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MISCELLANIES.

VOLTAIRE.1

[1829.]

Could ambition always choose its own path, and were will in human undertakings synonymous with faculty, all truly ambitious men would be men of letters. Certainly, if we examine that love of power, which enters so largely into most practical calculations, nay which our Utilitarian friends have recognised as the sole end and origin, both motive and reward, of all earthly enterprises, animating alike the philanthropist, the conqueror, the money-changer and the missionary, we shall find that all other arenas of ambition, compared with this rich and boundless one of Literature, meaning thereby whatever respects the promulgation of Thought, are poor, limited and ineffectual. For dull, unreflective, merely. instinctive as the ordinary man may seem, he has nevertheless, as a quite indispensable appendage, a head that in some degree considers and computes ; a lamp or rushlight of understanding has been given him, which, through whatever dim, besmoked and strangely diffractive media it may shine, is the ultimate guiding light of his whole path : and here as

1 FOREIGN REVIEW, No. 6. Mémoires sur Voltaire, et sur ses Ouvrages, par Longchamp et Wagnière, ses Secrétaires ; suivis de divers Ecrits inédits de la Marquise du Châtelet, du Président Hénault, fc. tous relatifs à Voltaire. (Memoirs concerning Voltaire and his Works, by Longchamp and Wagnière, his Secretaries ; with various unpublished Pieces by the Marquis du Châtelet, &c. all relating to Voltaire.) 2 tomes. Paris, 1826.

well as there, now as at all times in man's history, Opinion rules the world.

Curious it is, moreover, to consider in this respect, how different appearance is from reality, and under what singular shape and circumstances the truly most important man of any given period might be found. Could some Asmodeus, by simply waving his arm, open asunder the meaning of the Present, even so far as the Future will disclose it, what a much more marvellous sight should we have, than that mere bodily one through the roofs of Madrid ! For we know not what we are, any more than what we shall be. It is a high, solemn, almost awful thought for every individual man, that his earthly influence, which has had a commencement, will never through all ages, were he the very meanest of us, have an end!

What is done is done; has already blended itself with the boundless, ever-living, ever-working Universe, and will also work there, for good or for evil, openly or secretly, throughout all time. But the life of every man is as the wellspring of a stream, whose small beginnings are indeed plain to all, but whose ulterior course and destination, as it winds through the expanses of infinite years, only the Omniscient can discern. Will it mingle with neighbouring rivulets, as a tributary ; or receive them as their sovereign ? Is it to be a nameless brook, and will its tiny waters, among millions of other brooks and rills, increase the current of some world-river? Or is it to be itself a Rhene or Danaw, whose goings-forth are to the uttermost lands, its flood an everlasting boundary-line on the globe itself, the bulwark and highway of whole kingdoms and continents? We know not; only in either case, we know, its path is to the great ocean ; its waters, were they but a handful, are here, and cannot be annihilated or permanently held back.

As little can we prognosticate, with any certainty, the future influences from the present aspects of an individual. How many Demagogues, Croesuses, Conquerors fill their own age with joy or terror, with a tumult that promises to be perennial; and in the next age die away into insignificance and oblivion! These are the forests of gourds, that overtop the infant cedars and aloe-trees, but, like the Prophet's gourd, wither on the third day. What was it to the Pharaohs of Egypt, in that old era, if Jethro the Midianitish priest and grazier accepted the Hebrew outlaw as his herdsman ? Yet the Pharaohs, with all their chariots of war, are buried deep in the wrecks of time; and that Moses still lives, not among his own tribe only, but in the hearts and daily business of all civilised nations. Or figure Mahomet, in his youthful years, travelling to the horse-fairs of Syria. Nay, to take an infinitely higher instance : who has ever forgotten those lines of Tacitus ; inserted as a small, transitory, altogether trifling circumstance in the history of such a potentate as Nero ? To us it is the most earnest, sad and sternly significant passage that we know to exist in writing: Ergo abolendo rumori Nero subdidit reos, et quæsitissimis pænis affecit, quos per flagitia invisos, vulgus CHRISTIANOS appellabat. Auctor nominis ejus CHRISTUS, qui, Tiberio imperitante, per Procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio affectus erat. Repressaque in præsens exitiabilis superstitio rursus erumpebat, non modo per Judæam originem ejus mali, sed per urbem etiam, quo cuncta undique atrocia aut pudenda confluunt celebranturque. 'So, for the quieting of this rumour, Nero judicially charged with the crime, and punished with most • studied severities, that class, hated for their general wicked

ness, whom the vulgar call Christians. The originator of that name was one Christ, who, in the reign of Tiberius, suffered death by sentence of the Procurator, Pontius Pilate. The baneful superstition, thereby repressed for the ' time, again broke out, not only over Judea, the native soil of that mischief, but in the City also, where from every ' side all atrocious and abominable things collect and flourish.' 2 Tacitus was the wisest, most penetrating man of his generation ; and to such depth, and no deeper, has he seen 1 Of his having set fire to Rome.

2 Tacit. Annal. xv. 44.

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into this transaction, the most important that has occurred or can occur in the annals of mankind.

Nor is it only to those primitive ages, when religions took their rise, and a man of pure and high mind appeared not merely as a teacher and philosopher, but as a priest and prophet, that our observation applies. The same uncertainty, in estimating present things and men, holds more or less in all times; for in all times, even in those which seem most trivial, and open to research, human society rests on inscrutably deep foundations; which he is of all others the most mistaken, who fancies he has explored to the bottom. Neither is that sequence, which we love to speak of as 'a chain of causes,' properly to be figured as a chain,' or line, but rather as a tissue, or superficies of innumerable lines, extending in breadth as well as in length, and with a complexity, which will foil and utterly bewilder the most assiduous computation. In fact, the wisest of us must, for by far the most part, judge like the simplest ; estimate importance by mere magnitude, and expect that what strongly affects our own generation, will strongly affect those that are to follow. In this way it is that Conquerors and political Revolutionists come to figure as so mighty in their influences; whereas truly there is no class of persons creating such an uproar in the world, who in the long-run produce so very slight an impression on its affairs. When Tamerlane had finished building his pyramid of seventy thousand human skulls, and was seen

standing at the gate of Damascus, glittering in steel, with his battle-axe on his shoulder,' till his fierce hosts filed out to new victories and new carnage, the pale onlooker might have fancied that Nature was in her death-throes; for havoc and despair had taken possession of the earth, the sun of manhood seemed setting in seas of blood. Yet, it might be, on that very gala-day of Tamerlane, a little boy was playing nine-pins on the streets of Mentz, whose history was more important to men than that of twenty Tamerlanes. The Tartar Khan, with his shaggy demons of the wilderness,

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