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Littell's Living Age/Volume 134/Issue 1726/Voltaire in the Netherlands

< Littell's Living Age‎ | Volume 134‎ | Issue 1726

From Temple Bar.



Before proceeding to collect a few particulars about Voltaire’s different journeys to Holland, it will be necessary briefly to describe those circumstances of his life which first induced him to visit that country.

François-Marie Arouet was born at Paris, November 21st, 1694. His father, after having been for many years a notary, was treasurer of the Chamber of Accounts at Paris; his mother, Marguerite d’Aumard, was of an old noble family. It has been said that she possessed a small property in Poitou, from which her second son derived his name, but modern enquirers have been unable to establish its existence, and it appears more probable that the name Voltaire was simply an anagram of his usual signature, Arouet l. J. (le Jeune.) From his early youth he received an excellent education, and neither his father nor his godfather, the Abbé de Châteauneuf, spared anything to develop his extraordinary gifts. The abbé, who was much attached to Ninon de l’Enclos, introduced the youth to her, and he soon became a favorite in her brilliant circle. Though of a weak constitution, his mind was so precocious that he already wrote good poetry at the age of twelve. He was accustomed to take for the subject of his epigrams his elder brother, who was developing into a desperate fanatic, and whom he called mon Janséniste de frère, and these verses gave the Abbé Le Jay occasion to say that he would one day be the standard-bearer of impiety. When the father heard, to his vexation, that his younger son was a poet, he exclaimed: 'My sons are two madmen; one in verse, and one in prose.' The pleasure-loving abbé brought his godchild into the company of his friends the Duc de Sully, the Marquis de la Fare, and other gay and witty gentlemen, whose greatest amusement consisted in the so-called petits soupers. The life which resulted from this, added to Voltaire’s love of poetry, and his dislike to the legal profession, which his father wished him to follow, gave rise to quarrels between them, and ended in his being sent to the Hague, to serve as page in the suite of the French ambassador, then the Marquis de Châteauneuf, elder brother of the abbé.

Voltaire arrived at the Hague in September 1713, at the age of nineteen. He took up his quarters at the French Embassy, a large building situated on the Prinsessegracht (Boschkant) — the site now occupied by the Roman Catholic church — and he very soon made a sensation by his wit, his poetry, and, above all, his love adventures. There lived then at the Hague a Madame Dunoyer, a clever but very singular woman, who had been unhappily married in Paris to a French nobleman and writer, named Dunoyer, and had fled to Holland with her two daughters. Originally a strict Protestant she had even been imprisoned for two years on account of her religion. She abjured it at the time of her marriage, but resumed it in Holland, where she was living in destitute circumstances, principally by the profits of her pen. Her most lucrative publication consisted of certain periodical letters, a pretended correspondence between two journalists, one in France and the other in Holland, which appeared for several years at the Hague and at Amsterdam, under the title of 'La Quintessence des Nouvelles Historiques, Critiques, Politiques, Morales et Galantes' (principally the latter), and of 'Le Mercure Galant.' It was a doubly profitable speculation, for she was paid not only for what she printed, but also for much that she consented to suppress.

Her youngest daughter, Olympe, who went by the name of Mlle. Pimpette, was a clever, beautiful, and coquettish girl. Young Arouet was soon caught in her nets, and desperately in love. He committed all sorts of follies with a complete indifference to the remarks of the inhabitants of the Hague, and was even on the point of eloping with his beloved Olympe, at whose feet the painter Schlesinger has represented him,[1] when the mother, who seemed to have other plans with her daughter, and did not wish to bestow her on "a page like Voltaire," put an end to the affair. She complained to the Marquis de Châteauneuf, who was afraid of the writer of the "Lettres Historiques," and specially of the "Mercure Galant," and who soon, by the strong measures he took, showed that he was less indulgent than his brother the abbé had been. He wrote a long letter to the father, ending, "I hope nothing more from your son now: he is twice mad; in love and a poet." Voltaire’s departure was immediately decided upon. He wrote in despair to Pimpette that all he had been able to do was to obtain a delay, but he was forbidden to leave his rooms. He complains bitterly about this arrest, and urges her to leave her unnatural mother and follow him to France. Without her portrait he cannot live, nor without her letters to assure him of her eternal love. These sentimental effusions are accompanied with the prosaic recommendation to send the shoemaker with her letters, as if he came to try on a pair of boots.

The shoemaker apparently accomplished his task, but fourteen letters written by Voltaire to Pimpette, November 1713 to February 1714, fell into the hands of Mme. Dunoyer, who, to the astonishment of everyone, disregarding the injury they did to her daughter’s reputation, published them in the "Lettres Historiques."

