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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

When the young Count de Buffon


When

the young Count de Buffon, an officer in the artillery, and at first warmly favorable to the noble professions of the French Revolution, had, like his peers, to mount the scaffold of the Terror, he damned with one word the judges who profaned in his person his father's glory. "Citizens," he exclaimed from the fatal car, "my name is Buffon." With less respect for the rights of genius than was shown by the Algerian pirates who let pass, without opening them, the chests directed to the great naturalist, the executioner of the Committee of public safety cut off his son's head.

This last drop of bitterness, and the cruel spectacle of social disorder, Buffon had been spared; he had died at the _Jardin du Roi_ on the 14th of April, 1788, preserving at eighty years of age, and even in the feebleness of ill health, all the powers of his intelligence and the calm serenity of 'his soul. His last lines dictated to his son were addressed to Madame Necker, who had been for a long time past on the most intimate terms with him. Faithful in death to the instincts of order and regularity which had always controlled his mind even in his boldest flight, he requested that all the ceremonies of religion should be fulfilled around his body. His son had it removed to Montbard, where it lies between his father and his wife.

Buffon had lived long, he had accomplished in peace his great work, he had reaped the fruits of it. On the

eve of the terrible shocks whereof no presage disturbed his spirit, "directed for fifty years towards the great objects of nature," the illustrious scholar had been permitted to see his statue placed during his lifetime in the _Jardin du Roi_. On sending to the Empress Catherine his bust which she had asked him for, he wrote to his son who had charge of it: "I forgot to remark to you, whilst talking of bust and effigy, that, by the king's order, they have put at the bottom of my statue the following inscription: _Majestati naturae par ingenium_ (Genius to match the majesty of nature). It is not from pride that I send you this, but perhaps Her Majesty will have it put at the bottom of the bust."

"How many great men do you reckon?" Buffon was asked one day. "Five," answered he at once: " Newton, Bacon, Leibnitz, Montesquieu, and myself."

This self-appreciation, fostered by the homage of his contemporaries, which showed itself in Buffon undisguisedly with an air of ingenuous satisfaction, had poisoned a life already extinguished ten years before amidst the bitterest agonies. Taking up arms against a society in which he had not found his proper place, Jean Jacques Rousseau had attacked the present as well as the past, the Encyclopaedists as well as the old social organization. It was from the first his distinctive trait to voluntarily create a desert around him. The eighteenth century was in its nature easily seduced; liberal, generous, and open to allurements, it delighted in intellectual contentions, even the most dangerous and the most daring; it welcomed with alacrity all those who thus contributed to its pleasures. The charming drawing-rooms of Madame Geoffrin, of Madame du Deffand, of Madlle. Lespinasse, belonged of right to philosophy. "Being men of the world as well as of letters, the philosophers of the eighteenth century had passed their lives in the pleasantest and most brilliant regions of that society which was so much attacked by them. It had welcomed them, made them famous; they had mingled in all the pleasures of its elegant and agreeable existence; they shared in all its tastes, its manners, all the refinements, all the susceptibilities of a civilization at the same time old and rejuvenated, aristocratic and literary; they were of that old regimen which was demolished by their hands. The philosophical circle was everywhere, amongst the people of the court, of the church, of the long robe, of finance; haughty here, complaisant there, at one time indoctrinating, at another amusing its hosts, but everywhere young, active, confident, recruiting and battling everywhere, penetrating and fascinating the whole of society " [M. Guizot, Madame la comtesse de Rumford]. Rousseau never took his place in this circle; in this society he marched in front like a pioneer of new times, attacking tentatively all that he encountered on his way. "Nobody was ever at one and the same time more factious and more dictatorial," is the clever dictum of M. Saint Marc Girardin.


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