Voltaire: the Story begins…


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Voltaire at the residence of Frederick II in Potsdam, Prussia. Partial view of an engraving by Pierre Charles Baquoy, after N. A. Monsiau. (Caption and photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Age of Enlightenment

Towering figures: Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau

Montesquieu (18 January 1689 – 10 February 1755), François-Marie Arouet (21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778), who renamed himself Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778) are the three figures who dominate the Age of Enlightenment in France, the 18th century. They were its most prominent philosophes (intellectuals).

There were other philosophes, such as the encyclopédistes, Denis Diderot (5 October 1713 – 31 July 1784) and Jean le Rond d’Alembert (16 November 1717 – 29 October 1783). Many are associated with la Querelle des bouffons (“Quarrel of the Comic Actors”), a paper war waged between 1752 and 1754 and opposing reason and sentiment. Others, I will not mention to avoid a truly lengthy post.

A Constitutional Monarchy

The philosophes, however, could not have envisaged the events of the French Revolution and, in particular, the death by guillotine of Louis XVI (23 August 1754 – 21 January 1793),  Marie-Antoinette (2 November 1755 – 16 October 1793), and Louis-Philippe II, Duke of Orleans (13 April 1747 – 6 November 1793), also known as Philippe Égalité. A revolution and a regicide, they could not have predicted.

The constitutional government held as a model, was England’s Constitutional Monarchy. A constitution limits the power of a monarch. Given his advocacy of a constitution, Montesquieu opposed absolute monarchy, which was France’s government. However, the word monarchy could include the concept of a constitution, spoken inaudibly.

Moreover, a constitutional monarchy remained the model until the early months of the French Revolution (1789 -1789) and, in particular, the Tennis Court Oath. On that day, 20 June 1789, members of the Third Estate were locked out of Estates-General. They took refuge in an indoor tennis court and all, with the exception of one delegate vowed “not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established.” The delegate who abstained wanted to vote in the presence of his king, Louis XVI.


Drawing by Jacques-Louis David of the Tennis Court Oath. In 1792, David became a deputy in the National Convention (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Letters Concerning the English: Background

The Regency: 1715 – 1723

After the death, in 1715, of Louis XIV, France had heirs to the throne: the illegitimate children of Louis XIV’s mistresses whom Louis had legitimized. However, the royal family quarrelled and it was decided that the next king would not be a légitimé. He would be the grandson of Louis XIV, the future Louis XV (15 February 1710 – 10 May 1774), but he was only five when the Sun King passed away. A regent (the Regency) would therefore rule France until 1723. He was Louis-Philippe, duc d’Orléans, the son of Philippe I, duc d’Orléans, Louis the XIV’s brother, known as Monsieur.

Voltaire thrown into the Bastille

Voltaire was a bit of a rebel as an adolescent. For instance, he would not attend law school, his father’s wish. He wanted to be a man of letters. He produced a few obnoxious verses on the Regent’s “incestuous” love life. Such audacity had a major impact on the remainder of Voltaire’s life. He would keep fleeing. Voltaire was thrown into the Bastille prison, in Paris, where he spent 11 months, or 18 months. Sources differ. He was imprisoned without the benefit of a trial or the opportunity to defend himself.

Justice would become his cause. Upon his release, he was sent on a retreat. The Duke de Béthune invited him to the château de Sully.

Voltaire would not have suffered this gratuitous imprisonment had he lived in England where there was a constitution and a bill of habeas corpus. England had its Magna Carta, its great charter or liberties since the 13th century.

In 1718, Voltaire feared being sent to the Bastille once again, but the Regent sent him to Sully. So, the plea for justice expressed in Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws (1748) would be Voltaire’s plea. It nearly summarizes his life, and England would be a source of inspiration.

The Lettre de cachet

The lettre de cachet was an infamy. It made it possible to incarcerate a man without the benefit of a trial and the possibility of his defending himself. The letter was signed by the king, or by his regent, countersigned by an official, sealed (le cachet) and then delivered. It was arbitrary, which fully explains why Montesquieu insisted that “[a] man is innocent until a jury finds him guilty.”

As we have seen, Voltaire had spent 11 to 18 months (sources differ) in the Bastille because of verses that had offended the Regent. He had a narrow escape in 1718. The Regent spared him the Bastille by sending him to Sully, the duc de Béthune’s castle. However, in 1726, after insulting the chevalier de Rohan-Chabot, Voltaire, who was at Sully, was beaten by men hired by the chevalier who had also obtained a lettre de cachet.

Voltaire was exiled to England where he spent the following two years (sources differ), from 1726 to 1728. During his stay in England, he learned English, mingled with fine minds, met the King of England, and drew information and inspiration for his Lettres philosophiques (The Letters on England).


The Letters on England

The Letters Concerning the English (a translation, not by Voltaire) were first published in London, in 1733. A year later, the letters were published in the original French (London, 1734), but a French version was also published in France. The Letters were censored immediately. Prudence dictated that the 25 letters be entitled Lettres philosophiques, rather than Lettres anglaises or Lettres sur les Anglais, and that, henceforth, they be published abroad. As I wrote above, Voltaire kept fleeing. The complete text of both the English translation and a French edition may be read online:

The letters may be read at Lettres philosophiques pdf FR
or as Letters on England pdf EN

An ‘Enriched’ Summary

The Letters on the English are difficult to summarize as they consist in 25 short articles, letters, on various subjects. The topics are listed under Wikipedia’s entry on the Letters on the English. I would therefore invite you to supplement the quotations I have inserted below this summary and the quotations inserted below.

In the first seven Letters on England, Voltaire discusses religions or sects: the Quakers (1–4), the Anglicans (5), the Presbyterians (6), and the Socinians (7). Socinians are nontrinitarians. Socinians are Deists, as was Voltaire who also became a Freemason the year of his death. Deists believe in a single creator of the universe and reject the knowledge of religious authorities. They favour tolerance. (See Deism, Wikipedia.)

On the Quakers (Letter I), Voltaire quotes a Quaker who says that Quakers are not baptised:

  • “Friends [Quakers]…  swear not; Christ indeed was baptised by John, but He himself never baptised anyone. We are the disciples of Christ, not of John.” Friends are not circumcised.
  • They have no communion. “Only that spiritual one,” replied he, “of hearts.”
  • “We never swear, not even in a court of justice, being of opinion that the most holy name of God ought not to be  prostituted in the miserable contests betwixt man and man.”
  • “Quakers have no priests (Letter II): “Why should we abandon our babe to mercenary nurses, when we ourselves have milk enough for it?”

