Part 6 out of 6
procession of the leather boots means war--as might be expected
--against the lady Maria Teresa. The other lady, the Empress
Elizabeth of Russia, he denotes by another uglier name.... He has
become a women's hero, the nasty woman-hater. His wife, Elizabeth
Christine, is still confined in Schonhausen."
A head looked in at the window, and the King greeted him, "Good
evening, Monsieur; so busy?"
Like a boy surprised in cribbing, the writer threw his papers into
disorder, and drew half a sheet of Dutch vellum over them.
"Yes, sire, I have just finished a poem to the Emperor Kian-Loung,
which is an answer to his 'Eloge de Mukden.'"
"To the Emperor of China! You have grander acquaintances than I."
"But you have me, sire."
This he said with a superior air of satirising himself, as though he
would make game of his own notorious vanity.
The King took the jest as it was intended. "Yes, Monsieur Voltaire
belongs to my most honourable acquaintances, but I would not say to
"May I now read my poem to the Chinese Emperor? Do you allow me,
"Would it be any use, if I did not allow it, you pushing man?"
"'Recois mes compliments, charmant roi de la Chine.'"
"But he is an Emperor."
"Yes, but that is a politeness towards you, sire, who are only a
"'Ton trone est done place sur la double colline
On sait dans l'Occident, que malgre mes travers
J'ai toujours fort aime les rois qui font des vers!'"
"'O toi que sur le trone un feu celeste enflamme
Des moi si ce grand art don't nous sommes epris,
Est aussi difficile a Pekin qu'a Paris.
Ton peuple est-il soumis a cette loi si dure,
Qui vent qu'avec six pieds d'une egale mesure
De deux Alexandrins, cote a cote marchants
L'un serve pour la rime, et l'autre pour le sens?
Si bien que sans rien perdre, en bravant cet usage,
On pourrait retrancher la moitie d'un ouvrage.'"
"Bravo! Very good!" broke in the King, who felt the sting of the
satire but could control himself.
"But do you think that the Emperor will understand that--at any
rate as you intend it?"
"If he does not understand it, then he is a blockhead...."
"But if he does, you may expect a declaration of war."
"China against Voltaire!"
"What would you do then?"
"I would beat them, as you do, with my troops, of course."
"But if the Emperor has more troops than you?"
"Then I should flee, of course, like you do, sire, or I let myself
be put to flight, and so save my honour as a soldier."
The King was accustomed to Voltaire's impertinences, and he pardoned
them for the moment, but stored them in his memory.
"But now, don't stick poking about in your room, Monsieur. Come out
for a walk with me. We will philosophise in the cool of the evening.
I have so much to say, and must put my thoughts in order for the
"Sire, I will come immediately."
"No, now; I am waiting."
Monsieur Voltaire became nervous, and began to tidy his desk; he
pulled out drawers, and protracted the business. But the King stood
as if on guard, and watched him. At last the old man had to stop
tidying up and come out, but his limbs twitched, and he shook
himself, as though he wished to shake off something. The King led
him down the third terrace, and turned to the right into the park,
where they found a long avenue which led to a small circular open
space. Here there stood the Temple of Friendship.
There was an embarrassing silence between them, but Frederick, who
had learnt self-control, was the first to find the thread which they
had lost. But he had to introduce the conversation by commencing
with their present surroundings.
"What a peaceful evening, Monsieur! Peace in nature and in human
life! Have you noticed that there has been no war in the world for
seven years--that is, since the Peace of Aachen?"
"Now I have not thought about it. Well, you can now expect the seven
lean kine--I mean years."
"Who knows! You spoke just now of Kian Loung, the peaceful prince
who philosophises and writes verses on tea-plant blossoms; who
serves his people and makes them happy. His neighbour Japan has
enjoyed peace for a hundred years. In India the French and English
are rivalling each other in trade. That is the great East, which we
shall soon have to take into account--. If we consider our portion
of the world, with which I reckon Egypt, the latter lies asleep
under Pashas and Mamelukes. Greece, our motherland, has entered its
last sleep. The Athens of Pericles is an appendage of the Sultan's
harem, and is ruled by black eunuchs. Rome, or rather Italy, is
parcelled out between Lorraine, the House of Bourbon, and Savoy. But
in Rome is my friend Benedict XIV; he is also a man of peace, and
the first Pope, moreover, who acknowledges the King of Prussia. He
tolerates Protestants, helps forward science, and has allowed
latitude and longitude to be measured...."
