Jean Meslier Bibliography

Extrait des sentiments de Jean Meslier 1762
Meslier (1664-1733) was cure of Etrepigny and Brut, in Champagne. His Testament, which was put together during his last years and discovered after his death, was one of the most influential of the various freethinking texts which had been in wide circulation in France since the beginning of the century. In it Meslier disavowed the Christian doctrines that he had preached all his life in favour of materialism, Lockean ‘sensualism’ and, to all intents and purposes, atheism. Meslier spent his life as a priest, having evidently been coerced into the priesthood by his parents. Until 1711 he successfully performed his duties but his remaining years were spent in violent confrontation with his superiors. Voltaire was an admirer of the Testament and published his Extrait from it, though toning it down and giving it a Deistic slant in 1762. He wrote to d’Alembert: “Jean Meslier ought to convert the earth. Why is his gospel in so few hands? How lukewarm you are in Paris!”

The Testament was not published in full until 1864. According to Meslier, “Nature is full of prodigies, but it is Nature herself who produces them...and she produces them, not by design and consciously, but mechanically and blindly, by the natural laws of motion of the insensible parts of matter which modify themselves, unite and combine in infinite sorts and manners”.