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Title: Geneva
Original Title: Genève
Volume and Page: Vol. 7 (1757), pp. 578–578D
Author: Jean-Baptiste le Rond d'Alembert (biography)
Translator: Nelly S. Hoyt; Thomas Cassirer
Subject terms:
Political science
Original Version (ARTFL): Link
Source: Nelly S. Hoyt and Thomas Cassirer, trans., The Encyclopedia: Selections: Diderot, d'Alembert and a Society of Men of Letters (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965).

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Citation (MLA):
Citation (Chicago): d'Alembert, Jean-Baptiste le Rond. "Geneva." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Nelly S. Hoyt and Thomas Cassirer. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2003. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Genève," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 7:578–578D (Paris, 1757).
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When this article by d'Alembert appeared in 1757, Diderot's friend Friedrich Melchior Grimm inserted the following comment in his Correspondance littéraire , an account of the latest events in the literary world of Paris, which he regularly sent to various German princes: This article "is causing a great stir: its author very rashly asserts that the theologians of Geneva are Socinians, and even deists; this represents a particularly bad blunder by M. d'Alembert since he surely had no intention of incurring the displeasure of the Republic of Geneva." [1]

It may seem surprising that such an attack on one of the editors of the Encyclopédie should come from a close friend of Diderot and appear in a periodical to which Diderot himself frequently contributed. Yet even if this comment was not inspired by Diderot, it certainly expressed his own reactions, for "Geneva" proved to be the single most controversial article of the Encyclopédie , and the storm of controversy it provoked did much to endanger Diderot's cherished enterprise.

The article owes a great deal to Voltaire. The previous year d'Alembert had visited Voltaire in Geneva, and Voltaire had profited from this opportunity to further his own designs in the city in which he had recently taken up residence. It was Voltaire who was convinced that the ministers of Geneva were really no longer Calvinists but enlightened Unitarians and even deists, though perhaps without knowing it themselves. He was anxious to help them shed the vestiges of their Calvinist past and, in particular, their aversion to the theater, which was and had always been his passion. He felt that d'Alembert's article would provide welcome reinforcement for his campaign to turn Geneva into the city of philosophy, and his first reaction on receiving the seventh volume of the Encyclopédie was enthusiastic: "My dear courageous philosopher," he wrote to d'Alembert, "I have just been reading and rereading your excellent article 'Geneva.' I feel that the Council and the people should be profoundly grateful to you; and you deserve to be thanked even by the ministers." [2]

As it turned out the Genevans proved most ungrateful for d'Alembert's somewhat tactless suggestions on how to improve their city, and the ministers in particular were outraged at the suggestion that they no longer upheld the teachings of Calvin. A committee of nine was appointed by the city to draw up a declaration refuting d'Alembert's assertions; it also sent letters of protest to d'Alembert and Diderot, and tried, unsuccessfully, to get d'Alembert to retract his controversial remarks.

The article displeased not only the Genevans, it also aroused the Catholics in France who rightly saw d'Alembert's praise of Genevan institutions as an indirect attack on Catholic orthodoxy. It was d'Alembert's misfortune that "Geneva" appeared at the very time when the philosophes were under intense attack as a result of the attempted assassination of Louis XV, [3] and the unhappy editor saw his article used by his adversaries as a convenient club with which to destroy the Encyclopédie . A third onslaught from still another quarter followed in 1758: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, until recently a contributor himself to the Encyclopédie , came to the defense of his native city in his Lettre à M. d'Alembert sur les spectacles. Unlike d'Alembert's other critics, Rousseau was not aroused by the former's remarks on the religious opinions of the Genevans, but by the suggestion that Geneva needed a theater. This he rejects indignantly on the grounds that the theater corrupts the moral fiber of a nation; d'Alembert, he implies, could scarcely have suggested anything more likely to bring about the downfall of Geneva.

