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Voltaire the mone}--maker. His father thought him an intellectual scapegrace, brilliant it might be, but as incapable of practical success as a pyrotechnic firewheel is of turning a mill; but there never was a man more shrewdly practical. It was in England that his character took final form in relation to economies as well as to other things. Furbishing up the poem he had written in the Bastile when he had but emerged from boyhood, he brought it out in London by subscription. Having come to England well furnished with introductions, and having taken care, by learning English in France, to prepare himself to take a place in London society, he had many friends in this country. Princess Caroline headed the list of subscribers. The venture yielded him " an unknown but very considerable sum of thousands sterling, and grounded not ouly the world-renown but the domestic finance of M. de Voltaire." The Henriade carried his name into all civilized countries. "And such fame, and other agencies on his behalf, having opened the way home for Voltaire, he took this sum of thousands sterling along with him; laid it out judiciously in some city lottery, or profitable scrip then going at Paris, which at once doubled the amount; after which he invested it in corntrade, army clothing, Barbary-trade, commissariat-bacon trade, all manner of well-chosen trades—being one of the shrewdest financiers on record;—and never from that day wanted abundance of money, for one thing: which he judged to be extremely expedient for a literary man, especially in times of Jesuit and other tribulation." By his books he made "almost nothing." Generally he had "to disavow them, when some sharp-set bookseller, in whose way he had laid the savory article as bait, chose to risk his ears for the profit of snatching and publishing it." Yet he had money enough always, and had so disposed it that, wherever he went, he had resources, "and no conceivable combination of confiscating Jesuits and dark fanatic official persons could throw him out of a liveliVoltaire's Money-makino.
hood, whithersoever he might be forced to run." His yearly income at his death was equal, Mr. Carlyle estimates, to £20,000 of our money. "The richest literary man ever heard of hitherto."
Voltaire had a light way of accounting for his pecuniary success. "You have only to watch," he would say, "what scrips, public loans, investments in the field of agio are offered; if you exert any judgment, it is easy to gain there: do not the stupidest of mortals gain there, by intensely attending to it?" This is a highly self-flattering account of the matter; for we are expected to believe that his transcendent cleverness, honestly applied and with no particular furtherance, brought him his wealth. But there is something more to be considered in the solution of the problem. From the first he was the companion of influential people, and had extraordinary opportunities of becoming acquainted with good public investments. "Army clothing and commissariat-bacon trades" arc exactly the kind into which entrance might be got by interest in high quarters, and one has a suspicion that the feeding and clothing of the poor soldiers thus provided for miglrt be perfunctory. Voltaire, besides, never lost anything that could be got for begging, and he had no scruple about engaging in speculations forbidden by law. When driven to extremity, he told lies. On one occasion he was guilty of forgery, and offered to swear to a falsehood. Frederick found that he was not only excessively greedy in relation to salary and allowances, but that ho was prepared to do illegal business at the expense of his royal patron. By the treaty of peace with Saxony, Frederick had stipulated that certain Exchequer Bills should be paid by the Saxon Treasury in gold to bona fide Prussian subjects. The judicious Voltaire, on the watch for investments, bethought him that if he could buy the Bills from persons who, not being Prussian subjects, had no legal claim to gold for them, and then demand gold in character of a Prussian subject, he might clear 35 per cent. Accordingly, he hired a Jew money-lender, or jeweller, to proceed to Dresden and buy the Bills, it being arranged between them that, in talking or corresponding on the subject, Voltaire and the Jew were to call the goods bought furs or diamonds. This was a direct attempt to cheat ihe Saxon Treasury, and the Saxon Court, getting wind of it, "made grievous complaints" to Frederick. No one could better understand the nature of the whole transaction than Frederick, and he looked upon Voltaire as playing in it the part of an unprincipled trickster. The business did not prosper. The Jew either could not or would not buy the Bills, and he and Voltaire got into a furious quarrel, ending in a lawsuit. "You have had the most villanous affair in the world with a Jew," wrote the King to Voltaire. Mr. Carlyle distinctly states that, before he was done with the affair, Voltaire lied, forged, and offered to commit perjury. Voltaire had calculated that he might gain £800 by the transaction. Frederick wrote him in terms of sharp reproof, almost with a spice of contempt in them, and it makes one blush to hear that the King received "four lamenting and repenting,wheedling, and ultimately whining" letters from the first literary man in Europe. Frederick was at this time forty years old, Voltaire fifty-eight.
These facts respecting Voltaire's financial operations qualify to a considerable degree that apparently light and off-hand, but no doubt carefully-studied, attempt of his to make it appear that his wealth was obtained by the semi-sportive choice, at leisure moments, of profitable investments. Money - making was a very serious business with him, and he evidently estimated with penetrating vigilance the advantages offered by every situation for gainful bargaining. His education as a lawyer could not fail to be of immense use to him in stock-jobbing, and in his trading speculations generally. The Berlin Jew probably thought that a man of letters at Court, with appearances to keep up, would be an easy prey; but the sharpest
man in Europe would have found it dangerous to engage in a game of diamond cut diamond with Voltaire.
As biographer, as historian, as man of science, as philosopher even, this most versatile and comprehensive of authors might be separately delineated. The only point on which Carlyle seems to me to do him something less than justice is in respect of his humor. Carlyle denies Voltaire any humor except in the sense of wit and persiflage. The wittiest man he certainly was that ever existed, the man with the keenest sense of the ridiculous, and the nimblest adroitness in expressing his sense of it, and making the thing he wished to mock ridiculous in all eyes. But in such works as Zadig and Candide, particularly the second, there is much more than wit, much more than that thin laughter, from the teeth outward, of which Carlyle so often speaks. No books suggest to me more forcibly than these, not even Dickens's Christmas Carol or Scott's Antiquary, that the author thoroughly enjoys the fun that is going, and has in him a great power of laughter. In Candide there is a humor which, in breadth, equals that of Swift, in heartiness that of Cervantes; and a rollicking mirthfulness, and wild, bright, dancing gayety, wholly Voltaire's own. I wish Carlyle had given us a careful critiquo of Candide. It is surely, beyond all comparison, the finest philosophical satire in the world. And it has a great truth in it—this, in fact, was essential to its consummate excellence as a satire. The truth on which it rests is that optimism is a lie—a dangerous, hypocritic lie— poison of lead disguised in sweetness of sugar. Leibnitz's famed hypothesis of this being the best of all possible worlds was immensely in vogue in those days; and always it is a popular thing, pleasing to sentimentalists and simpletons, to paint up the world and to veneer pain with platitude. On this optimistic habit Voltaire has his say—not in cruel, Swiftian mood, but in that of resolutely honest, though wildly jocular, respect for facts; and so long as Dr. Pangloss and his observations and adventures, his sketches of Europe tormented by armies and rent bv Lisbon earthquakes, his record of facts and optimistic decoration of the same, survive, the rose-water version of things will be tempered, and most profitably tempered, by derisive laughter.
Frederick and Voltaire met in transports of mutual admiration, lived for years in close intimacy, and parted with the unalterable persuasion, on each side, that the other was bad. That this was Frederick's estimate of Voltaire is open to no dispute; he attested it in word and in deed, unmistakable both. Whether Voltaire was really convinced of Frederick's badness is not so certain. It is indeed a most difficult thing to know what Voltaire in his heart believed on any subject whatever. He professes faith in Christianity, abjuring only the superstitions which have disguised or defaced Christianity, with an air of engaging and frank sincerity — if his correspondent is a bishop or cardinal. He writes to Frederick in tones of imploring tenderness, plaintively dwelling on his inextinguishable friendship, until he convinces even Mr. Carlyle that he had a genuine esteem for the King; and yet no expressions could appear to come more authentically from the heart, no expressions could seem more deeply steeped in passionate conviction, than those in which he reviles Frederick behind his back, and compares him to a spiteful, untamable, dangerous ape. Voltaire and the other French literary men with whom he tried to surround himself did Frederick a great deal of harm. One of his remarks in a letter to Voltaire is that, if Voltaire's works deserve statues, himself deserved chains; and the plain truth is that, having summoned around him a number of men whose books might suggest that they were incarnations of the cardinal virtues, Frederick found them to be the most paltry, vain, envious, quarrelsome, unprincipled, and vindictive of human beings. The most brilliant genius in Europe he believed to be the greatest scoundrel breathing. And so, in a mind which, at the first,