On the Church of England (Letter V)

  • “England is properly the country of sectarists. Multæ sunt mansiones in domo patris mei (in my Father’s house are many mansions). An Englishman, as one to whom liberty is natural, may go to heaven his own way.”
  • In this letter, we read that: “With regard to the morals of the English clergy, they are more regular than those of France[.]”
  • The ceremonies of the Church of England are at times too “Romish.”

On the Presbyterians (Letter VI)

Voltaire speaks of another Cato, the first being Cato the Younger (95 – 46 BCE), a Stoic:

“The latter [Voltaire’s Cato] affects a serious gait, puts on a sour look, wears a vastly broad-brimmed hat and a long cloak over a very short coat, preaches through the nose, and gives the name of the whore of Babylon to all churches where the ministers are so fortunate as to enjoy an annual revenue of five or six thousand pounds, and where the people are weak enough to suffer this, and to give them the titles of my lord, your lordship, or your eminence.”

“These gentlemen, who have also some churches in England, introduced there the mode of grave and severe exhortations.”

Of Parliament (Letter VIII)

Voltaire uses ancient Rome as a point of reference.

  • “But here follows a more essential difference between Rome and England, which gives the advantage entirely to the latter—viz., that the civil wars of Rome ended in slavery, and those of the English in liberty. The English are the only people upon earth who have been able to prescribe limits to the power of kings by resisting them; and who, by a series of struggles, have at last established that wise Government where the Prince is all-powerful to do good, and, at the same time, is restrained from committing evil; where the nobles are great without insolence, though there are no vassals; and where the people share in the Government without confusion.”

  • “The Romans never knew the dreadful folly of religious wars, an abomination reserved for devout preachers of patience and humility.”

  • “House of Lords and that of the Commons divide the legislative power under the king, but the Romans had no such balance.”

Of the Government (Letter IX) (taxes)

  • “Liberty in England sprang from the quarrels of tyrants. The barons forced King John and King Henry III to grant the famous Magna Charta, the chief design of which was indeed to make kings dependent on the Lords; but then the rest of the nation were a little favoured in it, in order that they might join on proper occasions with their pretended masters. This great Charter, which is considered as the sacred origin of the English liberties, shows in itself how little liberty was known.”
  • On the subject of taxes, Voltaire writes that: “When the Bill has passed the Lords and is signed by the king, then the whole nation pays, every man in proportion to his revenue or estate, not according to his title, which would be absurd.”
  • “No one is exempted in this country from paying certain taxes because he is a nobleman or a priest. All duties and taxes are settled by the House of Commons, whose power is greater than that of the Peers, though inferior to it in dignity.”

Letter X is on Trade

In the above letters on England, Voltaire praises:

  • England’s religious pluralism (tolerance);
  • its balance between the monarchy and the parliament, i.e. a constitutional monarchy; and
  • its Magna Carta, the charter of liberties that has long protected the English.

The Letters on England continued

Voltaire goes on to praise inoculation which the English have accepted and which prevents smallpox: death or disfigurement. He praises Lord Bacon (Letter XII) and Mr Locke (Letter XIII).

“Philosophers will never form a religious sect, the reason of which is, their writings are not calculated for the vulgar, and they themselves are free from enthusiasm.” (XIII)

Voltaire admired not only England’s scientists and intellectuals, but also Descartes.

“Descartes was injuriously accused of being an atheist, the last refuge of religious scandal: and he who had employed all the sagacity and penetration of his genius, in searching for new proofs of the existence of a God, was suspected to believe there was no such Being.” (Letter XIV)

“The progress of Sir Isaac Newton’s life was quite different. He lived happy, and very much honoured in his native country, to the age of fourscore and five years. It was his peculiar felicity, not only to be born in a country of liberty, but in an age when all scholastic impertinences were banished from the world. Reason alone was cultivated, and mankind could only be his pupil, not his enemy.” (Letter XIV)

Descartes gave sight to the blind.” (Letter XIV)

[I have left out a few letters, devoted to great minds.]

In England merit is rewarded:

“Merit, indeed, meets in England with rewards of another kind, which redound more to the honour of the nation.” (Letter XXIII)

[I have left out a few letters.]

In the following letter, Voltaire discusses the English Royal Society (XXIV) and other learned societies. He praises the French Academy.

Letter XXV is devoted to Pascal who insists that man is “miserable.” It has been omitted from the English edition I used, but can be read in French. Lettres philosophiques pdf FR

Let me now summarize the letters I omitted using Britannica:

“A stay in England (1726–28) led to the Lettres philosophiques (1734; Letters on England), which—taking England as a polemical model of philosophical freedom, experimental use of reason, enlightened patronage of arts and science, and respect for the new merchant classes and their contribution to the nation’s economic well-being—offered a program for a whole civilization, as well as sharp satire of a despotic, authoritarian, and outdated France.”[1]


In the Letters Concerning the English, Voltaire expresses his admiration for a country where tolerance allows religious pluralism.

“Take a view of the Royal Exchange in London, a place more venerable than many courts of justice, where the representatives of all nations meet for the benefit of mankind. There the Jew, the Mahometan, and the Christian transact together, as though they all professed the same religion, and give the name of infidel to none but bankrupts. There the Presbyterian confides in the Anabaptist, and the Churchman depends on the Quaker’s word.” (Letter VI)

Religion is a crucial component of the Letters concerning the English, which led to censorship. Publication of his Lettres philosophiques forced him to go into hiding. He would otherwise have been imprisoned.

However, Voltaire admired French literature as well as many British authors. He is eclectic in his choice of authors and texts and shows a surprizing knowledge of both the literature of France and that of England. Would that merit be rewarded in France! Descartes was not given a pension. Fortunately, members of the Académie française were remunerated.


I have introduced the famous lettre de cachet as a biographical element. In Voltaire’s days, an individual could have another individual incarcerated by obtaining a lettre de cachet, signed by the king and sealed. Next, I would like to tell about Jean Calas. France had l’affaire Dreyfus, but it also had l’affaire Calas.

Candide, a novella and Voltaire’s jewel, will be introduced latter.

Sources and Resources: full texts

The letters may be read at Lettres philosophiques pdf FR
or as Letters on England pdf EN

This post published itself on its own on 2 March 2015.

Love to all of you.

[1] “French literature”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 03 mars. 2015

Robert Casadesus plays Jean-Philippe Rameau‘s Gavotte for piano


Voltaire seated
Voltaire seated

© Micheline Walker
3 March 2015


A Little White House


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Child with Dove by Picasso, 1901

Child with Dove, by Picasso, 1901

Last week, I lost a very dear aunt. During the last few days, posting articles was therefore rather difficult.

