Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


§ I.

Glory is reputation joined with esteem, and is complete when admiration is superadded. It always supposes that which is brilliant in action, in virtue, or in talent, and the surmounting of great difficulties. Cæsar and Alexander had glory. The same can hardly be said of Socrates. He claims esteem, reverence, pity, indignation against his enemies; but the term “glory” applied to him would be improper; his memory is venerable rather than glorious. Attila had much brilliancy, but he has no glory; for history, which may be mistaken, attributes to him no virtues: Charles XII. still has glory; for his valor, his disinterestedness, his liberality, were extreme. Success is sufficient for reputation, but not for glory. The glory of Henry IV. is every day increasing; for time has brought to light all his virtues, which were incomparably greater than his defects.

Glory is also the portion of inventors in the fine arts; imitators have only applause. It is granted, too, to great talents, but in sublime arts only. We may well say, the glory of Virgil, or Cicero, but not of Martial, nor of Aulus Gellius.

Men have dared to say, the glory of God: God created this world for His glory; not that the Supreme Being can have glory; but that men, having no expressions suitable to Him, use for Him those by which they are themselves most flattered.

Vainglory is that petty ambition which is contented with appearances, which is exhibited in pompous display, and never elevates itself to greater things. Sovereigns, having real glory, have been known to be nevertheless fond of vainglory — seeking too eagerly after praise, and being too much attached to the trappings of ostentation.

False glory often verges towards vanity; but it often leads to excesses, while vainglory is more confined to splendid littlenesses. A prince who should look for honor in revenge, would seek a false glory rather than a vain one.

To give glory signifies to acknowledge, to bear witness. Give glory to truth, means acknowledging truth — Give glory to the God whom you serve — Bear witness to the God whom you serve.

Glory is taken for heaven — He dwells in glory; but this is the case in no religion but ours. It is not allowable to say that Bacchus or Hercules was received into glory, when speaking of their apotheosis. The saints and angels have sometimes been called the glorious, as dwelling in the abode of glory.

Gloriously is always taken in the good sense; he reigned gloriously; he extricated himself gloriously from great danger or embarrassment.

To glory in, is sometimes taken in the good, sometimes in the bad, sense, according to the nature of the object in question. He glories in a disgrace which is the fruit of his talents and the effect of envy. We say of the martyrs, that they glorified God — that is, that their constancy made the God whom they attested revered by men.

§ II.

That Cicero should love glory, after having stifled Catiline’s conspiracy, may be pardoned him. That the king of Prussia, Frederick the Great, should have the same feelings after Rosbach and Lissa, and after being the legislator, the historian, the poet, and the philosopher of his country — that he should be passionately fond of glory, and at the same time, have self-command enough to be modestly so — he will, on that account, be the more glorified.

That the empress Catherine II. should have been forced by the brutish insolence of a Turkish sultan to display all her genius; that from the far north she should have sent four squadrons which spread terror in the Dardanelles and in Asia Minor; and that, in 1770, she took four provinces from those Turks who made Europe tremble — with this sort of glory she will not be reproached, but will be admired for speaking of her successes with that air of indifference and superiority which shows that they were merited.

In short, glory befits geniuses of this sort, though belonging to the very mean race of mortals.

But if, at the extremity of the west, a townsman of a place called Paris thinks he has glory in being harangued by a teacher of the university, who says to him: “Monseigneur, the glory you have acquired in the exercise of your office, your illustrious labors with which the universe resounds,” etc., then I ask if there are mouths enough in that universe to celebrate, with their hisses, the glory of our citizen, and the eloquence of the pedant who attends to bray out this harangue at monseigneur’s hotel? We are such fools that we have made God glorious like ourselves.

That worthy chief of the dervishes, Ben-al-betif, said to his brethren one day: “My brethren, it is good that you should frequently use that sacred formula of our Koran, ‘In the name of the most merciful God’; because God uses mercy, and you learn to do so too, by oft repeating the words that recommend virtue, without which there would be few men left upon the earth. But, my brethren, beware of imitating those rash ones who boast, on every occasion, of laboring for the glory of God.

“If a young simpleton maintains a thesis on the categories, an ignoramus in furs presiding, he is sure to write in large characters, at the head of his thesis, ‘Ek alha abron doxa.’—‘Ad majorem Dei gloriam.’ — To the greater glory of God. If a good Mussulman has had his house whitewashed, he cuts this foolish inscription in the door. A saka carries water for the greater glory of God. It is an impious usage, piously used. What would you say of a little chiaoux, who, while emptying our sultan’s close-stool, should exclaim: “To the greater glory of our invincible monarch?” There is certainly a greater distance between God and the sultan than between the sultan and the little chiaoux.

