Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


If Suetonius could be confronted with the valets-de-chambre of the twelve Cæsars, think you that they would in every instance corroborate his testimony? And in case of dispute, who would not back the valets-de-chambre against the historian?

In our own times, how many books are founded on nothing more than the talk of the town? — just as the science of physics was founded on chimeras which have been repeated from age to age to the present time. Those who take the trouble of noting down at night what they have heard in the day, should, like St. Augustine, write a book of retractions at the end of the year.

Some one related to the grand-audiencier l’Étoile that Henry IV., hunting near Creteil, went alone into an inn where some Parisian lawyers were dining in an upper room. The king, without making himself known, sent the hostess to ask them if they would admit him at their table or sell him a part of their dinner. They sent him for answer that they had private business to talk of and had but a short dinner; they therefore begged that the stranger would excuse them.

Henry called his guards and had the guests outrageously beaten, to teach them, says de l’Étoile, to show more courtesy to gentlemen. Some authors of the present day, who have taken upon them to write the life of Henry IV., copy this anecdote from de l’Étoile without examination, and, which is worse, fail not to praise it as a fine action in Henry. The thing is, however, neither true nor likely; and were it true, Henry would have been guilty of an act at once the most ridiculous, the most cowardly, the most tyrannical, and the most imprudent.

First, it is not likely that, in 1502, Henry IV., whose physiognomy was so remarkable, and who showed himself to everybody with so much affability, was unknown at Creteil near Paris. Secondly, de l’Étoile, far from verifying his impertinent story, says he had it from a man who had it from M. de Vitri; so that it is nothing more than an idle rumor. Thirdly, it would have been cowardly and hateful to inflict a shameful punishment on citizens assembled together on business, who certainly committed no crime in refusing to share their dinner with a stranger (and, it must be admitted, with an indiscreet one) who could easily find something to eat in the same house. Fourthly, this action, so tyrannical, so unworthy not only of a king but of a man, so liable to punishment by the laws of every country, would have been as imprudent as ridiculous and criminal; it would have drawn upon Henry IV. the execrations of the whole commonalty of Paris, whose good opinion was then of so much importance to him.

History, then, should not have been disfigured by so stupid a story, nor should the character of Henry IV. have been dishonored by so impertinent an anecdote.

In a book entitled “Anecdotes Littéraires,” printed by Durand in 1752, avec privilége, there appears the following passage (vol. iii, page 183): “The Amours of Louis XIV., having been dramatized in England, that prince wished to have those of King William performed in France. The Abbé Brueys was directed by M. de Torcy to compose the piece; but though applauded, it was never played, for the subject of it died in the meantime.”

There are almost as many absurd lies as there are words in these few lines. The Amours of Louis XIV. were never played on the London stage. Louis XIV. never lowered himself so far as to order a farce to be written on the amours of King William. King William never had a mistress; no one accused him of weakness of that sort. The Marquis de Torcy never spoke to the Abbé Brueys; he was incapable of making to the abbé, or any one else, so indiscreet and childish a proposal. The Abbé Brueys never wrote the piece in question. So much for the faith to be placed in anecdotes.

The same book says that “Louis XIV. was so much pleased with the opera of Isis that he ordered a decree to be passed in council by which men of rank were permitted to sing at the opera, and receive a salary for so doing, without demeaning themselves. This decree was registered in the Parliament of Paris.”

No such declaration was ever registered in the Parliament of Paris. It is true that Lulli obtained in 1672, long before the opera of Isis was performed, letters permitting him to establish his opera, in which letters he got it inserted that “ladies and gentlemen might sing in this theatre without degradation.” But no declaration was ever registered.

Of all the anas, that which deserves to stand foremost in the ranks of printed falsehood is the Segraisiana: It was compiled by the amanuensis of Segrais, one of his domestics, and was printed long after the master’s death. The Menagiana, revised by La Monnoye, is the only one that contains anything instructive. Nothing is more common than to find in our new miscellanies old bons mots attributed to our contemporaries, or inscriptions and epigrams written on certain princes, applied to others.

We are told in the “Histoire Philosophique et Politique du Commerce dans les deux Indes” (the Philosophical and Political History of the Commerce of the two Indies), that the Dutch, having driven the Portuguese from Malacca, the Dutch captain asked the Portuguese commander when he should return; to which he replied: “When your sins are greater than ours.” This answer had before been attributed to an Englishman in the time of Charles VII. of France, and before them to a Saracen emir in Sicily; after all, it is the answer rather of a Capuchin than of a politician; it was not because the French were greater sinners than the English that the latter deprived them of Canada.

The author of this same history relates, in a serious manner, a little story invented by Steele, and inserted in the Spectator; and would make it pass for one of the real causes of war between the English and the savages. The tale which Steele opposes to the much pleasanter story of the widow of Ephesus, is as follows and is designed to prove that men are not more constant than women; but in Petronius the Ephesian matron exhibits only an amusing and pardonable weakness; while the merchant Inkle, in the Spectator, is guilty of the most frightful ingratitude: “This young traveller Inkle is on the point of being taken by the Caribbees on the continent of America, without it being said at what place or on what occasion. Yarico, a pretty Caribbee, saves his life, and at length flies with him to Barbadoes. As soon as they arrive, Inkle goes and sells his benefactress in the slave market. ‘Ungrateful and barbarous man!’ says Yarico, ‘wilt thou sell me, when I am with child by thee?’ ‘With child!’ replied the English merchant, ‘so much the better; I shall get more for thee!’ ” And this is given us as a true story and as the origin of a long war.

The speech of a woman of Boston to her judges, who condemned her to the house of correction for the fifth time for having brought to bed a fifth child, was a pleasantry of the illustrious Franklin; yet it is related in the same work as an authentic occurrence. How many tales have embellished and disfigured every history?

An author, who has thought more correctly than he has quoted, asserts that the following epitaph was made for Cromwell:

Ci-gît le destructeur d’un pouvoir légitime,

Jusqu’ à son dernier jour favorisé des cieux,

Dont les vertus méritaient mieux

Que le sceptre acquis par un crime.

Par quel destin faut-il, par quel étrange loi

Qu’ à tous ceux qui sont nés pour porter la couronne

Ce soit l’ Usurpateur qui donne

L’ exemple des vertus que doit avoir un Roi?

Here lies the man who trod on rightful power,

Favored by heaven to his latest hour;

Whose virtues merited a nobler fate

Than that of ruling criminally great.

What wondrous destiny can so ordain,

That among all whose fortune is to reign,

The usurper only to his sceptre brings

The virtues vainly sought in lawful kings.

These verses were never made for Cromwell, but for King William. They are not an epitaph, but were written under a portrait of that monarch. Instead of Ci-gît (Here lies) it was:

Tel fut le destructeur d’un pouvoir légitime.

Such was the man who trod on rightful power.

No one in France was ever so stupid as to say that Cromwell had ever set an example of virtue. It is granted that he had valor and genius; but the title of virtuous was not his due. A thousand stories — a thousand facetiæ — have been travelling about the world for the last thirty centuries. Our books are stuffed with maxims which come forth as new, but are to be found in Plutarch, in Athenæus, in Seneca, in Plautus, in all the ancients.

These are only mistakes, as innocent as they are common; but wilful falsehoods — historical lies which attack the glory of princes and the reputation of private individuals — are serious offences. Of all the books that are swelled with false anecdotes, that in which the most absurd and impudent lies are crowded together, is the pretended “Mémoires de Madame de Maintenon.” The foundation of it was true: the author had several of that lady’s letters, which had been communicated to him by a person of consequence at St. Cyr; but this small quantity of truth is lost in a romance of seven volumes.

In this work the author shows us Louis XIV. supplanted by one of his valets-de-chambre. It supposes letters from Mdlle. Mancini (afterwards Madame Colonne) to Louis XIV., in one of which he makes this niece of Cardinal Mazarin say to the king: “You obey a priest — you are unworthy of me if you submit to serve another. I love you as I love the light of heaven, but I love your glory still better.” Most certainly the author had not the original of this letter.

“Mdlle. de la Vallière,” he says, in another place, “had thrown herself on a sofa in a light dishabille, her thoughts employed on her lover. Often did the dawn of day find her still seated in a chair, her arm resting on a table, her eye fixed, her soul constantly attached to the same object, in the ecstasy of love. The king alone occupied her mind; perhaps at that moment she was inwardly complaining of the vigilance of the spies of Henriette, or the severity of the queen-mother. A slight noise aroused her from her reverie — she shrunk back with surprise and dread; Louis was at her feet — she would have fled — he stopped her; she threatened — he pacified; she wept — he wiped away her tears.” Such a description would not now be tolerated in one of our most insipid novels.

Du Haillan asserts, in one of his small works, that Charles VIII. was not the son of Louis XI. This would account for Louis having neglected his education and always keeping him at a distance. Charles VIII. did not resemble Louis XI. either in body or in mind; but dissimilarity between fathers and their children is still less a proof of illegitimacy than resemblance is a proof of the contrary. That Louis XI. hated Charles VIII. brings us to no conclusion; so bad a son might well be a bad father. Though ten Du Haillans should tell me that Charles VIII. sprung from some other than Louis XI., I should not believe him implicitly. I think a prudent reader should pronounce as the judges do — Pater est is quem nuptiæ demonstrant.

Did Charles V. intrigue with his sister Margaret, who governed the Low Countries? Was it by her that he had Don John of Austria, the intrepid brother of the prudent Philip II.? We have no more proof of this than we have of the secrets of Charlemagne’s bed, who is said to have made free with all his daughters. If the Holy Scriptures did not assure me that Lot’s daughters had children by their own father, and Tamar by her father-in-law, I should hesitate to accuse them of it; one cannot be too discreet.

It has been written that the Duchess de Montpensier bestowed her favors on the monk Jacques Clement, in order to encourage him to assassinate his sovereign. It would have been more politic to have promised them than to have given them. But a fanatical or parricide priest is not incited in this way; heaven is held out to him, and not a woman. His Prior Bourgoing had much greater power in determining him to any act than the greatest beauty upon earth. When he killed the king he had in his pocket no love-letters, but the stories of Judith and Ehud, quite dog-eared and worn out with thumbing.

Jean Châtel and Ravaillac had no accomplices; their crime was that of the age; their only accomplice was the cry of religion. It has been repeatedly asserted that Ravaillac had taken a journey to Naples and that the Jesuit Alagona had, in Naples, predicted the death of the king. The Jesuits never were prophets; had they been so, they would have foretold their own destination; but, on the contrary, they, poor men, always positively declared that they should endure to the end of time. We should never be too sure of anything.

It is in vain that the Jesuit Daniel tells me, in his very dry and very defective “History of France,” that Henry IV. was a Catholic long before his abjuration. I will rather believe Henry IV. himself than the Jesuit Daniel. His letter to La Belle Gabrielle: “C’est demain que je fais le saut périlleux” (To-morrow I take the fatal leap) proves, at least, that something different from Catholicism was still in his heart. Had his great soul been long penetrated by the efficacy of grace, he would perhaps have said to his mistress: “These bishops edify me;” but he says: “Ces genslà m’ennuient.” (These people weary me.) Are these the words of a great catechumen?

