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good men hold sacred. He delighted to use his powers of ridicule, without restraint or mercy, for the humiliation of those he hated. Of truth he was utterly reckless. His insincerity and hypocrisy knew no bounds. Towards all human affections and infirmities, he ever bore the mocking air of a Mephistopheles; and the whole labor of his life was to tear from the hearts of men their only ground of consolation and hope, with nothing whatever to offer them in its place.
It is not to be denied that for the creation of such a character, the Roman Catholic Church and priesthood are to be held largely responsible. The undisguised profligacy of many of the higher clergy; the incredible ignorance and fanaticism of the lower; and the transparent absurdity of the dogmas which were exhibited as the Gospel, could searcely fail to produce infidelity in minds even less acute and less independent than Voltaire's. But then it is to be remembered, that Voltaire was under no necessity of confounding Romanism with Christianity. He knew the differing tenets of the Evangelical and Reformed Churches, and hated them more bitterly than he did the Catholic. He had the Gospel in his hands, and appears, from his frequent scoffing quotations, to have been familiar with its contents. His war, finally, was not against this or that form of Christianity, corrupt or purified, but against Christ, the Apostles, and the Gospel. When, shortly after his return from England, M. Herault, the Lieutenant of Police, said to him, “Do what you can, you will never succeed in destroying Christianity,” Voltaire promptly replied, " That is what we shall see.” He himself, to be sure, attributes this reply to somebody else, but that was one of his usual tricks; and to D'Alembert he writes that it is impossible but five or six men of merit who understood each other, should be able to pull down what twelve low scoundrels had built up.”
There are some things in the history of Voltaire's connexion with the King of Prussia, the crowned “Lucifer” of the sect, on which we should like to comment; but on such a subject our remarks are already sufficiently extended. We pass over everything to come to the account of the Philosopher's death.
In the early part of 1778, he returned to Paris, from which he had long been outlawed; and was received with enthusiasm by all classes of people. The audience rose up to receive him in the theatre, and crowned him with flowers. Franklin, then our Minister at Versailles, carried his grandson to see him, and receive his blessing; and the two great philosophers,-alas! both philosophers—"took their places side by side at a public sitting of the Academy, amid shouts of applause which burst in voluntarily from the whole assembly.” Voltaire had for some time previous become greatly enfeebled. Many of his letters during the last year or two of his life, have the melancholy signature, Le vieux malade de Ferney. To one of his correspondents he says he is bending under the weight of eighty-four years, and as many disorders.” The excitement of his triumph at Paris proved too much for him. He was seized with a profuse bleeding from the lungs, and felt the approach of death.
The account of this most impressive period in the life of his subject, Lord Brougham appears to have taken implicitly from Condorcet, a man too deeply pledged to philosophism to be trusted in his description of an infidel death-bed.
“While in his last illness the clergy had come around him; and as all the philosophers of that period appear to have felt particularly anxious that no public stigma should be cast upon them by a refusal of Christian burial, they persuaded him to undergo confession and absolution. He had a few weeks before submitted to this ceremony, and professed to die in the Catholic faith in which he was born-a ceremony which M. Condorcet may well say, gave less edification to the devout than it did scandal to the free-thinkers. The Curé (rector) of St. Sulpice had, on this being related, made inquiry, and found the formula too general; he required the Abbé Gauthier who had performed the office, to insist upon a more detailed profession of faith, else he should withhold the burial certificate. While this dispute was going on, the dying man recovered and put an end to it. On what proved his real death-bed, the Curé came and insisted on a full confession. When the dying man had gone a certain length, he was required to subscribe to the doctrine of our Savior's divinity. This roused his indignation; and he gave vent to it in an exclamation which at once put to flight all the doubts of the pious, and reconciled the infidels to their Patriarch. The certificate was refused; and he was buried in a somewhat clandestine, certainly a hasty manner, at the monastery of Scellieres of which his nephew was Abbot.”
The account given by the Abbé Baruel, and known through one channel or another to most readers of religious miscellany, is considerably more particular. The Abbé indeed gives no authority for his statements, the reason of which probably is that his work was so nearly contemporaneous with the events described. Voltaire died in 1778, and the history of Jacobinism was published some time before the close of the century. The death of Voltaire was, at all events, too recent to permit any material misrepresentation; and the Abbé challenges denial of his statements.
“In spite of all the sophisters flocking around him in the first days of his illness, he gave signs of wishing to return to the God he had so often blasphemed. His danger increasing, he wrote the following note to the Abbé Gauthier: “You had promised me, Sir, to come and hear me. I entreat you would take the trouble of calling as soon as possible. Signed, VOLTAIRE.—Paris, the 26th Feb., 1778."
A few days after he wrote the following declaration, in the presence of the same Abbé Gauthier, the Abbé Mignot, and the Marquis de Villeveille, copied from the minutes deposited with M. Momet, notary at Paris.
“ I, the underwritten, declare, that for these four days past, having been afflicted with vomiting of blood, at the age of eightyfour, and not having been able to drag myself to the Church, the Rev. the Rector of St. Sulpice 'having been pleased to add to his good works, that of sending me the Abbé Gauthier, a priest, I confessed to him, and if it pleases God to dispose of me, I die in the Holy Catholic church in which I was born; hoping that the Divine mercy will deign to pardon all my faults: if ever I have scandalized the church, I ask pardon of God and of the Church. 2d March, 1778.
VOLTAIRE. “In the presence of the Abbé Mignot, my nephew, and the Marquis de Villeveille, my friend."
