At that word Cazotte’s face grew locked and rigid, his eyes dwelt vacantly on space, and in a low, hollow voice, he thus answered
(The following prophecy (not unfamiliar, perhaps, to some of my readers), with some slight variations, and at greater length, in the text of the authority I am about to cite, is to be found in La Harpe’s posthumous works. The Ms. is said to exist still in La Harpe’s handwriting, and the story is given on M. Petitot’s authority, volume i. page 62. It is not for me to enquire if there be doubts of its foundation on fact.—Ed.),—
“You ask how it will affect yourselves,—you, its most learned, and its least selfish agents. I will answer: you, Marquis de Condorcet, will die in prison, but not by the hand of the executioner. In the peaceful happiness of that day, the philosopher will carry about with him not the elixir but the poison.”
“My poor Cazotte,” said Condorcet, with his gentle smile, “what have prisons, executioners, and poison to do with an age of liberty and brotherhood?”
“It is in the names of Liberty and Brotherhood that the prisons will reek, and the headsman be glutted.”
“You are thinking of priestcraft, not philosophy, Cazotte,” said Champfort.
(Champfort, one of those men of letters who, though misled by the first fair show of the Revolution, refused to follow the baser men of action into its horrible excesses, lived to express the murderous philanthropy of its agents by the best bon mot of the time. Seeing written on the walls, “Fraternite ou la Mort,” he observed that the sentiment should be translated thus, “Sois mon frere, ou je te tue.” ("Be my brother, or I kill thee.")) “And what of me?”
“You will open your own veins to escape the fraternity of Cain. Be comforted; the last drops will not follow the razor. For you, venerable Malesherbes; for you, Aimar Nicolai; for you, learned Bailly,—I see them dress the scaffold! And all the while, O great philosophers, your murderers will have no word but philosophy on their lips!”
The hush was complete and universal when the pupil of Voltaire—the prince of the academic sceptics, hot La Harpe—cried with a sarcastic laugh, “Do not flatter me, O prophet, by exemption from the fate of my companions. Shall I have no part to play in this drama of your fantasies.”
At this question, Cazotte’s countenance lost its unnatural expression of awe and sternness; the sardonic humour most common to it came back and played in his brightening eyes.
“Yes, La Harpe, the most wonderful part of all! You will become—a Christian!”
This was too much for the audience that a moment before seemed grave and thoughtful, and they burst into an immoderate fit of laughter, while Cazotte, as if exhausted by his predictions, sank back in his chair, and breathed hard and heavily.
“Nay,” said Madame de G—, “you who have predicted such grave things concerning us, must prophesy something also about yourself.”