'I will defend to the death your right never to have said it'

posted May 16, 2013, 1:38 AM by Professor Katz   [ updated Nov 30, 2013, 8:46 AM ]
Everyone knows Voltaire's famous quotation: 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.'  One problem: he never said it, never wrote it, never published it.  The quotation appears for the first time in a book published by Evelyn Beatrice Hall (1868-1939?) under the pseudonym 'S.G. Tallentyre', The Friends of Voltaire (London, 1906), p. 199:

Hall makes no claim that Voltaire said it.  What she writes is this:


Decades later, this 'quotation' from Voltaire appeared in an article entitled 'Quotable Quotes', published in Reader's Digest (June 1934), and it became widely known.  Hall tried to correct the mistake in the Saturday Review (11 May 1935), p. 13:

I did not mean to imply that Voltaire used these words verbatim and should be surprised if they are found in any of his works. They are rather a paraphrase of Voltaire's words in the Essay on Tolerance — "Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too."

Too late.  The quotation itself has passed into history....