But thou, Zanoni,—thou hast refused to live only in the intellect; thou hast not mortified the heart; thy pulse still beats with the sweet music of mortal passion; thy kind is to thee still something warmer than an abstraction,—thou wouldst look upon this Revolution in its cradle, which the storms rock; thou wouldst see the world while its elements yet struggle through the chaos!
de ce faible univers.—Voltaire.
(Ignorant teachers of this weak world.)
Nous etions a table chez un de nos confreres a l’Academie, Grand Seigneur et homme d’esprit.—La Harpe. (We supped with one of our confreres of the Academy,—a great nobleman and wit.)
One evening, at Paris, several months after the date of our last chapter, there was a reunion of some of the most eminent wits of the time, at the house of a personage distinguished alike by noble birth and liberal accomplishments. Nearly all present were of the views that were then the mode. For, as came afterwards a time when nothing was so unpopular as the people, so that was the time when nothing was so vulgar as aristocracy. The airiest fine gentleman and the haughtiest noble prated of equality, and lisped enlightenment.
Among the more remarkable guests were Condorcet, then in the prime of his reputation, the correspondent of the king of Prussia, the intimate of Voltaire, the member of half the academies of Europe,—noble by birth, polished in manners, republican in opinions. There, too, was the venerable Malesherbes, “l’amour et les delices de la Nation.” (The idol and delight of the nation (so-called by his historian, Gaillard).) There Jean Silvain Bailly, the accomplished scholar,—the aspiring politician. It was one of those petits soupers for which the capital of all social pleasures was so renowned. The conversation, as might be expected, was literary and intellectual, enlivened by graceful pleasantry. Many of the ladies of that ancient and proud noblesse—for the noblesse yet existed, though its hours were already numbered—added to the charm of the society; and theirs were the boldest criticisms, and often the most liberal sentiments.
Vain labour for me—vain labour almost for the grave English language—to do justice to the sparkling paradoxes that flew from lip to lip. The favourite theme was the superiority of the moderns to the ancients. Condorcet on this head was eloquent, and to some, at least, of his audience, most convincing. That Voltaire was greater than Homer few there were disposed to deny. Keen was the ridicule lavished on the dull pedantry which finds everything ancient necessarily sublime.
“Yet,” said the graceful Marquis de —, as the champagne danced to his glass, “more ridiculous still is the superstition that finds everything incomprehensible holy! But intelligence circulates, Condorcet; like water, it finds its level. My hairdresser said to me this morning, ’Though I am but a poor fellow, I believe as little as the finest gentleman!’” “Unquestionably, the great Revolution draws near to its final completion,—a pas de geant, as Montesquieu said of his own immortal work.”