest insults the possibility of a society of atheists, have since maintained with the same intrepidity that atheism is the religion of the government of China.

Assuredly they are quite mistaken about the Chinese government; they had but to read the edicts of the emperors of this vast country to have seen that these edicts are sermons, and that everywhere there is mention of the Supreme Being, ruler, revenger, rewarder.

But at the same time they are not less mistaken on the impossibility of a society of atheists; and I do not know how Mr. Bayle can have forgotten one striking example which was capable of making his cause victorious.

In what does a society of atheists appear impossible? It is that one judges that men who had no check could never live together; that laws can do nothing against secret crimes; that a revengeful God who punishes in this world or the other the wicked who have escaped human justice is necessary.

The laws of Moses, it is true, did not teach a life to come, did not threaten punishments after death, did not teach the first Jews the immortality of the soul; but the Jews, far from being atheists, far from believing in avoiding divine vengeance, were the most religious of all men. Not only did they believe in the existence of an eternal God, but they believed Him always present among them; they trembled lest they be punished in themselves, in their wives, in their children, in their posterity, even unto the fourth generation; this curb was very potent.

But, among the Gentiles, many sects had no curb; the sceptics doubted everything: the academicians suspended judgment on everything; the Epicureans were persuaded that the Deity could not mix Himself in the affairs of men; and at bottom, they admitted no Deity. They were convinced that the soul is not a substance, but a faculty which is born and which perishes with the body; consequently they had no yoke other than morality and honour. The Roman senators and knights were veritable atheists, for the gods did not exist for men who neither feared nor hoped anything from them. The Roman senate in the time of Caesar and Cicero, was therefore really an assembly of atheists.

That great orator, in his harangue for Cluentius, says to the whole senate in assembly: "What ill does death do him? we reject all the inept fables of the nether regions: of what then has death deprived him? of nothing but the consciousness of suffering."

Does not Caesar, the friend of Cataline, wishing to save his friend's life against this same Cicero, object to him that to make a criminal die is not to punish him at all, that death is nothing, that it is merely the end of our ills, that it is a moment more happy than calamitous? And do not Cicero and the whole senate surrender to these reasons? The conquerors and the legislators of the known universe formed visibly therefore a society of men who feared nothing from the gods, who were real atheists.

Further on Bayle examines whether idolatry is more dangerous than atheism, if it is a greater crime not to believe in the Deity than to have unworthy opinions thereof: in that he is of Plutarch's opinion; he believes it is better to have no opinion than to have a bad opinion; but with all deference to Plutarch, it was clearly infinitely better for the Greeks to fear Ceres, Neptune and Jupiter, than to fear nothing at all. The sanctity of oaths is clearly necessary, and one should have more confidence in those who believe that a false oath will be punished, than in those who think they can make a false oath with impunity. It is indubitable that in a civilized town, it is infinitely more useful to have a religion, even a bad one, than to have none at all.

It looks, therefore, that Bayle should have examined rather which is the more dangerous, fanaticism or atheism. Fanaticism is certainly a thousand times more deadly; for atheism inspires no bloody passion, whereas fanaticism does: atheism is not opposed to crime, but fanaticism causes crimes to be committed. Fanatics committed the massacres of St. Bartholomew. Hobbes passed for an atheist; he led a tranquil and innocent life. The fanatics of his time deluged England, Scotland and Ireland with blood. Spinoza was not only atheist, but he taught atheism; it was not he assuredly who took part in the judicial assassination of Barneveldt; it was not he who tore the brothers De Witt in pieces, and who ate them grilled.

The atheists are for the most part impudent and misguided scholars who reason badly, and who not being able to understand the creation, the origin of evil, and other difficulties, have recourse to the hypothesis of the eternity of things and of inevitability.

The ambitious, the sensual, have hardly time for reasoning, and for embracing a bad system; they have other things to do than comparing Lucretius with Socrates. That is how things go among us.

That was not how things went with the Roman senate which was almost entirely composed of atheists in theory and in practice, that is to say, who believed in neither a Providence nor a future life; this senate was an assembly of philosophers, of sensualists and ambitious men, all very dangerous, who ruined the republic. Epicureanism existed under the emperors: the atheists of the senate had been rebels in the time of Sylla and Caesar: under Augustus and Tiberius they were atheist slaves.

