Voltaire

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François-Marie Arouet (November 21, 1694May 30, 1778), famous using his pen name Voltaire, was a French writer, deist and philosopher.

See also:
Candide.

Quotes[edit]

I always made one prayer to God, a very short one. Here it is: "O Lord, make our enemies quite ridiculous!" God granted it.
There are truths which are not for all men, nor for all times.
Opinions have caused more ills than the plague or earthquakes on this little globe of ours.
  • La vertu s'avilit à se justifier.
    • Virtue debases in justifying itself.
      • Oedipe, act II, scene IV (1718).
  • On doit des egards aux vivants; on ne doit aux morts que la verite.
    • We should be considerate to the living; to the dead we owe only the truth.
      • Letter to M. de Grenonville (1719).
  • C'est un poids bien pesant qu'un nom trop tôt fameux.
    • Quite a heavy weight, a name too quickly famous.
      • La Henriade, chant troisième, l.41 (1722).
  • L'homme est libre au moment qu'il veut l'être.
    • Man is free at the instant he wants to be.
      • Source Brutus, act II, scene I (1730).
  • Les mortels sont égaux; ce n'est pas la naissance,
    C'est la seule vertu qui fait la différence.
    • All men are equal; it is not their birth,
      But virtue itself that makes the difference.
      • Eriphile, act II, scene I (1732); these lines were also used in Mahomet, act I, scene IV (1741).
  • On parle toujours mal quand on n'a rien à dire.
    • One always speaks badly when one has nothing to say.
      • "Commentaires sur Corneille," Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire (1827).
  • Les anciens Romains élevaient des prodiges d'architecture pour faire combattre des bêtes.
    • The ancient Romans built their greatest masterpieces of architecture for wild beasts to fight in.
      • Letter addressed to "un premier commis" [name unknown] (20 June 1733), from Oeuvres Complètes de Voltaire: Correspondance [Garnier frères, Paris, 1880], vol. I, letter # 343 (p. 354).
  • Ainsi, presque tout est imitation. L’idée des Lettres persanes est prise de celle de l’Espion turc. Le Boiardo a imité le Pulci, l’Arioste a imité le Boiardo. Les esprits les plus originaux empruntent les uns des autres. Michel Cervantes fait un fou de son don Quichotte; mais Roland est-il autre chose qu'un fou? Il serait difficile de décider si la chevalerie errante est plus tournée en ridicule par les peintures grotesques de Cervantes que par la féconde imagination de l'Arioste. Métastase a pris la plupart de ses opéras dans nos tragédies françaises. Plusieurs auteurs anglais nous ont copiés, et n'en ont rien dit. Il en est des livres comme du feu de nos foyers; on va prendre ce feu chez son voisin, on l’allume chez soi, on le communique à d’autres, et il appartient à tous.
    • Thus, almost everything is imitation. The idea of The Persian Letters was taken from The Turkish Spy. Boiardo imitated Pulci, Ariosto imitated Boiardo. The most original minds borrowed from one another. Miguel de Cervantes makes his Don Quixote a fool; but pray is Orlando any other? It would puzzle one to decide whether knight errantry has been made more ridiculous by the grotesque painting of Cervantes, than by the luxuriant imagination of Ariosto. Metastasio has taken the greatest part of his operas from our French tragedies. Several English writers have copied us without saying one word of the matter. It is with books as with the fire in our hearths; we go to a neighbor to get the embers and light it when we return home, pass it on to others, and it belongs to everyone
      • "Lettre XII: sur M. Pope et quelques autres poètes fameux," Lettres philosophiques (1756 edition).
      • Variants:
    • He looked on everything as imitation. The most original writers, he said, borrowed one from another. Boyardo has imitated Pulci, and Ariofio Boyardo. The instruction we find in books is like fire; we fetch it from our neighbour, kindle it as home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.
      • Historical and Critical Memoirs of the Life and Writings of M. de Voltaire (1786) by Louis Mayeul Chaudon, p.348
    • What we find in books is like the fire in our hearths. We fetch it from our neighbors, we kindle it at home, we communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.
      • As translated in Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists (2008), by James Geary, p. 373
  • Où est l'amitié est la patrie.
    • Where there is friendship, there is our natural soil.
      • Letter to Nicolas-Claude Thieriot (1734).
  • Tous les genres sont bons, hors le genre ennuyeux.
    • All styles are good except the boring kind.
      • L'Enfant prodigue: comédie en vers dissillabes (1736), Preface.
  • Le superflu, chose très nécessaire.
    • The superfluous, a very necessary thing.
    • Variant translation: The superfluous is very necessary.
      • Poem Le Mondain (1736).
  • Le paradis terrestre est où je suis.
    • Paradise on earth is where I am.
      • Le Mondain (1736).
  • Tout homme sensé, tout homme de bien, doit avoir la secte chrétienne en horreur.
  • Aime la vérité, mais pardonne à l'erreur.
    • Love truth, but pardon error.
      • "Deuxième discours: de la liberté," Sept Discours en Vers sur l'Homme (1738).
  • Usez, n’abusez point; le sage ainsi l’ordonne.
    Je fuis également Épictète et Pétrone.
    L’abstinence ou l’excès ne fit jamais d’heureux.
    • Use, do not abuse; as the wise man commands. I flee Epictetus and Petronius alike. Neither abstinence nor excess ever renders man happy.
      • "Cinquième discours: sur la nature de plaisir," Sept Discours en Vers sur l'Homme (1738).
  • Le secret d'ennuyer est celui de tout dire.
