« PreviousContinue »
VOLTAIRE BANISHED FROM COURT.
is warmth, love, an ardent love for mankind love in itself, and not subject to certain dogmata, or conditions of religious policy. The charity of the middle ages, a slave to Theology, but too easily followed her imperious mistress; too docile, indeed, and so conciliating as to admit whatever could be tolerated by hate. What is the value of a charity which could enact the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew, fire the faggots at the stake, and organise the Inquisition?
Whilst endeavouring to divest religion of its carnal character, and to reject the doctrine of a religious incarnation, this century, at first timid in its audacity, remained for a long time carnal in its politics, and seemed anxious to respect the doctrine of a regal incarnation, and through the king, that Godman, to achieve the happiness of mankind. It is the chimera of the philosophers and economists, of such men, I mean, as Voltaire and Turgot, to accomplish the revolution by the king.
Nothing is more curious than to behold this idol disputed as it were by both parties. The philosophers pull him to the right, the priests to the left. Who will carry him off? Women. This god is a god of flesh.
The woman who secures him for twenty years, Madame de Pompadour (whose maiden name was Poisson) would like, at first, to make an ally for herself of the public, against the court. The philosophers are summoned. Voltaire writes the king's history, and poems and dramas for the king; d'Argenson is made minister; and the comptroller-general, Machault, demands a statement of ecclesiastical property. That blow awakens the clergy. The Jesuits do not waste time in arguing the point with a woman; they bring another woman to oppose her, and they triumph. But what woman? The king's own daughter. Here we want Suetonius. Such things
had never been since the days of the twelve Cæsars.
Voltaire was dismissed; and so was d'Argenson, and Machault later. Madame de Pompadour humbled herself, took the Communion, and put herself at the feet of the queen. Meanwhile, she was preparing an infamous and pitiful machine, whereby she regained and kept possession of the king till his death a seraglio, recruited by children whom they bought.
And there slowly expired Louis XV. The god of flesh abdicated every vestige of mind.
DEATH OF THE PEOPLE.
Avoiding Paris, shunning his people, ever shut up at Versailles, he finds even there too many people, too much daylight. He wants a shadowy retreat, the wood, the chace, the secret lodge of Trianon, or his convent of the Parc-aux-cerfs.
How strange and inexplicable that those amours, at least those shadows, those images of love, cannot soften his heart. He purchases the daughters of the people; by them he lives with the people; he receives their childish caresses, and assumes their language. Yet he remains the enemy of the people; hard-hearted, selfish, and unfeeling; he transforms the king into a dealer in corn, a speculator in famine.
In that soul, so dead to sentiment, one thing still remained alive the fear of dying. He was ever speaking of death, of funerals, and of the grave. He would often forebode the death of the monarchy; but provided it lasted his time, he desired no more.
In a year of scarcity (they were not uncommon then), he was hunting, as usual, in the forest of Sénart. He met a peasant carrying a bier, and inquired "whither he was conveying it? To such a place.-For a man or woman ?—A man.— What did he die of?-Hunger."
NO HOPE BUT JUSTICE.
THAT dead man is Ancient France, and that bier, the coffin of the Ancient Monarchy. Therein let us bury, and for ever, the dreams in which we once fondly trusted,-paternal royalty, the government of grace, the clemency of the monarch, and the charity of the priest; filial confidence, implicit belief in the gods here below.
That fiction of the old world, that deceitful legend, which was ever on its tongue, was to substitute love in the place of law.
If that world, almost annihilated under the title of love, wounded by charity, and heart-broken by grace, can revive, it will revive by the means of law, justice, and equity.
O blasphemy! They had opposed grace to law, love to justice. As if unjust grace could still be grace as if those
THE STATE OF WEAKNESS OF MORAL LIFE.
things which our weakness divides, were not two aspects of the same truth,-the right and the left-hand of God.
They have made justice a negative thing, which forbids, prohibits, excludes,-an obstacle to impede, and a knife to slaughter. They do not know that justice is the eye of Providence. Love, blind among us, clear-sighted in God, sees by justice a vital-absorbing glance. A prolific power is in the justice of God; whenever it touches the earth, the latter is blest, and brings forth. The sun and the dew are not enough, it must have Justice. Let her but appear, and the harvests come. Harvests of men and nations will spring up, put forth, and flourish in the sunshine of equity.
A day of justice, one single day, which is called the Revolution, produced ten millions of men.
But how far off? Did it appear, in the middle of the eighteenth century, remote and impossible? Of what materials shall I compose it? all is perishing around me. To build, I should want stones, lime, and cement; and I am empty-handed. The two saviours of this people-the priest and the king—have destroyed them, beyond the possibility of restoration. Feudal life and municipal life are no more,--both swallowed up in royalty. Religious life became extinct with the clergy. Alas! not even a local legend or national tradition remains:—no more of those happy prejudices which constitute the life of an infant people. They have destroyed everything, even popular delusions. Behold them now stripped and empty,-tabula rasa; the future must write as best it may.
O, pure spirit, last inhabitant of that destroyed world; universal heir of all those extinct powers, how wilt thou guide us to the only bestower of life? How wilt thou restore to us Justice and the idea of Right?
Here, thou beholdest nothing but stumbling-blocks, old ruins, that one must pull down, crumble to powder, and neglect. Nothing is standing, nothing living. Do what thou wilt, thou wilt have at least the consolation of having destroyed only that which was already dead.
The working of the pure spirit is even that of God-the art of God is its art. Its construction is too profoundly harmonious within, to appear so without. Seek not here the straight lines and the angles, the stiff regularity of your buildings of
BUFFON, DIDEROT. THE THREE FIGURES OF RIGHT.
stone and marble. In a living organisation, harmony of a far superior strength is ever deeply seated within.
First, let this new world have material life; let us give it for a beginning, for a first foundation, the colossal Histoire Naturelle: let us put order in Nature; for her order is justice.
But order is as yet impossible. From the bosom of Nature, -glowing, boiling, as when Etna awakes,-flames forth an immense volcano.† Every science and every art bursts forth. The eruption over, a mass remains,—an enormous mass mingled with dross and gold: the Encyclopédie.
Behold two ages of the young world,-two days of the creation. Order is wanting, and so is Unity. Let us make man, the unity of the world, and with him let Order come, and with her, the Divinity whose advent we expect, the long-desired majesty of Divine Justice.
Man appears under three figures: Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau, three interpreters of the Just and Right.
Let us note law; let us seek law; perhaps we may yet find it in some corner of the globe. There may perhaps be some clime favourable for justice,--some better land which naturally. yields the fruit of equity. The traveller, the inquirer, who pursues it through the earth, is the calm, majestic Montesquieu. But justice flies before him; it remains relative and moveable; law, in his estimation, is a relation,-merely abstract, and inanimate; it is not endowed with vitality.‡
Montesquieu may be resigned to this result; but not so Voltaire. Voltaire is the one who suffers, who has taken upon him all the agony of mankind, who feels and hunts out every iniquity. All the ills that fanaticism and tyranny have ever inflicted upon the world, have been inflicted upon Voltaire. It was he, the martyr, the universal victim, whom they slaughtered in their Saint Bartholomew, whom they buried in the mines of the new
Buffon; the first volume, 1748. See the edition of MM. GeoffroySaint-Hilaire.
Diderot, who published the two first volumes of the Encyclopédie in 1751. M. Génin has just written an article on him, which everybody will find witty, brilliant, full of amusement, charming. I find it penetrating; it goes to the very marrow of the subject.
Montesquieu's Esprit des Lois appeared in 1748. I shall frequently have occasion to explain how very little that great genius possessed the perception of Right. He is, unwittingly, the founder of our absurd English school.
MONTESQUIEU, VOLTAIRE, ROUSSEAU.
world, whom they burned at Seville, whom the parliament of Toulouse broke on the wheel with Calas.-He weeps, he laughs, in his agony, a terrible laugh, at which the bastilles of tyrants and the temples of the Pharisees fall to the ground.*
And down fell at the same time all those petty barriers within which every church intrenched itself, calling itself universal, and wishing to destroy all others. They fall before Voltaire, to make room for the human church, for that catholic church which will receive and contain them all in justice and in peace.
Voltaire is the witness of Right,-its apostle and its martyr. He has settled the old question put from the origin of the world: Is there religion without justice, without humanity?
THE THREE MASTER MINDS.
MONTESQUIEU is the writer, the interpreter of Right; Voltaire and clamours for it; and Rousseau founds it.
It was a grand moment, which found Voltaire overwhelmed by a new calamity, the disaster of Lisbon; when, blinded by tears, and doubting Heaven, Rousseau comforted him, restored God to him, and upon the ruins of the world proclaimed the existence of Providence.
Far more than Lisbon, it is the world which is tumbling to pieces. Religion and the State, morals and laws, everything is perishing. And where is the family? Where is love?—even the child-the future? Oh! what must we think of a world wherein even maternal love is perishing?
And is it thou, poor, ignorant, lonely, abandoned workman, hated by the philosophers and detested by the clergy, sick in the depth of winter, dying upon the snow, in thy unprotected. pavilion of Montmorenci, who art willing to resist alone, and to write (though the ink freezes in thy pen) to protest against death!
* Read, on Voltaire, four pages, stamped with the seal of genius, which no man of mere talent could ever have written.-Quinet, Ultramontanism.-(See my translation of this book, Roman Church and Modern Soviety, pp. 117, 118, 119, 120. Chapman: London 1845, C.C.)