I would not wish to have to deal with an atheist prince, who would find it to his interest to have me ground to powder in a mortar: I should be quite sure of being ground to powder. If I were a sovereign, I would not wish to have to deal with atheist courtiers, whose interest it would be to poison me: I should have to be taking antidotes every day. It is therefore absolutely necessary for princes and for peoples, that the idea of a Supreme Being, creator, ruler, rewarder, revenger, shall be deeply engraved in people's minds.

Bayle says, in his "Thoughts on the Comets," that there are atheist peoples. The Caffres, the Hottentots, the Topinambous, and many other small nations, have no God: they neither deny nor affirm; they have never heard speak of Him; tell them that there is a God: they will believe it easily; tell them that everything happens through the nature of things; they will believe you equally. To claim that they are atheists is to make the same imputation as if one said they are anti-Cartesian; they are neither for nor against Descartes. They are real children; a child is neither atheist nor deist, he is nothing.

What conclusion shall we draw from all this? That atheism is a very pernicious monster in those who govern; that it is also pernicious in the persons around statesmen, although their lives may be innocent, because from their cabinets it may pierce right to the statesmen themselves; that if it is not so deadly as fanaticism, it is nearly always fatal to virtue. Let us add especially that there are less atheists to-day than ever, since philosophers have recognized that there is no being vegetating without germ, no germ without a plan, etc., and that wheat comes in no wise from putrefaction.

Some geometers who are not philosophers have rejected final causes, but real philosophers admit them; a catechist proclaims God to the children, and Newton demonstrates Him to the learned.

If there are atheists, whom must one blame, if not the mercenary tyrants of souls, who, making us revolt against their knaveries, force a few weak minds to deny the God whom these monsters dishonour. How many times have the people's leeches brought oppressed citizens to the point of revolting against their king!

Men fattened on our substance cry to us: "Be persuaded that a she-ass has spoken; believe that a fish has swallowed a man and has given him up at the end of three days safe and sound on the shore; have no doubt that the God of the universe ordered one Jewish prophet to eat excrement (Ezekiel), and another prophet to buy two whores and to make with them sons of whoredom (Hosea). These are the very words that the God of truth and purity has been made to utter; believe a hundred things either visibly abominable or mathematically impossible; unless you do, the God of pity will burn you, not only during millions of thousands of millions of centuries in the fire of hell, but through all eternity, whether you have a body, whether you have not."

These inconceivable absurdities revolt weak and rash minds, as well as wise and resolute minds. They say: "Our masters paint God to us as the most insensate and the most barbarous of all beings; therefore there is no God;" but they should say: therefore our masters attribute to God their absurdities and their furies, therefore God is the contrary of what they proclaim, therefore God is as wise and as good as they make him out mad and wicked. It is thus that wise men account for things. But if a bigot hears them, he denounces them to a magistrate who is a watchdog of the priests; and this watchdog has them burned over a slow fire, in the belief that he is avenging and imitating the divine majesty he outrages.


[1] Arnobius, Adversus Gentes., lib. v.

[2] Of Superstition, by Plutarch.

[3] See Bayle, Continuation of Divers Thoughts, par. 77, art. XIII.

[4] See, for this objection, Maupertuis' Essay on Cosmology, first part.


Wretched human beings, whether you wear green robes, turbans, black robes or surplices, cloaks and neckbands, never seek to use authority where there is question only of reason, or consent to be scoffed at throughout the centuries as the most impertinent of all men, and to suffer public hatred as the most unjust.

A hundred times has one spoken to you of the insolent absurdity with which you condemned Galileo, and I speak to you for the hundred and first, and I hope you will keep the anniversary of it for ever; I desire that there be graved on the door of your Holy Office:

"Here seven cardinals, assisted by minor brethren, had the master of thought in Italy thrown into prison at the age of seventy; made him fast on bread and water because he instructed the human race, and because they were ignorant."

There was pronounced a sentence in favour of Aristotle's categories, and there was decreed learnedly and equitably the penalty of the galleys for whoever should be sufficiently daring as to have an opinion different from that of the Stagyrite, whose books were formerly burned by two councils.

Further on a faculty, which had not great faculties, issued a decree against innate ideas, and later a decree for innate ideas, without the said faculty being informed by its beadles what an idea is.

In the neighbouring schools judicial proceedings were instituted against the circulation of the blood.

An action was started against inoculation, and parties have been subpoenaed.

At the Customs of thought twenty-one folio volumes were seized, in which it was stated treacherously and wickedly that triangles always have three angles; that a father is older than his son; that Rhea Silvia lost her virginity before giving birth to her child, and that flour is not an oak leaf.

