« AnteriorContinuar »
the essence of devil,” to use John Foster's phrase, as any vessel of similar capacity. There is a strong flavor both of Satan and Belial in it. "It is not strange D'Alembert should say it certainly came from the press of Beelzebub.
The Philosophical Dictionary was designed as a sort of pocket edition of the Dictionnaire Encyclopédique. Voltaire, much as he professed to despise the “canaille," perfectly appreciated the importance of reaching the popular mind, if he would effect a revoTution against Christianity. He knew the power of tracts and cheap books for the people. In writing to the King of Prussia, under date of 5th April, 1767, he says: “If I were younger and had better health, I would quit, without hesitation, my chateau and my gardens, to establish myself with a few philosophers in the pays de Cleves under your protection, and devote my last days to the publication of a few useful books. But cannot your majesty, without compromising yourself, encourage some Berlin publisher to print and circulate them throughout Europe, at a price which will render the sale rapid and general ;” (à un prix qui en rende la vente facile.)
The Dictionnaire Encyclopédique was for men of wealth and leisure ; for kings and philosophers. It was to circulate in the best society. It cost far too much to be the scripture of unbelief for the nation. “Je voudrais bien savoir (says Voltaire, remonstr against the Government's interfering with the sale of this work), quel mal peut faire un livre qui coute cent ecus. Jamais vingt volumes in folio ne feront de revolution. Ce sont les petits li r es portatifs à trente sous qui sont à craindre. Si l'evangile avoit coûté douze cent sesterces, jamais la religion chrétienne ne se sérait établie.” It was just to furnish a manual of infidelity of this sort, a "petit livre portatif,” which, like a fleet of gun-boats, should penetrate into every creek and bay, while the heavy batteries of the Encyclopedia kept the open sea, that the Philosophical Dictionary was written. It compressed into a more pungent essence, the stimulating mischief of the larger Dictionary. It sharpened the mockery to a point more perceptible to the duller sensibilities of the million. It was just the book for the apprentices, marchands, and “ badaux de Paris;" to settle, like the effluvium that causes certain fevers, down towards the level of the city, a pestilence walking in darkness, while, in the upper regions of society, the destruction wasted at noonday.
This suggestion of Voltaire's has been well improved upon for profit and mischief, by more recent inventors of evil things. The craft and mystery of reaching the mass of the people with a corrupting literature, seems to have been carried to a degree of perfection among ourselves, that scarce leaves room for improvement. The scheme is as complete as unprincipled cupidity can make it. First, there are great distilleries, where those good gifts of God, paper and ink, are worked up by Grub-street operatives into “strong drink” and “mixed wine" for the mind; barrelled and boxed and bottled ; labelled with attractive titles, and vended by wholesale. Such are certain "publishing companies” so called, who appear to keep in pay a corps of literary scavengers, that Curl and Lintot, in their best days, might have envied. “ Two translators (of Eugene Sue and Dumas) in a bed together at the Marlborough.” At the Three Tobacco-pipes in License lane, “ one that has been a preacher of liberal Christianity, in a rusty black coat; my best writer against revealed religion.” “In a washer-woman's garret near Long wharf, the compiler of my Pirate's own Books, and tragedies of the sea; the author of Love and Murder,'
· Crime and Retribution,' in a house of ill-fame, at the corner of Shin-bone Alley.”
Next came the depôts for the retail of the same articles; the ginshops of the mind, in every city, town, and street, where the issues from the grand reservoir are distributed in lots to suit purchasers; and then the vast army of colporteurs who waylay the unsuspecting traveller in the street, besiege the doors of railroad cars, and thrust their many-colored ware under his nose on the gangway plank and deck of every steamboat. The titles are full of promise; the price is trifling, “only twenty-five cents;" the day is long, and you have no company; you must be very defective in a taste for literature, if you fail to buy. O Literature ! we may well exclaim, borrowing an apostrophe of Madame Roland, O Literature ! what monstrous stuff is vended in thy name!