    • The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.
      • "Sixième discours: sur la nature de l'homme," Sept Discours en Vers sur l'Homme (1738).
  • Une seule partie de la physique occupe la vie de plusieurs hommes, et les laisse souvent mourir dans l'incertitude.
    • A single part of physics occupies the lives of many men, and often leaves them dying in uncertainty.
      • "A Madame la Marquise du Châtelet, Avant-Propos," Eléments de Philosophie de Newton (1738).
  • Ne peut-on pas remonter jusqu’à ces anciens scélérats, fondateurs illustres de la superstition et du fanatisme, qui, les premiers, ont pris le couteau sur l’autel pour faire des victimes de ceux qui refusaient d’etre leurs disciples?
  • Mais qu’un marchand de chameaux excite une sédition dans sa bourgade; qu’associé à quelques malheureux coracites il leur persuade qu’il s’entretient avec l’ange Gabriel; qu’il se vante d’avoir été ravi au ciel, et d’y avoir reçu une partie de ce livre inintelligible qui fait frémir le sens commun à chaque page; que, pour faire respecter ce livre, il porte dans sa patrie le fer et la flamme; qu’il égorge les pères, qu’il ravisse les filles, qu’il donne aux vaincus le choix de sa religion ou de la mort, c’est assurément ce que nul homme ne peut excuser, à moins qu’il ne soit né Turc, et que la superstition n’étouffe en lui toute lumière naturelle.
    • But that a camel-merchant should stir up insurrection in his village; that in league with some miserable followers he persuades them that he talks with the angel Gabriel; that he boasts of having been carried to heaven, where he received in part this unintelligible book, each page of which makes common sense shudder; that, to pay homage to this book, he delivers his country to iron and flame; that he cuts the throats of fathers and kidnaps daughters; that he gives to the defeated the choice of his religion or death: this is assuredly nothing any man can excuse, at least if he was not born a Turk, or if superstition has not extinguished all natural light in him.
      • Referring to Muhammad, in a letter to Frederick II of Prussia (December 1740), published in Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire, Vol. 7 (1869), edited by Georges Avenel, p. 105.
  • Le premier qui fut roi fut un soldat heureux:
    Qui sert bien son pays n'a pas besoin d'aïeux.
    • The first who was king was a fortunate soldier:
      Who serves his country well has no need of ancestors.
      • Mérope, act I, scene III (1743). Borrowed from Lefranc de Pompignan's "Didon".
  • Les habiles tyrans ne sont jamais punis.
    • Clever tyrants are never punished.
      • Mérope, act V, scene V (1743).
  • Il vaut mieux hasarder de sauver un coupable que de condamner un innocent.
    • It is better to risk sparing a guilty person than to condemn an innocent one.
      • Zadig (1747).
  • Qui plume a, guerre a.
    • To hold a pen is to be at war.
      • Letter to Jeanne-Grâce Bosc du Bouchet, comtesse d'Argental (4 October 1748)
      • This remark also appears in a letter to Marie-Louise Denis (22 May 1752): To hold a pen is to be at war. This world is one vast temple consecrated to discord [Qui plume a, guerre a. Ce monde est un vaste temple dédié à la discorde].
  • C'est une des superstitions de l'esprit humain d'avoir imaginé que la virginité pouvait être une vertu.
    • It is one of the superstitions of the human mind to have imagined that virginity could be a virtue.
      • Notebooks (c.1735-c.1750)
      • Note: This quotation and the three that follow directly below are from the so-called Leningrad Notebook, also known as Le Sottisier; it is one of several posthumously published notebooks of Voltaire.
  • Prier Dieu c'est se flatter qu'avec des paroles on changera toute la nature.
    • To pray to God is to flatter oneself that with words one can alter nature.
      • Notebooks (c.1735-c.1750).
  • Nous cherchons tous le bonheur, mais sans savoir où, comme les ivrognes qui cherchent leur maison, sachant confusément qu'ils en ont une.
    • We all look for happiness, but without knowing where to find it: like drunkards who look for their house, knowing dimly that they have one.
      • Notebooks (c.1735-c.1750)
      • A variation on this remark can be found in the same notebook: Men who look for happiness are like drunkards who cannot find their house but know that they have one [Les hommes qui cherchent le bonheur sont comme des ivrognes qui ne peuvent trouver leur maison, mais qui savent qu'ils en ont une].
  • Si Dieu nous a faits à son image, nous le lui avons bien rendu.
    • If God has made us in his image, we have returned him the favor.
      • Notebooks (c.1735-c.1750).
  • Il est dangereux d’avoir raison dans des choses où des hommes accrédités ont tort.
    • It is dangerous to be right in matters where established men are wrong.
      • "Catalogue pour la plupart des écrivains français qui ont paru dans Le Siècle de Louis XIV, pour servir à l'histoire littéraire de ce temps," Le Siècle de Louis XIV (1752)
      • Note: The most frequently attributed variant of this quote is: It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.
  • Un ministre est excusable du mal qu’il fait, lorsque le gouvernail de l’État est forcé dans sa main par les tempêtes; mais dans le calme il est coupable de tout le bien qu’il ne fait pas.
    • A minister of state is excusable for the harm he does when the helm of government has forced his hand in a storm; but in the calm he is guilty of all the good he does not do.
      • Le Siècle de Louis XIV, ch. VI: "État de la France jusqu’à la mort du cardinal Mazarin en 1661" (1752) Unsourced paraphrase or variant translation: Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.
