« AnteriorContinuar »
Voltaire said or did, couleur de rose. It must, however, be admitted, that-in spite of her dependent and precarious circumstances, her natural wish not to offend, and the real ascendancy which such a man as Voltaire must have had over her mind-her ġood taste often leads her
• To hint a fault and hesitate dislike;' and though her language is every where scrupulously deferential, she sometimes (as in the passage just quoted) drops an expression which awakens attention to the foibles of the Idol, or the Idol's idol, though even then she takes care to disguise a little her meaning,
• How I pity (she says) this poor Nicomede (Voltaire), since he and Dorothea (Madame du Châtelet) cannot agree! Ah! my friend, there is then no happiness on earth, and we are for ever deceived by appear
We believed them the happiest couple in the world, when we saw them seldom and at a distance; but when one has gotten close to them, we find, alas ! that hell is
every where !'-p. 100. Thus the guilty paradise of these shameless adulterers, which seemed so gay, so splendid, and so luxurious, turns out, on the testimony of its own admirers and partakers, to be nothing but å hell!
The tyranny which Voltaire exercised over others, the tender Emilie exercised over him; and whatever torments of jealousy or indignation the poor Good-man may have felt, St. Lambert, Clairault, Desmarets, and many other young gentlemen who visited the house, inflicted upon Voltaire. In truth this learned lady was at least as much the votary of Venus as of Minerva, and Voltaire had no better simile to describe the succession of lovers, whose
presence he was obliged to bear, than that of one nail driving out another!' We dare not pursue this subject farther; our language cannot express, and our feelings would revolt at some of the gentillesses of this nest of deists, atheists, and strumpets.
But however little Madame de Gratigny enlivened her circumspection by touches of descriptive pleasantry or criticism in the first ten letters, we find in the eleventh, written on the 1st of January, 1739, three weeks after her arrival at Cirey, a total alteration of style; the circumspection of the former becomes à complete taciturnity; what was only cautious before is now cold; and the cold rapidly increases to an absolute frost :--no more stories, no more jokes, no more of Nicomède and Dorothea, no more even of Voltaire and Madame du Châtelet. She begins to talk of the end of her visit; she arranges her plans for going into a nunnery; she is ill of all kinds of disorders; and, in short, Cirey is become intolerable, because it is such a paradise !--they pay ker such attentions that leave them she must--the continuance of
such extatic bliss' would render it at last so painful to part, that she must go to save herself from that cruel moment of going; and then-ton Idole! ah ! ton Idole, est le meilleur des hommes ! (p. 177.)
Then we find that all the letters she receives are delayed, and when at last they arrive, they beár all the marks of having been opened, and impudently closed again with little care. This audacious cruelty, this worst violation of individual liberty, this most odious treachery, she attributes to the post-office; and, to be sure, it was a natural conjecture. The French post-office has always been proverbially and disgracefully faithless. Louis XV. knew nothing of the interior of his kingdom but by the gossip which his post-master general pilfered from the intercepted confidence of his subjects. Napoleon the Great (G– save the Emperor !) was equally curious; and the noble Lavalette, and all his predecessors in this honourable station, are said to have pandered to the tyrant's depraved appetite with the most shameless audacity.
But for once the French post-office was innocent, or, at least, was not alone guilty. Madame du Châtelet and Voltaire opened the letters of their guests; and these exalted persons—these philosophers, these disciples of Locke and Newton, these regenerators of mankind, these scourgers of tyranny, these apostles of universal liberty and toleration—amused their idleness, or solaced their vanity, or exercised their jealousy in the baseness of reading the letters of the unhappy dupes whom they betrayed into their philosophic retreat.
During the whole month of January, during nineteen short letters, Madame de Grafigny languishes in a most unaccountable way; and the eternal complaints of the irregularities of the post and of the indiscretion of her correspondent are really wearisome; at last her life becomes so miserable that she is forced to fly from this garden of Eden, and it is not till she is beyond its limits that she ventures to write her real sentiments, and then we learn (in the last letter of the Collection) the secret of her misery, and we have opened to us the whole horrors of the kind of society into which she had been inveigled; the extract will be somewhat long, but cannot be uninteresting.
