This is the third work of Voltaire’s that I have read, the other two being Candide and Letters on England, and while I knew what to expect, it contains many unexpected and radical points (for a work of the 18th c. that is). Despite being a philosophical dictionary, most of the entries pertained to religion. It reminded me of David Hume’s Writings on Religion. Concerning religion, Voltaire was an atheist and addresses many of what he believes to be the faults of established religious institutions, including those of the East (which he knows very little of and therefore are discussed only briefly). At first Voltaire may appear to be anti-Semitic, but he is quite the opposite, as no religion is safe from his criticism, especially Catholicism. But the reader must also know that Voltaire does not attack blindly. He praises the virtues, morals and benefits that religion provides for mankind, and in turn condemns religious enthusiasm, superstition and fanaticism. Which I think is something that most readers can agree with. What I didn’t expect were arguments such as that animals are not without knowledge and feelings and that the good actions of pagans of antiquity are just as virtuous as those of monotheists. There are people even today who would not agree with this, and the reader realizes why Voltaire’s work was shamelessly and wrongly forbidden and burned. Other surprising arguments include that woman should not be subservient to man and that the accusation of “idolater” is nonsensical. But it is not all issues of religion, Voltaire also gives his opinion on Freedom of Thought, Friendship, Love, Beauty and Limits of the Human Mind. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this work, but I warn the potential reader to be honest with himself/herself. If you cannot handle religious criticism, than I suggest putting off this work until you are comfortable enough to read with an open-mind.
September 26, 1804
Set out early and proceeded on— the river lined with Indians, came too & anchored by the particular request of the Chiefs to let their Women & Boys See the Boat, and Suffer them to Show us some friendship— great numbers of men, women & Children on the bank viewing us— Those people are Spritely Small legs ill-looking Set men particularly, they grease & Black themselves when they dress, make use of Hawks feathers about their heads, cover with a Robe each a polecat Skin to hold their Smokeables, fond of Dress, Badly armed. Their women appear very well, fin[e] Teeth, High Cheek [bones] Dress in Skin Petticoats, & a Robe with the flesh Side out and hairy ends turned back over their Shoulders, and look well— they do all the Laborious work, and I may say are perfect Slaves to their husbands who frequently have Several wives— Capt Lewis & 5 men went on Shore with the Chiefs, who appeared to wish to become friendly. They requested us to remain one night & see them dance &c.— in the evening I walked on Shore, and Saw Several Mahar Women & Boys in a lodge & was told they were Prisoners lately taken in a battle in which they killed a number & took 48 prisoners— I advised the Chiefs to make peace with that nation and give up the Prisoners, if they intended to follow the words of their Great Father [Thomas Jefferson]. They promised that they would do So— I was in Several Lodges neatly formed, those lodges are about 15 to 20 feet Diameter Stretched on Poles like a Sugar Loaf, made of Buffalo Skins Dressed
About 5 oClock I was approached by 10 well Dressed young men with a neat Buffalo Roab which they Set down before me & requested me to get in they Carried me to ther Council Tents forming ¾ Circle & Set me down between 2 Chefs where 〈they had〉 about 70 men were Seated in a circle, in front of the Chief 6 feet Square was cleared & the pipe of peace raised on forks & Sticks, under which was Swans down 〈Spread〉 Scattered, the Flags of Spain & the one we gave them yesterday was Displayed a large fire was made on which a Dog was Cooked, & in the center about 400 wt of Buffalo meat which they gave us,— Soon after, I took my Seat the young men went to the boat & brought Capt Lewis in the Same way & placed him by me. Soon after an old man rose & Spoke approving what we had done. Requesting us to take pity on them &C. answered— They form their Camp in a circle.
The great Chief then rose in great State and Spoke to the Same purpose and with Solemnity took up the pipe of peace and pointed it to the heavens, the 4 quarters and the earth, he made Some devastation [dissertation?], & presented the Stem to us to Smoke, after Smoking & a Short Harangue to his people we were requested to take the meat, and the Flesh of the Dog given us to eat— We Smoked until Dark, at which time all was cleared away & a large fire made in the Center, Several men with Tambourines highly Decorated with Deer & Cabra Hoofs to make them rattle, assembled and began to Sing & Beat— The women Came forward highly decorated with the Scalps & Trophies of war of their fathers Husbands & relations, and Danced the war Dance, which they done with great cheerfulness until 12 oClock, when we informed the Chief we intended return on board, (they offered us women, which we did not except) 4 Chiefs accompanied us to the boat and Staid all night— Those people have a Description of Men which they Call Soldiers, those men attend to the police of the Band, Correct all vices &. I Saw one to day whip 2 Squares who appeared to have fallen out, when the Soldier approached all appeared [to] give way and flee 〈with〉. At night they Keep 4 or 5 men at different distances walking around their Camp Singing the occurrences of the night. All in Spirits this evening. Wind hard from the S E.