In another year was judged the action: Utrum chimera bombinans in vacuo possit comedere secundas intentiones, and was decided in the affirmative.

In consequence, everyone thought themselves far superior to Archimedes, Euclid, Cicero, Pliny, and strutted proudly about the University quarter.


Author is a generic name which can, like the name of all other professions, signify good or bad, worthy of respect or ridicule, useful and agreeable, or trash for the wastepaper-basket.

* * * * *

We think that the author of a good work should refrain from three things—from putting his name, save very modestly, from the epistle dedicatory, and from the preface. Others should refrain from a fourth—that is, from writing.

* * * * *

Prefaces are another stumbling-block. "The 'I,'" said Pascal, "is hateful." Speak as little of yourself as possible; for you must know that the reader's self-esteem is as great as yours. He will never forgive you for wanting to condemn him to have a good opinion of you. It is for your book to speak for you, if it comes to be read by the crowd.

* * * * *

If you want to be an author, if you want to write a book; reflect that it must be useful and new, or at least infinitely agreeable.

* * * * *

If an ignoramus, a pamphleteer, presumes to criticize without discrimination, you can confound him; but make rare mention of him, for fear of sullying your writings.

* * * * *

If you are attacked as regards your style, never reply; it is for your work alone to make answer.

* * * * *

Someone says you are ill, be content that you are well, without wanting to prove to the public that you are in perfect health. And above all remember that the public cares precious little whether you are well or ill.

* * * * *

A hundred authors make compilations in order to have bread, and twenty pamphleteers make excerpts from these compilations, or apology for them, or criticism and satire of them, also with the idea of having bread, because they have no other trade. All these persons go on Friday to the police lieutenant of Paris to ask permission to sell their rubbish. They have audience immediately after the strumpets who do not look at them because they know that these are underhand dealings.[5]

* * * * *

Real authors are those who have succeeded in one of the real arts, in epic poetry, in tragedy or comedy, in history or philosophy, who have taught men or charmed them. The others of whom we have spoken are, among men of letters, what wasps are among birds.


[5] When Voltaire was writing, it was the police lieutenant of Paris who had, under the chancellor, the inspection of books: since then, a part of his department has been taken from him. He has kept only the inspection of theatrical plays and works below those on printed sheets. The detail of this part is immense. In Paris one is not permitted to print that one has lost one's dog, unless the police are assured that in the poor beast's description there is no proposition contrary to morality and religion (1819).


Banishment for a period or for life, punishment to which one condemns delinquents, or those one wishes to appear as such.

Not long ago one banished outside the sphere of jurisdiction a petty thief, a petty forger, a man guilty of an act of violence. The result was that he became a big robber, a forger on a big scale, and murderer within the sphere of another jurisdiction. It is as if we threw into our neighbours' fields the stones which incommode us in our own.

Those who have written on the rights of men, have been much tormented to know for certain if a man who has been banished from his fatherland still belongs to his fatherland. It is nearly the same thing as asking if a gambler who has been driven away from the gaming-table is still one of the gamblers.

If to every man it is permitted by natural right to choose his fatherland, he who has lost the right of citizen can, with all the more reason, choose for himself a new fatherland; but can he bear arms against his former fellow-citizens? There are a thousand examples of it. How many French protestants naturalized in Holland, England and Germany have served against France, and against armies containing their own kindred and their own brothers! The Greeks who were in the King of Persia's armies made war on the Greeks, their former compatriots. One has seen the Swiss in the Dutch service fire on the Swiss in the French service. It is still worse than to fight against those who have banished you; for, after all, it seems less dishonest to draw the sword for vengeance than to draw it for money.


Few bankruptcies were known in France before the sixteenth century. The great reason is that there were no bankers. Lombards, Jews lent on security at ten per cent: trade was conducted in cash. Exchange, remittances to foreign countries were a secret unknown to all judges.

It is not that many people were not ruined; but that was not called bankruptcy; one said discomfiture; this word is sweeter to the ear. One used the word rupture as did the Boulonnais; but rupture does not sound so well.

The bankruptcies came to us from Italy, bancorotto, bancarotta, gambarotta e la giustizia non impicar. Every merchant had his bench (banco) in the place of exchange; and when he had conducted his business badly, declared himself fallito, and abandoned his property to his creditors with the proviso that he retain a good part of it for himself, be free and reputed a very upright man. There was nothing to be said to him, his bench was broken, banco rotto, banca rotta; he could even, in certain towns, keep all his property and baulk his creditors, provided he seated himself bare-bottomed on a stone in the presence of all the merchants. This was a mild derivation of the old Roman proverb—solvere aut in aere aut in cute, to pay either with one's money or one's skin. But this custom no longer exists; creditors have preferred their money to a bankrupt's hinder parts.

