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Enlightenment Prose: Background

This is a research guide for Brooke Allen's Enlightenment Prose (LIT2321.01) class.


A term (originally the German Aufklärung) used to describe a scientific and rational ethos, including freedom from superstition and religious intolerance, observable in much of 18th‐century Europe. The movement derives from thinkers such as John Locke, the third earl of Shaftesbury, and Isaac Newton, though it was never a thoroughgoing cultural phenomenon in England. VoltaireRousseauCondorcet, and Buffon were associated with the Enlightenment, as was one of its great monuments, L'Encyclopédie. The Encyclopaedia Britannica was in part a product of the distinct intellectual movement sometimes described as the Scottish Enlightenment, which featured such thinkers as Adam FergusonDavid Hume, and Adam Smith. The American Declaration of Independence is in some senses a classic Enlightenment document. In his Rights of Man Thomas Paine was much influenced by Enlightenment political ideals, and many other English writers echoed educational or egalitarian ideas associated with the movement, including William GodwinP. B. ShelleyErasmus DarwinMark Akenside, and the Edgeworths, though the course of the French Revolution tainted its idealism. William Blake subscribed to the political energies unleashed by the Enlightenment, but decried what he saw as the ‘single vision’ of Newtonian materialism; Romanticism was in part a revolt against such pure rationality. 

From the Oxford Companion to English Literature

Who's Who

Diderot, Denis (1713–84) French philosopher 

and man of letters. The son of a prosperous artisan, he became a leading member of the Enlightenment. He began by translating the earl of Shaftesbury (1745), and thereafter maintained his interest in English culture, publishing an influential appreciation of Samuel Richardson (1761). He also wrote two sentimental plays on bourgeois domestic subjects, Le Fils naturel (1757: The Natural Son) and Le Père de famille (1758: The Family Father), which put into practice his innovative ideas on drama, influenced by George Lillo; he also adapted Edward Moore's domestic prose tragedy The Gamester. He developed a scientific empiricism and materialism which stimulated the originality of his thought: his Pensées sur l'interprétation de la nature (1754: Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature), for example, anticipated evolutionary ideas on the nature and origin of life. In 1746 he assumed what became, in effect, a twenty‐year editorship of the Encyclopédie. He is best known today, however, for three remarkably ‘modern’ novels, none of which he published in his lifetime: La Religieuse (The Nun), written in 1760, first published in 1796, and translated into English in 1797, the story of a young woman forced to become a nun; Le Neveu de Rameau (Rameau's Nephew), begun c.1760 and first published in 1804 in Goethe's German translation; and Jacques le fataliste(Jacques the Fatalist), begun c.1773 and much influenced by Sterne's Tristram Shandy in its experimental form. See P. N. Furbank, Diderot (1992).

From the Oxford Companion to English Literature

Gibbon, Edward (1737–94), philosophical historian and author

Author of the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–88). Gibbonwas the only son of a financially inept country gentleman to survive infancy. Intellectually precocious but sickly, he received limited formal schooling at Kingston Grammar and Westminster School. In 1752, at the age of 15, he entered Magdalen College, Oxford, as a ‘Gentleman Commoner’, only be to expelled eighteen months later for secretly journeying to London and receiving conditional baptism in the Roman Catholic faith. His father reacted angrily to the conversion, which jeopardized efforts since 1745 to align the family with Hanoverian and Whig interests. Within a fortnight Gibbon was sent into Swiss exile under threat of disinheritance.

Gibbon spent five years in the rarified Protestant atmosphere of Lausanne, under the guardianship of Jean Daniel Pavilliard, a local pastor and professor of civil history at the Académie de Lausanne. By late 1754 he was formally reconciled to Protestantism, but was ordered to continue his studies until eventually being allowed to return home on turning 21 in early 1758.