"And expelled the Jesuits, whom you, sire, have received. You ought
not to have done that."
"What do you know of the Jesuits? In Spain we have Ferdinand VI, who
encourages mining, combats the Inquisition, fosters the sciences."
"The itch for writing seems to be spreading over the earth like a
"In England my uncle George, the pupil of Adam Smith, is working
solely for the commercial prosperity of his country. The others we
know. But we ought to remember the great discoveries of our century
--fire-machines, thermometers, lightning-conductors, anchor-watches.
In fact it is the Golden Age which has returned at this late epoch."
"Think only of the fire-machines which they now call steam-engines.
And of the telegraphs! What may we not next expect!"
"War, of course."
"I have never loved war, as you know, but I have been driven to it."
"With the stick."
The King was not angry, but he was troubled that a remarkable man,
who had been his friend and teacher, should commit such a _betise_.
"You are right; it was my father's stick, and I bless it. But
although I do not believe that the Golden Age is before the door,
yet I do see a brighter future in the distance."
"I see only clouds which foretell earthquakes. France is undermined;
America is moving; all Europe is prepared to discard Christianity as
a crab its shell; Economics are reduced to a science; nature is
ransacked; we are on the verge of something novel and tremendous; I
feel it already in my corns."
"I also! My leisure-time is drawing to an end, my Tusculum will be
closed, and dreadful things are about to happen."
On the King's face at this moment there was such an indescribable
expression of pain, as though he had foreseen the Seven Years' War
which followed immediately on the seven years' of peace, and he
seemed to be bowed to the earth bearing the destiny of his country
and the future on his shoulders.
"Sire, at such moment, you need some religion."
"My duty is my religion. My God is the Providence which guides the
destinies of the nations but leaves individuals to themselves! What
are men that you should take notice of these ants?"
The conversation was interrupted by a person who appeared in the
background and resembled a judicial official. Voltaire saw who it
was, and became furious: "Your Majesty, how can you allow this
rag-tag and bob-tail to enter the castle-park? Why do you not
enclose it with iron gates and railings?"
"No," answered the King; "I am not the master of my own person,
still less of this castle, but all have rights over me!"
"But this is atrocious! Can I not drive him away?"
"No, you cannot!"
The King beckoned, and the stranger approached with his hat in his
"What do you want, my friend?" asked the King.
"Only to deliver a document to Monsieur Voltaire, your Majesty."
"Then do your duty."
The man handed the document to Voltaire, and retired. When the old
man had opened and read it, he fell on his knees before the King and
exclaimed, "Save me, sire!"
"That is your law-suit with Hirschel about the Saxon state papers.
You thought to deceive each other and the public, but the Jew did
not let you lead him by the nose, Monsieur, and now you are exposed
as a falsifier!"
"Save me, your Majesty!"
"How can I?"
"With a word--a single good word before the court...."
"For shame, old man! Do you think I can bend the law? Do you want me
to bribe the judges? No, Monsieur, there are judges in Berlin who
cannot be bribed! My word counts as little as that of the meanest.
Stand up, go to your room, and meet me at supper."
"Sire, I beg to be excused coming to supper this evening."
"Good! then we will meet to-morrow."
* * * * *
When Voltaire reached his room, he began to search through his
papers which he had left in disorder. He looked for a whole hour for
the letter he had written to the Marquise, without being able to
find it. Then he perceived that the letter had been seized, and he
conceived a suspicion against the King. He stormed about in the room
till it had become dark outside. He felt that it was all over with
friendship and hospitality, with high position and honour, and that
he must depart--perhaps by flight.
Accordingly he closed the window-shutters, and made a fire in the
stove in order to burn dangerous papers. When he had finished, he
went to bed, and rang for a servant: "Ask Monsieur La Mettrie to
come; I am ill," he ordered.
La Mettrie, the author of _L'Homme Machine_, a most rigorous
materialist and atheist, enjoyed Frederick's favour on account of
his writings. After his death the King himself delivered a funeral
oration over him in the Academy. Voltaire was jealous of him, as
he was of everyone who stood in his way, but La Mettrie was a
physician, and Voltaire could be amiable to anyone of whom he stood
The doctor came, not out of philanthropy, but from curiosity and a
certain malicious satisfaction at seeing the favourite in disgrace.
