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Robert Ingersoll On Voltaire

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On Voltaire

Robert Green Ingersoll

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The infidels of one age have often been the aureoled saints of
the next.

The destroyers of the old are the creators of the new.

As time sweeps on the old passes away and the new in its turn
becomes old.

There is in the intellectual world, as in the physical, decay
and growth, and ever by the grave of buried age stand youth and

The history of intellectual progress is written in the lives
of infidels, political rights have been preserved by traitors, the
liberty of mind by heretics.

To attack the king was treason; to dispute the priest was

For many centuries the sword and cross were allies. Together
they attacked the rights of man. They defended each other.

The throne and altar were twins -- two vultures from the same

James I. said: "No bishop, no king." He might have added: "No
cross, no crown." The king owned the bodies of men; the priest, the
souls. One lived on taxes collected by force, the other on alms
collected by fear -- both robbers, both beggars.

These robbers and these beggars controlled two worlds. The
king made laws, the priest made creeds. Both obtained their
authority from God, both were the agents of the Infinite.

With bowed backs the people carried the burdens of one, and
with wonder's open mouth received the dogmas of the other.

If the people aspired to be free, they were crushed by the
king, and every priest was a Herod who slaughtered the children of
the brain.

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The king ruled by force, the priest by fear, and both by both.

The king said to the people. "God made you peasants, and He
made me king; He made you to labor, and me to enjoy; He made rags
and hovels for you, robes and palaces for me. He made you to obey,
and me to command. Such is the justice of God."

And the priest said; "God made you ignorant and vile; He made
me holy and wise; you are the sheep, I am the shepherd; your
fleeces belong to, me. If you do not obey me here, God will punish
you now and torment you forever in another world. Such is the mercy
of God."

"You must not reason. Reason is a rebel. You must not
contradict -- contradiction is born of egotism; you must believe.
He that hath ears to hear let him hear." Heaven was a question of

Fortunately for us, there have been traitors and there have
been heretics, blasphemers, thinkers, investigators, lovers of
liberty, men of genius who have given their lives to better the
condition of their fellow-men.

It may be well enough here to ask the question: What is

A great man adds to the sum of knowledge, extends the horizon
of thought, releases souls from the Bastille of fear, crosses
unknown and mysterious seas, gives new islands and new continents
to the domain of thought, new constellations to the firmament of
mind. A great man does not seek applause or place; he seeks for
truth; he seeks the road to happiness, and what he ascertains he
gives to others.

A great man throws pearls before swine, and the swine are
sometimes changed to men. If the great had always kept their
pearls, vast multitudes would be barbarians now.

A great man is a torch in the darkness, a beacon: in
superstition's night, an inspiration and a prophecy.

Greatness is not the gift of majorities; it cannot be thrust
upon any man; men cannot give it to another; they can give place
and power, but not greatness.

The place does not make the man, nor the scepter the king
Greatness is from within.

The great men are the heroes who have freed the bodies of men;
they are the philosophers and thinkers who have given liberty to
the soul; they are the poets who have transfigured the common and
filled the lives of many millions with love and song.

They are the artists who have covered the bare walls of weary
life with the triumphs of genius.

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They are the heroes who have slain the monsters of ignorance
and fear, who have outgazed the Gorgon and driven the cruel gods
from their thrones.

They are the inventors, the discoverers, the great Mechanics,
the kings of the useful who have civilized this world.

At the head of this heroic army, foremost of all, stands
Voltaire, whose memory we are honoring tonight.

Voltaire! a name that excites the admiration of men, the
malignity of priests. Pronounce that name in the presence of a
clergyman, and you will find that you have made a declaration of
war. Pronounce that name, and from the face of the priest the mask
of meekness will fall, and from the mouth of forgiveness will pour
a Niagara of vituperation and calumny. And yet Voltaire was the
greatest man of his century, and did more to free the human race
than any other of the sons of men.

On Sunday, the 21st of November, 1694, a babe was born -- a
babe so exceedingly frail that the breath hesitated about
remaining, and the parents had him baptized as soon as possible.
They were anxious to save the soul of this babe, and they knew that
if death came before baptism the child would be doomed to an
eternity of pain. They knew that "God despised an unsprinkled
child. The priest "who, with a few drops of water, gave the name of
Francois-Marie Arouet to this babe and saved his soul -- little
thought that before him, wrapped in many folds, weakly wailing,
scarcely breathing, was the one destined to tear from the white
throat of Liberty the cruel, murderous claws of the "Triumphant

When Voltaire came to this "great stage of fools," his country
had been Christianized -- not civilized -- for about fourteen
hundred years. For a thousand years the religion of peace and good-
will had been supreme. The laws had been given by Christian kings,
and sanctioned by "wise and holy men."

Under the benign reign of universal love, every court had its
chamber of torture, and every priest relied on the thumb-screw and

Such had been the success of the blessed gospel that every
science was an outcast.

To speak your honest thoughts, to teach your fellow-men, to
investigate for yourself, to seek the truth, these were all crimes,
and the "holy-mother church" pursued the criminals with sword and

The believers in a God of love -- an infinite father --
punished hundreds of offenses with torture and death. Suspected
persons were tortured to make them confess. Convicted persons were
tortured to make them give the names of their accomplices. Under
the leadership of the church, cruelty had become the only reforming

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In this blessed year, 1694, all authors were at the mercy of
king and priest. The most of them were cast into prisons,
impoverished by fines and costs, exiled or executed.

The little time that hangmen could snatch from professional
duties was occupied in burning books.

The courts of justice were traps, in which the innocent were
caught. The judges were almost as malicious and cruel as though
they had been bishops or saints. There was no trial by jury, and
the rules of evidence allowed the conviction of the supposed
criminal by the proof of suspicion or hearsay.

The witnesses, being liable to be tortured, generally told
what the judges wished to hear.

The supernatural and the miraculous controlled the world.
Everything was explained, but nothing was understood. The church
was at the head. The sick bought from monks little amulets of
consecrated paper. They did not send for a doctor, but for a
priest, and the priest sold the diseased and the dying these
magical amulets. These little pieces of paper with the help of some
saint would cure diseases of every kind. If you would put one in a
cradle, it would keep the child from being bewitched. If you would
put one in the barn, the rats would not eat your corn. If you would
keep one in the house evil spirits would not enter your doors, and
if you buried them in the fields, you would have good weather, the
frost would be delayed, rain would come when needed, and abundant
crops would bless your labor. The church insisted that all disease
could be cured in the name of God, and that these cures could be
effected by prayers, exorcism, by touching bones of saints, pieces
of the true cross, by being sprinkled with holy water or with
sanctified salt, or touched with magical oil.

In that day the dead saints were the best physicians; St.
Valentine cured the epilepsy; St. Gervasius was exceedingly good
for rheumatism; St. Michael for cancer; St. Judas for coughs and
colds; St. Ovidius restored the hearing; St. Sebastian was good for
the bites of snakes and the stings of poisonous insects; St.
Apollonia for toothache; St. Clara for any trouble with the eyes;
and St. Hubert for hydrophobia. It was known that doctors reduced
the revenues of the church; that was enough -- science was the
enemy of religion.

The church thought that the air was filled with devils; that
every sinner was a kind of tenement house inhabited by evil
spirits; that angels were on one side of men and evil spirits on
the other, and that God would, when the subscriptions and donations
justified the effort, drive the evil spirits from the field.

Satan had power over the air; consequently he controlled the
frost, the mildew, the lightning and the flood; and the principal
business of the church was with bells, and holy water, and incense,
and crosses, to defeat the machinations of that prince of the power
of the air.

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Great reliance was placed upon the bells; they were sprinkled
with holy water, and their clangor cleared the air of imps and
fiends. And bells also protected the people from storms and
lightning. In that day the church used to anathematize insects.

Suits were commenced against rats, and judgment rendered.
Every monastery had its master magician, who sold incense and salt
and tapers and consecrated palms and relics. Every science was
regarded as an enemy; every fact held the creed of the church in
scorn. Investigators were regarded as dangerous; thinkers were
traitors, and the church exerted its vast power to prevent the
intellectual progress of man.

