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Love truth, but pardon error.

François-Marie Arouet (21 November 169430 May 1778), most famous under his pen name Voltaire, was a French writer, deist and philosopher. Voltaire established himself as one of the leading writers of the enlightenment.

See also:


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.
If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
  • La vertu s'avilit à se justifier.
    • Virtue is debased by self-justification.
      • Oedipe, act II, scene IV (1718)
  • On doit des égards aux vivants; on ne doit aux morts que la vérité.
    • 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.
  • 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)
  • Go into the London Stock Exchange – a more respectable place than many a court – and you will see representatives from all nations gathered together for the utility of men. Here Jew, Mohammedan and Christian deal with each other as though they were all of the same faith, and only apply the word infidel to people who go bankrupt. Here the Presbyterian trusts the Anabaptist and the Anglican accepts a promise from the Quaker.
    • Letters on England, letter 6, "On the Presbyterians" as quoted in Trust and Tolerance, Richard H. Dees, Routledge, London and New York, (2004) p. 92, published first in English in 1733.
  • If there were only one religion in England there would be danger of despotism, if there were two they would cut each other's throats, but there are thirty, and they live in peace and happiness.
    • Letters on England, letter 6, "On the Presbyterians" Trans. Leonard Tancock (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1980): p. 41, published first in English in 1733.
  • 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)
  • C'est le privilège du vrai génie, et surtout du génie qui ouvre une carrière, de faire impunément de grandes fautes.
    • It is the privilege of true genius, and certainly of the genius that opens a new road, to make without punishment great mistakes.
      • "Siècle de Louis XIV," ch. 32 (1751), qtd. in Arthur Schopenhauer, "The World as Will and Representation," Criticism of the Kantian philosophy (1818)
  • 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]
  • I have received, sir, your new book against the human species, and I thank you for it. You will please people by your manner of telling them the truth about themselves, but you will not alter them. The horrors of that human society—from which in our feebleness and ignorance we expect so many consolations—have never been painted in more striking colours: no one has ever been so witty as you are in trying to turn us into brutes: to read your book makes one long to go on all fours. Since, however, it is now some sixty years since I gave up the practice, I feel that it is unfortunately impossible for me to resume it: I leave this natural habit to those more fit for it than are you and I.
  • 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 body which called itself and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was in no way 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)
  • Mari qui veut surprendre est souvent fort surpris.[4]
    • Translation: The husband who decides to surprise his wife is often very much surprised himself.
    • La Femme Qui a Raison, Act 1, scene 2 (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.
  • Il y a des vérités qui ne sont pas pour tous les hommes et pour tous les temps.
    • There are truths which are not for all men, nor for all times.
      • Letter to François-Joachim de Pierre, cardinal de Bernis (23 April 1764)
  • 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 (1763); reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)
  • Mais, monsieur, en étant persuadés par la foi, des choses qui paraissent absurdes à notre intelligence, c'est-à-dire, en croyant ce que nous ne croyons pas, gardons-nous de faire ce sacrifice de notre raison dans la conduite de la vie. 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.
    • Once your faith, sir, persuades you to believe what your intelligence declares to be absurd, beware lest you likewise sacrifice your reason in the conduct of your life. In days gone by, there were people who said to us: "You believe in incomprehensible, contradictory and impossible things because we have commanded you to; now then, commit unjust acts because we likewise order you to do so." Nothing could be more convincing. Certainly anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices. If you do not use the intelligence with which God endowed your mind to resist believing impossibilities, you will not be able to use the sense of injustice which God planted in your heart to resist a command to do evil. Once a single faculty of your soul has been tyrannized, all the other faculties will submit to the same fate. This has been the cause of all the religious crimes that have flooded the earth. (Translation from Norman Lewis Torrey: Les Philosophes. The Philosophers of the Enlightenment and Modern Democracy. Capricorn Books, 1961, pp. 277-8)
      • Questions sur les miracles (1765)
      • Widely used paraphrase: "Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities".
      • Alternative translation: "Whoever is able to make you absurd, is able to make you unjust." (Source: Wist.info)
  • 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 [5]
  • 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 [6]
  • 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.
  • Un bon mot ne prouve rien.
    • A witty saying proves nothing.
      • Le dîner du comte de Boulainvilliers (1767): Deuxième Entretien
  • 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
Life is bristling with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to cultivate one's garden.
  • 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 [7]
  • 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." 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: translation of earlier traditional Italian Il meglio è nemico del bene, attested since 1603: Proverbi italiani (Italian Proverbs), by Orlando Pescetti (c. 1556 – c. 1624) (p. 30, p. 45)
      • 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 [note spelling difference: l'inimico instead of nemico for "[the] enemy") 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. [8]
  • 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) [9]; an English translation can be found on this page: [10]
  • 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.
    • Ancient histories, as one of our wits has said, are but fables that have been agreed upon.