"My dear friend," said the old man, "I am sick in body and soul."
"You haven't got a soul."
"But the trouble is in the heart."
"_Cor, cordis_, the heart; then you have eaten too much. Take a
purge, Monsieur; then you will be lighter than lightmindedness
"Prescribe me some proper medicine, man; I am dying."
"Then go to a watering-place."
"Like a minister who is in disgrace; no, thank you."
"Go home to your own country; you are suffering from homesickness."
"Yes, there you are right! The air here does not suit me."
"You are beginning to get stout."
"What do you mean by that?"
"And the Marquises are longing for you."
"Are they? What nonsense you talk! But I must have a watering-place."
"Well, take Plombieres! There you will meet the court."
"That is an excellent idea! Plombieres! But I will return, of
"I will be back in three weeks--let us say a month. If only the King
will not be vexed...."
"Let me assure you, the King will console himself."
"Yes, yes, I will consider the matter. But say--he is not angry
"He is not angry with you, otherwise he would have been so long ago!
No, you are belated in thinking that."
"Give me a sleeping powder, and then you can go."
The doctor took the powder, and poured it in a glass of water.
The old man drank, but his large eyes followed the changing
expressions of the doctor's face, who looked very amused. He did not
altogether trust him.
"Monsieur Voltaire," said the doctor, "when you make a fire in the
oven, draw up the small oven-shutters, else there is too much smoke.
The Potsdam fire-engines would very likely be summoned."
"Oh! That too! Well! _La comedia e finita!_ Good-night!"
"_Sic transit gloria mundi!_ Sleep well!"
Voltaire slept during the night, but not well, and was awakened on
the following morning by the sound of salutes fired at Potsdam; from
which he concluded that the King was holding manoeuvres. Neither did
he see any sign of the King, but about noonday he received a letter
bearing the royal arms which ran as follows:--
"MONSIEUR,--Doctor La Mettrie has told me of your determination to
travel to a watering-place. Although I shall miss your pleasant
and instructive conversation, I will not resist your wish, since I
am sure that a thorough course of treatment will benefit your
nerves and the wretched state of your heart. Wishing you a good
recovery, or at any rate hoping that you will not be worse than
That was his passport for the journey. The same evening Voltaire
travelled to Leipzig, where he read extracts from Frederick's
collection of satires which he also thought of having printed.
But in Frankfurt he was arrested and deprived of the precious
manuscripts, which might have made more enemies for Frederick than
he actually did make later on. Rebuked, and again liberated,
Voltaire fled at first to France, where he published in the
_Dictionnaire Historique_ the most abominable assertions regarding
Frederick's private life.
Two years later he was settled at Ferney, on the Lake of Geneva, as
a multi-millionaire, patriarch, and king.
* * * * *
Many years passed, and still the old Voltaire reigned at his
Sans-Souci called Ferney--just as energetic as ever, just as
restless and vain.
His little chateau was a modest two-storied building in a circular
enclosure, surrounded by a courtyard planted with trees. On the left
of the entrance stood a small stone chapel. A tablet over the door
bore the inscription, "Deo erexit Voltaire," which roused the mirth
of his literary friends and the hatred of the ecclesiastical party.
Below in the garden he had an arbour-walk of hornbeam covered in,
and resembling a long hall with windows cut in the side, looking
towards the lake. From thence he could see Mont Blanc, which
especially at sunset showed all its splendour, and the blue levels
of the lake stretching towards Clarens and the Rhone Valley, where
the unfortunate Rousseau had wandered, loved, and suffered. Just
now in the twilight, the old man sat in his arbour walk and played
bezique with the local pastor, when the post arrived. There were
many letters with shining seals.
"Excuse me, Abbe, I must read my letters!"
"Pray do so," answered the priest, and stood up in order to promenade
up and down the arbour walk.
After a while the old man called his friend back: "Come, Abbe, come!
You must hear something!"
The Abbe, who, for the sake of his flock, kept on good terms with
Voltaire, and humoured his whims, without, however, yielding to him
in theological discussions, came at the summons.