There was no real liberty, no real education, no real
philosophy, no real science -- nothing but credulity and
superstition. The world was under the control of Satan and the

The church firmly believed in the existence of witches and
devils and fiends. In this way the church had every enemy within
her power. It simply had to charge him with being a wizard, of
holding communications with devils, and the ignorant mob were ready
to tear him to pieces. So prevalent was this belief, this belief in
the supernatural, that the poor people were finally driven to make
the best possible terms they could with the spirit of evil. This
frightful doctrine filled every friend with suspicion of his
friend; it made the husband denounce the wife, children their
parents, parents their children. It destroyed the amenities of
humanity; it did away with justice in courts; it broke the bond of
friendship; it filled with poison the golden cup of life; it turned
earth into a perdition peopled with abominable, malicious and
hideous fiends. Such was the result of a belief in the
supernatural; such was the result of giving up the evidence of
their own senses and relying upon dreams, visions and fears. Such
was the result of the attack upon the human reason; such the result
of depending on the imagination, on the supernatural; such the
result of living in this world for another; of depending upon
priests instead of upon ourselves.

The Protestants vied with Catholics; Luther stood side by side
with the priests he had deserted in promoting this belief in devils
and fiends. To the Catholic every Protestant was possessed by a
devil; to the Protestant every Catholic was the home of a fiend.
All order, all regular succession of causes and effects were known
no more; the natural ceased to exist; the learned and the ignorant
were on a level. The priest was caught in the net he had spread for
the peasant, and Christendom became a vast madhouse, with the
insane for keepers.

When Voltaire was born the church ruled and owned France. It
was a period of almost universal corruption. The priests were
mostly libertines, the judges cruel and venal. The royal palace was
a house of prostitution. The nobles were heartless, proud, arrogant
and cruel to the last degree. The common people were treated as
beasts. It took the church a thousand years to bring about this
happy condition of things.

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The seeds of the Revolution unconsciously were being scattered
by every noble and by every priest. They were germinating slowly in
the hearts of the wretched; they were being watered by the tears of
agony; blows began to bear interest. There was a faint longing for
blood. Workmen, blackened by the sun, bowed by labor, deformed by
want, looked at the white throats of scornful ladies and thought
about cutting them.

In those days witnesses were cross-examined with instruments
of torture; the church was the arsenal of superstition; miracles,
relics, angels and devils were as common as lies.

In order to appreciate a great man we must know his
surroundings. We must understand the scope of the drama in which he
played -- the part he acted. and we must also know his audience.

In England George I. was disporting with the "May-pole" and
"Elephant," and then George II., jealous and choleric, hating the
English and their language, making, however, an excellent image or
idol before whom the English were glad to bow -- snobbery
triumphant -- the criminal code getting bloodier every day -- 223
offenses punishable with death -- the prisons filled and the
scaffolds crowded -- efforts on every hand to repress the ambition
of men to be men the church relying on superstition and ceremony to
make men good -- and the state dependent on the whip, the rope and
axe to make men patriotic.

In Spain the Inquisition in full control -- all the
instruments of torture used to prevent the development of the mind.
Spain, that had driven out the Jews, that is to say, her talent;
that had driven out the Moors, that is to say, her taste and her
industry, was still endeavoring by all religious means to reduce
the land to the imbecility of the true faith.

In Portugal they were burning women and children for having
eaten meat on a holy day, and this to please the most merciful God.

In Italy the nation prostrate, covered with swarms of
cardinals and bishops and priests and monks and nuns and every
representative of holy sloth. The Inquisition there also -- while
hands that were clasped in prayer or stretched for alms, grasped
with eagerness and joy the lever of the rack, or gathered fagots
for the holy flame.

In Germany they were burning men and women charged with having
made a compact with the enemy of man.

And in our own fair land, persecuting Quakers, stealing men
and women from another shore, stealing children from their mother's
breast, and paying labor with the cruel lash. Superstition ruled
the world!

There is but one use for law, but one excuse for government --
the preservation of liberty -- to give to each man his own, to
secure to the farmer what he produces from the soil, the mechanic
what he invents and makes, to the artist what he creates, to the
thinker the right to express his thoughts. Liberty is the breath of

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In France, the people were the sport of a king's caprice.
Everywhere was the shadow of the Bastille. It fell upon the
sunniest field, upon the happiest home. With the king walked the
headsman; back of the throne was the chamber of torture. The Church
appealed to the rack, and Faith relied on the fagot. Science was an
outcast, and Philosophy, so-called, was the pander of superstition.

Nobles and priests were sacred. Peasants were vermin. Idleness
sat at the banquet, and Industry gathered the crumbs and the



Voltaire was of the people. In the language of that day, he
had no ancestors. His real name was Francois-Marie Arouet. His
mother was Marguerite d'Aumard. This mother died when he was seven
years of age. He had an elder brother, Armand, who was a devotee,
very religious and exceedingly disagreeable. This brother used to
present offerings to the church, hoping to make amends for the
unbelief of his brother. So far as we know, none of his ancestors
were literary people.

The Arouets had never written a line. The Abbe de Chaulieu was
his godfather, and, although an abbe, was a Deist who cared nothing
about religion except in connection with his salary. Voltaire's
father wanted to make a lawyer of him, but he had no taste for law.
At the age of ten he entered the college of Louis Le Grand. This
was a Jesuit school, and here he remained for seven years, leaving
at seventeen, and never attending any other school. According to
Voltaire, he learned nothing at this school but a little Greek, a
good deal of Latin and a vast amount of nonsense.

In this college of Louis Le Grand they did not teach
geography, history, mathematics or any science. This was a Catholic
institution, controlled by the Jesuits. In that day the religion
was defended, was protected or supported by the state. Behind the
entire creed were the bayonet, the axe, the wheel, the fagot and
the torture chamber.

While Voltaire was attending the college of Louis Le Grand the
soldiers of the king were hunting Protestants in the mountains of
Cevennes for magistrates to hang on gibbets, to put to torture, to
break on the wheel, or to burn at the stake.

At seventeen Voltaire determined to devote his life to
literature. The father said, speaking of his two sons Armand and
Francois, "I have a pair of fools for sons, one in verse and the
other in prose." In 1713, Voltaire, in a small way, became a
diplomat. He went to The Hague attached to the French minister, and
there he fell in love. The girl's mother objected Voltaire sent his
clothes to the young lady that she might visit him. Everything was
discovered and he was dismissed. To this girl he wrote a letter,
and in it you will find the key note of Voltaire: "Do not expose
yourself to the fury of your mother. You know what she is capable
of, You have experienced it too well. Dissemble: it is your only

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chance. Tell her that you have forgotten me, that you hate me; then
after telling her, love me all the more."

On account of this episode Voltaire was formally disinherited
by his father. The father procured an order of arrest and gave his
son the choice of going to prison or beyond the seas. He finally
consented to become a lawyer, and says: "I have already been a week
at work in the office of a solicitor learning the trade of a

About this time he competed for a prize, writing a poem on the
king's generosity in building the new choir in the Cathedral Notre
Dame. He did not win it. After being with the solicitor a little
while, he hated the law, began to write poetry and the outlines of
tragedy. Great questions were then agitating the public mind,
questions that throw a flood of light upon that epoch.

In 1552 Dr. Baius took it into his head to sustain a number of
propositions touching predestination to the prejudice of the
doctrine of free will. The Cordelian monks selected seventy-six of
the propositions and denounced them to the Pope as heretical, and
from the Pope obtained what was called a Bull. This Bull contained
a doubtful passage, the meaning of which was dependent upon the
position of a comma. The friends of Dr. Baius wrote to Rome, find
where the comma ought to be placed. Rome, busy with other matter,
sent as an answer a copy of the Bull in which the doubtful sentence
was left without any comma. So the dispute continued.

Then there was the great controversy between the Jansenists
and Molinists. Molini was a Spanish Jesuit, who sustained the
doctrine of free will with a subtlety of his own, "man's will is
free, but God sees exactly how he will use it." The Presbyterians
of our country are still wrestling with this important absurdity.

Jansenius was a French Jesuit who carried the doctrine of
predestination to the extreme, asserting that God commands things
that are impossible, and that Christ did not die for all.

In 1641 the Jesuits obtained a Bull condemning five
propositions of Jansenius. The Jansenists thereupon denied that the
five propositions -- or any of them -- were found in the works of

This question of Jansenism and Molinism occupied France for
about two hundred years.