Patricia was my father’s sister and the kindest person I have ever known.

Her life was a love story.  She met her husband before World War II. He went overseas and waited for D-Day. He and my aunt wrote to each other.

Somehow, my uncle survived D-Day. It was like a miracle. Bodies were falling all around him, but he was not even wounded. He and other survivors carried on to liberate other countries. When I think of all the lives lost because of a dictator, including thousands of German lives.

Roland and Patricia married soon after my uncle returned to Canada. They were provided with a veteran’s house where they brought up their family. They never left that little white house.

My cousins and medical helpers looked after my aunt, at home, during a long illness. Roland and a daughter were her main caregivers.

There was a lunch after the funeral. I lived outside Quebec during most of my life and had never met my cousins’ children, except one.

My poor uncle! He and Patricia had been together for more than sixty years in their little white house. 

Landscape 1928

Landscape 1928

© Micheline Walker
1 March 2015

Unanimous Vote to Release Raif Badawi


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Montreal city council is lending its support to Raif Badawi, as well as his wife and three children who are currently living in Quebec. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press) (Caption and photo credit: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)


It was not my intention to post a revised version of my article on Relativity and the Rule of Law, but it happened. This post, on Raif Badawi, also published itself automatically.

The Montreal City Council

A unanimous vote
A message sent to Ottawa

According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the municipal council of the city of Montreal voted unanimously to ask that Raif Badawi be released and join his wife and children in Quebec. Denis Coderre, the mayor of Montreal and a former Minister of Immigration at the Federal level, Ottawa, is asking that the Canadian Government provide Raif Badawi with a special permit granting him the status of landed immigrant. Mr Badawi would be given a Canadian passport.


Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar lives in Quebec with their three children. She has been actively petitioning the government to step in on behalf of her husband and seek his release from a Saudi jail. (Fred Chartrand/CP) (Caption and photo credit: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

Humanitarian and Compassionate Grounds

Mr Badawi has now been detained for three years and was flogged on 9 January 2015. He would be released on Humanitarian and Compassionate grounds. He has a wife and three children in Canada and should be allowed to join them.

Ensaf Haidar, Mr Badawi’s wife, has appeared on television programmes Canadians do not miss: Tout le monde en parle (Everyone is talking about it) and As it happens.

Mr Badawi’s case is being reviewed by the Saudi Supreme Court. Canada has a friendly relationship with the Saudi government. Whether or not this factor will help Mr Badawi is impossible to predict.


Ensaf Haidar is a very determined and brave wife.

My kindest regards to all of you.


© Micheline Walker
25 February 2015

Relativity & the Rule of Law


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Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu
Charles de Secondat,
Baron de Montesquieu (Photo credit: constitution.org)

The Relativity of Laws: Background

Montaigne –  Pascal – Montesquieu

A few posts ago, I quoted Pascal (19 June 1623 – 19 August 1662) who wrote:

« Vérité en deça des Pyrénées, erreur au-delà. » (Pensées 8, p. 68 FR)
Truth on this side of the Pyrenees, error beyond. (literal translation)

Laws do change from country to country. In the 16th century, Montaigne[1] (28 February 1533 – 13 September 1592) had come to the same conclusion as Pascal, but Montesquieu (18 January 1689 – 10 February 1755) is the political philosopher who best demonstrated that laws depend on a very large number of factors, one of which is climate.


The Persian Letters
the Spirit of the Laws

Montesquieu is the author of Les Lettres persanes (1721), The Persian Letters, and the Spirit of the Laws (1748). The notion of relativity is central to both Montesquieu’s Lettres persanes, an epistolary novel, and the Spirit of the Laws. In the Persian Letters, Paris and France are seen from the perspective of Usbek and Rica, two noblemen from Persia. The book constitutes a comparative description of two different societies.

The Persian Letters were written when “turquerie” was fashionable, from the late Renaissance, until the early part of the 19th century. It is an oblique text, a form of saying without saying. One cannot punish a foreigner for expressing views about the country he is visiting or his country, if he is elsewhere.

Three Types of Government

Relativity is also central to Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws (1748), his masterpiece. Laws depend on a large number of factors, from the country’s type of government, of which he names three: the republican, the monarchical and the despotic (« Il y a trois espèces de gouvernements: le républicain, le monarchique et le despotique. »), to the climate of the country, not a new theory but one usually associated with Montesquieu. (See L’Esprit des lois, II.1 [The Spirit of the Laws, Book 2, Chapter 1].)

Applied to three different types of governments, laws have a different impact, hence their relativity. Montesquieu critiqued laws and governments by applying laws to three types of government.

I should also note that, contrary to Thomas Hobbes, Montesquieu believed human beings were born good, but were later spoiled by society, which vilifies society.  


Constitutional governments
The Separation of Powers

The Spirit of the Laws is descriptive. Montesquieu claimed he was happy living in a monarchy. However, he did advocate constitutional governments. French monarchs were absolute monarchs. He also advocated the separation of powers: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. De l’Esprit des loix served as a model to American founding fathers.

Slavery condemned
A man is innocent until a jury finds him guilty.

Moreover, although Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws is descriptive, he had opinions. For instance, Montesquieu condemned slavery and we owe him the notion that a man is innocent until a jury finds him guilty. Therefore, there is advocacy in De l’Esprit des loix.

L'Esprit des lois

De l’Esprit des loix, 1749 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Local vs international laws: a Problem

United States Declaration of Independence (1776)
Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen (1789)

The relativity of laws is problematical and, therefore, an issue I would like to raise in this post, though not at great length. At the moment, we have local laws as well as an international law, and an international criminal court, at The Hague, Netherlands. Moreover, we have the United NationsUniversal Declaration of Human Rights /la Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme (UDHR) and other international agencies. Yet, although we have endowed ourselves with international covenants, it remains possible to torture people and detain individuals rather gratuitously.

When Montesquieu wrote his Spirit of the Laws (1748), there were no official and stated “human rights.” But it should be said that, during the 18th century, the age of Enlightenment, various philosophes sought the recognition of individual and collective human rights. Voltaire (21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778) advocated freedom of religion, freedom of expression and the separation of church and state. (See Voltaire, Wikipedia.)

In fact, the 18th century culminated in the United States Declaration of Independence  drafted by Thomas Jefferson (13 April 1743 – 4 July 1826), who owned slaves, and the French Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen, drafted by the Marquis de Lafayette (6 September 1757 – 20 May 1834), assisted by Thomas Jefferson, and passed by the National Constituent Assembly in August 1789.