"You must hear a letter from Frederick the Great, the Unique, the
Incomparable. He has pardoned me, and I am ashamed. My last evening
in Sans-Souci I was irritated, and in my cruelty I was mean enough
to remind him of his father's stick. The moment that the word
escaped, I felt his retort in the air, but he restrained it. He had
only needed to return the thrust with a reference to the stick which
had played a certain part in my youth, but he kept silent, whether
out of regard for my years or for some other reason. (It is
remarkable that the stick has also had an influence on the
development of the great Shakespeare and others.) Excuse, Abbe, this
_garrulitas senilis_--he has pardoned me, and writes, 'My old
"'The years have passed; to the seven good years which you shared
with me succeeded the seven lean ones--the Seven Years' War and all
that it brought with it. Friends have departed, and a great
loneliness enfolds the ageing man, who now, among other things,
begins to be far-sighted, after being formerly short-sighted. He
sees life in a perspective where the apparently shorter lines are
the longest. He knows that from experience, and therefore lets
himself no longer be deceived. Standing on the height which he has
gained, he is glad to look back, but he can also now see in front of
"'What is now impending? Who can say? This century, which has seen
all the sovereigns leading revolutionary movements, is the strangest
of all. We despots, who forced enlightenment and freedom on the
peoples--we were the demagogues and they rewarded us with
ingratitude. It was a perverse world! I have suffered for my
doctrines and actions, but the fate of Joseph II is tragic. They are
slowly but surely murdering him.
"'You do not love war: nor do I, but I was forced to it by
Providence and solicitude for my country. What have I effected
thereby? you ask. I have made a "re-distribution," as land-surveyors
call it, and out of scattered patches and scraps of territory I have
woven together a Prussia, so that we can now walk on our own ground,
without treading on our neighbour's. Do not fear Prussia; you need
it as a bulwark against Russia, which now, since the time of the
Czar Peter, has a voice and vote in the Council of Europe. You
disapprove of my sharing in the partition of Poland, but I was
obliged to do so; otherwise Russia would have taken all. Poland had
lost its significance in the geographical economy of Europe; it was
Russianised, and the role it had played was taken over by the
Sarmatian.... Silesia was ours, and thank God that the Swedes did
not obtain it, as they at first wished. Moreover, we have sent the
Goths home to their own country, and look after our own affairs
"And so on! Then he says something about Rousseau."
"'You call Rousseau a swindler; that is a somewhat severe
expression. Even if he did really steal a piece of ribbon, or a
silver spoon, it is not worth talking about. I share his love for
nature and his hatred of mankind. One evening lately, as the sun
went down, I thought: "God! how beautiful are Thy natural creations,
and how hideous are Thy human creatures!" We men, I mean--for
I except neither myself nor you, Monsieur. This cursed race truly
belongs to the Iron Age as described by Hesiod. And we are asked to
believe that they are created after God's image! After the image of
the Devil, I would rather say! Rousseau is right when he believes in
a past Golden Age.'
"What do you say to that, Monsieur l'Abbe?"
"It is what the Church teaches regarding the lost Paradise and the
Fall, and also agrees with the Greek legend of Prometheus, who ate
of the tree of knowledge, and thereby brought misfortune on men."
"Good heavens! Have you too become a freethinker? Shoemaker, stick
to your last! If you are a priest, then be a priest, but don't try
to make a botch of my work. And don't think you need to flatter me
for an increase of wages. But let us return to Frederick:"
"'History rolls on like an avalanche; the race improves, the
conditions of life become easier, but men are still the same
--faithless, unthankful, criminal; and he just as well as the unjust
go to hell. I do not dare to put down on paper the conclusions to be
drawn from this observation, for that would be to acquit Lazarus,
and to crucify Christ.... Great men have little weaknesses or
rather great weaknesses. We, Monsieur, have been no angels, but
Providence has used us for great objects. Is it a matter of
indifference to Providence whom it takes in hand, or how we live in
the flesh, provided we keep the spirit uppermost? _Sursum corda!_'"
"What do you say to that, Abbe?"
"The Law cannot be fulfilled, says St. Paul, but the Law rouses the
sense of guilt, and therefore it is only imposed in order to drive
us to grace."
"That was not such a stupid remark of Paul's. But I should like to
add,--in the prison of the flesh grows the longing for liberation:
'Who shall deliver me, wretched man, from this body of sin?' Yes,
Abbe, _Vanitas vanitatum! Vanitas!_ You are young, but you must not
despise the old man when he turns round and spits behind him all the
unpleasantness of his past life. Might but a generation be born
which knew at once the value of life, as long as a mud-bath is not
part of the treatment!"