In Voltaire's time the question had finally dwindled down to
whether the five propositions condemned by the Papal Bull were in
fact in the works of Jansenius. The Jansenists proved that the five
propositions were not in his book, because a niece of Pascal had a
diseased eye cured by the application of a thorn from the crown of

The Bull Unigenitus was launched in 1713, and then all the
prisons were filled with Jansenists. This great question of
predestination and free will, of free moral agency and
accountability, and being saved by the grace of God, and damned for

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the glory of God, have occupied the mind of what we call the
civilized world for many centuries. All these questions were argued
pro and con through Switzerland; all of them in Holland for
centuries; in Scotland and England and New England, and millions of
people are still busy harmonizing foreordination and free will,
necessity and morality, predestination and accountability.

Louis XIV. having died, the Regent took possession, and then
the prisons were opened. The Regent called for a list of all
persons then in the prisons sent there at the will of the king. He
found that, as to many prisoners, nobody knew any cause why they
had been in prison. They had been forgotten. Many of the prisoners
did not know themselves, and could not guess why they had been
arrested. One Italian had been in the Bastille thirty-three years
without ever knowing why. On his arrival in Paris, thirty-three
years before, he was arrested and sent to prison. He had grown old.
He had survived his family and friends. When the rest were
liberated he asked to remain where he was, and lived there the rest
of his life. The old prisoners were pardoned, but in a little while
their places were taken by new ones.

At this time Voltaire was not interested in the great world --
knew very little of religion or of government. He was busy writing
poetry, busy thinking of comedies and tragedies. He was full of
life. All his fancies were winged like moths.

He was charged with having written some cutting epigrams. He
was exiled to Tulle, three hundred miles away. From this place he
wrote in the true vein -- "I am at a chateau, a place that would be
the most agreeable in the world if I had not been exiled to it, and
where there is nothing wanting for my perfect happiness except the
liberty of leaving. It would be delicious to remain, if I only were
allowed to go."

At last the exile was allowed to return. Again he was
arrested; this time sent to the Bastille, where he remained for
nearly a year. While in prison he changed his name from Francois-
Marie Arouet to Voltaire, and by that name he has since been known.

Voltaire, as full of life as summer is full of blossoms,
giving his ideas upon all subjects at the expense of prince and
king, was exiled to England. From sunny France he took his way to
the mists and fogs of Albion. He became acquainted with the highest
and the best in Britain. He met Pope, a most wonderful verbal
mechanic, a maker of artificial flowers, very much like natural
ones, except that they lack perfume and the seeds of suggestion. He
made the acquaintance of Young, who wrote the "Night Thoughts;"
Young, a fine old hypocrite with a virtuous imagination. a
gentleman who electioneered with the king's mistress that he might
be made a bishop. He became acquainted with Chesterfield -- all
manners, no man: with Thomson, author of "The Seasons," who loved
to see the sun rise in bed and visit the country in town; with
Swift, whose poisoned arrows were then festering in the flesh of
Mr. Bull -- Swift, as wicked as he was witty, and as heartless as
he was humorous -- with Swift, a dean and a devil; with Congreve,
whom Addison thought superior to Shakespeare, and who never wrote
but one great line, "The cathedral looking tranquillity."

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Voltaire began to think, to doubt, to inquire. He studied the
history of the church, of the creed. He found that the religion of
his time rested on the inspiration of the Scriptures -- the
infallibility of the church -- the dreams of insane hermits -- the
absurdities of the Fathers -- the mistakes and falsehoods of saints
-- the hysteria of nuns -- the cunning of priests and the stupidity
of the people. He found that the Emperor Constantine, who lifted
Christianity into power, murdered his wife Fausta and his eldest
son Crispus, the same year that he convened the Council of Nice, to
decide whether Christ was a man or the Son of God. The Council
decided, in the year 325, that Christ was consubstantial with the
Father. He found that the church was indebted to a husband who
assassinated his wife -- a father who murdered his son, for
settling the vexed question of the divinity of the Savior. He found
that Theodosius called a council at Constantinople in 381, by which
it was decided that the Holly Ghost proceeded from, the Father --
that Theodosius, the younger, assembled a council at Ephesus in
431. that declared the Virgin Mary to be the mother of God -- that
the Emperor Marcian called another council at Chalcedon in 451,
that decided that Christ had two wills -- that Pognatius called
another in 680, that declared that Christ had two natures to go
with his two wills -- and that in 1274 at the council of Lyons, the
important fact was found that the Holy Ghost "proceeded," not only
from the Father, but also from the Son at the same time.

So, it took about 1300 years to find out a few things that had
been revealed by an infinite God to his infallible church.

Voltaire found that this insane creed had filled the world
with cruelty and fear. He found that vestments were more sacred
than virtues -- that images and crosses -- pieces of old bones and
bits of wood were more precious than the rights and lives of men
and that the keepers of these relics were the enemies of the human

With all the energy of his nature -- with ever faculty of his
mind -- he attacked this "Triumphant Beast."

Voltaire was the apostle of common sense. He knew that there
could have been no primitive or first language from which all other
languages had been formed. He knew that every language had been
influenced by the surroundings of the people. He knew that the
language of snow and ice was not the language of palm and flower.
He knew also that there had been no miracle in language. He knew
that it was impossible that the story of the Tower of Babel should
be true. He knew that everything in the whole world had been
natural. He was the enemy of alchemy, not only in language but in
science. One passage from him is enough to show his philosophy in
this regard. He says; "To transmute iron into gold, two things are
necessary: first, the annihilation of the iron; second, the
creation of gold."

Voltaire gave us the philosophy of history.

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Voltaire was a man of humor, of good nature, of cheerfulness.
He despised with all his heart the philosophy of Calvin, the creed
of the somber, of the severe, of the unnatural. He pitied those who
needed the aid of religion to be honest, to be cheerful. He had the
courage to enjoy the present and the philosophy to bear what the
future might bring.

And yet for more than a hundred and fifty years the Christian
world has fought this man and has maligned his memory. In every
Christian pulpit his name has been pronounced with scorn, and every
pulpit has been an arsenal of slander. He is one man of whom no
orthodox minister has ever told the truth. He has been denounced
equally by Catholics and Protestants.

Priests and ministers, bishops and exhorters, presiding elders
and popes have filled the world with slanders, with calumnies about
Voltaire. I am amazed that ministers will not or cannot tell the
truth about an enemy of the church. As a matter of fact, for more
than one thousand years, almost every pulpit has been a mint in
which slanders have been coined.

Voltaire made up his mind to destroy the superstition of his

He fought with every weapon that genius could devise or use.
He was the greatest of all caricaturists, and he used this
wonderful gift without mercy. For pure crystallized wit, he had no
equal. The art of flattery was carried by him to the height of at
exact science. He knew and practiced every subterfuge. He fought
the army of hypocrisy and pretence, the army of faith and

Voltaire was annoyed by the meaner and baser spirits of his
time, by the cringers and crawlers, by the fawners and pretenders,
by those who wished to gain the favor of priests, the patronage of
nobles. Sometimes he allowed himself to be annoyed by these
wretches; sometimes he attacked them. And, but for these attacks,
long ago they would have been forgotten. In the amber of his genius
Voltaire preserved these insects, these tarantulas, these

It is fashionable to say that he was not profound. This is
because he was not stupid. In the presence of absurdity he laughed,
and was called irreverent. He thought God would not damn even a
priest forever -- this was regarded as blasphemy. He endeavored to
prevent Christians from murdering each other, and did what he could
to civilize the disciples of Christ. Had he founded a sect,
obtained control of some country, and burned a few heretics at slow
fires, he would have won the admiration, respect and love of the
Christian world. Had he only pretended to believe all the fables of
antiquity, had he mumbled Latin prayers, counted beads, crossed
himself, devoured now and then the flesh of God, and carried fagots
to the feet of Philosophy in the name of Christ, he might have been
in heaven this moment, enjoying a sight of the damned.