The letter received from Olympe called forth an answer, in which he asks her for a rendezvous to go to Scheveningen, where he proposed that they should write letters to her father and uncle, to seek for a retreat in Paris. It appears, however, that these plans did not succeed, that he was unable to leave his rooms, but that Pimpette, disguised as a boy, contrived to obtain an interview with him.

Si vous êtes adorable en cornettes [he afterwards wrote to her], ma foi, vous êtes un aimable cavalier, et notre portier, qui n'est point amoureux de vous, vous a trouvé un très-joli garçon. La première fois que vous viendrez, il vous recevra a merveille. Je crains que vous n’ayez tiré l’epée dans la rue, afin qu’il ne vous manquât plus rien d'un jeune homme; après tout, tout jeune homme que vous êtes, vous êtes sage comme une fille.

The mother discovered the meeting, and again complained to the ambassador, who now gave orders that four lackeys instead of two should watch over the prisoner. Once more Voltaire met his beloved, and we may gather from a letter he wrote her on the 10th of December 1713, that she received such a reprimand from her mother, that she had to remain ill in bed. He succeeded, however, in sending her letters, full of declarations of love and lamentations over the sad situation of the two lovers, "the one in bed, and the other a prisoner."

On Monday the 13th of December 1713, Voltaire was put in a coach with M. de M. and the ambassador’s valet Lefèvre, and proceeded to Rotterdam. There he was taken on board a yacht which lay ready to leave for Ghent. From this vessel he writes to her on the 19th of December: —

Nous avons un beau temps et un bon vent, et par-dessus cela de bon vin, de bons pâtés, de bons jambons et de bons lits. Nous ne sommes que nous deux, M. de M. et moi, dans un grand yacht; il s'occupe à écrire, à manger, à boire et à dormir, et moi à penser à vous. Je ne vous vois point, et je vous jure que je ne m'aperçois pas que je suis dans la compagnie d'un bon pâté et d'un homme d'esprit. Ma chère Pimpette me manque, mais je me flatte qu'elle ne me manquera pas toujours, puisque je ne voyage que pour vous faire voyager vous-même.

On his return to Paris, Thursday the 28th of December 1713, Voltaire found his father extremely angry. A lettre de cachet lay ready for him, a will in which he was quite disinherited was drawn up, and the only condition on which the old gentleman would hear of a reconciliation was the departure of his son for an American colony. The latter succeeded, however, in obtaining a delay, provided he would work as clerk with procureur, to which condition he for a short time submitted.

From a few letters of Voltaire to Pimpette at this time, we see that he gave himself great trouble to get her over to Paris with the help of the clergy on the condition that she should change her religion. But for this Pimpette was not at all disposed, and he soon complained of the scarcity of her letters. She speedily consoled herself by other love adventures, and afterwards married an officer in the French army, a Baron de Winterfeld, who in 1736 came to live in Paris (rue Plâtrière).

Voltaire met her again several times, and even helped her out of some money difficulties. He mentions her once more in his answer to his enemy La Beaumelle, who had violently attacked his "Siècle de Louis XIV." La Beaumelle had asserted that Cavalier, the head of the Cevennes insurgents, had been the rival of Voltaire, that they had both loved the daughter of Mme. Dunoyer, and that, "as might be expected, the hero had prevailed over the poet, and the gentle and agreeable physiognomy over the wild and wicked one."[2] Voltaire contradicts this as wholly untrue, as he did not know Cavalier till the year 1726, in London, but he admits that Cavalier made the acquaintance of Olympe at the Hague, in 1708 (when he himself was still a schoolboy), and even proposed to her, and was refused. He was at that time colonel in a Dutch regiment, which was partly paid by England. Uffenbach, who knew Cavalier in London, in 1710, also mentions Olympes beauty, and confirms the account of her relations with Cavalier. It is a curious coincidence that two men distinguished in such very different ways, should both have been attached to this frivolous little coquette.

Voltaire did not remain long with the procureur Alain, and he soon became entirely immersed in literature. His verses were often satirical, and more than once brought him into trouble.[3] It is well known what a favorite he was with women, and how the great ladies of the time sought him. Thus in 1722, he made the acquaintance of a very beautiful widow, the Comtesse de Rüpelmonde, who expressed the wish to see Belgium and Holland. Voltaire was at once ready to accompany her, all the more as he could then arrange in person the publication of his "Henriade" at the Hague. They started together, and lodged for some time in an hôtel at Brussels, where Jean-Baptiste Rousseau was at that time staying. Voltaire visited him. At first they liked each other, but they parted mortal enemies.

