The worthy man is quite mistaken, and I only ask you to listen to what I have to say on the subject. Your masculine verse has only twelve poetic syllables, and the feminine thirteen. All Martelli's lines have fourteen syllables, except those that finish with a long vowel, which at the end of a line always counts as two syllables. You will observe that the first hemistitch in Martelli always consists of seven syllables, while in French it only has six. Your friend Pierre Jacques was either stone deaf or very hard of hearing."
"Then you have followed our theory of versification rigorously."
"Just so, in spite of the difficulty, as nearly all our words end with a short syllable."
"What reception has been accorded to your innovation?"
"It has not been found pleasing, because nobody knows how to recite my verses; but I hope to triumph when I deliver them myself before our literary clubs."
"Do you remember any of your version of the Radamiste?"
"I remember it all."
"You have a wonderful memory; I should be glad to hear it."
I began to recite the same scene that I had recited to Crebillon ten years before, and I thought M. de Voltaire listened with pleasure.
"It doesn't strike one as at all harsh," said he.
This was the highest praise he would give me. In his turn the great man recited a passage from Tancred which had not as yet been published, and which was afterwards considered, and rightly, as a masterpiece.
We should have got on very well if we had kept to that, but on my quoting a line of Horace to praise one of his pieces, he said that Horace was a great master who had given precepts which would never be out of date. Thereupon I answered that he himself had violated one of them, but that he had violated it grandly.
"Which is that?"
"You do not write, 'Contentus paucis lectoribus'."
"If Horace had had to combat the hydra-headed monster of superstition, he would have written as I have written--for all the world."
"It seems to me that you might spare yourself the trouble of combating what you will never destroy."
"That which I cannot finish others will, and I shall always have the glory of being the first in the field."
"Very good; but supposing you succeed in destroying superstition, what are you going to put in its place?"
"I like that. If I deliver the race of man from a wild beast which is devouring it, am I to be asked what I intend to put in its place?"
"It does not devour it; on the contrary, it is necessary to its existence."
"Necessary to its existence! That is a horrible blasphemy, the falsity of which will be seen in the future. I love the human race; I would fain see men like myself, free and happy, and superstition and freedom cannot go together. Where do you find an enslaved and yet a happy people?"
"You wish, then, to see the people sovereign?"
"God forbid! There must be a sovereign to govern the masses."
"In that case you must have superstition, for without it the masses will never obey a mere man decked with the name of monarch."
"I will have no monarch; the word expresses despotism, which I hate as I do slavery."
"What do you mean, then? If you wish to put the government in the hands of one man, such a man, I maintain, will be a monarch."
"I would have a sovereign ruler of a free people, of which he is the chief by an agreement which binds them both, which would prevent him from becoming a tyrant."
"Addison will tell you that such a sovereign is a sheer impossibility. I agree with Hobbes, of two evils choose the least. A nation without superstition would be a nation of philosophers, and philosophers would never obey. The people will only be happy when they are crushed and down-trodden, and bound in chains."
"This is horrible; and you are of the people yourself. If you have read my works you must have seen how I shew that superstition is the enemy of kings."
"Read your works? I have read and re-read them, especially in places where I have differed from you. Your ruling passion is the love of humanity.