Letters On England



(Francois Marie Arouet)


Francois Marie Arouet, who called himself Voltaire, was the son of Francois Arouet of Poitou, who lived in Paris, had given up his office of notary two years before the birth of this his third son, and obtained some years afterwards a treasurer's office in the Chambre des Comptes. Voltaire was born in the year 1694. He lived until within ten or eleven years of the outbreak of the Great French Revolution, and was a chief leader in the movement of thought that preceded the Revolution. Though he lived to his eighty-fourth year, Voltaire was born with a weak body. His brother Armand, eight years his senior, became a Jansenist. Voltaire when ten years old was placed with the Jesuits in the College Louis-le-Grand. There he was taught during seven years, and his genius was encouraged in its bent for literature; skill in speaking and in writing being especially fostered in the system of education which the Jesuits had planned to produce capable men who by voice and pen could give a reason for the faith they held. Verses written for an invalid soldier at the age of eleven won for young Voltaire the friendship of Ninon l'Enclos, who encouraged him to go on writing verses. She died soon afterwards, and remembered him with a legacy of two thousand livres for purchase of books. He wrote in his lively school-days a tragedy that afterwards he burnt. At the age of seventeen he left the College Louis-le-Grand, where he said afterwards that he had been taught nothing but Latin and the Stupidities. He was then sent to the law schools, and saw life in Paris as a gay young poet who, with all his brilliant liveliness, had an aptitude for looking on the tragic side of things, and one of whose first poems was an "Ode on the Misfortunes of Life." His mother died when he was twenty.
Voltaire's father thought him a fool for his versifying, and attached him as secretary to the Marquis of Chateauneuf; when he went as ambassador to the Hague. In December, 1713, he was dismissed for his irregularities. In Paris his unsteadiness and his addiction to literature caused his father to rejoice in getting him housed in a country chateau with M. de Caumartin. M. de Caumartin's father talked with such enthusiasm of Henri IV. and Sully that Voltaire planned the writing of what became his Henriade, and his "History of the Age of Louis XIV.," who died on the 1st of September, 1715.

Under the regency that followed, Voltaire got into trouble again and again through the sharpness of his pen, and at last, accused of verse that satirised the Regent, he was locked up--on the 17th of May, 1717--in the Bastille. There he wrote the first two books of his Henriade, and finished a play on OEdipus, which he had begun at the age of eighteen. He did not obtain full liberty until the 12th of April, 1718, and it was at this time--with a clearly formed design to associate the name he took with work of high attempt in literature--that Francois Marie Arouet, aged twenty-four, first called himself Voltaire.

Voltaire's OEdipe was played with success in November, 1718. A few months later he was again banished from Paris, and finished the Henriade in his retirement, as well as another play, Artemise, that was acted in February, 1720. Other plays followed. In December, 1721, Voltaire visited Lord Bolingbroke, who was then an exile from England, at the Chateau of La Source. There was now constant literary activity. From July to October, 1722, Voltaire visited Holland with Madame de Rupelmonde. After a serious attack of small- pox in November, 1723, Voltaire was active as a poet about the Court. He was then in receipt of a pension of two thousand livres from the king, and had inherited more than twice as much by the death of his father in January, 1722. But in December, 1725, a quarrel, fastened upon him by the Chevalier de Rohan, who had him waylaid and beaten, caused him to send a challenge. For this he was arrested and lodged once more, in April, 1726, in the Bastille. There he was detained a month; and his first act when he was released was to ask for a passport to England.

Voltaire left France, reached London in August, 1726, went as guest to the house of a rich merchant at Wandsworth, and remained three years in this country, from the age of thirty-two to the age of thirty-five. He was here when George I. died, and George II became king. He published here his Henriade. He wrote here his "History of Charles XII." He read "Gulliver's Travels" as a new book, and might have been present at the first night of The Beggar's Opera.
He was there when Sir Isaac Newton died.

In 1731 he published at Rouen the Lettres sur les Anglais, which appeared in England in 1733 in the volume from which they are here reprinted.




I was of opinion that the doctrine and history of so extraordinary a
people were worthy the attention of the curious. To acquaint myself
with them I made a visit to one of the most eminent Quakers in
England, who, after having traded thirty years, had the wisdom to
prescribe limits to his fortune and to his desires, and was settled
in a little solitude not far from London. Being come into it, I
perceived a small but regularly built house, vastly neat, but
without the least pomp of furniture. The Quaker who owned it was a
hale, ruddy-complexioned old man, who had never been afflicted with
sickness because he had always been insensible to passions, and a
perfect stranger to intemperance. I never in my life saw a more
noble or a more engaging aspect than his. He was dressed like those
of his persuasion, in a plain coat without pleats in the sides, or
buttons on the pockets and sleeves; and had on a beaver, the brims
of which were horizontal like those of our clergy. He did not
uncover himself when I appeared, and advanced towards me without
once stooping his body; but there appeared more politeness in the
open, humane air of his countenance, than in the custom of drawing
one leg behind the other, and taking that from the head which is
made to cover it. "Friend," says he to me, "I perceive thou art a
stranger, but if I can do anything for thee, only tell me." "Sir,"
said I to him, bending forwards and advancing, as is usual with us,
one leg towards him, "I flatter myself that my just curiosity will
not give you the least offence, and that you'll do me the honour to
inform me of the particulars of your religion." "The people of thy
country," replied the Quaker, "are too full of their bows and
compliments, but I never yet met with one of them who had so much
curiosity as thyself. Come in, and let us first dine together." I
still continued to make some very unseasonable ceremonies, it not
being easy to disengage one's self at once from habits we have been
long used to; and after taking part in a frugal meal, which began
and ended with a prayer to God, I began to question my courteous
host. I opened with that which good Catholics have more than once
made to Huguenots. "My dear sir," said I, "were you ever baptised?"
"I never was," replied the Quaker, "nor any of my brethren."
"Zounds!" say I to him, "you are not Christians, then." "Friend,"
replies the old man in a soft tone of voice, "swear not; we are
Christians, and endeavour to be good Christians, but we are not of
opinion that the sprinkling water on a child's head makes him a
Christian." "Heavens!" say I, shocked at his impiety, "you have
then forgot that Christ was baptised by St. John." "Friend,"
replies the mild Quaker once again, "swear not; Christ indeed was
baptised by John, but He himself never baptised anyone. We are the
disciples of Christ, not of John." I pitied very much the sincerity
of my worthy Quaker, and was absolutely for forcing him to get
himself christened. "Were that all," replied he very gravely, "we
would submit cheerfully to baptism, purely in compliance with thy
weakness, for we don't condemn any person who uses it; but then we
think that those who profess a religion of so holy, so spiritual a
nature as that of Christ, ought to abstain to the utmost of their
power from the Jewish ceremonies." "O unaccountable!" say I:
"what! baptism a Jewish ceremony?" "Yes, my friend," says he, "so
truly Jewish, that a great many Jews use the baptism of John to this
day. Look into ancient authors, and thou wilt find that John only
revived this practice; and that it had been used by the Hebrews,
long before his time, in like manner as the Mahometans imitated the
Ishmaelites in their pilgrimages to Mecca. Jesus indeed submitted
to the baptism of John, as He had suffered Himself to be
circumcised; but circumcision and the washing with water ought to be
abolished by the baptism of Christ, that baptism of the Spirit, that
ablution of the soul, which is the salvation of mankind. Thus the
forerunner said, 'I indeed baptise you with water unto repentance;
but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not
worthy to bear: he shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost and with
fire.' Likewise Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles, writes as
follows to the Corinthians, 'Christ sent me not to baptise, but to
preach the Gospel;' and indeed Paul never baptised but two persons
with water, and that very much against his inclinations. He
circumcised his disciple Timothy, and the other disciples likewise
circumcised all who were willing to submit to that carnal ordinance.
But art thou circumcised?" added he. "I have not the honour to be
so," say I. "Well, friend," continues the Quaker, "thou art a
Christian without being circumcised, and I am one without being
baptised." Thus did this pious man make a wrong but very specious
application of four or five texts of Scripture which seemed to
favour the tenets of his sect; but at the same time forgot very
sincerely an hundred texts which made directly against them. I had
more sense than to contest with him, since there is no possibility
of convincing an enthusiast. A man should never pretend to inform a
lover of his mistress's faults, no more than one who is at law, of
the badness of his cause; nor attempt to win over a fanatic by
strength of reasoning. Accordingly I waived the subject.

"Well," said I to him, "what sort of a communion have you?" "We
have none like that thou hintest at among us," replied he. "How! no
communion?" said I. "Only that spiritual one," replied he, "of
hearts." He then began again to throw out his texts of Scripture;
and preached a most eloquent sermon against that ordinance. He
harangued in a tone as though he had been inspired, to prove that
the sacraments were merely of human invention, and that the word
"sacrament" was not once mentioned in the Gospel. "Excuse," said
he, "my ignorance, for I have not employed a hundredth part of the
arguments which might be brought to prove the truth of our religion,
but these thou thyself mayest peruse in the Exposition of our Faith
written by Robert Barclay. It is one of the best pieces that ever
was penned by man; and as our adversaries confess it to be of
dangerous tendency, the arguments in it must necessarily be very
convincing." I promised to peruse this piece, and my Quaker
imagined he had already made a convert of me. He afterwards gave me
an account in few words of some singularities which make this sect
the contempt of others. "Confess," said he, "that it was very
difficult for thee to refrain from laughter, when I answered all thy
civilities without uncovering my head, and at the same time said
'thee' and 'thou' to thee. However, thou appearest to me too well
read not to know that in Christ's time no nation was so ridiculous
as to put the plural number for the singular. Augustus Caesar
himself was spoken to in such phrases as these: 'I love thee,' 'I
beseech thee,' 'I thank thee;' but he did not allow any person to
call him 'Domine,' sir. It was not till many ages after that men
would have the word 'you,' as though they were double, instead of
'thou' employed in speaking to them; and usurped the flattering
titles of lordship, of eminence, and of holiness, which mere worms
bestow on other worms by assuring them that they are with a most
profound respect, and an infamous falsehood, their most obedient
humble servants. It is to secure ourselves more strongly from such
a shameless traffic of lies and flattery, that we 'thee' and 'thou'
a king with the same freedom as we do a beggar, and salute no
person; we owing nothing to mankind but charity, and to the laws
respect and obedience.

"Our apparel is also somewhat different from that of others, and
this purely, that it may be a perpetual warning to us not to imitate
them. Others wear the badges and marks of their several dignities,
and we those of Christian humility. We fly from all assemblies of
pleasure, from diversions of every kind, and from places where
gaming is practised; and indeed our case would be very deplorable,
should we fill with such levities as those I have mentioned the
heart which ought to be the habitation of God. We never swear, not
even in a court of justice, being of opinion that the most holy name
of God ought not to be prostituted in the miserable contests betwixt
man and man. When we are obliged to appear before a magistrate upon
other people's account (for law-suits are unknown among the
Friends), we give evidence to the truth by sealing it with our yea
or nay; and the judges believe us on our bare affirmation, whilst so
many other Christians forswear themselves on the holy Gospels. We
never war or fight in any case; but it is not that we are afraid,
for so far from shuddering at the thoughts of death, we on the
contrary bless the moment which unites us with the Being of Beings;
but the reason of our not using the outward sword is, that we are
neither wolves, tigers, nor mastiffs, but men and Christians. Our
God, who has commanded us to love our enemies, and to suffer without
repining, would certainly not permit us to cross the seas, merely
because murderers clothed in scarlet, and wearing caps two foot
high, enlist citizens by a noise made with two little sticks on an
ass's skin extended. And when, after a victory is gained, the whole
city of London is illuminated; when the sky is in a blaze with
fireworks, and a noise is heard in the air, of thanksgivings, of
bells, of organs, and of the cannon, we groan in silence, and are
deeply affected with sadness of spirit and brokenness of heart, for
the sad havoc which is the occasion of those public rejoicings."


Such was the substance of the conversation I had with this very
singular person; but I was greatly surprised to see him come the
Sunday following and take me with him to the Quakers' meeting.
There are several of these in London, but that which he carried me
to stands near the famous pillar called The Monument. The brethren
were already assembled at my entering it with my guide. There might
be about four hundred men and three hundred women in the meeting.
The women hid their faces behind their fans, and the men were
covered with their broad-brimmed hats. All were seated, and the
silence was universal. I passed through them, but did not perceive
so much as one lift up his eyes to look at me. This silence lasted
a quarter of an hour, when at last one of them rose up, took off his
hat, and, after making a variety of wry faces and groaning in a most
lamentable manner, he, partly from his nose and partly from his
mouth, threw out a strange, confused jumble of words (borrowed, as
he imagined, from the Gospel) which neither himself nor any of his
hearers understood. When this distorter had ended his beautiful
soliloquy, and that the stupid, but greatly edified, congregation
were separated, I asked my friend how it was possible for the
judicious part of their assembly to suffer such a babbling? "We are
obliged," says he, "to suffer it, because no one knows when a man
rises up to hold forth whether he will be moved by the Spirit or by
folly. In this doubt and uncertainty we listen patiently to
everyone; we even allow our women to hold forth. Two or three of
these are often inspired at one and the same time, and it is then
that a most charming noise is heard in the Lord's house." "You
have, then, no priests?" say I to him. "No, no, friend," replies
the Quaker, "to our great happiness." Then opening one of the
Friends' books, as he called it, he read the following words in an
emphatic tone:- "'God forbid we should presume to ordain anyone to
receive the Holy Spirit on the Lord's Day to the prejudice of the
rest of the brethren.' Thanks to the Almighty, we are the only
people upon earth that have no priests. Wouldst thou deprive us of
so happy a distinction? Why should we abandon our babe to mercenary
nurses, when we ourselves have milk enough for it? These mercenary
creatures would soon domineer in our houses and destroy both the
mother and the babe. God has said, 'Freely you have received,
freely give.' Shall we, after these words, cheapen, as it were, the
Gospel, sell the Holy Ghost, and make of an assembly of Christians a
mere shop of traders? We don't pay a set of men clothed in black to
assist our poor, to bury our dead, or to preach to the brethren.
These offices are all of too tender a nature for us ever to entrust
them to others." "But how is it possible for you," said I, with
some warmth, "to know whether your discourse is really inspired by
the Almighty?" "Whosoever," says he, "shall implore Christ to
enlighten him, and shall publish the Gospel truths he may feel
inwardly, such an one may be assured that he is inspired by the
Lord." He then poured forth a numberless multitude of Scripture
texts which proved, as he imagined, that there is no such thing as
Christianity without an immediate revelation, and added these
remarkable words: "When thou movest one of thy limbs, is it moved
by thy own power? Certainly not; for this limb is often sensible to
involuntary motions. Consequently he who created thy body gives
motion to this earthly tabernacle. And are the several ideas of
which thy soul receives the impression formed by thyself? Much less
are they, since these pour in upon thy mind whether thou wilt or no;
consequently thou receivest thy ideas from Him who created thy soul.
But as He leaves thy affections at full liberty, He gives thy mind
such ideas as thy affections may deserve; if thou livest in God,
thou actest, thou thinkest in God. After this thou needest only but
open thine eyes to that light which enlightens all mankind, and it
is then thou wilt perceive the truth, and make others perceive it."
"Why, this," said I, "is Malebranche's doctrine to a tittle." "I am
acquainted with thy Malebranche," said he; "he had something of the
Friend in him, but was not enough so." These are the most
considerable particulars I learnt concerning the doctrine of the
Quakers. In my next letter I shall acquaint you with their history,
which you will find more singular than their opinions.


You have already heard that the Quakers date from Christ, who,
according to them, was the first Quaker. Religion, say these, was
corrupted a little after His death, and remained in that state of
corruption about sixteen hundred years. But there were always a few
Quakers concealed in the world, who carefully preserved the sacred
fire, which was extinguished in all but themselves, until at last
this light spread itself in England in 1642.

It was at the time when Great Britain was torn to pieces by the
intestine wars which three or four sects had raised in the name of
God, that one George Fox, born in Leicestershire, and son to a silk-
weaver, took it into his head to preach, and, as he pretended, with
all the requisites of a true apostle--that is, without being able
either to read or write. He was about twenty-five years of age,
irreproachable in his life and conduct, and a holy madman. He was
equipped in leather from head to foot, and travelled from one
village to another, exclaiming against war and the clergy. Had his
invectives been levelled against the soldiery only he would have
been safe enough, but he inveighed against ecclesiastics. Fox was
seized at Derby, and being carried before a justice of peace, he did
not once offer to pull off his leathern hat, upon which an officer
gave him a great box of the ear, and cried to him, "Don't you know
you are to appear uncovered before his worship?" Fox presented his
other cheek to the officer, and begged him to give him another box
for God's sake. The justice would have had him sworn before he
asked him any questions. "Know, friend," says Fox to him, "that I
never swear." The justice, observing he "thee'd" and "thou'd" him,
sent him to the House of Correction, in Derby, with orders that he
should be whipped there. Fox praised the Lord all the way he went
to the House of Correction, where the justice's order was executed
with the utmost severity. The men who whipped this enthusiast were
greatly surprised to hear him beseech them to give him a few more
lashes for the good of his soul. There was no need of entreating
these people; the lashes were repeated, for which Fox thanked them
very cordially, and began to preach. At first the spectators fell
a-laughing, but they afterwards listened to him; and as enthusiasm
is an epidemical distemper, many were persuaded, and those who
scourged him became his first disciples. Being set at liberty, he
ran up and down the country with a dozen proselytes at his heels,
still declaiming against the clergy, and was whipped from time to
time. Being one day set in the pillory, he harangued the crowd in
so strong and moving a manner, that fifty of the auditors became his
converts, and he won the rest so much in his favour that, his head
being freed tumultuously from the hole where it was fastened, the
populace went and searched for the Church of England clergyman who
had been chiefly instrumental in bringing him to this punishment,
and set him on the same pillory where Fox had stood.

Fox was bold enough to convert some of Oliver Cromwell's soldiers,
who thereupon quitted the service and refused to take the oaths.
Oliver, having as great a contempt for a sect which would not allow
its members to fight, as Sixtus Quintus had for another sect, Dove
non si chiamava, began to persecute these new converts. The prisons
were crowded with them, but persecution seldom has any other effect
than to increase the number of proselytes. These came, therefore,
from their confinement more strongly confirmed in the principles
they had imbibed, and followed by their gaolers, whom they had
brought over to their belief. But the circumstances which
contributed chiefly to the spreading of this sect were as follows:-
Fox thought himself inspired, arid consequently was of opinion that
he must speak in a manner different from the rest of mankind. He
thereupon began to writhe his body, to screw up his face, to hold in
his breath, and to exhale it in a forcible manner, insomuch that the
priestess of the Pythian god at Delphos could not have acted her
part to better advantage. Inspiration soon became so habitual to
him that he could scarce deliver himself in any other manner. This
was the first gift he communicated to his disciples. These aped
very sincerely their master's several grimaces, and shook in every
limb the instant the fit of inspiration came upon them, whence they
were called Quakers. The vulgar attempted to mimic them; they
trembled, they spake through the nose, they quaked and fancied
themselves inspired by the Holy Ghost. The only thing now wanting
was a few miracles, and accordingly they wrought some.

Fox, this modern patriarch, spoke thus to a justice of peace before
a large assembly of people: "Friend, take care what thou dost; God
will soon punish thee for persecuting His saints." This magistrate,
being one who besotted himself every day with bad beer and brandy,
died of an apoplexy two days after, the moment he had signed a
mittimus for imprisoning some Quakers. The sudden death with which
this justice was seized was not ascribed to his intemperance, but
was universally looked upon as the effect of the holy man's
predictions; so that this accident made more converts to Quakerism
than a thousand sermons and as many shaking fits could have done.
Oliver, finding them increase daily, was desirous of bringing them
over to his party, and for that purpose attempted to bribe them by
money. However, they were incorruptible, which made him one day
declare that this religion was the only one he had ever met with
that had resisted the charms of gold.

The Quakers were several times persecuted under Charles II.; not
upon a religious account, but for refusing to pay the tithes, for
"theeing" and "thouing" the magistrates, and for refusing to take
the oaths enacted by the laws.

At last Robert Barclay, a native of Scotland, presented to the King,
in 1675, his "Apology for the Quakers," a work as well drawn up as
the subject could possibly admit. The dedication to Charles II. is
not filled with mean, flattering encomiums, but abounds with bold
touches in favour of truth and with the wisest counsels. "Thou hast
tasted," says he to the King at the close of his epistle dedicatory,
"of prosperity and adversity; thou knowest what it is to be banished
thy native country; to be overruled as well as to rule and sit upon
the throne; and, being oppressed, thou hast reason to know how
hateful the Oppressor is both to God and man. If, after all these
warnings and advertisements, thou dost not turn unto the Lord with
all thy heart, but forget Him who remembered thee in thy distress,
and give up thyself to follow lust and vanity, surely great will be
thy condemnation.

"Against which snare, as well as the temptation of those that may or
do feed thee and prompt thee to evil, the most excellent and
prevalent remedy will be, to apply thyself to that light of Christ
which shineth in thy conscience, which neither can nor will flatter
thee nor suffer thee to be at ease in thy sins, but doth and will
deal plainly and faithfully with thee, as those that are followers
thereof have plainly done.--Thy faithful friend and subject, Robert

A more surprising circumstance is, that this epistle, written by a
private man of no figure, was so happy in its effects, as to put a
stop to the persecution.


