Popularizers of Negative Doctrines
by Dimitri Pisarev
Another stunning essay by Dimitri Pisarev, this translation was digitized and published electronically by PPLE at the original populistindependent.com. As with Bees, this is the only known Web version in existence. It is based on the Selected Philosophical, Social and Political Essays of Dimitry Pisarev, 1st ed. Moscow, 1958, pp 497-563.
First published in the collection Luch (The Ray) in 1866, the translation follows the text of the Complete Works of Pisarev, Vol. 5, 5th ed. St. Petersburg, 1911, pp 453-511.
The article "Times of Metaphysical Argumentation"1 I gave a few fragmentary remarks on French literature of the 18th century. In order to clarify and supplement those remarks I will now endeavour to define the general character of the great intellectual movement which put an end to the medieval order of things. During the long reign of Louis XIV the French completely forgot how to resist royal authority; the agitation of the Fronde2 was forgotten; the aristocracy attended at court and danced minuets; it was made clear once and for all to parliament tat Louis XIV was not only the king, but the state; the Gallican Church, in the person of Bossuet,3 its greatest luminary solemnly proclaimed that passive submission to the king in defiance of everything and everybody, even of the pope and common sense, was the most sacred duty of a true Christian. For more than fifty years Louis XIV did all that he found fit. He wanted to spend millions to build the Palace of Versailles, and he did so; he wanted to wage senseless wars and he waged them; he wanted to devastate whole regions of his own kingdom inhabited by peaceful and industrious Protestants, and he devastated them. In a word, nothing was forbidden for him and he got satisfaction from the most diverse sources. The king's business was to think things that kings do and to demand money; that meant that the king was looking after his glory, encouraging industry and feeding the poor by giving them the opportunity to build fountains and pavilions, to weave lace, to make huge wigs and to embroider in gold satin waistcoats and velvet robes. Happy France, lulled for many decades by such truly royal charities prospered so much that she could not prosper anymore. The only prospect left was starvation. Those on whom lay the obligation of supplying the king with money at his first demand saw that the collection of revenues was becoming more and more difficult as years went by and that no military expeditions could remedy the evil. These men had the most lucrative appointments and were therefore in no waist disposed either to free-thinking or to sentimentality: but even they could not help noticing that the whole state economy was in a rightful condition and that the labor power of the nation was at its last breath. Ministers, intendants, bishops, tax-farmers all felt more or less vaguely that things could not go on like that. Poverty was so widespread that it was an eyesore to everybody but the king, who was guarded against the sight of indecency by the continual efforts of his gilded and smiling crew of courtiers. When some sad truth obstinately peeps out into the light through every rent in the existing order, when that truth cannot be covered up with any plaster, official sophisms, bureaucratic palliatives, majestic ignoring or impressive rigor then sooner or later that truth is voiced for all to hear and takes hold of all minds. No extraordinary Genius is required to express what is felt by everybody, but to give voice to what all are thinking but which none dares to utter a word about - this requires unusual love of truth or of the interests which suffer from the general silence. Under Louis XIV the universal compulsory silence was broken by three quiet and respectful voices, Archbishop Fenelon, Marshall of France Vauban, and the Rouen judiciary official Boisguillebert4 dared dared to speak of the imperfections of the state system. Democratic tendencies were not in keeping with either the rank or even the temperament of any of the three. Not one of them unwanted to put himself to trouble for any bold theory, they only wanted the people not to be deprived of all the means of getting food, propagating their species, working and paying their taxes. Fenelon's most audacious work was Les Aventures do Telemague. But this book, which carried the reader away to Greece and to remote antiquity seemed so audacious to the author himself that he did not see any possibility of publishing it.
It was printed without the knowledge of the author, who had written it exclusively for his pupil, the Duke of Burgundy, grandson of Louis XIV. The printing of the book was stopped by the Paris police and was possible only in the Dutch town of The Hague.The venom of this terrible book consists in singing the virtue and wisdom of kings who were so righteous that they waged no ruinous wars and and did not undertake magnificent constructions for their amusement, but developed agriculture encouraged trade and established patriarchal simplicity of morals among the people. The malice of the pamphlet was so obvious that Louis XIV deprived Fenelon of the tutorship of his grandson and forbade him, as an exposer and fault-finder, to appear at court. If another man had been Guilty of such a lack of restraint be would have been locked up for twenty stars in the Bastille but Fenelon could be could be pardoned a lot in spite of his criminality because lie was an archbishop. Three years after the Telemaque business the Duke of Burgundy took trip through the town of Cambria, in which Fenelon had his archiepiscopal residence. The king was magnanimous enough to allow to Duke to visit the criminal chooser of wars and constructions, but as the Duke was very young and Fenelon very crafty and dangerous, they were strictly forbidden to remain without witnesses. Thus Fenelon's devastating violence was curbed.
The other violator was the famous engineer Vauban in his old age. Having founded thirty-three new fortresses and rebuilt three hundred others in his lifetime, Vauban had been obliged not only to travel over France in all directions, he had, moreover, lived a more or less long time in various parts of his country. .He had keenly scrutinized everything around him, found poverty and abuse everywhere, noted the same causes of the people's sufferings everywhere, and, finally, had decided to set forth the results of his observations in a politico-economic treatise with the title Projet d'une dime royale (Project for a Royal Tithe). In this book he endeavoured to prove that the main cause of the people's misery was the uneven distribution of taxes, that is, that the populace and the poor paid ruinous taxes while the rich and distinguished, the clergy, aristocracy and officials were exempted from all dues in money and in kind. This book, in which the privileged parasites were called the brood of vipers, the old marshal presented to his king with the moving and courageous simplicity which is typical of children and people of genius. Of course, Vauban judged the king by himself, thus, naturally, doing Louis XIV too much honor. His book was prohibited, confiscated, destroyed. The old man was unable to survive the blow and died eleven days after the destruction of his book. Of course, he did not die because his monarch wreaked his wrath on him or because that wrath was able to bar for him the road to further promotion or even deprive him of the advantages which he enjoyed. Vauban succumbed to a minute of cruel disappointment. The faith of all his life was destroyed before his very eyes. He had been persuaded that the king did not know and that the brood of vipers were turning his eyes from the sufferings of the people. And suddenly it turned out that the king did not want to know, and that the brood of vipers enjoyed his deliberate favour. What, in that case, became of all the labour and all the feats of the honest patriot and the brave soldier Vauban? What meaning was given to his three hundred and thirty-three forts, his hundred and forty battles and his fifty-three sieges? Formerly he had thought he was fighting for his country. Now it appears that by his victories he had reinforced and elevated France' most dangerous enemies and most voracious plunderers. Having made such a discovery, a young man would sharply turn all his thoughts and his whole life in the opposite direction. But a man of Vauban's age could only call himself an old fool and die cursing the day he was born.
Like Vauban, Boisguillebert showed in his book Detail de la France sous le regne dc Louis XIV that for the salvation and welfare of the state taxes lead to be distributed evenly. The art of finance according to Boisguillebert's heretical opinion, should consist not in wringing out money by all means, fair and foul, but in a reasonable raising of the production forces of the nation. For this audacious reasoning Boisguillebert lost his appointment, but as he had influential protectors at court he was soon pardoned and restored to his former post.
Thus the power of the king in the person of Louis XIV received its first warning more than eighty years before the outbreak of the revolution. There was still the possibility of repentance and improvement. Luring all the first hall of the 18th century the political strivings of the most courageous French thinkers were extremely moderate. Enlightened and provident despotism, curbing the violence of the clericals and expending the state revenues in a reasonable way, was all that they desired. Had the successors of Louis XIV resembled Peter I of Russia or Frederick II of Prussia, had they understood the necessity for radical transformations, the whole of literature would have been their zealous ally. Rousseau would have sung the great perfection of the feudal system, the French people would have remained proud of their loyalty to the monarch, the revolution would have been unnecessary and impossible. But Philip of Orleans and Louis XV wanted to enjoy life and could not rise to any firm and definite political convictions. Their childish whims, their scandalous mediocrity and their self-complacent frivolity finally proved to the French people that it was very rash and risky to lay any great hopes on the virtue and talent of individuals. Louis XIV, Philip of Orleans and Louis XV thus proved to be the most remarkable popularizers of negative doctrines—popularizers without whose collaboration neither Voltaire, Montesquieu, Diderot or Rousseau would have had any readers or would even have thought of engaging in criticism. The popularizing work of Louis XIV was so highly successful that the people went mad with joy when they heard of his death. (of course, nobody but Louis XIV could have cultivated such tender feelings in the hearts of the French people. which was so proud of its ardent attachment to the Bourbon dynasty. But without this main foundation, laid by Louis XIV himself, the development and propagation of negative doctrines would have been impossible. Courageous and penetrating thinkers might, indeed, have understood the inconsistency and the inaccuracy of the world outlook; they might have noticed the unreasonableness of the relations established among men; but they would constantly have felt themselves alone and would hardly have made up their minds to share their disrespectful considerations with the masses. The masses would not have listened to them. The masses would have forced them to silence, because the masses very willingly reconcile themselves to all sorts of incongruities provided they get need to then and do not super too much from them. But as the French Louis and Philips saw to it that these sufferings became really in tolerable, reflection, analysis and negation became an imperative need for the commonest minds and the masses, forced by their rulers, had to go to talc tree of knowledge of good and evil
The discovery of America, Magellan's voyage round the world anti the astronomic studies of Copernicus, Kepler5 and Galileo clearly showed all people of knowledge and reflexion that the world was not built according to the plan which had been taught for many centuries by the popes cardinals, bishops, and doctors of all higher scholastic sciences. The gulf between the free-thinking of the discoverers and the century-old traditions of Catholicism and Protestantism was apparent but only for the few people who seriously devoted themselves to scientific pursuits. The masses were not concerned with that gap and they continued to submit to traditions whose unsoundness has been proven with mathematical precision. Only the unbearable suffering inflicted on the masses by obliging traditions could draw them in the wake of the progressive thinkers. This kind of queering did indeed appear at th service of the masses in the form persecutions which the sharp~witted Louis XV took it into his lead to inflict on Protestants at the end of the 17th century. Of course, we have all heard of the dragonnaddes and we know that the word stands for foul tricks that the French dragoons played on the French Protestants. But far from all of us know to what extremes the foul tricks were carried. Imagine soldiers let loose on peaceful and defenseless citizens and given the right to make fun of them as they thought fit provided the citizens did not die on the spot from the soldiers' merry-making; imagine further that the soldiers of the time were given such enviable rights displayed the cleverness and refined ingenuity of Red Indians when they have captured their bitterest and most dangerous enemy. The raping of waves and daughters of the Protestants in the presence of their husbands and parents was naturally only a good natured and comic prelude to their merry pranks. Their real pranks were of a far more serious nature: the soldiers stuck pins in the obstinate heretics from head to foot, stabbed them with penknives, tore their noses with red-hot pincers, plucked nails from their fingers and toes, poured boiling water into their mouths and plunged their feet into melted fat which was brought to boiling.
"One of the Protestants, named Ryan," says Buckle, "they bound fast and cut his fingers off, stuck pins tinder his nails, set powder on fire in his ears, pierced his thighs in several places and poured vinegar and salt on his wounds." (Henry Buckle, History of the Civilization in England, London 1861, Vol. 1, p. 624-25.)
At that time exactly the same things were done to the Presbyterians in Scotland by the order of James II. These things are done not in the secret of a dungeon or by sentence of a judge, but in the streets or in private houses by the free inspiration of drunken soldiers, they could make a very unpleasant impression even on a country thickly populated with fanatical and completely ignorant Catholics. But the France of Louis XIV already had a brilliant literature, highly developed art, highly polished and refined manners, and was Proud of all that. This France had already been sufficiently cured of medieval fanaticism by the suffering of the civil wars and the terrors St. Bartholomew's Night. The repeal of the Edict of Nantes and the dragonnades I could not be particularly pleasant even for the Catholic population. The Protestants were industrious people who pursued industry and trade and were well off; they had numerous business and relations and connections with the whole of France's industrial and trading world; all these connections had to be suddenly broken off, and naturally many Catholic merchants and manufacturers who saw the danger to their pockets became dubious of the exaggerated efforts of their king. There must have been such confusion in the whole of world trade that it probably proved try many sincere Catholics that fanatical persecutions result in perceptible inconveniences.
After the repeal of the Edict of Nantes half a million Protestants were banished. They fled to Holland, Switzerland, Prussia, England, and even to North America. One can imagine the shattering impression made on France's neighbors by these long queues of emigrants, many of whom were exhausted by privation and hunger, and each of whom had some new detail of oppression, plunder, violence and torture to tell. The generation which saw those tortured fugitives still had terrifying living memories of the violence and devastation of the Thirty Years' War; comparing these memories with the pictures that now developed before their eyes, every shopkeeper, very craftsman, every peasant could think that a new Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants was approaching. Not one man of common sense could desire such a war, especially as the traces of the last were too noticeable all over Germany. But at the sight of the French exiles every man who was not stupid could easily imagine that a war like the Thirty Years' War would hang like Damocles' sword over Europe until Protestants and Catholics ceased hating and persecuting one another. When the masses had been led on to such thoughts by living and clear impression of actual life, the preaching of universal tolerance became eminently appropriate and the already old fight of the foremost thinkers against the fanaticism got an opportunity to score most brilliant success. The thinkers basing themselves of generally known facts, could tell the masses in loud and solemn tones that there would be no end suffering and crime until the fundamental erring from which their fanatic enthusiasm and fanatic hatred arose was erased from their collective mind. In spite of all their childish partiality for their fundamental erring, inconsistent as it was with their knowledge of the laws of nature, the masses were inclined to listen to to serious exhortations of the thinkers, because the memories of the Thirty Years' War and the haggard faces of French fugitives forced them to reflexions to which they were not accustomed. The Catholic and Protestant clericals, on their side, did all they could to help the thinking preachers of tolerance by minor villainies and restrictions which daily reminded the masses of the major sufferings and crimes which arose with fanaticism front the fundamental erring.
The dragonnades were unconditionally encouraged by the most brilliant representatives of the Gallican Church. L'illustre Bossuet was a zealous and eloquent panegyrist of these energetic measures. The liberal and philanthropic Fenelon, who often criticized the government's action in letters to influential persons, never said a word against the persecution of Protestants. Such facts continually led society on to the notion that the clergy had long ago and for ever forgotten serve the cause of charity and mercy and that their decrepit corporation was becoming more harmful for social development as the years went by. In this conviction those of the masses who reflected began to converge towards the foremost thinkers. The latter noticed signs of this incipient mutual understanding, and profiting by the favourable conditions of the time, raised their voices against superstition and fanaticism in bold persuasive terms such as Europe had never heard.
While Louis XIV was behaving with such disgraceful atrocity in France, Pierre Bayle, one of his loyal subjects, was publishing books and pamphlets in Holland proclaiming the Amy of reason and proving the absolute inconsistency of his demands with the spirit anal the letter of the traditional doctrines, and this in lively and fascinating French that everybody could understand. Living in a free country, he was nevertheless unable to express himself quite openly. His convictions would have alarmed his contemporaries and estranged them from him. They were not even to Voltaire's taste. That is why Bayle did not enter into a dogmatic exposition own ideas, but confined himself to a constantly polite, cautious, but very clever and venomous criticism of the concepts in the name of which people were burned at the stake and whole flourishing regions were devastated. Bayle's tone was generally remarkable for its respectfulness and submissiveness, but in that submissive respectfulness every thinking reader could feel the bottomless depth of doubt and negation. Bayle did not say all he thought, but what he did say was sometimes amazingly audacious. In 1682, for instance, he affirmed in print that unbelief was better than superstition; therefore, he demanded that the state should display unlimited tolerance even toward extreme heretics. This demand was frequently repeated in his pamphlets on the persecution of French Protestants. This fearless thinker further asked himself and discussed from various viewpoints the question: can a state composed of atheists exist? Bayle did not give a straightforward answer to the question, but the whole process of his evidence obviously tended to the conclusion that morality may exist without religious worship. These thoughts of Bayle's are still very courageous even for our time. In Bayle's journal, Nouvelles de la republique des lettres, the witty writer Fontenelle sometimes amused himself with anti clerical pranks. In 1686, at the very time when French Protestants were most cruelly persecuted, Bayle's journal carried I satirical allegory by Fontenelle ridiculing the who quarrel between Catholics and Protestants.
"A letter alleged to have been written in Batavia, " Hettner6 writes, "reports that in Borneo two sisters Mreo (Rome) and Eenegu (Geneva) quarreled over the vacant throne after the death of their mother, Mlileo(?). Mreo was recognized without any difficulty but very soon estranged all free minds by her oppression and violence; all her subjects were obliged to report to her all their most secret thoughts and being her all their money; the highest token of gratitude that the queen deigned to give them was to allow them to kiss her foot, but first they had to revere the bones of deceased favourites. Then a new queen, Eenegu, came forward. She abolished all these unpleasant in innovations, claimed the throne, called herself the legitimate daughter of the recently deceased queen and proved her claim by her resemblance to her mother; Mreo, on the other hand, went to great pains to keep her mother's portrait secret and substitute another one for its" (Hermann Hettner, Literatur-geschichte des schzehnten Jahrhunderts, Brunswick 1899, p. 41).
That same year 1686 saw the publication of Fontenelle's book Entretiens sur la pluralitie des mondes (Conversations on the plurality of the World). This book developed in popular form the same thoughts that Giordano Bruno had been burnt at the stake for at the beginning of the 17th century. Fontenelle tried to make his reader aware of the astronomical discoveries of Copernicus and the philosophical ideas on nature produced by Descartes' creative imagination. He naturally explained in detail that the fixed stars were not lamps hanging from the vault of the heavens to illuminate the earth, but are great centers of independent planetary systems composed of heavenly bodies on which, in all probability, their own rich and diverse organic life developed. This thought, for which the Roman Inquisition had Giordano Bruno burnt at the stake, had no unfavourable consequences for Fontenelle in spite of the fact that his book, published in the rein of Louis IV, strongly impressed the reading public and pleased even the light-minded people of society who were perfectly incapable of serious intellectual pursuits. I n 1687, Fontenelle published his History of the Oracles in which he analyzed the cunning of heathen priests, endeavouring at the same time to lead the reader on to various instructive revelations on contemporary reality. The guardians of public morality understood at last what Fontenelle's literary amusements were aimed at. Then came the allegory of the two royal sisters in Borneo. They key to its understanding was found and Fontenelle was warned that the Bastille was awaiting him. He immediately repented, began to pour forth streams of eulogistic verse on the Jesuits ans ceased for ever to offend the guardians of public innocence. For this moral action, Fontenelle was considered worthy to live a hundred years on this earth. He died in 1757, when Voltaire was already a master of public opinion in the whole of Europe.
Louis IV died in 1715. At that time Voltaire was a little over twenty and his venom already so well known in Paris society that when a manuscript of a satire on the deceased king started to circulate from hand to hand it was attributed to him, although he was completely innocent of writing it. For this imaginary crime, Voltaire spent a year in the Bastille. In 1726, he was in the Bastille again over a quarrel with the Chevalier de Rohan who, by the way, was the only one to blame and who in general behaved most dishonestly and disgracefully towards Voltaire. This second imprisonment did not last long - six months according to Buckle, and only twelve days if we are to believe Hettner. Which of the two is right, I do not know, but that is not important. If we take Buckley's figure, as being the bigger one, it turns out that Voltaire, who lived till he was nearly 84 and struggled for over 60 years against the strongest human prejudices, spent only a year and a half in prison, and that for reasons which had nothing at all to do with his literary activity. All Voltaire's hostile clashes with the powers that be were confined to these two very short imprisonments. The rest of his life flowed merrily, quietly, respected, and satisfied. He corresponded with nearly all the sovereigns of Europe including the popes. He was awarded pensions and distinctions from all sides. He was a gentlehomme ordinaire de la chambre du roi, Kammerherr to Frederick the Greats France's historiographer and a member of the French Academy. He indulged in all speculations, including the Exchange, had a hand in state loans and in supplies for the army; he schemed and profiteered, he intrigued and even swindled. He accumulated and preserved a great fortune. He went to extremes such as even Molchalin7 could envied. And yet he always remained Voltaire—the tireless fighter, the great publicist;who has not his peer in history and whose name still inspires European pietists with the most comical horror. How could Voltaire run with the hare and hunt with the hounds? How could he at the same time head the philosophical opposition and enjoy the favour of all the higher authorities? This remarkable phenomenon, which is now no longer possible, is accounted for in my humble judgment, by the fact that the power of human thought and the possible consequences of the intellectual movement were at that tine still too little known to all high-placed personalities and vested interests.
The 18th century rulers like the monarchs and popes of the middle Ages, were not afraid of thought; they persecuted opposition thinkers not as violators of public order but as insolent people who dared to think and express impudent things. Punishment was not intended to prevent harm which could arise from the activity of the writer, for nobody thought of that. Indeed, what harm could a despicable and starving scoundrel do by scribbling to make a few pence for bread and firewood? The meaning of punishment was only: there, you beastly knave, don't you dare interfere by your stupid considerations when you're not asked. Punishment was revenge for insolence and was therefore conditioned exclusively by this force of the wrath of the important person who had th power to chastise and to pardon. As a result, the most dangerous branch of literature for the writer was the one which was the most trifling and the least able to affect the life of society in any direction. Writers of satires and lampoons against individual personalities came in for the most severe punishment. For example, if you wrote some playful lines about Marquis A's butler having a purple nose and a fat paunch you were almost sure to be put in prison, because Marquis A would consider himself insulted in the person of his lackey, and consumed with noble ambition, he would certainly intrigue for a letter de cache (order of arrest) against you. If, on the contrary~ keeping clear of noses and paunches, you tried most openly in your book to turn upside down all the conceptions reigning in official spheres on justice, financial management, relations between the estates, international law or any other highly important subject, the danger for you was far less than in the first case. If you wished the danger to disappear altogether, all you had to do was to dedicate your book to the highest of high-placed personalities whose ideas you subjected to the most devastating criticism, then to sprinkle your introduction and notes with the most enthusiastic and unsubstantiated compliments to all the powerful personalities whose system you utterly contradicted.. Then your book would encounter no obstacles at all. All influential persons would say that your ideas wore, of course, rather reckless but that you yourself were a well-educated, modest and respectable man and that consequently there was no reason to grieve you by prohibiting your book or shutting you up in the Bastille.
In the 18th century reading became an essential requirement for those classes of society which decided the fate of peoples. The material by which the new requirement was satisfied became very important, its makers became the moulders of public opinion. Books, journals and newspapers linked thousands and tens of thousands of people by ties of a closeness and strength hitherto impossible and inconceivable. When that unheard-of wonder—the public opinion of a whole nation, of a whole great country—was born into the world, from then on, I say writers became for European societies what orators had been for the tiny Greek republics.
Danvers, a British IMP., said in the House of Commons that in his opinion Great Britain was governed by a power the supreme domination of which had never yet been heard of in any century or in any country. That power did not consist in the unlimited will of a single monarch, in the strength of armies or in the influence of the clergy; it was not the power of skirts; it was the power of the press. The material with which the weekly papers were filled, he said, was read with greater respect than Acts of Parliament; and the opinion of each of these pen-pushers was of greater importance in the eyes of the crowd than the opinion of the best politicians in the kingdom.
These words were uttered in 1738, and Buckle says they were the earliest indication of the rising power of the press, which for the first time in world history had become the voice of public opinion. In the middle of the 18th century, Malherbe, the director of the press department, on being admitted to the I ranch Academy, said "Literature and philosophy have now won for themselves the freedom which they had in ancient Greece; they give the peoples legislators; noble inspiration has taken hold of all minds; the time has come when every one free to think and to write feels obliged to direct his thoughts to the common good." Academic speeches are always filled with commonplaces which are pleasant for the listeners, for the government, for the Academy and for all in general, present and absent, living and dead. That is why Malherbe's words must be especially remarkable in our eyes. If the thought that literature and philosophy give the peoples legislators had become a commonplace and quite acceptable in an official academic speech pronounced by an important and weighty official, the chief of the French press, then, of course, the view that the writer was a pleasant entertainer had been entirely replaced by the serious view which made every thinking writer feel obliged to direct his thoughts to the common good. But if we turn back, not very far, only to the epoch of Louis XIV, we will see that literature still continues to be an amusement for the public (divertir le public, as Pierre Corneille says of himself) and dare not think of any common good. Who is in the foremost plan in French literature of the 17th century? Corneille, Racine, Boileau, Moliere. On what merits For sentimental tragedies, merry comedies, trifling satires, and mainly for the purity of their language and the elegance of their verses. It is true that in Moliere's Tartuffe we can see a remote prophetic hint of the future role of literature. Who is in the foremost place in French literature of the 18th century? Voltaire, Montesquieu, Diderot, Rousseau, Helvetius, Beaumarchais. What for? For works which touch from various aspects on the most important and profound questions of world philosophy, personal morality and social life. So it is clear that the change took place in the confines between the 17th and 18th centuries. The impression made by the books of Fontenelle and the journals of Bayle can be considered as the turning point in the great transformation of literature from a pleasant amusement to a serious business.
As the activity of Voltaire and his immediate successors up to 1789 was the first brilliant manifestation of serious and influential literature transformed into a social force, that literature's relations to the powers of the time were, of course, still not very clear or very defined and were subject to numerous vacillations. The authorities saw that a new power had been born, but they did not yet know what sort of power it was, what was to be expected of it, what proportions its development could attain or how they should deal with it. The authorities looked at the growing power of literature not with fear but rather with curiosity and even vain satisfaction. It was pleasant for them to see that under their rule wonders were being produced of which previous times had not had any idea. In the simplicity of their hearts the authorities of the time played with great ideas as merrily and unconcernedly as innocent children can play with a loaded pistol. Of course, writers were occasionally given severe warnings, but it was those very warnings that revealed the innocence and lack of concern of the authorities of the time; there was nothing systematic in them; they were given as a result of the overflowing vexation of the high-ups and as a display of the greatness of those high-ups; they could always be averted by expressions of submission and good education or again by the influence of personal connections and strong protectors. In a word, noting the entirely new position of literature, the authorities of the time continued all the same by force of habit to treat the renovated literature as a whimsical young lady does a lap dog. The authorities of the time had not enough character or consistency either to flatter the writers and shower them with constant amiability or to intimidate them and crush them with iron rigour. That is why the writers had intense hatred and very 1ittle fear of the government.
Buckle speaks with indignation of the persecutions that French literature was subjected to in the past century. Such indignation could not be more comprehensible on the part of an Englishman for whom unlimited freedom of the press had become an essential requirement of his organism. But we are entitled to expect and to demand a more objective view of the matter from a historian of such depth of thought as Buckle. If we simply compare the position of writers now with that of writers in the last century we may find the position of the former more honourable and less dangerous. But it seems to me that it would be a mistake to conclude that the position of literature has improved since the last century and that we must be appalled at the cruel sufferings of our predecessors. As citizens of better organized states, Europeans of today are indeed better off than their grandfathers; but us writers,Europeans encounter more obstacles andsuffer more persecution. Compare the common criminal code and criminal justice of the last century with those of today and you will find an enormous difference. On one side, torture and agonizing death, on the other, almost complete abolition of the simple death sentence, the penitentiary system and trial by jury. Admittedly, the penitentiary system is not an unspeakably vast improvement, but in any case it is far Iess unpleasant to be in gaol than to die on the wheel or at the stake. Besides, it is much easier to defend oneself before a court with jury than to give evidence in a dungeon. So that there are improvements, and considerable ones. Now ask whether these improvements extend to writers. That is, ask yourself two questions: were writers in the 18th century treated with all the rigour of the criminal laws of the time? And are writers today treated with all the rigour of the present criminal laws? The history of the 18th century will answer the first question: no. Ihe present reality will answer the second question: yes. Today writers are treated in exactly the same way as common criminals. In the 18th century, on the other hand, writers were treated much more delicately and humanely than common criminals.
So that the position of writers, and consequently of literature, has worsened since the last century, although at the same time it is more comfortable for any man, whether he is a writer or not, to live in the l9th century than it was in the 18th. And here, of course, England must not be taken into account, for there a writer as such cannot become a criminal and cannot come under criminal law. Buckle collected many examples of the cruel persecution of which he accuses French authorities in the last century. What kind of persecutions? Works were confiscated or burned par la main du bourreau. the author was put in a fortress, in prison. Was he imprisoned for long? Thirty years, or twenty? Oh, no! Most often only for a few months. Was at least one of the writers of that time burnt at the stake, broken on the wheel, or sent to the galleys? Was at least one writer tortured? Not one. And yet torture could not have been more indicated. A large proportion of the most famous books were published without the name of the author and in the event of an alarm the author generally disowned his work. Then his arms could have been twisted and his feet crushed to get a frank confession. If literature had been viewed with such rigour in the 18th century as it is in the 19th many of the Encyclopaedists would have had a spell in a dungeon.
