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I OIL I /.( '(if . h \'^lT(itrc7',

.fi-Puja^ JJvur^u.'i^-.a.'7'7



From ami Engraxiing after Pnios.






i- Hi^uu

* II faut que les §,mes pensantes se frottent Tune centre I'autre
pour faire jaillir de la lumi^re.'

VoLTAiEE : Letter to the Due d' XJzes^ December 4, 1751.


Y; OF THE '^\








[All rights r«i«rT*d]







I. D'Alembert : the Thinker (1717-1783) . . . 1

II. Diderot : the Talker (1713-1784) . . ' . .32

III. GalianT: the Wit (1728-1787) 62

IV. Vauvbnargues : the Aphorist (1715-1747) . . 96
V. D'Holbach: the Host (1723-1789) . . . . 118

VI. Grimm: the Journalist (1723-1807) . . . 160

VII. Helvetius : the Contradiction (1715-1771) . . 176

VIII. Turgot: the Statesman (1727-1781) ... 206

IX. Beaumarchais : the Playwright (1732-1799) . . 236

X. CONDORCET : THE ARISTOCRAT (1743-1794) . . . 268

Index 299



D'Alembert Frontispiece

From an Engraving after Pvjos.

Diderot To face ^.32

From an Engraving by Henriquez, after the Portrait by

Galiani „ 62

From a Print.

Vauvenargues „ 96

From a Print in the Bibliotheque Rationale, Paris.


From a Portrait in the Musde Cond4, Chantilly.

Grimm „ 150

From an Engraving, after Carmontelle, in the Bibliothhque
Rationale, Paris.

HELvinus ,,176

From an Engraving by St. Aubin, after the Portrait by

TURGOT ,,206

From an Engraving by Tje Beau, after the Portrait by

Beaumarghais „ 236

From an Engraving, after Michon, in the Bibliotltique
Nationale^ Paris.

CONDORCBT . . „ 268

From an Engraving by Lemvrt, after the Bust by St.


D'Alembert. Joseph Bertrand.

(Buvres et Correspondance inedites. B'Alembert,

Correspondance avec d'Alembert. Marquise du Deffand.

Diderot and the Encyclopaedists. John Morley.

Eloge de d'Alembert. Condorcet.

(Euvres. Diderot.

Diderot. Beimach.

Diderot, THomme et rEcrivain. Ducros.

Diderot. Scherer.

Diderot et Catherine II. Toumewx.

Ferdinand© Galiani, Correspondance, Etude, etc. Perrey et

Lettres de I'Abbe Galiani. Eugene Asse.
Memoires et Correspondance. Madame d'Epvnay.
Jeunesse de Madame d'Epinay. Perrey et Maugras.
Dernieres Annees de Madame d'Epinay. Perrey et Maugras.
Memoires. Marmontel.
Memoires. Morellet.
Causeries du Lundi. Savnte-Beuve.
Vauvenargues. Paleologue.
(Euvres et ^loge de Vauvenargues. D. L. Gilbert.
Melchior Grimm. Scherer,
Eousseau. John Morley.
Miscellanies. John Morley.
Correspondance Litt^raire. Grimm et Diderot.
Turgot. L4on Say.
Turgot. W. B. Hodgson.
(Euvres. Turgot.
Vie de Turgot. Condorcet.

Correspondance inedite de Condorcet et Turgot. C. Henry.
La Marquise de Condorcet. Guillois.
Vie de Condorcet. Bobinet.


Beaumarchais et Son Temps. Lominie.

Beaumarchais. Hallays.

Th^&tre de Beaumarchais.

La Fin de TAncien E^gime. Imbert de Smnt-Ama/nd.

French Eevolution. Ca/rlyle.

Critical Essays. Garlyle.

Correspondance. VoUwire.

•Portraits Litt^raires du XVIII'^ Sieele. La Ha/rpe.

Corn's de Litterature. La Harpe.

M^moire sm* Helvetius. Darmron.

Le Salon de Madame Helvetius. Guillois.

Histoire de la Philosophic Moderne. Buhle.

Life of Hume. Burton.

The Private Correspondence of Garrick with Celebrated Persons.

Memoires pour servir 4 I'Histoire de la Philosophic. Damiron.

Letters. Laurence Sterne.