In England and in some other countries, one declares oneself bankrupt in the gazettes. The partners and creditors gather together by virtue of this announcement which is read in the coffee-houses, and they come to an arrangement as best they can.

As among the bankruptcies there are frequently fraudulent cases, it has been necessary to punish them. If they are taken to court they are everywhere regarded as theft, and the guilty are condemned to ignominious penalties.

It is not true that in France the death penalty was decreed against bankrupts without distinction. Simple failures involved no penalty; fraudulent bankrupts suffered the penalty of death in the states of Orleans, under Charles IX., and in the states of Blois in 1576, but these edicts, renewed by Henry IV., were merely comminatory.

It is too difficult to prove that a man has dishonoured himself on purpose, and has voluntarily ceded all his goods to his creditors in order to cheat them. When there has been a doubt, one has been content with putting the unfortunate man in the pillory, or with sending him to the galleys, although ordinarily a banker makes a poor convict.

Bankrupts were very favourably treated in the last year of Louis XIV.'s reign, and during the Regency. The sad state to which the interior of the kingdom was reduced, the multitude of merchants who could not or would not pay, the quantity of unsold or unsellable effects, the fear of interrupting all commerce, obliged the government in 1715, 1716, 1718, 1721, 1722, and 1726 to suspend all proceedings against all those who were in a state of insolvency. The discussions of these actions were referred to the judge-consuls; this is a jurisdiction of merchants very expert in these cases, and better constituted for going into these commercial details than the parliaments which have always been more occupied with the laws of the kingdom than with finance. As the state was at that time going bankrupt, it would have been too hard to punish the poor middle-class bankrupts.

Since then we have had eminent men, fraudulent bankrupts, but they have not been punished.


Ask a toad what beauty is, the to kalon? He will answer you that it is his toad wife with two great round eyes issuing from her little head, a wide, flat mouth, a yellow belly, a brown back. Interrogate a Guinea negro, for him beauty is a black oily skin, deep-set eyes, a flat nose. Interrogate the devil; he will tell you that beauty is a pair of horns, four claws and a tail. Consult, lastly, the philosophers, they will answer you with gibberish: they have to have something conforming to the arch-type of beauty in essence, to the to kalon.

One day I was at a tragedy near by a philosopher. "How beautiful that is!" he said.

"What do you find beautiful there?" I asked.

"It is beautiful," he answered, "because the author has reached his goal."

The following day he took some medicine which did him good. "The medicine has reached its goal," I said to him. "What a beautiful medicine!" He grasped that one cannot say a medicine is beautiful, and that to give the name of "beauty" to something, the thing must cause you to admire it and give you pleasure. He agreed that the tragedy had inspired these sentiments in him, and that there was the to kalon, beauty.

We journeyed to England: the same piece, perfectly translated, was played there; it made everybody in the audience yawn. "Ho, ho!" he said, "the to kalon is not the same for the English and the French." After much reflection he came to the conclusion that beauty is often very relative, just as what is decent in Japan is indecent in Rome, and what is fashionable in Paris, is not fashionable in Pekin; and he saved himself the trouble of composing a long treatise on beauty.

There are actions which the whole world finds beautiful. Two of Caesar's officers, mortal enemies, send each other a challenge, not as to who shall shed the other's blood with tierce and quarte behind a thicket as with us, but as to who shall best defend the Roman camp, which the Barbarians are about to attack. One of them, having repulsed the enemy, is near succumbing; the other rushes to his aid, saves his life, and completes the victory.

A friend sacrifices his life for his friend; a son for his father.... The Algonquin, the Frenchman, the Chinaman, will all say that that is very beautiful, that these actions give them pleasure, that they admire them.

They will say as much of the great moral maxims, of Zarathustra's—"In doubt if an action be just, abstain..."; of Confucius'—"Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses."

The negro with the round eyes and flat nose, who will not give the name of "beauties" to the ladies of our courts, will without hesitation give it to these actions and these maxims. The wicked man even will recognize the beauty of these virtues which he dare not imitate. The beauty which strikes the senses merely, the imagination, and that which is called "intelligence," is often uncertain therefore. The beauty which speaks to the heart is not that. You will find a host of people who will tell you that they have found nothing beautiful in three-quarters of the Iliad; but nobody will deny that Codrus' devotion to his people was very beautiful, supposing it to be true.