The most rigorous punishment which befell a French writer, in the last century is described by Buckle as follows:"Deforges, for example, having written against the arrest of the Pretender to the English throne, was, solely on that account, buried in a dungeon eight feet Square and confined there for three years." (History of Civilization in England, London 1861, Vol. 1, p. 554.) And a note adds the detail that all the light the criminal got was from a chink in the church steps. According to our present standard, that is very rigorous, but according to the standard of that time, it was a mere trifle. Latude spent more than twenty years in various prisons solely because, wishing to obtain the protection of the Marquise de Pompadour, he had recourse to a very silly and clumsy mystification. Some of the prisons he was in were not better that the underground dungeon in which Deforges was confined. The dramatist Favart was shut up in a fortress because his wife, the actress Chantilly, refused to be the mistress of Maurice of Saxony. I do not know whether he was there for long, but it is significant enough that he was imprisoned for such a fault. Finally, it is worth while noting that lettres de cachet were the object of a profitable trade for some important person ages. For a certain sum of money you could get a blank form and fill in the name of the person who you thought should be removed to the Bastille. It once happened that a married couple were bored to death with each other; both of them took steps to procure lettres de cachet and both were successful, so that the husband was imprisoned on the petition of his wife and the wife on that of her husband. It is clear that no value was set on personal liberty. A man was put in prison, he was left there for tens of years, the authorities even forgot what he had been imprisoned for and nobody found that particularly surprising. But a writer who was at all known and notable could not be forgotten and abandoned in that way. People remembered him, undertook steps in his favour, and he was released. In a word, in the society of that time, in which life was tolerable only for the privileged classes, writing was a sign of distinction which entitled one to some favours and advantages. The more independent and courageous the writer was, the more he was known and the more consideration the authorities showed in the way they treated him, because in their eyes he was as important as a noble. A11 this naturally came from the inexperience of the authorities, but it was owing to that inexperience of official personages that Voltaire was able to pursue his propaganda under the protection of important persons who were the guardians of social morality.
Whoever values Voltaire's activity must not reproach him with his cunning, his fawning or his obsequiousness: all these manoeuvres helped towards the success of the main cause; often bowing low instead of draping himself in the mantle of the Marquis von Posa, Voltaire at the same time never lost sight of his life's only aim. He flattered his powerful protectors and made them his tools. Voltaire was petty enough to seek marks of distinction and display vanity over them, but his passionate love of the idea was so strong, it mastered his every instinct so entirely, that he unwittingly, by an insuperable attraction and without the slightest struggle, turned to the service of his idea all the connections and protection that he managed to acquire. It never even occurred to any of Voltaire's high-placed protectors that he could in any way be bribed, disarmed or diverted by Savours or honours from the great struggle that he was waging against clericalism Whosoever protected Voltaire marched under his banner, submitted to his might and contracted the obligation of at least not hindering the propagation of rationalism. In the realm of thought Voltaire did not make the slightest concession to anybody and nobody dared to demand such concessions of him. But, on the other hand, Voltaire was as flexible and elastic as a steel spring in his methods and attitudes. In his private life he was ready without question to play all the comedies that surrounding society could demand of him. This elasticity and 'flexibility are one of the principal causes arid one of the most important aspects of his significance. It was precisely this ability not to waste efforts on details and not to exasperate people around him for trifles that gave his propaganda irresistible power and unprecedented diffusion. The fact that anti-clerical ideas were preached, not by some eccentric, madcap or extravagant brain, but by a gentleman of substance and importance, Monsieur Voltaire, who had managed his affairs wonderfully well and was on friendly terms with persons of the greatest renown in the whole of Europe, was extremely reassuring and encouraging for the mass of timid and flaccid minds who everywhere and at all times decide matters by their numbers and their unrestrained vital force. That is why due tribute must be paid even to the Chichikov traits which indisputably had a fairly large part in Voltaire's personality In order to have any serious significance, Voltaire's propaganda had to be accessible not only to the best people, the select minds, but to all the reading public, to the whole of the literate herd, whatever the degree of their intelligence or the firmness of their character. All that herd had to be told continually for many years: "You asses, stop at last kicking one another in the face for trifles which you yourselves don't under stand and which your leaders have never understood either!" Setting about such a task, trying to put some reason into listeners of that kind, one has to lay in an enormous stock of patience and then set in action all means capable of leading to success, all without exception, of all shades and colours. One of the most powerful means was the exterior reliability and rank of Monsieur Voltaire. He had to acquire that rank at all costs, even if the ideal purity of his character was thus impaired It did not cost Voltaire much work to attain this, because he was never distinguished by the ideal purity of his character. His character, full of go, combined with his lively, keen and untiring, though very shallow mind, was eminently adapted to the task that he undertook On one hand; an effervescent mind, which had taken to one very simple idea for all its life, saved Voltaire from the mire into which he was drawn by the Chichikov traits in his character; on the other hand, those Chichikov traits safeguarded him against quixotism which would have been ridiculous and dangerous for society and could have developed from his infatuation for his idea.
Thus Voltaire managed constantly to observe that golden mean which a mighty creative genius scorns and rejects, but which irresistibly attracts the hearts and minds of the respectable bourgeoisie who were at that time awaiting their turn and provided a huge audience for the famous popularizer.
Hettner violently attacks Voltaire for various manifestations of evasiveness. "And why, after all," he says in the fire of his virtuous agitation, "whenever danger faces him, does he impudently and lyingly disown his works instead of honestly and courageously acknowledging them as his? On August 13, 1763, Voltaire writes to Helvetius:"One need not always sign one's name; I did not even write La Pucelle." And he midways makes use of crafty lying with not too enviable ingenuity."
Hettner's virtuous indignation is ludicrous in the extreme. All we can do after it is to abuse for its vileness the chicken that escapes from the cook by crafty lying instead of honestly and courageously falling into his arms. The cook would naturally be very pleased at the honesty and courage of that virtuous chicken, but it is hard to understand what good this honesty and courage would do, first, to the feathered Aristidec, and second, to all the chicken species. Let us suppose that Voltaire had fulfilled Hettner's wish and honestly and courageously confessed his literary offences. What would have come of it? Voltaire would have been put in the Bastille. To whom would that have been profitable, the philosophers or the Jesuits? Would the Voltairians have demolished the Bastille and set their leader free? By no means. Voltaire would have been confined in a cell in the fort, have had his health impaired and have wasted time which he could have used to go on persecuting the clericals. And all that just to give the Parisian police a useless subject for amazement in his honesty and courage. A great and worthy aim, indeed!
It is such a short time since the heroes of freethinking came on to the stage of world history that no point of view has yet been defined from which their actions and characters are to be appraised. Historians still continue to confuse these people with fighters and martyrs of supranaturalism. Voltaire is judged in the same way as, for instance, John Huss might have been. When Voltaire turns away from the chalice which Huss calmly and courageously drinks to the dregs, he is suspected and accused of lacking courage and honesty. That is completely unfair. A utilitarian cannot be measured with the same yardstick as a mystic. For Huss, renouncing his ideas meant renouncing eternal bliss and, moreover, dragging down after him into the Gehenna of fire thousands of weak people whom his renunciation would have cast into confusion and turned back to the errors of papism. Therefore, he could not contemplate any other course than to go to the stake repeating the formulas that he considered true and saving. For Voltaire, on the contrary, the only important thing was that his ideas should sink as deeply as possible into the minds of his readers and be spread as widely as possible in society. Good. A book was printed, bought up and read. It did not bear the name of any author, and yet the impression it made was a profound one. The ideas therefore operated of themselves and did not need the fascination that the name of the unknown author could have imparted to them. Only such action was in perfect keeping with the aim and function of Voltaire's propaganda. That propaganda had to teach people not to bow before authority but to appreciate the inner reason and convincing force of the idea itself. Then the alarm came. The author was sought. Voltaire was called for questioning. And he answered: "I don't: know anything about it, I am completely ignorant." Kindly tell me to whom he did any harm by that answer. He only deprived the Jesuits and police spies of the opportunity of torturing a thinker of the opposition. That was most unkind of him, but he never undertook to provide in his person amusement for Jesuits and police spies. But Voltaire's readers were by no means embarrassed or deceived by his renunciation; they laughed and said to one another: "Really, whom do they think they are dealing with? A fool? They'll see how he'll confess!" All this, of course, very much resembles the tactics of seminarists towards their superiors. But what can you do about it? There are times when the whole of society is very much like a It is such a short time since the heroes of freethinking came on to the stage of world history that no point of view has yet been defined from which their actions and characters are to be appraised. Historians still continue to confuse these people with fighters and martyrs of supranaturalism. Voltaire is judged in the same way as, for instance, John Huss might have been. When Voltaire turns away from the chalice which Huss calmly and courageously drinks to the dregs, he is suspected and accused of lacking courage and honesty. That is completely unfair. A utilitarian cannot be measured with the same yardstick as a mystic. For Huss, renouncing his ideas meant renouncing eternal bliss and, moreover, dragging down after him into the Gehenna of fire thousands of weak people whom his renunciation would have cast into confusion and turned back to the errors of papism. Therefore, he could not contemplate any other course than to go to the stake repeating the formulas that he considered true and saving. For Voltaire, on the contrary, the only important thing was that his ideas should sink as deeply as possible into the minds of his readers and be spread as widely as possible in society. Good. A book was printed, bought up and read. It did not bear the name of any author, and yet the impression it made was a profound one. The ideas therefore operated of themselves and did not need the fascination that the name of the unknown author could have imparted to them. Only such action was in perfect keeping with the aim and function of Voltaire's propaganda. That propaganda had to teach people not to bow before authority but to appreciate the inner reason and convincing force of the idea itself. Then the alarm came. The author was sought. Voltaire was called for questioning. And he answered: "I don't: know anything about it, I am completely ignorant." Kindly tell me to whom he did any harm by that answer. He only deprived the Jesuits and police spies of the opportunity of torturing a thinker of the opposition. That was most unkind of him, but he never undertook to provide in his person amusement for Jesuits and police spies. But Voltaire's readers were by no means embarrassed or deceived by his renunciation; they laughed and said to one another: "Really, whom do they think they are dealing with? A fool? They'll see how he'll confess!" All this, of course, very much resembles the tactics of seminarists towards their superiors. But what can you do about it? There are times when the whole of society is very much like a big seminary. The culprits here are not those who lie, but those who force them to do so.
When Hettner describes Voltaire's old age he finds mole fuel for virtuous indignation. 'How deplorable," he says, "that for all that Voltaire is by no means irreproachable even in this last and most brilliant period of his life! He still disowns his books. And as if that were not enough, he partakes of the Sacrament and goes to confession to free himself from the persecution of the clericals, whereas all his activity has been aimed at destroying those doctrines and customs. Varnhagen unjustly defends these ruses and simulations, these ambushes and sudden attacks, this skillful ability to advance and suddenly disappear, excusing them as permissible and necessary auxiliaries in partisan warfare. This temporary submission is considered as godless insolence not only by pious people; even people of his party condemn it as deplorable and cowardly."
There is nothing surprising in the fact that pious people were dissatisfied. Again I repeat that Voltaire had not undertaken to console pious people. We only need to ask one question in order to know whether Voltaire's actions which grieved Hettner were praiseworthy or blamable: did they help or dip they hinder the success of his social work? We must answer: they helped it, because they freed the famous popularizer from clerical persecutions which would have caused him useless, bother, made him worry, ruined his health and thus taken him away from his social work. So that, allowing himself petty ruses, Voltaire, consciously or not, was following the natural feeling of self-preservation.
Here again, free-thinkers are confused with sectarians and devotees of religious beliefs. It would have been another matter if Calvinists or Lutherans had done what Voltaire did; then there would have been reason to speak of something deplorable and cowardly, for Lutherans and Calvinists, like Catholics, attach great importance to all exterior details of worship. But coming from Voltaire this was nothing like an apostasy because he was completely indifferent to all worship and all its details. Voltaire did not at all wish to found some new religious philosophy; no more did he burn with fanatic hatred of the existing worship; he hated only that self-seeking and obtuse exclusivity which leads to murder, religious persecutions, civil strife and international wars. Tolerance was the first and last word of his philosophical profession. That is why he could submit to all sorts of formalities prescribed by local laws or customs without blushing or betraying himself. Hcttner should know and understand all this, especially, as he quotes from Essai sur les moeurs et l'esprit des nations the following of Voltaire's considerations about the English deists: "These men agree with all others on the common worship of a single God; the only way in which they differ is that they have no last principles of doctrine and no temple, and that, believing in the justice of God, they are animated by the greatest tolerance. They say that their religion is the pure religion and as old as the world itself; they have no secret worship and can therefore submit without any qualms of conscience to public religious usages." Anybody who has read Voltaire knows that he sympathized with the English deists more than with any other thinkers; when he speaks of them and for them he speaks of himself and for himself; that is why the words which I have underlined definitely settle the question and clearly prove that by submitting to public religious usages, Voltaire never did anything deplorable or cowardly.
Voltaire hated any kind of metaphysical subtlety, of which, to tell the truth, he was utterly incapable. He cannot in any respect be called a great or even a remarkable thinker. His mind was by no means far-sighted and was absolutely incapable of pursuing any idea to the very end, to its furthest and most remote ramifications. By his intellectual powers Voltaire was greatly inferior to many people who killed their fine talent in sterile metaphysical constructions. He was completely immune against any metaphysical infection by his— excuse the expression limitedness, combined with his colossal vanity and his inimitable gift for sarcasm.