Yet, nearly three centuries later, the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights /la Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme (UDHR), adopted on 10 December 1948, seems as utopian as the United States Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

President Obama is trying to save the middle class, but resistance is enormous. Equality is difficult to achieve. As for other abuses of human rights, they constitute a common occurrence.

I would like to suggest that, despite the very real possibility of infringements, it would be in humankind’s best interest to implement, within limits, its international covenants and, in particular, its human rights as defined in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Portrait of a Painter, Ottoman Dynasty

Portrait of a Painter,
Ottoman Dynasty (Photo credit: Wikimedia)

Nature vs Culture: the Importance of  “Natural Laws”

Raif Badawi
Muath al-Kasasbeh

Given such violations as the sentence inflicted on Raif Badawi, it would be my opinion that the abolition of torture should be given serious and prompt attention at an international level. It should override local laws. There are areas where there cannot be a double standard. Torture is one such area. Moreover, ISIL must be crushed.

It is “natural,” rather than “cultural,” for a caring wife to do all she can to spare her husband punishment he does not deserve and which constitutes torture, a blatant infringement of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is also “natural,” rather than “cultural,” for Muath-al-Kasasbeh‘s father to grieve the burning alive of a beloved son and to call for revenge.

The entire world is condemning this crime against “humanity.” I have noticed that the media have started describing Mr Badawi as the “father of three.” An innocent “father of three” is a greater victim than an innocent blogger. Raif Badawi should not be tortured and arbitrarily incarcerated. In fact, this is a “natural” rather than “cultural” law.

As King Abdullah II of Jordan stated, the Muslim faith does not condone such cruelty as the burning alive of Muath al-Kasasbeh. Gone are the days, or gone should be the days, we burned at the stake 19-year-old Joan of Arc.

Humankind has long yearned for the best possible government.[2] We have already discussed the theories of such political philosophers as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, all of whom came to the conclusion that the rule of law, just laws, had to prevail.


President Obama is saying that “the fight against violent extremism demands a new approach.” I believe this is what I have been attempting to state in this post.


It would be my opinion, that a good education would help prevent radicalization. A good education does seem the best tool we have to bring about lasting changes. What have we been teaching our children? They are still joining ISIL as though it were an option. It isn’t. Could it be that we have not been teaching our children to think? If they do not think they may fall prey to indoctrination and terrorize the world.

In short, to what extent should respecting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  /la Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme (UDHR) be based on consent and membership? And to what extent should local laws allow serious violations of human rights. Laws vary from country to country, but no local law should allow a serious infringement of international law.

So let me quote President Obama once again: “Violent extremism demands a new approach.”

I experienced difficulties writing this post. Proposing that individual nations  comply with international law is a sensitive matter. Absolute monarchs do as they please and terrorists are not amenable to reason. But when humanity is besieged, one looks for a remedy, a remedy which may consist in respecting human rights which is international law.

My kindest regards to all of you.


Sources and Resources

Michel de Montaigne: Essays (complete) EN
Descartes’ Discourse on Method is Gutenberg [EBook #59] EN
Pascal Pensées is Gutenberg [EBook #18269] EN
Montesquieu: The Spirit of the laws (complete, 4 volumes) EN
Montesquieu: The Spirit of the Laws (Internet Archives; Book 1) EN
Persian Letters: Internet Archives (complete) EN
Persian Letters: Wikisource (complete) EN

Michel de Montaigne: Essais FR
René Descartes: Discours de la méthode is Gutenberg [EBook #13846] FR  Montesquieu: De l’Esprit des lois [EBook #27573] FR
Lettres persanes, tome 1 is Gutenberg [EBook #30268] FR
Lettres persanes, tome 2 is Gutenberg [EBook #33896] FR
Pascal: Pensées, Internet Archive FR


[1] See Essays, Book 1, last two chapters.

[2] Since Plato’s Republic, if not earlier.

download (1)


© Micheline Walker
22 February 2015
updated on 23 February 2015

Charles d’Orléans: a Prince and a Poet


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Charles, Duc d'Orléans
Charles, Duc d’Orléans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charles d’Orléans, a Prince & a Poet

This post was published in 2012 and has been revised. When I first published it, I had very few readers.

Charles, Duke of Orléans (24 November 1394, Paris – 5 January 1465), was among the victims of the Hundred Years’ War (1337 to 1453). Had Charles reigned, he would have been a Valois king, a cadet branch of the Bourbon kings. The Salic Law ended the Valois line as women could not accede to the throne of France. Charles’ son, Louis XII, orphaned at the age of three, would be King of France.

Charles d’Orléans is associated with the lore about St Valentine’s Day or Valentine’s Day. He circulated in French courtly circles the Valentine stories told by Chaucer and Othon de Grandson‘s (FR, Wikipedia): birds, martyrs and a note signed “From your Valentine.” Coincidentally, his mother was named Valentina, Valentina Visconti. Her picture is featured below, mourning Louis.

Charles d’Orléans & the Battle of Agincourt (1415)

Charles d’Orléans is a fascinating and intriguing figure. He became Duke of Orléans at the early age of 13, when his father, Louis d’Orléans, was assassinated by men acting on behalf of the Duke of Burgundy, the opposing faction. Charles was an Armagnac and, therefore, a supporter of the House of Valois. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake on 30 May 1431, during Charles’ imprisonment in England. Because of her, a legitimate French king, Charles VII (22 February 1403 – 22 July 1461) ascended to the throne. He was crowned at Reims Cathedral.

Valentine of Milan

Valentine of Milan, Charles’ mother, mourning her husband’s death, François-Fleury Richard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jeanne d'Arc

Jeanne d’Arc, painting, c. 1485. (Centre Historique des Archives Nationales, Paris, AE II 2490) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charles was wounded at the Battle of Agincourt (25 October 1415) and was taken prisoner by Sir Richard Waller. Because he was a “prince du sang,” literally a “prince of the blood,” i.e. a possible heir to the throne of France, Henry V, did not want him to return to France. In fact, Henry V of England also claimed he was heir to the throne of France. So Charles spent nearly 25 years detained in England. It is said that, upon his return to France, in 1440, he spoke English better than French. (See Charles d’Orléans, Wikipedia.)

the Beginning of a Lasting Friendship

During his imprisonment, Charles was seldom behind bars, but housed quite comfortably in various castles. One of these was Wallingford Castle, a castle that belonged to Sir Richard Waller, who had captured him at the Battle of Agincourt (now Azincourt), an English victory and a key moment in the Hundred Years’ War (1337 to 1453).

