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by [?]

Ninon was much interested in the new arrival, and going to the house of M. Arouet, took to bed, and sent in haste for the Abbe de Chateauneuf, saying she was in sore trouble. When the good man arrived, he thought it a matter of extreme unction, and was ushered into the room of the alleged invalid. Here he was duly presented with the infant that later was to write the “Philosophical Dictionary.” It was as queer a case of kabojolism as history records.

Doubtless the Abbe was a bit agitated at first, but finally getting his breath, he managed to say, “As there is a vicarious atonement, there must also be, on occasion, vicarious births, and this is one–God be praised.”

The child was then baptized, the good Abbe standing as godfather.

There must be something, after all, in prenatal influences, for as the little Francois grew up he evolved the traits of Ninon de Lenclos and the Abbe much more than those of his father and mother.

When the boy was a little over six years old the mother died. Of her we know absolutely nothing. In her son’s writings he refers to her but once, wherein he has her say that “Boileau was a clever book, but a silly man.”

The education of the youngster seemed largely to have been left to the Abbe, his godfather, who very early taught him to recite the “Mosiad,” a metrical effusion wherein the mistakes of Moses were related in churchly Latin, done first for the divertisement of sundry pious monks in idle hours.

At ten years of age Francois was sent to the College of Louis-le-Grand, a Jesuit school where the minds of youth were molded in things sacred and secular.

In only one thing did the boy really excel, and that was in the matter of making rhymes. The Abbe Chateauneuf had taught him the trick before he could speak plainly, and Ninon had been so pleased with the wee poet that she left him two thousand francs in her will for the purchase of books. As Ninon insisted on living to be ninety, Voltaire discounted the legacy and got it cashed on dedicating a sonnet to the divine Ninon. In this sonnet Voltaire suggests that a life of virtue conduces largely to longevity, as witness the incomparable Ninon de Lenclos, to which sentiment Ninon filed no exceptions.

In one of the school debates young Francois presented his argument in rhyme, and evidently ran in some choice passages from the “Mosiad,” for Father le Jay, according to Condorcet, left his official chair, and rushing down the aisle, grabbed the boy by the collar, and shaking him, said, “Unhappy boy! you will one day be the standard-bearer of deism in France!”–a prophecy, possibly, made after its fulfilment.

Young Francois remained at the college until he was seventeen years old. From letters sent by him while there, it is evident that the chief characteristic of his mind was already a contempt for the clergy. Of two of his colleagues who were preparing for the priesthood, he says, “They had reflected on the dangers of a world of the charms of which they were ignorant; and on the pleasures of a religious life of which they knew not the disagreeableness.” Already we see he was getting handy in polishing a sentence with the emery of his wit. Continuing, he says: “In a quarter of an hour they ran over all the Orders, and each seemed so attractive that they could not decide. In which predicament they might have been left like the ass, which died of starvation between two bundles of hay, not knowing which to choose. However, they decided to leave the matter to Providence, and let the dice decide. So one became a Carmelite and the other a Jesuit.”

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