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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Seeing that that clique is frequently guided by envy


Russia, Catherine II., had

dethroned, in his mind, the Great Frederick. Voltaire had not lived in her dominions and at her court; he had no grievance against her; his vanity was flattered by the eagerness and the magnificent attentions of the Semiramis of the North, as he called her. He even forgave her the most odious features of resemblance to the Assyrian princess. "I am her knight in the sight and in the teeth of everybody," he wrote to Madame du Deffand; "I am quite aware that people bring up against her a few trifles on the score of her husband; but these are family matters with which I do not meddle, and besides it is not a bad thing to have a fault to repair. It is an inducement to make great efforts in order to force the public to esteem and admiration, and certainly her knave of a husband would never have done any one of the great things my Catherine does every day." The portrait of the empress, worked in embroidery by herself, hung in Voltaire's bedroom. In vain had he but lately said to Pastor Bertrand, "My dear philosopher, I have, thank God, cut all connection with kings;" instinct and natural inclination were constantly re-asserting themselves. Banished from the court of Versailles by the disfavor of Louis XV., he turned in despite towards the foreign sovereigns who courted him. "Europe is enough for me," he writes; "I do not trouble myself much about the Paris clique, seeing that that clique is frequently guided by envy, cabal, bad taste, and a thousand petty interests which are always
opposed to the public interest."

Voltaire, however, returned to that Paris in which he was born, in which he had lived but little since his early days, to which he belonged by the merits as well as the defects of his mind, and in which he was destined to die. In spite of his protests about his being a rustic and a republican, he had never allowed himself to slacken the ties which united him to his Parisian friends; the letters of the patriarch of Ferney circulated amongst the philosophical fraternity; they were repeated in the correspondence of Grimm and Diderot with foreign princes; from his splendid retreat at Ferney he cheered and excited the literary zeal and often the anti-religious ardor of the _Encyclopaedists_. He had, however, ceased all working connection with that great work since it had been suspended and afterwards resumed at the orders and with the permission of government. The more and more avowed materialistic theories revolted his shrewd and sensible mind; without caring to go to the bottom of his thought and contemplate its consequences, he clung to the notion of Providence as to a waif in the great shipwreck of positive creeds; he could not imagine

"This clock without a Maker could exist."

It is his common sense, and not the religious yearnings of his soul, that makes him write in the poem of La Loi naturelle,--

O God, whom men ignore, whom everything reveals, Hear Thou the latest words of him who now appeals; 'Tis searching out Thy law that hath bewildered me; My heart may go astray, but it is full of Thee.

When he was old and suffering, he said to Madame Necker, in one of those fits of melancholy to which he was subject, "The thinking faculty is lost just like the eating, drinking, and digesting faculties. The marionettes of Providence, in fact, are not made to last so long as It." In his dying hour Voltaire was seen showing more concern for terrestrial scandals than for the terrors of conscience, crying aloud for a priest, and, with his mouth full of the blood he spat, still repeating in a half whisper, "I don't want to be thrown into the kennel." A sad confession of the insufficiency of his convictions and of the inveterate levity of his thoughts; he was afraid of the judgment of man without dreading the judgment of God. Thus was revealed the real depth of an infidelity of which Voltaire himself perhaps had not calculated the extent and the fatal influences.


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