Imatges de pÓgina

Thus, in his youth, fortunate circumstances taught him, even before his judgment was formed, to regard study as an honourable occupation; and he, also, became intimate with persons who were superior to vulgar prejudice; who informed him that the mind of man is born free, and that he had a right to judge of every subject that came within his knowledge..

Shortly after this, Mad. Maintenon introduced him to the court of the aged Louis XIV. A hypocritical and persecuting spirit was very prevalent at this period : the reputation of incredulity had deprived Catinat of that confidence, which was due to the purity of his character, and his talents for war. The duc de Vendome was publicly reproached for his inattention to mass; and, to his want of devotion, was ascribed the success of the heretic Marlborough, and the infidel Eugene.

Voltaire, young, gay, and spirited, was, about this period, introduced, by the abbe Chaulieu, into those circles, at once useful and congenial to a mind susceptible of improvement. They were composed of the aristocracy and the wits of the day, among whom he most highly esteemed the duc de Sully, the marquess de la Fare, the abbes Servien and Courtin, the prince de Conti, the grand prior de Vendome, marshal de Villars, and the chevalier de Bouillon : he naturally imbibed, from such eminent personages, that simplicity of taste which distinguished the court of Louis XIV.

Voltaire's father intended him for the law, and when he heard that his son moved in the society of men of rank, and that he composed verses, he lost the hope of reclaiming him, but solicited the marques de Chateauneuf, appointed ambassador to -Holland, to take him with him, in the quality of page ; but this exile was not of long duration. Madam du Noyer, known by her lettres gallentes, had separated from her husband, and lived at the Hague with her two daughters. She pretended zeal for the Protestant religion, but her real profession was that of writing libels, and forming intrigues." Voltaire had, through her artifices, been drawn into a premature attachment for one of her daughters, but the mother, finding that little could be made of this affair, sounded the alarm, and complained to the ambassador, who command his protege to break off the connexion, and soon sent him home, for the disobedience of his command. In the mean time, Madam du Noyer did not fail to make the most of this adventure. She printed his letters to her daughter, hoping that his name, already well known, would the more readily circulate her work, and she seized this opportunity to coast of her maternal

delicacy and rigidity, in the same libel in which she dishonoured her daughter.

Returned to Paris, our author's tender passion soon subsided, and he was somewhat relieved, in not being obliged to provide for the daughter of an intriguing mother. But M. Arouet, dissatisfied with his conduct in Holland, and perceiving him to be obstinate in his love of letters, and of living in the great world, entirely discarded him. Finding his father resolute, he addressed letters to him, full of humility, tenderness, and contrition ; but they proved ineffectual. He then formed the design of going to America, and requested a sum of money to pay


and to be permitted to throw himself at his parent's feet. This, also, was denied him, and his father resolved to place him in the house of an attorney. The son of Apollo, however, did not long remain there. M. Caumartin, an intimate friend of M. Arouet's, felt for the restraints which the youth laboured under, in being debarred from studies congenial to his taste, and of associating with the literary world. He obtained permission to take him with him to his estate of St. Ange, where, removed from dangerous society, he would be better enabled to reflect upon the choice of a profession. Voltaire here met the elder Caumartin, a venerable man, partial to the memory of Henry IV. and his minister Sully, then too much neglected. He had been intimately acquainted with the most learned characters of the reign of Louis XIV. was versant in the anecdote of that reign, and took delight in relating it. Voltaire was inspired with enthusiasm for these two heroes, and, after his return from St. Ange, he commenced an epic poem, of which Henry IV. is the hero. The study of the history of France now became one of his most ardent pursuits. It is to this journey we owe The Henriade and The Age of Louis XIV. This prince was just dead, and the people, whose idol he had been for so long a period ; that same people, who had pardoned his vain-glory, his profusion, his love of favorites, and had applauded his persecutions against the Protestants, now insulted his memory with indecent joy. They became as prodigal of lampoons on his memory, as they had been profuse of panegyrices during his life. Voltaire, being accused of writing of one of these satires, was condemned to the Bastile on scarcely any other evidence, than the poem concluding, with this singular line

Thesr evils I've seen, and I'm scarcely one score. which the police considered as conclusive, from corresponding

with his age, thcugh he had reached twenty-two years ; and this was sufficient to deprive him of liberty. While in prison, he sketched his poem of The League, corrected his tragedy of Edipus, and composed a very humourous poem on his confinement. The duc d'Orleans, being informed of his innocence, procured his liberation, and presented him with a sum of money.

“Monseigneur,” said Voltaire, “I thank you kindly, for enabling me to defray the expence of my board ; but I pray, that I may not, in future, incur such expence for lodging.

The tragedy of Edipus was perfomed in 1718, and its success was so great, that marshal de Villars said to Voltaire, in returning from one of the representations of it, “ The nation is under great obligations to your midnight labours.”—“ It would be still more obliged to me,” replied the poet, “ if I could write as well as you know how to speak and to act.”

Voltaire was now known as the author of some witty fugitive pieces and epistles, in which we discover the philosophy of Chaulieu, with more mind and precision, and of an ode, that had vainly competed for the prize at the Academie Francaise, when that learned body very gravely gave the preference to a ridiculous poem of the abbe Jarri's, about the decorations of the altar of Notre dame.

