French Philosopher, writer
In 1715 Voltaire arrived in Paris just when Louis XIV died and the Regent who for economy sold half of the horses that filled the royal stables. This prompted Voltaire to remark how much sensible to have been to dismiss half the asses that filled the royal court.
His cockiness galled many; and his wit demolished his detractors. As bad luck would have it, two libellious poems attacking the Regent made rounds and reached their victim; and he suspected Voltaire to be their author.
Meeting the youth in the gardens of Palais-Royal, the Regent said to him, “Monsieur Arouet, I am going to show you something you have never seen before: the Bastille.”
“Ah Monsigneur!” the young Voltaire said, “I’ll take that as seen.”
Voltaire saw it on the Whit Sunday on April 16, 1717.(Ack: Nancy Mitford;Voltaire in Love-Penguin)
Once Voltaire was speaking highly of a contemporary Said a friend, “It’s good of you to such pleasant things about Monsieur So and So, when he always says such unpleasant things about you.”
Whereupon Voltaire suggested mildly, “Perhaps we both are mistaken.”
A contemporary of Voltaire was praising the qualities of his protégé whom he was pushing for promotion in the Government. He gushed among other things that he had a ready answer for everything.
“Heavens,” exclaimed Voltaire, “ is he as ignorant as all that?”
Once Voltaire was asked to join a symposium honoring a famous contemporary who had just passed away.
Voltaire spoke on the occasion thus: ‘ He was a staunch patriot, a talented writer, a loyal friend and a model father and husband- provided of course that he, really, is dead.’
During his self-imposed exile in England he came to know the famous literati of the day. He pretended to no pedigree, and asked none of others. Voltaire sought out Congreve whom he held on a par with Molière.
When told of it Congreve sad thus:’ I had rather you wished to meet me because I am an English gentleman’.
Voltaire:’But there are so many of them!’(Ack: Nancy Mitford-Voltaire in Love.-Penguin)‘
There is another version which is as follows:
The English dramatist was known to dismiss his plays as trifles and desired to be known rather as a gentleman of leisure than as author, Voltaire ticked him off by saying, “If you have had the misfortune to be only a gentleman as any other, I should never have come to see you.”
His final visit to the city of Paris at the age of 83 was one of the great events of that age. Voltaire was given a hero’s welcome and a rapturous crowd followed his carriage to the Academy. During the meeting the frail old man proposed a revision of the French dictionary. The famous man still had his youthful ardor to propose that he could undertake all such work as would come under the letter A. Before he sat down he thanked them in the name of the alphabets to which the Chairman Chastellux replied: “And we thank in the name of letters.”
Old Voltaire had no quarrel with Christianity as with those who considered themselves the only competent authority. As his end was near a priest came to shrive him.
“From whom do you come, M.l’Abbe?”
“From God Himself.”
“Well, well,” asked the sage, “your credentials?”
The priest went off without his prey.
Voltaire lived at an age when France was slipping from Medieval thoughts and attitudes and man’s thoughts were becoming a valuable commodity and his individuality as prized as a duke’s coronet.’He never himself had an original philosophical idea, but he had a genius for simplifying the ideas of others so that society women and loungers in cafés could grasp them’.Regarding the scandal created by his Lettres Philosophiques his comment was thus:’If I had not cheered up the subject nobody would have been scandalized;but then nobody would have read me’(quoted from Voltaire in Love- Nancy Mitford..Pub: Penguin Books).
Man’s thoughts are the stuff that create art and literature; and spirit of an age may be measured by one man’s life as we now speak of the Age of Louis XIV or of Voltaire. But man is just the same and the envy of literary men lead to quarrels as mean as between whores.
One of Voltaire’s literary acquaintance, the Abbé Desfontaines,
(1685-1745)was arrested and sent to the criminal prison on the charges of sodomy. Punishment was burning at the stake in the Place de la Grève outside the Hôtel de Ville. Nobody would lift a finger to help the hapless Abbé. Voltaire though ill went to Fontainebleau where the Court was in residence. He saw people and pulled strings and got him out of an unpleasant end. But no sooner was Desfontaines out of the prison at Bicêtre than he had written a disgusting pamphlet against Voltaire. This mean and ill concealed virulence was evident in his later criticisms as well.
Voltaire, Rousseau and Piron
Voltaire’s origins were not far different than of Alexis Piron(1689-1773) who came from Burgundy. Voltaire seldom liked other middle-class writers many of whom needlessly incurred his displeasure. Jean-Baptiste Rousseau (1671-1741)was a case in point. Rousseau was twenty three years older than he. He showed his poem Ode à la Postérité and Voltaire unable to resist a joke remarked that he feared that the Ode would never reach its address. Rousseau who was in exile and disgrace never forgot the insult.
Piron, a Burgundian came to Paris and he wanted to meet Voltaire whom he adored. Mme de Mimeure, also a Burgundian was the celebrated wit’s mistress and she took Piron under her wings. One day he called on her who told him that Voltaire was present and said,’Go into my dining-room,’ and he found him huddled over the fire. As he saw Piron enter he pretended asleep. Piron sat there long and Voltaire could not keep up.. He got up and started nibbling on a piece of bread which he took out from his pocket. He explained that he had an illness that necessitated him to eat all day. Piron forthwith produced a flask from his pocket and said he had an illness that made it imperative for him to drink all day. Voltaire was not amused.(Ack: Nancy Mitford-Voltaire in Love-Penguin)