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If he had only adopted the creed of his time -- if he had
asserted that a God of infinite power and mercy had created
millions and billions of human beings to suffer eternal pain, and
all for the sake of his glorious justice -- that he had given his
power of attorney to a cunning and cruel Italian Pope, authorizing
him to save the soul of his mistress and send honest wives to hell
-- if he had given to the nostrils of this God the odor of burning
flesh -- the incense of the fagot -- if he had filled his ears with
the shrieks of the tortured -- the music of the rack, he would now
be known as Saint Voltaire.

For many years this restless man filled Europe with the
product of his brain. Essays, epigrams, epics, comedies, tragedies,
histories, poems, novels, representing every phase and every
faculty of the human mind. At the same time engrossed in business,
full of speculation, making money like a millionaire, busy with the
gossip of courts, and even with the scandals of priests. At the
same time alive to all the discoveries of science and the theories
of philosophers, and in this Babel never forgetting for one moment
to assail the monster of superstition. Sleeping and waking he hated
the church. With the eyes of Argus he watched, and with the arms of
Briareus he struck. For sixty years he waged continuous and
unrelenting war, sometimes in the open field, sometimes striking
from the hedges of opportunity -- taking care during all this time
to remain independent of all men. He was in the highest sense
successful. He lived like a prince became one of the powers of
Europe, and in him, for the first time, literature was crowned.

It has been claimed by the Christian critics that Voltaire was
irreverent; that he examined sacred things without solemnity; that
he refused to remove his shoes in the presence of the Burning Bush;
that he smiled at the geology of Moses, the astronomical ideas of
Joshua, and that the biography of Jonah filled him with laughter.
They say that these stories, these sacred impossibilities, these
inspired falsehoods, should be read and studied with a believing
mind in humbleness of spirit; that they should be examined
prayerfully, asking God at the same time to give us strength to
triumph over the conclusions of our reason. These critics imagine
that a falsehood can be old enough to be venerable, and that to
stand covered in its presence is the act of an irreverent scoffer.
Voltaire approached the mythology of the Jews precisely as he did
the mythology of the Greeks and Romans, or the mythology of the
Chinese or the Iroquois Indians. There is nothing in this world too
sacred to be investigated, to be understood. The philosopher does
not hide. Secrecy is not the friend of truth. No man should be
reverent at the expense of his reason. Nothing should be worshiped
until the reason has been convinced that it is worthy of worship.

Against all miracles, against all holy superstition, against
sacred mistakes, he shot the arrows of ridicule.

These arrows, winged by fancy, sharpened by wit, poisoned by
truth, always reached the center.

It is claimed by many that anything, the best and holiest, can
be ridiculed. As a matter of fact, he who attempts to ridicule the
truth, ridicules himself. He becomes the food of his own laughter.

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The mind of man is many-sided. Truth must be and is willing to
be tested in every way, tested by all the senses.

But in what way can the absurdity of the "real presence" be
answered, except by banter, by raillery, by ridicule, by
persiflage? How are you going to convince a man who believes that
when he swallows the sacred wafer he has eaten the entire Trinity,
and that a priest drinking a drop of wine has devoured the
Infinite? How are you to reason with a man who believes that if any
of the sacred wafers are left over they should be put in a secure
place, so that mice should not eat God?

What effect will logic have upon a religious gentleman who
firmly believes that a God of infinite compassion sent two bears to
tear thirty or forty children in pieces for laughing at a bald-
headed prophet?

How are such people to be answered? How can they be brought to
a sense of their absurdity? They must feel in their flesh the
arrows of ridicule.

So Voltaire has been called a mocker.

What did he mock? He mocked kings that were unjust: kings who
cared nothing for the sufferings of their subjects. He mocked the
titled fools of his day. He mocked the corruption of courts; the
meanness, the tyranny and the brutality of judges. He mocked the
absurd and cruel laws, the barbarous customs. He mocked popes and
cardinals and bishops and priests, and all the hypocrites on the
earth. He mocked historians who filled their books with lies, and
philosophers who defended superstition. He mocked the haters of
liberty, the persecutors of their fellow-men. He mocked the
arrogance, the cruelty, the impudence, and the unspeakable baseness
of his time.

He has been blamed because he used the weapon of ridicule.

Hypocrisy has always hated laughter, and always will.
Absurdity detests humor, and stupidity despises wit. Voltaire was
the master of ridicule. He ridiculed the absurd, the impossible. He
ridiculed the mythologies and the miracles, the stupid lives and
lies of the saints. He found pretence and mendacity crowned by
credulity. He found the ignorant many controlled by the cunning and
cruel few. He found the historian, saturated with superstition,
filling his volumes with the details of the impossible, and he
found the scientists satisfied with "they say."

Voltaire had the instinct of the probable. He knew the law of
average, the sea level; he had the idea of proportion, and so he
ridiculed the mental monstrosities and deformities -- the non
sequiturs -- of his day. Aristotle said women had more teeth than
men. This was repeated again and again by the Catholic scientists
of the eighteenth century. Voltaire counted the teeth. The rest
were satisfied with "they say."

Voltaire for many years, in spite of his surroundings, in
spite of almost universal tyranny and oppression, was a believer in
God and what he was pleased to call the religion of Nature. He

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attacked the creed of his time because it was dishonorable to his
God. He thought of the Deity as a father, as the fountain of
justice, intelligence and mercy, and the creed of the Catholic
Church made him a monster of cruelty and stupidity. He attacked the
Bible with all the weapons at his command. He assailed its geology,
its astronomy, its ideas of justice, its laws and customs, its
absurd and useless miracles, its foolish wonders, its ignorance on
all subjects, its insane prophecies, its cruel threats and its
extravagant promises.

At the same time he praised the God of nature, the God who
gives us rain and light and food and flowers and health and
happiness -- who fills the world with youth and beauty.

Attacked on every side, he fought with every weapon that wit,
logic, reason, scorn, contempt, laughter, pathos and indignation
could sharpen, form, devise or use. He often apologized, and the
apology was an insult. He often recanted, and the recantation was
a thousand times worse than the thing recanted. He took it back by
giving more. In the name of eulogy he flayed his victim. In his
praise there was poison. He often advanced by retreating, and
asserted by retraction.

He did not intend to give priests the satisfaction of seeing
him burn or suffer. Upon this very point of recanting he wrote:

"They say I must retract. Very willingly. I will declare that
Pascal is always right. That if St. Luke and St. Mark contradict
one another, it is only another proof of the truth of religion to
those who know how to understand such things; and that another
lovely proof of religion is that it is unintelligible. I will even
avow that all priests are gentle and disinterested; that Jesuits
are honest people; that monks are neither proud nor given to
intrigue, and that their odor is agreeable; that the Holy
Inquisition is the triumph of human pity and tolerance. In a word,
I will say all that may be desired of me, provided they leave me in
repose, and will not persecute a man who has done "harm to none."

He gave the best years of his wondrous life to succor the
oppressed, to shield the defenseless, to reverse infamous decrees,
to rescue the innocent, to reform the laws of France, to do away
with torture, to soften the hearts of priests, to enlighten judges,
to instruct kings, to civilize the people, and to banish from the
heart of man the love and lust of war.

You may think that I have said too much; that I have placed
this man too high. Let me tell you what Goethe, the great German,
said of this man:

"If you wish depth, genius, imagination, taste, reason,
sensibility, philosophy, elevation, originality, nature, intellect,
fancy, rectitude, facility, flexibility, precision, art, abundance,
variety, fertility, warmth, magic, charm, grace, force, an "eagle
sweep" of vision, vast understanding, instruction, rich tone,
excellent, urbanity, suavity, delicacy, correctness, purity,
clearness, eloquence, harmony, brilliancy, rapidity, gaiety,
pathos, sublimity and universality, perfection indeed, behold

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Even Carlyle, that old Scotch terrier, with the growl of a
grizzly bear, who attacked shams, as I have sometimes thought,
because he hated rivals, was forced to admit that Voltaire gave the
death stab to modern superstition.

It is the duty of every man to destroy the superstitions of
his time, and yet there are thousands of men and women, fathers and
mothers, who repudiate with their whole hearts the creeds of
superstition, and still allow their children to be taught these
lies. They allow their imaginations to be poisoned with the dogma
of eternal pain. They allow arrogant and ignorant parsons, meek and
foolish teachers, to sow the seeds of barbarism in the minds of
their children -- seeds that will fill their lives with fear and
pain. Nothing can be more important to a human being than to be
free and to live without fear.