Voltaire's mind came up against a stone wall after the first two or three steps in abstract philosophizing; he lost the ability to follow the course of his thought and it was then that his inestimable vanity came to his help. For he, Arouet de Voltaire, the great Voltaire, could not admit his impotence and beg pardon! So he would at once decide that there was nothing at all to understand. Then he would put his tongue out at the metaphysician and finish him off so skillfully with jokes and sarcasm that the metaphysician, who was perhaps far more intelligent than Voltaire himself, was made a fool of and completely ruined in the opinion of the entire reading public. All Voltaire's activity was but the expression of ordinary common sense's indignation at the erroneous infatuations and fruitless firework displays of human genius. The founders of the various metaphysical schools, e.g., Descartes and Leibnitz, and scholastic luminaries, such as Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon, Albert the Great, indisputably had enormous intellectual powers, but they all had the misfortune, due to the circumstances of the time, to expend a great part or even the whole of their powers on works which, first, could never have any practical application, and second, by their extreme difficulty and confusedness were fated to remain for ever incomprehensible and inaccessible to the overwhelming majority of ordinary or mediocre human minds. Human mediocrity, in the person of Voltaire, its most brilliant and clever representative, pronounced a decisive and irrevocable sentence of rejection on all those massive, gigantic, amazing, but completely useless works. Voltaire's task was a purely negative one. All sorts of various chattels had to be thrown out of the enormous treasure-house in which the intellectual wealth of humanity is kept; with them the cupboards in which they had been kept had also to be thrown out, so that in future human energy would no longer be wasted hoarding new contents in those useless cupboards. In order to pronounce this sentence of rejection with due decision and dauntlessness it was necessary not to see a single good or attractive feature in all those condemned cupboards. It was necessary to hate with a solid and undiluted hatred, to despise with the purest and sincerest scorn untainted by any shimmer of condescension or sympathy. But only non-comprehension is capable of such hatred and scorn, for there is no human feeling, no human act, no human thought in which, if it is thoroughly understood, one cannot find something worthy of respect and love or at least of warm pity. But as complete rejection is some times necessary, non-comprehension sometimes renders man kind precious and irreplaceable services. Had Voltaire been able to understand the logical beauty and majesty of the metaphysical constructions that it was his task to ridicule and throw out, his sarcasm would have lacked that freedom from constraint, that unfeigned sincerity, that self-satisfied grace, that infectious gaiety which gave it irresistible force and ensured the success of all work of negation. Voltaire would not have been Voltaire if he had had more intellect and less vanity. His thoughts would have been more profound, but his condemnations would have been less final. For both these reasons his influence on the crowds would have been less powerful. Thus, all Voltaire's shortcomings—intellectual as well as moral—favoured his popularizing work.
Voltaire is magnificent and irresistible when he ridicules the various stupidities of clever or silly people. But when he begins to bungle together something like a system of his own, when he tries to construe and play the sage himself, the attention of his readers flags with surprising speed. The reader is particularly to be pitied when higher questions of general world' philosophy weigh on Voltaire's mind. That tops the reader's chalice.
Voltaire was a deist. That was all right. It was even touching and praiseworthy. If, like Mohammad, he had simply cried to the world "Allah is Allah!" everything would have been well, there would have been no room for any objections. But unfortunately Voltaire was tortured by the desire to prove the basic thesis of his theory. As a philosopher, you sec. he could not accept anything on faith and as he definitely could not prove anything and as proof does not help much here anyhow, the unfortunate reader is faced with a real Babel. Hypotheses are propped up with other hypotheses; comparisons, sentimental exclamations and high-sounding interrogative tirades are taken for proofs; some single insignificant fact, neither correctly observed nor rightly interpreted, serves as a foundation for an entire complicated theory; our philosopher does not even notice this himself and gets tangled up in gross contradictions at every step; again without noticing it he jumps from one point of view to another; in a word, the result is an abomination of desolation, severely compromising a respectable thesis which neither admits nor requires any proof at all.
Voltaire's hobby-horse is the idea of the expediency and predetermination of everything that exists. Indeed, the eye was made to see, the ear to hear, the teeth to chew and the stomach to digest food. After making so many discoveries at once, Voltaire exults in his victory over the insolent sceptics, and then come sentimental exclamations about the way in which everything is calculated, foreseen, adapted and ordained. All this is very edifying and convincing, but Voltaire should have collected more examples and construed his proof in the following way, for example: the sheep was made to browse grass, the wolf to devour the sheep, the peasant to kill the wolf, the marquis to thrash and ruin the peasant, and Louis XIV to put the marquis in the Bastille and confiscate his hereditary estate. In this scale of living beings each one is assigned to its place, each one does something and each one is generously endowed with the necessary apparatus or tools to do it. So expediency is adhered to magnificently. All that remains is to ask and answer the question: for whom or for what is all this wonderful expediency necessary, what does it lead to and on what grounds have these living beings been grouped together if they continually harm and mangle and even destroy one another? For whom has the whole scale been built—for the sheep, the wolf, the peasant, the marquis or Louis XIV? As the sheep, the wolf and the peasant have but a purely passive role which they would willingly surrender, the scale is built, evidently, not for them, but against them. So it is built for the marquis and for Louis XIV? Fine. But in that case only the marquis ---until he finds himself in the Bastille—and Louis XIV can be delighted at the order, beauty, harmony and expediency of nature. All those fine things are non-existent for the peasant. If it occurred to the peasant to philosophize like Voltaire he would arrive at a result which would horrify Voltaire. If, the peasant would reason, everything in nature is done with a subtle calculation and with a purpose, then nature also acts with a purpose when it condemns us to suffering. "Kind nature," the peasant would continue, "has been plaguing me as long as I can remember, sometimes with hunger, sometimes with cold, sometimes with beatings; so she has been bullying me purposely all the time. Thanks for the kindness!" "Excuse me, Mr. Peasant," Voltaire would say, realizing that the matter was taking a most unfavourable turn, "excuse me. It is not nature that tortures you, it is people." "Mr.Voltaire," the peasant would answer, "it was nature that produced people. If in nature everything is calculated, foreseen and expedient, then nature can and must answer for every one of its creatures."
I see myself, my dear reader, that the peasant is raging, but I assure you that it is not the peasant who is to blame here - it is Voltaire. The doctrine of expediency in nature leads to the most horrifying conclusions which undermine or at least distort the thesis of Voltaire's doctrine. And there's no wriggling out of those conclusions as long as suffering exists in the world. But suffering is indestructible, all organic life is based on the continuous reciprocal destruction of living and feeling beings. Without wishing or noticing it, Voltaire risks having to prostrate himself before the bloodthirsty Moloch or the Indian Siva who wears a necklace of human bones. The snag is that Voltaire's doctrine cannot be proved. It can only be taken on faith. Whoever cannot . . . well, he probably knows himself what he must do.
Strolling with philosophic intent in the Art chamber of the universe, Voltaire could naturally not leave unnoticed a monster such as suffering or evil. He understood that that monster was very dangerous for his doctrine and he exerted many futile efforts to give it some decent and respectable appearance. First of all, following in the steps of the English thinkers Shaftesbury, Pope, and Bolingbroke, he tried to prove that evil does not exist at all and that everything in the world goes on as it should. Here he could have played a variation on the theme that sufferings give a special worth to enjoyment and that they are just as indispensable in life as dark colours in a painting. Enough metaphors and fine words could have been found, but that position itself was so weak and inconvenient that Voltaire subsequently abandoned it and, even in a rather brutal way, ridiculed the pitiful and vile sophisms of those mealy-mouthed optimists who had not managed to reform and become reasonable with him.
It is naturally a great credit to Voltaire's straightforwardness that he honestly and resolutely renounced the erroneous opinions which he himself had long and obstinately defended. But it is not the slightest credit to his philosophical penetration that in order to overcome an obvious illusion he needed a wrong impulse from the outer world. Voltaire was shattered by the terrible earthquake which destroyed Lisbon in 1755. Reflecting on this terrible event, he finally understood that the evil which exists in nature cannot be disguised or glossed over by any mealy metaphors. But in order to reach these conclusions by reflexion there was no need to experience the ruin of the Portuguese capital. The destruction of Lisbon added absolutely nothing substantial to the stock of experience which Voltaire's contemporaries, from academicians to old women in the villages, had long had at their command. Indeed, for whom was there any novelty in the truth that the forces of nature often destroy human welfare and set human life in peril? Hail, drought, locusts, floods, conflagrations caused by thunderstorms, epizootic and the plague were all sufficiently well known to the whole world thousands of years before the Lisbon earthquake. Every acre that was struck by hail, every hut burnt by lightning, every heifer killed by infection could have told Voltaire exactly the same thing as the destruction of Lisbon shouted to him. On this occasion he behaved as the crowd usually does: he passed thousands of tiny things without noticing them and then stopped in naive amazement before one big fact which contained nothing new or surprising but its magnitude. In order to find some conciliation between the indubitable existence of evil and his main doctrine, Voltaire clings with both hands to a future life. At last reasoning exhausts him and he submits to the spirit. "The question of the origin of evil," he says, "remains an unsolved puzzle from which there is no salvation but trust in Providence." And in another place: "The Supreme Being is strong, we are weak; we are as necessarily limited as the Supreme Being is infinite; knowing that single ray is insignificant compared with the sun, I humbly submit to the higher world which must enlighten me in the darkness of the universe." He should have come to that decision long before. There was no reason to start by spoiling the pure honey of submission in faith with the vile pitch of philosophical haughtiness.
In his old age Voltaire fought vigorously against the young French writers who went to the extreme of skepticism. In spite of all these virtuous exertions, the clericals and pietists throughout Europe still consider Voltaire as the patriarch and leader of the French sceptics and materialists. And it must be said In truth that the clericals and pietists are not in the least mistaken. All the young people who were capable and desirous of solving higher questions of world philosophy by the powers of their own reason were educated on Voltaire. Thanks to Voltaire's literary activity, anti-clerical ideas, which had up to then circulated surreptitiously from one thinker to another, were given unprecedented propagation and became the common possession of all reading Europe. Thanks to Voltaire doubt penetrated into thousands of fresh and ardent brains. Voltaire wanted to lead all his readers to universal tolerance and keep them within the standpoint of deism. The former aim was achieved, the latter was unachievable: every movement generally goes much farther than the first leader wishes: every movement generally slips out of the control of its first champion, who often becomes a brake and at the same time hardly ever attains his goal, provided that from the out set the movement is serious and corresponds to the real requirements of the time and the given society. Amongst the thousands who were delighted at the wit of Voltaire's pamphlets against Catholicism, there were bound to be a few dozen serious, vigorous and consistent minds. For them the inner contradictions on which it pleased Voltaire to rest as on laurels soon became intolerable. These minds could not digest the unnatural mixture of submission to authority and of knowledge on which Voltaire feasted. They had to have some oneness, either credo quia absurdum or the negation of everything that could not by positively proved. They had either to return to positive beliefs or to avoid all Pillars of Hercules and sail out into the open sea of utterly free and strictly concrete research. Responsibility for the damnation of these people's souls lay with Voltaire, for he had been the first to rouse them to revolt against the clericals, who at that time — also on Voltaire's instigation — were deprived of the possibility of restraining and suppressing human thought by reliable measures of salutary rigour. Voltaire's guilt is by no means diminished because he did not approve of the extreme conclusions drawn by his pupils. Having placed those pupils in a position in which vigorous and logic minds could not remain, Voltaire was obliged to answer all the further speculations of French thinkers. Voltaire's deism is only a stage an the road to the further conclusions of Diderot, Holbach9 and Helvetius.
If we are to form an idea of Voltaire's enormous services we must judge him not as a thinker but as a practical worker, as the most skillful publicist and agitator who ever existed. Voltaire's especial greatness was not in the ideas which he developed in his hooks and pamphlets but in the impression that he made on his contemporaries by those books and pamphlets. By the force of that impression Voltaire made Europe a present the value of which is still increasing and will increase continually with every century. Voltaire made Europe the gift of its public opinion. He proved to European societies by a whole series of most tangible examples that their fate was in their own hands and that they only had to reflect, desire and insist in order to direct at their own discretion the whole course of historic events, big and small, internal and external. Voltaire revealed to European societies the secret of their own might. He proved to Europe that it had to be a living, active and self-conscious personality, not dead, passive matter upon which different officials, diplomats and generals could display their talent and carry out their experiments. What then did Voltaire do in order to solve that enormous problem, on the solution of which the further setting of all further social problems depends? He wrote. But he wrote in a way in which nobody before him had had the ability or the daring to write; he touched on questions which none of his contemporaries could be indifferent to, he developed those questions in such an irresistibly attractive way that he was read by tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands. Voltaire's renown grew and in the end attained a height which the renown of no writer either before or after him ever reached. "...The Empress of Russia, the kings of Prussia, Denmark and Sweden," says Condorcet10 in his biography of Voltaire, "sought to deserve praise from him, and sometimes gave him assistance in his noble work. In all countries grandees and ministers who sought glory and wanted to make their name famous throughout Europe craved for the support of the philosopher of Jersey, confided in him their hopes or their fears for the progress of reason, their plans for the growth of enlightenment and the destruction of fanaticism. He had set up in the whole of Europe a league of which he was the soul and whose battle cry was: 'Reason and tolerance!' if some great injustice was practised in a nation, if some act of Fanaticism was heard of or some insult offered to humanity, Voltaire wrote denouncing the culprits to Europe. And who knows how often the fear of this sure and terrible vengeance must have held back the arm of the oppressors?"
Quoting these words of Condorcet, Hettner says that they were absolutely just. So Voltaire's power was very great. But that power was founded exclusively on the confidence and sympathy of reading society. So the higher Voltaire rose the more weight the opinions and desires of society acquired. Apparently it was not Voltaire that held back the arm of the oppressors. Voltaire was only the arraigner, the readers of Europe were the judges. But for the judgement to be really terrible for the oppressors the voice of the arraigner had at every given moment to find tens of thousands of attentive listeners. In order to make public opinion a reality and constantly to support its activity where it was not yet accustomed habitually to intervene in affairs of society and where the whole structure of existing institutions was hostile to such intervention, an extraordinary force of talent and unbending firmness of conviction were necessary in the man who dared to take upon himself the great obligations of a publicist under such unfavourable conditions. Concentrating upon himself the attention of the whole of Europe, Voltaire gave public opinion the possibility of existing; then made himself the leader of that newly created public opinion showed that society had the power and duty to control and judge its guardians. But what is society? You, me, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, fathers and mothers, the relatives of our relatives and the acquaintances of acquaintances and so on — that is what society is. Each of us taken separately is weaker than any single policeman. But all of us together are invincible and irresistible. Judge now what profound gratitude we should have for the great people who unite us by the fascinating strength of the warm, living word and who, uniting us in one enormous irresistible avalanche, lead and direct us where we can save brothers, increase and consolidate by our sentences our own material and intellectual welfare. Voltaire must be acknowledged one of the greatest of these great people, because he was the first to unite reading Europe behind him on the way to a bright future, and further because for eighty-eight years after his death not a single man appeared who was his equal in the depth and extent of his influence.
When during the revolution Voltaire's remains were transferred to the Pantheon the following inscription was engraved on the pedestal of the monument erected to him: "To the shadow of Voltaire. Poet, historian and philosopher, he widened the bounds of human reason and taught it to be free. He defended Calas, Sirven, De la Barre and Montbailly; he fought atheists and fanatics, he taught tolerance, he defended rights of man against feudal slavery." The defence of Calas and other accused is placed on the same footing as Voltaire's most famous feats. So it should be.Voltaire's role those four criminal cases was of immense social significance, not to mention the great credit it is to Voltaire's love for humanity and his magnanimity. Voltaire's intervention showed Europe for the first time that above the highest courts there is still another instance which can reconsider and quash sentences, judge and condemn dishonest or blunt-minded judges, acquit and rehabilitate the innocent who have suffered ~ the negligence or ill Intent of the judges.