There are many other reasons which determine me not to write a treatise on beauty.


Samuel Ornik, native of Basle, was, as you know, a very amiable young man who, besides, knew his New Testament by heart in Greek and German. When he was twenty his parents sent him on a journey. He was charged to carry some books to the coadjutor of Paris, at the time of the Fronde. He arrived at the door of the archbishop's residence; the Swiss told him that Monseigneur saw nobody. "Comrade," said Ornik to him, "you are very rude to your compatriots. The apostles let everyone approach, and Jesus Christ desired that people should suffer all the little children to come to him. I have nothing to ask of your master; on the contrary, I have brought him something."

"Come inside, then," said the Swiss.

He waits an hour in a first antechamber. As he was very naive, he began a conversation with a servant, who was very fond of telling all he knew of his master. "He must be mightily rich," said Ornik, "to have this crowd of pages and flunkeys whom I see running about the house."

"I don't know what his income is," answered the other, "but I heard it said to Joly and the Abbe Charier that he already had two millions of debts."

"But who is that lady coming out of the room?"

"That is Madame de Pomereu, one of his mistresses."

"She is really very pretty; but I have not read that the apostles had such company in their bedrooms in the mornings. Ah! I think the archbishop is going to give audience."

"Say—'His Highness, Monseigneur.'"

"Willingly." Ornik salutes His Highness, presents his books, and is received with a very gracious smile. The archbishop says four words to him, then climbs into his coach, escorted by fifty horsemen. In climbing, Monseigneur lets a sheath fall. Ornik is quite astonished that Monseigneur carries so large an ink-horn in his pocket. "Don't you see that's his dagger?" says the chatterbox. "Everyone carries a dagger when he goes to parliament."

"That's a pleasant way of officiating," says Ornik; and he goes away very astonished.

He traverses France, and enlightens himself from town to town; thence he passes into Italy. When he is in the Pope's territory, he meets one of those bishops with a thousand crowns income, walking on foot. Ornik was very polite; he offers him a place in his cambiature. "You are doubtless on your way to comfort some sick man, Monseigneur?"

"Sir, I am on my way to my master's."

"Your master? that is Jesus Christ, doubtless?"

"Sir, it is Cardinal Azolin; I am his almoner. He pays me very poorly; but he has promised to place me in the service of Donna Olimpia, the favourite sister-in-law di nostro signore."

"What! you are in the pay of a cardinal? But do you not know that there were no cardinals in the time of Jesus Christ and St. John?"

"Is it possible?" cried the Italian prelate.

"Nothing is more true; you have read it in the Gospel."

"I have never read it," answered the bishop; "all I know is Our Lady's office."

"I tell you there were neither cardinals nor bishops, and when there were bishops, the priests were their equals almost, according to Jerome's assertions in several places."

"Holy Virgin," said the Italian. "I knew nothing about it: and the popes?"

"There were not any popes any more than cardinals."

The good bishop crossed himself; he thought he was with an evil spirit, and jumped out of the cambiature.


You despise them, books, you whose whole life is plunged in the vanities of ambition and in the search for pleasure or in idleness; but think that the whole of the known universe, with the exception of the savage races is governed by books alone. The whole of Africa right to Ethiopia and Nigritia obeys the book of the Alcoran, after having staggered under the book of the Gospel. China is ruled by the moral book of Confucius; a greater part of India by the book of the Veidam. Persia was governed for centuries by the books of one of the Zarathustras.

If you have a law-suit, your goods, your honour, your life even depends on the interpretation of a book which you never read.

Robert the Devil, the Four Sons of Aymon, the Imaginings of Mr. Oufle, are books also; but it is with books as with men; the very small number play a great part, the rest are mingled in the crowd.

Who leads the human race in civilized countries? those who know how to read and write. You do not know either Hippocrates, Boerhaave or Sydenham; but you put your body in the hands of those who have read them. You abandon your soul to those who are paid to read the Bible, although there are not fifty among them who have read it in its entirety with care.

To such an extent do books govern the world, that those who command to-day in the city of the Scipios and the Catos have desired that the books of their law should be only for them; it is their sceptre; they have made it a crime of lese-majeste for their subjects to look there without express permission. In other countries it has been forbidden to think in writing without letters patent.

