The Revolutionary Spirit Preceding the French Revolution

By Félix Rocquain; J. D. Hunting | Go to book overview

"should not be allowed to ferment in minds that are easily excited." But, in spite of its temerity, The Social Contract was not burned by the Parliament. Printed in Holland, it was known in Paris by only a very small number of copies, whilst Émile, on account of its denunciation by the Parliament, was read by everyone. A writ was issued against Rousseau for the seizure of his person, but the Ministry made its evasion easy. At the same time, the Encyclopedia was most inconsequently allowed to re-appear, and De L'Esprit was sold openly. Six months later, Émile and The Social Contract were also obtainable at all booksellers.

Ever since 1759, when Omer de Fleury pronounced his famous speech against them, the writers of the Encyclopedia had, in selfdefence, joined forces, with the object of establishing upon the ruin of all dogmas, an empire of reason. From Ferney, whither he had retired from the range of persecution, Voltaire stimulated their zeal and directed their actions. From Ferney he sent forth his Sermon of the Fifty, and the Testament of the Priest Meslier -- first fruits of the innumerable brochures that were about to proceed from his indefatigable pen. But, unlike Rousseau, who laid himself open to persecution by signing his works, Voltaire disavowed his. "Try," he said to Helvetius, "to serve the human "race without harming yourself in the least." Faithful to this maxim, he attacked his enemies without exposing himself to their counter-thrusts. Yet his ulterior aim was noble. The ardent friend of humanity, he declared war against all fanaticism; and it must not be forgotten, that at the moment that he gave to Helvetius this piece of ignoble advice, he was preparing his Treatise of Tolerance and winning the sympathies of the whole of Europe for the innocent Calas.1

Notwithstanding that the Jesuits had been crushed, they still attempted to stir up public opinion. They accused the

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1
Calas -- a Protestant merchant of Toulouse, accused of strangling his son for becoming a Catholic, condemned to the punishment of death by breaking on the wheel, and his family to imprisonment and banishment. The latter, through the exertions of Voltaire, were subsequently pardoned. Louis XV. gave them as compensation, 3,000 livres. (Translator's Note.)

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