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enough to send me of Bossuet, of Fénelon, templated attaining the object of his and of Pascal. You are animated with ambition by entering the diplomatic their spirit when you speak of them. I service of his country. The grand eleavow myself to be still more astonished vation reached by such a minister as now than I was before that you should Richelieu appeared to him quite as follow a profession which, though noble enviable as that which was attained by enough, is also rather barbarous, and as well suited to mediocre men as to men of
such a warrior as Turenne. It is note. I thought that you possessed much mournful to read how Vauvenargues taste and knowledge, but I now perceive aspired to positions which he was incathat you have even more genius. I cannot pable of filling on account of his feeble: tell whether you will be able to cultivate it health, even if his talents and opportuduring this campaign, and I fear that my nities had sufficed to put them within letter will reach you while on the march, lis grasp. He reminds the reader of or at a time when belles-lettres are not in the unbappy victim of consumption,
I repress my desire to tell you all whose lease of life may be counted by that I think, and confine myself to the hours, planning schemes for future pleasure of assuring you of the singular esteem with which you inspire me.
years, and thinking that his longings
will be gratified. Vauvenargues preThe state of Vauvenargues' health sented a humble request to the king made it necessary that he should quit for a post in the diplomatic service; the army; yet, even if he had been but he received no reply from Amelot, physically able to continue bis military the minister through whose hands it duties, he would have done so with passed. Voltaire then brought his ineven less enthusiasm than in his earlier Auence to bear, and, as he was then in years, when glory was his aim and high favor at court, his intervention service in the field the path to it. He led to a promise to Vauvenargues of had grown weary of garrison life, and an appointment on the first vacancy; was disappointed to find that the army This promise gave him extreme pleaswhen on active service had many ure, and he warmly thanked the minisshortcomings. Hence he wrote: ter of state for it. However, it proveil
to be of no avail, as he was attacked by The courage which our forefathers regarded as the principal virtue is now almost small-pox of a malignant type shortly regarded as a vulgar error, and, though after receiving it, and he had to reevery one dare not openly proclaim this, nounce all hope of ever filling a public their conduct proves it. Serving the coun- office. Then it was that he resolved to try has become old-fashioned and a mere devote the remainder of his days to the prejudice ; nothing now is seen in the army pursuit of literature, and he did so unbut disgust, weariness, neglect, insolent and der the conviction that he would supdaring grumbling ; luxury and effeminacy plement by his pen the pittance upon are brazenly displayed in time of peace, which he was barely able to exist. and those in authority, who might check
In his day the nobles of Francé en. the evil, increase it by their example.
joyed special privileges, while they To these painful facts he adds an- were obliged to deny themselves many other, which is quite as sad and in chances for gaining money. Those perfect accord with them, to the effect who respected themselves could not that the expensive habits of the officers marry an heiress who was a tradeswho are indifferent to their duties, re- man's daughter, any more than they dound to the disadvantage of those who could engage in business or commerce. take their work in earnest, the result It
doubtful being that those who were ready to whether a noble ought to endeavor to sacrifice themselves for glory, leave a live by literature. In France, even service which they consider a disgrace. more than in England, the writer of
While abandoning all expectation of books at the middle of the eighteenth attaining the coveted glory by remain- century was a person upon whom many ing in the army, Vauvenargues con- I looked with suspicion, and as many re
garded with aversion. When Voltaire tact can be supplied than the way in visited Congreve, the latter desired to which he discharged a most trying be treated as a gentleman and not as a duty. The original is in the British man of letters, while Voltaire rightly Museum. He wrote : explained that his visit was paid to
My dear master, you nerve me against the dramatist and not to the gentleman. the extreme discouragement which I expeVauvenargues had the courage and rience from the consciousness of my faults. good sense to declare that he preferred I am much obliged to you for having read doing discredit to his rank than to his my reflections so expeditiously. genius; yet, when his book was pub- should be at home to-morrow, the following lished, he refrained from putting his day, or the day after, I shall call to thank name on the title-page.
