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Letters On England Paperback – September 10, 2008

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Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author


François-Marie Arouet, writing under the pseudonym Voltaire, was born in 1694 into a Parisian bourgeois family. Educated by Jesuits, he was an excellent pupil but one quickly enraged by dogma. An early rift with his father—who wished him to study law—led to his choice of letters as a career. Insinuating himself into court circles, he became notorious for lampoons on leading notables and was twice imprisoned in the Bastille.

By his mid-thirties his literary activities precipitated a four-year exile in England where he won the praise of Swift and Pope for his political tracts. His publication, three years later in France, of Lettres philosophiques sur les Anglais (1733)—an attack on French Church and State—forced him to flee again. For twenty years Voltaire lived chiefly away from Paris. In this, his most prolific period, he wrote such satirical tales as “Zadig” (1747) and “Candide” (1759). His old age at Ferney, outside Geneva, was made bright by his adopted daughter, “Belle et Bonne,” and marked by his intercessions in behalf of victims of political injustice. Sharp-witted and lean in his white wig, impatient with all appropriate rituals, he died in Paris in 1778—the foremost French author of his day.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (September 10, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1440418403
  • ISBN-13: 978-1440418402
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #230,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By mp on August 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
I'm starting to think that there is a certain clique of authors, to wit, Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Swift, and Voltaire, who have developed a popular perception that tragically limits or constrains their legacy in the world of to-day. For Voltaire's part, when he is spoken of, it is generally in regard to "Candide," certainly a great work, but not the be-all or end-all of his particular genius. "Letters on England," a series of musings on his exile in England from 1726-1729, is a work which gives a much different perspective on Voltaire from the cynical, suspected atheist we've all come to know and love.
The primary focal points of the "Letters" are comparsions of England and France in the realms of religion, politics, and the arts and sciences. While Voltaire clearly criticizes the French institutions of his day, he does not intend us to look at England as the ideal society. In religious matters, Voltaire derides the monolith of French Catholicism, acknowledging the relative harmlessness of English sectarianism - saying "if there were only one relgion in England, there would be danger of despotism...but there are thirty, and they live in peace and happiness". Politically, Voltaire admires the progress England has made since the Magna Carta, even though it means limited enfranchisement, and division of legislative power. In the arts and sciences, Voltaire examines the ingenuity of philosophers like Bacon, Newton, and Locke, and the ability of authors like Shakespeare, Pope, Swift, Wycherley, and others, to make their reputations and livings largely independent of a feudal patronage system.
Throughout the "Letters," Voltaire privileges common sense, forward thinking, and right reasoning.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Robert E. Murena Jr. on March 11, 2005
Format: Paperback
Letters on England is enlightening on several levels and a very interesting description of the society politics and science of England in the mid 18th century from a French point of view. Voltaire being profoundly interested in all aspects of life and all types of knowledge provides an astounding account of sundry aspects of England from his patently Voltaire style. He makes the book interesting by including his take on some of the peculiarities of English life. Many of the letters are rather short and they need not be read in any particular sequence. The style is strait forward and they are relatively objective for Voltaire's work. I think these letters are indicative of Voltaire's style and provide a unique glimpse of many often overlooked aspects of English culture in the 18th century.

He is particularly interested in the Quakers and devotes several of his letters entirely to their customs and beliefs. Yes these letters are certainly interesting. For anyone studying religious toleration (or intolerance) in England these letters may be of certain value.

My favorite and possibly the most endearing letters is the one devoted to Francis Bacon. He alludes to the fact that Bacon was involved in an embezzlement scandal for which he was removed from office. Of course this is certainly true but he, as many others have, forgives him for this since he has provided so much for mankind. I feel that Voltaire saw much of the same in Bacon that he saw in himself. We must remember that Voltaire too was a fantastic speculator (investor) and many accused him of possibly crossing into the realm of less than legal activities.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By M. D. Edge on July 18, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
This is one of the most entertaining books I've read in a long time. Voltaire's (mostly complimentary) commentary on the English spans religion, government, philosophy, and science. It's always interesting to read a great thinker's take on other great thinkers. Most of Voltaire's subjects will be familiar to modern readers (e.g. Quakers, John Locke, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, Shakespeare...) which makes the book easily readable by a contemporary audience.

The humor is sharp and the observations are keen throughout. And it's free!

Note that this version leaves out a letter on Pascal that is included in some other collections.
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Voltaire spent the years from 1726 to 1729 in exile in England. His striking observations about that country were published a few years later, but were banned in his home country of France. In these twenty-five letters, he holds up a mirror to France by praising English liberty, democracy, and tolerance.

Voltaire was an eighteenth-century deist but was enamored of England's religious tolerance vis-à-vis France, and discusses the Quakers, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and describes how religious freedom worked. He examines Blaise Pascal's Pensées, noting his areas of disagreement in many areas, including that of the nature of man.

Many of Voltaire's views are what we would describe today as libertarian, and he was a great admirer of English trade, commerce, and businessmen. The author also comments on John Locke, Isaac Newton, and figures from English literature and their styles. He even devotes a letter to smallpox inoculation.

"Letters on England" is a fascinating look at key aspects of English culture and life, and American readers will recognize some of the characteristics of England that later found even greater expression in this country. As it is true that in the area of liberty England is an outlier compared with the rest of Europe, America is an outlier compared to England (and Texas is an outlier compared to America).
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