Page images
PDF
EPUB

|

her luxurious, though less expensive, bathing-cabinet, at the Thuilleries and at Malmaison, the French re. public has paid 200,000 livres.

ORIGINAL ANECDOTES OF VOLTAIRE.

"'oi/to; tri yaXtitTiif yijwr." Msn A tint."..

•• A cunning old fox this!"

.... I Found the philosopher, relates the accomplished monk of Italy, M. Bettinelli*, to be in his conversation very like what he is in his writings. Epigrams stood upon his lips and sparkled in his eyes, which resembled two torches; in which, as well as in his discourse, the graces accompanied by malice were conspicuous. He had a particular style as well in conversing as in writing; he rarely spoke with simplicity, or like other men; and every thing that he said had either a witty or a philosophical turn. When I arrived at Delices, his then residence, he was in his garden, whither I went to him, and told him who I was. "What!" cried he, "an Italian, a Jesuit, a Bettinelli! it is too great an honour for my cottage. I am but a peasant, as you see; (showing me his staff, which

* M. Bertinelli has disclosed, in a paper to be found in Sruard't Literary Miscellanies, the particulars of a visit he paid to Voltaire, and of which the following is a fragment. The monk confesses, that though he had been repeatedly invited by the poet, he had been always fearful of complying, for that he dreaded his versatile humour and licentious principles; but t'u; he resolved on an interview with him, at the request only of Stanislaus,.king of Poland.

bad one end in a mattock form, and the other having a pruning knife fitted to it;) it is with this instrument that I set my seeds, grain by grain; but my harvest here is more abundant than that which arises from mjr books, though sown there for the good of the human race." 1 expressed the pleasure which I experienced in finding him in such health, as to be able to brave the rigour of winter. "Oh! you Italians," replied he, "think that we are obliged, like dormice, to shut ourselves up in holes; but your alps arc to us nothing more than a picture, and beautiful objects in perspective. Here, on the banks of my lake, Leman, sheltered from the north winds, I envy you not your lakes of Como and of Guarda. In this solitary retreat, I represent Catullus in his isle of Sirmio; he there composed beautiful elegies, and here I compose good georgics." At length I delivered to him the king of Poland's letter*, and I instantly perceived that he had discovered the object of my visit, and that an epigram was about to

* M. Bettinelli being at Luneville, and in the presence of the king of Poland, the conversation turned on Voltaire, who had just written to that prince, stating, that he had five hundred thousand livres, with which he was desirous of purchasing' land in Lorraine, in order that he might go to die near Marcus Aurelius. Stanislaus wished nothing more than to draw him to his court; and, as he loved the Lorrainers, he would gladly have seen expended among them the five hundred thousand livres of Voltaire. "But," said Stanislaus, "I place no confidence in him; I know he wishes to pave the way for his entrance into France; however, if he is become rational, I would see him with pleasure." As Bettinelli intended to pass near Geneva, the king desired him to sourf Voltaire, with which request the monk complied.

be directed against my royal commission. "Oh, my dear Sir!" cried he, taking the letter into his hand, "tarry with us; we breathe here the air of liberty and of immortality. I have just laid out a large sum of money in the purchase of a small estate near this place, Ferney, •where I propose to end my days, far from knaves and tyrants. But let us go into the house." These few words of the crafty old man made me comprehend, that there would be no negotiation to carry on, and stripped me at once of the honours of an ambassador

.... The conversation often turned on the king of Prussia. Voltaire had received recent information of certain achievments of that prince: "Is it possible'" said he. "This man always astonishes me; I am sorry that I ever quarrelled with him." He was accustomed to say that the king had the rapidity of Caesar, but his admiration always ended in some epigram against Caesar. He had a monkey, which he called Luke, and which name he often applied to the king of Prussia. Expressing my surprise at this, "Don't you see," said he, laughing heartily, "that he bites every one whom he comes near."

.... In one of his letters to me, after having thundered, as usual, against the inquisition and the slavery of Italy, and extolled in high terms the free government of England, he added: "have you ever heard of the poetry of the king of Prussia? He is no hypocrite: he speaks as freely of Christians'as Julian would have done. It seems likely that the Greek and Latin churches will excommunicate him with cannon balls; but he will defend himself like a devil. You and I M

are very certain he will be d—dj but we are not so sure that he will be beaten."

Sometimes Voltaire said that he was dying;

at other times, that he was beholden for his life and health to Tronchin, his physician; and, in the same moment, he would ridicule both medicine and its dispenser. Tronchin, on his side, was no way satisfied with his patient. When I told this skilful man that I was about to take my leave, he said, " You are right; it is very astonishing that, since you have been here, you have experienced from him no ill behaviour: nemo sic impar sibi. "Depart, father, few persons can boast that they have seen Voltaire so long in a good humour."

.... Helvetius had a place at court, presented his book to the royal family, and was graciously treated on the occasion. I was delighted with this news, for I knew the author, who was a mild, dispassionate man, generally beloved, but had not been deemed capable of producing such a work as that intitled 'De 1'Esprit.' The dauphin extolled it, and recommended it to the attention of the queen. The tempest, however, was not long ere it burst over the book and the author. "What folly," cried Voltaire, «' to attempt to be the philosopher at court, and the courtier among philosophers!"—Voltaire was hostile to the work, and spoke of it in these terms: "It is an unmeaning title, a work without method, with abundance of common-place and superficial observations; and what is new in it is false, or problematical." Madame Grafligny, the celebrated author of the 'Peruvian Letters, maternal aunt to Helvetius, one day addressing me, said, " Would you believe it, a great part of the work 'De 1'Esprit,' aiwJ

almost all the note*, are the mere sweepings of my apartment; he has made a collection of what was valuable in my conversation, and borrowed about a dozen ban mots from my friends? Voltaire laughed heartily while I related to him this anecdote, and recounted to me a multitude of others of the same kind, which related to the first wits at Paris; and, among others, to his own most zealous admirers. The only person of whom Voltaire spoke uniformly with esteem and enthusiasm, was Madame de Chatelet, of whom he had many portraits in his apartments. Showing me one of them, one day, he said, "behold my immortal Emily*."

...." I asked Voltaire," says a fair writer, "what be thought of M. Condorcet's eulogium on Pascal."— "It is so exquisite," said he, "that it alarms me."— "How is that, Sir?"—"Yes, Madam, if that man was «o great, we are arrant fools not think as he did. M. Condorcet would do much harm if he publishes this work in its present state: admit that Racine was a good Christian, that is not extraordinary; he was a poet, a man of imagination. But Pascal was a reasoner, and we must not have the reasoners against usf;'

• Here end the particulars of Voltaire related by Betti. nelli: we have found the following in a paper of Seward's Literary Miscellanies, intitled A Journey tit Fcrney. They are detailed by a young married lady, who had been captivated to enthusiasm by the works of the philosopher.

+ The above observation shows, in a'strong light, the pre. judiced mind of the philosopher, and is characteristic of hij

« PreviousContinue »