Voltaire was a famous French writer, thinker, and leader of the Enlightenment movement in the 18th century, but his admiration and even admiration for Britain is well known all over the world. He once said:
God, I really love the British.
God punish me if I don’t love them more than the French!
As an outstanding Frenchman, he loves the British so much. The reason is probably the consensus of many French intellectuals at that time. Britain and France face each other across the sea, but it has already mastered maritime hegemony, its industry and commerce are developed, the bourgeoisie has stepped onto the political stage, and started the industrial revolution. The bourgeois revolution in 1640 established the British parliamentary democracy with three powers. Faced with a dark, authoritarian continent, people seem to think that Britain is the island of freedom. “Even if the British nobles competed to imitate the language, dress and etiquette of the French court, Britain in the 18th century was indeed a freer and more tolerant place than France” (Bruma’s “Voltaire’s Coconut: The British Culture Craze in Europe” , translated by Liu Xuelan and Xiao Ping, Joint Publishing, 2007 edition, p. 28). Voltaire had a profound experience of this.
Voltaire was born in a wealthy bourgeois family near the Pont Neuf in Paris on November 22, 1694. Formerly known as Francois Marie Arouet (Francois Marie Arouet). Voltaire entered St. Louis High School for education at the age of 10 and left high school at the age of 17. When he graduated, he declared to his father: to be a poet. His father was extremely annoyed and resolutely opposed him “becoming a guy who is useless to the society, tires his parents, and dies of hunger” 1997 edition, p. 282. The translation has been changed], unswervingly sent him to law school. It is said that he resisted by rarely going to class.
Voltaire may have a rebellious head. At the age of 12, he read the works of Enlightenment thinker Bell and doubted the existence of hell. In 1716, when Voltaire was 22 years old, he was expelled from Paris for writing a poem satirizing the regent Philip, Duke of Orléans, and his daughter, Duchess Feli, and lived in Shulei for eight months. When Louis XIV died, Louis XV was only five years old, so the Duke of Orléans was regent. In 1717, Voltaire wrote the work “The Reign of Children” which satirized the court’s promiscuity. At that time, the regent sold half of the horses in the royal stable for the sake of economy. Voltaire sneered: “Why don’t you cut off half of the donkeys stuffed in the court, then you will be really knowledgeable.” One day the Prince Regent met this genius boy in the park and said, “Mr. Arrouet, I bet you that I can show you something you have never seen before.” “What?” “The Bastille The inside story.” [Will Durant’s “The Story of Philosophy” (Part 1), p. 283] Sure enough, Arue saw it the next day. He was held there for 11 months. It was in the Bastille that he took the pseudonym “Voltaire”. The Duke of Orleans once commented on Voltaire: “If you are not a mortal, you will be complete.”
One night in December 1725, in a theater in Paris, when Voltaire was presenting to the famous tragic actress A. A young aristocrat named Rohan rudely interrupted Adrienne LeCourfleur’s courtship. When they were jealous and ready to fight, Mademoiselle Lecoufle fainted to the ground. A few days later, Voltaire was called out by Roon when he was having dinner at a friend’s house, and was dragged into the carriage and beaten. Roon was still telling the thugs not to hit the poet’s head teasingly, because “something good may come out of that head.” Voltaire determined to learn fencing after being humiliated, and vowed to avenge Roon and fight a duel. After a little consideration, the Rohan family denounced Voltaire and threw him into the Bastille again. He was held there for 14 days. He was then put on a carriage to Calais and expelled from France.
Voltaire came to England in May 1726, where he lived for more than two years. Leaving France in this state of mind naturally did not leave much of a good impression on France. However, Voltaire’s first impression of England was its sunny weather. He later recalled: “The sky was clear and cloudless, just like the brightest day in southern France.” It seems that the sky in England seems to be bluer than that in France. Then he saw the ordinary Englishman “living in freedom and abundance.” “Here art is respected and rewarded, people live in different positions, but apart from differences in virtue, there is no difference between people” (Bruma’s “Voltaire’s Coconut: The British Culture Craze in Europe”, page 33). England in Voltaire’s eyes is really a bit like a paradise on earth. So Voltaire asks from the bottom of his heart: why can’t the world all be like England? In other words, why can’t the kind of law that can guarantee British liberty be adopted by other countries? This seems to be asking: Why can’t coconuts ripen in Rome if they can bear fruit in India?
