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slaves than heroic Romans. I must, therefore, confine myself to the
narrow boundaries of a spectator, and applaud you as heartily in
your character of Cicero as I applaud you in that of the great

"And is this indeed your intention, sire? My poor tragedy lies in my
writing-desk, seemingly dead; will you awaken it to life and light?"

"It shall be given in two months, and you shall conduct it."

Voltaire's countenance darkened; his gay smile disappeared, and
lines of selfishness and covetousness clouded the brow of the great

"In two months, sire!" said he, shaking his head. "I fear I shall
not be here. I have only come to sun myself for a few happy days in
your presence."

"And then?" said Frederick, interrupting him.

"Then I must fulfil one of the darling dreams of my whole life. I
must go to Italy, to the holy city of Rome, and kneel upon the
graves of Cicero and Caesar. I must see St. Peter's, the Venus de
Medici, and the pope."

"You will never go to Rome," said Frederick. "The Holy Father will
not have the happiness of converting the blasphemous Saul into the
pious and believing Paul. You will remain in Berlin; if you do not
yield willingly, I must compel you to yield. I will make you my
subject; I will bind you with orders and titles; I will compel you
to accept a salary from me; and then, should they seek to ravish you
from me, I will have a right to withhold you from all the potentates
of the world."

Voltaire's face was again radiant. "Ah! sire, no power or chains
will be necessary to bind me here; your majesty's command alone
would suffice."

"And your duty! My gentleman of the bedchamber dare not withdraw
himself for a single day without my permission. I make you gentleman
of the bedchamber. I lay the ribbon of my order, 'pour le merite,'
around your neck, and that I may always have a rope around you, and
make you completely my prisoner, I give you an apartment in my
palace at Potsdam; and that you may not feel yourself a hermit, you
will have every day six covers laid for your friends; and to mock
you with the appearance of liberty, you shall have your own equipage
and servants, who will obey you in all things with one exception - if
you order your valet to pack up your effects, and your coachman to
take the road to Paris, they will disobey."

Voltaire heard the words of the king with breathless attention.
Sullen suspicion and discontent were written on his face. This did
not, escape the king; he understood the cause, but he said nothing.
Voltaire exhausted himself in words of joy and gratitude, but they
had not the ring of truth, and the joy which his lips expressed
found no echo in his face.

"I have but one other thing to add," said Frederick, at last. "Can
your greatness pardon a poor earthworm, if he dare speak in your
presence of so common and villanous a thing as money?"

Voltaire's eyes sparkled; the subject of conversation did not seem
disagreeable to him.

"You have relinquished a pension of six thousand livres in France,
It is but just that you receive full compensation. Your great spirit
is certainly above all earthly considerations, but our fleshy
existence has its rights. So long as you are with me, you shall not
be troubled by even a shadow of privation. You will therefore
receive a salary of five thousand thalers from me. Your lodging and
your table cost you nothing, and I think you can be very

Voltaire's heart bounded for joy, but he forced himself to seem calm
and indifferent.

"Your majesty has forgotten an important matter," said he. "You have
named lodging and food, but you say nothing of light and fire. I am
an old man, and cannot produce them myself."

"Truly said - I find it quite in order that the great free-thinker
and poet of this century is troubled for the light which should
illuminate him. You shall have twelve pounds of wax-lights every
month; I think this will be sufficient for your purposes. As for the
other little necessities of life, have the goodness to apply to the
castellan of the castle. On the first day of every month he will
supply them regularly. The contract is made; you will remain with

"I remain, sire! - not for the title, or the pension, or the order - I
remain with you, because I love you. My heart offers up to you the
dream of my life, my journey to Italy. Oh, I wish I could make
greater, more dangerous sacrifices! I wish I could find a means to
prove my love, my adoration, my worship!"

The king laid his hand softly on Voltaire's shoulder, and looked
earnestly in his eyes.

"Be as good a man as you are a great poet. That is the most
beautiful offering you can bring me."

"Ah! I see," said Voltaire, enraged; "some one has slandered me.
Your majesty has opened your cars to my enemies, and already their
hellish poison has reached your heart. As they cannot destroy
Voltaire the poet, they seize upon Voltaire the man, and slander his
character because they cannot obscure his fame. I will advance to
meet them with an open visor and without a shield. From their place
of ambush, with their poisoned arrows, let them slay me. It is
better to die than to be suspected and contemned by my great and
worshipped king."

