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ing the many animadversions which have j gle branch of his pursuits he has been, attended his hero's name.
even in his own country, surpassed; yet “Voltairism may stand for the name of the no individual of all his rivals holds any. Renaissance of the eighteenth century, for that thing like such a position in the world and name takes in all the serious haltings and short. the age. Few people read his works now. comings of this strange inovement, as well as its adays, but still fewer ignore his reputation. terrible fire, swiftness, sincerity, and strength. The mass of volumes which compose his The rays from Voltaire's burning and far shin- pedestal are overrun with moss and closed ing spirit no sooner struck upon the genius of with the ivies and clinging tendrils of the the time, seated dark and dead like the black past, but the figure above them, with all its stone of Memnon's statue, than the clang of the defects and meannesses heaven knows, breaking chord was heard through Europe, and as poor a figure of a man as ever was men awoke in new day and more spacious air. mounted on that eminence - holds its The sentimentalist bus proclaimed him a mere place still, though the general mind does mocker. To the critics of the schools ever ready not quite know why. with compendious label, he is the revolutionary destructive. To each alike of the countless or for some reason or other, which none of
François Marie Arouet, calling himself, thodox sects, his name is the symbol for the
his biographers seem quite able to make prevailing of the gates of hell. Erudition figures him as shallow and a trifler: culture con- out, Voltaire, was born in February 1694,demns him for pushing his hatred of spiritual in Paris. His father was well off, and of falsehood much too seriously: Christian charity respectable condition, holding an employfeels constrained to unmask a demon from the ment in the public service; and he was depths of the pit. The plain men of the earth, educated, as a child in his circumstances who are apt to measure the merits of a philoso- brought up by parents who meant him to pher by the strength of his sympathy with ex- rise in the world naturally would be, at a isting sources of comfort, would generally ap- college taught by the Jesuits. Even at prove the saying of Dr. Johnson, that he would this early age the child inust have shown a sooner sign a sentence for Rousseau's transpor- a freedom from national prejudices and tation than that of any felon who had gone from spiritual necessities greater than ordinary, the Old Bailey for many years, and that the for one of the reverend fathers prophesied difference between him and Voltaire was
of him that he would yet be the Coryphée slight that it would be difficult to settle the
du Déisme in France. He was launched proportions of iniquity between them.' Those
into the world at an early age, and under of all schools and professious who have the temperament which mistakes strong expressions for the most “ heureuses circonstances," as his strong judgment, and violent phrase for ground-biographer, Condorcet, assures us, under ed conviction, have been stimulated by antipa
the special patronage of several of those thy against Voltaire to a degree that, in any of brilliant and delightful abbés churchthein with latent turns for bumour, must now men whose only ecclesiastical habit was and then have stirred a kind of reacting sympa- their soutane, and who did not pretend to thy. The rank vocabulary of malice and hate, the smallest shred either of faith or morals noisome fringe of the history of opinion, has - who abound in all the memoirs of the received many of its most fulminant terms from period. One of the protectors of his youth critics of Voltaire, along with some from Vol. was the famous Ninon, who left him a legtaire himself, who uowisely did not refuse to acy to buy books, and approved greatly of follow an adversary's bad example.
the lad. With such instructors his mind " Yet Voltaire was the very eye of modern developed rapidly. The tide had turned, illumination."
by that time, of the Grand Monarque's Thus applauded on one side and assailed splen.lour and popularity. That false but on the other, worshipped, abused, flattered, gorgeous culmination of success and magand menaced, with an extravagance and nificence was over, and the terrible chaos intensity of feeling unknown to common which followed began to rise darkly — not men, the character of Voltaire can be no yet apparent — with all its tragic disorordinary one. He was a poet, a historian, ders yet undeveloped, the dim beginnings a philosopher, and a critic. In every sin-1 of something new preparing for the death
struggle with the old world, which no grave, upon the scoffer who defied him. one as yet foresaw.. The Court was under The two opposite sides acted upon each the sway of Madan e de Maintenon, and other as they always do. Lawless wit had become fictitiously good and religious and mockery on one hand, produced — as it had once been fictitiously joyous and what could they else ? — fierce, hysterical, popular; and Paris and its society, which and often foolish zeal on the other. The was not growing old like Louis, went, as wicked world had so much the best of it was not unnatural, into violent opposition, in every way, to all appearance, that it is and “out of disgust for the severities of hard to blame a depressed and languid Versailles, carried freedoın and pleasure Church, partaking but too much of the to the extent of licence.” Nothing could spiritual deadness of the time, for having be more gay, inore brilliant, more attrac- had recourse — God, or perhaps rather the tive than that cleverest and wickedest cli- devils, knew how — to those wild outmax of good company; and young Vol- bursts of miracle which it is so impossible taire, whose petites epigrammes seem to to understand, and which, while powerless date back to a very early period in his ex- and meaningless for any good, give the adistence, was the true child of his time, at versary always a double occasion to blasonce its best representative and its crown- pheme. The only alternative known by ing production. That was not the age of Voltaire to his own giddy, merry, agreerevolution. Nearly a century had to come able, and unprincipled society was this and go ere the grim practical seriousness austere, disagreeable, pleasure-condemnof the national soul, driven frantic by mis- ing, miracle-producing Church. It was un. ery, had to take up the coarser work, and derstood that this gloomy apparition was make all the persisage and all the witti- seated at the portals which led out of life, cisms into a tremendous reality, at which and that in mockery or in terror it was the gayest society ceased to laugh. In the well to conciliate and make terms with mean time petites epigrammes were what her, as soon as these portals were apthe world lived for, and other things proached; but up to that disagreeable equally petites. It was the age of petites moment, which no one cared to look for. maisons, petits soupers, and many more ward to, Superstition, which was her name, charming indulgences -- opposed to all of was the fairest and the foremost object which stood a black-cowled frowning for all the gibes and pleasantries of an Church, of which in their secret souls most audacious society — the cause of inextinpeople were a little afraid, which set its guishable laughter, when not of indignaface against everything – opinions, epi- tion. Except this visible and not pleasant grams, pleasant little vices, all that Paris embodiment of the Church, he and his held most dear. The Church was not, contemporaries seem to have had no idea let us allow, attractive at that period. of anything representing a higher life than It was one of her dark days, when the their own. This is their distinguishing flesh had gained upon her largely, and peculiarity among the ages. O:her genwhen her faithful regiments who stood erations have disputed and opposed as firm had grown morose, and even cruel, hotly and more effectually the sway of at sight of the temptations around, which Rome - have stigmatized and abused, and other people yielded to, which they had even satirized and laughed at her; but themselves the virtue to resist, but not these generations were always more or the virtue to hate. Half-a-dozen gay abbés, less officered and inspired by men with a leading lives a trifle wickeder and more creed which they believed to be more pure, luxurious than those of their lay compan- and a higher ideal of life than that which ions, naturally produced at least one they assailed. The age of Voltaire was gloomy priest, who being but a man of his embarrassed with no such idealism. If the time like them, was exasperated and acer. Church was never less attractive than in bated by his own goodness, and only too that unhappy age, the world was never glad, when he had the chance, to shut the more distinct. It did not even profess gates, not of heaven only, but even of the that code of primitive morality, natural