This great man’s letters to Corisande d’Andouin, Countess of Grammont, are not a matter of doubt; they still exist in the originals. The author of the “Essai sur les Mœurs et l’Esprit des Nations” (Essay on the Manners and Spirit of Nations) gives several of these interesting letters, in which there are the following curious passages: “Tous ces empoisonneurs sont tous Papistes. J’ai découvert un tueur pour moi. Les prêcheurs Romains prêchent touthaut qu’il n’y a plus qu’une mort à voir; ils admonestent tout bon Catholique de prendre exemple. — Et vous êtes de cette religion! Si je n’étais Huguenot, je me ferais Turc.” [These poisoners are all Papists. I have discovered an executioner for myself. The Roman preachers exclaim aloud that there is only one more death to be looked for; they admonish all good Catholics to profit by the example (of the poisoning of the prince of Condé). — And you are of this religion! If I were not a Huguenot, I would turn Turk.] It is difficult, after seeing these testimonials in Henry IV.’s own hand, to become firmly persuaded that he was a Catholic in his heart.

Another modern historian accuses the duke of Lerma of the murder of Henry IV. “This,” says he, “is the best established opinion.” This opinion is evidently the worst established. It has never been heard of in Spain; and in France, the continuator of de Thou is the only one who has given any credit to these vague and ridiculous suspicions. If the duke of Lerma, prime minister, employed Ravaillac, he paid him very ill; for when the unfortunate man was seized, he was almost without money. If the duke of Lerma either prompted him or caused him to be prompted to the commission of the act, by the promise of a reward proportioned to the attempt, Ravaillac would assuredly have named both him and his emissaries, if only to revenge himself. He named the Jesuit d’Aubigny, to whom he had only shown a knife — why, then, should he spare the duke of Lerma? It is very strange obstinacy not to believe what Ravaillac himself declared when put to the torture. Is a great Spanish family to be insulted without the least shadow of proof?

Et voilà justement comme on ècrit l’histoire. (Yet this is how history is written.) The Spanish nation is not accustomed to resort to shameful crimes; and the Spanish grandees have always possessed a generous pride which has prevented them from acting so basely. If Philip II. set a price on the head of the prince of Orange, he had, at least, the pretext of punishing a rebellious subject, as the Parliament of Paris had when they set fifty thousand crowns on the head of Admiral Coligni, and afterwards on that of Cardinal Mazarin. These political proscriptions partook of the horror of the civil wars; but how can it be supposed that the duke of Lerma had secret communications with a poor wretch like Ravaillac?

The same author says that Marshal D’Ancre and his wife were struck, as it were, by a thunderbolt. The truth is, that the one was struck by pistol-balls, and the other burned as a witch. An assassination and a sentence of death passed on the wife of a marshal of France, an attendant on the queen, as a reputed sorceress, do very little honor either to the chivalry or to the jurisprudence of that day. But I know not why the historian makes use of these words: “If these two wretches were not accomplices in the king’s death, they at least deserved the most rigorous chastisement; it is certain that, even during the king’s life, Concini and his wife had connections with Spain in opposition to the king’s designs.”

This is not at all certain, nor is it even likely. They were Florentines. The grand duke of Florence was the first to acknowledge Henry IV., and feared nothing so much as the power of Spain in Italy. Concini and his wife had no influence in the time of Henry IV. If they intrigued with the court of Madrid it could only be through the queen, who must, therefore, have betrayed her husband. Besides, let it once more be observed that we are not at liberty to bring forward such accusations without proofs. What! shall a writer pronounce a defamation from his garret, which the most enlightened judges in the kingdom would tremble to hear in a court of justice? Why are a marshal of France and his wife, one of the queen’s attendants, to be called two wretches? Does Marshal d’Ancre, who raised an army against the rebels at his own expense, merit an epithet suitable only to Ravaillac or Cartouche — to public robbers, or public calumniators?