"See, now, what curious creatures you poets are!" said Frederick;
"always in wild tumult and agitation; either storming heaven or
hell; contending with demons, or revelling with angels! You have no
daily quiet, patience, and perseverance. If you see a man who tells
you he is planting potatoes, you do not believe him - you convince
yourself he is sowing dragons' teeth to raise an army to contend
against you. If you meet one of your fellows with a particularly
quiet aspect, you are sure you can read curses against you upon his
lip. When one begs you to be good, you look upon it as an
accusation. No, no, my poet! no one has poured the poison of slander
into my ears - no one has accused you to me. I am, moreover,
accustomed to form my own conclusions, and the opinions of others
have but little weight with me."

"But your majesty is pleased to lend your ears to my enemies," said
Voltaire, sullenly; "exactly those who attack me most virulently
receive the highest honors at the hands of your majesty. You are as
cruel with me as a beautiful and ravishing coquette. So soon as by a
love-glance you have made me the happiest of men, you turn away with
cold contempt, and smile alluringly upon my rivals. I have yet two
dagger-strokes in my heart, which cause me death-agony. If your
majesty would make me truly happy, you must cure the wounds with
your own hands."

"I will, if it is possible," said the king, gravely. "Let us hear of
what you complain."

"Sire, your majesty has made Freron your correspondent in Paris -
Freron, my most bitter enemy, my irreconcilable adversary. But it is
not because he is my foe that I entreat you to dismiss him; you will
not think so pitifully of me as to suppose that this is the reason I
entreat you to dismiss him from your service. My personal dislike
will not make me blind to the worth of Freron as a writer. No, sire,
Freron is not worthy of your favor; he is an openly dishonored
scoundrel, who has committed more than one common fraud. You may
imagine what an excitement it produced in Paris when it was known
that you had honored this scamp with a position which should be
filled by a man of wisdom and integrity. Freron is only my enemy
because, in spite of all entreaties, I have closed my house upon
him. I took this step for reasons which should have closed the doors
of every respectable house against him. [Footnote: Voltaire's own
words.] Sire, I implore you, do not let the world believe for a
single day longer that Freron is your correspondent. Dismiss him at
once from your service."

The king did not reply for a few moments; he walked backward and
forward several times, then stood quietly before Voltaire. The
expression of his eye was stern.

"I sacrifice Freron to you," said he, "because I will deny you
nothing on this, the day of your arrival; but I repeat to you what I
said before, 'be not only a great poet, be also a good man.'"

Voltaire shook his head, sadly. "Sire," said he, "in your eyes I am
not a great poet, only un soleil couchant. Remember Arnaud, my
pupil, whom I sent to you!"

"Aha!" cried the king, laughing, "you have, then, read my little
poem to Arnaud?"

"Sire, I have read it, and that was the second dagger-stroke which I
received on this journey, to which my loving heart forced my weak
and shrinking body; I felt that I must see you once more before I
died. Yes, I have read this terrible poem, and the lines have burned
into my heart these cruel words:"

'Deja sans etre temeraire,
Prenant votre vol jusqu'aux cieux,
Vous pouvez egaler Voltaire,
Et pres de Virgile et d'Homere.
Jouir de vos succes heureux,
Deja l'Apollon de la France,
S'achemine a sa decadence,
Venez briller a votre tour,
Elevez vous s'il brille encore;
Ainsi le couchant d'un beau jour,
Promet une plus belle aurore.'
[Footnote: Supplement des Oeuvres Posthumes.]

"Yes," said the king, as Voltaire ceased declaiming, and stood in
rather a tragic attitude before him - "yes, I confess that a
sensitive nature like yours might find a thorn in these innocent
rhymes. My only intention was to give to the little Arnaud a few
roses which he might weave into a wreath of fame. It seems I
fulfilled my purpose poorly; it was high time that Voltaire should
come to teach me to make better verses. See, I confess my injustice,
and I allow you to punish me by writing a poem against me, which
shall be published as extensively as my little verse to Arnaud."

"Does your majesty promise me this little revenge in earnest?"

"I promise it; give me your poem as soon as it is ready; it shall be
published in 'Formey's Journal.'"

"Sire, it is ready: hear it now. [Footnote: Oeuvres Completes de

"'Quel diable de Marc Antoine!
Et quelle malice est le votre,
Vous egratinez d'une main
Lorsque vous caressez de l'autre.'"