Candide (1759)

Main article: Candide
  • If this is the best of possible worlds, what then are the others?
  • Even in those cities which seem to enjoy the blessings of peace, and where the arts florish, the inhabitants are devoured by envy, cares and anxieties, which are greater plagues than any experienced in a town when it is under siege.
  • Our labour preserves us from three great evils -- weariness, vice, and want.
  • In every province, the chief occupations, in order of importance, are lovemaking, malicious gossip, and talking nonsense.
  • "Let us work without reasoning," said Martin; "it is the only way to make life endurable."
  • Fools have a habit of believing that everything written by a famous author is admirable. For my part I read only to please myself and like only what suits my taste.
  • Fools admire everything in an author of reputation.
  • "Optimism," said Cacambo, "What is that?" "Alas!" replied Candide, "It is the obstinacy of maintaining that everything is best when it is worst!
  • "You're a bitter man," said Candide. "That's because I've lived," said Martin.
  • Let us cultivate our garden.

The History of the Quakers (1762)

Being of opinion that the doctrine and history of so extraordinary a sect as the Quakers were very well deserving the curiosity of every thinking man, I resolved to make myself acquainted with them...
You have already heard that the Quakers date their epoch from Christ, who, according to them, was the first Quaker. Religion, say they, was corrupted almost immediately after His death, and remained in that state of corruption about sixteen hundred years.
The viceadmiral thought his son crazy; but soon discovered he was a Quaker.
"The History of the Quakers" in The Works of Voltaire (1762), Vol 13, as translated by Tobias George Smollett, Thomas Francklin, et al., later published as "The Religion of the Quakers", in The Works of Voltaire: A Contemporary Version with Notes (1901), Vol. 39, as modernized by William F. Fleming
His first care was to make an alliance with his American neighbors; and this is the only treaty between those people and the Christians that was not ratified by an oath, and that was never infringed.
The new sovereign also enacted several wise and wholesome laws for his colony, which have remained invariably the same to this day. The chief is, to ill-treat no person on account of religion, and to consider as brethren all those who believe in one God.
William Penn might, with reason, boast of having brought down upon earth the Golden Age, which in all probability, never had any real existence but in his dominions.
I cannot guess what may be the fate of Quakerism in America; but I perceive it loses ground daily in England. In all countries, where the established religion is of a mild and tolerating nature, it will at length swallow up all the rest.
  • Being of opinion that the doctrine and history of so extraordinary a sect as the Quakers were very well deserving the curiosity of every thinking man, I resolved to make myself acquainted with them, and for that purpose made a visit to one of the most eminent of that sect in England, who, after having been in trade for thirty years, had the wisdom to prescribe limits to his fortune, and to his desires, and withdrew to a small but pleasant retirement in the country, not many miles from London. Here it was that I made him my visit. His house was small, but neatly built, and with no other ornaments but those of decency and convenience.
  • He advanced toward me without moving his hat, or making the least inclination of his body; but there appeared more real politeness in the open, humane air of his countenance, than in drawing one leg behind the other, and carrying that in the hand which is made to be worn on the head. "Friend," said he, "I perceive thou art a stranger, if I can do thee any service thou hast only to let me know it." "Sir," I replied, bowing my body, and sliding one leg toward him, as is the custom with us, "I flatter myself that my curiosity, which you will allow to be just, will not give you any offence, and that you will do me the honor to inform me of the particulars of your religion." "The people of thy country," answered the Quaker, "are too full of their bows and their compliments; but I never yet met with one of them who had so much curiosity as thyself. Come in and let us dine first together."
    • Voltaire's account of meeting the Quaker Andrew Pit
  • I opened with that which good Catholics have more than once made to Huguenots. "My dear sir," said I, "were you ever baptized?" "No, friend," replied the Quaker, "nor any of my brethren." "Zounds!" said I to him, "you are not Christians then!" "Friend," replied the old man, in a soft tone of voice, "do not swear; we are Christians, but we do not think that sprinkling a few drops of water on a child's head makes him a Christian." "My God!" exclaimed I, shocked at his impiety, "have you then forgotten that Christ was baptized by St. John?" "Friend," replied the mild Quaker, "once again, do not swear. Christ was baptized by John, but He Himself never baptized any one; now we profess ourselves disciples of Christ, and not of John." "Mercy on us," cried I, "what a fine subject you would be for the holy inquisitor! In the name of God, my good old man, let me baptize you."
    • Voltaire's account of his conversations with Andrew Pit
