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Aux yeux de Paris enchanté, Reçois en ce jour un hommage, Que confirmera d'âge en âge La sévère postérité!
Non tu n'as pas besoin d'atteindre au noir rivage You jouir des honneurs de l'immortalité:
VOLTAIRE, reçois la couronne
Que l'on vient de te prèsenter;
Quand c'est la France qui la donne!* "This was encored: the actress recited it gain, Next, each of them went forward and laid his garland round the bust. Mademoiselle Fanier, in a fanatical ecstasy, kissed it, and all
the others imitated her.
"This long ceremony, accompanied with infinite vivats, being over, the curtain again dropped; and when it rose for Nanine, one of M. de Voltaire's comedies, his bust was seen on the right-hand side of the stage, where it remained during the whole play.
"M. le Comte d'Artois did not choose to show himself too openly; but being informed, according to his orders, as soon as M. de Voltaire appeared in the theatre, he had gone thither incognito; and it is thought that the old man, once when he went out for a moment, had the honour of a short interview with his Royal Highness.
"Nanine finished, comes a new hurly-burly, -a new trial for the modesty of our philosopher! He had got into his carriage, but the people would not let him go; they threw themselves on the horses, they kissed them: some young poets even cried to unyoke these animals, and draw the modern Apollo home with their own arms; unhappily, there were not enthusiasts enough to volunteer this service, and he at last got leave to depart, not without vivats, which he may have heard on the PontRoyal, and even in his own house....
"M. de Voltaire, on reaching home, wept anew; and modestly protested that if he had known the people were to play so many follies, he would not have gone."-Vol. ii.
On all these wonderful proceedings we shall leave our readers to their own reflections; remarking only, that this happened on the 30th of March, (1778,) and on the 30th of May, about the same hour, the object of such extraordinary adulation was in the article of death; the hearse already prepared to receive his remains, for which even a grave had to be stolen. "He expired," says Wagnière, "about a quarter past eleven at night, with the most perfect tranquillity, after having suffered the cruellest pains, in consequence of those fatal drugs, which his own imprudence, and especially that of the persons who should have looked to it, made him swallow. Ten minutes before his last breath, he took the hand of Morand, his valet-de-chambre, who was watching by him, pressed it and said Adieu, mon cher Morand, je me meurs, (Adieu, my dear Morand, I am gone.) These are the last words uttered by M. de Voltaire."†
As Dryden said of Swift, so may we say: Our cousin Saint-Marc has no turn for poetry.
On this sickness of Voltaire, and his death-bed deportment, many foolish books have been written; concerning which it is not necessary to say any thing. The ronduct of the Parisian clergy, on that occasion, seems
We have still to consider this man in his specially intellectual capacity, which, as with every man of letters, is to be regarded as the clearest, and, to all practical intents, the most important aspect of him. Voltaire's intellectual endowment and acquirement, his talent or genius as a literary man, lies opened to us in a series of Writings, unexampled, as we believe, in two respects; their extent, and their diversity. Perhaps there is no writer, not a mere compiler, but writing from his own invention or elaboration, who has left so many volumes behind him; and if to the merely arithmetical, we add a critical estimate, the singularity is still greater; for these volumes are not written without an appearance of due care and preparation; perhaps there is not one altogether feeble and confused treatise, nay, one feeble and confused sentence, to be found in them. As to variety, again, they range nearly over all human subjects; from Theology down to Domestic Economy; from the Familiar Letter to the Political History; from the Pasquinade to the Epic Poem. Some strange gift, or union of gifts, must have been at work here; for the result is, at least, in the highest degree uncommon, and to be wondered at, if not to be admired.
