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ART. XI. 1972 de l'olzire, &c. i. e. The Lifc of Voltaire, accom
panied with Anecdotes relative to his private Life: <By T. J.
D). V..... 8vo. pp. 480. Paris. 1797 } T was an observation made by Voltaire, (and it has been 'fre
quently repeated,) that the life of a man of letters is to be sought only in his productions. This remark is in general true, but does not apply so strictly to Voltaire as to others. The transactions of his life were so numerous and chequered ; his time was passed with so many personages of distinction, and in such various countries; his talents were exerted on such dif-, ferent occasions; and his opinions had such an influence on the sentiments of others; that he should be considered as a public character.' The author of the present work has represented him in this light: but, in addition, and forming as we conceive the most valuable part of the publication, he has also given the private life of this most extraordinary man. He says:
J'ai considéré deux hommes en Voltaire, l'homme public et l'homme privé. Je présente d'abord l'homme public ; on le verra infatigable en nnnoncant aux hommes P'évangile de la Raison ; on verra chaque ucte de son apostolat suivi d'une persécution.'
Many of those writings, which are here designated under the improper term of L'Evangile de la Raison, were injurious to the morality and religion of mankind, and had their total overthrow in view. That such productions and such writers should meet with censure gives us pleasure, because it proves that we are alive to the sentiments and suggestions of virtue.--The biographer proceeds:
• Pour connaitre l'homme privé, j'ai du aller le chercher dans l'intérieur de sa maison, l'étudier, si j'ose le dire, en robe-de-chambre; le voir dans son cabinet, à table, à la promenade, au jeu ; s'entretenant soit avec ses amis, soie
fáchant tour-à-tour, s'emportant, et se calmant. Le caractère d'un homme toujours en représentation n'est jamais bien connu ; il ne peut l'être que par l'examen de ses rapports sociaux, ou de ses actions domestiques. Cette recherche m'a procuré une masse d'anecdotes aussi singuee lières que piquantes. Je les ai réunics en un petit compedium, et je l'ai joint à cet ouvrage.
" Ainsi, pour montrer Voltaire dans toutes les positions, j'ai ajouté à sa vie publique, l'intéressant abrégé de sa vie privée
. Dans la première de ces deux vics, on verra le Grand komme, et dans la seconde on verra le Bon homme.
From this extract, which we have preferred to give in the author's own words, our readers may easily collect the plan of the work; and at the same time they may perceive the favourable sentiments which the writer entertains respecting the subject of his biography. It is impossible to deny to Voltaire the praise of an illustrious and distinguished character, le Grand
avec ses vassaux ; se
bomme : but it is equally impossible to bestow upon him the greater and more valuable praise of a VIRTUOUS man.
This volume, we are informed, was in a great measure prepared by the author when he was in the Bastille ; and the first part of it appeared in an unfinished state, in the year 1786. It was translated into English, and generally attributed to the Marquis de Villette, who married Voltaire's adopted daughter, Mademoiselle de Varicourt, whom he distinguished by the pleasing appellation of Belle et Bonne. In our account of the translation, in the seventy-eighth volume of the M. R. p. 12, we expressed our doubts of the Marquis de Villette being the author; and we felt a reluctance at yielding up such a man as the Marquis to the proselytes and admirers of Voltaire, as a pupil, in matters of religion, of so unworthy a master, without being compelled by unequivocal testimony. What was then doubt ful has since been decided, for the work is acknowleged to be the production of the late Abbé du V-; we believe, du Vernet, from some circumstances in the preface. The writer, whoever he may be, here appears to be not only an enthusiastic admirer of the abilities of Voltaire; but a professed disciple and approver of all his tenets. By this partiality, we are precluded from expecting an unbiassed account, where such a representation would place the object in an unfavourable point of view. We were sorry, but not surprised, therefore, to find that, in relating the disagreement which took place at the Prussian court, between its Sovereign and the admired French wit, the whole of the censure belonging to the transaction is heaped on the king, and Voltaire is represented as blameless and ill-treated. His merits as a writer are frequently estimated with justness and ability: but still, in too many instances, the overweening fondness of the friend appears, instead of the candour and rigid justice of the critic. The account of his reception at Paris in the year 1778, when he was crowned with laurel in a crowded theatre, and distinguished by the public with the strongest marks of enthusiastic delight, is curious and interesting.
When the triumph was closed, he thanked the populace in these remarkable words:
Aprés tant d'honneurs, il ne me reste plus qu'à mourir.” We cannot, however, coincide in the observation of the author, with which be closes this extraordinary scene : seventy years employed in entertaining, reproving, instructing, and defending mankind, fully justify the enthusiasm which appeared on that triumphal day.
As on the former occasion we accompanied this writer in a great part of his narrative, we shall now resume our account at the period at which we then relinquished it.-After having
related that it was with considerable difficulty, and after some dispute between the men of letters and the clergy, that the body of Voltaire was deposited in the cemetery of the monastery of Sellieres, the author proceeds to enumerate the marks of distinction with which the philosopher's memory was honoured by the Empress of Russia and Frederic the Second. The Prussian monarch ordered a bust of this extraordinary man, which was executed by Houdon; and his majesty composed ani Eloge, which, notwithstanding some few inaccuracies, is worthy of perusal: he also ordered religious honours to be paid to him in the Catholic church at Berliv.-These attentions on the part of the king form a striking contrast with the conduct of Voltaire's countrymen on this occasion. The journalists were prevented from oticing his death, literary men from making his eloge, and the actors from performing his dramatic compositions. Even the Academy was desired to omit the funeral service which was constantly performed on the death of every Academician; and the family of Voltaire was refused permission to erect a monument over his grave. Maurepas is said to have been the author of these disgraceful insults :- he had long been the open hatterer but secret enemy of Voltuire. Indeed, to such an excess did the hatred and indignation of the clergy rise against this eneiny of their order, that they designed to dig up and expose his remains; and nothing prevented them but the advice of the lawyers, whom they consulted on the occasion, and who warned them of the danger of the attempt.The period was fast approaching, however, when these disa graces were to be succeeded and compensated by the most extravagant honours ;-lonours which nearly resembled those of antient adoration and worship; and such as in the moderni world had never been shewn to any individual, however elevated his rank, however distinguished his abilities, and however extensive his usefulness.
