Le malheur français (Café Voltaire) (French Edition)

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Cedric Fichepain

Voltaire veut les publier pour mieux assassiner Rousseau.

Fort, Paul 1872–1960

La machine de guerre philosophique se met alors en marche. Finalement il acceptait la pension, fallait-il y voir le prix de son silence? Mais il ne publie plus. Il est impossible que ce vice reste, et que la machine puisse aller loin. Quel est son projet? Champion classique, Paris, , p.

VOLTAIRE – La Princesse De Babylone, SOUS-TITRES, René Depasse

Les conseils restreints assurent le gouvernement. Presses universitaires de Bordeaux, , p. Ralph A. Il entretient une correspondance suivie avec Rousseau. Certainly he had never been a man of feeling, and now that he was old and hardened by the uses of the world he had grown to be completely what in essence he always was — a fighter, without tenderness, without scruples, and without remorse.

No, he went to Berlin for his own purposes — however dubious those purposes may have been. And it is curious to observe that in his correspondence with his niece, Madame Denis, whom he had left behind him at the head of his Paris establishment and in whom he confided — in so far as he can be said to have confided in anyone — he repeatedly states that there is nothing permanent about his visit to Berlin.

The autumn comes, and the roads are too muddy to travel by; he must wait till the winter, when they will be frozen hard. Winter comes, and it is too cold to move; but he will certainly return in the spring. The book is published; but then how can he appear in Paris until he is quite sure of its success? And so he lingers on, delaying and prevaricating, until a whole year has passed, and still he lingers on, still he is on the point of going, and still he does not go. What were his true intentions?

Could he himself have said? Had he perhaps, in some secret corner of his brain, into which even he hardly dared to look, a premonition of the future?

Voltaire lecteur de Vauvenargues

At times, in this Berlin adventure, he seems to resemble some great buzzing fly, shooting suddenly into a room through an open window and dashing frantically from side to side; when all at once, as suddenly, he swoops away and out through another window which opens in quite a different direction, towards wide and flowery fields; so that perhaps the reckless creature knew where he was going after all. The elements of the situation were too combustible for any other conclusion. When two confirmed egotists decide, for purely selfish reasons, to set up house together, everyone knows what will happen.

And, with Voltaire and Frederick, the difficulties inherent in all such cases were intensified by the fact that the relationship between them was, in effect, that of servant and master; that Voltaire, under a very thin disguise, was a paid menial, while Frederick, condescend as he might, was an autocrat whose will was law. Thus the two famous and perhaps mythical sentences, invariably repeated by historians of the incident, about orange-skins and dirty linen, do in fact sum up the gist of the matter.

Three months after his arrival in Berlin, the temptation to increase his already considerable fortune by a stroke of illegal stock-jobbing proved too strong for him; he became involved in a series of shady financial transactions with a Jew; he quarrelled with the Jew; there was an acrimonious lawsuit, with charges and countercharges of the most discreditable kind; and, though the Jew lost his case on a technical point, the poet certainly did not leave the court without a stain upon his character.

Among other misdemeanours, it is almost certain — the evidence is not quite conclusive — that he committed forgery in order to support a false oath.

Frederick was furious, and for a moment was on the brink of dismissing Voltaire from Berlin. He would have been wise if he had done so. And the beams were decidedly refulgent — so much so, in fact, that they almost satisfied even the vanity of Voltaire. Almost, but not quite. That monarch had surrounded himself with a small group of persons — foreigners for the most part — whose business it was to instruct him when he wished to improve his mind, to flatter him when he was out of temper, and to entertain him when he was bored.

There was hardly one of them that was not thoroughly second-rate. These were the boon companions among whom Frederick chose to spend his leisure hours. Or else he would summon La Mettrie, who would forthwith prove the irrefutability of materialism in a series of wild paradoxes, shout with laughter, suddenly shudder and cross himself on upsetting the salt, and eventually pursue his majesty with his buffooneries into a place where even royal persons are wont to be left alone.

Strangely enough, Frederick was not popular, and one or other of the inmates of his little menagerie was constantly escaping and running away.

Darget and Chasot both succeeded in getting through the wires; they obtained leave to visit Paris, and stayed there. As for La Mettrie, he made his escape in a different manner — by dying after supper one evening of a surfeit of pheasant pie.

