Tantissimi classici della letteratura e della cultura politica,
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Abbe Prevost - MANON LESCAUT
Alcott, Louisa M. - AN OLDFASHIONED GIRL
Alcott, Louisa M. - LITTLE MEN
Alcott, Louisa M. - LITTLE WOMEN
Alcott, Louisa May - JACK AND JILL
Alcott, Louisa May - LIFE LETTERS AND JOURNALS
Andersen, Hans Christian - FAIRY TALES
Anonimo - BEOWULF
Ariosto, Ludovico - ORLANDO ENRAGED
Aurelius, Marcus - MEDITATIONS
Austen, Jane - EMMA
Austen, Jane - MANSFIELD PARK
Austen, Jane - NORTHANGER ABBEY
Austen, Jane - PERSUASION
Austen, Jane - PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Austen, Jane - SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
Authors, Various - LETTERS OF ABELARD AND HELOISE
Authors, Various - SELECTED ENGLISH LETTERS
Autori Vari - THE WORLD ENGLISH BIBLE
Bacon, Francis - THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING
Balzac, Honore de - EUGENIE GRANDET
Balzac, Honore de - FATHER GORIOT
Baroness Orczy - THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL
Barrie, J. M. - PETER AND WENDY
Barrie, James M. - PETER PAN
Bierce, Ambrose - THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY
Blake, William - SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE
Boccaccio, Giovanni - DECAMERONE
Brent, Linda - INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL
Bronte, Charlotte - JANE EYRE
Bronte, Charlotte - VILLETTE
Buchan, John - GREENMANTLE
Buchan, John - MR STANDFAST
Buchan, John - THE 39 STEPS
Bunyan, John - THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS
Burckhardt, Jacob - THE CIVILIZATION OF THE RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
Burnett, Frances H. - A LITTLE PRINCESS
Burnett, Frances H. - LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY
Burnett, Frances H. - THE SECRET GARDEN
Butler, Samuel - EREWHON
Carlyle, Thomas - PAST AND PRESENT
Carlyle, Thomas - THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
Cellini, Benvenuto - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Cervantes - DON QUIXOTE
Chaucer, Geoffrey - THE CANTERBURY TALES
Chesterton, G. K. - A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND
Chesterton, G. K. - THE BALLAD OF THE WHITE HORSE
Chesterton, G. K. - THE INNOCENCE OF FATHER BROWN
Chesterton, G. K. - THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
Chesterton, G. K. - THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY
Chesterton, G. K. - THE WISDOM OF FATHER BROWN
Chesterton, G. K. - TWELVE TYPES
Chesterton, G. K. - WHAT I SAW IN AMERICA
Chesterton, Gilbert K. - HERETICS
Chopin, Kate - AT FAULT
Chopin, Kate - BAYOU FOLK
Chopin, Kate - THE AWAKENING AND SELECTED SHORT STORIES
Clark Hall, John R. - A CONCISE ANGLOSAXON DICTIONARY
Clarkson, Thomas - AN ESSAY ON THE SLAVERY AND COMMERCE OF THE HUMAN SPECIES
Clausewitz, Carl von - ON WAR
Coleridge, Herbert - A DICTIONARY OF THE FIRST OR OLDEST WORDS IN THE ENGLISH
Coleridge, S. T. - COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS
Coleridge, S. T. - HINTS TOWARDS THE FORMATION OF A MORE COMPREHENSIVE THEORY
Coleridge, S. T. - THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER
Collins, Wilkie - THE MOONSTONE
Collodi - PINOCCHIO
Conan Doyle, Arthur - A STUDY IN SCARLET
Conan Doyle, Arthur - MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE SIGN OF THE FOUR
Conrad, Joseph - HEART OF DARKNESS
Conrad, Joseph - LORD JIM
Conrad, Joseph - NOSTROMO
Conrad, Joseph - THE NIGGER OF THE NARCISSUS
Conrad, Joseph - TYPHOON
Crane, Stephen - LAST WORDS
Crane, Stephen - MAGGIE
Crane, Stephen - THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE
Crane, Stephen - WOUNDS IN THE RAIN
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: HELL
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: PARADISE
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: PURGATORY
Darwin, Charles - THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF CHARLES DARWIN
Darwin, Charles - THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES
Defoe, Daniel - A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE PYRATES
Defoe, Daniel - A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR
Defoe, Daniel - CAPTAIN SINGLETON
Defoe, Daniel - MOLL FLANDERS
Defoe, Daniel - ROBINSON CRUSOE
Defoe, Daniel - THE COMPLETE ENGLISH TRADESMAN
Defoe, Daniel - THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE
Deledda, Grazia - AFTER THE DIVORCE
Dickens, Charles - A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Dickens, Charles - A TALE OF TWO CITIES
Dickens, Charles - BLEAK HOUSE
Dickens, Charles - DAVID COPPERFIELD
Dickens, Charles - DONBEY AND SON
Dickens, Charles - GREAT EXPECTATIONS
Dickens, Charles - HARD TIMES
Dickens, Charles - LETTERS VOLUME 1
Dickens, Charles - LITTLE DORRIT
Dickens, Charles - MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT
Dickens, Charles - NICHOLAS NICKLEBY
Dickens, Charles - OLIVER TWIST
Dickens, Charles - OUR MUTUAL FRIEND
Dickens, Charles - PICTURES FROM ITALY
Dickens, Charles - THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD
Dickens, Charles - THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP
Dickens, Charles - THE PICKWICK PAPERS
Dickinson, Emily - POEMS
Dostoevsky, Fyodor - CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV
Du Maurier, George - TRILBY
Dumas, Alexandre - THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO
Dumas, Alexandre - THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK
Dumas, Alexandre - THE THREE MUSKETEERS
Eliot, George - DANIEL DERONDA
Eliot, George - MIDDLEMARCH
Eliot, George - SILAS MARNER
Eliot, George - THE MILL ON THE FLOSS
Engels, Frederick - THE CONDITION OF THE WORKING-CLASS IN ENGLAND IN 1844
Equiano - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Esopo - FABLES
Fenimore Cooper, James - THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS
Fielding, Henry - TOM JONES
France, Anatole - THAIS
France, Anatole - THE GODS ARE ATHIRST
France, Anatole - THE LIFE OF JOAN OF ARC
France, Anatole - THE SEVEN WIVES OF BLUEBEARD
Frank Baum, L. - THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ
Frank Baum, L. - THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ
Franklin, Benjamin - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Frazer, James George - THE GOLDEN BOUGH
Freud, Sigmund - DREAM PSYCHOLOGY
Galsworthy, John - COMPLETE PLAYS
Galsworthy, John - STRIFE
Galsworthy, John - STUDIES AND ESSAYS
Galsworthy, John - THE FIRST AND THE LAST
Galsworthy, John - THE FORSYTE SAGA
Galsworthy, John - THE LITTLE MAN
Galsworthy, John - THE SILVER BOX
Galsworthy, John - THE SKIN GAME
Gaskell, Elizabeth - CRANFORD
Gaskell, Elizabeth - MARY BARTON
Gaskell, Elizabeth - NORTH AND SOUTH
Gaskell, Elizabeth - THE LIFE OF CHARLOTTE BRONTE
Gay, John - THE BEGGAR'S OPERA
Gentile, Maria - THE ITALIAN COOK BOOK
Gilbert and Sullivan - PLAYS
Goethe - FAUST
Gogol - DEAD SOULS
Goldsmith, Oliver - SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER
Goldsmith, Oliver - THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD
Grahame, Kenneth - THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
Grimm, Brothers - FAIRY TALES
Harding, A. R. - GINSENG AND OTHER MEDICINAL PLANTS
Hardy, Thomas - A CHANGED MAN AND OTHER TALES
Hardy, Thomas - FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
Hardy, Thomas - JUDE THE OBSCURE
Hardy, Thomas - TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES
Hardy, Thomas - THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE
Hartley, Cecil B. - THE GENTLEMEN'S BOOK OF ETIQUETTE
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - LITTLE MASTERPIECES
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - THE SCARLET LETTER
Henry VIII - LOVE LETTERS TO ANNE BOLEYN
Henry, O. - CABBAGES AND KINGS
Henry, O. - SIXES AND SEVENS
Henry, O. - THE FOUR MILLION
Henry, O. - THE TRIMMED LAMP
Henry, O. - WHIRLIGIGS
Hindman Miller, Gustavus - TEN THOUSAND DREAMS INTERPRETED
Hobbes, Thomas - LEVIATHAN
Homer - THE ILIAD
Homer - THE ODYSSEY
Hornaday, William T. - THE EXTERMINATION OF THE AMERICAN BISON
Hume, David - A TREATISE OF HUMAN NATURE
Hume, David - AN ENQUIRY CONCERNING HUMAN UNDERSTANDING
Hume, David - DIALOGUES CONCERNING NATURAL RELIGION
Ibsen, Henrik - A DOLL'S HOUSE
Ibsen, Henrik - AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE
Ibsen, Henrik - GHOSTS
Ibsen, Henrik - HEDDA GABLER
Ibsen, Henrik - JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN
Ibsen, Henrik - ROSMERHOLM
Ibsen, Henrik - THE LADY FROM THE SEA
Ibsen, Henrik - THE MASTER BUILDER
Ibsen, Henrik - WHEN WE DEAD AWAKEN
Irving, Washington - THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
James, Henry - ITALIAN HOURS
James, Henry - THE ASPERN PAPERS
James, Henry - THE BOSTONIANS
James, Henry - THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY
James, Henry - THE TURN OF THE SCREW
James, Henry - WASHINGTON SQUARE
Jerome, Jerome K. - THREE MEN IN A BOAT
Jerome, Jerome K. - THREE MEN ON THE BUMMEL
Jevons, Stanley - POLITICAL ECONOMY
Johnson, Samuel - A GRAMMAR OF THE ENGLISH TONGUE
Jonson, Ben - THE ALCHEMIST
Jonson, Ben - VOLPONE
Joyce, James - A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN
Joyce, James - CHAMBER MUSIC
Joyce, James - DUBLINERS
Joyce, James - ULYSSES
Keats, John - ENDYMION
Keats, John - POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1817
Keats, John - POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1820
King James - THE BIBLE
Kipling, Rudyard - CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS
Kipling, Rudyard - INDIAN TALES
Kipling, Rudyard - JUST SO STORIES
Kipling, Rudyard - KIM
Kipling, Rudyard - THE JUNGLE BOOK
Kipling, Rudyard - THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
Kipling, Rudyard - THE SECOND JUNGLE BOOK
Lawrence, D. H - THE RAINBOW
Lawrence, D. H - THE WHITE PEACOCK
Lawrence, D. H - TWILIGHT IN ITALY
Lawrence, D. H. - AARON'S ROD
Lawrence, D. H. - SONS AND LOVERS
Lawrence, D. H. - THE LOST GIRL
Lawrence, D. H. - WOMEN IN LOVE
Lear, Edward - BOOK OF NONSENSE
Lear, Edward - LAUGHABLE LYRICS
Lear, Edward - MORE NONSENSE
Lear, Edward - NONSENSE SONG
Leblanc, Maurice - ARSENE LUPIN VS SHERLOCK HOLMES
Leblanc, Maurice - THE ADVENTURES OF ARSENE LUPIN
Leblanc, Maurice - THE CONFESSIONS OF ARSENE LUPIN
Leblanc, Maurice - THE HOLLOW NEEDLE
Leblanc, Maurice - THE RETURN OF ARSENE LUPIN
Lehmann, Lilli - HOW TO SING
Leroux, Gaston - THE MAN WITH THE BLACK FEATHER
Leroux, Gaston - THE MYSTERY OF THE YELLOW ROOM
Leroux, Gaston - THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
London, Jack - MARTIN EDEN
London, Jack - THE CALL OF THE WILD
London, Jack - WHITE FANG
Machiavelli, Nicolo' - THE PRINCE
Malthus, Thomas - PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION
Mansfield, Katherine - THE GARDEN PARTY AND OTHER STORIES
Marlowe, Christopher - THE JEW OF MALTA
Marryat, Captain - THE CHILDREN OF THE NEW FOREST
Maupassant, Guy De - BEL AMI
Melville, Hermann - MOBY DICK
Melville, Hermann - TYPEE
Mill, John Stuart - PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY
Milton, John - PARADISE LOST
Mitra, S. M. - HINDU TALES FROM THE SANSKRIT
Montaigne, Michel de - ESSAYS
Montgomery, Lucy Maud - ANNE OF GREEN GABLES
More, Thomas - UTOPIA
Nesbit, E. - FIVE CHILDREN AND IT
Nesbit, E. - THE PHOENIX AND THE CARPET
Nesbit, E. - THE RAILWAY CHILDREN
Nesbit, E. - THE STORY OF THE AMULET
Newton, Isaac - OPTICKS
Nietsche, Friedrich - BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL
Nietsche, Friedrich - THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA
Nightingale, Florence - NOTES ON NURSING
Owen, Wilfred - POEMS
Ozaki, Yei Theodora - JAPANESE FAIRY TALES
Pascal, Blaise - PENSEES
Pellico, Silvio - MY TEN YEARS IMPRISONMENT
Perrault, Charles - FAIRY TALES
Pirandello, Luigi - THREE PLAYS
Plato - THE REPUBLIC
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 1
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 2
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 3
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 4
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 5
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
Potter, Beatrix - THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT
Proust, Marcel - SWANN'S WAY
Radcliffe, Ann - A SICILIAN ROMANCE
Ricardo, David - ON THE PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY AND TAXATION
Richardson, Samuel - PAMELA
Rider Haggard, H. - ALLAN QUATERMAIN
Rider Haggard, H. - KING SOLOMON'S MINES
Rousseau, J. J. - THE ORIGIN AND FOUNDATION OF INEQUALITY AMONG MANKIND
Ruskin, John - THE SEVEN LAMPS OF ARCHITECTURE
Schiller, Friedrich - THE DEATH OF WALLENSTEIN
Schiller, Friedrich - THE PICCOLOMINI
Schopenhauer, Arthur - THE ART OF CONTROVERSY
Schopenhauer, Arthur - THE WISDOM OF LIFE
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - FLAPPERS AND PHILOSOPHERS
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - TALES OF THE JAZZ AGE
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - THIS SIDE OF PARADISE
Scott, Walter - IVANHOE
Scott, Walter - QUENTIN DURWARD
Scott, Walter - ROB ROY
Scott, Walter - THE BRIDE OF LAMMERMOOR
Scott, Walter - WAVERLEY
Sedgwick, Anne Douglas - THE THIRD WINDOW
Sewell, Anna - BLACK BEAUTY
Shakespeare, William - COMPLETE WORKS
Shakespeare, William - HAMLET
Shakespeare, William - OTHELLO
Shakespeare, William - ROMEO AND JULIET
Shelley, Mary - FRANKENSTEIN
Shelley, Percy Bysshe - A DEFENCE OF POETRY AND OTHER ESSAYS
Shelley, Percy Bysshe - COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS
Sheridan, Richard B. - THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL
Sienkiewicz, Henryk - QUO VADIS
Smith, Adam - THE WEALTH OF NATIONS
Smollett, Tobias - TRAVELS THROUGH FRANCE AND ITALY
Spencer, Herbert - ESSAYS ON EDUCATION AND KINDRED SUBJECTS
Spyri, Johanna - HEIDI
Sterne, Laurence - A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY
Sterne, Laurence - TRISTRAM SHANDY
Stevenson, Robert Louis - A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES
Stevenson, Robert Louis - ESSAYS IN THE ART OF WRITING
Stevenson, Robert Louis - KIDNAPPED
Stevenson, Robert Louis - NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
Stevenson, Robert Louis - THE BLACK ARROW
Stevenson, Robert Louis - THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE
Stevenson, Robert Louis - TREASURE ISLAND
Stoker, Bram - DRACULA
Strindberg, August - LUCKY PEHR
Strindberg, August - MASTER OLOF
Strindberg, August - THE RED ROOM
Strindberg, August - THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS
Strindberg, August - THERE ARE CRIMES AND CRIMES
Swift, Jonathan - A MODEST PROPOSAL
Swift, Jonathan - A TALE OF A TUB
Swift, Jonathan - GULLIVER'S TRAVELS
Swift, Jonathan - THE BATTLE OF THE BOOKS AND OTHER SHORT PIECES
Tagore, Rabindranath - FRUIT GATHERING
Tagore, Rabindranath - THE GARDENER
Tagore, Rabindranath - THE HUNGRY STONES AND OTHER STORIES
Thackeray, William - BARRY LYNDON
Thackeray, William - VANITY FAIR
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE BOOK OF SNOBS
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE ROSE AND THE RING
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE VIRGINIANS
Thoreau, Henry David - WALDEN
Tolstoi, Leo - A LETTER TO A HINDU
Tolstoy, Lev - ANNA KARENINA
Tolstoy, Lev - WAR AND PEACE
Trollope, Anthony - AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Trollope, Anthony - BARCHESTER TOWERS
Trollope, Anthony - FRAMLEY PARSONAGE
Trollope, Anthony - THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS
Trollope, Anthony - THE MAN WHO KEPT HIS MONEY IN A BOX
Trollope, Anthony - THE WARDEN
Trollope, Anthony - THE WAY WE LIVE NOW
Twain, Mark - LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI
Twain, Mark - SPEECHES
Twain, Mark - THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN
Twain, Mark - THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER
Twain, Mark - THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER
Vari, Autori - THE MAGNA CARTA
Verga, Giovanni - SICILIAN STORIES
Verne, Jules - 20000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEAS
Verne, Jules - A JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
Verne, Jules - ALL AROUND THE MOON
Verne, Jules - AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
Verne, Jules - FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON
Verne, Jules - FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON
Verne, Jules - MICHAEL STROGOFF
Verne, Jules - THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
Voltaire - PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY
Vyasa - MAHABHARATA
Wallace, Edgar - SANDERS OF THE RIVER
Wallace, Edgar - THE DAFFODIL MYSTERY
Wallace, Lew - BEN HUR
Webster, Jean - DADDY LONG LEGS
Wedekind, Franz - THE AWAKENING OF SPRING
Wells, H. G. - KIPPS
Wells, H. G. - THE INVISIBLE MAN
Wells, H. G. - THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU
Wells, H. G. - THE STOLEN BACILLUS AND OTHER INCIDENTS
Wells, H. G. - THE TIME MACHINE
Wells, H. G. - THE WAR OF THE WORLDS
Wells, H. G. - WHAT IS COMING
