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These qualifications set the matter quite right again. They are certainly broad enough, in our view, to convict of blasphemy every scoffer at the Lord and his Anointed, in the whole diabolic succession. We are perfectly satisfied that the blasphemer never lived who could claim the benefit of these exceptions; who “ had applied his faculties to the inquiry” into the divine origin of Christianity, “with that sober attention, that conscientious diligence which its immense importance demands,” and who, on the ground of such examination, stood forth a scoffer, with no shadow of doubt or fear upon his spirit. God never made a rational creature whose faculties, so applied, could lead him to such a result. And yet, strange as it may seem, Lord Brougham regards Voltaire as having fully come up to the terms of these two exceptions; Voltaire, whose infidelity began almost in his boyhood;? whose warfare against the Son of God partook throughout of that passion and hate which imply fear; and who died with remorse and horror, calling upon the name of Christ.
This is doubtless a most ingenious calculus, by which the innocence of a reviler of Christ is made to increase in the direct ratio of his guilt; by which the more he is able to pervert his judgment, and silence his conscience, and the more his insulted Maker gives him up to strong delusion to believe a lie, because he received not the love of the truth, the more he brightens under the process into a state, quoad hoc, of righteousness. This is blasphemy made easy; a system admirably adapted to encourage beginners to proceed on till they arrive ať the stature of perfect men “in Beelzebub.” Voltaire's sin, according to this method, in mocking at Christ,the sin of Condorcet, Helvetius, and Diderot, we suppose, pari ratione, in mocking at God, is of precisely the same character with Elijah's in mocking at Baal. Had Elijah believed Baal to be divine, or even suspected he possibly might be, it would have been very profane to intimate that he was perhaps asleep, or absent on a journey. But having become perfectly satisfied, by sober attention and conscientious diligence, that Baal was vanity and a lie, the ridicule was sanctified by its subserviency to truth. We have only to suppose the French atheists to have reached an equal confidence of unbelief, and Saul also is among the prophets.
1 It is worth notice, as standing near the fountain of Voltaire's passionate hatred of Christianity and its ministers, that his first literary effort was an unsuccessful competition for a prize before the Academy, where his successful rival was a clergyman. A man whose infidelity becomes setlled at eighteen or twenty, cannot possibly have met the requirement of Lord Brougham's second rule. Lord Brougham himself states that Voltaire came very early under the influence of the Abbé de Chateauneuf, his godfather, "a person of lvose morals and sceptical opinions ;" and adds, that" in this association (that of Ninon de L'Enclos and her circle), Voltaire, then a boy, became inured to the oblivion both of his law-books and of his religious principles." regard to the rebuke given him, while at the college of Louis le Grand, by his Professor, the Jesuit Le Jay, “unfortunate young man! you will one day come to be the standard-bearer of infidelity," Lord Brougham merely says, that “ the story, if true, shows how early he had begun to think for himself."
We certainly regret that sentiments so loose and unsound should ever have been recommended by so high an authority. We are ready to do full justice to the value of Lord Brougham's labors in the field of natural theology; and are disposed to rejoice with him in the “ heartfelt satisfaction” he expresses at the intimated conversion of certain persons by the influence of his writings. But the very liberal form of Christianity which his lordship represents, makes us hesitate. We would rather first ascertain just what it was they were converted to.
But Voltaire, we are assured, was no atheist. "He was a sincere believer in the existence and attributes of the Deity.” “Not one irreverent expression is to be found in all his numberless writings towards the Deity in whom he believed." "He has consecrated some of his noblest poetry to celebrate the powers of the Godhead.” All this we have no objections to admit. It would have been hard indeed if the High Priest of Ashdod had blasphemed his own Dagon. Taking full license to cut and carve among the attributes of Jehovah, --shredding away his providence here and his justice there, and reducing him to an imbecile kind of Dieu Paternel, it would have been monstrous if he had then made ridiculous verses about him. We never heard of anybody wicked enough to set about deliberately turning into laughter “the Deity in whom he believed.” Voltaire had sufficient literary foil at hand, to afford gilding handsomely the image he had set up. It cost him little to write a theistical homily or a devotional couplet. Epicurus, the aim and tendency of whose writings, like Voltaire's, was wholly to eradicate a sense of religion—radicitus evellere religionem-had done the same thing. At etiam de sanctitate, de pietate adversus Deos libros scripsit Epicurus. At quo modo in his loquitur ? Ut Coruncanium, aut Scævolam, pontifices maximos te audire dicas; non eum qui sustulerit omnem funditus religionem."
