Page images
PDF
EPUB

M. Girard first deduces the accelerating force by means of the principle invented by D'Alembert, and so successfully employed in his Dynamique. When Force (?) is determined, Velocity (v) may, in cases in which the inflexion is small, from the equation vv-F), and the time (t) from the equation ut:

=go: the duration of the inflexion cannot rigorously be assigned.

Towards the end of the section, we find'a dissertation on the laws of the compressibility of aërial fluids, and an applica. tion of what is deduced concerning these laws to the settling and inflexion of bodies imperfectly elastic. · In this valuable treatise, the analytical operations are conducted with perspicuity, and judiciously adapted to the purposes of experiment: useful remarks are also frequently inter. spersed; and the spirit of temperate and informed criticism is prevalent throughout. The work afförds an additional instance of the success with which theory and experiment may be made to co-operate. We have reason to be elated at the advance. ments which science has made within the present age; yet what remains to be done is vast in its extent, and arduous of investigation! While we attend to the means by which our knowlege is enlarged, we are sensible that the limits are close on every side of us : what the sage Bacon long ago observed is true even now, “ how little is done, and how much remains to be done !" Sufficiently sensible (as every man is who knows with what difficụlty the least addition to truth is made) of the obstacles which oppose the advancement of physico-mathematics; M. GIRARD observes that

• It cannot be dissembled that there is a very considerable difficulty in assigning the laws of certain phænomena, with precision sufficient to satisfy all cases. In the application of calculus to physics, and especially in questions involving the organization of bodies, we must be contented to approach towards the truth : but, as every observation made with care is a step towards it, no occasion of making such an observation should be omitted. Thus, although the experiments, which have been related, were made during many years with as much exactness as they seemed to require, yet we are of opinion that it will be at all times highly advantageous to repeat them, or to make new on the same subject; a labour especially reserved for engineers who possess skill, and zeal for the advancement of their art.'

This work is enriched with a valuable table of contents, and with copious tables relative to the experiments.

Wood....

ARTA

Art. XI. Vie de Voltaire,' &c. i. e. The Life of Voltaire, accom.

panied with Anecdotes relative to his private Life. By T. g.

D. V..... 8vo. Pp. 480. Paris. 1797.
IT
T was an observation made by Voltaire, (and it has been fre-

quently repeated,) that the life of a man of letters is to be sought only in his productions. This remark is in general true, but does not apply so strictly to Voltaire as to others. The transactions of his life were so numerous and chequered ; his time was passed with so many personages of distinction, and in' such various countries; his talents were exerted on such dif. ferent occasions; and his opinions had such an influence on the sentiments of others; that he should be considered as a public character. The author of the present work has represented him in this light: but, in addition, and forming as we'conceive the most valuable part of the publication, he has also given the private life of this most extraordinary man. He says:

J'ai considéré deux hommes en Voltaire, l'homme public et l'homme prive. We présente d'abord l'homme public ; on le verra infatigable en annoncant aux hommes l'évangile de la Raison'; on verra chaque acte de son apostolat suivi d'une persécutioni'

Many of those writings, which are here designated under the improper term of L'Evangile de la Raison, were injurious to the morality and religion of mankind, and had their total over. throw in view. That such productions and such writers should meet with censure gives us pleasure, because it proves that we are alive to the sentiments and suggestions of virtue.- The biographer proceeds:

Pour connaitre l'homme privé, j'ai du aller le chercher dans l'intérieur de sa maison, l'étudier, si j'ose le dire, en robe-de-chambre; le voir dans son cabinet, à table, à la promenade, au jeu ; s'entretenant soit avec ses amis, soit avec ses vassaux ; se fachant tour-à-tour, s'emportant, et se calmant. Le caractère d'un homme toujours en représentation n'est jamais bien connu ; il ne peut l'être que par l'examen de ses rapports sociaux, ou de ses actions do. mestiques. Cette recherche m'a procuré une masse d'anecdotes aussi singulières que piquantes. Je les ai reunies en un petit compedium, et je l'ai juint à cet ouvrage.

Ainsi, pour montrer Voltaire dans toutes les positions, j'ai ajouté à sa vie publique, l'intéressant abrégé de sa vie privée

. Dans la première de ces deux vies, on verra le Grand homme, et dans la seconde on verra le Bon homme.'

From this extract, which we have preferred to give in the author's own words, our readers may easily collect the plan of the work, and at the same time they may perceive the favourable sentiments which the writer entertains respecting the subject of his biography. It is impossible to deny to Voltaire the praise of an illustrious and distinguished character, le Grand

homme :

[merged small][ocr errors]

homme : but it is equally impossible to bestow upori him the greater and more valuable praise of a VIRTUOUS man.

This volume, we are informed, was in a great measure prepared by the author when he was in the Bastille; and the first part of it appeared in an unfinished state, in the year 1786. It was translated into English, and generally attributed to the Marquis de Villette, who married Voltaire's adopred daughter, Mademoiselle de Varicourt, whom he distinguished by the pleasing appellation of Belle et Bonne. In our account of the translation, in the seventy-eighth volume of the M. R. p. 120, we expressed our doubts of the Marquis de Villette being the author; and we felt a relactance at yielding up such a man as the Marquis to the proselytes and admirers of Voltaire, as a pupil, in matters of religion, of so unworthy a master, without being compelled by unequivocal testimony. What was then doubt ful has since been decided, for the work is acknowleged to be the production of the late Abbé du V-; we believe, du Vernet, from some circumstances in the preface. The writer, who. ever he may be, here appears to be not only an enthusiastic admirer of the abilities of Voltaire, but a professed disciple and approver of all his tenets. By this partiality, we are precluded from expecting an unbiassed account, where sucha representation would place the onject in an unfavourable point of view. We were sorry, but not surprised, therefore, to find that, in relating the disagreement which took place at the Prussian court, between its Sovereign and the admired French wit, the whole of the censure belonging to the transaction is heaped on the king, and Voltaire is represented as blameless and ill-treated. His merits as a writer are frequently estimated with justness and ability; but still, in too many instances, the overweening fondness of the friend appears, instead of the candour and rigid justice of the critic. The account of his reception at Paris in the year 1778, when he was crowned with laurel in a crowded theatre, and distinguished by the public with the strongest marks of enthusiastic delight, is curious and interesting. When the triumph was closed, he thanked the populace in these remarkable words :