Wharton, Edith - THE AGE OF INNOCENCE
White, Andrew Dickson - FIAT MONEY INFLATION IN FRANCE
Wilde, Oscar - A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE
Wilde, Oscar - AN IDEAL HUSBAND
Wilde, Oscar - DE PROFUNDIS
Wilde, Oscar - LADY WINDERMERE'S FAN
Wilde, Oscar - SALOME
Wilde, Oscar - SELECTED POEMS
Wilde, Oscar - THE BALLAD OF READING GAOL
Wilde, Oscar - THE CANTERVILLE GHOST
Wilde, Oscar - THE HAPPY PRINCE AND OTHER TALES
Wilde, Oscar - THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
Wilde, Oscar - THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GREY
Wilde, Oscar - THE SOUL OF MAN
Wilson, Epiphanius - SACRED BOOKS OF THE EAST
Wollstonecraft, Mary - A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN
Woolf, Virgina - NIGHT AND DAY
Woolf, Virgina - THE VOYAGE OUT
Woolf, Virginia - JACOB'S ROOM
Woolf, Virginia - MONDAY OR TUESDAY
Wordsworth, William - POEMS
Wordsworth, William - PROSE WORKS
Zola, Emile - THERESE RAQUIN
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ISTRUZIONI D'USO DETTAGLIATE
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
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
PREFACE BY VOLTAIRE 5
ANCIENTS AND MODERNS 17
CIVIL LAWS 73
COMMON SENSE 78
CONCATENATION OF EVENTS 80
ECCLESIASTICAL MINISTRY 103
ENGLISH THEATRE, ON THE 110
FALSE MINDS 128
FINAL CAUSES 133
JOAN OF ARC 168
LIMITS OF THE HUMAN MIND 194
LOCAL CRIMES 195
MAN IN THE IRON MASK 204
MEN OF LETTERS 214
MILTON, ON THE REPROACH OF PLAGIARISM AGAINST 217
NATURAL LAW 224
NEW NOVELTIES 236
POWER, OMNIPOTENCE 240
PRÉCIS OF ANCIENT PHILOSOPHY 247
STATES, GOVERNMENTS 294
DECLARATION OF ADMIRERS, QUESTIONERS AND DOUBTERS 315
NOTE ON A MAGISTRATE WRITTEN ABOUT 1764
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
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
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.
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
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.
NOTE FOR WOMEN
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
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
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
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.
"ANCIENTS AND MODERNS"
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, Cenæus, Exadius, Polyphemus equal to the gods,
Posterity has well avenged Achilles for Nestor's poor compliment. Nobody
knows Dryas any longer; one has hardly heard speak of Exadius, or of
Cenæus; 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
The learned and ingenious Fontenelle expresses himself on this subject
"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
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 Grenouillère and the government of
Cardinal de Richelieu did not put into the heads of Omer Talon and
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.
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
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
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
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.
Molière, 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,
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
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 Cæsar 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
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
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 Cæsar'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.
THAT THE NEWNESS OF THE ARTS IN NO WISE PROVES THE NEWNESS OF THE GLOBE
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
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 è eterno,
per tutti santi è 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.
OF THE COMPARISON SO OFTEN MADE BETWEEN ATHEISM AND IDOLATRY
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?" 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'"; 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.
"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
The god whom the Romans called "Deus optimus", very good, very great,
was not reputed to encourage Clodius to sleep with Cæsar's wife, or
Cæsar 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
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.
OF MODERN ATHEISTS. REASONS OF THE WORSHIPPERS OF 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.
REASONS OF THE ATHEISTS
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
"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.
NEW OBJECTION OF A MODERN ATHEIST
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 Cæsar 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 Cæsar, 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
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 Cæsar: 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
 Arnobius, "Adversus Gentes.", lib. v.
 "Of Superstition", by Plutarch.
 See Bayle, "Continuation of Divers Thoughts", par. 77, art. XIII.
 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
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
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
In another year was judged the action: "Utrum chimera bombinans in vacuo
possit comedere secundas intentiones", and was decided in the
In consequence, everyone thought themselves far superior to Archimedes,
Euclid, Cicero, Pliny, and strutted proudly about the University
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
* * * * *
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.
* * * * *
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.
 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
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
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",
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 Cæsar'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
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
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 naïve, 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 Abbé Charier that he already had two millions of
"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
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
"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
"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
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 "lèse-majesté" 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
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 François Ier, there
is an extreme dearth.
The Arabs alone had books from the eighth century of our era to the
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
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
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.
"BOULEVERD OR BOULEVART"
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 Trévoux" 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
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 François 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 François 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: François 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-sétier of
cider at each meal, will no longer get drunk, but he will always like
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 Abbé de Pons, the enthusiast, put him far above
the Maréchal de Villars: "The Maréchal kills men," he said to him, "but
you make them live."
People learned at last that Villars Water was only river water; they
would have no more of it; and went to other charlatans.
It is certain that he had done good, and that the only reproach one
could make against him was that he had sold Seine water a little too
dear. He led men to temperance by which fact he was superior to the
apothecary Arnoult, who stuffed Europe with his sachets against
apoplexy, without recommending any virtue.
I knew in London a doctor named Brown, who practised in Barbados. He had
a sugar refinery and negroes; he was robbed of a considerable sum; he
assembled his negroes: "My lads," he said to them, "the great serpent
appeared to me during the night, he told me that the thief would at this
moment have a parrot's feather on the end of his nose." The guilty man
promptly put his hand to his nose. "It is you who robbed me," said the
master; "the great serpent has just told me so." And he regained his
money. One can hardly condemn such a charlatanry; but one must be
dealing with negroes.
Scipio Africanus, this great Scipio very different otherwise from Dr.
