If to be great means to be good, then Denis Diderot was a little man. But if to be great means to do great things in the teeth of great obstacles, then none can refuse him a place in the temple of the Immortals.
It is as the father of the Encyclopedia that Denis Diderot merits eternal recognition. Guilty as he was in almost every relation of life towards the individual, for mankind, in the teeth of danger and of infidelity, at the ill-paid sacrifice of the best years of his exuberant life, he produced that book which first leveled a free path to knowledge and enfranchised the soul of his generation.
Hopeless, filthy, degraded, superstitious with the craven superstition which made them the easy prey of their unscrupulous clergy and left them wholly sensual and stupid; as animals, without the animals' instinctive joy of life and fearlessness of the morrow ; with no ambitions for themselves or the children who turned to curse them for having brought them into such a world; with no time to dream or love, no time for the tenderness which makes life, life indeed — they toiled for a few cruel years because they feared to die, and died because they feared to live. Such were the people Turgot was sent to redeem.
In his home-life Turgot remained most frugal and laborious, treating his servants with a benevolence then accounted contemptible, and working out his quiet schemes with an infinite patience and thoroughness. When he was offered the richer Intendancy of Lyons, he would not take it. Here, as he said of himself, though he was 'the compulsory instrument of great evil,' he was doing a little good. Only a little, it might be. But if every man did the little he could — what a different world!
He who has lost only those of whose faith and truth he is sure, has not yet reached the depth of human desolation.
The crowning blessing of life is to be born with a bias to some pursuit.
The men who had hated [the book], and had not particularly loved Helvétius, flocked round him now. Voltaire forgave him all injuries, intentional or unintentional. 'What a fuss about an omelette!' he had exclaimed when he heard of the burning. How abominably unjust to persecute a man for such an airy trifle as that! 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,' was his attitude now.
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.