Jean Calas's son Marc-Anton hanged himself in his father's house in Toulouse. Jean Calas was a Protestant and the inhabitants of Toulouse were most zealous Catholics. Contrary to all common sense and likelihood some rascal spread in the town the rumour that Marc-Anton had been hanged by his parents because he intended to be converted to Catholicism. The suicide was made a martyr. His corpse was exhibited in church and began to work miracles. The Calas family were imprisoned, fettered and brought before a tribunal. Without any evidence except popular rumour and the miracles of the holy suicide, the Parliament of Toulouse condemned the seventy-two-year-old Jean Calas to the wheel. The sentence was carried out. His children were sent to different monasteries and forcibly converted to Catholicism. The executed man's property was confiscated and his widow was left alone with out land or means of subsistence. Thus justice was satisfied and the case was ended. There was nobody to take it up and no prospects of its being carried further. The Parliament of Toulouse was the supreme judicial instance and its sentences needed no confirmation and could not be disputed by regular appeal procedure. But Voltaire intervened in that satisfactorily ended case — Voltaire who had no interest in judicial correctness or office procedure. Voltaire dug up the whole story from the very beginning, printed his famous work on tolerance, in which he expounded the case against Calas as an outrageous example of Catholic fanaticism carried to the extent of cannibalism, wrote letters to famous lawyers, to ministers, to monarchs — in a word, worked tirelessly and selflessly for Calas for three whole years — he the idol of thinking Europe, a feeble old man of seventy.
What had it all to do with him? Was he some supreme procurator? What right had he to prevent the Parliament of Toulouse from condemning to the wheel with all the formalities of law those Frenchmen who, living in Toulouse, were reckless enough to displease it, the almighty Parliament of Toulouse? Such questions were naturally posed by many unrelenting devotees of salutary judicial correctness, and the Ferney philosopher's ardent admirers probably answered such questions to the effect that Voltaire, in his rights as a thinking man and an honest citizen, was appealing to the supreme court of public opinion and demanding that the French nation defend its children against the arbitrariness of parliamentary councillors who were blinded by religious hate or intimidated by the shouts of the fanatic mob. There was talk everywhere where people could read and understand books in French, but in Paris it was so loud that the State Council ordered the Toulouse Parliament to send the documents of the Calas case to it. Here the case was reviewed and the sentence of the Toulouse Parliament declared unjust.
Almost at the same time as Calas the Protestant Sirven was so put on trial. He was suspected without the least justification of drowning his daughter in a well after she had been forcibly converted to Catholicism by the diocesan authorities. Sirven had a fairly correct idea of French justice and he attempted to flee. He was condemned to death by default and his property was confiscated. "Voltaire," Hettner says, "was here, too, the defender and the avenger. The Berne and Geneva Governments, the Empress of Russia, the kings of Poland, Prussia and Denmark, the Landgraf of Hess and the Duke of Saxony, appealed to by Voltaire, sent the unfortunate family great material assistance. Voltaire appealed direct to the Toulouse Parliament, which here again, in the Sirven case, was legally the highest judicial instance; the outcome of the case against Calas gave the free-thinking party the upper hand and Sirven was acquitted."
The seventeen-year-old De la Barre was accused of having broken and knocked down, with the help of his comrade d'Etallonde, a wooden cross that stood on a bridge in Abbeville. There was no direct evidence, but, on the other hand, good and pious people were found who remembered with despair in their hearts that one day De la Barre and d'Etallonde, on meeting a procession, had not raised their hats and, besides, that De la Barre had once at home sung flippant verses impugning the purity of Saint Mary Magdalene. The evidence of these good and pious people decided the fate of the two reckless youngsters. Considering their crime proven, the court condemned De la Barre to the wheel, and the sentence was carried out in 1765. D'Etallonde was shown a certain leniency, the court condemning him to have his tongue cut out and his hands chopped off. D'Etallonde did not wish to be the object of such mercy and he contrived to escape. He fled straight to Voltaire, the generally acknowledged and beloved patriarch of all European free-thinkers. He told him every detail of the case with the frankness of a child. Voltaire escorted him to Prussia and recommended him to Frederick II, who admitted him to his service and gave him an officer's commission. Voltaire, on his side, wrote an excellent memorandum in which he revealed to the readers of Europe all the back-screen springs of the filthy intrigue which had ruined De la Barre. These springs consisted in one influential gentleman named Belleval paying his court to De la Barre's aunt, the abbess of a nunnery. Scorned in his advances, he decided to avenge himself and directed against the flippant young Dc la Barre all the clericals and Tartuffes of Abbeville and its surroundings. The result was the wheel.
The aged Madame Montbailly drank to excess and died of a stroke of apoplexy. Idlers and gossips in the town of Saint-Omer saw in this sudden death the results of violence and cast suspicions on the old lady's son and his wife. The suspects were arrested and brought to trial. No proofs were supplied, but the judges, in their zeal for the reform of social morality, did not deign to dwell on various trifling considerations and boldly condemned both the accused to a torturous death. Montbailly was broken on the wheel and burnt at the stake, but his wife's execution was postponed because of her pregnancy. Meanwhile Voltaire sent a memorandum on the case to the ministry. The case was reviewed, the executed Montbailly was declared innocent, and his wife, who had been condemned to death, was set free.
These four trials followed one another at very short intervals. The first of them, that of Calas, was concluded in 1762 and reviewed in 1765. The last, the Montbailly one, took place in 1770. Hardly had the agitation caused in society by one crying violence been calmed than there were gradual rumours of another injustice, just as cruel and outrageous. In eight years four judicial murders were revealed and the supreme state organs, at one with public opinion, officially recognized them as such. Two of these murders were perpetrated in the south of France, the other two in the north. So that courts were equally zealous, keen and just over the whole territory of France. Four acts of villainy were exposed on the initiative of a private individual, an infirm and decrepit old man. But how many abominations did not come to light'? How many have been committed in the last ten years? How many will be committed in the next twenty or thirty years? And who can say for sure that these future abominations will not befall him or his nearest relatives or friends? Indeed, not all the settled cases can be taken to Voltaire, and Voltaire himself is not able to bring back to life by his memoranda all those who have been broken on the wheel and burnt at the stake. Feeding his spirit on such sombre and agitating reflexions, every Frenchman who could note the various events in social life and draw conclusions from them was bound to arrive at the same result: that the courts of his country had a remarkable resemblance to the mountain villages which spread terror and devastation amidst all the surroundings without the slightest risk to themselves. After that it was not difficult to come to the practical conclusion that society, which had already reached the level of self-consciousness, was obliged by its feeling of self-preservation to concentrate all its efforts against those warlike villages and all that maintain and consolidate their existence.
In taking up the cause of the martyrs of French justice, Voltaire did not develop any broad abstract theories. He simply and quietly put the broadest theories into practice. He did not discourse on the souverainete du people. He directly and decisively applied it to the matter in hand. He did not preach against the old evil, he did away with it in actual fact. The trial of Calas and all Voltaire's other protégés dealt a more crushing blow to the old regime than tens of volumes of the most subtle, penetrating and devastating theoretical criticisms. For Voltaire's defensive memoranda were acts, not words. They were not the preparation for a revolution, but the beginning of it. Here the living force of public opinion, the living will of a people of thought and energy, became in actual fact higher than all existing laws. From that instant the old medieval laws could be considered as abrogated. But, on the other hand, it still remained to give the accomplished fact its legal expression. That was seen to by the members of the Constituent Assembly which met eleven years after Voltaire's death.
The brilliant campaign that Voltaire began against the old French courts, which were tightly bound up with all the complex of old social institutions, was ended in worthy fashion by Beaumarchais, the famous author of the Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. Beaumarchais was in a far less favourable position than Voltaire. First, Voltaire was the most renowned man in the whole of Europe, whereas Beaumarchais was completely unknown when he entered the lists against the Paris Parliament. Second, Voltaire took up the cause of others, Beaumarchais, his own. Third, the Voltaire lawsuits were criminal ones, they were a matter of human life and the honour of whole families; there the scenery and regalia were provided by chains, dungeons, instruments of torture, fires and gallows; there was something to arouse curiosity, sympathy and indignation in the readers. Beaumarchais' suit, on the other hand, was a common litigation which arose over an insignificant sum of money and was confused by the schemes and intrigues of both litigating parties. In ordinary circumstances Beaumarchais could not really have even counted on sympathy from the public because he was far from being in the right, although, of course, his opponents were far more guilty than he. But society had such boundless hatred for all domains of the old regime that it forgave the bold Beaumarchais everything and made him a hero and a great figure as soon as it saw that he was capable of dealing heavy and well-aimed blows at the system then in power.
Here is how it happened. The financier Du Verney, who had continual business relations with the skilful and enterprising Beaumarchais, acknowledged in writing at his death that he owed Beaumarchais fifteen thousand French pounds. Du Verney's heir, Comte La Blanche, took it into his head to dispute the debt. Beaumarchais, who was never noted for his spirit of concession, took the matter to court at the end of 1771. In 1772 the case, decided in the first instance in favour of Beaumarchais, went to the parliament known in history as the Maupeou Parliament. This was an assembly arbitrarily constituted by Louis XV and his minister Maupeou and which replaced the Paris Parliament11, dissolved and exiled for its lack of submission to the king. Beaumarchais went to Goezman, the speaker of this parliament, but could not obtain an interview with him By round-about ways he received the well-intended advice that he would secure the minister's favour by making a present so his wife. Beaumarchais accepted the advice with gratitude and presented Madame Goezman with a hundred louis d'or, gold and diamond watch and a further fifteen louis d'or to pass on to some secretary. Beaumarchais, with his indomitable fire and firmness, conducted the whole matter with such cynic frankness that he made Madame Goezman undertake to give back the whole treasure if the suit was lost. Madame Goezman, who had no use for haggling and bargaining, fully agreed to these conditions. Beaumarchais lost his suit because La Blanche, on his side, disposed the speaker towards himself by greater bounties. Beaumarchais demanded the restitution of his presents. Madame Goezman gave him back the watch and the hundred louis d'or, but she would not part with the fifteen louis d'or her all the arguments in the world. Beaumarchais, enraged beyond words at the loss of the suit, at once gave such publicity to the scandalous story of the louis d'or that Goezman found himself in a very uncomfortable and dangerous position. He decided on a desperate manoeuvre. Resolutely denying all about the watch and money, he lodged in parliament a formal complaint for calumny against Beaumarchais. The latter was now caught in a vice: if there was no calumny on his side it meant that he had attempted to bribe members of a court. It was a sad alternative. The matter, as you see, was abominable in all respects. Beaumarchais emerged from the suit the victor, a hero, a martyr, the favourite of the whole of Europe, a Cicero of virtue and almost a father of the nation.
"Beaumarchais," Hettner says, "addressed four memoranda to the public. Inexorably and with unbending courage, wrath and inspiration, he pursued his enemy into every retreat and fortress and with a wit amounting to insolence and buffoonery and at the same time attaining a moral exasperation of truly amazing loftiness, he stirred the whole of public opinion to the utmost vivacity, made his interests the interests of all, became the avenger of violated justice and exposed with penetrating malice all the horrifying intrigues and crimes which French justice was then suffering from. The impression made by these memoranda penetrated to all sections of the population, even throughout Europe. Ten thousand copies of the first memorandum were sold in the very first days; with the second, his suit, to use an expression of the times, became cause de la nation, we can even say the suit of all the educated world." In his fourth memorandum Beaumarchais categorically expressed the idea of the supreme mastery of the nation as generally recognized truth. "La nation," he said, "n'est pas assise sur les bancs de ceux qui prononcent, mais son oeil majestueux plane sur l'assemblee. Si elle n'est jamais le judge de particuliers, elle est en tout temps le juge des juges." (The nation does not sit on the benches of those who pronounce sentence, but its majestic eye surveys the assembly. If it is never the judge of individuals, it is at all times the judge of to judges.) Clear and expressive, it seems. One can even detect traces of flattery of the people which makes the lower of the state, flattery which has been heard in every single revolutionary orator's speech since. And yet, when Beaumarchais wrote his fourth memorandum there were still men old enough to member the century of the king who considered himself the state. Voltaire was one of them. All the distance from purely Turkish despotism to sovereignty of the people was traversed in two generations. Great people they were! They knew how make merry and how to work. At the beginning of 1774 the Maupeou Parliament passed a vote of censure (blame) ion Madame Goezman as well as on her opponent Beaumarchais. This censure involved the loss of all civic rights and consisted in the culprit being made to kneel while the president pronounced in face of the whole world the established formula: "La cour te blame et te declare infame." Properly speaking, the sentence of parliament was perfectly just: it censured one side for taking bribes and the other for offering them. Solomon himself could not have thought of anything wiser. But the French nation at that time was not interested in the wisdom of parliamentary councillors or the justice of individual sentences. At that time the nation aspired with all the force of its thoughts and desires for the full renovation of all its institutions and unlimited mastery over all the functions of its life. When, so tense in the expectation of such impending events, the nation heard vigorous and true music, the whole nation called the musician a hero and a great personality, not inquiring at all whether that precious musician led a sober and chaste life. The nation was right in its instinct. When a whole society experiences a violent and torturing crisis, the quiet virtuous people of private life recede to the background, leaving the field of action perfectly free for the mighty and brilliant talents on which the solution of the great social problem placed on the agenda by the slow and formidable course of historic events depends. It is therefore not surprising that the nation completely forgot Beaumarchais' conduct and remembered only his magnificent memoranda.
"Beaumarchais," Hettner says, "appeared before the court; but the public turned the condemnation of Beaumarchais into condemnation of parliament. Beaumarchais received countless visits. The day but one after the sentence Prince Conti12 invited the branded victim to a splentlid banquet. 'Nous sommes,' the prince said in his letter, 'd'assez bonne maison pour donner l'exemple a la France de la maniere dont on doit traiter grand citoyen tel que vous.'" (Our house is distinguished. enough to give France the example of how a great citizen like you should be treated.) Wherever Beaumarchais appeared he was received with shouts of enthusiasm. The Maupeou Parliament could not stand this blow. Attacks in verse and in prose came more and more numerous and violent. The parliament continued to vegetate for a few months, despised and persecuted by everybody.
