Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2015 Issue

Voltaire and Charlie

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Louis-Philippe becomes a pear.

In 1834, while the Government had just passed some new laws to restrict freedom of speech in France, the newspaper La Caricature published the portrait of Louis-Philippe slowly transforming into... a pear. It created a national scandal. But nowadays, the press is agonizing; what is left of its past glory? Well, the terrorists who murdered 12 people in Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters last month proved at least one thing: newspapers still hold huge power!

 

Voltaire’s Offspring

 

The terrorist attack, apparently motivated by the wish to revenge Prophet Muhammad mocked in the pages of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo (CH), raises many questions. Freedom of speech is one of them; but it goes deeper, as it questions the philosophical position of France on religion at large. Our country has a long tradition of lampooning. After all, the famous placards, or signs, posted all over Paris against Catholicism in 1534 were nothing but pamphlets—and they led many people to the stake. In the 17th century, Cardinal Mazarin suffered many satirical writings that drove the kingdom to the brink of a civil war. Louis XIV, who was less tolerant, had some satirists executed too—they had written against his wife. Yet, forbidden books, pamphlets and lampoons throve continually. During the following century, the Philosophes des Lumières led by Voltaire, used words to fight the establishment, including the mighty Church. And Lord knows their “bullets” of paper hit hard! Then came the Revolution of 1789, and the “bouffeurs de curés”, or priests haters, in the early 20th century, who fought the last battle of the secularization—a newspaper of the time even published, on its front cover, the drawing of a man kicking the ass of a naked Jesus! Nothing new. Thus the French have developed a sort of animosity towards religion—they see it as a way to oppress, and to indoctrinate. Voltaire is not really thoroughly read anymore, but he’s seen as a national hero, and wrongfully identified as a “priest hater.” As far as the famous satire of the “pear” mentioned above is concerned, it is still shown in school—and our kids laugh at it. The Republic has become our idol; as well as secularism. Thus, atheism is quite common around here. And we tend to believe that it is the case in the rest of the world; but it’s not. Slaughtered over satirical drawings mocking the prophet of Islam, the cartoonists of CH are now considered as the true heirs of Voltaire. As a matter of fact, the sales of Treatise Against Intolerance by Voltaire have suddenly risen after the attack.

 

But is it really the case?

 

The Holy Link of Society

 

Voltaire fought against the wrongs done in the name of God, just like in the aforementioned treatise, written to defend a Protestant wrongfully accused of the murder of his son because of his religion; but he didn’t fight against God—or the idea of God. “The misdeeds of the priests can not be blamed on God,” he wrote in one of his poems, Epistle to the author of The Three Impostors. The title is a reference to an anonymous book mocking Moses, Jesus and Muhammad—when it was anonymously reprinted in the 18th century, the priests attributed it at once to Voltaire; but the Philosopher was the first one to condemn this work, and called its author the fourth impostor. “This sublime system to Man is necessary,” he wrote about religion. “It’s the holy link of society / The first stone of the holy equity / The fear of the villain, the hope of the righteous.”

 

These are not the words of a heretic, though Voltaire obviously didn’t believe in a white giant sitting in a chair on the top of a cloud, looking down at us in discontent. He was too bright and too learnt a man to believe in what he called the fairy tales of the Old Testament either (including the story of Moses or the myth of Adam and Eve); he denounced them to prevent oppression in the name of religion; but he knew about the crucial role played by spirituality: “If God wasn’t existing, we would have to create Him.” To deny God would mean denying “fear and hope” to Man, two essential inner workings of any society. Voltaire longed for the day when «philosophy leading the way, shall bring people to the feet of their common master; when the terrible fanaticism shall be afraid to show itself; when we shall have less dogmas, and more virtues.» But he knew that the vast majority of people weren’t able to understand his subtle view; the world was populated by a majority of simple men who needed simple solutions to complex problems—and it still is. Recently, an angry mob in Pakistan sent a warlike message to France by burning... an Italian flag! They probably don’t even know where to locate France on a world map—and Fox News knows no better. Voltaire took this into consideration. Charlie Hebdo didn’t.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.
  • <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Published Half Plate Ambrotype of a North Carolina Confederate Officer. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two 19th Century Books Pertaining to Canada's Red River Settlement. $400 to $800
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two Books With Fore-Edge Paintings of British Architectual Landmarks. $400 to $600
    <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), "Torte a la Dobosch" from <i>Wild Raspberries</i>. $1,000 to $3,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990), <i>Pop Shop II,</i> One Plate screenprint in colors, on wove paper, 1998. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1756-1827), Twenty-Two Prints from the <i>Tours of Dr. Syntax</i>. $500 to $1,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000

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