'I have not dared till now, my dear friend, to allow my dreadful story to escape from my pen. I was so ill that I was afraid I was dying, and I was unwilling to leave behind me the frightful tale of the degradation which I have suffered. I am, however, better now, and by Desmarets, or some other safe hand, I shall continue to have
my letters conveyed to the post-office. Ah, the wretch! what has she not inflicted "On the 29th December, the post arrived as usual, but there were, as L 2
they said, no letters for me-supper went off as usual, and nothing announced the storm which was brewing. I went to my room, and was about to seal a letter to you when, in about half an hour, I saw-you guess who-coming in. I was extremely surprized, for he (Voltaire) never before came into my room, and least of all was he to be expected at this hour; but still more was I surprized when he exclaimed, “ that he was undone—that his life was in my hands.” Good God, I exclaimed, and how ? “ How?" he answered, “ there are an hundred copies of a canto of the Pucelle abroad. I am off this instant ; I shall fly to Holland-to the end of the world-to- not where! M. de Châtelet is going off post to Luneville. You must write to Panpan (her correspondent) to help him in recalling these copies--he cannot refuse to do that.” • I, poor simpleton, assured him that you would do all that
could to help him. Write, then, said Voltaire, write, and write with your whole heart. Willingly, I exclaimed; how happy am I to have an opportunity of shewing you my affection! and I added some words of regret at the necessity which obliged him to ask my assistance: he started up like a fury, and exclaimed, “ No prevarication, Madam ; it is you, you yourself, who have circulated it." I was astonished-1 assured him that I had never read or written a line of it.
“On the contrary,” he exclaimed, “ You copied it you sent it to Devaus, and he published it.” 1, in all the confusion of a surprize, but with all the vivacity of trutlı, denied it: he insisted with increased violence, and added that you had read it to Desmarets at an assembly-given copies to every body, and that Mde. de Châtelet had the proof all in her pocket.
• What could I say or do? I did not, as you may believe, understand what he meant, but I was not the less frightened. At last he insisted that I should sit down and write to you to send me the original, which I had sent you, and all the copies you had made. I humbly submitted, and began to write; but, as you can well conceive, I could not ask you to return what never was sent, and which, I believed, never existed : he read my letter, and threw it down in disgust. “ For shame," Madam, he cried, little honesty is at least due to a poor wretch whom you have ruined ;” and then redoubled cries, redoubled violence, till at last, as all my protestations only rendered him more intolerable, I was reduced to silence: this frightful torture lasted a full hour, but it was nothing; it was reserved to the lady to make it still more frightful. She rushed in, screaming like a Fury, upbraiding me in the same way, which I received in the same silence; at last she pulled a letter out of her pocket, and, stuffing it almost into my mouth, “There,” said she, “there is the proof of your infamy; you are the most abandoned of creatures ; you are a monster that I received here, not out of regard, for I never had any, but out of pity, because you did not know where else to go, and you have had the infamy to betray us—to stab us—to steal from my desk a work, to copy it, to circulate it.” Ah, my poor friend, where were you?-a thunderbolt would have astonished me less. That's all I remember of the flood of abuse with which she overwhelmed me.
I was so lost that I could neither see nor hear, but she said a thousand things worse, and, but for Voltaire, she would have beaten me whe seized her round the waist, and dragged her away froin me; for all this was said with fists clenched in my face, ready at every word to strike me. But in vain would he drag her away; she returned whenever she could get loose, screaming against my infamy-my infamous treachery, and all this in the hearing of my servant. I was a great while without being able to speak; at last I begged to see the letter—"you shan't have it," she screamed; but at length I was allowed to look at a passage of it: it was a letter of your's, in which you say, the canto of Joan is charming ; this unhappy phrase brought the whole affair to my recollection, and I remembered
innocent account of the canto which I had heard read. I told them so, and to do him justice, Voltaire believed me at once, and begged pardon for his cruel suspicion and violence. This dreadful trial lasted till five o'clock in the morning.'