About this time arose the illustrious William Penn, who established
the power of the Quakers in America, and would have made them appear
venerable in the eyes of the Europeans, were it possible for mankind
to respect virtue when revealed in a ridiculous light. He was the
only son of Vice-Admiral Penn, favourite of the Duke of York,
afterwards King James II.

William Penn, at twenty years of age, happening to meet with a
Quaker in Cork, whom he had known at Oxford, this man made a
proselyte of him; and William being a sprightly youth, and naturally
eloquent, having a winning aspect, and a very engaging carriage, he
soon gained over some of his intimates. He carried matters so far,
that he formed by insensible degrees a society of young Quakers, who
met at his house; so that he was at the head of a sect when a little
above twenty.

Being returned, after his leaving Cork, to the Vice-Admiral his
father, instead of falling upon his knees to ask his blessing, he
went up to him with his hat on, and said, "Friend, I am very glad to
see thee in good health." The Vice-Admiral imagined his son to be
crazy, but soon finding he was turned Quaker, he employed all the
methods that prudence could suggest to engage him to behave and act
like other people. The youth made no other answer to his father,
than by exhorting him to turn Quaker also. At last his father
confined himself to this single request, viz., "that he should wait
upon the King and the Duke of York with his hat under his arm, and
should not 'thee' and 'thou' them." William answered, "that he
could not do these things, for conscience' sake," which exasperated
his father to such a degree, that he turned him out of doors. Young
Pen gave God thanks for permitting him to suffer so early in His
cause, after which he went into the city, where he held forth, and
made a great number of converts.

The Church of England clergy found their congregations dwindle away
daily; and Penn being young, handsome, and of a graceful stature,
the court as well as the city ladies flocked very devoutly to his
meeting. The patriarch, George Fox, hearing of his great
reputation, came to London (though the journey was very long) purely
to see and converse with him. Both resolved to go upon missions
into foreign countries, and accordingly they embarked for Holland,
after having left labourers sufficient to take care of the London

Their labours were crowned with success in Amsterdam, but a
circumstance which reflected the greatest honour on them, and at the
same time put their humility to the greatest trial, was the
reception they met with from Elizabeth, the Princess Palatine, aunt
to George I. of Great Britain, a lady conspicuous for her genius and
knowledge, and to whom Descartes had dedicated his Philosophical

She was then retired to the Hague, where she received these Friends,
for so the Quakers were at that time called in Holland. This
princess had several conferences with them in her palace, and she at
last entertained so favourable an opinion of Quakerism, that they
confessed she was not far from the kingdom of heaven. The Friends
sowed likewise the good seed in Germany, but reaped very little
fruit; for the mode of "theeing" and "thouing" was not approved of
in a country where a man is perpetually obliged to employ the titles
of "highness" and "excellency." William Penn returned soon to
England upon hearing of his father's sickness, in order to see him
before he died. The Vice-Admiral was reconciled to his son, and
though of a different persuasion, embraced him tenderly. William
made a fruitless exhortation to his father not to receive the
sacrament, but to die a Quaker, and the good old man entreated his
son William to wear buttons on his sleeves, and a crape hatband in
his beaver, but all to no purpose.

William Penn inherited very large possessions, part of which
consisted in Crown debts due to the Vice-Admiral for sums he had
advanced for the sea service. No moneys were at that time more
insecure than those owing from the king. Penn was obliged to go
more than once, and "thee" and "thou" King Charles and his
Ministers, in order to recover the debt; and at last, instead of
specie, the Government invested him with the right and sovereignty
of a province of America, to the south of Maryland. Thus was a
Quaker raised to sovereign power. Penn set sail for his new
dominions with two ships freighted with Quakers, who followed his
fortune. The country was then called Pennsylvania from William
Penn, who there founded Philadelphia, now the most flourishing city
in that country. The first step he took was to enter into an
alliance with his American neighbours, and this is the only treaty
between those people and the Christians that was not ratified by an
oath, and was never infringed. The new sovereign was at the same
time the legislator of Pennsylvania, and enacted very wise and
prudent laws, none of which have ever been changed since his time.
The first is, to injure no person upon a religious account, and to
consider as brethren all those who believe in one God.

He had no sooner settled his government, but several American
merchants came and peopled this colony. The natives of the country,
instead of flying into the woods, cultivated by insensible degrees a
friendship with the peaceable Quakers. They loved these foreigners
as much as they detested the other Christians who had conquered and
laid waste America. In a little time a great number of these
savages (falsely so called), charmed with the mild and gentle
disposition of their neighbours, came in crowds to William Penn, and
besought him to admit them into the number of his vassals. It was
very rare and uncommon for a sovereign to be "thee'd" and "thou'd"
by the meanest of his subjects, who never took their hats off when
they came into his presence; and as singular for a Government to be
without one priest in it, and for a people to be without arms,
either offensive or defensive; for a body of citizens to be
absolutely undistinguished but by the public employments, and for
neighbours not to entertain the least jealousy one against the

William Penn might glory in having brought down upon earth the so
much boasted golden age, which in all probability never existed but
in Pennsylvania. He returned to England to settle some affairs
relating to his new dominions. After the death of King Charles II.,
King James, who had loved the father, indulged the same affection to
the son, and no longer considered him as an obscure sectary, but as
a very great man. The king's politics on this occasion agreed with
his inclinations. He was desirous of pleasing the Quakers by
annulling the laws made against Nonconformists, in order to have an
opportunity, by this universal toleration, of establishing the
Romish religion. All the sectarists in England saw the snare that
was laid for them, but did not give into it; they never failing to
unite when the Romish religion, their common enemy, is to be
opposed. But Penn did not think himself bound in any manner to
renounce his principles, merely to favour Protestants to whom he was
odious, in opposition to a king who loved him. He had established a
universal toleration with regard to conscience in America, and would
not have it thought that he intended to destroy it in Europe, for
which reason he adhered so inviolably to King James, that a report
prevailed universally of his being a Jesuit. This calumny affected
him very strongly, and he was obliged to justify himself in print.
However, the unfortunate King James II., in whom, as in most princes
of the Stuart family, grandeur and weakness were equally blended,
and who, like them, as much overdid some things as he was short in
others, lost his kingdom in a manner that is hardly to be accounted

All the English sectarists accepted from William III, and his
Parliament the toleration and indulgence which they had refused when
offered by King James. It was then the Quakers began to enjoy, by
virtue of the laws, the several privileges they possess at this
time. Penn having at last seen Quakerism firmly established in his
native country, went back to Pennsylvania. His own people and the
Americans received him with tears of joy, as though he had been a
father who was returned to visit his children. All the laws had
been religiously observed in his absence, a circumstance in which no
legislator had ever been happy but himself. After having resided
some years in Pennsylvania he left it, but with great reluctance, in
order to return to England, there to solicit some matters in favour
of the commerce of Pennsylvania. But he never saw it again, he
dying in Ruscombe, in Berkshire, in 1718.

I am not able to guess what fate Quakerism may have in America, but
I perceive it dwindles away daily in England. In all countries
where liberty of conscience is allowed, the established religion
will at last swallow up all the rest. Quakers are disqualified from
being members of Parliament; nor can they enjoy any post or
preferment, because an oath must always be taken on these occasions,
and they never swear. They are therefore reduced to the necessity
of subsisting upon traffic. Their children, whom the industry of
their parents has enriched, are desirous of enjoying honours, of
wearing buttons and ruffles; and quite ashamed of being called
Quakers they become converts to the Church of England, merely to be
in the fashion.


England is properly the country of sectarists. Multae sunt
mansiones in domo patris mei (in my Father's house are many
mansions). An Englishman, as one to whom liberty is natural, may go
to heaven his own way.

Nevertheless, though every one is permitted to serve God in whatever
mode or fashion he thinks proper, yet their true religion, that in
which a man makes his fortune, is the sect of Episcopalians or
Churchmen, called the Church of England, or simply the Church, by
way of eminence. No person can possess an employment either in
England or Ireland unless he be ranked among the faithful, that is,
professes himself a member of the Church of England. This reason
(which carries mathematical evidence with it) has converted such
numbers of Dissenters of all persuasions, that not a twentieth part
of the nation is out of the pale of the Established Church. The
English clergy have retained a great number of the Romish
ceremonies, and especially that of receiving, with a most scrupulous
attention, their tithes. They also have the pious ambition to aim
at superiority.

Moreover, they inspire very religiously their flock with a holy zeal
against Dissenters of all denominations. This zeal was pretty
violent under the Tories in the four last years of Queen Anne; but
was productive of no greater mischief than the breaking the windows
of some meeting-houses and the demolishing of a few of them. For
religious rage ceased in England with the civil wars, and was no
more under Queen Anne than the hollow noise of a sea whose billows
still heaved, though so long after the storm when the Whigs and
Tories laid waste their native country, in the same manner as the
Guelphs and Ghibelins formerly did theirs. It was absolutely
necessary for both parties to call in religion on this occasion; the
Tories declared for Episcopacy, and the Whigs, as some imagined,
were for abolishing it; however, after these had got the upper hand,
they contented themselves with only abridging it.

At the time when the Earl of Oxford and the Lord Bolingbroke used to
drink healths to the Tories, the Church of England considered those
noblemen as the defenders of its holy privileges. The lower House
of Convocation (a kind of House of Commons) composed wholly of the
clergy, was in some credit at that time; at least the members of it
had the liberty to meet, to dispute on ecclesiastical matters, to
sentence impious books from time to time to the flames, that is,
books written against themselves. The Ministry which is now
composed of Whigs does not so much as allow those gentlemen to
assemble, so that they are at this time reduced (in the obscurity of
their respective parishes) to the melancholy occupation of praying
for the prosperity of the Government whose tranquillity they would
willingly disturb. With regard to the bishops, who are twenty-six
in all, they still have seats in the House of Lords in spite of the
Whigs, because the ancient abuse of considering them as barons
subsists to this day. There is a clause, however, in the oath which
the Government requires from these gentlemen, that puts their
Christian patience to a very great trial, viz., that they shall be
of the Church of England as by law established. There are few
bishops, deans, or other dignitaries, but imagine they are so jure
divino; it is consequently a great mortification to them to be
obliged to confess that they owe their dignity to a pitiful law
enacted by a set of profane laymen. A learned monk (Father
Courayer) wrote a book lately to prove the validity and succession
of English ordinations. This book was forbid in France, but do you
believe that the English Ministry were pleased with it? Far from
it. Those wicked Whigs don't care a straw whether the episcopal
succession among them hath been interrupted or not, or whether
Bishop Parker was consecrated (as it is pretended) in a tavern or a
church; for these Whigs are much better pleased that the Bishops
should derive their authority from the Parliament than from the
Apostles. The Lord Bolingbroke observed that this notion of divine
right would only make so many tyrants in lawn sleeves, but that the
laws made so many citizens.

With regard to the morals of the English clergy, they are more
regular than those of France, and for this reason. All the clergy
(a very few excepted) are educated in the Universities of Oxford or
Cambridge, far from the depravity and corruption which reign in the
capital. They are not called to dignities till very late, at a time
of life when men are sensible of no other passion but avarice, that
is, when their ambition craves a supply. Employments are here
bestowed both in the Church and the army, as a reward for long
services; and we never see youngsters made bishops or colonels
immediately upon their laying aside the academical gown; and besides
most of the clergy are married. The stiff and awkward air
contracted by them at the University, and the little familiarity the
men of this country have with the ladies, commonly oblige a bishop
to confine himself to, and rest contented with, his own. Clergymen
sometimes take a glass at the tavern, custom giving them a sanction
on this occasion; and if they fuddle themselves it is in a very
serious manner, and without giving the least scandal.

That fable-mixed kind of mortal (not to be defined), who is neither
of the clergy nor of the laity; in a word, the thing called Abbe in
France; is a species quite unknown in England. All the clergy here
are very much upon the reserve, and most of them pedants. When
these are told that in France young fellows famous for their
dissoluteness, and raised to the highest dignities of the Church by
female intrigues, address the fair publicly in an amorous way, amuse
themselves in writing tender love songs, entertain their friends
very splendidly every night at their own houses, and after the
banquet is ended withdraw to invoke the assistance of the Holy
Ghost, and call themselves boldly the successors of the Apostles,
they bless God for their being Protestants. But these are shameless
heretics, who deserve to be blown hence through the flames to old
Nick, as Rabelais says, and for this reason I do not trouble myself
about them.


The Church of England is confined almost to the kingdom whence it
received its name, and to Ireland, for Presbyterianism is the
established religion in Scotland. This Presbyterianism is directly
the same with Calvinism, as it was established in France, and is now
professed at Geneva. As the priests of this sect receive but very
inconsiderable stipends from their churches, and consequently cannot
emulate the splendid luxury of bishops, they exclaim very naturally
against honours which they can never attain to. Figure to yourself
the haughty Diogenes trampling under foot the pride of Plato. The
Scotch Presbyterians are not very unlike that proud though tattered
reasoner. Diogenes did not use Alexander half so impertinently as
these treated King Charles II.; for when they took up arms in his
cause in opposition to Oliver, who had deceived them, they forced
that poor monarch to undergo the hearing of three or four sermons
every day, would not suffer him to play, reduced him to a state of
penitence and mortification, so that Charles soon grew sick of these
pedants, and accordingly eloped from them with as much joy as a
youth does from school.

A Church of England minister appears as another Cato in presence of
a juvenile, sprightly French graduate, who bawls for a whole morning
together in the divinity schools, and hums a song in chorus with
ladies in the evening; but this Cato is a very spark when before a
Scotch Presbyterian. The latter affects a serious gait, puts on a
sour look, wears a vastly broad-brimmed hat and a long cloak over a
very short coat, preaches through the nose, and gives the name of
the whore of Babylon to all churches where the ministers are so
fortunate as to enjoy an annual revenue of five or six thousand
pounds, and where the people are weak enough to suffer this, and to
give them the titles of my lord, your lordship, or your eminence.

These gentlemen, who have also some churches in England, introduced
there the mode of grave and severe exhortations. To them is owing
the sanctification of Sunday in the three kingdoms. People are
there forbidden to work or take any recreation on that day, in which
the severity is twice as great as that of the Romish Church. No
operas, plays, or concerts are allowed in London on Sundays, and
even cards are so expressly forbidden that none but persons of
quality, and those we call the genteel, play on that day; the rest
of the nation go either to church, to the tavern, or to see their

Though the Episcopal and Presbyterian sects are the two prevailing
ones in Great Britain, yet all others are very welcome to come and
settle in it, and live very sociably together, though most of their
preachers hate one another almost as cordially as a Jansenist damns
a Jesuit.

Take a view of the Royal Exchange in London, a place more venerable
than many courts of justice, where the representatives of all
nations meet for the benefit of mankind. There the Jew, the
Mahometan, and the Christian transact together, as though they all
professed the same religion, and give the name of infidel to none
but bankrupts. There the Presbyterian confides in the Anabaptist,
and the Churchman depends on the Quaker's word.

If one religion only were allowed in England, the Government would
very possibly become arbitrary; if there were but two, the people
would cut one another's throats; but as there are such a multitude,
they all live happy and in peace.


There is a little sect here composed of clergymen, and of a few very
learned persons among the laity, who, though they do not call
themselves Arians or Socinians, do yet dissent entirely from St.
Athanasius with regard to their notions of the Trinity, and declare
very frankly that the Father is greater than the Son.

Do you remember what is related of a certain orthodox bishop, who,
in order to convince an emperor of the reality of consubstantiation,
put his hand under the chin of the monarch's son, and took him by
the nose in presence of his sacred majesty? The emperor was going
to order his attendants to throw the bishop out of the window, when
the good old man gave him this handsome and convincing reason:
"Since your majesty," says he, "is angry when your son has not due
respect shown him, what punishment do you think will God the Father
inflict on those who refuse His Son Jesus the titles due to Him?"
The persons I just now mentioned declare that the holy bishop took a
very wrong step, that his argument was inconclusive, and that the
emperor should have answered him thus: "Know that there are two
ways by which men may be wanting in respect to me--first, in not
doing honour sufficient to my son; and, secondly, in paying him the
same honour as to me."

Be this as it will, the principles of Arius begin to revive, not
only in England, but in Holland and Poland. The celebrated Sir
Isaac Newton honoured this opinion so far as to countenance it.
This philosopher thought that the Unitarians argued more
mathematically than we do. But the most sanguine stickler for
Arianism is the illustrious Dr. Clark. This man is rigidly
virtuous, and of a mild disposition, is more fond of his tenets than
desirous of propagating them, and absorbed so entirely in problems
and calculations that he is a mere reasoning machine.

It is he who wrote a book which is much esteemed and little
understood, on the existence of God, and another, more intelligible,
but pretty much contemned, on the truth of the Christian religion.

He never engaged in scholastic disputes, which our friend calls
venerable trifles. He only published a work containing all the
testimonies of the primitive ages for and against the Unitarians,
and leaves to the reader the counting of the voices and the liberty
of forming a judgment. This book won the doctor a great number of
partisans, and lost him the See of Canterbury; but, in my humble
opinion, he was out in his calculation, and had better have been
Primate of all England than merely an Arian parson.

You see that opinions are subject to revolutions as well as empires.
Arianism, after having triumphed during three centuries, and been
forgot twelve, rises at last out of its own ashes; but it has chosen
a very improper season to make its appearance in, the present age
being quite cloyed with disputes and sects. The members of this
sect are, besides, too few to be indulged the liberty of holding
public assemblies, which, however, they will, doubtless, be
permitted to do in case they spread considerably. But people are
now so very cold with respect to all things of this kind, that there
is little probability any new religion, or old one, that may be
revived, will meet with favour. Is it not whimsical enough that
Luther, Calvin, and Zuinglius, all of them wretched authors, should
have founded sects which are now spread over a great part of Europe,
that Mahomet, though so ignorant, should have given a religion to
Asia and Africa, and that Sir Isaac Newton, Dr. Clark, Mr. Locke,
Mr. Le Clerc, etc., the greatest philosophers, as well as the ablest
writers of their ages, should scarcely have been able to raise a
little flock, which even decreases daily.

This it is to be born at a proper period of time. Were Cardinal de
Retz to return again into the world, neither his eloquence nor his
intrigues would draw together ten women in Paris.

Were Oliver Cromwell, he who beheaded his sovereign, and seized upon
the kingly dignity, to rise from the dead, he would be a wealthy
City trader, and no more.


The members of the English Parliament are fond of comparing
themselves to the old Romans.

Not long since Mr. Shippen opened a speech in the House of Commons
with these words, "The majesty of the people of England would be
wounded." The singularity of the expression occasioned a loud
laugh; but this gentleman, so far from being disconcerted, repeated
the same words with a resolute tone of voice, and the laugh ceased.
In my opinion, the majesty of the people of England has nothing in
common with that of the people of Rome, much less is there any
affinity between their Governments. There is in London a senate,
some of the members whereof are accused (doubtless very unjustly) of
selling their voices on certain occasions, as was done in Rome; this
is the only resemblance. Besides, the two nations appear to me
quite opposite in character, with regard both to good and evil. The
Romans never knew the dreadful folly of religious wars, an
abomination reserved for devout preachers of patience and humility.
Marius and Sylla, Caesar and Pompey, Anthony and Augustus, did not
draw their swords and set the world in a blaze merely to determine
whether the flamen should wear his shirt over his robe, or his robe
over his shirt, or whether the sacred chickens should eat and drink,
or eat only, in order to take the augury. The English have hanged
one another by law, and cut one another to pieces in pitched
battles, for quarrels of as trifling a nature. The sects of the
Episcopalians and Presbyterians quite distracted these very serious
heads for a time. But I fancy they will hardly ever be so silly
again, they seeming to be grown wiser at their own expense; and I do
not perceive the least inclination in them to murder one another
merely about syllogisms, as some zealots among them once did.

But here follows a more essential difference between Rome and
England, which gives the advantage entirely to the latter--viz.,
that the civil wars of Rome ended in slavery, and those of the
English in liberty. The English are the only people upon earth who
have been able to prescribe limits to the power of kings by
resisting them; and who, by a series of struggles, have at last
established that wise Government where the Prince is all-powerful to
do good, and, at the same time, is restrained from committing evil;
where the nobles are great without insolence, though there are no
vassals; and where the people share in the Government without

The House of Lords and that of the Commons divide the legislative
power under the king, but the Romans had no such balance. The
patricians and plebeians in Rome were perpetually at variance, and
there was no intermediate power to reconcile them. The Roman
senate, who were so unjustly, so criminally proud as not to suffer
the plebeians to share with them in anything, could find no other
artifice to keep the latter out of the administration than by
employing them in foreign wars. They considered the plebeians as a
wild beast, whom it behoved them to let loose upon their neighbours,
for fear they should devour their masters. Thus the greatest defect
in the Government of the Romans raised them to be conquerors. By
being unhappy at home, they triumphed over and possessed themselves
of the world, till at last their divisions sunk them to slavery.

The Government of England will never rise to so exalted a pitch of
glory, nor will its end be so fatal. The English are not fired with
the splendid folly of making conquests, but would only prevent their
neighbours from conquering. They are not only jealous of their own
liberty, but even of that of other nations. The English were
exasperated against Louis XIV. for no other reason but because he
was ambitious, and declared war against him merely out of levity,
not from any interested motives.

The English have doubtless purchased their liberties at a very high
price, and waded through seas of blood to drown the idol of
arbitrary power. Other nations have been involved in as great
calamities, and have shed as much blood; but then the blood they
spilt in defence of their liberties only enslaved them the more.

