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times, the highest praise to his genius, and sets him above all his cotemporaries, for the warmth, the elegance, and the singular richness of his style. He says, that the general opinion at Paris was, that he had poisoned himself;—that his natural disposition to melancholy had increased in an alarming degree after his return from England, and had been aggravated by the sombre and solitary life to which he had condemned himselt;—that mind, he adds, at once too strong and too weak to bear the burden of existence with tranquillity, was perpetually prolific of monsters and of phantoms, that haunted all his steps, and drove him to the borders of distraction. There is no doubt, continues M. Grimm, that for many months before his death he had firmly persuaded himself that all the powers of Europe had their eyes fixed upon him as a most dangerous and portentous being, whom they should take the first opportunity to destroy. He was satisfied that M. de Choiseul had projected and executed the conquest of Corsica, for no other purpose but to deprive him of the honour of legislating for it; and that Prussia and Russia had agreed to partition Poland upon the same jealous and unworthy considerations. While the potentates of Europe were thus busied in thwarting and mortifying him abroad, the philosophers, he was persuaded, were entirely devoted to the same project at home. They had spies, he firmly believed, posted round all his steps, and were continually making efforts to rouse the populace to insult and murder him. At the head of this conspiracy, of the reality of which he no more doubted than of his existence, he had placed the Duc de Choiseul, his physician Tronchin, M. D'Alembert, and our author!
In a passage which commemorates the death of Helvetius, we find a very full and curious account of this zealous philosopher. Helvetius was of Dutch extraction; and his father having been chief physician to the queen, the son was speedily appointed to the very lucrative situation of farmer-general of the finances. was remarkably good tempered, benevolent and liberal ; and passed his youth in idle and voluptuous indulgence, keeping a sort of seraglio as a part of his establishment, and exercising himself with universal applause in the noble science of dancing, in which he attained such eminence, that he is said to have several times supplied the place of the famous Dupré in the ballets at the opera. An unhappy passion for literary glory came, however, to disturb this easy life. The paradoxes and effrontery of Maupertuis had brought science into fashion; and no supper was thought complete at Paris without a mathematician. Helvetius, therefore, betook himself immediately to the study of geometry; but he could make no hand of it; and fortunately the rage passed away before he bad time to expose himself in the eyes of the ini
tiated. Next came the poetical glory of Voltaire ;-and Helvetius instantly resolved to be a poet--and did with great labour produce a long poem on happiness, which was not published, however, till after his death, and has not improved his chance for immortality. But it was the success of the President Montes quieu's celebrateu Esprit des Loix that finally decided the literary vocation of Helvetius. That work appeared in 1749; and in 1750 the farmergeneral resigned his post, married, retired into the country, and spent ten long years in digesting his own book De l’Esprit, by which he fondly expected to rival the fame of his illustrious predecessor. In this, however, he was wofully disappointed. The book appeared to philosophers to be nothing but a paradoxical and laborious repetition of truths and difficulties with which all good thinkers had long been familiar; and it probably would have fallen into utter oblivion, had it not been for the injudicious clamour which was raised against it by the bigots and devotees of the court. Poor Helvetius, who had meant nothing more than to make himself remarkable, was as much surprised at the outcries of the godly, as at the silence of the philosophers; and never perfectly recovered the shock of this double disappointment. He still continued, however, his habits of kindness and liberality-gave dinners to the men of letters when at Paris, and hunted and compiled philosophy with great perseverance in the country. His temper was so good that his society could not fail to be agreeable; but his conversation, it seeins, was not very captivating; he loved to push every matter of discussion to its very last results; and reasoned at times so very loosely and largely, as to be in danger of being taken for a person very much overtaken with liquor. He died of gout in his stomach, at the age of fifty-six.
Nobody makes a better or a more amiable figure in this book, than Madame GEOFFRIN. Active, reasonable, indulgent, and munificent beyond example for a woman in private life, she laid a sure claim to popularity by taking for her maxim the duty of “ giving and forgiving;” and showed herself so gentle in her deportment to children and servants, that if she had not been overcome with an unlucky passion for intrigue and notoriety, she might have afforded one exception, at least, to the general heartlessness of the society to which she belonged. Some of the repartees recorded of her in these volumes are very remarkable. M. de Rulbiere threatened to make public certain very indiscreet remarks on the court of Russia, from the sale of which he expected great profits. Madame Geoftrin, who thought he would get into difficulties by taking such a step, offered him a very handsome sum to put his manuscript into the fire. He answered her with many lofty and animated observations on the meanness and anworthiness of taking money to suppress truth. To all which the lady listened with the utmost complacency; and merely replied, “Well! say yourself how much more you must have." Another mot of hers becaine an established canon at all the tables of Paris. The Comte de Coigny was wearying her one evening with some interminable story, when, upon somebody sending for a part of the dish before him, he took a little knife out of his pocket and began to carve, talking all the time as before. « Monsieur le Comte," said Mad. Geoffrin, a little out of patience," at table there should only be large knives and short stories." In her old age she was seized with apoplexy; and her daughter, during her illness, refused access to the philosophers. When she recovered a little, she laughed at the precaution, and made her daughter's apology-by saying “She had done like Godfrey of Bouillondefended her tomb from the infidels.". The idea of her ending in devotion, however, occasioned much merriment and some scandal among her philosophical associates.
