I did not know that Chris Ware did a cover for Candide

voltaire

“Allegories” — Voltaire

“Allegories”

From Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary

Jupiter, Neptune, and Mercury, travelling one day in Thrace, called on a certain king named Hyreus, who entertained them very handsomely. After eating a good dinner, they asked him if they could render him any service. The good man, who was past the age at which it is usual for men to have children, told them he should be very much obliged to them if they would make him a boy. The three gods then urinated on the skin of a new flayed ox; and from these sprang Orion, who became one of the constellations known to the most remote antiquity. This constellation was named Orion by the ancient Chaldæans; it is spoken of in the Book of Job. It would be hard to discover a rational allegory in this pretty story, unless we are to infer from it that nothing was impossible to the gods.

There were in Greece two young rakes, who were told by the oracle to beware of the melampygos or sable posteriors. One day Hercules took them and tied them by the feet to the end of his club, so that they hung down his back with their heads downward, like a couple of rabbits, having a full view of his person. “Ah!” said they; “the oracle is accomplished; this is the melampygos.” Hercules fell alaughing, and let them go. Here again it would be rather difficult to divine the moral sense.

Among the fathers of mythology there were some who had only imagination; but the greater part of them possessed understandings of no mean order. Not all our academies, not all our makers of devices, not even they who compose the legends for the counters of the royal treasury, will ever invent allegories more true, more pleasing, or more ingenious, than those of the Nine Muses, of Venus, the Graces, the God of Love, and so many others, which will be the delight and instruction of all ages.

The ancients, it must be confessed, almost always spoke in allegories. The earlier fathers of the church, the greater part of whom were Platonists, imitated this method of Plato’s. They have, indeed, been reproached with having carried this taste for allegories and allusions a little too far.

St. Justin, in his “Apology,” says that the sign of the cross is marked in the limbs and features of man; that when he extends his arms there is a perfect cross; and that his nose and eyes form a cross upon his face.

According to Origen’s explanation of Leviticus, the fat of the victims signifies the Church, and the tail is a symbol of perseverance.

St. Augustine, in his sermon on the difference and agreement of the two genealogies of Christ, explains to his auditors why St. Matthew, although he reckons forty-two generations, enumerates only forty-one. It is, says he, because Jechonias must be reckoned twice, Jechonias having gone from Jerusalem to Babylon. This journey is to be considered as the corner-stone; and if the corner-stone is the first of one side of a building, it is also the first of the other side; consequently this stone must be reckoned twice; and therefore Jechonias must be reckoned twice. He adds that, in the forty-two generations, we must dwell on the number forty, because that number signifies life. The number ten denotes blessedness, and ten multiplied by four, which represents the four elements and the four seasons, produces forty.

In his fifty-third sermon, the dimensions of matter have astonishing properties. Breadth is the dilation of the heart, length is long-suffering, height is hope, and depth is faith. So that, besides the allegory, we have four dimensions of matter instead of three.

It is clear and indubitable (says he in his sermon on the 6th psalm) that the number four denotes the human body, because of the four elements, and the four qualities of hotcoldmoist, and dry; and as four relates to the body, so three relates to the soul; for we must love God with a triple love—with all our hearts with all our souls, and with all our mindsFour also relates to the Old Testament, and three to the New. Four and threemake up the number of seven days, and the eight is the day of judgment.

One cannot but feel that there is in these allegories an affectation but little compatible with true eloquence. The fathers, who sometimes made use of these figures, wrote in times and countries in which nearly all the arts were degenerating. Their learning and fine genius were warped by the imperfections of the age in which they lived. St. Augustine is not to be respected the less for having paid this tribute to the bad taste of Africa and the fourth century.