Conti, a prince of the royal blood, was not able to form even an approximate idea of the result to which the splendid activity of great citizens like Beaumarchais was leading. In the simplicity of his kind heart Prince Conti saw nothing in it all but a sensible defeat for the Maupeou Parliament. The prince could not understand that society, which knew its own strength and had shattered with that strength one of the most important state institutions, would come to enjoy it and in its might would suppress all that did not further its needs. The paradisial simplicity of the higher French nobility — a simplicity to which our spoilt century can no longer rise - was expressed in greater relief as far as the same great citizen was concerned on the occasion of his famous comedy The Marriage of Figaro.
The comedy was completed in 1781. Rumours and reports of it circulated all over Paris. Beaumarchais read it in many aristocratic mansions. His listeners were enthusiastic. But Louis XVI resolutely refused to allow the comedy to be staged. For three years Beaumarchais intrigued against the ban and finally he overcame the king's resistance; of course, the only reason for his victory was that the king was besieged with requests and cries from the queen, the princes and princes who were all extremely anxious to see how Figaro would scourge the privileges of the aristocracy and all the rooted incongruities of the old feudal order with his murderous sarcasm in front of the whole of Paris society, high and low. Hettner remarks with good reason that "no theatre censor would now tolerate such a play." The comedy was staged for the first time on April 27, 1784. Then, for ten weeks, the management of the theatre enlightened the good Parisians every day with The Marriage of Figaro. All theatres in provincial towns, large and small, followed the example of Paris. In a word, by the kindness of the princes and princesses criticism of the institutions was made accessible to all French people who could afford a a few sous for a seat in the gallery of the theatre. All these French people saw clearly how unanimous they were in their hatred of the old evil. They all felt and understood that institutions which were censured and ridiculed by a whole nation could not go on existing. Meanwhile the princes and princesses continued in their simplicity. On August 19, 1785, t themselves played The Marriage of Figaro in the Petit Trianon. Marie-Antoinette played the part of Rosina; the Count of Artois the future King Charles X,13 played Figaro and very nicely ridiculed all the foundations of his own majesty and prosperity. These people diverted themselves with such amusement four years before the revolution which was to take some of them to the scaffold and to bring ruin and twenty years' exile to others.
Throughout the latter half of the 18th century the attention of French society was concentrated almost exclusively on literature and mainly on its more serious branches. Writers were the heroes of the day and the masters of thoughts. During that period the French had neither great generals, bold transformers nor even wise rulers. The France of Louis XV had only its books to be proud of. Indeed, it had many many books: they appeared quickly and uninterruptedly one after another; they were snatched up and devoured; they discussed the most important and interesting questions from the most varying aspects; they spoke of religion and morality, of nature and of man, of state and society, of rights and obligations, of the soul and intellectual abilities, of the English constitution and of republican benefactors, of agriculture and industry, of property and the distribution of wealth. In all these questions those books amazed their readers with the boldness and unprecedentedness of their judgements, which, in spite of their diversity, seemed without exception to be irreconcilable with the generally obligatory code of traditional doctrines and the established forms of state and social life. Blow followed blow, shattering one after another the rooted illusions in the most diversified fields of knowledge on which cherished habits, conventional ideals, trifling joys and cheap disappointments of the reading public had been bred and fostered. Each blow provoked a storm of various passions, some in society, some in the ruling spheres; and there was hardly a year which did not witness some blow, so that the minds of the readers were in constant tension and breathless alarm.
In order to form some idea of the abundance of vigorous intellectual impressions experienced by the public of the time, and of the rapidity with which the most varied impressions succeeded and superseded one another, one must examine the chronological order in which the most famous works of negative philosophy appeared. I will name only those works which have gone down in the history of literature, and that not so ouch by virtue of their absolute worth as by reason of their historical significance. Here we will therefore deal only with books which at the time made a strong and profound impression on their readers.
In 1718, Montesquieu published his L'esprit des lois (The Spirit of Laws), in which he extols the English constitution which was absolutely unlike the institutions of the old French monarchy and represented for France the most inaccessible of all possible utopias, In a year and a half the book had twenty two editions.
In the same year Diderot published his Pensees philosophiques (Philosophical Thoughts). Parliament had the book burnt. It was immediately republished and spread in secret.
Inspired by Diderot's Pensees, La Mettrie published two books at about the same time in Holland; they were permeated with such violent materialism that even Dutch society could not bear them and expelled La Mettrie. Those inadmissible books of his were called Histoire naturelle de l'ame (Natural History of the Soul), and L'homme machine (Man-Machine).
In 1749, Diderot put out his Lettres sur les aveugles (Letter on the Blind), for which he spent three months in the fort of Vincennes.
In 1749, Rousseau published his Discours sur les sciences et les arts in which he showed that civilization has spoilt man. He was awarded a prize by the Academy of Dijon and at once became renowned throughout Europe.
1751 saw the publication of the first volume of the Encyclopedie.
In 1752, the second volume of the Encyclopedie appeared and a fierce storm arose. The book was censured by Sorbonne, and the Archbishop of Paris published a pastoral letter against it. Both volumes were prohibited. The result, as Barbier, a contemporary and eye-witness tells us, was that the book was bought and read by every Paris shopkeeper and ragman,
In 1753, Diderot published his Interpretation de la nature and Rousseau his Discours sur l'origine et les fondements de - I'inegalite parmi les hommes (Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men).
The third volume of the Encyclopedie came out in the same Year. The government, having fallen out with the clergy, showed a more favourable attitude to this publication.
In 1754, Condillac published his Traite des sensations. All functions of psychic activity are derived from sensuous perceptions. Psychology is reduced to the physiology of the nervous system.
In 1755, Morelli published his Code de la nature, a project for a new system of society. All people have equal rights. Children are given social education. Land and instruments of labour are common property. There is not and must not be any money. Labour is compulsory for all. Labour is proportional to ability and rewarded by its products proportionally to the needs of each one according to the formula: chacun selon ses forces, a chacun selon ses besoins (each according to his ability, to each according to his needs). it is curious to note that, after reading Code de la nature, the minister Voyer d'Argenson,14 who was over sixty years old in 1755, called it "the book of books" and rated its author much higher than Montesquieu. This d'Argenson was the one who brought into the king's council some peasant bread made of chaff and bark and said to Louis XV: "See, Sire, what kind of bread your subjects eat!" "Were I in their place I would revolt," the king answered with ready wit. If Morelli's book had such an effect on a sixty-year old minister it is not difficult to imagine how it dumbfounded younger and more impressionable readers.
In 1757, Voltaire published his Essais sur les moeurs et l'esprit des nations (Essays on the Morals and the Spirit of Nations) which does not justify Buckle for calling him the greatest of European historians. In any case, there is no doubt that this book was the first attempt at the history of ordinary life and provided the foundation for all modern historiography. In it, of course, Voltaire does not lose sight of his favourite aim, for the whole book can be called a huge, shattering pamphlet of murderous wit against superstition, fanaticism, clericalism and misty abstractions.
From 1754 to 1756, the fourth, filth and sixth volumes of the Encyclopedie came out. Without betraying the main idea, its chief editors Diderot and d'Alembert endeavoured to show more caution in the matter.
The seventh volume appeared in 1757. In it, the authors, encouraged by The lull, showed more boldness. D'Alembert wrote to Voltaire that the seventh volume would be more vigorous than all its predecessors. Voltaire bowed and thanked but the clericals raised the alarm in all their publication the government took their side.
In 1758, Helvetius published his book De l'esprit (On the Reason). Sensations of physical pain and physical pleasure the sources of all human passions, sentiments and acts. Egoism is acknowledged as the only motive power in all activity, the most criminal as well as that of the loftiest honour and heroism. The name good is given to what conforms to the general interest, evil to what is contrary to that interest and undermines the existence of society. Man performs good or evil as a result of similar stimuli, i.e., as a result of the satisfaction provided or promised by a given act. A furious storm was raised against this book; the Jesuits and Jansenists15 joined forces to persecute it; the Archbishop of Paris saw with good reason the negation of free will and moral law. The Sorbonne repeated and intensified that accusation; the state procurator saw in Helvetius's book a collection of the dangerous teachings set in circulation by the Encyclopedie. Even philosophers were dissatisfied with the book; Voltaire, Diderot, Buffon and Grimm condemned it as a collection of paradoxes or ridiculed it.
In 1759, Helvetius's book w as publicly burnt by order of parliament; the censor Tercier, who allowed it to be printed was dismissed from the service. Meanwhile the book was bought up and had fifty editions in a very short time; it translated into practically every living language of Europe. Helvetius won European renown.
In the same year, a month after the burning of Helvetius's book, an investigation committee, working strenuously on the Encyclopedie, successfully terminated its work. The privileges granted by the government in 1746 for the publishing Encyclopedie were withdrawn; the sale of previous and current numbers was prohibited "in view of the fact that the derived by art and science was in no way proportions the harm done to religion and morality "
In 1759, too, Quesnay published his Essai sur l'administration des terres (essay on the Administration of Lands) with Tableau economique, published in 1758, formed the basis the theory of the physiocrats, the economists who endeavoured to direct the attention of the government to agriculture , the only source of national wealth. These economists may called the successors of Vauban and Boisguillebert. Like these two writers, they in no way rose against despotism, demanded no constitutional guarantees and only wished that the Government should become a good administrator, understanding its own interests. The tendency of the whole school was characterized by the following words which are the epigraph Quesnay's main work, Tableau economique: "Pauvres paysans, pauvre royaume; pauvre royaume, pauvre roi." (Poor peasants, poor kingdom; poor kingdom, poor king.) The means suggested by the physiocrats to eliminate poverty are now acknowledged as one-sided and unsatisfactory, the importance these writers is determined not by their positive projects, it by the negative aspect of their activity; they all constantly assured society that France was poor and was rushing to ultimate ruin. These words, supported by a number of carefully collected facts, had their effect on society, an effect which was so strong that as early as 1759, Voltaire complained in his letters that society was growing cool towards the elegance literature. "Grace and taste," he wrote, "seem to have been banished from France and superseded by entangled metaphysics and politics of dreamers, a heap of considerations on finance, trade and population, which do not give the state a single ecu or a single man more." We must assume that grace and taste bring the statehood the one and the other!
In 1761, Rousseau published his La nouvelle Heloise. Grace and taste triumphed, in spite of the success of the economists. The novel was bought up with unexampled and unbelievable rapidity. The main motives of La nouvelle Heloise were love, virtue and pastoral nature. Ladies of distinction spent whole nights in succession over the novel, forgetting the ball and their coaches which were standing ready by the entrance. So many readers appeared in the reading libraries asking for La nouvelle Heloise that a fee of twelve sous was fixed for the book, and not per day, but per hour.
In 1762, Rousseau's Emile ou de l'education
was published. This book contains the famous "profession de foi du vicaire savoyard"
(profession of faith of the Savoy vicar) in which Rousseau rejects the clericals on the one hand, and the materialists on the other. Brilliant success and at the same time a violent storm in clerical and governmental spheres ensued. It began to be said in parliament that the authors as well as their books should be burnt. The book was burnt, orders were given for the arrest of the author, but he fled abroad. Geneva, where he sought a haven, expelled him So did Berne. Rousseau found refuge in the duchy of Neufchatel, which then belonged to Prussia. Meanwhile, as a result of all these persecutions, the price of Emile
quickly rose. The book, which cost eighteen French pounds at the beginning, came to cost two Louis d'or
. A reprint was made in Holland and spread in countless copies. An officer, infatuated with the ideas of Emile
wished to give up the service and take up the craft of joiner. Rousseau himself dissuaded him. Ladies of the world who had read Emile
began to feed their babies themselves. This became a fashion and was done in drawing-rooms—really so that men could see. first, the treasure of motherly love, and second, the beauty of the bare breast.
In the same year, 1762, Rousseau published his book, Du contrat social ou principes du droit politique
(On the Social Contract or Principles of Political Law.) In it Rousseau laid the foundations of the republican school, just as Montesquieu had laid the foundations of the constitutional school with his The Spirit of the Laws
. The Contrat social
later became Robespierre's vade mecum
and the constitution drawn up by the Convention in 1793 was based on it. Emile
and The Social Contract
brought their author immense popularity. "It is difficult to express," Hume wrote from Paris in 1765, "or even to imagine the people's enthusiasm for it. Nobody ever attracted the people's attention so much. Voltaire and all the others are completely eclipsed by it." In the same year Voltaire wrote his work on tolerance
in defence of Calas, who had been executed. We have already said what an impression this book made on the educated world.
In 1764, the government forbade the publication of any works whatsoever on questions concerning the management of the state.
The last ten volumes of the Encyclopedie
were published in 1766. The clericals wept and stormed. The government imprisoned booksellers for a week in the Bastille. But the sale of book went on. Choiseul, the minister, and Malherbe, the director of the book trade, gave the Encyclopaedists a helping hand and contrived by various court ruses to dispose the king to leniency. The government decided to close its eyes to the sale of the Encyclopedie
which was progressing wonderfully. By 1769, thirty thousand
copies had been sold and the net profits of booksellers amounted to 2,660,393 French pounds, though the printing cost 1,158,958 pounds.
In the same year, 1766, Gournav published his Essai sur l'esprit de legislation favorable a l'agriculture
(Essay on the Spirit of Legislation Favourable to Agriculture). Gournay belonged to the same camp as Quesnay. Once more, considerations on finances, poverty and national economy, considerations absolutely hostile to grace and taste
. The book contained protests against profits, excessive taxation, persecution of the guilds, interior custom duties and petty and arbitrary government regulations.
In 1767, the government threatened with execution any writer whose works tended to excite minds. At the same time writers were. forbidden under penalty of death to discuss finance.
In 1767 again, Mercier de la Riviere published his L'ordre naturel et essentiel de sciences politiques
(The Natural and Essential Order Of Political Science). The author discussed, from the point of view of the physiocrats, all sorts of questions of state management and national economy. The prohibitions and threats of the government remained a dead letter.
In 1768, Qucsnav published his Physiocratie ou constitution naturclle du government le plus avantageux au genre humain
(Physiocracy or the Natural Constitution Of the government Most Favourable to Humanity). The task was conceived on broad lines, paying little attention to government prohibition.
In the same year 1768, Holbach published his book Lettres a Eugenie ou preservative contre les prejujuges
(Letters to Eagenie or Preservative against Prejudices). This, like all Holbach's works, was published without the name of the author, because all his works professed unbridled materialism which horrified even many philosophers of the Voltairian school.
In 1770, Galiani' published Dialogues sur le commerce des bles
(Dialogues on the Wheat Trade). This was the beginning of a polemic with the physiocrats, who concentrated all their attention on agriculture. Galiani brings forward the subject of industrial labour and of factory workers. According to Hettner this book also contains the rudiments of modern social science.
