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Madame de Grafigny was so charmed with this work, that in writing to a correspondent, she gave him an analysis of one of the cantos. This became for the poor woman the direful spring of woes unnumbered. Voltaire and Madame du Chatelet were in the habit of intercepting the correspondence that passed to and from Cirey. In the course of this virtuous espionage, they caught and read and retained the gentleman's answer, in which he acknowledged receiving " the charming cantó of Joan." As to what followed, we may allow the lady herself, after effecting her escape from this paradise, to tell her own “ dreadful story."
“On the 29th December, the post arrived as usual; but there were, as they said, no letters for me: supper went off as usual, and nothing announced the storm which was brewing. I went to my chamber and was preparing to seal a letter to you, when greatly to my surprise, Voltaire suddenly entered the room.
You may guess how my surprise increased, when he exclaimed, that he was undone, that his life was in my hands. There are a hundred copies of the Pucelle abroad,' said he. I am off this instant; I shall fly to Holland—to the end of the world—10-1 know not where. M. du Chatelet is going off post to Luneville. You must write to Panpan (her correspondent), to help him in recalling these copies; he cannot refuse to do that.'
“I, poor simpleton, assured him you would do all you could to help him. Write then, said Voltaire, write, and write with your whole heart. Willingly, I exclaimed; how happy am I to hare an opportunity of showing you my affection; and I added some words of regret at the necessity which obliged him to ask my assistance. He started up like a fury, and exclaimed, “No prevarication, madame; it is you, you yourself, who have circulated it.' I
astonished; I assured him that I had never read nor written a line of it. “On the contrary,' he exclaimed, you copied ityou sent it to Devaux, and he published it.” I, in all the confusion of a surprise, but with all the vivacity of truth, denied it; he insisted, with increased violence, and added that you had given copies to everybody; and that Madame du Chatelet had the proof all in her pocket.
“What could I say or do? I did not, as you may believe, understand what he meant, but I was not the less frightened. At last he insisted that I should sit down and write to you to send me the original, which I had sent yon, and all the copies you had made. I humbly submitted, and began to write; but as you can well conceive, I could not 'ask you to return what was never sent, and which, I believed, never existed. He read my letter and threw it down'in disgust. For shame, madame,' he cried ; "a little honesty is at least due to a poor wretch whom you have ruined ;' and then redoubled cries, redoubled violence, till at last, as all my pro
See Quart. Rev., 1820, Review of Madame de Grafigny's letters.
testations only rendered him more intolerable, I was reduced to. silence. This frightful torture lasted a full hour, but it was nothing : it was reserved for the lady to make it still more frightful. She rushed in, screaming like a fury, upbraiding me in the same way, which I received in the same silence; at last she pulled a letter out of her pocket, and stuffing it almost into my mouth, • There,' said she,' there is the proof of your infamy; you are the most abandoned of creatures; you are a monster that I received here, not out of regard, for I never had any, but out of pity, because you did not know where else to go, and you have had the infamy to betray us—to stab us—to steal from my desk a work, to copy and circulate it.' Ah! my poor friend, where were you? A thunderbolt would have astonished me less. That's all I remember of the flood of abuse with which she overwhelmed me. so lost that I could neither see nor hear; but she said a thousand things worse, and but for Voltaire she would have beaten me. He seized her round the waist, and dragged her away from me; for all this was said with fists clenched in my face, ready at every word to strike me.
But in vain would he drag her away; she returned whenever she could get loose, screaming against my infamous treachery—and all this in the hearing of my servant. I was a great while without being able to speak; at last, I begged to see the letter; 'you shan't have it,' she screamed; but at length I was allowed to look at a passage of it; it was a letter of yours, in which you say the canto of Joan is charming. This unhappy phrase brought the whole affair to my recollection, and I remembered
my innocent account of the canto, which I had heard read. I told them so; and to do him justice, Voltaire believed me at once, and begged pardon for his cruel suspicion and violence. This dreadful trial lasted till five o'clock in the morning."
