Berlin and Sans-Souci
Part 11 out of 11
imperious woman, but a humiliated one! In my helplessness, with my
pride subdued, I come to you! I come to you, sire, as one goes to
God, weary and heavy laden. I come to you, as a poor sinner goes
into God's holy temple, to confess his sins; to have his burden
lightened; to pray for help that he may subdue his own heart! Oh,
sire, this is a sacred, consecrated hour for me, and what I now say
to you, only God and yourself may hear!"
"Speak, Barbarina, and may God hear and answer!"
"Sire, I come for help!"
"Ah, for help!" exclaimed the king, and a mocking expression played
upon his lips. "I had forgotten. You wish to be called Madame
"I am called thus, sire," said she, softly; "but they are about to
declare my marriage illegal, and by the power of the law to set it
"And for this reason you come to me?" said the king. "You fear for
your beautiful title?"
"Ah, sire, you do not, think so pitifully of me as to suppose I care
for a title?"
"You married the Councillor Cocceji, then, from love?" said the
Barbarina looked at the king steadily. "No, sire, I did not marry
him for love."
"Why, then, did you marry him?"
"To save myself, sire--to save myself, and because I could not learn
to forget. Your majesty has just said that you have the religion of
memory. Sire, I am the anguish-stricken, tortured, fanatical
priestess of the same faith. I have lain daily before her altar, I
have scourged my heart with remembrances, and blinded my eyes with
weeping. At last a day came in which I roused myself. I resolved to
abandon my altar, to flee from the past, and teach my heart to
forget. I went to England, accepted Lord Stuart's proposals, and
resolved to be his wife. It was in vain, wholly in vain. Whatsoever
my trembling lips might say, my heart lay ever bleeding before the
altar of my memory. The past followed me over the wide seas, she
beckoned and greeted me with mysterious sighs and pleadings; she
called out to me, with two great, wondrous eyes, clear and blue as
the heavens, unfathomable as the sea! These eyes, sire, called me
back, and I could not resist them. I felt that I would rather die by
them than relinquish them forever. So, on my wedding-day, I fled
from England, and returned to Berlin. The old magic came over me;
also, alas! the old grief. I felt that I must do something to save
myself, if I would not go mad. I resolved to bind my wayward heart
in chains, to make my love a prisoner to duty, and silence the
outcries of my soul! But I still wavered. Then came Madame Cocceji.
By her insolent bearing she roused my pride, until it overshadowed
even my despair, and I heard no other voice. So, sire, I married
Cocceji! I have taken refuge in this marriage, as in a safe haven,
where I shall rest peacefully and fear no storm.
"But, my king, struggle as I may to begin a new life, the religion
of memory will not relinquish her priestess; she extends her
mystical hands over me, and my poor heart shouts back to her against
my will. Sire, save me! I have fled to this marriage as one flies to
a cloister-cell, to escape the sweet love of this world. Oh, sire,
do not allow them to drive me from this refuge; leave me in peace to
God and my duty! Alas! my soul has repented, she lies wearied and
ill at your feet. Help her, heal her, I implore you!"
She was silent. She extended her bands toward the king. He looked at
her sadly, kindly took her hands in his, and pressed his lips upon
"Barbarina," said he, in a rich, mellow voice--"Barbarina, I thank
you. God and the king have heard you. You say that you are the
priestess of the religion of remembrance; well, then, I am her
priest, and I confess to you that I, also, have passed many nights
in anguish before her altar. Life demands heavy sacrifices, and more
from kings than from other men. Once in my life I made so rich an
offering to my, royalty that it seemed life could have no more of
bitterness in store. The thoughtless and fools consider life a
pleasure. But I, Barbarina, I say, that life is a duty. Let us
fulfil our duties."
"Yes, we will go and fulfil them," said she, with flashing eyes.
