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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Greatness and Utility
By Voltaire (1694–1778)
 

WHOEVER arrives in Paris from the depths of a remote province, with money to spend and a name in ac or ille, can talk about “a man like me,” “a man of my quality,” and hold a merchant in sovereign contempt. The merchant again so constantly hears his business spoken of with disdain that he is fool enough to blush for it. Yet is there not a question which is the more useful to a State,—a thickly bepowdered lord who knows exactly at what time the King rises and what time he goes to bed, and gives himself mighty airs of greatness while he plays the part of a slave in a minister’s ante-room; or the merchant who enriches his country, gives orders from his counting-house at Surat or Cairo, and contributes to the happiness of a whole globe?  1
 
  NOT long ago a distinguished company were discussing the trite and frivolous question who was the greatest man, Cæsar, Alexander, Tamerlane, or Cromwell. Somebody answered that it was undoubtedly Isaac Newton. He was right; for if true greatness consists in having received from heaven a powerful understanding, and in using it to enlighten one’s self and all others, then such a one as Newton, who is hardly to be met with once in ten centuries, is in truth the great man…. It is to him who masters our minds by the force of truth, not to those who enslave men by violence; it is to him who understands the universe, not to those who disfigure it,—that we owe our reverence!  2
 
 
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