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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Diderot ran home in consternation


was, further, in conjunction with his friends and in community of ideas that Diderot undertook the immense labor of the _Encyclopaedia_. Having, in the first instance, received a commission from a publisher to translate the English collection of [Ephraim] Chambers, Diderot was impressed with a desire to unite in one and the same collection all the efforts and all the talents of his epoch, so as to render joint homage to the rapid progress of science. Won over by his enthusiasm, D'Alembert consented to share the task; and he wrote the beautiful exposition in the introduction. Voltaire sent his articles from Delices. The Jesuits had proposed to take upon themselves a certain number of questions, but their co-operation was declined: it was a monument to philosophy that the Encyclopaedists aspired to raise; the clergy were in commotion at seeing the hostile army, till then uncertain and unbanded, rally organized and disciplined around this vast enterprise. An early veto, soon, however, taken off, compelled the philosophers to a certain moderation; Voltaire ceased writing for the _Encyclopaedia;_ it was not sufficiently free-going for him. "You admit articles worthy of the Trevoux journal," he said to D'Alembert. New severities on the part of the Parliament and the grand council dealt a blow to the philosophers before long: the editors' privilege was revoked. Orders were given to seize Diderot's papers. Lamoignon de Malesherbes, who was at that time director of the press, and
favorable to freedom without ever having abused it in thought or action, sent him secret warning. Diderot ran home in consternation. "What's to be done?" he cried; "how move all my manuscripts in twenty- four hours? I haven't time even to make a selection. And, above all, where find people who would and can take charge of them safely?" "Send them all to me," replied M. de Malesherbes; "nobody will come thither to look for them."

Feeble governments are ill served even by their worthiest servants; the severities ordered against the _Encyclopaedia_ did not stop its publication; D'Alembert, however, weary of the struggle, had ceased to take part in the editorship. Naturally cool and moderate, when it was nothing to do with Mdlle. de Lespinasse, the great affection of his life, the illustrious geometer was content with a little. "Twelve hundred livres a year are enough for me," he wrote to the Great Frederick who was pressing him to settle in his dominions. "I will not go and reap the succession to Maupertuis during his lifetime. I am overlooked by government, just as so many others by Providence; persecuted as much as anybody can be, if some day I have to fly my country, I will simply ask Frederick's permission to go and die in his dominions, free and poor."

[Illustration: Alembert----317]

Frederick II. gave D'Alembert a pension; it had but lately been Louis XIV. who thus lavished kindnesses on foreign scholars: he made an offer to the Encyclopaedists to go and finish their vast undertaking at Berlin. Catherine II. made the same offers, asking D'Alembert, besides, to take charge of the education of her son. "I know your honesty too well," she wrote, "to attribute your refusals to vanity; I know that the cause is merely love of repose in order to cultivate literature and friendship. But what is to prevent your coming with all your friends? I promise you and them too all the comforts and every facility that may depend upon me; and perchance you will find more freedom and repose than you have at home. You do not yield to the entreaties of the King of Prussia, and to the gratitude you owe him, it is true, but then he has no son. I confess that I have my son's education so much at heart, and that you are so necessary to me, that perhaps I press you too much. Pardon my indiscretion for the reason's sake, and rest assured that it is esteem which has made me so selfish."

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