The philosophers saw they had gone too far—a woman so outraged was not safe to go at large, with the wounds of her spirit unmollified with ointment. The balmy diachylon of apology and adulation was freely applied ; and the lady professing contentment, hastened her departure. Voltaire took the further precaution to write from time to time to “his charming friend,” in a style of the most honeyed compliment, comparing her to Melpomene and all the muses.
He probably revenged himself by ridiculing her unmercifully behind her back, as he was accustomed to do to others of his "angels." We confess to a little aggravation of our surprise still, that Lord Brougham, in speaking contemptuously of these “letters” of Madame de Grafigny, should add that “they tend only to raise our admiration of Voltaire's talents, if that be possible, and also of his kindly disposition.”
The praise lavished upon Voltaire for kindness of disposition, hatred of oppression, and the ready championship of suffering virtue, is founded mainly on the active part he took in the affairs of Calas, Sirven, and Abbeville. These were all cases in which a stupid and bigoted priesthood set itself about its old favorite work of avenging the church with the fagot and the wheel. The original documents, letters, examinations, &c., are found in Voltaire's works at considerable length, and possess great interest.
The main facts in the several cases were as follows:- There resided at Toulouse a respectable Protestant family by the name of Calas, engaged in merchandise. The parents are represented as eminently kind and indulgent; an evidence of which appears in the fact that, although the elder son had become a Catholic, the family lived in perfect harmony, and his father allowed him a liberal pension. A younger son, Marc Antoine, was dissipated and irreligious. His habits caused him to be refused a license to practise law; and being without business he became depressed and gloomy, and turned his thoughts to suicide. It appeared in evidence, that he was accustomed to read passages from Seneca, Montaigne, and others, justifying self-destruction, and to repeat the famous speech of Hamlet—To be, or not to be, that is the question !” On the 13th October, 1761, the family had taken tea together as usual, with a young friend named Levaisse, from Bordeaux, in company. Marc Antoine Calas quitted the table abruptly before the others, and went down stairs. The others continued engaged in conversation till near nine o'clock, when someone of the family descending with M. Levaisse, who took his leave, Marc Antoine was found suspended between the folding doors of the warehouse, and already dead. The cries, the confusion, the running for help which followed, soon collected a crowd; some one suggested that it was possibly a murder and not a suicide; others added that it was the established practice among Protestants to put to death any of their children who were in danger of renouncing the reformed religion; and soon the story grew up that Marc Antoine Calas had designed entering the Catholic church next day, and that his father had hanged him to prevent it. The brotherhood of White Penitents seized upon the matter as an excellent occasion of signalizing their zeal. The body was interred with great religious pomp in the church of St. Stephen. A catafalque erected in the middle of the church, on which appeared an image of the deceased, holding in one hand a paper inscribed " Abjuration of Heresy," and in the other a palm branch, the emblem of martyrdom. The cordeliers repeated the same ceremonies nest day.
Under such influences the municipal court of Toulouse instituted process against the family, threw them into prison, and proposed torturing them all to extort confession. They contented themselves, however, with breaking the father alive on the wheel, and banishing the rest. The wretched widow and children fled to their Protestant brethren at Geneva, and enlisted Voltaire in their defence. “He at once devoted himself to their service, and succeeded in obtaining the reversal of perhaps the most iniquitous sentence that ever a court, professing or profaning the name of justice, pronounced.”
We have taken this account from the “ documents” referred to, because the statement in the “Life” before us, though not exactly chargeable with suppressing facts, does not bring out as distinctly as truth requires, the prominent part in the tragedy enacted by the Catholic clergy. The magistrate appears much more active than the priest. The “memoir” of Donat Calas, one of the sons, says truly, that “the cordeliers and White Penitents dictated his father's sentence."
