« PreviousContinue »
alone, and left us his friend, Count Véri, to take his place. Towards the close of his stay, he became so altered in temper and disposition, as to remain constantly in his chamber at the tavern, where my brother and myself went to see him and tried to calm him, but unsuccessfully. He set off with a letter for my brother-in-law at Lyons, who entertained him a few days, and accompanied him part way on his return, convinced that he was growing insane.
• After his return to Milan he did little, and the close of his career was not equal to the beginning; not an unusual phenomenon among the Italian men of letters, whose first essays are very brilliant, but who at twenty-five or thirty become disabused like Solomon, and acknowledge like him the folly of science, without having waited till they had his experience of it.'
All this time Morellet continued his literary labors of various kinds. In answer to a translation of two of Lucian's dialogues which he sent to Hume, the historian wrote him an obliging letter, in which he alludes to a plan that he had conceived himself, and on which Morellet was actually employed, of a commercial dictionary. He had made some interest to be appointed secretary of the bureau de commerce, partly in the expectation of finding in the archives, and the correspondence belonging to it, a large supply of documents for his work. After being promised this nomination, and issuing his prospectus for the dictionary, the situation was not given him. This was a considerable source of inconvenience, and he received no benefit from a large number of circulars requesting information, which he had distributed through Europe, by means of the French consulates and legations, not one of his questions having received any answer. He had, however, an annual pension of 4000 livres from the chest of commerce, and with this supply he procured the assistance of a man of letters,' and one or more secretaries. The dictionary, however, proceeded rather slowly, for the ministers occasionally employed Morellet to reduce memoirs and documents, of which they stood in need, to the delay of the greater work.
In 1772 Morellet passed over to England at the request of lord Shelburne, and at the expense of the French government, partly with the object of collecting materials for his dictionary. Lord Shelburne, though absent, had left orders for his reception, and the Abbé was accordingly carried out to Wycombe, twenty or thirty miles from London. Of the company there were Col. Barré, Dr Hawkesworth, Garrick, and Franklin. The following account of the two latter we extract with pleasure :
* I understood very little English, but all the company spoke a little French, and displayed great indulgence towards me. They understood me with the more ease, as I had a distinct articulation, a strong voice, and a natural manner, which fixed the meaning of words and phrases. This, Garrick felt perfectly, and it helped him to understand me, as he has often told me.
The time passed very pleasantly in the company of these men, whom it has always been a subject of congratulation with myself that I had known, and of whom I take this opportunity to say something, beginning naturally with the most celebrated Franklin, who already appeared in England as the politician and the statesman she was afterwards to dread, was then, however, much more known by his discovery of the identity of the electric fluid with lightning ; but as public economy occupied me much more than physical, our conversation naturally turned on these subjects.' We often discussed the general question of the freedom of commerce and the two great questions that arise thence, the frecdom of the India and the corn trade His ideas on population in general, and on that of America in particular, on the connexion of colonies with their mother countries, and on the advancement of America, then English, were also developed in our conversations. We conversed also of music, of which he was very fond, physics and morals, but in few words and at long intervals, for no one ever practised, better than he, La Fontaine's maxim : "Le sage est menager du tems et des paroles."
I saw him try the experiment of flattening waves with oil, which had been regarded as a fable in Aristotle and Pliny.* It is true they were not the waves of the sea, but of a little stream that ran through the park at Wycombe It was agitated by a tolerably fresh breeze.' He went about two hundred paces from where we were, and after some magic grimaces, shook three times over the water, a reed, which he held in his hand. A moment after, the little waves began to grow smaller, and the surface of the water soon became smooth as glass.
I shall have occasion to speak again of Franklin.
• Garrick had been in France with his wife, and I had met him at Madame llelvetius' and the baron d’Holbach's. He had taken a fancy to me, for the way in which I disputed, which he said he found remarkable from the vehemence of my gestures. At the baron d'Holbach's, when he saw Diderot or Marmontel and my. self engaged, he sat down with folded arms, and looked at us, as a painter examines a figure he is studying.
