Voltaire in His Letters

Date: 1919

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A "Philosophe"



Liberty of the Press


As you have it in your power, sir, to do some service to letters, I implore you not to clip the wings of our writers so closely, nor to turn into barn-door fowls those who, allowed a start, might become eagles; reasonable liberty permits the mind to soar — slavery makes it creep.

Had there been a literary censorship in Rome, we should have had to-day neither Horace, Juvenal, nor the philosophical works of Cicero. If Milton, Dryden, Pope, and Locke had not been free, England would have had neither poets nor philosophers; there is something positively Turkish in proscribing printing; and hampering it is proscription. Be content with severely repressing defamatory libels, for they are crimes. . . .

You say that the magistrates who regulate the literary custom-house complain that there are too many books. That is just the same thing as if the provost of merchants complained there were too many provisions in Paris. People buy what they choose. A great library is like the city of Paris, in which there are about eight hundred thousand persons: you do not live with the whole crowd: you choose a certain society, and change it. So with books; you choose a few friends out of the many. There will be seven or eight thousand controversial books, and fifteen or sixteen thousand novels, which you will not read: a heap of pamphlets, which you will throw into the fire after you have read them. The man of taste will only read what is good; but the statesman will permit both bad and good. . . .

1 S. G. Tallentyre, New York and London, 1919. G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

2 Tallentyre, , pp. 31–33.


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Chicago: Tallentyre, ed., "Liberty of the Press," Voltaire in His Letters in Readings in Modern European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: D.C. Heath, 1926), 198. Original Sources, accessed September 29, 2023, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=AS9J4PJXK2SI2NX.

MLA: . "Liberty of the Press." Voltaire in His Letters, edited by Tallentyre, in Readings in Modern European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, D.C. Heath, 1926, page 198. Original Sources. 29 Sep. 2023. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=AS9J4PJXK2SI2NX.

Harvard: (ed.), 'Liberty of the Press' in Voltaire in His Letters. cited in 1926, Readings in Modern European History, ed. , D.C. Heath, Boston, pp.198. Original Sources, retrieved 29 September 2023, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=AS9J4PJXK2SI2NX.