That which rises to a revolution in England is no more than a
sedition in other countries. A city in Spain, in Barbary, or in
Turkey, takes up arms in defence of its privileges, when immediately
it is stormed by mercenary troops, it is punished by executioners,
and the rest of the nation kiss the chains they are loaded with.
The French are of opinion that the government of this island is more
tempestuous than the sea which surrounds it, which indeed is true;
but then it is never so but when the king raises the storm--when he
attempts to seize the ship of which he is only the chief pilot. The
civil wars of France lasted longer, were more cruel, and productive
of greater evils than those of England; but none of these civil wars
had a wise and prudent liberty for their object.

In the detestable reigns of Charles IX. and Henry III. the whole
affair was only whether the people should be slaves to the Guises.
With regard to the last war of Paris, it deserves only to be hooted
at. Methinks I see a crowd of schoolboys rising up in arms against
their master, and afterwards whipped for it. Cardinal de Retz, who
was witty and brave (but to no purpose), rebellious without a cause,
factious without design, and head of a defenceless party, caballed
for caballing sake, and seemed to foment the civil war merely out of
diversion. The Parliament did not know what he intended, nor what
he did not intend. He levied troops by Act of Parliament, and the
next moment cashiered them. He threatened, he begged pardon; he set
a price upon Cardinal Mazarin's head, and afterwards congratulated
him in a public manner. Our civil wars under Charles VI. were
bloody and cruel, those of the League execrable, and that of the
Frondeurs ridiculous.

That for which the French chiefly reproach the English nation is the
murder of King Charles I., whom his subjects treated exactly as he
would have treated them had his reign been prosperous. After all,
consider on one side Charles I., defeated in a pitched battle,
imprisoned, tried, sentenced to die in Westminster Hall, and then
beheaded. And on the other, the Emperor Henry VII., poisoned by his
chaplain at his receiving the Sacrament; Henry III. stabbed by a
monk; thirty assassinations projected against Henry IV., several of
them put in execution, and the last bereaving that great monarch of
his life. Weigh, I say, all these wicked attempts, and then judge.


That mixture in the English Government, that harmony between King,
Lords, and commons, did not always subsist. England was enslaved
for a long series of years by the Romans, the Saxons, the Danes, and
the French successively. William the Conqueror particularly, ruled
them with a rod of iron. He disposed as absolutely of the lives and
fortunes of his conquered subjects as an eastern monarch; and
forbade, upon pain of death, the English either fire or candle in
their houses after eight o'clock; whether was this to prevent their
nocturnal meetings, or only to try, by an odd and whimsical
prohibition, how far it was possible for one man to extend his power
over his fellow-creatures. It is true, indeed, that the English had
Parliaments before and after William the Conqueror, and they boast
of them, as though these assemblies then called Parliaments,
composed of ecclesiastical tyrants and of plunderers entitled
barons, had been the guardians of the public liberty and happiness.

The barbarians who came from the shores of the Baltic, and settled
in the rest of Europe, brought with them the form of government
called States or Parliaments, about which so much noise is made, and
which are so little understood. Kings, indeed, were not absolute in
those days; but then the people were more wretched upon that very
account, and more completely enslaved. The chiefs of these savages,
who had laid waste France, Italy, Spain, and England, made
themselves monarchs. Their generals divided among themselves the
several countries they had conquered, whence sprung those margraves,
those peers, those barons, those petty tyrants, who often contested
with their sovereigns for the spoils of whole nations. These were
birds of prey fighting with an eagle for doves whose blood the
victorious was to suck. Every nation, instead of being governed by
one master, was trampled upon by a hundred tyrants. The priests
soon played a part among them. Before this it had been the fate of
the Gauls, the Germans, and the Britons, to be always governed by
their Druids and the chiefs of their villages, an ancient kind of
barons, not so tyrannical as their successors. These Druids
pretended to be mediators between God and man. They enacted laws,
they fulminated their excommunications, and sentenced to death. The
bishops succeeded, by insensible degrees, to their temporal
authority in the Goth and Vandal government. The popes set
themselves at their head, and armed with their briefs, their bulls,
and reinforced by monks, they made even kings tremble, deposed and
assassinated them at pleasure, and employed every artifice to draw
into their own purses moneys from all parts of Europe. The weak
Ina, one of the tyrants of the Saxon Heptarchy in England, was the
first monarch who submitted, in his pilgrimage to Rome, to pay St.
Peter's penny (equivalent very near to a French crown) for every
house in his dominions. The whole island soon followed his example;
England became insensibly one of the Pope's provinces, and the Holy
Father used to send from time to time his legates thither to levy
exorbitant taxes. At last King John delivered up by a public
instrument the kingdom of England to the Pope, who had
excommunicated him; but the barons, not finding their account in
this resignation, dethroned the wretched King John and seated Louis,
father to St. Louis, King of France, in his place. However, they
were soon weary of their new monarch, and accordingly obliged him to
return to France.

Whilst that the barons, the bishops, and the popes, all laid waste
England, where all were for ruling the most numerous, the most
useful, even the most virtuous, and consequently the most venerable
part of mankind, consisting of those who study the laws and the
sciences, of traders, of artificers, in a word, of all who were not
tyrants--that is, those who are called the people: these, I say,
were by them looked upon as so many animals beneath the dignity of
the human species. The Commons in those ages were far from sharing
in the government, they being villains or peasants, whose labour,
whose blood, were the property of their masters who entitled
themselves the nobility. The major part of men in Europe were at
that time what they are to this day in several parts of the world--
they were villains or bondsmen of lords--that is, a kind of cattle
bought and sold with the land. Many ages passed away before justice
could be done to human nature--before mankind were conscious that it
was abominable for many to sow, and but few reap. And was not
France very happy, when the power and authority of those petty
robbers was abolished by the lawful authority of kings and of the

Happily, in the violent shocks which the divisions between kings and
the nobles gave to empires, the chains of nations were more or less
heavy. Liberty in England sprang from the quarrels of tyrants. The
barons forced King John and King Henry III. to grant the famous
Magna Charta, the chief design of which was indeed to make kings
dependent on the Lords; but then the rest of the nation were a
little favoured in it, in order that they might join on proper
occasions with their pretended masters. This great Charter, which
is considered as the sacred origin of the English liberties, shows
in itself how little liberty was known.

The title alone proves that the king thought he had a just right to
be absolute; and that the barons, and even the clergy, forced him to
give up the pretended right, for no other reason but because they
were the most powerful.

Magna Charta begins in this style: "We grant, of our own free will,
the following privileges to the archbishops, bishops, priors, and
barons of our kingdom," etc.

The House of Commons is not once mentioned in the articles of this
Charter--a proof that it did not yet exist, or that it existed
without power. Mention is therein made, by name, of the freemen of
England--a melancholy proof that some were not so. It appears, by
Article XXXII., that these pretended freemen owed service to their
lords. Such a liberty as this was not many removes from slavery.

By Article XXI., the king ordains that his officers shall not
henceforward seize upon, unless they pay for them, the horses and
carts of freemen. The people considered this ordinance as a real
liberty, though it was a greater tyranny. Henry VII., that happy
usurper and great politician, who pretended to love the barons,
though he in reality hated and feared them, got their lands
alienated. By this means the villains, afterwards acquiring riches
by their industry, purchased the estates and country seats of the
illustrious peers who had ruined themselves by their folly and
extravagance, and all the lands got by insensible degrees into other

The power of the House of Commons increased every day. The families
of the ancient peers were at last extinct; and as peers only are
properly noble in England, there would be no such thing in
strictness of law as nobility in that island, had not the kings
created new barons from time to time, and preserved the body of
peers, once a terror to them, to oppose them to the Commons, since
become so formidable.

All these new peers who compose the Higher House receive nothing but
their titles from the king, and very few of them have estates in
those places whence they take their titles. One shall be Duke of D-
, though he has not a foot of land in Dorsetshire; and another is
Earl of a village, though he scarce knows where it is situated. The
peers have power, but it is only in the Parliament House.

There is no such thing here as haute, moyenne, and basse justice--
that is, a power to judge in all matters civil and criminal; nor a
right or privilege of hunting in the grounds of a citizen, who at
the same time is not permitted to fire a gun in his own field.

No one is exempted in this country from paying certain taxes because
he is a nobleman or a priest. All duties and taxes are settled by
the House of Commons, whose power is greater than that of the Peers,
though inferior to it in dignity. The spiritual as well as temporal
Lords have the liberty to reject a Money Bill brought in by the
Commons; but they are not allowed to alter anything in it, and must
either pass or throw it out without restriction. When the Bill has
passed the Lords and is signed by the king, then the whole nation
pays, every man in proportion to his revenue or estate, not
according to his title, which would be absurd. There is no such
thing as an arbitrary subsidy or poll-tax, but a real tax on the
lands, of all which an estimate was made in the reign of the famous
King William III.

The land-tax continues still upon the same foot, though the revenue
of the lands is increased. Thus no one is tyrannised over, and
every one is easy. The feet of the peasants are not bruised by
wooden shoes; they eat white bread, are well clothed, and are not
afraid of increasing their stock of cattle, nor of tiling their
houses, from any apprehension that their taxes will be raised the
year following. The annual income of the estates of a great many
commoners in England amounts to two hundred thousand livres, and yet
these do not think it beneath them to plough the lands which enrich
them, and on which they enjoy their liberty.


As trade enriched the citizens in England, so it contributed to
their freedom, and this freedom on the other side extended their
commerce, whence arose the grandeur of the State. Trade raised by
insensible degrees the naval power, which gives the English a
superiority over the seas, and they now are masters of very near two
hundred ships of war. Posterity will very probably be surprised to
hear that an island whose only produce is a little lead, tin,
fuller's-earth, and coarse wool, should become so powerful by its
commerce, as to be able to send, in 1723, three fleets at the same
time to three different and far distanced parts of the globe. One
before Gibraltar, conquered and still possessed by the English; a
second to Portobello, to dispossess the King of Spain of the
treasures of the West Indies; and a third into the Baltic, to
prevent the Northern Powers from coming to an engagement.

At the time when Louis XIV. made all Italy tremble, and that his
armies, which had already possessed themselves of Savoy and
Piedmont, were upon the point of taking Turin; Prince Eugene was
obliged to march from the middle of Germany in order to succour
Savoy. Having no money, without which cities cannot be either taken
or defended, he addressed himself to some English merchants. These,
at an hour and half's warning, lent him five millions, whereby he
was enabled to deliver Turin, and to beat the French; after which he
wrote the following short letter to the persons who had disbursed
him the above-mentioned sums: "Gentlemen, I have received your
money, and flatter myself that I have laid it out to your
satisfaction." Such a circumstance as this raises a just pride in
an English merchant, and makes him presume (not without some reason)
to compare himself to a Roman citizen; and, indeed, a peer's brother
does not think traffic beneath him. When the Lord Townshend was
Minister of State, a brother of his was content to be a City
merchant; and at the time that the Earl of Oxford governed Great
Britain, a younger brother was no more than a factor in Aleppo,
where he chose to live, and where he died. This custom, which
begins, however, to be laid aside, appears monstrous to Germans,
vainly puffed up with their extraction. These think it morally
impossible that the son of an English peer should be no more than a
rich and powerful citizen, for all are princes in Germany. There
have been thirty highnesses of the same name, all whose patrimony
consisted only in their escutcheons and their pride.

In France the title of marquis is given gratis to any one who will
accept of it; and whosoever arrives at Paris from the midst of the
most remote provinces with money in his purse, and a name
terminating in ac or ille, may strut about, and cry, "Such a man as
I! A man of my rank and figure!" and may look down upon a trader
with sovereign contempt; whilst the trader on the other side, by
thus often hearing his profession treated so disdainfully, is fool
enough to blush at it. However, I need not say which is most useful
to a nation; a lord, powdered in the tip of the mode, who knows
exactly at what o'clock the king rises and goes to bed, and who
gives himself airs of grandeur and state, at the same time that he
is acting the slave in the ante-chamber of a prime minister; or a
merchant, who enriches his country, despatches orders from his
counting-house to Surat and Grand Cairo, and contributes to the
well-being of the world.


It is inadvertently affirmed in the Christian countries of Europe
that the English are fools and madmen. Fools, because they give
their children the small-pox to prevent their catching it; and
madmen, because they wantonly communicate a certain and dreadful
distemper to their children, merely to prevent an uncertain evil.
The English, on the other side, call the rest of the Europeans
cowardly and unnatural. Cowardly, because they are afraid of
putting their children to a little pain; unnatural, because they
expose them to die one time or other of the small-pox. But that the
reader may be able to judge whether the English or those who differ
from them in opinion are in the right, here follows the history of
the famed inoculation, which is mentioned with so much dread in

The Circassian women have, from time immemorial, communicated the
small-pox to their children when not above six months old by making
an incision in the arm, and by putting into this incision a pustule,
taken carefully from the body of another child. This pustule
produces the same effect in the arm it is laid in as yeast in a
piece of dough; it ferments, and diffuses through the whole mass of
blood the qualities with which it is impregnated. The pustules of
the child in whom the artificial small-pox has been thus inoculated
are employed to communicate the same distemper to others. There is
an almost perpetual circulation of it in Circassia; and when
unhappily the small-pox has quite left the country, the inhabitants
of it are in as great trouble and perplexity as other nations when
their harvest has fallen short.

The circumstance that introduced a custom in Circassia, which
appears so singular to others, is nevertheless a cause common to all
nations, I mean maternal tenderness and interest.

The Circassians are poor, and their daughters are beautiful, and
indeed, it is in them they chiefly trade. They furnish with
beauties the seraglios of the Turkish Sultan, of the Persian Sophy,
and of all those who are wealthy enough to purchase and maintain
such precious merchandise. These maidens are very honourably and
virtuously instructed to fondle and caress men; are taught dances of
a very polite and effeminate kind; and how to heighten by the most
voluptuous artifices the pleasures of their disdainful masters for
whom they are designed. These unhappy creatures repeat their lesson
to their mothers, in the same manner as little girls among us repeat
their catechism without understanding one word they say.

Now it often happened that, after a father and mother had taken the
utmost care of the education of their children, they were frustrated
of all their hopes in an instant. The small-pox getting into the
family, one daughter died of it, another lost an eye, a third had a
great nose at her recovery, and the unhappy parents were completely
ruined. Even, frequently, when the small-pox became epidemical,
trade was suspended for several years, which thinned very
considerably the seraglios of Persia and Turkey.

A trading nation is always watchful over its own interests, and
grasps at every discovery that may be of advantage to its commerce.
The Circassians observed that scarce one person in a thousand was
ever attacked by a small-pox of a violent kind. That some, indeed,
had this distemper very favourably three or four times, but never
twice so as to prove fatal; in a word, that no one ever had it in a
violent degree twice in his life. They observed farther, that when
the small-pox is of the milder sort, and the pustules have only a
tender, delicate skin to break through, they never leave the least
scar in the face. From these natural observations they concluded,
that in case an infant of six months or a year old should have a
milder sort of small-pox, he would not die of it, would not be
marked, nor be ever afflicted with it again.

In order, therefore, to preserve the life and beauty of their
children, the only thing remaining was to give them the small-pox in
their infant years. This they did by inoculating in the body of a
child a pustule taken from the most regular and at the same time the
most favourable sort of small-pox that could be procured.

The experiment could not possibly fail. The Turks, who are people
of good sense, soon adopted this custom, insomuch that at this time
there is not a bassa in Constantinople but communicates the small-
pox to his children of both sexes immediately upon their being

Some pretend that the Circassians borrowed this custom anciently
from the Arabians; but we shall leave the clearing up of this point
of history to some learned Benedictine, who will not fail to compile
a great many folios on this subject, with the several proofs or
authorities. All I have to say upon it is that, in the beginning of
the reign of King George I., the Lady Wortley Montague, a woman of
as fine a genius, and endued with as great a strength of mind, as
any of her sex in the British Kingdoms, being with her husband, who
was ambassador at the Porte, made no scruple to communicate the
small-pox to an infant of which she was delivered in Constantinople.
The chaplain represented to his lady, but to no purpose, that this
was an unchristian operation, and therefore that it could succeed
with none but infidels. However, it had the most happy effect upon
the son of the Lady Wortley Montague, who, at her return to England,
communicated the experiment to the Princess of Wales, now Queen of
England. It must be confessed that this princess, abstracted from
her crown and titles, was born to encourage the whole circle of
arts, and to do good to mankind. She appears as an amiable
philosopher on the throne, having never let slip one opportunity of
improving the great talents she received from Nature, nor of
exerting her beneficence. It is she who, being informed that a
daughter of Milton was living, but in miserable circumstances,
immediately sent her a considerable present. It is she who protects
the learned Father Courayer. It is she who condescended to attempt
a reconciliation between Dr. Clark and Mr. Leibnitz. The moment
this princess heard of inoculation, she caused an experiment of it
to be made on four criminals sentenced to die, and by that means
preserved their lives doubly; for she not only saved them from the
gallows, but by means of this artificial small-pox prevented their
ever having that distemper in a natural way, with which they would
very probably have been attacked one time or other, and might have
died of in a more advanced age.

The princess being assured of the usefulness of this operation,
caused her own children to be inoculated. A great part of the
kingdom followed her example, and since that time ten thousand
children, at least, of persons of condition owe in this manner their
lives to her Majesty and to the Lady Wortley Montague; and as many
of the fair sex are obliged to them for their beauty.

Upon a general calculation, threescore persons in every hundred have
the small-pox. Of these threescore, twenty die of it in the most
favourable season of life, and as many more wear the disagreeable
remains of it in their faces so long as they live. Thus, a fifth
part of mankind either die or are disfigured by this distemper. But
it does not prove fatal to so much as one among those who are
inoculated in Turkey or in England, unless the patient be infirm, or
would have died had not the experiment been made upon him. Besides,
no one is disfigured, no one has the small-pox a second time, if the
inoculation was perfect. It is therefore certain, that had the lady
of some French ambassador brought this secret from Constantinople to
Paris, the nation would have been for ever obliged to her. Then the
Duke de Villequier, father to the Duke d'Aumont, who enjoys the most
vigorous constitution, and is the healthiest man in France, would
not have been cut off in the flower of his age.

The Prince of Soubise, happy in the finest flush of health, would
not have been snatched away at five-and-twenty, nor the Dauphin,
grandfather to Louis XV., have been laid in his grave in his
fiftieth year. Twenty thousand persons whom the small-pox swept
away at Paris in 1723 would have been alive at this time. But are
not the French fond of life, and is beauty so inconsiderable an
advantage as to be disregarded by the ladies? It must be confessed
that we are an odd kind of people. Perhaps our nation will imitate
ten years hence this practice of the English, if the clergy and the
physicians will but give them leave to do it; or possibly our
countrymen may introduce inoculation three months hence in France
out of mere whim, in case the English should discontinue it through

I am informed that the Chinese have practised inoculation these
hundred years, a circumstance that argues very much in its favour,
since they are thought to be the wisest and best governed people in
the world. The Chinese, indeed, do not communicate this distemper
by inoculation, but at the nose, in the same manner as we take
snuff. This is a more agreeable way, but then it produces the like
effects; and proves at the same time that had inoculation been
practised in France it would have saved the lives of thousands.


Not long since the trite and frivolous question following was
debated in a very polite and learned company, viz., Who was the
greatest man, Caesar, Alexander, Tamerlane, Cromwell, &c.?

Somebody answered that Sir Isaac Newton excelled them all. The
gentleman's assertion was very just; for if true greatness consists
in having received from heaven a mighty genius, and in having
employed it to enlighten our own mind and that of others, a man like
Sir Isaac Newton, whose equal is hardly found in a thousand years,
is the truly great man. And those politicians and conquerors (and
all ages produce some) were generally so many illustrious wicked
men. That man claims our respect who commands over the minds of the
rest of the world by the force of truth, not those who enslave their
fellow-creatures: he who is acquainted with the universe, not they
who deface it.

Since, therefore, you desire me to give you an account of the famous
personages whom England has given birth to, I shall begin with Lord
Bacon, Mr. Locke, Sir Isaac Newton, &c. Afterwards the warriors and
Ministers of State shall come in their order.

I must begin with the celebrated Viscount Verulam, known in Europe
by the name of Bacon, which was that of his family. His father had
been Lord Keeper, and himself was a great many years Lord Chancellor
under King James I. Nevertheless, amidst the intrigues of a Court,
and the affairs of his exalted employment, which alone were enough
to engross his whole time, he yet found so much leisure for study as
to make himself a great philosopher, a good historian, and an
elegant writer; and a still more surprising circumstance is that he
lived in an age in which the art of writing justly and elegantly was
little known, much less true philosophy. Lord Bacon, as is the fate
of man, was more esteemed after his death than in his lifetime. His
enemies were in the British Court, and his admirers were foreigners.

When the Marquis d'Effiat attended in England upon the Princess
Henrietta Maria, daughter to Henry IV., whom King Charles I. had
married, that Minister went and visited the Lord Bacon, who, being
at that time sick in his bed, received him with the curtains shut
close. "You resemble the angels," says the Marquis to him; "we hear
those beings spoken of perpetually, and we believe them superior to
men, but are never allowed the consolation to see them."

You know that this great man was accused of a crime very unbecoming
a philosopher: I mean bribery and extortion. You know that he was
sentenced by the House of Lords to pay a fine of about four hundred
thousand French livres, to lose his peerage and his dignity of
Chancellor; but in the present age the English revere his memory to
such a degree, that they will scarce allow him to have been guilty.
In case you should ask what are my thoughts on this head, I shall
answer you in the words which I heard the Lord Bolingbroke use on
another occasion. Several gentlemen were speaking, in his company,
of the avarice with which the late Duke of Marlborough had been
charged, some examples whereof being given, the Lord Bolingbroke was
appealed to (who, having been in the opposite party, might perhaps,
without the imputation of indecency, have been allowed to clear up
that matter): "He was so great a man," replied his lordship, "that
I have forgot his vices."

I shall therefore confine myself to those things which so justly
gained Lord Bacon the esteem of all Europe.

The most singular and the best of all his pieces is that which, at
this time, is the most useless and the least read, I mean his Novum
Scientiarum Organum. This is the scaffold with which the new
philosophy was raised; and when the edifice was built, part of it at
least, the scaffold was no longer of service.

The Lord Bacon was not yet acquainted with Nature, but then he knew,
and pointed out, the several paths that lead to it. He had despised
in his younger years the thing called philosophy in the
Universities, and did all that lay in his power to prevent those
societies of men instituted to improve human reason from depraving
it by their quiddities, their horrors of the vacuum, their
substantial forms, and all those impertinent terms which not only
ignorance had rendered venerable, but which had been made sacred by
their being ridiculously blended with religion.

He is the father of experimental philosophy. It must, indeed, be
confessed that very surprising secrets had been found out before his
time--the sea-compass, printing, engraving on copper plates, oil-
painting, looking-glasses; the art of restoring, in some measure,
old men to their sight by spectacles; gunpowder, &c., had been
discovered. A new world had been fought for, found, and conquered.
Would not one suppose that these sublime discoveries had been made
by the greatest philosophers, and in ages much more enlightened than
the present? But it was far otherwise; all these great changes
happened in the most stupid and barbarous times. Chance only gave
birth to most of those inventions; and it is very probable that what
is called chance contributed very much to the discovery of America;
at least, it has been always thought that Christopher Columbus
undertook his voyage merely on the relation of a captain of a ship
which a storm had driven as far westward as the Caribbean Islands.
Be this as it will, men had sailed round the world, and could
destroy cities by an artificial thunder more dreadful than the real
one; but, then, they were not acquainted with the circulation of the
blood, the weight of the air, the laws of motion, light, the number
of our planets, &c. And a man who maintained a thesis on
Aristotle's "Categories," on the universals a parte rei, or such-
like nonsense, was looked upon as a prodigy.

The most astonishing, the most useful inventions, are not those
which reflect the greatest honour on the human mind. It is to a
mechanical instinct, which is found in many men, and not to true
philosophy, that most arts owe their origin.

The discovery of fire, the art of making bread, of melting and
preparing metals, of building houses, and the invention of the
shuttle, are infinitely more beneficial to mankind than printing or
the sea-compass: and yet these arts were invented by uncultivated,
savage men.

What a prodigious use the Greeks and Romans made afterwards of
mechanics! Nevertheless, they believed that there were crystal
heavens, that the stars were small lamps which sometimes fell into
the sea, and one of their greatest philosophers, after long
researches, found that the stars were so many flints which had been
detached from the earth.

In a word, no one before the Lord Bacon was acquainted with
experimental philosophy, nor with the several physical experiments
which have been made since his time. Scarce one of them but is
hinted at in his work, and he himself had made several. He made a
kind of pneumatic engine, by which he guessed the elasticity of the
air. He approached, on all sides as it were, to the discovery of
its weight, and had very near attained it, but some time after
Torricelli seized upon this truth. In a little time experimental
philosophy began to be cultivated on a sudden in most parts of
Europe. It was a hidden treasure which the Lord Bacon had some
notion of, and which all the philosophers, encouraged by his
promises, endeavoured to dig up.

But that which surprised me most was to read in his work, in express
terms, the new attraction, the invention of which is ascribed to Sir
Isaac Newton.

We must search, says Lord Bacon, whether there may not be a kind of
magnetic power which operates between the earth and heavy bodies,
between the moon and the ocean, between the planets, &c. In another
place he says either heavy bodies must be carried towards the centre
of the earth, or must be reciprocally attracted by it; and in the
latter case it is evident that the nearer bodies, in their falling,
draw towards the earth, the stronger they will attract one another.
We must, says he, make an experiment to see whether the same clock
will go faster on the top of a mountain or at the bottom of a mine;
whether the strength of the weights decreases on the mountain and
increases in the mine. It is probable that the earth has a true
attractive power.

This forerunner in philosophy was also an elegant writer, an
historian, and a wit.

His moral essays are greatly esteemed, but they were drawn up in the
view of instructing rather than of pleasing; and, as they are not a
satire upon mankind, like Rochefoucauld's "Maxims," nor written upon
a sceptical plan, like Montaigne's "Essays," they are not so much
read as those two ingenious authors.

His History of Henry VII. was looked upon as a masterpiece, but how
is it possible that some persons can presume to compare so little a
work with the history of our illustrious Thuanus?

Speaking about the famous impostor Perkin, son to a converted Jew,
who assumed boldly the name and title of Richard IV., King of
England, at the instigation of the Duchess of Burgundy, and who
disputed the crown with Henry VII., the Lord Bacon writes as

"At this time the King began again to be haunted with sprites, by
the magic and curious arts of the Lady Margaret, who raised up the
ghost of Richard, Duke of York, second son to King Edward IV., to
walk and vex the King.

"After such time as she (Margaret of Burgundy) thought he (Perkin
Warbeck) was perfect in his lesson, she began to cast with herself
from what coast this blazing star should first appear, and at what
time it must be upon the horizon of Ireland; for there had the like
meteor strong influence before."

Methinks our sagacious Thuanus does not give in to such fustian,
which formerly was looked upon as sublime, but in this age is justly
called nonsense.


Perhaps no man ever had a more judicious or more methodical genius,
or was a more acute logician than Mr. Locke, and yet he was not
deeply skilled in the mathematics. This great man could never
subject himself to the tedious fatigue of calculations, nor to the
dry pursuit of mathematical truths, which do not at first present
any sensible objects to the mind; and no one has given better proofs
than he, that it is possible for a man to have a geometrical head
without the assistance of geometry. Before his time, several great
philosophers had declared, in the most positive terms, what the soul
of man is; but as these absolutely knew nothing about it, they might
very well be allowed to differ entirely in opinion from one another.

In Greece, the infant seat of arts and of errors, and where the
grandeur as well as folly of the human mind went such prodigious
lengths, the people used to reason about the soul in the very same
manner as we do.

The divine Anaxagoras, in whose honour an altar was erected for his
having taught mankind that the sun was greater than Peloponnesus,
that snow was black, and that the heavens were of stone, affirmed
that the soul was an aerial spirit, but at the same time immortal.
Diogenes (not he who was a cynical philosopher after having coined
base money) declared that the soul was a portion of the substance of
God: an idea which we must confess was very sublime. Epicurus
maintained that it was composed of parts in the same manner as the

Aristotle, who has been explained a thousand ways, because he is
unintelligible, was of opinion, according to some of his disciples,
that the understanding in all men is one and the same substance.

The divine Plato, master of the divine Aristotle,--and the divine
Socrates, master of the divine Plato--used to say that the soul was
corporeal and eternal. No doubt but the demon of Socrates had
instructed him in the nature of it. Some people, indeed, pretend
that a man who boasted his being attended by a familiar genius must
infallibly be either a knave or a madman, but this kind of people
are seldom satisfied with anything but reason.

With regard to the Fathers of the Church, several in the primitive
ages believed that the soul was human, and the angels and God
corporeal. Men naturally improve upon every system. St. Bernard,
as Father Mabillon confesses, taught that the soul after death does
not see God in the celestial regions, but converses with Christ's
human nature only. However, he was not believed this time on his
bare word; the adventure of the crusade having a little sunk the
credit of his oracles. Afterwards a thousand schoolmen arose, such
as the Irrefragable Doctor, the Subtile Doctor, the Angelic Doctor,
the Seraphic Doctor, and the Cherubic Doctor, who were all sure that
they had a very clear and distinct idea of the soul, and yet wrote
in such a manner, that one would conclude they were resolved no one
should understand a word in their writings. Our Descartes, born to
discover the errors of antiquity, and at the same time to substitute
his own, and hurried away by that systematic spirit which throws a
cloud over the minds of the greatest men, thought he had
demonstrated that the soul is the same thing as thought, in the same
manner as matter, in his opinion, is the same as extension. He
asserted, that man thinks eternally, and that the soul, at its
coming into the body, is informed with the whole series of
metaphysical notions: knowing God, infinite space, possessing all
abstract ideas--in a word, completely endued with the most sublime
lights, which it unhappily forgets at its issuing from the womb.

Father Malebranche, in his sublime illusions, not only admitted
innate ideas, but did not doubt of our living wholly in God, and
that God is, as it were, our soul.

Such a multitude of reasoners having written the romance of the
soul, a sage at last arose, who gave, with an air of the greatest
modesty, the history of it. Mr. Locke has displayed the human soul
in the same manner as an excellent anatomist explains the springs of
the human body. He everywhere takes the light of physics for his
guide. He sometimes presumes to speak affirmatively, but then he
presumes also to doubt. Instead of concluding at once what we know
not, he examines gradually what we would know. He takes an infant
at the instant of his birth; he traces, step by step, the progress
of his understanding; examines what things he has in common with
beasts, and what he possesses above them. Above all, he consults
himself: the being conscious that he himself thinks.

"I shall leave," says he, "to those who know more of this matter
than myself, the examining whether the soul exists before or after
the organisation of our bodies. But I confess that it is my lot to
be animated with one of those heavy souls which do not think always;
and I am even so unhappy as not to conceive that it is more
necessary the soul should think perpetually than that bodies should
be for ever in motion."

With regard to myself, I shall boast that I have the honour to be as
stupid in this particular as Mr. Locke. No one shall ever make me
believe that I think always: and I am as little inclined as he
could be to fancy that some weeks after I was conceived I was a very
learned soul; knowing at that time a thousand things which I forgot
at my birth; and possessing when in the womb (though to no manner of
purpose) knowledge which I lost the instant I had occasion for it;
and which I have never since been able to recover perfectly.

Mr. Locke, after having destroyed innate ideas; after having fully
renounced the vanity of believing that we think always; after having
laid down, from the most solid principles, that ideas enter the mind
through the senses; having examined our simple and complex ideas;
having traced the human mind through its several operations; having
shown that all the languages in the world are imperfect, and the
great abuse that is made of words every moment, he at last comes to
consider the extent or rather the narrow limits of human knowledge.
It was in this chapter he presumed to advance, but very modestly,
the following words: "We shall, perhaps, never be capable of
knowing whether a being, purely material, thinks or not." This sage
assertion was, by more divines than one, looked upon as a scandalous
declaration that the soul is material and mortal. Some Englishmen,
devout after their way, sounded an alarm. The superstitious are the
same in society as cowards in an army; they themselves are seized
with a panic fear, and communicate it to others. It was loudly
exclaimed that Mr. Locke intended to destroy religion; nevertheless,
religion had nothing to do in the affair, it being a question purely
philosophical, altogether independent of faith and revelation. Mr.
Locke's opponents needed but to examine, calmly and impartially,
whether the declaring that matter can think, implies a
contradiction; and whether God is able to communicate thought to
matter. But divines are too apt to begin their declarations with
saying that God is offended when people differ from them in opinion;
in which they too much resemble the bad poets, who used to declare
publicly that Boileau spake irreverently of Louis XIV., because he
ridiculed their stupid productions. Bishop Stillingfleet got the
reputation of a calm and unprejudiced divine because he did not
expressly make use of injurious terms in his dispute with Mr. Locke.
That divine entered the lists against him, but was defeated; for he
argued as a schoolman, and Locke as a philosopher, who was perfectly
acquainted with the strong as well as the weak side of the human
mind, and who fought with weapons whose temper he knew. If I might
presume to give my opinion on so delicate a subject after Mr. Locke,
I would say, that men have long disputed on the nature and the
immortality of the soul. With regard to its immortality, it is
impossible to give a demonstration of it, since its nature is still
the subject of controversy; which, however, must be thoroughly
understood before a person can be able to determine whether it be
immortal or not. Human reason is so little able, merely by its own
strength, to demonstrate the immortality of the soul, that it was
absolutely necessary religion should reveal it to us. It is of
advantage to society in general, that mankind should believe the
soul to be immortal; faith commands us to do this; nothing more is
required, and the matter is cleared up at once. But it is otherwise
with respect to its nature; it is of little importance to religion,
which only requires the soul to be virtuous, whatever substance it
may be made of. It is a clock which is given us to regulate, but
the artist has not told us of what materials the spring of this
chock is composed.

I am a body, and, I think, that's all I know of the matter. Shall I
ascribe to an unknown cause, what I can so easily impute to the only
second cause I am acquainted with? Here all the school philosophers
interrupt me with their arguments, and declare that there is only
extension and solidity in bodies, and that there they can have
nothing but motion and figure. Now motion, figure, extension and
solidity cannot form a thought, and consequently the soul cannot be
matter. All this so often repeated mighty series of reasoning,
amounts to no more than this: I am absolutely ignorant what matter
is; I guess, but imperfectly, some properties of it; now I
absolutely cannot tell whether these properties may be joined to
thought. As I therefore know nothing, I maintain positively that
matter cannot think. In this manner do the schools reason.

Mr. Locke addressed these gentlemen in the candid, sincere manner
following: At least confess yourselves to be as ignorant as I.
Neither your imaginations nor mine are able to comprehend in what
manner a body is susceptible of ideas; and do you conceive better in
what manner a substance, of what kind soever, is susceptible of
them? As you cannot comprehend either matter or spirit, why will
you presume to assert anything?

The superstitious man comes afterwards and declares, that all those
must be burnt for the good of their souls, who so much as suspect
that it is possible for the body to think without any foreign
assistance. But what would these people say should they themselves
be proved irreligious? And indeed, what man can presume to assert,
without being guilty at the same time of the greatest impiety, that
it is impossible for the Creator to form matter with thought and
sensation? Consider only, I beg you, what a dilemma you bring
yourselves into, you who confine in this manner the power of the
Creator. Beasts have the same organs, the same sensations, the same
perceptions as we; they have memory, and combine certain ideas. In
case it was not in the power of God to animate matter, and inform it
with sensation, the consequence would be, either that beasts are
mere machines, or that they have a spiritual soul.

Methinks it is clearly evident that beasts cannot be mere machines,
which I prove thus. God has given to them the very same organs of
sensation as to us: if therefore they have no sensation, God has
created a useless thing; now according to your own confession God
does nothing in vain; He therefore did not create so many organs of
sensation, merely for them to be uninformed with this faculty;
consequently beasts are not mere machines. Beasts, according to
your assertion, cannot be animated with a spiritual soul; you will,
therefore, in spite of yourself, be reduced to this only assertion,
viz., that God has endued the organs of beasts, who are mere matter,
with the faculties of sensation and perception, which you call
instinct in them. But why may not God, if He pleases, communicate
to our more delicate organs, that faculty of feeling, perceiving,
and thinking, which we call human reason? To whatever side you
turn, you are forced to acknowledge your own ignorance, and the
boundless power of the Creator. Exclaim therefore no more against
the sage, the modest philosophy of Mr. Locke, which so far from
interfering with religion, would be of use to demonstrate the truth
of it, in case religion wanted any such support. For what
philosophy can be of a more religious nature than that, which
affirming nothing but what it conceives clearly, and conscious of
its own weakness, declares that we must always have recourse to God
in our examining of the first principles?

Besides, we must not be apprehensive that any philosophical opinion
will ever prejudice the religion of a country. Though our
demonstrations clash directly with our mysteries, that is nothing to
the purpose, for the latter are not less revered upon that account
by our Christian philosophers, who know very well that the objects
of reason and those of faith are of a very different nature.
Philosophers will never form a religious sect, the reason of which
is, their writings are not calculated for the vulgar, and they
themselves are free from enthusiasm. If we divide mankind into
twenty parts, it will be found that nineteen of these consist of
persons employed in manual labour, who will never know that such a
man as Mr. Locke existed. In the remaining twentieth part how few
are readers? And among such as are so, twenty amuse themselves with
romances to one who studies philosophy. The thinking part of
mankind is confined to a very small number, and these will never
disturb the peace and tranquillity of the world.

Neither Montaigne, Locke, Bayle, Spinoza, Hobbes, the Lord
Shaftesbury, Collins, nor Toland lighted up the firebrand of discord
in their countries; this has generally been the work of divines, who
being at first puffed up with the ambition of becoming chiefs of a
sect, soon grew very desirous of being at the head of a party. But
what do I say? All the works of the modern philosophers put
together will never make so much noise as even the dispute which
arose among the Franciscans, merely about the fashion of their
sleeves and of their cowls.


A Frenchman who arrives in London, will find philosophy, like
everything else, very much changed there. He had left the world a
plenum, and he now finds it a vacuum. At Paris the universe is seen
composed of vortices of subtile matter; but nothing like it is seen
in London. In France, it is the pressure of the moon that causes
the tides; but in England it is the sea that gravitates towards the
moon; so that when you think that the moon should make it flood with
us, those gentlemen fancy it should be ebb, which very unluckily
cannot be proved. For to be able to do this, it is necessary the
moon and the tides should have been inquired into at the very
instant of the creation.

You will observe farther, that the sun, which in France is said to
have nothing to do in the affair, comes in here for very near a
quarter of its assistance. According to your Cartesians, everything
is performed by an impulsion, of which we have very little notion;
and according to Sir Isaac Newton, it is by an attraction, the cause
of which is as much unknown to us. At Paris you imagine that the
earth is shaped like a melon, or of an oblique figure; at London it
has an oblate one. A Cartesian declares that light exists in the
air; but a Newtonian asserts that it comes from the sun in six
minutes and a half. The several operations of your chemistry are
performed by acids, alkalies and subtile matter; but attraction
prevails even in chemistry among the English.

The very essence of things is totally changed. You neither are
agreed upon the definition of the soul, nor on that of matter.
Descartes, as I observed in my last, maintains that the soul is the
same thing with thought, and Mr. Locke has given a pretty good proof
of the contrary.

Descartes asserts farther, that extension alone constitutes matter,
but Sir Isaac adds solidity to it.

How furiously contradictory are these opinions!

"Non nostrum inter vos tantas componere lites."

"'Tis not for us to end such great disputes."

This famous Newton, this destroyer of the Cartesian system, died in
March, anno 1727. His countrymen honoured him in his lifetime, and
interred him as though he had been a king who had made his people

The English read with the highest satisfaction, and translated into
their tongue, the Elogium of Sir Isaac Newton, which M. de
Fontenelle spoke in the Academy of Sciences. M. de Fontenelle
presides as judge over philosophers; and the English expected his
decision, as a solemn declaration of the superiority of the English
philosophy over that of the French. But when it was found that this
gentleman had compared Descartes to Sir Isaac, the whole Royal
Society in London rose up in arms. So far from acquiescing with M.
Fontenelle's judgment, they criticised his discourse. And even
several (who, however, were not the ablest philosophers in that
body) were offended at the comparison; and for no other reason but
because Descartes was a Frenchman.

It must be confessed that these two great men differed very much in
conduct, in fortune, and in philosophy.

Nature had indulged Descartes with a shining and strong imagination,
whence he became a very singular person both in private life and in
his manner of reasoning. This imagination could not conceal itself
even in his philosophical works, which are everywhere adorned with
very shining, ingenious metaphors and figures. Nature had almost
made him a poet; and indeed he wrote a piece of poetry for the
entertainment of Christina, Queen of Sweden, which however was
suppressed in honour to his memory.

He embraced a military life for some time, and afterwards becoming a
complete philosopher, he did not think the passion of love
derogatory to his character. He had by his mistress a daughter
called Froncine, who died young, and was very much regretted by him.
Thus he experienced every passion incident to mankind.

He was a long time of opinion that it would be necessary for him to
fly from the society of his fellow creatures, and especially from
his native country, in order to enjoy the happiness of cultivating
his philosophical studies in full liberty.

Descartes was very right, for his contemporaries were not knowing
enough to improve and enlighten his understanding, and were capable
of little else than of giving him uneasiness.

He left France purely to go in search of truth, which was then
persecuted by the wretched philosophy of the schools. However, he
found that reason was as much disguised and depraved in the
universities of Holland, into which he withdrew, as in his own
country. For at the time that the French condemned the only
propositions of his philosophy which were true, he was persecuted by
the pretended philosophers of Holland, who understood him no better;
and who, having a nearer view of his glory, hated his person the
more, so that he was obliged to leave Utrecht. Descartes was
injuriously accused of being an atheist, the last refuge of
religious scandal: and he who had employed all the sagacity and
penetration of his genius, in searching for new proofs of the
existence of a God, was suspected to believe there was no such

Such a persecution from all sides, must necessarily suppose a most
exalted merit as well as a very distinguished reputation, and indeed
he possessed both. Reason at that time darted a ray upon the world
through the gloom of the schools, and the prejudices of popular
superstition. At last his name spread so universally, that the
French were desirous of bringing him back into his native country by
rewards, and accordingly offered him an annual pension of a thousand
crowns. Upon these hopes Descartes returned to France; paid the
fees of his patent, which was sold at that time, but no pension was
settled upon him. Thus disappointed, he returned to his solitude in
North Holland, where he again pursued the study of philosophy,
whilst the great Galileo, at fourscore years of age, was groaning in
the prisons of the Inquisition, only for having demonstrated the
earth's motion.

