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A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times by Francois Pierre Guillaume Guizot

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sought for a long while to pave the way for the election of the Prince of
Conti to the throne of Poland; the influence of Russia and of Prussia
carried the day. Prince Poniatowski, late favorite of the Empress
Catherine, was elected by the Polish Diet; in discouragement and sadness,
four thousand nobles only had responded to the letters of convocation.
The new king, Stanislaus Augustus, handsome, intelligent, amiable,
cultivated, but feeble in character and fatally pledged to Russia, sought
to rally round him the different parties, and to establish at last, in
the midst of general confusion, a regular and a strong government. He
was supported in this patriotic task by the influence, ever potent in
Poland, of the Czartoriskis. The far-seeing vigilance of Frederick II.
did not give them time to act. "Poland must be left in her lethargy," he
had said to the Russian ambassador Saldern. "It is of importance," he
wrote to Catherine, "that Her Majesty the empress, who knows perfectly
well her own interests and those of her friends and allies, should give
orders of the most precise kind to her ambassador at Warsaw, to oppose
any novelty in the form of government, and, generally speaking, the
establishment of a permanent council, the preservation of the commissions
of war and of the treasury, the power of the king and the unlimited
concession on the prince's part of ability to distribute offices
according to his sole will." The useful reforms being thus abandoned and
the king's feeble power radically shaken, religious discord came to fill
up the cup of disorder, and to pave the way for the dismemberment, as
well as definitive ruin, of unhappy Poland.

Subjected for a long time past to an increasing oppression, which was
encouraged by a fanatical and unenlightened clergy, the Polish dissidents
had conceived great hopes on the accession of Stanislaus Augustus; they
claimed not only liberty of conscience and of worship, but also all the
civil and political rights of which they were deprived. "It is no
question of establishing the free exercise of different religions in
Poland," wrote Frederick to Catherine; "it is necessary to reduce the
question to its true issue, the demand of the dissident noblesse, and
obtain for them the equality they demand, together with participation in
all acts of sovereignty." This was precisely what the clergy and the
Catholic noblesse were resolved never to grant. In spite of support from
the empress and the King of Prussia, the demand of the dissidents was
formally rejected by the Diet of 1766. At the Diet of 1767, Count
Repnin, Catherine's ambassador and the real head of the government in
Poland, had four of the most recalcitrant senators carried off and sent
into exile in Russia. The Diet, terrified, disorganized, immediately
pronounced in favor of the dissidents. By the modifications recently
introduced into the constitution of their country, the Polish nobles had
lost their liberum veto; unanimity of suffrages was no longer necessary
in the Diet; the foreign powers were able to insolently impose their will
upon it; the privileges of the noblesse, as well as their traditional
faith, were attacked at the very foundations; religious fanaticism and
national independence boiled up at the same time in every heart; the
discontent, secretly fanned by the agents of Frederick, burst out, sooner
than the skilful weavers of the plot could have desired, with sufficient
intensity and violence to set fire to the four corners of Poland. By a
bold surprise the confederates gained possession of Cracow and of the
fortress of Barr, in Podolia; there it was that they swore to die for the
sacred cause of Catholic Poland. For more than a century, in the face of
many misatkes and many misfortunes, the Poles have faithfully kept that

The Bishop of Kaminck, Kraminski, had gone to Versailles to solicit the
support of France. The Duke of Choiseul, at first far from zealous in
the cause of the Polish insurrection, had nevertheless sent a few troops,
who were soon re-enforced. The Empress Catherine had responded to the
violence of the confederates of Barr by letting loose upon the Ukraine
the hordes of Zaporoguian Cossacks, speedily followed by regular troops.
The Poles, often beaten, badly led by chieftains divided amongst
themselves, but ever ardent, ever skilful in seizing upon the smallest
advantages, were sustained by the pious exhortations of the clergy, who
regarded the war as a crusade; they were rejoiced to see a diversion
preparing in their favor by the Sultan's armaments. "I will raise the
Turks against Russia the moment you think proper," was the assurance
given to the Duke of Choiseul by the Count of Vergennes, French
ambassador at Constantinople, "but I warn you that they will be beaten."
Hostilities broke out on the 30th of October, 1768; a Turkish army set
out to aid the Polish insurrection. Absorbed by their patriotic
passions, the Catholic confederates summoned the Mussulmans to their
assistance. Prince Galitzin, at the head of a Russian force very
inferior to the Ottoman invaders, succeeded in barring their passage; the
Turks fell back, invariably beaten by the Russian generals. Catherine at
the same time summoned to liberty the oppressed and persecuted Greeks;
she sent a squadron to support the rising which she had been fomenting
for some months past. After a few brilliant successes, her arms were
less fortunate at sea than on land. A French officer, of Hungarian
origin, Baron Tott, sent by the Duke of Choiseul to help the Sublime
Porte, had fortified the Straits of the Dardanelles; the Russians were
repulsed; they withdrew, leaving the Greeks to the vengeance of their
oppressors. The efforts which the Empress Catherine was making in Poland
against the confederates of Barr had slackened her proceedings against
Turkey; she was nevertheless becoming triumphant on the borders of the
Vistula, as well as on the banks of the Danube, when the far-sighted and
bold policy of Frederick II. interfered in time to prevent Russia from
taking possession of Poland as well as of the Ottoman empire.

Secretly favoring the confederates of Barr whom he had but lately
encouraged in their uprising, and whom he had suffered to make purchases
of arms and ammunition in Prussia, Frederick II. had sought in Austria a
natural ally, interested like himself in stopping the advances of Russia.
The Emperor, Maria Theresa's husband, had died in 1764; his son, Joseph
II., who succeeded him, had conceived for the King of Prussia the
spontaneous admiration of a young and ardent spirit for the most
illustrious man of his times. In 1769, a conference which took place at
Neisse brought the two sovereigns together. "The emperor is a man eaten
up with ambition," wrote Frederick after the interview; "he is hatching
some great design. At present, restrained as he is by his mother, he
is beginning to chafe at the yoke he bears, and, as soon as he gets
elbow-room, he will commence with some 'startling stroke; it was
impossible for me to discover whether his views were directed towards the
republic of Venice, towards Bavaria, towards Silesia, or towards
Lorraine; but we may rely upon it that Europe will be all on fire the
moment he is master." A second interview, at Neustadt in 1770, clinched
the relations already contracted at Neisse. Common danger brought
together old enemies. "I am not going to have the Russians for
neighbors," the Empress Maria Theresa was always repeating. The
devastating flood had to be directed, and at the same time stemmed. The
feeble goodwill of France and the small body of troops commanded by
Dumouriez were still supporting the Polish insurrection, but the Duke of
Choiseul had just succumbed to intrigue at home. There was no longer any
foreign policy in France. It was without fear of intervention from her
that the German powers began to discuss between them the partition of

She was at the same time suffering disseverment at her own hands through
her intestine divisions and the mutual jealousy of her chiefs. In Warsaw
the confederates had attempted to carry off King Stanislaus Augustus,
whom they accused of betraying the cause of the fatherland; they had
declared the throne vacant, and took upon themselves to found an
hereditary monarchy. To this supreme honor every great lord aspired,
every small army-corps acted individually and without concert with the
neighboring leaders. Only a detachment of French, under the orders of
Brigadier Choisi, still defended the fort of Cracow; General Suwarrow,
who was investing it, forced them to capitulate; they obtained all the
honors of war, but in vain was the Empress Catherine urged by D'Alembert
and his friends the philosophers to restore their freedom to the glorious
vanquished; she replied to them with pleasantries. Ere long the fate of
Poland was about to be decided without the impotent efforts of France in
her favor weighing for an instant in the balance. The political
annihilation of Louis XV. in Europe had been completed by the dismissal
of the Duke of Choiseul.

The public conscience is lightened by lights which ability, even when
triumphant, can never altogether obscure. The Great Frederick and the
Empress Catherine have to answer before history for the crime of the
partition of Poland, which they made acceptable to the timorous jealousy
of Maria Theresa and to the youthful ambition of her son. As prudent as
he was audacious, Frederick had been for a long time paving the way for
the dismemberment of the country he had seemed to protect. Negotiations
for peace with the Turks became the pretext for war-indemnities. Poland,
vanquished, divided, had to pay the whole of them. "I shall not enter
upon the portion that Russia marks out for herself," wrote Frederick to
Count Solms, his ambassador at St. Petersburg. "I have expressly left
all that blank in order that she may settle it according to her interests
and her own good pleasure. When the negotiations for peace have advanced
to a certain stage of consistency, it will no longer depend upon the
Austrians to break them off if we declare our views unanimously as to
Poland. She cannot rely any further upon France, which happens to be in
such a fearful state of exhaustion that it could not give any help to
Spain, which was on the point of declaring war against England. If that
war do not take place, it must be attributed simply to the smash in the
finances of France. I guarantee, then, to the Russians all that may
happen to suit them; they will do as much for me; and, supposing that the
Austrians should consider their share of Poland too paltry in comparison
with ours, and it were desirable to satisfy them, one would only have to
offer them that strip of the Venetian dominions which cuts them off from
Trieste in order to keep them quiet; even if they were to turn nasty, I
will answer for it with my head that our union with Russia, once clearly
established, will tide them over all that we desire. They have to do
with two powers, and they have not a single ally to give them a

Frederick said truly; his sound and powerful judgment took in the
position of Europe: France, exhausted by the lingering decay of her
government and in travail with new and confused elements which had as yet
no strength but to shatter and destroy; Spain, lured on by France and
then abandoned by her; England, disturbed at home by parliamentary
agitation, favorably disposed to the court of Russia and for a long while
allied to Frederick; Sweden and Denmark, in the throes of serious events;
there was nothing to oppose the iniquity projected and prepared for with
so much art and ability. It was in vain that the King of Prussia sought
to turn into a joke the unscrupulous manoeuvres of his diplomacy when he
wrote to D'Alembert in January, 1772, "I would rather undertake to put
the whole history of the Jews into madrigals than to cause to be of one
mind three sovereigns amongst whom must be numbered two women." The
undertaking was already accomplished. Three months later, the first
partition of Poland had been settled between Russia, Prussia, and
Austria, and on the 2d of September, 1772, the treaty was made known at
Warsaw. The manifesto was short. "It is a general rule of policy,"
Frederick had said, "that, in default of unanswerable arguments, it is
better to express one's self laconically, and not go beating about the
bush." The care of drawing it up had been intrusted to Prince Kaunitz.
"It was of importance," said the document, "to establish the commonwealth
of Poland on a solid basis whilst doing justice to the claims of the
three powers for services rendered against the insurrection." The king
and the senate protested. The troops of the allies surrounded Warsaw,
and the Diet, being convoked, ratified by a majority of two voices the
convention presented by the spoilers themselves. Catherine assigned to
herself three thousand square leagues, and one million five hundred
thousand souls, in Lithuania and Polish Livonia; Austria took possession
of two thousand five hundred square leagues, and more than two million
souls, in Red Russia and the Polish palatinates on the left of the
Vistula; the instigator and plotter of the whole business had been the
most modest of all; the treaty of partition brought Prussia only nine
hundred square leagues and eight hundred and sixty thousand souls, but he
found himself master of Prussian Poland and of a henceforth compact
territory. England had opposed, in Russia, the cession of Dantzick to
the Great Frederick. "The ill-temper of France and England at the
dismemberment of Poland calls for serious reflections," wrote the King of
Prussia on the 5th of August, 1772: "these two courts are already moving
heaven and earth to detach the court of Vienna from our system; but as
the three chief points whence their support should come are altogether to
seek in France, and there is neither system, nor stability, nor money
there, her projects will be given up with the same facility with which
they were conceived and broached. They appear to me, moreover, like the
projects of the Duke of Aiguillon, ebullitions of French vivacity."

France did not do anything, and could not do anything; the king's secret
negotiators, as well as the minister of foreign affairs, had been tricked
by the allied powers. "Ah! if Choiseul had been here!" exclaimed King
Louis XV., it is said, when he heard of the partition of Poland. The
Duke of Choiseul would no doubt have been more clear-sighted and better
informed than the Duke of Aiguillon, but his policy could have done no
good. Frederick II. knew that. "France plays so small a part in
Europe," he wrote to Count Solms, "that I merely tell you about the
impotent efforts of the French ministry's envy just to have a laugh at
them, and to let you see in what visions the consciousness of its own
weaknesses is capable of leading that court to indulge." "O! where is
Poland?" Madame Dubarry had said to Count Wicholorsky, King Stanislaus
Augustus' charge d'affaires, who was trying to interest her in the
misfortunes of his country.

The partition of Poland was barely accomplished, the confederates of
Barr, overwhelmed by the Russian troops, were still arriving in France to
seek refuge there, and already King Louis XV., for a moment roused by the
audacious aggression of the German courts, had sunk back into the
shameful lethargy of his life. When Madame Louise, the pious Carmelite
of St. Denis, succeeded in awakening in her father's soul a gleam of
religious terror, the courtiers in charge of the royal pleasures
redoubled their efforts to distract the king from thoughts so perilous
for their own fortunes. Louis XV., fluctuating between remorse and
depravity, ruled by Madame Dubarry, bound hand and foot to the
triumvirate of Chancellor Maupeou, Abbe Terray, and the Duke of
Aiguillon, who were consuming between them in his name the last remnants
of absolute power, fell suddenly ill of small-pox. The princesses, his
daughters, had never had that terrible disease, the scourge and terror of
all classes of society, yet they bravely shut themselves up with the
king, lavishing their attentions upon him to the last gasp. Death,
triumphant, had vanquished the favorite. Madame Dubarry was sent away as
soon as the nature of the malady had declared itself. The king charged
his grand almoner to ask pardon of the courtiers for the scandal he had
caused them. "Kings owe no account of their conduct save to God only,"
he had often repeated to comfort himself for the shame of his life. "It
is just He whom I fear," said Maria Theresa, pursued by remorse for the
partition of Poland.

Louis XV. died on the 10th of May, 1774, in his sixty-fourth year, after
reigning fifty-nine years, despised by the people who had not so long ago
given him the name of Well-beloved, and whose attachment he had worn out
by his cold indifference about affairs and the national interests as much
as by the irregularities of his life. With him died the old French
monarchy, that proud power which had sometimes ruled Europe whilst always
holding a great position therein. Henceforth France was marching towards
the unknown, tossed about as she was by divers movements, which were
mostly hostile to the old state of things, blindly and confusedly as yet,
but, under the direction of masters as inexperienced as they were daring,
full of frequently noble though nearly always extravagant and reckless
hopes, all founded on a thorough reconstruction of the bases of society
and of its ancient props. Far more even than the monarchy, at the close
of Louis XV.'s reign, did religion find itself attacked and threatened;
the blows struck by the philosophers at fanaticism recoiled upon the
Christian faith, transiently liable here below for human errors and
faults over which it is destined to triumph in eternity.


Nowhere and at no epoch had literature shone with so vivid a lustre as
in the reign of Louis XIV.; never has it been in a greater degree the
occupation and charm of mankind, never has it left nobler and rarer
models behind it for the admiration and imitation of the coming race;
the writers of Louis XV.'s age, for all their brilliancy and all their
fertility, themselves felt their inferiority in respect of their
predecessors. Voltaire confessed as much with a modesty which was by no
means familiar to him. Inimitable in their genius, Corneille, Bossuet,
Pascal, Moliere left their imprint upon the generation that came after
them; it had judgment enough to set them by acclamation in the ranks of
the classics; in their case, greatness displaced time. Voltaire took
Racine for model; La Mothe imagined that he could imitate La Fontaine.
The illustrious company of great minds which surrounded the throne of
Louis XIV., and had so much to do with the lasting splendor of his reign,
had no reason to complain of ingratitude on the part of its successors;
but, from the pedestal to which they raised it, it exercised no potent
influence upon new thought and new passions. Enclosed in their glory as
in a sanctuary, those noble spirits, discreet and orderly even in their
audacities, might look forth on commotions and yearnings they had never
known; they saw, with astonishment mingled with affright, their
successors launching without fear or afterthought upon that boundless
world of intellect, upon which the rules of conscience and the
difficulties of practical life do not come in anywhere to impose limits.
They saw the field everywhere open to human thought, and they saw falling
down on all sides the boundaries which they had considered sacred. They
saw pioneers, as bold as they were thoughtless, marching through the
mists of a glorious hope towards an unknown future, attacking errors and
abuses, all the while that they were digging up the groundwork of society
in order to lay new foundations, and they must have shuddered even in
their everlasting rest to see ideas taking the place of creeds, doubt
substituted for belief, generous aspirations after liberty, justice, and
humanity mingled, amongst the masses, with low passions and deep-seated
rancor. They saw respect disappearing, the church as well as the kingly
power losing prestige every day, religious faith all darkened and dimmed
in some corner of men's souls, and, amidst all this general instability,
they asked themselves with awe, "What are the guiding-reins of the
society which is about to be? What will be the props of the new fabric?
The foundations are overturned; what will the good man do?"

[Illustration: Montesquieu----269]

Good men had themselves sometimes lent a hand to the work, beyond what
they had intended or foreseen, perhaps; Montesquieu, despite the wise
moderation of his great and strong mind, had been the first to awaken
that yearning for novelty and reforms which had been silently brooding at
the bottom of men's hearts. Born in 1689 at the castle of La Brede, near
Bordeaux, Montesquieu really belonged, in point of age, to the reign of
Louis XIV., of which he bears the powerful imprint even amidst the
boldness of his thoughts and expressions. Grandeur is the distinctive
characteristic of Montesquieu's ideas, as it is of the seventeenth
century altogether. He was already councillor in the Parliament of
Bordeaux when Louis XIV. died; next year (1716) he took possession of a
mortar-cap president's (_president d mortier_) office, which had been
given up to him by one of his uncles. "On leaving college," he says,
"there were put into my hands some law-books; I examined the spirit of
them." Those profound researches, which were to last as long as his
life, were more suited to his tastes than jurisprudence properly so
called. "What has always given me rather a low opinion of myself," he
would say, "is that there are very few positions in the commonwealth for
which I should be really fit. As for my office of president, I have my
heart in the right place, I comprehend sufficiently well the questions in
themselves; but as to the procedure I did not understand anything about
it. I paid attention to it, nevertheless; but what disgusted me most was
to see fools with that very talent which, so to speak, shunned me." He
resolved to deliver himself from the yoke which was intolerable to him,
and resigned his office; but by this time the world knew his name, in
spite of the care he had taken at first to conceal it. In 1721, when he
still had his seat on the fleurs-de-lis, he had published his _Lettres
persanes,_ an imaginary trip of two exiled Parsees, freely criticising
Paris and France. The book appeared under the Regency, and bears the
imprint of it in the licentiousness of the descriptions and the witty
irreverence of the criticisms. Sometimes, however, the future gravity of
Montesquieu's genius reveals itself amidst the shrewd or biting
judgments. It is in the _Lettres persanes_ that he seeks to set up the
notion of justice above the idea of God himself. "Though there were no
God," he says, "we should still be bound to love justice, that is to say,
make every effort to be like that Being of whom we have so grand an idea,
and who, if He existed, would of necessity be just." Holy Scripture,
before Montesquieu, had affirmed more simply and more powerfully the
unchangeable idea of justice in every soul of man. "He who is judge of
all the earth, shall not He do right?." Abraham had said when
interceding with God for the righteous shut up in Sodom.

The success of the _Lettres persanes_ was great; Montesquieu had said
what many people thought without daring to express it; the doubt which
was nascent in his mind, and which he could only withstand by an effort
of will, the excessive freedom of the tone and of the style scared the
authorities, however; when he wanted to get into the French Academy, in
the place of M. de Sacy, Cardinal Fleury opposed it formally. It was
only on the 24th of January, 1728, that Montesquieu, recently elected,
delivered his reception speech. He at once set out on some long travels;
he went through Germany, Hungary, Italy, Switzerland, Holland, and ended
by settling in England for two years. The sight of political liberty had
charmed him. "Ambassadors know no more about England than a six months'
infant," he wrote in his journal; "when people see the devil to pay in
the periodical publications, they believe that there is going to be a
revolution next day; but all that is required is to remember that in
England as elsewhere, the people are dissatisfied with the ministers and
write what is only thought elsewhere. England is the freest country in
the world; I do not except any republic." He returned to France so
smitten with the parliamentary or moderate form of government, as he
called it, that he seemed sometimes to forget the prudent maxim of the
_Lettres persanes_. "It is true," said the Parsee Usbeck, "that, in
consequence of a whimsicality (_bizarrerie_) which springs rather from
the nature than from the mind of man, it is sometimes necessary to change
certain laws; but the case is rare, and, when it occurs, it should not be
touched save with a trembling hand."

On returning to his castle of La Brede after so many and such long
travels, Montesquieu resolved to restore his tone by intercourse with the
past. "I confess my liking for the ancients," he used to say; "this
antiquity enchants me, and I am always ready to say with Pliny, 'You are
going to Athens; revere the gods.'" It was not, however, on the Greeks
that he concentrated the working of his mind; in 1734, he published his
_Considerations sur les causes de la grandeur et de la decadence des
Romaine_. Montesquieu did not, as Bossuet did, seek to hit upon God's
plan touching the destinies of mankind; he discovers in the virtues and
vices of the Romans themselves the secret of their triumphs and of their
reverses. The contemplation of antiquity inspires him with language
often worthy of Tacitus, curt, nervous, powerful in its grave simplicity.
"It seemed," he says, "that the Romans only conquered in order to give;
but they remained so positively the masters that, when they made war on
any prince, they crushed him, so to speak, with the weight of the whole

Montesquieu thus performed the prelude to the great work of his life; he
had been working for twenty years at the _Esprit des lois,_ when he
published it in 1748. "In the course of twenty years," he says, "I saw
my work begin, grow, progress, and end." He had placed as the motto to
his book this Latin phrase, which at first excited the curiosity of
readers: _Prolem sine matre creatam_ (Offspring begotten without a
mother). "Young man," said Montesquieu, by this time advanced in years,
to M. Suard (afterwards perpetual secretary to the French Academy),
"young man, when a notable book is written, genius is its father, and
liberty its mother; that is why I wrote upon the title-page of my work,
"Prolem sine matre creatam."

It was liberty at the same time as justice that Montesquieu sought and
claimed in his profound researches into the laws which have from time
immemorial governed mankind; that new instinctive idea of natural rights,
those new yearnings which were beginning to dawn in all hearts, remained
as yet, for the most part, upon the surface of their minds and of their
lives; what was demanded at that time in France was liberty to speak and
write rather than to act and govern. Montesquieu, on the contrary, went
to the bottom of things, and, despite the natural moderation of his mind,
he propounded theories so perilous for absolute power that he dared not
have his book printed at Paris, and brought it out in Geneva; its success
was immense; before his death, Montesquieu saw twenty-one French editions
published, and translations in all the languages of Europe. "Mankind had
lost its titledeeds," says Voltaire; "Montesquieu recovered and restored

The intense labor, the immense courses of reading, to which Montesquieu
had devoted himself, had exhausted his strength. "I am overcome with
weariness," he wrote in 1747; "I propose to rest myself for the remainder
of my days." "I have done," he said to M. Suard; "I have burned all my
powder, all my candles have gone out." "I had conceived the design of
giving greater breadth and depth to certain parts of my _Esprit;_ I have
become incapable of it; my reading has weakened my eyes, and it seems to
me that what light I have left is but the dawn of the day when they will
close forever."

Montesquieu was at Paris, ill and sad at heart, in spite of his habitual
serenity; notwithstanding the scoffs he had admitted into his _Lettres
persanes,_ he had always preserved some respect for religion; he
considered it a necessary item in the order of societies; in his soul and
on his own private account he hoped and desired rather than believed.
"Though the immortality of the soul were an error," he had said, "I
should be sorry not to believe it; I confess that I am not so humble as
the atheists. I know not what they think, but as for me I would not
truck the notion of my immortality for that of an ephemeral happiness.
There is for me a charm in believing myself to be immortal like God
himself. Independently of revealed ideas, metaphysical ideas give me, as
regards my eternal happiness, strong hopes which I should not like to
give up." As he approached the tomb, his views of religion appeared to
become clearer. "What a wonderful thing!" he would say, "the Christian
religion, which seems to have no object but felicity in the next world,
yet forms our happiness in this." He had never looked to life for any
very keen delights; his spirits were as even as his mind was powerful.
"Study has been for me the sovereign remedy against the disagreeables of
life," he wrote, "never having had any sorrow that an hour's reading did
not dispel. I awake in the morning with a secret joy at beholding the
light; I gaze upon the light with a sort of enchantment, and all the rest
of the day I am content. I pass the night without awaking, and in the
evening, when I go to bed, a sort of entrancement prevents me from giving
way to reflections."

Montesquieu died as he had lived, without retracting any of his ideas or
of his writings. The priest of his parish brought him the sacraments,
and, "Sir," said he, "you know how great God is!" "Yes," replied the
dying man, "and how little men are!" He expired almost immediately on
the 10th of February, 1755, at the age of sixty-six. He died at the
beginning of the reign of the philosophers, whose way he had prepared
before them without having ever belonged to their number. Diderot alone
followed his bier. Fontenelle, nearly a hundred years old, was soon to
follow him to the tomb.

[Illustration: Fontenelle----274]

Born at Rouen in February, 1657, and nephew of Corneille on the mother's
side, Fontenelle had not received from nature any of the unequal and
sublime endowments which have fixed the dramatic crown forever upon the
forehead of Corneille; but he had inherited the wit, and indeed the
brilliant wit (_bel esprit_), which the great tragedian hid beneath the
splendors of his genius. He began with those writings, superfine
(_precieux_), dainty, tricked out in the fashion of the court and the
drawing-room, which suggested La Bruyere's piquant portrait.

"Ascanius is a statuary, Hegio a metal-founder, AEschines a fuller, and
Cydias a brilliant wit. That is his trade; he has a sign, a workshop,
articles made to order, and apprentices who work under him. Prose,
verse, what d'ye lack? He is equally successful in both. Give him an
order for letters of consolation, or on an absence; he will undertake
them. Take them ready made, if you like, and enter his shop; there is a
choice assortment. He has a friend whose only duty on earth is to puff
him for a long while in certain society, and then present him at their
houses as a rare bird and a man of exquisite conversation, and thereupon,
just as the musical man sings and the player on the lute touches his lute
before the persons to whom he has been puffed, Cydias, after coughing,
pulling up his wristband, extending his hand and opening his fingers,
gravely spouts his quintessentiated ideas and his sophisticated

Fontenelle was not destined to stop here in his intellectual
developments; when, at forty years of age, he became perpetual secretary
to the Academy of Sciences, he had already written his book on the
_Pluralite des Mondes,_ the first attempt at that popularization of
science which has spread so since then. "I believe more and more," he
said, "that there is a certain genius which has never yet been out of our
Europe, or, at least, has not gone far out of it." This genius, clear,
correct, precise, the genius of method and analysis, the genius of
Descartes, which was at a later period that of Buffon and of Cuvier, was
admirably expounded and developed by Fontenelle for the use of the
ignorant. He wrote for society, and not for scholars, of whose labors
and discoveries he gave an account to society. His extracts from the
labors of the Academy of Science and his eulogies of the Academicians are
models of lucidness under an ingenious and subtle form, rendered simple
and strong by dint of wit. "There is only truth that persuades," he used
to say, "and even without requiring to appear with all its proofs. It
makes its way so naturally into the mind, that, when it is heard for the
first time, it seems as if one were merely remembering."

Equitable and moderate in mind, prudent and cold in temperament,
Fontenelle passed his life in discussion without ever stumbling into
disputes. "I am no theologian, or philosopher, or man of any
denomination, of any sort whatever; consequently I am not at all bound to
be right, and I can with honor confess that I was mistaken, whenever I am
made to see it." "How did you manage to keep so many friends without
making one enemy?" he was asked in his old age. "By means of two
maxims," he answered: "Everything is possible; everybody may be right"
(_tout le monde a raison_). The friends of Fontenelle were moderate like
himself; impressed with his fine qualities, they pardoned his lack of
warmth in his affections. "He never laughed," says Madame Geoffrin, his
most intimate friend. "I said to him one day, 'Did you ever laugh, M. de
Fontenelle?' 'No,' he answered; 'I never went ha! ha! ha!' That was his
idea of laughing; he just smiled at smart things, but he was a stranger
to any strong feeling. He had never shed tears, he had never been in a
rage, he had never run, and, as he never did anything from sentiment, he
did not catch impressions from others. He had never interrupted anybody,
he listened to the end without losing anything; he was in no hurry to
speak, and, if you had been accusing against him, he would have listened
all day without saying a syllable."

The very courage and trustiness of Fontenelle bore this stamp of discreet
moderation. When Abbe St. Pierre was excluded from the French Academy
under Louis XV. for having dared to criticise the government of Louis
XIV., one single ball in the urn protested against the unjust pressure
exercised by Cardinal Fleury upon the society. They all asked one
another who the rebel was; each defended himself against having voted
against the minister's order; Fontenelle alone kept silent; when
everybody had exculpated himself, "It must be myself, then," said
Fontenelle half aloud.

So much cool serenity and so much taste for noble intellectual works
prolonged the existence of Fontenelle beyond the ordinary limits; he was
ninety-nine and not yet weary of life. "If I might but reach the
strawberry-season once more!" he had said. He died at Paris on the 9th
of January, 1759; with him disappeared what remained of the spirit and
traditions of Louis XIV.'s reign. Montesquieu and Fontenelle were the
last links which united the seventeenth century to the new era. In a
degree as different as the scope of their minds, they both felt respect
for the past, to which they were bound by numerous ties, and the boldness
of their thoughts was frequently tempered by prudence. Though naturally
moderate and prudent, Voltaire was about to be hurried along by the ardor
of strife, by the weaknesses of his character, by his vanity and his
ambition, far beyond his first intentions and his natural instincts. The
flood of free-thinking had spared Montesquieu and Fontenelle; it was
about to carry away Voltaire almost as far as Diderot.

[Illustration: Voltaire----277]

Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire was born at Paris on the 21st of
November, 1694. "My dear father," said a letter from a relative to his
family in Poitou, "our cousins have another son, born three days ago;
Madame Arouet will give me some of the christening sugar-plums for you.
She has been very ill, but it is hoped that she is going on better; the
infant is not much to look at, having suffered from a fall which his
mother had." M. Arouet, the father, of a good middle-class family, had
been a notary at the Chatelet, and in 1701 became paymaster of fees
(_payeur d'epices_) to the court of exchequer, an honorable and a
lucrative post, which added to the easy circumstances of the family.
Madame Arouet was dead when her youngest son was sent to the college of
Louis-le-Grand, which at that time belonged to the Jesuits. As early as
then little Arouet, who was weak and in delicate health, but withal of a
very lively intelligence, displayed a freedom of thought and a tendency
of irreverence which already disquieted and angered his masters. Father
Lejay jumped from his chair and took the boy by the collar, exclaiming,
"Wretch, thou wilt one of these days raise the standard of Deism in
France!" Father Pallou, his confessor, accustomed to read the heart,
said, as he shook his head, "This, child is devoured with a thirst for

Even at school and among the Jesuits, that passion for getting talked
about, which was one of the weaknesses of Voltaire's character, as well
as one of the sources of his influence, was already to a certain extent
gratified. The boy was so ready in making verses, that his masters
themselves found amusement in practising upon his youthful talent.
Little Arouet's snuff box had been confiscated because he had passed it
along from hand to, hand in class; when he asked for it back from Father
Poree, who was always indulgent towards him, the rector required an
application in verse. A quarter of an hour later the boy returned with
his treasure in his possession, having paid its ransom thus:

"Adieu, adieu, poor snuff-box mine;
Adieu; we ne'er shall meet again:
Nor pains, nor tears, nor prayers divine
Will win thee back; my efforts are in vain!
Adieu, adieu, poor box of mine;
Adieu, my sweet crowns'-worth of bane;
Could I with money buy thee back once more,
The treasury of Plutus I would drain.
But ah! not he the god I must implore;
To have thee back, I need Apollo's vein. . .
'Twixt thee and me how hard a barrier-line,
To ask for verse! Ah! this is all my strain!
Adieu, adieu, poor box of mine;
Adieu; we ne'er shall meet again!"

Arouet was still a child when a friend of his family took him to see
Mdlle. Ninon de l'Enclos, as celebrated for her wit as for the
irregularity of her life. "Abbe Chateauneuf took me to see her in my
very tender youth," says Voltaire; "I had done some verses, which were
worth nothing, but which seemed very good for my age. She was then
eighty-five. She was pleased to put me down in her will; she left me two
thousand francs to buy books; her death followed close upon my visit and
her will."

Young Arouet was finishing brilliantly his last year of rhetoric, when
John Baptist Rousseau, already famous, saw him at the distribution of
prizes at the college. "Later on," wrote Rousseau, in the thick of his
quarrels with Voltaire, "some ladies of my acquaintance had taken me to
see a tragedy at the Jesuits in August, 1710; at the distribution of
prizes which usually took place after those representations, I observed
that the same scholar was called up twice. I asked Father Tarteron, who
did the honors of the room in which we were, who the young man was that
was so distinguished amongst his comrades. He told me that it was a
little lad who had a surprising turn for poetry, and proposed to
introduce him to me; to which I consented. He went to fetch him to me,
and I saw him returning a moment afterwards with a young scholar who
appeared to me to be about sixteen or seventeen, with an ill-favored
countenance, but with a bright and lively expression, and who came and
shook hands with me with very good grace."

Scarcely had Francois Arouet left college when he was called upon to
choose a career. "I do not care for any but that of a literary man,"
exclaimed the young fellow. "That," said his father, "is the condition
of a man who means to be useless to society, to be a charge to his
family, and to die of starvation." The study of the law, to which he was
obliged to devote himself, completely disgusted the poet, already courted
by a few great lords who were amused at his satirical vein; he led an
indolent and disorderly life, which drove his father distracted; the
latter wanted to get him a place. "Tell my father," was the young man's
reply to the relative commissioned to make the proposal, "that I do not
care for a position which can be bought; I shall find a way of getting
myself one that costs nothing." "Having but little property when I began
life," he wrote to M. d'Argenson, his sometime fellow-pupil, "I had the
insolence to think that I should have got a place as well as another,
if it were to be obtained by hard work and good will. I threw myself
into the ranks of the fine arts, which always carry with them a certain
air of vilification, seeing that they do not make a man king's counsellor
in his councils. You may become a master of requests with money; but you
can't make a poem with money, and I made one."

This independent behavior and the poem on the _Construction du Choeur de
Notre-Dame de Paris,_ the subject submitted for competition by the French
Academy, did not prevent young Arouet from being sent by his father to
Holland in the train of the Marquis of Chateauneuf, then French
ambassador to the States General; he committed so many follies that on
his return to France, M. Arouet forced him to enter a solicitor's office.
It was there that the poet acquired that knowledge of business which was
useful to him during the whole course of his long life; he, however, did
not remain there long: a satire upon the French Academy which had refused
him the prize for poetry, and, later on, some verses as biting as they
were disrespectful against the Duke of Orleans, twice obliged their
author to quit Paris. Sent into banishment at Sully-sur-Loire, he there
found partisans and admirers; the merry life that was led at the
Chevalier Sully's mitigated the hardships of absence from Paris. "Don't
you go publishing abroad, I beg," wrote Arouet, nevertheless, to one of
his friends, "the happiness of which I tell you in confidence: for they
might perhaps leave me here long enough for me to become unhappy; I know
my own capacity; I am not made to live long in the same place."

A beautiful letter addressed to the Regent and disavowing all the
satirical writings which had been attributed to him, brought Arouet back
to Paris at the commencement of the year 1717; he had been enjoying it
for barely a few months when a new satire, entitled _J'ai vu_ (I have
seen), and bitterly criticising the late reign, engaged the attention of
society, and displeased the Regent afresh. Arouet defended himself with
just cause and with all his might against the charge of having written
it. The Duke of Orleans one day met him in the garden of the
Palais-Royal. "Monsieur Arouet," said he, "I bet that I will make you
see a thing you have never seen." "What, pray, monseigneur?" "The
Bastille." "Ah! monseigneur, I will consider it seen." Two days later,
young Arouet was shut up in the Bastille.

I needs must go; I jog along in style,
With close-shut carriage, to the royal pile
Built in our fathers' days, hard by St. Paul,
By Charles the Fifth. 0 brethren, good men all,
In no such quarters may your lot be cast!
Up to my room I find my way at last
A certain rascal with a smirking face
Exalts the beauties of my new retreat,
So comfortable, so compact, so neat.
Says he, "While Phoebus runs his daily race,
He never casts one ray within this place.
Look at the walls, some ten feet thick or so;
You'll find it all the cooler here, you know."
Then, bidding me admire the way they close
The triple doors and triple locks on those,
With gratings, bolts and bars on every side,
"It's all for your security," he cried.
At stroke of noon some skilly is brought in;
Such fare is not so delicate as thin.
I am not tempted by this splendid food,
But what they tell me is, "'Twill do you good
So eat in peace; no one will hurry you."
Here in this doleful den I make ado,
Bastilled, imprisoned, cabined, cribbed, confined,
Nor sleeping, drinking, eating-to my mind;
Betrayed by every one, my mistress too!
O Marc Rene! [M. d'Argenson] whom Censor Cato's ghost
Might well have chosen for his vacant post,
O Marc Rene! through whom 'tis brought about
That so much people murmur here below,
To your kind word my durance vile I owe;
May the good God some fine day pay you out!

Young Arouet passed eleven months in the Bastille; he there wrote the
first part of the poem called _La Henriade,_ under the title of _La
Ligue;_ when he at last obtained his release in April, 1718, he at the
same time received orders to reside at Chatenay, where his father had a
country house. It was on coming out of the Bastille that the poet took,
from a small family-estate, that name of Voltaire which he was to render
so famous. "I have been too unfortunate under my former name," he wrote
to Mdlle. du Noy er; "I mean to see whether this will suit me better."

The players were at that time rehearsing the tragedy of _OEdipe,_ which
was played on the 18th of November, 1718, with great success. The daring
flights of philosophy introduced by the poet into this profoundly and
terribly religious subject excited the enthusiasm of the roues; Voltaire
was well received by the Regent, who granted him an honorarium.
"Monseigneur," said Voltaire, "I should consider it very kind if his
Majesty would be pleased to provide henceforth for my board, but I
beseech your Highness to provide no more for my lodging." Voltaire's
acts of imprudence were destined more than once to force him into leaving
Paris; he all his life preserved such a horror of prison, that it made
him commit more than one platitude. "I have a mortal aversion for
prison," he wrote in 1734; once more, however, he was to be an inmate of
the Bastille.

Launched upon the most brilliant society, everywhere courted and
flattered, Voltaire was constantly at work, displaying the marvellous
suppleness of his mind by shifting from the tragedies of _Artemise_ and
_Marianne,_ which failed, to the comedy of _L'Indiscret,_ to numerous
charming epistles, and lastly to the poem of _La Henriade,_ which he went
on carefully revising, reading fragments of it as he changed his quarters
from castle to castle. One day, however, some criticisms to which he was
not accustomed angered him so much, that he threw into the fire the
manuscript he held in his hand. "It is only worth burning, then," he
exclaimed in a rage. President Henault dashed at the papers. "I ran up
and drew it out of the flames, saying that I had done more than they who
did not burn the AEneid as Virgil had recommended; I had drawn out of the
fire _La Henriade,_ which Voltaire was going to burn with his own hands.