right and wrong, which modern unbeliev- perfectly harmonious. On one hand, hell. ers often embellish by lives which are al- fire and all its flames, and, if occasion ofmost saintly; no such ideas existed in the fered, legal fire of a still more undesirable lively brain of the eighteenth century. kind, fagots in the market-place, and other Mr. Morley, who belongs to the nineteenth such indisputable arguments; and on the candidly, and without any difficulty, al- other a pleasant, partially-legalized, franklows this. For instance, the most funda- ly-acknowledged vileness on principle, for mental of all natural virtues, that upon which, perhaps, the fagots were the only which society is built, and the value of reasonable medicine. Little reason enough which, on its lowest ground, even savage there was between them, heaven knows — nations have an appreciation of, was not miserable fleshly vengeance on the one only ignored, but ridiculed by the age. hand, miserable fleshly wantonness made Personal purity was a weakness, a folly, into a creed on the other. Such were the almost a vice in its eyes, and chiefly for two forces which Voltaire saw partaking the reason that it had been partially dei- the world between thein when he burst fied by the Church. On this subject Mr. into it, in all the glory and ardour of that Morley speaks as follows:
youth of genius which is the most heavenly
or the most devilish of all powers under “The peculiarity of the licence of France in the sun. the middle of the eighteenth century is, that it was looked upon with complacency by the great detail; twice over he managed to get him
We cannot follow his youthful career in intellectual leaders of opinion. It took its place self into the Bastille in that period when in the progressive formula. What austerity was to other forward movements, licence was to this. I lettres de cachets rained from the official It is not difficult to perceive how so extraordinary skies of France. The first time, his offence a circumstance came to pass. Chastity was the or supposed offence was political. It was supreme virtue in the eyes of the Church, the immediately after the death of Louis XIV., mystis key to the Christian holiness. Conti- when, amid a shower of other satires and nence was one of the most sacred of the preten- execrations, there was published a very sions by which the organized preachers of super- clever and indeed powerful set of verses stition claimed the reverence of men and women entitled • Les j'ai vu.” These are printed It was identified, therefore, in a p:2rticular m.in. in some editions of his works, as attriner with that Infamous against which the miin bués faussement” to Voltaire, but this deassault of the times was directed. So men con- nial is very vague, and they are sufficiently tended, more or less expressly – first, that continence was no commanding chief among vir- striking to warrant the idea that they were
bis. tues; then that it was a very superficial and
After a melancholy record of all the easily practised virtue; finally, that it was no wrongs which "j'ai vu," the verses termivirtue at all, but, if sometimes a convenience, nate as follow:generally an impediment to free human happi- " J'ai vu un hypocrite honoré,
J'ai vu, c'est tout dire, un jesuite adoré, We have no desire to misrepresent
J'ai vu ces maux sous le règne funeste either the age or the hero.
This is Mr.
D'un prince qui jadis la colère celeste
Accorda, par vengeance, à nos desirs ardens; Morley's statement of the question. That
J'ai vu ces maux, et je n'ai pas vingt ans. which is of all other restrictions the one most vitally important to society, was thus “ He was a little more than twenty-two," abolished by society itself, because it was says Condorcet, " and the police looked held in special esteem by “ Superstition.”) upon that conformity of age as a sufficient It is therefore evident that this age did proof to deprive him of his liberty." His not dream of opposing to “Superstition " second imprisonment was occasioned by a any purer idealism, but that its law of na- little incident still more characteristic of ture was the simple law of the animal the period. The young homme d'esprit, who world, and that it was content to place its was nobody, made a saucy answer to no rebellion on the lowest and most distinct less a personage than a Rohan at some one ground: no complications, no nuances, were of the convivial meetings which he has in this straightforward profession of faith ; described with gay vanity as made up of and to do the men justice, they lived up to princes and poets. The Rohan, tvo splentheir creed.
did to descend to personal means of punThis, however, makes a broad distinc-ishment, had the daring young plebeian tion between the unbelief of Voltaire's cudgelled by his lackeys at the very door age and those kinds of unbelief with which of the house of the Duc de Sulli where the we are more familiar. The two sides were bon-mot had been said. Young Voltaire perfectly distinct, and at the same timel“would have taken means," says Condor.
