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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Rousseau had exercised more influence over his mind


[Illustration:

The Reading of "Paul and Virginia."----427]

The persistent admiration of the general public, and fifty imitations of _Paul and Virginia_ published in a single year, were soon to avenge Bernardin de St. Pierre for the disdainful yawns of the philosophers. It is pretty certain that Madame Necker's daughter, little Germaine, if she were present at the reading, did not fall asleep as M. Thomas did, and that she was not ashamed of her tears.

Next to M. Buffon, to whom Madame had vowed a sort of cult, and who was still writing to this faithful friend when he was near his last gasp, M. Thomas had more right than anybody to fall asleep at her house if he thought fit. Marmontel alone shared with him the really intimate friendship of M. and Madame Necker; the former had given up tragedies and moral tales; a pupil of Voltaire, without the splendor and inexhaustible vigor of his master, he was less prone to license, and his feelings were more serious; he was at that time correcting his _Elements de Litterature,_ but lately published in the _Encyclopaedie,_ and commencing the _Memoires d'un pere, pour servir d l'instruction de ses enfants_. Thomas was editing his _Eloges,_ sometimes full of eloquence, often subtle and delicate, always long, unexceptionable, and wearisome. His noble character had won him the sincere esteem and affection of Madame Necker. She, laboriously anxious about the duties politeness requires from

the mistress of a house, went so far as to write down in her tablets "To recompliment M. Thomas more strongly on the song of France in his poem of Pierre le Grand." She paid him more precious homage when she wrote to him: "We were united in our youth in every honorable way; let us be more than ever united now when ripe age, which diminishes the vivacity of impressions, augments the force of habit, and let us be more than ever necessary to one another when we live no longer save in the past and in the future, for, as regards myself, I, in anticipation, lay no store by the approbation of the circles which will surround us in our old age, and I desire nothing among posterity but a tomb to which I may precede M. Necker, and on which you will write the epitaph. Such resting-place will be dearer to me than that among the poplars which cover the ashes of Rousseau."

It was desirable to show what sort of society, cultivated and virtuous, lively and serious, all in one, the new minister whom Louis XVI. had just called to his side had managed to get about him. Though friendly with the philosophers, he did not belong to them, and his wife's piety frequently irked them. "The conversation was a little constrained through the strictness of Madame Necker," says Abbe Morellet; "many subjects could not be touched upon in her presence, and she was particularly hurt by freedom in religious opinions." Practical acquaintance with business had put M. Necker on his guard against the chimerical theories of the economists. Rousseau had exercised more influence over his mind; the philosopher's wrath against civilization seemed to have spread to the banker, when the latter wrote in his _Traite sur le commerce des grains,_ "One would say that a small number of men, after dividing the land between them, had made laws of union and security against the multitude, just as they would have made for themselves shelters in the woods against the wild beasts. What concern of ours are your laws of property? the most numerous class of citizens might say: we possess nothing. Your laws of right and wrong? We have nothing to defend. Your laws of liberty? If we do not work to-morrow, we shall die."


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