The name of Marmontel occurs very often in this collection; but it is not attended with any distinguished honours. M. Grimm accuses him of want of force or passion in his style, and of poverty of invention, and littleness of genius. He says something, however, of more importance on occasion of the first representation of that writer's foolish piece, entitled “ Silvain.” The courtiers and sticklers for rank, he observes, all pretended to be mightily alarmed at the tendency of this little opera in one act; and the Duc de Noailles took the trouble to say, that its object was to show that a gentleman could do nothing so amiable as to marry his maid servant, and let his cottagers kill his game at their pleasure. It is really amusing, continues M. Grimm, to, observe, how positive many people are that all this is the result of a deep plot on the part of the Encyclopedistes, and that this silly farce is the fruit of a solemn conspiracy against the privileged orders, and in support of the horrible doctrine of universal equality.
If they would only condescend to consult me, however, he concludes, I could oblige them with a much simpler, though less magnificent solution of the mystery; the truth being that the extravagance of M. Marmontel's little plot proceeds neither from his love of equality, nor from the commands of an antisocial conspiracy, but purely from the poverty of his imagination, and his want of talent for dramatic composition. It is always much more easy to astonish by extravagance, than to interest by natural representations; and those commonplaces, of love triumphing over pride of birth, and benevolence getting the better of feudal prejudices, are among the most vulgar resources of those who are incapable of de vising incidents at once probable and pathetic.
This was written in the year 1770;--and while it serves to show us that the imputation of conspiracies against the throne and the altar, of which succeeding times were doomed to hear so much, were by no means an original invention of the age which gave them the greatest encouragement, it may help also to show upon what slight foundation such imputations are usually hazarded. Great national changes, indeed, are never the result of conspiracies-but of causes laid deep and wide in the structure and condition of society-and which necessarily produce those combinations of individuals, who seem to be the authors of the revolution when it happens to be ultimately brought about by their instrumentality.
We hear a great deal, of course, of Diderot, in a work of which he was partly the author; and it is impossible to deny him the praise of ardour, originality, and great occasional eloquence. Yet we not only feel neither respect nor affection for Diderot-but can seldom read any of his lighter pieces without a certain degree of disgust. There is a tone of blackguardism-(we really can find no other word)—both in his indecency and his profanity, which we do not recollect to have met with in any other good writer; and which is apt, we think, to prove revolting even to those who are accustomed to the license of this fraternity. They who do not choose to look into his Religieuse for the full illustration of this remark-and we advise no one to look there for any thing-may find it abundantly, though in a less flagrant form, in a little essay on women, which is inserted in these volumes as a supplement or corrective to the larger work of M. Thomas on that subject. We must say, however, that the whole tribe of French writers who have had any pretensions to philosophy for the last seventy years, are infected with a species of indelicacy which is peculiar, we think, to their nation; and strikes us as more shameful and offensive than any other. We do not know very well how to describe it, otherwise than by saying, that it consists in a strange combination of physical science with obscenity, and an attempt to unite the pedantic and disgusting details of anatomy and physiology, with images of voluptuousness and sensuality ;-an attempt, we think, exceedingly disgusting and debasing, but not in the least degree either seductive or amusing. Maupertuis and Voltaire, and Helvetius and Diderot, are full of this. Buffon and d'Alembert are dy no means free of it; and traces of it may even be discovered in the writings of Rousseau himself. We could pardon some details in the Emile-or the Confessions ;-but we own it appears to us the most nauseous and unnatural of all things, to find the divine Julie herself informing her cousin, with much complacency, that she had at last discovered, that “ quoique son cæur trop tendre avoit besoin d'amour, ses sens n'avoient plus besoin d'un amant."
The following epigram is a little in the taste we have been condemning;- but it has the merit of being excessively clever. Mad,
de Chatelet had long lived separate from her husband, and was understood to receive the homage of two lovers—Voltaire and M. de St. Lambert. She died in childbirth; and the following dramatic elegy was circulated all over Paris the week after that catastrophe.
“ M. de Chatelet.--Ah! ce n'est pas ma faute !
Crebillon the younger is naturally brought to our recollection by the mention of wit and indecency. We have an account of his death, and a just and candid estimate of his merits, in one of the volumes before us. However frivolous and fantastic the style of his novels may appear, he had still the merit of inventing that style, and of adorning it with much ingenuity, wit and character. The taste for his writings, it seems, passed away very rapidly and completely in France; and long before his death, the author of the Sopha, and Les Egaremens du Cæur et de l'Esprit, had the mortification to be utterly forgotten by the public. M. Grimm thinks this reverse of fortune rather unmerited; and observes, that in foreign countries he was still held in estimation, and that few French productions had had such currency in London as the Sopha. The reason perhaps may be, that the manners and characters which the French at once knew to be unnatural, might be mistaken by us for true copies of French originals. It is a little more difficult, however, to account for the fact, that the perusal of his works inspired a young lady of good family in this country with such a passion for the author, that she ran away from her friends, came to Paris, married him, and nursed and attended him with exemplary tenderness and affection to his dying day. But there is nothing but luck, good or bad-as M. Grimm sagely observes -in this world. The author of a licentious novel inspires a romantic passion in a lady of rank and fortune, who crosses seas, and abandons her family and her native country for his sake ;while the author of the Nouvelle Heloise, the most delicate and passionate of all lovers that ever existed, is obliged to clap up a match with his chambermaid !
Of all the loves, however, that are recorded in this chronicle, the loves of Mad. du Deffant, and M. de Ponte-de-Vesle, are the most exemplary; for they lasted upwards of fifty years without quarrel or intermission. The secret of this wonderful constancy is, at all events, worth knowing; and we give it in the words of an authentic dialogue between this venerable Acmé and Septimius.
“ Ponte-de-Vesle ?-Madame ? Ou êtes-vous ?Au coin de VOL. II. Nen Series.