BETA

A Dialogue of Shadows.


[Scene, Purgatory (1778). The Shades of an Englishman
and a Frenchman are pacing by the side of a gloomy
river.]
Englishman.
What bustle is here ?  Can we not
groan in peace ?
1
Frenchman.
There are some new arrivals. One,
who comes
2
Straight from the finest kingdom of the earth,3
Has caused a vast sensation. Here he is !4
[The Shade of Voltaire enters.
Engl.
I never saw a ghost so thin as this.5
Volt.
Good day, Messieurs,—if we may call this
day !
6
Faith, there’s a pleasant warmth about the place.7
After our rapid journey thro’ the dark,8
With cold winds driving us, and jarring atoms9
Whistling about our ears, ’ tis not so bad10
To reach this hot and twilight land at last.11
Sir, if’t be not a liberty, may I ask12
For a pinch of charcoal.13
French.
With much pleasure, sir,14
[Presents his box.
Any news from France ?15
Volt.
France, sir, is growing young ;16
Thro’ me, and d’Alembert, and Diderot,17
And that mad envious watchmaker, who did18
Good in his own despite. Before the earth19
Shall have swung a dozen times about the sun,20
Our dragon’s seed will rise and show some fruit.21
French.
We are glad to see you here, sir.22
Volt.
Without doubt, sir.23
A strange place this. Our French geographers24
Had doubts if such a region were. Nay, some25
Proved to the satisfaction of their friends,26
That ‘twas impossible.27
Eng.
So most things seem,28
Until they are discovered.29
Volt.
That’s well said ;30
Sir, I salute you.31
French.
You’ll find some excellent company,
Monsieur.
32
Volt.
You have some famous men here,—doubt-
less, sir.
33
A priest or two ?34
French.
A few.35
Volt.
I thought so, sir.36
A king perhaps ?37
French.
Oh, plenty. Let me see—38
One, two, three.39
Volt.
Sir, spare your arithmetic.40
I am not curious. Yet, of these last,41
There’s surely one, who dwells in Prussia now,42
Whose over-arching arrogance should cast43
A shadow prematurely o’er the gulf,44
And send his image here ? —such things may be—45
One Frederick ?46
French.
Called the Great—47
Volt.
By little men.48
Eng.
A shadow slim, in cockt hat and rigid boots ?49
Volt.
The same : Is he always in the saddle now ?50
French.
We have no horses here.51
Volt.
Where are your ladies ?52
Any of them from France ?53
Eng.
Shoals—locust-clouds—54
We’ve larger, lighter batches from this land,55
Than all the rest of the globe.56
Volt.
I shall be glad57
To renew friendship with some few of them.58
Madame du Châtelet—59
French.
She was a friend of yours ?60
Volt.
I had some strong delusion of that sort.61
’T’was when she flattered me. But, tell me, sir,62
What time do you dine in this agreeable land ?63
I feel no appetite.64
Eng.
We do not dine.65
Volt.
Not dine. When do you eat ?66
Eng.
We do not eat.67
Volt.
Humph ! that is odd. When do you sleep ?68
Eng.
We do not sleep.69
Volt.
I’ faith, this jest begins70
To grow a little serious. I thought I knew71
Somewhat of most things ; but this puzzles me.72
Lest I should err again, pray what do you here,73
In this most quiet kingdom—all day long ?74
Nay, day and night ?  What pastime ? —75
Eng.
We repose !76
Sometimes we dream ; of times and people gone,—77
Sometimes of our own country ; we retrace78
Our course in earthly life ; our deeds—79
Volt.
I have done80
Some deeds myself. Perhaps, Monsieur, you have
seen
81
A dictionary of mine, which made some noise ?82
A fable or two, which told some bitter truths ?83
A famous poem ? —mark me.—84
Eng.
Your great work,85
I have read, and much admired.86
Volt.
The Henriade ?87
Sir, you have taste.88
Eng.
Not so : —a work less large89
In bulk ; yet greater. ’Twas indeed no more90
Than a small memorial ; touch’d wi’ the light of
Truth,
91
The strength of Right. Fine Sense and Pity joined,92
Begat it. It came forth, midst tears, and scorn,93
And burning anger. These inspired your pen94
To the argument, when murdered Calas died.95
Volt.
You bring me light, sir,—comfort,—almost
faith.
96
The dark thoughts that at times have haunted me,—97
The small ambition to be thought a wit,—98
The wish to sting my many enemies,—99
Seem disappearing. Sir, my thanks ! I feel100
A warmth about my bosom, and begin101
To think that joys dwell not alone on earth,102
But some survive even in Purgatory.103