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Joseph Forster.

Some French and Spanish men of genius. Sketches of Marivaux, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Beaumarachais, Mirabeau, Danton and Robespierre, Béranger, Victor Hugo, Eugéne Sue and Zola, Cervantes and Lope de Vega, Calderon online

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Online LibraryJoseph ForsterSome French and Spanish men of genius. Sketches of Marivaux, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Beaumarachais, Mirabeau, Danton and Robespierre, Béranger, Victor Hugo, Eugéne Sue and Zola, Cervantes and Lope de Vega, Calderon → online text (page 2 of 19)
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18 MARIVAUX.

ARIMANTE. Yes .... I will take it. (Aside) I do
not know what I am saying.

DORANTE. Shall I hand it to you to-morrow, madam ?

ARIMANTE. To-morrow did you say ? Can you retain
it till then after what has happened?

DORANTE. During the whole course of my future
life I shall only look on this day as precious.

ARIMANTE. It cannot be, Dorante ; it is necessary to
part. Every one knows that you love me, and people
believe that I am not indignant.

DORANTE. Alas ! madam, I am much to be pitied.

ARIMANTE. Ah ! leave me, Dorante ; every one has
his sorrows.

DORANTE. I have lost all ! I had a portrait and it is
mine no more.

ARIMANTE. My portrait would now be useless to
you. . . . You can paint another.

DORANTE. It will take me a long time to do so.
Besides, that one has been in your hands, madam.

ARIMANTE. You are unreasonable.

DORANTE. Ah ! madam, I shall soon be far from you.
You will be amply avenged. Do not add to my grief !

ARIMANTE. Give you my portrait ! If I did so, it
would be an avowal of love.

DORANTE (passionately). You love me, madam !
"What an idea ! who would dare to imagine it ?

ARIMANTE. And yet that is what has happened.

DORANTE (on his knees). I die of joy !

ARIMANTE. I know no longer where I am. Moderate
your joy. Rise, Dorante.

DORANTE. I do not merit the happiness which trans-
ports me ; I do not merit it, madam. . . . When I tell
you all I shall lose it ; but you must know everything.



MARIVAUX. 19

ARIMAXTE (astonished}. What would you say?

DORANTE. In what has passed here, all is false
except my passion, which is infinite, and the portrait I
painted. All the incidents that have occurred were
arranged by a servant who was aware of my love, who
pitied me, who, by the charm of hope, of the pleasure
of seeing you, forced me to consent to his stratagems.
This, madam, my respect, my love, and my character will
not permit me to conceal from you. I would rather for
ever lose your love than owe it to the artifice which
has enabled me to gain it ! I would rather bear your
hatred than the remorse of having deceived you whom I
adore !

ARIMANTE (after looking at him in silence for some
time). If I had learned this of any one but yourself, I
should without doubt hate you ; but the avowal you now
make yourself, changes all. Your sincerity delights me,
appears to me incredible, and I think you are the most
honourable man in the world. . . . After all, when you
loved me so passionately, that which you have done to
conquer my heart is not blameable. A lover is permitted
to use every means of pleasing, and should be pardoned
when he succeeds.

The next and last play of Marivaux's that I can
quote from is Les Sinceres ; I consider it the
brilliant author's most brilliant work. There is,
in addition, a fine thrill of genuine passion in
Dorante.

La Marquise has two lovers at least, we are
only introduced to two, Dorante and Ergaste.
Dorante loves in the old-fashioned, ardent manner.
Ergaste prides himself on his sincerity, and tells the



20 MARIVAUX.

Marquise her faults with all the delightful frankness
of a candid friend. This pleases for a time ; but
soon palls on the taste of the lady. The first scene
is between the Marquise and her passionate lover,
Dorante.

