Page images
PDF
EPUB

from the time of their personal commerce, was not much more | permanent than its principles were respectable. Accordingly,

on their entrance on an epiftolary correspondence, the elderly s poet addresses himself to the young monarch (who professedly e chose him for his faithful Mentor and guide) in the following manner :

The pretended interpreters of the laws of heaven, I mean the divines or theologians, are the most dangerous of all.” [He had been speaking of the courtiers and the learned.] • They are as pernicious in society as they are obscure in their ideas: their souls are inflated with gall and pride, in proportion as they are void of truth and knowlege. They would involve the world in confusion and calamity for

the lake of a sophism ; and are ever ready to call on princes and * sovereigns to avenge, by fire and sword, the honour of a syllogism in

Ferio or in Barbara. All thinking beings, who are not of their opi

nion, are pronounced atheists; and every king, who does not diftina guish them by his favour, is devoted to damnation. The best is, to

leave to themselves, these nominal preceptors, who, in effect, are the real enemies of mankind.'

This candid and charitable sketch of Gallo-pbilosophical paintings is graciously received by the prince, and is, in his anTwer, wrought up with new lines and high colouring, into a finished picture. After celebrating the sublime and disinterested virtue of the poet, and exalting him above Solon, Lycurgus, and all other lawgivers, the prince fits down to his picture of the divines, and draws them thus:

• They are all alike, in all religions, and in all countries. Their great object is to usurp a despotic authority over the consciences of men; and this leads them to perfecute, with ardour, all thole, who, with a noble intrepidity, dare to unveil truth. Their hands are armed with the thunder of excommunication, to crufin the phantom of irreligion, which they are always combating, as they pretend; while, in effect, they are only combating, under this name, the enemies of their fury and their insolence. They preach humility, but this is a virtue which they never practise. They call themselves the ministers of the God of peace; but they serve him with hearts full of hatred and ambition. Their conduct is so little conformable to their precepts, that this alone would be sufficient to throw discredit on their doctrine,'

This method of incorporating all the minifters of religion into one portrait, puts us in mind of the famous bed of the tyrant, which was made to accommodate every stranger in a way well known; and more especially of the saying of a Ronan emperor, who wilhed that all the people of Rome had but one head that he might ftrike it off at a single blow. It would not be fair to contider all censures of the clergy as proofs of disaffe&tion to religion, though general cenfures afford a very strong presumption of such disaffection. But, in the case before us, there is no room to doubt of the motive, that guided the pencil in the two portraits above mentioned Christianity was

not

[ocr errors]

not only disbelieved, but was moreover an obje&t of hatred both to the prince and his brother-poet and lawgiver ; and it is personified, in this correspondence, in a variety of places, under the denomination of the infamous ; - an amazing epithet, indeed, which shews that if there is a fine frenzy in a poetic genius, there is a hideous one in bad philosophy. But to proceed : : The friendship of the two illustrious correspondents bad bitherto been nourilhed only by an epistolary intercourse. It was a connexion founded on paper-credit, which sometimes proves fallacious. The sublime morality of the Henriade, the loud cries against superstition and intolerance, with which Voltaire bad charmed the ears of humanity and justice, and consequently those of the Pruffian hero, rendered the latter impatient to enjoy the pleasure of personal intercourse with this prodigy of universal virtue. Accordingly, he was invited to Berlin, lodged in the king's palace, and fed at his table. He had been but a fhort time in this splendid situation, when personal acquaintance and the public voice drew from the king the following teftimony to bis merit, in a letter from his majesty to his secretary D'Arget, dated in the month of June 1752:- Voltaire has bebaved here (at Ber. lin) like an arrant scoundrel and a consummate knave. I have taken him roundly to talk. He is a worthless wretch! I am alhamed for the honour of human nature, that a man, who has fo much wit and genius, should be so full of malevolence.' Some weeks before the date of this, the king had sent to the poet the following letter, which thews the difference between the characters of these owo men with respect to civil and social Hife.