There are nations among whom thought is regarded purely as an object of commerce. The operations of the human mind are valued there only at two sous the sheet.

In another country, the liberty of explaining oneself by books is one of the most inviolable prerogatives. Print all that you like under pain of boring or of being punished if you abuse too considerably your natural right.

Before the admirable invention of printing, books were rarer and more expensive than precious stones. Almost no books among the barbarian nations until Charlemagne, and from him to the French king Charles V., surnamed "the wise"; and from this Charles right to Francois Ier, there is an extreme dearth.

The Arabs alone had books from the eighth century of our era to the thirteenth.

China was filled with them when we did not know how to read or write.

Copyists were much employed in the Roman Empire from the time of the Scipios up to the inundation of the barbarians.

The Greeks occupied themselves much in transcribing towards the time of Amyntas, Philip and Alexander; they continued this craft especially in Alexandria.

This craft is somewhat ungrateful. The merchants always paid the authors and the copyists very badly. It took two years of assiduous labour for a copyist to transcribe the Bible well on vellum. What time and what trouble for copying correctly in Greek and Latin the works of Origen, of Clement of Alexandria, and of all those other authors called "fathers."

The poems of Homer were long so little known that Pisistratus was the first who put them in order, and who had them transcribed in Athens, about five hundred years before the era of which we are making use.

To-day there are not perhaps a dozen copies of the Veidam and the Zend-Avesta in the whole of the East.

You would not have found a single book in the whole of Russia in 1700, with the exception of Missals and a few Bibles in the homes of aged men drunk on brandy.

To-day people complain of a surfeit: but it is not for readers to complain; the remedy is easy; nothing forces them to read. It is not any the more for authors to complain. Those who make the crowd must not cry that they are being crushed. Despite the enormous quantity of books, how few people read! and if one read profitably, one would see the deplorable follies to which the common people offer themselves as prey every day.

What multiplies books, despite the law of not multiplying beings unnecessarily, is that with books one makes others; it is with several volumes already printed that a new history of France or Spain is fabricated, without adding anything new. All dictionaries are made with dictionaries; almost all new geography books are repetitions of geography books. The Summation of St. Thomas has produced two thousand fat volumes of theology; and the same family of little worms that have gnawed the mother, gnaw likewise the children.


Boulevart, fortification, rampart. Belgrade is the boulevart of the Ottoman Empire on the Hungarian side. Who would believe that this word originally signified only a game of bowls? The people of Paris played bowls on the grass of the rampart; this grass was called the verd, like the grass market. On boulait sur le verd. From there it comes that the English, whose language is a copy of ours in almost all the words which are not Saxon, have called the game of bowls "bowling-green," the verd (green) of the game of bowls. We have taken back from them what we had lent them. Following their example, we gave the name of boulingrins, without knowing the strength of the word, to the grass-plots we introduced into our gardens.

I once heard two good dames who were going for a walk on the Bouleverd, and not on the Boulevart. People laughed at them, and wrongly. But in all matters custom carries the day; and everyone who is right against custom is hissed or condemned.


Our questions barely turn on geography; but let us be permitted to mark in two words our astonishment about the town of Bourges. The "Dictionnaire de Trevoux" claims that "it is one of the most ancient towns of Europe, that it was the seat of the empire of the Gauls, and gave kings to the Celts."

I do not wish to combat the ancientness of any town or any family. But was there ever an empire of the Gauls? Did the Celts have kings? This mania for antiquity is a malady from which one will not be healed so soon. The Gauls, Germany, Scandinavia have nothing that is antique save the land, the trees and the animals. If you want antiquities, go toward Asia, and even then it is very small beer. Man is ancient and monuments new, that is what we have in view in more than one article.

If it were a real benefit to be born in a stone or wooden enclosure more ancient than another, it would be very reasonable to make the foundation of one's town date back to the time of the war of the giants; but since there is not the least advantage in this vanity, one must break away from it. That is all I had to say about Bourges.


Is it not probable that the Brahmins were the first legislators of the earth, the first philosophers, the first theologians?

Do not the few monuments of ancient history which remain to us form a great presumption in their favour, since the first Greek philosophers went to them to learn mathematics, and since the most ancient curiosities collected by the emperors of China are all Indian?

We will speak elsewhere of the "Shasta"; it is the first book of theology of the Brahmins, written about fifteen hundred years before their "Veidam," and anterior to all the other books.

