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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsLetters On England - LETTER XX - ON SUCH OF THE NOBILITY AS CULTIVATE THE BELLES LETTRES
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Letters On England - LETTER XX - ON SUCH OF THE NOBILITY AS CULTIVATE THE BELLES LETTRES Post by :Colin_Meunier Category :Nonfictions Author :Voltaire Date :January 2011 Read :2529

Click below to download : Letters On England - LETTER XX - ON SUCH OF THE NOBILITY AS CULTIVATE THE BELLES LETTRES (Format : PDF)

Letters On England - LETTER XX - ON SUCH OF THE NOBILITY AS CULTIVATE THE BELLES LETTRES

There once was a time in France when the polite arts were cultivated
by persons of the highest rank in the state. The courtiers
particularly were conversant in them, although indolence, a taste
for trifles, and a passion for intrigue, were the divinities of the
country. The Court methinks at this time seems to have given into a
taste quite opposite to that of polite literature, but perhaps the
mode of thinking may be revived in a little time. The French are of
so flexible a disposition, may be moulded into such a variety of
shapes, that the monarch needs but command and he is immediately
obeyed. The English generally think, and learning is had in greater
honour among them than in our country--an advantage that results
naturally from the form of their government. There are about eight
hundred persons in England who have a right to speak in public, and
to support the interest of the kingdom; and near five or six
thousand may in their turns aspire to the same honour. The whole
nation set themselves up as judges over these, and every man has the
liberty of publishing his thoughts with regard to public affairs,
which shows that all the people in general are indispensably obliged
to cultivate their understandings. In England the governments of
Greece and Rome are the subject of every conversation, so that every
man is under a necessity of perusing such authors as treat of them,
how disagreeable soever it may be to him; and this study leads
naturally to that of polite literature. Mankind in general speak
well in their respective professions. What is the reason why our
magistrates, our lawyers, our physicians, and a great number of the
clergy, are abler scholars, have a finer taste, and more wit, than
persons of all other professions? The reason is, because their
condition of life requires a cultivated and enlightened mind, in the
same manner as a merchant is obliged to be acquainted with his
traffic. Not long since an English nobleman, who was very young,
came to see me at Paris on his return from Italy. He had written a
poetical description of that country, which, for delicacy and
politeness, may vie with anything we meet with in the Earl of
Rochester, or in our Chaulieu, our Sarrasin, or Chapelle. The
translation I have given of it is so inexpressive of the strength
and delicate humour of the original, that I am obliged seriously to
ask pardon of the author and of all who understand English.
However, as this is the only method I have to make his lordship's
verses known, I shall here present you with them in our tongue:-


"Qu'ay je donc vu dans l'Italie?
Orgueil, astuce, et pauvrete,
Grands complimens, peu de bonte
Et beaucoup de ceremonie.

"L'extravagante comedie
Que souvent l'Inquisition
Vent qu'on nomme religion
Mais qu'ici nous nommons folie.

"La Nature en vain bienfaisante
Vent enricher ses lieux charmans,
Des pretres la main desolante
Etouffe ses plus beaux presens.

"Les monsignors, soy disant Grands,
Seuls dans leurs palais magnifiques
Y sont d'illustres faineants,
Sans argent, et sans domestiques.

"Pour les petits, sans liberte,
Martyrs du joug qui les domine,
Ils ont fait voeu de pauvrete,
Priant Dieu par oisivete
Et toujours jeunant par famine.

"Ces beaux lieux du Pape benis
Semblent habitez par les diables;
Et les habitans miserables
Sont damnes dans le Paradis."

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