The characters of Voltaire’s philosophical tale use the word“Ingenious” in the sense of someone who“always says naively what he thinks”.
In this tale, the one called the ingenue is a Huron: an Indian from Canada.
This chapter, whose title means a lot: “”, is the occasion for Voltaire to praise reading, knowledge, culture, and critical sense.
It is also a question of censorship, of the government which opposes this free knowledge, of the works which are burned.
Reading enlarges the soul, and an enlightened friend consoles it. Our captive enjoyed these two advantages which he had not suspected before. I would be tempted, he said, to believe in metamorphoses, for I have been changed from a brute to a man. He built up a selected library from some of the money he was allowed to have. His friend encouraged him to write down his thoughts. Here is what he wrote about ancient history:
“I imagine that the nations have been long like me, that they have not learned until very late, that they have been occupied for centuries only with the present moment that was flowing, very little with the past, and never with the future. I have traveled five or six hundred leagues in Canada, I have not found a single monument; no one knows anything about what his great-grandfather did. Is this not the natural state of man? The species of this continent seems to me superior to that of the other. It has increased its being for several centuries by the arts and by knowledge. (…)
I like the fables of the philosophers, I laugh at those of the children, and I hate those of the impostors.
One day he came across a history of the Emperor Justinian. In it he read that the apologists of Constantinople had issued an edict in very bad Greek against the greatest captain of the century, because this hero had uttered these words in the heat of conversation:
“Truth shines by its own light, and one does not enlighten minds with the flames of the pyres.”
The apologists assured that this proposition was heretical, smelling of heresy, and that the opposite axiom was Catholic, universal, and Greek:
“Spirits are only enlightened with the flame of the pyres, and truth cannot shine with its own light.”
These linostoles thus condemned several speeches of the captain, and gave an edict.
The Ingenious – Voltaire –