In the midst of all this controversy d'Alembert resigned as coeditor of the Encyclopédie . He himself maintained that his decision had nothing to do with "Geneva," but it is certain that Diderot's displeasure, Rousseau's attack, and the violent criticism he received from both Protestants and Catholics were all persuasive arguments in favor of abandoning his exposed position. This "desertion," as Diderot called it, was a heavy blow: the Encyclopédie was deprived of an illustrious editor who was a member of the French Academy as well as of the Academies of Berlin, London, Stockholm, and Bologna; and many, among them Voltaire, expected that this resignation would mark the end of the Encyclopédie . That this did not happen is largely due to Diderot's decision to ride out the storm. [4] [Translator note]

Geneva. This city is situated on two hills, at the foot of the lake which today is named after the city but formerly was called Lake Leman. It is very pleasantly situated. On one side one sees the lake, on the other the Rhone, and all around the smiling countryside. Along the lake there are hills dotted with country houses while a few miles away rise the Alpine peaks, which are always covered with ice and look as if they were made of silver when on a fine day the sun shines on them. As a rich and busy trading center, Geneva owes its prominence to the harbor, with its jetties, its boats, its markets, etc., as well as to its location between France, Italy, and Germany. The city has several fine buildings and attractive promenades. The streets are lighted at night and on the banks of the Rhone a very simple pumping machine has been installed that provides water even for the highest quarters, located a hundred feet above. The lake is approximately eighteen leagues long and four to five across at its widest point. It is a kind of little sea with storms and other remarkable phenomena. See Waterspout ( Trombe ), See Tidal Wave ( Seiche ), etc., and the Histoire de l'académie des sciences for the years 1741 and 1742. Geneva lies on latitude 46.12, longitude 23.45.

Julius Caesar mentions Geneva as a city of the Allobroges who were then already under Roman dominion. He came to the city to oppose the passage of the Helvetii, today called the Swiss. As soon as Christianity was introduced, the city became a bishopric suffragan to Vienne. [5] At the beginning of the fifth century Emperor Honorius ceded it to the Burgundians. These were driven out by the Frankish kings in 534. When toward the end of the ninth [ sic ] century Charlemagne set out to war against the Lombard kings in order to free the pope (who rewarded him with the imperial crown), he passed through Geneva and chose it as the meeting place of all his armies. Later the city was annexed to the German empire and it was here that Conrad assumed the imperial crown in 1034. Succeeding emperors, however, neglected to keep their eyes on the city since for three hundred years they were preoccupied with the great difficulties in their relationship with the popes. This enabled Geneva gradually to throw off its yoke and to become an imperial city whose bishop was its prince, or rather its lord, for the authority of the bishop was tempered by the authority of the citizens. The coat of arms which it chose at that time gave expression to this mixed constitution: on one side an imperial eagle, on the other a key representing the power of the Church, with the device Post tenebras lux [Light after darkness]. The city of Geneva kept these arms when it renounced the Roman Church. The keys [ sic ] in its coat of arms are now all it holds in common with the papacy. It is actually rather strange that Geneva retained them after having broken, with a sort of superstitious zeal, all the bonds that could possibly bind it to Rome. Geneva apparently thought that the device, Post tenebras lux , expressed so perfectly its present attitude to religion, that there was no need to change anything in its coat of arms.

The dukes of Savoy, neighbors of Geneva, repeatedly made covert attempts, sometimes with the aid of the bishops, to establish their authority over the city, but the latter resisted courageously, supported by its alliance with Fribourg and Berne. At that time, that is to say around 1526, the Council of Two Hundred was established. The ideas of Luther and Zwingli were beginning to penetrate. Berne had rallied to them, Geneva received them favorably and was finally converted to them in 1535. The papacy was no longer recognized and since that time the bishop resides in Annecy. He still carries the title "Bishop of Geneva" but has no more jurisdiction over the city than the bishop of Babylon has in his diocese.