* It is needless to observe that this experiment is now often tried on a much larger scale. We are assured by seamen, that the extent to which a small quantity of oil will smooth the sea is prodigious.
• Garrick was very friendly to me, and gave me many marks of kindness during my stay. He made me read Richard III. and Othello, which he promised to play when we returned to London. This was an apple of discord between us, for I would not admire every thing. He observed me, from the corner of his eye when I was reading Shakspeare, and caught the slightest traces of disapprobation on my countenance. Then he would fly at me like a madman, calling me “ French dog," and overwhelming me with questions and explanations, to force nie to approve what our taste does not relish.
*He placed me in the orchestra at Drury Lane, and forbade my reading while he was playing, declaring I should understand hiin without the book, so confident was he in the truth of his own acting, although I was as yet perfectly a stranger to spoken English. I neglected his orders from time to time and opened the book, which I had brought with me almost in spite of him. Then he cast terrible glances at me, and I made up my mind to look at nothing but him, and in fact I understood nearly " the whole of his acting, though I lost many of the words." About six months after this, on my return to Paris through London, he carried me to pass some days with him at his country seat near Hampton Court on the Thames, with his charming wife. She was from Germany, and had been a danseuse. She had perfect gracefulness and great goodness of heart, and the sight of their union was delightful. She survived him and enjoyed a considerable fortune.'
Our extracts have been so long, we can afford no room for any more at this period of the biography. At the peace of Paris in 1783, his friend lord Shelburne recommended him to the French ministry to be nominated to an Abbey, declaring in his letter on this occasion, that he had received great information from him. The minister took the recommendation in good part, and he received the brevet of a pension of 4000 livres. This, with the payment of some of his literary labors, placed him in a condition to establish himself with one of his sisters, a widow, and her daughter. His niece afterwards married Marmontel, who dedicated his works to her in a long and affectionate letter. In 1785 he was admitted to the academy, and translated at this time among other works, Smith's Wealth of Nations,' of which, however, another translation forestalled the French market. In 1786, he published a translation of Mr Jefferson's Notes on Virginia. He appears to have regretted the departure of Franklin, Mr Jefferson's predecessor at Versailles, which happened about this time, very deeply. Although we have already extracted his account of his acquaintance with him in England, we think our readers would be pleased to meet with still farther details, though of a light nature, of our great countryman :
• There took place at this time a great void in our society at Auteuil, by the departure of Franklin, who returned to America. He had lived at Passy, and the communication between Passy and Auteuil was direct. We, Madame Helvétius, Cabanis, the Abbé de la Roche, and myself, used to dine with him once a week. He also came to dine very frequently at Auteuil, and our meetings were very gay. For one of these dinners on some anniversary of his birth day, or of some fête for American liberty, I wrote the following song:
• Que l'histoire sur l'airain
Le verre en main
Grave et badin
Est mis à la fin
C'est là le fin
Au grand chagrin
Si vous voyez nos héros
Vin clair et fin,
Ils sont en vain
Faute de vin,
A verre plein
La santé de Benjamin. • Franklin was very fond of Scotch songs, and often remeinbered the powerful and gentle emotions he had received from them. He related to us, that in travelling in America he met, beyond the Alleghany mountains, with the habitation of a Scotsman, living far from society, on account of the loss of his fortune, with his wife, who had been handsome, and a daughter of 15 or 16 years old, and that in a fine evening, seated in front of their door, the woman sung the Scotch air, “so merry as we have been,” in so soft and touching a manner, that he melted into tears, and that this impression was still vivid in his mind after thirty years.'— His manners were delightful; perfect good humor and simplicity, an uprightness of mind that appeared in the smallest occurrences, and above all, a gentle serenity, wbich was easily excited to gaiety. Such was the society of this great man, who has placed his country in the rank of independent nations, and made one of the most important discoveries of the age.
• He did not speak long in succession, excepting in relating anecdotes, a talent in which he excelled, and which he liked very