DORAXTE. You drive me to despair ! Was ever man
more cruelly treated 1 Was ever passion more despised 1

MARQUISE. Passion ! I have seen that fine word in
Cyrus and Cleopatra. Ah ! Dorante, you are not
unworthy of love ; you have everything in your favour,
rank, birth, fortune ; you are even agreeable. I will even
admit that you have pleased me; but I cannot trust
your love I have no faith in it; you exaggerate too
much ; you revolt the simplicity and sincerity of my
character. Do you love me much ? Do you love me a
little 1 Do you merely pretend to love me ? I cannot
make up my mind what to believe. How am I to judge
wisely amidst all the polite impostures with which you
envelop your discourse ? ' I can do nothing but sigh,' you
say. Now, can anything be more flat and insipid than
that 1 A man who loves a sensible woman does not say, ' I
sigh ; ' that word is not sufficiently serious for him, not
sufficiently true : he says, ' I love you ; I desire profoundly
that you would love me ; I am deeply mortified that you
do not love me ; ' that is all, and there is nothing more
than that in your heart. You do not read in your heart
that you adore me, because that is to talk like a poet ;
nor that you are in despair, because if you were it would
be necessary to lock you up ; nor that I am cruel, because
I live kindly with all the world ; nor, perhaps, that I am
beautiful, though, possibly, that is so ; and I will inquire
of Ergaste as to the truth of that ; I confide in what he



MARIVAUX. 21

says, because he is sincere. It is for that quality I esteem
him ; you displease me because you are not so.

DORANTE (passionately). You press me too hard.
My heart is more truthful than that of a misanthrope
who would pass for sincere at your expense, and at the
expense, perhaps, even of sincerity itself. In my opinion,
I do not exaggerate ; I say that I adore you, and it is true ;
what I feel for you can only be expressed by that word.
I also call my love a passion, because it is one ; I say that
your raillery drives me to despair, and I speak within my
feeling ; I cannot describe in any other way the grief which
consumes me ; and if I am not to be confined as a madman,
it is only because I am deeply afflicted but not insane.
It is also true that I sigh and die because you despise
me : yes, I die ! yes, your cruel railleries penetrate my
heart, and I can only repeat it. Farewell, madam ; Ergaste
approaches, that sincere man, and I withdraw. Enjoy
the cool and proud tranquillity with which he loves you.

MARQUISE (as Dorante retires}. I must confess it ;
his last fictions were sufficiently pathetic.
Enter ERGASTE.

ERGASTE. I am charmed to find you alone, Marquise ;
I hardly hoped to be so fortunate. I have just written
to my brother at Paris ; do you know what I have told
him? That which I have not even said to you.

MARQUISE. What is that?

ERGASTE. That I love you.

MARQUISE (laughing}. I knew it. I had perceived it.

ERGASTE. Even that is not all ; I have told him
something else.

MARQUISE. And that is ?

ERGASTE. That I believed I did not displease you.

MARQUISE. Was all your news true 1



22 MARIVAUX.

ERGASTE. I recognise you in that frank reply.

MARQUISE. If it were the contrary, I should be
equally sincere.

ERGASTE. In my next letter, if you permit it, I will
announce that we shall soon be united.

MARQUISE. Well, apparently.

ERGASTE. And as people can be married in the
country, I might even announce that it is done.

MARQUISE (laughing). Stop, stop, if you please ! let
me breathe. In truth, you travel so fast, that I almost
believe I am married.

ERGASTE. Such events follow rapidly when two
persons love one another.

MARQUISE. Without difficulty ; but, tell me, Ergaste,
you being a truthful man, what is your love for me 1
because I would be truly loved.

ERGASTE. You are right ; and I love you with all
my heart.

MABQUISE. I believe you ; but have you never loved
any one more than me ?

ERGASTE. No, on my honour; although I loved
some one equally. . . . Yes, I think it was as much ; but
not more, I am certain ; I do not believe that is possible.

MARQUISE. Oh, very possible, I assure you ; nothing
prevents your loving more; I have only to be more
amiable to increase your love : but let that pass. Which
was more worthy of love, I or the former object of your
affection 1

ERGASTE. But your attractions are different : she
had them infinitely.