Brown, willingly made his soldiers believe that he was inspired by the
gods. This great charlatanry was long the custom. Can one blame Scipio
to have availed himself of it? he was the man who perhaps did most
honour to the Roman Republic; but why did the gods inspire him not to
render his accounts?
Numa did better; it was necessary to police some brigands and a senate
which was the most difficult section of these brigands to govern. If he
had proposed his laws to the assembled tribes, the assassins of his
predecessor would have made a thousand difficulties. He addressed
himself to the goddess Egeria, who gave him some pandects from Jupiter;
he was obeyed without contradiction, and he reigned happily. His
instructions were good, his charlatanry did good; but if some secret
enemy had discovered the imposture, if he had said: "Exterminate an
impostor who prostitutes the name of the gods in order to deceive men,"
Numa ran the risk of being sent to heaven with Romulus.
It is probable that Numa took his measures very carefully, and that he
deceived the Romans for their benefit, with a dexterity suitable to the
time, the place, the intelligence of the early Romans.
Mahomet was twenty times on the point of failing, but he succeeded at
last with the Arabs of Medina; and people believed that he was the
intimate friend of the Archangel Gabriel. If to-day someone came to
Constantinople to announce that he was the favourite of the Archangel
Raphael, far superior to Gabriel in dignity, and that it was in him
alone people should believe, he would be impaled in the public place. It
is for charlatans to choose their time well.
Was there not a little charlatanry in Socrates with his familiar demon,
and Apollo's precise declaration which proclaimed him the wisest of all
men? How can Rollin, in his history, reason from this oracle? How is it
that he does not let the young idea know that it was pure charlatanry?
Socrates chose his time badly. A hundred years earlier, maybe, he would
have governed Athens.
All leaders of sects in philosophy have been somewhat charlatans: but
the greatest of all have been those who have aspired to domination.
Cromwell was the most terrible of all our charlatans. He appeared at
precisely the only time he could succeed: under Elizabeth he would have
been hanged; under Charles II. he would have been merely ridiculous. He
came happily at a time when people were disgusted with kings; and his
son, at a time when people were weary of a protector.
OF CHARLATANRY IN SCIENCE AND LITERATURE
The sciences can barely be without charlatanry. People wish to have
their opinions accepted; the quibbling doctor wishes to eclipse the
angelic doctor; the recondite doctor wishes to reign alone. Each builds
his system of physics, metaphysics, scholastic theology; it is a
competition in turning one's merchandise to account. You have agents who
extol it, fools who believe you, protectors who support you.
Is there a greater charlatanry than that of substituting words for
things, and of wanting others to believe what you do not believe
One establishes whirlwinds of subtle matter, ramous, globulous,
striated, channelled; the other elements of matter which are not matter
at all, and a pre-established harmony which makes the clock of the body
sound the hour, when the clock of the soul shows it with its hand. These
chimeras find partisans for a few years. When this rubbish has passed
out of fashion, new fanatics appear on the itinerant theatre; they
banish germs from the world, they say that the sea produced the
mountains, and that men were once fish.
How much charlatanry has been put into history, either by astonishing
the reader with prodigies, by titillating human malignity with satire,
or by flattering the families of tyrants with infamous eulogy?
The wretched species that writes for a living is charlatan in another
way. A poor man who has no trade, who has had the misfortune to go to
college, and who thinks he knows how to write, goes to pay his court to
a bookseller, and asks him for work. The bookseller knows that the
majority of most people who live in houses want to have little
libraries, that they need abridgments and new titles; he orders from the
writer an abridgment of the "History by Rapin-Thoyras," an abridgment of
the "History of the Church," a "Collection of Witty Sayings" drawn from
the "Menagiana," a "Dictionary of Great Men," where an unknown pedant
is placed beside Cicero, and a "sonettiero" of Italy near Virgil.
Another bookseller orders novels, or translations of novels. "If you
have no imagination," he says to the workman, "you will take a few of
the adventures in 'Cyrus,' in 'Gusman d'Alfarache,' in the 'Secret
Memoirs of a Gentleman of Quality,' or 'Of a Lady of Quality'; and from
the total you will prepare a volume of four hundred pages at twenty sous
Another bookseller gives the gazettes and almanacs for ten years past to
a man of genius. "You will make me an extract of all that, and you will
bring it me back in three months under the name of 'Faithful History of
the Times,' by the Chevalier de Trois Etoiles, Lieutenant of the Navy,
employed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs."
Of this kind of book there are about fifty thousand in Europe; and it
all passes just like the secret of whitening the skin, of darkening the
hair, and the universal panacea.
EXTRACT FROM SOME NOTES FOUND AMONG A LAWYER'S PAPERS, WHICH MAYBE MERIT
Let the punishments of criminals be useful. A hanged man is good for
nothing, and a man condemned to public works still serves the country,
and is a living lesson.
* * * * *
Let all laws be clear, uniform and precise: to interpret laws is almost
always to corrupt them.
* * * * *
Let nothing be infamous save vice.
* * * * *
Let taxes be always proportional.
* * * * *
Let the law never be contradictory to custom: for if the custom be good,
the law is worthless.
Climate influences religion as regards customs and ceremonies. A
legislator will not have had difficulty in making the Indians bathe in
the Ganges at certain seasons of the moon; it is a great pleasure for
them. He would have been stoned if he had proposed the same bath to the
peoples who dwell on the banks of the Dwina near Archangel. Forbid pig
to an Arab who would have leprosy if he ate of this flesh which is very
bad and disgusting in his country, he will obey you joyfully. Issue the
same veto to a Westphalian and he will be tempted to fight you.
Abstinence from wine is a good religious precept in Arabia where orange
water, lemon water, lime water are necessary to health. Mohammed would
not have forbidden wine in Switzerland perhaps, especially before going
There are customs of pure fantasy. Why did the priests of Egypt imagine
circumcision? it is not for health. Cambyses who treated them as they
deserved, they and their bull Apis, Cambyses' courtiers, Cambyses'
soldiers, had not had their prepuces lopped, and were very well. Climate
does nothing to a priest's genitals. One offered one's prepuce to Isis,
probably as one presented everywhere the first fruits of the earth. It
was offering the first fruits of life.
Religions have always rolled on two pivots; observance and creed:
observance depends largely on climate; creed not at all. One could as
easily make a dogma accepted on the equator as the polar circle. It
would later be rejected equally at Batavia and in the Orkneys, while it
would be maintained "unguibus et rostro" at Salamanca. That depends in
no way on the soil and the atmosphere, but solely on opinion, that
fickle queen of the world.
Certain libations of wine will be precept in a vine-growing country, and
it will not occur to a legislator's mind to institute in Norway sacred
mysteries which cannot be performed without wine.
It will be expressly ordered to burn incense in the parvis of a temple
where beasts are slaughtered in the Deity's honour, and for the priests'
supper. This butcher's shop called "temple" would be a place of
abominable infection if it were not continually purified: and without
the assistance of aromatics, the religion of the ancients would have
caused the plague. Even the interior of the temple was decked with
festoons of flowers in order to make the air sweeter.
No cow will be sacrificed in the burning land of the Indian peninsula;
because this animal which furnishes necessary milk is very rare in an
arid country, its flesh is dry, tough, contains very little nourishment,
and the Brahmins would live very badly. On the contrary, the cow will
become sacred, in view of its rarity and utility.
One will only enter barefoot the temple of Jupiter Ammon where the heat
is excessive: one must be well shod to perform one's devotions in
It is not so with dogma. People have believed in polytheism in all
climates; and it is as easy for a Crimean Tartar as for an inhabitant of
Mecca to recognize a single God, incommunicable, non-begetting,
non-begotten. It is through its dogma still more than through its rites
that a religion is spread from one climate to another. The dogma of the
unity of God soon passed from Medina to the Caucasus; then the climate
cedes to opinion.