Of that vast intellectual movement which prepared
the way for the most stupendous event in history,
the French Kevolution, Voltaire was the creative

Q But there was a group of men, less famous but
not less great, who also heralded the coming of
the new heaven and the new earth ; who were in
a strict sense friends and fellow-workers of Voltaire,
although one or two of them were personally little
known to him ; whose aim was his aim, to destroy
from among the people ' ignorance, the curse of
God,' and who were, as he was, the prophets and
the makers of a new dispensation

That many of these light bringers were them-
selves full of darkness, is true enough ; but they
brought the light not the less, and in their own



breasts burnt one cleansing flame, the passion for

For the rest, they were the typical men of the
most enthralling age in history — each with his
human story as well as his public purpose, and his
part to play on the glittering stage of the social
life of old France, as well as in the great events
which moulded her destiny and affected the fate of

Foremost among them was d'Alembert.

Often talked about but little known, or vaguely
remembered only as the patient lover of Made-
moiselle de Lespinasse, Jean Lerond d'Alembert,
the successor of Newton, the author of the Preface
of the Encyclopaedia, deserves an enduring fame.

On a November evening in the year 1717, one
hundred and eighty-nine years ago, a gendarme^
going his round in Paris, discovered on the steps
of the church of Saint-Jean Lerond, once the
baptistery of Notre-Dame, a child of a few hours
old. The story runs that the baby was richly clad,
and had on his small person marks which would
lead to his identification. But the fact remains
that he was abandoned in mid-winter, left without
food or shelter to take his feeble chance of life and
of the cold charity of some such institution as the
Enfants Trouv^s. It was no thanks to the mother


who bore him that the gendarme who found him
had compassion on his helpless infancy. The
man had the baby hurriedly christened after his
first cradle, Jean Baptiste Lerond, took him to a
working woman whom he could trust, and who
nursed him — ^for six weeks say some authorities,
for a few days say others — in the little village of
Cremery near Montdidier.

At the end of the time there returned to Paris
a certain gallant General Destouches, who had
been abroad in the execution of his military
duties. He went to visit Madame de Tencin, and
from her learnt of the birth and the abandonment
of their son.

No study of the eighteenth century can be
complete without mention of the extraordinary
women who were born with that marvellous age,
and fortunately died with it. Cold, calculating,
and corrupt, with the devilish cleverness of a
Machiavelli, with the natural instinct of love used
for gain and for trickery, and with the natural
instinct of maternity wholly absent, d'Alembert's
mother was the most perfect type of this monstrous
class. Small, keen, alert, with a little sharp face
like a bird's, brilliantly eloquent, bold, subtle,
tireless, a great minister of intrigue, and insatiably
ambitious — such was Madame de Tencin. It was
she who assisted at the meetings of statesmen, and

B 2


gave Marshal Eichelieu a plan and a line of con-
duct. It was she who managed the afiairs of her
brother Cardinal de Tencin, and, through him,
tried to effect peace between France and Frederick
in the midst of the Seven Years' War. It was she
who fought the hideous incompetence of Maurepas,
the Naval Minister ; and it was she who summed
herself up to FonteneUe when she laid her hand
on her heart, saying, ' Here is nothing but brain.'

From the moment of his birth she had only
one wish with regard to her child — to be rid of
him. A long procession of lovers had left her
wholly incapable of shame. But the child would
be a worry — and she did not mean to be worried !
If the father had better instincts — well, let him
follow them. He did. He employed Molin,
Madame de Tencin's doctor, to find out the baby's
nurse, Anne Lemaire, and claim the little creature
from her.

The great d'Alembert told Madame Suard many
years after how Destouches drove all round Paris
with the baby (' with a head no bigger than an
apple') in his arms, trying to find for him a
suitable foster-mother. But little Jean Baptiste
Lerond seemed to be dying, and no one would
take him. At last, however, Destouches dis-
covered, living in the Kue Michel-Lecomte, a poor
glazier's wife, whose motherly soul was touched by


the infant's piteous plight, and who took him to her
love and care, and kept him there for fifty years.