In his last months at Lausanne, Gibbon began his first book, the Essai sur l'Étude de la Littérature (1761). Initially conceived as a spirited defence of antiquarian studies of ancient literature, the Essai soon became a more ambitious project. Greatly influenced by Hume, Giannone, and Montesquieu, Gibbon championed a ‘philosophical’ approach to the study of history, in which the findings of erudite scholarship were appraised by the experiential and probabilistic modes of reasoning advocated by John Locke and Pierre Bayle (1647–1706). By critically contextualizing ancient literature the ‘philosophical historian’ could show the profound influence of custom and manners in shaping the fortune of nations.

From the early 1760s Gibbon was convinced that his own genius qualified him for the pursuit of this philosophical approach to the study of history. He was later to claim being inspired to write his monumental history of the decline of Rome in October 1764, while musing amidst the ruins of the Roman forum as vespers were being sung in the nearby church of Aracheoli. However, it was not until some years after abandoning a projected history of the liberties of the Swiss in 1767 that he commenced work on the Decline and Fall.

Essentially a secular universal history, the Decline and Fall was concerned with examining the power of religion as a factor in the destruction of pagan Rome, the emergence of Christian Europe, the rise of Islam, and the Reformation. The first volume also sparked a religious controversy that irreparably damaged Gibbon's literary reputation and moral character. Gibbon maintained that he sought to elucidate the purely historical causes of the rise of Christianity, but critics took his rigorous empiricism and bitterly ironic descriptions of early church devotees and martyrs to be a reaffirmation of the Deism of earlier generations or worse. Gibbon responded to critics by way of careful ironic utterances, to the effect that he was innocent of infidelity.

Reduced financial circumstances led Gibbon to settle in Lausanne in 1783. In 1789 he commenced work on an autobiography, which remained unfinished at the time of his death from post-operative infection, in early 1794.

From An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age

Hume, David (1711–76) Philosopher, 

born and educated in Edinburgh. He spent three years (1734–7) in private study in France, and in 1739 published anonymously his Treatise of Human Nature, a sceptical account of the workings of the mind, which sold poorly. HisEssays Moral and Political (1741–2) was more popular. A Letter from a Gentleman to his Friend in Edinburgh (1745) includes Hume's defence of his Treatise when he contended unsuccessfully for the moral philosophy chair at Edinburgh, against the opposition of Francis Hutcheson and William Wishart (c.1692–1753). He reworked hisTreatise as Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding (1748), better known under its 1756 title,Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, and Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751). In 1752 Hume published his Political Discourses, which made him famous on the Continent. He was appointed Advocates' librarian in Edinburgh, subsequently surrendering the stipend to the blind poet Thomas Blacklock. In 1754 appeared the first volume of his History of Great Britain, followed by further volumes in 1757, 1759, and 1762; the work became immensely popular in Britain and abroad, earning the praise of Edward Gibbon and Voltaire. Four Dissertations, dedicated to John Home, was published in 1757, after suppression of controversial essays on suicide and immortality. From 1763 to 1765 Hume was secretary to the embassy in Paris, where he was well received by literary society. He brought Rousseau to England, but Rousseau's suspicious nature led to a quarrel, Hume's account of which was published in 1766. James Boswell visited Hume on his deathbed, hoping that his scepticism would crumble at the approach of death: it did not. After his death, his friend Adam Smith published his brief autobiography with a eulogy (1777). Hume's religious views were highly contentious in their day, incurring the special wrath ofSamuel Johnson, who praised James Beattie's weak refutation of Hume's sceptical argument that the evidence for miracles is inferior to the evidence for the ‘laws of nature’ established by uniform experience. Hume's Dissertation on ‘The Natural History of Religion’ (1757) further undermined orthodoxy by deriving religion from psychological processes; the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779) conclude merely ‘that the cause or causes of order in the universe probably bear some remote analogy to human intelligence’. Hume's writings on politics and history show a strong interest in human character and motivation. Though a believer in civil liberties, and an opponent of ‘divine right’, he rejected the social contract theory of obligation as historically unrealistic; Hume favoured an explanation based on custom and convenience. His closest ally on political and economic matters was Adam Smith. Hume wrote little directly about literature, despite his own polished literary style, but he was friendly with the poet James Thomson, and expressed a strong preference for the classicism of John Milton and Alexander Pope, against the wildness of Shakespeare.