It is far better to be a mortal free man than an immortal

Fathers and mothers should do their utmost to make their
children free. They should teach them to doubt, to investigate, to
inquire, and every father and mother should know that by the cradle
of every child, as by the cradle of the infant Hercules, crawls the
serpent of superstition.



At that time it was pretended by the believers in God that the
plan, or the scheme of nature, was not cruel; that the lower was
sacrificed for the benefit of the higher; that while life lived
upon life, while animals lived upon each other, and while man was
the king or sovereign of all, still the higher lived upon the
lower. Consequently, a lower life was sacrificed that a higher life
might exist. This reasoning satisfied many. Yet there were
thousands that could not see why the lower should be sacrificed, or
why all joy should be born of pain. But, since the construction of
the microscope, since man has been allowed to look toward the
infinitely small, as well as toward the infinitely great, he finds
that our fathers were mistaken when they laid down the proposition
that only the lower life was sacrificed for the sake of the higher.

Now we find that the lives of all visible animals are liable
to be, and in countless cases are, destroyed by a far lower life;
that man himself is destroyed by the microbes, the bacilli, the
infinitesimal. We find that for the sake of preserving the yellow
fever germs millions and millions have died, and that whole nations
have been decimated for the sake of the little beast that gives us
the cholera. We have also found that there are animals, call them
what you please, that live on the substance of the human heart,
others that prefer the lungs, others again so delicate in their
palate that they insist on devouring the optic nerve, and when they
have destroyed the sight of one eye have sense enough to bore
through the cartilage of the nose to attack the other. Thus we find
the other side of this proposition. At first sight the lower seemed
to be sacrificed for the sake of the higher, but on closer
inspection the highest are sacrificed for the sake of the lowest.

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Voltaire was, for a long time, a believer in the optimism of
Pope -- "All partial evil, universal good." This is a very fine
philosophy for the fortunate. It suits the rich. It is flattering
to kings and priests. It sounds well. It is a fine stone to throw
at a beggar. It enables you to bear with great fortitude the
misfortunes of others.

It is not the philosophy for those who suffer -- for industry
clothed in rags, for patriotism in prison, for honesty in want, or
for virtuous outcasts. It is a philosophy of a class, of a few, and
of the few who are fortunate; and, when misfortune overtakes them,
this philosophy fades and withers.

In 1755 came the earthquake at Lisbon. This frightful disaster
became an immense interrogation.

The optimist was compelled to ask, "What was my God doing? Why
did the Universal Father crush to shapelessness thousands of his
poor children, even at the moment when they were upon their knees
returning thanks to him?"

What could be done with this horror? If earthquake there must
be, why did it not occur in some uninhabited desert, on some wide
waste of sea? This frightful fact changed the theology of Voltaire.
He became convinced that this is not the best possible of all
worlds. He became convinced that evil is evil here, now, and

The Theist was silent. The earthquake denied the existence of



Toulouse was a favored town. It was rich in relics. The people
were as ignorant as wooden images, but they had in their possession
the dried bodies of seven apostles -- the bones of many of the
infants slain by Herod -- part of a dress of the Virgin Mary, and
lots of skulls and skeletons of the infallible idiots known as

In this city the people celebrated every year with great joy
two holy events: The expulsion of the Huguenots, and the blessed
massacre of St. Bartholomew. The citizens of Toulouse had been
educated and civilized by the church.

A few Protestants, mild because in the minority, lived among
these jackals and tigers.

One of these Protestants was Jean Calas -- a small dealer in
dry goods. For forty years he had been in this business, and his
character was without a stain. He was honest, kind and agreeable.
He had a wife and six children -- four sons and two daughters. One
of the sons became a Catholic. The eldest son, Marc Antoine,
disliked his father's business and studied law. He could not be
allowed to practice unless he became a Catholic. He tried to get

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his license by concealing that he was a Protestant. He was
discovered -- grew morose. Finally he became discouraged and
committed suicide, by hanging himself one evening in his father's

The bigots of Toulouse started the story that his parents had
killed him to prevent his becoming a Catholic.

On this frightful charge the father, mother, one son, a
servant, and one guest at their house, were arrested.

The dead son was considered a martyr, the church taking
possession of the body.

This happened in 1761.

There was what was called a trial. There was no evidence, not
the slightest, except hearsay. All the facts were in favor of the

The united strength of the defendants could not have done the

Jean Calas was doomed to torture and to death upon the wheel.
This was on the 9th of March. 1762, and the sentence was to be
carried out the next day.

On the morning of the 10th the father was taken to the torture
room. The executioner and his assistants were sworn on the cross to
administer the torture according to the judgment of the court.

They bound him by the wrists to an iron ring in the stone wall
four feet from the ground, and his feet to another ring in the
floor. Then they shortened the ropes and chains until every joint
in his arms and legs was dislocated. Then he was questioned. He
declared that he was innocent. Then the ropes were again shortened
until life fluttered in the torn body; but he remained firm.

This was called. "the question ordinaire."

Again the magistrates exhorted the victim to confess, and
again he refused, saying that there was nothing to confess.

Then came "the question extraordinaire."

Into the mouth of the victim was placed a horn holding three
pints of water. In this way thirty pints of water were forced into
the body of the sufferer. The pain was beyond description, and yet
Jean Calas remained firm.

He was then carried to the scaffold in a tumbril. He was bound
to a wooden cross that lay on the scaffold. The executioner then
took a bar of iron, broke each leg and each arm in two places,
striking eleven blows in all. He was then left to die if he could.
He lived for two hours, declaring his innocence to the last. He was
slow to die, and so the executioner strangled him. Then his poor
lacerated, bleeding and broken body was chained to a stake and

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All this was a spectacle -- a festival for the savages of
Toulouse. What would they have done if their hearts had not been
softened by the glad tidings of great joy -- peace on earth and
good will to men?

But this was not all. The property of the family was
confiscated; the son was released on condition that he become a
Catholic; the servant if she would enter a convent. The two
daughters were consigned to a convent, and the heart-broken widow
was allowed to wander where she would.

Voltaire heard of this case. In a moment his soul was on fire.
He took one of the sons under his roof. He wrote a history of the
case. He corresponded with kings and queens, with chancellors and
lawyers. If money was needed, he advanced it. For years he filled
Europe with the echoes of the groans of Jean Calas. He succeeded.
The horrible judgment was annulled -- the poor victim declared
innocent and thousands of dollars raised to support the mother and

This was the work of Voltaire.


Sirven, a Protestant, lived in Languedoc with his wife and
three daughters. The housekeeper of the bishop wanted to make one
of the daughters a Catholic.

The law allowed the bishop to take the child of Protestants
from their parents for the sake of its soul. This little girl was
so taken and placed in a convent. She ran away and came back to her
parents. Her poor little body was covered with the marks of the
convent whip.

"Suffer little children to come unto me."

The child was out of her mind -- suddenly she disappeared, and
a few days after her little body was found in a well, three miles
from home.

The cry was raised that her folks had murdered her to keep her
from becoming a Catholic.

This happened only a little way from the Christian City of
Toulouse while Jean Calas was in prison. The Sirvens knew that a
trial would end in conviction. They fled. In their absence they
were convicted, their property confiscated, the parents sentenced
to die by the hangman, the daughters to be under the gallows during
the execution of their mother, and then to be exiled.

The family fled in the midst of winter; the married daughter
gave birth to a child in the snows of the Alps; the mother died,
and, at last reaching Switzerland, the father found himself without
means of support.

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They went to Voltaire. He espoused their cause. He took care
of them, gave them the means to live, and labored to annul the
sentence that had been pronounced against them for nine long and
weary years. He appealed to kings for money, to Catharine II. of
Russia, and to hundreds of others. He was successful. He said of
this case: The Sirvens were tried and condemned in two hours in
January, 1762, and now in January, 1772, after ten years of effort,
they have been restored to their rights.

This was the work of Voltaire. Why should the worshipers of
God hate the lovers of men?


Espenasse was a Protestant, of good estate. In 1740 he
received into his house a Protestant clergyman, to whom he gave
supper and lodging.

In a country where priests repeated the parable of the "Good
Samaritan," this was a crime.

For this crime Espenasse was tried, convicted and sentenced to
the galleys for life.

