Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2015 Issue

Voltaire and Charlie

03bd9dce-f9d2-4fc5-94b6-3f0a650d0dc7

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 Mar 10:</b> Francis Scott Key, <i>Star Spangled Banner,</i> first printing, c. 1814-16. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. “O. Henry,” archive of drawings made to illustrate a lost mining memoir, c. 1883-84. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> [Bay Psalm Book], printed for Hezekiah Usher of Boston, Cambridge, c. 1648-65. $50,000 to $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Noticia estraordinario,</i> probable first announcement in Mexico City of the fall of the Alamo, 1836. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Patrick Gass, first edition of earliest first-hand account of the Lewis and Clarke expedition, Pittsburgh, 1807. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Diploma from the Princeton Class of 1783, commencement attended by Washington & Continental Congress. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Sprague Light Cavalry!</i> color-printed broadside, NY, 1863. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>The Lincoln & Johnson Union Campaign Songster,</i> Philadelphia, 1864. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Lucy Parsons, labor organizer, albumen cabinet card, New York, 1886. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Daniel L.F. Swift, journal as third mate on a Pacific Whaling voyage, 1848-1850. $3,000 to $4,0000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Two photos of Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon, silver prints, 1901. $1,500 to $2,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Helvelius. Two Autograph Letters Signed to Francis Aston, Royal Society Secretary, noting his feud with Robert Hooke, 5 pp total, 1685. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Newton, Isaac. Autograph manuscript on God, 4 pp, c.1710, "In the beginning was the Word...."?$100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. First edition, first issue. Untrimmed copy in contemporary boards. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Lincoln, Abraham. Signed photograph, beardless portrait with Civil War provenance. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> IMPEACHMENT. Original engrossed copy of the first Andrew Johnson impeachment resolution vote. $120,000 to $180,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Mucha, Alphonse. 11 original pencil drawings for?<i>Andelicek z Baroku,</i> "Litte Baroque Angel," Prague, 1929. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Einstein, Albert. Annotated Galley Proofs for <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Silverstein, Shel. Original maquette for <i>The Giving Tree,</i> 34 original drawings. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Roth, Philip. Typed Manuscript with substantial autograph corrections for an unpublished sequel to <i>The Breast.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Taupin, Bernie. Autograph Manuscript, the original draft of lyrics for Elton John's "Candle in the Wind," 2 pp, 1973. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. <i>De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Padua: 1643. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> CESALPINO, ANDREA. <i>Peripateticarum Quaestionum Libri Quinque.</i> Venice: 1571. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Leon TOLSTOÏ. <i>Anna Karenina.</i> Moscou, 1878. First and full edition of the Russian novel, in the author’s language.<br>Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Mark TWAIN. <i>Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's comrade).</i> New York, 1885. First American edition.<br>Est. 5 000 / 6 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Walt WHITMAN. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> Brooklyn, New York, 1856. Second edition gathering 32 poems. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Karen BLIXEN. <i>Out of Africa.</i> Londres, 1937. First edition in the UK, before Danish translation and American release.<br>Est. 1 500 / 2 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Ernest HEMINGWAY. <i>A Farewell to Arms.</i> New York, 1929. First edition with $2.50 on the dust and A on the copyright page.<br>Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Ulysses.</i> Paris, Shakespeare and Company, 1922. First edition published by Sylvia Beach. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Dubliners.</i> Londres, 1914. First edition. Nice copy in publisher’s cardboard. Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Franz KAFKA. 8 novels in German first edition, published in München, Leipzig and Berlin 1916-1931. Est. from 300 / 400 to 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> David Herbert LAWRENCE. <i>Lady Chatterley's Lover.</i> Florence, 1928. Privately printed first edition. Est. 4 000 / 5 000 €
    John STEINBECK. <i>The Grapes of Wrath.</i> New York, 1939. First edition. Nice copy with $2.75 on the cover. Est. 1 000 / 1 200 €

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions