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SCENE THE ELYSIAN FIELDS.
M. DE VOLTAIRE and J. J. ROUSSEAU.
Volt. My dear Rousseau, I am heartily glad to see you; here, I hope, we shall be friends.
Rouss. " My dear Rousseau!" Is this the man who employed his pen against me when living ?—who attacked me continually in satires and lampoons?
Volt. Envy, my dear Sir, mere envy.
Rouss. Indeed! and are you ingenuous enough to acknowledge it?
Volt. Here I can do it cheerfully: on earth, indeed, I should never have been brought to such a confession. Rouss. Envy is a very hateful passion; * I do not remember to have had a particle of it in my composition.
Volt. Rather extraordinary that. Il n'y a pas d'auteur qui aime son frère, is a kind of proverb with the French.
Rouss. Yes, and with almost every other people; † not but that there are examples of candour in literary men: nay, I have sometimes met with an author who has proved another Mæcenas to his competitor for fame.
Volt. Such a man is, in truth, an honour to his profession, and to the age in which he lives. But here, as I have already intimated, we divest ourselves of all ungenerous sentiments; we set aside all paltry distinctions; we are united in the bonds of friendship, and live in harmony and perfect peace.
Rouss. A very desirable state indeed.
* Quinctilian, speaking of envy, says it is Vitium eorum qui nec cedere volunt, nec possunt contendere. But this definition does not sufficiently mark the malignity of the passion. Envy (without emulation, without a power to contend) deals largely in falsehood and scurrility; it decries the merit it is unable to cope with.
No author ever loved a brother :
Wits are game cocks to one another.-GAY.
Volt. But you surprise me greatly by saying that you were totally free from envy ;—I always thought you had a considerable portion of it.
Rouss. Never; but I had a pretty tolerable share of pride. Volt. In that particular I have nothing to reproach myself with; pride was ever a stranger to my breast. Rouss. I fear me, you have forgotten yourself.
Volt. Nay, I still assert that we were unacquainted. Rouss. How little does a man know himself! Wholly a stranger to pride do you say? have you not boasted of the notice and friendship of kings? have you not been long a resident at their courts?
Volt. Certainly but I am speaking of literary pride; I was never ambitious of any particular distinction as an author.
Rouss. Indeed! how happened it, then, at the representations of any of your tragedies, and when called upon by the audience to be invested with the laurel crown, that there were such evident marks of satisfaction to be seen on your countenance?
Volt. As to the custom you speak of, you may remember that it has been practised towards every dramatic writer of eminence from time immemorial.
Rouss. Well, but if you really were so indifferent to the voice of praise, what could be your motive for visiting the theatre at the age of ninety, after you had long been tottering on the brink of the grave?
Volt. Why, Sir, my motive? the motive-but it is no sort of matter. Vanity is certainly out of the question. Rouss. Are you perfectly sure of that?
Volt. I am. My reputation had been too long established for me to stand in need of any petty aid or support. The acclamations of a multitude were nothing to me.
Rouss. The arguments you make use of, to show that you were totally exempt from pride, prove, on the contrary, that she was really the inmate of your breast. The royal philosopher of Sans-Souci was not more remarkable for vain-glory.
Volt. Hold, hold; talk not thus irreverently. Have you no respect for kings? The sacred majesty of kings? God's vicegerents upon earth?
Rouss. Sacred majesty of kings! God's vicegerents upon earth! A great deal of virtue, I find, in a name. Volt. Not so, neither. But they who serve to secure to us our temporal blessings and conveniences, are surely entitled to our respect.
Rouss. And are not those men entitled to our thanks who lay down maxims and rules of conduct for these your lesser divinities,—these your delegates of heaven?
Volt. Undoubtedly. But you were once attacked, I think, by a king: you were, no doubt, infinitely more proud of it than if he had declared himself your friend.
Rouss. O, Stanislaus, you mean. Poor fellow! he had an ambition to be distinguished as an author, and thought to effect it by a pamphlet, and even to raise his consequence by being sometimes named with me.
Volt. You treated him rather cavalierly, I think.
