With his work on Newton, Voltaire’s direct connexion with English influences came to an end. For the rest of his life, indeed, he never lost his interest in England; he was never tired of reading English books, of being polite to English travellers, and of doing his best, in the intervals of more serious labours, to destroy the reputation of that deplorable English buffoon, whom, unfortunately, he himself had been so foolish as first to introduce to the attention of his countrymen. But it is curious to notice how, as time went on, the force of Voltaire’s nature inevitably carried him further and further away from the central standpoints of the English mind. The stimulus which he had received in England only served to urge him into a path which no Englishman has ever trod. The movement of English thought in the eighteenth century found its perfect expression in the profound, sceptical, and yet essentially conservative, genius of Hume. How different was the attitude of Voltaire! With what a reckless audacity, what a fierce uncompromising passion he charged and fought and charged again! He had no time for the nice discriminations of an elaborate philosophy, and no desire for the careful balance of the judicial mind; his creed was simple and explicit, and it also possessed the supreme merit of brevity: ‘Ecrasez l’infame!’ was enough for him.
[Footnote 3: Correspondance de Voltaire (1726-1729). By Lucien Foulet. Paris: Hachette, 1913.]
[Footnote 4: ’Il est aussi anime qu’il ait jamais ete. Il a quatre-vingt-quatre ans, et en verite je le crois immortel; il jouit de tous ses sens, aucun meme n’est affaibli; c’est un etre bien singulier, et en verite fort superieur.’ Madame du Deffand to Horace Walpole, 12 Avril 1778.]
Confess, oh Moses! Your Miracles were but conjuring-tricks, your Prophecies lucky Hazards, and your Laws a Gallimaufry of Commonplaces and Absurdities.
Confess that you were more skill’d in flattering the Vulgar than in ascertaining the Truth, and that your Reputation in the World would never have been so high, had your Lot fallen among a Nation of Philosophers.
Confess that when you taught the Jews to spoil the Egyptians you were a sad rogue.
Confess that it was a Fable to give Horses to Pharaoh and an uncloven hoof to the Hare.
Confess that you did never see the Back Parts of the Lord.