Their annals make no mention of any war undertaken by them at any time. The words for arms, to kill, to maim, are not to be found either in the fragments of the "Shasta" which we have, or in the "Ezourveidam," or in the "Cormoveidam." I can at least give the assurance that I did not see them in these last two collections: and what is still more singular is that the "Shasta" which speaks of a conspiracy in heaven, makes no mention of any war in the great peninsula enclosed between the Indus and the Ganges.

The Hebrews, who were known so late, never name the Brahmins; they had no knowledge of India until after the conquests of Alexander, and their settling in Egypt, of which they had said so much evil. The name of India is to be found only in the Book of Esther, and in that of Job which was not Hebrew. One remarks a singular contrast between the sacred books of the Hebrews, and those of the Indians. The Indian books announce only peace and gentleness; they forbid the killing of animals: the Hebrew books speak only of killing, of the massacre of men and beasts; everything is slaughtered in the name of the Lord; it is quite another order of things.

It is incontestably from the Brahmins that we hold the idea of the fall of the celestial beings in revolt against the Sovereign of nature; and it is from there probably that the Greeks drew the fable of the Titans. It is there also that the Jews at last took the idea of the revolt of Lucifer, in the first century of our era.

How could these Indians suppose a revolt in heaven without having seen one on earth? Such a jump from human nature to divine nature is barely conceivable. Usually one goes from known to unknown.

One does not imagine a war of giants until one has seen some men more robust than the others tyrannize over their fellows. The first Brahmins must either have experienced violent discords, or at least have seen them in heaven.

It is a very astonishing phenomenon for a society of men who have never made war to have invented a species of war made in the imaginary spaces, or in a globe distant from ours, or in what is called the "firmament," the "empyrean." But it must be carefully observed that in this revolt of celestial beings against their Sovereign no blows were struck, no celestial blood flowed, no mountains hurled at the head, no angels cut in two, as in Milton's sublime and grotesque poem.

According to the "Shasta," it is only a formal disobedience to the orders of the Most High, a cabal which God punishes by relegating the rebellious angels to a vast place of shadows called "Ondera" during the period of an entire mononthour. A mononthour is four hundred and twenty-six millions of our years. But God deigned to pardon the guilty after five thousand years, and their ondera was only a purgatory.

He made "Mhurd" of them, men, and placed them in our globe on condition that they should not eat animals, and that they should not copulate with the males of their new species, under pain of returning to ondera.

Those are the principal articles of the Brahmins' faith, which have lasted without interruption from immemorial times right to our day: it seems strange to us that among them it should be as grave a sin to eat a chicken as to commit sodomy.

This is only a small part of the ancient cosmogony of the Brahmins. Their rites, their pagodas, prove that among them everything was allegorical; they still represent virtue beneath the emblem of a woman who has ten arms, and who combats ten mortal sins represented by monsters. Our missionaries have not failed to take this image of virtue for that of the devil, and to assure us that the devil is worshipped in India. We have never been among these people but to enrich ourselves and to calumniate them.

Really we have forgotten a very essential thing in this little article on the Brahmins; it is that their sacred books are filled with contradictions. But the people do not know of them, and the doctors have solutions ready, figurative meanings, allegories, symbols, express declarations of Birma, Brahma and Vitsnou, which should close the mouths of all who reason.


From the Greek word impression, engraving.

It is what nature has graved in us.

Can one change one's character? Yes, if one changes one's body. It is possible for a man born blunderer, unbending and violent, being stricken with apoplexy in his old age, to become a foolish, tearful child, timid and peaceable. His body is no longer the same. But as long as his nerves, his blood and his marrow are in the same state, his nature will not change any more than a wolf's and a marten's instinct.

The character is composed of our ideas and our feelings: well, it is substantiated that we give ourselves neither feelings nor ideas; therefore our character does not depend on us.

If it depended on us, there is nobody who would not be perfect.

We cannot give ourselves tastes, talents; why should we give ourselves qualities?

If one does not reflect, one thinks oneself master of everything; when one reflects thereon, one sees that one is master of nothing.

Should you wish to change a man's character completely, purge him with diluents every day until you have killed him. Charles XII., in his suppurative fever on the road to Bender, was no longer the same man. One prevailed upon him as upon a child.

If I have a crooked nose and two cat's eyes, I can hide them with a mask. Can I do more with the character which nature has given me?

