Voltaire on the Art of Being Undefeated by Hardship
By Maria Popova
“Make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life,” Bertrand Russell wrote in his advice on how to grow old with contentment.
Nearly two centuries earlier, the French Enlightenment writer and philosopher Voltaire (November 21, 1694–May 30, 1778), lover of the trailblazing mathematician Émilie du Châtelet, offered a complementary perspective on what it means and what it takes to move through life undefeated by hardship and buoyed by a larger sense of meaning.
Quoted in The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (public library | free ebook) — William James’s 1902 masterwork, which gave us his insight into science and spirituality and the four qualities of transcendent consciousness — Voltaire writes to a friend at the age of seventy-three:
Weak as I am, I carry on the war to the last moment, I get a hundred pike-thrusts, I return two hundred, and I laugh. I see near my door Geneva on fire with quarrels over nothing, and I laugh again; and, thank God, I can look upon the world as a farce even when it becomes as tragic as it sometimes does. All comes out even at the end of the day, and all comes out still more even when all the days are over.
Complement with Henry Miller on the measure of a life well lived, Albert Camus on tenacity through difficult times, and Grace Paley’s offering of what might be the wisest advice on the art of growing older, then revisit Voltaire on writing and how to stay true to your creative vision and this lovely vintage children’s book based on his pioneering sci-fi philosophical homage to Newton.
Published August 7, 2018