Between the two doors of Geneva's city hall one can still see a Latin inscription commemorating the abolition of the Catholic religion. In it the pope is called "Antichrist." This name, which the Genevans' fanatic love of liberty and innovation gave him in a century that was still half barbarous, today seems scarcely worthy of a city so imbued with the philosophic spirit. We venture to suggest that the Genevans replace this insulting and vulgar monument with an inscription that is truer, nobler, and simpler. For Catholics the pope is the head of the true Church, for reasonable and moderate Protestants he is a sovereign whom they respect as a prince without obeying him, but in a century such as ours there is no one for whom he is still the Antichrist.

In order to defend its liberty against encroachment by the dukes of Savoy and by its bishops, Geneva strengthened its position still more by an alliance with Zurich and, above all, with France. Thanks to this aid it resisted the weapons of Charles-Emmanuel and the wealth of Philip II, a prince whose memory is assured of the execration of posterity because of his ambition, his despotism, his cruelty, and his superstition. Henri IV, who had sent three hundred soldiers to help Geneva, soon thereafter himself needed the city's help: it was of some use to him in his wars with the League [6] and on other occasions. This is the origin of the privileges which the Genevans, like the Swiss, enjoy in France.

The Genevans, wishing to bring fame to their city, called in Calvin. He enjoyed a great and well-deserved reputation because he was a man of letters of the first rank, who wrote Latin as well as a dead language can be written, and French with a purity of style that was exceptional for his time. This purity, which our grammarians still admire today, renders his writings far superior to almost all others written in his century, just as today the works of the Messieurs of Port-Royal [7] still seem far superior to the barbarous rantings of their adversaries and contemporaries. Calvin was both an excellent jurist and as enlightened a theologian as a heretic can be, and together with the magistrates he drew up a compendium of civil and ecclesiastical laws that was approved in 1543 by the people and has become the basic code of the republic. The excess of ecclesiastical property, which before the Reformation fed the luxury of the bishops and their subordinates, was now used to found a hospital, a college, and an academy; but the wars in which Geneva had to engage for almost sixty years prevented the arts and commerce from flourishing as much as the sciences. In 1602 the failure of the attempt by the duke of Savoy to scale the walls brought peace to the republic. The Genevans repulsed their enemies who had attacked by surprise, and they hanged thirteen of the leading enemy generals in order to give the duke of Savoy a distaste for such undertakings. They thought they were justified in treating men who attacked their city without a declaration of war as if they were highwaymen. The strange new policy of waging war without having declared it was not yet known in Europe; and even if it had then been followed by the great states, it would still be true that it is too much against the interest of small states ever to gain favor among them.

When Duke Charles-Emmanuel saw himself repulsed and his generals hanged, he gave up the idea of conquering Geneva. His example served as a lesson for his successors and since that time the city has been at peace and has not ceased to grow in population, in wealth, and in beauty. From time to time the tranquillity of the republic has been slightly disturbed by internal dissensions, of which the last broke out in 1738, [8] but peace was luckily restored by means of the mediation of France and the Swiss Confederation, while external security is today more firmly established than ever with two new treaties, one concluded with France in 1749, the other with the king of Sardinia [9] in 1754.

It is very remarkable that a city, which scarcely counts 24,000 souls and has a fragmented territory containing fewer than thirty villages, is nevertheless a sovereign state and one of the most prosperous cities of Europe. Geneva is rich because of its liberty and its commerce and often sees everything around it in flames without being in any way affected. The events that disturb Europe are only a spectacle for this city from which it profits without taking any part. Because it is linked to France by treaties and commerce and to England by commerce and religion, it maintains an impartial opinion on the rights and wrongs of the wars which those two powerful nations wage against each other, and at the same time it is too prudent to take any part in these wars. Geneva judges all the sovereigns of Europe without flattery, insult, or fear.

