Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO HIS MAJESTY THE KING OF PRUSSIA. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. VIII The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Mérope, Olympia, The Orphan of China, Brutus) and Part II (Mahomet, Amelia, Oedipus, Mariamne, Socrates).
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TO HIS MAJESTY THE KING OF PRUSSIA. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. VIII The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Mérope, Olympia, The Orphan of China, Brutus) and Part II (Mahomet, Amelia, Oedipus, Mariamne, Socrates). 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. VIII The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Mérope, Olympia, The Orphan of China, Brutus) and Part II (Mahomet, Amelia, Oedipus, Mariamne, Socrates).
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TO HIS MAJESTY
Rotterdam, January 20, 1742.
I am at present, like the pilgrims of Mecca, turning their eyes perpetually towards that city after leaving it, as I do mine towards the court of Prussia. My heart, deeply penetrated with the sense of your majesty’s goodness, knows no grief but that which arises from my incapacity of being always with you. I have taken the liberty to send your majesty a fresh copy of “Mahomet,” the sketch of which you have seen some time ago. This is a tribute which I pay to the lover of arts, the sensible critic, and above all, to the philosopher much more than to the sovereign. Your majesty knows by what motive I was inspired in the composition of that work. The love of mankind, and the hatred of fanaticism, two virtues that adorn your throne, guided my pen: I have ever been of opinion, that tragedy should correct, as well as move the heart. Of what consequence or importance to mankind are the passions or misfortunes of any of the heroes of antiquity, if they do not convey some instruction to us? It is universally acknowledged, that the comedy of “Tartuffe,” a piece hitherto unequalled, did a great deal of good in the world, by showing hypocrisy in its proper light; and why therefore should we not endeavor in a tragedy to expose that species of imposture which sets to work the hypocrisy of some, and the madness of others? Why may we not go back to the histories of those ancient ruffians, the illustrious founders of superstition and fanaticism, who first carried the sword to the altar to sacrifice all those who refused to embrace their doctrines?
They who tell us that these days of wickedness are past, that we shall never see any more Barcochebas, Mahomets, Johns of Leyden, etc., and that the flames of religious war are totally extinguished, in my opinion, pay too high a compliment to human nature. The same poison still subsists, though it does not appear so openly—some symptoms of this plague break out from time to time—enough to infect the earth: have not we in our own age seen the prophets of Cévennes killing in the name of God those of their sect, who were not sufficiently pliant to their purposes?
The action I have described is terrible; I do not know whether horror was ever carried farther on any stage. A young man born with virtuous inclinations, seduced by fanaticism, assassinates an old man who loves him; and whilst he imagines he is serving God, is, without knowing it, guilty of parricide: the murder is committed by the order of an impostor, who promises him a reward, which proves to be incest. This, I acknowledge, is full of horror; but your majesty is thoroughly sensible, that tragedy should not consist merely of love, jealousy, and marriage: even our histories abound in actions much more horrible than that which I have invented. Seid does not know that the person whom he assassinates is his father, and when he has committed the crime, feels the deepest remorse for it; but Mézeray tells us, that at Milan a father killed his son with his own hand on account of religion, and was not in the least sorry for it. The story of the two brothers Diaz is well known; one of them was at Rome and the other in Germany, in the beginning of the commotions raised by Luther: Bartholomew Diaz, hearing that his brother embraced the opinion of Luther at Frankfort, left Rome on purpose to assassinate him, and accordingly did so. Herrera, a Spanish author, tells us, that Bartholomew Diaz ran a great hazard in doing this, but nothing intimidates a man of honor guided by honesty. Herrera, we see, brought up in that holy religion which is an enemy to cruelty, a religion which teaches long-suffering and not revenge, was persuaded that honesty might make a man an assassin and a parricide: ought we not to rise up on all sides against such infernal maxims? These put the poniard into the hand of that monster who deprived France of Henry the Great: these placed the picture of James Clement on the altar, and his name amongst the saints: these took away the life of William, prince of Orange, founder of the liberty and prosperity of his country. Salcede shot at and wounded him in the forehead with a pistol; and Strada tells us, that Salcede would not dare to undertake that enterprise till he had purified his soul by confession at the feet of a Dominican, and fortified it by the holy sacrament. Herrera has something more horrible, and more ridiculous concerning it. “He stood firm,” says he, “after the example of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and His saints.” Balthasar Girard, who afterwards took away the life of that great man, behaved in the same manner as Salcede.