It is but too true that one fanatic is sufficient for the commission of a parricide, without any accomplice. Damiens had none; he repeated four times, in the course of his interrogatory, that he committed his crime solely through a principle of religion. Having been in the way of knowing the convulsionaries, I may say that I have seen twenty of them capable of any act equally horrid, so excessive has been their infatuation. Religion, ill-understood, is a fever which the smallest occurrence raises to frenzy. It is the property of fanaticism to heat the imagination. When a few sparks from the fire that keeps their superstitious heads a-boiling, fall on some violent and wicked spirit — when some ignorant and furious man thinks he is imitating Phineas, Ehud, Judith, and other such personages, he has more accomplices than he is aware of. Many incite to murder without knowing it. Some persons drop a few indiscreet and violent words; a servant repeats them, with additions and embellishments; a Châtel, a Ravaillac, or a Damiens listens to them, while they who pronounced them little think what mischief they have done; they are involuntary accomplices, without there having been either plot or instigation. In short, he knows little of the human mind who does not know that fanaticism renders the populace capable of anything.

The author of the “Siècle de Louis XIV” (“Age of Louis the Fourteenth”) is the first who has spoken of the Man in the Iron Mask in any authentic history. He was well acquainted with this circumstance, which is the astonishment of the present age, and will be that of posterity, but which is only too true. He had been deceived respecting the time of the death of this unknown and singularly unfortunate person, who was interred at the church of St. Paul March 3, 1703, and not in 1704.

He was first confined at Pignerol, before he was sent to the Isles of Ste. Marguerite, and afterwards to the Bastille, always under the care of the same man, that St. Marc, who saw him die. Father Griffet, a Jesuit, has communicated to the public the journal of the Bastille, which certifies the dates. He had no difficulty in obtaining this journal, since he exercised the delicate office of confessor to the prisoners confined in the Bastille.

The Man in the Iron Mask is an enigma which each one attempts to solve. Some have said that he was the duke of Beaufort, but the duke of Beaufort was killed by the Turks in the defence of Candia, in 1669, and the Man in the Iron Mask was at Pignerol in 1672. Besides, how should the duke of Beaufort have been arrested in the midst of his army? How could he have been transferred to France without some one’s knowing something about it? and why should he have been imprisoned? and why masked?

Others have imagined that he was Count Vermandois, natural son to Louis XIV., who, it is well known, died of smallpox when with the army, in 1683, and was buried in the town of Arras.

It has since been supposed that the duke of Monmouth, who was publicly beheaded by order of King James, in 1685, was the Man in the Iron Mask. But either the duke must have come to life again, and afterwards changed the order of time, putting the year 1662 for the year 1685, or King James, who never pardoned any one, and therefore merited all his misfortunes, must have pardoned the duke of Monmouth, and put to death in his stead some one who perfectly resembled him. In the latter case, a person must have been found kind enough to have his head publicly cut off to save the duke of Monmouth. All England must have been deceived in the person; then King James must have begged of Louis XIV. that he would be so good as to become his jailer. Louis XIV., having granted King James this small favor, could not have refused to show the same regard for King William and Queen Anne, with whom he was at war; but would have been careful to maintain the dignity of jailer — with which King James had honored him — to the end of the chapter.

All these illusions being dissipated, it remains to be known who this constantly-masked prisoner was, at what age he died, and under what name he was buried. It is clear that, if he was not permitted to walk in the court of the Bastille, nor to see his physician — except in a mask — it was for fear that some very striking resemblance would be discovered in his features. He was permitted to show his tongue, but never his face. As for his age, he himself told the apothecary of the Bastille, a little before his death, that he believed he was about sixty. The apothecary’s son-in-law, Marsolam, surgeon to Marshal de Richelieu, and afterwards to the duke of Orleans the regent, has repeated this to me several times. To conclude: Why was an Italian name given to him? He was always called Marchiali. The writer of this article, perhaps, knows more on the subject than Father Griffet, though he will not say more.

It is true that Nicholas Fouquet, superintendent of the finances, had many friends in his disgrace, and that they persevered even until judgment was passed on him. It is true that the chancellor, who presided at that judgment, treated the illustrious captive with too much rigor. But it was not Michel Letellier, as stated in some editions of the “Siècle de Louis XIV.;” it was Pierre Seguier. This inadvertency of having placed one for the other is a fault which must be corrected.