The city is well fortified, especially on the side facing the prince it fears the most, the king of Sardinia. The side bordering France has been left almost completely open and undefended. Military service, however, is performed as in a fortress city. The arsenals and military storehouses are well stocked and every citizen is a soldier, as in Switzerland or in ancient Rome. Genevans are permitted to serve in foreign armies but the state does not supply any power with bodies of troops and no recruiting is allowed on its territory.

While the city is wealthy, the state is poor because of the people's aversion to all new taxes, even the least burdensome. The revenue of the state comes to less than five hundred thousand livres in French money, but the admirable economy with which this is administered makes it quite sufficient for all the needs of the city and even produces reserves for emergencies.

There are four classes of inhabitants in Geneva: the citizens who are the sons of bourgeois and were born in the city; they alone can become magistrates. The bourgeois who are the sons of bourgeois or of citizens but were born in a foreign country, or who are foreigners to whom the magistracy has granted the rights of a bourgeois, which it has the power to do; these can be members of the General Council and even of the Grand Conseil, called the "Council of the Two Hundred." The residents are foreigners who have the permission of the magistrate to reside in the city but do not exercise any function. Lastly the natives are the children of residents; they have some privileges which their fathers did not possess, but they are excluded from the government.

The government is headed by four syndics who can hold this position for only one year and must wait at least four years before holding it again. They are aided by the Petit Conseil , composed of twenty counselors, a treasurer, and two secretaries of state, and by another body called Le Corps de la Justice . These two bodies deal with the daily business that demands immediate action, whether criminal or civil.

The Grand Conseil is composed of two hundred and fifty citizens or bourgeois. It judges major civil suits, it grants pardons, coins money, elects the members of the Petit Conseil and decides what matters should be brought before the General Council. This General Council comprises all citizens and bourgeois, with the exception of those under twenty-five years of age, and of those who are bankrupt or have incurred censure of some sort. This assembly holds the legislative power; it has the right of decision over war and peace, the right to form alliances, levy taxes, and elect the principal magistrates. The election is conducted with orderly decorum in the cathedral, even though there are about 1,500 electors.

This fact shows us that the government of Geneva has all the advantages and none of the drawbacks of democracy: everything is under the direction of the syndics, everything is originally discussed in the Petit Conseil , which also has the ultimate executive responsibility. Thus it seems that the city of Geneva has taken as its model the very wise law of the ancient Germanic government: De minoribus rebus principes consultant, de majoribus omnes; ita tamen, ut ea quorum penes plebem arbitrium est, apud principes praetractentur . [10]

The civil law of Geneva is almost entirely drawn from Roman law, with some modifications: for example, a father can leave no more than half his property to any heir he wishes to designate, the rest is equally divided between his children. This law on the one hand guarantees the independence of the children and on the other forestalls any injustice by the fathers.

M. de Montesquieu is right to give the name of "beautiful law" to the law that excludes from responsible positions in the republic all citizens who do not pay their father's debts after his death, and, of course, also all those who do not pay their own debts. [11]

The degrees of family relationship that prohibit marriage do not go beyond those laid down in Leviticus: thus first cousins are allowed to marry, but on the other hand no dispensation can be obtained in forbidden cases. Divorce is granted, upon declaration in a court of law, in cases of adultery or intentional desertion.

Criminal justice is dispensed scrupulously rather than harshly. Torture, which has already been abolished in several states and should be abolished everywhere because it is useless cruelty, is forbidden in Geneva. It is administered only to criminals who are already condemned to death, in order to discover their accomplices, if that is necessary. The accused has the right to ask for a transcript of the proceedings and to be assisted by his relatives and a lawyer who defends his case before the judges in open court. Criminal sentences are rendered by the syndics in the public square with great ceremony.

Hereditary titles are unknown in Geneva. The son of a first magistrate remains lost in the crowd if he does not rise above it by his merit. Neither nobility nor wealth carry with them rank, prerogatives, or easy access to public office. Corrupt practices are strictly forbidden. Offices carry so little remuneration that they do not tempt cupidity. Only noble souls are tempted because of the high esteem in which these offices are held.