We may take the account of the other cases briefly from Lord Brougham. “ About the same time with this memorable event of Calas, there was an attempt made by the same fanatical party in Languedoc, to charge a respectable couple named Sirven, with the murder of their daughter, a young woman who had been confined in a monastery under a lettre de cachet, obtained by the priests, and having suffered from cruel treatment, and made her escape, was found drowned in a well. Sirven and his wife fled on hearing of the charge; he was sentenced to death par contumace ; she died upon the journey, and he took refuge in Geneva. Voltaire exerted himself as before ; and succeeded in obtaining a complete acquittal.”
“This happened in the year 1762. The year after, another horrid tragedy was enacted in the north ; although here Voltaire's great exertions failed in obtaining any justice against the overwhelming weight of the Parliament of Paris, which basely countenanced the iniquity of the court below. A crucifix was found to have been insulted in the night, on the bridge of Abbeville. Two young men, d'Etallonde, and the Chevalier La Barre, were accused of this offence, on mere vague suspicion. The former made his escape; the latter, a youth of seventeen, and highly connected, ventured to stand his trial. The court pronounced La Barre guilty, and sentenced him to suffer the rack, to have his tongue iorn out, and then to be beheaded. This infernal sentence was executed upon the miserable youth. The courage shown by Voltaire in exerting himself for La Barre was the more to be admired, that one of the charges against the Chevalier was the having a work of his own in his possession, and treating it with peculiar veneration."
The important facts stated in the “ Relation" of M. Cassen, avocat, to the Marquis Beccaria, do not here appear, that just as in the case of the Calas family, and other celebrated cases much older, it was the priests who stirred up the people to fury, and dictated the sentence of the magistrates. Two of the main charges against La Barre, were ridiculing the consecrated wafer, and neglecting to take off his hat to a procession of Capucins. The Bishop of Amiens and Abbeville made a solemn procession to the insulted crucifix; and it was through the force of his Lettres monitoirs, that the testimony was drummed up on which the young man was condemned.
We have no wish to deny that these frightful exhibitions of fanaticism may have touched Voltaire with indignation and pity. We should be sorry to believe the man existed whom they could affect otherwise. But at the same time, it is perfectly clear that the great attraction of these cases for Voltaire was of a different character. The oppressor was identified in his mind with the object of his deadliest animosity; and the victims fled to him personally for refuge. His two master passions, vanity and hatred of religion, were directly interested in the issue. The venue was changed, and the parties. It was no longer the family of Calas vs. the Aldermen of Toulouse ; nor the Chevalier La Barre vs. the Parliament of Paris; but Athanasius contra mundum ; Voltaire against the clergy. He fought out the battle as part of his general crusade against religion.
This comes out distinctly in many of his letters. “Palissot,” he writes to D'Alembert ( 12th July, 1762), “has sent me his comedy. I am occupied just now with a real tragedy much more important; one man hung, another broken on the wheel, a family ruined and dispersed, and all for the sake of our holy religion.” " Vous êtes sans doute instruit de l'horrible adventure des Calas à Toulouse. Je vous conjure de crier, et de faire crier, ecr. l’inf....” Again under date of 25th September, “ Criez partout, je vous en prie, pour les Calas, et contre le fanatisme, car c'est l'inf... qui a fait leur malheur.” So to Damilaville; “ Je me flatte toujours que cette affaire des Calas fera un bien infini à la raison humaine, et autant de mal à l'inf....;" and in many other places to the same effect.
The same thing is true of the interest he took in the Sirven and Abbeville cases. He cared for them mainly, as they formed a part of the battery with which he hoped to prostrate Christianity; and not satisfied with these, he even set himself to hunt up
other cases of which he could make a similar use. The charm of the thing was, that here he could speak out without disguise. The “judicial murders” committed at the instigation of the priesthood, led to a general cry of horror; and Voltaire could faire main basse on the fanaticism that produced them, without bringing his motives into suspicion. He could assassinate religion all the more effectually, for being in circumstances to steal the garment of philanthropy. It was just one of those cases in which Satan transforms himself into an angel of light.
As for real goodness or benevolence, we are bound to say that not a particle of anything like it appears in Voltaire's character
. He was accustomed to scoff habitually at all those things which