"Sire, I will go to fulfil mine; but I am weak, and have yet one
more favor to ask. There is no cup of Lethe from which men drink
forgetfulness, and yet I must forget. I must cast a veil over the
past. Help me, sire--I must leave Berlin! Banish my husband to
another city. It will be an open grave for me; but I will struggle
to plant that grave with flowers, whose beauty and perfume shall
rejoice and make glad the heart of my husband!"
"I grant your request," said the king, sadly.
"I thank you, sire; and now, farewell!"
He took again her hands in his, and looked long into her fair,
enchanting face, now glowing with enthusiasm. Neither spoke one
word; they took leave of each other with soft glances and melancholy
"Farewell, sire!" said Barbarina, after a long pause, withdrawing
her hands from the king's and stepping toward the door. The king
"Give me your hand," said he, "I will go with you!"
Frederick led her into the adjoining room, in which there were two
doors. One led to a small stairway, which opened upon a side-door of
the castle; the other to the great saloon, in which the cavaliers
and followers of the king were wont to assemble.
Barbarina had entered by the small stairway, and now turned her
steps in that direction. "No, not that way," said Frederick. "My
staff await me in the saloon. It is the hour for parade. I will show
you my court."
Barbarina thanked him, and followed silently to the other door. The
generals, in their glittering uniforms, and the cavaliers, with
their embroidered vests and brilliant orders, bowed profoundly, and
no one dared to manifest the surprise he felt as the king and
Frederick led Barbarina into the middle of the saloon, and letting
go her hand, he said aloud: "Madame, I have the honor to commend
myself to you. Your wish shall be fulfilled. Your husband shall be
President of Glogau! it shall be arranged to-day." The king cast a
proud and searching glance around the circle of his cavaliers, until
they rested upon the master of ceremonies. "Baron Pollnitz, conduct
Madame Presidentess Coceeji to her carriage."
Pollnitz stumbled forward and placed himself with a profound
salutation at Barbarina's side.
Frederick bowed once more to Barbarina; she took the arm of Baron
Pollnitz. Silence reigned in the saloon as Barbarina withdrew.
The king gazed after her till she had entirely disappeared; then,
breathing heavily, he turned to his generals and said: "Messieurs,
it is time for parade."
Voltaire was faithful to his purpose: he made use of his residence
in Prussia and the favor of the king to increase his fortune, and to
injure and degrade, as far as possible, all those for whom the king
manifested the slightest partiality. He not only added to his riches
by the most abject niggardliness in his mode of life, thereby adding
his pension to his capital, but by speculation in Saxon bonds, for
which, in the beginning, he employed the aid of the Jew Hirsch. We
have seen that he sent him to Dresden to purchase eighteen thousand
thalers' worth of bonds, and gave him three drafts for that purpose.
One of these was drawn upon the banker Ephraim. He thus learned of
Voltaire's speculation, and, as a cunning trafficker, he resolved to
turn this knowledge to his own advantage. He went to Voltaire, and
proposed to give him twenty thousand thalers' worth of Saxon bonds,
and demand no payment for them till Voltaire should receive their
full value from Dresden. The only profit he desired was Voltaire's
good word and influence for him with the king.
This was a most profitable investment, and the great French writer
could not resist it. He took the bonds; promised his protection and
favor, and immediately sent to Paris to protest the draft he had
given the Jew Hirsch.
Poor Hirsch had already bought the bonds in Dresden, and he was now
placed in the most extreme embarrassment, not only by the protested
draft, but by Voltaire's refusing to receive the bonds and to pay
Voltaire tried to appease him; promised to repair his loss, and yet
further to indemnify him. He declared he would purchase some of the
diamonds left in his care by Hirsch, and he really did this; he
bought three thousand thalers' worth of diamonds and returned the
rest to Hirsch. A few days after he sent to him for a diamond cross
and a few rings which he proposed to buy. Hirsch sent them, and not
hearing from either the diamonds or the money, he went to Voltaire
to get either the one or the other.