At last Descartes was snatched from the world in the flower of his
age at Stockholm. His death was owing to a bad regimen, and he
expired in the midst of some literati who were his enemies, and
under the hands of a physician to whom he was odious.

The progress of Sir Isaac Newton's life was quite different. He
lived happy, and very much honoured in his native country, to the
age of fourscore and five years.

It was his peculiar felicity, not only to be born in a country of
liberty, but in an age when all scholastic impertinences were
banished from the world. Reason alone was cultivated, and mankind
could only be his pupil, not his enemy.

One very singular difference in the lives of these two great men is,
that Sir Isaac, during the long course of years he enjoyed, was
never sensible to any passion, was not subject to the common
frailties of mankind, nor ever had any commerce with women--a
circumstance which was assured me by the physician and surgeon who
attended him in his last moments.

We may admire Sir Isaac Newton on this occasion, but then we must
not censure Descartes.

The opinion that generally prevails in England with regard to these
new philosophers is, that the latter was a dreamer, and the former a

Very few people in England read Descartes, whose works indeed are
now useless. On the other side, but a small number peruse those of
Sir Isaac, because to do this the student must be deeply skilled in
the mathematics, otherwise those works will be unintelligible to
him. But notwithstanding this, these great men are the subject of
everyone's discourse. Sir Isaac Newton is allowed every advantage,
whilst Descartes is not indulged a single one. According to some,
it is to the former that we owe the discovery of a vacuum, that the
air is a heavy body, and the invention of telescopes. In a word,
Sir Isaac Newton is here as the Hercules of fabulous story, to whom
the ignorant ascribed all the feats of ancient heroes.

In a critique that was made in London on Mr. de Fontenelle's
discourse, the writer presumed to assert that Descartes was not a
great geometrician. Those who make such a declaration may justly be
reproached with flying in their master's face. Descartes extended
the limits of geometry as far beyond the place where he found them,
as Sir Isaac did after him. The former first taught the method of
expressing curves by equations. This geometry which, thanks to him
for it, is now grown common, was so abstruse in his time, that not
so much as one professor would undertake to explain it; and Schotten
in Holland, and Format in France, were the only men who understood

He applied this geometrical and inventive genius to dioptrics,
which, when treated of by him, became a new art. And if he was
mistaken in some things, the reason of that is, a man who discovers
a new tract of land cannot at once know all the properties of the
soil. Those who come after him, and make these lands fruitful, are
at least obliged to him for the discovery. I will not deny but that
there are innumerable errors in the rest of Descartes' works.

Geometry was a guide he himself had in some measure fashioned, which
would have conducted him safely through the several paths of natural
philosophy. Nevertheless, he at last abandoned this guide, and gave
entirely into the humour of forming hypotheses; and then philosophy
was no more than an ingenious romance, fit only to amuse the
ignorant. He was mistaken in the nature of the soul, in the proofs
of the existence of a God, in matter, in the laws of motion, and in
the nature of light. He admitted innate ideas, he invented new
elements, he created a world; he made man according to his own
fancy; and it is justly said, that the man of Descartes is, in fact,
that of Descartes only, very different from the real one.

He pushed his metaphysical errors so far, as to declare that two and
two make four for no other reason but because God would have it so.
However, it will not be making him too great a compliment if we
affirm that he was valuable even in his mistakes. He deceived
himself; but then it was at least in a methodical way. He destroyed
all the absurd chimeras with which youth had been infatuated for two
thousand years. He taught his contemporaries how to reason, and
enabled them to employ his own weapons against himself. If
Descartes did not pay in good money, he however did great service in
crying down that of a base alloy.

I indeed believe that very few will presume to compare his
philosophy in any respect with that of Sir Isaac Newton. The former
is an essay, the latter a masterpiece. But then the man who first
brought us to the path of truth, was perhaps as great a genius as he
who afterwards conducted us through it.

Descartes gave sight to the blind. These saw the errors of
antiquity and of the sciences. The path he struck out is since
become boundless. Rohault's little work was, during some years, a
complete system of physics; but now all the Transactions of the
several academies in Europe put together do not form so much as the
beginning of a system. In fathoming this abyss no bottom has been
found. We are now to examine what discoveries Sir Isaac Newton has
made in it.


The discoveries which gained Sir Isaac Newton so universal a
reputation, relate to the system of the world, to light, to
geometrical infinities; and, lastly, to chronology, with which he
used to amuse himself after the fatigue of his severer studies.

I will now acquaint you (without prolixity if possible) with the few
things I have been able to comprehend of all these sublime ideas.
With regard to the system of our world, disputes were a long time
maintained, on the cause that turns the planets, and keeps them in
their orbits: and on those causes which make all bodies here below
descend towards the surface of the earth.

The system of Descartes, explained and improved since his time,
seemed to give a plausible reason for all those phenomena; and this
reason seemed more just, as it is simple and intelligible to all
capacities. But in philosophy, a student ought to doubt of the
things he fancies he understands too easily, as much as of those he
does not understand.

Gravity, the falling of accelerated bodies on the earth, the
revolution of the planets in their orbits, their rotations round
their axis, all this is mere motion. Now motion cannot perhaps be
conceived any otherwise than by impulsion; therefore all those
bodies must be impelled. But by what are they impelled? All space
is full, it therefore is filled with a very subtile matter, since
this is imperceptible to us; this matter goes from west to east,
since all the planets are carried from west to east. Thus from
hypothesis to hypothesis, from one appearance to another,
philosophers have imagined a vast whirlpool of subtile matter, in
which the planets are carried round the sun: they also have created
another particular vortex which floats in the great one, and which
turns daily round the planets. When all this is done, it is
pretended that gravity depends on this diurnal motion; for, say
these, the velocity of the subtile matter that turns round our
little vortex, must be seventeen times more rapid than that of the
earth; or, in case its velocity is seventeen times greater than that
of the earth, its centrifugal force must be vastly greater, and
consequently impel all bodies towards the earth. This is the cause
of gravity, according to the Cartesian system. But the theorist,
before he calculated the centrifugal force and velocity of the
subtile matter, should first have been certain that it existed.

Sir Isaac Newton, seems to have destroyed all these great and little
vortices, both that which carries the planets round the sun, as well
as the other which supposes every planet to turn on its own axis.

First, with regard to the pretended little vortex of the earth, it
is demonstrated that it must lose its motion by insensible degrees;
it is demonstrated, that if the earth swims in a fluid, its density
must be equal to that of the earth; and in case its density be the
same, all the bodies we endeavour to move must meet with an
insuperable resistance.

With regard to the great vortices, they are still more chimerical,
and it is impossible to make them agree with Kepler's law, the truth
of which has been demonstrated. Sir Isaac shows, that the
revolution of the fluid in which Jupiter is supposed to be carried,
is not the same with regard to the revolution of the fluid of the
earth, as the revolution of Jupiter with respect to that of the
earth. He proves, that as the planets make their revolutions in
ellipses, and consequently being at a much greater distance one from
the other in their Aphelia, and a little nearer in their Perihelia;
the earth's velocity, for instance, ought to be greater when it is
nearer Venus and Mars, because the fluid that carries it along,
being then more pressed, ought to have a greater motion; and yet it
is even then that the earth's motion is slower.

He proves that there is no such thing as a celestial matter which
goes from west to east since the comets traverse those spaces,
sometimes from east to west, and at other times from north to south.

In fine, the better to resolve, if possible, every difficulty, he
proves, and even by experiments, that it is impossible there should
be a plenum; and brings back the vacuum, which Aristotle and
Descartes had banished from the world.

Having by these and several other arguments destroyed the Cartesian
vortices, he despaired of ever being able to discover whether there
is a secret principle in nature which, at the same time, is the
cause of the motion of all celestial bodies, and that of gravity on
the earth. But being retired in 1666, upon account of the Plague,
to a solitude near Cambridge; as he was walking one day in his
garden, and saw some fruits fall from a tree, he fell into a
profound meditation on that gravity, the cause of which had so long
been sought, but in vain, by all the philosophers, whilst the vulgar
think there is nothing mysterious in it. He said to himself; that
from what height soever in our hemisphere, those bodies might
descend, their fall would certainly be in the progression discovered
by Galileo; and the spaces they run through would be as the square
of the times. Why may not this power which causes heavy bodies to
descend, and is the same without any sensible diminution at the
remotest distance from the centre of the earth, or on the summits of
the highest mountains, why, said Sir Isaac, may not this power
extend as high as the moon? And in case its influence reaches so
far, is it not very probable that this power retains it in its
orbit, and determines its motion? But in case the moon obeys this
principle (whatever it be) may we not conclude very naturally that
the rest of the planets are equally subject to it? In case this
power exists (which besides is proved) it must increase in an
inverse ratio of the squares of the distances. All, therefore, that
remains is, to examine how far a heavy body, which should fall upon
the earth from a moderate height, would go; and how far in the same
time, a body which should fall from the orbit of the moon, would
descend. To find this, nothing is wanted but the measure of the
earth, and the distance of the moon from it.

Thus Sir Isaac Newton reasoned. But at that time the English had
but a very imperfect measure of our globe, and depended on the
uncertain supposition of mariners, who computed a degree to contain
but sixty English miles, whereas it consists in reality of near
seventy. As this false computation did not agree with the
conclusions which Sir Isaac intended to draw from them, he laid
aside this pursuit. A half-learned philosopher, remarkable only for
his vanity, would have made the measure of the earth agree, anyhow,
with his system. Sir Isaac, however, chose rather to quit the
researches he was then engaged in. But after Mr. Picard had
measured the earth exactly, by tracing that meridian which redounds
so much to the honour of the French, Sir Isaac Newton resumed his
former reflections, and found his account in Mr. Picard's

A circumstance which has always appeared wonderful to me, is that
such sublime discoveries should have been made by the sole
assistance of a quadrant and a little arithmetic.

The circumference of the earth is 123,249,600 feet. This, among
other things, is necessary to prove the system of attraction.

The instant we know the earth's circumference, and the distance of
the moon, we know that of the moon's orbit, and the diameter of this
orbit. The moon performs its revolution in that orbit in twenty-
seven days, seven hours, forty-three minutes. It is demonstrated,
that the moon in its mean motion makes an hundred and fourscore and
seven thousand nine hundred and sixty feet (of Paris) in a minute.
It is likewise demonstrated, by a known theorem, that the central
force which should make a body fall from the height of the moon,
would make its velocity no more than fifteen Paris feet in a minute
of time. Now, if the law by which bodies gravitate and attract one
another in an inverse ratio to the squares of the distances be true,
if the same power acts according to that law throughout all nature,
it is evident that as the earth is sixty semi-diameters distant from
the moon, a heavy body must necessarily fall (on the earth) fifteen
feet in the first second, and fifty-four thousand feet in the first

Now a heavy body falls, in reality, fifteen feet in the first
second, and goes in the first minute fifty-four thousand feet, which
number is the square of sixty multiplied by fifteen. Bodies,
therefore, gravitate in an inverse ratio of the squares of the
distances; consequently, what causes gravity on earth, and keeps the
moon in its orbit, is one and the same power; it being demonstrated
that the moon gravitates on the earth, which is the centre of its
particular motion, it is demonstrated that the earth and the moon
gravitate on the sun which is the centre of their annual motion.

The rest of the planets must be subject to this general law; and if
this law exists, these planets must follow the laws which Kepler
discovered. All these laws, all these relations are indeed observed
by the planets with the utmost exactness; therefore, the power of
attraction causes all the planets to gravitate towards the sun, in
like manner as the moon gravitates towards our globe.

Finally, as in all bodies re-action is equal to action, it is
certain that the earth gravitates also towards the moon; and that
the sun gravitates towards both. That every one of the satellites
of Saturn gravitates towards the other four, and the other four
towards it; all five towards Saturn, and Saturn towards all. That
it is the same with regard to Jupiter; and that all these globes are
attracted by the sun, which is reciprocally attracted by them.

This power of gravitation acts proportionably to the quantity of
matter in bodies, a truth which Sir Isaac has demonstrated by
experiments. This new discovery has been of use to show that the
sun (the centre of the planetary system) attracts them all in a
direct ratio of their quantity of matter combined with their
nearness. From hence Sir Isaac, rising by degrees to discoveries
which seemed not to be formed for the human mind, is bold enough to
compute the quantity of matter contained in the sun and in every
planet; and in this manner shows, from the simple laws of mechanics,
that every celestial globe ought necessarily to be where it is

His bare principle of the laws of gravitation accounts for all the
apparent inequalities in the course of the celestial globes. The
variations of the moon are a necessary consequence of those laws.
Moreover, the reason is evidently seen why the nodes of the moon
perform their revolutions in nineteen years, and those of the earth
in about twenty-six thousand. The several appearances observed in
the tides are also a very simple effect of this attraction. The
proximity of the moon, when at the full, and when it is new, and its
distance in the quadratures or quarters, combined with the action of
the sun, exhibit a sensible reason why the ocean swells and sinks.

After having shown by his sublime theory the course and inequalities
of the planets, he subjects comets to the same law. The orbit of
these fires (unknown for so great a series of years), which was the
terror of mankind and the rock against which philosophy split,
placed by Aristotle below the moon, and sent back by Descartes above
the sphere of Saturn, is at last placed in its proper seat by Sir
Isaac Newton.

He proves that comets are solid bodies which move in the sphere of
the sun's activity, and that they describe an ellipsis so very
eccentric, and so near to parabolas, that certain comets must take
up above five hundred years in their revolution.

The learned Dr. Halley is of opinion that the comet seen in 1680 is
the same which appeared in Julius Caesar's time. This shows more
than any other that comets are hard, opaque bodies; for it descended
so near to the sun, as to come within a sixth part of the diameter
of this planet from it, and consequently might have contracted a
degree of heat two thousand times stronger than that of red-hot
iron; and would have been soon dispersed in vapour, had it not been
a firm, dense body. The guessing the course of comets began then to
be very much in vogue. The celebrated Bernoulli concluded by his
system that the famous comet of 1680 would appear again the 17th of
May, 1719. Not a single astronomer in Europe went to bed that
night. However, they needed not to have broke their rest, for the
famous comet never appeared. There is at least more cunning, if not
more certainty, in fixing its return to so remote a distance as five
hundred and seventy-five years. As to Mr. Whiston, he affirmed very
seriously that in the time of the Deluge a comet overflowed the
terrestrial globe. And he was so unreasonable as to wonder that
people laughed at him for making such an assertion. The ancients
were almost in the same way of thinking with Mr. Whiston, and
fancied that comets were always the forerunners of some great
calamity which was to befall mankind. Sir Isaac Newton, on the
contrary, suspected that they are very beneficent, and that vapours
exhale from them merely to nourish and vivify the planets, which
imbibe in their course the several particles the sun has detached
from the comets, an opinion which, at least, is more probable than
the former. But this is not all. If this power of gravitation or
attraction acts on all the celestial globes, it acts undoubtedly on
the several parts of these globes. For in case bodies attract one
another in proportion to the quantity of matter contained in them,
it can only be in proportion to the quantity of their parts; and if
this power is found in the whole, it is undoubtedly in the half; in
the quarters in the eighth part, and so on in infinitum.

This is attraction, the great spring by which all Nature is moved.
Sir Isaac Newton, after having demonstrated the existence of this
principle, plainly foresaw that its very name would offend; and,
therefore, this philosopher, in more places than one of his books,
gives the reader some caution about it. He bids him beware of
confounding this name with what the ancients called occult
qualities, but to be satisfied with knowing that there is in all
bodies a central force, which acts to the utmost limits of the
universe, according to the invariable laws of mechanics.

It is surprising, after the solemn protestations Sir Isaac made,
that such eminent men as Mr. Sorin and Mr. de Fontenelle should have
imputed to this great philosopher the verbal and chimerical way of
reasoning of the Aristotelians; Mr. Sorin in the Memoirs of the
Academy of 1709, and Mr. de Fontenelle in the very eulogium of Sir
Isaac Newton.

Most of the French (the learned and others) have repeated this
reproach. These are for ever crying out, "Why did he not employ the
word iMPULSION, which is so well understood, rather than that of
ATTRACTION, which is unintelligible?"

Sir Isaac might have answered these critics thus: --"First, you have
as imperfect an idea of the word impulsion as of that of attraction;
and in case you cannot conceive how one body tends towards the
centre of another body, neither can you conceive by what power one
body can impel another.

"Secondly, I could not admit of impulsion; for to do this I must
have known that a celestial matter was the agent. But so far from
knowing that there is any such matter, I have proved it to be merely

"Thirdly, I use the word attraction for no other reason but to
express an effect which I discovered in Nature--a certain and
indisputable effect of an unknown principle--a quality inherent in
matter, the cause of which persons of greater abilities than I can
pretend to may, if they can, find out."

"What have you, then, taught us?" will these people say further;
"and to what purpose are so many calculations to tell us what you
yourself do not comprehend?"

"I have taught you," may Sir Isaac rejoin, "that all bodies
gravitate towards one another in proportion to their quantity of
matter; that these central forces alone keep the planets and comets
in their orbits, and cause them to move in the proportion before set
down. I demonstrate to you that it is impossible there should be
any other cause which keeps the planets in their orbits than that
general phenomenon of gravity. For heavy bodies fall on the earth
according to the proportion demonstrated of central forces; and the
planets finishing their course according to these same proportions,
in case there were another power that acted upon all those bodies,
it would either increase their velocity or change their direction.
Now, not one of those bodies ever has a single degree of motion or
velocity, or has any direction but what is demonstrated to be the
effect of the central forces. Consequently it is impossible there
should be any other principle."

Give me leave once more to introduce Sir Isaac speaking. Shall he
not be allowed to say? "My case and that of the ancients is very
different. These saw, for instance, water ascend in pumps, and
said, 'The water rises because it abhors a vacuum.' But with regard
to myself; I am in the case of a man who should have first observed
that water ascends in pumps, but should leave others to explain the
cause of this effect. The anatomist, who first declared that the
motion of the arm is owing to the contraction of the muscles, taught
mankind an indisputable truth. But are they less obliged to him
because he did not know the reason why the muscles contract? The
cause of the elasticity of the air is unknown, but he who first
discovered this spring performed a very signal service to natural
philosophy. The spring that I discovered was more hidden and more
universal, and for that very reason mankind ought to thank me the
more. I have discovered a new property of matter--one of the
secrets of the Creator--and have calculated and discovered the
effects of it. After this, shall people quarrel with me about the
name I give it?"

Vortices may be called an occult quality, because their existence
was never proved. Attraction, on the contrary, is a real thing,
because its effects are demonstrated, and the proportions of it are
calculated. The cause of this cause is among the Arcana of the

"Precedes huc, et non amplius."

(Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther.)


The philosophers of the last age found out a new universe; and a
circumstance which made its discovery more difficult was that no one
had so much as suspected its existence. The most sage and judicious
were of opinion that it was a frantic rashness to dare so much as to
imagine that it was possible to guess the laws by which the
celestial bodies move and the manner how light acts. Galileo, by
his astronomical discoveries, Kepler, by his calculation, Descartes
(at least, in his dioptrics), and Sir Isaac Newton, in all his
works, severally saw the mechanism of the springs of the world. The
geometricians have subjected infinity to the laws of calculation.
The circulation of the blood in animals, and of the sap in
vegetables, have changed the face of Nature with regard to us. A
new kind of existence has been given to bodies in the air-pump. By
the assistance of telescopes bodies have been brought nearer to one
another. Finally, the several discoveries which Sir Isaac Newton
has made on light are equal to the boldest things which the
curiosity of man could expect after so many philosophical novelties.

Till Antonio de Dominis the rainbow was considered as an
inexplicable miracle. This philosopher guessed that it was a
necessary effect of the sun and rain. Descartes gained immortal
fame by his mathematical explication of this so natural a
phenomenon. He calculated the reflections and refractions of light
in drops of rain. And his sagacity on this occasion was at that
time looked upon as next to divine.

But what would he have said had it been proved to him that he was
mistaken in the nature of light; that he had not the least reason to
maintain that it is a globular body? That it is false to assert
that this matter, spreading itself through the whole, waits only to
be projected forward by the sun, in order to be put in action, in
like manner as a long staff acts at one end when pushed forward by
the other. That light is certainly darted by the sun; in fine, that
light is transmitted from the sun to the earth in about seven
minutes, though a cannonball, which were not to lose any of its
velocity, could not go that distance in less than twenty-five years.
How great would have been his astonishment had he been told that
light does not reflect directly by impinging against the solid parts
of bodies, that bodies are not transparent when they have large
pores, and that a man should arise who would demonstrate all these
paradoxes, and anatomise a single ray of light with more dexterity
than the ablest artist dissects a human body. This man is come.
Sir Isaac Newton has demonstrated to the eye, by the bare assistance
of the prism, that light is a composition of coloured rays, which,
being united, form white colour. A single ray is by him divided
into seven, which all fall upon a piece of linen, or a sheet of
white paper, in their order, one above the other, and at unequal
distances. The first is red, the second orange, the third yellow,
the fourth green, the fifth blue, the sixth indigo, the seventh a
violet-purple. Each of these rays, transmitted afterwards by a
hundred other prisms, will never change the colour it bears; in like
manner, as gold, when completely purged from its dross, will never
change afterwards in the crucible. As a superabundant proof that
each of these elementary rays has inherently in itself that which
forms its colour to the eye, take a small piece of yellow wood, for
instance, and set it in the ray of a red colour; this wood will
instantly be tinged red. But set it in the ray of a green colour,
it assumes a green colour, and so of all the rest.