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Among this circle of down-at-heel eccentrics there was a single figure whose distinction and respectability stood out in striking contrast from the rest — that of Maupertuis, who had been, since , the President of the Academy of Sciences at Berlin. Maupertuis has had an unfortunate fate: he was first annihilated by the ridicule of Voltaire, and then recreated by the humour of Carlyle; but he was an ambitious man, very anxious to be famous, and his desire has been gratified in over-flowing measure. During his life he was chiefly known for his voyage to Lapland, and his observations there, by which he was able to substantiate the Newtonian doctrine of the flatness of the earth at the poles.

He possessed considerable scientific attainments, he was honest, he was energetic; he appeared to be just the man to revive the waning glories of Prussian science; and when Frederick succeeded in inducing him to come to Berlin as President of his Academy the choice seemed amply justified. Maupertuis had, moreover, some pretensions to wit; and in his earlier days his biting and elegant sarcasms had more than once overwhelmed his scientific adversaries.


Such accomplishments suited Frederick admirably. It was the happy — the too happy — President who was the rose-leaf in the bed of Voltaire. The two men had known each other slightly for many years, and had always expressed the highest admiration for each other; but their mutual amiability was now to be put to a severe test. Maupertuis had very little judgment; so far from attempting to conciliate Voltaire, he was rash enough to provoke hostilities. It was very natural that he should have lost his temper. He had been for five years the dominating figure in the royal circle, and now suddenly he was deprived of his pre-eminence and thrown completely into the shade.

Who could attend to Maupertuis while Voltaire was talking? In his exasperation the President went to the length of openly giving his protection to a disreputable literary man, La Beaumelle, who was a declared enemy of Voltaire. This meant war, and war was not long in coming. Jourdain has shown in a recent monograph, Maupertuis enunciated it incorrectly without realising its true import, and a far more accurate and scientific statement of it was given, within a few months, by Euler. When Koenig expostulated, Maupertuis decided upon a more drastic step.

He summoned a meeting of the Berlin Academy of Sciences, of which Koenig was a member, laid the case before it, and moved that it should solemnly pronounce Koenig a forger, and the letter of Leibnitz supposititious and false. Voltaire saw at once that his opportunity had come. Maupertuis had put himself utterly and irretrievably in the wrong. He was wrong in attributing to his discovery a value which it did not possess; he was wrong in denying the authenticity of the Leibnitz letter; above all he was wrong in treating a purely scientific question as the proper subject for the disciplinary jurisdiction of an Academy.

If Voltaire struck now, he would have his enemy on the hip. There was only one consideration to give him pause, and that was a grave one: to attack Maupertuis upon this matter was, in effect, to attack the King. But Voltaire decided to take the risk. He had now been more than two years in Berlin, and the atmosphere of a Court was beginning to weigh upon his spirit; he was restless, he was reckless, he was spoiling for a fight; he would take on Maupertuis singly or Maupertuis and Frederick combined — he did not much care which, and in any case he flattered himself that he would settle the hash of the President.

As a preparatory measure, he withdrew all his spare cash from Berlin, and invested it with the Duke of Wurtemberg. The President must have turned pale as he read it; but the King turned crimson. Frederick flew to his writing-table, and composed an indignant pamphlet which he caused to be published with the Prussian arms on the title-page. A kind of exaltation seized him; from this moment his course was clear — he would do as much damage as he could, and then leave Prussia for ever. And it so happened that just then an unexpected opportunity occurred for one of those furious onslaughts so dear to his heart, with that weapon which he knew so well how to wield.

Meanwhile the life of the Court — which passed for the most part at Potsdam, in the little palace of Sans Souci which Frederick had built for himself — proceeded on its accustomed course. It was a singular life, half military, half monastic, rigid, retired, from which all the ordinary pleasures of society were strictly excluded. But, wherever he might be, that was a verb unknown to Voltaire. Shut up all day in the strange little room, still preserved for the eyes of the curious, with its windows opening on the formal garden, and its yellow walls thickly embossed with the brightly coloured shapes of fruits, flowers, birds, and apes, the indefatigable old man worked away at his histories, his tragedies, his Pucelle , and his enormous correspondence.