"Ah," said Frederick, "what a beautiful quatrain Monsieur Arouet has

"Arouet!" said Voltaire, astonished,

"Well, now, you would not surely wish me to believe that this little
stinging, pitiful rhyme, was written by the great Voltaire. No, no!
this is the work of the young Arouet, and we will have it published
with his signature."

Voltaire fixed his great eyes for a moment angrily upon the handsome
face of the king, then bowed his head and looked down thoughtfully.
There was a pause, and his face assumed a noble expression - he was
again the great poet.

"Sire," said he, softly, "I will not have this poem published. You
are right, Voltaire does not acknowledge it. This poor verse was
written by Arouet, or the 'old Adam,' who often strikes the poet
Voltaire slyly in the back. But you, sire, who have already won five
battles, and who find a few morning hours sufficient to govern a
great kingdom with wisdom, consideration, and love; you, by one
kindly glance of your eye, will be able to banish the old Adam, and
call heavenly hymns of love and praise from the lips of Voltaire."

"I shall be content with hymns of love. I will spare you all
eulogy," cried Frederick, giving his hand warmly to Voltaire.

At the close of the first day at Sans-Souci, the new gentleman of
the bedchamber returned to Potsdam, adorned with the order "Pour le
merite," and a written assurance from the king of a pension of five
thousand thalers in his pocket.

Two richly-liveried servants received him at the gate of the palace;
one of them held a silver candelabrum, in which five wax-lights were
burning. Voltaire leaned, exhausted and groaning, upon the arm of
the other, who almost carried him into his apartment. Voltaire
ordered the servant to place the lights on the table, and to wait in
the anteroom for further orders.

Scarcely had the servant left the room when Voltaire, who had thrown
himself, as if perfectly exhausted, in the arm-chair, sprang up
actively and hastened to the table upon which the candelabrum stood;
raising himself on tiptoe, he blew out three of the lights.

"Two are enough," said he, with a grimace. "I am to receive twelve
pounds of wax-lights a month. I will be very economical, and out of
the proceeds of this self-denial I can realize a little pin-money
for my niece, Denis." He took the candelabrum and entered his study.

It was curious to look upon this lonely, wrinkled, decrepit old man,
in the richly-furnished but half-obscure room; the dull light
illuminated his malicious but smiling face; here and there as he
advanced it flashed upon the gilding, or was reflected in a mirror,
while behind him the gloom of night seemed to have thrown an
impenetrable veil.

Voltaire seated himself at his desk and wrote to his niece, Madame
Denis: "I have bound myself with all legal form to the King of
Prussia. My marriage with him is determined upon. Will it be happy?
I do not know. I could no longer postpone the decisive yes. After
coquetting for so many years, a wedding was the necessary
consequence. How my heart beat at the altar! How could I have
supposed, seven months ago, when we arranged our little house in
Paris, that I should be to-day three hundred leagues from home in
another man's house, and this other a ruler!" [Footnote: Oeuvres
Completes, 301.]

At the same moment wrote Frederick, King of Prussia, to Algarotti:
"Voltaire is here; he has of late, as you know, been guilty of an
act unworthy of him. He deserves to be branded upon Parnassus. It is
a shame that so base a soul should be united to so exalted a genius.
Of all this, however, I shall take no notice; he is necessary to me
in my study of the French language. One can learn beautiful things
from an evil-doer. I must learn his French. I have nothing to do
with his morals. He unites in himself the strangest opposites. The
world worships his genius and despises his character." [Footnote:
Oeuvres de Frederic le Grand.]



"And now, friends, let us be joyful, and forget all the cares and
sorrows of the world," cried the king, with a ringing laugh; "raise
your glasses and strike them merrily. Long life to mirth, to jest,
to joy!"

The glasses were raised, and as they met they rang out cheerily;
they were pressed to the lips and emptied at a draught; the guests
then seated themselves silently at the table. Frederick glanced at
the circle of his friends who sat with him at the round table; his
eyes dwelt searchingly upon every laughing face, then turned to the
garden of Sans-Souci, which sent its perfumed breath, its song of
birds, its evening breeze, through the open doors and windows, while
the moon, rising in cloudless majesty, shone down upon them and
rivalled with her silver rays the myriads of wax-lights which
glittered in the crystal chandeliers.

