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

  • <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>November 12-13, 2020</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> MACHIAVELLI, Niccolò. <i>Nicholas Machiavel's Prince. Also, The life of Castruccio Castracani of Lucca…</i> Translated by Edward Dacres. London, 1640. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> FILSON, John. <i>The Discovery, Settlement and present State of Kentucke: and An Essay towards the Topography, and Natural History of that important Country…</i> Wilmington, Del.: James Adams, 1784. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> ELUARD, Paul. <i>Un poeme dans chaque livre.</i> Paris: Louis Broder, 1956. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>November 12-13, 2020</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> LEWIS, James Otto. [<i>Aboriginal Port Folio.</i> Philadelphia: Published by the Author, 1835-1836]. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> [ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPTS]. BOOK OF HOURS, use of Rome, in Latin. [Southern Netherlands (Ghent or Bruges), c.1460]. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> MORE, Thomas, Sir. <i>The Workes ... wrytten by him in the Englysh tongue.</i> Edited by William Rastell. London, 1557. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>November 12-13, 2020</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> [KELMSCOTT PRESS]. MORRIS, William. <i>Love is Enough.</i> Hammersmith: The Kelmscott Press, 1897. $5,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph endorsement signed as President (“A. Lincoln”), 24 February 1863. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> WASHINGTON, George. Address panel with autograph free frank signed ("G:o Washington"), as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, 5 August 1777. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>November 12-13, 2020</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> GOREY, Edward. <i>The Beastly Baby.</i> N.p.: The Fantod Press, 1962. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> FROST, Robert. Photographic reproduction signed and inscribed ("Robert Frost”), to R.V. Thornton, 1955. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> GOREY, Edward. <i>The Bug Book.</i> New York: Looking Glass Library, 1959. $500 to $700.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 27:</b> Book of Hours with Illuminated Miniatures, France, mid-15th century. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 27:</b> Conradus de Alemania [Halberstadt the Elder], <i>Concordantiae Bibliorum,</i> Strassburg, 1474. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 27:</b> Christopher Marlowe, <i>The Jew of Malta,</i> London, 1633. Earliest extant edition of this antiauthoritarian Elizabethan play. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 27:</b><br>Sir Isaac Newton, <i>The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy,</i> first edition in English, 2 volumes, London, 1729. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 27:</b> John Rae, <i>Narrative of an Expedition to the Shores of the Arctic Sea in 1846 and 1847,</i> first edition, London, 1850. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 27:</b> Philip Pittman, <i>The Present State of the European Settlements on the Mississippi…,</i> first edition, London, 1770. $10,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 27:</b> Cyanotype of an anatomy class at Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1895. $300 to $400.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 27:</b> Equine veterinary formulary, manuscript on paper, East Earl, Pennsylvania, circa 1860. $400 to $600.
  • <b>Christie’s, Nov 3 :</b> REGAMEY, Felix (1844-1906). Unique drawing showing Verlaine and Rimbaud in London, September 1872. €70,000 to 100,000
    <b>Christie’s, Nov 3 :</b> LABORDE, Alexandre de (1773-1842). <i>Voyage pittoresque et historique de l’Espagne.</i> Paris : 1806-1820. €20,000 to 30,000
    <b>Christie’s, Nov 3 :</b> BOCCACE, Jean (1313-1375). <i>Il Decamerone…</i> Venise : Gabriele Giolito di Ferrari, 1542.<br>€ 12,000 to 15,000
    <b>Christie’s, Nov 3 :</b> LAMBERT, Yvon (1936). Full collection of writings from <i>Une rêverie émanée de mes loisirs.</i> Paris : 1992 - 2018. €50,000 to 70,000
    <b>Christie’s, Nov 3 :</b> JOUVE, Paul (1878-1973) -- KIPLING, Rudyard (1865-1936). <i>La Chasse de Kaa.</i> Paris : Javal & Bourdeaux, 1930. €2,000 to 3,000

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