MARQUISE. That is to say, a little more than myself.
ERGASTE. In truth, I should be a little embarrassed
to decide.



MARIVAUX. 23

MARQUISE. I am not. I pronounce : your uncertainty
decides; you may be certain that you loved her more
than me.

ERGASTE. I believe nothing of the kind.

MARQUISE (laughing). You dream. Do not we love
people in proportion to their amiability ? and considering
that she excelled me in that particular, and that she had
more charms, it is certain that you loved her more.

ERGASTE. She had more charms ! but that point is
not decided ; and, therefore, I incline to believe that you
are equal to her.

MARQUISE. Yes ? you incline to believe 1 that is a
considerable concession ; but do you know what I am
inclined to believe ]

ERGASTE. No.

MARQUISE. To leave that very equivocal equality, it
does not tempt me ; . I would as soon lose it as gain it, I
assure you.

ERGASTE. I do not doubt it ; I appreciate your
indifference on such a subject ; besides, if there is not
perfect equality between you, the difference is so slight.

MARQUISE (excitedly). Again ! But I tell you that I
will not have it, that I renounce all competition or com-
parison. Do not give yourself the trouble of weighing
us ; place your mind in repose; I yield to her; make her
into a star, if you please.

ERGASTE (laughing}. Ha! ha! ha! Your wit delights
me, it shall be just as you prefer. The essential point is
that I love you as much as I loved her.

MARQUISE (coldly). You will be good enough to
pardon me. You, I think, had an inclination for
Arimante ?

ERGASTE. Yes, I felt some love for her ; but the



24 MAKIVAIX.

difficulty of understanding her inclinations repulsed me.
One fears always to misunderstand her, by believing that
she is touched when she is only polite ; and that does not
suit me.

MARQUISE. I think a great deal of her. What is
your opinion? To which of us two do you give the
preference? Do not deceive me.

ERGASTE. Oh, never, and this is what I think.
Arimante has beauty ; one may say that she is a beautiful
woman.

MARQUISE. Very good. And as to me, in that respect,
I have only to hide myself, I suppose?

ERGASTE. For you, Marquise, you please more than
she does.

MARQUISE (laughing}. I do wrong, I please beyond
my rights. (Aside) Ah ! the coxcomb ! How flat and
dull he is ! Ha ! ha ! ha !

ERGASTE. But why do you laugh

MARQUISE. Frankly, because you are a bad judge ;
neither of us is beautiful.

ERGASTE. It appears to me that a certain regularity
of features

MARQUISE. Visions, I tell you; neither of us is
beautiful. Regularity of features in Arimante ! Regu-
larity ! ! You arouse my pity ! and if I were to tell you
that thousands of people find something clumsy in her air ?

ERGASTE. Arimante clumsy !

MARQUISE. Yes, sir, clumsy ! but one gets used to
that in time, as you have evidently done ; and when I
admit that neither of us is beautiful, it is only because I
am careless about my claims in that respect; but most
people find her claim to beauty less than mine, frightful
as you may think me.



MARIVAUX. 25

ERGASTE. I think you frightful !

MARQUISE. Yes ; but I please more and I begin to
doubt even that.

ERGASTE. I may be wrong ; I often am ; I can
answer for the sincerity of my opinions, but not for their
accuracy.

MARQUISE. Oh, indeed ! but when one's taste is so
bad, sincerity becomes a fault !

ERGASTE. The grand fault of my sincerity is that it
is too sincere.

MARQUISE. You see things in a false light. Kindly
change the subject of our conversation and leave Arimante
in peace. It is scarcely worth while to ask you what
you think of the difference in our minds ; you are not a
competent judge.

ERGASTE. Your mind appears to me to be quick,
sensible, and very refined.

MARQUISE. You lower your tone ; you mean vain and
frivolous.

At this point Lisette enters and informs her
mistress that Frontin, Ergaste's servant, has dared
to say that the Marquise was less beautiful than
Arimante, in her presence and that of Dorante
and Ergaste. Dorante had warmly asserted the
superiority of the Marquise, while Ergaste had
remained silent. This, of course, finishes what the
conceit and want of elementary tact in Ergaste had
begun. After the exit of Lisette, the sincere friends
continue their conversation.

