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Arouet, at first intent on having his son become a priest, now fell back on the law as second choice. The young man was therefore duly articled with a firm of advocates and sent to hear lectures on jurisprudence. But his godfather introduced him into the Society of the Temple, a group of wits, of all ages, who could take snuff and throw off an epigram on any subject. The bright young man, flashing, dashing and daring, made friends at once through his skill in writing scurrilous verse upon any one whose name might be mentioned. This habit had been begun in college, where it was much applauded by the underlings, who delighted to see their unpopular teachers done to a turn. The scribbling habit is a variant of that peculiar propensity which finds form in drawing a portrait on the blackboard before the teacher gets around in the morning. If the teacher does not happen to love art for art’s sake, there may be trouble; but verses are safer, for they circulate secretly and are copied and quoted anonymously.

The thing we do best in life is that which we play at most in youth.

Ridicule was this man’s weapon. For the benefit of the Society of the Temple he paid his respects to the sham piety and politics of Versailles. He had been educated by priests, and his father was a politician feeding at the public trough. The young man knew the faults and foibles of both priest and politician, and his keen wit told truths about the court that were so well expressed the wastebasket did not capture them. One of these effusions was printed, anonymously, of course, but a copy coming into the hands of M. Arouet, the old gentleman recognized the literary style and became alarmed. He must get the young man out of Paris–the Bastile yawned for poets like this!

A brother of the Abbe de Chateauneuf was Ambassador at The Hague, and the great man, being importuned, consented to take the youth as clerk.

Life at The Hague afforded the embryo poet an opportunity to meet many distinguished people.

In Francois there was none of the bourgeois–he associated only with nobility–and as he had an aristocracy of the intellect, which served him quite as well as a peerage, he was everywhere received. In his manner there was nothing apologetic–he took everything as his divine right.

In this brilliant little coterie at The Hague was one Madame Dunoyer, a writer of court gossip and a social promoter of ability, separated from her husband for her husband’s good. Francois crossed swords with her in an encounter of wit, was worsted, but got even by making love to her; and later he made love to her daughter, a beautiful girl of about his own age.

The air became surcharged with gossip. There was danger of an explosion any moment. Madame Dunoyer gave it out that the brilliant subaltern was to marry the girl. The Madame was going to capture the youth, either with her own charms or those of her daughter–or combined. Rumblings were heard on the horizon. The Ambassador, fearing entanglement, bundled young Arouet back to Paris, with a testimonial as to his character, quite unnecessary. A denial without an accusation is equal to a plea of guilty; and that the young man had made the mistake of making violent love to the mother and daughter at the same time there is no doubt. The mother had accused him and he said things back; he even had shown the atrocious bad taste of references in rhyme to the mutual interchange of confidences that the mother and daughter might enjoy. The Ambassador had acted none too soon.

The father was frantic with alarm–the boy had disgraced him, and even his own position seemed to be threatened when some wit adroitly accused the parent of writing the doggerel for his son.

M. Arouet denied it with an oath–while the son refused to explain, or to say anything beyond that he loved his father, thus carrying out the idea that the stupid old notary was really a wit in disguise, masking his intellect by a seeming dulness. No more biting irony was ever put out by Voltaire than this, and the pathos of it lies in the fact that the father was quite unable to appreciate the quip.