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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Illustration The Rescue of La Henriade


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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."


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