This is Voltaire’s coconut problem. In 1999, the Dutch-British scholar Ian Bruma published the book “Voltaire’s Coconuts – British Culture Craze in Europe” (VOLTAIRE’S COCNUTS or Anglomania in Europe), which focused on describing the relationship and entanglement between Europeans and Britain and resentment. In 2007, the book was translated into Chinese and published by Beijing Sanlian Bookstore. Voltaire observed, “Commerce has enriched the citizens of England, and has helped them to acquire liberty, which in turn has expanded commerce; and from this the prestige of the state has grown. Commerce has gradually created With the power of the navy, the British became the overlords of the sea” (Voltaire’s Philosophical Letters, translated by Gao Guan et al., Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 2005 edition, p. 48). Commerce makes citizens rich, citizens rich make the country strong, and the country strong guarantees the liberty of the citizens. This, according to Voltaire, was the genius of English law and government. Here, individual liberty, wealth growth, and the spirit of the rule of law go hand in hand. The British legal system endows everyone with natural rights, and these rights are: complete liberty of person and property, freedom to write opinions to the state, freedom of religion, etc. Decades later, when Voltaire mentioned English laws in section 7 of the “Government” entry in “Problems Concerning the Encyclopedia” (1771), he suddenly asked: “Why do other countries not adopt these laws? Is this equivalent to asking why?” Coconuts can ripen in India, but not in Rome? You can answer: In England, these coconuts are not old and mature; you can answer: they have not been cultivated recently; success; it can be answered: you can ship coconuts from other provinces, say, to Bosnia or Serbia. So try to grow them!” (Voltaire’s Philosophical Letters, p. 47) Voltaire’s comment on this “English law Although there is still some hesitation about the universality of the “coconut”, I still feel that the whole world might as well “try planting it”.
In March 1729, Voltaire returned to France. Soon he published “Letters of Philosophy” (also translated as “British Correspondence Collection”, Letters on the English, 1734), which criticized the French feudal system and promoted materialist philosophy. This is a thought travelogue of a thought traveler, and Voltaire focuses on the thoughts of the British. This book was accused of being “immoral, against religious morals, and contempt for the dignity of the court.” Voltaire knew that he was on the way to revisit the Bastille, so he ran away and took his wife away. . The bookseller who published the book was not so lucky. Although he survived, he went to the Bastille.
Subsequently, he lived for 15 years (1734-1749) with his girlfriend, Mme Emilie du Chatelet (Mme Emilie du Chatelet, 1706-1749) in the ancient and quiet castle of Cirey in Champagne province, where he created a large number of literature. He said that Mrs. Chadlet was “a great man whose only mistake was being a woman”. “The moral climate then permitted a woman to keep one more lover in her own family, so long as it was done with due respect to the face of human hypocrisy; now she has chosen not only a lover but a genius, and the whole world will forgive her.” [Williams] Durant, “The Story of Philosophy” (Part 1), p. 291]. When Madame Chadlet died in 1749, Voltaire was once devastated. In 1750 he came to Berlin at the invitation of King Frederick II of Prussia. He hoped that the trip would make a difference politically, but failed to do so.
In 1755 he bought a small estate in Ferney on the French-Swiss border, where he spent his later years. Voltaire said: “On this earth, philosophers must have two or three burrows if they want to escape the pursuit of evil.” It is now renamed Ferney-Voltaire, and Voltaire’s former residence is preserved. In Voltaire’s bedroom, “the walls were surrounded by portraits of the great men he admired: Newton, Milton, and George Washington. There was also a larger portrait of Voltaire himself, rising to a In a mortal paradise greeted by angels and muses, beneath his feet his critics struggle like sinners in hell.” (Bruma, “Voltaire’s Coconut: The British Culture Craze in Europe”, pp. page 24). Voltaire carefully created a garden there, which he described as “perfectly English taste, following nature”. “It’s well-proportioned but quirky, with a few rustic touches here and there. There’s a nice patio with a view of a circular pond and fountain. Straight gravel paths lined with lime and poplar trees. Long backside of the house. The long paths are lined with straight hornbeams” (Bruma, Voltaire’s Coconut: The English Culture Craze in Europe, p. 25). Voltaire thought he had introduced the English garden to France, but “the garden was too small, too neat, too well-proportioned, too ornamental,” in short, it was still too French. It is said that Voltaire tried to grow pineapples there, just as he hoped to transfer English law to France, but the pineapples he planted did not survive the European winter.
Voltaire tried growing pineapples in Europe, but he didn’t try to transplant English laws around the world. “Perhaps some of Britain’s legal and political institutions are exportable, as the Commonwealth countries of India, Kenya and Bangladesh can attest, but ‘British coconuts’ from Asia and Africa do not taste sweet, and the charm of Britain It is precisely not the superficial similarities between her and these countries” (Lu Jiande, “Interests Behind Ideas—Cultural Politics”, Guangxi Normal University Press, 2005 edition, p. 17). It appears that there is no universal law or truth. Whether it is the law or the truth, there are conditions. There are no laws and truths that have always existed in the world, so there are no laws and truths that exist forever. Eternal laws and truths may exist as an ideal, but in reality they are always limited, changed, adjusted to new geography and circumstances. Voltaire’s garden may serve as an illustration. Therefore, although the ideal of law as a universal is beautiful, it is also necessary to be adaptable.
