Letters concerning the English Nation

Letters concerning the English Nation

Letters concerning the English Nation

Letters concerning the English Nation

Synopsis

Inspired by Voltaire's two-year stay in England (1726-8), this is one of the key works of the Enlightenment. His controversial pronouncements on politics, philosophhy, religion, and literature have placed the Letters among the great Augustan satires. Voltaire wrote most of the book in English, in which he was fluent and witty, and it fast became a bestseller in Britain. He re-wrote it in French as the Lettres Philosophiques, and current editions in English translate his French. This edition restores for the modern reader Voltaire's own English text, allowing us to appreciate him as a stylist at first hand. It is the only critical edition of the original text and, as well as providing an introduction and notes, it includes intriguing accounts of Voltaire by contemporary English observers.

Excerpt

The present Work appears with Confidence in the Kingdom that gave Birth to it: and will be well satisfied with its Fortune, if it meets with as favourable a Reception as has been indulg'd to all the other Compositions of its Author. The high Esteem which Mr. de Voltaire has always discover'd for the English, is a Proof how ambitious he is of their Approbation. 'Tis now grown familiar to him, but then he is not tir'd with it; and indeed one wou'd be apt to think that this Circumstance is pleasing to the Nation, from the strong Desire they have to peruse whatever is publish'd under his Name.

Without pretending therefore to any great Penetration, we may venture to assure him that his Letters will meet with all the Success that cou'd be wish'd. Mr. de Voltaire is the Author of them, they were written in London, and relate particularly to the English Nation; three Circumstances which must necessarily recommend them. The great Freedom with which Mr. de Voltaire delivers himself in his various Observations, cannot give him any Apprehensions of their being less favourably receiv'd upon that Account, by a judicious People who abhor Flattery. The English are pleas'd to have their Faults pointed out to them, because this shews at the same Time, that the Writer is able to distinguish their Merit.

We must however confess, that these Letters were not design'd for the Public. They are the Result of the Author's Complacency and Friendship for Mr. Thiriot, who had desir'd him, during his Stay in England, to favour him with such Remarks as he might make on the Manners and Customs of the British Nation. 'Tis well known that in a Correspondence of this kind, the most just and regular Writer does not propose to observe any Method. Mr. de Voltaire in all Probability follow'd no other Rule in the Choice of his Subjects than his particular Taste, or perhaps the Queries . . .

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