If through all this many-coloured versatility, we try to decipher the essential, distinctive features of Voltaire's intellect, it seems to us that we find there a counterpart to our theory of his moral character; as, indeed, if that theory was accurate, we must do: for the thinking and the moral nature, distinguished by the necessities of speech, have no such distinction in themselves; but, rightly examined, exhibit in every case the strictest sympathy totally unworthy of their cloth; nor was their reward,
so far as concerns these individuals, inappropriate : that of finding themselves once more bilked, once more persifles by that strange old man, in his last decrepitude, who, in his strength, had wrought them and others so many griefs. Surely the parting agonies of a fellow mortal, when the spirit of our brother, rapt in the blindly for help, and no help is there, are not the scenes whirlwinds and thick ghastly vapors of death, clutches
where a wise faith would seek to exult, when it can no
longer hope to alleviate! For the rest, to touch further on those their idle tales of dying horrors, remorse, and the like; to write of such, to believe them, or disbelieve them, or in any wise discuss them, were but a continuation of the same ineptitude. He, who, after the imperturbable exit of so many Cartouches and Thurtells, in every age of the world, can continue to regard the manner of a man's death as a test of his religious orthodoxy, may boast himself impregnable to merely terrestrial logic. Voltaire had enough of suffering, and of mean enough suffering, to encounter, without any addition from theological despair. His last interview with the clergy, who had been sent for by his friends, that the rites of burial might not be denied him, is thus described by Wagnière as it has been by all other credible reporters of it :-
Mignot, his nephew, went to seek the Cure of Saint"Two days before that mournful death, M. l'Abbé Sulpice and the Abbé Guatier, and brought them into his uncle's sick-room; who, being informed that the Abbé Guatier was there, "Ah, well!" said he, "give him my compliments and my thanks." The Abbé spoke some words to him exhorting him to patience. The Cure of Saint-Sulpice then came forward, having announced himself, and asked of M. de Voltaire, elevat ing his voice, if he acknowledged the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ? The sick man pushed one of his hands against the Curé's calotte, (coif,) shoving him back, and cried, turning abruptly to the other side, "Let me die in peace!" (Laissez-moi mourir en paix !) The Curé seemingly considered his person soiled, and hi coif dishonoured, by the touch of a philosopher. He made the sick nurse give him a little brushing, and theu went out with the Abbé Guatier."--Vol. i. p. 161.
and correspondence; are, indeed, but different | rational word on all. It is known, for instance, phases of the same indissoluble unity,-a liv- that he understood Newton when no other ing mind. In life, Voltaire was found to be man in France understood him; indeed, his without good claim to the title of philosopher; countrymen may call Voltaire their discoverer and now, in literature, and for similar reasons, of intellectual England,-a discovery, it is we find in him the same deficiencies. Here, true, rather of the Curtis than of the Columbus too, it is not greatness, but the very extreme sort, yet one which in his day still remained of expertness, that we recognise; not strength, to be made. Nay, from all sides he brings so much as agility; not depth, but superficial new light into his country: now, for the first extent. That truly surprising ability seems time, to the upturned wondering eyes of rather the unparalleled combination of many Frenchmen in general, does it become clear common talents, than the exercise of any finer that Thought has actually a kind of existence or higher one: for here, too, the want of in other kingdoms; that some glimmerings of earnestness, of intense continuance, is fatal to civilization had dawned here and there on the him. He has the eye of a lynx; sees deeper, human species, prior to the Siècle de Louis at the first glance, than any other man; but Quatorze. Of Voltaire's acquaintance with no second glance is given. Thus Truth, History, at least with what he called History, which, to the philospher, has from of old been be it civil, religious, or literary; of his insaid to live in a well, remains for the most describable collection of facts, gathered from part hidden from him; we may say for ever all sources,-from European Chronicles and hidden, if we take the highest, and only philo- State Papers, from eastern Zends and Jewish sophical species of Truth; for this does not Talmuds, we need not remind any reader. It reveal itself to any mortal, without quite has been objected that his information was another sort of meditation than Voltaire ever often borrowed at second-hand; that he had seems to have bestowed on it. In fact, his his plodders and pioneers, whom, as living deductions are uniformly of a forensic, argu- dictionaries, he skilfully consulted in time of mentative, immediately practical nature; often need. This also seems to be partly true, but true, we will admit, so far as they go; but not deducts little from our estimate of him: for the whole truth; and false, when taken for the the skill so to borrow is even rarer than the whole. In regard to feeling, it is the same power to lend. Voltaire's knowledge is not a with him he is, in general, humane, mildly mere show-room of curiosities, but truly a affectionate, not without touches of nobleness; museum for