Just then a dark lean man came tortuously along the garden path.
"See! there is my Jesuit!" said Voltaire.
The old man kept on friendly terms with a Jesuit, partly because
the Pope had expelled them, partly because Frederick the Great had
patronised them; but his chief object was to have someone to dispute
with. Perhaps also he wished to show his freedom from prejudice, for
he did not like the uncongenial man.
"Now, you child of Satan!" was the old man's greeting, "what
mischief have you got in your mind? You look so maliciously
"I come from Geneva," answered the Jesuit with an evil smile.
"What are they doing there?"
"I saw the executioner burn Rousseau's _Emile_."
"They may do that, as far as I am concerned, and throw the fool
himself into the fire."
"Yes: one cannot tolerate lunatics: there are limits!"
"Imposed by a sound intelligence."
"Yes, and saw them burn the new edition of Monsieur Voltaire's
"For shame! But it is merely a mob in Geneva."
"A Protestant mob, with your permission."
"Don't trouble yourself; I hate Protestants equally with Catholics!
This terrible Calvin burnt his friend Servetus in Geneva, because he
did not believe in the Trinity. And had Jean Calas in Toulouse been
a Catholic, and his son a Protestant, I would still have attacked
the judges, although I am nothing. I am nothing; only, what I write
"Then some day we will raise a monument to Monsieur Voltaire's
writings--not to Voltaire."
"You have no need; I have already raised my monument myself in the
hundred volumes of my collected works. The world has nothing to do
with how the old ass looked; there is nothing to see in that. We
know my weaknesses; I have lied, I have stolen, I have been
ungrateful; something of a scoundrel, something of a brute! That is
the dirty part of me, and I bequeath it to Jesuits, pettifoggers,
hair-splitters and collectors of anecdotes;--but my spirit to
God who gave it, and to men an honest purpose to understand their
He rose, for the sun had descended.
"Good-night, Mont Blanc; you have a white head like myself, and
stand with your feet in cold water, as I do! Now I go and lie down!
Tomorrow I travel to Paris, where I will die."
DAYS OF JUDGMENT
In the northern tower of the Church of Notre Dame de Paris was
the tower-watchman's chamber. But it had been arranged like a
bookbinder's workshop, for the watchman's day-duty was not
particularly heavy, and the hours of the night passed with sleep or
without sleep, no one troubling themselves to oversee this now
superfluous church servant.
Nobody entered the church, which had been damaged in various ways,
and no one ascended the northern tower, for the bells hung in the
southern one. There the watchman's duty was regarded more seriously,
for on all extraordinary occasions the alarm-bell had to sound.
The watchman kept up a sort of telegraphic communication with the
bellringer in the southern tower. In calm weather they could chat
with each other, but when it was windy, they had to use speaking
The workshop had, in the course of years, developed into a very
comfortable room. Its southern side was occupied by a single large
bookcase. There the first edition of the _Encyclopedie_ in five and
thirty volumes, shone resplendent in red morocco with gilt letters.
There stood Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Locke, Hume--all the
authors who ought to have been present. There were also periodicals,
the _Moniteur_, Pere Duchesne and Marat's _L'Ami du Peuple_. This
last was bound in somewhat greasy leather, which resembled
pig's-skin, and had curled up at the corners.
Another wall was covered with engravings, some coloured and some
plain. They hung in chronological order from left to right, from top
to bottom, so that one could read the whole history of the
Revolution pictorially. The Oath in the ball-room on June 20, 1789,
with Mirabeau's portrait; the burning of the Bastille, and the head
of the commandant; the Jacobite Club, with Marat, Saint-Just,
Couthon, Robespierre; the Feast of Brotherhood on the Champ du
Mars; the King's Flight to Varennes; Lafayette; the Girondists; the
execution of the King and Queen; the Committee of Public Welfare,
with Danton and the newly hatched Robespierre; the Reign of Terror;
Charlotte Corday stabbing Marat in the bath; Robespierre again;
Feast of the Supreme Being; Voltaire's Funeral; Robespierre again,
this time on the 9th Thermidor. Then came Buonaparte and the
Directory, mixed with Pyramids and Alps.
In the middle of the room stood a very large table. At the one end
were the bookbinder's tools; at the other, writing materials. The
inkstand was a skull; the ruler was a fore-arm; the paper-weight was
a guillotine, and the penholder a rib.