MARQUISE. Sir, you have given me an account of the
state of your heart ; it is only fair that I should give you
an account of mine.



26 MARIVAUX.

ERGASTE. Pray do so, madam.

MARQUISE. My first inclination was for my late
husband, who was your superior, Ergaste, be it said
without diminishing the esteem you merit.

ERGASTE. Proceed, madam.

MARQUISE. Since his death, I felt, about two years
ago, favourably for a stranger I met in Paris, whom I
refused to see, and of whom I lost sight ; a man rather
like you, neither better nor worse, not ill-looking,
though, perhaps, a little stouter than you; not so slight;
a little less delicate too.

ERGASTE. Very good. And Dorante, madam, what
is your opinion of him 1

MARQUISE. He is pleasanter, more polite ; he is
also more distinguished-looking, and he thinks more
modestly of himself than you do; but you please
more.

ERGASTE. I am very much to blame, I admit ; but
what surprises me is that a face so weak and poor as
mine, that a man so delicate and plain, so infatuated with
himself, could win your heart !

MARQUISE. Are hearts ever reasonable? There are
so many caprices in our inclinations !

ERGASTE. Your inclination must have been very
determined to induce you to love me with so many
terrible faults, which are perhaps true, I must admit,
although I don't know much about them.

MARQUISE. Eh ! did I know that I was ugly, vain,
and disagreeable ? You taught me all that, and I only
return instruction for instruction.

ERGASTE. I will try to profit by your kindness and
sincerity ; what I fear is that a man so common, worth
so little, may displease you.



MARIVAUX. 27

MARQUISE. Eh ! when you pardon me my many
imperfections, it is only fair that I should overlook the
smallness of your merit.

ERGASTE. You reassure me.

MARQUISE (aside). Will no one come to deliver me
from him? (A pause.)

ERGASTE. Do you happen to know the hour ?

MARQUISE. I think it is late.

ERGASTE. Do not you think the fine weather is
breaking 1

MARQUISE. Yes, I think we shall have a storm.
(They are silent for some time.)

ERGASTE. I think I had better leave you ; you appear
very thoughtful.

MARQUISE. No ; I feel bored : my sincerity does not
shock you 1 ?

ERGASTE. I thank you, and will profit by it. I am
your servant, madam.

MARQUISE. Go, sir. . . . One moment ; when you
write to your brother, do not be so eager to mention our
marriage.

ERGASTE. Madam, I will not say one word on the
subject.

An attempt has been made to compare Marivaux's
light, well-bred, delicate wit and polished irony,
with the scathing sarcasm and lightning-like
wit and fine humour of the French Heine,
Alfred de Musset. The similarity is of the
slightest kind. Granted both wrote comedies and
proverbs : but while Marivaux lived on the surface
of fashionable life, caring only for the pleasures



28 MARIVAT X.

and facile attachments of an easy-going Epicurean
existence, Alfred de Musset sounded the depths of
love and life, and drank the bitter cup of disappoint-
ment to the dregs. Marivaux was part of what
he painted, he floated on the many-coloured, glit-
tering wave of fashionable life like a buoyant
cork ; while the intense, gloomy, and passionate
Alfred de Musset analysed and criticised the
life he shared and despised pointed out with
bitter irony its hollow shams and empty shibbo-
leths ; but could never be subdued and conquered
by its flatteries and so-called joys : he was filled
with divine discontent. Alfred de Musset's wit
was keener and his pathos infinitely deeper than
the brilliant and amusing society poet who forms
the subject of my short sketch.



VOLTAIRE.



VOLTAIRE.