From what cause, therefore, do colours arise in Nature? It is
nothing but the disposition of bodies to reflect the rays of a
certain order and to absorb all the rest.

What, then, is this secret disposition? Sir Isaac Newton
demonstrates that it is nothing more than the density of the small
constituent particles of which a body is composed. And how is this
reflection performed? It was supposed to arise from the rebounding
of the rays, in the same manner as a ball on the surface of a solid
body. But this is a mistake, for Sir Isaac taught the astonished
philosophers that bodies are opaque for no other reason but because
their pores are large, that light reflects on our eyes from the very
bosom of those pores, that the smaller the pores of a body are the
more such a body is transparent. Thus paper, which reflects the
light when dry, transmits it when oiled, because the oil, by filling
its pores, makes them much smaller.

It is there that examining the vast porosity of bodies, every
particle having its pores, and every particle of those particles
having its own, he shows we are not certain that there is a cubic
inch of solid matter in the universe, so far are we from conceiving
what matter is. Having thus divided, as it were, light into its
elements, and carried the sagacity of his discoveries so far as to
prove the method of distinguishing compound colours from such as are
primitive, he shows that these elementary rays, separated by the
prism, are ranged in their order for no other reason but because
they are refracted in that very order; and it is this property
(unknown till he discovered it) of breaking or splitting in this
proportion; it is this unequal refraction of rays, this power of
refracting the red less than the orange colour, &c., which he calls
the different refrangibility. The most reflexible rays are the most
refrangible, and from hence he evinces that the same power is the
cause both of the reflection and refraction of light.

But all these wonders are merely but the opening of his discoveries.
He found out the secret to see the vibrations or fits of light which
come and go incessantly, and which either transmit light or reflect
it, according to the density of the parts they meet with. He has
presumed to calculate the density of the particles of air necessary
between two glasses, the one flat, the other convex on one side, set
one upon the other, in order to operate such a transmission or
reflection, or to form such and such a colour.

From all these combinations he discovers the proportion in which
light acts on bodies and bodies act on light.

He saw light so perfectly, that he has determined to what degree of
perfection the art of increasing it, and of assisting our eyes by
telescopes, can be carried.

Descartes, from a noble confidence that was very excusable,
considering how strongly he was fired at the first discoveries he
made in an art which he almost first found out; Descartes, I say,
hoped to discover in the stars, by the assistance of telescopes,
objects as small as those we discern upon the earth.

But Sir Isaac has shown that dioptric telescopes cannot be brought
to a greater perfection, because of that refraction, and of that
very refrangibility, which at the same time that they bring objects
nearer to us, scatter too much the elementary rays. He has
calculated in these glasses the proportion of the scattering of the
red and of the blue rays; and proceeding so far as to demonstrate
things which were not supposed even to exist, he examines the
inequalities which arise from the shape or figure of the glass, and
that which arises from the refrangibility. He finds that the object
glass of the telescope being convex on one side and flat on the
other, in case the flat side be turned towards the object, the error
which arises from the construction and position of the glass is
above five thousand times less than the error which arises from the
refrangibility; and, therefore, that the shape or figure of the
glasses is not the cause why telescopes cannot be carried to a
greater perfection, but arises wholly from the nature of light.

For this reason he invented a telescope, which discovers objects by
reflection, and not by refraction. Telescopes of this new kind are
very hard to make, and their use is not easy; but, according to the
English, a reflective telescope of but five feet has the same effect
as another of a hundred feet in length.


The labyrinth and abyss of infinity is also a new course Sir Isaac
Newton has gone through, and we are obliged to him for the clue, by
whose assistance we are enabled to trace its various windings.

Descartes got the start of him also in this astonishing invention.
He advanced with mighty steps in his geometry, and was arrived at
the very borders of infinity, but went no farther. Dr. Wallis,
about the middle of the last century, was the first who reduced a
fraction by a perpetual division to an infinite series.

The Lord Brouncker employed this series to square the hyperbola.

Mercator published a demonstration of this quadrature; much about
which time Sir Isaac Newton, being then twenty-three years of age,
had invented a general method, to perform on all geometrical curves
what had just before been tried on the hyperbola.

It is to this method of subjecting everywhere infinity to
algebraical calculations, that the name is given of differential
calculations or of fluxions and integral calculation. It is the art
of numbering and measuring exactly a thing whose existence cannot be

And, indeed, would you not imagine that a man laughed at you who
should declare that there are lines infinitely great which form an
angle infinitely little?

That a right line, which is a right line so long as it is finite, by
changing infinitely little its direction, becomes an infinite curve;
and that a curve may become infinitely less than another curve?

That there are infinite squares, infinite cubes, and infinites of
infinites, all greater than one another, and the last but one of
which is nothing in comparison of the last?

All these things, which at first appear to be the utmost excess of
frenzy, are in reality an effort of the subtlety and extent of the
human mind, and the art of finding truths which till then had been

This so bold edifice is even founded on simple ideas. The business
is to measure the diagonal of a square, to give the area of a curve,
to find the square root of a number, which has none in common
arithmetic. After all, the imagination ought not to be startled any
more at so many orders of infinites than at the so well-known
proposition, viz., that curve lines may always be made to pass
between a circle and a tangent; or at that other, namely, that
matter is divisible in infinitum. These two truths have been
demonstrated many years, and are no less incomprehensible than the
things we have been speaking of.

For many years the invention of this famous calculation was denied
to Sir Isaac Newton. In Germany Mr. Leibnitz was considered as the
inventor of the differences or moments, called fluxions, and Mr.
Bernouilli claimed the integral calculus. However, Sir Isaac is now
thought to have first made the discovery, and the other two have the
glory of having once made the world doubt whether it was to be
ascribed to him or them. Thus some contested with Dr. Harvey the
invention of the circulation of the blood, as others disputed with
Mr. Perrault that of the circulation of the sap.

Hartsocher and Leuwenhoek disputed with each other the honour of
having first seen the vermiculi of which mankind are formed. This
Hartsocher also contested with Huygens the invention of a new method
of calculating the distance of a fixed star. It is not yet known to
what philosopher we owe the invention of the cycloid.

Be this as it will, it is by the help of this geometry of infinites
that Sir Isaac Newton attained to the most sublime discoveries. I
am now to speak of another work, which, though more adapted to the
capacity of the human mind, does nevertheless display some marks of
that creative genius with which Sir Isaac Newton was informed in all
his researches. The work I mean is a chronology of a new kind, for
what province soever he undertook he was sure to change the ideas
and opinions received by the rest of men.

Accustomed to unravel and disentangle chaos, he was resolved to
convey at least some light into that of the fables of antiquity
which are blended and confounded with history, and fix an uncertain
chronology. It is true that there is no family, city, or nation,
but endeavours to remove its original as far backward as possible.
Besides, the first historians were the most negligent in setting
down the eras: books were infinitely less common than they are at
this time, and, consequently, authors being not so obnoxious to
censure, they therefore imposed upon the world with greater
impunity; and, as it is evident that these have related a great
number of fictitious particulars, it is probable enough that they
also gave us several false eras.

It appeared in general to Sir Isaac that the world was five hundred
years younger than chronologers declare it to be. He grounds his
opinion on the ordinary course of Nature, and on the observations
which astronomers have made.

By the course of Nature we here understand the time that every
generation of men lives upon the earth. The Egyptians first
employed this vague and uncertain method of calculating when they
began to write the beginning of their history. These computed three
hundred and forty-one generations from Menes to Sethon; and, having
no fixed era, they supposed three generations to consist of a
hundred years. In this manner they computed eleven thousand three
hundred and forty years from Menes's reign to that of Sethon.

The Greeks before they counted by Olympiads followed the method of
the Egyptians, and even gave a little more extent to generations,
making each to consist of forty years.

Now, here, both the Egyptians and the Greeks made an erroneous
computation. It is true, indeed, that, according to the usual
course of Nature, three generations last about a hundred and twenty
years; but three reigns are far from taking up so many. It is very
evident that mankind in general live longer than kings are found to
reign, so that an author who should write a history in which there
were no dates fixed, and should know that nine kings had reigned
over a nation; such an historian would commit a great error should
he allow three hundred years to these nine monarchs. Every
generation takes about thirty-six years; every reign is, one with
the other, about twenty. Thirty kings of England have swayed the
sceptre from William the Conqueror to George I., the years of whose
reigns added together amount to six hundred and forty-eight years;
which, being divided equally among the thirty kings, give to every
one a reign of twenty-one years and a half very near. Sixty-three
kings of France have sat upon the throne; these have, one with
another, reigned about twenty years each. This is the usual course
of Nature. The ancients, therefore, were mistaken when they
supposed the durations in general of reigns to equal that of
generations. They, therefore, allowed too great a number of years,
and consequently some years must be subtracted from their

Astronomical observations seem to have lent a still greater
assistance to our philosopher. He appears to us stronger when he
fights upon his own ground.

You know that the earth, besides its annual motion which carries it
round the sun from west to east in the space of a year, has also a
singular revolution which was quite unknown till within these late
years. Its poles have a very slow retrograde motion from east to
west, whence it happens that their position every day does not
correspond exactly with the same point of the heavens. This
difference, which is so insensible in a year, becomes pretty
considerable in time; and in threescore and twelve years the
difference is found to be of one degree, that is to say, the three
hundred and sixtieth part of the circumference of the whole heaven.
Thus after seventy-two years the colure of the vernal equinox which
passed through a fixed star, corresponds with another fixed star.
Hence it is that the sun, instead of being in that part of the
heavens in which the Ram was situated in the time of Hipparchus, is
found to correspond with that part of the heavens in which the Bull
was situated; and the Twins are placed where the Bull then stood.
All the signs have changed their situation, and yet we still retain
the same manner of speaking as the ancients did. In this age we say
that the sun is in the Ram in the spring, from the same principle of
condescension that we say that the sun turns round.

Hipparchus was the first among the Greeks who observed some change
in the constellations with regard to the equinoxes, or rather who
learnt it from the Egyptians. Philosophers ascribed this motion to
the stars; for in those ages people were far from imagining such a
revolution in the earth, which was supposed to be immovable in every
respect. They therefore created a heaven in which they fixed the
several stars, and gave this heaven a particular motion by which it
was carried towards the east, whilst that all the stars seemed to
perform their diurnal revolution from east to west. To this error
they added a second of much greater consequence, by imagining that
the pretended heaven of the fixed stars advanced one degree eastward
every hundred years. In this manner they were no less mistaken in
their astronomical calculation than in their system of natural
philosophy. As for instance, an astronomer in that age would have
said that the vernal equinox was in the time of such and such an
observation, in such a sign, and in such a star. It has advanced
two degrees of each since the time that observation was made to the
present. Now two degrees are equivalent to two hundred years;
consequently the astronomer who made that observation lived just so
many years before me. It is certain that an astronomer who had
argued in this manner would have mistook just fifty-four years;
hence it is that the ancients, who were doubly deceived, made their
great year of the world, that is, the revolution of the whole
heavens, to consist of thirty-six thousand years. But the moderns
are sensible that this imaginary revolution of the heaven of the
stars is nothing else than the revolution of the poles of the earth,
which is performed in twenty-five thousand nine hundred years. It
may be proper to observe transiently in this place, that Sir Isaac,
by determining the figure of the earth, has very happily explained
the cause of this revolution.

All this being laid down, the only thing remaining to settle
chronology is to see through what star the colure of the equinoxes
passes, and where it intersects at this time the ecliptic in the
spring; and to discover whether some ancient writer does not tell us
in what point the ecliptic was intersected in his time, by the same
colure of the equinoxes.

Clemens Alexandrinus informs us, that Chiron, who went with the
Argonauts, observed the constellations at the time of that famous
expedition, and fixed the vernal equinox to the middle of the Ram;
the autumnal equinox to the middle of Libra; our summer solstice to
the middle of Cancer, and our winter solstice to the middle of

A long time after the expedition of the Argonauts, and a year before
the Peloponnesian war, Methon observed that the point of the summer
solstice passed through the eighth degree of Cancer.

Now every sign of the zodiac contains thirty degrees. In Chiron's
time, the solstice was arrived at the middle of the sign, that is to
say to the fifteenth degree. A year before the Peloponnesian war it
was at the eighth, and therefore it had retarded seven degrees. A
degree is equivalent to seventy-two years; consequently, from the
beginning of the Peloponnesian war to the expedition of the
Argonauts, there is no more than an interval of seven times seventy-
two years, which make five hundred and four years, and not seven
hundred years as the Greeks computed. Thus in comparing the
position of the heavens at this time with their position in that
age, we find that the expedition of the Argonauts ought to be placed
about nine hundred years before Christ, and not about fourteen
hundred; and consequently that the world is not so old by five
hundred years as it was generally supposed to be. By this
calculation all the eras are drawn nearer, and the several events
are found to have happened later than is computed. I do not know
whether this ingenious system will be favourably received; and
whether these notions will prevail so far with the learned, as to
prompt them to reform the chronology of the world. Perhaps these
gentlemen would think it too great a condescension to allow one and
the same man the glory of having improved natural philosophy,
geometry, and history. This would be a kind of universal monarchy,
with which the principle of self-love that is in man will scarce
suffer him to indulge his fellow-creature; and, indeed, at the same
time that some very great philosophers attacked Sir Isaac Newton's
attractive principle, others fell upon his chronological system.
Time that should discover to which of these the victory is due, may
perhaps only leave the dispute still more undetermined.


The English as well as the Spaniards were possessed of theatres at a
time when the French had no more than moving, itinerant stages.
Shakspeare, who was considered as the Corneille of the first-
mentioned nation, was pretty nearly contemporary with Lopez de Vega,
and he created, as it were, the English theatre. Shakspeare boasted
a strong fruitful genius. He was natural and sublime, but had not
so much as a single spark of good taste, or knew one rule of the
drama. I will now hazard a random, but, at the same time, true
reflection, which is, that the great merit of this dramatic poet has
been the ruin of the English stage. There are such beautiful, such
noble, such dreadful scenes in this writer's monstrous farces, to
which the name of tragedy is given, that they have always been
exhibited with great success. Time, which alone gives reputation to
writers, at last makes their very faults venerable. Most of the
whimsical gigantic images of this poet, have, through length of time
(it being a hundred and fifty years since they were first drawn)
acquired a right of passing for sublime. Most of the modern
dramatic writers have copied him; but the touches and descriptions
which are applauded in Shakspeare, are hissed at in these writers;
and you will easily believe that the veneration in which this author
is held, increases in proportion to the contempt which is shown to
the moderns. Dramatic writers don't consider that they should not
imitate him; and the ill-success of Shakspeare's imitators produces
no other effect, than to make him be considered as inimitable. You
remember that in the tragedy of Othello, Moor of Venice, a most
tender piece, a man strangles his wife on the stage, and that the
poor woman, whilst she is strangling, cries aloud that she dies very
unjustly. You know that in Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, two grave-
diggers make a grave, and are all the time drinking, singing
ballads, and making humorous reflections (natural indeed enough to
persons of their profession) on the several skulls they throw up
with their spades; but a circumstance which will surprise you is,
that this ridiculous incident has been imitated. In the reign of
King Charles II., which was that of politeness, and the Golden Age
of the liberal arts; Otway, in his Venice Preserved, introduces
Antonio the senator, and Naki, his courtesan, in the midst of the
horrors of the Marquis of Bedemar's conspiracy. Antonio, the
superannuated senator plays, in his mistress's presence, all the
apish tricks of a lewd, impotent debauchee, who is quite frantic and
out of his senses. He mimics a bull and a dog, and bites his
mistress's legs, who kicks and whips him. However, the players have
struck these buffooneries (which indeed were calculated merely for
the dregs of the people) out of Otway's tragedy; but they have still
left in Shakspeare's Julius Caesar the jokes of the Roman shoemakers
and cobblers, who are introduced in the same scene with Brutus and
Cassius. You will undoubtedly complain, that those who have
hitherto discoursed with you on the English stage, and especially on
the celebrated Shakspeare, have taken notice only of his errors; and
that no one has translated any of those strong, those forcible
passages which atone for all his faults. But to this I will answer,
that nothing is easier than to exhibit in prose all the silly
impertinences which a poet may have thrown out; but that it is a
very difficult task to translate his fine verses. All your junior
academical sophs, who set up for censors of the eminent writers,
compile whole volumes; but methinks two pages which display some of
the beauties of great geniuses, are of infinitely more value than
all the idle rhapsodies of those commentators; and I will join in
opinion with all persons of good taste in declaring, that greater
advantage may be reaped from a dozen verses of Homer of Virgil, than
from all the critiques put together which have been made on those
two great poets.

I have ventured to translate some passages of the most celebrated
English poets, and shall now give you one from Shakspeare. Pardon
the blemishes of the translation for the sake of the original; and
remember always that when you see a version, you see merely a faint
print of a beautiful picture. I have made choice of part of the
celebrated soliloquy in Hamlet, which you may remember is as

"To be, or not to be? that is the question!
Whether 't is nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them? To die! to sleep!
No more! and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to! 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die! to sleep!
To sleep; perchance to dream! O, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the poor man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin. Who would fardels bear
To groan and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought:
And enterprises of great weight and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action--"

My version of it runs thus:-

"Demeure, il faut choisir et passer a l'instant
De la vie, a la mort, ou de l'etre au neant.
Dieux cruels, s'il en est, eclairez mon courage.
Faut-il vieillir courbe sous la main qui m'outrage,
Supporter, ou finir mon malheur et mon sort?
Qui suis je? Qui m'arrete! et qu'est-ce que la mort?
C'est la fin de nos maux, c'est mon unique asile
Apres de longs transports, c'est un sommeil tranquile.
On s'endort, et tout meurt, mais un affreux reveil
Doit succeder peut etre aux douceurs du sommeil!
On nous menace, on dit que cette courte vie,
De tourmens eternels est aussi-tot suivie.
O mort! moment fatal! affreuse eternite!
Tout coeur a ton seul nom se glace epouvante.
Eh! qui pourroit sans toi supporter cette vie,
De nos pretres menteurs benir l'hypocrisie:
D'une indigne maitresse encenser les erreurs,
Ramper sous un ministre, adorer ses hauteurs;
Et montrer les langueurs de son ame abattue,
A des amis ingrats qui detournent la vue?
La mort seroit trop douce en ces extremitez,
Mais le scrupule parle, et nous crie, arretez;
Il defend a nos mains cet heureux homicide
Et d'un heros guerrier, fait un Chretien timide," &c.

Do not imagine that I have translated Shakspeare in a servile
manner. Woe to the writer who gives a literal version; who by
rendering every word of his original, by that very means enervates
the sense, and extinguishes all the fire of it. It is on such an
occasion one may justly affirm, that the letter kills, but the
Spirit quickens.

Here follows another passage copied from a celebrated tragic writer
among the English. It is Dryden, a poet in the reign of Charles
II.--a writer whose genius was too exuberant, and not accompanied
with judgment enough. Had he written only a tenth part of the works
he left behind him, his character would have been conspicuous in
every part; but his great fault is his having endeavoured to be

The passage in question is as follows:-

"When I consider life, 't is all a cheat,
Yet fooled by hope, men favour the deceit;
Trust on and think, to-morrow will repay;
To-morrow's falser than the former day;
Lies more; and whilst it says we shall be blest
With some new joy, cuts off what we possessed;
Strange cozenage! none would live past years again,
Yet all hope pleasure in what yet remain,
And from the dregs of life think to receive
What the first sprightly running could not give.
I'm tired with waiting for this chymic gold,
Which fools us young, and beggars us when old."

I shall now give you my translation:-

"De desseins en regrets et d'erreurs en desirs
Les mortals insenses promenent leur folie.
Dans des malheurs presents, dans l'espoir des plaisirs
Nous ne vivons jamais, nous attendons la vie.
Demain, demain, dit-on, va combler tous nos voeux.
Demain vient, et nous laisse encore plus malheureux.
Quelle est l'erreur, helas! du soin qui nous devore,
Nul de nous ne voudroit recommencer son cours.
De nos premiers momens nous maudissons l'aurore,
Et de la nuit qui vient nous attendons encore,
Ce qu'ont en vain promis les plus beaux de nos jours," &c.

It is in these detached passages that the English have hitherto
excelled. Their dramatic pieces, most of which are barbarous and
without decorum, order, or verisimilitude, dart such resplendent
flashes through this gleam, as amaze and astonish. The style is too
much inflated, too unnatural, too closely copied from the Hebrew
writers, who abound so much with the Asiatic fustian. But then it
must be also confessed that the stilts of the figurative style, on
which the English tongue is lifted up, raises the genius at the same
time very far aloft, though with an irregular pace. The first
English writer who composed a regular tragedy, and infused a spirit
of elegance through every part of it, was the illustrious Mr.
Addison. His "Cato" is a masterpiece, both with regard to the
diction and to the beauty and harmony of the numbers. The character
of Cato is, in my opinion, vastly superior to that of Cornelia in
the "Pompey" of Corneille, for Cato is great without anything like
fustian, and Cornelia, who besides is not a necessary character,
tends sometimes to bombast. Mr. Addison's Cato appears to me the
greatest character that was ever brought upon any stage, but then
the rest of them do not correspond to the dignity of it, and this
dramatic piece, so excellently well writ, is disfigured by a dull
love plot, which spreads a certain languor over the whole, that
quite murders it.

