Quoted from the tanslator's "Introduction."
"MILLIONS of people recently saw and heard the fine cinema-play, Voltaire, in which Mr. George Arliss superbly impersonated the Prince of Rationalists. They must have been puzzled when an introductory message presented Voltaire to them as "one of the greatest men of his age." They had heard only of "Voltaire the Mocker." They now learned that, in
an age when very few writers dare glance at the iniquity of the established order, this man, who was so singularly equipped for success — a master of history, a learned student of science and of philosophy a fine poet and dramatist, and one of the most brilliant essayists of the eighteenth century — lived in exile from the Paris which he loved in order that he might
serve his passion for truth, justice and progress. Many Protestants who had hitherto known the name of Voltaire only as that of a "lewd and frivolous atheist" may have learned that it was he who, by his self-sacrificing efforts, won for them the right to live in France. The grim story of the Calas family, on which the film is based, is told in the last essay in this selection.
I have selected these fragments from the thirty volumes of the works of Voltaire, not for the purpose of illustrating his masterly faculty for wit and irony, but to give the reader an idea of every aspect of his personality and work. The Poem on. the Lisbon Disaster (an earthquake in the year 1755 which cost the lives of more than 30,000 people) is not a leisured and polished example of his verse, but a fiery expression of a humanity so racked by the horrors that he violently attacks the more complacent Deism of the time. The following essay, however, We Must Take Sides, which was written in the year 1772, six years before his death, will show that to the end he believed in God, though not in immortality. In the Questions of Zapata, written 1766, we have the inevitable specimen of his caustic treatment of conventional religion ; one of the most brilliant short criticisms of the Old Testament in Rationalist literature. In this case certain passages which exposed the coarseness of parts of the Old Testament have been omitted. The Epistle to the Romans, written in 1768 and at once put upon the Roman Index of Prohibited Books, helps us to understand how he shook the power of the Catholic Church in Italy and Spain as well as France. There follow a few lighter pieces ironically cast in the form of sermons, and the selection closes with the Treatise on Toleration which did more than any other work ever published to discredit the savage intolerance of old days.
The remarkable progress which the world made in enlightenment and humanity in the second half of the eighteenth century is in large part a monument to Voltaire. His works were the inspiration of the great statesmen who, like Pombal, D'Aranda, and Tannucci, roused even the Latin world for a time out of its slumbers, and they had a place of honour on the shelves of the more constructive men of the American Revolution. Our world, over which the dark wings of reaction again spread, may do well to recover his spirit."