The discourses of our modern preachers are not disfigured by similar faults. Not that we dare prefer them to the fathers; but the present age is to be preferred to the ages in which they wrote. Eloquence, which became more and more corrupted, and was not revived until later times, fell, after them, into still greater extravagances; and the languages of all barbarous nations were alike ridiculous until the age of Louis XIV. Look at all the old collections of sermons; they are far below the dramatic pieces of the Passion, which used to be played at the Hôtel de Bourgogne. But the spirit of allegory, which has never been lost, may be traced throughout these barbarous discourses. The celebrated Ménot, who lived in the reign of Francis I., did more honor, perhaps, than any other to the allegorical style. “The worthy administrators of justice,” said he, “are like a cat set to take care of a cheese, lest it should be gnawed by the mice. One bite of the cat does more damage to the cheese than twenty mice can do.”

Here is another very curious passage: “The woodmen, in a forest, cut large and small branches, and bind them in faggots; just so do our ecclesiastics, with dispensations from Rome, heap together great and small benefices. The cardinal’s hat is garnished with bishoprics, the bishoprics are garnished with abbeys and priories, and the whole is garnished with devils. All these church possessions must pass through the three links of the Ave Maria; for benedicta tu stands for fat abbeys of Benedictines, in mulieribus for monsieur and madame, and fructus ventris for banquets and gormandizers.”

The sermons of Barlet and Maillard are all framed after this model, and were delivered half in bad Latin, and half in bad French. The Italian sermons were in the same taste; and the German were still worse. This monstrous medley gave birth to the macaroni style, the very climax of barbarism. The species of oratory, worthy only of the Indians on the banks of the Missouri, prevailed even so lately as the reign of Louis XIII. The Jesuit Garasse, one of the most distinguished enemies of common sense, never preached in any other style. He likened the celebrated Theophile to a calf, because Theophile’s family name was Viaud, something resembling veau (a calf). “But,” said he, “the flesh of a calf is good to roast and to boil, whereas thine is good for nothing but to burn.”

All these allegories, used by our barbarians, fall infinitely short of those employed by Homer, Virgil, and Ovid, which proves that if there be still some Goths and Vandals who despise ancient fable they are not altogether in the right.

Mountain fable (Voltaire)

It is a very old, very universal fable that tells of the mountain which, having frightened all the countryside by its outcry that it was in labor, was hissed by all present when it brought into the world a mere mouse. The people in the pit were not philosophers. Those who hissed should have admired. It was as fine for the mountain to give birth to a mouse, as for the mouse to give birth to a mountain. A rock which produces a rat is a very prodigious thing; and never has the world seen anything approaching this miracle. All the globes of the universe could not call a fly into existence. Where the vulgar laugh, the philosopher admires; and he laughs where the vulgar open their big, stupid eyes in astonishment.

From Philosophical Dictionary.

“Authors” — Voltaire

“Authors” — Voltaire

(From Philosophical Dictionary)

Author is a generic name which can, like the name of all other professions, signify good or bad, worthy of respect or ridicule, useful and agreeable, or trash for the wastepaper-basket.


We think that the author of a good work should refrain from three things—from putting his name, save very modestly, from the epistle dedicatory, and from the preface. Others should refrain from a fourth—that is, from writing.


Prefaces are another stumbling-block. “The ‘I,'” said Pascal, “is hateful.” Speak as little of yourself as possible; for you must know that the reader’s self-esteem is as great as yours. He will never forgive you for wanting to condemn him to have a good opinion of you. It is for your book to speak for you, if it comes to be read by the crowd.


If you want to be an author, if you want to write a book; reflect that it must be useful and new, or at least infinitely agreeable.


If an ignoramus, a pamphleteer, presumes to criticize without discrimination, you can confound him; but make rare mention of him, for fear of sullying your writings.


If you are attacked as regards your style, never reply; it is for your work alone to make answer.


Someone says you are ill, be content that you are well, without wanting to prove to the public that you are in perfect health. And above all remember that the public cares precious little whether you are well or ill.


A hundred authors make compilations in order to have bread, and twenty pamphleteers make excerpts from these compilations, or apology for them, or criticism and satire of them, also with the idea of having bread, because they have no other trade. All these persons go on Friday to the police lieutenant of Paris to ask permission to sell their rubbish. They have audience immediately after the strumpets who do not look at them because they know that these are underhand dealings.