[Illustration: The Rescue of "La Henriade."----283]

If I liked, I might ennoble this action by calling to mind that picture
of Raphael's at the Vatican which represents Augustus preventing Virgil
from burning the AEneid; but I am not Augustus, and Raphael is no more."
Wholly indulgent and indifferent as might be the government of the Regent
and of Dubois, it was a little scared at the liberties taken by Voltaire
with the Catholic church. He was required to make excisions in order to
get permission to print the poem; the author was here, there, and
everywhere, in a great flutter and preoccupied with his literary,
financial, and fashionable affairs. In receipt of a pension from the
queen, and received as a visitor at La Source, near Orleans, by Lord
Bolingbroke in his exile, every day becoming more brilliant and more
courted, he was augmenting his fortune by profitable speculations, and
appeared on the point of finding himself well off, when an incident,
which betrayed the remnant still remaining of barbarous manners, occurred
to envenom for a long while the poet's existence. He had a quarrel at
the Opera with Chevalier Rohan-Chabot, a court libertine, of little
repute; the scene took place in the presence of Mdlle. Adrienne
Lecouvreur; the great actress fainted they were separated. Two days
afterwards, when Voltaire was dining at the Duke of Sully's, a servant
came to tell him that he was wanted at the door of the hotel; the poet
went out without any suspicion, though he had already been the victim of
several ambuscades. A coach was standing in the street, and he was
requested to get in; at that instant two men, throwing themselves upon
him and holding him back by his clothes, showered upon him a hailstorm of
blows with their sticks. The Chevalier de Rohan, prudently ensconced
in a second vehicle, and superintending the--execution of his cowardly
vengeance, shouted to his servants, "Don't hit him on the head; something
good may come out of it." When Voltaire at last succeeded in escaping
from these miscreants to take refuge in Sully's house, he was half dead.

Blows with a stick were not at that time an unheard-of procedure in
social relations. "Whatever would become of us if poets had no
shoulders!" was the brutal remark of the Bishop of Blois, M. de
Caumartin. But the customs of society did not admit a poet to the honor
of obtaining satisfaction from whoever insulted him. The great lords,
friends of Voltaire, who had accustomed him to attention and flattery,
abandoned him pitilessly in his quarrel with Chevalier de Rohan. "Those
blows were well gotten and ill given," said the Prince of Conti. That
was all the satisfaction Voltaire obtained. "The poor victim shows
himself as much as possible at court, in the city," says the Marais news,
"but nobody pities him, and those whom he considered his friends have
turned their backs upon him."

Voltaire was not of an heroic nature, but excess of rage and indignation
had given him courage; he had scarcely ever had a sword in his hand; he
rushed to the fencers' and practised from morning till night, in order to
be in a position to demand satisfaction. So much ardor disquieted
Chevalier de Rohan and his family; his uncle, the cardinal, took
precautions. The lieutenant of police wrote to the officer of the watch,
"Sir, his Highness is informed that Chevalier de Rohan is going away
to-day, and, as he might have some fresh affair with Sieur de Voltaire,
or the latter might do something rash, his desire is for you to see that
nothing comes of it."

Voltaire anticipated the intentions of the lieutenant of police he
succeeded in sending a challenge to Chevalier de Rohan; the latter
accepted it for the next day; he even chose his ground: but before the
hour fixed, Voltaire was arrested and taken to the Bastille; he remained
there a month. Public opinion was beginning to pity him. Marshal
Villars writes in his memoirs,--

"The chevalier was very much inconvenienced by a fall which did not admit
of his handling a sword. He took the course of having a caning
administered in broad day to Voltaire, who, instead of adopting legal
proceedings, thought vengeance by arms more noble. It is asserted that
he sought it diligently, but too indiscreetly. Cardinal Rohan asked M.
le Duc to have him put in the Bastille: orders to that effect were given
and executed, and the poor poet, after being beaten, was imprisoned into
the bargain. The public, whose inclination is to blame everybody and
everything, justly considered, in this case, that everybody was in the
wrong; Voltaire, for having offended Chevalier de Rohan; the latter, for
having dared to commit a crime worthy of death in causing a citizen to be
beaten; the government, for not having punished a notorious misdeed, and
for having put the beatee in the Bastille to tranquillize the beater."

Voltaire left the Bastille on the 3d of May, 1726, and was accompanied by
an exon to Calais, having asked as a favor to be sent to England; but
scarcely had he set foot on English territory, scarcely had he felt
himself free, when the recurring sense of outraged honor made him take
the road back to France. "I confess to you, my dear Theriot," he wrote
to one of his friends, "that I made a little trip to Paris a short time
ago. As I did not call upon you, you will easily conclude that I did not
call upon anybody. I was in search of one man only, whom his dastardly
instinct kept concealed from me, as if he guessed that I was on his
track. At last the fear of being discovered made me depart more
precipitately than I had come. That is the fact, my dear Theriot. There
is every appearance of my never seeing you again. I have but two things
to do with my life: to hazard it with honor, as soon as I can, and to end
it in the obscurity of a retreat which suits my way of thinking, my
misfortunes, and the knowledge I have of men."

Voltaire passed three years in England, engaged in learning English and
finishing _La Henriade,_ which he published by subscription in 1727.
Touched by the favor shown by English society to the author and the poem,
he dedicated to the Queen of England his new work, which was entirely
consecrated to the glory of France; three successive editions were
disposed of in less than three weeks. Lord Bolingbroke, having returned
to England and been restored to favor, did potent service to his old
friend, who lived in the midst of that literary society in which Pope and
Swift held sway, without, however, relaxing his reserve with its impress
of melancholy. "I live the life of a Bosicrucian," he wrote to his
friends, "always on the move and always in hiding." When, in the month
of March, 1729, Voltaire at last obtained permission to revisit France,
he had worked much without bringing out anything. The riches he had thus
amassed appeared ere long: before the end of the year 1731 he put
_Brutus_ on the stage, and began his publication of the _Histoire de
Charles XII.;_ he was at the same time giving the finishing touch to
_Eriphyle_ and _La Mort de Caesar_. _Zaire,_ written in a few weeks, was
played for the first time on the 13th of August, 1732; he had dedicated
it to Mr. Falkner, an English merchant who had overwhelmed him with
attentions during his exile. "My satisfaction grows as I write to tell
you of it," he writes to his friend Cideville in the fulness of joy:
"never was a piece so well played as _Zaire_ at the fourth appearance.
I very much wished you had been there; you would have seen that the
public does not hate your friend. I appeared in a box, and the whole pit
clapped their hands at me. I blushed, I hid myself; but I should be a
humbug if I did not confess to you that I was sensibly affected. It is
pleasant not to be dishonored in one's own country."

Voltaire had just inaugurated the great national tragedy of his country,
as he had likewise given it the only national epopee attempted in France
since the _Chansons de Geste;_ by one of those equally sudden and
imprudent reactions to which he was always subject, it was not long
before he himself damaged his own success by the publication of his
_Lettres philosophiques sur les Anglais_.

The light and mocking tone of these letters, the constant comparison
between the two peoples, with many a gibe at the English, but always
turning to their advantage, the preference given to the philosophical
system of Newton over that of Descartes, lastly the attacks upon religion
concealed beneath the cloak of banter--all this was more than enough to
ruffle the tranquillity of Cardinal Fleury. The book was brought before
Parliament; Voltaire was disquieted. "There is but one letter about Mr.
Locke," he wrote to M. de Cideville; "the only philosophical matter I
have treated of in it is the little trifle of the immortality of the
soul, but the thing is of too much consequence to be treated seriously.
It had to be mangled so as not to come into direct conflict with our
lords the theologians, gentry who so clearly see the spirituality of the
soul that, if they could, they would consign to the flames the bodies of
those who have a doubt about it." The theologians confined themselves to
burning the book; the decree of Parliament delivered on the 10th of June,
1734, ordered at the same time the arrest of the author; the bookseller
was already in the Bastille. Voltaire was in the country, attending the
Duke of Richelieu's second marriage; hearing of the danger that
threatened him, he took fright and ran for refuge to Bale. He soon left
it to return to the castle of Cirey, to the Marchioness du Chatelet's, a
woman as learned as she was impassioned, devoted to literature, physics,
and mathematics, and tenderly attached to Voltaire, whom she enticed
along with her into the paths of science. For fifteen years Madame du
Chatelet and Cirey ruled supreme over the poet's life. There began a
course of metaphysics, tales, tragedies; _Alzire, Merope, Mahomet,_ were
composed at Cirey and played with ever increasing success. Pope Benedict
XIV. had accepted the dedication of Mahomet, which Voltaire had
addressed to him in order to cover the freedoms of his piece. Every now
and then, terrified in consequence of some bit of anti-religious
rashness, he took flight, going into hiding at one time to the court of
Lorraine beneath the wing of King Stanislaus, at another time in Holland,
at a palace belonging to the King of Prussia, the Great Frederick.
Madame du Chatelet, as unbelieving as he at bottom, but more reserved in
expression, often scolded him for his imprudence. "He requires every
moment to be saved from himself," she would say. "I employ more policy
in managing him than the whole Vatican employs to keep all Christendom in
its fetters." On the appearance of danger, Voltaire ate his words
without scruple; his irreligious writings were usually launched under
cover of the anonymous. At every step, however, he was advancing farther
and farther into the lists, and at the very moment when he wrote to
Father La Tour, "If ever anybody has printed in my name a single page
which could scandalize even the parish beadle, I am ready to tear it up
before his eyes," all Europe regarded him as the leader of the open or
secret attacks which were beginning to burst not only upon the Catholic
church, but upon the fundamental verities common to all Christians.

Madame du Chatelet died on the 4th of September, 1749, at Luneville,
where she then happened to be with Voltaire. Their intimacy had
experienced many storms, yet the blow was a cruel one for the poet; in
losing Madame de Chatelet he was losing the centre and the guidance of
his life. For a while he spoke of burying himself with Dom Calmet in the
abbey of Senones; then he would be off to England; he ended by returning
to Paris, summoning to his side a widowed niece, Madame Denis, a woman of
coarse wit and full of devotion to him, who was fond of the drama and
played her uncle's pieces on the little theatre which he had fitted
up in his rooms. At that time Oreste was being played at the
_Comedie-Francaise;_ its success did not answer the author's
expectations. "All that could possibly give a handle to criticism," says
Marmontel, who was present, "was groaned at or turned into ridicule. The
play was interrupted by it every instant. Voltaire came in, and, just as
the pit were turning into ridicule a stroke of pathos, he jumped up, and
shouted, 'O, you barbarians; that is Sophocles!' _Rome Sauvee_ was played
on the stage of Sceaux, at the Duchess of Maine's; Voltaire himself took
the part of Cicero. Lekain, as yet quite a youth, and making his first
appearance under the auspices of Voltaire, said of this representation,
'I do not think it possible to hear anything more pathetic and real than
M. de Voltaire; it was, in fact, Cicero himself thundering at the bar.'"

Despite the lustre of that fame which was attested by the frequent
attacks of his enemies as much as by the admiration of his friends,
Voltaire was displeased with his sojourn at Paris, and weary of the court
and the men of letters. The king had always exhibited towards him a
coldness which the poet's adulation had not been able to overcome; he had
offended Madame de Pompadour, who had but lately been well disposed
towards him; the religious circle, ranged around the queen and the
dauphin, was of course hostile to him. "The place of historiographer to
the king was but an empty title," he says himself; "I wanted to make it a
reality by working at the history of the war of 1741; but, in spite of my
work, Moncrif had admittance to his Majesty, and I had not."

In tracing the tragic episodes of the war, Voltaire, set as his mind was
on the royal favor, had wanted in the first place to pay homage to the
friends he had lost. It was in the "eulogium of the officers who fell in
the campaign of 1741" that he touchingly called attention to the memory
of Vauvenargues. He, born at Aix on the 6th of August, 1715, died of his
wounds, at Paris, in 1747. Poor and proud, resigning himself with a sigh
to idleness and obscurity, the young officer had written merely to
relieve his mind. His friends had constrained him to publish a little
book, one only, the _Introduction de la connaissance de l'esprit humain,
suivie de reflexions et de maximes_. Its success justified their
affectionate hopes; delicate minds took keen delight in the first essays
of Vauvenargues. Hesitating between religion and philosophy, with a
palpable leaning towards the latter, ill and yet bravely bearing the
disappointments and sufferings of his life, Vauvenargues was already
expiring at thirty years of age, when Provence was invaded by the enemy.
The humiliation of his country and the peril of his native province
roused him from his tranquil melancholy. "All Provence is in arms," he
wrote to his friend Fauris de St. Vincent, "and here am I quite quietly
in my chimney-corner; the bad state of my eyes and of my health is not
sufficient excuse for me, and I ought to be where all the gentlemen of
the province are. Send me word then, I beg, immediately whether there is
still any employment to be had in our newly raised, levies, and whether I
should be sure to be employed if I were to go to Provence." Before his
friend's answer had reached Vauvenargues, the Austrians and the
Piedmontese had been forced to evacuate Provence; the dying man remained
in his chimney-corner, where he soon expired, leaving amongst the public,
and still more amongst those who had known him personally, the impression
of great promise sadly extinguished. "It was his fate," says his
faithful biographer, M. Gilbert, "to be always opening his wings and to
be unable to take flight."