NEARLY every one must have noticed the ease and
freedom with which a very shallow person will
criticise and trenchantly decide on the ability and
character of a deep and wise man. Now, on the
contrary, a wise man does not think it too much
trouble to study the shallow man for a long time
before making up his mind as to his peculiarities of
folly and shallowness. Can we wonder, then, that
the shallow critic is always wrong, and that the wise
man is very often right ? The pains a wise man
takes to form his opinions often strike me as ex-
traordinary : nothing is too difficult ; no place too
far away ; no examination too precise and tedious, if
by their means he may arrive at something approxi-
mating to the truth. Whereas the superficial,
shallow critic, whose head .is very small, whose
capacity to receive is of the most limited kind,
picks up a few cant phrases from people who are just
foolish enough for him to comprehend them that
is, whose ears are a fraction less long than his own
and retails what he learns to people whose ears
are, fortunately for him, a little longer than his.
And so it goes on. The old lies, the old prejudices,
the over -and -over -again exploded twaddle and



32 VOLTAIRE.

cant are hashed and rehashed, until one's gorge
rises against the abominable mess. Now, let us
examine the kind of people who abuse Voltaire most.
Are they wise ? Are they witty ? Are they lovers
of humanity ? Are they animated by a real spirit
of religion, which really means love of others, even
to our own loss and ruin ? Are they, I ask, people
of that kind ? ' Oh, he was an atheist ; a mere
mocker of all that is good.' Well, if cant that is,
religion from the teeth and not from the heart is
good, he was. But in our opinion the witty and
wise man, who with unsurpassed wit and irony
exposed the Stigginses and Chadbands of his day,
was a defender of real religion against the subtle
foes who did not attack it in front, but sapped and
undermined its very foundation, which consists in
justice, mercy, and truth. Did Moliere attack real
religion when he unmasked the greasy, unctuous
Tartufie? If Tartuffe, Stiggins, and Chadband
represent real religion, and to go to Heaven it is
necessary to admire such wretches, let me go to the
other place, if there be such a place. And I unhesi-
tatingly say that to attack such vile traducers of what
should be the most spiritual and elevating influence
in the universe, is to do the greatest service to truth,
justice, and mercy, on which all true religion is
based.

Now, it is no use to evade the fact that Voltaire
is looked upon by many well-meaning and not
ignorant people as a sneerer and a mocker; as a
man, in fact, who revelled in the revolting part of



VOLTAIRE. 33

pointing out the weak and mean points in poor,
fallen, and vilely treated humanity. But did not
Voltaire live in a time when France was given over
to that selfish voluptuary, Louis XY., I suppose the
most lubricous king who ever reigned, even in
France? Of course, I must do justice to our
Charles II., 'the Defender of the Faith and
Nell Gwynne ' and other ' unfortunate females '
although considering the millions we have paid to
their right honourable descendants for their good
fortune, in descending from such honourable and
virtuous ladies, we might say more unfortunate
people.

We all know something about the regency of
Orleans, about the satyr Dubois, about the Defender
of the Faith, Louis XV., his mistresses, his bawds,
his orgies ; and as a shadow to these very high, not
to say lurid lights, the infinite misery and degraded
condition of the ' common people.' If this King
and his vile Court, and the vicious ecclesiastics who
blessed the Comus orgies were uncommon, how
honourable to be of the common people !

Voltaire was born on the 20th February, 1694,
at Chatenay, and through excessive weakness was
not baptised till the 22nd November, at Paris. He
was about twenty-two at the death of Louis XIV.
Our keen-eyed friend, sensitive and highly strung,
took in all the abominable picture of Court dissipa-
tion. He saw what was called the religion of Christ
pandering to the most loathsome vice : vice of an
infernal turpitude and devilish ingenuity that appals



