Front Page Titles (by Subject) PREFACE TO THE POEM ON THE LAW OF NATURE. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. X The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Zaire, Caesar, The Prodigal, Prefaces) and Part II (The Lisbon Earthquake and Other Poems).
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PREFACE TO THE POEM ON THE LAW OF NATURE. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. X The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Zaire, Caesar, The Prodigal, Prefaces) and Part II (The Lisbon Earthquake and Other Poems). 
From The Works of Voltaire, A Contemporary Version, (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901), A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming. Vol. X The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Zaire, Caesar, The Prodigal, Prefaces) and Part II (The Lisbon Earthquake and Other Poems).
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PREFACE TO THE POEM ON THE LAW OF NATURE.
It is generally known that this poem was not intended for the public; it long remained a secret between a great king and the author. About three months ago a few copies were handed about in Paris, and soon after several impressions of it were published, as incorrect as those of other works by the same hand.
It would be no more than justice to be more indulgent to a work forced out of the obscurity to which the author had condemned it than to a work offered by the writer himself to the inspection of the public. It would also be agreeable to equity not to pass the same judgment on a poem composed by a layman as on a theological thesis. These two poems are the fruits of a transplanted tree. Some of these fruits may perhaps not be to the taste of certain persons; they come from a foreign climate, but none of them are poisoned, and many of them may prove highly salutary.
This work should be considered as a letter, in which the author freely discloses his sentiments. Most books resemble those formal and general conversations in which people seldom utter their thoughts. The author, in this poem, declares his real opinions to a philosophical prince, whom he then had the honor of living with. He has been informed that persons of the best understanding have been pleased with this sketch: they were of opinion that the poem on the “Law of Nature” was intended only to prepare the world for truths more sublime. This consideration alone would have determined the author to render his work more complete and correct, if his infirmities had permitted it. He was at last obliged to content himself with correcting the faults which the first edition swarm with.
The praises bestowed in this work upon a prince by no means solicitous about praise should not surprise anybody, they came from the heart; they are very different from that incense which self-interestedness lavishes upon power. The man of letters might not perhaps have deserved the praises or the favors poured upon him by the monarch, but the monarch was every way deserving of the encomiums bestowed upon him in this poem by the man of letters. The change which has since happened, in a connection which does so much honor to learning, has by no means altered the sentiments which gave occasion to these praises.
In fine, since a work never intended for publication, has been snatched out of secrecy and obscurity, it will last among a few sages as a monument of a philosophical correspondence, which should not have ended, and if it shows human weakness throughout, it, at the same time, makes it appear that true philosophy always surmounts that weakness.
To conclude, this weak essay was first occasioned by a little pamphlet which appeared at that time. It was entitled, “A Treatise on the Sovereign Good,” and it should have been called “A Treatise on the Sovereign Evil.” The author of it maintained that there is no such thing as virtue or vice, and that remorse of conscience is a weakness owing to the prejudice of education, which a man should endeavor to subdue. The author of the following poem maintains, that remorse of conscience is as natural to us as any passion of the human soul. If the violence of passion hurries man into a fault, when come to himself he is sensible of that fault. The wild girl who was found near Châlons, owned, that in her passion she gave her companion a blow, of the consequence of which the poor wretch died in her arms. As soon as she saw her blood, she repented, she wept, she stopped the blood, and dressed the wound with herbs. Those who maintain that this relenting of humanity is only a branch of self-love do that principle a great deal of honor. Let men call reason and conscience by what names they will, they exist, and are the foundation of the law of nature.