A very sincere and long-lasting friendship grew between Sir Waller and the Duke, who, upon his release, was very generous to his friend and jailor. In fact, Sir Richard Waller added the fleur-de-lis to the Waller Coat of Arms. Moreover, Charles was a relatively free prisoner, who frequently travelled to London, but never on his own. Yet, he was separated from his family and away from his native country for a very long time. Besides, he must have worried about the future. How could he tell whether or not he would one day return to France?

A depiction of Charles' imprisonment in the Tower of London from an illuminated manuscript of his poems

A depiction of Charles’ imprisonment in the Tower of London from an illuminated manuscript of his poems (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A poet is born

So Charles whiled away the years of his lengthy captivity writing poems and songs, which, I would suspect, helped him cope in his « Forêt de longue attente », to use his own words (The Forest of Long Awaiting, my very mediocre translation). It could be said, therefore, that he created for himself a “literary homeland,” and never left it. When he returned to France, he stayed at his castle in Blois and entertained poets.

I would also suspect our prisoner was not only rescued by art but that art, poetry in particular, was his true calling. Charles d’Orléans is an important figure in the history of French literature. Britannica describes him as:

“one of the greatest, of the courtly poets of France, who during exile in England also earned a reputation for his poems in English.”[1]


Charles d’Orléans & Marie de Clèves (a tapestry) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charles’ Son: a Future King

After he was freed, in 1440, Charles lived at Château de Blois and befriended poets. But his poems are not his only legacy. At the age of 46, he married 14-year-old Marie de Clèves:

« Car pour moi fustes trop tart née,
Et moy pour vous fus trop tost né. »

“You for me were born too late.
And I for you was born too soon.” 

(Project Gutenberg [EBook #14343])

Marie de Clèves, whom he loved dearly, bore him three children, one of whom would be Louis XII, King of France. Charles was 68 when his son was born. He had turned to poetry, but he was a “prince du sang” (a Prince of the Blood, i.e. a possible heir to the throne of France). So was his son.

Charles reçoit l’hommage d’un vassal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hella Haasse

In England, Charles wrote ballades (ballads). In France, he wrote rondeaux and rondels. The rondeau however is also a musical form.[2]  At the end of En la forêt de longue attente, we find un envoi, a few lines of praise or homage, or a short conclusion. Charles d’Orléans’ Le Printemps, the most famous rondel in the French language, uses a refrain, repeated lines.

Charles d’Orléans’ En la forêt de longue attente is a ballade, written in England and containing an envoi. It was translated in 1949, as Het Woud der verwachting, by Hella Haasse (2 February 1918 – 29 septembre 2011). Hella Haasse’s translations of Charles d’Orléans poetry created a revival of Charles’ poetry in France. But Debussy had already set some of Charles’s poems to music he composed. Edward Elgar set to music “Is she not passing fair.”

“Le Printemps,” the Best-Known Rondel

Charles d’Orléans’ “Le Printemps” (spring time) is the best-known rondel in the French language. A rondel consists of 13 octosyllabic verses (8 syllables). The translation, not mine, is literal. There are more lyrical translations.

Le-temps-a-lais-sé-son-man-teau (8 syllables)
Et s’est vêtu de broderie,
De soleil luisant, clair et beau.

The season removed his coat
Of wind, cold and rain,
And put on embroidery,
Gleaming sunshine, bright and beautiful.

Il n’y a bête ni oiseau,
Qu’en son jargon ne chante ou crie:
“Le temps a laissé son manteau!
De vent, de froidure et de pluie.”

There is neither animal nor bird
That doesn’t tell in it’s own tongue:
“The season removed his coat.
Of wind, cold and rain.”

Rivière, fontaine et ruisseau
Portent en livrée jolie,
Gouttes d’argent, d’orfèvrerie,
Chacun s’habille de nouveau
Le temps a laissé son manteau.

Rivers, fountains and brooks
Wear, as handsome garments,
Silver drops of goldsmith’s work;
Everyone puts on new clothing:
The season removed his coat.


So the story of Charles d’Orléans is a story of survival. During his years of exile, he found a refuge in poetry. He wrote Ballades, rondeaux mainly, but also composed songs and wrote lays (lais) and complaints (complaintes). His poetry is characterized by melancholy, yet it reveals a sense of humour.

Consider Charles’ legacy. Yes, his son would be King of France, Louis XII. But I am thinking of Charles d’Orléans’ poems and songs. Charles d’Orléans lived five hundred years ago, but we still read his poems. He is therefore alive and linked to the lore of St Valentine’s Day.

Love to everyone.
[1] “Charles, duc d’Orleans”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 15 févr.. 2015

[2] Together with the ballade and the virelai, it [the rondeau] was considered one of the three formes fixes, and one of the verse forms in France most commonly set to music between the late 13th and the 15th centuries. It is structured around a fixed pattern of repetition of material involving a refrain


(please click on the titles to hear the music)    
Charles d’Orléans: “Le temps a laissé son manteau,” Michel Polnareff
poet: Charles d’Orléans
piece:  “Le temps a laissé son manteau” (Le Printemps)
performer: Ernst van Altena
Château de Blois

Château de Blois (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

© Micheline Walker
17 February  2012
revised: 16 February 2015

Valentine’s Day: Martyrs & Birds, 2nd edition


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Cupid or l’Amour mouillé, William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) (Photo credit: Wikipaintings)

Valentine’s Day

Greek and Roman Antiquity

Love has long been celebrated. In ancient Greece, the marriage of Jupiter to Hera was commemorated between mid-January and mid-February. As for the Romans, in mid-February, they held the festival of the Lupercalia. According to Britannica, the Lupercalia was

[t]he festival, which celebrated the coming of spring, included fertility rites and the pairing off of women with men by lottery.[i]

At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I replaced the Lupercalia with a Christian feast, the “Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” to be celebrated on the 2nd of February. It is said that, in 496, the Pope issued a decree that made the 14th of February the feast of at least one saint named Valentine. However, according to Britannica, “Valentine’s Day did not come to be celebrated as a day of romance from about the 14th century.”[ii]

At any rate, the Lupercalia was eventually replaced by Saint Valentine’s Day, celebrated on the 14th of February. The 14th of February is no longer a feast day in the Catholic Church. But it is a feast day in the Anglican Church. Moreover, Ireland and France have relics of St Valentine, Valentine of Terni in Dublin and an anonymous St Valentine in France.

Saints and Martyrs

There is conflicting information concerning saints named Valentine.  It would be my opinion that the only st Valentine we can associate with Valentine’s Day is the saint who slipped his jailor’s daughter a note worded “from your Valentine.”

