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"I Disapprove Of What You Say, But I Will Defend To The Death Your Right To Say It"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: This statement is an example of something so appropriate to its supposed author that one can only regret his failure actually to say it. When Evelyn Hall wrote her sketches of Voltaire's friends she used the remark, in the form of a quotation, to describe his attitude toward Helvétius. It was only natural that such a ringing defense of liberty should become a part of our common heritage–and equally natural to credit Voltaire with it. We feel that he should have uttered those words, whether he did so or not. When Helvétius published his philosophical work, On the Mind, the authorities found statements in it which they considered treasonous; Helvétius was persecuted and his book was burned. In this way a book of no great depth or importance became one of the most famous works of the eighteenth century. The author had many friends, and they rallied to his support; Hall describes the situation:

. . . The men who had hated it, and had not particularly loved Helvétius, flocked around him now. Voltaire forgave him all injuries, intentional or unintentional . . . "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," was his attitude now.