As himself an admirer of Newton, Voltaire could not but be charmed to meet him thus surprisingly put into petticoats; nor could a woman so intellectual as madame fail, in her turn, to appreciate the tender attentions of such a genius as M. de Voltaire. Their intimacy became extreme; and finally, in 1733—the husband of the lady behaving like a philosopher and man of fashion of the time, and continuing now and then to visit them—they went off to prosecute it undisturbed at Cirey, an old chateau in Champagne, the property of M. du Chatelet. Here, for the most part, they diligently studied Newton together for the next fifteen years. The arrangement seems to have been on the whole a not unhappy one; but toward the close it became complicated for M. de Voltaire by the advent of another lover, in the person of a Monsieur de Saint-Lambert.
It is not conjectured that this gentleman knew anything of Newton, or was at all such a genius as Voltaire; but it is certain that, on some other ground unexplained, he found favor with Mme. du Chatelet. The philosophy which the husband had been good enough to practice in favor of Voltaire was now required of himself; and after a little unpleasantness he was able to reconcile himself to the inevitable. This curious triangular love-affair—or square, if we include the husband—was not, however, of very Long duration. In 1748 Mme. du Chatelet died in child-bed. Voltaire was overcome with grief; and the touching reproach which, in the first agony of bereavement, he addressed to the culpable M. de Saint-Lambert, a fortunate chance has preserved for us: ‘‘Eh! mon Dieu! Monsieur, de quoi vous avisiez vous de lui faire un enfant.” This, which is now so shocking, illustrates strikingly the morals of a period in which it seemed entirely comme il faut. To Voltaire, his residence in England was fruitful of new knowledge and ideas; in the school of the English deists, Bolingbroke, Collins, Tindal, Wollaston, etc., he found speculations much to his mind; the philosophies of Newton and Locke he studied diligently; and in his subsequent dramas there may be traced a distinct influence from Shakespeare, whom, however, he has expressly vilified as a barbarous monster of a writer, intolerable to any reader with the least tincture of orthodox French gout in him. Not the less the distinction remains with Voltaire of having been the first Frenchman to recognize in some decisive, if grudging and inadequate way, the essential superiority of our great national poet. The intellectual debt thus indicated was not the only one which Voltaire owed to England. While resident there, he published in a revised form his epic poem, the Henriade, a surreptitious edition of which had already appeared in France.
The work was dedicated in English to queen Caroline; the subscription for it was headed by her and other members of the royal family; the rank and fashion of the country could not but follow the illustrious example set them; and for result Voltaire could convey into his pocket the comfortable sum (stated so high as £8,000), which became the basis of his future fortune. From the time of his return to Paris in 1728, he had always on hand some speculation: investments in corn, bacon, or whatever a pretty penny could be turned by, with now and then a fat army-contract, which a friend might have interest to secure for him; and so shrewd in his finance was he, that, owing but little to his hooks, which, despite of their immense popularity, were never a source of great profit to him, his income at his death is ascertained to have netted some £7,000 per annum, a revenue then to he styled princely.
Of Voltaire's literary labors, from this time forward unremitting, the sum of which remains in something like ninety volumes, no detailed account can here be attempted. His was truly a universal genius; he wrote literally everything — encyclopedias, histories, dramas, poems, disquisitions, literary, philosophical, and scientific; novels, for the most part with some doctrinal purpose, of which his famous Candide, or the Optimist, may stand as the type; his literary correspondence was on an unexampled scale; and he was seldom without some fierce polemic on hand, in which his adversaries had to writhe for the amusement of the public, under the scourge of his envenomed wit.
In the gay society of Paris, Voltaire became acquainted with a certain Mme. du Chatelet, who was living apart from her husband, the marquis, though still on polite terms with him. She was assez spirituelle; a most fascinating woman of the world, and in the matter of intellectual accomplishment, the bluest wonder of the period; most especially she was deep in mathematics, and had mastered the mysteries of Newton’s Principia.
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