On the 7th of October 1722, Voltaire writes a very detailed letter from the Hague to the 'Présidente de Bernières' about his adventures in Holland, from which we borrow the following flattering description of the Dutch: —

Je partirai de la Haye lorsque les beaux jours fuiront. Il n'y a rien de plus agréable que la Haye, quand le soleil daigne s'y montrer. On ne voit ici que des prairies, des canaux, des arbres verts; c'est un paradis terrestre depuis la Haye jusqu'à Amsterdam. J'ai vu avec respect cette ville, qui est le magasin de l'univers. Il y a plus de mille vaisseaux dans le port. De cinq cent mille hommes qui habitent Amsterdam il n'y en a pas un d'oisif, pas un pauvre, pas un petit-maître, pas un insolent.[4] Nous rencontrâmes le pensionnaire à pied, sans laquais, an milieu de la populace. On ne voit là personne qui ait de cour à faire. On ne se met point en haie pour voir passer un prince. On ne connaît que le travail et la modestie. Il y a à la Haye plus de magnificence et plus de société par le concours des ambassadeurs. J'y passe ma vie entre le travail et le plaisir, et je vis ainsi à la hollandaise et à la française. Nous avons ici un opéra détestable; mais, en revanche, je vois des ministres calvinistes, des Arminiens, des Sociniens, des rabbins, des Anabaptistes, qui parlent tous à merveille, et qui en vérité ont tous raison.

Not much more is known of this stay of Voltaire in the Netherlands, and we soon see him reappear in the great world of Paris, while Mme. de Rüpelmonde continued to live at Brussels.

In 1726, he was obliged to go to England, under circumstances well calculated to inspire him with a bitter hatred against the French aristocracy. When dining at the house of the Duc de Sully, he happened to differ from some statement of the Chevalier do Rohan Chabot, who asked in a contemptuous tone, "Quel est donc ce jeune homme qui parle si haut?" "M. le Chevalier," answered Voltaire, "c'est un homme qui ne traîne pas un grand nom, mais qui honore celui qu'il porte;" or, according to another version, "C'est un homme qui est le premier de sa race, commo vous êtes le dernier de la vôrtre." Rohan, whose life was very open to censure, got up in a passion and left the house. A few days later, while Voltaire was again dining with the Duc de Sully, ho was called from the table, and on coming down-stairs was seized by two lackeys, and beaten with sticks in the presence of Rohan, who was looking on in a carriage, and who is said to have cried out, "Frappez bien fort; mais ménagez la tête, parce qu'il peut encore en sortir quelque chose do bon plus tard." Voltaire informed his host of this affront, but the latter, though an old friend, refused to take his part, for which he was punished by the erasure of the name of his grandfather, the great Sully, from the "Henriade," which was about this time published under the name of the "Ligne." Voltaire was obliged to do himself justice; he challenged Rohan, but was immediately arrested by lettre de cachet, and carried to the Bastille on the 17th April 1726, and only released on promising to go to England.

During his stay in London, he occupied himself mainly with mathematics, and made himself familiar with the philosophy of Newton, of which he made a more special study afterwards at the Leyden University. He remained three years in London, then returned to Paris, made several journeys, and we find him settled at Leyden in 1736, under the assumed name of Revol, which he dropped when he found the pseudonym was useless. In a letter to the crown prince of Prussia (afterwards Frederick the Great), with whom he had that year entered into an active correspondence, he says that he is in a town where two simple citizens, Boerhaave and ‘s Gravesande attract from four to five hundred strangers. He further mentions that he is busy arranging an edition of all his works at Amsterdam,[5] and offers his services to Frederick, begging him to address the answer to Messrs. Servan et d'Arti, at Amsterdam.

Frederick, who had visited Holland several times, answered in a few days: "Je m'intéresserai toujours vivement à ce qui vous regarde; et la Hollande, pays qui ne m'a jamais déplu, me deviendra une terre sacrée puisqu'elle vous contient."

Voltaire was then very busy writing a work on the philosophy of Newton, and received great assistance from the learned 's Gravesande. Boerhaave, also, was useful to him in an illness: "J'ai été très-malade," he writes to Thieriot on the 17th January 1737; "je suis venu à Leyde, consulter le docteur Boerhaave sur ma santé, et 's Gravesande sur la philosophie de Newton." This contradicts the story that Boerhaave refused to attend Voltaire on the ground "that he would not assist any one who denied his Saviour." In the same letter he adds that he goes from time to time to Amsterdam to his publisher Ledet: "Il ma forcé de loger chez lui, quand je viens à Amsterdam voir comment va la philosophie Newtonienne. Il s’est avisé de prendre pour enseigne la tête de votre ami Voltaire. La modestie qu'il faut avoir, défend à ma sincérité de vous dire l'excès de considération qu’on a ici pour moi." To the Marquis d'Argens he sends, a few days later, a piece about Dutch manners, called "L'Epître du fils d’un bourgmestre sur la politesse Hollandaise," intended to have been published in the "Lettres Juives" of D'Argens. This, however, did not happen, and unfortunately it is now lost.