purposes of teaching: every obbut light, fitful, discontinuous; "a smart free- ject is in its place, and there for its uses; nothinker, all things in an hour." He is no Poet where do we find confusion, or vain display; and Philosopher, but a popular sweet Singer everywhere intention, instructiveness, and the and Haranguer; in all senses, and in all clearest order. styles, Concionator, which, for the most part, will turn out to be an altogether different character. It is true, in this last province he stands unrivalled; for such an audience, the most fit and perfectly persuasive of all preachers: but in many far higher provinces, he is neither perfect nor unrivalled; has been often surpassed; was surpassed even in his own age and nation. For a decisive, thoroughgoing, in any measure gigantic, force of thought, he is far inferior to Diderot; with all the liveliness, he has not the soft elegance; with more than the wit, he has but a small portion of the wisdom that belonged to Fontenelle: as in real sensibility, so in the delineation of it, in pathos, loftiness, and earnest eloquence, he cannot, making all fair abatements, and there are many, be compared with Rousseau.
Doubtless, an astonishing fertility, quickness, address; an openness also, and universal susceptibility of mind, must have belonged to him. As little can we deny that he manifests an assiduous perseverance, a capability of long-continued exertion, strange in so volatile a man; and consummate skill in husbanding and wisely directing his exertion. The very knowledge he had amassed, granting, which is but partly true, that it was superficial, remembered knowledge, might have distinguished him as a mere Dutch commentator. From Newton's Principia to the Shuster and Vedam, nothing has escaped him; he has glanced into all literatures and all sciences; nay, studied in them, for he can speak a
Perhaps it is this very power of Order, of rapid, perspicuous Arrangement, that lies at the root of Voltaire's best gifts; or rather, we should say, it is that keen, accurate intellectual vision, from which, to a mind of any intensity, Order naturally arises. This clear quick vision, and the methodic arrangement which springs from it, are looked upon as peculiarly French qualities; and Voltaire, at all times, manifests them in a more than French degree. Let him but cast his eye over any subject, in a moment he sees, though indeed only to a short depth, yet with instinctive decision, where the main bearings of it for that short depth lie; what is, or appears to be, its logical coherence; how causes connect themselves with effects; how the whole is to be seized, and in lucid sequence represented to his own or to other minds. In this respect, moreover, it is happy for him that, below the short depth alluded to, his view does not properly grow dim, but altogether terminates; thus there is nothing further to occasion him misgivings; has he not already sounded into that basis of bottomless Darkness on which all things firmly rest? What lies below is delusion, imagination, some form of Superstition or Folly; which he, nothing doubting, altogether casts away. Accordingly, he is the most intelligible of writers; everywhere transparent at a glance. There is no delineation or disquisition of his, that has not its whole purport written on its forehead; all is precise, all is rightly adjusted; that keen spirit of Order shows itself in the whole, and in every line of the whole.
If we say that this power of Arrangement, as | sight, to be among the shallowest of all histo applied both to the acquisition and to the com-ries; mere beadrolls of exterior occurrences, munication of ideas, is Voltaire's most ser- of battles, edifices, enactments, and other quite viceable faculty in all his enterprises, we say superficial phenomena; yet being clear beadnothing singular: for take the word in its rolls, well adapted for memory, and recited in largest acceptation, and it comprehends the a lively tone, we listen with satisfaction, and whole office of Understanding, logically so learn somewhat; learn much, if we began called; is the means whereby man accom-knowing nothing. Nay, sometimes the sumplishes whatever, in the way of outward force, mary, in its skilful though crowded arrangehas been made possible for him; conquers all ment, and brilliant well-defined outlines, has practical obstacles, and rises to be the "king almost a poetical as well as a didactic merit. of this lower world." It is the organ of all that Charles the Twelfth may still pass for a model in Knowledge which can properly be reckoned that often-attempted species of Biography : the synonymous with Power; for hereby man clearest details are given in the fewest words; strikes, with wise aim, into the infinite agencies we have sketches of strange men and strange of Nature, and multiplies his own small countries, of wars, adventures, negotiations, strength to unlimited degrees. It has been in a style which, for graphic brevity, rivals said also that man may rise to be the "god of that of Sallust. It is a line-engraving, on a this lower world;" but that is a far loftier reduced scale, of that Swede and his mad life; height, not attainable by such powerful know-without colours, yet not without the foreledge, but by quite another sort, for which shortenings and perspective observances,— Voltaire in particular shows hardly any apti- nay, not altogether without the deeper hartude. monies which belong to a true Picture. In respect of composition, whatever may be said of its accuracy or worth otherwise, we cannot but reckon it greatly the best of Voltaire's Histories.
