Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

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

IT is certain that the sun and the atmosphere stamp themselves on all the productions of nature, from man to mushrooms. In the grand age of Louis XIV., the ingenious Fontenelle remarked:—  1
  “It might be suggested that the torrid and the two frigid zones are not well suited to the sciences. Down to the present day, these have not traveled beyond Egypt and Mauritania on the one side, nor on the other beyond Sweden. Perhaps it is not mere chance that their range is between Mount Atlas and the Baltic Sea. But whether these are the limits appointed to them by nature, or whether we may hope to see great authors among Laplanders or negroes, is not disclosed.”  2
  Chardin, one of the few travelers who reason and investigate, goes still further than Fontenelle, when speaking of Persia. “The temperature of warm climates,” he says, “enervates the mind as well as the body, and dissipates that fire which the imagination requires for invention. In such climates men are incapable of the long study and intense application necessary to the production of first-rate works in the liberal and mechanic arts,” etc. But Chardin did not recollect that Sa’dī and Lokman were Persians, nor that Archimedes belonged to Sicily, where the heat is greater than in three-fourths of Persia. He forgot that Pythagoras once taught geometry to the Brahmins. The Abbé Dubos supported and developed the opinion of Chardin. A century and a half earlier, Bodin made this idea the foundation of a system in his ‘Republic’ and in his ‘Method of History’: he asserts that climate determines the principle both of the government and the religion of nations. Diodorus of Sicily held the same opinion long before Bodin. The author of the ‘Spirit of Laws,’ without quoting authorities, carried this idea farther than Chardin and Bodin. Certain classes believed him to have first suggested it, and imputed it to him as a crime. This was quite in character with the classes referred to. There are men everywhere who possess more zeal than understanding.  3
  We might ask these believers in climatic influences, why the emperor Julian, in his ‘Misopogon,’ says that what pleased him in the Parisians was the gravity of their characters and the severity of their manners; and why these Parisians, without the slightest change of climate, are now like playful children whom the government punishes and smiles upon at the same moment, and who themselves at the next moment also smile, and sing lampoons upon their masters. Why are the Egyptians, who are described as still more grave than the Parisians, at present the most lazy, frivolous, and cowardly of peoples, after having conquered the whole world for their pleasure, under a king called Sesostris? Why are there no longer Anacreons, Aristotles, or Zeuxises, at Athens? Whence comes it that Rome, instead of its Ciceros, Catos, and Livys, breeds citizens who dare not speak their minds, and a brutalized populace whose supreme happiness consists in having oil cheap and in gazing at processions?  4
  Cicero, in his letters, is occasionally very jocose concerning the English. He desires his brother Quintus, Cæsar’s lieutenant, to inform him whether he finds any great philosophers among them in his expedition to Britain. How little he suspected that that country would one day produce mathematicians beyond his comprehension! Yet the climate has not altered, and the sky of London is as cloudy now as it was then.  5
  Everything changes, both in bodies and minds, by time. Perhaps the Americans will in some future period cross the sea to instruct Europeans in the arts. Climate has some influence, government a hundred times more; religion and government combined, more still.  6
  Certainly climate influences religion in respect to ceremonies and usages. A legislator could have experienced no difficulty in inducing the Indians to bathe in the Ganges at certain appearances of the moon. Bathing is a high gratification to them. Had a like purification been proposed to the people who inhabit the banks of the Dwina, near Archangel, the proposer would have been stoned. Forbid pork to an Arab, who, after eating this meat (miserable and disgusting in Arabia), would be afflicted with leprosy, he will obey you with joy; prohibit it to a Westphalian, and he will be tempted to knock you down. Abstinence from wine is a good precept of religion in Arabia, where orange, citron, and lemon waters are necessary to health. Mahomet would not have forbidden wine in Switzerland, especially before going into battle….  7
  Religions have always turned upon two pivots,—forms or ceremonies, and faith: forms and ceremonies depend much on climate; faith not at all. A doctrine will be received with equal readiness under the equator or at the pole; it will be equally rejected at Batavia and the Orcades; while it will be maintained unguibus et rostro—with tooth and nail—at Salamanca. This depends not on sun and atmosphere, but solely upon opinion, that fickle empress of the world. Certain libations of wine will be naturally enjoined in a country abounding in vineyards; and it would never occur to the legislative mind to institute sacred mysteries which could not be celebrated without wine, in such a country as Norway. The burning of incense is expressly commanded in a court where beasts are killed in honor of the divinity, and for the priests’ supper. This slaughter-house, called a temple, would be a place of abominable infection were it not continually purified; and without the use of aromatics, the religion of the ancients would have introduced the plague. The interior was even festooned with flowers to sweeten the air. But the cow is not a sacrificial animal in the burning territory of the Indian peninsula, because, while it supplies the indispensable milk, it is very rare in arid and barren districts; and because its flesh, being dry and tough, and yielding but little nourishment, would afford the Brahmins but sorry cheer. On the other hand, the creature comes to be considered sacred, by reason of its rarity and utility. The temple of Jupiter Ammon, where the heat is excessive, will be entered only with bare feet. To perform his devotions at Copenhagen, a man requires his feet to be warm and well covered.  8
  It is not thus with doctrine. Polytheism has been believed in all climates; and it is as easy for a Crim Tartar as for an inhabitant of Mecca to acknowledge one only incommunicable God, neither begotten nor begetting. It is by doctrine, more than by rites, that a religion extends from one climate to another. The doctrine of the unity of God passed rapidly from Medina to Mount Caucasus. Climate, then, yields to opinion….  9
  In Egypt the emblematical worship of animals succeeded to the doctrines of Thaut. The gods of the Romans afterwards shared Egypt with the dogs, the cats, and the crocodiles. To the Roman religion succeeded Christianity; that was completely banished by Mahometanism, which will perhaps be superseded by some new religion. In all these changes climate has effected nothing: government has done everything. We are here considering only second causes, without raising our unhallowed eyes to a directing Providence. The Christian religion, which received its birth in Syria, and grew up to fuller stature in Alexandria, inhabits now those countries where Tenbat and Irminsul, Freya, and Odin, were formerly adored.  10
  There are some nations whose religion is the result of neither climate nor government. What cause detached North Germany, Denmark, most of Switzerland, Holland, England, Scotland, and Ireland, from the Roman communion? Poverty. Indulgences and deliverances from purgatory for the souls of those whose bodies had no money, were sold too dear. The prelates and monks absorbed the whole revenue of a province. People adopted a cheaper religion. In short, after numerous civil wars, it was concluded that the papal faith was good for the nobles, and the reformed faith for citizens. Time will show whether the religion of the Greeks or of the Turks will prevail on the coasts of the Euxine and Ægean Seas.  11

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.