Voltaire received him furiously; declared that the diamonds which he
had purchased were false, and in order to reimburse himself he had
retained the others and would never return them! In wild rage he
continued to raise his doubled fist to heaven in condemnation, or
held it under the nose of the poor terrified Jew; and to crown all,
he tore from his finger another diamond ring, and pushed him from
And now the Jew indeed was to be pitied. He demanded of the courts
the restoration of his diamonds, and payment for the Saxon bonds.
A wearisome and vexatious process was the result. Voltaire's plots
and intrigues involved the case more and more, and he brought the
judges themselves almost to despair. Voltaire declared that the Jew
had sold him false diamonds. The Jew asserted that the false
diamonds exhibited by Voltaire were not those Voltaire had purchased
of him, and which the jeweller Reclam had valued. No one was present
at this trade, so there were no witnesses. The judges were,
therefore, obliged to confine themselves to administering the oath
to Voltaire, as he would not consent to any compromise. But he
resisted the taking of the oath also.
"What!" said he, "I must swear upon the Bible; upon this book
written in such wretched Latin! If it were Homer or Virgil, I would
have nothing against it."
When the judge assured him, that if he refused the oath, they would
administer it to the Jew, he exclaimed: "What! you will allow the
oath of this miserable creature, who crucified the Saviour, to
decide this question?"
He took the oath at last, and as the Jew Ephraim swore at the same
time that Voltaire had shown him the diamonds, and he had at once
declared them to be false, the Jew Hirsch lost his case, and
Voltaire triumphed. He wrote the following letter to Algarotti:
"If one had listened to my envious enemies, they would have heard
that I was about to lose a great process, and that I had defrauded
an honest Jewish banker. The king, who naturally takes the part of
the Old Testament, would have looked upon me with disfavor. I should
have been lost, and Freron would have derisively declared that I
sickened and died of rage. Instead of this, I still live; and during
my last illness the king manifested such warm and affectionate
interest in me, that I should be the most ungrateful of men if I do
not remain a few months longer with him! I am the only animal of my
race whom he has ever lodged in his castle in Berlin; and when he
left for Potsdam, and I could not follow him, his equipage, cooks,
etc., remained for my use. He had my furniture and other effects
removed to a beautiful country-seat near Sans-Souci, which was, for
the time being, mine. Besides this, a lodging was reserved for me at
Potsdam, where I slept a part of every week. In short, if I were not
three hundred leagues away from you, whom I love so tenderly, and if
I were in good health, I would be the happiest of men! I ask pardon,
therefore, of my enemies; these men of small wit; these sly foxes,
who cry out because I have a pension of twenty thousand francs, and
they have nothing! I wear a golden cross on my breast, while they
have not even a handkerchief in their pockets. I wear a great blue
cross, set round with diamonds, around my neck; for this they would
strangle me. These miserable creatures ought to know that I would
cheerfully give up the cross, the key, the pension; these things
would cost me no regret, but I am bound and attached to this great
man, who in all things strives to promote my welfare." [Footnote:
Voltaire, Oeuvres, p. 442.]
But this paradise of bliss, so extravagantly praised by Voltaire,
was not entirely without clouds, and some fierce storms had been
necessary to clear the atmosphere.
The king was very angry with Voltaire, and wrote the following
letter to him from Potsdam:
"I knew how to maintain peace in my house till your arrival; and I
must confess to you, that if you continue to intrigue and cabal, you
will be no longer welcome. I prefer kind and gentle people, who are
not passionate and tragic in their daily life. In case you should
resolve to live as a philosopher, I will rejoice to see you! But if
you give full sway to your passion and are hot-brained with
everybody, you will do better to remain in Berlin. Your arrival in
Potsdam will give me no pleasure." [Footnote: Oeuvres Posthumes, p.
Only after Voltaire had solemnly sworn to preserve the peace, was he
allowed to return to Potsdam. Keeping the peace was not, however, in
harmony with Voltaire's character; plotting was a necessity with
him; he could not resist it.
After he had succeeded in setting Arnaud aside and compelling him to
leave Berlin, he turned his rage and sarcasm against the other
friends of the king. One of them was removed by death. This was La
Mettrie; he partook immoderately of a truffle-pie at the house of
the French ambassador, Lord Tyrconnel, and died in consequence of a
blood-letting, which he ordered himself, in opposition to the
opinion of his physician. He laughingly said, "I will accustom my
indigestion to blood-letting." He died at the first experiment. His
death was in harmony with his life and his principles. He dismissed
the priest rudely who came to him uncalled, and entreated him to be
reconciled to God. Convulsed by his last agonies, he called out, "O
my God! O Jesus Maria!"
"He repents!" cried the delighted priest; "he calls upon God and His
"No, no, no, father!" stammered La Mettrie, with dying lips; "that
was only a form of speech." [Footnote: Nicolai, p. 20.]
Voltaire's envy and jealousy were now turned against the Marquis
d'Argens, who was indeed the dearest friend of the king. At first he
tried to prejudice the king against him; he betrayed to him that the
marquis had privately married the actress Barbe Cochois.
The king was at the moment very angry, but the prayers of Algarotti,
and the regret of the poor marquis, reconciled him at last; he not
only forgave, but he allowed the marquise to dwell at Sans-Souci
with her husband.
When Voltaire found that he could not deprive the marquis of the
king's favor, he resolved to occasion him some trouble, and to wound
his vanity and sensibility. He knew that the marquis was an ardent
admirer of the French writer Jean Baptiste Rousseau. One day
Voltaire entered the room of the marquis, and said, in a sad,
sympathetic tone, that he felt it his duty to undeceive him as to
Jean Baptiste Rousseau, to prove to him that his love and respect
for the great writer were returned with the blackest ingratitude. He
had just received from his correspondent at Paris an epigram which
Rousseau had made upon the marquis. It was true the epigram was only
handed about in manuscript, and Rousseau swore every one who read it
not to betray him; he was showing it, however, and it was thought it
would be published. He, Voltaire, had commissioned his correspondent
to do every thing in his power to prevent the publication of this
epigram; or, if this took place, to use every means to excite the
public, as well as the friends of the marquis, against Rousseau,
because of his shameful treachery.
At all events, this epigram, which Voltaire now read aloud. to the
marquis, and which described him as the Wandering Jew, was as
malicious as it was mischievous and slanderous. The good marquis was
deeply wounded, and swore to take a great revenge on Rousseau.
But, after a few days, he suspected that the whole was an artifice
of Voltaire. In accordance with his open, noble character, he wrote
immediately to Rousseau, made his complaint, and asked if he had
written the epigram.
Rousseau swore that he was not the author, but he was persuaded that
Voltaire had written it; he had sent some copies to Paris, and his
friends were seeking to spread it abroad. [Footnote: Thiebault.]
The marquis was on his guard, and did not communicate this news to
Voltaire. He resolved to escape from these assaults and intrigues
quietly; with his young wife he made a journey to Paris, and did not
return till Voltaire had left Berlin forever.
The most powerful and therefore the most abhorred of the enemies
against whom Voltaire now turned in his rage, was the president of
the Berlin Academy, Maupertius. Voltaire could never forgive him for
daring to shine in his presence; for being the president of an
academy of which he, Voltaire, was only a simple member. Above all
this, the king loved him, and praised his extraordinary talent and
scholarship. Voltaire only watched for an opportunity to clutch this
dangerous enemy, and the occasion soon presented itself.
Maupertius had just published his "Lettres Philosophiques," in which
it must be confessed there were passages which justified Voltaire's
assertion that Maupertius was at one time insane, and was confined
for some years in a madhouse at Montpellier. Maupertius proposed in
these letters that a Latin city should be built, and this majestic
and beautiful tongue brought to life again. He proposed, also, that
a hole should be dug to the centre of the earth, in order to
discover its condition and quality; also that the brain of
Pythagoras should be searched for and opened, in order to ascertain
the nature of the soul.