From the Oxford Companion to English Literature

Jefferson, Thomas (1743–1826), third president of the United States. 

Born in Virginia on the western edges of settlement, Jefferson would always feel a closeness to the land and to an agrarian way of life, and he built his own home, Monticello, in Albemarle County, not far from his birthplace. Although his public career repeatedly drew him away, he eagerly returned to Monticello whenever possible.

Entering the College of William and Mary in 1760, Jefferson absorbed the ideas of the Enlightenment, became a devoted disciple of the Age of Reason, and subscribed to its preferred religious position, Deism. He followed his college studies by reading law with George Wythe in Williamsburg. Here, in Virginia's colonial capital, Jefferson encountered the political world that would enlist his lifelong participation. Visiting the House of Burgesses in 1765, he heard Patrick Henry's memorable Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death speech against the Stamp Act.

Elected to the House of Burgesses in 1769, at age twenty-six, Jefferson began the political career that would continue until he retired from the presidency forty years later. The young Jefferson actively supported colonial rights in the developing conflict with the British. His Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774) protested British policies and actions, insisting that “the British Parliament has no right to exercise authority over us.” This pamphlet circulated among delegates to the First Continental Congress, making its author well known when he took his seat in the Second Continental Congress in June 1775. A year later, appointed to the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson achieved enduring fame as its principal author.

As a delegate in the Virginia Assembly, Jefferson was active in revising the laws of his state. His draft statute for religious freedom was eventually adopted in 1786. Elected governor of Virginia in 1779, Jefferson served during a trying period of the Revolutionary War, when the British invaded the state. In June 1781 he barely escaped capture when the British raided Monticello. After two years as governor, Jefferson decided to retire from politics.

In his private life, Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton in 1772, and they had three children who survived infancy. Martha's death in 1782, following the birth of their last child, left Jefferson severely depressed. Recovering from his grief, Jefferson was again willing to leave Monticello and return to politics.

Although he inherited slaves from his father and from his wife, Jefferson was opposed to slavery. In the revision of the laws of Virginia, he proposed gradual emancipation; and in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), he vigorously condemned the institution. Yet he failed to win support in Virginia for ending slavery and remained a slaveholder for the rest of his life.

Reports that Jefferson fathered children by his slave Sally Hemings (1773–1835), based on oral traditions among Hemings's descendants, have long been controversial. DNA analysis conducted in 1998 of the blood of descendants of Jefferson's uncle and descendants of Sally Hemings led some historians to conclude that Jefferson was the father of at least one of Hemings's children. Other historians, however, argued that such DNA analysis was not conclusive because Jefferson had a brother, Randolph, who with his five sons lived within easy distance of Monticello and visited Jefferson.

Jefferson was U.S. minister to France from 1785 to 1789 and thus did not participate in drafting or ratifying the U.S. Constitution. In Paris at the outbreak of the French Revolution, he welcomed the struggle as following in the path of the American Revolution and remained sympathetic to the French revolutionary cause after returning to the United States late in 1789.

Jefferson served as the first secretary of state under president George Washington from 1790 through 1793. In this post he played a major role not only in the direction of foreign affairs but also in the emerging political divisions between the Federalists and their Republican opponents. Opposing the fiscal policies of treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton, he was recognized as the Republican leader. Whereas Hamilton's policies favored business development and urban commercial interests, Jefferson remained suspicious of cities and saw yeoman farmers as the backbone of American democracy.

