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mankind is first rendered dangerous; and then the unhappy necessity of avoiding the danger is constituted a new crime.
If you persist in delivering your opinions to your fellow-creatures, you shall be fined, imprisoned, hanged, beheaded, or burned; and having done so, you are the most dishonourable of human beings if you equivocate in the slightest degree in order to escape from such desirable penalties!
Attend for instance to the particular situation of Voltaire. It is well observed by Condorcet, that if he had lived a few years earlier, the eminent services which he has rendered mankind could not have been executed ; and that he, of all men, was best adapted to effect the greatest possible good in the relaxed yet still dangerous and equivocal times in which he arose. And why was he thus adapted? Because his spirit was Protean and ductile--because he could 'assume all shapes, practise every mode of warfare, and fly like a Parthian, only the more effectually to wound. Had this not been the case, Voltaire would have been cut off long before he redressed the horrible treatment of the Calas family, and redeemed the memory of the religiously murdered head of it. As it was, he was twice imprisoned, once or twice obliged to fly, and in constant danger of the most hostile proceedings and vindictive prosecutions. The magnanimity of incurring these risks, in order to open
eyes of mankind to the nature of the pestilential superstition which was rendering them the wolfish shedders of each others
two daughters ! This is exceedingly pleasant; but possibly they apprehend forthcoming tragedies on the murders of Peter III. Ivan, and Paul I., in abatement of the legitimate glories of that centre of modern civilization-Russia. But if such tragedies were concocted, they would scarcely affect the reigning monarch. Le Tartuffe was a comedy.
blood, inhuman haters, persecutors, and slanderers, is surely a very tolerable set-off against a little faltering and finesse, when such risks became imminent. But, such is the majesty of Truth, there is no pleading against her even in mitigation, without a conscious abasement of spirit; for which reason no attempt shall be made here to deny that Voltaire occasionally stooped to management unworthy of him, and played antics that are not to be defended, to remain within the nominal pale of a church which he detested and despised. His character would have stood higher, had he exhibited less of this versatility; but still it must be conceded that the sacrifice of fortune, liberty, country, or life, is of a nature to shake the spirits of most men. Martyrdom is not the talent of all the world ; not to mention that it is only silly when its avoidance is more serviceable to a cause than its endurance. Still it is fully conceded, that Voltaire occasionally masqueraded with too much facility; and his admirers are left to lament that, however mentally free, he after all exhibited something to prove that he had been educated by the Jesuits.
The only just and liberal mode of settling the merits and failings of Voltaire as a public character, was pointed out at the commencement of these observations. He is not to be judged from some abstract idea of perfection, but as a great man, who, although born in the most dissolute and corrupt capital in the world, and early introduced into its most seductive circles, dedicated himself to the Herculean and dangerous labour of attacking and disarming a noxious superstition, which for centuries has stood in the way of all human improvement, in every land in which it has been seated in the fulness of power. Regarded in this single point of view, he is to be esteemed a be
nefactor to his own country in particular, and to human nature in general.' That noxious superstition he has been a main cause of disarming, for never can it be much more than John Bunyan has made it, even in France and with Bourbon on its throne. We hesitate not to say, that the man who so washed it out of the minds of the large population of his country that the faction intent on reviving it in its pristine fearfulness have no alternative but to begin again, has all but succeeded. Recommencement truly! recommence where-at the revocation of the Edict of Nantz, or at the Bull Unigenitus? This remark is not extended to religion generally, but to the old religion and the ci-devant hierachy of France, with their monstrous power of annoyance and persecution. Of that religion, whether contemplated in three-crowned majesty dispensing orders tocrouching monarchs, and brutalising and fleecing their subjects, or in the extreme of Irish abasement,* à calm and enlightened lover of his species can form but one opinion—that it has uniformly opposed itself to political freedom, and the progressive amelioration of the social state. It never had,-it never will have, more than one claim to consideration, and that is, when its own oppression is re-acted on itself—its own maxims put into force. It is no nice estimation of the mode of attack and of the nature of the weapon-no casuistical refinement upon the exact point when discretion failed, when the argument was carried too far, and when the assailant ought to have paused,—which can rob Voltaire of the honest fame of having broken down, and for ever, the most baleful order of domination that ever existed, and that by the arms of wit, reason, and adventrous exposure alone. It must be something more than a few light-minded and fantastical inconsistences, which can erase the name of this man from the list of the benefactors to mankind.
* The phrase, Irish Abasement, escapes with infinite reluct tance; but what can be said of a body, the priestly and even lay leaders of which deal in Hohenlohe awards and—to borrow a phrase applied by the French wits to those of the Jansenists in garret miracles even in these days ? Heaven knows, if the propriety of what is termed the emancipation of the Irish Catholics, rested on no stronger grounds than their own progress in discretion, it would form the weakest of all causes.' Happily, it is founded on a claim so lofty and immutable, as not to be weakened even by the absurdities of the claimants; and by the fact, that the admission of it is a great step to their removal. It is useless to speculate on the respectability and good conduct of a body like the English Catholics, for the most part people of family and property, softened and sentimentalised by recollections of past greatness and the merit of conscientious sacrifice. Look at the operation of the Catholic superstition upon the great majority of the people of every community, where it is rigidly and exclusively supported. Look at its effect in Spain, and if a Spanish Voltaire had prepared the way for the downfal of that oppressive and rancorous hierarchy, the blessing would not have been felt at this moment? It is only necessary to look
But great as are his claims on this score, they by no means form his only title to the gratitude of his fellow creatures. It is trite to observe, that books are useful in proportion as they are read; and that the most able and elaborate productions, if only partially perased, must be comparatively inefficient. The elegant and perspicuous style in which Voltaire conveyed his various information, the fascinating brilliancy of his allusion, the picquant attraction of his wit, and the easy flow of his narrative, made readers of every body; and such is the spontaneous and nas tural order of his thoughts, that his prose is less injured by translation than that of any other author on record. Such have been the operation at the character and conduct of the common people of Spain, Portugal, Naples, &c. &c. to answer this question, even if a glance at Ireland would not go far to save all the trouble.-T.
of these charms, it would be difficult to say how much his cotemporaries and posterity owe to the labours of Voltaire; for, setting aside his diligent and never-neglected exposure of superstition and priestcraft and their historical train of horrors, he uniformly inculcates the finest lessons of humanity, and those improved views of the genuine nature of the social progress, which are now happily established beyond the power of Holy Alliances to unsettle, if not to impede. It is asserted, to be sure, and may be allowed, that the works of Voltaire, to which we more particularly allude, convey no great depth of information, upon points of mere erudition and closely elaborate research. So much the better for his purpose, for in that case they would not have moved the general mind, which was his useful and beneficial object. It must never be forgotten, that he wrote for every body; and would be immensely useful if other able men would do
A German taste exists at this time, which affects an amazing contempt for writers whom all the world can understand, and consequently for Voltaire. The perfection of human genius in such estimation, is exhibited in the art of mystification. Common thoughts are borne aloft into the clouds, and we no longer know them for that which they were, and still less for any thing else ; and all this is played off with a gravity of pretension, which is quite edifying. These are not the levers by which society can be rectified or exalted, nor were they those of Voltaire.* The cant of philanthropy is as despicaother cant;
and mind must exercise
ble as any
* These flights resemble the voyages of the modern æronauts, who ascend into the clouds amidst the gaze and expectation of multitudes, and as constantly reach earth again with a similar provoking barrenness of result.