From Voltaire's Letters concerning the English nation. 1733


It is inadvertently affirm'd in the Christian Countries of Europe, that the English are Fools and Madmen. Fools, because they give their Children the Small-Pox to prevent their catching it; and Mad-men, because they wantonly communicate a certain and dreadful Distemper to their Children, merely to prevent an uncertain Evil. The English, on the other Side, call the rest of the Europeans cowardly and unnatural. Cowardly, because they are afraid of putting their Children to a little Pain; unnatural, because they expose them to die on Time or other of the Small-Pox. But that the Reader may be able to judge, whether the English or those who differ from the in opinion, are in the right, here follows the History of the fam'd Inoculation, which is mention'd with so much Dread in France.

In order therefore to preserve the Life and Beauty of their Children, the only Thing remaining was, to give them the Small-Pox in their infant Years. This they did, by inoculating in the Body of a Child, a Pustle taken from the most regular, and at the same Time the most favourable Sort of Small-Pox that could be procur'd. The Experiment cou'd not possibly fail. The Turks, who are People of good Sense, soon adopted this Custom, insomuch that at this Time there is not a Bassa in Constantinople, but communicates the Small-Pox to his Children of the Sexes, immediately upon their being wean'd.

Some pretend, that the Circassians borrow'd this Custom anciently from the Arabians; but we shall leave the clearing up of this Point of History to some learned Benedictine, who will not fail to compile a great many Folio's on this Subject, with the several Proofs or Authorities. All I have to say upon it, is that in the beginning of the Reign of King George the First, the Lady Wortley Mountague, a Woman of as fine a Genius, and endu'd with as great a Strength of Mind, as any of her Sex in the British Kingdoms, being with her Husband who was Ambassador at the Port, made no scruple to communicate the Small-Pox to an Infant of which she was deliver'd in Constantinople. The Chaplain represented to his Lady, but to no purpose, that this was an unchristian Operation, and therefore that it cou'd succeed with none but Infidels. However, it had the most happy Effect upon the Son of the Lady Wortley Mountague, who, at her Return to England, communicated the Experiment to the Princess of Wales, now Queen of Enland. It must be confess'd that this Pricess, abstracted from her Crown and Title, was born to encourage the whole Circle of Arts, and to do good to Mankind. She appears as an amiable Philosopher on the Throne, having never let slip one Opportunity of improving the great talents she receiv'd from Nature, nor of exerting her Beneficence. 'tis she who protects the learned Father Courayer. 'tis she who condescended to attempt a Reconciliation between Dr. Clark and Mr. Leibnitz. The Moment this Princess heard of Inoculation, she caus'd an Experiment of it to be made on four Criminals sentenc'd to die, and by that means preserv'd their Lives doubly; for she not only sav'd them from the Gallows, but by means of this artificial Small-Pox, prevented their ever having that Distemper in a natural Way, with which they would very probably have been attack'd one Time or other, and might have died of in a more advanc'd Age.

The Princess being assur'd of the Usefulness of this Operation, caus'd her own Children to be inoculated. A great Part oft he Kingdom follow'd her Example, and since that Time ten thousand Children, at least, of Persons of Condition owe in this Manner their Lives to her Majesty, and to the Lady Wortley Mountague; and as many of the Fair Sex are oblig'd to them for their Beauty.

Upon a general Calculation, threescore Persons in every hundred have the Small-Pox. Of these threescore, twenty die of it in the most favourable Season of Life, and as many more wear the disagreeable Remains of it in their Faces so long as they live. Thus, a fifth Part of Mankind either die, or are disfigur'd by this Distemper. But it does not prove fatal to so much as one, among those who are inoculated in Turkey or in England, unless the Patient be infirm, or would have died had not the Experiment been made upon him. Besides, no one is disfigur'd, no one has the Small-Pox a second Time, if the Inoculation was perfect. 'Tis therefore certain, that had the Lady of some French Ambassador brought this Secret from Constantinople to Paris, the Nation would have been for ever oblig'd to her. Then the Duke de Villequier, Father to the Duke d'Aumont, who enjoys the most vigorous Constitution, and is the healthiest Man in France, would not have been cut off in the Flower of his Age.

The Prince of Soubise, happy in the finest Flush of Health, would not have been snatch'd away at five and twenty; nor the Dauphin, Grandfather to Lewis the Fifteenth, have been laid in his grave in his fiftieth Year. Twenty thousand Persons who the Small-Pox swept away at Paris in 1723, would have been alive at this Time. But are not the French fond of Life, and is beauty so inconsiderable an Advantage as to be disregarded by the Ladies! It must be confess'd that we are an odd kind of People. Perhaps our Nation will imitate, ten Years hence, this Practice of the English, if the Clergy and the Physicians will but give them Leave to do it: Or possibly our Country Men may introduce Inoculation three Months hence in France out of mere whim, in case the English should discontinue it thro' Fickleness.

I am inform'd that the Chiness have practis'd Inoculation these hundred Years, a Circumstance that argues very much in its Favour, since they are thought to be the wisest and best govern'd People in the World. The Chinese indeed don't communicate this Distemper by Inoculation, but at the Nose, in the fame Manner as we take Snuff. This is a more agreeable way, but then it produces the life Effects; and proves at the same time, that had Inoculation been practis'd in France, 'twould have sav'd the Lives of Thousands.