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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 134.djvu/105

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VOLTAIRE IN THE NETHERLANDS.

expected, the hero had prevailed over the poet, and the gentle and agreeable physiognomy over the wild and wicked one."[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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."
  3. 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.