« AnteriorContinua »
This is the true sublime of
dare to touch the fourth.
The object here is to accumulate for our own country the greatest quantity of power, honour, and enjoyment possible. To attain these in any extraordinary degree, much money is indispensable.
In a democracy it is very difficult to accomplish this object. Every citizen is your rival; a democracy can never subsist but in a small territory. You may have wealth almost equal to your wishes through your own mercantile dealings, or transmitted in patrimony from your industrious and opulent grandfather; your fortune will excite jealousy and envy, but will purchase little real co-operation and service. If an affluent family ever bears sway in a democracy, it is not for a long time.
In an aristocracy, honours, pleasures, power, and money, are more easily attainable. Great discretion however is necessary. If abuse is flagrant, revolution
will be the consequence.
Thus in a democracy all the citizens are equal. This species of government is at present rare, and appears to but little advantage, although it is in itself
natural and wise.
In aristocracy, inequality or superiority makes itself sensibly felt; but the less arrogant its demeanour, the more secure and successful will be its course.
Monarchy remains to be mentioned. In this, all mankind are made for one individual: he accumulates all honours with which he chooses to decorate himself, tastes all pleasures to which he feels an inclination, and exercises a power absolutely without control; provided, let it be remembered, that he has plenty of money. If he is deficient in that, he will be unsuccessful at home as well as abroad, and will soon
*Had Voltaire lived to witness the establishment of the United States of America, he would have corrected this passage. Despotism would be very happy to preserve the present reading.-T.
be left destitute of power, pleasures, honours, and perhaps even of life.
While this personage has money, not only is he successful and happy himself, but his relations and principal servants are flourishing in full enjoyment also; and an immense multitude of hirelings labour for them the whole year round, in the vain hope that they shall themselves, some time or other, enjoy in their cottages the leisure and comfort which their sultan and bashaws enjoy in their harems. Observe however what will probably happen.
A jolly full-fed farmer was formerly in possession of a vast estate, consisting of fields, meadows, vineyards, orchards, and forests. An hundred labourers worked for him, while he dined with his family, drank his wine, and went to sleep. His principal domestics, who plundered him, dined next, and eat up nearly everything. Then came the labourers, for whom there was left only a very meagre and insufficient meal. They at first murmured, then openly complained, speedily lost all patience, and at last ate up the dinner prepared for their master, and turned him out of his house. The master said they were a set of scoundrels, a pack of undutiful and rebellious children who assaulted and abused their own father. The labourers replied, that they had only obeyed the sacred law of nature, which he had violated. The dispute was finally referred to a soothsayer in the neighbourhood, who was thought to be actually inspired. The holy man takes the farm into his own hands, and nearly famishes both the labourers and the master; till at length their feelings counteract their superstition, and the saint is in the end expelled in his turn. This is domestic policy.
There have been more examples than one of this description; and some consequences of this species of policy still subsist in all their strength. We may hope that in the course of ten or twelve thousand ages, when mankind become more enlightened, the great proprietors of estates, grown also more wise, will on the
one hand treat their labourers rather better, and on the other take care not to be duped by soothsayers.
IN quality of a doubter, I have a long time filled myvocation. I have doubted when they would persuade me, that the glossopetres which I have seen formed in my fields were originally the tongues of sea-dogs, that the lime used in my barn was composed of shells only, that corals were the production of the excrement of certain little fishes, that the sea by its currents has formed Mount Cenis and Mount Taurus, and that Niobe was formerly changed into marble.
It is not that I love not the extraordinary, the mar vellous, as well as any traveller or man of system; but to believe firmly, I would see with my own eyes, touch with my own hands, and that several times. Even that is not enough; I would still be aided by the eyes and hands of others.
