But I found out that this kind of Christianity was not peculiar to him, all his fellow-Calvinists thought in the same way.
Wishing to convince him that he was a Calvinist in name only, since he did not believe that Jesus Christ was of the same substance as the Father, he replied that Calvin was only infallible where he spoke 'ex cathedra', but I struck him dumb by quoting the words of the Gospel. He blushed when I reproached him with Calvin's belief that the Pope was the Antichrist of the Apocalypse.
"It will be impossible to destroy this prejudice at Geneva," said he, "till the Government orders the effacement of an inscription on the church door which everybody reads, and which speaks of the head of the Roman Church in this manner."
"The people," he added, "are wholly ignorant; but I have a niece of twenty, who does not belong to the people in this way. I shall have the honour of making you known to her; she is a theologian, and pretty as well."
"I shall be delighted to see her, but God preserve me from arguing with her!"
"She will make you argue, and I can assure you that it will be a pleasure for you!"
"We shall see; but will you give me your address?"
"No sir, but I shall have the honour of conducting you to your inn and acting as your guide."
I got down at Balances, and was well lodged. It was the 20th of August, 1760. On going to the window I noticed a pane of glass on which I read these words, written with the point of a diamond: "You will forget Henriette." In a moment my thoughts flew back to the time in which Henriette had written these words, thirteen years ago, and my hair stood on end. We had been lodged in this room when she separated from me to return to France. I was overwhelmed, and fell on a chair where I abandoned myself to deep thought. Noble Henriette, dear Henriette, whom I had loved so well; where was she now? I had never heard of her; I had never asked anyone about her. Comparing my present and past estates, I was obliged to confess that I was less worthy of possessing her now than then. I could still love, but I was no longer so delicate in my thoughts; I had not those feelings which justify the faults committed by the senses, nor that probity which serves as a contrast to the follies and frailties of man; but, what was worst of all, I was not so strong. Nevertheless, it seemed that the remembrance of Henriette restored me to my pristine vigour. I had no longer my housekeeper; I experienced a great void; and I felt so enthusiastic that if I had known where Henriette was I should have gone to seek her out, despite her prohibition.
Next day, at an early hour, I went to the banker Tronchin, who had all my money. After seeing my account, he gave me a letter of credit on Marseilles, Genoa, Florence and Rome, and I only took twelve thousand francs in cash. I had only fifty thousand crowns, three hundred francs, but that would take me a good way. As soon as I had delivered my letters, I returned to Balances, impatient to see M. de Voltaire.
I found my fellow-traveller in my room. He asked me to dinner, telling me that I should have M. Vilars-Chandieu, who would take me after dinner to M. de Voltaire, who had been expecting me for several days. I followed the worthy man, and found at his house excellent company, and the young theologian whom the uncle did not address till dessert.
I will endeavour to report as faithfully as possible the young woman's conversation.
"What have you been doing this morning, my dear niece?"
"I have been reading St. Augustine, whom I thought absurd, and I think I can refute him very shortly."
"On what point?"
"Concerning the mother of the Saviour."
"What does St. Augustine say?"
"You have no doubt remarked the passage, uncle. He says that the Virgin Mary conceived Jesus Christ through the ears."
"You do not believe that?"
"Certainly not, and for three good reasons. In the first place because God, being immaterial, had no need of a hole to go in or come out by; in the second place, because the ear has no connection with the womb; and in the third place, because Mary, if she had conceived by the ear, would have given birth by the same channel.