After three years in retirement, during which he extensively remodeled Monticello, Jefferson was elected vice president in 1796, having come in second to Federalist John Adams at a time when there was no separate balloting for vice president. Presiding over the Senate, he increasingly opposed the policies of the Federalists, who controlled Congress. In 1800, he accepted the Republican nomination for president to oppose Adams's reelection bid. In the electoral vote, Jefferson tied with his vice presidential running mate, Aaron Burr, throwing the election to the House of Representatives, which chose Jefferson as president and Burr as vice president. (The Twelfth Amendment, adopted in 1804, revised Electoral College procedures to prevent such an outcome in the future.)

Jefferson's first term proved remarkably successful. Reversing Federalist policies that had produced the repressive Alien and Sedition Acts, Jefferson also reduced military expenditures and set a tone of simplicity and frugality. The capstone of his first term was the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. A strong president who provided leadership for Congress, Jefferson closely supervised his administration, drafting his own messages to Congress, wrestling with appointments, and working closely with his cabinet, whom he involved in the decision-making process. Secretary of State James Madison, a longtime friend and political ally, provided advice and support.

Defeating the Federalist Charles Cotesworth Pinckney to win reelection in 1804, President Jefferson faced increasing difficulties in his second term, including the British attack on the USS Chesapeake; the conspiracy trial of his former vice president, Aaron Burr; and the Napoleonic wars in Europe, which left American commerce caught in the conflict between Great Britain and France. Jefferson's embargo policy, enacted in 1807, forbade U.S. trading vessels to leave port for any foreign destination. Deeply unpopular with merchants, traders, seamen, and farmers growing crops for export, the Embargo Act was repealed in 1809.

Jefferson's retirement years at Monticello were filled with activity. An intellectual with wide-ranging interests, from music, painting, and architecture to political philosophy and natural history, he served as president of the American Philosophical Society from 1797 to 1815. His extensive correspondence included a long series of letters with John Adams in which the onetime political rivals explored their differing views of politics and human nature. His most important retirement project was the founding of the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville. He not only rallied legislative support for the enterprise but also assumed the role of planner, architect, and director of building, together with establishing the curriculum and hiring professors. Jefferson lived to see the opening of the university on 7 March 1825. He died a year later on 4 July 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. In keeping with his instructions, his epitaph identifies him only as the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and father of the University of Virginia.

From the Oxford Encyclopedia of American Cultural and Intellectual History

Locke, John (1632–1704) Philosopher, 

born at Wrington, Somerset, educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford. He held various academic posts at that university, and became physician to the household of the first earl of Shaftesbury in 1667. He held official positions and subsequently lived at Oxford, then fled to the Netherlands in 1683 as a consequence of Shaftesbury's plotting for Monmouth; how far he was himself involved is not certain. In 1687 he joined William of Orange at Rotterdam; on his return to England he became commissioner of appeals and member of the Council of Trade. His last years were spent in Essex in the home of Sir Francis and Lady Masham, the latter being the daughter of Ralph Cudworth (1617–88), one of the Cambridge Platonists.

Locke's principal philosophical work is the Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), a work which led John Stuart Mill to call him the ‘unquestioned founder of the analytic philosophy of mind’. Always critical of ‘enthusiasm’, he was originally opposed to freedom of religion, and never supported Catholic emancipation; but in his maturity he defended the rights of the Dissenters on both moral and economic grounds. He published three Letters on Toleration between 1689 and 1692; a fourth was left unfinished at his death. His defence of simple biblical religion in The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695), without resort to creed or tradition, led to a charge of Socinianism, which Locke replied to in two Vindications (1695, 1697). He was also involved in an extensive pamphlet war with Edward Stillingfleet (1696–8) over the alleged compatibility of his Essay with Socinianism and Deism.