In French, Valentine’s Day is still called la Saint-Valentin, which suggests that there is a saint and martyr named Valentin. In fact, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there may be three saints named Valentine:

  1. Valentine of Terni, the bishop of Interrama, now Terni, also a 3rd-century martyr buried on the Via Flaminia,
  2. a Valentine who suffered in Africa with several companions, and
  3. the Valentine who restored his jail keeper’s daughter’s sight and slipped her a note that read “From your Valentine,” the night before his martyrdom. If this Valentine is associated with Valentine’s Day, it is because of the note he slipped to his jail keeper’s daughter which read: “From your Valentine.” He would be our Valentine or St Valentine.

Valentine’s Day Cards: The Origin 

St Valentine, the third Valentine is mentioned, albeit inconspicuously, in Jacobus de Voragine’s The Golden Legend. Moreover, the Roman Martyrology, “the Catholic Church‘s official list of recognized saints,” gives only one Saint Valentine, the martyr who was executed and buried on the Via Flaminia and whose feast day is 14th February. (Saint Valentine, Wikipedia.) This saint’s only link with St Valentine’s day is the note he slipped to his jailer’s daughter: “From your Valentine.” This note would be the origin of Valentine’s Day cards.

St Valentine was martyred about c. 270 CE, probably 269, by Roman emperor Claudius II Gothicus.[iii]  According to the emperor, married men were lesser soldiers.  This St Valentine could be Valentine of Rome. But it could also be that this Valentine, Valentine of Rome, is the same person as Valentine of Terni, a priest and bishop also martyred in the 3rd century CE and buried on the Via Flaminia. This view is not supported by the Encyclopædia Britannica.[iv]

If this saint is associated with Valentine’s Day, the note signed “From your Valentine” is the only link between a saint named Valentine and Valentine’s Day. The note constitutes the required romantic element.

The Romantic Element

Chaucer: the day birds mate
Le Roman de la Rose

As mentioned above, Saint Valentine’s Day was not the feast of lovers (i.e. people in love) until a myth was born according to which birds mated on February the 14th. This myth is probably quite ancient but it finds its relatively recent roots is Geoffrey Chaucer‘s (14th century) Parliament of Foules. Othon III de Grandson (1340 and 1350 – 7 August 1397) (Fr Wikipedia), a poet and captain at the court of England spread the legend to the Latin world in the 14th century. This legend is associated with the famous mille-fleurs, (thousand flowers) tapestry called La Dame à la Licorne (The Lady and the Unicorn), housed in the Cluny Museum in Paris. Finally, Chaucer translated part of Le Roman de la Rose.

N.B. The first version of the Canterbury Tales to be published in print was William Caxton’s 1478 edition.  Caxton translated and printed The Golden Legend in 1483.


the Legend about birds mating
Othon III de Grandson
Charles d’Orléans
Chaucer: Roman de la rose

It would appear that Othon III de Grandson, our poet and captain, wrote a third of his poetry in praise of that tradition. Othon III de Grandson wrote:

  • La Complainte de Saint Valentin (I & II), or Valentine’s Lament,
  • La Complaincte amoureuse de Sainct Valentin Gransson (The Love Lament of St Valentine Gransson),
  • Le Souhait de Saint Valentin (St Valentine’s Wish),
  • and Le Songe Saint Valentin (St Valentine’s Dream). (See Othon III de Grandson [in French], Wikipedia.)

Knowledge of these texts was disseminated in courtly circles, the French court in particular, at the beginning of the 15th century, by Charles d’Orléans. At some point, Othon’s Laments were forgotten, but St Valentine’s Day was revived in the 19th century.

In short, St Valentine’s Day is about

  1. a martyr who, the night before his martyrdom, slipped a note to the lady he had befriended, his jailor’s blind daughter, signing it “From your Valentine.”
  2. It is about a legend, found in Chaucer‘s Parliament of Foules, according to which birds mate on the 14th of February.
  3. It is associated with an allegorical tapestry: La Dame à la licorne.
  4. It is about Othon III de Grandson (FR, Wikipedia), a poet and a captain who devoted thirty percent of his poetry to the traditions surrounding St Valentine’s Day.
  5. It is also about courtly love and, specifically, Le Roman de la Rose, part of which was translated into English by Geoffrey Chaucer.
  6. Finally, it is about Charles d’Orléans who circulated the lore about St Valentine in courtly circles in France.

There is considerable information in Wikipedia’s entry of St Valentine’s Day.  It was or has become a trans-cultural tradition.


Happy Valentine’s Day

Folk Art Valentine, 1875


[i] Valentine’s Day”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 13 Feb. 2012 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/858512/Valentines-Day>.

[ii] Saint Valentine”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 14 Feb. 2013

[iii] “Claudius II Gothicus”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 14 Feb. 2013

[iv] Saint Valentine”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 14 Feb. 2013


Andreas Scholl sings Dowland‘s “Flow my Tears”
© Micheline Walker
14 February 2012
14 February 2015

Quebec Supports Raif Badawi: a Vote


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Ensaf Haid[a]r, right, wife of Raif Badawi, walks with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, left, to his office, after the legislature voted unanimously in favour of a motion to free her husband from a Saudi Arabia jail, Wednesday, February 11, 2015 at the legislature in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)


One cannot be too optimistic. However, I am reassured by the fact that, on 11 February 2015, the Quebec legislature voted unanimously to ask, as a government, that Raif Badawi be released.

Raif Badawi is not a Canadian citizen, which hinders diplomatic efforts. Yet, if an entire legislative assembly votes to help an innocent young man, the Saudi judiciary and its Royals may respond favourably. They are human beings and they have seen one of their own burned alive.

Canadian Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, will not contact the Saudi embassy regarding Mr Badawi’s sentence. Mr Badawi is not a Canadian citizen. However, if a member of Parliament (Canada) should submit a motion asking for the release of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi and a vote should ensue supporting Mr Badawi, that could be helpful. I may be wrong.

Unfortunately, converts are still flocking to the Middle East to join ISIL. How can we stop them? It’s a serious issue.

I wish to thank premier Philippe Couillard and all members of the Quebec legislature for supporting Ensaf Haidar’s effort to free her husband. The motion to support Mr Badawi was made by Luc Fortin, a Member of the National Assembly (Quebec).