Think of the busy compilers, translators, and transmogrifiers, the Gildons, Cibbers, and Oldmixons of our time, who furnish marketable matter, for a consideration, to the grand caterers for the public. Think of the presses that thunder night and day, pouring out an incessant stream of the lowest and most corrupting grade of fiction; think of the depôts, by the synagogues and at the corners of the streets, with their calls for enterprising young men as agents and pedlars, to whom is guaranteed the exclusive possession of a certain district, and the prospect of making a fortune, if industrious; think of the lads who come up like frogs over the face of the whole land, slavering this spume of Lucifer, “half froth, half venom,” and we get some idea of the prodigious mass of influence at work to debase and corrupt society. The only relief to the mind under the painful impression this view gives, is reflecting on the energy with which the Church of Christ is availing herself of the same powerful enginery, The idea of a cheap portable literature for the people belongs, according to Voltaire's own sagacious remark, originally to Christianity. Had it been necessary to the propagation of the Gospel, that complete copies of the Scriptures, or even of the New Testament, should be círculated, or none, we
1 Vide Dean Swift, vol. xvii. Condition of Edmund Curll, &c. THIRD SERIES, VOL. III.
may almost agree with him that the attempt to plant the Church would have failed. It was the small, separate treatises, each of which contained enlightening and saving truth in adequate measure for the time being—the “ petits livres portatifs” which the wisdom of God provided, which found their way by a thousand channels among the people, where no large or expensive book could possibly have passed. With the revival of Christianity, Luther brought out this weapon from the apostolic armory, and wielded it, as we know, with prodigious effect. It is now for ever incorporated into the discipline of the Church, as an arm of the service, second in efficiency to nothing but the voice of the living preacher ; and so we may add to the points of comparison suggested by Coleridge, as an interesting external feature of resemblance between Luther and Voltaire, that each stands at the head of a revived literature for the people; the one a savor of life unto life, and the other of death unto death.
All the works of Voltaire thus briefly catalogued, except the first, are brought out under false names. The anonymous author of the Philosophical Dictionary quotes with eulogy, the author of the Essay Sur les Maurs. The Pyrrhonism of History is by a « Bachelor in Theology." The Bible at last Explained, is the work of quatre savans Theologiens. The “Confession of Faith of the Theists" is translated from the German." The Dieu et les Hommes is by the Rev. Dr. Obern. Even his “ Romans" and
Facéties” were disguised in the same way. His chosen method of making war on morals and religion was ambush, treachery, and assassination. Dearly as he loved the praise of the exploit, he shunned the danger. He would stab, but in the dark. Nothing threw him into a greater state of excitement than to have publicity given to his nanie, in connexion with any of his indecent or infidel works. An edifying instance of this occurs in the memoirs of Madame de Grafigny, which we will quote hereafter. Lord Brougham mentions the manner in which he disowns the authorship of Candide, a novelette, designed to satirize optimist views of the world, and which, so far at least as religion is concerned, can scandalize nobody who believes in the corruption of human nature. With much greater vehemence of falsehood, he disowns even to D'Alembert, any connexion with the Philosophical Dictionary. *I swear” (he writes, under date of 21 October, 1764), “ that I am not the author of this infamous thing. You must do me the essential service to affirm, that this book which I disown, is not mine. ( The brethren' must not be exposed, by such suspicions, to calumny and persecution. The book is divine with some exceptions ;
mais je jure par Sabaoth et Adonai quia non sum auctor hujus libri. Il ne peut avoir été écrit que par un saint inspiré du diable; car il y a du moral, et de l'infernal."
The same system of warfare he frequently recommends to D'Al
embert himself, and others of the initiated.” Stab, he says, but don't write your name on the poniard. “Frappez, mais cachez votre main."
“ Dieu vous maintienne, mon cher destructeur, dans la noble resolution où vous êies, de faire main basse sur les fanatiques, en fesant patte de velours.”
