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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Arouet forced him to enter a solicitor's office


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."

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