Saturday, April 16, 2011

Voltaire never said anything like this

Voltaire [1694-1778] said many marvelous things. But, contrary to what many English-speakers imagine, Voltaire never, in any circumstances, wrote or pronounced words of the following kind:
I wholly disapprove of what you say,
and will defend to the death your right to say it.
This sentence was imagined by the English scholar S G Tallentyre (whose real name was Evelyn Beatrice Hall) in her book entitled The Friends of Voltaire (1906), and later in another book, Voltaire in His Letters (1919). She was merely paraphrasing the attitude of Voltaire in the context of a certain affair, but her publisher erroneously placed the sentence in inverted commas, giving readers the mistaken impression that they are Voltaire's actual words.

I hope that my readers might be able to use this information, one of these days, to win some kind of trivia quiz, or to impress people at a dinner evening. [That last sentence is mine, not Voltaire's.]

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