Voltaire? Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle? Edward Young? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The famous French philosopher and satirist Voltaire apparently wrote a story in which the universe consisted of millions of worlds, and Earth was designated a peculiar place:
Our little globe is the lunatic ward of the universe.
Would you please help me to find this story and determine precisely what Voltaire wrote?
Quote Investigator: Voltaire wrote a story “Memnon ou La Sagesse Humaine” (“Memnon or Human Wisdom”) in the late 1740s and published it by 1749. The main character Memnon decides to become a great/perfect philosopher. Sadly, his quest results in a series of disasters that leave him impoverished and physically injured. He then meets an extraterrestrial being who gives him advice and insight. The being tells Memnon to stop his philosophical quest, and he discusses Earth’s place in the universe. Here is an English translation from 1807. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1
“Is it then impossible?” said Memnon.
“As impossible as to be perfectly wise, perfectly strong, perfectly powerful, perfectly happy. We ourselves are very far from it. There is a world indeed where all this takes place; but in the hundred thousand millions of worlds dispersed over the regions of space, every thing goes on by degrees. There is less philosophy and less enjoyment in the second than in the first, less in the third than in the second, and so forth till the last in the scale, where all are completely fools.”
“I am afraid,” said Memnon, “that our little terraqueous globe here is the mad-house of those hundred thousand millions of worlds, of which your Lordship does me the honour to speak.”
“Not quite,” said the spirit, “but very nearly: every thing must be in its proper place.”
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.