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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

He had taken the communion at Colmar


"Of incongruities a monstrous pile, Calling men brothers, crushing them the while; With air humane, a misanthropic brute; Ofttimes impulsive, sometimes over-'cute; Weak 'midst his choler, modest in his pride; Yearning for virtue, lust personified; Statesman and author, of the slippery crew; My patron, pupil, persecutor too."

Voltaire's intimacy with the Great Frederick was destroyed it had for a while done honor to both of them; it had ended by betraying the pettinesses and the meannesses natural to the king as well as to the poet. Frederick did not remain without anxiety on the score of Voltaire's rancor; Voltaire dreaded nasty diplomatic proceedings on the part of the king; he had been threatened with as much by Lord Keith, Milord Marechal, as he was called on the Continent from the hereditary title he had lost in his own country through his attachment to the cause of the Stuarts:--

"Let us see in what countries M. de Voltaire has not had some squabble or made himself many enemies," said a letter to Madame Denis from the great Scotch lord, when he had entered Frederick's service: "every country where the Inquisition prevails must be mistrusted by him; he would put his foot in it sooner or later. The Mussulmans must be as little pleased with his Mahomet as good Christians were. He is too old to go to China and turn mandarin;

in a word, if he is wise, there is no place but France for him. He has friends there, and you will have him with you for the rest of his days; do not let him shut himself out from the pleasure of returning thither, for you are quite aware that, if he were to indulge in speech and epigrams offensive to the king my master, a word which the latter might order me to speak to the court of France would suffice to prevent M. de Voltaire from returning, and he would be sorry for it when it was too late."

Voltaire was already in France, but he dared not venture to Paris. Mutilated, clumsy, or treacherous issues of the _Abrege de l'Histoire Universelle_ had already stirred the bile of the clergy; there were to be seen in circulation copies of _La Pucelle,_ a disgusting poem which the author had been keeping back and bringing out alternately for several years past. Voltaire fled from Colmar, where the Jesuits held sway, to Lyons, where he found Marshal Richelieu, but lately his protector and always his friend, who was repairing to his government of Languedoc. Cardinal Tencin refused to receive the poet, who regarded this sudden severity as a sign of the feelings of the court towards him. "The king told Madame de Pompadour that he did not want me to go to Paris; I am of his Majesty's opinion, I don't want to go to Paris," wrote Voltaire to the Marquis of Paulmy. He took fright and sought refuge in Switzerland, where he soon settled on the Lake of Geneva, pending his purchase of the estate of Ferney in the district of Gex and that of Tourney in Burgundy. He was henceforth fixed, free to pass from France to Switzerland and from Switzerland to France. "I lean my left on Mount Jura," he used to say, "my right on the Alps, and I have the beautiful Lake of Geneva in front of my camp, a beautiful castle on the borders of France, the hermitage of Delices in the territory of Geneva, a good house at Lausanne; crawling thus from one burrow to another, I escape from kings. Philosophers should always have two or three holes under ground against the hounds that run them down."

The perturbation of Voltaire's soul and mind was never stilled; the anxious and undignified perturbation of his outer life at last subsided; he left off trembling, and, in the comparative security which he thought he possessed, he gave scope to all his free-thinking, which had but lately been often cloaked according to circumstances. He had taken the communion at Colmar, to soften down the Jesuits; he had conformed to the rules of the convent of Senones, when he took refuge with Dom Calmet; at Delices he worked at the _Encyclopcedia,_ which was then being commenced by D'Alembert and Diderot, taking upon himself in preference the religious articles, and not sparing the creed of his neighbors, the pastors of Geneva, any more than that of the Catholic church. "I assure you that my friends and I will lead them a fine dance; they shall drink the cup to the very lees," wrote Voltaire to D'Alembert. In the great campaign against Christianity undertaken by the philosophers, Voltaire, so long, a wavering ally, will henceforth fight in the foremost ranks; it is he who shouts to Diderot, "Squelch the thing (_Ecrasez l'infame_)!" The masks are off, and the fight is barefaced; the encyclopaedists march out to the conquest of the world in the name of reason, humanity, and free-thinking; even when he has ceased to work at the Encyclopaedia, Voltaire marches with them.


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