translated, with a rambling introduction and rather sporadic annotation,
by Leonard Tancock
This book is a series of epistles to no one in
particular, comparing the relatively tolerant and free atmosphere of
England of the time (1734), as well as its great men of letters and
science (Newton and Locke) to that of France, for the benefit of the
French public. The book was banned in France. At the same time,
Voltaire satirizes certain foibles of the English nobility, the Quakers,
English poetry, etc, so he really hits two birds with one stone.
Actually, three, because the last letter is a criticism of Pascal’s
Pensées – it doesn’t have anything to do with England, but it’s the
best section, composed of a few brilliantly cutting and logical
rebuttals to some of Pascal’s notes.
Although short, this book
took me an inordinately long time to read because I had to look up a
great number of historical and contemporary references Voltaire made. I
enjoyed it where it was witty and sharp, notably the beginning and end.