History has concerned itself much less with
Madame Kousseau than with Madame de Tencin.
Yet it was the glazier's wife who was d'Alem-
bert's real mother after all. If she was low-
born and ignorant, she had yet the happiest of
all acquirements — she knew how to win love and
to keep it. The great d'Alembert, universally
acclaimed as one of the first intellects of Europe,
had ever for this simple person, who defined a
philosopher as ' a fool who torments himself during
his life that people may talk of him when he is
dead,' the tender reverence which true greatness,
and only true greatness perhaps, can bear towards
homely goodness. From her he learnt the bless-
ing of peace and obscurity. From his association
with her he learnt his noble idea — difficult in any
age, but in that age of degrading luxury and self-
indulgence well nigh impossible — that it is sinful
to enjoy superfluities while other men want
necessaries. His hidden life in the dark attic
above her husband's shop made it possible for him
to do that life's work. For nearly half a century
he knew no other home. When he left her roof at
last, in obedience to the voice of the most master-
ful of all human passions, he still retained for her
the tenderest affection, and bestowed upon her and


her grandchildren the kindness of one or the kindest
hearts that ever beautified a great intelligence.

Little Jean Baptiste was put to a school in
the Faubourg Saint- Antoine, where he passed as
Madame Kousseau's son. General Destouches paid
the expenses of this schooling, took a keen pleasure
in the child's brightness and precocity, and came
often to see him. One day he persuaded Madame
de Tencin to accompany him. The seven-year-old
Jean Baptiste remembered that scene all his life.
' Confess, Madame,' says Destouches, when they
had listened to the boy's clever answers to his
master's questions, ' that it was a pity to abandon
such a child.' Madame rose at once. ' Let us go.
I see it is going to be verj^ uncomfortable for
me here.' She never came again.

Destouches died in 1726, when his son was
nine years old. He left the boy twelve hundred
livres, and commended him to the care of his
relatives. Through them, at the age of twelve,
Jean Baptiste received the great favour of being
admitted to the College of the Four Nations,
founded by Mazarin, and in 1729 the most ex-
clusive school in France. Fortunately for its new
scholar it was something besides fashionable, and
did its best to satisfy his extraordinary thirst for
knowledge. His teachers were all priests and
Jansenists, and nourished their apt scholar on


Jansenist literature, imbuing him with the fashion-
able theories of Descartes. How soon was it that
they began to hope and dream that in the gentle
student called Lerond, living on a narrow pit-
tance above a tradesman's shop, they had found
a new Pascal, a mighty enemy of the Archfiend
Jesuitism ?

But beneath his timid and modest exterior
there lay already an intellect of marvellous
strength and clearness, a relentless logic that
tested and weighed every principle instilled in
him, every theory masquerading as a fact. He
quickly became equally hostile to both Jesuit and
Jansenist. It was at school that he learnt to hate
with an undying hatred, religion — the religion
that in forty years launched, on account of the
Bull Unigenitus, forty thousand lettres de cachet,
that made men forget not only their Christianity
but their humanity, and give themselves over
body and soul to the devouring fever called
fanaticism. At school also he conceived his
passion for mathematics, that love of exact truth
which no Jansenist priest, however subtle, could
make him regard as a dangerous error.

When he was eighteen, in 1735, he took his
degree of Bachelor of Arts and changed his name.
D'Alembertis thought to be an anagram on Baptiste
Lerond. Anaejrams were fashionable, and one


Arouet, who had elected to be called Voltaire, had
made such an alteration of good omen. D'Alembert
went on studying at the College, but throughout
his studies mathematics were wooing him from all
other pursuits. The taste, however, was so unlu-
crative, and the income from twelve hundred livres
so small, that a profession became a necessity.
The young man conscientiously qualified for a
barrister. But ' he loved only good causes ' and
was naturally shy. He never appeared at the Bar.
Then he bethought him of medicine. He
would be a doctor! But again and again the
siren voice of his dominant taste called him
back to her. His friends — those omniscient
friends always ready to put a spoke in the wheel
of genius — entreated him to be practical, to re-
member his poverty, and to make haste to grow
rich. He yielded to them so far that one day he
carried all his geometrical books to one of their
houses, and went back to the garret at Madame
Eousseau's to study medicine and nothing else in
the world. But the geometrical problems dis-
turbed his sleep.

One master-passion in the breast,

Like Aaron's serpent, swallowed all the rest.

Fate wanted d'Alembert, the great mathematician,
not some prosperous, unproductive mediocrity of
a Paris apothecary. The crowning blessing of


life, to be born with a bias to some pursuit, was
this man's to the full.

He yielded to Nature and to God. He brought
back the books he had abandoned, flung aside
those for which he had neither taste nor aptitude,
and at twenty gave himself to the work for which
he had been created.