The bookbinder himself, a centenarian, with an apostolic beard, sat
and wrote under a lantern which hung from the roof. He was the only
person visible in the room. Outside it was stormy, and the
roof-plates rattled from time to time; it was cool in the room, but
not cold, for a stove was lit in a corner, where lay the watchman's
belongings--a great wolfskin fur-coat, a speaking trumpet, some
flags, and a lantern with variously coloured glass sides.
The old man pushed his glasses up his forehead, looked up, and
spoke, though the person with whom he talked could not be seen.
"Are you hungry?"
A voice behind the bookcase answered: "Fairly so."
"Are you cold?"
"No, not yet."
"Wait a little; I must just go outside and make an observation."
"What are you writing?"
"Is it quiet in the town?"
"Yes, but they have gone out to Saint Cloud."
"Then it will soon come to shooting."
"It won't come to shooting, but we may expect a proclamation. Be
quiet now; I must step out, and send a message. Then you will get
some food and drink; perhaps a pipe of tobacco also."
There was silence behind the bookcase, and the old man put on his
fur-coat, lit his many-coloured lamp, took up a speaking-trumpet,
and stepped out on the balcony.
It was very dark, but the old man was familiar with his menagerie
out there on the parapet; he loved his stone monsters--the owl, the
griffin, the gorgon, and stroked them every time that he passed
them. But the creature with a man's body, goat's feet and horns,
inspired him with a certain awe, as it stood there leaning on its
hands like a priest, and bending forward as if to preach to the
godless city or to hurl anathemas at it. He took his stand near it,
and began to signal with the lantern. But the wind was so violent
that the old man swayed, and had to put his arm round the creature's
body, in order to support himself.
After he had stood for a time signalling with the lantern, and
gazing out into the darkness, he suddenly raised himself upright,
put down the lantern, and raised the speaking-trumpet to his mouth.
Holding on to the stone balustrade, he turned to the southern tower,
and cried "Hullo! Francis! Hallo!"
After a while a reply came through the darkness.
"Sacre!" answered the other. "Ring the great bell! Ring, for
The watchman remained standing for a while looking at the coloured
lights on the church tower of St. Cloud. In order to be quite
certain, he repeated his signal, and received for answer: "Right
The old man sighed "Thy will be done, O Lord!" He was on the point
of returning to the turret-chamber, when the wind blew so violently,
that he had to seize the arm of the horned monster in order to stand
fast. But the figure had got loose; it yielded, and moved a little.
"He too!" muttered the old man to himself. "Nothing stands fast,
everything slips; nothing remains on which to support oneself." He
crouched down in order not to be blown away, and so stooping, as he
walked, reached the door of the turret-chamber, which he flung open.
"The Revolution is over," he called out to the bookcase.
"What do you say?"
"The Revolution is over! Come out, sire."
He laid hold of the bookcase, and opened it like a door on its
hinges. It concealed a neat little room furnished in the style of
Louis XV. Out of it stepped a man of about thirty, with pale
delicate features and a melancholy aspect.
"Sire," said the bookbinder in a humble voice, "now your time is
come, and mine runs out. I do not exactly know what has happened on
this eighteenth of Brumaire in Saint Cloud, but one thing I know:
Buonaparte has taken the helm."
"Jaques," answered the nobleman, "I do not wish to hurt your
feelings, but I cannot conceal my joy."
"Don't conceal it, sire! You have saved me from the scaffold, and I
have saved you; let us thank each other, and be quits."
"To think that this bloody drama is ended--that this madness...."
"Sire, don't speak so."
His eyes began to sparkle, but he quickly changed his tone. "Let us
eat our last meal together, but in love like fellow-men; let us talk
of the past, and then part in peace. This evening we are still
brothers, but to-morrow you are the lord and I am the servant."
"You are right. To-day I am an emigrant, tomorrow I am a count."
The old man brought out a cold fowl, a cheese, and a bottle of wine,
and both took their places at the table.
"This wine, sire, was bottled in '89. It has a history, and
"Have you no white wine? I do not like red."
"Is it the colour you dislike?"
"Yes, it looks like blood! You have lost a wife and four sons."
"Why should I weep for them? They fell on the field of honour."
"I call the scaffold the field of honour! But you want white wine!
Good! You shall have it. You prefer the colour of tears; I prefer
that of blood!"
