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taire, however, must be attributed out heaven from the earth in the fire, less to the man than to his age, in smoke, and horror of Pandemonium. which everything conspired to stimu- An event so tremendous, with the late to excess the powers of his scep- consequences of its reaction-a reign tical intellect; but as he increased in of terror followed by a tyranny of years, his heart, naturally warm and force-could hardly have occurred benevolent, asserted its predominance; among any other European people. and it is in those phases of
Frenchmen tell us that Paris the and portions of his works that mani- brain and France the head of fest its influence, when aroused by Europe ; but this brilliant and someinjustice and wrong, that his perman- what ferocious head, which has ent triumphs have resulted. Great founded its republics alternately on and terrible as was this old King of a shambles and a theory, requires to Ridicule, il a une instinct celeste be occasionally shaved, as late hispour la malheur, and this generous tory demonstrates. As far as the disand heroic energy with which he semination of light was effective in procombatted the cause of Calas and ducing the revolution, Voltaire is its others, and triumphed overthe gloomy author, but the earthquake which tyranny and ignorance of temporal followed had a deeper source; and as power, while illustrating his nature, his spirit floats off in the vanishing forms more than all the other achive- years of the century, followed by ments of his talents the lasting thunder-clouds, pregnant with ruin, groundwork of his fame and his most it points now downward to the spaces illustrious passport to immortality. upon which it had let the sun in Of this he was, indeed, conscious in upon the world, and now formed to his old age, when he said-J'ai fait the future generations for whom he un peu de bien, c'est mon meilleur had promulgated the unprescribable ouvrage.
rights of man, effaced the penal code, The popular opinion that Voltaire prepared the abolition of torture, and created the French Revolution, is but set an example of what one man may in part correct. His attacks and effect for humanity, who in defending those of his apostles, d'Alembert, Calas, Sivern, and Barre, opposes Diderot, Helvetius, and the rest, on reason to power. state creeds, and the illuminative To understand the formation of principles they threw upon govern- Voltaire's character, and the colour ment, law, and politics, laid the which, in part, his genius assumed, foundation for the greatest historical one must look back to the age in event of modern times; but it was the which he lived, the society in which extravagance of a long line of mon- he moved, and the events of his archs, the ignorance and apathy of youth. It was the age of divine right a long series of undeveloping adminis- and of Louis XIV, that famous actor of trations, financial bankruptcy, and a kingship, that thorough embodiment starving population, which crisified of the politeness, address, sensuality, the catastrophe. Ideas would never and ferocity of the modern Gaul, have produced the tragedy had the with his guerres a effet, his highnational stomach been regularly sup- heeled dignity, his affectation of plied. It arose from a superfotation greatness, his sensualism, and superof wrongs acting in alliance with stition. It was an ignorant, profligate, the spirit of famine.
magnificent, and stilted age, when The French Revolution resembles the King was the state, when royal two of the fables of antiquity. In- mistresses governed the cabinet, and tellect, like a second Prometheus, in created manners in the external world, the form of Voltaire, first shed light according to the type Ionian, advensnatched from heaven-nay, some- turer, or devotee. It was an epoch times lightning drawn from hell-on of fictitious and false greatness, of gilt the social and political chaos of centu- gingerbread splendour, with its conries; then came the Titans of Demo- stant pantomime of battles on the cracy, overthrowing the mountainous frontier, its monuments created by abuses which weighed upon existence, exhausting taxation, an age in which, burying law, authority, humanity in while Versailles rose in glory, the peohe ruins, and for the time shutting ple, gradually sinking in poverty, were preparing, in the face of the great tained. The great charm of this court comedy, the tragedy which epic narrative, the materials of which was to be enacted. About all this Voltaire gathered from several of the Voltaire himself has written, not friends of the Swedish monarch, is, indeed as a man of the time, but as that it is written in the rapid impetua man of the world, half philosopher ous spirit with which the hero acted, and half courtier ; but as his mind and has an air of freshness and forcé and character developed during his such as might have attached to the career, stimulated by the enormities descriptions of those who were eyeand incongruities with which he was witnesses of the events it depicts. surrounded, he declared battle with While it reads like a romance, there his age, and set to work to make it is no reason to question its historic brighter and healthier, to