34 VOLTAIRE.

the most experienced man of the world. Is it not
most natural that Voltaire, with the courage of a
hero, should attack the religion that produced and
fostered such atrocious things ? Genius is simply a
vivid power of seeing, feeling, and expressing.
"What only produces a slight superficial feeling in
the ordinary man, sends a thrill of indignation
through the super-sensitive man of genius. Voltaire
lived in the midst of this sensual sty. He saw the
pigs eat and wallow and roll over each other in the
vile filth of infinite corruption and lubricity. He
saw the lying, canting abbes, the bishops blessing
and sharing the infernal revels. Then, like a true
man of genius, filled with the very essence of common
sense, what did he do ? I imagine he said something
to the following effect: 'If I defy these devils
openly and without any disguise, they will rend me
to pieces. Now, I don't want to be rent to pieces
yet. I feel a burning sense of power filling my heart
and brain. I am born to do some good in this world.
But I must " eke out the lion's skin with the fox's."
Be bold be bold be bold be not too bold. What
did my great master, Rabelais, do ? He lived in
more dangerous times than these. He put on the
fool's cap and bells before he dared to be wise. He
mixed his lessons, his profoundly wise, deep lessons,
with coarse wit and allusions not too nice and clean.
I need not go so far as he did ; but I must go far
enough to avert death.'

Every one knows he was sent to the Bastille for
making a witty and caustic reply to a duke at a



VOLTAIRE. 35

dinner. On leaving the Bastille he came to London,
and lived in Maiden Lane. Here he published the
Henriade, to which Dean Swift, Bolingbroke, and Sir
"William Temple subscribed. Thisbroughthiminabout
2000/. Our witty friend, who was a model of worldly
common sense and prudence, took good care of the
money in fact, it formed the nucleus of his fortune.
I will now tell once more the never-too-often-
repeated story of Voltaire's magnanimous generosity
in the Galas and Sirvens cases. It seems incompatible
that the most vile and vicious people should be the
most bigoted. Never was the Court of France so
base and vicious as during the time of Catherine de
Medicis of infamous memory and during the reigns of
Louis XIV. and XV. Then think of that vicious
and abominable wretch who died of a loathsome
disease engendered by his vices, Philip II., and you
will agree with me in saying that the extreme of
vice and cruelty is accompanied by bigotry and the
cruelest persecution. We will take the story of
John Galas first. He was a merchant living
at Toulouse. He, his wife and five sons, had
been born and educated as Protestants. But a few
months before my tale commences, Lewis, his second
son, embraced the Catholic faith. His parents, of
course, lamented this change of religion, but did not
ut all alter their conduct to their son. The eldest
son, Anthony, had adopted the legal profession, but
found that his religion interfered with his practice.
He became depressed, morose, and often talked
favourably of suicide. While he was in this des-



36 VOLTAIRK.

pondent condition he received a visit from an old
schoolfellow, a young lawyer, named Lavaisse. Mdme.
Galas received him with great cordiality, and they
sat talking together till Anthony went out to pur-
chase some provisions. Soon after Lavaisse left the
house to see about a horse for his return home on
the next morning. They both returned in a short
time, and at seven o'clock sat down to supper in a
room on the first floor, the company consisting of
M. and Mdme. Galas, Anthony, Peter, one of his
brothers, and M. Lavaisse. Before the meal was
over, Anthony, without any apparent cause, rose
from the table, greatly excited, and left the room.
As he had, since his indisposition, often done this
before, it was not noticed. He went into the
kitchen, on the same floor, and being asked by the
servant if he was cold, replied, ' No ; I am in a
burning heat.' He soon after went downstairs. I
may mention here that the whole of the downstairs
premises was occupied by the shop and warehouse
behind it. The company left by Anthony continued
their conversation till half-past nine o'clock, when
Lavaisse took his leave, and Peter rose to accompany
him to his lodging with a lantern. It is impossible
to describe their horror when they saw Anthony,
with his coat and vest off, hanging from a bar
between the shop and warehouse. Their cries of
terror brought M. Galas downstairs, who rushed to
his son, took his body in his arms, and thus displaced
a bar to which the rope had been fastened. The


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Online LibraryJoseph ForsterSome French and Spanish men of genius. Sketches of Marivaux, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Beaumarachais, Mirabeau, Danton and Robespierre, Béranger, Victor Hugo, Eugéne Sue and Zola, Cervantes and Lope de Vega, Calderon → online text (page 2 of 19)