Lord Brougham greatly overvalues this sort of cheap tribute to religion. It is not worth mentioning as constituting any grade of comparative innocence between Voltaire and Vanini. Among a band of Italian or Spanish cut-throats, we have no better opinion of the captain, who falls on his knees and beats his breast before an image of the Virgin, than of the lieutenant who laughs at the service and the God. Voltaire standing at the head of the conspiracy, enlisting recruits, disciplining, organizing, cheering to the assault, putting the torch and the dagger into the hand of his “ brethren in Beelzebuth,” appears to us, we must say, a much blacker devil then Condorcet or Diderot. This martial metaphor” is quite after his own taste; “ Je vous assure,” he writes to Damilaville (19th Nov., 1767), “que dans un peu il n'y aura que la canaille sous les étendards de nos ennemis; la victoire se declare pour nous de tous cotés. Allons, brave Diderot, intrepide d'Alembert, joignez vous à mon cher Damilaville, courez sus aux fanatiques et aux fripons.”
i De Nat. Deor., I., 15.
It is not worth while for us to attempt anything like a connected notice of Voltaire's life. We shall touch only on a few points which seem necessary, in order to give a more correct view of his character than is contained in the work before us.
In 1728 Voltaire, then thirty-four years of age, returned from a two years' residence in England, where he had made acquaintance personally, or by their writings, with the infidel and licentious wits, who had shed so bright, yet so disastrous a lustre on the reign of Queen Anne. Pope and Congreve he knew personally; Swift and Bolingbroke he learned to read and admire; the influence of the Dean of St. Patrick's is easily perceptible in his lighter writings and correspondence. Not long after his return began his intimacy with the celebrated Madame du Chatelet. His “memoirs"
open with a brief account of this liaison. 66 I was ready to quit Paris in disgust with its crowds of fops, and multitudes of wretched books, printed avec approbation du Roi, when I met in 1733, a young lady whose views harmonized entirely with my own; and who had resolved to quit the tumult of the world, and retire for some years into the country for the improvement of her mind. This was Madame la Marquise du Chatelet. Her father, the Baron de Breteuil, had caused her to be thoroughly instructed in the Latin language; she had by heart the finest passages of Horace, Virgil, and Lucretius, and was at home in the philosophical works of Cicero. Her prevailing taste, however, was for mathematical and metaphysical studies. Seldom have so much taste and judgment been found united to such a passion for knowledge. She was, at the same time, fond of the world, and cultivated all the accomplishments and graces suitable to her age and sex. All this she quitted, however, to bury herself in a dilapidated chateau on the borders of Champagne.” He proceeds to mention the repairs and improvements effected in the chateau of Cirey; the addition he himself made to it, of a suite of apartments furnished with every luxury, which became for the next fifteen years or more, his principal residence, and the sort of society which, allured by the odor of philosophy, resorted to the chateau.
“ In this delicious retreat (he continues), we thought only of mutual improvement, without caring what the rest of the world were doing. Our chief attention was for a long time turned to Leibnitz and Newton. Madame du Chatelet was then attached to the philosophy of Leibnitz, and developed a part of his system in a well written treatise. We cultivated, however, all the fine arts.
" It is a bitter remark of Voltaire's, that two of the writers who have done most to encourage others in scoffing at religion and the decencies of life, were clergymen, Rabelais and Dean Swift.
I composed there, Alzire, Merope, &c. I worked, at her desire, upon an Essay on Universal History, from the reign of Charlemagne to our own time. I began with Charlemagne, because Bossuet had ended there; I would not venture to meddle with anything handled by that great writer. She, however, was far from satisfied with his History; she admitted the eloquence of its style; but was indignant that almost the whole work should relate to a people so contemptible as the Jews. After passing six years in this retreat, occupied with science and the arts, it became necessary for us to visit Brussels, where the family of du Chatelet had an important lawsuit depending. I had the satisfaction of arbitrating the dispute, which had been going on at a ruinous expense for sixty years, and of securing for the Marquis the payment of two hundred and twenty thousand Jivres in ready money."