dissipate truth-the latter, indeed, has been its darkness and evaporate its warranted by the testimony of the miasma. Young Arouet's earliest ex-king of Poland, Stanislaus, the patron was_Minon de L'Enclos, that companion of the modern Alexander peculiarly French figure, of whom in many of his expeditions--excepther admirers said that she united the ing, perhaps, the account of the death soul of Epicurus and Cato; and his of Charles, which late researches tend chief instructor the Abbe Delafontain, to indicate as the result of a conthe author of the Atheistical Mosaiad, spiracy, not an accident. which his pupil knew by heart, we Nothing can exceed the verve, are told, when he was but three years lightness, and animation of the narraold. The mothers of the time were tive faculty displayed in this unrivalaccustomed to send their sons to led historiette. It is a masterpiece of Ninon's saloons, to have their manners narrative art. Much more imporformed; and Ninon, who took a fancy tant, however, is “The Essay on the to young Arouet, whose fair locks she Spirit of Nations.” Before this work, used to kiss when a child, and who which was written for the instrucleft him a legacy to buy books, is tion of Madame de Chastellet, apstated to have declared, while listen- peared, modern history was coming to the wild logic of the brilliant piled without judicious selection of sceptical lad, that he was destined to materials, or extended vieys, critical become the rebel angel of the eight- or philosophical, and was, indeed, eenth century. After leaving the little more than a dull almanac of college of Louis le Grand, where he wars, conjurations; its horizon being was educated by the Jesuits, the limited to the acts of kings and poliyoung wit appears figuring among ticians, to the battle-field and cabinet. the court circle, the associate of the Among such works as the dry annals Prince of Conte, Duke de Vendome, of Mezeray, De Thou, Davilla, &c., Marquis de la Farre, Duke of Sully, the whose only merit is a sombre accuAbbes Chaulean and Chuteauneuf. racy, Duclos' Louis XI. was the Once looking round on the company one solitary exception since Tacitus, of which he was a member, he in which an attempt had been made remarked, “We are all here either to paint character, or analyze the princes or poets.” “Puisque les titres cause of events with penetration. sont coronus, je prend mon rang,” he Voltaire was the first who illumiused to say. Throughout his career he nated Europe as to the method in exhibited the kingly consciousness which history ought to be written. of intellectual power. Once when Instead of depicting like other writers Madame la Pompadour, remarked to the lives and acts of a few indivihim, “Les rois sont joujours les demi- duals, for whom, judging from the dieux.” Voltaire replied, “ Madame tenor of past history, humanity apla Marquise, c'est les poetes qui a peared to have been created, he has crée les demi-dieux.”
traced the spirit of peoples in the Perhaps Voltaire's genius has dis- march from barbarism to civilization, played more original power in his thrown a light on their condition, histories than in any other class of painted their manners, customs, the serious composition. His first work, gradual advance in civil life, their Charles XII., is unique in its way, and material and political progress. His exhibits a greater vigour and anima general practice is to select the striktion of style than he afterwards ob- ing points in an age and to let facts speak; the absurd incidents which which we have the most life-like have marked the course of humanity picture of the battle of Fontenoy on indeed presented a constant source of record. amusement to the wit of history, who His general practice in writing hisexposes them to laughter in his usual tory was to engage some laborious way, that of lightly assuming their literateur to collect the materials of defence with a gay but trenchant the edifice of which he purposed to irony. But though he cannot help become the philosophical architect. amusing, his great object is to in- Hence several inaccuracies have struct; and hence he has scattered slipped into “The Essay on the through his work an abundance of Spirit of Nations,” though the veracity enlarged principles, and of penetrant of its facts, in the main, remains and just reflections, which constitute, unshaken. This, however, is a deapart from the admirablespiritevinced fect which attaches to most laborious, in the selection of its matter, its personal investigators, not excepting chief merit. Never was so vast a Macaulay. Voltaire's merit consists subject so lucidly and strikingly con- in having recognized the true genius densed. With his accustomed tact, of history, in having placed it on a also, Voltaire, in this work, has re- larger basis, and in thereby making it frained from giving offence to govern- an educational element for humanity ments, thus to insure a larger public at large. reception, with the object of facilitat- “The Philosophy of History," ing his great object, namely, that of which is intended to prelude “The creating a detestation of tyranny, Essay on the Spirit of Nations,” bears intolerance, fanaticism, superstition, evidence in many of its chapters of and war.
