Then there rushed from all—wit and noble, courtier and republican—a confused chorus, harmonious only in its anticipation of the brilliant things to which “the great Revolution” was to give birth. Here Condrocet is more eloquent than before.
“Il faut absolument que la Superstition et le Fanatisme fassent place a la Philosophie. (It must necessarily happen that superstition and fanaticism give place to philosophy.) Kings persecute persons, priests opinion. Without kings, men must be safe; and without priests, minds must be free.”
“Ah,” murmured the marquis, “and as ce cher Diderot has so well sung,—
‘Et des boyaux du dernier pretre Serrez le cou du dernier roi.’”
(And throttle the neck
of the last king with the string from
the bowels of the last priest.)
“And then,” resumed Condorcet,—“then commences the Age of Reason!—equality in instruction, equality in institutions, equality in wealth! The great impediments to knowledge are, first, the want of a common language; and next, the short duration of existence. But as to the first, when all men are brothers, why not a universal language? As to the second, the organic perfectibility of the vegetable world is undisputed, is Nature less powerful in the nobler existence of thinking man? The very destruction of the two most active causes of physical deterioration—here, luxurious wealth; there, abject penury,—must necessarily prolong the general term of life. (See Condorcet’s posthumous work on the Progress of the Human Mind.—Ed.) The art of medicine will then be honoured in the place of war, which is the art of murder: the noblest study of the acutest minds will be devoted to the discovery and arrest of the causes of disease. Life, I grant, cannot be made eternal; but it may be prolonged almost indefinitely. And as the meaner animal bequeaths its vigour to its offspring, so man shall transmit his improved organisation, mental and physical, to his sons. Oh, yes, to such a consummation does our age approach!”
The venerable Malesherbes sighed. Perhaps he feared the consummation might not come in time for him. The handsome Marquis de — and the ladies, yet handsomer than he, looked conviction and delight.
But two men there were, seated next to each other, who joined not in the general talk: the one a stranger newly arrived in Paris, where his wealth, his person, and his accomplishments, had already made him remarked and courted; the other, an old man, somewhere about seventy,—the witty and virtuous, brave, and still light-hearted Cazotte, the author of “Le Diable Amoureux.”
These two conversed familiarly, and apart from the rest, and only by an occasional smile testified their attention to the general conversation.
“Yes,” said the stranger,—“yes, we have met before.”
“I thought I could not forget your countenance; yet I task in vain my recollections of the past.”