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

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.