There are few lawsuits. Most of them are settled out of court by the efforts of mutual friends, by the lawyers themselves, and by the judges.

Sumptuary laws prohibit the use of jewels and gold, limit funeral expenses, and oblige all citizens to go on foot on the city streets. Carriages are used only for trips to the countryside. In France these laws would be considered too strict and almost barbarous and inhuman, but they do not restrict the true comforts of life which can always be obtained at little expense. The laws only eliminate lavishness, which does not bring happiness and bankrupts us without being useful.

There exists no city perhaps where there are more happy marriages. On this point there is a gap of two hundred years between Geneva and our morals. Thanks to the regulations against luxury, no one is afraid to have many children. In Geneva luxury is not, as in France, one of the chief obstacles to population increase.

No theater is permitted in Geneva. There is no objection to plays in themselves, but it is feared that troops of actors would spread the taste for adornment, dissipation, and loose morals among the youth. Would not, however, a series of laws, strictly applied, on the conduct of the actors counteract this undesirable effect? In this way Geneva would possess both theater and good morals and would enjoy the advantages of both. Theatrical performances would educate the taste of the citizens and endow them with a delicacy of tact and a subtlety of feeling, which it is very difficult to acquire otherwise. Literature would profit while morals would not decline, and Geneva would add to the wisdom of Sparta the civility of Athens. There is another consideration, worthy of a republic that is so wise and enlightened, which might induce it to allow a theater. One of the principal causes of the loose morals for which we reproach actors is undoubtedly the barbarous prejudice against the acting profession. These men who are so indispensable to the progress and the vitality of the arts have been forced to live in a state of degradation. They seek in pleasures compensations for the esteem their estate cannot bring them. An actor whose morals are good should be doubly respected, but he is given scarcely any credit for his morality. The tax farmer who is an affront to the penury of the nation from which he draws his wealth, the courtier who fawns and does not pay his debts, those are the types of men we honor most highly. It would be better if actors were not only tolerated in Geneva, but if they were first restrained by wise regulations, then protected, and even granted respect as soon as they were worthy of it. In short, if they were treated exactly like other citizens, the city would soon enjoy the advantage of having a company of honorable actors, something that we believe to be so rare and yet is rare only by our own fault. I might add that such a company would soon be the best in Europe. Many people would hasten to Geneva who have great inclination and talent for the theater but who at present fear they would be dishonored by acting. There they would cultivate a talent that is so pleasing and so unusual, not only without shame but even in an atmosphere of respect. While many Frenchmen now find a stay in Geneva depressing because they are deprived of seeing plays, the city, which is already the abode of philosophy and liberty, would then also be the abode of respectable pleasure. Foreigners would no longer be surprised that in a city where regular performances of decent plays are forbidden, vulgar and stupid farces, as offensive to good taste as to good morals, may be presented. This is not all. Little by little the example of the Genevan actors, their steady conduct, and the esteem it would bring them would serve as a model to the actors of other nations and as a lesson to those who until now have treated them so inconsistently and even harshly. We would no longer see them being on the one hand pensioners of the government and on the other the objects of anathema. Our priests would lose the habit of excommunicating them and our bourgeois of viewing them with disdain. Then a small republic could claim the glory of having reformed Europe in this respect, and this is perhaps more important than one thinks.

Geneva has a university called the Académie where the young people are taught free of charge. The professors can become magistrates, and in fact several have held the office. This does much to stimulate the zeal and the fame of the Academy. A few years ago a school of design was founded as well. The lawyers, the notaries, and the doctors belong to associations to which one is admitted only after public examination, and all the craft guilds also have their regulations, their apprenticeships, and masterpieces.

The public library contains a good selection of books. It contains twenty-six thousand volumes and quite a number of manuscripts. These books can be borrowed by all citizens. Thus everyone reads and becomes enlightened, and the Genevans are much better educated than any other people. There is no suggestion that this might be bad, as some people maintain it would be for our country. Perhaps the Genevans and our politicians are equally right.