He was, of course, ill — very ill; he was probably, in fact, upon the brink of death; but he had grown accustomed to that situation; and the worse he grew the more furiously he worked. He was a victim, he declared, of erysipelas, dysentery, and scurvy; he was constantly attacked by fever, and all his teeth had fallen out. But he continued to work. On one occasion a friend visited him, and found him in bed. The orchestra was gathered together; the audience was seated; the concerto began. And then the sounds of beauty flowed and trembled, and seemed, for a little space, to triumph over the pains of living and the hard hearts of men; and the royal master poured out his skill in some long and elaborate cadenza, and the adagio came, the marvellous adagio, and the conqueror of Rossbach drew tears from the author of Candide.

But a moment later it was supper-time; and the night ended in the oval dining-room, amid laughter and champagne, the ejaculations of La Mettrie, the epigrams of Maupertuis, the sarcasms of Frederick, and the devastating coruscations of Voltaire. Yet, in spite of all the jests and roses, everyone could hear the rumbling of the volcano under the ground.

Everyone could hear, but nobody would listen; the little flames leapt up through the surface, but still the gay life went on; and then the irruption came. The volume was rather dull, and very unimportant; but it happened to appear at this particular moment, and Voltaire pounced upon it with the swift swoop of a hawk on a mouse. The Diatribe , however, is not all mere laughter; there is a real criticism in it, too. But of course, mixed with all this, and covering it all, there is a bubbling, sparkling fountain of effervescent raillery — cruel, personal, insatiable — the raillery of a demon with a grudge.

The manuscript was shown to Frederick, who laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks. But, between his gasps, he forbade Voltaire to publish it on pain of his most terrible displeasure. Naturally Voltaire was profuse with promises, and a few days later, under a royal licence obtained for another work, the little book appeared in print.

Jeannot et Colin — Wikipédia

Frederick still managed to keep his wrath within bounds: he collected all the copies of the edition and had them privately destroyed; he gave a furious wigging to Voltaire; and he flattered himself that he had heard the last of the business. Apparently it did not occur to Frederick that this declaration had come a little late in the day. Meanwhile Maupertuis, overcome by illness and by rage, had taken to his bed.

It seems strange that Frederick should still, after more than two years of close observation, have had no notion of the material he was dealing with. Je demande justice et la mort. Voltaire thereupon returned his Order, his gold key, and his pension.

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It might have been supposed that the final rupture had now really come at last. But three months elapsed before Frederick could bring himself to realise that all was over, and to agree to the departure of his extraordinary guest. The storm seemed to be over; but the tail of it was still hanging in the wind. Upon this Maupertuis utterly lost his head: he wrote to Voltaire, threatening him with personal chastisement. Shattered in body and mind, he dragged himself from Berlin to die at last in Basle under the ministration of a couple of Capuchins and a Protestant valet reading aloud the Genevan Bible.

In the meantime Frederick had decided on a violent measure. He had suddenly remembered that Voltaire had carried off with him one of the very few privately printed copies of those poetical works upon which he had spent so much devoted labour; it occurred to him that they contained several passages of a highly damaging kind; and he could feel no certainty that those passages would not be given to the world by the malicious Frenchman.

Such, at any rate, were his own excuses for the step which he now took; but it seems possible that he was at least partly swayed by feelings of resentment and revenge which had been rendered uncontrollable by the last onslaught upon Maupertuis. A multitude of strange blunders and ludicrous incidents followed, upon which much controversial and patriotic ink has been spilt by a succession of French and German biographers.

To an English reader it is clear that in this little comedy of errors none of the parties concerned can escape from blame — that Voltaire was hysterical, undignified, and untruthful, that the Prussian Resident was stupid and domineering, that Frederick was careless in his orders and cynical as to their results.

Le malheur français (Café Voltaire) (French Edition) Le malheur français (Café Voltaire) (French Edition)
Le malheur français (Café Voltaire) (French Edition) Le malheur français (Café Voltaire) (French Edition)
Le malheur français (Café Voltaire) (French Edition) Le malheur français (Café Voltaire) (French Edition)
Le malheur français (Café Voltaire) (French Edition) Le malheur français (Café Voltaire) (French Edition)
Le malheur français (Café Voltaire) (French Edition) Le malheur français (Café Voltaire) (French Edition)
Le malheur français (Café Voltaire) (French Edition) Le malheur français (Café Voltaire) (French Edition)

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