It is very remarkable that no one knows where this celebrated minister died. Not that it is of any importance to know it, for his death not having led to any event whatever, is like all other indifferent occurrences; but this serves to prove how completely he was forgotten towards the close of life, how worthless that worldly consideration is which is so anxiously sought for, and how happy they are who have no higher ambition than to live and die unknown. This knowledge is far more useful than that of dates.

Father Griffet does his utmost to persuade us that Cardinal Richelieu wrote a bad book. Well, many statesmen have done the same. But it is very fine to see him strive so hard to prove that, according to Cardinal Richelieu, “our allies, the Spaniards,” so happily governed by a Bourbon, “are tributary to hell, and make the Indies tributary to hell!” Cardinal Richelieu’s “Political Testament” is not that of a polite man. He alleges:

That France had more good ports on the Mediterranean than the whole Spanish monarchy (this is an exaggeration); that to keep up an army of fifty thousand men it is best to raise a hundred thousand (this throws money away); that when a new tax is imposed the pay of the soldiers is increased (which has never been done either in France or elsewhere); that the parliaments and other superior courts should be made to pay the taille (an infallible means of gaining their hearts and making the magistracy respectable); that the noblesse should be forced to serve and to enroll themselves in the cavalry (the better to preserve their privileges); that Genoa was the richest city in Italy (which I wish it were); that we must be very chaste (the testator might add — like certain preachers —“Do what I say, not what I do”); that an abbey should be given to the holy chapel at Paris (a thing of great importance at the crisis in which your friend stood); that Pope Benedict XI. gave a great deal of trouble to the cordeliers, who were piqued on the subject of poverty (that is to say, the revenues of the order of St. Francis); that they were exasperated against him to such a degree that they made war upon him by their writings (more important still and more learned! — especially when John XXII. is taken for Benedict XI. and when in a “Political Testament” nothing is said of the manner in which the war against Spain and the empire was to be conducted, nor of the means of making peace, nor of present dangers, nor of resources, nor of alliances, nor of the generals and ministers who were to be employed, nor even of the dauphin, whose education was of so much importance to the State, nor, in short, of any one object of the ministry).

I consent with all my heart, since it must be so, that Cardinal Richelieu’s memory shall be reproached with this unfortunate work, full of anachronisms, ignorance, ridiculous calculations, and acknowledged falsities. Let people strive as hard as they please to persuade themselves that the greatest minister was the most ignorant and tedious, as well as the most extravagant of writers; it may afford some gratification to those who detest his tyranny. It is also a fact worth preserving in the history of the human mind that this despicable work was praised for more than thirty years, while it was believed to be that great minister’s, and quite as true that the pretended “Testament” made no noise in the world until thirty years after the Cardinal’s death; that it was not printed until forty-two years after that event; that the original, signed by him, has never been seen; that the book is very bad; and that it scarcely deserves to be mentioned.

Did Count de Moret, son of Henry IV., who was wounded in the little skirmish at Castelnaudari, live until the year 1693 under the name of the hermit Jean Baptiste? What proof have we that this hermit was the son of Henry IV.? None.

Did Jeanne d’Albret de Navarre, mother of Henry IV., after the death of Antoine, marry a gentleman named Guyon, who was killed in the massacre of St. Bartholomew? Had she a son by him, who preached at Bordeaux? These facts are detailed at great length in the “Remarks on Bayle’s Answers to the Questions of a Provincial,” folio, page 689. Was Margaret of Valois, wife to Henry IV., brought to bed of two children secretly after her marriage?

We might fill volumes with inquiries like these. But how much pains should we be taking to discover things of no use to mankind! Let us rather seek cures for the scrofula, the gout, the stone, the gravel, and a thousand other chronic or acute diseases. Let us seek remedies for the distempers of the mind, no less terrible and no less mortal. Let us labor to bring the arts to perfection, and to lessen the miseries of the human race; and let us not waste our time over the anas, the anecdotes, and curious stories of our day, the collections of pretended bons mots, etc.

