'Est ubi peccas'. This blinds you. Love humanity, but love it as it is. It is not fit to receive the blessings you would lavish on it, and which would only make it more wretched and perverse. Leave men their devouring monster, it is dear to them. I have never laughed so heartily as at Don Quixote assailed by the galley-slaves whom his generosity had set free."
"I am sorry that you have such a bad opinion of your fellow- creatures. And by the way, tell me whether there is freedom in Venice."
"As much as can be expected under an aristocracy. Our liberty is not so great as that which the English enjoy, but we are content."
"Even under The Leads?"
"My imprisonment was certainly despotic; but as I had knowingly abused my liberty I am satisfied that the Government was within its rights in shutting me up without the usual formalities."
"All the same, you made your escape."
"I used my rights as they had used theirs."
"Very good! But as far as I can see, no one in Venice is really free."
"That may be; but you must agree that the essence of freedom consists in thinking you have it."
"I shall not agree to that so easily. You and I see liberty from very different points of view. The aristocrats, the members of the Government even, are not free at Venice; for example, they cannot travel without permission."
"True, but that is a restriction of their own making to preserve their power. Would you say that a Bernese is not free, because he is subject to the sumptuary laws, which he himself had made."
"Well, well, I wish the people made the laws everywhere."
After this lively answer, he abruptly asked me what part I came from.
"From Roche," said I. "I should have been very sorry to leave Switzerland without seeing the famous Haller. In my travels I render homage to my learned contemporaries, and you come the last and best."
"You must have liked Haller."
"I spent three of the happiest days of my life with him."
"I congratulate you. He is a great man and worthy of all honour."
"I think as you do, and I am glad to hear you doing him justice; I am sorry he was not so just towards you."
"Well, you see we may be both of us mistaken."
At this reply, the quickness of which constituted its chief merit, everybody present began to laugh and applaud.
No more was said of literature, and I became a silent actor till M. de Voltaire retired, when I approached Madame Denis, and asked her if she had any commands for me at Rome. I went home well pleased at having compelled the giant of intellect to listen to reason, as I then thought foolishly enough; but there was a rankling feeling left in my heart against him which made me, ten years later, criticise all he had written.
I am sorry now for having done so, though on reading my censures over again I find that in many places I was right. I should have done better, however, to have kept silence, to have respected his genius, and to have suspected my own opinions. I should have considered that if it had not been for those quips and cranks which made me hate him on the third day, I should have thought him wholly sublime. This thought alone should have silenced me, but an angry man always thinks himself right. Posterity on reading my attack will rank me among the Zoyluses, and the humble apology I now make to the great man's shades may not be read.
If we meet in the halls of Pluto, the more peccant parts of our mortal nature purged away, all will be made up; he will receive my heartfelt apologies, and he will be my friend, I his sincere admirer.
I spent part of the night and the whole of the following day in writing down my conversations with Voltaire, and they amounted nearly to a volume, of which I have only given a mere abridgment. Towards the evening my Epicurean syndic called on me, and we went to sup with the three nymphs, and for five hours we indulged in every species of wantonness, in which I had a somewhat fertile imagination. On leaving I promised to call on them again on my return from Rome, and I kept my word.