Voltaire

Treatise on Toleration
  • Treatise on Toleration

  • A new translation of Voltaire's Treatise on Toleration, one of the most important essays on religious tolerance and freedom of thought

    A powerful, impassioned case for the values of freedom of conscience and religious tolerance, Treatise on Toleration was written after the Toulouse merchant Jean Calas was falsely accused of murdering his son and executed on the wheel in 1762. As it became clear that Calas had been persecuted by 'an irrational mob' for being a Protestant, the Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire began a campaign to vindicate him and his family. The resulting work, a screed against fanaticism and a plea for understanding, is as fresh and urgent today as when it was written.

François-Marie Arouet, writing under the pseudonym Voltaire, was born in 1694 into a Parisian bourgeois family. He became notorious for lampoons on leading notables and was twice imprisoned in the Bastille. By his mid-thirties his literary activities precipitated a four-year exile in England where he won the praise of Swift and Pope for his political tracts. His publication, three years later in France, of Lettres philosophiques sur les Anglais (1733), an attack on French Church and State, forced him to flee again. For twenty years Voltaire lived mainly away from Paris. Among his best-known books are satirical tales such as Zadig (1747) and Candide (1759). He died in Paris in 1778.