When he had been imprisoned for twenty-three years his case
came to the knowledge of Voltaire, and he was, through the efforts
of Voltaire, released and restored to his family.

This was the work of Voltaire. There is not time to tell of
the case of General Lally, of the English General Byng, of the
niece of Corneille, of the Jesuit Adam, of the writers, dramatists,
actors, widows and orphans for whose benefit he gave his influence,
his money and his time. But I will tell another case:

In 1765, at the town of Abbeville, an old wooden cross on a
bridge had been mutilated -- whittled with a knife -- a terrible
crime. Sticks, when crossing each other, were far more sacred than
flesh and blood. Two young men were suspected -- the Chevalier de
la Barre and D'Etallonde. D'Etallonde fled to Prussia and enlisted
as a common soldier.

La Barre remained and stood his trial.

He was convicted without the slightest evidence, and he and
D'Etallonde were both sentenced:

First, to endure the torture, ordinary and extraordinary.

Second, to have their tongues torn out by the roots with
pincers of iron.

Third, to have their right hands cut off at the door of the

Fourth, to be bound to stakes by chains of iron and burned to
death by a slow fire.

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"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass
against us."

Remembering this, the judges mitigated the sentence by
providing that their heads should be cut of before their bodies
were given to the flames.

The case was appealed to Paris; heard by a court composed of
twenty-five Judges, learned in the law, and the Judgment was

The sentence was carried out on the first day of July, 1766.

When Voltaire heard of this Judicial infamy he made up his
mind to abandon France. He wished to leave forever a country where
such cruelties were possible.

He wrote a pamphlet, giving the history of the case.

He ascertained the whereabouts of D'Etallonde, wrote in his
behalf to the King of Prussia; got him released from the army; took
him to his own house; kept him for a year and a half; saw that he
was instructed in drawing, mathematics, engineering, and had at
last the happiness of seeing him a captain of engineers in the army
of Frederick the Great.

Such a man was Voltaire. He was the champion of the oppressed
and the helpless. He was the Caesar to whom the victims of church
and state appealed. He stood for the intellect and heart of his

And yet for a hundred and fifty years those who love their
enemies have exhausted the vocabulary of hate, the ingenuity of
malice and mendacity, in their efforts to save their stupid creeds
from the genius of Voltaire.

From a great height he surveyed the world. His horizon was
large. He had some vices -- these he shared in common with priests
-- his virtues were his own.

He was in favor of universal education -- of the development
of the brain. The church despised him. He wished to put the
knowledge of the whole world within the reach of all. Every priest
was his enemy. He wished to drive from the gate of Eden the
cherubim of superstition, so that the children of Adam might return
and eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The church opposed
this because it had the fruit of the tree of ignorance for sale.

He was one of the foremost friends of the Encyclopedia -- of
Diderot, and did all in his power to give information to all. So
far as principles were concerned, he was the greatest lawyer of his
time. I do not mean that he knew the terms and decisions, but that
he clearly perceived not only what the law should be, but its
application and administration. He understood the philosophy of
evidence, the difference between suspicion and proof, between
belief and knowledge, and he did more to reform the laws of the
kingdom and the abuses at courts than all the lawyers and statesmen
of his time.

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At school, he read and studied the works of Cicero -- the lord
of language -- probably the greatest orator that has uttered
speech, and the words of the Roman remained in his brain. He
became, in spite of the spirit of caste, a believer in the equality
of men. He said:

"Men are born equal."

"Let us respect virtue and merit."

"Let us have it in the heart that men are equal."

He was an abolitionist -- the enemy of slavery in all its
forms. He did not think that the color of one man gave him the
right to steal from another man on account of that man's color. He
was the friend of serf and peasant, and did what he could to
protect animals, wives and children from the fury of those who
loved their neighbors as themselves.

It was Voltaire who sowed the seeds of liberty in the heart
and brain of Franklin, of Jefferson and Thomas Paine.

Pufendorf had taken the ground that slavery was, in part,
founded on contract. Voltaire said: "Show me the contract, and if
it is signed by the party to be the slave, I may believe you."

He thought it absurd that God should drown the fathers, and
then come and die for the children. This is as good as the remark
of Diderot: "If Christ had the power to defend himself from the
Jews and refused to use it, he was guilty of suicide."

He had sense enough to know that the flame of the fagot does
not enlighten the mind. He hated the cruel and pitied the victims
of church and state. He was the friend of the unfortunate -- the
helper of the striving. He laughed at the pomp of kings -- the
pretensions of priests. He was a believer in the natural and
abhorred with all his heart the miraculous and absurd.

Voltaire was not a saint. He was educated by the Jesuits. He
was never troubled about the salvation of his soul. All the
theological disputes excited his laughter, the creeds his pity, and
the conduct of bigots his contempt. He was much better than a

Most of the Christians in his day kept their religion not for
every day use but for disaster, as ships carry life boats to be
used only in the stress of storm.

Voltaire believed in the religion of humanity -- of good and
generous deeds. For many centuries the church had painted virtue so
ugly, sour and cold, that vice was regarded as beautiful. Voltaire
taught the beauty of the useful, the hatefulness and hideousness of

He was not the greatest of poets, or of dramatists, but he was
the greatest man of his time, the greatest friend of freedom and
the deadliest foe of superstition.

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He did more to break the chains of superstition -- to drive
the phantoms of fear from the heart and brain, to destroy the
authority of the church and to give liberty to the world than any
other of the sons of men. In the highest, the holiest sense he was
the most profoundly religious man of his time.



After an exile of twenty-seven years, occupying during all
that time a first place in the civilized world, Voltaire returned
to Paris. His journey was a triumphal march. He was received as a
conquer. The Academy, the Immortals, came to meet him -- a
compliment that had never been paid to royalty. His tragedy of
"Irene" was performed. At the theater he was crowned with laurel,
covered with flowers; he was intoxicated with perfume and with
incense of worship. He was the supreme French poet, standing above
them all. Among the literary men of the world he stood first -- a
monarch by the divine right of genius. There were three mighty
forces in France -- the throne, the altar and Voltaire.

The king was the enemy of Voltaire. The court could have
nothing to do with him. The church, malign and morose, was waiting
for her revenge, and yet, such was the reputation of this man --
such the hold he had upon the people -- that he became, in spite of
Throne, in spite of Church, the idol of France.

He was an old man of eighty-four. He had been surrounded with
the comforts, the luxuries of life. He was a man of great wealth,
the richest writer that the world had known. Among the literary men
of the earth he stood first. He was an intellectual king -- one who
had built his own throne and had woven the purple of his own power.
He was a man of genius. The Catholic God had allowed him the
appearance of success. His last years were filled with the
intoxication of flattery -- of almost worship. He stood at the
summit of his age.

The priests became anxious. They began to fear that God would
forget, in a multiplicity of business, to make a terrible example
of Voltaire.

Towards the last of May, 1778, it was whispered in Paris that
Voltaire was dying. Upon the fences of expectation gathered the
unclean birds of superstition, impatiently waiting for their prey.

"Two days before his death, his nephew went to seek the Cure
of Saint Sulpice and the Abbe Gautier, and brought them into his
uncle's sick chamber. 'Ah, well!' said Voltaire, 'give them my
compliments and my thanks.' The Abbe spoke some words to him,
exhorting him to patience. The cure of Saint Sulpice then came
forward, having announced himself, and asked of Voltaire, elevating
his voice, if he acknowledged the divinity of our Lord Jesus
Christ. The sick man pushed one of his hands against the cure's
coif, shoving him back and cried, turning abruptly to the other
side, 'Let me die in peace.' The cure seemingly considered his

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person soiled and his coif dishonored by the touch of a
philosopher. He made the nurse give him a little brushing and went
out with the Abbe Gautier."

He expired, says Wagniere, on the 30th of May, 1778, at about
a quarter-past eleven at night, with the most perfect tranquillity.
A few minutes before his last breath he took the hand of Morand,
his valet de chambre, who was watching by him, pressed it, and
said: "Adieu, my dear Morand, I am gone." These were his last
words. Like a peaceful river with green and shaded banks, he flowed
without a murmur into the waveless sea, where life is rest.