In 1770, Holbach put out his Systeme de la nature
. Buckle considers its appearance as an important epoch in the history of France. It is the custom to talk of this book only with virtuous horror and indignation. Even Goethe, who was never a clericalist or a deist, said that he could hardly bear the presence of that book arid shuddered before it as before a ghost.Voltaire, Frederick the Great and D'Alembert felt profound indignation at the System of Nature. Voltaire tried to shatter it by serious arguments and light sarcasm. But the hook held out and Voltaire himself was obliged to admit in print that it had spread among all classes of society and was read by scientists, ignoramuses and women. Of all the leading figures in French literature Diderot was the only one to approve of Holbach's book.
In 1773, Beaumarchais printed his apologetic memoirs. The were burnt by the executioner and, of course, were consequently bought up twice as quickly.
In 1774, Turgot, the most remarkable of the physiocrats published his References sur la nature et l'origines lies richesses
(Investigation into the Nature and Origins of Wealth).
In 1775, Beaumarchais staged his Barber of Seville
in which the plebeian Figaro ridicules and makes fools of his aristocratic masters.
In 1776, Mably published his De la legislation vu principes des lois
(On Legislation or the Principles of Laws), All human beings, according to him, have an equal right to develop their bilities and enjoy life. Whoever keeps for himself the superabundance necessary for the life of his neighbour, introduces into society, according to Mably, the concept of war, perverts the divine order of the world and is impious.
In 1778, the aged Voltaire arrived in Paris. He was given a reception never granted to persons of property. The demonstrations of the Parisians were so remarkable and so clearly characterized the trend of the minds at the time that I consider it necessary to quote here the words of Grimm, an eye-witness. They arc cited by Hettner in his History of the Literature of tile 18th Century
"The famous old man went for the first time to the Academy and to the theatre today, March 31. An enormous crowd followed his coach into the very courtyards of the Louvre. All doors and all accesses to the Academy were occupied and the crowd opened only to let him pass, then closed again quickly and greeted him with loud applause. The whole of the Academy went to the first hall to meet him, an honour which was never granted to any of the members or even to foreign monarchs. He was shown to the director's chair and unanimously appointed director.... His drive from the Louvre to the the theatre resembled a public triumph. People of both sexes, of all ages and all estates crowded everywhere on the way. As soon the coach could be seen in the distance a general shout of joy went up; the applause, the clapping and the jubilation of all kinds doubled in strength as he approached. At last, when the honourable old man, laden with so many years and such renown, was seen, and as he alighted from the coach supported by two men, the emotion and wonder reached their peak. All the streets, the steps and balconies of all the houses and all the windows were crowded with spectators and hardly had the coach stopped when they all tried to climb on to the top of the coach and the wheels to see the famous man close up. In theatre itself, where Voltaire was shown to the royal chamberlains' box, the joyful crowd seemed to be even denser. He sat between Madame Denis and Madame de Vilette. Brisard, the most famous of the actors, handed the ladies a laurel wreath with the request to crown the old man. But Voltaire immediately laid the wreath aside, although the public by clapping and loud acclamations from all parts of the hall pressed him to keep it on his head. All the women stood up. The hall was dark with dust from the surging of the human mass. Only with difficulty could the play begin.... When the curtain went down the tumult began again. The old man rose from hius seat to thank the public and at that moment a bust of the man appeared on a pedestal in the middle of the stage an the actors and actresses surrounded it with wreaths of flowers and garlands in their hands, while the soldiers who had ta part in the play stood in the background. Voltaire's name on all lips like a cry of joy, gratitude and wonder. Envy and hatred, fanaticism and intolerance were obliged to forget their malignance and perhaps for the first time one saw public opinion in France freely develop with great brilliancy. Brisard placed the first wreath on the bust, the other actors follow his example, and finally Madame Vestris read to the hero some verses by the Marquis Saint-Marc which said with solemnity that it was France that had awarded him the laurel wreath. The moment Voltaire left the theatre was almost more moving than his entrance. He seemed to be neighed down by the burden of years and of laurels. The coachman was asked to drive very slowly so that the coach could be followed. A large part of the crowd followed him, shouting without ceasing: 'Long live Voltaire!'"
Naturally, after this triumph, there was not a working man in the whole of Paris who did not know Voltaire's name and did not have at least a very general and vague idea of his services. Every working man knew at least that Voltaire was a writer and that a writer by his work can become the idol and pride of a whole people. It is in itself very important and remarkable when the same name is repeated and blessed by all sections of society. '
Two months after his triumphal procession Voltaire died. To avoid all sorts of expressive demonstrations the government forbade actors to play any of Voltaire's dramas for a certain time and did not allow the journalists to mention his death. Meanwhile, events were taking their course and the situation was getting tenser every year. I shall end my chronological enumeration with the following three facts.
In 1781, the minister Necker printed his Compte rendu
(Account) on the position of French finances. The account tended to break the resistance of the privileged classes and of the king himself under the pressure of public opinion. Therefore, it was purely a revealing document and it made a shattering impression on society. More than 6,000 copies were sold on the very first day and then the uninterrupted work of two printing shops could not satisfy all demands from the capital, the provinces and abroad. Necker's Account
was in every priest's pocket and every lady's boudoir. The sale of another work by ticker, Administration des finances
, amounted to 80,000 copies.
On April 27, 1784, Beaumarchais' comedy The Marriage of Figaro
was played for the first time. "From early in the morning," says Hettner, "the Theatre Francais was besieged by the masses. Distinguished ladles had their midday meal in the theatre boxes so as to be sure of good places; reliable reports say that three persons were crushed in the crowd. It was a thing unheard of in the history of the theatre. Sixty-eight performances followed without interruption."
Grimm defines the importance of Beaumarchais' comedies , follows: "Much that is true has been said of the great influence of Voltaire, Rousseau and the Encyclopaedists, but the people itself does not know these writers very well. The performances of The Marriage of Figaro
and the Barber
irrevocably delivered the government, the tribunals, the nobility and the financial world to the judgement of the whole population, of all towns large and small."
In 1787, Archbishop Lomenie de Brienne of Toulouse, who at the time was prime minister, presented to the Paris Parliament a royal edict granting the Protestants all the civil rights which had so far been enjoyed only by Catholics. The parliament, notwithstanding its oppositional tendencies at that time, unquestioningly recorded the edict in the proceedings and thus gave it force of law. In this way the king, the parliament and the church in the person of the Archbishop of Toulouse acknowledged the necessity of complete tolerance. France owed such an unprecedented miracle exclusively to her literature, which had quietly and unnoticeably transformed all conceptions not only in society, but even in higher governmental spheres. Louis XVI was also the son of his time and the role of Louis XIV was not only beyond his abilities, but also inconsistent with his convictions. The old system had be come loathesome even to the king himself.
The terse chronological summary in the preceding chapter was necessary so that the reader could embrace in a general view all the various intellectual impressions experienced by readers in France and after them by all thinkers in Europe in the second half of the last century. If the reader examines this summary attentively he will discern three different trends of ideas, three directions operating on minds with equal force and at the same time.
First, the work of the economists, Quesnay, Gournay, Marcier de la Riviera, and many others. These people patiently, attentively and conscientiously criticized the parts and branches of the feudal system which affected France's economy and her production forces. Often these writers had not sufficient broadness of view, but on the other hand, they always had an excellent knowledge of the facts they spoke of. They can be reproached with one-sidedness, but they can never be suspected of superficial dilettantism.
Second, the works of the Encyclopaedists, who continued Voltaire's work and shattered the last principles of clericalism and pietism.
Third, the work of writers who painted vivid pictures of the general prosperity which man had to strive for, but which could not be attained under the existing old institutions. The next forceful representative of the last trend was Jean Jacques Rousseau.
I will not dwell on the economists, firstly, because in order to do I would first have to go into very detailed investigations of the the economic absurdities of the old French monarchy and, secondly, because as early as 1776 the ideas of the French physiocrats were fully refuted by Adam Smith's remarkable hook on the national wealth. As Quesnay's principal work, Tableau economique
, was published in 1758, the influence of the physiocrats did not last more than eighteen years. Their principal mistake consisted in considering the land as the only source of national wealth and the work of the tiller of the land as the only productive labour, entitled to exclusive encouragement from the state. The word physiocracy means the rule of nature. French economists of the last century gave their doctrine that name because they were determined to attach decisive preponderance to interests based on the land, the soil, the production forces of nature itself.
The influence of the representatives of social theories and of the Encyclopaedists was much more extensive. Their ideas profoundly stirred the whole of Europe and were presented in ever new forms, they still operate and develop even in our times. That is why I consider it necessary to dwell here first on Rousseau's activity, and then on the outlook of the Encyclopaedists.
At present all or nearly all people who think are convinced that mankind is always going forward, perfecting and developing itself. Whoever recognizes the theory of progress also knows that progress is achieved not by the whim of individual personalities, but by the universal and immutable laws of nature. But in the understanding of both these great ideas— progress and laws of nature—we must be careful to avoid two absurd extremities which involve the most senseless optimism. Mankind is progressing, that is true; but we must in no way think that every step mankind makes must necessarily be a step forward, or that every movement is towards improvement. On the contrary: mankind does not move forward in a straight line, but by zigzags: every success is paid for by a number of erroneous attempts. It is true that mistakes are not completely useless, for they increase our stock of experience and safeguard us to a certain extent from mistakes in the future; but still. mistakes are mistakes and the moment a nation pursues a shadow or deviates front its substantial profit we can by no means affirm that it is acting very reasonably and that its cause is improving.
The same can be said of the laws of nature. It must not be affirmed that individual personalities, by their acts, their personal qualities, the constitution of their minds and the peculiarities of their character cannot influence the general course of events either for good or for bad. On the contrary, individual personalities are constantly acting, for good or for bad, but their influence is reciprocally balanced and becomes imperceptible if we consider a sufficiently large period of time, for example, thousands of years. If we could cast our eyes at Europe's position in the year 2866, for instance, we would, of course, be unable to determine in what direction Napoleon I's personal character and military talent affected European civilization. All the effects of his influence would be smoothed out and in thousands of years Europe would have traversed the very road which it hard to traverse according to the eternal immutable laws of nature. But if now, in 1866, you presume to affirm that Napoleon I's intelligence and character had no influence at all on the course of events, you will be told that if for example, Napoleon I had had less military talent and vanity and more wisdom, the whole of Europe would have enjoyed profound peace in 1807 and there would not have been the raging Catholic reaction which was able to develop in all its splendour only thanks to the protection of victorious legitimism. Napoleon had his historic task, which was not particularly enviable and brilliant but which could be carried ant either well or badly. After the revolution had been halted when in full swing, military dictatorship became at first possible and then inevitable: but reasonable use could hove been made of it just as it could have been used in an absurd way; this or that use of the doctrine depended in no way on great and general principles, but simply on the personal peculiarities of the dictator. Napoleon fulfilled his task in an abominably bad way and people who had to live during the following ten years felt by experience the bad effects of his mistakes. The same can be said of every other historic task which has fallen to the lot of an individual personality: each task can be carried out very well or very badly or very badly, or pretty badly. In the middle of the 18th century a great task was on the order of the day. It was a question of directing against the feudal state the negation which in the first half of the century had operated exclusively against the clerical party. It had to be proclaimed to the World that it was time to pass from bold words to bold acts. It was Rousseau who fulfilled that task. His words were loud and attractive enough. People roused themselves, and the prospects of a new life opened before them. And yet it cannot but be regretted that Rousseau was the man who was fated to carry out this capital task. One cannot deny that it would
been very profitable for Europe if Rousseau had died in the prime of life without having had a line printed. Rousseau resolved the task, but he left in his solution traces of his efferminate, whimpering, whimsical, nebulous petty and at times time false, ambiguous and pharisaical personality. Rousseau had the talent, the intelligence and the passions necessary to carry out the task. But besides that he had a multitude of infirmities, weaknesses, vulgar and vile features which it would have been very convenient for the founder of French social science and very profitable for his cause not have. For instance, there was no need at all for Rousseau to suffer from a disorder of the bladder and chronic sleeplessness. The cause of the general reorganization would probably have profited if its first master had been a man of perfect health, vigour, gaiety, activity and endurance.
My readers will be horrified or amused. Can one talk about the bladder in connection with the solution of a very important historic task? What has Rousseau's bladder to do with Emile
or The Social Contract
? Unfortunately, these things have more points of contact than you, Messrs. Idealists, can imagine. I shall prove it by Rousseau's own words. In 1752, there was a very successful performance of Rousseau's comic opera The Village Fortune-Teller
at the court theatre. The king, who liked the music very much, expressed the wish that Rousseau be introduced to him. Here Rousseau's bladder came into action. "My first thought," Rousseau says in his Confessions
, "after I heard of the introduction, was that of the frequent need to leave the room from which I had suffered very much that evening at the performance and which could torment me the next day when I was in the gallery or the king's apartment, surrounded by all the grandees, waiting for his Majesty's entrance. This infirmity was the main cause which kept me away from all society and which prevented my paying visits to ladies. The mere thought of the predicament in which that need could place me had such an effect on me that it made me feel sick lest I would create a scandal, to| which I would have preferred death. Only people who know this condition can judge of the fear of such a risk." Rousseau himself, you see, admits that this infirmity was the main cause which kept him away from people
. It must be noted that he had felt a continual uneasiness in society from in society from his very early childhood. This perfectly definite fear was in the end to produce in him a general constraint and shyness, which made him the object of the jokes and mockery of his comrades; as a result of this, his shyness increased and to it was added a malicious mistrust towards people and, as an undertone to this mistrust; a sentimental yearning for some better sort of people who would be kind, full of feeling, sensitive and tearful. All Rousseau's Confessions
are one long and boring complaint that people cannot understand him, cannot love him, try all means to hurt him, form conspiracies against him and cause his splendid soul suffering that they, common vulgar people, cannot even understand. And Rousseau bends all his effort to be indifferent to people and to retire to the desert, into the womb of Mother Nature who prevents nobody from leaving the room.. But Rousseau was so petty that he was completely unable to show indifference to people; he was alarmed by every society gossip, however innocent or stupid; he saw insult for himself in every word and every glance, at every step, he, a recluse and a sage, took offense and offered explanations, displayed his dignity, whimpered, wept, threw himself into people's arms and in general bored all his acquaintances to such an extent that his presence did indeed begin to weigh on everybody. Rousseau hated the society in which he lived, but in his hatred there nothing lofty or noble. What he hated in it was not those huge obstacles that paralyse useful activity, but only trifling imperfections of individual persons, the lack of feeling of the malignant Diderot, the rigour of the rascal Holbach, the haughtiness of the brute Grimm, the lack of sincerity of the vile D'Epinay. In the radical Rousseau's Confessions, you will not find a single vigorous or profound political note, but you will find an abundance of imaginary considerations on the crafty intrigues Diderot and Holbach against the reputation of the meek and virtuous Jean-Jacques.