Voltaire left Holland for Paris at the end of February 1737, and was soon again settled at the Château de Cirey, with his friend the Marquis du Châtelet. From there he wrote a remarkable letter to Professor 's Gravesande. J.-B. Rousseau had spread the calumny that Voltaire, being driven from France, had gone to the university of Leyden to preach atheism, and had even had a public discussion with 's Gravesande on the existence of God. 's Gravesande had contradicted this in a Dutch newspaper, but Voltaire now complains that the refutation had not penetrated into France, and that the report had reached the highest quarters, and was seriously injuring him. He begs 's Gravesande to address himself to the Cardinal de Fleury, but the professor, while strenuously denying the truth of the report, excused himself from taking this step, on the ground that owing to his retired life, his name was not sufficiently known in France to have any influence; in fact, that he could not suppose people to know that there was at Leyden a man "whose name began with an apostrophe." Voltaire forwarded this letter to the Duc de Richelieu, who showed it to Cardinal de Fleury, and the minister De Maurepas, and it appears to have answered its purpose.

In 1739 Voltaire resolved to visit the Netherlands, with his friend Mme. du Châtelet, principally because her presence was required at Brussels for a lawsuit between her and the Comte de Honsbroek, about an inheritance left her by her uncle, the Marquis de Trichâteau. At Brussels they were received with open arms, and Voltaire and his friend soon became the favorite guests of the D'Arembergs and Chimays. The journey to Holland was given up for the present, and they remained some time at Brussels. Prince Frederick of Prussia had about that time written a remarkable book, "L'Anti-Machiavel," and had submitted the manuscript to the judgment of Voltaire in January 1740. The latter occupied himself at once with the publication of the book, with which he was greatly pleased. He promised to look over it carefully, write a preface, and, at the prince’s request, not to mention the author’s name. The correspondence about the publication with the Dutch bookseller Van Duren began the 1st of June 1740, and, according as the manuscript was revised by Voltaire, it was sent from Brussels to the publisher and printed.[6] In the mean time King Frederick William had died the 31st of May 1740, and Frederick the Second mounted the throne at the age of twenty-eight. He remained the same friendly correspondent with Voltaire, but wished now that the "Anti-Machiavel" should not be published. Van Duren, however, who had had no difficulty in guessing from Voltaire who the unknown writer was, and who in consequence expected large profits,[7] was determined not to stop the publication, and Voltaire accordingly thought it necessary to go in person to the Hague, where he arrived on the 17th of June 1740. On the 20th of the same month he tells Frederick of his experiences among the Dutch: —

Un peuple libre et mercenaire
Végétant dans ce coin de terre,
Et vivant toujours en bâteau,
Vend aux voyageurs l’air et l’eau,
Quoique tous deux n’y valent guère.
Là, plus d’un fripon de libraire
Débite ce qu’il n’entend pas,
Comme fait un prêcheur en chaire,
Vend de l’esprit de tous états,
Et fait passer en Germanie
Une cargaison de romans
Et d’insipides sentiments
Que toujours la France a fournie.

"That scoundrel of a Jean van Duren," as Voltaire called him, refused, and apparently with good reason, to return the manuscript, which was already half printed, as he now wanted to publish the book to pay its expenses.

What follows gives no favorable idea of Voltaire’s honesty and morality in the means he chose to obtain an object —

En effet [he writes] je suis venu à temps; le scélérat avait déjà refusé de rendre une page du manuscrit. Je l'envoyai chercher, je le sondai, je le tournai de tous les sens; il me fit entendre que, maître du manuscrit, il ne s'en dessaisirait jamais pour quelque avantage que ce pût être, qu'il avait commencé l'impression, qu'il la finirait. Quand je vis que j'avais à faire à un Hollandais qui abusait de la liberté de son pays, et à un libraire qui poussait à l'excès son droit de persécuter les auteurs, ne pouvant ici confier mon secret à personne, ni implorer le secours de l'autorité, je me souvins que Votre Majesté dit, dans un des chapitres de "L'Anti-Machiavel," qu'il est permis d'employer quelque honnête finesse en fait de négociation. Je dis done à Jean van Duren que je ne venais que pour corriger quelques pages du manuscrit. "Très-volontiers, monsieur," me dit-il, "Si vous voulez venir chez moi, je vous le confierai généreusement, feuille a feuille; vous corrigerez ce qu’il vous plaira, enfermé dans ma chambre, en présence de ma famille et de mes garçons." J'acceptai son offre cordiale; j'allai chez lui et je corrigeai en effet quelques feuilles qu'il reprenait à mesure, et qu'il lisait pour voir si je ne le trompais point. Lui ayant inspiré par là un peu moms de défiance, je suis retourné aujourd'hui dans la même prison où il m’a enfermé de même, et ayant obtenu six chapitres à la fois pour les confronter, je les ai raturés de façon, et j'ai écrit dans les interlignes de si horribles galimatias et des cog-à-l'âne si ridicules, que cela ne ressemble plus à un ouvrage. Cela s'appelle faire sauter son vaisseau en l'air pour n'être point pris par l'ennemi. J'étais au désespoir de sacrifier un si bel ouvrage; mais enfin j'obéissais au roi que j'idolâtre, et je vous réponds que j'y allais de bon cœur. Qui est étonné à présent, et confondu? C'est mon vilain. J'espère demain faire avec lui un marché honnête et le forcer à me rendre le tout, manuscrit et imprimé, et je continuerai à rendre compte à Votre Majesté.