I read in a book lately published that Louis XIV. exempted all new-married men from the taille for five years. I have not found this fact in any collection of edicts, nor in any memoir of that time. I read in the same book that the king of Prussia has fifty livres given to every girl with child. There is, in truth, no better way of laying out money, nor of encouraging propagation, but I do not believe that this royal munificence is true; at least I have never witnessed it.

An anecdote of greater antiquity has just fallen under my eye, and appears to me to be a very strange one. It is said in a chronological history of Italy that the great Arian, Theodoric — he who is represented to have been so wise — had amongst his ministers a Catholic, for whom he had a great liking, and who proved worthy of all his confidence. This minister thought he should rise still higher in his master’s favor by embracing Arianism; but Theodoric had him immediately beheaded, saying: “If a man is not faithful to God, how can he be faithful to me, who am but a man?” The compiler remarks that “this trait does great honor to Theodoric’s manner of thinking with respect to religion.”

I pique myself on thinking, in matters of religion, better than Ostrogoth, Theodoric, the assassin of Symmachus, and Boëtius, because I am a good Catholic, and he was an Arian. But I declare this king worthy of being confined as a madman if he were so atrociously besotted. What! he immediately cut off his minister’s head because that minister had at last come over to his own way of thinking. How was a worshipper of God, who passed from the opinion of Athanasius to that of Arius and Eusebius, unfaithful to God? He was at most unfaithful only to Athanasius and his party, at a time when the world was divided between the Athanasians and the Eusebians; but Theodoric could not regard him as a man unfaithful to God, because he had rejected the term consubstantial, after admitting it at first. To cut off his favorite’s head for such a reason could certainly be the act of none but the wickedest fool and most barbarous blockhead that ever existed. What would you say of Louis XIV. if he had beheaded the duke de la Force because the duke de la Force had quitted Calvinism for the religion of Louis XIV.?

I have just opened a history of Holland, in which I find that, in 1672, Marshal de Luxembourg harangued his troops in the following manner: “Go, my children, plunder, rob, kill, ravish; and if there be anything more abominable fail not to do it, that I may find I have not been mistaken in selecting you as the bravest of men.” This is certainly a very pretty harangue. It is as true as those given us by Livy, but it is not in his style. To complete the dishonor of typography, this fine piece is inserted in several new dictionaries, which are no other than impostures in alphabetical order.

It is a trifling error in the “Abrégé Chronologique de l’Histoire de France” (“Chronological Abridgment of the History of France”) to suppose that Louis XIV., after the Peace of Utrecht, for which he was indebted to the English, after nine years of misfortune, and after the many great victories which the English had gained, said to the English ambassador: “I have always been master at home, and sometimes abroad; do not remind me of it.” This speech would have been very ill-timed, very false as it regarded the English, and would have exposed the king to a most galling reply.

The author himself confessed to me that the Marquis de Torcy, who was present at all the earl of Stair’s audiences, had always given the lie to this anecdote. It is assuredly neither true nor likely, and has remained in the later editions of this book only because it was put in the first. This error, however, does not at all disparage this very useful work, in which all the great events, arranged in the most convenient order, are perfectly authenticated.

All these little tales, designed to embellish history, do but dishonor it, and unfortunately almost all ancient histories are little else than tales. Malebranche was right when, speaking on this subject, he said: “I think no more of history than I do of the news of my parish.”

In 1723, Father Fouquet, a Jesuit, returned to France from China, where he had passed twentyfive years. Religious disputes had embroiled him with his brethren. He had carried with him to China a gospel different from theirs, and now brought back to France memorials against them. Two Chinese literati made the voyage with him; one of them died on the way, the other came with Father Fouquet to Paris. The Jesuit was to take the Chinese to Rome secretly, as a witness of the conduct of the good fathers in China, and in the meantime Fouquet and his companion lodged at the house of the Professed, Rue St. Antoine.