Two of my companions, who, like myself, form questions on the Encyclopedia, have for some time amused themselves with me in studying the nature of several of the little films which grow in ditches by the side of water lentils. These light herbs, which we call polypi of soft water, have several roots, from which circumstance we have given them the name of polypi. These little parasite plants were merely plants, until the commencement of the age in which we live. Leuenhoeck raises them to the rank of animals. We know not if they have gained much by it.
We think that, to be considered as an animal, it is necessary to be endowed with sensation. They therefore commence by shewing us, that these soft-water polypi have feeling, in order that we should present them with our right of citizenship.
We have not dared to grant it the dignity of sensation, though it appeared to have the greatest pretensions to it. Why should we give it to a species of small rush? Is it because it appears to bud? This property is common to all trees growing by the water
side; to willows, poplars, aspins, &c. It is so light, that it changes place at the least motion of the drop of water which bears it; thence it has been concluded that it walked. In like manner, we may suppose that the little, floating, marshy islands of St. Omer are animals, for they often change their place.
It is said its roots are feet, its stalk its body, its branches are its arms; the pipe which composes the stalk is pierced at the top, it is its mouth. In this pipe there is a light white pith, of which some almost imperceptible animalcules are very greedy; they enter the hollow of this little pipe by making it bend, and eat this light paste;-it is the polypus who captures these animals with his snout, though it has not the least appearance of head, mouth, or stomach.
We have examined this sport of nature with all the attention of which we are capable. It appeared to us that the production called polypus resembled an animal much less than a carrot or asparagus. In vain we have opposed to our eyes all the reasonings which we formerly read; the evidence of our eyes has overthrown them.
It is a pity to lose an illusion. We know how pleasant it would be to have an animal which could produce itself by offshoots, and which, having all the appearances of a plant, could join the animal to the vegetable kingdom.
It would be much more natural to give the rank of an animal to the newly-discovered plant of AngloAmerica, to which the pleasant name of Venus' Flytrap has been given. It is a kind of prickly sensitive plant, the leaves of which fold of themselves; the flies are taken in these leaves and perish there more certainly than in the web of a spider. If any of our physicians would call this plant an animal, he would have partisans.
But if you would have something more extraordinary, more worthy of the observation of philosophers, observe the snail, which lives one and two whole months after its head is cut off, and which afterwards has a second head, containing all the organs possessed by the first.
This truth, to which all children can be witnesses, is more worthy than the illusion of polypi of soft-water. What becomes of its sensorium, its magazine of ideas, and soul, when its head is cut off? How do all these return? A soul which is renewed is a very curious phenomenon ; not that it is more strange than a soul begotten, a soul which sleeps and awakes, or a condemned soul.*
THE plurality of Gods is the great reproach at present cast upon the Greeks and Romans: but let any' man show me, if he can, a single fact in the whole of their histories, or a single word in the whole of their books, from which it may be fairly inferred that they believed in many supreme gods; and if neither that fact nor word can be found; if, on the contrary, all antiquity is full of monuments and records which attest one sovereign god, superior to all other gods, let us candidly admit, that we have judged the ancients as harshly as we too often judge our contemporaries.
We read in numberless passages that Zeus, Jupiter, is the master of gods and men. "Jovis omnia plena;" all things are full of Jupiter. And St. Paul gives this testimony in favour of the ancients: "In ipso vivimus, movemur, et sumus, ut quidam vestrorum poetarum dixit." "In God we live, and move, and have our being, as one of your own poets has said." After such an acknowledgment as this, how can we dare to accuse
*Phædrus has said, Periculosum est credere et non credere. M. de Voltaire here carries the doubt too far. It is difficult not to regard the polypus as an animal, after reading with attention the fine experiments of M. Tremblai. As to the rest, M. de Voltaire denies not the facts, but merely that polypi are animals; and he believes that their stronger analogy with plants should banish them to the vegetable dominions. This should be observed by those who have reproached him with this opinion with so much warmth, and who have themselves need of indulgence for opinions much less excusable. (See chap. iii. of Singularities of Nature, vol. of Physic).-Fr. Ed.