Age of Reason

In 1758, the French philosopher Claude Adrien Helvetius (one of the Encyclopedists) wrote a philosophical tract entitled De l'esprit (Essays on the Mind) affirming John Locke's belief that all men are born with equal ability (as blank tablets) and that distinctions develop from educational influences. "Truth is a torch," he declared, "that gleams through the fog without dispelling it." Voltaire, who had lived in exile in England thirty years before, read the book and offered some sage advice to its author:

"Your book is dedicated by the soundest reason. You had better get out of France as quickly as you can."

[Essays on the Mind was indeed regarded as a godless book and was condemned by the pope and by the Parlement of Paris.]

[Voltaire once had a mistress translate Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica (1686-87) so that he could write a commentary. The gracefulness of his writing helped to popularize Newton's work throughout France.]

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