Voltaire: A Sketch of His Life and Works

Voltaire: A Sketch of His Life and Works
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Foote George William. Voltaire: A Sketch of His Life and Works

INTRODUCTION

PREFACE

EARLY LIFE

HEGIRA TO ENGLAND

EXAMPLES FROM ENGLAND

AT CIREY

“CANDIDE”

THE ENCYCLOPÆDIA

LAST DAYS

HIS CHARACTER AND SERVICES

TRIBUTES TO VOLTAIRE

SELECTIONS FROM VOLTAIRE’S WORKS

History

Wars

Politics

The Population Question

Nature’s Way

Prayer

Doubt and Speculation

Dr. Pangloss and the Dervish

Motives for Conduct

Self-Love

Go From Your Village

Religious Prejudices

Sacred History

Dupe And Rogue

“Delenda Est Carthago”

Jesus and Mohammed

How Faiths Spread

Superstition

The Bible

Transubstantiation

Dreams and Ghosts

Mortifying the Flesh

Heaven

Magic

DETACHED THOUGHTS

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

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

.....

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

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

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