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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Voltaire was destined to die at Paris


was destined to die at Paris; there he found the last joys of his life and there he shed the last rays of his glory. For the twenty- seven years during which he had been away from it he had worked much, written much, done much. Whilst almost invariably disavowing his works, he had furnished philosophy with pointed and poisoned weapons against religion; he had devoted to humanity much time and strength; one of the last delights he had tasted was the news of the decree which cleared the memory of M. de Lally; he had received into his house, educated and found a husband for the grand-niece of the great Corneille; he had applied the inexhaustible resources of his mind at one time to good and at another to evil, with almost equal ardor; he was old, he was ill, yet this same ardor still possessed him when he arrived at Paris on the 10th of February, 1778. The excitement caused by his return was extraordinary. "This new prodigy has stopped all other interest for some time," writes Grimm; it has put an end to rumors of war, intrigues in civil life, squabbles at court. Encyclopeadic pride appeared diminished by half, the Sorbonne shook all over, the Parliament kept silence; all the literary world is moved, all Paris is ready to fly to the idol's feet." So much attention and so much glory had been too much for the old man. Voltaire was dying; in his fright he had sent for a priest and had confessed; when he rose from his bed by a last effort of the marvellous elasticity, inherent
in his body and his mind, he resumed for a while the course of his triumphs. "M. de Voltaire has appeared for the first time at the Academy and at the play; he found all the doors, all the approaches to the Academy besieged by a multitude which only opened slowly to let him, pass and then rushed in immediately upon his footsteps with repeated plaudits and acclamations. The Academy came out into the first room to meet him, an honor it had never yet paid to any of its members, not even to the foreign princes who had deigned to be present at its meetings. The homage he received at the Academy was merely the prelude to that which awaited him at the National theatre. As soon as his carriage was seen at a distance, there arose a universal shout of joy. All the curb-stones, all the barriers, all the windows were crammed with spectators, and, scarcely was the carriage stopped, when people were already on the imperial and even on the wheels to get a nearer view of the divinity. Scarcely had he entered the house when Sieur Brizard came up with a crown of laurels, which Madame de Villette placed upon the great man's head, but which he immediately took off, though the public urged him to keep it on by clapping of hands and by cheers which resounded from all corners of the house with such a din as never was heard.

"All the women stood up. I saw at one time that part of the pit which was under the boxes going down on their knees, in despair of getting a sight any other way. The whole house was darkened with the dust raised by the ebb and flow of the excited multitude. It was not without difficulty that the players managed at last to begin the piece. It was _Irene,_ which was given for the sixth time. Never had this tragedy been better played, never less listened to, never more applauded. The illustrious old man rose to thank the public, and, the moment afterwards, there appeared on a pedestal in the middle of the stage a bust of this great man, and the actresses, garlands and crowns in hand, covered it with laurels; M. de Voltaire seemed to be sinking beneath the burden of age and of the homage with which he had just been overwhelmed. He appeared deeply affected, his eyes still sparkled amidst the pallor of his face, but it seemed as if he breathed no longer save with the consciousness of his glory. The people shouted, 'Lights! lights! that everybody may see him!' The coachman was entreated to go at a walk, and thus he was accompanied by cheering and the crowd as far as Pont Royal."

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