  • Elle [la nation juive] ose étaler une haine irréconciliable contre toutes les nations; elle se révolte contre tous ses maîtres. Toujours superstitieuse, toujours avide du bien d’autrui, toujours barbare, rampante dans le malheur, et insolente dans la prospérité.
    • The Jewish nation dares to display an irreconcilable hatred toward all nations, and revolts against all masters; always superstitious, always greedy for the well-being enjoyed by others, always barbarous — cringing in misfortune and insolent in prosperity.
      • Essai sur les Moeurs et l'Esprit des Nations (1753), Introduction, XLII: Des Juifs depuis Saül [1]
  • Un peuple qui trafique de ses enfants est encore plus condamnable que l’acheteur: ce négoce démontre notre supériorité; ce qui se donne un maître était né pour en avoir.
    • A people that sells its own children is more condemnable than the buyer; this commerce demonstrates our superiority; he who gives himself a master was born to have one.
      • Essai sur les Moeurs et l'Espit des Nations (1753), ch. CXCVII: Résumé de toute cette histoire jusqu’au temps où commence le beau siècle de Louis XIV [2]
  • Ce corps qui s'appelait et qui s'appelle encore le saint empire romain n'était en aucune manière ni saint, ni romain, ni empire.
    • This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.
      • Essai sur l'histoire générale et sur les mœurs et l'esprit des nations, Chapter 70 (1756).
  • En aimant tant la gloire, comment pouvez-vous vous obstiner à un projet qui vous la fera perdre?
    • While loving glory so much how can you persist in a plan which will cause you to lose it?
      • Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano's, 1927), transl. Richard Aldington, letter 130 from Voltaire to Frederick II of Prussia, October 1757. [3]
  • Les opinions ont plus causé de maux sur ce petit globe que la peste et les tremblements de terre.
    • Opinions have caused more ills than the plague or earthquakes on this little globe of ours.
      • Letter to Élie Bertrand (5 January 1759).
  • Il faut toujours en fait de nouvelles attendre le sacrement de la confirmation.
    • When we hear news, we should always wait for the sacrament of confirmation.
      • Letter to Charles-Augustin Ferriol, comte d'Argental (28 August 1760]]).
  • Quand il s’agit d’argent, tout le monde est de la même religion.
    • When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion.
      • Letter to Mme. d'Épinal, Ferney (26 December 1760) from Oeuvres Complètes de Voltaire: Correspondance (Garnier frères, Paris, 1881), vol. IX, letter # 4390 (p. 124).
  • There are truths which are not for all men, nor for all times.
    • Letter to François-Joachim de Pierre, cardinal de Bernis (23 April 1761).
  • Les hommes seront toujours fous; et ceux qui croient les guérir sont les plus fous de la bande.
    • Men will always be mad, and those who think they can cure them are the maddest of all.
  • Quoi que vous fassiez, écrasez l'infâme, et aimez qui vous aime.
    • Whatever you do, crush the infamous thing, and love those who love you.
      • Letter to Jean le Rond d'Alembert (28 November 1762); This was written in reference to crushing superstition, and the words "écrasez l'infâme" ("Crush the Infamy") became a motto strongly identified with Voltaire.
  • La superstition est à la religion ce que l’astrologie est à l’astronomie, la fille très folle d’une mère très sage. Ces deux filles ont longtemps subjugué toute la terre.
    • Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy, the mad daughter of a wise mother. These daughters have too long dominated the earth.
      • "Whether it is useful to maintain the people in superstition," Treatise on Toleration (1763).
  • Ils ne se servent de la pensée que pour autoriser leurs injustices, et n'emploient les paroles que pour déguiser leurs pensées.
    • Men use thought only as authority for their injustice, and employ speech only to conceal their thoughts.
      • Dialogue xiv, Le Chapon et la Poularde (l763); reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Il y a eu des gens qui ont dit autrefois: Vous croyez des choses incompréhensibles, contradictoires, impossibles, parce que nous vous l’avons ordonné; faites donc des choses injustes parce que nous vous l’ordonnons. Ces gens-là raisonnaient à merveille. Certainement qui est en droit de vous rendre absurde est en droit de vous rendre injuste. Si vous n’opposez point aux ordres de croire l’impossible l’intelligence que Dieu a mise dans votre esprit, vous ne devez point opposer aux ordres de malfaire la justice que Dieu a mise dans votre coeur. Une faculté de votre âme étant une fois tyrannisée, toutes les autres facultés doivent l’être également. Et c’est là ce qui a produit tous les crimes religieux dont la terre a été inondée.
    • Formerly there were those who said: You believe things that are incomprehensible, inconsistent, impossible because we have commanded you to believe them; go then and do what is unjust because we command it. Such people show admirable reasoning. Truly, whoever is able to make you absurd is able to make you unjust. If the God-given understanding of your mind does not resist a demand to believe what is impossible, then you will not resist a demand to do wrong to that God-given sense of justice in your heart. As soon as one faculty of your soul has been dominated, other faculties will follow as well. And from this derives all those crimes of religion which have overrun the world.
      • Questions sur les miracles (1765)
      • Alternative condensed translation: "Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities".
  • La nôtre [religion] est sans contredit la plus ridicule, la plus absurde, et la plus sanguinaire qui ait jamais infecté le monde.

