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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Maupertuis has not easygoing springs


spoke in French, and his court

was the resort of the cultivated French wits too bold in their views to live in peace at Paris. Maupertuis, La Mettrie, and the Marquis of Argens had preceded Voltaire to Berlin. He was received there with enthusiasm and as sovereign of the little court of philosophers. "A hundred and fifty thousand victorious soldiers," he wrote in a letter to Paris, "no attorneys, opera, plays, philosophy, poetry, a hero who is a philosopher and a poet, grandeur and graces, grenadiers and muses, trumpets and violins, Plato's symposium, society and freedom! Who would believe it? It is all true, however!" Voltaire found his duties as chamberlain very light. "It is Caesar, it is Marcus Aurelius, it is Julian, it is sometimes Abbe Chaulieu, with whom I sup; there is the charm of retirement, there is the freedom of the country, with all those little delights of life which a lord of a castle who is a king can procure for his very obedient humble servants and guests. My own duties are to do nothing. I enjoy my leisure. I give an hour a day to the King of Prussia to touch up a bit his works in prose and verse; I am his grammarian, not his chamberlain. The rest of the day is my own, and the evening ends with a pleasant supper. . . . Never in any place in the world was there more freedom of speech touching the superstitions of men, and never were they treated with more banter and contempt. God is respected, but all they who have cajoled men in His name are treated unsparingly."

justify;">The coarseness of the Germans and the mocking infidelity of the French vied with each other in license. Sometimes Voltaire felt that things were carried rather far. "Here be we, three or four foreigners, like monks in an abbey," he wrote; "please God the father abbot may content himself with making fun of us."

Literary or philosophical questions already gave rise sometimes to disagreements. "I am at present correcting the second edition which the King of Prussia is going to publish of the history of his country," wrote Voltaire; "fancy! in order to appear more impartial, he falls tooth and nail on his grandfather. I have lightened the blows as much as I could. I rather like this grandfather, because he displayed magnificence, and has left some fine monuments. I had great trouble about softening down the terms in which the grandson reproaches his ancestor for his vanity in having got himself made a king; it is a vanity from which his descendants derive pretty solid advantages, and the title is not at all a disagreeable one. At last I said to him, 'It is your grandfather, it is not mine; do what you please with him,' and I confined myself to weeding the expressions."

Whilst Voltaire was defending the Great Elector against his successor, a certain coldness was beginning to slide into his relations with Maupertuis, president of the Academy founded by the king at Berlin. "Maupertuis has not easygoing springs," the poet wrote to his niece; "he takes my dimensions sternly with his quadrant. It is said that a little envy enters into his calculations." Already Voltaire's touchy vanity was shying at the rivals he encountered in the king's favor. "So it is known, then, by this time at Paris, my dear child," he writes to his niece, "that we have played the Mort de Cesar at Potsdam, that Prince Henry is a good actor, has no accent, and is very amiable, and that this is the place for pleasure? All that is true . . . but . . . The king's supper-parties are delightful; at them people talk reason, wit, science; freedom prevails thereat; he is the soul of it all; no ill temper, no clouds, at any rate no storms; my life is free and well occupied . . . but . . . Opera, plays, carousals, suppers at Sans- Souci, military manoeuvres, concerts, studies, readings . . but . . The city of Berlin, grand, better laid out than Paris; palaces, play-houses, affable parish priests, charming princesses, maids of honor beautiful and well made; the mansion of Madame de Tyrconnel always full, and sometimes too much so . . . but . . . but. . . . My dear child, the weather is beginning to settle down into a fine frost."


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