These ridiculous and fabulous propositions Voltaire replied to under
the name of Dr. Akakia; he asserted that he was only anxious to heal
the unhappy Maupertius. This publication was written in Voltaire's
sharpest wit and his most biting, glittering irony, and was
calculated to make Maupertius absurd in the eyes of the whole world.
The king, to whom Voltaire had shown his manuscript, felt this; and
although he had listened to the "Akakia" with the most lively
pleasure, and often interrupted the reading by loud laughter and
applause, he asked Voltaire to destroy the manuscript. He was not
willing that the man who stood at the head of his academy, and whom
he had once called "the light of science," should be held up to the
laughter and mockery of the world.
"I ask this sacrifice from you as a proof of your friendship for me,
and your self-control," said the king, earnestly. "I am tired of
this everlasting disputing and wrangling; I will have peace in my
house; I do not know how long we will have peace in the world. It
seems to me that on the horizon of politics heavy clouds are
beginning to tower up; let us therefore take care that our literary
horizon is clear and peaceable."
"Ah, sire!" cried Voltaire, "when you look at me with your great,
luminous eyes, I feel capable of plucking my heart from my breast
and casting it into the fire for you. How gladly, then, will I offer
up these stinging lines to a wish of my Solomon!"
"Will you indeed sacrifice 'Akakia?'" said the king, joyfully.
"Look here! this is my manuscript, you know my hand-writing, you see
that the ink is scarcely dry, the work just completed. Well, then,
see now, sire, what I make of the 'Akakia.'" He took the manuscript
and cast it into the fire before which they were both sitting.
"What are you doing?" cried the king, hastily; and, without
regarding the flames, ho stretched out his hand to seize the
Voltaire laughed heartily, seized the tongs, and pushed it farther
into the flames. "Sire, sire, I am the devil, and I will not allow
my victim to be torn from me. My 'Akakia' was only worthy of the
lower regions; you condemned it, and therefore it must suffer. I,
the devil, command it to burn."
"But I, the angel of mercy, will redeem the poor 'Akakia,'" cried
the king, trying to obtain possession of the tongs. "Truly this
'Akakia' is too lusty and witty a boy to be laid, like the Emperor
Guatimozin, upon the gridiron. It was enough to deny him a public
exhibition--it was not necessary to destroy him."
"Sire, I am a poor, weak man! If I kept the living 'Akakia' by my
side, it would be a poisonous weapon, which I would hurl one day
surely at the head of Maupertius. It is therefore better it should
live only in my remembrance, and be only an imaginary dagger, with
which I will sometimes tickle the haughty lord-president."
"And you have really no copy?" said the king, whose distrust was
awakened by Voltaire's too ready compliance. "Was this the only
manuscript of the 'Akakia?'"
"Sire, if you do not believe my word, send your servants and let
them search my room. Here are my keys; they shall bring you every
scrap of written paper; your majesty will then be convinced. I
entreat you to do this, as you will not believe my simple word."
The king fixed his eyes steadfastly upon Voltaire. "I believe you.
It would be unworthy of you to deceive me, and unworthy of me to
mistrust you. I believe you; but I will make assurance doubly sure.
The 'Akakia' is no longer upon paper, but it is in your head, and I
fear your head more than I do all the paper in the world. Promise
me, Voltaire, that as long as you live with me you will engage in no
written strifes or controversies--that you will not employ your
bitter irony against the government, or against the authors."
"I promise that cheerfully!"
"Will you do so in writing?"
Voltaire stepped to the table and took the pen. "Will your majesty
The king dictated, and Voltaire wrote with a rapid but firm hand: "I
promise your majesty that so long as you allow me to lodge in your
castle, I will write against no one, neither against the French
government nor any of the foreign ambassadors, nor the celebrated
authors. I will constantly manifest a proper respect and regard to
them. I will make no improper use of the letters of the king. I will
in all things bear myself as becomes an historian and a scholar, who
has the honor to be gentleman in waiting to the King of Prussia, and
to associate with distinguished persons." [Footnote: Preus,
"Friedrich der Grosse."]
