Monday, February 23, 2009

Burn all your books: Voltaire

Voltaire, who had already had any number of his books burned in Paris, Geneva and Rome, published his Dictionnaire Philosophique in 1764, to the by now typical reaction from authorities. The book was banned and burned, and even owning a copy was considered dangerously close to sedition.

Interestingly, Voltaire is a good example of how common the rhetoric of book burning was in the eighteenth-century. In his entry on “War” in the Dictionnaire Philosophique, he wrote:

“Wretched physicians of souls, you declaim for five quarters of an hour about some pinprick, and you say nothing about the disease that tears us into a thousand pieces! Philosophical moralists, burn all your books. So long as the whim of a few men causes thousands of our brothers to be honourably butchered, the portion of mankind devoted to heroism will be the most frightful thing in the whole of nature.”