Letters on England by Voltaire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Voltaire’s Letters from England, originally published in 1733, is a solipsistic treatise on political, religious, and cultural observation during his stay from 1726 to 1729 of the benign nation that welcomed the thinker with open arms when he fled from persecution in his native France.
But the book is not a blinded paean to a rival country with a long sophisticated warring history with an intent to retribute his spites to his mother country as an expatriate. Instead, Voltaire takes a stance of a piqued paratactic storyteller in the fashion of Herodotus’s Histories or a trenchant journalist in the school of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. In Voltaire’s eyes, that the English are practical folk with a propensity for realism: reflective, respectful of etiquette, cool-headed, and effusively proponent of scientific discoveries are conspicuous in the overview effect of France seen across from the other side of the Channel.
From the manners of English Quakers to Isaac Newton’s (whom he admires as the brilliant sun of Halios) quantum physics and the law of the universe in great detail, the subjects of interest and the depth of knowledge demonstrate that Voltaire is more than a rebellious French enlightenment thinker. He is a true intellectual whose reason is constituted by the consilience of multidisciplinary subjects in depth. The book is a testament to a genius of a particular kind who embodies a man of letters in its truest sense.
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