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Voltaire’s Last Visit To Paris
by [?]

Never had excitable Paris been more excited. Only one man was talked of, only one subject thought of; there was no longer interest in rumors of war, in political quarrels, in the doings at the king’s court; all admiration and all sympathy were turned towards one feeble old man, who had returned to Paris to die. For twenty-seven years he had been absent, that brilliant writer and unsurpassed genius, the versatile Voltaire. His facile pen had given its greatest glory to the reign of Louis XV., yet for more than a quarter of a century he had been exiled from the land he loved, because he dared to exercise the privilege of free speech in that land of oppression, and to deal with kings and nobles as man with man, not as reverent worshipper with divinity. Now, in his eighty-fourth year of age, he had ventured to come back to the city he loved above all others, with scarcely enough life left for the journey, and far from sure that power would not still seek to suppress genius as it had done in the past.

If he had such fears, there was no warrant for them. Paris was ready to worship him. The king himself would not have dared to interfere with the popular idol in that interval of enthusiastic ebullition. All Paris was prepared to cast itself at his feet; all France was eager to do him honor; all calumny, jealousy, hatred were forgotten; a nation had risen to welcome and honor its greatest genius, and the splendors of the court paled before the glory which seemed to emanate from that feeble, tottering veteran of the empire of thought, who had come back to occupy, for a brief period, the throne of his old dominion.

The admiration, the enthusiasm, the glory were too much for him. He was dying in the excitement of joy and triumph. Yet, with his wonderful elasticity of frame and mind, he rose again for a fuller enjoyment of that popular ovation which was to him the wine of life. The story of his final triumph has been so graphically told by an eye-witness that we cannot do better than to quote his words.

“M. de Voltaire has appeared for the first time at the Academy and at the play; he found all the doors, all the approaches, to the Academy besieged by a multitude which only opened slowly to let him pass, and then rushed in immediately upon his footsteps with repeated plaudits and acclamations. The Academy came out into the first room to meet him, an honor it had never yet paid to any of its members, not even to the foreign princes who had deigned to be present at its meetings.

“The homage he received at the Academy was merely the prelude to that which awaited him at the National theatre. As soon as his carriage was seen at a distance, there arose a universal shout of joy. All the curb-stones, all the barriers, all the windows, were crammed with spectators, and scarcely was the carriage stopped when people were already on the imperial and even on the wheels to get a nearer view of the divinity. Scarcely had he entered the house when Sieur Brizard came up with a crown of laurels, which Madame de Villette placed upon the great man’s head, but which he immediately took off, though the public urged him to keep it on by clapping of hands and by cheers which resounded from all parts of the house with such a din as never was heard.

“All the women stood up. I saw at one time that part of the pit which was under the boxes go down on their knees, in despair of getting a sight any other way. The whole house was darkened with the dust raised by the ebb and flow of the excited multitude. It was not without difficulty that the players managed at last to begin the piece. It was ‘Irene,’ which was given for the sixth time. Never had this tragedy been better played, never less listened to, never more applauded. The illustrious old man rose to thank the public, and, a moment afterwards, there appeared on a pedestal in the middle of the stage a bust of this great man, and the actresses, garlands and crowns in hand, covered it with laurels.