Locke published in 1690 two Treatises of Government designed to combat the theory of the divine right of kings. He finds the origin of the civil state in a contract. The ‘legislative’, or government, ‘being only a fiduciary power to act for certain ends, there remains still in the people the supreme power to remove or alter the legislative when they find the legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them’. Throughout, Locke in his theory of the ‘Original Contract’ opposes absolutism; the first Treatise is specifically an attack on Sir Robert Filmer's Patriarcha. Although Locke in his early manuscripts was closer to Thomas Hobbes's authoritarianism and continues to share with Hobbes the view that civil obligations are founded in contract, he strongly rejected Hobbes's view that the sovereign is above the law and no party to the contract. He published a volume on education in 1693, and on the rate of interest and the value of money in 1692 and 1695. The first edition of his collected works appeared in 1714. The Clarendon edition of his works, projected to be 30 volumes, was launched in 1975.

Locke's writings had an immense influence on the literature of succeeding generations, and he was very widely read. His Thoughts Concerning Education, concerned with practical advice on the upbringing of ‘sons of gentlemen’, were given to Samuel Richardson's Pamela by Mr B—, and to his son by the earl of Chesterfield, and their influence is seen in Jean‐Jacques Rousseau's Émile (1762); his view of the child's mind as a tabula rasa, and his distinctions between wit and judgement, were the subject of much discussion in the Augustan age. The anti‐philosophy jokes of the Scriblerus Club demonstrate the currency of his ideas; Joseph Addison was his champion in many essays. But perhaps his greatest literary influence was on Laurence Sterne, who quotes him frequently in Tristram Shandy, and who was deeply interested in his theories of the random association of ideas, of the measuring of time, and the nature of sensation. 

From the Oxford Companion to English Literature

Montesquieu, Charles de Secondat, baron de (1689–1755) French political philosopher, historian, and novelist. 

A major political philosopher, historian, and novelist of the French Enlightenment, often regarded as a founder of the social sciences. Montesquieu's claim to this last title rests primarily on The Spirit of the Laws (1748), an attempt to address the subjects of government, law, virtue, and human happiness through a broad comparative analysis of different nations and forms of government. Montesquieu built on the social contract tradition of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke by extrapolating human society from a primary “state of nature” (see social-contract theory). He departed from them, however, in arguing that this transition could tell us little about the forms of government that were appropriate to a given people. No general or universal statements about government were possible, because human intelligence was limited by a diverse array of factors and was generally stirred into action only by the specific challenges of the environment. The “spirit of the laws” proper to each nation, consequently, depended on the ways in which the influences of local culture, mores, geography, and climate shaped human needs. Montesquieunonetheless discerned three basic types of government: despotic, republican, and monarchical—founded on fear, virtue, and honor, respectively. He viewed despotism as an unjustifiable assault on natural law (defined by basic human needs such as self-protection) and therefore devoted most of his energies to analyzing the qualities of the potentially legitimate forms: republics and monarchies.

Montesquieu treated virtue as a corporate and conformist quality that tempered individual interest in the name of the state. He viewed honor as based on a clear sense of social difference that promoted individuality as well as hierarchy. Both virtue and honor were positive qualities, although in The Spirit of the Laws he gradually built a case against the conformist tendencies of the former. The best of both qualities, he argued, were found in England, where the pursuit of commerce and constitutional monarchy had achieved something like a happy balance between the two. Commerce, Montesquieu proposed, directed self-interest toward collective, national ambitions, while reducing the necessary conformism of virtue; moreover, it worked against prejudice and superstition, and instilled a general sense of fairness. The constitution, in turn, introduced a notion of separation of powers that maintained the distinctions of rank while avoiding the dangers of monarchical power. Montesquieu believed that the value of commerce might be relatively easy to bring to France, although he did not have much hope for transplanting constitutional rule. The doctrine of the “separation of powers”—referring to the independence of the king, Parliament, and the judiciary from each other—proved to be the most important of Montesquieu's political legacies. It directly influenced the model of internal checks and balances among the three branches of government developed in the Constitution of the United States (1787–1789), as well as in the French constitution of 1791.

Montesquieu's other major work includes an epistolary novel, The Persian Letters (1721), which satirized the manners and the social and political institutions of France from the perspective of two traveling Persian gentlemen. Also prior to The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu wrote a history of Rome entitled Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline (1734), which explored the relationship between republican virtue and self-interest. His work was perhaps most directly influential on Alexis de Tocqueville and, later, Emile Durkheim.