"Aprés tant d'honneurs, il ne me reste plus qu'à mourir." We cannot, however, coincide in the obscrvation of the author, with which he closes this extraordinary scene : seventy years employed in entertaining, reproving, instructing, and defending mankind, fully justify the enthusiasm which appeared on that triumphal day.'

As on the former occasion we accompanied this writer in a great part of his narrative, we shall now resume our account at the period at which we then relinquished it. After having

related

1.

[ocr errors]

related that it was with considerable difficulty, and after some dispute between the men of letters and the clergy, that the body of Voltaire was deposited in the cemetery of the monastery of Sellicres, the author proceeds to enumerate the marks of distinction with which the philosopher's memory was honoured by the Empress of Russia and Frederic the Second. The Prussian monarch ordered a bust of this extraordinary man, which was executed by Houdon ; and his majesty composed an Elage, which, notwithstanding some few inaccuracies, is worthy of perusal: he also ordered religious honours to be paid to him in the Catholic churcli at Berlin.-These attentions on the part of the king form a striking contrast with the conduct of Voltaire's countrymen on this occasion. The journalists were prevented from noticing his death, literary men from making his eloge, and the actors from performing his dramatic com positions. Even the Academy was desired to umit the funeral service which was constantly performed on the death of every Academician ; and the family of Holtaire was refused permisa sion to erect'a monument over his grave. Maurepas is said to have been the author of these disgraceful insults :-- he had long been the open flatterer but secret enemy of Voltaire. Indeed, to such an excess did the hatred and indignation of the clergt rise against this enemy of their order, that they designed to dig up and expose his remains; and nothing prevented them but the advice of the lawyers, whom they consulted on the occa sion, and who warned them of the danger of the attempt. The period was fast approaching, however, when these disgraces were to be succeeded and compensated by the most ex travagant honours ; honours which nearly resembled those of antient adoration and worship, and such as in the modern world had never been shewn to any individual, however ele. vated his rank, however distinguished his abilities; and however extensive his usefulness.

The revolution of France had been foreseen by Voltaire, and certainly was accelerated by his writings. In a letter to the Marquis de Chauveling dated in 1764, we find the following remarkable passage:

* Whichever way I look, I observe signs of a revolution which must infallibly take place, but which I shall not have the satisfaction of witnessing. The French people are slow in their progress, but that progress is certain. Their minds are so onlightened with' knowlege, that it will burst forth on the first opportunity, and then there will be a brilliant display!- then the youth will be happy! then they will see glorious events !”

The whole transaction of the removal of Voltaire's body from the semetery at Sellieres, to the Pantheon at Paris, (in 1791,) is,

[ocr errors]

not to be paralleled, we believe, in the history of any country, and it is a strong proof, among many others, of the enthusiasm with which the minds of this singular people can be actuated ;their feelings are never tempered by moderation, nor regulated by propriety, but are at all times impetuous and excessive. The author concludes his account of this magnificent ceremony, and of the public life of Voltaire, with the following passage:

« Thus the remains of Voltaire rest in peace, in a temple which a grateful country has dedicated to the reception of her exalted characters; and his heart, the source of all his great, honourable, good, and elevated actions, reposes at Ferney in the apartment of his adopted* daughter, the last object of his dearest and purest love !'

No literary character, in modern times, has been engaged in such a variety of transactions, or has experienced such a change of fortune, as Voltaire. At one period honoured and courted by princes, at another banished from his country, and compelled to seek refuge in a foreign land; at one time insulted, calumniated, and enyied by those in power, detested by the clergy, and persecuted by the magistrate ; at another time, we see him admired by every nation in Europe, loved and adored in his own province, and before his death crowned in a public theatre in Paris !

To the retirement of private life, it is both useful and pleasant to accompany such a man ; to see him in déshabille ; in the midst of his friends, his neighbours, and his domestics.He is represented by his present biographer as of an irritable temper, but easily pacified; and willing, when he had recovered his equanimity, to make every compensation in his power for the pain which he had inflicted. On such occasions he would say, “ pardon me, my friends, I am more to be pitied than you; it is not blood, it is vitriol, which flows in my veins.”-In his friendships, he was warm and constant ; his resentments were quick, violent, and short-lived. - In a moment of passion, he tore in pieces with his teeth a page of a volume of Freron, in which he was abused: but afterward, recollecting himself, he observed with a smile that, “ at his age, he ought no longer

to act like a child.”. Voltaire was extremely opulent : but he was fond of employing his wealth in the service and gratification of others; and, when an opportunity of benefiting a worthy character presented itself, he seized it with alacrity :-“ take a carriage," said he one day to his treasurer, “ hasten to M. Pitut, he is a good man; he is a literary man; and he is unfortunate. "Take him,

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »