Front Page Titles (by Subject) ON COURTIERS WHO HAVE CULTIVATED LEARNING. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XIX (Philosophical Letters)
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ON COURTIERS WHO HAVE CULTIVATED LEARNING. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XIX (Philosophical Letters) 
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. XIX.
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ON COURTIERS WHO HAVE CULTIVATED LEARNING.
There was a time when the arts were cultivated in France by persons of the first distinction; even the courtiers applied themselves to the belles–lettres, in spite of that dissipation, that taste for trifles, and that passion for intrigue, which are the deities of this country. It appears to me, that at present, learning is not the reigning taste at court. Perhaps the passion of studying may one day return to us. The king has it in his power to do what he pleases with this nation. In England it is common to study, and learning is more in esteem there than with us. This advantage is a necessary consequence of their form of government. There are about eight hundred persons in London that have a right to speak in public, and to support the interest of the nation; about five or six thousand more pretend in their turns to the same happiness; all the rest erect themselves into judges of these, and everyone gives his thoughts in print on the public affairs. Thus the whole nation is under a kind of necessity of being instructed. Nothing is talked of but the Athenian and Roman governments. It is necessary, nevertheless, to read the authors who have treated of them. This study naturally leads to that of the belles–lettres. In general men have the spirit or genius of their peculiar condition. Why have our magistrates, our physicians, and many of our ecclesiastics in general, more learning, taste, and judgment than are to be found among other professions? It is because their station requires the cultivation of the mind, as that of a merchant demands a knowledge of commerce.
It is not long since a very young English nobleman paid me a visit in Paris on his return from Italy: he had composed a poetical description of that country, as politely written as any of Lord Rochester’s verses, or those of our Chalieux, our Sarasins, or our Chapelles. The translation I have made of them is so far from approaching the energy and lively humor of the original, that I am obliged sincerely to ask pardon of the author and those who understand English: however, as I have no other way of making Lord Harvey’s verses known, take them in my language—
I am not of Lord Harvey’s opinion. There are countries in Italy which are very unfortunate, because foreigners have for a long time been fighting for the government of them; but there are others where the people are neither so beggarly nor so foolish as he describes them.