Real authors are those who have succeeded in one of the real arts, in epic poetry, in tragedy or comedy, in history or philosophy, who have taught men or charmed them. The others of whom we have spoken are, among men of letters, what wasps are among birds.

Invisible Bust of Voltaire — Salvador Dali

“Plato’s Dream” — Voltaire

“Plato’s Dream” by Voltaire

In ancient times, dreams were much revered, and Plato was one of the greatest dreamers. His dream The Republic is deservedly famous, but the following little-known tale is perhaps his most amazing dream–or nightmare:

The great Demiurgos, the eternal geometer, having scattered throughout the immensity of space innumerable worlds, decided to test the knowledge of those lesser superbeings who were also his creations, and who had witnessed his works. He gave them each a small portion of matter to arrange, just as our own art teachers give their students a statue to carve, or a picture to paint, if we may compare small things to great.

Demogorgon received the lump of mold we call Earth, and having formed it as it now appears, thought he had created a masterpiece. He imagined he had silenced Envy herself, and expected to receive the highest praise, even from his brethren. How great was his surprise, when, at the presentation of his work, they hissed in disappoval!

One among them, more sarcastic than the rest, spoke:

“Truly you have performed mighty feats! You have divided your world into two parts; and, to prevent them from communicating with each other, placed a vast collection of waters between the two hemispheres. The inhabitants must perish with cold under both your poles, and be scorched to death under the equator. You have, in your great prudence, formed immense deserts of sand, so all who travel over them may die with hunger and thirst. I have no fault to find with your cows, sheep, cocks, and hens; but can never be reconciled to your serpents and spiders. Your onions and artichokes are very good things, but I cannot conceive what induced you to scatter such a heap of poisonous plants over the face of the planet, unless it was to poison its inhabitants. Moreover, if I am not mistaken, you have created about 30 different kinds of monkeys, a still greater number of dogs, yet only four or five races of humans. It is true, indeed, you have bestowed on the latter of these animals a faculty you call Reason, but it is so poorly executed that you might better call it Folly. Besides, you do not seem to have shown any very great regard for this two-legged creature, seeing you have left him with so few means of defense; subjected him to so many disorders, and provided him with so few remedies; and formed him with such a multitude of passions, and so little wisdom and prudence to resist them. You certainly were not willing that there should remain any great number of these animals on Earth at once; for, over the course of a given year, smallpox will regularly carry off a tenth of the species, and sister maladies will taint the springs of life in the remainder; and then, as if this was not enough, you have so disposed things that half of those who survive are occupied in lawsuits, or cutting each other’s throats. Yes, they must be infinitely grateful to you, and I must admit that you have executed a masterpiece.”

Demogorgon blushed. He now realized there was much moral and physical evil in his work, but still believed it contained more good than ill.

“It is easy to find fault,” he said; “but do you imagine it is so easy to form an animal, who, having the gift of reason and free will, shall not sometimes abuse his liberty? Do you think that, in rearing 10,000 plants, it is so easy to prevent some few from having noxious qualities? Do you suppose that, with a certain quantity of water, sand, and mud, you could make a globe without sea or desert?

“As for you, my sneering friend, I think you have just finished the planet Jupiter. Let us see now what figure you make with your great belts, and your long nights, with four moons to enlighten them. Let us examine your worlds, and see whether the inhabitants you have made are exempt from folly and disease.”

Accordingly, his fellow entities examined the planet Jupiter, and were soon laughing at the laugher. He who had made Saturn did not escape without his share of censure, and his fellows, the makers of Mars, Mercury, and Venus, was each in his turn reproached.

They were in the midst of railing against and ridiculing each other, when the eternal Demiurgos thus imposed silence on them all:

“In your performances there is both good and bad, because you have a great share of understanding, but at the same time fall short of perfection. Your works will endure for only a few billion years, after which you will acquire more knowledge and perform much better. It belongs to me alone to create things perfect and immortal.”

