Page images
PDF
EPUB

filled thirty quartos of prose and verse with his various productions, often excellent, and always entertaining. Need I add the name of Voltaire? After forfeiting, by his own misconduct, the friendship of the first of kings, he retired, at the age of sixty, with a plentiful fortune, to a free and beautiful country, and resided two winters (1757 and 1758) in the town or neighbourhood of Lausanne. My desire of beholding Voltaire, whom I then rated above his real magnitude, was easily gratified. He received me with civility as an English youth, but I cannot boast of any peculiar notice or distinction: Virgilium vidi

tantum.

The ode which he composed on his first arrival on the banks of the Leman lake, O maison d'Aristippe! O jardin d'Epicure! &c., had been imparted as a secret to the gentleman by whom I was introduced. He allowed me to read it twice; I knew it by heart; and as my discretion was not equal to my memory, the author was soon displeased by the circulation of a copy. In writing this trivial anecdote, I wished to observe whether my memory was impaired; and I have the comfort of finding that every line of the poem is still engraved in fresh and indelible characters. The highest gratification which I derived from Voltaire's residence at Lausanne, was the uncommon circumstance of hearing a great poet declaim his own productions on the stage. He had formed a company of gentlemen and ladies, some of whom were not destitute of talents. A decent theatre was framed at Monrepos, a country-house at the end of a suburb; dresses and scenes were provided at the expense of the actors; and the author directed the rehearsals with the zeal and attention of paternal love. two successive winters his tragedies of Zaire, Alzire, Zulime, and his sentimental comedy of the Enfant Prodigue, were played at the theatre of Monrepos. Voltaire represented the characters best adapted to his years-Lusignan, Alvarez, Benassar, Euphemon.

In

His declamation was fashioned to the pomp and cadence of the old stage; and he expressed the enthusiasm of poetry, rather than the feelings of nature. My ardour, which soon became conspicuous, seldom failed of procuring me a ticket. The habits of pleasure fortified my taste for the French theatre, and that taste has perhaps abated my idolatry for the gigantic genius of Shakspeare, which is inculcated from our infancy as the first duty of an Englishman. The wit and philosophy of Voltaire, his table and theatre, refined in a visible degree the manners of Lausanne; and, however addicted to study, I enjoyed my share of the amusements of society. After the representation of Monrepos I sometimes supped with the actors. I was now familiar in some, and acquainted in many houses; and my evenings were generally devoted to cards and conversation, either in private parties of numerous assemblies.

I hesitate, from the apprehension of ridicule, when I approach the delicate subject of my early love. By this word I do not mean the polite attention, the gallantry, without hope or design, which has originated in the spirit of chivalry, and is interwoven with the texture of French manners. I understand by this passion the union of desire, friendship, and tenderness, which is inflamed by a single female, which prefers her to the rest of her sex, and which seeks her possession as the supreme or the sole happiness of our being. I need not blush at recollecting the object of my choice; and though my love was disappointed of success, I am rather proud that I was once capable of feeling such a pure and exalted sentiment. The personal attractions of mademoiselle Susan Curchod were embellished by the virtues and talents of the mind. Her fortune was humble, but her family was respectable. Her mother, a native of France, had preferred her religion to her country. The profession of her father did not extinguish the moderation and philosophy of his temper, and he lived content, with a

small salary and laborious duty, in the obscure lot of minister of Crassy, in the mountains that separate the Pays de Vaud from the county of Burgundy." In the solitude of a sequestered village he bestowed a liberal and even learned education on his only daughter. She surpassed his hopes by her proficiency in the sciences and languages; and in her short visits to some relations at Lausanne, the wit, the beauty, and erudition, of mademoiselle Curchod were the theme of universal applause. The report of such a prodigy awakened my curiosity; I saw and loved. I found her learned without pedantry, lively in conversation, pure in sentiment, and elegant in manners; and the first sudden emotion was fortified by the

* EXTRACTS FROM THE JOURNAL. March 1757. I wrote some critical observations upon Plautus.

March 8th.

I wrote a long dissertation on some lines of Virgil.

June.

I saw mademoiselle Curchod-Omnia vincit
amor, et nos cedamus amori.

August.
Sept. 15th.