The revolution of France had been foreseen by Voltaire, and certainly was accelerated by his writings. In a letter to the: Marquis de Chauvelir, dated in 1764, we find the following remarkable passage:
• Whichever way I look, I observe signs of a revolution which must infallibly take place, but which I shall not have the satisfaction of witnessing. The French people are slow in their progress, but that progress is certain. Their minds are so enlightened with knowlege, that it will burst forth on the first opportunity, and then there will be a brilliant display! – then the youth will be baappy! then they. will see glorious events !”
"The whole transaction of the removalof Piltaire's body from the cemetery at Sellieres, to the Pantheon at Paris, (in 1791, is
not to be paralleled, we believe, in the history of any country; and it is a strong proof, among many others, of the enthusiasta with which the minds of this singular people can be actuated ;their feelings are never tempered by moderation, nor regulated by propriety, but are at all times impetuous and excessive. The author concludes his account of this magnificent ceremony, and of the public life of Voltaire, with the following passage :
· Thus the remains of Voltaire rest in peace, in a temple which a grateful country has dedicated to the reception of her esalted characters; and his heart, the source of all his great, honourable, good, and elevated actions, reposes at Ferney in the aparta.ent of his adopted* daughter, the last object of his dearest and purest love!
No literary character, in modern times, has been engaged in such a variety of transactions, or has experienced such a change of fortune, as Voltaire. At one period honoured and courted by princes, at another banished from his country, and compelled to seek refuge in a foreign land; at one time insulted, calu ed, and envied by those in power, detested by the clergy, and persecuted by the magistrate ; at another time, we see him admired by every nation in Europe, loved and adored in his own province, and before his death crowned in a public theatre in Paris !
To the retirement of private life, it is both useful and pleasant to accompany such a man ; to see him in déshabille; in the midst of his friends, his neighbours, and his domestics. He is represented by his present biographer as of an irritable temper, but easily pacified; and willing, when he had recovered his equanimity, to make every compensation in his power for the pain which he had inflicted.- On such occasions he would say, “ pardon me, my friends, I am more to be pitied than you ; it is not blood, it is vitriol, which flows in my veins.” In his friendships, he was warm and constant ; his resentments were quick, violent, and short-lived.-In a moment of passion, he tore in pieces with his teeth a page of a volume of Freron, in which he was abused: but afterward, recollecting himself, he observed with a smile that, “ at his age, he ought no longer to act like a child."
Voltaire was extremely opulent: but he was fond of employ. ing his wealth in the service and gratification of others; and, when an opportunity of benefiting a worthy character presented itself, he seized it with alacrity :-" take a carriage," said he one day to his treasurer, “ hasten to M. Pitot, he is a good man; he is a literary man ; and he is unfortunate, Take him,
• Bl: et Bonni.
from me, twenty-five Louis d'ors. To do good is enjoyment: then let us enjoy ourselves.”_On another occasion, when the numerous creditors of M. D'Estaing had levied an execution on his goods and lands, Voltaire, who was also a creditor, refused to join with them in their harsh proceeding, but he paid them their demands, and visited M. D’Estaing, who had considered himself as a ruined man: “ You are, (said Voltaire,) and shall always be, master here; you have now but one creditor, and he entreats you to continue to enjoy your property in peace.” Such conduct naturally produced on the part of D’Estuing an attachment to his benefactor, which ended but with his existence. The biographer, indeed, persists in representing Voltaire (notwithstanding that the public opinion is otherwise) as a generous character, and one who practised his generosity with elegance and grace; considering the manner in which an obligation was to be conferred as equally essential, in some instances, with the benefit itself.--A young officer had passed several days with him at Ferney; while want of money alone prevented him from joining his regiment. Voltaire, suspecting his embarrassment, said to him: “ You are returning to your regiment,--permit one of my horses, which I wish to have trained, to accompany you ;” and, putting a purse into his hand, he added, " I request you to take care of him on his journey."
Such acts of benevolence, generosity, and good-will, it is pleasant to record. In the present instance, they compensate, in some measure, for the malignity which seems to have formed a part of the character of this singular man: though, in the course of a long life, as his biographer assert3, he was not guilty of a single act of premeditated severity or injustice.
Some curious and entertaining particulars of his attachment to Emilie de Bréteuil are here recorded. They lived together for learly twenty years; and, though they often quarrelled, they were as constantly reconciled; for habit and affection rendered their mutual society absolutely necessary to their existence. The lady, who was fond both of study and of fame, forgave the philosopher his violent and tremendous fits of anger; and le, in return, overlooked her caprices and her numerous infi. delities. Though she was attached to literary pursuits, they constituted in her only a secondary passion; the love of gallantry and of play had dominion over her; and the inimitable French wit was frequently the dupe of the one, and a suiferer in his pecuniary concerns by the other. The celebrated Clairaut, who assisted her in her commentary on Newton, was admitted to an intimacy with her, which contributed more to the enjoyment than to the reputation of his life. - The grief of Voltaire, on the loss of his mistress, who died suddenly after a APP. Rey. VOL. XXIX. Oo