"This is a glorious evening," said the king, "and we will enjoy it

He ordered the servants to close the doors, place the dessert and
champagne upon the table, and leave the room. Noiselessly and
silently this command was fulfilled. Frederick then greeted each one
of his guests with a kindly nod.

"Welcome, thrice welcome are you all!" said he. "I have longed to
have you all together, and now, at last, you are here. There sits
Voltaire, whose divine Emile was delivered first of a book, then of
a child, and then released from life before he was free to come to
Berlin. There is Algarotti, the swan of Italy, who spreads his wings
and would gladly fly to the land of oranges and myrtles. There is La
Mettrie, who only remains here because he is convinced that my Cape
wine is pure, and my pates de foie gras truly from Strasbourg. There
is D'Argens, who sought safety in Prussia because in every other
land in Europe there are sweethearts waiting and sighing for him, to
whom he has sworn a thousand oaths of constancy. There is Bastiani,
who only remains with us while the Silesian dames, who have frankly
confessed their sins to him and been absolved, find time and
opportunity to commit other peccadilloes, which they will do
zealously, in order to confess them once more to the handsome Abbe
Bastiani. And lastly, there is my Lord Marshal, the noblest and best
of all, whose presence we owe to the firmness of his political
principles and the misfortunes of the house of Stuart."

"And there is the Solomon of the North," cried Voltaire - "there is
Frederick, the youngest of us all, and the wisest - the philosopher
of Sans-Souci. There sits Apollo, son of the gods, who has descended
from Olympus to be our king."

"Let us not speak of kings," said Frederick. "When the sun goes down
there is no king at Sans-Souci; he leaves the house and retires into
another castle, God only knows where. We are all equal and wholly
sans gene. At this table, there are no distinctions; we are seven
friends, who laugh and chat freely with each other; or, if you
prefer it, seven wise men."

"This is then the Confidence-Table," said Voltaire, "of which
D'Argens has so often spoken to me, and which has seemed to me like
the Round-Table of King Arthur. Long live the Confidence-Table!"

"It shall live," cried the king, "and we will each one honor this,
our first sitting, by showing our confidence in each other. Every
one shall relate something piquant and strange of his past life,
some lively anecdote, or some sweet little mystery which we dare
trust to our friends, but not to our wives. The oldest begins

"I am afraid I am that," said Voltaire, "but your majesty must
confess that my heart has neither white hair nor wrinkles. Old age
is a terrible old woman who slides quietly, grinning and
threatening, behind every man, and watches the moment when she dares
lay upon him the mask of weary years through which he has lived and
suffered. She has, alas! fastened her wrinkled mask upon my face,
but my heart is young and green, and if the women were not so short-
sighted as to look only upon my outward visage, if they would
condescend to look within, they would no longer call me the old
Voltaire, but would love and adore me, even as they did in my

"Listen well, friends, he will no doubt tell us of some duchess who
placed him upon an altar and bowed down and worshipped him."

"No, sire, I will tell you of an injury, the bitterest I ever
experienced, and which I can never forget."

"As if he had ever forgotten an injury, unless he had revenged it
threefold!" cried D'Argens.

"And chopped up his enemy for pastry and eaten him," said La

"Truly, if I should eat all my enemies, I should suffer from an
everlasting indigestion, and, in my despair, I might fly to La
Mettrie for help. It is well known that when you suffer from
incurable diseases, you seek, at last, counsel of the quack."

"You forget that La Mettrie is a regular physician," said the king,
with seeming earnestness.

"On the contrary, he remembered it well," said La Mettrie, smiling.
"The best physician is the greatest quack, or the most active grave-
digger, if you prefer it."

"Silence!" said the king. "Voltaire has the floor; he will tell us
of the greatest offence he ever received. Give attention."

"Alas! my heart is sad, sire; of all other pain, the pain of looking
back into the past is the most bitter. I see myself again a young
man, the Arouet to whom Ninon de l'Enclos gave her library and a
pension, and who was confined for twenty years to the Bastile
because he loved God and the king too little, and the charming
Marquise de Villiers and some other ladies of the court too much.
Besides these exalted ladies, there was a beautiful young maiden
whom I loved - perhaps because she had one quality which I had never
remarked in the possession of my more noble mistresses - she was
innocent! Ah, friends, you should have seen Phillis, and you would
have confessed that no rose-bud was lovelier, no lily purer, than
she. Phillis was the daughter of a gypsy and a mouse-catcher, and
danced on the tight-rope in the city-gardens."