Some artist should put on canvas the picture
of this student, sitting in his ill-aired garret with
its narrow prospect of ' three ells of sky,' poor,
delicate, obscure — or rich, rather, in the purest of
earthly enjoyments, the pursuit of truth for its
own sake. He could not afford to buy many of
the books he needed, so he borrowed them from
public libraries. He left the work of the day
anticipating with joy the work of the morrow.
For the world he cared nothing, and of him it
knew nothing. Fame ? — he did not want it.
Wealth? — he could do without it. Poor as he
was, there was no time when he even thought of
taking pupils, or using the leisure he needed for
study in making money by a professorship.

To give knowledge was his work and his aim ;
to make knowledge easier for others he left to
some lesser man. His style had seldom the grace
and clearness which can make, and which in many
of his fellow-workers did make, the abstrusest
reasoning charm like romance. D'Alembert left


Diderot to put his thought into irresistible words,
and Voltaire and Turgot to translate it into im-
mortal deeds.

When he was two-and-twenty, in 1739, d'Alem-
bert began his connection with the Academy of
Sciences. In 1743 he published his ' Treatise on
Dynamics.' Now little read and long superseded,
it placed him at one bound, and at six-and-twenty
years old, among the first geometricians of Europe.
Modest, frugal, retiring as he was and remained, he
was no more only the loving and patient disciple of
science. He was its master and teacher. In 1746
his ' Treatise on the Theory of Winds ' gained him
a prize in the Academy of Berlin, and first brought
him into relationship with Frederick the Great.

Two years later, when her son was of daily
growing renown, Madame de Tencin died. The
story that, when he had become famous and she
would fain have acknowledged him, he had re-
pudiated her, saying he had no mother but the
glazier's wife, d'Alembert, declares Madame Suard,
always denied. ' I should never have refused her
endearments — it would have been too sweet to me
to recover her.' That answer is more in keeping
with a temperament but too gentle and forgiving,
than the spirited repulse. It was in keeping
also with the life of Madame de Tencin that
even death should leave her indifferent to her


child. She thought no more of him, he said, in
the one than in the other. Her money she left to
her doctor.

If the studious poverty oi the life in the
glazier's attic spared d'Alembert acquaintances,
it did not deprive him of friends.

Then living in Paris, some six-and-thirty years
old, the author of the 'Philosophical Thoughts,'
and the most fascinating scoundrel in France, was
Denis Diderot. With the quiet d'Alembert, of
morals almost austere and of hidden, frugal life,
what could a Diderot have in common? Some-
thing more than the attraction of opposites drew
them together. The vehement and all-embracing
imagination of the one iired the calm reason of the
other. The hot head and the cool one were laid
together, and the result was the great Encyclo-

The first idea of the pair was modest enough —
to translate into French the English Encyclopaedia
of Chambers. But had not brother Voltaire said
that no man who could make an adequate trans-
lation ever wasted his time in translating ? They
soon out-ran so timid an ambition. The thing
must not only be spontaneous work ; it must
wholly surpass all its patterns and prototypes. It
must be not an Encyclopsedia, but the Encyclo-
paedia. Every man of talent in France must bring


a stone towards the building of the great Temple.
From Switzerland, old Voltaire shall pour forth
inspiration, encouragement, incentive. Eousseau
shall lend it the glow of his passion, and Grimm
his journalistic versatility. Helvetius shall contri-
bute — d'Holbach, Turgot, Morellet, Marmontel,
Eaynal, La Harpe, de Jaucourt, Duclos.

And the Preliminary Discourse shall be the
work of d'Alembert.

An envious enemy once dismissed him scorn-
fully as

Chancelier de Parnasse,

Qui se croit un grand homme et fit une preface.

Yet if he had written nothing but that Preface
he would still have had noble titles to fame. It
contained, as he himself said, the quintessence of
twenty years' study. If his style was usually cold
and formal, it was not so now. With warmest
eloquence and boldest brush he painted the picture
of the progress of the human mind since the in-
vention of printing. From the lofty heights man's
intellect had scaled there stood out yet mightier
heights for him to dare ! Advance ! advance ! It
ever preface said anything, the Preface to the
great Encyclopaedia says this. Clothed with light
and fire, that dearest son of d'Alembert's genius
went forth to illuminate and to astound the world.
At first the Encyclopaedia was not only heard


gladly by the common people, but was splendidly
set forth with the approbation and Privilege du
Roi. Even the wise and thoughtful melancholy of
d'Alembert's temperament may have been cheered
by such good fortune, while the sanguine Diderot
naturally felt convinced it would last for ever.

