Thursday, October 10, 1996

Letters On England

by Voltaire
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.

four stars

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