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I had really reason to be proud of, were the attentions and assiduities of Madame du Châtelet.
Rouss. And I perhaps might be equally vain of the tendres amitiés of my little Genevoise. Ah! my dear friend, what fortunate fellows have we been,—caressed and admired by the women, abused and envied by the men!
Volt. Fortunate, do you say? why, to confess the truth, there is something pleasing in awakening envy, but I cannot say the same with respect to abuse; the genus irritabile vatum were ever my aversion.
Rouss. Oh," Censure is the tax that a man pays to the public for being eminent," you surely have not forgotten that; but, then it is a tax which such a man will pay but for a little time. Merit is not to be kept in obscurity by any, even the most powerful of envy's arts. Volt. Here I think you are somewhat mistaken;Ah! who can tell how many a soul sublime Has felt the influence of malignant star, And wag'd with fortune an eternal war :— Check'd by the scoff of pride, by envy's frown,
And poverty's unconquerable bar!-MINSTREL.
So says the poet; and I believe with sufficient truth. I speak of genius in its infancy; le génie naissant, as our language so happily expresses it.
Rouss. I, on the contrary, allude not to youthful genius, but to that which, like the proper Minerva, comes into the world full grown and mature. The timidity natural at its outset will operate a little perniciously indeed; but real merit, as I have already observed, cannot be long concealed from the public eye.
Volt. You are undoubtedly right. Thus hath it ever been, and thus may it ever remain! Farewell! live, and be happy.
Rouss. Live? Heyday! Have you then forgotten that I am now numbered among the dead?
Volt. Si qua fata aspera rumpas, tu Marcellus eris.* Dead! 'Tis not in the power of the fates; Rousseau can never die!
SCENE AN ELEGANT APARTMENT.
MERCURY* and A LADY OF FASHION.
Lady. Well, but, Mr. Mercury, I beg you would not be in such a hurry; where are all my maids? Betty! Sally! Cicily!
Merc. O you need not trouble yourself about themyou will have no occasion for waiting-maids in the regions below.
Lady. Prithee let me appear before Mr. What-d' yecall-him in a proper dress: why, I am an absolute fright: -I should be perfectly horrified to be seen in this dishabille.
Merc. In a proper dress! why, Madam, you must strip off every article of dress: Rhadamanthus will admit of no disguise
Lady. Strip! why you impudent fellow! do you think
Merc. Hold, hold, fair lady, no hard words :-'tis even So. Our judge is, moreover, no respecter of persons:you will be arraigned and tried with
Lady. Arraigned and tried: mercy on me! Well, but if one must be tried, I trust one could get the privilege of being tried alone?
*It is properly the business of Iris, and not of Mercury, to free the souls of women from the chains of the body; but as Iris is the messenger of Heaven only, and as the present embassy is from the regions below, the reader will yield to the necessity of the case.
+ I have somewhere read of a lady, I believe in a paper of Addison's, who expressed a considerable degree of uneasiness at the thought of appearing in the other world in the same state in which she came out of the hands of Dame Nature, "unattired, unadorned." The present dialogue is founded principally on that anecdote.
Merc. Alone! O impossible, Madam.
Lady. What, to mix with a vulgar crew! Sir, I am a person of fashion :—here are a thousand pounds for your trouble. Do now, my dear sweet gentleman, speak a word or two for me.-Is Daddy What's-his-name a good-natured creature? don't you think one might coax him a little?
Merc. A good-natured creature!* coax him! coax a judge! Why, Madam, although you may have heard of such a thing on earth, you cannot expect it with us :— no, no, Rhadamanthus is—
An upright judge, who, zealous in his trust,
He is strictly impartial,—not to be corrupted, I assure you.
Lady. Alas! alas!
Merc. How, Madam! do you cry Alas! at the impartiality of your judge?
Lady. No, Sir, no :-but undressed, did you say? I shall expire
Merc. Yes, Madam; and I can inform you, that, when brought to trial, on one side of you will stand a beautiful nymph from Billingsgate, who came to us rather suddenly, from having taken too copious a draught of juniper, and on the other side, an agreeable Wapping landlady, from whom we had long expected a visit.
Lady. Intolerable! but it is impossible that you should be serious :—you are joking, I am very sure.
Merc. Joking! no, no, Madam, there is no joking among us. By the gloomy Styx, I am serious; serious as Mr. Doleful, the comic poet, who died about a twelvemonth ago, and whose malady, as you may well remember, carried him off on the ninth day.
Lady. Well, but if you will inform this Mr. (I shall never think of his name),—that it is my particular desire
* It should be remembered, however, that Statius has represented Minos, the colleague of Rhadamanthus, as particularly good-natured.
not to be seen, that I hope he will not oblige me to mix-with the vulgar wretches who have lately left the upper world; I say, if you will have the kindness just to mention this, Mr. Mercury; your judge is surely too much of a gentleman to deny a lady so very reasonable a request.
Merc. I have already, my dear Madam, informed you that there is no distinction of persons in the shades; why then will you not patiently submit to fate?
Lady. Well-but who did you say I should have for companions?—
Merc. Why, Madam, the only females who have lately come over the water are from Wapping.
Lady. O, I recollect, I recollect; I shall certainly faint, Sir: my nerves are so very weak, that—
Merc. So we were informed by your husband, Madam, whom you sent to us several years ago.
Lady. Sent to you, Sir! Sir, I really do not understand, such an insinuation is not to be borne.
Merc. Nay, nay, fair lady, you may well remember when you broke your husband's head instead of Priscian's,*that it was that fatal stroke, however extraordinary you may think it, which sent him to the lower world.
Lady. You mistake; it was some natural cause.
Lady. The blow I gave him was as gentle as a lady's hand could deal-a mere pat; nothing more, I assure
Merc. Not, perhaps, unlike to one of Queen Elizabeth's boxes on the ear.
Lady. A similar action,-I vow and protest; his head must have been very soft!
Merc. Well, Madam, it is an action for which you will be tried by Rhadamanthus; and happy shall I be to find you acquitted of the murder of your lord.
For breaking Priscian's, breaks her husband's head.
Juv. SAT. 6. Dryden's Trans.
Lady. Murder! Oh! Mr. Mercury, how can you wound one's ears with such a horrible sound? (Aside.) This fellow has some of the coarsest expressions I ever heard. The best way, however, will be to soothe him a little, I believe.-You must know, Sir, for now I will declare the truth, that it was my usual practice, when any way vexed by my husband, to hit him a pat on the head with my fan; but for no other purpose, Mr. Mercury, than just to let him know that he was wrong.
Merc. A very common practice.-A fan is the weapon of a lady; and I have often seen the Queen of Heaven, when seized with a jealous fit, shiver it to pieces on Jupiter's pate.
Lady. Well, Sir, my husband having one day provoked me in a particular manner, I snatched up the poker, in mistake for my fan, and hit him—
Merc. A pat on the head. A poker in mistake for a fan! A very plausible story, indeed, which will certainly have its weight with our judge.
Lady. Of that I have not the smallest doubt;-and yet
I am sick and capable of fears;
A widow, husbandless, subject to fears;
A woman naturally born to fears.
Merc. (aside.) Yes, and naturally born to whining too; but it will scarcely serve your turn. Come, come, Madam, we must think of setting off.
Lady. I must insist on having my maid to attend me : I can never think of travelling with only a man.
Merc. A man! fair lady,-I am a god: cannot you distinguish between a god and a man ?
Lady. True, true, I had actually forgotten. Nay, then you must do just as you please: where is the woman to be found who can resist a god?
Merc. (aside.) I must keep up this vein of conversation.-I am a god, the son of Jupiter, Madam, remember that.