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much less capable of becoming one than De Maistre or Paley. This was a prime secret of his power, for the mere critic and propounder of unanswered doubts never leads more than a handful of men after him. Voltaire boldly put the great question, and he boldly answered it. He asked whether the sacred records were historically true, the Christian doctrine divinely inspired and spiritually exhaustive, and the Christian church a holy and beneficent organization. He answered these questions for himself and for others beyond possibility of misconception. The records were saturated with fable and absurdity, the doctrine imperfect at its best, and a dark and tyrannical superstition at its worst, and the church was the arch-curse and infamy. Say what we will of these answers, they were free from any taint of skepticism. Our lofty new idea of rational freedom as freedom from conviction, and of emancipation of understanding as emancipation from the duty of settling whether important propositions are true or false, had not dawned on Voltaire.
He had just as little part or lot in the complaisant spirit of the man of the world, who from the depths of his mediocrity and ease presumes to promulgate the law of progress, and as dictator to fix its speed. Who does not know this temper of the man of the world, that worst enemy of the world? His inexhaustible patience of abuses that only torment others; his apologetic word for beliefs that may perhaps not be so precisely true as one might wish, and institutions that are not altogether so useful as some might think possible; his cordiality towards progress and improvement in a general way, and his coldness or antipathy to each progressive proposal in particular; his pygmy hope that life will one day become somewhat better, punily shivering by the side of his gigantic conviction that it might well be infinitely worse. To Voltaire, far different from this, an irrational prejudice was not the object of a polite coldness, but a real evil to be combated and overthrown at every hazard. Cruelty was not to him as a disagreeable dream of the imagination, from thought of which he could save himself by arousing to sense of his own comfort, but a vivid flame burning into his thoughts and destroying peace. Wrong-doing and injustice were not simple words on his lips; they went as knives to the heart; he suffered with the victim, and consumed with an active rage against the oppressor.
Nor was the coarse cruelty of the inquisitor or the politician, who wrought iniquity by aid of the arm of flesh, the only kind
of injury to the world which stirred his passion. He had imagination enough and intelligence enough to perceive that they are the most pestilent of all the enemies of mankind, the sombre hierarchs of misology, who take away the keys of knowledge, thrusting truth down to the second place, and discrowning sovereign reason to be the serving drudge of superstition or social usage. The system which threw obstacles into the way of publishing an exposition of Newton's discoveries and ideas was as mischievous and hateful to him, as the darker bigotry which broke Calas on the wheel because he was a Protestant. To check the energetic discovery and wide propagation of scientific truth, he rightly held to be at least as destructive in the long run to common weal, as the unjust extermination of human life; for it is the possession of ever more and more truth that makes life ever better worth having and better worth preserving. And must we not admit that he was right, and that no age nor school of men nor individual has ever been mortally afraid, as every good man is afraid, of inflicting any wrong on his fellow, and has not also been afraid of extinguishing a single ray from the great sun of knowledge?
It is well enough to say that in unscientific ages, like the twelfth century for instance, the burner of books and the tormentor of those who wrote them, did not feel either that he was doing an injustice to man or a mischief to truth. It is hard to deny that St. Bernard was a good man, nor is it needful that we should deny it; for good motives, owing to our great blindness and slow enlightenment, have made grievous havoc in the world. But the conception of justice towards heretics did not exist, any more than it existed in the mind of a low type of white man towards a black man, or than the conception of pity exists in the mind of a sportsman towards his prey. These were ages of social cruelty, as they were ages of intellectual repression. The debt of each to his neighbor was as little felt, as the debt of all to the common faculties and intelligence. Men owed nothing to man, but everything to the gods. All the social feeling and intellectual effort and human energizing which had made the high idea of God possible and real, seemed to have expended themselves in a creation which instantly swallowed them up and obliterated their recollection. The intelligence which by its active straining upwards to the light had opened the way for the one God, became itself forthwith identified with the chief of the devils. He who used his
reason was the child of this demon. Where it is a duty to worship the sun, it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat. The times when such was the universal idea of the rights of the understanding, were also the times when human life was cheapest, and the tiny bowl of a man's happiness was spilt upon the ground with least compunction.
The companionship between these two ideas of disrespect for the rights of man, and disrespect for reason or the highest distinction of man, has been an inseparable companionship. The converse is unhappily only true with a modification, for there have been too many men with an honorable respect for a demonstration and a proper hospitality towards a probability, who look on the rights of man, without disrespect indeed, but also without fervor. To Voltaire reason and humanity were but a single word, and love of truth and passion for justice but one emotion. None of the famous men who have fought that they themselves might think freely and speak truly, have ever seen more clearly that the fundamental aim of the contest was that others might live happily. Who has not been touched by that admirable word of his, of the three years in which he labored without remission for justice to the widow and descendants of Calas: "During that time not a smile escaped me without my reproaching myself for it, as for a crime." Or by his sincere avowal that of all the words of enthusiasm and admiration which were so prodigally bestowed upon him on the occasion of his last famous visit to Paris in 1778, none went to his heart like that of a woman of the people, who, in reply to one asking the name of him whom the crowd followed, gave answer, "Do you not know that he is the preserver of the Calas?"
