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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

That it was Chaumont whom I had left in his antechamber


sentence of the council cleared the accused and the memory of John Calas, ordering that their names should be erased and effaced from the registers, and the judgment transcribed upon the margin of the charge-sheet. The king at the same time granted Madame Calas and her children a gratuity of thirty-six thousand livres, a tacit and inadequate compensation for the expenses and losses caused them by the fanatical injustice of the Parliament of Toulouse. Madame Calas asked no more. "To prosecute the judges and the ringleaders," said a letter to Voltaire from the generous advocate of the Calas, Elias de Beaumont, "requires the permission of the council, and there is great reason to fear that these petty plebeian kings appear powerful enough to cause the permission, through a weakness honored by the name of policy, to be refused."

Voltaire, however, was triumphant. "You were at Paris," he writes to M. de Cideville, "when the last act of the tragedy finished so happily. The piece is according to the rules; it is, to my thinking, the finest fifth act there is on the stage." Henceforth he finds himself transformed into the defender of the oppressed. The Protestant Chaumont, at the galleys, owed to him his liberation; he rushed to Ferney to thank Voltaire. The pastor, who had to introduce him, thus described the interview to Paul Rabaut: "I told him that I had brought him a little fellow who had come to throw himself at his feet to thank him for

having, by his intercession, delivered him from the galleys; that it was Chaumont whom I had left in his antechamber, and whom I begged him to permit me to bring in. At the name of Chaumont M. de Voltaire showed a transport of joy, and rang at once to have him brought in. Never did any scene appear to me more amusing and refreshing. 'What,' said he, 'my poor, little, good fellow, they sent you to the galleys! What did they mean to do with you? What a conscience they must have to put in fetters and chain to the oar a man who had committed no crime beyond praying to God in bad French!' He turned several times to me, denouncing persecution. He summoned into his room some persons who were staying with him, that they might share the joy he felt at seeing poor little Chaumont, who, though perfectly well attired for his condition, was quite astonished to find himself so well received. There was nobody, down to an ex-Jesuit, Father Adam, who did not come forward to congratulate him."

Innate love of justice and horror of fanaticism had inspired Voltaire with his zeal on behalf of persecuted Protestants; a more personal feeling, a more profound sympathy, caused his grief and his dread when Chevalier de la Barre, accused of having mutilated a crucifix, was condemned, in 1766, to capital punishment; the scepticism of the eighteenth century had sudden and terrible reactions towards fanatical violence, as a protest and a pitiable struggle against the doubt which was invading it on all sides; the chevalier was executed; he was not twenty years old. He was an infidel and a libertine, like the majority of the young men of his day and of his age; the crime he expiated so cruelly was attributed to reading bad books, which had corrupted him. "I am told," writes Voltaire to D'Alembert, "that they said at their examination that they had been led on to the act of madness they committed by the works of the _Encyclopaedists_. I can scarcely believe it; these madmen don't read; and certainly no philosopher would have counselled profanation. The matter is important; try to get to the bottom of so odious and dangerous a report." And, at another time, to Abbe Morellet, "You know that Councillor Pasquier said in full Parliament that the young men of Abbeville who were put to death had imbibed their impiety in the school and the works of the modern philosophers. . . . They were mentioned by name; it is a formal denunciation. . . . Wise men, under such terrible circumstances, should keep quiet and wait."

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