Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

its own subalterns, imagined nothing was due to an undignified citizen, although the greatest man of literature the nation possessed, and kept silence.

Voltaire was desirous of taking those means to revenge offended honour which the manners of modern nations have authorised, but which their laws have proscribed. The Bastile, and, at the end of six months, an order to quit Paris, were the punishment of his first step. The Cardinal de Fleury had not so much policy as even to denote the slightest mark of dissatisfaction against the aggressor. Thus, when men are unprotected by the laws, they are punished by arbitrary power for seeking that Tevenge, which the want of protection renders legal, and which is prescribed as necessary to the principles of honour. We venture to believe that the rights of man will be more respected in our times, that the laws will not remain impotent from any ridiculous prejudice of birth, and that, when any quarrel shall happen between two citizens, no minister will deprive him who received the first offence of his freedom.

Voltaire made a secret journey to Paris, but to no effect. He there met with more than one adversary, who disposed at pleasure of judicial power and ministerial authority, and who could safely effect his ruin. He buried himself in retirement, and disdained longer to seek revenge; or, rather, revenged himself by overwhelming his enemy with the weight of his increasing fame; and forcing him to hear the name, which he wished to degrade, incessantly repeated with acclamation throughout all Europe.

England was his place of refuge. Newton was no more; but his spirit was infused into his countrymen, whom he had taught to trust to experiment and calculation only in the study of nature. Locke, whose death was likewise recent, had been the first to give the theory of the human understanding founded on experience, and to show the path which may safety be followed in metaphysical pursuits.

In France, meantime, the men of most understanding were labouring to substitute the hypothesis of Descartes, for the absurdities of scholastic philosophy. Any thesis, in which either the system of Copernicus or that of the Vortices, was maintained, was a victory over prejudice. Innate ideas, in the eyes of the devout, were become almost an article of faith ; though they had at first been supposed heretical. Malebranche, whom men imagined they understood, was the philosopher in fashion. He was supposed a freethinker who allowed himself to regard the existence of the five propositions, in the unintelligible book of “ Jansenius," as a thing in which the happiness of the human race was not concerned, or who had the temerity to read “ Bayle,” without the permission of a doctor in divinity:

This contrast could not but excite the enthusiasm of a man who, like Voltaire, had from his infancy shaken off prejudice; and from this moment he felt himself called to be the destroyer of prejudice of every kind, of which his country was the slave.

The tragedy of “ Brutus," was the first fruits of his journey to England.

The French theatre had not, since Cinna, breathed the haughty accents of freedom; and they had, there, been smothered by those of revenge. In “ Brutus," the strength of Corneille was discovered with additional pomp and splendour, combined with that simplicity which Corneille wanted, and the uniform elegance of Racine. Never were the rights of an oppressed people displayed with greater power, eloquence, and even precision, than in the second scene of “ Brutus." The fifth act is equally remarkable for its pathos. The poet has been reproached for having made love a part of a subject so awful and terrible, and particularly love, which is deficient in interest ; but, had the motive of Titus been any other than love, he would have been debased, the severity of Brutus would not then have rens

[ocr errors]

the hearts of the spectators; and, had love been rendered too pathetic, it would sud bare been to be feared that love would have destroyed the cause of liberty. It was

after this piece had been acted that Fontenelle told Voltaire, “ He did not think bis genigs proper for tragedy, and that his style was too bold, pompous, and splendid.” "If so," replied Voltaire, “ I will go and read your pastorals.

He supposed, at this time, he might aspire to a place in the French academy ; and he might well have been thought modest to have waited so long. But he had not so much as the honour of dividing the votes of the academicians. The fat De Bose pronounced, in a dictatorial tone, that Voltaire should never be one of their taited members.

This De Bose, whose name is now forgotten, was one of those men who, with lite mind and not too much knowledge, obtain admission among men of rank and pove, ud succeed precisely because they neither have the wit to inspire fear, nor to bumble the self-love of those who seek the reputation of patronising men of letter. De Bose was become a person of importance. He exercised the office of inspector of new publications; which is a usurpation on the part of the magistrate ter men of letters, to whom the avidity of the rich and the powerful have left no employments but those whose execution requires the exertion of knowledge and

After Brutus," Voltaire wrote the “Death of Cæsar;" a subject which had previously been chosen by Shakspere, some scenes of whom he imitated and embeltislized. The tragedy was not played till several years had elapsed, and then in Indege ; be durst not risk a piece on the stage, destitute of love and of women, and which was likewise a tragedy in three acts : for it is not the most trifling inbotatoes which excite the least clamour among the enemies of novelty; little things Descarily impress themselves on little minds. Still, however, a bold, noble, and frantire

, yet natural style, sentiments worthy of the conqueror of the freest people greenh, and that force and grandeur of character and deep thought, which pervade te leguage of these last Romans, could not but be feli by spectators capable of Lixotering such merit, and men whose hearts and minds were related to these great pennages, as well as by those who might love history, and such young minds as a the course of education had lately been occupied by similar objects.