A few days later Voltaire writes that with the help of lawyers he is negotiating with Van Duren, and he adds that either the work must be entirely suppressed, or else it must appear in a form worthy of its author, and Frederick replied that the book was not yet worthy of being published, and that it had to be thoroughly recast.

In the mean time Van Duren, who had had all the illegible sentences restored by a French corrector, La Martinière, continued printing, and Frederick reluctantly submits to this publication, and says: "Faites donc rouler la presse puisqu’il le faut, pour punir la scélératesse d’un misérable. Rayez, changez, corrigez et remplacez tous les endroits qu’il vous plaira. Je m’en remets à votre discernement." He was, however, not much pleased with the book afterwards, and complained that it was too much Voltaire's work.

During his three weeks’ stay at the Hague, Voltaire made attempts, in the name of Frederick, to persuade the Leyden professors 's Gravesande and Musschenbroek to enter the Prussian service, promising them great consideration and large emoluments. Neither could be persuaded to leave their country, which is all the more creditable to them, as Voltaire, to the surprise of most people, had at once succeeded with the French savant Maupertuis, the great friend of 's Gravesande. Besides these transactions Voltaire mixed much with politicians at the Hague, and he writes to Frederick that he had heard secret rumors of his coming.

J'ai de plus entendu dire que ce voyage pourrait être utile aux intérêts de Votre Majesté. Tout ce que je sais c'est que si votre humanité vient ici, elle gagnera les cœurs tout Hollandais qu'ils sont. Votre Majesté a ici de grands partisans.

Voltaire returned to Brussels on the 9th of August, and remained until he went to Cleves on the 11th of September 1740, where Frederick met him for the first time, and begged him to take charge of a new edition of the "Anti-Machiavel" at the Hague. He was very reluctant to return to Holland, as appears from a letter which he wrote on the 18th of September to his friend Maupertuis.

Quand nous partînies tous deux de Clèves, et que vous prîtes à droite et moi à gauche, je crus être au jugement dernier où le bon Dieu sépare ses élus des damnés. Divus Fredericus vous dit, "Asseyez-vous à ma droite dans le paradis de Berlin," et à moi, "Allez, maudit, en Hollande." Je suis dans cet enfer flegmatique, loin du feu divin qui anime les Frédéric, les Maupertuis, les Algarotti. Pour Dieu, faites-moi la charité de quelques étincelles dans les eaux croupissantes où je suis morfondu.

This was written in a moment of bad temper, such as Voltaire frequently indulged in. There are sufficient proofs to show that he had no real dislike to Holland.

Voltaire superintended the new edition at the publisher Paupie's, and had to carry on a lawsuit against Van Duren, who maintained that by the laws of Holland the bookseller who brought the book out first, acquired an exclusive right to sell it.

On the 7th October, Voltaire wrote to the king of Prussia, "J'attends que j'aie bien mis les choses en train pour quitter le champ de bataille, et m'en retourner auprès de mon autre monarque à Bruxelles." This was Madame du Châtelet, who was still occupied with her lawsuit, and for whom Voltaire had asked Frederick's aid. Frederick had answered, "Si je puis, je ferai marcher la tortue de Breda," meaning William IV., Prince of Orange, who then lived chiefly at Breda and at Leeuwarden.

Je suis en attendant [the letter goes on to say] dans votre palais où M. de Raesfeld [the ambassador] m'a donné on appartement sous le bon plaisir de Votre Majesté. Votre palais de la Haye est l'emblème des grandeurs humaines.

Sur des planchés pourris, sous des toits délabrés
Sont des appartements dignes de notre maître;
Mais malheur aux lambris dorés
Qui n'ont ni porte ni fenêtre!
Je vois dans un grenier les armures antiques,
Les rondaches et les brassards
Et les charnières des cuissarts,
Que portaient aux combats vos aïeux héroïques.
Leurs sabres tout rouillés sont rangés dans ces lieux,
Et les bois vermoulus de leurs lances gothiques,
Sur la terre couchés, sont en poudre comme eux.