"Will you sign this?" said the king.
"I will not only sign it," said Voltaire, "but I will add something
to its force. Listen, your majesty.--I will strictly obey all your
majesty's commands, and to do so gives me no trouble. I entreat your
majesty to believe that I never have written any thing against any
government--least of all against that under which I was born, and
which I only left because I wished to close my life at the feet of
your majesty. I am historian of France. In the discharge of this
duty, I have written the history of Louis the Fourteenth, and the
campaigns of Louis the Fifteenth. My voice and my pen were ever
consecrated to my fatherland, as they are now subject to your
command. I entreat you to look into my literary contest with
Maupertius, and to believe that I give it up cheerfully to please
you, sire; and because I will in all things submit to your will. I
will also be obedient to your majesty in this. I will enter into no
literary contest, and I beg you, sire, to believe that, in the hour
of death, I will feel the same reverence and attachment for you
which filled my heart the day I first appeared at your court.
The king took the paper, and read it over, then fixed his eyes
steadily upon Voltaire's lowering face. "It is well! I thank you,"
said Frederick, nodding a friendly dismissal to Voltaire. He left
the room, and the king looked after him long and thoughtfully.
"I do not trust him; he was too ready to burn the manuscript. And
yet, he gave me his word of honor."
Voltaire returned to his room, and, now alone and unobserved, a
malicious, demoniac exultation was written on his face. "I judged
rightly," said he, with a grimace; "the king wished to sacrifice me
to Maupertius. I think this was a master-stroke. I have truly burned
the original manuscript, but a copy of it was sent to Leyden eight
days since. While the king thinks I am such a good-humored fool as
to yield the contest to the proud beggar Maupertius, my 'Akakia'
will be published in Leyden. Soon it will resound through the world,
and show how genius binds puffed-up folly, which calls itself
geniality, to the pillory."
THE LAST STRUGGLE.
It was Christmas eve! The streets were white with snow; crowds of
people were rushing through the castle square, seeking for
Christmas-trees, and little presents for their children. There were,
however, fewer purchasers than usual. The small traders stood idle
at the doors of the booths, and looked discontentedly at the swarms
of laughing men, who passed by them, and rushed onward to the Gens
A rare spectacle, exhibited for the first time during the reign of
Frederick, was to be seen at the market to-day. A funeral pyre was
erected, and the executioner stood near in his red livery. What!--
shall the holy evening be solemnized by an execution? Was it for
this that thousands of curious men were rushing onward to the
scaffold? that groups of elegant ladies and cavaliers were crowded
to the open windows?
Yes, there was to be an execution--a bloodless one, which would
occasion no bodily suffering to the delinquent. The eyes of this
great mass of people were not directed to the scaffold, but to the
window of a large house on Tauben Street.
At this open window stood a pale old man, with hollow cheeks and
bent, infirm form; but you saw by the proud bearing of his head, and
his ironical, contemptuous smile, that his spirit was unconquered.
His whole face glowed with flaming scorn; and his great, fiery eyes
flashed amongst the crowd, greeting here and there an acquaintance.
This man was Voltaire--Voltaire, who had come to witness the
execution of his "Akakia," which had been published in Leyden, and
scattered abroad throughout Berlin. Voltaire had broken his written
and verbal promise, his word of honor; and the king, exasperated to
the utmost by this dishonorable conduct, had determined to punish
him openly. And now, amidst the breathless silence of the crowd, a
functionary of the king read the sentence--that sentence which
condemned the "Akakia," that malicious and slanderous publication
holding up the noble, virtuous, and renowned scholar Maupertius to
the general mockery of Paris.
