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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

To devote all his energy to that at Ferney


Whilst

keeping quiet, Voltaire soon grew frightened; he fancied himself arrested even on the foreign soil on which he had sought refuge. "My heart is withered," he exclaims, "I am prostrated, I am tempted to go and die in some land where men are less unjust." He wrote to the Great Frederick, with whom he had resumed active correspondence, asking him for an asylum in the town of Cleves, where he might find refuge together with the persecuted philosophers. His imagination was going wild. "I went to him," says the celebrated physician, Tronchin, an old friend of his; "after I had pointed out to him the absurdity of his fearing that, for a mere piece of imprudence, France would come and seize an old man on foreign soil to shut him up in the Bastille, I ended by expressing my astonishment that a head like his should be deranged to the extent I saw it was. Covering his eyes with his clinched hands and bursting into tears, 'Yes, yes, my friend, I am mad!' was all he answered. A few days afterwards, when reflection had driven away fear, he would have defied all the powers of malevolence."

Voltaire did not find his brethren in philosophy so frightened and disquieted by ecclesiastical persecution as to fly to Cleves, far from the "home of society," as he had himself called Paris. In vain he wrote to Diderot, "A man like you cannot look save with horror upon the country in which you have the misfortune to live; you really ought to come away into a country

where you would have entire liberty not only to express what you pleased, but to preach openly against superstitions as disgraceful as they are sanguinary. You would not be solitary there; you would have companions and disciples; you might establish a chair there, the chair of truth. Your library might go by water, and there would not be four leagues' journey by land. In fine, you would leave slavery for freedom."

All these inducements having failed of effect, Voltaire gave up the foundation of a colony at Cleves, to devote all his energy to that at Ferney. There he exercised signorial rights with an active and restless guardianship which left him no illusions and but little sympathy in respect of that people whose sacred rights he had so often proclaimed. "The people will always be sottish and barbarous," he wrote to M. Bordes; "they are oxen needing a yoke, a goad, and a bit of hay." That was the sum and substance of what he thought; he was a stern judge of the French character, the genuine and deep-lying resources of which he sounded imperfectly, but the infinite varieties of which he recognized. "I always find it difficult to conceive," he wrote to M. de Constant, "how so agreeable a nation can at the same time be so ferocious, how it can so easily pass from the opera to the St. Bartholomew, be at one time made up of dancing apes and at another of howling bears, be so ingenious and so idiotic both together, at one time so brave and at another so dastardly." Voltaire fancied himself at a comedy still; the hour of tragedy was at hand. He and his friends were day by day weakening the foundations of the edifice; for eighty years past the greatest minds and the noblest souls have been toiling to restore it on new and strong bases; the work is not finished, revolution is still agitating the depths of French society, which has not yet recovered the only proper foundation-stones for greatness and order amongst a free people.

Henceforth Voltaire reigned peacefully over his little empire at Ferney, courted from afar by all the sovereigns of Europe who made any profession of philosophy. "I have a sequence of four kings" (_brelan de roi quatrieme_), he would say with a laugh when he counted his letters from royal personages. The Empress of


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