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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

There was at Frankfort one Freytag


"Here

is how this fine adventure came to pass," says Voltaire. "There was at Frankfort one Freytag, who had been banished from Dresden, and had become an agent for the King of Prussia. . . . He notified me on behalf of his Majesty that I was not to leave Frankfort till I had restored the valuable effects I was carrying away from his Majesty. 'Alack! sir, I am carrying away nothing from that country, if you please, not even the smallest regret. What, pray, are those jewels of the Brandenburg crown that you require?' 'It be, sir,' replied Freytag, 'the work of poesy of the king, my gracious master.' 'O! I will give him back his prose and verse with all my heart,' replied I, 'though, after all, I have more than one right to the work. He made me a present of a beautiful copy printed at his expense. Unfortunately this copy is at Leipsic with my other luggage.' Then Freytag proposed to me to remain at Frankfort until the treasure which was at Leipsic should have arrived; and he signed an order for it."

The volume which Frederick claimed, and which he considered it of so much importance to preserve from Voltaire's indiscretions, contained amongst other things a burlesque and licentious poem, entitled the Palladium, wherein the king scoffed at everything and everybody in terms which he did not care to make public. He knew the reckless malignity of the poet who was leaving him, and he had a right to be suspicious of it; but nothing can excuse the

severity of his express orders, and still less the brutality of his agents. The package had arrived; Voltaire, agitated, anxious, and ill, wanted to get away as soon as possible, accompanied by Madame Denis, who had just joined him. Freytag had no orders, and refused to let him go; the prisoner loses his head, he makes up his mind to escape at any price, he slips from the hotel, he thinks he is free, but the police of Frankfort was well managed. "The moment I was off, I was arrested, I, my secretary and my people; my niece is arrested; four soldiers drag her through the mud to a cheese-monger's named Smith, who had some title or other of privy councillor to the King of Prussia; my niece had a passport from the King of France, and, what is more, she had never corrected the King of Prussia's verses. They huddled us all into a sort of hostelry, at the door of which were posted a dozen soldiers; we were for twelve days prisoners of war, and we had to pay a hundred and forty crowns a day."

[Illustration: Arrest of Voltaire----298]

The wrath and disquietude of Voltaire no longer knew any bounds; Madame Denis was ill, or feigned to be; she wrote letter upon letter to Voltaire's friends at the court of Prussia; she wrote to the king himself. The strife which had begun between the poet and the maladroit agents of the Great Frederick was becoming serious. "We would have risked our lives rather than let him get away," said Freytag; "and if I, holding a council of war with myself, had not found him at the barrier, but in the open country, and he had refused to jog back, I don't know that I shouldn't have lodged a bullet in his head. To such a degree had I at heart the letters and writings of the king."

Freytag's zeal received a cruel rebuff: orders arrived to let the poet go. "I gave you no orders like that," wrote Frederick, "you should never make more noise than a thing deserves. I wanted Voltaire to give up to you the key, the cross, and the volume of poems I had intrusted to him;, as soon as all that was given up to you I can't see what earthly reason could have induced you to make this uproar." At last, on the 6th of July, "all this affair of Ostrogoths and Vandals being over," Voltaire left Frankfort precipitately. His niece had taken the road to Paris, whence she soon wrote to him, "There is nobody in France, I say nobody without exception, who has not condemned this violence mingled with so much that is ridiculous and cruel; it makes a deeper impression than you would believe. Everybody says that you could not do otherwise than you are doing, in resolving to meet with philosophy things so unphilosophical. We shall do very well to hold our tongues; the public speaks quite enough." Voltaire held his tongue, according to his idea of holding his tongue, drawing, in his poem of _La Loi naturelle,_ dedicated at first to the margravine of Baireuth and afterwards to the Duchess of Saxe-Gotha, a portrait of Frederick which was truthful and at the same time bitter:


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