The " Death of Cæsar” was not allowed to be printed : the republican sentipetits it contained were attributed as crimes to the author. This was a ridiculous puputation ; each character spoke his own language; and Brutus was not more the ber than Cæsar; the poet, treating an historical subject, drew his portraits after bisars

, with strict impartiality. But, under the government of the Cardinal de Faury

, which was at once tyranical and pusillanimous, the language of slavery alone could appear to be innocent. Who could, at present, suppose that the eulogy on the death of Mademoiselle le Courreur could have been made a subject of serious persecution, and have obliged Voltaire to quit the metropolis, where he knew that absence would fortunately cause

I things to be forgotten, and even the frenzy of persecution? It is a singular i faality, that in a country in which the dramatic art'has been carried to the highest

degree of perfection, the actors, to whom the public are indebted for the noblest of their pleasures, should be condemned by religion, and shunned from the most ridiThese prejudices Voltaire strongly opposed. Indignant to behold an actress, who had long been the object of enthusiastic applause, after being carried off by a redden and cruel death, deprived of the rites of burial, because in a state of excomserication, be loadly reproached a frivolous nation which with cowardice bent the

clous of prejudices.

[ocr errors]

1

the rising generation of sixty years have continued to supply, and who often he' molested his long and glorious career. The following celebrated lines

Nos pretres ne sont pas ce qu'un vain peuple pense

Notre credulite fait toute leur science.

[Our priests are not what the foolish people suppose ; their whole knowledge derived from our credulity.]-were the first signal of a war, which not event death of Voltaire could extinguish.

At one of the representations of “Edipus,” Voltaire appeared on the stag bearing up the train of the high priest. The Marchioness de Villars asked who w that young man who wished the piece might be condemned ; she was told it was t! author. This thoughtless act, which spoke a man so superior to the trifli anxieties of self-love, made the marchioness desirous of his acquaintance. Voltai being admitted her visitor, conceived a passion for her-the first and the me serious he ever felt. He was unsuccessful; and was for a considerable time divert from study, which had already become necessary to his existence. He never afte wards mentioned this subject but with a sensation of regret, and almost of remor

Having freed himself from his passion, he continued the “ Henriade," and wrc the tragedy of “ Artémire.” The public, who had done justice to “Edipus,” w (to say the least) severe to “ Artémire.” This is a common consequence of succes nor is secret aversion for acknowledged superiority the only cause, though tł aversion has the art to profit by a natural feeling which renders us niore difficult be pleased in proportion as we have more to hope.

This tragedy was of no other value to Voltaire than that of obtaining permissi for him to return to Paris, whence he had been banished by his intimacy with enemies of the regent, and among others with the Duke de Richelieu and famous Baron de Gortz. Thus did this ambitious man, whose vast projects cluded all Europe, and threatened to overturn its governments, choose a you poet for his friend and almost for his confident. Men of genius seek for, and once know each other; they have a common language, which they alone can spe and understand.

In 1722, Voltaire accompanied Madame de Rupelmonde into Holland. was desirous, at Brussels, of being acq&ainted with Jean Baptiste Rousseau, wh misfortunes he pitied, and whose poetic talent he esteemed. Voltaire consul him on his poem on the “ League ;” and read his epistle to Urania to bim, writ for Madame de Rupelmonde. This poem was the first monument of his freedom thinking, and of his talent of treating on moral and metaphysical subjects in ve and of rendering them popular.

Rousseau, on his part, read an “Ode addressed to Posterity," which Volta as it is pretended, then told him would never arrive at the place to which it addressed. He likewise read the “ Judgment of Pluto," which was as quic forgotten as the ode. The two poets parted irreconcilable foes. Rousseau viole attacked Voltaire, who continued patiently to suffer during fifteen years. I astonishing to think that the author of so many licentious epigrams, in which clergy were continually made the subject of ridicule and opprobrium, sho seriously assign the thoughtless behaviour of Voltaire during mass and his “ to Urania," as the cause of his hatred. But Rousseau had assumed the mas devotion, which was then an honourable asylum for such as had suffered in world's opinion: a safe and commodious asylum which philosophy, among other evils of which it is accused, has unfortunately, for hypocrites, eterna closed.

Epi ke 194. Voltaire presented the world with “ Mariamne,” which was but “ Arté***ader new names

, bu! with a less complicated and less romantic fable. It en in the very style of Racine, and was forty times performed. In his Pet the author opposed the opinion of La Motte, who, possessed of much atenteding and reason, but little sensible of the charms of harmony, discovered under ment in versification than that of difficulties overcome ; nor anything more z bormal custom, in poetry, invented to ease the memory,

and to which habit en ned subated charms. In his letters, printed at the end of “ Edipus," he i bine combatted the opinions of the same poet, who regarded the observance de demities as another prejudice. Sous le same time, the “Henriade" appeared under the name of the “League:” spreket

copy, stolen from the author, was clandestinely printed, in which there

cely parts omitted, but some vacancies were supplied. Du Inace was at length possessed of an epic poem.

