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Julian Bell writes:
Diderot’s Letter on the Blind has now been translated for the first time in more than two centuries by Kate Tunstall, who accompanies it with a stylish and subtle interpretive essay. It was written when Diderot was 35 and had only recently embarked on the Encyclopédie. He was hardly out of the Parisian equivalent of Grub Street: a sanguine, voluble struggler who had spent several years supplying maths tuition, off-the-peg sermons, pornography and translations from English to feed his wife and children. Voltaire, almost a generation older, was standing by now on a plateau of distinction: beyond it, peaks in the distance, rose the writings of Locke and ‘Neuton’, the Englishmen Voltaire revered. Diderot had taken a step towards this level three years earlier when he published his breezily sceptical Philosophical Thoughts: ‘criminal opinions’, in the judgment of the Paris Parlement, which ordered the volume to be publicly burned. Now, in 1749, Diderot snatched at a topical gambit.