From the Dictionary of the Social Sciences


Paine, Thomas (1737–1809) Revolutionary and author, 

son of a Quaker staymaker of Thetford. He was dismissed as an exciseman in 1774 after agitating for an increase in pay. At the suggestion of Benjamin Franklin he sailed for America, where he published in 1776 Common Sense and in 1776–83 a series of pamphlets, The Crisis, encouraging American resistance to England; he also wrote against slavery and in favour of the emancipation of women. In 1787 he returned to England, and published in 1791 the first part of The Rights of Man in reply to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. The second part appeared in 1792, when, alerted by William Blake of impending arrest, Paine left for France, where he was elected a member of the Convention. However, he opposed the execution of Louis XVI, and narrowly escaped the guillotine.The Age of Reason (1793), an attack on Christianity and the Bible, was answered by Richard Watson, bishop of Llandaff, and others, and his effigy was repeatedly burned in England. He returned to America in 1802; his last years were saddened by ill health and neglect. Ten years after his death William Cobbett, once an implacable opponent, exhumed his bones for reburial in England, but they were eventually mislaid. Paine's writings, however, became a textbook for radicals in England, thanks to his clear style and direct connection with the American struggle and the French Revolution. He gave away most of his earnings, in part to the Society of Constitutional Information, founded in 1780.

From the Oxford Companion to English Literature

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques (1712–78) Swiss writer and philosopher. 

Born into a Protestant artisan family at Geneva, he was brought up by various family members, his mother having died soon after his birth. At the age of 15, he embarked upon the first of the travels which would take him to many parts of Switzerland, France, and Italy, and (in 1766–7) to England, where he famously quarrelled with David Hume. Rousseau's fiery personality, extreme sensitivity, and penchant for controversy fill his career with dramatic episodes such as this; nevertheless, his contributions to social and political philosophy, the novel, autobiography, moral theology, and educational theory mark him out as one of the dominant writers and thinkers of the age.

Rousseau made his name with the publication in 1751 of his Discours sur les sciences et les arts (Discourse on the Sciences and Arts), which had won first prize in an essay competition organized by the Academy of Dijon; within a year, it had twice been translated into English. In the Discours, Rousseau argues that the development and spread of knowledge and culture, far from improving human behaviour, has corrupted it by promoting inequality, idleness, and luxury. The Discours sur l'origine et les fondements de l'inégalité (1755: Discours on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality), reviewed by Adam Smith in the first Edinburgh Review, contrasts the innocence and contentment of primitive man in a ‘state of nature'—his mode of existence determined by none but genuine needs—with the dissatisfaction and perpetual agitation of modern social man, most of whom are condemned to the legally sanctioned servitude necessary to preserve the institution of private property. The suggestion by d'Alembert in his Encyclopédiearticle on Geneva that a theatre should be established in Rousseau's native city prompted the Lettre sur les spectacles (1758: Letter on Theatre), in which the passive nature of playgoing, the preoccupation of modern plays with love, and the consequent unnatural bringing forward of women are seen as dangerous symptoms of the ills of society.

A return to primitive innocence being impossible, these ills were only to be remedied, Rousseau held, by reducing the gap separating modern man from his natural archetype and by modifying existing institutions in the interest of equality and happiness. Such is the theme of his two novels: in Julie, ou la Nouvelle Héloïse (1761: Julie, or the New Heloise), a critical account of contemporary manners and ideas is interwoven with the story of the passionate love of the tutor Saint Preux and his pupil Julie, their separation, Julie's marriage to the Baron Wolmar, and the dutiful, virtuous life shared by all three on the baron's country estate; and Émile (1762) lays down the principles for a new scheme of education in which the child is to be allowed full scope for individual development in natural surroundings, shielded from the harmful influences of civilization, in order to form an independent judgement and a stable character. Also in 1762 Rousseau published Du contrat social (The Social Contract), his theory of politics, in which he advocated universal justice through equality before the law, a more equitable distribution of wealth, and defined government as fundamentally a matter of contract providing for the exercise of power in accordance with the ‘general will’ and for the common good, by consent of the citizens as a whole, in whom sovereignty ultimately resides.