Il y a aussi des livres que les rats seuls ont lu depuis cinquante ans, et qui sont converts des plus larges toiles d'araignées de l'Europe, de peur que les profanes n'en approchent.
Si les pénates de ce palais pouvaient parler, ils vous diraient sans doute: —

Se peut-il que ce roi, que tout le monde admire,
Nous abandonne pour jamais,
Et qu'il néglige son palais
Quand il rétablit son empire?

The building then used for the Prussian embassy at the Hague was known as the "Oude Hof" or Old Court, and is now the palace of the king of the Netherlands. Built by William Goudt, receveur-général of Holland, it passed after his death into different hands, and was at length bought by the States of Holland, in 1595, for the abode of Louise de Coligny, the widow of William the Silent, who lived there till her death. It was then purchased by her son Frederick Henry, who considerably enlarged and restored it. His widow, Amalia van Solms, remained in the same building till her death. At the death, in 1702, of Prince William III king of England, great disputes arose about his inheritance, specially between his cousin Johan Willem Friso, stadtholder of Friesland, Groningen, and Drenthe, whom William had appointed his heir, and Frederick I., king of Prussia, who based his claims on the will of his grandfather, Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange. When these disputes were settled, the king acquired several possessions in the Netherlands, among others the house at Hondsholredijk, and the old court in the Noordeinde. The widow of Prince William IV. of Orange, Princess Anna of England, bought in 1754 all this property — with the exception of Meurs, Lingen, and Montfoort — back from the great Frederick for 700,000 fl., besides 5,000 fl. for furniture.

In consequence of a pressing invitation from the king, Voltaire left the Hague in the beginning of November for Berlin, where he arrived on the 12th or 13th, but we find him again at the Hague on the 27th December. Going from thence in a ship, probably by Antwerp to Brussels, he was delayed by ice and an adverse wind for twelve days on the Zeeland rivers. He dates a letter to Frederick, "Dans un vaisseau sur les côtes de la Zélande, où j'enrage," 31st December 1740, and arrives on the 5th January at Madame du Châtelet's at Brussels. The following years Voltaire spent chiefly at Brussels, though he made occasional excursions to Paris or to the Château de Cirey.

The death of Cardinal de Fleury, in January 1743, made a great change in the court and politics of France. A desire grew up for a closer connection with Prussia, and in order to attain it the minister De Maurepas thought of taking advantage of Voltaire's influence over his royal friend. A secret mission[8] to Berlin was entrusted to Voltaire, who left Paris the 14th June 1743, and went by Brussels to the Hague, where he remained till the end of August, and stopped again at the Old Court, of which he gives a description somewhat similar to the former, on 28th June 1743.

Sous vos magnifiques lambris
Trés-dorés autrefois, maintenant très-pourris,
Emblème et monument des grandeurs de ce monde,
O mon maître, je vous écris
Navré d'une douleur profonde!
Je suis dans votre Vieille Cour;
Mais je veux une cour nouvelle,
Une cour où les arts ont fixé leur séjour,
Une cour où mon roi les suit et les appelle
Et les protége tour à tour.
Envoyez-moi Pégase et je pars dès ce jour.

J'attends donc à la Haye, chez M. de Podewills, les ordres de votre humanité et le forspan de Votre Majesté.
Je suis ici chez votre digne et aimable ministre, qui est inconsolable, et qui ne dort ni ne mange parce que les Hollandais veulent à trop bon marché la terre d'un grand roi. Il faut pourtant, sire, s'accoutumer à voir les Hollandais aimer l'argent autant que je vous aime.

Quand quitterai-je, hélas, cette humide province,
Pour voir mon héros et mon prince?

The negotiation mentioned in this letter probably refers to the sale of Frederick's Dutch possessions, which was accomplished in January 1754. Count Podewills was the successor of M. de Raesfeld. Through the favor of the wife of one of the chief members of the State, with whom he was in love, he succeeded in obtaining copies of all the secret resolutions of their High Mightinesses, which Voltaire forwarded to France.

Frederick answers on the 30th of July:

Je vous envoie le passe-port pour des chevaux avec bien de l'empressement. Ce ne seront pas de Pégases, mais ils amèneront Apollon à Berlin, où vous serez reçu à bras ouverts.
Voltaire mixed a great deal in society at the Hague, and had frequent intercourse, among others, with the celebrated poet William van Haren, a deputy of Friesland in the States-General. The latter, with his brother Onno Zwier, had put himself at the head of the party who wanted to force the government of the republic to assist Maria Theresa, queen of Hungary, with troops as well as with money. A large party, and especially those republicans who dreaded the appointment of a stadtholder, objected to this step, on the ground that it would inevitably lead to a war, not only with Prussia, but with France, and also to a revival of the stadtholdership, a prediction which was in fact verified in 1747. Van Haren, by his eloquent speeches, but especially by his poem,[9] contributed largely to the resolution of their High Mightinesses to assist Austria with twenty thousand men, commanded by the infantry-general, William Maurice, Count of Nassau-Ouwerkerk. Voltaire learnt all the most secret particulars about the equipping and orders for the troops, and communicated them to the French minister of war, D'Argenson. He was perfectly satisfied with his life at the Hague, as he writes to Thieriot: "Je mène ici une vie délicieuse, dont les agrèments ne sont combattus que par le regret que m'inspirent mes amis."