“Sükun” de Hüseyin Özkılıç (Egypt)

Ensaf Haidar
Ensaf Haidar

© Micheline Walker
13 February 2015

The Last Crusades: the Ottoman Empire


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Emperor Suleiman

Emperor Suleiman, by Titian (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Suleiman the Magnificent

Süleiman I (Ottoman Turkish: سليمان اوّل) was the tenth and longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, from 1520 to his death in 1566. He is known in the West as Süleiman the Magnificent (6 November 1494 – 7 September 1566) and in the East, as the Lawgiver (Turkish: Kanuni; Arabic: القانونى‎, al‐Qānūnī), for his complete reconstruction of the Ottoman legal system. Süleiman became a prominent monarch of 16th century Europe, presiding over the apex of the Ottoman Empire’s military, political and economic power. Süleiman personally led Ottoman armies to conquer the Christian strongholds of Belgrade, Rhodes, and most of Hungary before his conquests were checked at the Siege of Vienna in 1529. He annexed most of the Middle East in his conflict with the Safavids and large swathes of North Africa as far west as Algeria. Under his rule, the Ottoman fleet dominated the seas from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. At the helm of an expanding empire, Süleiman personally instituted legislative changes relating to society, education, taxation, and criminal law. His canonical law (or the Kanuns) fixed the form of the empire for centuries after his death. Not only was Süleiman a distinguished poet and goldsmith in his own right; he also became a great patron of culture, overseeing the golden age of the Ottoman Empire’s artistic, literary and architectural development. He spoke six languages: Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, Serbian, Chagatai (a dialect of Turkish language and related to Uighur), Persian and Urdu. In a break with Ottoman tradition, Süleiman married a harem girl, Roxelana, who became Hürrem Sultan; her intrigues as queen in the court and power over the Sultan made her quite renowned. Their son, Selim II, succeeded Süleiman following his death in 1566 after 46 years of rule.”

The above is a quotation. The links are mine. (See Süleiman the Magnificent, Wikipedia.)


Roxelana, Hürrem Sultan, by Titian (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As mentioned in the caption above, Süleiman married Roxelana (c. 1502 – 15 April 1558), a Christian girl from his harem who converted to Islam and became Hürrem Sultan. The couple had several sons. Süleiman ordered the strangling of the heir apparent, his son Mustaffa, and also ordered the murder of a second son, Şehzade Bayezid (1525 – 25 September 1561), and Bayezid’s sons. He was succeeded by his son Selim II.

The Crusades

You may recall that US President Barack Obama mentioned the Crusades at a Breakfast. This reference has been looked upon as both appropriate and inappropriate. I will leave you to judge. By clicking on the link below, one may access a short video and listen to President Obama’s brief address.


All the Crusades opposed Christendom and Islam, but President Obama was probably referring to the early Crusades. Christians entered what we now consider the Middle East. “Pope Urban II proclaimed the First Crusade with the stated goal of restoring Christian access to holy places in and near Jerusalem.” (See Crusades, Wikipedia.) Moreover, Christians wanted to contain Muslim conquests (Wikipedia).

The Very Last Crusades: the Ottoman Empire

Fall of the Byzantine Empire, 1453

The fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Empire is the Muslim conquest that ushered in the Renaissance. However, we seldom associate the Crusades with the Ottoman dynasty. Crusaders lost Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire on 29 May 1453. (See The Fall of Constantinople, Wikipedia.) It had been Byzantium and inhabited by Greek colonists from 657 BCE until 330 CE. It acquired its current name, Istanbul, in 1930. (See Byzantium, Wikipedia.)

Fall of the Ottoman Empire, 1922

The Sultanate was abolished on 1 November 1922. The last Sultan was Mehmed VI, of the House of Osman. (See Abolition of the Ottoman Sultanate, Wikipedia.) Osman, the last of the line born under the Ottoman Empire, died in 2009.

Fall of the Ottoman Caliphate, 1924

The Ottoman Caliphate was constitutionally abolished on 3 March 1924. (See Defeat and Dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, 1908 – 1922, Wikipedia). The Ottoman Empire was defeated during World War I, but it also fell to Turkey during the Turkish War of Independence. After the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate, Caliph Abdülmecid II was exiled to Paris, France, where he died at his house, Boulevard Suchet, Paris XVI, on 23 August 1944. He was buried in Medina, Saudi ArabiaMehmed VI was buried in Damascus, Syria, “at the courtyard of the Tekke of Süleiman the Magnificent” (see the caption below the photograph showing his departure from Constantinople).


Sultan Vahideddin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Sultan Vahideddin (Mehmed VI) departing from the backdoor of the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul. A few days after this picture was taken, the Sultan was deposed and exiled (along with his son) on a British warship to Malta (17 November 1922), then to San Remo, Italy, where he eventually died in 1926. His body was buried in Damascus, Syria, at the courtyard of the Tekke of Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent. Turkey was declared a Republic on 29 October 1923, and the new Head of State became President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.”

The above is also a quotation. The links are mine. (See Abolition of the Ottoman Sultanate, Wikipedia.)


Abdülmecid II (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Abdülmecid II was the last caliph of Islam and a member of the Ottoman dynasty.


Photo of Abdülmecid II in Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The Ottoman Empire (1453 -1924) lasted five-hundred years and the territory it occupied was located west of the Middle-East. In the late 14th century Sigismund of Luxemburg (14 February 1368 – 9 December 1437), Holy Roman Empire, King of Hungary and King of Croatia, went on a Crusade. He was defeated at the Battle of Nicopolis on 25 September 1396. In 1443-1444, the Ottoman Empire crushed the Kingdom of Hungary, the Serbian Despotate and the Principality of Wallachia during the Crusade of Varna. In fact, in the late Middle Ages, the Ottoman Empire defeated every Crusade. Last to fall would be Constantinople. Therefore, for nearly 500 years, part of the Muslim world was located in what we know as Europe and the Crusades lasted until the end of the Medieval era.

The genocidal wars that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union reflect ethnic discrimination in Eastern Europe. It is probably rooted in the very last Crusades.

This post is a very brief and derivative follow-up to my recent posts. Muslims visited the court of France. Molière wrote “turqueries (Le Bourgeois gentilhomme) and all things oriental, the Middle East, became fashionable.


Sources and Resources


Tughra (Official Signature) of Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520–66), ca. 1555–60, Turkey, Istanbul, Islamic (Photo credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY)

Ottoman Sufi Music 

EmperorSuleiman© Micheline Walker
12 February 2015

Thoughts on Descartes & the Latest Events


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Black Stork in a Landscape, ca. 1780 India, probably Lucknow, Colonial British Watercolor on European paper (Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY)

The Tabula rasa: a Rupture

I mentioned René Descartes‘ (15 February 1564 — 8 January 1642) concept of tabula rasa (Discours de la méthode)[1] in a post entitled “There are limits,” says Pope Francis (19 Jan 2015). If I may, I will return to this subject and point to one of history’s most significant ruptures with mental content: Descartes’ tabula rasa. In order to seek truth in the sciences, Descartes cleared the table. He needed a clean slate, proceeded methodically —Descartes uses four steps— guided by reason.  In other words, Descartes discarded all that he had learned since birth. The tabula rasa, is the clearing (se raser means to shave) of the table (tabula).