It must be regretted, de date

, the Voltaire the fables of whose tragedies are so full of action, who ents the passions speak a language so natural and so true, and

who could post w effectually as well by analysing their sentiments as by their sudden stone should not have displayed in the “ Henriade,” those talents which te bene vere combined in the same man to so great a degree. Yet, a subject

bow and so recent, gave but little room for the imagination of the poet. le pony and persecuting spirit of fanaticism, exercising itself on subaltern teater, could excite little more than horror.

The chiefs of the league were by an ambition which hypocrisy debased.

The hero of the poem, brave

, and humane, but conúnually subject to misfortune which alighted is done, could interest only by his courage and his clemency. Nor was it robie that the unnatural conversion of Henry IV. should form an heroic catas

though the “ Henriade,” in pathos, variety, and action, be inferior to those yems which were then in possession of universal admiration, yet by how many fait red so true, embellished by verses more sublime or more affecting. What se poem presents to us characters drawn with greater strength and dignity, and cantorence to historical fact? What other contains morality more pure,

more enlightened, or is more free from the errors of prejudice and vulgar

Whether the poet causes his characters to act of speak, whether he peratus te crimes of fanaticism, or the charms and the dangers of love, whether he

ayat his hearer to the field of battle, or into that heaven which he himself entzu be s everywhere a philosopher, and is everywhere deeply intent on probebeid mesh sublimely rise, and always painted in the most splendid and purest De Herinde," “Edipus,” and “ Mariamne," had placed Voltaire much there be tratemporaries; and seemed to secure a life of fame, when his repose w troubled by a fatal accident. He had returned a satirical answer to some eng Voltaire to be insulted by hit servants without endangering his personal the lead; did the Duke de Sully deine to show any resentment; being, no e the outrage was committed at the rate of the Hotel de Sully, where he beda, prvaded that the descendants of the Franks had preserved the right of life wadud har las misdemeanours to be punished when committed against one ot

a great the Gauls. Justice remained mute; the parliament of Paris, which

its own subalterns, imagined nothing was due to an undignified citizen, altho the greatest man of literature the nation possessed, and kept silence.

Voltaire was desirous of taking those means to revenge offended honour wl the manners of modern nations have authorised, but which their laws have 1 scribed. The Bastile, and, at the end of six months, an order to quit Paris, the punishment of his first step. The Cardinal de Fleury had not so much po as even to denote the slightest mark of dissatisfaction against the aggressor. Th when men are unprotected by the laws, they are punished by arbitrary power seeking that revenge, which the want of protection renders legal, and which is p scribed as necessary to the principles of honour. We venture to believe that rights of man will be more respected in our times, that the laws will not rem impotent from any ridiculous prejudice of birth, and that, when any quarrel st happen between two citizens, no minister will deprive him who received the f offence of his freedom.

Voltaire made a secret journey to Paris, but to no effect. He there met w more than one adversary, who disposed at pleasure of judicial power and minister authority, and who could safely effect his ruin. He buried himself in retireme and disdained longer to seek revenge; or, rather, revenged himself by overwhelmi his enemy with the weight of his increasing fame; and forcing him to hear t name, which he wished to degrade, incessantly repeated with acclamation throug out all Europe.

England was his place of refuge. Newton was no more ; but his spirit w infused into his countrymen, whom he had taught to trust to experiment and ce culation only in the study of nature. Locke, whose death was likewise recent, hi been the first to give the theory of the human understanding founded on experienc and to show the path which may safety be followed in metaphysical pursuits.

In France, meantime, the men of most understanding were labouring to substitu the hypothesis of Descartes, for the absurdities of scholastic philosophy. Ar thesis, in which either the system of Copernicus or that of the Vortices, was mais lained, was a victory over prejudice. Innate ideas, in the eyes of the devout, we become almost an article of faith ; though they had at first been supposed heretice Malebranche, whom men imagined they understood, was the philosopher in fashio He was supposed a freethinker who allowed himself to regard the existence of t1 five propositions, in the unintelligible book of “ Jansenius," as a thing in which tl happiness of the human race was not concerned, or who had the temerity to res “ Bayle,” without the permission of a doctor in divinity.

This contrast could not but excite the enthusiasm of a man who, like Voltair had from his infancy shaken off prejudice; and from this moment he felt hims called to be the destroyer of prejudice of every kind, of which his country was i slave.

The tragedy of “ Brutus," was the first fruits of his journey to England.

The French theatre had not, since Cinna, breathed the haughty accents of fre dom; and they had, there, been smothered by those of revenge. In “ Brutus the strength of Corneille was discovered with additional pomp and splendour, coi bined with that simplicity which Corneille wanted, and the uniform elegance Racine. Never were the rights of an oppressed people displayed with grea power, eloquence, and even precision, than in the

second scene of “ Brutus." I fifth act is equally remarkable for its pathos. The poet has been reproached having made love a part of a subject so awful and terrible, and particularly lo which is deficient in interest ; but, had the motive of Titus been any other th love, he would have been debased, the severity of Brutus would not then have re

« AnteriorContinuar »