In truth, readily as we have recognised his spirit of Method, with its many uses, we are far from ascribing to him any perceptible portion of that greatest praise in thinking, or in writing, the praise of philosophic, still less of In his other prose works, in his Novels, and poetic Method, which, especially the latter, must innumerable Essays and fugitive pieces, the be the fruit of deep feeling as well as of clear same clearness of order, the same rapid prevision,-of genius as well as of talent; and is cision of view, again forms a distinguishing much more likely to be found in the composi- merit. His Zadigs and Baboucs and Candides, tions of a Hooker, or a Shakspeare, than of a which, considered as products of imagination, Voltaire. The Method discernible in Voltaire, perhaps rank higher with foreigners than any and this on all subjects whatever, is a purely of his professedly poetical performances, are business Method. The order that arises from instinct with this sort of intellectual life: the it is not Beauty, but, at best, Regularity. His sharpest glances, though from an oblique point objects do not lie round him in pictorial, not of sight, into at least the surface of human life, always in scientific grouping; but rather in into the old familiar world of business, which commodious rows, where each may be seen truly from his oblique station, looks oblique and come at, like goods in a well-kept ware-enough, and yields store of ridiculous combihouse. We might say there is not the deep nations. The Wit, manifested chiefly in these natural symmetry of a forest oak, but the simple and the like performances, but ever flowing, artificial symmetry of a parlor chandelier. unless purposely restrained, in boundless abunCompare, for example, the plan of the Hen- dance, from Voltaire's mind, has been often and riade to that of our so barbarous Hamlet. The duly celebrated. It lay deep-rooted in his naplan of the former is a geometrical diagram ture; the inevitable produce of such an unby Fermat; that of the latter a cartoon by derstanding with such a character, and was Raphael. The Henriade, as we see it com- from the first likely, as it actually proved in pleted, is a polished, square-built Tuileries; the latter period of his life, to become the main Hamlet is a mysterious, star-paved Valhalla, dialect in which he spoke and even thought. and dwelling of the gods. Doing all justice to the inexhaustible readiness, Nevertheless, Voltaire's style of Method is, the quick force, the polished acuteness, of Volas we have said, a business one; and for his taire's Wit, we may remark, at the same time, purposes, more available than any other. It that it was nowise the highest species of emcarries him swiftly through his work, and ployment for such a mind as his; that, indeed, carries his reader swiftly through it; there it ranks essentially among the lowest species is a prompt intelligence between the two; even of Ridicule. It is at all times mere lothe whole meaning is communicated clearly, gical pleasantry; a gayety of the head, not of and comprehended without effort. From this the heart; there is scarcely a twinkling of Hualso it may follow, that Voltaire will please mour in the whole of his numberless sallies. the young more than he does the old; that the Wit of this sort cannot maintain a demure first perusal of him will please better than the sedateness; a grave yet infinitely kind aspect, second, if indeed any second be thought neces- warming the inmost soul with true loving sary. But what merit (and it is considerable) mirth; it has not even the force to laugh outthe pleasure and profit of this first perusal pre- right, but can only sniff and titter. It grounds supposes, must be honestly allowed him. Here-itself, not on fond sportful sympathy, but or in it seems to us lies the grand quality in all contempt, or at best, on indifference. It stands his performances. Those Histories of his, for related to Humour as Prose does to Poetry; of instance, are felt, in spite of their sparkling which, in this department at least, Voltaire exrapidity, and knowing air of philosophic in-hibits no symptom. The most determinedly
ludicrous composition of his, the Pucelle, which | rules," which, in Voltaire's dialect, is not so
The first, how so many wonders could ac
Considered in his technical capacity of Poet, Voltaire need not, at present, detain us very long. Here too his excellence is chiefly intellectual, and shown in the way of business-like method. Every thing is well calculated for a given end; there is the utmost logical fitness of sentiment, of incident, of general contri-mances; and that in this case he only turned into verse the romance of Claudius, Gertrude and Hamlet, written in full by Saxo Grammati cus, to whom be the praise.
