Vol. 5: Gargett, Graham.

Type: Article

Gargett, Graham. ‘Voltaire and Irish History’, Eighteenth-century Ireland/Iris an dá chultúr, Vol. 5 (1990), pp 117-141.

Despite his reputation as “the Enlightenment’s greatest and most universal figure” and as one of the most accomplished historians of the eighteenth century, Voltaire has remained a figure of controversy. While Gargett focuses on Voltaire’s remarks on Irish history, the article also provides general background to Voltaire’s work as an historian and considers, in particular, three of his writings: Siècle de Louis XIV, Précis du siècle de Louis XV and the Essai sur les moeurs. By examining passages from these works, Gargett points out Voltaire’s inconsistencies and distortion of facts concerning Irish history and notes his anti-catholic and anti-Irish descriptions of the Siege of Derry and the Battle of the Boyne. On James II and the Battle of the Boyne, Gargett states that, “Voltaire’s narrative would leave his reader in no doubt that the Irish thoroughly deserved their servile status and had shown no initiative, flair or resourcefulness in what seemed ideal circumstances to free themselves from English rule”. Gargett suggests that Voltaire should fall more in the category of propagandist and dramatist than historian.