Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


It is neither of a director of finances, a director of hospitals, nor a director of the royal buildings that I pretend to speak, but of a director of conscience, for that directs all the others: it is the preceptor of human kind; it knows and teaches all that should be done or omitted in all possible cases.

It is clear that it would be very useful if in all courts there were one conscientious man whom the monarch secretly consulted on most occasions, and who would boldly say, “Non licet.” Louis the Just would not then have begun his mischievous and unhappy reign by assassinating his first minister and imprisoning his mother. How many wars, unjust as fatal, a few good dictators would have spared! How many cruelties they would have prevented!

But often, while intending to consult a lamb, we consult a fox. Tartuffe was the director of Orgon. I should like to know who was the conscientious director of the massacre of St. Bartholomew.

The gospel speaks no more of directors than of confessors. Among the people whom our ordinary courtesy calls Pagans we do not see that Scipio, Fabricius, Cato, Titus, Trajan, or the Antonines had directors. It is well to have a scrupulous friend to remind you of your duty. But your conscience ought to be the chief of your council.

A Huguenot was much surprised when a Catholic lady told him that she had a confessor to absolve her from her sins and a director to prevent her committing them. “How can your vessel so often go astray, madam,” said he, “having two such good pilots?”

The learned observe that it is not the privilege of every one to have a director. It is like having an equerry; it only belongs to ladies of quality. The Abbé Gobelin, a litigious and covetous man, directed Madame de Maintenon only. The directors of Paris often serve four or five devotees at once; they embroil them with their husbands, sometimes with their lovers, and occasionally fill the vacant places.

Why have the women directors and the men none? It was possibly owing to this distinction that Mademoiselle de la Vallière became a Carmelite when she was quitted by Louis XIV., and that M. de Turenne, being betrayed by Madame de Coetquin, did not make himself a monk.

St. Jerome, and Rufinus his antagonist, were great directors of women and girls. They did not find a Roman senator or a military tribune to govern. These people profited by the devout facility of the feminine gender. The men had too much beard on their chins and often too much strength of mind for them. Boileau has given the portrait of a director in his “Satire on Women,” but might have said something much more to the purpose.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01