To D'Argenson he gives a more detailed description: —

Il y a ici des hommes très-estimables. La Haye est un séjour délicieux l'été, et la liberté y rend les hivers moins rudes. J'aime à voir les maîtres de l'Etat simples citoyens. Il y a des partis, et il faut bien qu'il y en ait dans une république; mais l'esprit de parti n'ôte rien à l'amour de la patrie, et je vois de grands hommes opposés à de grands hommes.
Je suis bien aise, pour l'honneur de la poésie, que ce soit un poète qui ait contribué ici à procurer des secours à la reine de Hongrie, et que la trompette de la guerre ait été la très-humble servante de la lyre d'Apollon. Je vois d'un autre côté, avec non moins d'admiration, un des principaux membres de l'Etat dont le système est tout pacifique marcher à pied sans domestiques, habiter une maison faite pour ces consuls romains qui fesaient cuire leurs légumes, dépenser à peine deux mille florins pour sa personne et en donner plus de vingt mille à des familles indigentes; ces grands exemples échappent à la plupart des voyageurs; mais, ne vaut-il pas mieux voir de telles curiosités que les processions de Rome, les récolets au Capitole et le miracle de Saint-Janvier? Des hommes de bien, des hommes de génie, voilà mes miracles. Ce gouvernement-ci vous plairait infiniment, même avec les defauts qui en sont inseparables. Il est tout municipal, et voilà ce que vous aimez. Le Haye d'ailleurs est le pays des nouvelles et des livres; c'est proprement la ville des ambassadeurs; leur société est toujours très-utile à qui veut s'instruire. On les voit tous en un jour. On sort, on rentre chez soi; chaque rue est une promenade; on peut se montrer, se retirer tant qu'on veut. C'est Fontainebleau, et point de cour à faire.

Voltaire's praises of Van Haren are genuine, and are confirmed by his later letters and by the following poem: —


Demosthène au conseil, et Pindare au Parnasse,
L'auguste vérité marche devant tes pas;
Tyrtée a dans ton sein repandu son audace,
Et tu tiens sa trompette, organe des combats.

Je ne puis t'imiter, mais j'aime ton courage
Né pour la liberté, tu penses en héros:
Mais qui naquit sujet ne doit penser qu'en sage,
Et vivre obscurement, s'il veut vivre en repos.

Notre esprit est conforme aux lieux qui l'ont vu naître;
A Rome on est esclave, à Londres citoyen.
La grandeur d'un Batave est de vivre sans maître;
Et mon premier devoir est de servir le mien.

Voltaire's friends warned him that it would have been safer for a Frenchman to make the last lines, if not the whole verse, somewhat less pointed. In consequence of a remonstrance from the Marquis de Fénelon, then ambassador at the Hague, he replaced the two middle lines of the last stanza, by the following: —

Tout état a ses mœurs et tout homme a son lien,
Ta gloire, ta vertu, est de vivre sans maître;

and put the word "chérir" instead of "servir," in the last line. A Dutchman also had sent Voltaire a number of observations, which the latter answered shortly on the margin, adding: "Style Hollandais: cent paroles pour une."

To M. Thieriot Voltaire writes soon after, on the 16th of August: —

Ne vous meprenez plus sur le nom d'un homme qui sera immortel dans ce pays-ci. Ce n'est point van Hyden, c'est van Haren qu'il s'appelle. Il lui est arrivé la même chose qu'à Homère; on gagnait sa vie à reciter ses vers aux portes des temples et des villes; la multitude court après lui quand il va à Amsterdam. On l'a gravé avec cette belle inscription: "Quæ canit ipse fecit." Vous ne sauriez croire combien cette fadaise [the above stanzas] par laquelle j'ai repondu à ses politesses et à ses amities, m'a concilié ici les esprits. On en a imprimé plus de vingt traductions. Il n'est rien tel que l'à propos.