He opened a bottle of white wine: "_Suum cuique!_ Tastes differ.
We can now breathe again, and sleep quietly at night. That was the
hardest thing to bear during this last decade--the loss of sleep at
night. The fear of death was worse than death itself."
"The worst for us--pardon the expression--was to see the State and
society turned topsyturvy, and brutality enthroned."
"Wait a little! Louis XIV paid two gentlemen of the chamber twenty
thousand livres yearly to examine and carry away his night stool
every morning. The Sansculottes could not be coarser than that.
Marie Antoinette used to go and spend the night drinking with her
boon-companions, so that she returned home about eleven o'clock the
next morning exhausted; that was coarse conduct for such a fine
"You may draw the long bow to-night, Jaques; but to-morrow take care
of your head! You ought not to speak so of these high personages who
have suffered a martyr's death."
"Stop! stop! The King was what they call 'a fine fellow,' but the
Queen was a wretch. But both were justly condemned to death--both!
Look you! if Turgot could have remained at his post, the Revolution
would not have broken out. All the reforms in the State, Church, and
Society, which we--pardon the expression--have carried through could
have been carried through then, if Turgot had been allowed to put
his plans into operation. The Queen would not endure the Minister's
retrenchment of her revenue, and plotted for his removal, and the
King supported her. That was a great crime. The second was the
overthrow of Necker. Then the Queen and her Court minxes ruled. Both
King and Queen sought to stir up foreign countries against their own;
their correspondence relating to this was discovered, and then the
betrayers of their country were condemned to death. Don't talk of
Martyrs, or I shall be angry. For I am angry when I hear lies, and
cannot control myself."
The Count laid his hand on his sword.
"Put your sword in its sheath, young man, or otherwise...."
They sat down on opposite sides of the table, and darted angry
glances at each other.
"The ultimate causes," continued the old man, "may be sought in
heaven, but we have here only to do with secondary causes, and those
we know. The Revolution was a Last Judgment which had to come, just
as it came in England exactly a hundred years before, in 1689."
"But Cromwell's republic did not last."
"Nor does this; but it comes again! But let us rather talk of
something cheerful on this last evening. I have been present at
everything; I have a strong memory, and can forget nothing. But what
shines most brightly through all the dark days is the recollection
of the day on the Champs du Mars, the Feast of Brotherhood of July
14, '90. Twenty thousand workmen were employed to clear it, but, as
they could not finish the work by the appointed day, all Paris went
out. There I saw bishops, court marshals, generals, monks, nuns,
society ladies, workmen, sailors, dustmen, and street-girls
levelling the ground with hoes and spades. Finally the King himself
made up his mind to join in the work. That was the greatest feat of
equalisation which mankind have carried out; the hills were made
low, and the valleys filled. At last the great theatre of liberty
was ready. At the altar of the Fatherland a fire of perfumed wood
was kindled, and Talleyrand, Bishop of Autun, with a retinue of four
hundred white-robed priests consecrated the flags. The King in civil
dress and the Queen sat on the platform, and, as the 'first citizens
of the State,' took the constitutional oath. All was forgotten; all
was forgiven. Half a million people, collected in one place,
animated by one spirit, felt themselves that day to be brothers
and sisters. We wept, we fell in each other's arms, we kissed each
other. We wept to think what wretches we had been, and how good and
amiable we were now. We wept perhaps, also, because we guessed how
fragile all this was.
"And afterwards, in the evening, when Paris turned out in the
streets and market-places. Families ate their mid-day meal on the
pavement; the old and sick were carried into the open air; food and
wine were distributed at the public expense. That was the Feast of
Tabernacles, the recollection of the Exodus from Egyptian bondage;
it was the Saturnalia, the return of the Golden Age! And then...."
"Then came Marat, Danton, and Robespierre."
"Yes! Robespierre, the most hated of all, was not worse than Louis
XI and Henry VIII."
"The judge is not a murderer, nor is the executioner."
"But the Golden Age passed--as it came."
"Yet it comes again."
"Not with Buonaparte!"
"No, not with him, but through him."
"Who is he?"
"A Corsican, born in the same year in which France annexed his
country. He will avenge it, and, since he can never feel himself a
Frenchman, he will exploit our country only for his own purposes.
