Voltaire: Lettres Philosophiques

  • C. J. Betts
Part of the Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idees / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 104)


To judge from the number of apologias published in the period from the Lettres persanes in 1721 to the Lettres philosophiques in 1734, free thought was either on the retreat or only in mild disagreement with orthodoxy. The number rises continuously until 1720, and falls from 1725 until 1745.1 From about 1715, moreover, works in defence of Christianity are of small distinction, except for Houtteville’s in 1722. There is one outstanding figure, or rather reputation: Fénelon had died in 1715, after years of provincial exile at Cambrai, defeated by Bossuet’s intransigence over Quietism, but his writings were extremely influential and did much to create a philosophic, liberal Christianity which is sometimes difficult to distinguish from deism.2 His classicizing, moralizing novel Télémaque, of 1699, was one of the eighteenth century’s favourite books and influenced Montesquieu in his allegory of the Troglodytes;3 it shows the religion of classical antiquity as a vague and idealized worship of ‘les dieux’.4 His Traité de l’existence de Dieu (1715) greatly strengthened the concept of natural religion, which was common ground for deists and Christians.5


Critical Edition Christian Religion Natural Religion True Religion Christian Concept 
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© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, The Hague 1984

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  • C. J. Betts

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