Light and Gay Voltaire

To France I posted, on the wings of air,
And fir’d the labors of the gay Voltaire.
He, light and gay, o’er learning’s surface flew,
And prov’d all things at option, false or true.
The gospel’s truths he saw were airy dreams,
The shades of nonsense, and the whims of whims.
Before his face no Jew could tell what past;
Or know the right from left, the first from last;
Conjecture where his native Salem stood,
Or find, if Jordan had a bank, or flood.
The Greeks, and Romans, never truth descried;
But always (when they proved the gospel) lied.
He, he alone, the blest retreat had smelt,
The Well, where long with frogs, the goddess dwelt;
In China dug, at Chihohamti’s call,
And curb’d with bricks, the refuse of his wall.
There, mid a realm of cheat, a world of lies,
Where alter’d nature wears one great disguise,
Where shrunk, mishapen bodies mock the eye,
And shrivell’d souls the power of thought deny,
Mid idiot Mandarins, and baby Kings,
And dwarf Philosophers, in leading-strings,
Mid senseless votaries of less senseless Fo,
Wretches who nothing even seem’d to know,
Bonzes, with souls more naked than their skin,
All brute without, and more than brute within,
From Europe’s rougher sons the goddess shrunk,
Tripp’d in her iron shoes, and sail’d her junk.
Nice, pretty, wondrous stories there she told,
Of empires, forty thousand ages old,
Of Tohi, born with rainbows round his nose,
Lao’s long day — Ginseng alchymic dose —
Stories, at which all Behmen’s dreams awake,
Start into truth, and sense and virtue speak;
To which, all, lisping children e’er began
With, ” At a time, ” or ” Once there was a man, ”
Is reason, truth, and fact; and sanctioned clear
With heaven’s own voice, or proof of eye and ear.

Timothy Dwight: The Triumph of Infidelity (1788)

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