The custom of introducing love at random and at any rate in the
drama passed from Paris to London about 1660, with our ribbons and
our perruques. The ladies who adorn the theatrical circle there, in
like manner as in this city, will suffer love only to be the theme
of every conversation. The judicious Mr. Addison had the effeminate
complaisance to soften the severity of his dramatic character, so as
to adapt it to the manners of the age, and, from an endeavour to
please, quite ruined a masterpiece in its kind. Since his time the
drama is become more regular, the audience more difficult to be
pleased, and writers more correct and less bold. I have seen some
new pieces that were written with great regularity, but which, at
the same time, were very flat and insipid. One would think that the
English had been hitherto formed to produce irregular beauties only.
The shining monsters of Shakspeare give infinite more delight than
the judicious images of the moderns. Hitherto the poetical genius
of the English resembles a tufted tree planted by the hand of
Nature, that throws out a thousand branches at random, and spreads
unequally, but with great vigour. It dies if you attempt to force
its nature, and to lop and dress it in the same manner as the trees
of the Garden of Marli.


I am surprised that the judicious and ingenious Mr. de Muralt, who
has published some letters on the English and French nations, should
have confined himself; in treating of comedy, merely to censure
Shadwell the comic writer. This author was had in pretty great
contempt in Mr. de Muralt's time, and was not the poet of the polite
part of the nation. His dramatic pieces, which pleased some time in
acting, were despised by all persons of taste, and might be compared
to many plays which I have seen in France, that drew crowds to the
play-house, at the same time that they were intolerable to read; and
of which it might be said, that the whole city of Paris exploded
them, and yet all flocked to see them represented on the stage.
Methinks Mr. de Muralt should have mentioned an excellent comic
writer (living when he was in England), I mean Mr. Wycherley, who
was a long time known publicly to be happy in the good graces of the
most celebrated mistress of King Charles II. This gentleman, who
passed his life among persons of the highest distinction, was
perfectly well acquainted with their lives and their follies, and
painted them with the strongest pencil, and in the truest colours.
He has drawn a misanthrope or man-hater, in imitation of that of
Moliere. All Wycherley's strokes are stronger and bolder than those
of our misanthrope, but then they are less delicate, and the rules
of decorum are not so well observed in this play. The English
writer has corrected the only defect that is in Moliere's comedy,
the thinness of the plot, which also is so disposed that the
characters in it do not enough raise our concern. The English
comedy affects us, and the contrivance of the plot is very
ingenious, but at the same time it is too bold for the French
manners. The fable is this:- A captain of a man-of-war, who is very
brave, open-hearted, and inflamed with a spirit of contempt for all
mankind, has a prudent, sincere friend, whom he yet is suspicious
of; and a mistress that loves him with the utmost excess of passion.
The captain so far from returning her love, will not even condescend
to look upon her, but confides entirely in a false friend, who is
the most worthless wretch living. At the same time he has given his
heart to a creature, who is the greatest coquette and the most
perfidious of her sex, and he is so credulous as to be confident she
is a Penelope, and his false friend a Cato. He embarks on board his
ship in order to go and fight the Dutch, having left all his money,
his jewels, and everything he had in the world to this virtuous
creature, whom at the same time he recommends to the care of his
supposed faithful friend. Nevertheless the real man of honour, whom
he suspects so unaccountably, goes on board the ship with him, and
the mistress, on whom he would not bestow so much as one glance,
disguises herself in the habit of a page, and is with him the whole
voyage, without his once knowing that she is of a sex different from
that she attempts to pass for, which, by the way, is not over

The captain having blown up his own ship in an engagement, returns
to England abandoned and undone, accompanied by his page and his
friend, without knowing the friendship of the one or the tender
passion of the other. Immediately he goes to the jewel among women,
who he expected had preserved her fidelity to him and the treasure
he had left in her hands. He meets with her indeed, but married to
the honest knave in whom he had reposed so much confidence, and
finds she had acted as treacherously with regard to the casket he
had entrusted her with. The captain can scarce think it possible
that a woman of virtue and honour can act so vile a part; but to
convince him still more of the reality of it, this very worthy lady
falls in love with the little page, and will force him to her
embraces. But as it is requisite justice should be done, and that
in a dramatic piece virtue ought to be rewarded and vice punished,
it is at last found that the captain takes his page's place, and
lies with his faithless mistress, cuckolds his treacherous friend,
thrusts his sword through his body, recovers his casket, and marries
his page. You will observe that this play is also larded with a
petulant, litigious old woman (a relation of the captain), who is
the most comical character that was ever brought upon the stage.

Wycherley has also copied from Moliere another play, of as singular
and bold a cast, which is a kind of Ecole des Femmes, or, School for
Married Women.

The principal character in this comedy is one Homer, a sly fortune
hunter, and the terror of all the City husbands. This fellow, in
order to play a surer game, causes a report to be spread, that in
his last illness, the surgeons had found it necessary to have him
made a eunuch. Upon his appearing in this noble character, all the
husbands in town flock to him with their wives, and now poor Homer
is only puzzled about his choice. However, he gives the preference
particularly to a little female peasant, a very harmless, innocent
creature, who enjoys a fine flush of health, and cuckolds her
husband with a simplicity that has infinitely more merit than the
witty malice of the most experienced ladies. This play cannot
indeed be called the school of good morals, but it is certainly the
school of wit and true humour.

Sir John Vanbrugh has written several comedies, which are more
humorous than those of Mr. Wycherley, but not so ingenious. Sir
John was a man of pleasure, and likewise a poet and an architect.
The general opinion is, that he is as sprightly in his writings as
he is heavy in his buildings. It is he who raised the famous Castle
of Blenheim, a ponderous and lasting monument of our unfortunate
Battle of Hochstet. Were the apartments but as spacious as the
walls are thick, this castle would be commodious enough. Some wag,
in an epitaph he made on Sir John Vanbrugh, has these lines:-

"Earth lie light on him, for he
Laid many a heavy load on thee."

Sir John having taken a tour into France before the glorious war
that broke out in 1701, was thrown into the Bastille, and detained
there for some time, without being ever able to discover the motive
which had prompted our ministry to indulge him with this mark of
their distinction. He wrote a comedy during his confinement; and a
circumstance which appears to me very extraordinary is, that we
don't meet with so much as a single satirical stroke against the
country in which he had been so injuriously treated.

The late Mr. Congreve raised the glory of comedy to a greater height
than any English writer before or since his time. He wrote only a
few plays, but they are all excellent in their kind. The laws of
the drama are strictly observed in them; they abound with characters
all which are shadowed with the utmost delicacy, and we don't meet
with so much as one low or coarse jest. The language is everywhere
that of men of honour, but their actions are those of knaves--a
proof that he was perfectly well acquainted with human nature, and
frequented what we call polite company. He was infirm and come to
the verge of life when I knew him. Mr. Congreve had one defect,
which was his entertaining too mean an idea of his first profession
(that of a writer), though it was to this he owed his fame and
fortune. He spoke of his works as of trifles that were beneath him;
and hinted to me, in our first conversation, that I should visit him
upon no other footing than that of a gentleman who led a life of
plainness and simplicity. I answered, that had he been so
unfortunate as to be a mere gentleman, I should never have come to
see him; and I was very much disgusted at so unseasonable a piece of

Mr. Congreve's comedies are the most witty and regular, those of Sir
John Vanbrugh most gay and humorous, and those of Mr. Wycherley have
the greatest force and spirit. It may be proper to observe that
these fine geniuses never spoke disadvantageously of Moliere; and
that none but the contemptible writers among the English have
endeavoured to lessen the character of that great comic poet. Such
Italian musicians as despise Lully are themselves persons of no
character or ability; but a Buononcini esteems that great artist,
and does justice to his merit.

The English have some other good comic writers living, such as Sir
Richard Steele and Mr. Cibber, who is an excellent player, and also
Poet Laureate--a title which, how ridiculous soever it may be
thought, is yet worth a thousand crowns a year (besides some
considerable privileges) to the person who enjoys it. Our
illustrious Corneille had not so much.

To conclude. Don't desire me to descend to particulars with regard
to these English comedies, which I am so fond of applauding; nor to
give you a single smart saying or humorous stroke from Wycherley or
Congreve. We don't laugh in rending a translation. If you have a
mind to understand the English comedy, the only way to do this will
be for you to go to England, to spend three years in London, to make
yourself master of the English tongue, and to frequent the playhouse
every night. I receive but little pleasure from the perusal of
Aristophanes and Plautus, and for this reason, because I am neither
a Greek nor a Roman. The delicacy of the humour, the allusion, the
a propos--all these are lost to a foreigner.

But it is different with respect to tragedy, this treating only of
exalted passions and heroical follies, which the antiquated errors
of fable or history have made sacred. OEdipus, Electra, and such-
like characters, may with as much propriety be treated of by the
Spaniards, the English, or us, as by the Greeks. But true comedy is
the speaking picture of the follies and ridiculous foibles of a
nation; so that he only is able to judge of the painting who is
perfectly acquainted with the people it represents.


There once was a time in France when the polite arts were cultivated
by persons of the highest rank in the state. The courtiers
particularly were conversant in them, although indolence, a taste
for trifles, and a passion for intrigue, were the divinities of the
country. The Court methinks at this time seems to have given into a
taste quite opposite to that of polite literature, but perhaps the
mode of thinking may be revived in a little time. The French are of
so flexible a disposition, may be moulded into such a variety of
shapes, that the monarch needs but command and he is immediately
obeyed. The English generally think, and learning is had in greater
honour among them than in our country--an advantage that results
naturally from the form of their government. There are about eight
hundred persons in England who have a right to speak in public, and
to support the interest of the kingdom; and near five or six
thousand may in their turns aspire to the same honour. The whole
nation set themselves up as judges over these, and every man has the
liberty of publishing his thoughts with regard to public affairs,
which shows that all the people in general are indispensably obliged
to cultivate their understandings. In England the governments of
Greece and Rome are the subject of every conversation, so that every
man is under a necessity of perusing such authors as treat of them,
how disagreeable soever it may be to him; and this study leads
naturally to that of polite literature. Mankind in general speak
well in their respective professions. What is the reason why our
magistrates, our lawyers, our physicians, and a great number of the
clergy, are abler scholars, have a finer taste, and more wit, than
persons of all other professions? The reason is, because their
condition of life requires a cultivated and enlightened mind, in the
same manner as a merchant is obliged to be acquainted with his
traffic. Not long since an English nobleman, who was very young,
came to see me at Paris on his return from Italy. He had written a
poetical description of that country, which, for delicacy and
politeness, may vie with anything we meet with in the Earl of
Rochester, or in our Chaulieu, our Sarrasin, or Chapelle. The
translation I have given of it is so inexpressive of the strength
and delicate humour of the original, that I am obliged seriously to
ask pardon of the author and of all who understand English.
However, as this is the only method I have to make his lordship's
verses known, I shall here present you with them in our tongue:-

"Qu'ay je donc vu dans l'Italie?
Orgueil, astuce, et pauvrete,
Grands complimens, peu de bonte
Et beaucoup de ceremonie.

"L'extravagante comedie
Que souvent l'Inquisition
Vent qu'on nomme religion
Mais qu'ici nous nommons folie.

"La Nature en vain bienfaisante
Vent enricher ses lieux charmans,
Des pretres la main desolante
Etouffe ses plus beaux presens.

"Les monsignors, soy disant Grands,
Seuls dans leurs palais magnifiques
Y sont d'illustres faineants,
Sans argent, et sans domestiques.

"Pour les petits, sans liberte,
Martyrs du joug qui les domine,
Ils ont fait voeu de pauvrete,
Priant Dieu par oisivete
Et toujours jeunant par famine.

"Ces beaux lieux du Pape benis
Semblent habitez par les diables;
Et les habitans miserables
Sont damnes dans le Paradis."


The Earl of Rochester's name is universally known. Mr. de St.
Evremont has made very frequent mention of him, but then he has
represented this famous nobleman in no other light than as the man
of pleasure, as one who was the idol of the fair; but, with regard
to myself, I would willingly describe in him the man of genius, the
great poet. Among other pieces which display the shining
imagination, his lordship only could boast he wrote some satires on
the same subjects as those our celebrated Boileau made choice of. I
do not know any better method of improving the taste than to compare
the productions of such great geniuses as have exercised their
talent on the same subject. Boileau declaims as follows against
human reason in his "Satire on Man:"

"Cependant a le voir plein de vapeurs legeres,
Soi-meme se bercer de ses propres chimeres,
Lui seul de la nature est la baze et l'appui,
Et le dixieme ciel ne tourne que pour lui.
De tous les animaux il est ici le maitre;
Qui pourroit le nier, poursuis tu? Moi peut-etre.
Ce maitre pretendu qui leur donne des loix,
Ce roi des animaux, combien a-t'il de rois?"

"Yet, pleased with idle whimsies of his brain,
And puffed with pride, this haughty thing would fain
Be think himself the only stay and prop
That holds the mighty frame of Nature up.
The skies and stars his properties must seem,
* * *
Of all the creatures he's the lord, he cries.
* * *
And who is there, say you, that dares deny
So owned a truth? That may be, sir, do I.
* * *
This boasted monarch of the world who awes
The creatures here, and with his nod gives laws
This self-named king, who thus pretends to be
The lord of all, how many lords has he?"

OLDHAM, a little altered.

The Lord Rochester expresses himself, in his "Satire against Man,"
in pretty near the following manner. But I must first desire you
always to remember that the versions I give you from the English
poets are written with freedom and latitude, and that the restraint
of our versification, and the delicacies of the French tongue, will
not allow a translator to convey into it the licentious impetuosity
and fire of the English numbers:-

"Cet esprit que je hais, cet esprit plein d'erreur,
Ce n'est pas ma raison, c'est la tienne, docteur.
C'est la raison frivole, inquiete, orgueilleuse
Des sages animaux, rivale dedaigneuse,
Qui croit entr'eux et l'Ange, occuper le milieu,
Et pense etre ici bas l'image de son Dieu.
Vil atome imparfait, qui croit, doute, dispute
Rampe, s'eleve, tombe, et nie encore sa chute,
Qui nous dit je suis libre, en nous montrant ses fers,
Et dont l'oeil trouble et faux, croit percer l'univers.
Allez, reverends fous, bienheureux fanatiques,
Compilez bien l'amas de vos riens scholastiques,
Peres de visions, et d'enigmes sacres,
Auteurs du labirinthe, ou vous vous egarez.
Allez obscurement eclaircir vos misteres,
Et courez dans l'ecole adorer vos chimeres.
Il est d'autres erreurs, il est de ces devots
Condamne par eux memes a l'ennui du repos.
Ce mystique encloitre, fier de son indolence
Tranquille, au sein de Dieu. Que peut il faire? Il pense.
Non, tu ne penses point, miserable, tu dors:
Inutile a la terre, et mis au rang des morts.
Ton esprit enerve croupit dans la molesse.
Reveille toi, sois homme, et sors de ton ivresse.
L'homme est ne pour agir, et tu pretens penser?" &c.

The original runs thus:-

"Hold mighty man, I cry all this we know,
And 'tis this very reason I despise,
This supernatural gift that makes a mite
Think he's the image of the Infinite;
Comparing his short life, void of all rest,
To the eternal and the ever blest.
This busy, puzzling stirrer up of doubt,
That frames deep mysteries, then finds them out,
Filling, with frantic crowds of thinking fools,
Those reverend bedlams, colleges, and schools;
Borne on whose wings each heavy sot can pierce
The limits of the boundless universe.
So charming ointments make an old witch fly,
And bear a crippled carcase through the sky.
'Tis this exalted power, whose business lies
In nonsense and impossibilities.
This made a whimsical philosopher
Before the spacious world his tub prefer;
And we have modern cloistered coxcombs, who
Retire to think, 'cause they have naught to do.
But thoughts are given for action's government,
Where action ceases, thought's impertinent."

Whether these ideas are true or false, it is certain they are
expressed with an energy and fire which form the poet. I shall be
very far from attempting to examine philosophically into these
verses, to lay down the pencil, and take up the rule and compass on
this occasion; my only design in this letter being to display the
genius of the English poets, and therefore I shall continue in the
same view.

The celebrated Mr. Waller has been very much talked of in France,
and Mr. De la Fontaine, St. Evremont, and Bayle have written his
eulogium, but still his name only is known. He had much the same
reputation in London as Voiture had in Paris, and in my opinion
deserved it better. Voiture was born in an age that was just
emerging from barbarity; an age that was still rude and ignorant,
the people of which aimed at wit, though they had not the least
pretensions to it, and sought for points and conceits instead of
sentiments. Bristol stones are more easily found than diamonds.
Voiture, born with an easy and frivolous, genius, was the first who
shone in this aurora of French literature. Had he come into the
world after those great geniuses who spread such a glory over the
age of Louis XIV., he would either have been unknown, would have
been despised, or would have corrected his style. Boileau applauded
him, but it was in his first satires, at a time when the taste of
that great poet was not yet formed. He was young, and in an age
when persons form a judgment of men from their reputation, and not
from their writings. Besides, Boileau was very partial both in his
encomiums and his censures. He applauded Segrais, whose works
nobody reads; he abused Quinault, whose poetical pieces every one
has got by heart; and is wholly silent upon La Fontaine. Waller,
though a better poet than Voiture, was not yet a finished poet. The
graces breathe in such of Waller's works as are writ in a tender
strain; but then they are languid through negligence, and often
disfigured with false thoughts. The English had not in his time
attained the art of correct writing. But his serious compositions
exhibit a strength and vigour which could not have been expected
from the softness and effeminacy of his other pieces. He wrote an
elegy on Oliver Cromwell, which, with all its faults, is
nevertheless looked upon as a masterpiece. To understand this copy
of verses you are to know that the day Oliver died was remarkable
for a great storm. His poem begins in this manner:-

"Il n'est plus, s'en est fait, soumettons nous au sort,
Le ciel a signale ce jour par des tempetes,
Et la voix des tonnerres eclatant sur nos tetes
Vient d'annoncer sa mort.

"Par ses derniers soupirs il ebranle cet ile;
Cet ile que son bras fit trembler tant de fois,
Quand dans le cours de ses exploits,
Il brisoit la tete des Rois,
Et soumettoit un peuple a son joug seul docile.

"Mer tu t'en es trouble; O mer tes flots emus
Semblent dire en grondant aux plus lointains rivages
Que l'effroi de la terre et ton maitre n'est plus.

"Tel au ciel autrefois s'envola Romulus,
Tel il quitta la Terre, au milieu des orages,
Tel d'un peuple guerrier il recut les homages;
Obei dans sa vie, sa mort adore,
Son palais fut un Temple," &c.

"We must resign! heaven his great soul does claim
In storms as loud as his immortal fame;
His dying groans, his last breath shakes our isle,
And trees uncut fall for his funeral pile:
About his palace their broad roots are tost
Into the air; so Romulus was lost!
New Rome in such a tempest missed her king,
And from obeying fell to worshipping.
On OEta's top thus Hercules lay dead,
With ruined oaks and pines about him spread.
Nature herself took notice of his death,
And, sighing, swelled the sea with such a breath,
That to remotest shores the billows rolled,
Th' approaching fate of his great ruler told."


It was this elogium that gave occasion to the reply (taken notice of
in Bayle's Dictionary), which Waller made to King Charles II. This
king, to whom Waller had a little before (as is usual with bards and
monarchs) presented a copy of verses embroidered with praises,
reproached the poet for not writing with so much energy and fire as
when he had applauded the Usurper (meaning Oliver). "Sir," replied
Waller to the king, "we poets succeed better in fiction than in
truth." This answer was not so sincere as that which a Dutch
ambassador made, who, when the same monarch complained that his
masters paid less regard to him than they had done to Cromwell.
"Ah, sir!" says the Ambassador, "Oliver was quite another man--" It
is not my intent to give a commentary on Waller's character, nor on
that of any other person; for I consider men after their death in no
other light than as they were writers, and wholly disregard
everything else. I shall only observe that Waller, though born in a
court, and to an estate of five or six thousand pounds sterling a
year, was never so proud or so indolent as to lay aside the happy
talent which Nature had indulged him. The Earls of Dorset and
Roscommon, the two Dukes of Buckingham, the Lord Halifax, and so
many other noblemen, did not think the reputation they obtained of
very great poets and illustrious writers, any way derogatory to
their quality. They are more glorious for their works than for
their titles. These cultivated the polite arts with as much
assiduity as though they had been their whole dependence.

They also have made learning appear venerable in the eyes of the
vulgar, who have need to be led in all things by the great; and who,
nevertheless, fashion their manners less after those of the nobility
(in England I mean) than in any other country in the world.


I intended to treat of Mr. Prior, one of the most amiable English
poets, whom you saw Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary at Paris
in 1712. I also designed to have given you some idea of the Lord
Roscommon's and the Lord Dorset's muse; but I find that to do this I
should be obliged to write a large volume, and that, after much
pains and trouble, you would have but an imperfect idea of all those
works. Poetry is a kind of music in which a man should have some
knowledge before he pretends to judge of it. When I give you a
translation of some passages from those foreign poets, I only prick
down, and that imperfectly, their music; but then I cannot express
the taste of their harmony.

