The essay was once written deliberately as a piece of literature; its subject matter was of comparatively minor importance. Today most essays are written as expository, informative journalism, although there are still essayists in the great tradition who think of themselves as artists. Now, as in the past, some of the greatest essayists are critics of literature, drama, and the arts.
He becamerecognised in Paris as a brilliant and sarcastic wit - a lampoonof the French regent the Duc d'Orléans and also his beingaccused, (unjustly), of penning two distinctly libelous poemsresulted in his imprisonment in the Bastille.
9°. Is the book of to be taken literally or allegorically? Did God really take a rib from Adam and make woman therewith? and, if so, why is it previously stated that he made man male and female? How did God create light before the sun? How did he separate light from darkness, since darkness is merely the absence of light? How could there be a day before the sun was made? How was the firmament made amid the waters, since there is no such thing as a firmament?—it is an illusion of the ancient Greeks. There are those who suggest that was not written until the Jews had some knowledge of the erroneous philosophy of other peoples, and it would pain me to hear it said that God knows no more about physics than he does about chronology and geography.
After this splendid prophecy, recorded in but of which there is not a word in the prophet orders him first to write on a large roll, which they hasten to seal. He urges the king to press to the plunder of his enemies, and then ensures the birth of the predicted child. Instead of calling it Emmanuel, however, he gives it the name of Maher Salabas. This, my brethren, is the passage which Christians have distorted in favour of their Christ; this is the prophecy that set up Christianity. The girl to whom the prophet ascribes a child is incontestably the Virgin Mary. Maher Salabas is Jesus Christ. As to the butter and honey, I am unaware what it means. Each soothsayer promises the Jews deliverance when they are captive; and this deliverance is, according to the Christians, the heavenly Jerusalem, and the Church of our time. Prophecy is everything with the Jews; with the Christians miracle is everything, and all the prophecies are figures of Jesus Christ.
Run briefly over the books that have been falsely attributed to Moses. I say falsely, since it is not possible for Moses to have written about things that happened long after his time. None of us would believe that the memoirs of William, Prince of Orange, were written with his own hand if there were allusions in these memoirs to things that happened after his death. Let us see what is narrated in the name of Moses. First, God created the light, which he calls “day”; then the darkness, which he calls “night,” and it was the first day. Thus there were days before the sun was made.
This sentiment is at once the effect and the cause of a very general ignorance concerning Voltaire; and it is a reproach to us. We have time, amid increasing knowledge, to recover the most obscure personalities of the Middle Ages and of antiquity; we trace the most elementary contributors to modern culture; and we neglect one of the mightiest forces that made the development of modern culture possible. I do not speak of Voltaire the historian, who, a distinguished writer says, introduced history for the first time into the realm of letters; Voltaire the dramatist, whose name is inscribed for ever in the temple of the tragic muse; Voltaire the physicist, who drove the old Cartesianism out of France, and imposed on it the fertile principles of Newton; Voltaire the social reformer, who talked to eighteenth-century kings of the rights of man, and scourged every judicial criminal of his aristocratic age; Voltaire the cosmopolitan, who boldly set up England’s ensign of liberty in feudal France. All these things were done by the “flippant Voltaire” of the flippant modern preacher. But he can be considered here only as one of the few who, in an age of profound inequality, used the privilege of his enlightenment to enlighten his fellows; one of those who won for us that liberty to think rationally, and to speak freely, on religious matters which we too airily attribute to our new goddess, Evolution.
Certainly, William Blake or Thomas Campion, when they were writing their simple lyrics, were unaware of the ambiguities and multiple meanings that future critics would find in them. Nevertheless, language is complex. Words do have overtones; they do stir up complicated reverberations in the mind that are ignored in their dictionary definitions. Great stylists, and most especially great poets, work with at least a half-conscious, or subliminal, awareness of the infinite potentialities of language. This is one reason why the essence of most poetry and great prose is so resistant to translation (quite apart from the radically different sound patterns that are created in other-language versions). The translator must project himself into the mind of the original author; he must transport himself into an entirely different world of relationships between sounds and meanings, and at the same time he must establish an equivalence between one infinitely complex system and another. Since no two languages are truly equivalent in anything except the simplest terms, this is a most difficult accomplishment. Certain writers are exceptionally difficult to translate. There are no satisfactory English versions, for example, of the Latin of Catullus, the French of Baudelaire, the Russian of Pushkin, or of the majority of Persian and Arabic poetry. The splendor of Sophocless Greek, of Plato at his best, is barely suggested even in the finest English versions. On the other hand, the Germans insist that Shakespeare is better in German than he is in English, a humorous exaggeration perhaps. But again, Shakespeare is resistant to translation into French. His English seems to lack equivalents in that language.
The position of Voltaire in the development of religious thought in Europe is unique. Even if his words had no application in our age, it merits the most grateful consideration. Trace to its sources the spirit that has led modern France and modern Portugal to raise civic ideals above creeds, and that will, within a few decades, find the same expression in Spain, Italy, Belgium, and half of America. You find yourself in the first half of the nineteenth century, when, in all those countries, a few hundred men, and some women, maintained a superb struggle with restored monarchs and restored Jesuits for the liberty that had been wrested from them; and you find that the vast majority of them were disciples of Voltaire. Go back to the very beginning of the anti-clerical movement; seek the generators of that intellectual and emotional electricity which, gathering insensibly in the atmosphere of Europe in the second half of the eighteenth century, burst at last in the lurid flashes and the rolling thunders of the Great Revolution. On the religious side, with which alone I am concerned here, that devastating storm was overwhelmingly due to the writings of Voltaire. Rousseau, it is true, gave to the world his simple Deistic creed, and with sweet reasonableness lodged it in the minds of many; Diderot and d’Holbach and La Mettrie impressed their deeper scepticism with a weight of learning. But Voltaire was the oracle of Europe. “I have no sceptre, but I have a pen,” he once said to Frederick the Great. And when, in his later years, he poured out from his remote château on the Swiss frontier the flood of satires, stories, sermons, dialogues, pamphlets, and treatises which ate deep into the fabric of old Europe, his pen proved mightier than all the sceptres of its kings. To ignore Voltaire is to ignore history.
He also tended to effectively persuade people that superstitionwas ridiculous.
After settling in Ferney, he wrote several philosophicalpoems, such as Le désastre de Lisbonne (The LisbonDisaster, 1756), and a number of satirical and philosophicalnovels, of which the most brilliant is Candide (1759).
The publication of the Dictionnaire philosophique (1764) metwith condemnation in Paris and other European cities.
Other writers have sought to use language for its most subtle and complex effects and have deliberately cultivated the ambiguity inherent in the multiple or shaded meanings of words. Between the two world wars, ambiguity became very fashionable in English and American poetry and the ferreting out of ambiguities from even the simplest poem was a favorite critical sport. T.S. Eliot in his literary essays is usually considered the founder of this movement. Actually, the platform of his critical attitudes is largely moral, but his two disciples, I.A. Richards in and William Empson in carried his method to extreme lengths. The basic document of the movement is Charles Kay Ogden and I.A. Richardss a work of enormous importance in its time. Only a generation later, however, their ideas were somewhat at a discount.