Letters concerning the English Nation/Preface
THE present Work appears with Confidence in the Kingdom that gave Birth to it: and will be well satisfied with its Fortune, if it meets with as favourable a Reception as has been indulg'd to all the other Compositions of its Author. The high Esteem which Mr. de Voltaire has always discover'd for the English, is a Proof how ambitious he is of their Approbation. 'Tis now grown familiar to him, but then he is not tir'd with it; and indeed one wou'd be apt to think that this Circumstance is pleasing to the Nation, from the strong Desire they have to peruse whatever is publish'd under his Name.
Without pretending therefore to any great Penetration, we may venture to assure him that his Letters will meet with all the Success that cou'd be wish'd. Mr. de Voltaire is the Author of them, they were written in London, and relate particularly to the English Nation; three Circumstances which must necessarily recommend them. The great Freedom with which Mr. de Voltaire delivers himself in his various Observations, cannot give him any Apprehensions of their being less favourably receiv'd upon that Account, by a judicious People who abhor Flattery. The Engish are pleas'd to have their Faults pointed out to them, because this shews at the same Time, that the Writer is able to distinguish their Merit.
We must however confess, that these Letters were not design'd for the Public. They are the Result of the Author's Complacency and Friendship for Mr. Thiriot, who had desir'd him, during his Stay in England, to favour him with such Remarks as he might make on the Manners and Customs of the British Nation. 'Tis well known that in a Correspondence of this kind, the most just and regular Writer does not propose to observe any Method. Mr. de Voltaire in all Probability follow'd no other Rule in the Choice of his Subjects than his particular Taste, or perhaps the Queries of his Friend. Be this as it will, 'twas thought that the most natural Order in which they cou'd be plac'd, would be that of their respective Dates. Several Particulars which are mention'd in them make it necessary for us to observe, that they were written between the latter End of 1728, and about 1731. The only Thing that can be regretted on this Occasion is, that so agreeable a Correspondence should have continued no longer.
The Reader will no doubt observe, that the Circumstances in every Letter which had not an immediate relation to the Title of it, have been omitted. This was done on purpose; for Letters written with the Confidence and Simplicity of personal Friendship, generally include certain Things which are not proper for the Press. The Public indeed thereby often lose a great many, agreeable Particulars; but why should they complain, if the want of them is compensated by a thousand Beauties of another kind? The Variety of the Subjects, the Graces of the Diction, the Solidity of the Reflexions, the delicate Turn of the Criticism; in fine, the noble Fire, which enlivens all the Compositions of Mr. de Voltaire, delight the Reader perpetually. Even the most serious Letters, such as those which relate to Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophy, will be found entertaining. The Author has infus'd into his Subject all the delicate Touches it was susceptible of; deep and abstruse enough to shew that he was Master of it, and always perspicuous enough to be understood.
Some of his English Readers may perhaps be dissatisfied at his not expatiating farther on their Constitution and their Laws, which most of them revere almost to Idolatry; but this Reservedness is an Effect of Mr. de Voltaire's Judgment. He contented himself with giving his Opinion of them in general Reflexions, the Cast of which is entirely new, and which prove that he had made this Part of the British Polity his particular Study. Besides, how was it possible for a Foreigner to pierce thro' their Politicks, that gloomy Labyrinth, in which such of the English themselves as are best acquainted with it, confess daily that they are bewilder'd and lost?
While this Work was in the Press, there came to London a Manuscript Letter of Mr. de Voltaire, in answer to the Complaints made by the Citizens of Hamburgh against a Passage in the History of Charles the Twelfth, relating to the Burning of Altena. We thought proper to insert that Letter here, for the Use of those who have the History of Charles the Twelfth in English only.