Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


This astonishing phenomenon, but not more astonishing than others, this solid and luminous body, which surrounds the planet Saturn, which it enlightens, and by which it is enlightened, whether by the feeble reflection of the sun’s rays, or by some unknown cause, was, according to a dreamer who calls himself a philosopher, formerly a sea. This sea, according to him, has hardened and become earth or rock; once it gravitated towards two centres, whereas at present it gravitates only towards one.

How pleasantly you proceed, my ingenious dreamer! how easily you transform water into rock! Ovid was nothing in the comparison. What a marvellous power you exercise over nature; imagination by no means confounds you. Oh, greediness to utter novelties! Oh, fury for systems! Oh, weakness of the human mind! If anyone has spoken of this reverie in the “Encyclopædia,” it is doubtless to ridicule it, without which other nations would have a right to say: Behold the use which the French make of the discovery of other people! Huyghens discovered the ring of Saturn, and calculated its appearances; Hook and Flamstead have done the same thing. A Frenchman has discovered that this solid body was even a circular ocean, and this Frenchman is not Cyrano de Bergerac!

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