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Analysis of Voltaire’s “Letters on England” Essay

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Updated: Jun 21st, 2019

Votaire’s letters on England is a series of essays that were published first in the year 1733 by Francois Marie Arouet. In total, the series is made up of twenty-four letters. The letters can be interpreted as portraying political, religious, philosophical, and cultural themes. This paper analyzes the Votaire’s letters from the context of these four themes.

First, religion is a key dominant theme in the first seven letters. Letters 1 to 4 talk about Quakers while letters 5, 6, and 7 address the Anglicans, Presbyterians and Soicinians respectively. Quakers are described from the basis of their history, customs, and religious beliefs. Votaire particularly praises them since they lack baptism, priests, and communion.

In particular, according to The Pennsylvania State University, Quakers assert, “we are not of opinion that the sprinkling water on a child’s head makes him a Christian” (8). However, Votaire is concerned that the religion is highly influential due to its capacity to manipulate its believers through magnificent organizations.

In letter 5, Votaire compares Anglicanism with Catholicism claiming, “With regard to the morals of the English clergy, they are more regular than those of France” (Votaire 27). Nevertheless, he criticizes Anglicanism for remaining faithful to Catholicism rituals. In letter 6, Votaire sees Presbyterians as highly intolerant coupled with being over strict.

This argument is supported by Votaire when he writes, “No operas, plays, or concerts are allowed in London on Sunday” (Votaire 31). Finally, in letter 7, Votaire discusses the practices of Socinians claiming that, under the religion, men choose to abide by the teachings of authors who are wretched. Arguably, amid the discussion of the differences in the religions, Votaire supports the idea of religious tolerance.

This holds because he enormously believes that prosecution acerbated to one religion only produces the effects of hiking proselytes. Thus, these four letters can be interpreted as an opposition against the dominance of a single religion in the public domain and or opposition against religious conflicts stemming from the differences in beliefs.

Secondly, the theme of politics is central to the letters of Votaire. This is reflected in the eighth and ninth letters. Letter 8 discusses the political system of the English land in comparison to the political system of France and Rome.

While Votaire is concerned that Britain would consider engaging in conflicts based on religious reasons, he is also concerned that Rome would serve tyranny, as opposed to liberty, in the case of Britain. In letter 9, Votaire mediates on the history of Magna Carta coupled with other aspects such as tax levying and equal accordance of justice. Arguably, the concept of political moderation is an eminent concern of the Votaire’s letters.

He thinks that Britain is one of the nations, which limit the political power accorded to the kings so that, amid giving them substantive capacity to do what is good for the people, they cannot commit evil to the people.

With regard to The Pennsylvania State University, for a political climate to exist so that “nobles are great without insolence, though there are no Vassals, and where the People share in the government without confusion” (67), Votaire believes that an immense struggle is necessary. While Britain enjoys the fruits of the struggle, France is not capable of retraining the powers given to her political leaders.

Nevertheless, Votaire is still not satisfied with the manner in which the political system of England was run. This is perhaps well supported by the argument that the “house of Lords and that of the Commons divide the legislative power under the King” (Votaire 52). However, at the time of his writing, this notion was under immense debate.

Thirdly, the Votaire’s letters may be analyzed as depicting the theme of the power possessed by experimental philosophy. Before the experiments were used to realize inventions, Voltaire believes that the inventions that were realized were principally attributable to mere luck.

In this perspective, The Pennsylvania State University argues, “Voltaire’s narrative sets up a chain of heroes, including Locke, Bacon, and Newton who radically reconfigured how human beings encountered the world” (21). These heroes made it possible for humanity to discover the universe through circumscription of the universe’s metaphysical knowledge.

In the same sense, Votaire is opposed to Descartes’ approach in philosophy entailing thinking and reasoning beyond his senses’ abilities. Rather, he subscribes to the philosophical approach of thinking within the capacity of sensory experience.

Lastly, Votaire’s letters may be analyzed as being depictive of the cultural history of England. In this end, he not only endeavors to compile a catalogue of cultural coupled with intellectual heroes born in England among them being Lock, Bacon, Newton, and Shakespeare among others, but also thinks that the responsibility of propelling civilizations forward rests on the intellectual geniuses but not military leaders and kings.

Consequently, Votaire seeks to make people see England as being shaped to the form at the time of his writings by geniuses.

Therefore, men must put in place mechanism for ensuring freedom of thought as opposed to subscribing to some beliefs/structures that are imposed to them since “ opinions are subject to revolutions as well as empires” (Votaire 43). Hence, freedom of thought is the only way to enhance a continued development of England.

Conclusively, the focus of the paper was to analyze the Votaire’s letters on England. This was done from the dimension of the letters being reflective of political, religious, cultural and philosophical themes. The paper has further given a detailed revelation of how these themes are evident in the letter afore-discussed. Otherwise, the letters provide an informative piece of work.

Works Cited

Votaire, Francois. Letters on England. Rockville, MD: Arc Manor, 2008. Print.

The Pennsylvania State University. Letters on England by Voltaire, 2002. Web.

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