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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Voltaire settled matters with the Jew


The

"frost" not only affected Voltaire's relations with his brethren in philosophy, it reached even to the king himself. A far from creditable lawsuit with a Jew completed Frederick's irritation. He forbade the poet to appear in his presence before the affair was over. "Brother Voltaire is doing penance here," wrote the latter to the Margravine of Baireuth, the King of Prussia's amiable sister he has a beast of a lawsuit with a Jew, and, according to the law of the Old Testament, there will be something more to pay for having been robbed. . . ." Frederick, on his side, writes to his sister, "You ask me what the lawsuit is in which Voltaire is involved with a Jew. It is a case of a rogue wanting to cheat a thief. It is intolerable that a man of Voltaire's intellect should make so unworthy an abuse of it. The affair is in the hands of justice; and, in a few days, we shall know from the sentence which is the greater rogue of the two. Voltaire lost his temper, flew in the Jew's face, and, in fact, behaved like a madman. I am waiting for this affair to be over to put his head under the pump or reprimand him severely (_lui laver la tete_), and see whether, at the age of fifty-six, one cannot make him, if not reasonable, at any rate less of a rogue."

Voltaire settled matters with the Jew, at the same time asking the king's pardon for what he called his giddiness. "This great poet is always astride of Parnassus and Rue Quincampoix," said the Marquis

of Argenson. Frederick had written him on the 24th of February, 1751, a severe letter, the prelude and precursor of the storms which were to break off before long the intimacy between the king and the philosopher. "I was very glad to receive you," said the king; "I esteemed your wit, your talents, your acquirements, and I was bound to suppose that a man of your age, tired of wrangling with authors and exposing himself to tempests, was coming hither to take refuge as in a quiet harbor; but you at the very first, in a rather singular fashion, required of me that I should not engage Frerron to write me news. D'Arnauld did you some injuries; a generous man would have pardoned them; a vindictive man persecutes those towards whom he feels hatred. In fine, though D'Arnauld had done nothing so far as I was concerned, on your account he had to leave. You went to the Russian minister's to speak to him about matters you had no business to meddle with, and it was supposed that I had given you instructions; you meddled in Madame de Bentinck's affairs, which was certainly not in your province. Then you have the most ridiculous squabble in the world with that Jew. You created a fearful uproar all through the city. The matter of the Saxon bills is so well known in Saxony that grave complaints have been made to me about them. For my part, I kept peace in my household until your arrival, and I warn you that, if you are fond of intrigue and cabal, you have come to the wrong place. I like quiet and peaceable folks who do not introduce into their behavior the violent passions of tragedy; in case you can make up your mind to live as a philosopher, I shall be very glad to see you; but, if you give way to the impetuosity of your feelings and quarrel with everybody, you will do me no pleasure by coming hither and you may just as well remain at Berlin."

Voltaire was not proud; he readily heaped apology upon apology; but he was irritable and vain; his ill-humor against Maupertuis came out in a pamphlet, as bitter as it was witty, entitled _La Diatribe du Docteur Akakia;_ copies were circulating in Berlin; the satire was already printed anonymously, when the Great Frederick suddenly entered the lists. He wrote to Voltaire, "Your effrontery astounds me after that which you have just done, and which is as clear as daylight. Do not suppose that you will make black appear white; when one does not see, it is because one does not want to see everything; but, if you carry matters to extremity, I will have everything printed, and it will then be seen that if your works deserve that statues should be raised to you, your conduct deserves handcuffs."


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