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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Madame du Chatelet died on the 4th of September


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."


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