    Votre Majesté rendra un service éternel au genre humain en détruisant cette infâme superstition, je ne dis pas chez la canaille, qui n’est pas digne d’être éclairée, et à laquelle tous les jougs sont propres; je dis chez les honnêtes gens, chez les hommes qui pensent, chez ceux qui veulent penser... Je ne m’afflige de toucher à la mort que par mon profond regret de ne vous pas seconder dans cette noble entreprise, la plus belle et la plus respectable qui puisse signaler l’esprit humain.

    • Ours is assuredly the most ridiculous, the most absurd and the most bloody religion which has ever infected this world.

      Your Majesty will do the human race an eternal service by extirpating this infamous superstition, I do not say among the rabble, who are not worthy of being enlightened and who are apt for every yoke; I say among honest people, among men who think, among those who wish to think. ... My one regret in dying is that I cannot aid you in this noble enterprise, the finest and most respectable which the human mind can point out.

      • Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano's, 1927), transl. Richard Aldington, letter 156 from Voltaire to Frederick II of Prussia, 5 January 1767 [4]
      • Often misquoted as "Christianity is...", while in the context, Voltaire was referring specifically to Catholicism.
  • Le doute n'est pas un état bien agréable, mais l'assurance est un état ridicule.
    Ce qui révolte le plus dans le Système de la nature ( après la façon de faire des anguilles avec de la farine), c'est l'audace avec laquelle il décide qu'il n'y a point de Dieu , sans avoir seulement tenté d'en prouver l'impossibilité.
    • Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one. What is most repellent in the System of Nature [of d'Holbach] — after the recipe for making eels from flour — is the audacity with which it decides that there is no God, without even having tried to prove the impossibility.
      • Letter to Frederick William, Prince of Prussia (28 November 1770). English: in S.G. Tallentyre (ed.), Voltaire in His Letters. New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1919. p.232. French: Au prince royal de prusse, le 28 novembre, in M. Palissot (ed.), Oeuvres de Voltaire: Lettres Choisies du Roi de Prusse et de M. de Voltaire, Tome II. Paris : Chez Baudoiun, 1802. p. 419.
  • It is very strange that men should deny a creator and yet attribute to themselves the power of creating eels.
  • Où est le prince assez instruit pour savoir que depuis dix-sept cents ans la secte chrétienne n’a jamais fait que du mal?
    • Where is the prince sufficiently educated to know that for seventeen hundred years the Christian sect has done nothing but harm?
      • Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano's, 1927), transl. Richard Aldington, letter 160 from Voltaire to Frederick II of Prussia, 6 April 1767 [5]
  • J'ai toujours fait une prière à Dieu, qui est fort courte. La voici: Mon Dieu, rendez nos ennemis bien ridicules! Dieu m'a exaucé.
    • I always made one prayer to God, a very short one. Here it is: "O Lord, make our enemies quite ridiculous!" God granted it.
      • Letter to Étienne Noël Damilaville (16 May 1767).
  • En effet, l'histoire n'est que le tableau des crimes et des malheurs.
  • Il est bien malaisé (puisqu’il faut enfin m’expliquer) d’ôter à des insensés des chaînes qu’ils révèrent.
    • It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.
      • Le dîner du comte de Boulainvilliers (1767): Troisième Entretien
  • La vie est hérissée de ces épines, et je n'y sais d'autre remède que de cultiver son jardin.
    • Life is bristling with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to cultivate one's garden.
      • Letter to Pierre-Joseph Luneau de Boisjermain (21 October 1769), from Oeuvres Complètes de Voltaire: Correspondance [Garnier frères, Paris, 1882], vol. XIV, letter # 7692 (p. 478).
  • C’est une grande question parmi eux s’ils [les africains] sont descendus des singes ou si les singes sont venus d’eux. Nos sages ont dit que l’homme est l’image de Dieu: voilà une plaisante image de l’Être éternel qu’un nez noir épaté, avec peu ou point d’intelligence! Un temps viendra, sans doute, où ces animaux sauront bien cultiver la terre, l’embellir par des maisons et par des jardins, et connaître la route des astres il faut du temps pour tout.
    • It is a serious question among them whether they [Africans] are descended from monkeys or whether the monkeys come from them. Our wise men have said that man was created in the image of God. Now here is a lovely image of the Divine Maker: a flat and black nose with little or hardly any intelligence. A time will doubtless come when these animals will know how to cultivate the land well, beautify their houses and gardens, and know the paths of the stars: one needs time for everything.
      • Les Lettres d'Amabed (1769): Septième Lettre d'Amabed [6]
  • On dit que Dieu est toujours pour les gros bataillons.
    • It is said that God is always on the side of the big battalions.
      • Letter to François-Louis-Henri Leriche (6 February 1770)
      • Note: In his Notebooks (c.1735-c.1750), Voltaire wrote: God is not on the side of the big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best.
  • C'est une plaisante chose que la pensée dépende absolument de l'estomac, et malgré cela les meilleurs estomacs ne soient pas les meilleurs penseurs.
    • Thought depends largely on the stomach. In spite of this, those with the best stomachs are not always the best thinkers.
      • Letter to Jean le Rond d'Alembert (20 August 1770).
  • Si Dieu n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer.
    • If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
      • Épître à l'Auteur du Livre des Trois Imposteurs (10 November 1770).
  • "Si Dieu n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer." Mais toute la nature nous crie qu'il existe; qu'il y a une intelligence suprême, un pouvoir immense, un ordre admirable, et tout nous instruit de notre dépendance.
    • "If God did not exist, he would have to be invented." But all nature cries aloud that he does exist: that there is a supreme intelligence, an immense power, an admirable order, and everything teaches us our own dependence on it.
      • Voltaire quoting himself in his Letter to Prince Frederick William of Prussia (28 November 1770), translated by S.G. Tallentyre, Voltaire in His Letters, 1919.
  • Tous les autres peuples ont commis des crimes, les Juifs sont les seuls qui s'en soient vantés. Ils sont tous nés avec la rage du fanatisme dans le cœur, comme les Bretons et les Germains naissent avec des cheveux blonds. Je ne serais point étonné que cette nation ne fût un jour funeste au genre humain.
    • All of the other people have committed crimes, the Jews are the only ones who have boasted about committing them. They are, all of them, born with raging fanaticism in their hearts, just as the Bretons and the Germans are born with blond hair. I would not be in the least bit surprised if these people would not some day become deadly to the human race.
      • Lettres de Memmius a Cicéron (1771).
  • Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.
    • The best is the enemy of the good.
      • "La Bégueule" (Contes, 1772)
      • Variant translations:

        The perfect is the enemy of the good.
        The better is the enemy of the good.

