("Cette secte (les Encyclopedistes) propagea avec beaucoup de zele l’opinion du materialisme, qui prevalut parmi les grands et parmi les beaux esprits; on lui doit en partie cette espece de philosophie pratique qui, reduisant l’Egoisme en systeme regarde la societe humaine comme une guerre de ruse, le succes comme la regle du juste et de l’injuste, la probite comme une affaire de gout, ou de bienseance, le monde comme le patrimoine des fripons adroits.”—“Discours de Robespierre,” Mai 7, 1794. (This sect (the Encyclopaedists) propagate with much zeal the doctrine of materialism, which prevails among the great and the wits; we owe to it partly that kind of practical philosophy which, reducing Egotism to a system, looks upon society as a war of cunning; success the rule of right and wrong, honesty as an affair of taste or decency: and the world as the patrimony of clever scoundrels.))
A volume lay on a table,—it was one of Voltaire, and the page was opened at his argumentative assertion of the existence of the Supreme Being. ("Histoire de Jenni.”) The margin was covered with pencilled notes, in the stiff but tremulous hand of old age; all in attempt to refute or to ridicule the logic of the sage of Ferney: Voltaire did not go far enough for the annotator! The clock struck two, when the sound of steps was heard without. The stranger silently seated himself on the farther side of the bed, and its drapery screened him, as he sat, from the eyes of a man who now entered on tiptoe; it was the same person who had passed him on the stairs. The new-comer took up the candle and approached the bed. The old man’s face was turned to the pillow; but he lay so still, and his breathing was so inaudible, that his sleep might well, by that hasty, shrinking, guilty glance, be mistaken for the repose of death. The new-comer drew back, and a grim smile passed over his face: he replaced the candle on the table, opened the bureau with a key which he took from his pocket, and loaded himself with several rouleaus of gold that he found in the drawers. At this time the old man began to wake. He stirred, he looked up; he turned his eyes towards the light now waning in its socket; he saw the robber at his work; he sat erect for an instant, as if transfixed, more even by astonishment than terror. At last he sprang from his bed.
“Just Heaven! do I dream! Thou—thou—thou, for whom I toiled and starved!—Thou!”
The robber started; the gold fell from his hand, and rolled on the floor.
“What!” he said, “art thou not dead yet? Has the poison failed?”
“Poison, boy! Ah!” shrieked the old man, and covered his face with his hands; then, with sudden energy, he exclaimed, “Jean! Jean! recall that word. Rob, plunder me if thou wilt, but do not say thou couldst murder one who only lived for thee! There, there, take the gold; I hoarded it but for thee. Go! go!” and the old man, who in his passion had quitted his bed, fell at the