Letters concerning the English Nation

By Voltaire; Nicholas Cronk | Go to book overview

LETTER VIII. On the Parliament.

THE Members of the English Parliament are fond of comparing themselves to the old Romans.*

Not long since, Mr. Shippen* open'd a speech in the house of Commons with these words, The Majesty of the People of Englandwould be wounded. The singularity of the expression occasion'd a loud laugh; but this Gentleman, so far from being disconcerted, repeated the same words with a resolute tone of voice, and the laugh ceas'd. In my opinion, the Majesty of the people of England has nothing in common with that of the people of Rome, much less is there any affinity between their governments. There is in London a Senate, some of the members whereof are accus'd, (doubtless very unjustly)* of selling their voices on certain occasions, as was done in Rome; this is the only resemblance. Besides, the two nations appear to me quite opposite in character, with regard both to good and evil. The Romans never knew the dreadful folly of religious Wars, an abomination reserv'd for devout Preachers of patience and humility. Marius and Sylla, Cœsar and Pompey, Anthony and Augustus, did not draw their swords and set the world in a blaze, merely to determine whether the Flamen* should wear his shirt over his robe, or his robe over his shirt; or whether the sacred Chickens should eat and drink, or eat only, in order to take the augury. The English have hang'd one another by law, and cut one another to pieces in pitch battles, for quarrels of as trifling a nature. The Sects of the Episcoparians and Presbyterians quite distracted these very serious Heads for a time. But I fancy they'll hardly ever be so silly again, they seeming to be grown wiser at their own expence; and I don't perceive the least inclination in them to murther one another merely about syllogisms, as some Zealots among them once did.

But here follows a more essential difference between Rome and England, which gives the advantage entirely to

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