you. . . The reason why I have said so Vauvenargues had come to Paris in little about your tragedy is that my eyes May, 1745, and taken rooms in a small pained me greatly while I read it, and that
I could not form a proper opinion after a hotel which stood on the site of the
reading under these conditions. It seemed present School of Medicine. He lived to me full of sublime beauties. Your enein the most frugal fashion ; he did not mies circulate a story to the effect that the frequent any place of public amuse- first act is the only tolerable one, and that ment, not even a café, and he had few the rest is badly put together and badly friends. Those who saw the most of written. You have never been more sehim, and who are the best known now, verely attacked than during the last four were Voltaire and Marmontel. The months. You ought to be prepared for latter has left in his " Memoirs
most of the literary men in Paris doing attractive sketch of him. He plumed piece. The mediocre success of the "Prin
their utmost to cause the failure of your himself, as he writes, upon having en
cess de Navarre" and the “ Temple de la joyed the friendship of the two most | Gloire” causes them to say that your genius enlightened men of the age, Voltaire is gone. I am so greatly disgusted with and Vauvenargues :
these impertinences, that they give me a
distaste, not only for men of letters, but for The conversations between them were letters themselves. I beseech you, my dear richer and more fruitful than anything that master, to perfect your work till no pretext can be supposed. On the part of Voltaire there was an inexhaustible flow of inter- consideration for your glory, and I hope
can exist for attacking it. I have a tender esting facts and flashes of light. On the
that you will attribute to my friendship my part of Vauvenargues there was eloquence offering advice of which you do not stand full of urbanity, grace, and wisdom. When
in need. difference of opinion occurred, more wit, kindliness, and sincerity could not be dis- Vauvenargues lived in penury and played on the one hand, while, on the discomfort, but he worked with a will ; other, there might be seen the respect of though his bodily strength was feeble, Vauvenargues for Voltaire's genius and yet his mental faculties were sound Voltaire's tender veneration for the virtue and clear. He had received an in perof Vauvenargues ; both of them, without fect education, yet his desire to excel mutual fattery or adulation or weak com- made him prize the knowledge which placency, did themselves honor in my eyes he laboriously acquired, while he supby indulging in a freedom of thought which never disturbed the harmony and accord of plied by reflection the lack of booktheir mutual sentiments.
| learning. He fell back upon himself;
turned over in his mind the subject in The respect which Voltaire paid to which he was interested, till he had this younger man of letters was demon- set it in a new light, and when he comstrated when Voltaire asked his opinion nitted his thoughts to paper, they had regarding the tragedy of “Semiramis." the unconventionality and freshness of It'was difficult for the younger man to those which proceed from the solitary criticise the work of the elder without and original thinker. The result of his giving unpárdonable offence, and no meditations was given to the world in better illustration of Vauvenargues’ | 1746. The volume contained an In
troduction to the Knowledge of the acter. . . You are the man I hoped for, Human Mind," reflections on several and I beseech you to love me. subjects, and other miscellaneous mat
Praise like this from Voltaire was ter, ending with short essays, reflec
After receiving it, tions, and maxims. Like other books Vauvenargues could regard with justiof equal or superior value, it was a fiable indifference the depreciatory refailure with the public. Half a century marks of carping critics. Perhaps if before its appearance the inimitable the name of the Marquis de Vauvewritings of La Bruyère had an equally
, hargues had been printed on the titlefrigid reception. His " Characters"
page, the book might have been more were pronounced beneath contempt cordially received. No distinction is when the book containing them ap- made in the republic of letters in favor peared in 1688.
If the critics pos- of a new-comer, except in the case of sessed the power of divination with
one who holds high office or high rank. which they are sometimes credited,
Three months after the publication they ought to have discovered Vauve of the work, Voltaire wrote about it nargues' merits as a thinker and writer.