The letter from which this last extract is taken, ends with the dreadful expression, so well known as the watch-word of the conspirators against religion and social order, Crush the wretch! The same phrase occurs passim, in other parts of the correspondence, both with D'Alembert and Frederick, and, more than all, Damilaville. It is frequently found at the close of Voltaire's letters ja an abbreviated form, thus: ecr l'inf...; and it is somewhat remarkable, as if they shrunk with a sort of fear, from speaking or writing out the blasphemy, that even when the verb occurs at length, the noun is, with scarce an exception, contracted. It imparts an additional horror to the impiety of these relentless persecutors of Christ, if there were fears lingering in the depths of their souls (as we must believe), which made them often shudderat the extremes to which they were proceeding. Even if we do not regard the expression l'infame as applicable to Christ personally, but to the Gospel or the Church, the malignity it displays is scarcely less shocking. Throughout the whole correspondence, Voltaire appears the master conspirator and fiend; prompting his subordinates to keep up a war of extermination against " fanaticism,” rebuking their coldness and divisions, rallying them to the assault when they shrank, and setting an example of the most daring impiety for their encouragement and imitation. He strides before them, like Mezentius, contemptor divum, before the Latin host; or Satan towering on the cloudy van of battle. « Au milieu de toute votre gaîté (to D'Alembert, 30 Jan., 1764), tâchez toujours d'écraser l'inf...; notre principale occupation dans cette vie doit être de combattre ce monstre."
- Je voudrais (23 June, 1760) que vous écrassiez l'inf... ; c'est là le grand point; il faut la reduire à l'état où elle est en Angleterre; c'est le plus grand service qu'on puisse rendre au genre humain ;” and so over and over again, to Damilaville, to the Marquis D'Argens, to Helvetius, and others of the initiated, Ecr. l'inf... ; “Cultivez la vigne du Seigneur, et écrasez l'inf... tant que vous pourrez ;" “ Ecr. l’inf... je vous en conjure.
We will not shock the readers of this article by quoting worse expressions of a similar kind. The mind of Voltaire clung to the idea of overthrowing Christianity with the tenacity of monomania. He seems to find it impossible to finish a letter to any of the adepts, without giving vent to the burning hate against religion, that consumed him. Mockeries of the incarnation, of the trinity, of any fact or statement of the Gospel that comes in his way; contemptuous abuse of the Apostles and ministers of the Gospel, break out upon the surface of a correspondence, inimitable otherwise for
its vivacity, variety, and wit, like the gushing up of nether fire in the forests and by the flowers. If suppressed through the body of the letter, it is almost sure to be vented in his customary savage war-whoop at the close.
Our readers, we imagine, will find it rather difficult to sympathize fully in the philosophical equanimity with which the author of Lives of Men of Letters, &c., regards this correspondence. He thinks it " impossible not to have our admiration excited, as well as to take a lively interest in the zeal and untiring activity which the aged philosopher displayed in encouraging his young correspondents.” As to “ admiration,” and “lively interest," we must be permitted to hesitate. One may be willing to confess a certain sort of admiration for Catiline or Jefferson in the relation they sustained to the young men whom they made it their business to pervert and ruin ; but the predominant feeling is of so very different a character, that we should never think of putting admiration foremost.
We believe that most persons will know of but one word properly descriptive of the tone of sentiment on religious things pervading these letters. If this is not blasphemy, we shall be at a loss where to look for it. Lord Brougham, however, has provided a shield broad enough, in his opinion, to protect his subject against this charge. Voltaire, it seems, was so thoroughly corrupted as to be beyond the reach of blasphemy.
“ It is evident, that, strictly speaking, blasphemy can only be commiited by a person who believes in the existence and attributes of the Deity whom he impugns, either by ridicule or by reasoning. An atheist is wholly incapable of the crime. When he heaps epithets of abuse on the Creator, or turns his attributes into ridicule, he is assailing or scolling at an empty name ; at a being whom he believes to have no existence. In like manner, if a Deist, one who disbelieves in our Savior being either the Son of God, or sent by God as his prophet upon earth, shall argue against his miracles, or ridicule his mission or his person, he commits no blasphemy; for he firmly believes that Christ was a man like himself, and that he derived no authority from the Deity. Both the atheist and the deist are free from all guilt of blasphemy; that is, of all guilt towards the Deity or towards Christ.”
This is positive enough. It has quite the air of an opinion in the case of Religion and Decency versus the Whole Company of Scoffers, pronounced from the woodsack ;-judgment for the defendants. There are, however, tio qualifications to the opinion, viz. First, that the defendants shall be bona fide atheists and deists, and not mere sceptics; and second, that they shall be atheists and deists on good and sufficient grounds; that is, "after applying their faculties to the inquiry with that sober attention, that conscientious diligence, which its immense importance demands of all rational creatures."