“Ye miserable earth-worms, called men, what have you resembling the glory of the Supreme Being? Can He love glory? Can He receive it from you? Can He enjoy it? How long, ye two-legged animals without feathers, will you make God after your own image? What! because you are vain, because you love glory, you would have God love it also? If there were several Gods, perhaps each one would seek to gain the good opinion of his fellows. That might be glory to God. Such a God, if infinite greatness may be compared with extreme lowliness, would be like King Alexander or Iscander, who would enter the lists with none but kings. But you, poor creatures! what glory can you give to God? Cease to profane the sacred name. An emperor, named Octavius Augustus, forbade his being praised in the schools of Rome, lest his name should be brought into contempt. You can bring the name of the Supreme Being neither into contempt, nor into honor. Humble yourselves in the dust; adore, and be silent.”

Thus spake Ben-al-betif; and the dervishes cried out: “Glory to God! Ben-al-betif has said well.”

§ III.
Conversation with a Chinese.

In 1723, there was in Holland a Chinese: this Chinese was a man of letters and a merchant; which two professions ought not to be incompatible, but which have become so amongst us, thanks to the extreme regard which is paid to money, and the little consideration which mankind have ever shown, and will ever show, for merit.

This Chinese, who spoke a little Dutch, was once in a bookseller’s shop with some men of learning. He asked for a book, and “Bossuet’s Universal History,” badly translated, was proposed to him. “Ah!” said he, “how fortunate! I shall now see what is said of our great empire — of our nation, which has existed as a national body for more than fifty thousand years — of that succession of emperors who have governed us for so many ages. I shall now see what is thought of the religion of the men of letters — of that simple worship which we render to the Supreme Being. How pleasing to see what is said in Europe of our arts, many of which are more ancient amongst us than any European kingdom. I guess the author will have made many mistakes in the history of the war which we had twenty-two thousand five hundred and fifty-two years ago, with the warlike nations of Tonquin and Japan, and of that solemn embassy which the mighty emperor of the Moguls sent to ask laws from us, in the year of the world 500,000,000,000,079,123,450,000.” “Alas!” said one of the learned men to him, “you are not even mentioned in that book; you are too inconsiderable; it is almost all about the first nation in the world — the only nation, the great Jewish people!”

“The Jewish people!” exclaimed the Chinese. “Are they, then, masters of at least three-quarters of the earth?” “They flatter themselves that they shall one day be so,” was the answer; “until which time they have the honor of being our old-clothesmen, and, now and then, clippers of our coin.”—“You jest,” said the Chinese; “had these people ever a vast empire?” “They had as their own for some years,” said I, “a small country; but it is not by the extent of their states that a people are to be judged; as it is not by his riches that we are to estimate a man.”

“But is no other people spoken of in this book?” asked the man of letters. “Undoubtedly,” returned a learned man who stood next me, and who instantly replied, “there is a deal said in it of a small country sixty leagues broad, called Egypt, where it is asserted that there was a lake a hundred and fifty leagues round, cut by the hands of men.”—“Zounds!” said the Chinese; “a lake a hundred and fifty leagues round in a country only sixty broad! That is fine, indeed!”—“Everybody was wise in that country,” added the doctor. “Oh! what fine times they must have been,” said the Chinese. “But is that all?”—“No,” replied the European; “he also treats of that celebrated people, the Greeks.” “Who are these Greeks?” asked the man of letters. “Ah!” continued the other, “they inhabited a province about a two-hundredth part as large as China, but which has been famous throughout the world.” “I have never heard speak of these people, neither in Mogul nor in Japan, nor in Great Tartary,” said the Chinese, with an ingenuous look.

“Oh, ignorant, barbarous man!” politely exclaimed our scholar. “Know you not, then, the Theban Epaminondas; nor the harbor of Piræus; nor the name of the two horses of Achilles; nor that of Silenus’s ass? Have you not heard of Jupiter, nor of Diogenes, nor of Lais, nor of Cybele, nor —”

“I am much arraid,” replied the man of letters, “that you know nothing at all of the ever memorable adventure of the celebrated Xixofou Concochigramki, nor of the mysteries of the great Fi Psi Hi Hi. But pray, what are the other unknown things of which this universal history treats?” The scholar then spoke for a quarter of an hour on the Roman commonwealth: but when he came to Julius Cæsar, the Chinese interrupted him, saying, “As for him, I think I know him: was he not a Turk?”

“What!” said the scholar, somewhat warm, “do you not at least know the difference between Pagans, Christians, and Mussulmans? Do you not know Constantine, and the history of the popes?” “We have indistinctly heard,” answered the Asiatic, “of one Mahomet.”

“It is impossible,” returned the other, “that you should not, at least, be acquainted with Luther, Zuinglius, Bellarmin, Œcolampadius.” “I shall never remember those names,” said the Chinese. He then went away to sell a considerable parcel of tea and fine grogram, with which he bought two fine girls and a ship-boy, whom he took back to his own country, adoring Tien, and commending himself to Confucius.

For myself, who was present at this conversation, I clearly saw what glory is; and I said: Since Cæsar and Jupiter are unknown in the finest, the most ancient, the most extensive, the most populous and well-regulated kingdom upon earth; it beseems you, ye governors of some little country, ye preachers in some little parish, or some little town — ye doctors of Salamanca and of Bourges, ye flimsy authors, and ye ponderous commentators — it beseems you to make pretensions to renown!

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25