  • I asked my guide how it was possible the judicious part of them could suffer such incoherent prating? "We are obliged," said he, "to suffer it, because no one knows, when a brother rises up to hold forth, whether he will be moved by the spirit or by folly. In this uncertainty, we listen patiently to every one. We even allow our women to speak in public; two or three of them are often inspired at the same time, and then a most charming noise is heard in the Lord's house." "You have no priests, then?" said I. "No, no, friend," replied the Quaker; "heaven make us thankful!" Then opening one of the books of their sect, he read the following words in an emphatic tone: "'God forbid we should presume to ordain any one to receive the Holy Spirit on the Lord's day, in exclusion to the rest of the faithful!'
    • Further account of his conversations with Andrew Pit
  • You have already heard that the Quakers date their epoch from Christ, who, according to them, was the first Quaker. Religion, say they, was corrupted almost immediately after His death, and remained in that state of corruption about sixteen hundred years. But there were always a few of the faithful concealed in the world, who carefully preserved the sacred fire, which was extinguished in all but themselves; till at length this light shone out in England in 1642.
    It was at the time when Great Britain was distracted by intestine wars, which three or four sects had raised in the name of God, that one George Fox, a native of Leicestershire, and son of a silk-weaver, took it into his head to preach the Word, and, as he pretended, with all the requisites of a true apostle; that is, without being able either to read or write. He was a young man, about twenty-five years of age, of irreproachable manners, and religiously mad. He was clad in leather from head to foot, and travelled from one village to another, exclaiming against the war and the clergy.
  • This new patriarch Fox said one day to a justice of peace, before a large assembly of people. "Friend, take care what thou dost; God will soon punish thee for persecuting his saints." This magistrate, being one who besotted himself every day with bad beer and brandy, died of apoplexy two days after; just as he had signed a mittimus for imprisoning some Quakers. The sudden death of this justice was not ascribed to his intemperance; but was universally looked upon as the effect of the holy man's predictions; so that this accident made more Quakers than a thousand sermons and as many shaking fits would have done. Cromwell, finding them increase daily, was willing to bring them over to his party, and for that purpose tried bribery; however, he found them incorruptible, which made him one day declare that this was the only religion he had ever met with that could resist the charms of gold.
    The Quakers suffered several persecutions under Charles II; not upon a religious account, but for refusing to pay the tithes, for "theeing" and "thouing" the magistrates, and for refusing to take the oaths enacted by the laws.
    At length Robert Barclay, a native of Scotland, presented to the king, in 1675, his "Apology for the Quakers"; a work as well drawn up as the subject could possibly admit. The dedication to Charles II, instead of being filled with mean, flattering encomiums, abounds with bold truths and the wisest counsels. "Thou hast tasted," says he to the king, at the close of his "Epistle Dedicatory," "of prosperity and adversity: thou hast been driven out of the country over which thou now reignest, and from the throne on which thou sittest: thou hast groaned beneath the yoke of oppression; therefore hast thou reason to know how hateful the oppressor is both to God and man. If, after all these warnings and advertisements, thou dost not turn unto the Lord, with all thy heart; but forget Him who remembered thee in thy distress, and give thyself up to follow lust and vanity, surely great will be thy guilt, and bitter thy condemnation. Instead of listening to the flatterers about thee, hearken only to the voice that is within thee, which never flatters. I am thy faithful friend and servant, Robert Barclay."
    The most surprising circumstance is that this letter, though written by an obscure person, was so happy in its effect as to put a stop to the persecution.
  • William Penn, when only fifteen years of age, chanced to meet a Quaker in Oxford, where he was then following his studies. This Quaker made a proselyte of him; and our young man, being naturally sprightly and eloquent, having a very winning aspect and engaging carriage, soon gained over some of his companions and intimates, and in a short time formed a society of young Quakers, who met at his house; so that at the age of sixteen he found himself at the head of a sect. Having left college, at his return home to the vice-admiral, his father, instead of kneeling to ask his blessing, as is the custom with the English, he went up to him with his hat on, and accosted him thus: "Friend, I am glad to see thee in good health." The viceadmiral thought his son crazy; but soon discovered he was a Quaker. He then employed every method that prudence could suggest to engage him to behave and act like other people. The youth answered his father only with repeated exhortations to turn Quaker also. After much altercation, his father confined himself to this single request, that he would wait on the king and the duke of York with his hat under his arm, and that he would not "thee" and "thou" them. William answered that his conscience would not permit him to do these things. This exasperated his father to such a degree that he turned him out of doors. Young Penn gave God thanks that he permitted him to suffer so early in His cause, and went into the city, where he held forth, and made a great number of converts; and being young, handsome, and of a graceful figure, both court and city ladies flocked very devoutly to hear him. The patriarch Fox, hearing of his great reputation, came to London — notwithstanding the length of the journey — purposely to see and converse with him. They both agreed to go upon missions into foreign countries; and accordingly they embarked for Holland, after having left a sufficient number of laborers to take care of the London vineyard.
