It was Lamartine who said,’If we judge of men by what they have done, then Voltaire is incontestably the greatest writer of Modern Europe’. At a time the arrant knave of superstition had possessed minds of men he made them look silly with some well chosen words. His pen dealt not with poison or vitriol but with ridicule. How lightly he could causing merriment all around make man take a look at himself more closely! Naturally his forte was in molding public opinion. Especially as the case of Jean Calais is an ample proof to it.
Jean Calais case was as sensational as of Dreyfus in another time and convulsed the entire Europe. His only crime was that he was a Protestant as Colonel Dreyfus was a Jew!
Jean Calais kept a small shop in Toulouse. One day while he was at supper with his family above the shop Marc Antoine, his scapegrace son hanged himself. It was an open and shut case of suicide. But the priests and the party got wind of it and turned it around as murder. The Protestant or Huguenot parents were charged with murdering their son in order to prevent him from becoming a Catholic. A circus followed what with White Penitents and their cohorts holding vigil and prayers for the repose of Antoine’s soul.
Under duress some witnesses were found but despite their vagueness the poor old man was stretched till his limbs were torn out of the sockets. Next was the water torture and water pumped into through a horn made his body swell double the size. He still was alive and the Priests and the interested parties saw to that he was hauled to the scaffold and limbs systematically broken by an iron bar. Poor Calais had no confession to make and the executioner himself put a stop to this Ecclesiastical farce by strangling him. What of the poor man’s family? Two daughters were thrust into a convent and a son feigned conversion and got released. Another son escaped to Geneva while the mother disappeared.
At a time when men dared not challenge the Church Voltaire got into the act. He took Poor Calais into his family and got the powerful of the realm interested. At a great cost of his time and money he made restitution to the members of the family in practical ways. He also employed the best lawyers he could find to put the miscarriage of justice aright. He found Mama Calais and housed her in comfortable circumstances. His influence was such those who protested at the travesty of justice were the Queen of England, Catherine of Russia and Frederick the great.
There were quite a few religious crimes where the crimes of the accused were the same. These were Huguenots. Voltaire tilted lances with the monsters; unlike the Man of La Mancha this was real and Voltaire did not come off worse in the engagement.
To this Evil which the Church perpetuated he was a Martin Luther of letters and how he ridiculed the rascals in purple and made their pretensions as silly as the Emperor’s new clothes. I wonder what would he have said in this age when the clergy are the great abusers of the young!