"Our astonishment at the first wonder will cease, when we understand that Shakspeare took all his tragedies from histories or ro
"The second part of the problem, that is to say, the pleasure men take in these tragedies, presents a little more difficulty; but here is (en voici) the solution, according to the deep reflections of certain philosophers.
Nor is he without an enthusiasm that sometimes resembles inspiration; a clear fellow-feeling for the personages of his scene he always has; with a chameleon susceptibility he takes some hue of every object; if he cannot be that object, he at least plausibly enacts it. Thus we have a result everywhere consistent with itself; a contrivance, not without nice adjustments, and brilliant aspects, which pleases with that old pleasure of "difficulties overcome," and the visible correspondence of means to end. That the deeper portion of our soul sits silent, unmoved under all this; recog-burials, nising no universal, everlasting Beauty, but only a modish Elegance, less the work of poetical creation than a process of the toilette, need occasion no surprise. It signifies only that Voltaire was a French Poet, and wrote as the French people of that day required and approved. We have long known that French poetry aimed at a different result than ours; that its splendour was what we should call a dead, artificial one; not the manifold soft summer glories of Nature, but a cold splendour, as of polished metal.
"The English chairmen, the sailors, hackney-coachmen, shop-porters, butchers, clerks even are passionately fond of shows: give them cock-fights, bull-baitings, fencing - matches, duels, gibbets, witchcraft, apparitions, they run thither in crowds; nay, there is more than one patrician as curious as the populace. The citizens of London found in Shakspeare's tragedies, satisfaction enough for such a turn of mind. The courtiers were obliged to follow the torrent: how can you help admiring what the more sensible part of the town admires? There was nothing better for a hundred and fifty years; the admiration grew with age, and became an idolatry. Some touches of genius, some happy verses full of force and nature, which you remember in spite of yourself, atoned for the remainder, and soon the whole piece succeeded by the help of some beauties of detail."-Euvres, t. xlvii. p. 300.
On the whole, in reading Voltaire's poetry, that adventure of the Café de Procope should ever be held in mind. He was not without an eye to have looked, had he seen others looking, into the deepest nature of poetry; nor has he failed here and there to cast a glance in that direction: but what preferment could such enterprises earn for him in the Café de Procope? What could it profit his all-precious "fame," to pursue them farther? In the end, he seems to have heartily reconciled himself to use and wont, and striven only to do better what he saw all others doing. Yet his private poetical creed, which could not be a catholic one, was, nevertheless, scarcely so bigoted as might have been looked for. That censure of Shakspeare, which elicited a re-censure in England, perhaps rather deserved a "recommendatory epistle," all things being considered. He calls Shakspeare "a genius full of force and fertility, of nature and sublimity," though unhappily "without the smallest spark of good taste, or the smallest acquaintance with the
Here, truly, is a comfortable little theory, which throws light on more than one thing. However, it is couched in mild terms, comparatively speaking. Frederic the Great, for example, thus gives his verdict:
"To convince yourself of the wretched taste that up to this day prevails in Germany, you have only to visit the public theatres. You will there see, in action, the abominable plays of Shakspeare, translated into our language; and the whole audience fainting with rapture (se pâmer d'aise) in listening to those ridiculous farces, worthy of the savages of Canada. I call them such, because they sin against all the rules of the theatre. One may pardon those mad sallies in Shakspeare, tor the birth of the arts is never the point of their maturity. But here, even now, we have a Goetz de Bes. lichingen, which has just made its appearance on the scene; a detestible imitation of those
miserable English pieces; and the pit applauds, | may call general poetic temperament to Ra and demands with enthusiasm the repetition cine; greatly inferior, in some points of it, to of these disgusting ineptitudes (de ces dégoûtantes Corneille, he has an intellectual vivacity, a platitudes.) De la Littérature Allemande. Ber- quickness both of sight and of invention, which lin, 1780.* belongs to neither of these two. We believe that, among foreign nations, his Tragedies, such works as Zaire and Mahomet, are considerably the most esteemed of this school.