Both worked unremittingly. His authorship
of the Preface immediately flung open to d'Alem-
bert all the salons in Paris, and for the first time
in his life he began to go into society. Then
Frederick the Great made him a rich and splendid
offer, the Presidency of the Berlin Academy. Con-
sider that though the man was famous he was still
very poor. The little pension which was his all
' is hardly enough to keep me if I have the happi-
ness or the misfortune to live to be old.' From the
Government of his country he feared everything
and hoped nothing. He was only thirty-five years
of age. A new world was opened to him. The
glazier's attic he could exchange for a palace, and
the homely kindness of an illiterate foster-mother
for the magnificent endearments of a philosophic
king. Was it only the painful example of friend
Voltaire's angry wretchedness as Frederick's guest
that made him refuse an offer so lavish and so
dazzling ? It was rather that he had the rare wis-
dom to recognise happiness when he had it and did
not mistake it for some phantom will-o'-the-wisp


whom distance clothed with light. *The peace
I enjoy is so perfect,' he wrote, ' I dare run
no risk of disturbing it. ... I do not doubt the
King's goodness . . . only that the conditions
essential to happiness are not in his power.'

Any man who is offered in place of quiet con-
tent that most fleeting and unsubstantial of all
chimeras — fame and glory — should read d'Alem-
bert's answer to Frederick the Great.

Frederick's royal response to it was the offer of
a pension of twelve hundred livres.

In September 1754 the fourth volume of the
Encyclopaedia was hailed by the world with a
burst of enthusiasm and applause, and in the Decem-
ber of that year d'Alembert received as a reward for
his indefatigable labours a chair in the French
Academy. He had only accepted it on condition
that he spoke his mind freely on all points and
made court to no man. The speech with which
he took his seat, though constantly interrupted
with clapping and cries of delight, was not good,
said Grimm. All d'Alembert's addresses and eloges
spoken at the Academy leave posterity, indeed,
as cold as they left the astute German journalist.
The man was a mathematician, a creature of
reason. The passion that was to rule that reason
and dominate his Hfe was not the gaudy and
shallow passion of the orator.


In 1756 he went to stay with the great head of
his party, Voltaire, at the DeHces, near Geneva.
The Patriarch was sixty-two years old, but with
the activity and the enthusiasm of youth. At his
house and at his table d'Alembert met constantly
and observed deeply the Calvinistic pastors of
Geneva. He returned to Paris with his head
full of the most famous article the Encyclopaedia
was to know. At the back of his mind was a
certain request of his host's, that he should also
make a few remarks on the benefits that play-acting
would confer on the Calvinistic temperament.

No article in that 'huge folio dictionary'
brewed so fierce a storm or had consequences so
memorable and far-reaching as d'Alembert's article
'Geneva.' In his reserved and formal style he
punctiliously complimented the descendants of
Calvin as preferring reason to faith, sound sense to
dogma, and as having a religion which, weighed
and tested, was nothing but a perfect Socinianism.
Voltaire laughed long in his sleeve, and in private
executed moral capers of delight. The few words
on the advantages of play-acting, which he had
begged might be added, had not been forgotten.

The Genevan pastors took solemn and heartburn-
ing counsel together, and on the head of the quiet
worker in the attic in Paris there burst a hurricane
which might have beaten down coarser natures


and frightened stouter hearts. Calvinism fell upon
him, whose sole crime had been to show her the
logical outcome of her doctrines, with the fierce
fury of a desperate cause. Ketract! retract! or
at least give the names of those of our pastors who
made you believe in the rationalism of our creed !
As for the remarks on plays, why, Jean Jacques
Eousseau, our citizen and your brother philo-
sopher, shall answer those, and in the dazzling
rhetoric of the immortal 'Letter on Plays' give,
with all the magic and enchantment of his sophist's
genius, the case against the theatre.

Then, on March 8, 1759, the paternal govern-
ment of France, joining hands with Geneva, sup-
pressed by royal edict that Encyclopaedia of which
a very few years earlier it had solemnly approved.
The accursed thing was burnt by the hangman.
The printers and publishers were sent to the
galleys or to death. The permit to continue
pubHshing the work was rescinded. The full
flowing fountain of knowledge was dammed,
and the self-denial of d'Alembert's patient life
wasted. The gentle heart, which had never
harmed living creature, fell stricken beneath the
torrent of filthy fury which the gutter press
poured upon him. His Majesty — his besotted
Majesty, King Louis the Fifteenth — finds in the

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