Thievery begins at the top? The right of kings and card sharps. He was unhappy at Versailles. He wrote to Madame Denis complaining that he was bored to death by court society and the conversation of the great. ” I have,” he wrote, “to deal with twenty actors, the opera, the ballet, the decorations. And for what purpose? To get a passing nod from the Dauphine.” He ended by refering to Versailles as “the place that I abhor.”
It began with the Duc Richelieu suggesting that it might be useful to his career if he wrote a play celebrating the marriage of the Dauphin with the Infanta of Spain and in order to adjust his verses to the music especially composed for the occasion by Pierre Rameau, he was accorded a tiny little room in the palace.
The climax was reached when they were all at Fontainbleu playing cards in one of the salons. Madame du Chatelet enjoyed gambling, but chess was the only game in which Voltaire indulged. Nor did he relish late hours and overheated rooms. Madame du Chatelet was seated at the card table of Duc de Richelieu with other courtiers. Voltaire took a chair and sat behind her, hoping that the game would soon be over. When she had lost eighty thousand livres his patience snapped: “Why”, he hissed at her, “must you persist in playing with a gang of cheats?” Realizing that his remark had been overheard and that the outrgaged courtiers would obtain a letter de cachet against him, entailing a third period of incarceration in the Bastille, he and Madame du Chatelet left the card table, hurried to their rooms where they gathered a few things together, and escaped that very night to Sceaux, where they were hidden by the Duchesse du Maine until the storm subsided.
Why did Voltaire detest cards and gambling? Perhaps the answer is to be found :
…which (Walter ) Benjamin notes in his chapter on Gambling and Prostitution: compares the elation of the winner “with the expression of love by a woman who has been truly satisfied by a man” . It is no coincidence that he couples the type of the gambler with the type of the prostitute. For Benjamin, and for those he choses to include in his collection, The Arcades Project, gambling is erotic in nature: “‘The passion for gambling thus serves an autoerotic satisfaction, wherein betting is foreplay, winning is orgasm, and losing is ejaculation, defecation, and castration.’…
In vain did Voltaire strive to avert vengeance by writing adulatory verses to madame de Pompadour. The Queen was incensed by this tribute to her rival, and the King, feeling that his private affairs were not fit subject for public poems, was also annoyed. Realizing that punishment was coming, Voltaire drove with Madame du Chatelet to Cirey and eventually crossed the frontier into Lorraine and took refuge with King Stanislas at Luneville.
But, hardly a revolutionary, Voltaire was part and parcel of this structure of royalty in fact ultimately reinforcing its the system of oppression it exposed the contradictory nature of his loyalty;the satire which Voltaire directed against the shams and follies of his age, contrasting with his almost subservient conformity in regard to the established order, did expose him to charges of insincerity. After all, he was capable of stratagems and evasions as tortuous as those of the Pope himself. His sallies and epigrams were often cruel, and he took pleasure in shocking the feelings of ordinary men.
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