There is one English poem especially which I should despair of ever
making you understand, the title whereof is "Hudibras." The subject
of it is the Civil War in the time of the grand rebellion, and the
principles and practice of the Puritans are therein ridiculed. It
is Don Quixote, it is our "Satire Menippee" blended together. I
never found so much wit in one single book as in that, which at the
same time is the most difficult to be translated. Who would believe
that a work which paints in such lively and natural colours the
several foibles and follies of mankind, and where we meet with more
sentiments than words, should baffle the endeavours of the ablest
translator? But the reason of this is, almost every part of it
alludes to particular incidents. The clergy are there made the
principal object of ridicule, which is understood but by few among
the laity. To explain this a commentary would be requisite, and
humour when explained is no longer humour. Whoever sets up for a
commentator of smart sayings and repartees is himself a blockhead.
This is the reason why the works of the ingenious Dean Swift, who
has been called the English Rabelais, will never be well understood
in France. This gentleman has the honour (in common with Rabelais)
of being a priest, and, like him, laughs at everything; but, in my
humble opinion, the title of the English Rabelais which is given the
dean is highly derogatory to his genius. The former has
interspersed his unaccountably-fantastic and unintelligible book
with the most gay strokes of humour; but which, at the same time,
has a greater proportion of impertinence. He has been vastly lavish
of erudition, of smut, and insipid raillery. An agreeable tale of
two pages is purchased at the expense of whole volumes of nonsense.
There are but few persons, and those of a grotesque taste, who
pretend to understand and to esteem this work; for, as to the rest
of the nation, they laugh at the pleasant and diverting touches
which are found in Rabelais and despise his book. He is looked upon
as the prince of buffoons. The readers are vexed to think that a
man who was master of so much wit should have made so wretched a use
of it; he is an intoxicated philosopher who never wrote but when he
was in liquor.

Dean Swift is Rabelais in his senses, and frequenting the politest
company. The former, indeed, is not so gay as the latter, but then
he possesses all the delicacy, the justness, the choice, the good
taste, in all which particulars our giggling rural Vicar Rabelais is
wanting. The poetical numbers of Dean Swift are of a singular and
almost inimitable taste; true humour, whether in prose or verse,
seems to be his peculiar talent; but whoever is desirous of
understanding him perfectly must visit the island in which he was

It will be much easier for you to form an idea of Mr. Pope's works.
He is, in my opinion, the most elegant, the most correct poet; and,
at the same time, the most harmonious (a circumstance which redounds
very much to the honour of this muse) that England ever gave birth
to. He has mellowed the harsh sounds of the English trumpet to the
soft accents of the flute. His compositions may be easily
translated, because they are vastly clear and perspicuous; besides,
most of his subjects are general, and relative to all nations.

His "Essay on Criticism" will soon be known in France by the
translation which l'Abbe de Resnel has made of it.

Here is an extract from his poem entitled the "Rape of the Lock,"
which I just now translated with the latitude I usually take on
these occasions; for, once again, nothing can be more ridiculous
than to translate a poet literally:-

"Umbriel, a l'instant, vieil gnome rechigne,
Va d'une aile pesante et d'un air renfrogne
Chercher en murmurant la caverne profonde,
Ou loin des doux raions que repand l'oeil du monde
La Deesse aux Vapeurs a choisi son sejour,
Les Tristes Aquilons y sifflent a l'entour,
Et le souffle mal sain de leur aride haleine
Y porte aux environs la fievre et la migraine.
Sur un riche sofa derriere un paravent
Loin des flambeaux, du bruit, des parleurs et du vent,
La quinteuse deesse incessamment repose,
Le coeur gros de chagrin, sans en savoir la cause.
N'aiant pense jamais, l'esprit toujours trouble,
L'oeil charge, le teint pale, et l'hypocondre enfle.
La medisante Envie, est assise aupres d'elle,
Vieil spectre feminin, decrepite pucelle,
Avec un air devot dechirant son prochain,
Et chansonnant les Gens l'Evangile a la main.
Sur un lit plein de fleurs negligemment panchee
Une jeune beaute non loin d'elle est couchee,
C'est l'Affectation qui grassaie en parlant,
Ecoute sans entendre, et lorgne en regardant.
Qui rougit sans pudeur, et rit de tout sans joie,
De cent maux differens pretend qu'elle est la proie;
Et pleine de sante sous le rouge et le fard,
Se plaint avec molesse, et se pame avec art."

"Umbriel, a dusky, melancholy sprite
As ever sullied the fair face of light,
Down to the central earth, his proper scene,
Repairs to search the gloomy cave of Spleen.
Swift on his sooty pinions flits the gnome,
And in a vapour reached the dismal dome.
No cheerful breeze this sullen region knows,
The dreaded east is all the wind that blows.
Here, in a grotto, sheltered close from air,
And screened in shades from day's detested glare,
She sighs for ever on her pensive bed,
Pain at her side, and Megrim at her head,
Two handmaids wait the throne. Alike in place,
But differing far in figure and in face,
Here stood Ill-nature, like an ancient maid,
Her wrinkled form in black and white arrayed;
With store of prayers for mornings, nights, and noons,
Her hand is filled; her bosom with lampoons.
There Affectation, with a sickly mien,
Shows in her cheek the roses of eighteen,
Practised to lisp, and hang the head aside,
Faints into airs, and languishes with pride;
On the rich quilt sinks with becoming woe,
Wrapt in a gown, for sickness and for show."

This extract, in the original (not in the faint translation I have
given you of it), may be compared to the description of la Molesse
(softness or effeminacy), in Boileau's "Lutrin."

Methinks I now have given you specimens enough from the English
poets. I have made some transient mention of their philosophers,
but as for good historians among them, I don't know of any; and,
indeed, a Frenchman was forced to write their history. Possibly the
English genius, which is either languid or impetuous, has not yet
acquired that unaffected eloquence, that plain but majestic air
which history requires. Possibly too, the spirit of party which
exhibits objects in a dim and confused light may have sunk the
credit of their historians. One half of the nation is always at
variance with the other half. I have met with people who assured me
that the Duke of Marlborough was a coward, and that Mr. Pope was a
fool; just as some Jesuits in France declare Pascal to have been a
man of little or no genius, and some Jansenists affirm Father
Bourdaloue to have been a mere babbler. The Jacobites consider Mary
Queen of Scots as a pious heroine, but those of an opposite party
look upon her as a prostitute, an adulteress, a murderer. Thus the
English have memorials of the several reigns, but no such thing as a
history. There is, indeed, now living, one Mr. Gordon (the public
are obliged to him for a translation of Tacitus), who is very
capable of writing the history of his own country, but Rapin de
Thoyras got the start of him. To conclude, in my opinion the
English have not such good historians as the French have no such
thing as a real tragedy, have several delightful comedies, some
wonderful passages in certain of their poems, and boast of
philosophers that are worthy of instructing mankind. The English
have reaped very great benefit from the writers of our nation, and
therefore we ought (since they have not scrupled to be in our debt)
to borrow from them. Both the English and we came after the
Italians, who have been our instructors in all the arts, and whom we
have surpassed in some. I cannot determine which of the three
nations ought to be honoured with the palm; but happy the writer who
could display their various merits.


Neither the English nor any other people have foundations
established in favour of the polite arts like those in France.
There are Universities in most countries, but it is in France only
that we meet with so beneficial an encouragement for astronomy and
all parts of the mathematics, for physic, for researches into
antiquity, for painting, sculpture, and architecture. Louis XIV.
has immortalised his name by these several foundations, and this
immortality did not cost him two hundred thousand livres a year.

I must confess that one of the things I very much wonder at is, that
as the Parliament of Great Britain have promised a reward of 20,000
pounds sterling to any person who may discover the longitude, they
should never have once thought to imitate Louis XIV. in his
munificence with regard to the arts and sciences.

Merit, indeed, meets in England with rewards of another kind, which
redound more to the honour of the nation. The English have so great
a veneration for exalted talents, that a man of merit in their
country is always sure of making his fortune. Mr. Addison in France
would have been elected a member of one of the academies, and, by
the credit of some women, might have obtained a yearly pension of
twelve hundred livres, or else might have been imprisoned in the
Bastile, upon pretence that certain strokes in his tragedy of Cato
had been discovered which glanced at the porter of some man in
power. Mr. Addison was raised to the post of Secretary of State in
England. Sir Isaac Newton was made Master of the Royal Mint. Mr.
Congreve had a considerable employment. Mr. Prior was
Plenipotentiary. Dr. Swift is Dean of St. Patrick in Dublin, and is
more revered in Ireland than the Primate himself. The religion
which Mr. Pope professes excludes him, indeed, from preferments of
every kind, but then it did not prevent his gaining two hundred
thousand livres by his excellent translation of Homer. I myself saw
a long time in France the author of Rhadamistus ready to perish for
hunger. And the son of one of the greatest men our country ever
gave birth to, and who was beginning to run the noble career which
his father had set him, would have been reduced to the extremes of
misery had he not been patronised by Monsieur Fagon.

But the circumstance which mostly encourages the arts in England is
the great veneration which is paid them. The picture of the Prime
Minister hangs over the chimney of his own closet, but I have seen
that of Mr. Pope in twenty noblemen's houses. Sir Isaac Newton was
revered in his lifetime, and had a due respect paid to him after his
death; the greatest men in the nation disputing who should have the
honour of holding up his pall. Go into Westminster Abbey, and you
will find that what raises the admiration of the spectator is not
the mausoleums of the English kings, but the monuments which the
gratitude of the nation has erected to perpetuate the memory of
those illustrious men who contributed to its glory. We view their
statues in that abbey in the same manner as those of Sophocles,
Plato, and other immortal personages were viewed in Athens; and I am
persuaded that the bare sight of those glorious monuments has fired
more than one breast, and been the occasion of their becoming great

The English have even been reproached with paying too extravagant
honours to mere merit, and censured for interring the celebrated
actress Mrs. Oldfield in Westminster Abbey, with almost the same
pomp as Sir Isaac Newton. Some pretend that the English had paid
her these great funeral honours, purposely to make us more strongly
sensible of the barbarity and injustice which they object to us, for
having buried Mademoiselle Le Couvreur ignominiously in the fields.

But be assured from me, that the English were prompted by no other
principle in burying Mrs. Oldfield in Westminster Abbey than their
good sense. They are far from being so ridiculous as to brand with
infamy an art which has immortalised a Euripides and a Sophocles; or
to exclude from the body of their citizens a set of people whose
business is to set off with the utmost grace of speech and action
those pieces which the nation is proud of.

Under the reign of Charles I. and in the beginning of the civil wars
raised by a number of rigid fanatics, who at last were the victims
to it; a great many pieces were published against theatrical and
other shows, which were attacked with the greater virulence because
that monarch and his queen, daughter to Henry I. of France, were
passionately fond of them.

One Mr. Prynne, a man of most furiously scrupulous principles, who
would have thought himself damned had he worn a cassock instead of a
short cloak, and have been glad to see one-half of mankind cut the
other to pieces for the glory of God, and the Propaganda Fide; took
it into his head to write a most wretched satire against some pretty
good comedies, which were exhibited very innocently every night
before their majesties. He quoted the authority of the Rabbis, and
some passages from St. Bonaventure, to prove that the OEdipus of
Sophocles was the work of the evil spirit; that Terence was
excommunicated ipso facto; and added, that doubtless Brutus, who was
a very severe Jansenist, assassinated Julius Caesar for no other
reason but because he, who was Pontifex Maximus, presumed to write a
tragedy the subject of which was OEdipus. Lastly, he declared that
all who frequented the theatre were excommunicated, as they thereby
renounced their baptism. This was casting the highest insult on the
king and all the royal family; and as the English loved their prince
at that time, they could not bear to hear a writer talk of
excommunicating him, though they themselves afterwards cut his head
off. Prynne was summoned to appear before the Star Chamber; his
wonderful book, from which Father Le Brun stole his, was sentenced
to be burnt by the common hangman, and himself to lose his ears.
His trial is now extant.

The Italians are far from attempting to cast a blemish on the opera,
or to excommunicate Signor Senesino or Signora Cuzzoni. With regard
to myself, I could presume to wish that the magistrates would
suppress I know not what contemptible pieces written against the
stage. For when the English and Italians hear that we brand with
the greatest mark of infamy an art in which we excel; that we
excommunicate persons who receive salaries from the king; that we
condemn as impious a spectacle exhibited in convents and
monasteries; that we dishonour sports in which Louis XIV. and Louis
XV., performed as actors; that we give the title of the devil's
works to pieces which are received by magistrates of the most severe
character, and represented before a virtuous queen; when, I say,
foreigners are told of this insolent conduct, this contempt for the
royal authority, and this Gothic rusticity which some presume to
call Christian severity, what an idea must they entertain of our
nation? And how will it be possible for them to conceive, either
that our laws give a sanction to an art which is declared infamous,
or that some persons dare to stamp with infamy an art which receives
a sanction from the laws, is rewarded by kings, cultivated and
encouraged by the greatest men, and admired by whole nations? And
that Father Le Brun's impertinent libel against the stage is seen in
a bookseller's shop, standing the very next to the immortal labours
of Racine, of Corneille, of Moliere, &c.


The English had an Academy of Sciences many years before us, but
then it is not under such prudent regulations as ours, the only
reason of which very possibly is, because it was founded before the
Academy of Paris; for had it been founded after, it would very
probably have adopted some of the sage laws of the former and
improved upon others.

Two things, and those the most essential to man, are wanting in the
Royal Society of London, I mean rewards and laws. A seat in the
Academy at Paris is a small but secure fortune to a geometrician or
a chemist; but this is so far from being the case at London, that
the several members of the Royal Society are at a continual, though
indeed small expense. Any man in England who declares himself a
lover of the mathematics and natural philosophy, and expresses an
inclination to be a member of the Royal Society, is immediately
elected into it. But in France it is not enough that a man who
aspires to the honour of being a member of the Academy, and of
receiving the royal stipend, has a love for the sciences; he must at
the same time be deeply skilled in them; and is obliged to dispute
the seat with competitors who are so much the more formidable as
they are fired by a principle of glory, by interest, by the
difficulty itself; and by that inflexibility of mind which is
generally found in those who devote themselves to that pertinacious
study, the mathematics.

The Academy of Sciences is prudently confined to the study of
Nature, and, indeed, this is a field spacious enough for fifty or
threescore persons to range in. That of London mixes
indiscriminately literature with physics; but methinks the founding
an academy merely for the polite arts is more judicious, as it
prevents confusion, and the joining, in some measure, of
heterogeneals, such as a dissertation on the head-dresses of the
Roman ladies with a hundred or more new curves.

As there is very little order and regularity in the Royal Society,
and not the least encouragement; and that the Academy of Paris is on
a quite different foot, it is no wonder that our transactions are
drawn up in a more just and beautiful manner than those of the
English. Soldiers who are under a regular discipline, and besides
well paid, must necessarily at last perform more glorious
achievements than others who are mere volunteers. It must indeed be
confessed that the Royal Society boast their Newton, but then he did
not owe his knowledge and discoveries to that body; so far from it,
that the latter were intelligible to very few of his fellow members.
A genius like that of Sir Isaac belonged to all the academies in the
world, because all had a thousand things to learn of him.

The celebrated Dean Swift formed a design, in the latter end of the
late Queen's reign, to found an academy for the English tongue upon
the model of that of the French. This project was promoted by the
late Earl of Oxford, Lord High Treasurer, and much more by the Lord
Bolingbroke, Secretary of State, who had the happy talent of
speaking without premeditation in the Parliament House with as much
purity as Dean Swift wrote in his closet, and who would have been
the ornament and protector of that academy. Those only would have
been chosen members of it whose works will last as long as the
English tongue, such as Dean Swift, Mr. Prior, whom we saw here
invested with a public character, and whose fame in England is equal
to that of La Fontaine in France; Mr. Pope, the English Boileau, Mr.
Congreve, who may be called their Moliere, and several other eminent
persons whose names I have forgot; all these would have raised the
glory of that body to a great height even in its infancy. But Queen
Anne being snatched suddenly from the world, the Whigs were resolved
to ruin the protectors of the intended academy, a circumstance that
was of the most fatal consequence to polite literature. The members
of this academy would have had a very great advantage over those who
first formed that of the French, for Swift, Prior, Congreve, Dryden,
Pope, Addison, &c. had fixed the English tongue by their writings;
whereas Chapelain, Colletet, Cassaigne, Faret, Perrin, Cotin, our
first academicians, were a disgrace to their country; and so much
ridicule is now attached to their very names, that if an author of
some genius in this age had the misfortune to be called Chapelain or
Cotin, he would be under a necessity of changing his name.

One circumstance, to which the English Academy should especially
have attended, is to have prescribed to themselves occupations of a
quite different kind from those with which our academicians amuse
themselves. A wit of this country asked me for the memoirs of the
French Academy. I answered, they have no memoirs, but have printed
threescore or fourscore volumes in quarto of compliments. The
gentleman perused one or two of them, but without being able to
understand the style in which they were written, though he
understood all our good authors perfectly. "All," says he, "I see
in these elegant discourses is, that the member elect having assured
the audience that his predecessor was a great man, that Cardinal
Richelieu was a very great man, that the Chancellor Seguier was a
pretty great man, that Louis XIV. was a more than great man, the
director answers in the very same strain, and adds, that the member
elect may also be a sort of great man, and that himself, in quality
of director, must also have some share in this greatness."

The cause why all these academical discourses have unhappily done so
little honour to this body is evident enough. Vitium est temporis
potius quam hominis (the fault is owing to the age rather than to
particular persons). It grew up insensibly into a custom for every
academician to repeat these elogiums at his reception; it was laid
down as a kind of law that the public should be indulged from time
to time the sullen satisfaction of yawning over these productions.
If the reason should afterwards be sought, why the greatest geniuses
who have been incorporated into that body have sometimes made the
worst speeches, I answer, that it is wholly owing to a strong
propension, the gentlemen in question had to shine, and to display a
thread-bare, worn-out subject in a new and uncommon light. The
necessity of saying something, the perplexity of having nothing to
say, and a desire of being witty, are three circumstances which
alone are capable of making even the greatest writer ridiculous.
These gentlemen, not being able to strike out any new thoughts,
hunted after a new play of words, and delivered themselves without
thinking at all: in like manner as people who should seem to chew
with great eagerness, and make as though they were eating, at the
same time that they were just starved.

It is a law in the French Academy, to publish all those discourses
by which only they are known, but they should rather make a law
never to print any of them.

But the Academy of the Belles Lettres have a more prudent and more
useful object, which is, to present the public with a collection of
transactions that abound with curious researches and critiques.
These transactions are already esteemed by foreigners; and it were
only to be wished that some subjects in them had been more
thoroughly examined, and that others had not been treated at all.
As, for instance, we should have been very well satisfied, had they
omitted I know not what dissertation on the prerogative of the right
hand over the left; and some others, which, though not published
under so ridiculous a title, are yet written on subjects that are
almost as frivolous and silly.

The Academy of Sciences, in such of their researches as are of a
more difficult kind and a more sensible use, embrace the knowledge
of nature and the improvements of the arts. We may presume that
such profound, such uninterrupted pursuits as these, such exact
calculations, such refined discoveries, such extensive and exalted
views, will, at last, produce something that may prove of advantage
to the universe. Hitherto, as we have observed together, the most
useful discoveries have been made in the most barbarous times. One
would conclude that the business of the most enlightened ages and
the most learned bodies, is, to argue and debate on things which
were invented by ignorant people. We know exactly the angle which
the sail of a ship is to make with the keel in order to its sailing
better; and yet Columbus discovered America without having the least
idea of the property of this angle: however, I am far from
inferring from hence that we are to confine ourselves merely to a
blind practice, but happy it were, would naturalists and
geometricians unite, as much as possible, the practice with the

Strange, but so it is, that those things which reflect the greatest
honour on the human mind are frequently of the least benefit to it!
A man who understands the four fundamental rules of arithmetic,
aided by a little good sense, shall amass prodigious wealth in
trade, shall become a Sir Peter Delme, a Sir Richard Hopkins, a Sir
Gilbert Heathcote, whilst a poor algebraist spends his whole life in
searching for astonishing properties and relations in numbers, which
at the same time are of no manner of use, and will not acquaint him
with the nature of exchanges. This is very nearly the case with
most of the arts: there is a certain point beyond which all
researches serve to no other purpose than merely to delight an
inquisitive mind. Those ingenious and useless truths may be
compared to stars which, by being placed at too great a distance,
cannot afford us the least light.

With regard to the French Academy, how great a service would they do
to literature, to the language, and the nation, if, instead of
publishing a set of compliments annually, they would give us new
editions of the valuable works written in the age of Louis XIV.,
purged from the several errors of diction which are crept into them.
There are many of these errors in Corneille and Moliere, but those
in La Fontaine are very numerous. Such as could not be corrected
might at least be pointed out. By this means, as all the Europeans
read those works, they would teach them our language in its utmost
purity--which, by that means, would be fixed to a lasting standard;
and valuable French books being then printed at the King's expense,
would prove one of the most glorious monuments the nation could
boast. I have been told that Boileau formerly made this proposal,
and that it has since been revived by a gentleman eminent for his
genius, his fine sense, and just taste for criticism; but this
thought has met with the fate of many other useful projects, of
being applauded and neglected.

End of The Project Gutenberg Etext of Letters on England, by Voltaire

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Letters on England

by Voltaire (Francois Marie Arouet)

December, 2000 [Etext #2445]

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