After England, Geneva was the first to practice smallpox inoculation which is so difficult to introduce in France and which nevertheless will be introduced, [12] although a number of our doctors still fight it, as their predecessors fought the circulation of the blood, emetic, and so many other incontrovertible truths and useful practices.

All the sciences and almost all the arts have been so well cultivated in Geneva that one would be surprised to see the list of scholars and artists of all kinds produced by the city during the last two centuries. Sometimes it has even had the good fortune to have famous foreigners chose to live in Geneva because of its pleasant location and the freedom enjoyed by its inhabitants. M. de Voltaire, who took up residence in Geneva three years ago, is now accorded the same tokens of esteem and respect by these republicans which he formerly received from several monarchs.

The most flourishing manufacture in Geneva is watch-making. It employs more than five thousand persons, that is to say more than a fifth of the citizens. Nor are the other arts neglected, particularly agriculture: painstaking cultivation compensates for the lack of fertile land.

All the houses are built of stone. This often prevents fires which are also promptly contained because of the good arrangements for extinguishing them.

Genevan hospitals are not, as elsewhere, merely a retreat for the poor who are sick or crippled. While they offer shelter to the homeless poor, they provide above all a great many small pensions that are distributed to poor families to help them live at home and continue working. Every year the hospitals spend more than three times their revenues, so generous are charitable gifts of every kind.

We must still speak of religion in Geneva. This is the section of the article that is perhaps of greatest interest to philosophers. We are now going to take up this subject but we beg our readers to remember that we are only writing as historians, not as partisans. Our theological articles are intended to serve as antidote to the present article and, besides, to recount is not to approve. We refer our readers to the words Eucharist, Hell, Faith, Christianity, etc., to caution them beforehand against what we are going to say. [13]

The ecclesiastical constitution of Geneva is purely presbyterian. There are no bishops, not to speak of canons. Not that there is objection to the institution of episcopacy, but the Genevans do not grant it any divine right and are of the opinion that a small republic is better served by ministers who are not as rich and influential as the bishops.

The ministers are either pastors, like our parish priests, or postulants, like those of our priests who do not have a living. The minister's income does not exceed 1,200 livres and there are no perquisites. The state provides the income since the church owns nothing. No one is accepted into the ministry before the age of twenty-four and only after examinations that are very strict in respect to knowledge and to morality. One would wish that most of our Catholic churches would follow this example.

The clergy plays no role in funerals. These are a purely administrative matter and are performed without any pomp. The Genevans believe that to put on a display after death is ridiculous. The dead are buried in a large cemetery quite far from the city, a custom that should be followed everywhere. See Exhalation. [14]

The clergy of Geneva have exemplary morals. The ministers live in great concord. One does not see them, as in other countries, quarrel bitterly among themselves about unintelligible subjects, persecute each other, and accuse each other in unseemly fashion before the magistrates. Yet they are far from all thinking alike on the articles that elsewhere are considered the most essential to religion. Several no longer believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, which Calvin, their leader, defended with such zeal that he had Servetus burned at the stake. [15] When anyone speaks to them about this execution, which mars the charity and moderation of their patriarch, they do not attempt to justify him. They admit that Calvin's action was very reprehensible, and they confine themselves (if it is a Catholic who speaks with them) to contrasting the execution of Servetus with that dreadful Saint Bartholomew's Day which every good Frenchman would wish to erase from our history with his own blood. They also compare it to the execution of John Hus which even the Catholics, they remind their interlocutor, no longer attempt to justify; it was an action that equally violated humanity and good faith and should cover the memory of the Emperor Sigismund [16] with opprobrium for all time.