The Arabs said to the Turks: "We had ourselves circumcised in Arabia
without really knowing why; it was an old fashion of the priests of
Egypt to offer to Oshireth or Osiris a little part of what they held
most precious. We had adopted this custom three thousand years before we
became Mohammedans. You will be circumcised like us; like us you will be
obliged to sleep with one of your wives every Friday, and to give each
year two and a half per cent of your income to the poor. We drink only
water and sherbet; all intoxicating liquor is forbidden us; in Arabia it
is pernicious. You will embrace this regime although you love wine
passionately, and although it may even be often necessary for you to go
on the banks of the Phasis and Araxes. Lastly, if you want to go to
Heaven, and be well placed there, you will take the road to Mecca."
The inhabitants of the north of the Caucasus submit to these laws, and
embrace throughout the country a religion which was not made for them.
In Egypt the symbolic worship of animals succeeded the dogmas of Thaut.
The gods of the Romans later shared Egypt with the dogs, the cats and
the crocodiles. To the Roman religion succeeded Christianity; it was
entirely driven out by Mohammedanism, which perhaps will cede its place
to a new religion.
In all these vicissitudes climate has counted for nothing: government
has done everything. We are considering here second causes only, without
raising profane eyes to the Providence which directs them. The Christian
religion, born in Syria, having received its principal development in
Alexandria, inhabits to-day the lands where Teutate, Irminsul, Frida,
Odin were worshipped.
There are peoples whose religion has been made by neither climate nor
government. What cause detached the north of Germany, Denmark,
three-quarters of Switzerland, Holland, England, Scotland, Ireland, from
the Roman communion? Poverty. Indulgences and deliverance from purgatory
were sold too dear to souls whose bodies had at that time very little
money. The prelates, the monks devoured a province's whole revenue.
People took a cheaper religion. At last, after twenty civil wars,
people believed that the Pope's religion was very good for great lords,
and the reformed religion for citizens. Time will show whether the Greek
religion or the Turkish religion will prevail by the Ægean Sea and the
There are sometimes in common expressions an image of what passes in the
depths of all men's hearts. Among the Romans "sensus communis" signified
not only common sense, but humanity, sensibility. As we are not as good
as the Romans, this word signifies among us only half of what it
signified among them. It means only good sense, plain reason, reason set
in operation, a first notion of ordinary things, a state midway between
stupidity and intelligence. "This man has no common sense" is a great
insult. "A common-sense man" is an insult likewise; it means that he is
not entirely stupid, and that he lacks what is called wit and
understanding. But whence comes this expression "common sense", unless
it be from the senses? Men, when they invented this word, avowed that
nothing entered the soul save through the senses; otherwise, would they
have used the word "sense" to signify common reasoning?
People say sometimes--"Common sense is very rare." What does this phrase
signify? that in many men reason set in operation is stopped in its
progress by prejudices, that such and such man who judges very sanely in
one matter, will always be vastly deceived in another. This Arab, who
will be a good calculator, a learned chemist, an exact astronomer, will
believe nevertheless that Mohammed put half the moon in his sleeve.
Why will he go beyond common sense in the three sciences of which I
speak, and why will he be beneath common sense when there is question of
this half moon? Because in the first cases he has seen with his eyes,
he has perfected his intelligence; and in the second, he has seen with
other people's eyes, he has closed his own, he has perverted the common
sense which is in him.
How has this strange mental alienation been able to operate? How can the
ideas which move with so regular and so firm a step in the brain on a
great number of subjects limp so wretchedly on another a thousand times
more palpable and easy to comprehend? This man always has inside him the
same principles of intelligence; he must have some organ vitiated then,
just as it happens sometimes that the finest "gourmet" may have a
depraved taste as regards a particular kind of food.
How is the organ of this Arab, who sees half the moon in Mohammed's
sleeve, vitiated? It is through fear. He has been told that if he did
not believe in this sleeve, his soul, immediately after his death, when
passing over the pointed bridge, would fall for ever into the abyss. He
has been told even worse things: If ever you have doubts about this
sleeve, one dervish will treat you as impious; another will prove to you
that you are an insensate fool who, having all possible motives for
believing, have not wished to subordinate your superb reason to the
evidence; a third will report you to the little divan of a little
province, and you will be legally impaled.
All this terrifies the good Arab, his wife, his sister, all his little
family into a state of panic. They have good sense about everything
else, but on this article their imagination is wounded, as was the
imagination of Pascal, who continually saw a precipice beside his
armchair. But does our Arab believe in fact in Mohammed's sleeve? No. He
makes efforts to believe; he says it is impossible, but that it is true;
he believes what he does not believe. On the subject of this sleeve he
forms in his head a chaos of ideas which he is afraid to disentangle;
and this veritably is not to have common sense.
"CONCATENATION OF EVENTS"
The present is delivered, it is said, of the future. Events are linked
to each other by an invincible fatality: it is Destiny which, in Homer,
is above even Jupiter. This master of gods and men declares roundly that
he cannot stop his son Sarpedon dying in his appointed time. Sarpedon
was born at the moment when he had to be born, and could not be born at
another moment; he could not die otherwise than before Troy; he could
not be buried elsewhere than in Lycia; had at the appointed time to
produce vegetables which had to be changed into the substance of a few
Lycians; his heirs had to establish a new order in his states; this new
order had to exert an influence over the neighbouring kingdoms; from it
resulted a new arrangement of war and peace with the neighbours of the
neighbours of Lycia: thus, step by step, the destiny of the whole world
has been dependent on Sarpedon's death, which depended on Helen being
carried off; and this carrying off was necessarily linked to Hecuba's
marriage, which by tracing back to other events was linked to the origin
If only one of these facts had been arranged differently, another
universe would have resulted: but it was not possible for the present
universe not to exist; therefore it was not possible for Jupiter to save
his son's life, for all that he was Jupiter.
This system of necessity and fatality has been invented in our time by
Leibnitz, according to what people say, under the name of
"self-sufficient reason"; it is, however, very ancient: that there is no
effect without a cause and that often the smallest cause produces the
greatest effects, does not date from to-day.
Lord Bolingbroke avows that the little quarrels of Madame Marlborough
and Madame Masham gave birth to his chance of making Queen Anne's
private treaty with Louis XIV.; this treaty led to the Peace of Utrecht;
this Peace of Utrecht established Philip V. on the throne of Spain.
Philip V. took Naples and Sicily from the house of Austria; the Spanish
prince who is to-day King of Naples clearly owes his kingdom to my lady
Masham: and he would not have had it, he would not perhaps even have
been born, if the Duchess of Marlborough had been more complaisant
towards the Queen of England. His existence at Naples depended on one
foolishness more or less at the court of London.
Examine the position of all the peoples of the universe; they are
established like this on a sequence of facts which appear to be
connected with nothing and which are connected with everything.
Everything is cog, pulley, cord, spring, in this vast machine.
It is likewise in the physical sphere. A wind which blows from the
depths of Africa and the austral seas, brings a portion of the African
atmosphere, which falls in rain in the valleys of the Alps; these rains
fertilize our lands; our north wind in its turn sends our vapours among
the negroes; we do good to Guinea, and Guinea does good to us. The chain
stretches from one end of the universe to the other.
But it seems to me that a strange abuse is made of the truth of this
principle. From it some people conclude that there is not a sole minute
atom whose movement has not exerted its influence in the present
arrangement of the world; that there is not a single minute accident,
among either men or animals, which is not an essential link in the great
chain of fate.
Let us understand each other: every effect clearly has its cause, going
back from cause to cause in the abyss of eternity; but every cause has
not its effect going forward to the end of the centuries. All events are
produced by each other, I admit; if the past is delivered of the
present, the present is delivered of the future; everything has father,
but everything has not always children. Here it is precisely as with a
genealogical tree; each house goes back, as we say, to Adam; but in the
family there are many persons who have died without leaving issue.
There is a genealogical tree of the events of this world. It is
incontestable that the inhabitants of Gaul and Spain are descended from
Gomer, and the Russians from Magog, his younger brother: one finds this
genealogy in so many fat books! On this basis one cannot deny that the
Great Turk, who is also descended from Magog, was not bound to be well
beaten in 1769 by Catherine II., Empress of Russia. This adventure is
clearly connected with other great adventures. But that Magog spat to
right or left, near Mount Caucasus, and that he made two circles in a
well or three, that he slept on the left side or on the right; I do not
see that that has had much influence on present affairs.
