Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


What persuades me still more of the existence of Providence, said the profound author of “Bacha Billeboquet,” is that to console us for our innumerable miseries, nature has made us frivolous. We are sometimes ruminating oxen, overcome by the weight of our yoke; sometimes dispersed doves, tremblingly endeavoring to avoid the claws of the vulture, stained with the blood of our companions; foxes, pursued by dogs; and tigers, who devour one another. Then we suddenly become butterflies; and forget, in our volatile winnowings, all the horrors that we have experienced.

If we were not frivolous, what man without shuddering, could live in a town in which the wife of a marshal of France, a lady of honor to the queen, was burned, under the pretext that she had killed a white cock by moonlight; or in the same town in which Marshal Marillac was assassinated according to form, pursuant to a sentence passed by judicial murderers appointed by a priest in his own country house, in which he embraced Marion de Lorme while these robed wretches executed his sanguinary wishes?

Could a man say to himself, without trembling in every nerve, and having his heart frozen with horror: “Here I am, in the very place which, it is said, was strewed with the dead and dying bodies of two thousand young gentlemen, murdered near the Faubourg St. Antoine, because one man in a red cassock displeased some others in black ones!”

Who could pass the Rue de la Féronerie without shedding tears and falling into paroxysms of rage against the holy and abominable principles which plunged the sword into the heart of the best of men, and of the greatest of kings?

We could not walk a step in the streets of Paris on St. Bartholomew’s day, without saying: “It was here that one of my ancestors was murdered for the love of God; it was here that one of my mother’s family was dragged bleeding and mangled; it was here that one-half of my countrymen murdered the other.”

Happily, men are so light, so frivolous, so struck with the present and so insensible to the past, that in ten thousand there are not above two or three who make these reflections.

How many boon companions have I seen, who, after the loss of children, wives, mistresses, fortune, and even health itself, have eagerly resorted to a party to retail a piece of scandal, or to a supper to tell humorous stories. Solidity consists chiefly in a uniformity of ideas. It has been said that a man of sense should invariably think in the same way; reduced to such an alternative, it would be better not to have been born. The ancients never invented a finer fable than that which bestowed a cup of the water of Lethe on all who entered the Elysian fields.

If you would tolerate life, mortals, forget yourselves, and enjoy it.

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