• Sir,- (it is no longer divine Voltaire!) I was very glad to have you near my person: I esteemed your wit, your talents, and your knowlege; and I had reason to think, that, at your years

, being heartily tired of literary contentions and quarrels with authors and booksellers, you would have come hither chiefly to enjoy an agreeable shelter from the storm in a peaceful harbour. But you set out, at your very arrival, fingularly enough, by requiring that I lhould not 'employ Freron in writing for me literary news: I was so weak or complaisant as to grant your request, though it did not belong to you to decide, what persons I should appoint to serve me. You held conferences with the Ruslan minister on affairs in which you had no fort of vocation to meddle, and it was believed, that you did this in coo• fequence of a commision from me. You played the busy-body in the affairs of Madan Bentinck, which were certainly out of your line. You had a moit villainous law-suit with a Jew *, which has made a scandalous noise, and of which the whole city of Berlin is full. I have received heavy complaints of you from Dresden, for your manner of stock.jobbing in the Saxon funds, which is well known. —

* Voltaire had cheated a Jew in Berlin, in a manner that amounted to felony.

With respect to myself, I can say that there was always peace in my house, before you came among us; and I must tell you, that if intriguing and caballing be your favourite paffion, you are not here in your place. I love good-natured and peaceable people; if you can resolve to live like a philosopher, I shall still be glad to see you ; but if you give yourself up to all the intemperance of your passions, and are determined to quarrel with every body, you will do me no fort of pleasure by coming here (to Potsdam), and you may as well remain at Berlin.'—(And in the following letter) I am glad that your scandalous affair with the Jew is finished; and I hope that you will not have any more quarrels either with the old or with the New Teltament. To expose yourself to such discullions and contests, will as length imprint such a stain on your reputation, as your superior wit and talents will be unable to efface. A bookseller, Gale, an opera fiddler, a jeweller of the circumcision, are these names which ought to be seen in conflict with the name of Voltaire ?-I speak plainly, like a blunt German-it is your business to profit by the lesson.'

A rupture ensued between FREDERIC and his favourite Bard, as all the world knows. It is also universally known, that the insupportable bumour, jealousy, and avarice of. Voltaire, and, particularly, his envious aversion to Maupertuis, troubled the harmony of the select society with which the king passed his evenings at Potsdam in witty conversation, convivial pleasure, and philosophical discussion, such as it was. On the poet's retreat to Switzerland, in 1753 or 1754, the correspondence was suspended for a few years. It was renewed, in consequence of a patched-up reconciliation, in the year 1757 ; and was carried on till 1778, evidently not with fincere affection on either side, but with a multitude of polite and flattering compliments on both sides. The king, who really loved a virtuous character, could never forget the fordid obliquity which he had discovered in Voltaire; and the latter, whose spirit was implacably vindictive, could never forget the opprobrious treatment which he had deservedly received from the king. But they both diffembled; the monarch, perhaps, from an apprehension of the bard's fatirical muse; and the bard, not improbably, from a desire of being restored to his former place under the monarch's auspicious roof. There are many letters in which Voltaire complains of his disagreeable situation at Ferney; and, in a manner rather abject, laments his removal and diftance from Berlin. He even sometimes hints a desire of transplanting his Ferney colony to the Dutchy of Cleves, that he might have the consolation of living and dying, near the greatest of kings, philosophers, and men, whom he calls his Meffiah. But to all this, FREDERIC was absolutely deaf; and resolved never to encourage the approach of such a troublesome guest to his domeftic fociety: fo they went on careling one another at arm's length, to the end of their line. I

It

It must be confessed, that an amazing spirit, and an unaffe&ed flow of easy wit and humour, run through the letters of Voltaire, though written at an age when, generally speaking, fire and fancy are totally extinguished. The letters of the monarch are also brilliant; and lote much less than might be expected, br comparison. It is only when he gets into the sphere of philosophy, that he appears much inferior, even to Voltaire, in the Jine. I am a material animal (says the Royal Metaphysician), wbich is animater', organized, and thinks; whence I conclude that animated matter may think, as well as become ele&trical.' This is wonderfully luminous and decisive! But how is matter animated ? and whence does life proceed ? From heat and motion, replies our Solomon; whence we, Reviewers, conclude, that a por of boiling water may be an animated, thinking being:Ć I attribute thought or thinking (says the king, in some lines farther on) to the five senses, which nacure (who is that?) has given us ;-the knowlege or notions, which these senses impart 10 us, are imprinted on the nerves, which are their messengers These impresions, which we call memory, furnish us with ideas; the heat of the elementary fire, which keeps the blood in a pero petual agitation, awakens these ideas, and occasions imagination. In feep the nerves of the understanding are relaxed,' and so on.All this is, surely, in a great style of analysis, and is remarkable for its perfpicuity and precision !