One must think that everything is not complete in nature, as Newton has
demonstrated, and that every movement is not communicated step by step
until it makes a circuit of the world, as he has demonstrated still
further. Throw into water a body of like density, you calculate easily
that after a short time the movement of this body, and the movement it
has communicated to the water, are destroyed; the movement disappears
and is effaced; therefore the movement that Magog might produce by
spitting in a well cannot influence what is passing to-day in Moldavia
and Wallachia; therefore present events are not the children of all past
events: they have their direct lines; but a thousand little collateral
lines do not serve them at all. Once more, every being has a father, but
every being has not children.
If some literary society wishes to undertake the dictionary of
contradictions, I subscribe for twenty folio volumes.
The world can exist only by contradictions: what is needed to abolish
them? to assemble the states of the human race. But from the manner in
which men are made, it would be a fresh contradiction if they were to
agree. Assemble all the rabbits of the universe, there will not be two
different opinions among them.
I know only two kinds of immutable beings on the earth, mathematicians
and animals; they are led by two invariable rules, demonstration and
instinct: and even the mathematicians have had some disputes, but the
animals have never varied.
The contrasts, the light and shade in which public men are represented
in history, are not contradictions, they are faithful portraits of human
Every day people condemn and admire Alexander the murderer of Clitus,
but the avenger of Greece, the conqueror of the Persians, and the
founder of Alexandria;
Cæsar the debauchee, who robs the public treasury of Rome to reduce his
country to dependence; but whose clemency equals his valour, and whose
intelligence equals his courage;
Mohammed, impostor, brigand; but the sole religious legislator who had
courage, and who founded a great empire;
Cromwell the enthusiast, a rogue in his fanaticism even, judicial
assassin of his king, but as profound politician as brave warrior.
A thousand contrasts frequently crowd together, and these contrasts are
in nature; they are no more astonishing than a fine day followed by
Men are equally mad everywhere; they have made the laws little by
little, as gaps are repaired in a wall. Here eldest sons have taken all
they could from younger sons, there younger sons share equally.
Sometimes the Church has commanded the duel, sometimes she has
anathematized it. The partisans and the enemies of Aristotle have each
been excommunicated in their turn, as have those who wore long hair and
those who wore short. In this world we have perfect law only to rule a
species of madness called gaming. The rules of gaming are the only ones
which admit neither exception, relaxation, variety nor tyranny. A man
who has been a lackey, if he play at lansquenet with kings, is paid
without difficulty if he win; everywhere else the law is a sword with
which the stronger cut the weaker in pieces.
Nevertheless, this world exists as if everything were well ordered; the
irregularity is of our nature; our political world is like our globe, a
misshapen thing which always preserves itself. It would be mad to wish
that the mountains, the seas, the rivers, were traced in beautiful
regular forms; it would be still more mad to ask perfect wisdom of men;
it would be wishing to give wings to dogs or horns to eagles.
The Gauls had corn in Cæsar's time: one is curious to know where they
and the Teutons found it to sow. People answer you that the Tyrians had
brought it into Spain, the Spaniards into Gaul, the Gauls into Germany.
And where did the Tyrians get this corn? Among the Greeks probably, from
whom they received it in exchange for their alphabet.
Who had made this present to the Greeks? It was formerly Ceres without a
doubt; and when one has gone back to Ceres one can hardly go farther.
Ceres must have come down on purpose from the sky to give us wheat, rye,
But as the credit of Ceres who gave the corn to the Greeks, and that of
Isheth or Isis who bestowed it on the Egyptians, is very much fallen in
these days, we remain in uncertainty as to the origin of corn.
Sanchoniathon affirms that Dagon or Dagan, one of the grandsons of
Thaut, had the control of corn in Phoenicia. Well, his Thaut is of
about the same time as our Jared. From this it results that corn is very
old, and that it is of the same antiquity as grass. Perhaps this Dagon
was the first man to make bread, but that is not demonstrated.
Strange thing! we know positively that it is to Noah that we are under
an obligation for wine, and we do not know to whom we owe bread. And,
still more strange thing, we are so ungrateful to Noah, that we have
more than two thousand songs in honour of Bacchus, and we chant barely
one in honour of Noah our benefactor.
A Jew has assured me that corn came by itself in Mesopotamia, like the
apples, wild pears, chestnuts, medlars in the West. I want to believe
it until I am sure of the contrary; for corn must certainly grow
somewhere. It has become the ordinary and indispensable food in the good
climates, and throughout the North.
Some great philosophers whose talents we esteem and whose systems we do
not follow (Buffon) have claimed on page 195 of the "Natural History of
the Dog," that mankind has made corn; that our fathers by virtue of
sowing lolium and gramina changed them into wheat. As these philosophers
are not of our opinion about shells, they will permit us not to be of
theirs about corn. We do not believe that one has ever made tulips grow
from jasmin. We find that the germ of corn is quite different from that
of lolium, and we do not believe in any transmutation. When somebody
shows it to us we will retract.
Corn assuredly is not the food of the greater part of the world. Maize,
tapioca, feed the whole of America. We have entire provinces where the
peasants eat nothing but chestnut bread, more nourishing and of better
flavour than that of rye and barley which so many people eat, and which
is much better than the ration bread which is given to the soldier. The
whole of southern Africa does not know of bread. The immense archipelago
of the Indies, Siam, Laos, Pegu, Cochin China, Tonkin, a part of China,
Japan, the coast of Malabar and Coromandel, the banks of the Ganges
furnish a rice, the cultivation of which is much easier than that of
wheat, and which causes it to be neglected. Corn is absolutely unknown
for the space of fifteen hundred leagues on the coasts of the Glacial
Sea. This food, to which we are accustomed, is among us so precious that
the fear of seeing a dearth of it alone causes riots among the most
subjugated peoples. The corn trade is everywhere one of the great
objects of government; it is a part of our being, and yet this essential
commodity is sometimes squandered ridiculously. The powder merchants use
the best flour for covering the heads of our young men and women. But
over three-quarters of the earth bread is not eaten at all. People
maintain that the Ethiopians mocked at the Egyptians who lived on
bread. But since it is our chief food, corn has become one of the great
objects of trade and politics. So much has been written on this subject,
that if a husbandman sowed as much corn as the weight of the volumes we
have about this commodity, he might hope for the amplest harvest, and
become richer than those who in their gilded and lacquered drawing-rooms
ignore his exceeding labour and wretchedness.
Cromwell is painted as a man who was an impostor all his life. I have
difficulty in believing it. I think that first of all he was an
enthusiast, and that later he made even his fanaticism serve his
greatness. A novice who is fervent at the age of twenty often becomes a
skilful rogue at forty. In the great game of human life one begins by
being a dupe, and one finishes by being a rogue. A statesman takes as
almoner a monk steeped in the pettinesses of his monastery, devout,
credulous, clumsy, quite new to the world: the monk learns, forms
himself, intrigues, and supplants his master.
Cromwell did not know at first whether he would be an ecclesiastic or a
soldier. He was both. In 1622 he served a campaign in the army of
Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange, a great man, brother of two great
men; and when he returned to England, he went into the service of Bishop
Williams, and was his grace's theologian, while his grace passed as his
wife's lover. His principles were those of the Puritans; thus he had to
hate a bishop with all his heart, and not have a liking for kings. He
was driven from Bishop Williams' house because he was a Puritan; and
there is the origin of his fortune. The English Parliament declared
itself against the throne and against the episcopacy; some of his
friends in this parliament procured the nomination of a village for him.
Only at this time did he begin to exist, and he was more than forty
before he had ever made himself talked of. In vain was he conversant
with Holy Writ, in vain did he argue about the rights of priests and
deacons, and preach a few poor sermons and libels, he was ignored. I
have seen one of his sermons which is very insipid, and which bears
sufficient resemblance to the predications of the quakers; assuredly
there is to be found there no trace of that persuasive eloquence with
which later he carried the parliaments away. The reason is that in fact
he was much more suited to public affairs than to the Church. It was
above all in his tone and in his air that his eloquence consisted; a
gesture of that hand that had won so many battles and killed so many
royalists, was more persuasive than the periods of Cicero. It must be
avowed that it was his incomparable bravery which made him known, and
which led him by degrees to the pinnacle of greatness.