The same kind of feeling, though manifested in ways of much less unequivocal nobleness, was at the bottom of his many efforts to make himself of consequence in important political business. . . .
The man of letters, usually unable to conceive loftier services to mankind or more attractive aims to persons of capacity than the composition of books, has treated these pretensions of Voltaire with a supercilious kind of censure, which teaches us nothing about Voltaire, while it implies a particularly shallow idea alike of the position of the mere literary life in the scale of things, and of the conditions under which the best literary work is done. To have really contributed in the humblest degree, for instance, to a peace between Prussia and her ene
mies in 1759, would have been an immeasurably greater performance for mankind than any given book which Voltaire could have written. And, what is still better worth observing, Voltaire's books would not have been the powers they were, but for this constant desire of his to come into the closest contact with the practical affairs of the world. He who has never left the life of a recluse, drawing an income from the funds and living in a remote garden, constructing past, present, and future out of his own consciousness, is not qualified either to lead mankind safely or to think on the course of human affairs correctly. Every page of Voltaire has the bracing air of the life of the world in it, and the instinct which led him to seek the society of the conspicuous actors on the great scene was essentially a right one. The book-writer takes good advantage of his opportunity to assure men expressly or by implication that he is their true king, and that the sacred bard is a mightier man than his hero. Voltaire knew better. Though himself perhaps the most puissant man of letters that ever lived, he rated literature as it ought to be rated, below action, not because written speech is less of a force, but because the speculation and criticism of the literature that substantially influences the world, make far less demand than the actual conduct of great affairs on qualities which are not rare in detail but are amazingly rare in combination, on temper, foresight, solidity, daring,on strength, in a word, strength of intelligence and strength of character. Gibbon rightly amended his phrase, when he described Boethius not as stooping, but rather as rising, from his life of placid meditation to an active share in the imperial business. That he held this sound opinion is quite as plausible an explanation of Voltaire's anxiety to know persons of station and importance, as the current theory that he was of sycophantic nature. Why, he asks, are the ancient historians so full of light? "It is because the writer had to do with public business; it is because he could be magistrate, priest, soldier; and because, if he could not rise to the highest functions of the state, he had at least to make himself worthy of them. admit," he concludes, "that we must not expect such an advanI tage with us, for our own constitution happens to be against it." But he was deeply sensible what an advantage it was that they thus lost.
GOLDONI'S ADVENTURES AND DRAMATIC
[CARLO GOLDONI, the creator of modern Italian comedy, was born at Venice in 1697. He began with tragedies, but after finding his true line, wrote over one hundred and twenty comedies, discarding the old mechanical buffoonery, and portraying with great fidelity and lightness of touch the surface of the social life of his time, so far as he dared. They have no depth or serious purpose like Molière's, however, are to play rather than read, and seem vapid in citation. He wrote his "Memoirs," and died at Paris in 1793.]
HIS START IN LIFE.
FOR my part, I knew not what was to become of me. At the age of twenty-one, I had experienced so many reverses, so many singular catastrophes had happened to me, and so many troublesome events, that I no longer flattered myself with anything, and saw no other resource in my mind than the dramatic art, which I was still fond of, and which I should long before have entered into, if I had been master of my own will.
My father, however, vexed to see me the sport of fortune, did not allow himself to be cast down by those circumstances, which began to wear a serious aspect both for him and me. He had been at a considerable and useless expense to give me a profession, and he could have wished to procure me a respectable and lucrative employment, which should cost him nothing. This was not so readily to be found he did find one, however, and so much to my taste, that I forgot all the losses which I had sustained, and I had nothing further to regret.
The republic of Venice sends a noble Venetian for governor to Chiozza, with the title of "podesta," who takes with him a chancellor for criminal matters; an office which corresponds with that of "lieutenant-criminel" in France; and this criminal-chancellor must have an assistant in his office, with the title of coadjutor.
These appointments are more or less lucrative, according to the country in which they are situated; but they are all very agreeable, as the holders of them are admitted to the governor's table, are in his excellency's party, and see every person of distinction in the place. However small the labor, it turns out pretty well.
My father enjoyed the protection of the governor, who was at that time the noble Francis Bonfadini. He was also