From this death, so simple and serene, so kind, so philosophic
and tender, so natural and peaceful; from these words, so utterly
destitute of cant or dramatic touch, all the frightful pictures,
all the despairing utterances, have been drawn and made. From these
materials, and from these alone, or rather, in spite of these
facts, have been constructed by priests and clergymen and their
dupes all the shameless lies about the death of this great and
wonderful man. A man, compared with whom all of his calumniators,
dead and living, were, and are, but dust and vermin.

Let us be honest. Did all the priests of Rome increase the
mental wealth of man as much as Bruno? Did all the priests of
France do as great a work for the civilization of the world as
Voltaire or Diderot? Did all the ministers of Scotland add as much
to the sum of human knowledge as David Hume? Have all the
clergymen, monks, friars, ministers, priests, bishops, cardinals
and popes, from the day of Pentecost to the last election, done as
much for human liberty as Thomas Paine?

What would the world be if infidels had never been?

The infidels have been the brave and thoughtful men; the
flower of all the world; the pioneers and heralds of the blessed
day of liberty and love; the generous spirits of the unworthy past;
the seers and prophets of our race; the great chivalric souls,
proud victors on the battlefields of thought, the creditors of all
the years to be.

Why should it be taken for granted that the men who devoted
their lives to the liberation of their fellow-men should have been
hissed at in the hour of death by the snakes of conscience, while
men who defended slavery -- practiced polygamy -- justified the
stealing of babes from the breasts of mothers, and lashed the naked
back of unpaid labor, are supposed to have passed smilingly from
earth to the embraces of the angels? Why should we think that the
brave thinkers, the investigators, the honest men, must have left
the crumbling shore of time in dread and fear, while the
instigators of the massacre of St. Bartholomew; the inventors and
users of thumb-screws, of iron boots and racks; the burners and
tearers of human flesh; the stealers, the whippers and the
enslavers of men; the buyers and beaters of maidens, mothers and
babes; the founders of the Inquisition; the makers of chains; the
builders of dungeons; the calumniators of the living; the
slanderers of the dead, and even the murderers of Jesus Christ, all
died in the odor of sanctity, with white, forgiven hands folded
upon the breasts of peace, while the destroyers of prejudice, the

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apostles of humanity, the soldiers of liberty, the breakers of
fetters, the creators of light, died surrounded by the fierce
fiends of God?

In those days the philosophers -- that is to say, the thinkers
-- were not buried in holy ground. It was feared that their
principles might contaminate the ashes of the just. And they also
feared that on the morning of the resurrection they might, in a
moment of confusion, slip into heaven. Some were burned, and their
ashes scattered; and the bodies of some were thrown naked to
beasts, and others buried in unholy earth.

Voltaire knew the history of Adrienne Le Couvreur, a beautiful
actress, denied burial.

After all, we do feel an interest in what is to become of our
bodies. There is a modesty that belongs to death. Upon this subject
Voltaire was infinitely sensitive. It was that he might be buried
that he went through the farce of confession, of absolution, and of
the last sacrament. The priests knew that he was not in earnest,
and Voltaire knew that they would not allow him to be buried in any
of the cemeteries of Paris.

His death was kept a secret. The Abbe Mignot made arrangements
for the burial at Romilli-on-the-Seine, more than 100 miles from
Paris. On Sunday evening, on the last day of May, 1778, the body of
Voltaire, clad in a dressing gown, clothed to resemble an invalid,
posed to simulate life, was placed in a carriage; at its side, a
servant, whose business it was to keep it in position. To this
carriage were attached six horses, so that people might think a
great lord was going to his estates. Another carriage followed, in
which were a grand nephew and two cousins of Voltaire. All night
they traveled, and on the following day arrived at the courtyard of
the Abbey. The necessary papers were shown, the mass was performed
in the presence of the body, and Voltaire found burial. A few
moments afterwards, the prior, who "for charity had given a little
earth," received from his bishop a menacing letter forbidding the
burial of Voltaire. It was too late.

Voltaire was dead. The foundations of State and Throne had
been sapped. The people were becoming acquainted with the real
kings and with the actual priests. Unknown men born in misery and
want, men whose fathers and mothers had been pavement for the rich,
were rising toward the light, and their shadowy faces were emerging
from darkness. Labor and thought became friends. That is, the
gutter and the attic fraternized. The monsters of the Night and the
angels of the Dawn -- the first thinking of revenge, and the others
dreaming of equality, liberty and fraternity.



All kinds of criminals, except infidels, meet death with
reasonable serenity. As a rule, there is nothing in the death of a
pirate to cast any discredit on his profession. The murderer upon
the scaffold, with a priest on either side, smilingly exhorts the

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multitude to meet him in heaven. The man who has succeeded in
making his home a hell, meets death without a quiver, provided he
has never expressed any doubt as to the divinity of Christ, or the
eternal "procession" of the Holy Ghost. The king who has waged
cruel and useless war, who has filled countries with widows and
fatherless children, with the maimed and diseased, and who has
succeeded in offering to the Moloch of ambition the best and
bravest of his subjects, dies like a saint.

All the believing kings are in heaven -- all the doubting
philosophers in perdition. All the persecutors sleep in peace, and
the ashes of those who burned their brothers, sleep in consecrated
ground. Libraries could hardly contain the names of the Christian
wretches who have filled the world with violence and death in
defence of book and creed, and yet they all died the death of the
righteous, and no priest, no minister, describes the agony and
fear, the remorse and horror with which their guilty soul were
filled in the last moments of their lives. These men had never
doubted -- they had never though -- they accepted the creed as they
did the fashion of their clothes. They were not infidels, they
could not be -- they had been baptized, they had not denied the
divinity of Christ, they had partaken of the "last supper." They
respected priest. they admitted that Christ had two natures and the
same number of wills; they admitted that the Holy Ghost had
"proceeded," and that, according to the multiplication table of
heaven, once one is three, and three times one is one, and these
things put pillows beneath their heads and covered them with the
drapery of peace.

They admitted that while kings and priests did nothing worse
than to make their fellows wretched that so long as they only
butchered and burnt the innocent and helpless, God would maintain
the strictest neutrality; but when some honest man, some great and
tender soul, expressed a doubt as to the truth of the Scriptures,
or prayed to the wrong God, or to the right one by the wrong name,
then the real God leaped like a wounded tiger upon his victim, and
from his quivering flesh tore his wretched soul.

There is no recorded instance where the uplifted hand of
murder has been paralyzed -- no truthful account in all the
literature of the world of the innocent child being shielded by
God. Thousands of crimes are being committed every day -- men are
at this moment lying in wait for their human prey -- wives are
whipped and crushed, driven to insanity and death -- little
children begging for mercy, lifting imploring, tear-filled eyes to
the brutal faces of fathers and mothers -- sweet girls are
deceived, lured and outraged, but God has no time to prevent these
things -- no time to defend the good and protect the pure. He is
too busy numbering hairs and watching sparrows. He listens for
blasphemy; looks for persons who laugh at priests: examines
baptismal registers; watches professors in college who begin to
doubt the geology of Moses and the astronomy of Joshua. He does not
particularly object to stealing, if you won't swear. A great many
persons have fallen dead in the act of taking God's name in vain,
but millions of men, women and children have been stolen from their
homes and used as beasts of burden, but no one engaged in this
infamy has ever been touched by the wrathful hand of God.

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Now and then a man of genius, of sense, of intellectual
honesty, has appeared. Such men have denounced the superstitions of
their day. They have pitied the multitude. To see priests devour
the substance of the people -- priests who made begging one of the
learned professions -- filled them with loathing and contempt.
These men were honest enough to tell their thoughts, brave enough
to speak the truth. Then they were denounced, tried, tortured,
killed by rack or flame. But some escaped the fury of the fiends
who love their enemies, and died naturally in their beds. It would
not do for the church to admit that they died peacefully. That
would show that religion was not essential at the last moment.
Superstition gets its power from the terror of death. It would not
do to have the common people understand that a man could deny the
Bible -- refuse to kiss the cross -- contend that Humanity was
greater than Christ, and then die as sweetly as Torquemada did,
after pouring molten lead into the ears of an honest man; or as
calmly as Calvin after he had burned Servetus; or as peacefully as
King David after advising with his last breath one son to
assassinate another.