  • William inherited very large possessions, part of which consisted of crown debts, due to the vice-admiral for sums he had advanced for the sea-service. No moneys were at that time less secure than those owing from the king. Penn was obliged to go, more than once, and "thee" and "thou" Charles and his ministers, to recover the debt; and at last, instead of specie, the government invested him with the right and sovereignty of a province of America, to the south of Maryland. Thus was a Quaker raised to sovereign power.
    He set sail for his new dominions with two ships filled with Quakers, who followed his fortune. The country was then named by them Pennsylvania, from William Penn; and he founded Philadelphia, which is now a very flourishing city. His first care was to make an alliance with his American neighbors; and this is the only treaty between those people and the Christians that was not ratified by an oath, and that was never infringed. The new sovereign also enacted several wise and wholesome laws for his colony, which have remained invariably the same to this day. The chief is, to ill-treat no person on account of religion, and to consider as brethren all those who believe in one God. He had no sooner settled his government than several American merchants came and peopled this colony. The natives of the country, instead of flying into the woods, cultivated by degrees a friendship with the peaceable Quakers. They loved these new strangers as much as they disliked the other Christians, who had conquered and ravaged America. In a little time these savages, as they are called, delighted with their new neighbors, flocked in crowds to Penn, to offer themselves as his vassals. It was an uncommon thing to behold a sovereign "thee'd" and "thou'd" by his subjects, and addressed by them with their hats on; and no less singular for a government to be without one priest in it; a people without arms, either for offence or preservation; a body of citizens without any distinctions but those of public employments; and for neighbors to live together free from envy or jealousy. In a word, William Penn might, with reason, boast of having brought down upon earth the Golden Age, which in all probability, never had any real existence but in his dominions.
    • Variants:
    • No oaths, no seals, no official mummeries were used; the treaty was ratified on both sides with a yea, yea — the only one, says Voltaire, that the world has known, never sworn to and never broken.
      • As quoted in William Penn : An Historical Biography (1851) by William Hepworth Dixon
    • William Penn began by making a league with the Americans, his neighbors. It is the only one between those natives and the Christians which was never sworn to, and the only one that was never broken.
      • As quoted in American Pioneers (1905), by William Augustus Mowry and Blanche Swett Mowry, p. 80
    • It was the only treaty made by the settlers with the Indians that was never sworn to, and the only one that was never broken.
      • As quoted in A History of the American Peace Movement (2008) by Charles F. Howlett, and ‎Robbie Lieberman, p. 33
  • It was in the reign of Charles II that they obtained the noble distinction of being exempted from giving their testimony on oath in a court of justice, and being believed on their bare affirmation. On this occasion the chancellor, who was a man of wit, spoke to them as follows: "Friends, Jupiter one day ordered that all the beasts of burden should repair to be shod. The asses represented that their laws would not allow them to submit to that operation. 'Very well,' said Jupiter; 'then you shall not be shod; but the first false step you make, you may depend upon being severely drubbed.'"
  • I cannot guess what may be the fate of Quakerism in America; but I perceive it loses ground daily in England. In all countries, where the established religion is of a mild and tolerating nature, it will at length swallow up all the rest.
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • A testimony is sufficient when it rests on: 1st. A great number of very sensible witnesses who agree in having seen well. 2d. Who are sane, bodily and mentally. 3d. Who are impartial and disinterested. 4th. Who unanimously agree. 5th. Who solemnly certify to the fact.
  • 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.
  • What a pity and what a poverty of spirit, to assert that beasts are machines deprived of knowledge and sentiment, which affect all their operations in the same manner, which learn nothing, never improve, &c. [...] Some barbarians seize this dog, who so prodigiously excels man in friendship, they nail him to a table, and dissect him living, to show the mezarian veins. You discover in him all the same organs of sentiment which are in yourself. Answer me, machinist, has nature arranged all the springs of sentiment in this animal that he should not feel? Has he nerves to be incapable of suffering? Do not suppose this impertinent contradiction in nature. [...] The animal has received those of sentiment, memory, and a certain number of ideas. Who has bestowed these gifts, who has given these faculties? He who has made the herb of the field to grow, and who makes the earth gravitate towards the sun.
    • "Beasts", in A Philosophical Dictionary, Volume 2, J. and H. L. Hunt, 1824, p. 9

