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Voltaire And Frederick The Great
by [?]

Voltaire, who was an adept in the art of making France too hot to hold him, had gone to Prussia, as a place of rest for his perturbed spirit, and, in response to the repeated invitations of his ardent admirer, Frederick the Great. It was a blunder on both sides. If they had wished to continue friends, they should have kept apart. Frederick was autocratic in his ways and thoughts; Voltaire embodied the spirit of independence in thought and speech. The two men could no more meet without striking fire than flint and steel. Moreover, Voltaire was normally satirical, restless, inclined to vanity and jealousy, and that terrible pen of his could never be brought to respect persons and places. With a martinet like Frederick, the visit was sure to end in a quarrel, despite the admiration of the prince for the poet.

Frederick, though a German king, was French in his love for the Gallic literature, philosophy, and language. He cared little for German literature–there was little of it in his day worth caring for–and always wrote and spoke in French, while French wits and thinkers who could not live in safety in straitlaced Paris, gained the amplest scope for their views in his court. Voltaire found three such emigrants there, Maupertuis, La Mettrie, and D’Arnaud. He was received by them with enthusiasm, as the sovereign of their little court of free thought. Frederick had given him a pension and the post of chamberlain,–an office with very light duties,–and the expatriated poet set himself out to enjoy his new life with zest and animation.

“A hundred and fifty thousand victorious soldiers,” he wrote to Paris, “no attorneys, opera, plays, philosophy, poetry, a hero who is a philosopher and a poet, grandeur and graces, grenadiers and muses, trumpets and violins, Plato’s symposium, society and freedom! Who would believe it? It is all true, however.”

“It is Caesar, it is Marcus Aurelius, it is Julian, it is sometimes Abbe Chaulieu, with whom I sup,” he further wrote; “there is the charm of retirement, there is the freedom of the country, with all those little delights which the lord of a castle who is a king can procure for his very obedient humble servants and guests. My own duties are to do nothing. I enjoy my leisure. I give an hour a day to the King of Prussia to touch up a bit his works in prose and verse; I am his grammarian, not his chamberlain … Never in any place in the world was there more freedom of speech touching the superstitions of men, and never were they treated with more banter and contempt. God is respected, but all they who have cajoled men in His name are treated unsparingly.”

It was, in short, an Eden for a free-thinker; but an Eden with its serpent, and this serpent was the envy, jealousy, and unrestrainable satiric spirit of Voltaire. There was soon trouble between him and his fellow-exiles. He managed to get Arnaud exiled from the country, and gradually a coolness arose between him and Maupertuis, whom Frederick had made president of the Berlin Academy. There were other quarrels and complications, and Voltaire grew disgusted with the occupation of what he slyly called “buck-washing” the king’s French verses,–poor affairs they were. Step by step he was making Berlin as hot as he had made Paris. The new Adam was growing restless in his new Paradise. He wrote to his niece,–

“So it is known by this time in Paris, my dear child, that we have played the ‘Mort de Caesar’ at Potsdam, that Prince Henry is a good actor, has no accent, and is very amiable, and that this is the place for pleasure? All this is true, but–The king’s supper parties are delightful; at them people talk reason, wit, science; freedom prevails thereat; he is the soul of it all; no ill-temper, no clouds, at any rate no storms; my life is free and well occupied,–but–Opera, plays, carousals, suppers at Sans Souci, military manoeuvres, concerts, studies, readings,–but–The city of Berlin, grand, better laid out than Paris; palaces, play-houses, affable queens, charming princesses, maids of honor beautiful and well-made, the mansion of Madame de Tyrconnel always full and sometimes too much so,–but–but–My dear child, the weather is beginning to settle down into a fine frost.”