      • Note: Voltaire cites this saying in his poem "La Bégueule" ("The prude woman") while ascribing it to an unnamed "Italian sage"; he also gives the saying (without attribution) in Italian (Il meglio è l'inimico del bene) in the article "Art Dramatique" ("Dramatic Art", 1770) in the Dictionnaire philosophique.
  • J'aime fort la vérité, mais je n'aime point du tout le martyre.
    • I am very fond of truth, but not at all of martyrdom.
      • Letter to Jean le Rond d'Alembert (8 February 1776).
  • Je meurs en adorant Dieu, en aimant mes amis, en ne haïssant pas mes ennemis et en détestant la superstition.
    • I die adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and detesting superstition.
      • Déclaration de Voltaire, note to his secretary, Jean-Louis Wagnière (28 February 1778).
  • Que les supplices des criminels soient utiles. Un homme pendu n’est bon à rien, et un homme condamné aux ouvrages publics sert encore la patrie, et est une leçon vivante.
    • Let the punishments of criminals be useful. A hanged man is good for nothing; a man condemned to public works still serves the country, and is a living lesson.
      • "Civil and Ecclesiastical Laws," Dictionnaire philosophique (1785-1789)
      • Note: The Dictionnaire philosophique was a posthumously published collection of articles combining the Dictionnaire philosophique portatif (published under various editions and titles from 1764 to 1777), the Questions sur l'Encyclopédie (published from 1770 to 1774), articles written for the Encyclopédie and the Dictionnaire de l'Académie française, the manuscript known as l'Opinion sur l'alphabet and a number of previously published miscellaneous articles.
  • Laissez lire, et laissez danser; ces deux amusements ne feront jamais de mal au monde.
    • Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.
      • "Liberty of the Press," Dictionnaire philosophique (1785-1789).
  • Toutes les sectes des philosophes ont échoué contre l’écueil du mal physique et moral. Il ne reste que d’avouer que Dieu ayant agi pour le mieux n’a pu agir mieux.
    • All philosophical sects have run aground on the reef of moral and physical ill. It only remains for us to confess that God, having acted for the best, had not been able to do better.
      • "Power, Omnipotence," Dictionnaire philosophique (1785-1789).
  • L'homme doit être content, dit-on; mais de quoi?
    • Man ought to be content, it is said; but with what?
    • Pensées, Remarques, et Observations de Voltaire; ouvrage posthume (1802)
      • Note: This is from a volume of posthumously published "Thoughts, remarks and observations" believed to be by Voltaire. [7]
  • La superstition met le monde entier en flammes; la philosophie les éteint.
  • Le public est une bête féroce: il faut l’enchaîner ou la fuir.
    • The public is a ferocious beast: one must chain it up or flee from it.
      • Letter to Mademoiselle Quinault, quoted in Charles Sainte-Beuve, "Lettres inédites de Voltaire," Causeries de Lundi (20 October 1856) [8]; an English translation can be found on this page: [9]
  • The king [Frederic] has sent me some of his dirty linen to wash; I will wash yours another time.
    • Reply to General Manstein. Voltaire writes to his niece Dennis, July 24, 1752, "Voilà le roi qui m'envoie son linge à blanchir"; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Toutes les histoires anciennes, comme le disait un de nos beaux esprits, ne sont que des fables convenues.
    • Translation: Ancient histories, as one of our wits has said, are but fables that have been agreed upon.
    • Jeannot et Colin (1764)

Dictionnaire philosophique portatif (1764)[edit]