But nevertheless, in spite of his unparalleled selfishness, his
wickedness and crimes, he will serve humanity--for everything
"Who can say? Probably things will go on as they have done hitherto;
sometimes advancing, then a halt; then again advance."
"And then the obsolete turns up again."
"Yes, like a drowning man. Three times he comes to the surface to
breathe, but the fourth time he remains below. Or, like an animal
chewing the cud; for some time there are small eructations,
re-mastications, and then everything is ejected through the gullet,
after going through the circle."
"Do you believe in the return of the Golden Age?"
"Yes I believe like Thomas, when I have seen. And I have seen. At
the moment, which I now recall, on the Champs du Mars,--then I saw!
We had a forefeeling of the future, we were sure that we had had a
vision of some new order of things, but were uncertain when it would
"How long are we to wait?"
"We should not sit still and wait, but work! That makes the time
pass. The learned say that it took a million years for the Hill of
Montmartre to be deposited from the water. Now history is only three
thousand years old; for three thousand years more, men can reflect
over their past, and perhaps in six thousand an improvement may be
noticeable! We are too proud and impatient, sire. And yet things
move quickly. America was discovered only three hundred years ago,
and now it is an European republic. Africa, India, China, Japan
are opened, and soon the whole world will belong to Europe. Do you
see the promise to Abraham, 'In thy seed shall all the nations of
the earth be blessed,' is on the way to fulfilment--on the way, I
"The promise to Abraham?"
"Yes! Have not Christians, Jews, and Muhammedans a share in the
"Christians of Abraham's seed?"
"Through Christ, who was of Judah, we are spiritually Abraham's
seed. One faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all!"
"I have listened to you, and must say that your faith is great, and
has delivered you."
"As it will deliver mankind."
The conversation now ceased, for the alarm-bell began to ring in the
south tower. The sound of it overpowered the din of the storm, and
filled the room with its vibrations, made the table and chairs
shake, and both men tremble. The old man tried to speak, but his
guest heard nothing, and only saw his lips move. Then the old man
rose and pointed to one of the many engravings.
It represented Anacharsis Clootz, the philanthropist and philosopher,
in a convent, with a crowd of people from all corners of the
earth--black, yellow, white, copper-coloured--seeking to have them
admitted as citizens into the world-republic. The Count smiled
in answer half-distrustfully, half-tolerantly. The old man tried to
speak, but could not be heard. The boom of the bell seemed to come
from the depths of ages, ringing out the past century and ringing in
the new, which would commence in a few weeks--the nineteenth century
since the birth of the Redeemer, who has promised to return, and
perhaps will do so in one way or another.
The Count sat there fingering the letter-weight in the shape of a
guillotine. Suddenly he seized it, and looked questioningly at the
old man, who nodded in the affirmative. The letter-weight was thrown
into the paper-basket.
The great bell ceased ringing, the room was quiet, and the old man,
his arms folded over his breast, spoke as though with a sigh of
"The Revolution is over."
"'Tribulation worketh patience; patience, experience; experience,
hope; and hope maketh not ashamed!'"
(From the _Aftonbladet_, Stockholm, May 15, 1912)
The last time that Strindberg was in full possession of his senses
was late on Monday afternoon (May 13th). He recognised his daughter
Greta, who sat by his bed, and her husband, Dr. Philp. He was fully
aware that the end was near. He made a sign that he wished to have
his Bible, which lay on the table by the bed. They gave it him; he
took it in his hand and said: "All that is personal is now
obliterated. I have done with life and closed the account. This is
the only truth."
He kissed his daughter, but only said, "Dear Greta." Then he said to
Dr. Philp, "Are you still here, Henry?" After talking a little more,
his last utterance was, "Now I have said my last word. Now I talk no
more." He kept his Bible so closely clasped to his breast as though
that were the only thing he had to hold fast before the end.
So Stromboli retreated in the gloom,
Flinging red flame and molten lava high,
A flaring portent: We, who passed it by,
Carry that lurid memory to the tomb;
Yet round its crater living flowers bloom,
The vine, fig, olive grow and fructify,
Over it laughs the blue Sicilian sky,
A paradise upon the verge of doom.
As fiery as that red volcanic blast,
Through years he wrestled with his unseen Foe,
Wailing in pain "I will not let Thee go
Unless Thou bless me who have held Thee fast,"--
And thus, like Jacob, from his overthrow,
He rose a cripple, but a prince at last_.
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