The reverend fathers received advice of their reverend brother’s intentions. Fouquet was no less quickly informed of the designs of the reverend fathers. He lost not a moment, but set off the same night for Rome. The reverend fathers had interest enough to get him pursued, but the Chinese only was taken. This poor fellow did not understand a word of French. The good fathers went to Cardinal Dubois, who at that time needed their support, and told him that they had among them a young man who had gone mad, and whom it was necessary to confine. The cardinal immediately granted a lettre de cachet, than which there is sometimes nothing which a minister is more ready to grant. The lieutenant of police went to take this madman, who was pointed out to him. He found a man making reverences in a way different from the French, speaking in a singing tone, and looking quite astonished. He expressed great pity for his derangement, ordered his hands to be tied behind him, and sent him to Charenton, where, like the Abbé Desfontaines, he was flogged twice a week. The Chinese did not at all understand this method of receiving strangers. He had passed only two or three days in Paris, and had found the manners of the French very odd. He had lived two years on bread and water, amongst madmen and keepers, and believed that the French nation consisted of these two species, the one part dancing while the other flogged them.

At length, when two years had elapsed, the ministry changed and a new lieutenant of police was appointed. This magistrate commenced his administration by visiting the prisons. He also saw the lunatics at Charenton. After conversing with them he asked if there were no other persons for him to see. He was told that there was one more unfortunate man, but that he spoke a language which nobody understood. A Jesuit, who accompanied the magistrate, said it was the peculiarity of this man’s madness that he never gave an answer in French; nothing would be gotten from him, and he thought it would be better not to take the trouble of calling him. The minister insisted. The unfortunate man was brought, and threw himself at his feet. The lieutenant sent for the king’s interpreters, who spoke to him in Spanish, Latin, Greek, and English, but he constantly said Kanton, Kanton, and nothing else. The Jesuit assured them he was possessed. The magistrate, having at some time heard it said that there was a province in China called Kanton, thought this man might perhaps have come from thence. An interpreter to the foreign missions was sent for, who could murder Chinese. All was discovered. The magistrate knew not what to do, nor the Jesuit what to say. The Duke de Bourbon was then prime minister. The circumstance having been related to him, he ordered money and clothes to be given to the Chinese, and sent him back to his own country, whence it is not thought that many literati will come and see us in the future. It would have been more politic to have kept this man and treated him well, than to have sent him to give his countrymen the very worst opinion of the French.

About thirty years ago the French Jesuits sent secret missionaries to China, who enticed a child from his parents in Canton, and brought him to Paris, where they educated him in their convent of La Rue St. Antoine. This boy became a Jesuit at the age of fifteen, after which he remained ten years in France. He knows both French and Chinese perfectly, and is very learned. M. Bertin, comptroller-general, and afterwards secretary of state, sent him back to China in 1763, after the abolition of the Jesuits. He calls himself Ko, and signs himself Ko, Jesuit.

In 1772 there were fourteen Jesuits in Pekin, amongst whom was Brother Ko, who still lives in their house. The Emperor Kien-Long has kept these monks of Europe about him in the positions of painters, engravers, watch-makers, and mechanics, with an express prohibition from ever disputing on religion, or causing the least trouble in the empire.

The Jesuit Ko has sent manuscripts of his own composition from Pekin to Paris entitled: “Memoirs Relative to the History, Arts and Sciences of the Chinese by the Missionaries at Pekin.” This book is printed, and is now selling at Paris by Nyon, the bookseller. The author attacks all the philosophers of Europe. He calls a prince of the Tartar race, whom the Jesuits had seduced, and the late emperor, Yong-Chin, had banished, an illustrious martyr to Jesus Christ. This Ko boasts of making many neophytes, who are ardent spirits, capable of troubling China even more than the Jesuits formerly troubled Japan. It is said that a Russian nobleman, indignant at this Jesuitical insolence, which reaches the farthest corners of the earth even after the extinction of the order — has resolved to find some means of sending to the president of the tribunal of rites at Pekin an extract in Chinese from these memoirs, which may serve to make the aforesaid Ko, and the Jesuits who labor with him, better known.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01