Voltaire, quite on the contrary, was about to take a fresh flight. After
several rebuffs and long opposition on the part of the eighteen
ecclesiastics who at that time had seats in the French Academy, he had
been elected to it in 1746. In 1750, he offered himself at one and the
same time for the Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Inscriptions;
he failed in both candidatures. This mishap filled the cup of his
ill-humor. For a long time past Frederick II. had been offering the poet
favors which he had long refused. The disgust he experienced at Paris
through his insatiable vanity made him determine upon seeking another
arena; after having accepted a pension and a place from the King of
Prussia, Voltaire set out for Berlin.

But lately allied to France, to which he was ere long to deal such heavy
blows, Frederick II. was French by inclination, in literature and in
philosophy; he was a bad German scholar; he always wrote and spoke in
French, and his court was the resort of the cultivated French wits too
bold in their views to live in peace at Paris. Maupertuis, La Mettrie,
and the Marquis of Argens had preceded Voltaire to Berlin. He was
received there with enthusiasm and as sovereign of the little court of
philosophers. "A hundred and fifty thousand victorious soldiers," he
wrote in a letter to Paris, "no attorneys, opera, plays, philosophy,
poetry, a hero who is a philosopher and a poet, grandeur and graces,
grenadiers and muses, trumpets and violins, Plato's symposium, society
and freedom! Who would believe it? It is all true, however!" Voltaire
found his duties as chamberlain very light. "It is Caesar, it is Marcus
Aurelius, it is Julian, it is sometimes Abbe Chaulieu, with whom I sup;
there is the charm of retirement, there is the freedom of the country,
with all those little delights of life which a lord of a castle who is a
king can procure for his very obedient humble servants and guests. My
own duties are to do nothing. I enjoy my leisure. I give an hour a day
to the King of Prussia to touch up a bit his works in prose and verse; I
am his grammarian, not his chamberlain. The rest of the day is my own,
and the evening ends with a pleasant supper. . . . Never in any place
in the world was there more freedom of speech touching the superstitions
of men, and never were they treated with more banter and contempt. God
is respected, but all they who have cajoled men in His name are treated

The coarseness of the Germans and the mocking infidelity of the French
vied with each other in license. Sometimes Voltaire felt that things
were carried rather far. "Here be we, three or four foreigners, like
monks in an abbey," he wrote; "please God the father abbot may content
himself with making fun of us."

Literary or philosophical questions already gave rise sometimes to
disagreements. "I am at present correcting the second edition which the
King of Prussia is going to publish of the history of his country," wrote
Voltaire; "fancy! in order to appear more impartial, he falls tooth and
nail on his grandfather. I have lightened the blows as much as I could.
I rather like this grandfather, because he displayed magnificence, and
has left some fine monuments. I had great trouble about softening down
the terms in which the grandson reproaches his ancestor for his vanity in
having got himself made a king; it is a vanity from which his descendants
derive pretty solid advantages, and the title is not at all a
disagreeable one. At last I said to him, 'It is your grandfather, it is
not mine; do what you please with him,' and I confined myself to weeding
the expressions."

Whilst Voltaire was defending the Great Elector against his successor,
a certain coldness was beginning to slide into his relations with
Maupertuis, president of the Academy founded by the king at Berlin.
"Maupertuis has not easygoing springs," the poet wrote to his niece; "he
takes my dimensions sternly with his quadrant. It is said that a little
envy enters into his calculations." Already Voltaire's touchy vanity was
shying at the rivals he encountered in the king's favor. "So it is
known, then, by this time at Paris, my dear child," he writes to his
niece, "that we have played the Mort de Cesar at Potsdam, that Prince
Henry is a good actor, has no accent, and is very amiable, and that this
is the place for pleasure? All that is true . . . but . . . The
king's supper-parties are delightful; at them people talk reason, wit,
science; freedom prevails thereat; he is the soul of it all; no ill
temper, no clouds, at any rate no storms; my life is free and well
occupied . . . but . . . Opera, plays, carousals, suppers at Sans-
Souci, military manoeuvres, concerts, studies, readings . . but . .
The city of Berlin, grand, better laid out than Paris; palaces,
play-houses, affable parish priests, charming princesses, maids of honor
beautiful and well made; the mansion of Madame de Tyrconnel always full,
and sometimes too much so . . . but . . . but. . . . My dear
child, the weather is beginning to settle down into a fine frost."

The "frost" not only affected Voltaire's relations with his brethren in
philosophy, it reached even to the king himself. A far from creditable
lawsuit with a Jew completed Frederick's irritation. He forbade the poet
to appear in his presence before the affair was over. "Brother Voltaire
is doing penance here," wrote the latter to the Margravine of Baireuth,
the King of Prussia's amiable sister he has a beast of a lawsuit with a
Jew, and, according to the law of the Old Testament, there will be
something more to pay for having been robbed. . . ." Frederick, on his
side, writes to his sister, "You ask me what the lawsuit is in which
Voltaire is involved with a Jew. It is a case of a rogue wanting to
cheat a thief. It is intolerable that a man of Voltaire's intellect
should make so unworthy an abuse of it. The affair is in the hands of
justice; and, in a few days, we shall know from the sentence which is the
greater rogue of the two. Voltaire lost his temper, flew in the Jew's
face, and, in fact, behaved like a madman. I am waiting for this affair
to be over to put his head under the pump or reprimand him severely (_lui
laver la tete_), and see whether, at the age of fifty-six, one cannot
make him, if not reasonable, at any rate less of a rogue."

Voltaire settled matters with the Jew, at the same time asking the king's
pardon for what he called his giddiness. "This great poet is always
astride of Parnassus and Rue Quincampoix," said the Marquis of Argenson.
Frederick had written him on the 24th of February, 1751, a severe letter,
the prelude and precursor of the storms which were to break off before
long the intimacy between the king and the philosopher. "I was very glad
to receive you," said the king; "I esteemed your wit, your talents, your
acquirements, and I was bound to suppose that a man of your age, tired of
wrangling with authors and exposing himself to tempests, was coming
hither to take refuge as in a quiet harbor; but you at the very first, in
a rather singular fashion, required of me that I should not engage
Frerron to write me news. D'Arnauld did you some injuries; a generous
man would have pardoned them; a vindictive man persecutes those towards
whom he feels hatred. In fine, though D'Arnauld had done nothing so far
as I was concerned, on your account he had to leave. You went to the
Russian minister's to speak to him about matters you had no business to
meddle with, and it was supposed that I had given you instructions; you
meddled in Madame de Bentinck's affairs, which was certainly not in your
province. Then you have the most ridiculous squabble in the world with
that Jew. You created a fearful uproar all through the city. The matter
of the Saxon bills is so well known in Saxony that grave complaints have
been made to me about them. For my part, I kept peace in my household
until your arrival, and I warn you that, if you are fond of intrigue and
cabal, you have come to the wrong place. I like quiet and peaceable
folks who do not introduce into their behavior the violent passions of
tragedy; in case you can make up your mind to live as a philosopher, I
shall be very glad to see you; but, if you give way to the impetuosity of
your feelings and quarrel with everybody, you will do me no pleasure by
coming hither and you may just as well remain at Berlin."

Voltaire was not proud; he readily heaped apology upon apology; but he
was irritable and vain; his ill-humor against Maupertuis came out in a
pamphlet, as bitter as it was witty, entitled _La Diatribe du Docteur
Akakia;_ copies were circulating in Berlin; the satire was already
printed anonymously, when the Great Frederick suddenly entered the lists.
He wrote to Voltaire, "Your effrontery astounds me after that which you
have just done, and which is as clear as daylight. Do not suppose that
you will make black appear white; when one does not see, it is because
one does not want to see everything; but, if you carry matters to
extremity, I will have everything printed, and it will then be seen that
if your works deserve that statues should be raised to you, your conduct
deserves handcuffs."

Voltaire, affrighted, still protesting his innocence, at last gave up the
whole edition of the diatribe, which was burned before his eyes in the
king's own closet. According to the poet's wily habit, some copy or
other had doubtless escaped the flames. Before long _Le Docteur Akakia_
appeared at Berlin, arriving modestly from Dresden by post; people fought
for the pamphlet, and everybody laughed; the satire was spread over all
Europe. In vain did Frederick have it burned on the Place d'Armes by the
hands of the common hangman; he could not assuage the despair of
Maupertuis. "To speak to you frankly," the king at last wrote to the
disconsolate president, "it seems to me that you take too much to heart,
both for an invalid and a philosopher, an affair which you ought to
despise. How prevent a man from writing, and how prevent him from
denying all the impertinences he has uttered? I made investigations to
find out whether any fresh satires had been sold at Berlin, but I heard
of none; as for what is sold in Paris, you are quite aware that I have
not charge of the police of that city, and that I am not master of it.
Voltaire treats you more gently than I am treated by the gazetteers of
Cologne and Lubeck, and yet I don't trouble myself about it."

Voltaire could no longer live at Potsdam or at Sans-Souci; even Berlin
seemed dangerous: in a fit of that incurable perturbation which formed
the basis of his character and made him commit so many errors, he had no
longer any wish but to leave Prussia, only he wanted to go without
embroiling himself with the king. "I sent the Solomon of the North," he
writes to Madame Denis on the 13th of January, 1753, "for his present,
the cap and bells he gave me, with which you reproached me so much. I
wrote him a very respectful letter, for I asked him for leave to go.
What do you think he did? He sent me his great factotum Federshoff, who
brought me back my toys; he wrote me a letter saying that he would rather
have me to live with than Maupertuis. What is quite certain is, that I
would rather not live with either one or the other."

Frederick was vexed with Voltaire; he nevertheless found it difficult to
give up the dazzling charm of his conversation. Voltaire was hurt and
disquieted; he wanted to get away--the king, however, exercised a strong
attraction over him. But in spite of mutual coquetting, making up, and
protesting, the hour of separation was at hand; the poet was under
pressure from his friends in France; in Berlin he had never completely
neglected Paris. He had just published his _Siecle de Louis XIV.;_ he
flattered himself with the hope that he might again appear at court,
though the king had disposed of his place as historiographer in favor of
Duclos. Frederick at last yielded; he was on the parade, Voltaire
appeared there. "Ah! Monsieur Voltaire," said the king, "so you really
intend to go away?" "Sir, urgent private affairs, and especially my
health, leave me no alternative." "Monsieur, I wish you a pleasant
journey." Voltaire jumped into his carriage, and hurried to Leipsic; he
thought himself free forever from the exactions and tyrannies of the King
of Prussia.

The poet, according to his custom, had tarried on the way. He had passed
more than a month at Gotha, being overwhelmed with attentions by the
duke, and by the duchess, for whom he wrote the dry chronicle entitled
_Les Annales de L'Empire_. He arrived at Frankfort on the 31st of May
only: the king's orders had arrived before him.

"Here is how this fine adventure came to pass," says Voltaire. "There
was at Frankfort one Freytag, who had been banished from Dresden, and had
become an agent for the King of Prussia. . . . He notified me on
behalf of his Majesty that I was not to leave Frankfort till I had
restored the valuable effects I was carrying away from his Majesty.
'Alack! sir, I am carrying away nothing from that country, if you please,
not even the smallest regret. What, pray, are those jewels of the
Brandenburg crown that you require?' 'It be, sir,' replied Freytag,
'the work of poesy of the king, my gracious master.' 'O! I will give
him back his prose and verse with all my heart,' replied I, 'though,
after all, I have more than one right to the work. He made me a present
of a beautiful copy printed at his expense. Unfortunately this copy is
at Leipsic with my other luggage.' Then Freytag proposed to me to remain
at Frankfort until the treasure which was at Leipsic should have arrived;
and he signed an order for it."

The volume which Frederick claimed, and which he considered it of so much
importance to preserve from Voltaire's indiscretions, contained amongst
other things a burlesque and licentious poem, entitled the Palladium,
wherein the king scoffed at everything and everybody in terms which he
did not care to make public. He knew the reckless malignity of the poet
who was leaving him, and he had a right to be suspicious of it; but
nothing can excuse the severity of his express orders, and still less the
brutality of his agents. The package had arrived; Voltaire, agitated,
anxious, and ill, wanted to get away as soon as possible, accompanied by
Madame Denis, who had just joined him. Freytag had no orders, and
refused to let him go; the prisoner loses his head, he makes up his mind
to escape at any price, he slips from the hotel, he thinks he is free,
but the police of Frankfort was well managed. "The moment I was off, I
was arrested, I, my secretary and my people; my niece is arrested; four
soldiers drag her through the mud to a cheese-monger's named Smith, who
had some title or other of privy councillor to the King of Prussia; my
niece had a passport from the King of France, and, what is more, she had
never corrected the King of Prussia's verses. They huddled us all into a
sort of hostelry, at the door of which were posted a dozen soldiers; we
were for twelve days prisoners of war, and we had to pay a hundred and
forty crowns a day."

[Illustration: Arrest of Voltaire----298]

The wrath and disquietude of Voltaire no longer knew any bounds; Madame
Denis was ill, or feigned to be; she wrote letter upon letter to
Voltaire's friends at the court of Prussia; she wrote to the king
himself. The strife which had begun between the poet and the maladroit
agents of the Great Frederick was becoming serious. "We would have
risked our lives rather than let him get away," said Freytag; "and if I,
holding a council of war with myself, had not found him at the barrier,
but in the open country, and he had refused to jog back, I don't know
that I shouldn't have lodged a bullet in his head. To such a degree had
I at heart the letters and writings of the king."