He began by launching out as a volunteer who wished to make his fortune,
in the town of Hull, besieged by the king. There he did many fine and
happy actions, for which he received a gratification of about six
thousand francs from the parliament. This present made by the parliament
to an adventurer made it clear that the rebel party must prevail. The
king was not in a position to give to his general officers what the
parliament gave to volunteers. With money and fanaticism one is bound in
the long run to be master of everything. Cromwell was made colonel. Then
his great talents for war developed to the point that when the
parliament created the Count of Manchester general of its armies, it
made Cromwell lieutenant-general, without his having passed through the
other ranks. Never did man appear more worthy of commanding; never were
more activity and prudence, more boldness and more resource seen than in
Cromwell. He is wounded at the battle of York; and while the first
dressing is being put on his wound, he learns that his general,
Manchester, is retiring, and that the battle is lost. He hastens to
Manchester's side; he finds him fleeing with some officers; he takes him
by the arm, and says to him with an air of confidence and grandeur: "You
are mistaken, my lord; it is not on this side that the enemy is." He
leads him back near the battlefield, rallies during the night more than
twelve thousand men, speaks to them in the name of God, quotes Moses,
Gideon and Joshua, at daybreak recommences the battle against the
victorious royal army, and defeats it completely. Such a man had to
perish or be master. Nearly all the officers of his army were
enthusiasts who carried the New Testament at their saddle-bow: in the
army as in the parliament men spoke only of making Babylon fall, of
establishing the religion in Jerusalem, of shattering the colossus.
Among so many madmen Cromwell ceased to be mad, and thought that it was
better to govern them than to be governed by them. The habit of
preaching as though he were inspired remained to him. Picture a fakir
who has put an iron belt round his waist as a penitence, and who then
takes off his belt to beat the other fakirs' ears: there you have
Cromwell. He becomes as intriguing as he was intrepid; he associates
himself with all the colonels of the army, and thus forms among the
troops a republic which forces the commander-in-chief to resign. Another
commander-in-chief is nominated, he disgusts him. He governs the army,
and by it he governs the parliament; he puts this parliament in the
necessity of making him commander-in-chief at last. All this was a great
deal; but what is essential is that he wins all the battles he engages
in in England, Scotland and Ireland; and he wins them, not in watching
the fighting and in taking care of himself, but always by charging the
enemy, rallying his troops, rushing everywhere, often wounded, killing
many royalist officers with his own hand, like a desperate and
Amid this frightful war Cromwell made love; he went, his Bible under his
arm, to sleep with the wife of his major-general, Lambert. She loved the
Count of Holland, who was serving in the king's army. Cromwell took him
prisoner in a battle, and enjoyed the pleasure of having his rival's
head cut off. His maxim was to shed the blood of every important enemy,
either on the field of battle, or by the executioner's hand. He always
increased his power, by always daring to abuse it; the profundity of his
plans took away nothing from his ferocious impetuosity. He goes into the
House of Parliament and, taking his watch, which he threw on the ground
and which he shattered to atoms: "I will break you," he said, "like this
watch." He returns there some time after, drives all the members out one
after the other, making them defile before him. Each is obliged, as he
passes, to make him a deep bow: one of them passes with his hat on his
head; Cromwell takes his hat from him and throws it on the ground:
"Learn to respect me," he says.
When he had outraged all kings by having his own legitimate king's head
cut off, and when he started to reign himself, he sent his portrait to a
crowned head; it was to Christine, Queen of Sweden. Marvell, a famous
English poet, who wrote very good Latin verse, accompanied this portrait
with six verses where he made Cromwell himself speak. Cromwell corrected
the last two as follows:
"At tibi submittit frontem reverentior umbra,
Non sunt hi vultus regibus usque truces."
This queen was the first to recognize him as soon as he was protector of
the three kingdoms. Almost all the sovereigns of Europe sent their
ambassadors "to their brother" Cromwell, to this bishop's servant, who
had just caused a sovereign, their own kin, to perish at the hand of the
executioner. They vied with each in soliciting his alliance. Cardinal
Mazarin, to please him, drove out of France the two sons of Charles I.,
the two grandsons of Henry IV., the two first cousins of Louis XIV.
France conquered Dunkirk for him, and sent him the keys. After his
death, Louis XIV. and all his court wore mourning, excepting
Mademoiselle, who had the courage to come to the company in a coloured
habit, and alone maintained the honour of her race.
Never was a king more absolute than he was. He said that he had
preferred governing under the name of "protector" rather than under that
of "king", because the English knew the point to which a King of
England's prerogative extended, and did not know to what point a
protector's might go. That was to understand men, who are governed by
opinion, and whose opinion depends on a name. He had conceived a
profound scorn for the religion which had served to his fortune. There
is a certain anecdote preserved in the house of St. John, which proves
sufficiently the little account which Cromwell made of the instrument
which had produced such great effects in his hands. He was drinking one
day with Ireton, Fleetwood and St. John, great-grandfather of the
celebrated Lord Bolingbroke; they wished to uncork a bottle, and the
corkscrew fell under the table; they all looked for it and did not find
it. Meanwhile a deputation from the Presbyterian churches was waiting in
the antechamber, and an usher came to announce them. "Tell them," said
Cromwell, "that I have retired, "and that I am seeking the Lord"." It
was the expression which the fanatics used when they were saying their
prayers. When he had thus dismissed the band of ministers, he said these
very words to his confidants: "Those puppies think that we are seeking
the Lord, and we are only seeking the corkscrew."
There is barely an example in Europe of any man who, come from so low,
raised himself so high. But what was absolutely essential to him with
all his talents? Fortune. He had this fortune; but was he happy? He
lived poorly and anxiously until he was forty-three; from that time he
bathed himself in blood, passed his life in turmoil, and died before his
time at the age of fifty-seven. Let us compare this life with that of
Newton, who lived eighty-four years, always tranquil, always honoured,
always the light of all thinking beings, seeing increase each day his
renown, his reputation, his fortune, without ever having either care or
remorse; and let us judge which of the two had the better part.
Oliver Cromwell was regarded with admiration by the Puritans and
independents of England; he is still their hero; but Richard Cromwell,
his son, is my man.
The first is a fanatic who would be hissed to-day in the House of
Commons, if he uttered there one single one of the unintelligible
absurdities which he gave out with so much confidence before other
fanatics who listened to him open-mouthed and wide-eyed, in the name of
the Lord. If he said that one must seek the Lord, and fight the Lord's
battles; if he introduced the Jewish jargon into the parliament of
England, to the eternal shame of the human intelligence, he would be
nearer to being led to Bedlam than to being chosen to command armies.
He was brave without a doubt; so are wolves; there are even monkeys as
fierce as tigers. From being a fanatic he became an adroit politician,
that is to say that from a wolf he became fox, climbed by imposture from
the first steps where the infuriated enthusiasm of the times had placed
him, right to the pinnacle of greatness; and the impostor walked on the
heads of the prostrated fanatics. He reigned, but he lived in the
horrors of anxiety. He knew neither serene days nor tranquil nights. The
consolations of friendship and society never approached him; he died
before his time, more worthy, without a doubt, of execution than the
king whom he had conducted from a window of his own palace to the
Richard Cromwell, on the contrary, born with a gentle, wise spirit,
refused to keep his father's crown at the price of the blood of two or
three rebels whom he could sacrifice to his ambition. He preferred to be
reduced to private life rather than be an omnipotent assassin. He left
the protectorate without regret to live as a citizen. Free and tranquil
in the country, he enjoyed health there, and there did he possess his
soul in peace for eighty-six years, loved by his neighbours, to whom he
was arbiter and father.
Readers, give your verdict. If you had to choose between the destiny of
the father and that of the son, which would you take?
CONTEMPTIBLE CUSTOMS DO NOT ALWAYS SUPPOSE A CONTEMPTIBLE NATION
There are cases where one must not judge a nation by its customs and
popular superstitions. I suppose that Cæsar, having conquered Egypt,
wanting to make trade flourish in the Roman Empire, has sent an embassy
to China, by the port of Arsinoë, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean. The
Emperor Yventi, first of his name, was then reigning; the annals of
China represent him as a very wise and learned prince. After receiving
Cæsar's ambassadors with all the Chinese politeness, he informs himself
secretly through his interpreters of the customs, science and religion
of this Roman people, as celebrated in the West as the Chinese people is
in the East. He learns first of all that this people's pontiffs have
arranged their year in so absurd a fashion that the sun has already the
heavenly signs of spring when the Romans are celebrating the first
festivals of winter.
