Voltaire to La Harpe


Source: Voltaire La harpe. [n.p., n.d]
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor.


What news has reached me across the River Styx?
Can it be true that,
Abandoning his glory,
Putting the lie to his writings, his speech,
Philosophy’s ungrateful student
Affronts his teacher by
Using his genius to celebrate
The frock and
The surplice?
You who hoped for, who strove for their fall;
You, the enemy of sacred, bearded, shaved, hooded, mitered charlatans
And who,
Victor in this noble fight,
See prejudices and long-protected vices
Fall at your feet,
Can it be that you want to bring back their reign?


If the French, in their culpable delirium,
Denied God and smashed his altar,
Must they, from its debris,
Rebuild the labyrinth that
Hypocrisy, with its bile-filled heart,
Already flees?
What can lead you to want
To return a free, a thinking people
To the shameful days of ignorance?


Through its errors, if
It allows itself to be enchained,
I see France’s tyrants soon returning,
Victorious and showing no mercy.


And yet freedom was dear to you:
Is it no longer worthy
Of your incense and hopes?
The dark veil and the horrid mask
That a bloody hand covered it with
Perhaps rendered it an odious ghost,
But it failed to alter its noble character:
It is still the worthy child of the heavens.
It triumphs, and those base seditionists,
Those scoundrels,
The opprobrium of the earth
Are defeated, crushed in their turn, and
Freedom is built on their ruins.


Fear not the return of these excesses.
Listen to and follow freedom’s divine laws.
To fortify its shining reign
You need only use the language
Reason lends the wise man’s voice.


Be faithful to my lessons
When you preach,
Make use of your virtues and your true talent.
What need of vain prestige?
Humanity,
Nature’s cry,
Justice,
Human rights
Are strong enough to avenge their insults
Without resorting to the maxims of saints.
But, you say,
Against the terrible league of these brigands,
Children of terror,
I rebuild a powerful dike:
The multitude needs error.
To guide its conduct it lacks
The sentiment of justice and honor
That the learned man bears in his heart.


Among the French morality is destroyed:
They must be made to fear
The eternal flames.
No my friend, this is a weak excuse.
You don’t believe this,
So don’t go preaching it.
A free people is worthy of approaching truths
That a bonze refuses it.
To serve the people
Must we abuse them?
What, you say, no religion?
No suffering or reward after death?
If among the shades there is no difference
Between good and bad acts
What will be the brake,
And what the goad?
Do you recall the seductive system
We loved to discuss?
Yes, we said,
Man bears within himself the rewards and sufferings to come.
Let our spirit guard the memory
When it flies off into the light,
And without nectar or houris or heaters
We'll find hell or paradise.


Dark crimes: these are your barriers,
And virtue is the divine price.
O conscience, you incorruptible judge,
Severe Judge, consoling friend,
Who can brave your horrible agony?
Who doesn’t feel your secret kindness?
You pursue the barbarian
Who despoiled the weak and the orphan
To his death bed.


It is you who say to the greedy:
"To appease me, restore and repair,"
Who supported Bailly’s firmness when,
Covered in insults,
He leapt into immortality
From the gallows reserved for the wise


The soul is divine and survives whole;
I believed this once
And am certain of it now.
Does a new body, invisible or shining,
Replace the crude envelope?
Is it a tissue light and transparent
Of pure ether bright light?


The order of the heavens hides it mysteries from you.


What’s important is that the soul survives;
In the celestial empire it holds on
To the gentle thoughts that moved it
Down here.
Listen to me,
You who glory inspires:
I here forget Merope and Zaire
And recall saving Calas.
To hold up virtue as it stumbles,
To support the authority of the law
Don’t these simple and consoling truths
Have as much weight as
The errors by which sycophants want to rule
In order to reestablish kings?
No! The French, this renowned people,
Will not fall for fables;
They no longer want to lie down before
A man who, sitting in the corner, stuffs himself
And causes the modest to blush.
They no longer want to solicit of Rome
Those vain pardons it sells.
The masks have been torn from the charlatans:
Enough have been damned because of an apple.


As for INRI
(just between us)
I've always been a bit jealous:
I've always esteemed the MAN for his touching and sublime morality:
He must be quoted with praise.
But if he was the gentlest of men
His successors have poorly imitated him.
In his name they've persecuted,
In his name, at the two ends of the earth,
His cross in hand,
These cruel men for thirteen centuries
Have borne flames and wars.
Placing the people under their authority
Means betraying them,
Means being a false friend.
Remember our friend le Franc
Who rhymed Pope and was unfaithful to him.
Thinking he was in court
He came looking for a quarrel
And was crushed with no respect for his rank.
The ‘who,’ the ‘what,’ the ‘for,’ the ‘if,’ the ‘when'
Fell like hail on believers.


I love your Warwick and I jeered Didon
But on this point there’s nothing to be said:
If you wish to distort the epigram I use against
Every evil sermon,
Instead of flattering superstition be eloquent
And CRUSH THE LOATHSOME THING!