Freytag's zeal received a cruel rebuff: orders arrived to let the poet
go. "I gave you no orders like that," wrote Frederick, "you should never
make more noise than a thing deserves. I wanted Voltaire to give up to
you the key, the cross, and the volume of poems I had intrusted to him;,
as soon as all that was given up to you I can't see what earthly reason
could have induced you to make this uproar." At last, on the 6th of
July, "all this affair of Ostrogoths and Vandals being over," Voltaire
left Frankfort precipitately. His niece had taken the road to Paris,
whence she soon wrote to him, "There is nobody in France, I say nobody
without exception, who has not condemned this violence mingled with so
much that is ridiculous and cruel; it makes a deeper impression than you
would believe. Everybody says that you could not do otherwise than you
are doing, in resolving to meet with philosophy things so
unphilosophical. We shall do very well to hold our tongues; the public
speaks quite enough." Voltaire held his tongue, according to his idea of
holding his tongue, drawing, in his poem of _La Loi naturelle,_ dedicated
at first to the margravine of Baireuth and afterwards to the Duchess of
Saxe-Gotha, a portrait of Frederick which was truthful and at the same
time bitter:

"Of incongruities a monstrous pile,
Calling men brothers, crushing them the while;
With air humane, a misanthropic brute;
Ofttimes impulsive, sometimes over-'cute;
Weak 'midst his choler, modest in his pride;
Yearning for virtue, lust personified;
Statesman and author, of the slippery crew;
My patron, pupil, persecutor too."

Voltaire's intimacy with the Great Frederick was destroyed it had for a
while done honor to both of them; it had ended by betraying the
pettinesses and the meannesses natural to the king as well as to the
poet. Frederick did not remain without anxiety on the score of
Voltaire's rancor; Voltaire dreaded nasty diplomatic proceedings on the
part of the king; he had been threatened with as much by Lord Keith,
Milord Marechal, as he was called on the Continent from the hereditary
title he had lost in his own country through his attachment to the cause
of the Stuarts:--

"Let us see in what countries M. de Voltaire has not had some squabble or
made himself many enemies," said a letter to Madame Denis from the great
Scotch lord, when he had entered Frederick's service: "every country
where the Inquisition prevails must be mistrusted by him; he would put
his foot in it sooner or later. The Mussulmans must be as little pleased
with his Mahomet as good Christians were. He is too old to go to China
and turn mandarin; in a word, if he is wise, there is no place but France
for him. He has friends there, and you will have him with you for the
rest of his days; do not let him shut himself out from the pleasure of
returning thither, for you are quite aware that, if he were to indulge in
speech and epigrams offensive to the king my master, a word which the
latter might order me to speak to the court of France would suffice to
prevent M. de Voltaire from returning, and he would be sorry for it when
it was too late."

Voltaire was already in France, but he dared not venture to Paris.
Mutilated, clumsy, or treacherous issues of the _Abrege de l'Histoire
Universelle_ had already stirred the bile of the clergy; there were to be
seen in circulation copies of _La Pucelle,_ a disgusting poem which the
author had been keeping back and bringing out alternately for several
years past. Voltaire fled from Colmar, where the Jesuits held sway, to
Lyons, where he found Marshal Richelieu, but lately his protector and
always his friend, who was repairing to his government of Languedoc.
Cardinal Tencin refused to receive the poet, who regarded this sudden
severity as a sign of the feelings of the court towards him. "The king
told Madame de Pompadour that he did not want me to go to Paris; I am of
his Majesty's opinion, I don't want to go to Paris," wrote Voltaire to
the Marquis of Paulmy. He took fright and sought refuge in Switzerland,
where he soon settled on the Lake of Geneva, pending his purchase of the
estate of Ferney in the district of Gex and that of Tourney in Burgundy.
He was henceforth fixed, free to pass from France to Switzerland and from
Switzerland to France. "I lean my left on Mount Jura," he used to say,
"my right on the Alps, and I have the beautiful Lake of Geneva in front
of my camp, a beautiful castle on the borders of France, the hermitage of
Delices in the territory of Geneva, a good house at Lausanne; crawling
thus from one burrow to another, I escape from kings. Philosophers
should always have two or three holes under ground against the hounds
that run them down."

The perturbation of Voltaire's soul and mind was never stilled; the
anxious and undignified perturbation of his outer life at last subsided;
he left off trembling, and, in the comparative security which he thought
he possessed, he gave scope to all his free-thinking, which had but
lately been often cloaked according to circumstances. He had taken the
communion at Colmar, to soften down the Jesuits; he had conformed to the
rules of the convent of Senones, when he took refuge with Dom Calmet; at
Delices he worked at the _Encyclopcedia,_ which was then being commenced
by D'Alembert and Diderot, taking upon himself in preference the
religious articles, and not sparing the creed of his neighbors, the
pastors of Geneva, any more than that of the Catholic church. "I assure
you that my friends and I will lead them a fine dance; they shall drink
the cup to the very lees," wrote Voltaire to D'Alembert. In the great
campaign against Christianity undertaken by the philosophers, Voltaire,
so long, a wavering ally, will henceforth fight in the foremost ranks; it
is he who shouts to Diderot, "Squelch the thing (_Ecrasez l'infame_)!"
The masks are off, and the fight is barefaced; the encyclopaedists march
out to the conquest of the world in the name of reason, humanity, and
free-thinking; even when he has ceased to work at the Encyclopaedia,
Voltaire marches with them.

The _Essai sur l'Histoire generale et les Moeurs_ was one of the first
broadsides of this new anti-religious crusade. "Voltaire will never
write a good history," Montesquieu used to say: "he is like the monks,
who do not write for the subject of which they treat, but for the glory
of their order: Voltaire writes for his convent." The same intention
betrayed itself in every sort of work that issued at that time from the
hermitage of Delices, the poem on _Le Tremblement de Terre de Lisbonne,_
the drama of _Socrate,_ the satire of the _Pauvre Diable,_ the sad story
of _Candide,_ led the way to a series of publications every day more and
more violent against the Christian faith. The tragedy of _L' Orphelin de
la Chine_ and that of _Tancrede,_ the quarrels with Freron, with Lefranc
de Pompignan, and lastly with Jean Jacques Rousseau, did not satiate the
devouring activity of the Patriarch, as he was called by the knot of
philosophers. Definitively installed at Ferney, Voltaire took to
building, planting, farming. He established round his castle a small
industrial colony, for whose produce he strove to get a market
everywhere. "Our design," he used to say, "is to ruin the trade of
Geneva in a pious spirit." Ferney, moreover, held grand and numerously
attended receptions; Madame Denis played her uncle's pieces on a stage
which the latter had ordered to be built, and which caused as much
disquietude to the austere Genevese as to Jean Jacques Rousseau. It was
on account of Voltaire's theatrical representations that Rousseau wrote
his _Lettre centre les Spectacles_. "I love you not, sir," wrote
Rousseau to Voltaire: "you have done me such wrongs as were calculated to
touch me most deeply. You have ruined Geneva in requital of the asylum
you have found there." Geneva was about to banish Rousseau before long,
and Voltaire had his own share of responsibility in this act of severity
so opposed to his general and avowed principles. Voltaire was angry with
Rousseau, whom he accused of having betrayed the cause of philosophy; he
was, as usual, hurried away by the passion of the moment, when he wrote,
speaking of the exile, "I give you my word that if this blackguard
(_polisson_) of a Jean Jacques should dream of coming (to Geneva), he
would run great risk of mounting a ladder which would not be that of
Fortune." At the very same time Rousseau was saying, "What have I done
to bring upon myself the persecution of M. de Voltaire? And what worse
have I to fear from him? Would M. de Buffon have me soften this tiger
thirsting for my blood? He knows very well that nothing ever appeases or
softens the fury of tigers; if I were to crawl upon the ground before
Voltaire, he would triumph thereat, no doubt, but he would rend me none
the less. Basenesses would dishonor me, but would not save me. Sir, I
can suffer, I hope to learn how to die, and he who knows how to do that
has never need to be a dastard."

Rousseau was high-flown and tragic; Voltaire was cruel in his
contemptuous levity; but the contrast between the two philosophers was
even greater in the depths of them than on. the surface. Rousseau took
his own words seriously, even when he was mad, and his conduct was sure
to belie them before long. He was the precursor of an impassioned and
serious age, going to extremes in idea and placing deeds after words.
In spite of occasional reticence dictated by sound sense, Voltaire had
abandoned himself entirely in his old age to that school of philosophy,
young, ardent, full of hope and illusions, which would fain pull down
everything before it knew what it could set up, and the actions of which
were not always in accordance with principles. "The men were inferior to
their ideas." President De Brosses was justified in writing to Voltaire,
"I only wish you had in your heart a half-quarter of the morality and
philosophy contained in your works." Deprived of the counterpoise of
political liberty, the emancipation of thought in the reign of Louis XV.
had become at one and the same time a danger and a source of profound
illusions; people thought that they did what they said, and that they
meant what they wrote, but the time of actions and consequences had not
yet come; Voltaire applauded the severities against Rousseau, and still
he was quite ready to offer him an asylum at Ferney; he wrote to
D'Alembert, "I am engaged in sending a priest to the galleys," at the
very moment when he was bringing eternal honor to his name by the
generous zeal which led him to protect the memory and the family of the
unfortunate people named Calas.

The glorious and bloody annals of the French Reformation had passed
through various phases; liberty, always precarious, even under Henry IV.,
and whilst the Edict of Nantes was in force, and legally destroyed by its
revocation, had been succeeded by periods of assuagement and comparative
repose; in the latter part of Louis XV.'s reign, about 1760, fresh
severities had come to overwhelm the Protestants. Modestly going about
their business, silent and timid, as inviolably attached to the king as
to their hereditary creed, several of them had undergone capital
punishment. John Calas, accused of murdering his son, had been broken on
the wheel at Toulouse; the reformers had been accustomed to these sombre
dramas, but the spirit of the times had marched onward; ideas of justice,
humanity, and liberty, sown broadcast by the philosophers, more imbued
than they were themselves aware of with the holy influences of
Christianity, had slowly and secretly acted upon men's minds; executions
which had been so frequent in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
caused trouble and dismay in the eighteenth: in vain did the fanatical
passions of the populace of Toulouse find an echo in the magistracy of
that city: it was no longer considered a matter of course that
Protestants should be guilty of every crime, and that those who were
accused should not be at liberty to clear themselves. The philosophers
had at first hesitated. Voltaire wrote to Cardinal Bernis, "Might I
venture to entreat your eminence to be kind enough to tell me what I am
to think about the frightful case of this Calas, broken on the wheel at
Toulouse, on a charge of having hanged his own son? The fact is, they
maintain here that he is quite innocent, and that he called God to
witness it. . . . This case touches me to the heart; it saddens my
pleasures, it taints them. Either the Parliament of Toulouse or the
Protestants must be regarded with eyes of horror." Being soon convinced
that the Parliament deserved all his indignation, Voltaire did not grudge
time, efforts, or influence in order to be of service to the unfortunate
remnant of the Calas family. "I ought to look upon myself as in some
sort a witness," he writes: "several months ago Peter Calas, who is
accused of having assisted his father and mother in a murder, was in my
neighborhood with another of his brothers. I have wavered a long while
as to the innocence of this family; I could not believe that any judges
would have condemned to a fearful death an innocent father of a family.
There is nothing I have not done to enlighten myself as to the truth. I
dare to say that I am as sure of the innocence of this family as I am of
my own existence."

For three years, with a constancy which he often managed to conceal
beneath an appearance of levity, Voltaire prosecuted the work of clearing
the Calas. "It is Voltaire who is writing on behalf of this unfortunate
family," said Diderot to Mdlle. Voland: "O, my friend, what a noble work
for genius! This man must needs have soul and sensibility; injustice
must revolt him; he must feel the attraction of virtue. Why, what are
the Calas to him? What can awaken his interest in them? What reason has
he to suspend the labors he loves in order to take up their defence?"
From the borders of the Lake of Geneva, from his solitude at Genthod,
Charles Bonnet, far from favorable generally to Voltaire, writes to
Haller, "Voltaire has done a work on tolerance which is said to be good;
he will not publish it until after the affair of the unfortunate Calas
has been decided by the king's council. Voltaire's zeal for these
unfortunates might cover a multitude of sins; that zeal does not relax,
and, if they obtain satisfaction, it will be principally to his
championship that they will owe it. He receives much commendation for
this business, and he deserves it fully."

The sentence of the council cleared the accused and the memory of John
Calas, ordering that their names should be erased and effaced from the
registers, and the judgment transcribed upon the margin of the
charge-sheet. The king at the same time granted Madame Calas and her
children a gratuity of thirty-six thousand livres, a tacit and inadequate
compensation for the expenses and losses caused them by the fanatical
injustice of the Parliament of Toulouse. Madame Calas asked no more.
"To prosecute the judges and the ringleaders," said a letter to Voltaire
from the generous advocate of the Calas, Elias de Beaumont, "requires the
permission of the council, and there is great reason to fear that these
petty plebeian kings appear powerful enough to cause the permission,
through a weakness honored by the name of policy, to be refused."