I have remarked, that all those who voluntarily committed such crimes were young men like Seid. Balthasar Girard was about twenty years old, and the four Spaniards who had bound themselves by oath with him to kill the prince, were of the same age. The monster who killed Henry III., was but four-and-twenty, and Poltrot, who assassinated the great Duke of Guise only twenty-five: this is the age of seduction and madness. In England I was once a witness to how far the power of fanaticism could work on a weak and youthful imagination: a boy of sixteen, whose name was Shepherd, engaged to assassinate King George I., your majesty’s grandfather by the mother’s side. What could prompt him to such madness? the only reason to be assigned was, that Shepherd was not of the same religion with the king. They took pity on his youth, offered him his pardon, and for a long time endeavored to bring him to repentance; but he always persisted in saying, it was better to obey God than man; and if they let him go, the first use he made of his liberty should be to kill the king: so that they were obliged at last to execute him as a monster, whom they despaired of bringing to any sense of reason.
I will venture to affirm that all who have seen anything of mankind must have remarked how easily nature is sometimes sacrificed to superstition: how many fathers have detested and disinherited their children! how many brothers have persecuted brothers on this destructive principle! I have myself seen instances of it in more than one family.
If superstition does not always signalize itself in those glaring crimes which history transmits to us, in society it does every day all the mischief it possibly can: disunites friends, separates kindred and relations, destroys the wise and worthy by the hands of fools and enthusiasts: it does not indeed every day poison a Socrates, but it banishes Descartes from a city which ought to be the asylum of liberty, and gives Jurieu, who acted the part of a prophet, credit enough to impoverish the wise philosopher Bayle: it banished the successor of the great Leibnitz, and deprives a noble assembly of young men that crowded to his lectures, of pleasure and improvement: and to re-establish him heaven must raise up amongst us a royal philosopher, that true miracle which is so rarely to be seen. In vain does human reason advance towards perfection, by means of that philosophy which of late has made so great a progress in Europe: in vain do you, most noble prince, both inspire and practise this humane philosophy: whilst in the same age wherein reason raises her throne on one side, the most absurd fanaticism adorns her altars on the other.
It may perhaps be objected to me, that, out of my too abundant zeal, I have made Mahomet in this tragedy guilty of a crime which in reality he was not capable of committing. The count de Boulainvilliers, some time since, wrote the life of this prophet, whom he endeavored to represent as a great man, appointed by Providence to punish the Christian world, and change the face of at least one-half of the globe. Mr. Sale likewise, who has given us an excellent translation of the Koran into English, would persuade us to look upon Mahomet as a Numa or a Theseus. I will readily acknowledge, that we ought to respect him, if born a legitimate prince, or called to government by the voice of the people, he had instituted useful and peaceful laws like Numa, or like Theseus defended his countrymen: but for a driver of camels to stir up a faction in his village; to associate himself with a set of wretched Koreish, and persuade them that he had an interview with the angel Gabriel; to boast that he was carried up to heaven, and there received part of that unintelligible book which contradicts common sense in every page; that in order to procure respect for this ridiculous performance he should carry fire and sword into his country, murder fathers, and ravish their daughters, and after all give those whom he conquered the choice of his religion or death; this is surely what no man will pretend to vindicate, unless he was born a Turk, and superstition had totally extinguished in him the light of nature.
Mahomet, I know, did not actually commit that particular crime which is the subject of this tragedy: history only informs us, that he took away the wife of Seid, one of his followers, and persecuted Abusophan, whom I call Zopir; but what is not that man capable of, who, in the name of God, makes war against his country? It was not my design merely to represent a real fact, but real manners and characters, to make men think as they naturally must in their circumstances; but above all it was my intention to show the horrid schemes which villainy can invent, and fanaticism put in practice. Mahomet is here no more than Tartuffe in arms.
Upon the whole I shall think myself amply rewarded for my labor, if any one of those weak mortals, who are ever ready to receive the impressions of a madness foreign to their nature, should learn from this piece to guard themselves against such fatal delusions; if, after being shocked at the dreadful consequences of Seid’s obedience, he should say to himself, why must I blindly follow the blind who cry out to me, hate, persecute all who are rash enough not to be of the same opinion with ourselves, even in things and matters we do not understand? what infinite service would it be to mankind to eradicate such false sentiments! A spirit of indulgence would make us all brothers; a spirit of persecution can create nothing but monsters. This I know is your majesty’s opinion: to live with such a prince, and such a philosopher, would be my greatest happiness; my sincere attachment can only be equalled by my regret; but if other duties draw me away, they can never blot out the respect I owe to a prince, who talks and thinks like a man, who despises that specious gravity which is always a cover for meanness and ignorance: a prince who converses with freedom, because he is not afraid of being known; who is still eager to be instructed, and at the same time capable himself of instructing the most learned and the most sagacious.
I shall, whilst I have life, remain with the most profound respect, and deepest sense of gratitude, your majesty’s,