Voltaire had permitted this declaration to be carried to the Rector of St. Sulpice, and to the Archbishop of Paris, to know whether it would be sufficient. When the Abbé Gauthier returned with the answer, it was impossible for him to gain admittance to the patient. The conspirators had strained every nerve to hinder the chief from consummating his recantation, and every avenue was shut to the priest whom Voltaire himself had sent for. Terror and rage then got complete mastery of the dying man. D'Alembert, Diderot, and some twenty others who had beset his apartment, never came near him but to be received with reproaches and execrations. “ Begone,” he would exclaim, “it is you who have brought me to my present condition !” Then succeeded alternate blasphemies and prayers. Sometimes he would cry out in plaintive accents, “O Christ ! O Jesus Christ !” and then would complain, that he was abandoned both by God and man.
The scene was too dreadful to be endured. His friend and physician, M. Tronchin, withdrew in terror, declaring that the death-bed was awful, and that the furies of Orestes could give but a faint idea of those of Voltaire. The Marshal de Richelieu also fled, acknow. ledging that the scene was too terrible to bear.”
To this account, a striking confirmation is added by the anecdote given by Bishop Wilson, to the effect that “the nurse who attended him, being many years afterwards requested to wait on a sick Protestant gentleman, refused till she was assured that he was not a philosopher ; declaring, if he were, she would on no account incur the danger witnessing such a scene as she had been compelled to do at the death of M. Voltaire.” The excellent Prelate, in whose Lectures on the Evidences of Christianity this anecdote occurs, declares that he received the account from the son of the gentleman to whose dying bed the woman was invited. THIRD SERIES, VOL. III.
All this was much too unphilosophical, we suppose, and much too solemn, to find any place in the Lives of Men of Letters, &c. Those, however, whose reading or experience has given them better information than Lord Brougham had, of the way in which bad men and haters of Christ do often die, will find a strong argument from analogy, for the truth of the Abbé Baruel's statement.
D'Alembert also shrank when he came to face death ; and would have betrayed his remorse and fear, by calling in religion to his aid, had not Condorcet barred the door against the priest and rendered him inaccessible. Had I not been there, said Condorcet, relating the circumstances, he would have flinched also.
Diderot, too, was willing to find something better than philosophism to lean on in his last hours. He had in his employment as librarian, a young man of a religious turn of mind, who felt greatly concerned at the thought of his
dying without repentance. After having, by the advice of a clergyian, made the matter a subject of prayer, he ventured to address Diderot with regard to his preparation for death. “Are you certain,” said he,“ that your philosophy has not left you a soul to save ? I have no doubt on that point; and I cannot reflect on it without warning my benefactor to avoid the eternal misfortune that may await him. See, sir, you have yet sufficient time left; and excuse an advice which gratitude and your friendship force from me.” Diderot heard him with attention, and even melted into tears. He promised to give the subject his serious consideration.
The result was that the Curé M. de Tersac was invited to visit him; and after several conferences, Diderot prepared for a public recantation. His own private circle of friends, however, watched him as he had helped watch Voltaire. They persuaded him that he was imposed upon, and that a little country air would immediately recover him. Diderot for some time resisted their entreaties, but finally consented to try the country. His departure was kept secret. It was pretended he was still in Paris, and the deception was carried on by issuing daily reports of his health. In the mean time the jailors, who had seized his person, watched him till they had seen him expire, and then brought the body back to Paris, and gave out that he had died suddenly at table. He expired the 2d of July, 1784, and was represented as having died calm in all his atheism, with no signs of remorse. It will not be easy to satisfy any one who has had the least observation of the power of a guilty conscience, and the “fearful looking for” with which the last hours of the wicked are often attended, that all this agitation, shrinking, and sending for clergymen, respected a question of no greater importance than securing a Christian burial.
The Abbé Baruel may have been led by his alarm, and the liveliness of his imagination, to overdraw somewhat the picture he has given of the conspiracy against religion and government; but for
facts like the above, his testimony is amply sufficient. We are ourselves well informed of two instances, in a considerable Western town, in which the companions of dying infidels, seeing them begin to “flinch," closed round their bed, bolted the door against every religious person, and in one of the cases, stupified their victim with brandy, till he died. Gather not our soul, O Lord! with sinners!
Now, we will not deny that the world may be wiser and better, in the long run, because such a man as Voltaire lived in it; but we think it will be in a very different way from what Lord Brougham anticipates. That “Glory to God in the highest” will accrue from it in some way, we have no doubt.
"If plagues and earthquakes break not Heaven's design,
Why then a Borgia or a Catiline ?'' At the feeble malice of those who thus take counsel against the Lord and against his Anointed, he that sitteth in the heavens sometimes laughs and has them in derision ; and again speaks unto them in his anger, and vexes them in his sore displeasure. But so far as buman happiness or improvement is concerned, there is a frightful deduction to be made on account of those whom Voltaire has taught to live, and fitted to die, like himself. Perhaps the man never lived, who is followed in his course through eternity by the aecumulating execrations of a greater number of victims. si With what dreadful vehemence (says Jay, in one of his Evening Exercises) did the writer once hear a fine young man, while dying, exclaim, again and again, “O curse you, Voltaire !"" How it must roll on, through age after age, here and hereafter, in one broad, deep, swelling current of blasphemies and agonies, the mind shudders to think of!
The crisis, however, is already well passed. The most formidable conspiracy ever organized against religion, with every circumstance of advantage presented by a corrupt church, and people, at that time, as Voltaire often says, half monkey, half tiger, recoiled in 'wide ruin on its inventors. True religion raises her placid head from the waves, as the tempest sweeps away; and now the Scriptures and the petits livres portatifs, circulated in connexion, are sowing all over France the seed of a different harvest, that shall one day wave like Lebanon, when the influence of Voltaire shall have withered like the grass of the earth.