Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD REFERENCE (www.oxfordreference.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2013. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single entry from a reference work in OR for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 15 December 2019

Voltaire 1694–1778
French writer and philosopher 

  1. Dans ce meilleur des mondes possibles…tout est au mieux.
    In this best of possible worlds…all is for the best.
    usually quoted ‘All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds’
    Candide (1759) ch. 1
  2. If we do not find anything pleasant, at least we shall find something new.
    Candide (1759) ch. 17
  3. These two nations have been at war over a few acres of snow near Canada, and…they are spending on this fine struggle more than Canada itself is worth.
    of the struggle between the French and the British for the control of colonial north Canada
    Candide (1759) ch. 23
  4. Dans ce pays-ci il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres.
    In this country [England] it is thought well to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others.
    referring to the contentious execution of Admiral Byng (1704–57) for neglect of duty in failing to relieve Minorca
    Candide (1759) ch. 23
  5. Work saves us from three great evils: boredom, vice, and need.
    Candide (1759) ch. 30
  6. Il faut cultiver notre jardin.
    We must cultivate our garden.
    Candide (1759) ch. 30
  7. Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.
    The best is the enemy of the good.
    Contes (1772) ‘La Begueule’ l. 2; though often attributed to Voltaire, the notion in fact derives from an Italian proverb quoted in his Dictionnaire philosophique (1770 ed.) ‘Art Dramatique’: ‘Le meglio è l'inimico del bene
  8. [Men] use thought only to justify their injustices, and speech only to conceal their thoughts.
    Dialogues (1763) ‘Le Chapon et la poularde’
  9. Let us read, and let us dance—two amusements that will never do any harm to the world.
    Dictionnaire philosophique (1764) ‘Liberty of the Press’
  10. Luxury has been railed at for two thousand years, in verse and in prose, and it has always been loved.
    Dictionnaire philosophique (1764) ‘Le Luxe’ sect. 2
  11. Common sense is not so common.
    Dictionnaire philosophique (1765) ‘Sens Commun’
  12. Superstition sets the whole world in flames; philosophy quenches them.
    Dictionnaire philosophique (1764) ‘Superstition’
  13. The secret of being a bore…is to tell everything.
    Discours en vers sur l'homme (1737) ‘De la nature de l'homme’ l. 172
  14. All styles are good except the boring kind.
    L'Enfant prodigue (1736) preface
  15. If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
    Épîtres no. 96 ‘A l'Auteur du livre des trois imposteurs’; see Ovid
  16. This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.
    Essai sur l'histoire générale et sur les moeurs et l'esprit des nations (1756) ch. 70
  17. It is a wonderful result of the progress of human culture, that at this day there come to us from Scotland rules of taste in all the arts, from epic poetry to gardening.
    commonly quoted as ‘We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilization’
    Gazette littéraire de l'Europe (1764); quoted in Thomas Raynesford Lounsbury Shakespeare and Voltaire (1902) vol. 2
  18. History is nothing more than a tableau of crimes and misfortunes.
    L'Ingénu (1767) ch. 10; see Gibbon
  19. It is one of the superstitions of the human mind to have imagined that virginity could be a virtue.
    ‘The Leningrad Notebooks’ (1735–50) in T. Besterman (ed.) Voltaire's Notebooks (2nd ed., 1968) vol. 2, p. 455
  20. Oh what a good time it was, that age of iron!
    Le Mondain (1736) l. 21
  21. The superfluous, a very necessary thing.
    Le Mondain (1736) l. 22
  22. Governments need both shepherds and butchers.
    ‘The Piccini Notebooks’ (c.1735–50) in T. Besterman (ed.) Voltaire's Notebooks (2nd ed., 1968) vol. 2
  23. God is on the side not of the heavy battalions, but of the best shots.
    ‘The Piccini Notebooks’ (c.1735–50) in T. Besterman (ed.) Voltaire's Notebooks (2nd ed., 1968) vol. 2; see Bussy-Rabutin
  24. We owe respect to the living; to the dead we owe only truth.
    ‘Première Lettre sur Oedipe’ in Oeuvres (1785) vol. 1
  25. Truly, whoever is able to make you absurd is able to make you unjust.
    commonly quoted as ‘Those who can make you believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities’
    Questions sur les miracles (1765)
  26. Use, do not abuse…Neither abstinence nor excess ever renders man happy.
    Sept Discours en Vers sur l'Homme (1738)
  27. Quoi que vous fassiez, écrasez l'infâme, et aimez qui vous aime.
    Whatever you do, crush the despicable [superstition], and love those who love you.
    Voltaire signed off many of his letters in the 1760s with ‘écrasez l'infâme’, often abbreviating it to ‘Ecrlinf’
    letter to M. d'Alembert, 28 November 1762
  28. I have always made one prayer to God, a very short one. Here it is, ‘My God, make our enemies very ridiculous!’
    letter to Étienne-Noel Damilaville, 16 May 1767
  29. Doubt is not a pleasant condition. But certainty is an absurd one.
    letter to Frederick the Great, 28 November 1770
  30. The composition of a tragedy requires testicles.
    on being asked why no woman had ever written ‘a tolerable tragedy’
    letter from Byron to John Murray, 2 April 1817
  31. The art of government is to make two-thirds of a nation pay all it possibly can pay for the benefit of the other third.
    attributed; Walter Bagehot The English Constitution (1867) ch. 5
  32. The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.
    attributed to Voltaire from the end of the 19th century, but probably apocryphal; earlier versions are generally anonymous, as in The Quarterly Journal of Science, Literature, and the Arts 1823: ‘“Physic,” says a foreign writer, “is the art of amusing…”’
  33. The froth at top, dregs at bottom, but the middle excellent.
    comparing the English to their own beer
    attributed, in Edinburgh Magazine (1786)
  34. I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
    his attitude towards Helvétius following the burning of the latter's De l'esprit in 1759
    attributed to Voltaire, the words are in fact S. G. Tallentyre's summary in The Friends of Voltaire (1907); see Voltaire
  35. Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.
    widely attributed to Voltaire, but in these words a later interpretation of the ending of Candide by Peter Gay in The Enlightenment: an Interpretation (1966); however, Voltaire used a very similar image in a letter to Madame de Fontaine 31 May 1761: ‘Ma chère nièce, tout ceci est un naufrage; sauve qui peut! est la devise de chaque pauvre particulier. Cultivons donc notre jardin comme Candide: Cérès, Pomone, et Flore, sont de grandes saintes, mais il faut fêter aussi les Muses [My dear niece, everything is a shipwreck; save yourself who can! is the motto of each poor individual. Let us then cultivate our garden like Candide: Ceres, Pomona, and Flora are great saints, but we must also celebrate the Muses]’; see Voltaire
  36. Repose is a good thing, but boredom is its brother.
    attributed, 1921
  37. What a fuss about an omelette!
    what Voltaire apparently said on the burning of De l'esprit
    James Parton Life of Voltaire (1881) vol. 2, ch. 25; see Voltaire
  38. This is no time for making new enemies.
    on being asked to renounce the Devil, on his deathbed
    attributed