I went to Crassy, and staid two days.
I went to Geneva.

Oct. 15th.

I came back to Lausanne, having passed through Crassy.

Nov. 1st.

1 went to visit M. de Watteville at Loin, and saw mademoiselle Curchod in my way through Rolle.

Nov. 17th.
Jan. 1758.

Jan. 22d.

I went to Crassy, and staid there six days.
In the three first months of this year I read
Ovid's Metamorphoses, finished the conic
sections with M. de Traytorrens, and went
as far as the infinite series; I likewise read
sir Isaac Newton's Chronology, and wrote
my critical observations upon it.

I saw Alzire acted by the society at Mon-
repos. Voltaire acted Alvarez; D'Her-
manches, Zamore; de St Cierge, Gusman;
M. de Gentil, Monteze; and madame Denys
Alzire.

habits and knowledge of a more familiar acquaintance She permitted me to make her two or three visits at her father's house. I passed some happy days there, in the mountains of Burgundy, and her parents honourably encouraged the connection. In a calm retirement the gay vanity of youth no longer fluttered in her bosom; she listened to the voice of truth and passion; and I might presume to hope that I had made some impression on a virtuous heart. At Crassy and Lausanne I indulged my dream of felicity: but on my return to England, I soon discovered that my father would not hear of this strange alliance, and that without his consent. I was myself destitute and helpless. After a painful struggle I yielded to my fate I sighed as a lover, I obeyed as a son;* my wound was insensibly healed by time, absence, and the habits of a new life. My cure was accelerated by a faithful report of the tranquillity and cheerfulness of the lady herself; and my love subsided in friendship and esteem. The minister of Crassy soon afterwards died; his stipend died with him; his daughter retired to Geneva, where, by teaching young ladies, she earned a hard subsistence for herself and her mother; but in her lowest distress she maintained a spotless reputation, and a dignified behaviour. A rich banker of Paris, a citizen of Geneva, had the good fortune and good sense to discover and possess this inestimable treasure; and in the capital of taste and luxury she resisted the temptations of wealth, as she had sustained the hardships of indigence. The genius of her husband has exalted him to the most conspicuous station in Europe. In every change of

* See Œuvres de Rousseau, tom. xxxiii. pp. 88, 89, octavo edition. As an author, I shall not appeal from the judgment, or taste, or caprice, of Jean Jacques: but that extraordinary man, whom I admire and pity, should have been less precipitate in condemning the moral character and conduct of a stranger.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

EDWARD GIBBON.

93

prosperity and disgrace he has reclined on the bosom of a faithful friend; and mademoiselle Curchod is now the wife of M. Necker, the minister, and perhaps the legislator, of the French monarchy.

Whatsoever have been the fruits of my education, they must be ascribed to the fortunate banishment which placed me at Lausanne. I have sometimes applied to my own fate the verses of Pindar, which remind an Olympic champion that his victory was the consequence of his exile; and that at home, like a domestic fowl, his days might have rolled away inactive or inglorious.

ἦτοι καὶ τεά κεν,
̓Ενδομάχας ἅτ ̓ ἀλέκτωρ,
Συγγόνω παρ ̓ ἑστία
̓Ακλεὴς τιμὰ κατεφυλλορόησε πορῶν·
Εἰ μὴ πλάσις ἀλιάνειρα
Κνωσίας ἄμερσε πάτας +

[ocr errors]

OLYMP. xii.

If my childish revolt against the religion of my country had not stripped me in time of my academic gown, the five important years so liberally improved in the studies and conversation of Lausanne, would have been steeped in port and prejudice among the monks of Oxford. Had the fatigue of idleness compelled me to read, the path of learning would not have been enlightened by a ray of philosophic freedom. I should have grown to manhood ignorant of the life and language of Europe, and my knowledge of the world would have been confined to an English cloister.

Thus, like the crested bird of Mars, at home
Engag'd in foul domestic jars,

And wasted with intestine wars,

Inglorious hadst thou spent thy vig'rous bloom;
Had not sedition's civil broils
Expell'd thee from thy native Crete,
And driv'n thee with more glorious toils
Th' Olympic crown in Pisa's plain to meet.

WEST'S Pind.

« PreviousContinue »