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Letters on England (Classics) Paperback – 3 Jan 2000

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Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer, satirist, the embodiment of the 18th-century Enlightenment. Among his best-known works is the satirical short story CANDIDE (1759).

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I thought that the doctrine and history of such unusual people were worthy of the curiosity of a reasonable man. Read the first page
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Graham Mummery TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 8 Sept. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Voltaire enjoyed his time in England, spending some time here in exile after one of his many disputes with the French court. In his best known work and masterpiece, Candide, or Optimism (Penguin Classics), the only time Voltaire makes a comment about the country is over the firing squad of Admiral Byng, who it is suggested was shot "pour encourager les autres," a phrase from French that has come into the English language.

More often Voltaire was positive about England, even if it was sometimes tempered with his famous sense of irony. These letters demonstrate this. For him, it was a place of tolerance and enlightenment. Not least religious tolerance, about which he observes, contrasting with his native France:

"If there were only one religion in England there would be danger of despotism, if there were two they would cut each other's throats, but there are thirty, and they live in peace and happiness."

He was not, however, blind to the intolerances he did find, noting for example that only Anglicans could hold certain positions in Government, though he still found the priests less corrupt. He also observed other religious sects at the time including the Presbyterians and above all the Quakers, admiring them for their piety and way of living. Though the admiration was also tinted with some amusement. The real religion in England, he states, is the Stock Exchange where people of all sects trade together.

In this book, Voltaire also looks at secular institutions such as Parliament, the Stock Exchange, theatre and the inoculation of smallpox which he admires.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By The on 29 Mar. 2007
Format: Paperback
I read this a few years ago, and I was amazed that it was written so long ago. The writing is very clear and easy to read, his thoughts on freedom seem very relevant today. Voltaire was impressed with England, at a time when France was a little more autocratic. His writing is witty and evocative.
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In his brilliant biography (Voltaire A life: Profile Books), Ian Davidson records that in 1735 the French authorities were so disturbed by Voltaire's book 'Letters on England' (Lettres philosophiques) that they would permit him to return to Paris only on condition that "he made a public recantation disowning the [book] and promised to behave better in future".

The book is a delight. Voltaire's pen pictures, from the quaintness of the Quakers to his undisguised admiration and wonder at Newton's discovery of gravity, are wittily and carefully observed. For me there were one or two surprises; not the least being the detailed description, fifteen and more years before Edward Jenner was born, of the practice of inoculating infants with a mild form of small pox to save them from the ravages of the often fatal form of that terrible and disfiguring disease.

The idea that his highly controversial book would in the future be made not only freely available but that people could have it delivered to their homes in an instant at the touch of a button would, I am sure, have intrigued the great man - although the natural accountant in him might have been a little concerned at the `free' bit.

Despite its antiquity (1894) this translation is very well worth a read. My thanks to Amazon for making such a famous book available to us at no cost.
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By trysca on 12 Mar. 2014
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These are quite varied rhetorical travel reports from a dim and distant London of the seventeenth century. Voltaire is witty urbane and incisively critical in his response to English thought and practice - you can sense both admiration and horror as he discusses the radical thoughts,tastes and freedoms of France's traditional enemy.. The latter letters are harder going, but the first two on his thee-thouing quaker are the real highlight. If only we had such radically innovative freethinking to be proud of today...
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This man was particularly interested in England and from his experience wrote a revealing history of the country at the time. He was enamoured with much about it and made favourable comparisons with his own country.
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