  • Books, like conversation, rarely give us any precise ideas: nothing is so common as to read and converse unprofitably. We must here repeat what Locke has so strongly urged—Define your terms.
    • "Abuse of Words" (1764).
    • C.f. Locke: "The names of simple ideas are not capable of any definition; the names of all complex ideas are. It has not, that I know, been yet observed by anybody what words are, and what are not, capable of being defined; the want whereof is (as I am apt to think) not seldom the occasion of great wrangling and obscurity in men's discourses, whilst some demand definitions of terms that cannot be defined; and others think they ought not to rest satisfied in an explication made by a more general word, and its restriction, (or to speak in terms of art, by a genus and difference), when, even after such definition, made according to rule, those who hear it have often no more a clear conception of the meaning of the word than they had before."
      • An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689) Book III, chapter 4.
  • La morale est la même chez tous les hommes, donc elle vient de Dieu; le culte est différent, donc il est l’ouvrage des hommes.
    • Morality is everywhere the same for all men, therefore it comes from God; sects differ, therefore they are the work of men.
      • "Atheist" (1764).
  • Tel homme qui dans un excès de mélancolie se tue aujourd’hui aimerait à vivre s’il attendait huit jours.
    • The man, who in a fit of melancholy, kills himself today, would have wished to live had he waited a week.
  • Ne ressemblons-nous pas presque tous à ce vieux général de quatre-vingt-dix ans, qui, ayant rencontré de jeunes officiers qui faisaient un peu de désordre avec des filles, leur dit tout en colère: "Messieurs, est-ce là l’exemple que je vous donne?"
    • Do not most of us resemble that old general of ninety who, having come upon some young officers debauching some girls, said to them angrily: "Gentlemen, is that the example I give you?"
      • "Character" (1764).
  • On dit quelquefois: "Le sens commun est fort rare."
    • People sometimes say: "Common sense is quite rare."
      • "Common Sense" (1765)
      • Note: The better known variant of this quote is "Common sense is not so common," found in the Philosophical Dictionary entry "Common sense" [sens commun].
  • Il est triste que souvent, pour être bon patriote, on soit l'ennemi du reste des hommes.
    • It is sad that often, to be a good patriot, one must be the enemy of the rest of mankind.
      • "Country"
  • Sa réputation s’affermira toujours, parce qu’on ne le lit guère.
    • His reputation will go on increasing because scarcely anyone reads him.
  • Tous les hommes seraient donc nécessairement égaux, s’ils étaient sans besoins. La misère attachée à notre espèce subordonne un homme à un autre homme: ce n’est pas l’inégalité qui est un malheur réel, c’est la dépendance.
    • All men would then be necessarily equal, if they were without needs. It is the poverty connected with our species which subordinates one man to another. It is not inequality which is the real misfortune, it is dependence.
      • "Equality" (1764).
  • Telle est donc la condition humaine que souhaiter la grandeur de son pays, c’est souhaiter du mal à ses voisins.
    • Such then is the human condition, that to wish greatness for one's country is to wish harm to one's neighbors.
      • "Fatherland" (1764).
  • La foi consiste à croire ce que la raison ne croit pas.
    • Faith consists in believing what reason cannot.
      • "The Flood" (1764)
  • Les hommes vertueux ont seuls des amis.
  • Voulez-vous avoir de bonnes lois; brûlez les vôtres, et faites-en de nouvelles.
    • If you want good laws, burn those you have and make new ones.
  • Définissez les termes, vous dis-je, ou jamais nous ne nous entendrons.
    • Define your terms, you will permit me again to say, or we shall never understand one another.
  • Le préjugé est une opinion sans jugement.
    • Prejudice is an opinion without judgement.
      • "Prejudices" (1764).
  • Qu’est-ce que la tolérance? c’est l’apanage de l’humanité. Nous sommes tous pétris de faiblesses et d’erreurs; pardonnons-nous réciproquement nos sottises, c’est la première loi de la nature.
    • What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly — that is the first law of nature.
      • "Tolerance" (1764).
  • Une compagnie de graves tyrans est inaccessible à toutes les séductions.
    • A company of solemn tyrants is impervious to all seductions.
      • "Tyranny" (1764).
  • The institution of religion exists only to keep mankind in order, and to make men merit the goodness of God by their virtue. Everything in a religion which does not tend towards this goal must be considered foreign or dangerous.

Questions sur l'Encyclopédie (1770–1774)[edit]

  • On en trouve [l'argent] toujours quand il s’agit d’aller faire tuer des hommes sur la frontière: il n’y en a plus quand il faut les sauver.
    • Money is always to be found when men are to be sent to the frontiers to be destroyed: when the object is to preserve them, it is no longer so.
      • "Charity" (1770).
  • La vertu suppose la liberté, comme le transport d’un fardeau suppose la force active. Dans la contrainte point de vertu, et sans vertu point de religion. Rends-moi esclave, je n’en serai pas meilleur. Le souverain même n’a aucun droit d’employer la contrainte pour amener les hommes à la religion, qui suppose essentiellement choix et liberté. Ma pensée n’est pas plus soumise à l’autorité que la maladie ou la santé.
    • Virtue supposes liberty, as the carrying of a burden supposes active force. Under coercion there is no virtue, and without virtue there is no religion. Make a slave of me, and I shall be no better for it. Even the sovereign has no right to use coercion to lead men to religion, which by its nature supposes choice and liberty. My thought is no more subject to authority than is sickness or health.
      • "Canon Law: Ecclesiastical Ministry" (1771).
  • Le divorce est probablement de la même date à peu près que le mariage. Je crois pourtant que le mariage est de quelques semaines plus ancien.
    • Divorce is probably of nearly the same age as marriage. I believe, however, that marriage is some weeks the more ancient.
      • "Divorce" (1771).
  • Il faut vingt ans pour mener l’homme de l’état de plante où il est dans le ventre de sa mère, et de l’état de pur animal, qui est le partage de sa première enfance, jusqu’à celui où la maturité de la raison commence à poindre. Il a fallu trente siècles pour connaître un peu sa structure. Il faudrait l’éternité pour connaître quelque chose de son âme. Il ne faut qu’un instant pour le tuer.
    • It requires twenty years for a man to rise from the vegetable state in which he is within his mother's womb, and from the pure animal state which is the lot of his early childhood, to the state when the maturity of reason begins to appear. It has required thirty centuries to learn a little about his structure. It would need eternity to learn something about his soul. It takes an instant to kill him.
      • "Man: General Reflection on Man" (1771).
  • En général, l’art du gouvernement consiste à prendre le plus d’argent qu’on peut à une grande partie des citoyens, pour le donner à une autre partie.
    • In general, the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other.
      • "Money" (1770).
  • Rien n’est si ordinaire que d’imiter ses ennemis, et d’employer leurs armes.
    • Nothing is so common as to imitate one's enemies, and to use their weapons.
      • "Oracles" (1770).
  • L’Éternel a ses desseins de toute éternité. Si la prière est d’accord avec ses volontés immuables, il est très inutile de lui demander ce qu’il a résolu de faire. Si on le prie de faire le contraire de ce qu’il a résolu, c’est le prier d’être faible, léger, inconstant; c’est croire qu’il soit tel, c’est se moquer de lui. Ou vous lui demandez une chose juste; en ce cas il la doit, et elle se fera sans qu’on l’en prie; c’est même se défier de lui que lui faire instance ou la chose est injuste, et alors on l’outrage. Vous êtes digne ou indigne de la grâce que vous implorez: si digne, il le sait mieux que vous; si indigne, on commet un crime de plus en demandant ce qu’on ne mérite pas.
    En un mot, nous ne faisons des prières à Dieu que parce que nous l’avons fait à notre image. Nous le traitons comme un bacha, comme un sultan qu’on peut irriter ou apaiser.
    • The Eternal has his designs from all eternity. If prayer is in accord with his immutable wishes, it is quite useless to ask of him what he has resolved to do. If one prays to him to do the contrary of what he has resolved, it is praying that he be weak, frivolous, inconstant; it is believing that he is thus, it is to mock him. Either you ask him a just thing, in which case he must do it, the thing being done without your praying to him for it, and so to entreat him is then to distrust him; or the thing is unjust, and then you insult him. You are worthy or unworthy of the grace you implore: if worthy, he knows it better than you; if unworthy, you commit another crime by requesting what is undeserved.
      In a word, we only pray to God because we have made him in our image. We treat him like a pasha, like a sultan whom one may provoke or appease.
      • "Prayers" (1770).
  • Il est défendu de tuer; tout meurtrier est puni, à moins qu’il n’ait tué en grande compagnie, et au son des trompettes.
    • It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.
      • "Rights" (1771).