"It is no small sign of the progress of human reason," writes M. de Voltaire, "that it was possible to publish in Geneva, with public approval, the statement (in the Essai sur l'histoire universelle by the same author) that Calvin had a cruel soul as well as an enlightened mind. The murder of Servetus today seems abominable."  [17] We believe that the praise which this noble freedom of thought and of writing deserves should be addressed equally to the author, to his century, and to Geneva. How many countries are there where philosophy has made just as much progress but where truth is still captive, where reason does not dare raise her voice to thunder against abuses she condemns in silence, where we find only too many pusillanimous writers, called "wise men," still respecting prejudices they could combat with complete propriety and safety!

Hell, one of the principal tenets of our faith, is no longer given such importance by several ministers in Geneva. According to them it would be an insult to the Divinity if we imagined that this Being full of goodness and justice were capable of punishing our offenses with eternal torments. They explain as best they can the passages in the Bible which are explicitly contrary to their opinion and assert that in the Holy Scriptures one must never take anything literally if it seems to go against humanity and reason. They believe that there is punishment in the afterlife, but that it is only temporary. Thus purgatory, once one of the principal causes of the separation of the Protestants from the Roman Catholic Church, is today the only punishment after death that many of the former will accept. Here is another item to add to the history of human contradictions.

In short, many of the ministers of Geneva have no other religion than a perfect Socinianism;  [18] they reject everything called "mystery" and imagine that the first principle of a true religion is not to propose any belief that conflicts with reason. When they are pressed on the question of the "necessity" of revelation, a dogma that is so basic to Christianity, many substitute the term "utility" which seems more agreeable to them. If they are not orthodox in this, at least they are true to their principles. See Socinianism.

A clergy holding these opinions must needs be tolerant and is tolerant enough to be viewed with disfavor by the ministers of the other reformed churches. One might add further, without any intention of approving the religion of Geneva, that there are few countries where the theologians and the clergymen are more opposed to superstition. As a result, because intolerance and superstition serve only to increase the number of unbelievers, one hears less complaint in Geneva than elsewhere about the spread of unbelief, and this should not surprise us. Here religion consists almost entirely in the adoration of a single God, at least among all classes other than the common people. Respect for Jesus Christ and for the Scriptures is perhaps all that distinguishes the Christianity of Geneva from pure deism.

The clergymen of Geneva are not merely tolerant: they remain entirely within their province and are the first to set an example for the citizens by submitting to the laws. The Consistory, charged with watching over morals, inflicts only spiritual punishment. The great quarrel between the priesthood and the Empire, which in the age of ignorance imperiled the crown of many an emperor, and which—we know this only too well—causes troublesome disturbances in more enlightened times, is unknown in Geneva where the clergy does nothing without the approval of the magistrates.

Worship is very simple in Geneva. The churches contain no images, no lights or ornaments. However, a portal in very good taste has just been added to the cathedral; little by little the interior of the churches will perhaps be embellished. Indeed, what objection could there be to having paintings and statues? If one wishes, the common people could be told not to worship them and to look on them only as monuments destined to recount in a striking and pleasing manner the principal events of religion. This would be to the advantage of the arts yet would bring no profit to superstition. The reader surely realizes that we are speaking here according to the principles of the ministers of Geneva, and not those of the Catholic Church.

The divine service includes both sermons and singing. The sermons are almost entirely concerned with morality and are all the better for that. The singing is in rather bad taste and the French verses that are sung are in even worse taste. It is to be hoped that Geneva will become reformed on these two points. An organ has just been placed in the cathedral and perhaps God will now be praised in better language and in better music. We must admit, however, that the Supreme Being is honored in Geneva with a seemliness and calm that is not noticeable in our churches.

Perhaps we will not devote articles of such length to the greatest monarchies, but in the eyes of the philosopher the Republic of the Bees is no less interesting than the history of great empires. It may be that the model of a perfect political administration can be found only in small states. If religion does not allow us to believe that the Genevans have successfully worked for their happiness in the next world, reason forces us to believe that they are perhaps as happy as one can be in this world:

O fortunatos nimium, sua si bona norint! [19]


1. [ Correspondance littéraire , December 15, 1757 (Vol. III, p. 458 in edition by Maurice Tourneux; Paris, 1878).]