As examples of unparalleled self-insight and subtle self-analysis, Rousseau's last works, his posthumously published autobiographical Confessions (1782–9) and Rêveries du promeneur solitaire (1782: Reveries of the Solitary Walker) are landmarks of the literature of personal revelation.

From the Oxford Companion to English Literature

Smith, Adam (1723–90)

Scottish moral philosopher and political economist, born in Kirkcaldy and educated at Glasgow University (where he was taught by Francis Hutcheson) and Balliol College, Oxford. His public lectures on rhetoric and belles‐lettres in Edinburgh from 1748 to 1751 won him the friendship of Hugh BlairAdam Ferguson, and David Hume. He was appointed professor of logic at Glasgow in 1751, moving to the chair of moral philosophy the following year. His contributions to the original Edinburgh Review (1755–6) included a respectful but critical assessment of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary. In 1759 he published The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and five years later resigned his professorship to accompany the young duke of Buccleuch as tutor to France, Switzerland, and Germany. While in Europe he met Voltaire and other Philosophes, and renewed an existing acquaintance with Benjamin Franklin. In 1766 he returned to Kirkcaldy to devote himself to the preparation ofAn Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, published in 1776 at the end of a three‐year sojourn in London (during the course of which he had been admitted to the Royal Society and the Club). The argument of The Wealth of Nations that conventional ‘mercantilist’ policies restricted growth and perpetuated poverty revolutionized economic theory and (in due course) governmental practice. Most of Smith's voluminous and various manuscript writings were destroyed, in accordance with his instructions, on his death. Essays on Philosophical Subjects (1795) collected what was left.

From the Oxford Companion to English Literature

Voltaire (1694–1778) Pseudonym of François‐Marie Arouet, prolific French poet, dramatist, historian, satirist, fiction writer, polemicist, thinker, critic, 

and correspondent. He was the universal genius of the Enlightenment. He made his name as a tragic dramatist, writing some 30 tragedies, from Œdipe (1718: Oedipus) to Irène (1778), and as a poet, publishing La Ligue (1723:The League; later retitled La Henriade, 1728), his epic poem about Henri de Navarre. Following early imprisonment in the Bastille for his satirical verse (1717–18), he spent a period in exile in England (1726–8), which inspired his first great prose work, the controversial Lettres philosophiques (1734: Philosophical Letters), the first edition of which was in English (1733), and which creates a satirical contrast between the liberty and tolerance of England and the abuses of the French ancien régime. Thereafter Voltaire spent most of his life away from Paris, staying first in Champagne with Madame Du Châtelet, subsequently in Berlin with Frederick II, and finally at Ferney, near Geneva. His other prose works include his histories, which won the admiration of Hugh Blair, notably Le Siècle de Louis XIV (1751: The Century of Louis XIV), which disregards providence as an explanatory principle, seeking instead evidence of social and moral progress, and his philosophical tales, most famously Candide (1759), in which his wit, the concision of his style, and the precision of his mind are put to the service of satirizing philosophical systems which take no account of the reality of evil and suffering in the world. His championing of justice and tolerance and his mockery of the cruelty and obscurantism of the civil and ecclesiastical establishments were relentless from the late 1750s onwards, symbolized by his campaign to ‘écraser l'Infâme’ (‘crush Infamy’). This was the source of both his persecution and his immense international prestige. Most of his works were translated into English as they appeared (Candide, for instance, was translated twice in 1759 alone); there were also English collected works, in particular the 35‐volume edition masterminded by Tobias Smollett and Thomas Francklin (1721–84), which began to appear in 1761. 

From the Oxford Companion to English Literature

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