The political flabbiness of the radical Rousseau was such that for some petty personal reason he attacked Diderot in print and publicly declared that he had broken with him at very time when Diderot, as editor of the Encyclopedie
, to bear the main weight of persecution from the government and the clericals. Saint-Lambert, to whom Rousseau, out of old friendship, sent a venomous pamphlet, answered him with a crushing letter which no one would like to receive from an old friend. "Truly, Monsieur, I cannot accept the present you have just sent me. At the place in your preface here, referring to Diderot, you quote a passage of Ecclesiastes
, the book dropped out of my hands.... You are not aware of the persecutions he has to suffer and there you fo and mingle the voice of an old friend with cries of envy. I confess, Monsieur, that I cannot hide from you how revolting this atrocity is to me... Monsieur, we differ too much principles to be ever able to agree. Forget that I exist, must not be difficult for you.... I promise you, Monsieur, to forget your person and to remember only your talent." And Rousseau complacently quoted this letter in his Confessions
considering that he was the victim of human perversion.
Rousseau's infirmity Made him love solitude, and solitude developed the habit of dreaming. Rousseau himself relates how in the forest of Montmorency he surrounded himself with ideal beings and shed sweet tears over the great benefactors Julie and Saint-Preux, heroes of La Nouvelle Heloise
. Infirmity inspired Rousseau with aversion for an active and agitated life; at a time when everything around him was seething with furious struggle, Rousseau himself dreamed only of how he could find himself a quiet corner and build up a gentle idyll around himself. As struggle requiring continual and various clashes faith people was definitely beyond the strength of an invalid dreamer, he could never develop any passion for an aim that could only be achieved only by obstinate and prolonged fight. Rousseau, the idol of the Jacobins, had no definite aim in life. He had no desire to impress upon the consciousness of people any idea of any kind. Had he had that desire would have written until his last breath like Voltaire and would have arranged his life in the way required by the convenience of writing and printing. But he did not. He gave up literary activity as soon as he had the possibility of living a quiet life on what he had earned. In his choice of a place of residence he paid attention only to the beauty surrounding nature and not at all to the degree of freec which the printed word enjoyed in the given country. Would you not like to admire the ideal of a happy life painted by Rousseau's own hand?
"The age of romantic projects having passed and the vapours of petty vanity having inebriated rather than flatter me, the last hope that remained was to live without discomfort in eternal leisure. That is the life of the blessed in the other world and was henceforth my bliss In this world." “The idleness which I love is not that of the lazy man who remains with his arms folded in total inaction and thinks no more than he acts. It is that of the child, incessantly in motion without accomplishing anything, or that of a babbler whose head gets busy as soon as his hands are at rest. I like to be constantly engaged in doing trifles; to begin a hundred things without finishing one; to come and go as I feel like it, to change my plan at every instant; to observe a fly in everything it does; to try to root up a rock; to set without any fear about a work of ten years and give it up at end of ten minutes; finally to muse the whole day without any order or consistency and to follow in everything but whim of the moment."
It would be difficult to find another famous man who would publicly admire his own worthlessness and flaccidity with such frank complacency. You see from lain own words that when he wrote Emile
and The Social Contract
he was only inebriating himself with the vapours of petty vanity
. The vapours have now dispersed and Rousseau understands the the eternal idleness of the child
is his real vocation. Unable to lie a hero or a fighter, neither can Rousseau appreciate fighters or heroes. Strength, energy, boldness, insistence, elasticity, resourcefulness, tirelessness—all these qualities, which are precious in the eyes of the fighter, mean nothing all to Rousseau. He attaches value onlv to fine feelings, outpourings of emotion, the purity of a purposeful heart, the meekness of dove-like morals, the capacity to feel, revere, and shed burning tears of rapture. He is in love with some kind of virtue and wants all people to be as virtuous as possible but at the same time he thinks himself a very virtuous and is even moved to tears over the beauty of his soul. All this clearly shows that the virtue in which Rousseau has fallen in love with consists only in the subtleness of fine feelings, because that virtue did not present him from putting five of his own children into a home for waifs and in general did not induce him to perform a single act which was at all remarkable or anything that even remotely resembled the great feats of philanthropy accomplished by the malicious mocker Voltaire who never printed a single word about virtue.
So Rousseau's ideal was completely false; the yardstick with which he measured people's worth was completely useless. This false ideal and this useless yardstick, which owed their origin to the sickly condition of their author, cast a completely false shade on Rousseau's most remarkable works— /i]Emile and The Social Contract
. In the person of his ideal educator, Emile, Rousseau trains not a citizen, not a thinker, not I hero in the great struggle which must reorganize and renovate society, but only a healthy and innocent child that will be able to preserve its innocence and health till death against the intrigues of society. Rousseau has an extreme fear of his Emile spending the night in the embraces of Camelia; but he has not the slightest fear of all Emile's life passing away fruitlessly in the sleepy idyllic improvidence which by age of thirty will turn him into an Afanasy Ivanovich. In The Social Contract
Rousseau considers it necessary for the legislator and the government to make citizens virtuous. This desire sows in his ideal state the seeds of the most vicious clerical despotism. Rousseau thinks that people must be taught virtue artificially. That is an enormous mistake. Every heaIthy man is good and virtuous as tong as his natural requirements are satisfied to a sufficient extent. But when organic demands are unsatisfied, the animal instinct of self-preservation is aroused in man; it is always in him and it is necessarily always stronger than all grafted moral considerations. No virtuous suggestions will ever resist this instinct It is therefore useless for the state to waste time and energy on suggestions which in some cases are unnecessary and in others are powerless. The state fulfils its task to complete satisfaction when it shows Concern only for its citizens being healthy, well fed,and free, i.e., when it assures that all over the country they have pure air to breathe, that they do not contract marriage at too early an age, that they all have every opportunity for work and for sufficient use of the product of their work, and finally, that they can all acquire positive knowledge which will free them from the ruinous mystifications of all sorts of charlatans and wonder-workers. If the state does not confine itself to this, if it intrudes on the domain of convictions and moral conceptions, if it tries to impose on the citizens lofty feelings and praiseworthy desires, it makes the citizens dull and changes them into either obedient children or hypocrites without conscience. Official concern about virtue opens a wide road to religious persecution. This eve can see even in Rousseau's theoretical treatise. The fourth book of The Social Contract
says that religion must exist in the state and must be obligatory for all citizens. Whoever does not recognize the state religion must be expelled from the state, not as an impious man, but as a violator of the law. Whoever recognizes that religion, but at the same time acts contrary to it, risks execution as a man who has lied before the law. By these two principles you can justify and legalize anything you like—the dragonnades
, the Inquisition, the expulsion of the Moors from Spain, and in general every possible form of religious persecution. The Duke of Alba, Torquemada, and Le Tellier can cover up all their misdeeds with the argument that they punish not heretics but offenders against the state. This was precisely the argument by which persecutions against the Catholics were justified in England under Elizabeth. Following Rousseau's principles Robespierre had executed on the scaffold many people who were of great use to France, for example Danton, Desmoulins, Chaumette, Anacharsis Cloots. Admittedly, he accused them of various conspiracies and relations with Pitt, but it is hardly probable that he himself believed in the existence of those conspiracies. The real root of his hatred for those people was the fact that they were sceptics, and as a result, Robespierre, a docile pupil of Rousseau, qualified them as unworthy to live in the virtuous French Republic.
Of the Encyclopaedists I will take only Diderot and Holbach. Both of them were healthy, merry, hard-working men, boundlessly devoted to their ideas. Both were much younger than Voltaire: Diderot nineteen years and Holbach twenty-nine. Diderot was brought up in a Jesuit college and at first wanted to join the clergy, but later, when his abilities developed, he completely gave up that intention, and devoted himself with special ardour to mathematics and ancient and modern languages; finally, he resolutely declared to his father that he would not choose a definite profession. His father, bourgeois of wealth and substance, was angry with him and thought he would intimidate him by privations. Diderot remained in Paris without any money at all and began to pursue literary work on the orders of booksellers. Then he entered into a marriage of love with a poor girl and thus completely estranged his father. Finally, in 1746, he made an agreement with Lebreton, a bookseller who held privileges for the publishing of a French translation of Chamber's Encyclopaedia but had nobody at hand who could undertake the translation. Diderot, who at the time was thirty-three years old and had long felt himself capable of undertaking a big and important work, advised Lebreton to put out an original French encyclopaedia and drew up on extensive plan for it. His idea was not to give French society some dead collection of technical terms and disconnected facts, but a work which would contain all the philosophy of the century and would clearly show the vital significance of the new world outlook, boldly declaring war on clerical despotism.
The work began in 1749 and continued until 1766. During the first years Diderot shared the editorial work with D'Alembert, but in 1757, when the seventh volume of the Encyclopedie
roused stormy opposition, D'Alembert thought it prudent to retire from such a dangerous undertaking and all the burden of editorial work and responsibility fell upon Diderot alone. His collaborators were subject to continual fits of cowardice; Lebreton, in order to avoid clashes with the authorities, would allow himself to attenuate expressions in the articles which he thought too trenchant, and Diderot had to even out and arrange all this, to encourage the contributors, curb the bookseller, who was concerned only with profit, to maintain friendly relations and a subtle policy with the authorities, to make use of ruses and concessions in some articles and to make up for those concessions in others. All this he did with brilliant success. At the same time he was so conscientious in even the smallest details of his work that in order to find a satisfactory description for the different trades and professions, he used to spend whole days in workshops, examining the different machines with the greatest attention and mastering all the technical methods of the workers. The booksellers, as we saw above, made more than two and a half million French pounds net profit on the Encyclopedie
, but for his whole seventeen years' work Diderot receiveed only a lump sum of twenty thousand pounds and too thousand five hundred pounds on each volume. For the rest, Diderot fostered no selfish aims; he gave his friends the most generous help with his money and his pen; he was always willing to improve or recast other writers' manuscripts or to write prefaces to them and generally he scattered numerous brilliant thoughts in various books of fellow-thinkers. The question, he often said, is not who does a thing, I or somebody else, but only that it must be done and well done.
Diderot did not acquire his philosophical convictions al1 at once. He bought them at the price of heavy doubts and protracted intellectual struggle. His works point out three phases in his development. In 1745 he wrote Essai sur le merite et sur la vertu
in which he is a philosophizing Catholic and tries to prove that virtue can be based only on religion
In 17471/47, in his Strolls of a Sceptic
, to use Hettner's expression, into the abyss of great doubt
and affirms that man's life has not other aim than sensuous delight. Then attempts to save something of his former beliefs, and some time Diderot becomes a deist; but these attempts do not bring him satisfaction and from 1749 to the end of his life he is an extreme materialist. All his works published in Encyclopedie
are permeated with these last convictions. He said at his death in 1784 that doubt is the beginning of Philosphy
. Those were his last words.
Baron d'Holbach, a rich man who received a thorough education in Paris, pursued natural sciences, particularly chemistry, gave wonderful dinners for philosophers and helped with his extensive knowledge. He wrote articles on chemistry for the Encyclopedie
and published materialistic books to which he never signed his name. His famous Systeme la nature
was published when he was already forty years old. He was helped in some parts of this work by Diderot. Considering the horror with which this book inspired the whole of philosophizing Europe, we may positively afirm that Systeme de la nature
was the last and highest peak in the development of the negative doctrines of the 18th century.
Holbach thinks that everything happens in nature according to eternal and immutable laws. This idea is the basis of all further constructions. Man, in his opinion, cannot free himself even in thought from the laws of nature. Holbach maintains that for both feeling and thought the nervous system with its contacts with the outside world by the organs ,and apparatuses of sight, hearing, taste, feeling and smell is absolutely necessary. Without the organs and the nervous system there is neither thought nor feeling, just as without a musical instrument there is no musical sound and, consequently, there are no individual qualities of sound, softness or shrillness, melodiousness or squeakiness, length or abruptness. According to Holbach to imagine thought disconnected from the necessary conditions of its appearance, i.e., from the nervous system, is equivalent to imagining sound existing independently of the instrument. It means imagining action without cause.... Matter, in Holbach's opinion, is indestructible; not one particle of it can disappear, but those particles are in unceasing motion and as a result of this motion form and combinations are destroyed and appear unceasingly. The motion of matter takes place according to the same eternal and immutable laws by which the course of the great heavenly bodies is determined. This means that if a particle of matter is placed a hundred million times in the same position, it will a hundred million times follow the same path and enter into the same combinations. The particles of matter which make up the human body are subordinate, in their motion, according to Holbach, to the very same eternal and immutable laws. There is no exception to this rule. As the particles of gastric juice enter into chemical combination with particles of food by necessity
, as the corpuscles of the blood absorb oxygen by necessity
, so in the same way tad particles of the brain move and undergo chemical modifications by necessity
. The result of this motion and chemical modification is the process of thought, which, therefore according to Holbach, is also always characterized by unrelenting necessity
. Man behaves in one way or another because he wishes one way or another; wish is conditioned by previous thought and thought is the inevitable result of given external impressions and the given capacities of the brain. What, therefore, is crime, and what is punishment? Nature, according to Holbach, recognizes neither one nor the other; in nature there is nothing but an infinite chain of causes and effects— a chain out of which not a single link can be rejected.
Apparently, Holbach must have been a most horrifying and repulsive man. Otherwise, how could he have been a materialist? Nevertheless, to the astonishment of all lovers of good morals, Holbach was a good man. "I have seldom met such a learned and all-round educated men as Holbach," says Grimm; “I never met anybody with so little vanity and ambition. Had he not had a lively zeal for the success of all sciences, a desire, which had become a second nature, to communicate to others all that seemed important and useful to him, he would never have shown his unprecedented erudition. It would have been the same with his learning as with his wealth. Nobody would ever have guessed it if he had been able to hide it without detriment to his own enjoyment and specially to the enjoyment of his friends. To a man with such views it can not have been very difficult to believe in he mastery of reason, because his passions and satisfactions were exactly such as they had to be to give predominance to good rules. He loved women, loved satisfaction at table, he was inquisitive; but not one of those inclinations mastered him entirely. He could not hate anybody; only when he spoke f the propagators of oppression and superstition did his inborn mildness change into bitterness and thirst for struggle."
Ending this essay I Advise readers who are interested in the intellectual life of the last century to read Hettner's History of World Literature in the 18th Century. In it they will find an intelligible, impartial and entertaining account of the biographical details and the philosophic doctrines linked with the general picture of the times.