Questions sur l'Encyclopédie (1770–1774)

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. ... Even the sovereign has no right to use coercion to lead men to religion, which by its nature supposes choice and liberty.
  • 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)


  • 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 human beings of whom they know less, to cure diseases 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 [11]; 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
  • 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


  • "There is no God, but don't tell that to my servant, lest he murder me at night". False quote, misattributed to Voltaire by Yuval Noah Harari in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
  • 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)
  • Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.
    • "Croyez ceux qui cherchent la vérité, doutez de ceux qui la trouvent; doutez de tout, mais ne doutez pas de vous-même" — André Gide, Ainsi soit-il; ou, Les Jeux sont faits (1952), page 174.
  • 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: [12][dead link]
  • God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.
    • "Creator — A comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh." — H.L. Mencken, 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.
    • Variants:
      • Monsieur l'abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.
      • I wholly disapprove of what you say—and 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.[13]
    • 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 xviii
  • 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". [14].[dubious? ]
  • France is a nation with one religion and many sauces; England is a nation with many religions and only one sauce.
    • Actual source is Louis Eustache Ude (1829) The French Cook; A System of Fashionable and Economical Cookery, Adapted to the use of English Families (10th edition) p. xli (London : John Ebers)
      • It is very remarkable, that in France, where there is but one religion, the sauces are infinitely varied, whilst in England, where the different sects are innumerable, there is, we may say, but one single sauce. Melted butter, in English cookery, plays nearly the same part as the Lord Mayor's coach at civic ceremonies, calomel in modern medicine, or silver forks in the fashionable novels. Melted butter and anchovies, melted butter and capers, melted butter and parsley, melted butter and eggs, and melted butter for ever: this is a sample of the national cookery of this country.
    • Variants: Omitting the France clause; sect rather than religion; specific numbers rather than many; gravy rather than sauce; the sauce specified as melted butter; the United States rather than England.
    • Also attributed to Francesco Caracciolo [Burton Stevenson, The Home Book Of Quotations: Classical And Modern (1935) p. 316 no. 10 (New York : Dodd, Mead)]
    • Related quotes and attributions:
      • Voltaire: If there were only one religion in England... quote above
      • Giuseppe Baretti (1768) An Account of the Manners and Customs of Italy Vol. II p. 316 (London : T. Davies ; L. Davis & C. Raymer)
        • I once heard a Frenchman swear that he hated the English, parce qu'ils versent du beurre fondu sur leur veau rôti.
      • Giuseppe Baretti (1777) Discours sur Shakespeare et sur monsieur de Voltaire p. 39 (London; Paris : J. Nourse; Durand neveu)
        • N'a-t-il [sc. Voltaire] pas dit dans ses Ouvrages qu'en Angleterre il n'y a pas d'hypocrites d'aucune espèce, et qu'on verse du beurre fondu sur le Roast-Beef?
      • Elizabeth, Princess Berkeley (1826) Memoirs of the Margravine of Anspach, Formerly Lady Craven Vol. II p. 141 (Paris: A and W Galignani):
        • Barretti, who is an ingenious writer, remarks that almost every nation hates its neighbours, without knowing the reason for such hatred. I once heard a Frenchman declare, that he hated the English, parce qu'ils versent du beurre fondu sur leur veau rôti. Voltaire said of us, though he did not hate us on that account, that we had but one sauce, and that was melted butter, to every thing. How strong are prejudices!

Quotes about Voltaire

  • 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)
  • Voltaire, the greatest of "infidels" of the eighteenth century, used to say, that if there were no God, people would have to invent one... Voltaire becomes, toward the end of his life, Pythagorical, and concludes by saying: "I have consumed forty years of my pilgrimage . . . seeking the philosopher's stone called truth. I have consulted all the adepts of antiquity, Epicurus and Augustine, Plato and Malebranche, and I still remain in ignorance. . . . All that I have been able to obtain by comparing and combining the system of Plato, of the tutor of Alexander, Pythagoras, and the Oriental, is this: Chance is a word void of sense. The world is arranged according to mathematical laws." ("Dictionnaire philosophique, 1764")
  • Voltaire, the greatest skeptic of his day, the materialist par excellence, shared Bailly's belief. He thought it quite likely that: Long before the empires of China and India, there had been nations cultured, learned, and powerful, which a deluge of barbarians overpowered and thus replunged into their primitive state of ignorance and savagery, or what they call the state of pure nature. Lettres sur l'Atlantide, p. 15. This conjecture is but a half-guess. There were such "deluges of barbarians" in the Fifth Race. With regard to the Fourth, it was a bonâ fide deluge of water which swept it away. Neither Voltaire nor Bailly, however, knew anything of the Secret Doctrine of the East. That which with Voltaire was the shrewd conjecture of a great intellect, was with Bailly a "question of historical facts."
  • 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
  • Italy had a Renaissance, and Germany had a Reformation, but France had Voltaire; he was for his country both Renaissance and Reformation, and half the Revolution. He carried on the antiseptic scepticism of Montaigne, and the healthy earthy humor of Rabelais; he fought superstition and corruption more savagely and effectively than Luther or Erasmus, Calvin or Knox or Melanchthon; he helped to make the powder with which Mirabeau and Marat, Danton and Robespierre blew up the Old Regime... No, never has a writer had in his lifetime such influence. Despite exile, imprisonment, and the suppression of almost everyone of his books by the minions of church and state, he forged fiercely a path for his truth, until at last kings, popes and emperors catered to him, thrones trembled before him, and half the world listened to catch his every word. It was an age in which many things called for a destroyer. "Laughing lions must come," said Nietzsche; well, Voltaire came, and "annihilated with laughter." He and Rousseau were the two voices of a vast process of economic and political transition from feudal aristocracy to the rule of the middle class...He was happy in his garden, planting fruit trees which he did not expect to see flourish in his lifetime. When an admirer praised the work he had done for posterity he answered, "Yes, I have planted 4000 trees." He rejects all systems, and suspects that "every chief of a sect in philosophy has been a little of a quack." "The further I go, the more I am confirmed in the idea that systems of metaphysics are for philosophers what novels are for women." "It is only charlatans who are certain. We know nothing of first principles. It is truly extravagant to define God, angels, and minds, and to know precisely why God formed the world, when we do not know why we move our arms at will. Doubt is not a very agreeable state, but certainty is a ridiculous one."
  • Likewise, there is much truth in Voltaire's enthusiastic Orientalist assumption that unlike Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the Indian and Chinese "religions" were not based on prophetic "revelations" but on a purely human contemplation of reality.
  • As he sup'd one night with Mr. Pope at Twickenham he fell into a fit of swearing and blasphemy about his constitution. Old Mrs Pope ask'd him how his constitution came to be so bad at his age: "Oh (says he) those d—d Jesuits, when I was a boy, b—gg—r'd me to such a degree that I shall never get over it as long as I live". ... This was said in English aloud before the servants.
    • Thomas Gray, quoted in André Michel Rousseau, L'Angleterre et Voltaire, Vol. I (1976), p. 113
  • To name Voltaire is to characterize the whole eighteenth century.
    • Victor Hugo, Essay: "Voltaire" (December, 1823), in Things Seen (1892) [Choses Vues], p. 302
  • 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
  • I must give you a piece of intelligence that you perhaps already know—namely, that the ungodly arch-villain Voltaire has died miserably like a dog—just like a brute. That is his reward!
    • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, letter to Leopold Mozart (3 July 1778), in The letters of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1769-1791, translated, from the collection of Ludwig Nohl, by Lady [Grace] Wallace (Oxford University Press, 1865) Vol. I, # 107 (p. 218)
  • O Voltaire! O humaneness! O nonsense! There is something about "truth", about the search for truth; and when a human being is too human about it- "il ne cherche le vrai que pour faire le bien"- I bet he finds nothing.
  • There's a Bible on that shelf there. But I keep it next to Voltaire – poison and antidote.

Quotes about Voltaireans

  • From Kapila, the Hindu philosopher, who many centuries before Christ demurred to the claim of the mystic Yogins, that in ecstasy a man has the power of seeing Deity face to face and conversing with the " highest" beings, down to the Voltaireans of the eighteenth century, who laughed at everything that was held sacred by other people, each age had its unbelieving Thomases. p. 121


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