Voltaire naturally had a deep understanding of this, and his quick-wittedness and eloquence are well known. There seem to be two sides in him: on the one hand, his appearance is unattractive: ugly, pompous, oily, obscene, unscrupulous, and sometimes even hypocritical, in short, he rarely misses all the bad things of his time and region On the other hand, he is kind, considerate, and generous. He is as eager to help his friends as he is to attack his enemies. He can kill as soon as he drops his pen, but as soon as people come up to beg for peace, he immediately disarms. Voltaire was a genius, but a fickle genius. It is said that when Voltaire was in England, on his way home, he was insulted by some British people on the street because of his foreign attire. They scolded him and wanted to beat him up. Voltaire begged for mercy: “British heroes, isn’t it pitiful enough that I am not born British?” The group of “heroes” applauded in unison, lifted Voltaire and sent him back to his residence (Lu Jiande’s “Thoughts”) The interests behind it—An Essay on Cultural Politics, p. 16). Voltaire adapted well to the multifaceted nature of England with his variety and mercuriality.
Voltaire’s highest acclaim for English writers was Pope, and he made a fierce attack on Shakespeare. He called Shakespeare “a buffoon from the country,” “a drunken bastard,” a “water bearer,” a “savage natural man,” and a “monster.” The relationship between nobility, banter and horror. He wrote in a letter: “It is horrifying that this monster has an respondent in France, and that the one who contributed to this catastrophe and horror is I – the first person to speak of this Shakespeare long ago. It was I who first showed the French after discovering some gems in his great dung-heap. I did not expect that I would one day cause the countrymen to trample under their feet the laurels of Corneille and Racine. It is to put gold on the face of a barbaric actor” [Wellek’s History of Modern Literary Criticism (Volume I), translated by Yang Qishen and Yang Ziwu, Shanghai Translation Publishing House, 1997, p. 48]. Voltaire was the vanguard of the French Revolution in politics and a classicist in art.
Voltaire advocated tolerance, which is almost synonymous with liberty. In 1769, at the age of 75, Voltaire wrote a tragedy called Zoroastrians, or Tolerance. Although Voltaire and Rousseau were both leaders of the Enlightenment, their propositions and views were not the same, and sometimes they were even tit for tat. Rousseau advocated “natural man”, and Voltaire emphasized the civilization of “natural man”. Voltaire once replied to Rousseau in this way: “So far, no one has been so clever and witty as you, trying to turn us into animals; reading your book makes people want to crawl. However, since I gave up this idea, now It has been almost sixty years, and it is regrettably impossible for me to think like this again.” Voltaire also said: “Rousseau is like a philosopher as a monkey is like a man.” However, Voltaire also said He said: “I don’t agree with a word of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to speak.” [Will Durant’s “Story of Philosophy” (Part 1), pp. 348-349] And when Rousseau was attacked everywhere , and was expelled, Voltaire warmly invited him to live with him at home.
Of course, Voltaire himself, who advocated tolerance, was sometimes narrow-minded. He is said to have kept four monkeys at Ferney’s house, named after Voltaire’s opponents. The purpose of Voltaire raising these monkeys was to vent his anger. He kept pricking his nose with needles, twisting his ears, stepping on his tail, and wearing a tall hat to tease and bully these monkeys (Lu Jiande’s “Interests Behind Ideas – Cultural Politics” Collected Works, p. 17). Voltaire, who advocated tolerance, also had moments of intolerance.
As early as when Voltaire was preparing to spend his old age in Ferney, he built a cemetery for himself there. He hoped that he would have a decent funeral after his death. On one of his headstones he wrote: “A wise man would say that I am neither in nor out.” In fact, he never went in, as he was buried in Paris.
In February 1778, the 84-year-old Voltaire returned to Paris and was warmly welcomed by all walks of life. “Women tried to pluck a clump of fur from the Great Elder’s coat as a relic for posterity. When he rode to the theater in a blue carriage covered with gold stars to watch a performance, the entire Académie de France – save for the clergy – — all waiting in the theater. When he walked into the theater leaning on a cane, the audience stood up and cheered: “Long live Voltaire! Long live the citizens of the world!” Pass by and lay a wreath on the marble statue. More people wait outside the theater to see Voltaire after the show” (Bruma, “Voltaire’s Coconut: The British Culture Craze in Europe”, p. 51 , page 54). Voltaire saw himself deified while alive.
Two months later, on May 30, 1778, Voltaire died of prostate cancer. The church refused to bury him, but Voltaire’s friends took advantage of the moonlight to transport his body out of Paris and buried him outside Paris. Ten years later, when the French Revolution broke out, his body was transported back to Paris and placed in the Pantheon with great solemnity. Humans are worse than God, Voltaire was not buried in Ferney as planned before him, but perhaps Voltaire wanted to be buried in the Pantheon. And as a writer and thinker, Voltaire’s reputation spread far and wide. What Voltaire sowed in France finally reaped all over the world. It seems that although Voltaire’s coconut is not a universal truth, it is not a castle in the air either.