Voltaire, however, was triumphant. "You were at Paris," he writes to
M. de Cideville, "when the last act of the tragedy finished so happily.
The piece is according to the rules; it is, to my thinking, the finest
fifth act there is on the stage." Henceforth he finds himself
transformed into the defender of the oppressed. The Protestant Chaumont,
at the galleys, owed to him his liberation; he rushed to Ferney to thank
Voltaire. The pastor, who had to introduce him, thus described the
interview to Paul Rabaut: "I told him that I had brought him a little
fellow who had come to throw himself at his feet to thank him for having,
by his intercession, delivered him from the galleys; that it was Chaumont
whom I had left in his antechamber, and whom I begged him to permit me to
bring in. At the name of Chaumont M. de Voltaire showed a transport of
joy, and rang at once to have him brought in. Never did any scene appear
to me more amusing and refreshing. 'What,' said he, 'my poor, little,
good fellow, they sent you to the galleys! What did they mean to do with
you? What a conscience they must have to put in fetters and chain to the
oar a man who had committed no crime beyond praying to God in bad
French!' He turned several times to me, denouncing persecution. He
summoned into his room some persons who were staying with him, that they
might share the joy he felt at seeing poor little Chaumont, who, though
perfectly well attired for his condition, was quite astonished to find
himself so well received. There was nobody, down to an ex-Jesuit, Father
Adam, who did not come forward to congratulate him."

Innate love of justice and horror of fanaticism had inspired Voltaire
with his zeal on behalf of persecuted Protestants; a more personal
feeling, a more profound sympathy, caused his grief and his dread when
Chevalier de la Barre, accused of having mutilated a crucifix, was
condemned, in 1766, to capital punishment; the scepticism of the
eighteenth century had sudden and terrible reactions towards fanatical
violence, as a protest and a pitiable struggle against the doubt which
was invading it on all sides; the chevalier was executed; he was not
twenty years old. He was an infidel and a libertine, like the majority
of the young men of his day and of his age; the crime he expiated so
cruelly was attributed to reading bad books, which had corrupted him.
"I am told," writes Voltaire to D'Alembert, "that they said at their
examination that they had been led on to the act of madness they
committed by the works of the _Encyclopaedists_. I can scarcely believe
it; these madmen don't read; and certainly no philosopher would have
counselled profanation. The matter is important; try to get to the
bottom of so odious and dangerous a report." And, at another time, to
Abbe Morellet, "You know that Councillor Pasquier said in full Parliament
that the young men of Abbeville who were put to death had imbibed their
impiety in the school and the works of the modern philosophers. . . .
They were mentioned by name; it is a formal denunciation. . . . Wise
men, under such terrible circumstances, should keep quiet and wait."

Whilst keeping quiet, Voltaire soon grew frightened; he fancied himself
arrested even on the foreign soil on which he had sought refuge. "My
heart is withered," he exclaims, "I am prostrated, I am tempted to go and
die in some land where men are less unjust." He wrote to the Great
Frederick, with whom he had resumed active correspondence, asking him for
an asylum in the town of Cleves, where he might find refuge together with
the persecuted philosophers. His imagination was going wild. "I went to
him," says the celebrated physician, Tronchin, an old friend of his;
"after I had pointed out to him the absurdity of his fearing that, for a
mere piece of imprudence, France would come and seize an old man on
foreign soil to shut him up in the Bastille, I ended by expressing my
astonishment that a head like his should be deranged to the extent I saw
it was. Covering his eyes with his clinched hands and bursting into
tears, 'Yes, yes, my friend, I am mad!' was all he answered. A few days
afterwards, when reflection had driven away fear, he would have defied
all the powers of malevolence."

Voltaire did not find his brethren in philosophy so frightened and
disquieted by ecclesiastical persecution as to fly to Cleves, far from
the "home of society," as he had himself called Paris. In vain he wrote
to Diderot, "A man like you cannot look save with horror upon the country
in which you have the misfortune to live; you really ought to come away
into a country where you would have entire liberty not only to express
what you pleased, but to preach openly against superstitions as
disgraceful as they are sanguinary. You would not be solitary there; you
would have companions and disciples; you might establish a chair there,
the chair of truth. Your library might go by water, and there would not
be four leagues' journey by land. In fine, you would leave slavery for

All these inducements having failed of effect, Voltaire gave up the
foundation of a colony at Cleves, to devote all his energy to that at
Ferney. There he exercised signorial rights with an active and restless
guardianship which left him no illusions and but little sympathy in
respect of that people whose sacred rights he had so often proclaimed.
"The people will always be sottish and barbarous," he wrote to M. Bordes;
"they are oxen needing a yoke, a goad, and a bit of hay." That was the
sum and substance of what he thought; he was a stern judge of the French
character, the genuine and deep-lying resources of which he sounded
imperfectly, but the infinite varieties of which he recognized. "I
always find it difficult to conceive," he wrote to M. de Constant, "how
so agreeable a nation can at the same time be so ferocious, how it can so
easily pass from the opera to the St. Bartholomew, be at one time made up
of dancing apes and at another of howling bears, be so ingenious and so
idiotic both together, at one time so brave and at another so dastardly."
Voltaire fancied himself at a comedy still; the hour of tragedy was at
hand. He and his friends were day by day weakening the foundations of
the edifice; for eighty years past the greatest minds and the noblest
souls have been toiling to restore it on new and strong bases; the work
is not finished, revolution is still agitating the depths of French
society, which has not yet recovered the only proper foundation-stones
for greatness and order amongst a free people.

Henceforth Voltaire reigned peacefully over his little empire at Ferney,
courted from afar by all the sovereigns of Europe who made any profession
of philosophy. "I have a sequence of four kings" (_brelan de roi
quatrieme_), he would say with a laugh when he counted his letters from
royal personages. The Empress of Russia, Catherine II., had dethroned,
in his mind, the Great Frederick. Voltaire had not lived in her
dominions and at her court; he had no grievance against her; his vanity
was flattered by the eagerness and the magnificent attentions of the
Semiramis of the North, as he called her. He even forgave her the most
odious features of resemblance to the Assyrian princess. "I am her
knight in the sight and in the teeth of everybody," he wrote to Madame du
Deffand; "I am quite aware that people bring up against her a few trifles
on the score of her husband; but these are family matters with which I do
not meddle, and besides it is not a bad thing to have a fault to repair.
It is an inducement to make great efforts in order to force the public to
esteem and admiration, and certainly her knave of a husband would never
have done any one of the great things my Catherine does every day." The
portrait of the empress, worked in embroidery by herself, hung in
Voltaire's bedroom. In vain had he but lately said to Pastor Bertrand,
"My dear philosopher, I have, thank God, cut all connection with kings;"
instinct and natural inclination were constantly re-asserting themselves.
Banished from the court of Versailles by the disfavor of Louis XV., he
turned in despite towards the foreign sovereigns who courted him.
"Europe is enough for me," he writes; "I do not trouble myself much about
the Paris clique, seeing that that clique is frequently guided by envy,
cabal, bad taste, and a thousand petty interests which are always opposed
to the public interest."

Voltaire, however, returned to that Paris in which he was born, in which
he had lived but little since his early days, to which he belonged by the
merits as well as the defects of his mind, and in which he was destined
to die. In spite of his protests about his being a rustic and a
republican, he had never allowed himself to slacken the ties which united
him to his Parisian friends; the letters of the patriarch of Ferney
circulated amongst the philosophical fraternity; they were repeated in
the correspondence of Grimm and Diderot with foreign princes; from his
splendid retreat at Ferney he cheered and excited the literary zeal and
often the anti-religious ardor of the _Encyclopaedists_. He had,
however, ceased all working connection with that great work since it had
been suspended and afterwards resumed at the orders and with the
permission of government. The more and more avowed materialistic
theories revolted his shrewd and sensible mind; without caring to go to
the bottom of his thought and contemplate its consequences, he clung to
the notion of Providence as to a waif in the great shipwreck of positive
creeds; he could not imagine

"This clock without a Maker could exist."

It is his common sense, and not the religious yearnings of his soul, that
makes him write in the poem of La Loi naturelle,--

O God, whom men ignore, whom everything reveals,
Hear Thou the latest words of him who now appeals;
'Tis searching out Thy law that hath bewildered me;
My heart may go astray, but it is full of Thee.

When he was old and suffering, he said to Madame Necker, in one of those
fits of melancholy to which he was subject, "The thinking faculty is lost
just like the eating, drinking, and digesting faculties. The marionettes
of Providence, in fact, are not made to last so long as It." In his
dying hour Voltaire was seen showing more concern for terrestrial
scandals than for the terrors of conscience, crying aloud for a priest,
and, with his mouth full of the blood he spat, still repeating in a half
whisper, "I don't want to be thrown into the kennel." A sad confession
of the insufficiency of his convictions and of the inveterate levity of
his thoughts; he was afraid of the judgment of man without dreading the
judgment of God. Thus was revealed the real depth of an infidelity of
which Voltaire himself perhaps had not calculated the extent and the
fatal influences.

Voltaire was destined to die at Paris; there he found the last joys of
his life and there he shed the last rays of his glory. For the twenty-
seven years during which he had been away from it he had worked much,
written much, done much. Whilst almost invariably disavowing his works,
he had furnished philosophy with pointed and poisoned weapons against
religion; he had devoted to humanity much time and strength; one of the
last delights he had tasted was the news of the decree which cleared the
memory of M. de Lally; he had received into his house, educated and found
a husband for the grand-niece of the great Corneille; he had applied the
inexhaustible resources of his mind at one time to good and at another to
evil, with almost equal ardor; he was old, he was ill, yet this same
ardor still possessed him when he arrived at Paris on the 10th of
February, 1778. The excitement caused by his return was extraordinary.
"This new prodigy has stopped all other interest for some time," writes
Grimm; it has put an end to rumors of war, intrigues in civil life,
squabbles at court. Encyclopeadic pride appeared diminished by half, the
Sorbonne shook all over, the Parliament kept silence; all the literary
world is moved, all Paris is ready to fly to the idol's feet." So much
attention and so much glory had been too much for the old man. Voltaire
was dying; in his fright he had sent for a priest and had confessed; when
he rose from his bed by a last effort of the marvellous elasticity,
inherent in his body and his mind, he resumed for a while the course of
his triumphs. "M. de Voltaire has appeared for the first time at the
Academy and at the play; he found all the doors, all the approaches to
the Academy besieged by a multitude which only opened slowly to let him,
pass and then rushed in immediately upon his footsteps with repeated
plaudits and acclamations. The Academy came out into the first room to
meet him, an honor it had never yet paid to any of its members, not even
to the foreign princes who had deigned to be present at its meetings.
The homage he received at the Academy was merely the prelude to that
which awaited him at the National theatre. As soon as his carriage
was seen at a distance, there arose a universal shout of joy. All the
curb-stones, all the barriers, all the windows were crammed with
spectators, and, scarcely was the carriage stopped, when people were
already on the imperial and even on the wheels to get a nearer view of
the divinity. Scarcely had he entered the house when Sieur Brizard came
up with a crown of laurels, which Madame de Villette placed upon the
great man's head, but which he immediately took off, though the public
urged him to keep it on by clapping of hands and by cheers which
resounded from all corners of the house with such a din as never was

"All the women stood up. I saw at one time that part of the pit which
was under the boxes going down on their knees, in despair of getting a
sight any other way. The whole house was darkened with the dust raised
by the ebb and flow of the excited multitude. It was not without
difficulty that the players managed at last to begin the piece. It was
_Irene,_ which was given for the sixth time. Never had this tragedy been
better played, never less listened to, never more applauded. The
illustrious old man rose to thank the public, and, the moment afterwards,
there appeared on a pedestal in the middle of the stage a bust of this
great man, and the actresses, garlands and crowns in hand, covered it
with laurels; M. de Voltaire seemed to be sinking beneath the burden of
age and of the homage with which he had just been overwhelmed. He
appeared deeply affected, his eyes still sparkled amidst the pallor of
his face, but it seemed as if he breathed no longer save with the
consciousness of his glory. The people shouted, 'Lights! lights! that
everybody may see him!' The coachman was entreated to go at a walk, and
thus he was accompanied by cheering and the crowd as far as Pont Royal."

Thus is described in the words of an eye-witness the last triumph of an
existence that had been one of ceaseless agitation, owing to Voltaire
himself far more than to the national circumstances and events of the
time at which he lived. His anxious vanity and the inexhaustible
movement of his mind had kept him constantly fluctuating between
alternations of intoxication and despair; he had the good fortune to die
at the very pinnacle of success and renown, the only immortality he could
comprehend or desire, at the outset of a new and hopeful reign; he did
not see, he had never apprehended the terrible catastrophe to which he
had been thoughtlessly contributing for sixty years. A rare piece of
good fortune and one which might be considered too great, if the limits
of eternal justice rested upon earth and were to be measured by our

Voltaire's incessant activity bore many fruits which survived him; he
contributed powerfully to the triumph of those notions of humanity,
justice, and freedom, which, superior to his own ideal, did honor to the
eighteenth century; he became the model of a style, clear, neat,
brilliant, the natural exponent of his own mind, far more than of the as
yet confused hopes and aspirations of his age; he defended the rights of
common sense, and sometimes withstood the anti-religious passion of his
friends, but he blasted both minds and souls with his sceptical gibes;
his bitter and at the same time temperate banter disturbed consciences
which would have been revolted by the materialistic doctrines of the
Encyclopaedists; the circle of infidelity widened under his hands; his
disciples were able to go beyond him on the fatal path he had opened to
them. Voltaire has remained the true representative of the mocking and
stone-flinging phase of free-thinking, knowing nothing of the deep
yearnings any more than of the supreme wretchlessness of the human soul,
which it kept imprisoned within the narrow limits of earth and time. At
the outcome from the bloody slough of the French Revolution and from the
chaos it caused in men's souls, it was the infidelity of Voltaire which
remained at the bottom of the scepticism and moral disorder of the France
of our day. The demon which torments her is even more Voltairian than

Other influences, more sincere and at the same time more dangerous, were
simultaneously undermining men's minds. The group of Encyclopaedists,
less prudent and less temperate than Voltaire, flaunted openly the flag
of revolt. At the head marched Diderot, the most daring of all, the most
genuinely affected by his own ardor, without perhaps being the most sure
of his ground in his negations. His was an original and exuberant
nature, expansively open to all new impressions. "In my country," he
says, "we pass within twenty-four hours from cold to hot, from calm to
storm, and this changeability of climate extends to the persons. Thus,
from earliest infancy, they are wont to shift with every wind. The head
of a Langrois stands on his shoulders like a weathercock on the top of a
church-steeple; it is never steady at one point, and, if it comes round
again to that which it had left, it is not to stop there. As for me, I
am of my country; only residence of the capital and constant application
have corrected me a little."