He learns that this nation supports at great cost a college of priests
who know exactly the time when one should set sail and when one should
give battle, by inspecting an ox's liver, or by the way in which the
chickens eat barley. This sacred science was brought formerly to the
Romans by a little god named Tages, who emerged from the earth in
Tuscany. These peoples worship one supreme God whom they always call the
very great and very good God. Nevertheless, they have built a temple to
a courtesan named Flora; and almost all the good women of Rome have in
their homes little household gods four or five inches high. One of
these little divinities is the goddess of the breasts; the other the
goddess of the buttocks. There is a household god who is called the god
Pet. The emperor Yventi starts laughing: the tribunals of Nankin think
first of all with him that the Roman ambassadors are madmen or impostors
who have taken the title of envoys of the Roman Republic; but as the
emperor is as just as he is polite, he has private talks with the
ambassadors. He learns that the Roman pontiffs have been very ignorant,
but that Cæsar is now reforming the calendar; they admit to him that the
college of augurs was established in early barbarous times; that this
ridiculous institution, become dear to a people long uncivilized, has
been allowed to subsist; that all honest people laugh at the augurs;
that Cæsar has never consulted them; that according to a very great man
named Cato, never has an augur been able to speak to his comrade without
laughter; and that finally Cicero, the greatest orator and the best
philosopher in Rome, has just written against the augurs a little work
entitled "Of Divination," in which he commits to eternal ridicule all
the soothsayers, all the predictions, and all the sorcery of which the
world is infatuated. The emperor of China is curious to read Cicero's
book, the interpreters translate it; he admires the book and the Roman
Ordinarily there is no comparison between the crimes of the great who
are always ambitious, and the crimes of the people who always want, and
can want only liberty and equality. These two sentiments, Liberty and
Equality, do not lead direct to calumny, rapine, assassination,
poisoning, the devastation of one's neighbours' lands, etc.; but
ambitious might and the mania for power plunge into all these crimes
whatever be the time, whatever be the place.
Popular government is in itself, therefore, less iniquitous, less
abominable than despotic power.
The great vice of democracy is certainly not tyranny and cruelty: there
have been mountain-dwelling republicans, savage, ferocious; but it is
not the republican spirit that made them so, it is nature.
The real vice of a civilized republic is in the Turkish fable of the
dragon with many heads and the dragon with many tails. The many heads
hurt each other, and the many tails obey a single head which wants to
Democracy seems suitable only to a very little country, and further it
must be happily situated. Small though it be, it will make many
mistakes, because it will be composed of men. Discord will reign there
as in a monastery; but there will be no St. Bartholomew, no Irish
massacres, no Sicilian vespers, no inquisition, no condemnation to the
galleys for having taken some water from the sea without paying for it,
unless one supposes this republic composed of devils in a corner of
One questions every day whether a republican government is preferable to
a king's government? The dispute ends always by agreeing that to govern
men is very difficult. The Jews had God Himself for master; see what has
happened to them on that account: nearly always have they been beaten
and slaves, and to-day do you not find that they cut a pretty figure?
Of all the books of the Occident which have come down to us, the most
ancient is Homer; it is there that one finds the customs of profane
antiquity, of the gross heroes, of the gross gods, made in the image of
men; but it is there that among the reveries and inconsequences, one
finds too the seeds of philosophy, and above all the idea of the destiny
which is master of the gods, as the gods are masters of the world.
When the magnanimous Hector wishes absolutely to fight the magnanimous
Achilles, and with this object starts fleeing with all his might, and
three times makes the circuit of the city before fighting, in order to
have more vigour; when Homer compares fleet-of-foot Achilles, who
pursues him, to a man who sleeps; when Madame Dacier goes into ecstasies
of admiration over the art and mighty sense of this passage, then
Jupiter wants to save great Hector who has made so many sacrifices to
him, and he consults the fates; he weighs the destinies of Hector and
Achilles in the balance (Iliad, liv. xxii.): he finds that the Trojan
must absolutely be killed by the Greek; he cannot oppose it; and from
this moment, Apollo, Hector's guardian genius, is forced to abandon him.
It is not that Homer is not often prodigal, and particularly in this
place, of quite contrary ideas, following the privilege of antiquity;
but he is the first in whom one finds the notion of destiny. This
notion, therefore, was very much in vogue in his time.
The Pharisees, among the little Jewish people, did not adopt destiny
until several centuries later; for these Pharisees themselves, who were
the first literates among the Jews, were very new fangled. In
Alexandria they mixed a part of the dogmas of the Stoics with the old
Jewish ideas. St. Jerome claims even that their sect is not much
anterior to the Christian era.
The philosophers never had need either of Homer or the Pharisees to
persuade themselves that everything happens through immutable laws, that
everything is arranged, that everything is a necessary effect. This is
how they argued.
Either the world exists by its own nature, by its physical laws, or a
supreme being has formed it according to his supreme laws: in both
cases, these laws are immutable; in both cases everything is necessary;
heavy bodies tend towards the centre of the earth, without being able to
tend to pause in the air. Pear-trees can never bear pineapples. A
spaniel's instinct cannot be an ostrich's instinct; everything is
arranged, in gear, limited.
Man can have only a certain number of teeth, hair and ideas; there comes
a time when he necessarily loses his teeth, hair and ideas.
It would be a contradiction that what was yesterday was not, that what
is to-day is not; it is also a contradiction that what must be cannot
If you could disturb the destiny of a fly, there would be no reason that
could stop your making the destiny of all the other flies, of all the
other animals, of all men, of all nature; you would find yourself in the
end more powerful than God.
Imbeciles say: "My doctor has extricated my aunt from a mortal malady;
he has made my aunt live ten years longer than she ought to have lived."
Others who affect knowledge, say: "The prudent man makes his own
But often the prudent, far from making their destinies, succumb to them;
it is destiny which makes them prudent.
Profound students of politics affirm that, if Cromwell, Ludlow, Ireton
and a dozen other parliamentarians had been assassinated a week before
Charles I.'s head was cut off, this king might have lived longer and
died in his bed; they are right; they can add further that if the whole
of England had been swallowed up in the sea, this monarch would not
have perished on a scaffold near Whitehall; but things were arranged so
that Charles had to have his neck severed.
Cardinal d'Ossat was doubtless more prudent than a madman in Bedlam; but
is it not clear that the organs of d'Ossat the sage were made otherwise
than those of the scatter-brain? just as a fox's organs are different
from a stork's and a lark's.
Your doctor saved your aunt; but assuredly he did not in that contradict
nature's order; he followed it. It is clear that your aunt could not
stop herself being born in such and such town, that she could not stop
herself having a certain malady at a particular time, that the doctor
could not be elsewhere than in the town where he was, that your aunt had
to call him, that he had to prescribe for her the drugs which cured her,
or which one thinks cured her, when nature was the only doctor.
A peasant thinks that it has hailed on his field by chance; but the
philosopher knows that there is no chance, and that it was impossible,
in the constitution of this world, for it not to hail on that day in
There are persons who, frightened by this truth, admit half of it as
debtors who offer half to their creditors, and ask respite for the rest.
"There are," they say, "some events which are necessary, and others
which are not." It would be very comic that one part of the world was
arranged, and that the other were not; that a part of what happens had
to happen, and that another part of what happens did not have to happen.
If one looks closely at it, one sees that the doctrine contrary to that
of destiny is absurd; but there are many people destined to reason
badly, others not to reason at all, others to persecute those who
Some say to you: "Do not believe in fatalism; for then everything
appearing inevitable, you will work at nothing, you will wallow in
indifference, you will love neither riches, nor honours, nor glory; you
will not want to acquire anything, you will believe yourself without
merit as without power; no talent will be cultivated, everything will
perish through apathy."
Be not afraid, gentlemen, we shall ever have passions and prejudices
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