With Voltaire the com- the penetrating illuminative glance monest invention which ameliorates which Voltaire threw over the dothe condition of man, is of more im- main of antiquity, its empires, sysportance than the most tremendous tems, races, customs, and religions; the scene of human slaughter; hence the ironical, sceptical animus, however, prominence he has given to those chap- with which several of the latter are ters in which the progress of man- regarded in this brief work, which ners, of physical and intellectual im- was designed to neutralize the effect provement are detailed.
of “Bossuet's Universal History,' is “The Essay on the Manners and manifested much more strongly than Spiritof Nations" is the earliest sketch in his survey of humanity since the of the history of civilization. The age of Charlemagne. In the ages of most interesting portions of Macau- barbarism-and in his view they exlay's history are those in which he tended well-nigh to the epoch of has followed Voltaire's plan; and it is Louis XIV.--Voltaire's cultivated by adopting his method that Buckle, reason and dominant faculty of wit with the manifold resources of a more saw little more than the horrible and advanced period of investigation ludicrous; and all such passages he before him, has, though we must paints in a prominent manner, in peremptorily condemn many of his order to warn mankind against the views, laid in principle the basis of repetition of those crimes and absurthe first philosophical history which dities which make up the bulk of England has produced. Of his other ancient history. It must be confessworks the "History of Louis XIV.” ed that this tendency of his mind, as holds the highest place. Here, also, evidenced in the famous essay, has while scenes of war and politicial not unfrequently leil him into extraevents are dashed off with a master- vagance unworthy of the spirit of a ly pencil
, its prevailing interest arises philosophic annalist. His occasional from the importance given to the ad- inaccuracy and carelessness as to facts vance made in the arts and sciences is also apparent to any one acquainted during the reign of the Grand Mo- with the authorities; nay, he even narch. His“Peter the Great” evinces seems to have invented some of the as usual his amusing lively narrative latter, to add to the agreements of faculty, his animated portraiture and his narrative. In one of the chapillustrative anecdotical method; and ters, for instance, devoted to the the same graces of style predominate Second Crusade, he tells us that after in the “History of the War of 1741,"in the return of the army from Palestine to Constantinople, the French knights on the best of possible worlds, the characteristically invited the ladies of origin of evil, the nature of the soul, that city to a ball and dance, which and the pre-established harmony!” At took place in the church of St. So- these words the dervish shut the phia. On some one asking Voltaire door in their faces. where he found the anecdote, he re- Of this masterpiece of Voltaire's plied, gaily, "found it !-- nowhere, it peculiar and inimitable style Lord was a Hash of imagination.”
Brougham has truly remarked that It is perhaps in his comic romances short as it is, its perusal never that the characteristic variety of Vol- tires. It is the surpassing charm of taire's genius is best evidenced ; here stimulating variety, and the lightness his romantic inventions, his wit, sense, and delicacy of its style which
renders and satire come into fullest play. it more attractive than Gulliver, Passing over Zadic, L'Ingenu, Mi- despite the superior profundity
of cromegas, L'Homme de Cent Ecu, Swift's satirical masterpiece. The Noire et Blanc, Le Princes de Baby- chapter in which Voltaire has ridilon, Le Blanc Taureau, &c., we come culed Frederick II.'s method of reto Candide, which stands at the head cruiting his army, elicited from the of this class of compositions, and in- pen of that monarch, the following deed of all Voltaire's original works, sarcastic retort on Candide :among which its only rival is La Pucelle. Never was an absurd theory,
* Candide est un petet vaurien,
Qui n'a ni pudeur ni cervelle ; such as that of the optimism of
Ah! comme an le reconnait bien Leibnitz exploded in such a burst of
Pour le cadet de la Pucelle." laughter and light as in this brilliant petit oeuvre; while the greatest fancy Though in the present age the is displayed in the invention of inci- latter has met with the fate which dents and adventures to illustrate the Voltaire said attached to works of a theme; the characters, which are very different character, namely, artistically contrasted, are all painted sacred poetry, “sacred indeed they with the lightest and most effective are, for no one touches them,” it pencil. The simplicity of Candide; cannot be denied that, for sustained the astonishing adventures and suf- and various power, La Pucelle referings through which he and Pan- mains the first of mock heroic poems. gloss--perhaps the most ludicrous Compared with it, Tassoni's Rapita satiric portrait in literature-pass un- Secchia, and Boileau's Lutrin, are but shaken in their optimist credo; the por- dull parodies; and the only poem of the trait of Poeocurante, the great genius class which equals it is the “Rape of whom nothing can please-of the the Lock;” this poem, however, though Manichean Martin, &c.-thescenes and perfect, is but a bluette contrasted stories--the variety of subjects intro- with the twenty-one brilliant cantos duced for satiric comment--all are of verse in which Voltaire has disstruck off in most brilliant colours of played an inventive talent so various in wit and humour. The moral of this its adventures, its allegoric pictures, in singular exposition of moral and the luxuriant fancy expended on its physical evil partakes of the charac- brilliant descriptive passages, in its ter of Voltaire's wit—that of indif- vigorous strokes of satire and pleaference. In the summing up chapter, santry, to which add the animated and where Pangloss asks the Turkish facile verse in which it is evolved. dervish if there is not a horrible Allowing its merits, however, as a amount of the satanic element to be spontaneous emanation of brilliant found in this best of possible planets, talents, it is impossible to reprobate the latter replies briefly,“What matter too strongly the character of many of if there be good or ill ; when the Sultan its delineations or its general tone. sends a vessel to Egypt, does he Condorcet's defence of La Pucelle to trouble himself, think you, whether the effect that it was merely composed the rats in the hold are at their ease for a few friends and princes, and or not ?" “What then are we to do ?” that its author's object was to render asks Pangloss. "Be silent,” said the superstition ridiculous among the dervish. “I flatter myself,” recom- voluptuous, is a sorry excuse, which inenced Pangloss,“ that I am able to gains little support from the remark reason a little on causes and effects, quoted from Voltaire himself, on FonVOL. LXI.NO. CCCLXI.