In a word, the letters of this correspondence, taken together, form a strange medley, in which we find wit and folly, urbanity and scurrility, warm expreflions of benevolence and bitter effufions of malevolent partiality, gleams of reason and violent guts of pailion, moral maxims and fallies of licentiousness and impiety, in the most shocking modes of expression. These alternately gratify and wound the feelings of the moral reader; and are perpetually allaying, with pain and disgust, the pleafure, which the perusal of these letters must so often produce. They, in: deed, perplex our judgment with respect to the character, the worthless poet, whose profligacy is but too palpably ascer. Cained, but of the great monarch, whom we wish to revere, but cannot --without the moft painful restrictions. If these toya productions descend to pofterity, for which they are intended, they will excite wonder, but not veneration ; unless the cine thould come, when there will be no more faith, morals, nor tober sense on earth.

(To be concluded in a subsequent article.]

not ai

We mean such of his letters as are decent; for it is fingularly remarkable, that the diffolute and impious passages of his letters, are, almolt always, as insipid as they are fagitious.

2

ADDEN

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

ADDENDUM. IT may not be improper, though the object be of no great confequence, to rectify here a literary error which has flipped into this correspondence, between the king and Voltaire, relative to the author of a pamphlet published by Elmsley, in the year 1773 or 4, under the title of The Polish Partition, illuftrated in feven Dramatic Dialogues. By Gotlieb PANSMOUZER, the Baron's Nephew * This small work, which made a noise, at the time, particularly on the Continent, was translated into several languages. Voltaire mentions it to the king, in one of the leta ters now before us, as a very witty production, abounding with humour and fine pleasantry; but, also, as treating him with severe invective, and containing horrible things. In the king's answer to the poet, dated in 1775, there is a passage, which shews how men of letters sometimes forge anecdotes to make their court to princes, by fatisfying their curiosity. "I have at length (says the king) received the Seven Dialogues which you mention, and am perfectly acquainted with the whole story of that publication. . The author is an Englishman, whose name is Lindfic (written so by mistake for Lind), an ecclefiaftic, and preceptor to the young prince Poniatowski, nephew to the king of Poland. It was at the inftigation of the Czartorinskis, the king's uncles, that this satire was composed in English. It made me laugh heartily; for, among several gross invectives, there are in it many lively strokes of wit and good pleasantry.'-Now, there is a great error here with respect to the author of this publication, and the king was totally misinformed. Mr. Lind was, indeed, the author of a larger and a very ingenious work, entitled, Letters on the Affairs of Poland, in which the king of Prussia was severely censured, and which were probably composed at the desire of the Czartorinskis, if

not of the king of Poland himself; but he was not the writer of the ;! Seven Dramatic Dialogues on the Polish Partition, now under confi

deration. The real author of these Dialogues is unknown, even, we believe, to Mr. Elmpey; by whom they were published. The writer of this article is one of the very small number of persons, to whom he is known.

What the king fays concerning the translation of this pamphlet on the Continent, is, we believe, true. It was translated

(says his Majesty) from English into French, for the use of the in Poles; but as the tranlation was a bad one, the original was y sent to M. Gerard, then French consul at Dantzick, and now

under-secretary to Mons. De Vergennes in the foreign department; who did me the honour to hate me cordially, and sent the pamphlet abroad in a new and improved translation. I do not mean to enter into a pen-conteft with this fycophant: I follow rather

# See Rev, vol. I. p. 233• App. Rev, vol, LXXX. Tt

the

« PreviousContinue »