A man born violent, hasty, presented himself before Francois I., King of France, to complain of an injustice; the prince's countenance, the respectful bearing of the courtiers, the very place where he is, make a powerful impression on this man; mechanically he lowers his eyes, his rough voice softens, he presents his petition humbly, one would believe him born as gentle as are (at that moment at least) the courtiers, amongst whom he is even disconcerted; but Francois I. understands physiognomy, he easily discovers in the lowered eyes, burning nevertheless with sombre fire, in the strained facial muscles, in the compressed lips, that this man is not so gentle as he is forced to appear. This man follows him to Pavia, is taken with him, led to the same prison in Madrid: Francois I.'s majesty no longer makes the same impression on him; he grows familiar with the object of his respect. One day when pulling off the king's boots, and pulling them off badly, the king, embittered by his misfortune, gets angry; my man sends the king about his business, and throws his boots out of the window.

Sixtus V. was born petulant, stubborn, haughty, impetuous, vindictive, arrogant; this character seemed softened during the trials of his novitiate. He begins to enjoy a certain credit in his order; he flies into a passion with a guard, and batters him with his fist: he is inquisitor at Venice; he performs his duties with insolence: behold him cardinal, he is possessed dalla rabbia papale: this fury triumphs over his nature; he buries his person and his character in obscurity; he apes the humble and the dying man; he is elected Pope; this moment gives back to the spring, which politics have bent, all its long curbed elasticity; he is the haughtiest and most despotic of sovereigns.

Naturam expella furca, tamen usque recurret.

(Hor. L. I., ep. x).

Drive away nature, it returns at the gallop.

(DESTOUCHES, Glorieux, Act 3, Sc. 5.)

Religion, morality put a brake on a nature's strength; they cannot destroy it. The drunkard in a cloister, reduced to a half-setier of cider at each meal, will no longer get drunk, but he will always like wine.

Age enfeebles character; it is a tree that produces only degenerate fruit, but the fruit is always of the same nature; it is knotted and covered with moss, it becomes worm-eaten, but it is always oak or pear tree. If one could change one's character, one would give oneself one, one would be master of nature. Can one give oneself anything? do we not receive everything? Try to animate an indolent man with a continued activity; to freeze with apathy the boiling soul of an impetuous fellow, to inspire someone who has neither ear nor taste with a taste for music and poetry, you will no more succeed than if you undertook to give sight to a man born blind. We perfect, we soften, we conceal what nature has put in us, but we do not put in ourselves anything at all.

One says to a farmer: "You have too many fish in this pond, they will not prosper; there are too many cattle in your meadows, grass lacks, they will grow thin." It happens after this exhortation that the pikes eat half my man's carp, and the wolves the half of his sheep; the rest grow fat. Will he congratulate himself on his economy? This countryman, it is you; one of your passions has devoured the others, and you think you have triumphed over yourself. Do not nearly all of us resemble that old general of ninety who, having met some young officers who were debauching themselves with some girls, says to them angrily: "Gentlemen, is that the example I give you?"


The article entitled "Charlatan" in the "Encyclopedic Dictionary" is filled with useful truths agreeably presented. The Chevalier de Jaucourt has there presented the charlatanry of medicine.

We will take the liberty of adding here a few reflections. The abode of the doctors is in the large towns; there are barely any doctors in the country. It is in the great towns that the rich invalids are; debauchery, the excesses of the table, the passions, are the cause of their maladies. Dumoulin, not the lawyer, the doctor, who was as good a practician as the other, said as he was dying, that he left two great doctors behind him, diet and river water.

In 1728, in the time of Law, the most famous charlatan of the first species, another, Villars by name, confided to some friends that his uncle who had lived nearly a hundred years, and who died only by accident, had left him the secret of a water which could easily prolong life to a hundred and fifty years, provided a man was temperate. When he saw a funeral pass, he shrugged his shoulders in pity; if the defunct, he observed, had drunk my water, he would not be where he is. His friends to whom he gave generously of the water, and who observed the prescribed regime in some degree, thrived on it and praised it. He then sold the bottle for six francs; the sale was prodigious. It was water from the Seine with a little nitre. Those who took it and who subjected themselves to a certain amount of regime, above all those who were born with a good constitution, recovered perfect health in a few days. He said to the others: "It is your fault if you are not entirely cured: correct these two vices and you will live at least a hundred and fifty years." Some of them reformed; this good charlatan's fortune increased like his reputation. The Abbe de Pons, the enthusiast, put him far above the Marechal de Villars: "The Marechal kills men," he said to him, "but you make them live."

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