He was chosen by the duke de Richelieu to negotiate with the king of Prussia in reference to a treaty. He was honored in the highest degree by Frederic—was feted, praised, and made as much of as if he had been a king. He succeeded in his negotiations, manifesting great subtlety and tact. He returned to the house of Madame du Chatelet. For a time he lived either here or at Paris—until Madame du Chatelet died, when he went to Paris to spend all his time. He was deeply affected by the death of the only woman he ever loved with sincerity. He propitiated the mistress of Louis XV.—Madame Pompadour—and was appointed to a place in the court; and was also made historiographer of France. Soon after, he was elected a member of the Academy, thus triumphing over his old enemies at last. For a time he sacrificed his manly independence, and was not unlike any other court flatterer. He had a rival in Crebillon; and disgusted with the state of things, he accepted the invitation of Frederic, and made him a visit. He was received with the greatest joy by the monarch—who even kissed the poet’s hand in a transport of admiration.
The king’s cook awaited his orders when he wished to eat in his own rooms, and the king’s coach was ready for him when he would ride. He spent two hours each day in studying with the king, correcting his works, etc. etc. He was tempted by so much attention to accept of the king a pension and the office of chamberlain; and was obliged to resign his places at the French court. He wrote to a friend in France:
“How can I forget
the barbarous manner with which I have been
treated in my own country? You know what I have gone through.
I enter port after a storm that has lasted thirty years.”
He had a salary of twenty thousand francs for himself, and four thousand for his niece, who bitterly opposed the acceptance of Frederick’s offer. She prophesied that in the end it would be his death. He went at work correcting his tragedies and writing new plays. He soon thought he discovered deceit in the king, and learned that he was despotic. The keen remarks of each were treasured up. Voltaire heard from a friend that the king had said of him: “I shall not want him more than a year longer—one squeezes the orange and throws away the peel.”
The remark caused him much sorrow. The king also treasured up a remark sarcastically made by Voltaire, which was as follows: “When I correct the royal poems I am washing the king’s dirty linen.” They soon lost their attachment for each other. Voltaire watched in vain for a way to escape from Prussia. At last it came, and he was once more a free man in Switzerland.
He went into a Protestant region, where there were no Catholics, and bought him a pretty estate, and determined to live in complete independence. Persecution however followed him here, and he took up his abode in a retired part of France. He wrote his “Encyclopedia” which was severely condemned. In 1788, in his eighty-fourth year, he returned to Paris, bringing with him a newly-written tragedy. His new life in Paris was not good for him, and he died at the end of May.