cet, cautiously, “ to avenge his outraged cannot help doubting whether the sharphonour - means authorized by the man- sighted Frenchman could have felt much ners of modern nations, but condemned by envy for these seeming splendid appointtheir laws;” in other words, Mr. Morley ments. He himself executed important tells us, he tried to induce his princely in- missions in after-times, but he had the wissulter to fight bim. But that would have dom not often belonging to his race to been too great an honour for a poet, and make himself independent, and to trust the Rohan sent him to the Bastillo instead. his provision to no one — a circumstance This, which would have disgusted many a which, in all countries, smooths matters man with fine society, and which no doubt intensely for the man of literature. But was one instance of the many insulting in- there has never perhaps been a time when dignities which at last drove France mad, the English republic of letters so much and gave her some kind of wild excuse for resembled the French in its tone, and laws, the awful retribution she exacted, had no and manners. Unique among the ages, such imbittering effect upon Voltaire. He that period of literature submitted itself, grinned and bore it, no doubt, with literal as none in England had done before or has exactitude; and on his liberation from done since, to those rules of correct art prison in six months found himself banish- which have always reigned on the other ed from Paris, and made the best of his side of the Channel. Winatever new prinfate by going to England, which, so far as ciples Voltaire drew from it, its love for his personal success went, was undoubteilly the unities, its terror for the barbarisms of by much the best thing that could have genius, its ideas of grace and inelody in befallen him.
style, were like his own. And so to a There is, however, one little incident of great extent was its moral attitude, – an this preface of his life which, though tri- attitude almost equally profane, but not fling enough, is worth quoting. During his polemically iinmoral, for the simple reason first imprisonment he finished and pre- that “Superstition " - i.e., the Church pared for the stage “ Edipis,” his first did not possess the same power in England iragedy. At one of its earliest repetitions as in France, and could not enforce the an intruder suddenly appeared upon the same penalties. It was a thing which stage, holding up the train of the high could be good-humouredly ignored, laughpriest, and mimicking, his high-tragic step ed at, or patronized with contemptuous and bearing. The Maréchale de Villars, complaisance, without any breach of recogwho was present, asked who was the young nized good manners or public scandal. inan who evidently was trying to ruin the This curious and delightful freedom from piece? She was told it was the author! all obtrusive claims must have struck him This curious piece of juvenile cynicism and at once, as every difference which lies on inockery even of himself
, procured for him the surface strikes a stranger; and the the acquaintance of the lady, for whom he careless Protestant ease of men never reimmediately conceived a profound and un- quired to doff a hat before a passing cross, requited passion — the first and most seri- or bend a knee to any sacramentary proous of his life. Perhaps there was a cer- cession, no doubt impressed him with a tiin poetic justice in this result of his sense of absolute freedom from all the cinurderie : it made him lose a great deal troublesome circumstances of religion. of time which he afterwards mourned over, And then, of course, the England of his but no doubt, which would be a consola experience was the class which received tion, extended his connection still further hiin, as it is to all strangers. The real with the society he loved.