Attributed[edit]

  • L'étymologie est une science où les voyelles ne font rien et les consonnes fort peu de chose.
    • Etymology is a science in which vowels signify nothing at all, and consonants very little.
      • Quote attributed by Max Müller (1823–1900), Lectures on the Science of Language (2003), Kessinger Publishing, p. 238.
  • Les médecins administrent des médicaments dont ils savent très peu, à des malades dont ils savent moins, pour guérir des maladies dont ils ne savent rien.
    • Doctors are men who prescribe medicine of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, for human beings of which they know nothing.
    • Note: This attribution to Voltaire appears in Strauss' Familiar Medical Quotations (1968), p. 394, and in publications as early as 1956 [10]; the quotation in French does not, however, appear to be original, and is probably a relatively modern invention, only quoted in recent (21st century) published works, which attribute it to "Voltaire" without citing any source.
  • I cannot imagine how the clockwork of the universe can exist without a clockmaker.
    • As attributed in More Random Walks in Science : An Anthology (1982) by Robert L. Weber, p. 65.
  • The English have only one sauce, melted butter.
  • L'adjectif est l'ennemi du substantif.
    • Translation: The adjective is the enemy of the substantive.
    • Variants: The adjective is the enemy of the noun.
      • Quote attributed in Arthur Schopenhauer (translated by Mrs Rudolf Dircks), Essays of Schopenhauer (2004), Kessinger Publishing, p. 31.


Misattributed[edit]