Voltaire stood calm and smiling at the open window. He saw the
executioner throw great piles of his "Akakia" into the fire. He saw
the mad flames whirling up into the heavens, and his countenance was
clear, and his eyes did not lose their lustre. Higher and higher
flashed the flames! broader and blacker the pillars of smoke! but
Voltaire smiled peacefully. Conversation and laughter were silenced
--the crowd looked on breathlessly.
Suddenly a loud and derisive laugh was heard, and a powerful voice
cried out: "Look at the spirit of Maupertius, which is dissolving
into smoke! Oh, the thick, black smoke! How much wood consumed in
vain! The 'Akakia' is immortal--you burn him here, but he still
lives, and the whole world will know and appreciate him. That which
is born for immortality can never be burned." [Footnote: Thiebault,
So said Voltaire, as he dashed the window down, and stepped back in
"Farewell, Herr von Francheville," said he, quietly. "I thank you
for having allowed me to be present at my execution. You see I have
borne it well; all do not die who are burnt. Farewell, I must go to
the castle. I have important business there."
With youthful agility he entered his carriage. The people, who
recognized him, shouted after him joyfully. He passed through the
crowd with an air of triumph, and they greeted him with kindly
The smile disappeared from his face when he entered his room at the
castle, and the scorn and tumult of his heart were plainly written
on his countenance. He seized his portfolio, and drew from it the
pension patent signed by the king; tore from his neck the blue
ribbon, with the great badge surrounded with brilliants, and cut the
little key from his court dress, which his valet had laid out ready
for his toilet. Of these things he made a little packet, which he
sealed up, and wrote upon it these lines:
"Je les requs avec tendresse,
Je vous les rends avec douleur;
C'est ainsi qu'un amant, dans sou extreme fureur,
Rend le portrait de sa maitresse."
He called his servant, and commanded him to take this packet to the
Voltaire did not hesitate a moment. He felt not the least regret for
the great pension which he was relinquishing. He felt that there was
no other course open to him; that his honor and his pride demanded
it. At this moment, his expression was noble. He was the proud,
independent, free man. The might of genius reigned supreme, and
subdued the calculating and the pitiful for a brief space. This
exalted moment soon passed away, and the cunning, miserly,
calculating old man again asserted his rights. Voltaire remembered
that he had not only given up orders and titles, but gold, and
measureless anguish and raging pain took possession of him. He
hastened to his writing-desk, and with a trembling hand he wrote a
pleading letter to the king, in which he begged for pardon and
grace--for pity in his unhappy circumstances and his great sorrow.
The king was merciful. He took pity on the old friendship which lay
in ruins at his feet. He felt for it that sort of reverence which a
man entertains for the grave of a lost friend. He returned the
"bagatelles" with a few friendly lines to Voltaire, and invited him
to accompany him to Potsdam. Voltaire accepted the invitation, and
the journals announced that the celebrated French writer had again
received his orders, titles, and pension, and gone to Potsdam with
But this seeming peace was of short duration. Friendship was dead,
and anger and bitterness had taken the place of consideration and
love. Voltaire felt the impossibility of remaining longer. Impelled
by the cold glance, the ironical and contemptuous laughter of the
king, he begged at last for his dismissal, which the king did not
One day, when Frederick was upon the parade-ground, surrounded by
his generals, he was told that Voltaire asked permission to be
allowed to take leave.
The king turned quietly towards him. "Ah, Monsieur Voltaire, you are
resolved, then, to leave us?"
"Sire, indispensable business and my state of health compel me to do
so," said Voltaire.
The king bowed slightly. "Monsieur, I wish you a happy journey."
[Footnote: Thiebault, p. 271.] Then turning to the old Field-Marshal
Ziethen, he recommenced his conversation with him. Voltaire made a
profound bow, and entered the post-chaise which was waiting for him.
So they parted, and their friendship was in ashes; and no after-
protestations could bring it to life. The great king and the great
poet parted, never to meet again.
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