heart of the country, which has always The time of Voltaire's visit to England been kept sound by unostentatious piety was one specially favourable for him. Mr. and reverential feeling, was as much out Morley mentions as a surprise and novelty of his reach as Kamchatka ; but be knew to the visitor, the high place which he the wits, who never before or since have found to be occupied in England by liter- had things so much their own way on the
“ The poet,” he says " who had gay surface of society, and he found himbeen thrown into prison for reventing a self no doubt in a sort of Paradise in that whipping from a nobleman's lackeys, found free-speaking and free-thinking world. himself in a country where Newton and Voltaire's scepticisın, up to this time, as Locke were rewarded with lucrative places Mr. Myrley points out, had been bit an in. in the administration of the country, where stinctive opposition to the Church, its severPrior and Gay acted in important embas- ities and pretensions. But he now discovsies, and where Addison was a secretary ered with delight that philosophy had gono of state.” This sounds very fine, but we a great deal further, and that there was scarcely any limit to the length which his taire. Both of them lived long lives, were friends permitted themselves to go. He fully recompensed in this world for all they found these friends pervaded by a deism had done and intended to do, reaped their founded on the philosophy of Shaftes- harvests, finished their work, and really do bury, expounded by Bolingbroke, and em- not seem to have had in their lives, or to bellished by the poetry of Pope.” He have left behind them, any wrong unremade acquaintance with the two greater dr ed, any advantage unsecured, which shadows of Newton and Locke, which, would make another world necessary. without any will of theirs, dominated, or Perhaps the inquiry would be an audaseemned to dominate, that clever chaos: cious one, but, could we follow it out, and and without in the least entering into the discover in the career of other men of corhigher spirit of these great names, he took responding character the saine wonderful up so much of their teaching as was con- completeness and finish of the mortal cycle, genial to him. He learnt that imagination there might be ground; for building a very must be banished from reasoning by the curious theory upon the subject. The insevere laws of induction; that no theory stances, however, are too few to make this must be accepted without being proved; easily practicable. Voltaire was one of and that the understanding can know noth- thosc singular beings. Without meaning ing that is not communicated to it by the the slightest disrespect, or desiring to use senses. Upon these precious intellectual anything but the most impartial scientific tools he pounced with all the avidity of his language, we know no better way of denature. No doubt it was something like a scribing him than to say that he was a man new gospel which they revealed to him. without a soul. He had no spiritual neFor it must be remembered that this young cessities of his own, and he regarded those genius, the last flower of a most corrupt of others with simple curiosity and wonsociety, trained in what we have ventured der, if not with indignation and contempt. to call polemical immorality, was one of The strange weakness of many human those curious exceptional men born now creatures in this respect — their craving and then into the world, without any ap- for unseen fortification, consolation, and parent trace in him of that portion of counsel – their attempt to establish relahuman nature commonly called soul. Vo!- tions with the unknown – was to himn what taire had an excess of intellect. He had the raptures of a party of musical amateurs something which served him very well for are to a man without an ear. He listens a heart, and which was capable of some to their discussions with surprised and honest and real emotions - he had feeling half-curious derision. What do the blockand unquestionable benevolence; but he heads mean? Are these ecstacies put on does not seem to have had any spiritual for a purpose, mere affectations of enthunecessities, or even consciousness that spir- siasm ; or are they so besotted as really to itual necessities could be. Mr. Morley com- imagine that they have found beauty and ments upon the weakness of that “ form of meaning in the succession of noises which Christian profession which now fascinates convey no sense whatever to him? This many fine and subtle minds,” which is example is not at all an uncommon one; founded upon the belief, or rather “ assump- and those who have either felt the diffition, that there are certain inborn cravings culty in their own persons, or been made in the human heart, constant, profound, the confidant of others, will know how beand inextinguishable,” of which Christian- wildering to all the faculties is this absence ity is the fullest satisfaction. With this of one. Voltaire was in this position in re" graceful development of belief,” Voltaire, spect to religion. Many incidents in his he says, had no acquaintance; and he imag- life dispose us to believe that he looked ines how his hero * would have sought the upon it as mere acting; a farce in which, grounds for calling those aspirations uni- when needful, he was quite ready to play versal.” On this point we entirely agree his part, as other men played theirs, in obewith Mr. Morley. We believe that such dience to some grotesque and incompreaspirations are not unive and that a hensible prejudice. But he was absolutely learned and exhaustive study of the exam- destitute of the faculty for understanding ples of humanity of whoin it can be clearly what the word really meant, and what proved that they do not possess anything the great mus3 of men in all ages have usof the kind, would be one of the inost in- derstood by it. When we say this, we feel teresting of historical investigations. Vol- that we are defending and not assailing taire was one of these men ; so was Hume, his character; his infidelity had no evil who lived and influenced the same age, and intention in it. He thoroughly and bonwas a very different character from Vol-'estly believed that he was doing the very