Actuated by a superior and independent taste, he was unwilling to mix love with the horror of the subject of EDIPUS, and he had the courage to present it to the comedians, without having paid that tribute to custom; but it was rejected. The committee found fault with the author, who attempted to innovate on, and reform, the taste of the times. “ This young man,” said Dufresne, “ deserves his pride punished: we ought to perform his play with that monstrous scene from Sophocles."

M. Arouet, who still wished his son to become an advocate, went to see the new tragedy performed : he was melted into tears : he embraced the author amidst the felicitations of the iadies of the court ; after which he no longer indulged the desire of his becoming a judge.

At one of the representations of Edipus, Voltaire appeared on the stage, wearing the queue of a high-priest : the lady of marshal Villars requested to know who that young man was, who wished to disturb the performers. She was informed it was the Author ! This ludicrous incident, which bespoke a man superior to the littleness of self-love, inspired the lady with the desire of knowing him. Voltaire, being admitted into her company, acquired a tender passion for her, the most serious he had ever experienced. It led his mind from

on remorse.

his studies, which had become habitual ; but he was nonsuited, and he never spoke of it but with sentiments of regret, bordering

Delivered from his attachment, he consoled himself by his studies, proceeded with his HenriADE, and wrote his tragedy of ARTEMIRE. A young actress, brought forward by Voltaire, performed the principal character, and was both his mistress and his pupil. That public, who had done justice to his former effort, were severe with ARTEMIRE, the ordinary effect of all first success. This tragedy only procured him permission to return to Paris, when a new calumny against the pourt, and his connection with the opponents of the regent, (among whom were the duc de Richelieu, and the famous baron de Gortz,) was the cause of his speedy removal.

In 1722, Voltaire accompanied Mad. Rupelmonde to Holland. Here his acquaintance with Rousseau commenced, whose misfortunes he pitied, and whose talents he admired. Voltaire consulted him, respecting his poem of The HENRIADE, then called The LEAGUE, and showed him his EPISTLE TO URANIA, the first specimen of his treatise in verse, questions of morality and philosophy. Rousseau recited to him an ODE to Posterity, on which Voltaire observed, that he feared it would never descend to the place of its address. This severity was not passed unnoticed, for, when Voltaire read to him a satire he had composed, Rousseau told him, he thought it would be wise to suppress it, lest the world should imagine he had lost his prudence, and retained only his virulence. After such mutual reproaches, the two poets soon became irreconcileable. Rousseau broke loose upon Voltaire, who patiently submitted to his abuse for fifteen years.

On returning to Paris, in 1724, he produced his MARIAMNE. This was the subject of ARTEMIRE, under a new title, with the plot less complicated and romantic: it surpassed the style of Racine, and was performed forty nights.

In 1726, he was again committed to the Bastile, for having offended the chevalier Rohan, by these expressions : “I hang not upon a great name, but I know how to honour that which I bear.” This base and dastardly courtier revenged himself, by causing his servants to insult him, without compromising his personal safety. It was in the hall of the hotel de Sully, where he had dined, that he received this outrage. Voltaire, instead of requiring justice by law, thought redress by arms more noble. He is said to have sought his adversary with anxiety, but also with indiscretion. Rohan solicited M. le duc, to causė him to be put into the Bastile; and to obtain, more speedily, the order for his arbitrary imprisonment, showed M. le duc, who was

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blind of an eye, the verses which Voltaire had addressed to his mistress, the marchioness de Prie:

lo, without dissembiing art,

Knew how to cheat all Argus' eyes !
But here one eye acts Argus' part,

To grieve were frail-to laugh were wise ! After six months imprisonment, he obtained his liberty upon condition of quitting the kingdom. England became the place of his exile. From that moment, he felt himself called upon to destroy every species of prejudice, by which his country was enslaved. This great design, of becoming the benefactor of a whole nation, by his single powers of genius, in rooting out their prevailing errors and prejudices, inflamed his soul and inspired his courage.

He printed the HENRIade in London. George I. and the princess of Wales, who was afterwards queen, made him presents, and procured him many subscribers, which strengthened the poet's finances. To his stay in England, the world is indebted for the tragedies of BRUTUS and THE DEATH OF CÆSAR. Brutus possesses the energy of Corneille, with more lustre, purity, and naivete, combined with the sustained elegance of Racine. Never had political matters been displayed on the stage with more force, eloquence, and precision, than in the first act of BrutUS : the fifth act is a chef ľauvre of the pathetic.

His Essay ON EPIC POETRY was written in England, and in the English language. His fortune, being now considerably augmented by the profits of his works, by the kindness of princes, and the shares he possessed in various maritime speculations, and the public funds, he returned to France in 1728. The decease of his father and brother left him in possession of more than 40,000 livres of rent; the money he had gained in England, he put into the lottery, established by Deforts, comptroller-general of the finances. The famous Paris Duvernay having produced him an interest in the victualling of the army, he retired with 800,000 livres, which produced to him about 130,000 livres yearly rent; and, to the advantage of having such a fortune, he joined the satisfaction of owing it chiefly to his own abilities.

Such an acquisition of riches, to men of genius, is generally supposed to operate in repressing its growth, but his fortune was never impeached as a check to his ardour in cultivating the belles lettres, which was ever his predominant pursuit.

In 1730, he brought out his Brutus, which did not obtain great success. Fontenelle advised him to renounce this

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