taine as regards the counteracting and At Paris the universe is composed of harmless result produced by ming- vortices, of which the people see ling humour with licentious depiction. nothing in London. In France it is
Had Voltaire written his famous the pressure of the waves which causes comic romance and mock heroic poem the tides ; in England the sea graviwith a chaster pen, they would per- tates toward the moon; in France the haps have been less popular in the sun exerts no influence whatever on France of Louis XV., when the Parc the ebb and flow of the ocean ; here au Cerfs was an institution, and it performs a quarter of the work. mistresses dominated the government; According to the Cartesian, everything but in seeking popularity by adapt- is performed by impulsion, of which ing his genius to a corrupt state of we can form no definite conception ; society, he has lost that of all the according to Newton it is attraction, future ages. Such in a progressive the cause of which we are equally world and social state is the penalty ignorant, which regulates the motion which the greatest writers must of the spheres. In Paris the earth pay for mingling license with the is shaped like a melon ; here, instead brightest intellectual products of of its figure being oblique, it is flatsatire, truth, beauty even ; thus they tened and oblate ; and while the one lose half their fame, and wholly believes that light exists in the air, tarnish their immortality. To put the other demonstrates that it comes divine imagination to such an use is to us from the sun in six minutes and as though some power
should constrain a half. Finally, while the chemistry an angel to portrait vice in the attrac- of France is wholly performed by alkative colours which the conscience of lies, acids, and subtle matter, in Great art should lavish on virtue alone. Britain it is attraction only which
Voltaire's residence in England pro- causes chemical phenomena,” &c. &e. duced several important results on his In the chapter on the English Nation career as a writer, as a dramatist, he euologises the free spirit of that poet, and philosopher. While there people, and contrasting the empire he lived in the most cultivated society with that of ancient Rome, points out of the day, that of the wits, poets, and that while the civil wars of the latter philosophic freethinkers — of Pope, ended in slavery, those of the EngBolingbroke, Tolland, &c., and made lish terminated in liberty. an effective study of its literature and The acquaintance which Voltaire science, the earliest result of which gained of the works of Shakspeare was his Letters on the English Nation, during his life in England, produced a work in which he first introduced as marked an effect on his dramatic, the intellect of England—the sys- as his study of English philosophy, tems of Bacon, Lock, and Newton--to science, and government on his philothe notice of the French people. sophic and political career. EveryWhile intended to amuse and instruct, where in his letters, literary miscelthe ideas and general tone of many of lanies, and dramatic commentaries, those compositions, are as noble as he regards Shakspeare as a surpassing their purpose. It is that of an avatar genius; but, in virtue of the only of light acquainting one people with code of criticism with which Europe the intellectual triumphs of the other; was then acquainted, that of Boileau and though his sceptical spirit is oc- --one, of course, of a barbaric order. casionally evidenced in his remarks The proof, however, that he felt an on particular sects, he everywhere admiration greater than he expressed, evinces the highest admiration for the is to be found in the fact, that in free institutions of the country. several of his dramas he has endea
As an instance of his lively style, voured to imitate Shakspeare ; and, take the commencement of the chap- indeed, apart from the leading politer, in which he contrasts the ce tical and humanitarian principles and of Descartes with the contemporary spirit which he manifested in his best England of Newton :-"A French- tragedies, whatever original concepman,” he says, “who arrives in Lon- tive vigour they possess, must be don, will find all things greatly exclusively attributed to the imitachanged here. In the France he has tive spirit referred to. left the world is considered as a It was the influence of Shakspeare plenum, here he finds it a vacuum. that attracted his genius from the