[Illustration: Diderot----314]

Narrow circumstances had their share in the versatility of Diderot's
genius as well as in the variety of his labors. Son of a cutler at
Langres, a strict and virtuous man, Denys Diderot, born in 1715, had at
first been intended by his father for the church. He was educated at
Harcourt College, and he entered an attorney's office. The young man
worked incessantly, but not a law-book did he open. "What do you mean to
be, pray?" the lawyer asked him one day; "do you think of being an
attorney?" "No." "A barrister?" "No." "A doctor?" "No more than the
rest." "What then?" "Nothing at all. I like study, I am very happy,
very contented, I ask no more." Diderot's father stopped the allowance
he had been making his son, trusting thus to force him to choose a
profession. But the young man gave lessons for a livelihood.

"I know a pretty good number of things," he wrote towards the end of his
life, "but there is scarcely a man who doesn't know his own thing better
than I do. This mediocrity in every sort is the consequence of
insatiable curiosity and of means so small, that they never permitted me
to devote myself to one single branch of human knowledge. I have been
forced all my life to follow pursuits for which I was not adapted, and to
leave on one side those for which I had a call from inclination." Before
he was thirty years old, and without any resource but his lessons and the
work of every sort he did for third parties, Diderot married; he had not
asked the consent of his parents, but this did not prevent him from
saddling them before long with his wife and child. "She started
yesterday," he writes quite simply to his father, "she will be with you
in three days; you can say anything you like to her, and when you are
tired of her, you can send her back." Diderot intended to be free at any
price, and he threw off, one after another, the fetters he had forged for
himself, not without remorse, however, and not without acknowledging that
he was thus wanting to all natural duties. "What can you expect," he
would exclaim, "of a man who has neglected wife and daughter, got into
debt, given up being husband and father?"

Diderot never neglected his friends; amidst his pecuniary embarrassments,
when he was reduced to coin his brain for a livelihood, his labor and his
marvellous facility were always at the service of all. It was to satisfy
the requirements of a dangerous fair friend that he wrote his _Pensees
philosophiques,) the sad tale of the _Bijoux indiscrets_ and the _Lettre
sur les Aveugles,_ those early attacks upon religious faith which sent
him to pass a few months in prison at the Castle of Vincennes. It was to
oblige Grimm that he for the first time gave his mind to painting, and
wrote his _Salons,_ intended to amuse and instruct the foreign princes.
"A pleasure which is only for myself affects me but slightly and lasts
but a short time," he used to say; "it is for self and friends that I
read, reflect, write, meditate, hear, look, feel. In their absence, my
devotion towards them refers everything to them. I am always thinking of
their happiness. Does a beautiful line strike me, they shall know it.
Have I stumbled upon a beautiful trait, I make up my mind to communicate
it to them. Have I before my eyes some enchanting scene; unconsciously,
I meditate an account of it for them. To them I have dedicated the use
of all my senses and of all my faculties, and that perhaps is the reason
why everything is exaggerated, everything is embellished a little in my
imagination and in my talk; and they sometimes reproach me with this, the

It was, further, in conjunction with his friends and in community of
ideas that Diderot undertook the immense labor of the _Encyclopaedia_.
Having, in the first instance, received a commission from a publisher to
translate the English collection of [Ephraim] Chambers, Diderot was
impressed with a desire to unite in one and the same collection all the
efforts and all the talents of his epoch, so as to render joint homage to
the rapid progress of science. Won over by his enthusiasm, D'Alembert
consented to share the task; and he wrote the beautiful exposition in the
introduction. Voltaire sent his articles from Delices. The Jesuits had
proposed to take upon themselves a certain number of questions, but their
co-operation was declined: it was a monument to philosophy that the
Encyclopaedists aspired to raise; the clergy were in commotion at seeing
the hostile army, till then uncertain and unbanded, rally organized and
disciplined around this vast enterprise. An early veto, soon, however,
taken off, compelled the philosophers to a certain moderation; Voltaire
ceased writing for the _Encyclopaedia;_ it was not sufficiently
free-going for him. "You admit articles worthy of the Trevoux journal,"
he said to D'Alembert. New severities on the part of the Parliament and
the grand council dealt a blow to the philosophers before long: the
editors' privilege was revoked. Orders were given to seize Diderot's
papers. Lamoignon de Malesherbes, who was at that time director of the
press, and favorable to freedom without ever having abused it in thought
or action, sent him secret warning. Diderot ran home in consternation.
"What's to be done?" he cried; "how move all my manuscripts in twenty-
four hours? I haven't time even to make a selection. And, above all,
where find people who would and can take charge of them safely?" "Send
them all to me," replied M. de Malesherbes; "nobody will come thither to
look for them."

Feeble governments are ill served even by their worthiest servants; the
severities ordered against the _Encyclopaedia_ did not stop its
publication; D'Alembert, however, weary of the struggle, had ceased to
take part in the editorship. Naturally cool and moderate, when it was
nothing to do with Mdlle. de Lespinasse, the great affection of his life,
the illustrious geometer was content with a little. "Twelve hundred
livres a year are enough for me," he wrote to the Great Frederick who was
pressing him to settle in his dominions. "I will not go and reap the
succession to Maupertuis during his lifetime. I am overlooked by
government, just as so many others by Providence; persecuted as much as
anybody can be, if some day I have to fly my country, I will simply ask
Frederick's permission to go and die in his dominions, free and poor."

[Illustration: Alembert----317]

Frederick II. gave D'Alembert a pension; it had but lately been Louis
XIV. who thus lavished kindnesses on foreign scholars: he made an offer
to the Encyclopaedists to go and finish their vast undertaking at Berlin.
Catherine II. made the same offers, asking D'Alembert, besides, to take
charge of the education of her son. "I know your honesty too well," she
wrote, "to attribute your refusals to vanity; I know that the cause is
merely love of repose in order to cultivate literature and friendship.
But what is to prevent your coming with all your friends? I promise you
and them too all the comforts and every facility that may depend upon me;
and perchance you will find more freedom and repose than you have at
home. You do not yield to the entreaties of the King of Prussia, and to
the gratitude you owe him, it is true, but then he has no son. I confess
that I have my son's education so much at heart, and that you are so
necessary to me, that perhaps I press you too much. Pardon my
indiscretion for the reason's sake, and rest assured that it is esteem
which has made me so selfish."

D'Alembert declined the education of the hereditary Grand Duke, just as
he had declined the presidency of the Academy at Berlin; an infidel and
almost a materialist by the geometer's rule, who knows no power but the
laws of mathematics, he did not carry into anti-religious strife the
bitterness of Voltaire, or the violence of Diderot. "Squelch the thing!
you are always repeating to me," he said to Voltaire on the 4th of May,
1762. "Ah! my good friend, let it go to rack and ruin of itself, it is
hurrying thereto faster than you suppose." More and more absorbed by
pure science, which he never neglected save for the French Academy, whose
perpetual secretary he had become, D'Alembert left to Diderot alone the
care of continuing the _Encyclopaedia_. When he died, in 1783, at
fifty-six years of age, the work had been finished nearly twenty years.
In spite of the bad faith of publishers, who mutilated articles to render
them acceptable, in spite of the condemnation of the clergy and the
severities of the council, the last volumes of the _Encyclopaedia_ had
appeared in 1765.

This immense work, unequal and confused as it was, a medley of various
and often ill-assorted elements, undertaken for and directed to the fixed
end of an aggressive emancipation of thought, had not sufficed to absorb
the energy and powers of Diderot. "I am awaiting with impatience the
reflections of _Pantophile Diderot on Tancrede,_" wrote Voltaire:
"everything is within the sphere of activity of his genius: he passes
from the heights of metaphysics to the weaver's trade, and thence he
comes to the stage."

The stage, indeed, occupied largely the attention of Diderot, who sought
to introduce reforms, the fruit of his own thought as well as of
imitation of the Germans, which he had not perhaps sufficiently
considered. For the classic tragedies, the heritage of which Voltaire
received from the hands of Racine, Diderot aspired to substitute the
natural drama. His two attempts in that style, _Le Pere de Famille_ and
_Le Fils natural,_ had but little success in France, and contributed to
develop in Germany the school already founded by Lessing. An excess of
false sensibility and an inflation of expression had caused certain true
ideas to fall flat on the French stage.

"You have the inverse of dramatic talent," said Abbe Arnauld to Diderot;
"the proper thing is to transform one's self into all the characters, and
you transform all the characters into yourself." The criticism did
Diderot wrong: he had more wits than his characters, and he was worth
more at bottom than those whom he described. Carried away by the
richness as well as the unruliness of his mind, destitute as he was of
definite and fixed principles, he recognized no other moral law than the
natural impulse of the soul. "There is no virtue or vice," he used to
say, "but innate goodness or badness." Certain religious cravings,
nevertheless, sometimes: asserted themselves in his conscience: he had.
a glimmering perception of the necessity for a higher rule and law.
"O God, I know not whether Thou art," he wrote in his _Interpretation de
la Nature,_ but I will think as if Thou didst see into my soul, I will
act as if I were in Thy presence."

A strange illusion on the part of the philosopher about the power of
ideas as well as about the profundity of evil in the human heart!
Diderot fancied he could regulate his life by a perchance, and he was
constantly hurried away by the torrent of his passion into a violence of
thought and language foreign to his natural benevolence. It was around
his name that the philosophic strife had waxed most fierce: the active
campaign undertaken by his friends to open to him the doors of the French
Academy remained unsuccessful. "He has too many enemies," said Louis XV.
"his election shall not be sanctioned." Diderot did not offer himself;
he set out for St. Petersburg; the Empress Catherine had loaded him with
kindnesses. Hearing of the poverty of the philosopher who was trying to
sell his library to obtain a dower for his daughter, she bought the
books, leaving the enjoyment of them to Diderot, whom she appointed her
librarian, and, to secure his maintenance in advance, she had a sum of
fifty thousand livres remitted to him. "So here I am obliged, in
conscience, to live fifty years," said Diderot.

[Illustration: Diderot and Catherine II----321]

He passed some months in Russia, admitted several hours a day to the
closet of the empress, chatting with a frankness and a freedom which
sometimes went to the extent of license. Catherine II. was not alarmed.
"Go on," she would say; amongst men anything is allowable." When the
philosopher went away, he shed hot tears, and "so did she, almost," he
declares. He refused to go to Berlin; absolute power appeared to him
more arbitrary and less indulgent in the hands of Frederick than with
Catherine. "It is said that at Petersburg Diderot is considered a
tiresome reasoner," wrote the King of Prussia to D' Alembert in January,
1774; "he is incessantly harping on the same things. All I know is that
I couldn't stand the reading of his, books, intrepid reader as I am;
there is a self-sufficient tone and an arrogance in them which revolts my
sense of freedom." The same sense of freedom which the king claimed for
himself whilst refusing it to the philosopher, the philosopher, in his
turn, refused to Christians not less intolerant than he. The eighteenth
century did not practise on its own account that respect for conscience
which it, nevertheless, powerfully and to its glory promoted.

Diderot died on the 29th of July, 1784, still poor, an invalid for some
time past, surrounded to the end by his friends, who rendered back to him
that sincere and devoted affection which he made the pride of his life.
Hearing of his sufferings from Grimm, the Empress Catherine had hired a
furnished apartment for him; he had just installed himself in it when he
expired; without having retracted any one of his works, nearly all
published under the veil of the anonymous, he was, nevertheless, almost
reconciled with the church, and was interred quietly in the chapel of the
Virgin at St. Roch. The charm of his character had often caused people
to forget his violence, which he himself no longer remembered the next
day. "I should like to know this hot-headed metaphysician," was the
remark made to Buffon by President De Brosses, who happened to be then at
Paris; and he afterwards added,

"He is a nice fellow, very pleasant, very amiable, a great philosopher,
a mighty arguer, but a maker of perpetual digressions. Yesterday he made
quite five and twenty between nine o'clock and one, during which time he
remained in my room. O, how much more lucid is Buffon than all those

The magistrate's mind understood and appreciated the great naturalist's
genius. Diderot felt in his own fashion the charm of nature, but, as was
said by Chevalier Chastellux, "his ideas got drunk and set to work
chasing one another." The ideas of Buffon, on the other hand, came out
in the majestic order of a system under powerful organization, and
informed as it were with the very secrets of the Creator. "The general

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