  • Anything that is too stupid to be spoken is sung.
    • Source: "Nowadays what isn't worth saying is sung" (Aujourd'hui ce qui ne vaut pas la peine d'être dit, on le chante) — Pierre de Beaumarchais, Le Barbier de Séville (1775), act I, scene II.
    • In George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman, act II, there is the following dialogue:
      TANNER: Let me remind you that Voltaire said that what was too silly to be said could be sung.
      STRAKER. It wasn't Voltaire: it was Bow Mar Shay.
      TANNER. I stand corrected: Beaumarchais of course.
    • This quote has also been attributed to Joseph Addison. In The Spectator, 21 March 1711, Addison wrote of "an establish'd Rule, which is receiv'd as such to this Day, That nothing is capable of being well set to Musick, that is not Nonsense."
  • Business is the salt of life.
    • This is a proverb which can be found in Robert Codrington's "Youth's Behaviour, Second Part" (1672) and in Thomas Fuller's "Gnomologia" (1732).
  • Defend me from my friends; I can defend myself from my enemies.
    • Garantissez-moi de mes amis, écrivait Gourville proscrit et fugitif, je saurai me défendre de mes ennemis. ("Defend me from my friends," wrote Gourville, exile and fugitive, "I can defend myself from my enemies.") — Gabriel Sénac de Meilhan, Considérations sur l'esprit et les moeurs (1788): "De L'Amitié." Sénac de Meilhan was quoting Jean Hérault, sieur de Gourville (1625 - 1703).
    • The remark has often been attributed to Voltaire and to Claude-Louis-Hector de Villars.
  • The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.
    • According to The Veterinarian (Monthly Journal of Veterinary Science) for 1851, edited by Mr. Percivall, this is Ben Jonson's "satirical definition of physic".
  • God is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.
    • For a discussion of this quotation, which is uncertain in origin but was quoted long before Voltaire, see the following: [11]
  • God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.
    • "Creator — A comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh." — H.L. Mencken, in A Book of Burlesques‎ (1920), p. 203. and A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949), Ch. 30.
  • I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
    • Though these words are regularly attributed to Voltaire, they were first used by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing under the pseudonym of Stephen G Tallentyre in The Friends of Voltaire (1906), as a summation of Voltaire's beliefs on freedom of thought and expression.[12]
    • Another possible source for the quote was proposed by Norbert Guterman, editor of "A Book of French Quotations," who noted a letter to M. le Riche (6 February 1770) in which Voltaire is quoted as saying: "Monsieur l'abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write" ("Monsieur l'abbé, je déteste ce que vous écrivez, mais je donnerai ma vie pour que vous puissiez continuer à écrire"). This remark, however, does not appear in the letter.
  • Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.
    • Il est encore plus facile de juger de l'esprit d'un homme par ses questions que par ses réponses. (It is easier to judge the mind of a man by his questions rather than his answers) — Pierre-Marc-Gaston, duc de Lévis (1764-1830), Maximes et réflexions sur différents sujets de morale et de politique (Paris, 1808): Maxim xvii.
  • No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.
  • Nothing can be more contrary to religion and the clergy than reason and common sense.
    • Rien n'est plus contraire à la religion et au clergé qu'une tête sensée et raisonnable.Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach, Théologie portative, ou Dictionnaire abrégé de la religion chrétienne (1768): Folie
  • To determine the true rulers of any society, all you must do is ask yourself this question: Who is it that I am not permitted to criticize?
  • One hundred years from my day there will not be a Bible in the earth except one that is looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity seeker.
    • As quoted in Hefley What's so great about the Bible (1969), p. 30
    • Variant: "Another century and there will not be a Bible on earth!"
      • George Sweeting Living in a Dying World (1972), p. 59
    • Related: "...only 50 years after his death the Geneva Bible Society used his press and house to produce stacks of Bibles."
    • According to The Open Society, Vol. 77 (Autumn 2004) Voltaire's House and The Bible Society, p. 14: "The myth seems to have originated from an 1849 Annual Report of the American Bible Society where the relevant section reads: Voltaire... predicted that in the nineteenth century the Bible would be known only as a relic of antiquity. He could say, while on this topic, that the Hotel Gibbon (so-called from that celebrated infidel) is now become the very depository of the Bible Society, and the individual who superintends the building is an agent for the sale and receipt of the books. The very ground this illustrious scoffer often paced, has now become the scene of the operation and success of an institution established for the diffusion of the very book against which his efforts were directed."
      • Sidney Collett, in The Scripture of Truth (1905), apparently misrepresents this report by stating: "Voltaire, the noted French infidel who died in 1778, said that in one hundred years from his time Christianity would be swept into history. But what has happened? Only twenty-five years after his death the [British & Foreign Bible] Society was founded. His printing press, with which he printed his infidel literature, has since been used to print copies of the Word of God; and the very house in which he lived has been stacked with Bibles of the Geneva Bible Society."
    • Regarding Bible-printing in Voltaire's homes, Theodore Besterman (former director of the "Institut et Muse Voltaire" in Geneva) stated, "None of Voltaire's homes is or ever has been connected in any way with any Bible Society. This applies to all Voltaire's homes, whether in France, Germany, Switzerland, or anywhere else". [13]

Quotes about Voltaire[edit]

  • I grew bored in France -- and the main reason is that everyone here resembles Voltaire.
When Emerson wrote his Representatives of Humanity, he forgot Voltaire. He could have written an attractive chapter entitled: 'Voltaire, or the anti-poet' -- the king of nincompoops, the prince of the superficial, the anti-artist, the spokesmen of janitresses, the Father Gigogne of the editors of Siècle.
In his Lord Chesterfield's Ears, Voltaire pokes fun at that immortal soul who for nine months dwelt amidst excrement and urine. Like all idlers, Voltaire hated mystery. He might at least have detected, in this choice of dwelling-place, a grudge or satire directed by Providence against love -- and thus, in the method of procreation, a sign of Original Sin. After all we can make love only with the organs of excrement.
  • Mock on, mock on, Voltaire Rousseau;
    Mock on, mock on, ’tis all in vain!
    You throw the sand against the wind,
    And the wind blows it back again.
    • William Blake, Poems from Blake's Notebook, "Mock On" (1800-1803).
  • Not a day goes by without our using the word optimism, coined by Voltaire against Leibniz, who had demonstrated (in spite of the Ecclesiastes and with the approval of the Church) that we live in the best of possible worlds. Voltaire, very reasonably, denied that exorbitant opinion... Leibniz could have replied that a world which has given us Voltaire has some right to be considered the best.
  • He is by his opinions, and also by his middle-class origin, the natural leader of an implacable opposition.
  • Voltaire was the cleverest of all past and present men; but a great man is something more, and this he surely was not.
    • Thomas Carlyle, in 'Goethe', The Works of Thomas Carlyle (1824), p. 28
  • Jésus a pleuré, Voltaire a souri; c’est de cette larme divine et de ce sourire humain qu’est faite la douceur de la civilisation actuelle.
    • Jesus wept; Voltaire smiled. Of that divine tear and that human smile is composed the sweetness of the present civilization.
    • Victor Hugo, Le centenaire de Voltaire, speech on Voltaire’s centenary, 30 May 1878.
  • Voltaire's keen laughter must be heard before Samson could strike with the headsman's axe. Yet Voltaire's laugh proved nothing ; it produced only a brutal effect, just as did Samson's base axe. Voltaire could only wound the body of Christianity. All his sarcasms derived from ecclesiastical history ; all his witticisms on dogma and worship, on the Bible, that most sacred book of humanity, on the Virgin Mary, that fairest flower of poetry; the whole dictionary of philosophical arrows which he discharged against the clergy and the priesthood, could only wound the mortal body of Christianity, but were powerless against its interior essence, its deeper spirit, its immortal soul.
    • Heinrich Heine, Religion and Philosophy in Germany, A fragment (1959), Beacon Press, p. 20

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