We have not patience to go on with this story; the mean tricks and attempts at reconciliation, or rather oblivion, which these people played off, are even more disgusting than their original treachery and violence. The unhappy Madame de Grafigny was so poor that she had not the means of quitting the hell into which she had been betrayed; and they, afraid of exposure, were unwilling to let her go till they had secured her silence. Then came the tender Voltaire, weeping; then came the dishonoured husband, sympathising; then came the grosse dame, advising; then came the Fury equivocating; and an act of such open brutality was followed by successive scenes of the basest perfidy. At last the letter which had given rise to the unlucky answer was recalled; it proved Madame de Grafigny's innocence; it contained not a line of the poem, and only, as we have already stated, a mere outline of the plot of one canto; but it was too late—the whole mystery of iniquity was discovered—she could no longer remain amongst such devils—the word infamy stuck in her throat;' and to crown all, Desmarets made her the • tendre aveu' already quoted. The poor woman borrowed or begged a little money somewhere, and made her escape to Paris, where the liveliness of her conversation, and the ease of her manners, procured her a ready admission into society, and she became a regular blue-stocking :-publishing two or three works which were suspected not to be her own-keeping Voltaire in check by the fear of disclosing his brutality, and finally dying, much regretted by her intimates, in the year 1756, at the age of about sixty-six.
The latter half of the volume contains some unpublished letters of Voltaire, of no kind of interest. They are addressed to the President de Hainault, M. de Richelieu and M. D'Argental, in the same style of smart Aummery which characterizes the letters to these persons which are already known. We have not met in L 3
them a passage worth quoting; and as we have already given more space to this Article than the subject perhaps deserves, we are unwilling to occupy any time in dishing up again the crambe recocta’ of this verbose, vain and wearisome correspondence. Voltaire was a man of astonishing quickness, extent and versatility of talents; he had a great deal of wordly sense and of literary acuteness; and in individual cases, where his personal vanity (his ruling passion) was not compromised, he would sometimes be friendly and generous: but his total want of all principle, moral or religious; his impudent audacity; his filthy sensuality; his persecuting envy; his base adulation; his unwearied treachery; his tyranny; his cruelty; his profligacy; his hypocrisy, will render him for ever the scorn, as his unbounded powers will the wonder of mankind.
ART. VIII.- Poems, descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery. By
John Clare, a Northamptonshire Peasant. Second Edition,
cr. 8vo. London. 1820. pp. 213. WE had nearly overlooked, amidst the bulkier works which in
cessantly solicit our attention, this interesting little volume; which bears indubitable evidence of being composed altogether from the impulses of the writer's mind, as excited by external objects and internal sensations. Here are no tawdry and feeble paraphrases of former poets, no attempts at describing what the author might have become acquainted with in his limited reading: the woods, the vales, the brooks
the crimson spots
l' the bottom of a cowslip, — or the loftier phenomena of the heavens, contemplated through the alternations of hope and despondency, are the principal sources whence the youth, whose adverse circumstances and resignatio ; under them extort our sympathy, drew the faithful and vivid pictures before us.
Examples of minds, highly gifted by nature, struggling with and breaking through the bondage of adversity, are not rare in this country; but privation is not destitution; and the instance before us is, perhaps, one of the most striking, of patient and persevering talent existing and enduring in the most forlorn and seemingly hopeless condition, that literature has at any time exhibited.
Clare, the youth of whom we speak, was born at Helpstone, a village most unpoetically situated where the easternmost point of Northamptonshire indents the Lincolnshire fens. His father and mother are parish-paupers; the former, from constant exposure to the inclemency of the seasons, being prematurely de