Rouss. And rightly. He thought to pass for an extraordinary genius-Cedite Romani scriptores, cedite Graii!-and piqued himself upon writing a philosophical essay in the space of three days.
Volt. He was then considerably advanced in years. But he was pleased to employ his pen against the unbelievers: had he taken the other side of the question he might possibly have acquired a name, as I have done. His performance, however, is not contemptible.
Rouss. He certainly spoke according to his feelings; and, as he believed in an omniscient and omnipotent Being, he was of opinion that in advancing that belief, he discharged his duty to God and man.
Volt. Very dull and unprofitable to a man of talents! Such a writer can only expect to be admired by women and children. "L'homme n'a ni bien à espérer ni mal à craindre après la mort," said Aristotle of old; and I have said the same.
Rouss. Thou art surely the most incorrigible of infidels! Mirabeau himself would blush to hear you.
Volt. Ah! my dear friend, do you not know how very difficult it is for a man to arrive at the pinnacle of fame?
Rouss. I do not rightly understand you. Are we not to seek in your writings for the genuine sentiments of your heart?
Volt. Nothing like them, I give you my word. Dissimulation is now unnecessary; and I will very frankly own to you, though you are pleased to consider me as an infidel, that I have sometimes trembled while I wrote !
Rouss. Why then have you been industrious in propagating an opinion so injurious to the cause of humanity; so destructive to the hopes of man?
Volt. From the same motive that the eagle dares to beat his steep course up the sky;—from a desire of setting up my opinion against the world's;-in a word, from a love of distinction and fame.
Rouss. And was this really your only motive for ridiculing every thing that is sacred and divine?
I knew that it was
Volt. I certainly had no other. the only way to succeed in my wishes, and I boldly stood forth the contemner of religious and vulgar prejudices. Every eye was fixed on me. Men looked up to me as to a superior being; they gazed on me till they were dazzled by my splendour. In fine, I acquired the consequence and notice I had so long been ambitious of.
Rouss. I cannot help thinking, however, but that you might have raised your consequence by other and less exceptionable means.
Volt. Never. You must surely have observed the fondness and partiality of mankind for every thing that is rare and uncommon. For example, we gaze with admiration on a comet, while an ordinary star is wholly unnoticed by us. For me I have ever appeared with a train of light.
Rouss. And not a little eccentric and irregular in
your orbit. But that I could readily have pardoned.— Jean-Jacques, you may remember, was a star that sometimes deviated from its proper sphere.
Volt. I remember, indeed, that, in your letter to the Archbishop of Paris, you told him-" Je suis devenu homme de lettres par mépris pour cet état." Do you mean to insinuate that in becoming an author you had quitted your proper sphere?
Rouss. How can you ask me such a question? Did I not observe to that same archbishop, that such was my rank and importance in the republic of letters-" que tous les gouvernemens bien policées me doivent élever des statues?"
Volt. True: I had really forgotten that particular. A pretty remarkable proof of pride!
Rouss. You are perfectly right,-pride had ever an entire possession of my soul. Many, however, will be of opinion that you had the greater reason to be proud; you who were publicly saluted on the cheek by a young and amiable duchess.
Volt. A somewhat whimsical circumstance. But it was not the kiss of love,—nothing like your "premier baiser de l'amour,"+ I give you my word.
Rouss. "Il faut distinguer le moral du physique dans le sentiment de l'amour," as I have already observed, in my discourse on the inequality of mankind; but we will call it the kiss of friendship, if you please.
Volt. It may certainly so be termed; the Duchess ever afterwards honoured me with her notice. But what
* Voltaire has given the following history of the Kiss in his account of the success of his tragedy of Mahomet. "Le parterre a demandé à grands cris à me voir. On m'est venu prendre dans un cache, où je m'étais tapi. On m'a mené de force dans la loge de Madame la Maréchalle de Villars, où était sa belle-fille. Le parterre était fou: il a crié à la Duchesse de Villars de me baiser, et il a tant fait de bruit qu'elle a été obligé d'en passer par là, par l'ordre de sa belle-mère. J'ai été baisé publiquement comme Alain Chartier par la Princesse Margueritte d'Ecosse; mais il dormait, et j'étais fort éveillé."
See La Nouvelle Héloïse.