2. [ Voltaire's Correspondence , ed. Th. Besterman, Vol. XXXII, p. 257 (December 29, 1757).]

3. [See Introduction, p. xiii.]

4. [Arthur M. Wilson's Diderot, the Testing Years (New York: Oxford University Press, 1957), pp. 280–290, gives a full account of this episode in the history of the Encyclopédie .]

5. [French city on the Rhone, capital of a province of Gaul in Roman times.]

6. [See footnote 2, p. 34.]

7. [Seventeenth-century Jansenist writers who lived in retreat at the convent of Port-Royal. Pascal was the most famous member of this group.]

8. [These were disputes between the patrician government and the more democratic bourgeois party.]

9. [I.e., the duke of Savoy. The house of Savoy had acquired Sardinia in 1718.]

10. ["On little matters the chiefs consult, on larger questions the community; only with this limitation, that even those subjects, the decision about which rests with the people, are first handled by the chiefs" (Tacitus, Germania 11). D'Alembert omitted quoque between ut and quorum of the original.]

11. [Montesquieu, L'Esprit des lois , Bk. XX, chap. 16.]

12. [Most French doctors still opposed inoculation at this time. The Encyclopédie contains a lengthy article on the subject ("Inoculation") by the famous Genevan doctor Théodore Tronchin who had successfully inoculated the children of the duke of Orléans in 1756. Tronchin also became involved in the controversy occasioned by "Geneva" since he acted as secretary to the committee of nine and wrote the letter to d'Alembert asking him to retract his allegations on the religious opinions of the Genevan clergy. Nonetheless, he always remained a good friend of both Voltaire and Diderot.]

13. [Three of the articles (none of which appear in these selections) to which d'Alembert refers the reader are perfectly orthodox, but "Hell," by the Abbé Mallet, is in great part a paraphrase from the seventeenth-century English Archbishop Tillotson, a precursor of the English deists, and dwells at length on Tillotson's argument that belief in hell is incompatible with belief in a just and merciful God.]

14. [This article is also by d'Alembert. In it he refers to the dangerous vapors produced by the presence of cemeteries within the confines of the city. Voltaire repeatedly advocated the removal of cemeteries from the city. Also noteworthy is the article "Air," on the dangers to health from the impure air in the cities. Neither of these articles appear in these selections.]

15. [Servetus, a Spanish theologian, was burned at the stake in 1553 for preaching against the doctrine of the Trinity and against child baptism.]

16. [Sigismund (1368–1437) was Holy Roman Emperor and King of Hungary and Bohemia. He granted Hus a safe-conduct to the Council of Constance but did not act when the Council imprisoned Hus and condemned him to be burned at the stake.]

17. [This is quoted from a letter by Voltaire to Nicholas Thieriot which was printed in the Mercure de France in May 1757 (pp. 35–38). The Essai sur l'histoire universalle is better known today as Essai sur les Moeurs .

Voltaire was quite upset that d'Alembert gave such wide publicity to opinions he had expressed in a letter. Mme Denis, Voltaire's niece, wrote in a letter to Tronchin on January 5, 1758: "My uncle has been very worried since he read the article on Geneva, because he thinks that d'Alembert has quoted him quite inopportunely. But he has told me: `I will not write a word about it unless our friend Tronchin tells me to do so.' Be assured that you will never perform any miracle for humanity that will be as remarkable as to cure my uncle of this article, something none of his friends have been able to accomplish so far." Voltaire's Correspondence (Besterman ed.), XXXIII, 17.]

18. [A unitarian doctrine based on the writings of the Italian theologian Fausto Paolo Sozzini (1539–1604).]

19. ["Oh how very happy they are if they know their blessing!" (Virgil. Georgics II. 458).]

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