This is one of the very few instances in which any mention occurs of the respectable old husband of this metaphysical young woman. He seems to have been a mere nobody in his own house; thrust aside with scarce any semblance of respect by our male and female philosopher. Whether he would have had philosophy enough to submit to this sort of thing under other circumstances, we cannot tell ; but he was poor ; his lawsuit had emptied his pockets, and Voltaire had freely advanced him the means of repairing his chateau, and keeping up the establishment. Forty thousand francs of borrowed money was a strong argument for a charitable construction of the attentions lavished on Madame la Marquise.
It is rather more difficult for us to understand how Lord Brougham, with no such inducement, should persuade himself to pass the whole thing off platonic. The Abelard of this liaison, profligate, unbelieving, and domesticated in the chateau ; the Eloise, handsome, passionate, and “above all vulgar prejudices;" and the “bon homme," bribed to nod or be missing, indicate too clearly its character.
It is a question of some interest, how Voltaire became possessed of so considerable means. His patrimony was but trilling. Ninon de L'Enclos left him two thousand francs to buy books with. This constitutes, until the time of his visit to England, his whole visible means of support. The Commentaire llistorique, at the close of his works, states that while there, a large subscription for the Henriade was raised, headed by George I. and the Princess of Wales; and that on returning to France in 1728, he made a successful venture with these means in a Government lottery. In his own memoirs, he says nothing either of the subscription or the lottery; but intimates rather mysteriously, that, finding he must be either hammer or anvil, he hammered out his own fortunes by speculating dexterously in the funds.
There is an anecdote given by the Abbé Baruel which may possibly cast some light on the subject; and which is at least as well authenticated as the anonymous story of the lottery. The Abbé declares he learned it from men who knew Voltaire well in the earlier part of his life. Voltaire had an elder brother, it seems, the Abbé Arouet, who was a zealous Jansenist and a man of fortune. He detested the impieties of François, and openly said he would not leave him a halfpenny. But his health was failing; he could not last long, and Voltaire had not relinquished all hope of the inheritance. He turns Jansenist and acts the devotee. On a sudden he appears in the Jansenistical garb, and becomes indefatigable in his attentions at church. Choosing the same hours for devotion as the Abbé Arouet, he would be found prostrate before the altar, or listening, with tears in his eyes, to the sermon;' in short, with all the external signs of profound compunction. The Abbé was imposed upon ; encouraged his brother to persevere in pious ways, and died, leaving him all his fortune.
If this is not true, all we can say is, it is sufficiently probable. Voltaire's first published work was a Devotional poem; and he had a power of hypocrisy adequate to this or any other imposture. He was accustomed regularly to receive the sacrament, all the time that he was leading the warfare against Christ and the Gospel ; and jokes about his finding it so much more to his taste to play the part of confessor than of martyr. " Had I a hundred thousand men," he writes to Comte d'Argental (16 Feb., 1761), “ I should know very well what to do; but as I have not, I shall receive the communion at Easter; and you may call me hypocrite as much as you please.” This was a very proper person doubtless, to rail at the hypocrisy of the clergy!
Of the sort of life led in this “ terrestrial paradise of Cirey,” as well as of the tempers of the two leading characters, Madame de Grafigny gives us some rather striking ideas. This woman, an authoress of some little reputation, separated from her husband, poor and profligate, came, at the close of 1738, to eat the bread of toadyism at Cirey. She remained there two or three months; making her exit precipitately, and in quite another state of mind than at her entrance. She stayed long enough, however, io qualify her for showing what a “hell,” according to her own expression, this Eden of philosophy and friendship actually was.
We referred to Voltaire's extreme uneasiness at having any of his attacks on religion or morals circulated with his own name. The evenings at Cirey, it appears, were spent, after the “good man” had retired, in such exercises for “ mutual improvement” as reading some of Voltaire's works in manuscript ; among others, that most indecent and profligate poem, the Pucelle d'Orleans.
Voltaire appears at least to have heard somewhere, what often passes for moving eloquence. His homiletical canon is this; Adspice audientiam torvis oculis, percute pulpitum fortiter, dic nihil ad propositum, et bene predicabis.