Descartes was a polymath and therefore combined several intellectual abilities, from philosophy to science. However, he defined himself as a scientist, un géomètre, and did so from the moment he wrote his first work, his Regulæ ad directionem ingenii, (the rules for conducting one’s reason; 1628), written in Latin.

 The Discourse on Method (1637)

In the Discourse, Descartes finds it unavoidable to rid his mind of all knowledge acquired since birth, as this knowledge is not necessarily based on reason, but “desires and our preceptors.”

“And because we have all to pass through a state of infancy to manhood, and have been of necessity, for a length of time, governed by our desires and our preceptors (whose dictates were frequently, while neither perhaps counselled us for best), I farther concluded that it is almost impossible that our judgments can be so correct as they would have been, had our reason been mature from the moment of birth, and had always been guided by it [reason] alone.” (Discourse, p. 10)

Consequently, among Descartes’ personal four rules in seeking the truth,

“[t]he first was never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such that is to say, carefully to avoid precipitancy and prejudice, and to comprise nothing more in my judgment than was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt.” (Discourse, p. 15)

However, Descartes knew that clearing off the table and marching ahead was dangerous. Galileo (15 February 1564 – 8 January 1642) had been found guilty of heresy in 1633. Galileo supported Copernicusheliocentrism (the sun is at the centre of the universe) and had determined that the planet earth moved. He had to abjure his findings and was placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life: 9 years.

Similarly, if Descartes’ quest for the truth in the sciences was to be guided by reason alone, it could lead to observations that might contradict the teachings of the Church, which meant that he too could be tried and found guilty of heresy.

Raif Badawi was condemned to a harsh sentence, possibly death, for asking that liberals in Saudi Arabia be tolerated.

At any rate, the Discourse on Method was not written in France.

“I was in Germany, attracted thither by the wars in that country which have not yet been brought to a termination; and as I was returning to the army from the coronation of the emperor, the setting in of winter arrested me, and was besides fortunately undisturbed by my care or passions, I remained the whole day in seclusion¹ with full opportunity to occupy my attention with my own thoughts.”
¹ literally in a room heated by means of a stove.—Tr. (p. 10)

In fact, Descartes (adjectival form: Cartesian) spent most of his life in the more tolerant Dutch Republic.

Mental Content

The tabula rasa could be considered a conscious removal of knowledge acquired since birth. Descartes could do this. But his rationalism was critiqued and criticized. As Pascal (19 June 1623 – 19 August 1662) wrote, there are two entrances to the soul, l’esprit de finesse and l’esprit de géométrie, which I will translate as instinct and “pure reason,” a term I am borrowing from Immanuel Kant‘s Critique of Pure Reason(1781). Kant critiqued Descartes. Descartes, however can at least be credited with setting about his research using an uncluttered mind.

One cannot expect a tabula rasa on the part of persons whose thinking is rigid: extremists, fundamentalists, terrorists, racists, etc.

There is nothing reasonable about the burning alive of an innocent Jordanian pilot, locked in a cage. There is nothing reasonable in the pain he was subjected to. Nor is there anything reasonable in filming the dreadful event for a father to view and die a thousand times.

I pity the converts who have flocked to the Middle East only to watch the raping and killing of children, serial cold-blooded beheadings and the burning alive of captured Jordanian Lieutenant Muath al-Kasasbeh. In the 21st century, no faith should allow depravity incarnate, and this is depravity incarnate.

I have already quoted King Abdullah II:

“King Abdullah of Jordan described ISIS today [5 February 2015] as a ‘criminal and misguided group which is not related in any shape or form to our great faith.’” (Daily Mail, UK)

As for Safi al-Kasasbeh, Muath al-Kasasbeh’s father, he is asking for revenge.


We can all understand, but revenge has its price…

The Muslim world has just had its 9/11. So has Japan. 

Raif Badawi

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi is again before a court. I believe there’s hope for Mr Badawi. He has not been flogged since King Salman ascended to the throne. King Salman is an absolute monarch. He may pardon Mr Badawi. However, ideally, a court should find Raif Badawi innocent.

Saudis are attached to their customs, customs Europeans and other people may look upon as barbaric, but…  In view of the burning alive of a Jordanian pilot and the grief of his father and family, the people of the Middle East may feel more divided on the subject of torture, but I am speculating. All we know is that ISIS crossed the line, and that the conflict has taken on new dimensions.

Human Rights

Freedom of speech is a Human Right according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[2]

Moreover, flogging Raif Badawi is torture and, therefore, a second infringement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Flogging can kill and it has.


At the moment, however, humanity is in violation of several articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


We have a better self both as individuals, i.e. individually, and as nations, collectively. At the individual level, it’s called the soul, the conscience, compassion… That has been trampled upon. At the collective level, our better self has at times been called “justice.” Justice? That has also been trampled on and it varies from country to country:

Vérité en deçà des Pyrénées, erreur au-delà.
Truth on this side of the Pyrenees, error beyond.
Pensées, Blaise Pascal (posthumous)

My dear mother once remarked that I was fortunate to work in a morally superior institution: a university. I told her the truth. Universities are human institutions and, therefore, they are at times very difficult milieus. My universities have asked me to do what they have also prevented me from doing.

And if King Salman does not release Raif Badawi, love has died. Or is reason faltering?

I apologize for recycling images.

I hope this was my last post on this subject and wish all of you a good weekend.


Sources and Resources

  • Descartes’ Œuvres complètes, Le Discours de la méthode is the Gutenberg Project [EBook #13846] (V. Cousin; 1824 – 1826) (FR)
  • Descartes Discourse on Method is an Internet Archive publication (EN)
  • Pascal’s Pensées is the Gutenberg Project [EBook #18269] (EN)
  • Pascal’s Pensées is an Internet Archive publication (Édition princeps des Pensées, publiée en 1669 – 1670 par MM. de Port-Royal.) (FR)

Photo credit: Internet Archives (Descartes)


[1] René Descartes, André Bridoux (ed), Œuvres complètes (Éditions Gallimard, Collection de la Pléiade, 1953). (my copy)

[2] The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights /Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme (UDHR) was adopted on 10 December 1948 and ratified on 16 December 1949.

Maher Zain – Number One For Me | Official Music Video

Ensaf Haidar

Ensaf Haidar, Raif Badawi’s Wife

© Micheline Walker
7 February 2015