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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

As early as then little Arouet


[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 celebrity."

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."


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