Voltaire's praises of Van Haren seem to have given rise to a wish on the part of France to buy his services; at least, Voltaire writes to the French minister for foreign affairs: —

A l'egard de M. van Haren, il faut le regarder comme un homme incorruptible, mais il paraît aimer la gloire et les ambassades. Il voulait aller en Turquie; c'est de là que j'ai pris occasion de lui representer qu'il trouverait plus d'amis et d'approbateurs à Paris qu'à Constantinople. Cette idée a paru le flatter. On pourrait en faire usage, en cas que les yeux des Hollandais commençassent à s'ouvrir sur la ridicule injustice d'attaquer la France, sous prétexte d'un secours qu'ils out refusé à la reine de Hongrie quand elle en avait besoin, et qu'ils lui donnent quand elle peut s'en passer. En ce cas, van Haren pouvant avec honneur employer à la conciliation les talents qu'il a consacrés à la discorde, l'espérance d'être nommé ambassadeur en France, malgré l'usage qui l'en exclut, comme Frison, pourrait le flatter et le determiner à servir la cause de la justice et de la raison.

The reason why Van Haren, whose money matters were in great confusion, wished to go to Constantinople, was that it was then the only place where an ambassador could make a large fortune in a short time; but he went neither to Constantinople nor to Paris. He was sent in 1748 as ambassador to Brussels, where he died in 1768.

Voltaire left the Hague on the 22nd August 1743, for Berlin, and he does not seem to have kept up any correspondence with Van Haren, or indeed with any other Dutchman, if we except some purely scientific letters to ‘s Gravesande. He visited the Hague once more in October 1745, but the war soon afterwards broke out, and as far as we have been able to ascertain, he never again made a stay there. One more edition of all his works appeared at Amsterdam in 1764.

We know that Voltaire stayed, in 1713, at the French Embassy, Boschkant, and in 1740 and 1743 at the Old Court in the Noordeinde, but of the place of his residence during his earlier visits to the Hague, in 1722, 1736, and 1737, little or nothing is known, except that he once stayed with Mr. Pailleret, wine-merchant in the Hoogstraat, whose wife spent a great deal of money on her dress. Pailleret asked him for a few lines of remembrance at parting, and Voltaire wrote down the following: —

Que Pailleret aime sa femme, je n'en doute,
Puisque pour l'habiller il a fait trois banque-routes.

It will probably always remain a riddle whether or not Voltaire, on leaving Holland, pronounced the famous words, "Adieu canaux, canards, canaille." Some attribute them to Boileau, others to a French banished general, who suffered much from the gout in Holland, and was extremely glad to return to France. It scarcely agrees with the enthusiasm Voltaire was accustomed to express for the character, manners, and customs of the Dutch, but it must not be forgotten that he was very versatile and impressionable by nature, and that he left Holland after a violent quarrel with Dutch booksellers.

  1. This picture belonged to Mr. Hoffman’s collection, and is now in the possession of the Baroness de Wassenaer, his daughter.
  2. Some curious particulars about Cavalier and Voltaire’s interviews with La Beaumelle in 1748, are to be found in an article, 'Les Lettres de Mme. de Maintenon,' in the Revue de Deux Mondes of January 15th, 1869.
  3. Suspected of having written a very bitter poem against the Duc d'Orléans, he was put in the Bastille in 1717. When he was found to be innocent, he was released in 1718 and received a compensation from the duke. "Monseigneur," Voltaire is supposed to have said, "Je remercie V.A.R. de vouloir bien continuer à se charger de ma nourriture, mais je la prie de ne plus se charger de mon logement."
  4. In a pamphlet of the time, "Requeste au nom du Roy qui demande une place dans le régiment de la Calotte pour Voltaire son confrère," it is said that in 1722 at Amsterdam, Voltaire received blows from a few enraged Israelites, because, on a visit to their synagogue, be ridiculed their religious ceremonies. That Voltaire's statements are not always accurate, we may infer from his estimate of the population of Amsterdam.
  5. The first edition of Voltaire's collected works came out in 1728, at P. Gosse and Neaulme's, at the Hague. Further editions appeared in 1732 and 1738 at Amsterdam, in 1740 at Paupie's, at the Hague, and in 1741, 1743, and 1764, at Amsterdam.
  6. Voltaire asked for no honorarium, but stipulated only for four dozen well-bound copies, two dozen of these bound in red morocco to be sent "à la cour d'Allemagne qui vous sera indiquée."
  7. Voltaire himself was to blame for this. He wrote, among other things, to Van Duren, "Si vous saviez de quelle main est le manuscrit, vous m'auriez une obligation très-singulière, et vons ne tarderiez pas à en profiter." And again, "Si vous ne me répondez pas, trouvez bon que je gratifie un autre de ce présent."
  8. A contemporary writes: "Il va à la Haye; il est chargé de brouiller les Etats-Généraux de Hollande avec le roi de Prusse et de faire recommencer la guerre avec l'Autriche." It is said also that he owed this mission to the influence of Madame de Châteauroux.
  9. He wrote to his cousin Van Grovestius, "J'ai fait lever 20,000 hommes par 3 pièsces en vers."