We have not cited these criticisms with a view to impugn them; but simply to ascertain where the critics themselves are standing. This passage of Frederic's has even a touch However, it is nowise as a Poet, Historian, of pathos in it; may be regarded as the expiring or Novelist, that Voltaire stands so prominent cry of "Goût," in that country, who sees him- in Europe; but chiefly as a religious Polemic, self suddenly beleaguered by strange, appall- as a vehement opponent of the Christian ing, Supernatural influences, which he mis-Faith. Viewed in this last character, he may takes for Lapland witchcraft, or Cagliostro give rise to many grave reflections, only a jugglery; and so he drowns, grasping his small portion of which can here be so much as opera-hat, in an ocean of " Dégoûtantes plati-glanced at. We may say, in general, that his tudes." On the whole, it would appear that style of controversy is of a piece with himself; Voltaire's view of poetry was radically different not a higher, and scarcely a lower style than from ours; that, in fact, of what we should | might have been expected from him. As in a strictly call poetry, he had almost no view moral point of view, Voltaire nowise wanted a whatever, A Tragedy, a Poem, with him is love of truth, yet had withal a still deeper love not to be "a manifestation of man's Reason in of his own interest in truth; was, therefore, forms suitable to his Sense;" but rather a intrinsically no Philosopher, but a highly-achighly complex egg-dance, to be danced before complished Trivialist; so likewise, in an inthe King, to a given tune, and without break-tellectual point of view, he manifests himself ingenious and adroit, rather than noble or comprehensive; fights for truth or victory, not by patient meditation, but by light sarcasm, whereby victory may indeed, for a time, be gained; but little Truth, what can be named Truth, especially in such matters as this, is to be looked for.
ing a single egg. Nevertheless, let justice be
We quote from the compilation: Goethe in den Zeugnissen der Mitlebenden, s. 124.
No one, we suppose, ever arrogated for Voltaire any praise of originality in this discussion; we suppose there is not a single idea, of any moment, relating to the Christian religion, in all his multifarious writings, that had not been set forth again and again before his enterprises commenced. The labours of a very mixed multitude, from Porphyry down to Shaftesbury, including Hobbeses, Tindals, Tolands, some of them skeptics of a much nobler class, had left little room for merit in this kind: nay, Bayle, his own countryman, had just finished a life spent in preaching skepticism precisely similar, and by methods precisely similar, when Voltaire appeared on the arena. Indeed, skepticism, as we have before observed, was at this period universal among the higher ranks in France, with whom Voltaire chiefly associated. It is only in the merit and demerit of grinding down this grain into food for the people, and inducing so many to eat of it, that Voltaire can claim any singularity. However, we quarrel not with him on this head there may be cases where the want of originality is even a moral merit. But it is a much more serious ground of offence that he intermeddled in Religion without being himself, in any mea sure, Religious; that he entered the Temple and continued there, with a levity, which, in any Temple where men worship, can beseem no brother man; that, in a word, he ardently, and with long-continued effort, warred against Christianity, without understanding beyond the mere superficies of what Christianity was.
His polemical procedure in this matter, it appears to us, must now be admitted to have been, on the whole, a shallow one. Through all its manifold forms, and involutions, and repetitions, it turns, we believe exclusively, on