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>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Walt Whitman. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> First edition, first issue, SIGNED in block letters by Whitman. 1855. $200,000 to $300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Isaac Newton's copy of John Greave's <i>Pyramidographia,</i> London, 1646. $50,000 to $70,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Colonel John Mosby. Robert E. Lee's autograph letter to Samuel Cooper reporting on Mosby's exploits, with Cooper's autograph note ordering his appointment to Major.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Gyula Halasz Brassai. Large archive of autograph and typed letters, over 260, to his family including his wife Gilberte, 1947-1978. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Archive of drawings and letters from Harper Lee to Charles Carruth, including an inscribed first edition of <i>To Kill a Mockingbird.</i> $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> VESALIUS, ANDREAS. 1514-1564. <i>De humani corporis fabrica libri septem.</i> Basel: Johannes Oporinus, June 1543. $300,000 to $500,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. 1578-1657. <i>De motu cordis & sanguinis in animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Leiden: Joannis Maire, 1639. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> BERENGARIO DA CARPI, GIACOMO. 1460-1530. <i>Isagogae breves perlucide ac uberrimae in Anatomiam humani corporis.</i> Bologna: Benedictus Hectoris, 15 July 1523. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams NY, Mar 11:</b> FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN. 1706-1790. <i>Experiments and Observations on Electricity, made at Philadelphia in America…</i> London, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams NY, Mar 11:</b> BENIVIENI, ANTONIO. 1443-1502. <i>De abditis nonnullis ac mirandis morborum et sanationum causis.</i>Florence: Filippo Giunta, 1507. $8,000 to $12,000
  • <b>Christie’s Paris, 20 Feb:</b> BELON. <i>L’Histoire de la nature des oyseaux.</i> Paris : Corrozet, 1555. $17,000 to $23,000
    <b>Christie’s Paris, 20 Feb:</b> MIOMANDRE – BARBIER. <i>Dessins sur les danses de Vaslav Nijinsky.</i> Paris. 1913. $23,000 to $34,000
    <b>Christie’s Paris, 20 Feb:</b> HOKUSAI. <i>Fugaku Hyakkei, Edo : Nishimura Yûzô.</i> 1834-1875. $58,000 to $80,000
    <b>Christie’s Paris, 20 Feb:</b> EDWARDS. <i> <br>A Natural History of Uncommon Birds…</i> London : Printed for the Author. 1743-1764. $35,000 to $46,000
    <b>Christie’s Paris, 20 Feb:</b> VESALIUS. <i><br> De Humane Corporis Fabrica libri septem...</i> Basle : J. Oporinus. 1555. $58,000 to $80,000
  • <b>Morton Subastas on Bidsquare:</b><br>Die Französische Expedition gegen Mexico /Beilagen zum Beiheft des Militair - Wochenblattes
    <b>Morton Subastas on Bidsquare:</b><br>The Architecture Of M. Vitruvius Pollio. London, 1791.
    <b>Morton Subastas on Bidsquare:</b> Estatuto Provisional del Imperio Mexicano. México: Imprenta de Andrade y Escalante, 1865.
    <b>Morton Subastas on Bidsquare:</b> Historia de Méjico... México, 1849 - 1852.
    <b>Morton Subastas on Bidsquare:</b> Juárez, Benito - Ogazón, Pedro. Legajos de Bandos del Estado de Guadalajara, 1860-1863.
    <b>Morton Subastas on Bidsquare:</b> Sigüenza y Góngora, Carlos. Mapa de las Aguas que por el Círculo de 90 Leguas Vienen a la Laguna de Tescuco... Méx, 1748.
    <b>Morton Subastas on Bidsquare:</b> Cruces y Campa / Aubert / Valleto. Pareja Imperial, Fusilamiento de Maximiliano, Tipos Mexicanos... ca,1875.
  • <b>Bonhams: Treasures from the Eric C. Caren Collection: How History Unfolds on Paper, Part VII (Online). March 6-14, 2019
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Albert Einstein A remarkable letter on God in English, one of his most eloquent and quoted, 1 p, July 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Benjamin Lincoln's commission as Major General in the Continental Army, February 19th, 1777. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Broadside. A Poem Upon the Bloody Engagement That Was Fought on Bunker's-Hill. 1775. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Early, full printing of the Star-Spangled Banner in The Yankee, October 7, 1814. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Paul Revere. Engraving, “The Boston Massacre Perpetrated on March 5, 1770," in <i>Massachusett's Calendar 1772.</i> $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Feb 21:</b> NASA archive with 351 photographs, silver & chromogenic prints, 1960-2002. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Feb 21:</b> Edward S. Curtis, suite of 18 cyanotypes, 1910-14. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Feb 21:</b> Edward S. Curtis, <i>Horse Capture, Atsina,</i> unique copper plate for <i>The North American Indian,</i> 1908. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Feb 21:</b> John Whipple, <i>Harriet Beecher Stowe,</i> salted print from a calotype negative, 1853. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Feb 21:</b> Lewis Carroll, <i>Xie Kitchen,</i> albumen print, circa 1872. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Feb 21:</b> Ansel Adams, <i>Taos Pueblo,</i> limited, signed first edition of the artist's first book, 12 silver bromide prints, 1930. $30,000 to $45,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Feb 21:</b><br>JFK in his motorcade about 2 mins before his assassination, chromogenic print, 1963. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Feb 21:</b> Anton Guilio Bragaglia, 6 photomechanical postcards with facsimile signatures, 1911-13, printed 1932. $30,000 to $45,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Feb 21:</b> Société Anonyme, Inc, group of 9 postcards, including 8 real photo postcards, 1920-30. $25,000 to $35,000.

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