Of limited tolerance
I’ve been reading Romans de Voltaire – présenté par Roger Peyrefitte (Gallimard, 1961 — Zadig, Le Monde, comme il va, Micromégas, Le Blanc et le Noir, Candide, L’Ingénu, L’homme aux quarante écus, La Princesse de Babylone, Le Taureau blanc) because I felt a need for Voltaire’s sceptical, satirical atheistic voice, to counter all the blaring nonsense on the social networks, TV, and political foghorning. I also looked to him as a model of tolerance — but no, he was truly tolerant only of those who agreed to disagree about monarchy, religion and other shiboleths.
His utter intolerance of Élie Fréron, one of France’s first journalists (and possibly the best of the 18th century), is revealed in Candide, where Voltaire describes a critic (unnamed, but clearly referring to Fréron) as “ce gros cochon… un mal vivant… qui gagne sa vie à dire du mal de toutes les pièces et de tous les livres; il hait quiconque réussit comme les eunuques haïssent les jouissants”. Fréron was an outspoken critic of the errors in Voltaire’s historical works and a defender of institutions that Voltaire attacked: la patrie, la réligion et le roi, but what probably most irritated Voltaire is that he had bested him in repartee. Very clever chap, that Fréron, but now nearly forgotten.
Candide is quite amusing, and a reminder that cruelty, injustice and ignorance were as rampant in Voltaire’s century as in ours. Zadig is simply silly. I haven’t yet read the others, and may not.