The church has taken great pains to show that the last moments
of all infidels (that Christians did not succeed in burning) were
infinitely wretched and despairing. It was alleged that words could
not paint the horrors that were endured by a dying infidel. Every
good Christian was expected to, and generally did, believe these
accounts. They have been told and retold in every pulpit of the
world. Protestant ministers have repeated the lies invented by
Catholic priests, and Catholics, by a kind of theological comity,
have sworn to the lies told by the Protestants. Upon this point
they have always stood together, and will as long as the same
falsehood can be used by both.

Instead of doing these things, Voltaire wilfully closed his
eyes to the light of the gospel, examined the Bible for himself
advocated intellectual liberty, struck from the brain the fetters
of an arrogant faith, assisted the weak, cried out against the
torture of man, appealed to reason, endeavored to establish
universal toleration, succored the indigent, and defended the
oppressed. He demonstrated that the origin of all religions is the
same -- the same mysteries -- the same miracles -- the same
imposture -- the same temples and ceremonies -- the same kind of
founders, apostles and dupes -- the same promises and threats --
the same pretence of goodness and forgiveness, and the practice of
the same persecution and murder. He proved that religion made
enemies -- philosophy friends -- and that above the rights of Gods
were the rights of man.

These were his crimes. Such a man God would not suffer to die
in peace. If allowed to meet death with a smile, others might
follow his example, until none would be left to light the holy
fires of the auto da fe. It would not do for so great, so
successful, an enemy of the church to die without leaving some
shriek of fear, some shudder of remorse, some ghastly prayer of
chattered horror uttered by lips covered with blood and foam.

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For many centuries the theologians have taught that an
unbeliever -- an infidel -- one who spoke or wrote against their
creed, could not meet death with composure; that in his last
moments God would fill his conscience with the serpents of remorse.

For a thousand years the clergy have manufactured the facts to
fit this theory -- this infamous conception of the duty of man and
the Justice of God.

The theologians have insisted that crimes against man were,
and are, as nothing compared with crimes against God.

Upon the death-bed subject the clergy grow eloquent. When
describing the shudderings and shrieks of the dying unbeliever,
their eyes glitter with delight.

It is a festival.

They are no longer men. They become hyenas. they dig open
graves. They devour the dead.

It is a banquet.

Unsatisfied still, they paint the terrors of hell. They gaze
at the souls of the infidels writhing in the coils of the worm that
never dies. They see them in flames -- in oceans of fire -- in
gulfs of pain -- in abysses of despair. They shout with joy. They

It is an auto da fe, presided over by God.



For four hundred years the Bastille had been the outward
symbol of oppression. Within its walls the noblest had perished. It
was a perpetual threat. It was the last, and often the first,
argument of king and priest. Its dungeons, damp and rayless, its
massive towers, its secret cells, its instruments of torture,
denied the existence of God.

In 1789, on the 14th of July, the people, the multitude,
frenzied by suffering, stormed and captured the Bastille. The
battle -- cry was "Vive Voltaire." In 1791 permission was given to
place in the Pantheon the ashes of Voltaire. He had been buried 110
miles from Paris. Buried by stealth, he was to he removed by a
nation. A funeral procession of a hundred miles; every village with
its flags and arches; all the people anxious to honor the
philosopher of France -- the Savior of Calas -- the Destroyer of

On reaching Paris the great procession moved along the Rue St.
Antoine. Here it paused, and for one night upon the ruins of the
Bastille rested the body of Voltaire -- rested in triumph, in glory
-- rested on fallen wall and broken arch, on crumbling stone still

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damp with tears, on rusting chain and bar and useless bolt -- above
the dungeons dark and deep, where light had faded front the lives
of men and hope had died in breaking hearts.

The conqueror resting upon the conquered. -- Throned upon the
Bastille, the fallen fortress of Night, the body of Voltaire, from
whose brain had issued the Dawn.

For a moment his ashes must have felt the Promethean fire, and
the old smile must have illumined once more the face of death.

The vast multitude bowed in reverence, hushed with love and
awe heard these words uttered by a priest: "God shall be avenged."

The cry of the priest was a prophecy. Priests skulking in the
shadows with faces sinister as night, ghouls in the name of the
gospel, desecrated the grave. They carried away the ashes of

The tomb is empty.

God is avenged.

The world is filled with his fame. man has conquered.

Was there in the eighteenth century, a man wearing the
vestments of the church, the equal of Voltaire?

What cardinal, what bishop, what priest in France raised his
voice for the rights of men? What ecclesiastic, what nobleman, took
the side of the oppressed -- of the peasant? Who denounced the
frightful criminal code -- the torture of suspected persons? What
priest pleaded for the liberty of the citizen? What bishop pitied
the victims of the rack? Is there the grave of a priest in France
on which a lover of liberty would now drop a flower or a tear? Is
there a tomb holding the ashes of a saint from which emerges one
ray of light?

If there be another life -- a day of judgment, no God can
afford to torture in another world the man who abolished torture in
this. If God be the keeper of an eternal penitentiary, he should
not imprison there the men who broke the chains of slavery here. He
cannot afford to make an eternal convict of Voltaire.

Voltaire was a perfect master of the French language, knowing
all its moods, tenses and declinations, in fact and in feeling --
playing upon it as skillfully as Paganini on his violin, finding
expression for every thought and fancy, writing on the most serious
subjects with the gaiety of a harlequin, plucking jests from the
crumbling mouth of death, graceful as the waving of willows,
dealing in double meanings that covered the asp with flowers and
flattery -- master of satire and compliment -- mingling them often
in the same line, always interested himself, and therefore
interesting others -- handling thoughts, questions, subjects as a
juggler does balls, keeping them in the air with perfect ease --
dressing old words in new meanings, charming, grotesque, pathetic,
mingling mirth with tears, wit and wisdom, and sometimes

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wickedness, logic and laughter. With a woman's instinct knowing the
sensitive nerves -- just where to touch -- hating arrogance of
place, the stupidity of the solemn -- snatching masks from priest
and king, knowing the springs of action and ambition's ends --
perfectly familiar with the great world -- the intimate of kings
and their favorites, sympathizing with the oppressed and
imprisoned, with the unfortunate and poor, hating tyranny,
despising superstition, and loving liberty with all his heart. Such
was Voltaire writing "OEdipus" at seventeen, "Irene" at eighty-
three, and crowding between these two tragedies the accomplishment
of a thousand lives.

From his throne at the foot of the Alps, he pointed the finger
of scorn at every hypocrite in Europe. For half a century, past
rack and stake, past dungeon and cathedral, past altar and throne,
he carried with brave hands the sacred torch of Reason, whose light
at last will flood the world.

****     ****

Reproducible Electronic Publishing can defeat censorship.

The Bank of Wisdom is a collection of the most thoughtful,
scholarly and factual books. These computer books are reprints of
suppressed books and will cover American and world history; the
Biographies and writings of famous persons, and especially of our
nations Founding Fathers. They will include philosophy and
religion. all these subjects, and more, will be made available to
the public in electronic form, easily copied and distributed, so
that America can again become what its Founders intended --

The Free Market-Place of Ideas.

The Bank of Wisdom is always looking for more of these old,
hidden, suppressed and forgotten books that contain needed facts
and information for today. If you have such books please contact
us, we need to give them back to America.

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Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201
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Bank of Wisdom

The Bank of Wisdom is run by Emmett Fields out of his home in Kentucky. He painstakingly scanned in these works and put them on disks for others to have available. Mr. Fields makes these disks available for only the cost of the media.

Files made available from the Bank of Wisdom may be freely reproduced and given away, but may not be sold.

Reproducible Electronic Publishing can defeat censorship.

Bank of WisdomThe Bank of Wisdom is a collection of the most thoughtful, scholarly and factual books. These computer books are reprints of suppressed books and will cover American and world history; the Biographies and writings of famous persons, and especially of our nations Founding Fathers. They will include philosophy and religion. all these subjects, and more, will be made available to the public in electronic form, easily copied and distributed, so that America can again become what its Founders intended --

The Free Market-Place of Ideas.

The Bank of Wisdom is always looking for more of these old, hidden, suppressed and forgotten books that contain needed facts and information for today. If you have such books please contact us, we need to give them back to America.

Bank of Wisdom
Box 926
Louisville, KY 40201