“Us, for example?” asked Demogorgon.

Demiurgos scowled, and with that Plato awoke.

Or did he?

 

“On Some Technical Elements of Style in Literature” — Robert Louis Stevenson

There is nothing more disenchanting to man than to be shown the springs and mechanism of any art.  All our arts and occupations lie wholly on the surface; it is on the surface that we perceive their beauty, fitness, and significance; and to pry below is to be appalled by their emptiness and shocked by the coarseness of the strings and pulleys.  In a similar way, psychology itself, when pushed to any nicety, discovers an abhorrent baldness, but rather from the fault of our analysis than from any poverty native to the mind.  And perhaps in æsthetics the reason is the same: those disclosures which seem fatal to the dignity of art seem so perhaps only in the proportion of our ignorance; and those conscious and unconscious artifices which it seems unworthy of the serious artist to employ were yet, if we had the power to trace them to their springs, indications of a delicacy of the sense finer than we conceive, and hints of ancient harmonies in nature.  This ignorance at least is largely irremediable.  We shall never learn the affinities of beauty, for they lie too deep in nature and too far back in the mysterious history of man.  The amateur, in consequence, will always grudgingly receive details of method, which can be stated but never can wholly be explained; nay, on the principle laid down in Hudibras, that

‘Still the less they understand,
The more they admire the sleight-of-hand,’

many are conscious at each new disclosure of a diminution in the ardour of their pleasure.  I must therefore warn that well-known character, the general reader, that I am here embarked upon a most distasteful business: taking down the picture from the wall and looking on the back; and, like the inquiring child, pulling the musical cart to pieces.

1.  Choice of Words.—The art of literature stands apart from among its sisters, because the material in which the literary artist works is the dialect of life; hence, on the one hand, a strange freshness and immediacy of address to the public mind, which is ready prepared to understand it; but hence, on the other, a singular limitation.  The sister arts enjoy the use of a plastic and ductile material, like the modeller’s clay; literature alone is condemned to work in mosaic with finite and quite rigid words.  You have seen these blocks, dear to the nursery: this one a pillar, that a pediment, a third a window or a vase.  It is with blocks of just such arbitrary size and figure that the literary architect is condemned to design the palace of his art.  Nor is this all; for since these blocks, or words, are the acknowledged currency of our daily affairs, there are here possible none of those suppressions by which other arts obtain relief, continuity, and vigour: no hieroglyphic touch, no smoothed impasto, no inscrutable shadow, as in painting; no blank wall, as in architecture; but every word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph must move in a logical progression, and convey a definite conventional import.

Now the first merit which attracts in the pages of a good writer, or the talk of a brilliant conversationalist, is the apt choice and contrast of the words employed.  It is, indeed, a strange art to take these blocks, rudely conceived for the purpose of the market or the bar, and by tact of application touch them to the finest meanings and distinctions, restore to them their primal energy, wittily shift them to another issue, or make of them a drum to rouse the passions.  But though this form of merit is without doubt the most sensible and seizing, it is far from being equally present in all writers.  The effect of words in Shakespeare, their singular justice, significance, and poetic charm, is different, indeed, from the effect of words in Addison or Fielding.  Or, to take an example nearer home, the words in Carlyle seem electrified into an energy of lineament, like the faces of men furiously moved; whilst the words in Macaulay, apt enough to convey his meaning, harmonious enough in sound, yet glide from the memory like undistinguished elements in a general effect.  But the first class of writers have no monopoly of literary merit.  There is a sense in which Addison is superior to Carlyle; a sense in which Cicero is better than Tacitus, in which Voltaire excels Montaigne: it certainly lies not in the choice of words; it lies not in the interest or value of the matter; it lies not in force of intellect, of poetry, or of humour.  The three first are but infants to the three second; and yet each, in a particular point of literary art, excels his superior in the whole.  What is that point? Continue reading