"Ah, it appears to me the goddess of innocence dances always upon
the tight-rope in this world," said the king. "I should not be
surprised to hear that even your little Phillis had a fall."

"Sire, she fell, but in my arms; and we swore eternal love and
constancy. You all know from experience the quality and fate of such
oaths; they are the kindling-wood upon which the fire of love is
sustained; but, alas, kindling and fire soon burnt out! Who is
responsible? Our fire burned long; but, think you my Phillis, whom I
had removed from the tight-rope, and exalted to a dancer upon the
stage, was so innocent and naive, as to believe that our love must
at last be crowned with marriage! I, however, was a republican, and
feared all crowns. I declared that Ninon de l'Enclos had made me
swear never to marry, lest my grandchildren should fall in love with
me, as hers had done with her."

"Precaution is praiseworthy," said La Mettrie. "The devil's
grandmother had also a husband, and her grandsons might have fallen
in love with her."

"Phillis did not take me for the devil's grandfather, but for the
devil himself. She cried, and shrieked, and cast my oaths of
constancy in my teeth. I did not die of remorse, nor she of love,
and to prove her constancy, she married a rich Duke de Ventadour."

"And you, no doubt, gave away the bride, and swore you had never
known a purer woman!"

"No, sire, I was at that time again in the Bastile, and left it only
as an exile from France. When at last I was allowed to return to
Paris, I sought out my Duchess de Ventadour, my Phillis of former
times. I found her a distinguished lady; she had forgotten the
follies of her youth; had forgotten her father, the rope-dancer; her
mother, the mouse-catcher. She had no remembrance of the young
Arouet, to whom she had sworn to say only 'tu' and 'toi.' Now she
was grave and dignified, and 'Vous, monsieur,' was on her fair lip.
Thanks to the heraldry office, she had become the daughter of a
distinguished Spaniard, blessed with at least seven ancestors.
Phillis gave good dinners, had good wine, and the world overlooked
her somewhat obscure lineage. She was the acknowledged and respected
Duchess Ventadour. She was still beautiful, but quite deaf;
consequently her voice was loud and coarse, when she believed
herself to be whispering. She invited me to read some selections
from my new work in her saloon, and I was weak enough to accept the
invitation. I had just completed my 'Brutus,' and burned with
ambition to receive the applause of the Parisiennes. I commenced to
read aloud my tragedy of 'Brutus' in the saloon of the duchess,
surrounded by a circle of distinguished nobles, eminent in knowledge
and art. I was listened to in breathless attention. In the deep
silence which surrounded me, in the glowing eyes of my audience, in
the murmurs of applause which greeted me, I saw that I was still
Voltaire, and that the hangman's hands, which had burned my 'Lettres
Philosophiques,' had not destroyed my fame or extinguished my
genius. While I read, a servant entered upon tiptoe, to rekindle the
fire. The Duchess Ventadour sat near the chimney. She whispered, or
thought she whispered, to her servant. I read a little louder to
drown her words. I was in the midst of one of the grandest scenes of
my tragedy. My own heart trembled with emotion. Here and there I saw
eyes, which were not wont to weep, filled with tears, and heard
sighs from trembling lips, accustomed only to laughter and smiles.
And now I came to the soliloquy of Brutus. He was resolving whether
he would sacrifice his son's life to his fatherland. There was a
solemn pause, and now, in the midst of the profound silence, the
Duchess Ventadour in a shrill voice, which she believed to be
inaudible, said to her servant: 'Do not fail to serve mustard with
the pig's head!'"

A peal of laughter interrupted Voltaire, in which he reluctantly
joined, being completely carried away by the general mirth.

"That was indeed very piquant, and I think you must have been
greatly encouraged."

"Did you eat of the pig's head, or were your teeth on edge?"

"No, they were sharp enough to bite, and I bit! In my first rage I
closed my book, and cried out: 'Madame - ! Well! as you have a pig's
head, you do not require that Brutus should offer up the head of his
son!' I was on the point of leaving the room, but the poor duchess,
who was just beginning to comprehend her unfortunate interruption,
hastened after me, and entreated me so earnestly to remain and read

Online LibraryL. MühlbachBerlin and Sans-Souci; or Frederick the Great and his friends → online text (page 32 of 42)