Voltaire & the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755

The lines below are taken from Voltaire’s “Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne,” written in response to the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Then, as now, there’s a little wisdom here for those (hint: Pat Robertson) inclined to infer moral superiority from the suffering of others.

What crime, what sin, had those young hearts conceived
That lie, bleeding and torn, on mother’s breast?
Did fallen Lisbon deeper drink of vice
Than London, Paris, or sunlit Madrid?
In these men dance; at Lisbon yawns the abyss.
Tranquil spectators of your brothers’ wreck,
Unmoved by this repellent dance of death,
Who calmly seek the reason of such storms,
Let them but lash your own security;
Your tears will mingle freely with the flood.

Note: Pat Robertson’s controversial remarks contained one basic historical fact, and it was wrong. He asserted that the Haitians brought disaster upon themselves when they broke free from “Napoleon III.” Robertson got the wrong guy here. It wasn’t Napoleon Lite (1808–1873). It was Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) who coopted the French Revolution 50 years earlier and tried to impose his will on Haiti. But, whatever…

via The Sun Times



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