again as follows: But they were as blind as the public. Too much should not be made of the My amiable philosopher, I have availed failure of a critical journal to estimate myself your permission to annotate one aright the worth of a new book. In of the best books which we have in our reality, a critic is simply a man who language, after I had perused it with great
attention. I have admired anew in it the may be as prejudiced or unwise as any mind so lofty, so eloquent, and so true, the other man. He is as human as an
mass of new ideas or of those which are author ; both are equally liable to blun- rendered with such boldness and precision, der. When the reviewers of books the hardy and tender touches. It depends are sometimes unjust to the writers of upon you alone to separate this heap of them, the writers are frequently over- diamonds from some false stones, or from exacting and eager to complain of ill- setting which is somewhat foreign to our treatment. At times, indeed, there is tongue, and I implore you to do this honor a justification for this, as when the Ed- to our nation and yourself, and to render inburgh Review sneered at Wordsworth such a service to the human intellect. I and Goethe, the Quarterly regarded do not make a point of your accepting my Keats as an impostor, and Blackwood criticisms ; but I submit them to your
reason and your taste, and I put on one vainly tried to extinguish Tennyson. side the self-esteem of our tribunal. I am Happily for himself, Vauvenargues had most impatient to embrace you. Fine mind Voltaire on his side, and his verdict and fine genius, farewell ! was worth more and was valued higher than the combined verdicts of the crit
Following Voltaire's advice, Vauveical journals. He received the follow- nargues set himself to prepare a new
edition of his book, in which he coring letter from Voltaire a few days after his book appeareil :
rected many faults of style, and from
which he omitted much which had I have called upon you several times to been pronounced to be of little value. thank you for giving to the public thoughts The editors of his works have restored which are above it. ... It is now a year the passages which he cancelled and since I said you were a great man, and you wished to be excluded. Thus it is that bave revealed my secret. I have not yet the author who labors to give a masterread more than two-thirds of your book, piece to the world is checkmated by and I am about to devour the third part.
posthumous and injudicious admirers. I have carried it far off, but I shall return immediately to embrace the author, to say They labor to display the seamy side of how much I love him, and with what de
his productions, without reflecting low light I associated myself with the greatness much they detract, in so doing, from of his mind and the sublimity of his reflec- the effect of the whole. tions, as well as the humanity of his char. While patiently, laboring for poster
ity, Vauvenargues underwent increas- his incapacity for serving in the army ing physical hardships. He apologized when the Imperial troops attacked to a friend for using a wafer instead of France avd desolated his native Prosealing-wax on the ground that he vence. He wrote offering to serve could not afford to buy wax. His few again, and he hoped, in an interval of acquaintances were impressed with the pain and weakness, that the offer would spectacle, but it does not appear that not be made in vain ; but he had the they did anything to relieve his suffer- cruel mortification to find that his ings. Marmontel has recorded that no power was inferior to his desire. He man in the world had more attractions continued to write so long as he could for him thau the good, the virtuous, hold a pen, and one of the last passages and the wise Vauvenargues :
which he produced has the special in
terest of a personal confession. DeNature had treated him hardly as garded his body, but his mind was one of picting Clazoméne, he limned his own her rarest masterpieces. I looked upon
portrait : him as a sick and suffering Fénelon. He Clazoméne has experienced all mortal was very cordial to me, and I easily ob- miseries. He has been affected with malatained permission to visit him. I could dies from infancy, and deprived in life's have made a fine book out of his conversa- springtime of all the pleasures of youth. tion if I had noted it down.
Born to bear secret sorrows, he was proud
and ambitious in his poverty; when in The writer whose pen had charmed disgrace, he was misunderstood by those Voltaire, whose contributions to the whom he loved; his courage was weakened literature of his country were destined by outrages, and he was insulted by those to be numbered among its treasures, upon whom he could not revenge himself. spent the last months of his life in a The hardness of his lot was not lessened state of extreme want. If he did not by his talents, his assiduous application, die by his own hand, like Chatterton,
his endeavor to act rightly, his attachment
to friends. Even his wisdom could not he had as great an excuse as he had for
hinder him from committing irreparable ending his days. They were cut short
he suffered undeserved pain, which by consumption, which set in when the his imprudence had occasioned. When wounds in his frost-bitten limbs re- fate seemed tired of pursuing him, when opened. He could not afford anything laggard hope began to assuage his suffering, more than the simplest fare at a time death appeared and surprised him when his when his failing appetite required to be affairs were in the utmost disorder, and he pampered, nor could be enjoy the com- has had the bitter sorrow of not leaving fort of a well-lit and well-warmed room enough to pay his debts and of being unwhen his eyesight grew dimmer and able to preserve his virtue from such a
stain. his frame more sensitive to cold. In
Should a reason be sought for so these heart-rending circumstances he
cruel a destiny, I think that it cannot easily
be found. Must a reason be found why still preserved his serenity. “I have clever gamesters are ruined at play while seen the most unfortunate and the others make their fortune, why there are most composed of men,” was the re- years without either spring or autumn, or mark which Voltaire made of him un- why the fruits of the season wither in the der the conditions which have been bud ? Let it not be supposed, however, described, while Marmontel's testi- that Clazoméne would exchange his wretchmony is even more precise : " An un- edness for the prosperity of weak men ; for, utlerable serenity veiled his sufferings though fortune can make a sport of the from the eyes of friendship. ... While wisdom of brave men, yet it cannot succeed his body was falling into decay, his
in bending their determination. mind retained the perfect tranquillity The cruel sufferings of Vauvenargues of a pure spirit. One learned from him ended on the 28th of May, 1747. He how to live and how to die."
died without tasting the glory for which He bitterly regretted, at the mo- he longed. The work which has im. ment of his greatest physical weakness, I mortalized his name long continued the
It is prin
favorite of a chosen few. He de- Among the various subjects treated scended into the grave without exciting by him, the “ Reflections aud Maxims" regret among the public. Yet the life gave the most pleasure to the readers which appeared fruitless had a com- who were also his friends, and they are pensation which few of his contempo- best kuown to readers vow. raries foresaw. His fame arose from cipally on this account that Vauvethe dust in which his body lay. Many nargues is little kuown out of France, of his coinpeers have shown since his where the writer of maxims enjoys a death how much better they could esti- popularity which he cannot hope to atmate and honor merit than the majority tain in another land. of his contemporaries. New editions The French tougue lends itself to of his book appeared ; many of his maxim-making, as the French mind maxims passed into current coin of adapts itself to enjoying scraps of wisspeech. The French Academy con- dom a line long. An ordinary Englishferred the highest honor in its gift man regards a book of maxims much in upon M. Gilbert when he set forth in the same light as a dinner composed of adequate terins what Vauvenargues had made dishes. He openly avows his suffered and accomplished.
preference for solid joints over kickAll that Vauvenargues thought fit to shaws, and he wearies of reading a publish was contained in a volume of series of detached, sparkling maxims moderate size. The manuscripts which because he finds that they excite withhe left behind him. did not fill another out satisfying his appetite. It must be of equal size. Happily for his fame added that French maxims rendered he wrote comparatively little, and his into English are as unlike the originals memory would have been cherished all as French-made dishes, prepared by a the inore cordially if what he sup- good, plain English cook, are unlike pressed had not been reproduced, and the dainty products of a cordon bleu. if that which he prepared for publica- The ingredients may be the same in tion had alone been given to the both cases ; but the touch of the masworld.
ter is wanting. La Rochefoucauld is In a preliminary discourse to his often mentioned by English writers, book he indicates his views and his yet the majority of them seem to think purpose. Having postulated that “thie that he never wrote anything except duties of men brought together in so- the cynical phrase to the effect that ciety constitute morality; the recipro- there is something not displeasing in cal interests of these societies constitute the misfortunes of one's friends. It politics ; their obligations towards God is true that this moralist gave promiconstitute religion,” he proceeds to nence to the darker side of human
nature, and appeared to delight in the Filled with these grand views, I proposed process, and it is undeniable that his to myself, in the first instance, to survey cynicism, like that of Swift, has helped all the qualities of the mind, next all the to keep his memory green. passions, and lastly all the virtues and the jority of men bave a tendency to regard vices which, not being human qualities, the human species as vile, and those could be understood in their origins only. who most emphatically affirm that I turned this plan over in my mind and I every one is deplorably and uniformly laid the foundations of a long task. This wicked do so with the mental reservastudy was cut short by the passions which tion that they are exceptions. are incidental to youth, by constant illness,
Now Vauvenargues did not agree and by the advent of war.
with La Rochefoucauld either in his This is his apology for having accom- opinions or in his manner of giving plished so little, to which he adds the expression to them, and in this respect assurance that he had done his utmost he is original as well as lovable. He in the second edition to rectify the preferred to seek for and give form to shortcomings of the first.
the soul of goodness in things evil,