Tag Archive: longevity


The Count of Saint-Germain.

When the Count of Saint-Germain is not singing or giving concerts and advice, about hygiene in particular, he is receiving confidences from the ladies and telling stories made more piquant in that the scene is always set in the Court of Francois I, Philippe le Bel, the Kings of the Middle Empire, the Grand Vizirs or the Sublime Porte.  With such veracity that Saint-Germain appears truly to have been there.  The question of his age and the reasons for his longevity again rise to the surface.

A conversation that he has one day with a young, incredulous Marquise finishes unsettling everybody…  He says to the pretty lady as she enters the salon in which he is:

“How happy I am to meet at last someone of your noble family!  I was very close to your grandfather’s great-grandfather…  He fought beside me at the Battle of Marignan!  Mortally wounded, he entrusted me with making sure that his gold cross was returned to his wife.  In those troubled times, I was only able to succeed in this mission by using an intermediary…  Did that cross really get there?”

Looking fearfully at this ghost who claims to have fought at Marignan, the lady stammers:

“But, Monsieur…  We effectively keep amongst our relics a cross which was given to us, a long time ago, by an unknown man, but no-one outside the family knows this detail!”

“No-one, except myself, Madame.  And I am happy to know that this precious piece of jewellery arrived at its destination!”

The young Marquise, stunned, her blood curdled, of course goes to swell the ranks of those who believe in the supernatural longevity of the Count.  Although in this last case, a coincidence could have been possible.  This is, however, unthinkable in the case of the Countess de Cergy, who is the first to recognize him in public, and to loudly proclaim it in front of witnesses…

Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour, seen here with Voltaire, both greatly estimed Saint-Germain.

Having one day met him at the home of Madame de Pompadour, she starts by staring at him for a long time.  The witnesses say, with the insistence of the major witness in a trial whose testimony could decide the life or death of the accused…  Controlling a sort of sacred fear, she finally asks him:

“I beg you, Monsieur, would you please tell me whether Monsieur your father resided in Venice around the year 1700… “

The Count replies with detachment:

“No, Madame.  I lost my father well before that.  But I, myself, was living in Venice at the end of the last century and at the beginning of this one.  I had the honour of courting you, and you had the goodness to find pretty a few barcarolles of my composition which we sang together.”

“Excuse my frankness, but that is not possible;  the Count de Saint-Germain of the epoch was forty-five and you are certainly that age now, right at this moment!”

The Count replies with a smile:

“Madame, do not be mistaken…  I am very old!”

“But you would have to be nearly a hundred!”

“That is not impossible!”

The Count then starts to recount to Madame de Cergy, who is very oppressed, a multitude of details connected to the stay that they made together in the Venitian State.  As he proposes to mention others, the lady, who has already had recourse to her smelling salts, exclaims:

“No, no…  I am quite convinced, but you are quite an extraordinary man…  an extraordinary devil!”

Saint-Germain exclaims in a voice which appears to some to be strange:

“No more qualifications!

But he takes control of himself and the old Countess de Cergy, whom death seems to have forgotten on Earth, continues:

“When I was the wife of the Ambassador to Venice, fifty years ago, I am sure that I saw you with the same face.  But you were calling yourself Marquis Baletti then… ”

“And Madame the Countess de Cergy still has a memory that is as fresh as fifty years ago!”

“I owe this advantage to an elixir that you gave me at our first interview… ”

“And did the Marquis de Baletti have a bad reputation?”

“On the contrary, he was a man who was very good company… ”

“Well then, since there are no complaints about him, I adopt him as my grandfather!”

Saint-Germain is joking.  However, he leaves almost immediately, as if painful memories were coming back to him…

That an elixir of long life could exist, and that the Count could possess the secret of it, causes considerable gossip in Paris.  For some, the eminent position that the Count occupies in the King’s immediate entourage, then seems justified.  What sort of elixir is it and how is it made?  At the Court, the best informed assure that it is the drinkable gold of the Rose-Croix thaumaturgists, the absolute panacea against ageing and illness.  Opposing those whom this news exalts, the envious and the jealous would very much like to know, finally, what this Count thinks to achieve in France, since he seeks neither position nor honours.  To most of them, Saint-Germain opposes a disdainful silence.  When others, taking a detour, ask him if he isn’t mostly a man of Science and mention a formula which appears to them to resume all of that time’s knowledge, he loses his temper and says haughtily:

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!  I’m the only one who can talk about this matter.  I have deeply studied it!… “

But the next moment, a sort of shiver of fear passes over him.  He then seems worried and, unwillingly replies, as he does to Louis XV who asks him to explain the disappearance of Prosecutor Dumas:

“It is impossible for me to answer…   By doing so I would expose myself, and you too, to the greatest danger… “

[See https://marilynkaydennis.wordpress.com/2010/08/27/the-count-of-saint-germain-and-maitre-dumas/

and https://marilynkaydennis.wordpress.com/2010/08/28/the-count-of-saint-germain-and-maitre-dumas-part-2/ ]

Such answers confirm his enemies in their suspicions, by making them believe that he has a grave secret in his life and that the trust that Louis gives to a man who appears to have fallen from another planet could reveal itself to be very dangerous.  Leading them is the Duke de Choiseul, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the man who directed, in fact, France’s politics with the authority of a Prime Minister, for many long years.

To be continued.

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The Count of Saint-Germain

The day after the Count of Saint-Germain’s revelations to Louis XV of France, the King, prodded by Madame de Pompadour who was intrigued by this story, asked the Lieutenant of Criminal Police to search the former hotel of Prosecutor Dumas.

Firstly, the mobile planks were discovered;  then the winding staircase;  then the underground room, and inside it, in the middle of a great number of astrological and chemical instruments, the body of Maitre Dumas, still fully-clothed.  It had been there for fifty-eight years, lying on the floor, with, beside it, an agate drinking cup and a broken crystal bottle.  One of the pieces of crystal still contained a fragment of opium.

***

The Count of Saint-Germain’s country of origin, his real name and his age are all unknown.  All that is known of him is that he lived in London around 1743, that he came to France in 1758, that, thanks to Madame de Pompadour whose friend he had become, he was received by Louis XV.  The King held him in such high estime that he used him as a secret agent.  We also know that he dealt in magic and alchemy, and that he officially ended his life in 1784, at the home of the Landgrave de Hesse.  I use the word “officially”, because, dead and buried in 1784, he participated in a Masonic meeting the following year, in 1785.

***

The Count of Saint-Germain did not actually claim, but let it be believed, that he had found the elixir of longevity.  He talked of Pontius Pilate and of Julius Caesar as if he had intimately known them.  He described in detail different feasts organised by Francois I of France, or Charlemagne’s meals.  After which, he would add, with a wink:

“You know, I read a lot of History books and I have an excellent memory!… “

***

The Count of Saint-Germain was certainly a Rose-Croix, and probably had a very high grade in the Order.  It has even been said that he was none other than Christian Rosenkreutz, the fraternity’s founder who, after having discovered the philosopher’s stone, had acquired immortality and had reappeared in History under different identities.  This seems a little far-fetched.

***

The Count of Saint-Germain possessed a real gift of clairvoyancy and knowledge which allowed him to accomplish wonderful things.  Madame de Hausset, lady-in-waiting to Madame de Pompadour, affirms, in her Memoires, that he succeeded in making enormous diamonds with several small ones, and that he could make fine pearls grow bigger.  As for Casanova, who met the Count several times, he recounts a strange story.

One day, Saint-Germain, at whose home he was, asked him for a 12 sols coin.  He put a sort of black seed on it, placed the coin on a hot coal, blew on it through a glass straw, making it incandescent, and said:

“Wait until it cools!… “

When it had done so, he smiled, saying:

“Take it now, and put it in your pocket.  It’s yours.”

Casanova took the coin.  It was in gold.

***

Modern specialists in alchemy, who have studied the Count of Saint-Germain, affirm that he wasn’t an imposter.  According to them, he knew the art of chemically reproducing precious stones (which would explain his colossal fortune), and that he was in possession of a “philosophical tincture” and, perhaps, of this famous elixir which bestows immortality.  The Countess de Vergy, who remembered having known the Count in Venice in 1700, was astounded to see him again, 58 years later, with exactly the same appearance.

***

The Count of Saint-Germain was a man of refined elegance.  His clothes were covered in stones.  He was of astounding culture.  It was said of him that he was the man who knew everything about everything.  As well as French, he spoke Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Arab, Chinese, German, English, Italian, Portugese and Spanish.  He could write with both hands at the same time without there being any difference in the two handwritings.  One day, the Count de Lamberg amused himself by dictating a scene from Zaire to him.  Saint-Germain wrote it on two sheets of paper at the same time.

***

No-one knew the Count of Saint-Germain intimately.  He didn’t attach himself to people, either men or women.  He refused invitations to lunch and dinner, and never received guests.  Sometimes, he disappeared for several years without anyone knowing where he was.  One day, he would reappear, as young as ever, just as elegant, just as smiling, and just as enigmatic.  From 1773 to 1776, for example, no-one knew what had become of him.  It is thought that he was in India and had stayed for a while in Tibet.

***

His tomb, from his official death and burial in 1784, is empty.  His “returns” have been signalled in 1785, as we have seen then, in 1790, he met Rudolph Graffier in Germany and made himself known to him.  In 1798, he reappeared in Vienna.  In 1835, a friend of Jules Janin affirms having met him in Paris.  In 1837, he was at Sceaux, etc…  In 1939, an American aviator whose aeroplane had crashed near a Tibetan monastery, recounted on his return to America that he had met, amongst the monks, a strange man who had said to him:

“I am the Count of Saint-Germain.  I will soon come back to Europe… “

Today, some people say that he is still alive and living in a palace in Venice, near the Grand Canal.

Nicolas Flamel – part 2

In 1378, the public writer, who still thinks that the Kabbala will allow him to decipher Abraham’s book, decides to go to Spain where there is an important Jewish colony.  He leaves, on foot, explaining to his entourage that he is making a pilgrimage to Saint James of Compostella.

In the province of Leon, he meets an old Jewish doctor called Canches.  Canches is an alchemist.  Flamel shows him a copy of Abraham’s book which he has sewn into his clothes.  Canches is amazed.  Flamel explains to him that the original is in Paris, and invites him to go back with him to see it.  Canches accepts, and, in spite of the Winter weather, they take to the road.

The trip is long and difficult but, while they walk, Nicolas Flamel learns the recipes and secrets that he needs for the Great Work.  In Orleans, Canches dies, exhausted.  The public writer buries him and returns to Paris, where he is reunited with Dame Pernelle.  Immediately, they both set to work.  And, on 17 January 1382, around midday, they at last succeed in changing half a pound of lead into pure silver…

Stunned, amazed, radiant, they prepare the second step of the operation and, on 25 April, they obtain an ingot of pure gold.  From then on, they will repeat their experiment and collect a considerable fortune, from which the poor in the Saint-Jacques de la Boucherie neighbourhood will be the first to profit.

***

Nicolas Flamel wrote down the principal episodes of his life and his research in a work called Le Livre des figures hieroglyphiques.

***

It is difficult to evaluate exactly the fortune of Nicolas Flamel.  It was considerable, because, according to notaried Acts which have been found, Flamel built four big houses and bought seventy-three others, in Paris and its surroundings.  As well as that, he covered all of his neighbourhood poor in gold, and even became banker for the Royal Treasury.  He also, at his wife’s request, endowed nine tradesmen’s fraternities, as well as fourteen churches or hospitals, including the Quinze-Vingts.  In memory of this gesture, every year until the Revolution, the blind went in procession from their hospital to the Saint-Jacques de la Boucherie Church, in Nicolas Flamel’s parish.  Today, the Saint-Jacques Tower is all that is left of it.

***

People have said that his profession of public writer would have been enough to have made him rich.  For anyone with any knowledge of the living standards of small tradespeople in the Middle Ages, this is absurd.  It has also been said that he was an usurer and that he took the gold deposited with him by the Jews.  These accusations have no foundation.  Plus, such acts would be in total contradiction with everything that we know about the character of Nicolas Flamel – his goodness and his generosity.

***

Notre-Dame de Paris is a book of alchemy that the initiated are able to read.  Its first bishop, author of an Epitre sur l’alchimie, resumed this secret science in some of its sculptures.  For example, at the Sainte-Anne door, there is a statue of Bishop Marcel plunging his crozier into the mouth of a winged dragon.  This dragon is leaving a space where a man is lying.  Above, an upside-down royal head and Byzantine gold pieces are sculpted.  All of this is symbolic and constitutes, for those who are able to read it, a real instruction in hermetic language.

Detail of the Virgin's door in Notre-Dame de Paris. The seven circles represent the metals necessary for the Great Work.

There are two signs which indicate the alchemical vocation of Notre-Dame de Paris.  At the Virgin’s door, you first see a sarcophage decorated with seven circles representing the seven planetary metals necessary for the acccomplishment of the Great Work.  And, if you take the stairs which lead to the second gallery, you will discover, among the statues of chimera, an old stone man wearing the Phrygian bonnet of the Adepts.  It is the Alchemist watching over Paris, as he would watch over his athanor or alchemist’s furnace.

The alchemist watches over Paris from amongst the chimera of Notre-Dame de Paris

***

Like Notre-Dame, the Sainte-Chapelle is a book of hermetic images.  There, it is not the statues which contain the teachings, but the stained-glass windows.  They are so rich and so “readable” that Fulcanelli says that

“it would be difficult to find anywhere else a more considerable collection on alchemical esoteric formulae.”

Of course, you need to have the key.

***

The transmutation of metals – which is accompanied by the personal transmutation of the Adept – is only one step in alchemical research.  One step in the accession to semi-mortality.  It should be noted that Nicolas Flamel was nearly one hundred years old when he died in 1418, which is stupefying in a time when men rarely arrived at fifty.

Of course, some authors are not happy with this great age.  A few have gone as far as saying that the sworn-writer, and Dame Pernelle, did not die in the XVth Century.  After a fake funeral, they are both supposed to have left France and gone to India to live a happy life, thanks to the elixir of longevity.  These same authors affirm that a traveller by the name of Paul Lucas met them in the XVIIth Century, gaily spending their prodigious fortune.

An illness to which Voltaire seemed to attach little importance, and which is however very painful, was his strangurie.

From the age of thirty-nine until his death, he had bladder problems, for which he was bled and bathed, even in the middle of winter.  At the same time, his “two spindley legs have become fat like barrels”.

Was it hypertrophia of the prostate, which would explain the cystitis; or an albuminous nephritis, which would justify the oedema of the lower members?  The first one seems the more likely.

In 1759, Voltaire had  “a fit of dizziness, a je ne sais quoi which doesn’t much help the mind”.  Tronchin had “to come to the aid of his pia mater and his dura mater”.  But this congestion was only temporary and left no trace.

Several years later, he complained of an intermittent pulse.  Frederic, who had consulted for him an English doctor, who was visiting his court, told him that it was nothing, and not to worry about it.

However, he mentions it again in a later letter, telling him a few things which are not completely senseless:  “For your intermittent pulse, I am not surprised;  after a long life, veins begin to solidify, and it takes time for this to progress to the vena cava, which gives you a few years of respite.”  If we substitute “arteries” for “veins”, the explanation given by the King of Prussia is almost acceptable.  Because of his great age, Voltaire could have been atherosclerotic, which is typical in arthritic people.

This diagnosis was justified later.  In the month of March 1776, he announced to Count d’Argental that he had just had “a sort of apoplexy”.  “It is ridiculous to fall into a sort of apoplexy when one is as thin as I am;  however, I was that ridiculous.”

The following year, he sent a message to the Duke of Richelieu that he had lost his memory for two days, and that he had lost it “so absolutely that he couldn’t find any word in the language”.  It is certain that he had had a stroke this time, but without any paralysis.

In spite of his eighty-three years, he still found the strength to undertake the long and tiring trip from Ferney to Paris.  Just as Tronchin had predicted, he did not survive this effort.

He vomitted blood almost on his arrival, and shortly after, had another attack of his strangurie.  It has been said that it was because of his ingestion of high doses of opium that his bladder pains reappeared, and that, far from calming his suffering, his abuse of the medication had made it worse.

This indestructible invalid finally died at the age of eighty-four.  Voltaire was able to combat the disastrous effects of the remedies of his time, by creating for himself a personal life-style which was hygienic, healthy and efficient.

By doing this, “the eternal moaner” succeeded in having a long career, while conserving intact his lucid intelligence, which made him the brightest personification of a French intellectual.

Voltaire did not have good eyes and continually complained about them.

At the age of twenty-three, he wrote to the Marquise of Mimeure to ask her to send him a little plaster which she had promised him for the pimple which had grown on his eye (probably a stye).

Later, he had several attacks of ophthalmia, which sometimes prevented him from reading or writing.  He would sign either “Voltaire Fifteen-Twenty”, or “Voltaire the Blind”, occasionally “The Blind Man of the Alps”.

He attributed this affliction to various causes:  too much reading, the snow, the north-east wind.  He described it with great precision:  “My eyes are at the moment rimmed with thick red and white cords”.  This would appear to be blepharitis of the eyelashes, so difficult to treat.

These eye problems alternated with deafness, sore throats, even aphonia.  All of these troubles, which Voltaire attributed to the influence of the Alpine air, are most likely of a catarrhal nature, and their alternance can be explained by the inflammatory propagation of contiguous mucuses.

How did he treat himself?  “The great Dr Tronchin,” he wrote to d’Argental.  “Covers the eyes of the Blind Man of the Alps with a softening ointment containing some caustic sublimate.”  This ointment relieved him.  However, according to him, it was not this ointment which cured him, but an old lady’s remedy.

He wrote to Mme du Deffand:  “My eyes have been two ulcers for nearly two years.  A good woman has just about cured me […] it was Mr Tronchin who taught me what to do and it was an old ignorant woman who gave daylight back to me.”  This woman was the sister of Mr de Cuce who, passing by Ferney, indicated this remedy to Voltaire.  He called it “Lausanne Water” and recommended it to all his friends.

The Count d’Argental, having sore eyes, praised the medicine which was prescribed for him:  Belloste pills.  Voltaire answered that cool water relieved him and that he didn’t want any pills.  “What do Belloste pills have in common with eyes?  What relation does this pill have to tear glands?”

In spite of the evidence, there are still people who persist in thinking that Voltaire suffered from mercury poisoning.  In fact, it was a scorbutic illness which made him lose his teeth in 1749.

Scurvy is caused by a lack of vitamin C.  Voltaire laughed at the response of the Prussian king’s doctor, consulted for his condition.  “Codenius, doctor of the King of Prussia, sometimes gives me long prescriptions in German;  I throw them into the fire and am not the worse for it.  He is a very good man and when he sees that my teeth are falling out, and that I am suffering from scurvy, he says that I have a scorbutic illness.”

This reminds us of one of Moliere’s lines when one of his doctor characters says:  “Why does opium put people to sleep?  Because it has a sleeping virtue.”

Voltaire also asked the advice of Bouvard, who didn’t do much better.  He made him give up goat’s milk, which didn’t help, but which at least had the advantage of being inoffensive.

As well as scurvy, Voltaire, at different times in his life, also complained of rhumatic and gout pains.  In the winter of 1775-1776, he wrote that gout held him “tied up and garrotted for four weeks”;  that he had it “on both feet and both knees, both hands and, as a particular favour, on the elbow”.

It has been said that he never had gout, and that he just complained about it to court the Duke of Richelieu who was really a gout sufferer.  However, he often complained of having “swollen fingers”, having “pain in his writing hand”, and of being “the thinnest gout sufferer”.  He also said that his gout was “not much”, so we don’t really know what to believe.

Ninth and last part tomorrow.

Was Voltaire’s dyspepsia really due to the illness, or to all of the purgatives with which he treated himself?  From a young age, he got into the habit of taking up to eight medicines and twelve enemas a month.

During his trip to England, he discovered a perfected machine for taking enemas.  He was delighted.  “It is a chef-d’oeuvre of the art!”  he exclaimed.  “You can put it in your gusset and use it when and where you like, you can use it all the time and wherever you are.”

Cassia and rhubarb were his favourite remedies, to which he added soap enemas.  On this subject, something amusing happened while he was in Prussia as the guest of Frederic.

From Berlin, Voltaire had asked the king to give him permission to visit the different German courts.  The monarch ordered a general, Count de Chazot, to accompany him and to pay for all of his travelling expenses.

Upon his return, the Count presented the bill to Frederic.  The first article was a fairly hefty sum “for soap enemas at two kreutzers each” taken by Voltaire during the trip.

“What is this?”  cried Frederic.  “What apothecary’s bill are you presenting me with here?”

“Sire,” replied Chazot.  “I will not deduct one denier for Your Majesty; for my bill is of the greatest exactitude.”

And the king had to pay it.

Another remedy which Voltaire used frequently was Stahl powder.  He obtained the prescription from King Stanislas, Duke of Lorraine.  We know the formula for this powder, which is a mixture of potassium sulfate, potassium nitrate and red sulphur of mercury.  This powder was taken in pill form.

In 1747, Voltaire sent a message to Frederic:  “I am tempted to believe that the Stahl pills would do some good to the King of Prussia;  they were invented in Berlin and they have almost cured me of late.”  Two days later, he wrote to the same sovereign, now his friend:  “I haven’t yet found anything which does me more good than the real Stahl pills, and we have only bad copies in Paris…  I beg Y.  M. to be so gracious as to send me a pound of Stahl pills… ”

Upon which, Frederic answered:  “There would be enough to purge the whole of France with the pills you ask of me, and enough to kill your three academies [the Academy of Medecine did not yet exist];  do not imagine that these pills are sweets:  you would be mistaken…  I have ordered d’Arget to send you the pills, which have such a big reputation in France and which the late Stahl used to have made by his coachman.  The only people here who use them are pregnant women.”

The Prussian king knew how to turn an epigram.  Doctor Frederic was giving a lesson to Patient Voltaire.

In 1736, Voltaire had only just entered into relations with Frederic, when the king started worrying about Voltaire’s indispositions, taking upon himself to seek medical advice for the writer, and begging him not to give him continual alarms by his frequent health problems.  “Your Royal Highness,”  wrote Voltaire.  “Is too good to have consulted doctors for me and to be gracious enough to send me a recipe which is better than all of their prescriptions.”

This recipe is contained in the post-scriptum of one of the king’s letters to his chamberlain:  “I have a bit of amber for Cirey and I have some Hungarian wine which, I have been told, will be a balm for my friend’s health.”

Although Voltaire drank moderately – a demi-setier of wine at each meal is more than he needs –  he likes to have excellent vintages, which his guests know how to appreciate.  As for himself, he sticks to burgundy, or corton, which he tries to get as cheaply as possible.

The wine sent to him by the king is appreciated by him more for the thought than for the wine itself.  He answered as usual by increased flattery.  “I only have confidence in doctors,” he wrote to Frederic.  “Since Your Royal Highness is the Aesculape who is gracious enough to watch over my health.”

The advice given to him by the king was not always to his taste, however.  In answer to certain rather libertine offers, Voltaire declared to him “that he needed furs in summer, and not girls, and that he needed a good bed, but for himself alone, a seringe and the King of Prussia”.

The king was extremely attentive.  If Voltaire had a temperature, he sent him the best quinquina that he could find.  Was there a dish which pleased him, he was instantly served it.  But what did Voltaire think of all of these favours?

“Digestion is the biggest point.  When I have a colic, I chase away all of the kings in the universe.  I have given up these divine suppers and find myself a little better for it.”  The king had to leave him “entire liberty” to sup alone at home or not to sup, when he felt even more ill.  Thanks to this tightening of his diet, he declared himself to be tormented less by his bowel problems and no longer held his abdomen with both hands.

But he had another problem.  He said that he was suffering from sciatic gout which kept him in his room, at a bad inn in Lyon.  He left this town shortly after, and went, all crippled, to the Prangins chateau, in the canton of Vaud, where “he waits for the end of a life filled with suffering”, in the hope “of going soon to the Aix baths”.

Unable to go, he fell back on drinking the mineral waters of Prangins, which he declared superior to the Forges waters, of which he definitely had a bad memory.

Eighth part tomorrow.

Voltaire lost almost all of his fortune in some unfortunate banking operations.  This greatly affected him, and caused the return of his dyspepsia.

In 1732, his health was “worse than ever”.  He found it difficult to work, even to write a simple letter, and he gave a plausible reason for it:  “If you knew what it costs me to write!…  I can write a tragedy scene in my bed, because I can do it without having to lean over a table, and without my body having to do anything;  but, when I have to take up my pen, just the posture needed to do it hurts me;  I am presently in the cruellest state in the world.”

It was at this time that he signed his letters “the vaporous, the hypocondriac V”.  He no longer had the strength to think… his miserable life was verging on its death throes… he was a dying man approaching his last sunset.  But, who didn’t have the vapours in the XVIIIth century?

Voltaire’s friend, Mme de Graffigny, was afflicted by them, and she wasn’t the only one.  Voltaire himself was their victim, without admitting it.  Like all “vaporous people”, as soon as he was contraried, he became ill again;  when he wasn’t tormented, all was well.

In 1734, following the publication of Lettres philosophiques, he feared arrestation and imprisonment in the Bastille.  He had to flee Paris quickly, and the Plombieres waters suddenly became necessary for his health.  We don’t know a lot about this first stay at the spa, where he returned several times.

In 1748, he arrived there ahead of the Marquise du Chatelet, the “divine Emilie”, who stayed ten days at Plombieres, in the company of Mme de Boufflers, of whom it was said that, “just to be sure”, she made her paradise in this world.

Voltaire returned to Plombieres in 1754, on the advice of a doctor named Coste, doubtless the same one who later became Head Doctor of the Invalides.

Frederic II tried to discourage him from taking this trip, saying that “mineral waters are not lacking in Silesia”.  But Voltaire, who wanted to return to grace in the eyes of the King of France, needed to consult with his niece, who was leading the negotiations in this affair, both in Paris and in Versailles.

Mme Denis was to join him at Plombieres, then accompany him to Colmar.  This arrangement seemed very natural.  It was known that Voltaire was continuously ill.  The trip to Plombieres could therefore pass as a real need to take the waters and to repair his bad health.  However, this need was really only a front.

The philosopher left Colmar on 8 June 1754, taking only one servant and his copyist.

At Colmar, he had learned that La Condamine and his implacable adversary Maupertuis were both staying at Plombieres.  Voltaire, not wanting to meet them, in particular Maupertuis, didn’t go that far, and went to the Abbey of Senones, where he stayed for three weeks as guest of the scholarly Benedictine Dom Calmet, who liked to call him “Friar Voltaire”.

This was where he wrote:  “I waited until I had recovered a bit of health before going for my cure at Plombieres.  I shall take the waters without believing in them, just like I read the Church Fathers.”

Home from Plombieres, “he is still weak, still languishing;  his health is going to the devil;  he can’t write with his hand;  his head is spinning”.  This is the first time that we hear him complain of vertigo, the vertigo a stomacho laeso, which Trousseau described so well.

Seventh part tomorrow.

Up until the age of fifty, Voltaire’s stomach will be the seat of his tortures, the source of all his apprehensions.

He started talking about his bad digestion from 1720, at the age of twenty-six.  Three years later, he wrote to one of his correspondents that “his health and his business affairs are in an incredibly delapidated state […] that he is so ill that his pen is dropping from his hand”.

That is when, on the advice of people who had benefited from it, he thought about taking the waters at Forges on his way back from his first trip to Holland, where he went as an exile, and where he led “a life of dissipation, which went as far as disorder”.  He had hoped that the Forges waters would restore his health but, far from being successful, they tired him more.

“I won’t take waters again,” he declared.  “They do me a lot more ill than they do me good.  There is more vitriol in a bottle of Forges water than in a bottle of ink.”  Which didn’t stop him from returning to these same waters the following year.

He started to feel better, but the amelioration didn’t last and, with his habitual exaggeration, he declared that these waters were more than harmful.  “The Forges waters have killed me,” he wrote to a friend.  At most, their prolonged use would have made his dyspepsia worse.

This is when he decided to treat himself with whey.  However, almost at the same time, he called in a doctor who made him take cinnamon essence, while another doctor prescribed something entirely different.  In the end, he didn’t know which drug to take.

On the advice of Mme de Bernieres, he decided to consult Silva, the fashionable doctor to see at the time, the doctor for delicate dispositions.  The oracle assured him that “the pieces of an iron ball were as good as the whole ball”, and that there is nothing better for the digestion.  Voltaire was weak enough to believe the oracle but, after experimenting, he gave up this weird digestive remedy and recognized that “diet is better than all the balls in the world […]”.

“Health has at last been given back to me,” he wrote joyfully to Mme de Bernieres.  “I have found my gaiety again […].  I warn you, my dear queen, that Mr de Gervasi and all the doctors of the Faculty of Medicine will be of no use to you, if you do not have a strict diet, and with this diet you will be able to do marvellously well without the waters… “.

However, Voltaire cried victory too soon.  This calm will be short-lived.

Sixth part tomorrow.

Voltaire’s life was not only restrained when it came to women;  it was just as sober when it came to food and drink.  In an odd letter to Count Autre, he gave his opinion on food.

“There are some very ancient and very good foods, from which all of the wise men of Antiquity have profited.  You like them and I would like to eat them with you;  but I admit that my stomach cannot adapt to the new cuisine.  I cannot suffer a ris de veau which is swimming in a salty sauce which rises fifteen lines above this little ris de veau.  I cannot eat an hachis composed of turkey, hare and rabbit, which I am expected to take for one unique meat.  I like neither pigeon a la crapaudine, nor bread without a crust.  I drink wine moderately, and I find the people who eat without drinking, and who don’t even know what they are eating, very strange.  As for cooks, I refuse to put up with ham extract, or with the excess of mushrooms, of pepper and of nutmeg, with which they disguise food which, in itself, is very healthy, and which I would not even want to be larded […].  I want bread to be cooked in an oven and never in a steamer.  You will have figs and fruits, but only in season.  A supper without trimmings, just as I propose it, will give a gentle sleep, untroubled by disagreeable dreams.”

We now know the foods that Voltaire didn’t like.  Let us see those which had his preference.

First of all lentils.  He loved them.  There was no greater gift to give him.  A good soup was also agreeable to him, and as for meat, a little mutton did not displease him;  then there are eggs;  and whey, when he was on a diet.

He counted more on diet than on medicines to restore or conserve his health.  “Diet is better than medicine”, he said.  And he was so convinced of this that he wrote, on 17 February 1752, to Mme de Fontaine, that thanks to the diet to which he is keeping, he will prolong his life by a few months;  and on 26 September 1768, he sent a message to the Duke of Richelieu that his illnesses condemned him to a retired life and to a severe diet from which he must not stray.

He only softened this severity at supper time.  In Paris, he usually dined, in the company of Mme du Chatelet, every evening, in town:  at Cirey, the single meal was supper, if not abundant, as least composed of refined and delicate foods.

At lunchtime, he always had chocolate or coffee.  When the actor Lekain was admitted to his table for the first time, the two men consumed a dozen cups of chocolate, mixed with coffee, and nothing else was served.

Coffee was Voltaire’s great passion.  It was his only food until supper time, to which he invited all the strangers of distinction who came to visit him.  For a long time, he would abuse coffee, which was necessary to him as a cerebral stimulant;  but, during the last fifteen years of his life, he would drink only two or three small cups of it a day, at most, and with cream.

There were no fixed hours for his meals.  In his old age, he no longer ate in the middle of the day, as he used to do before.  He supped between nine and ten o’clock, eating little and slowly, going to bed between eleven and midnight.  He didn’t sleep much longer than four or five hours.  On the other hand, he spent sixteen or seventeen hours in bed.  During the night, three lighted candles remained beside his pillow.

His bed was covered in books.  Beside, near, and on, an elegant table, there were always fresh water, coffee with milk, reams of white paper and a writing case.

He dictated as well as he wrote.  He was incredibly gifted for this method of work.  But he mostly only dictated his letters.  He usually wrote his works himself, and had them copied afterwards.  When he was working, it was often necessary to remind him that he hadn’t eaten.

There was one thing which he found difficult to bear:  he was excessively sensitive to cold and always sat close to the fire.  No less than six cords of wood were burnt every day at Cirey, according to Mme de Graffigny.  He had to have a fire in both summer and winter because he was always afraid of dying of cold.

Voltaire was also extremely clean, and remained so, even at an advanced age.  The loss of his teeth, the ravages of smallpox, scurvy and other illnesses had considerably altered his face.  However, he was always careful to hide all these physical imperfections with excessive cleanliness.

He had one particularity worth mentioning:  he had no beard.  At least, he had so little that he never had himself shaven.  On his chimney-piece, he kept two or three pairs of epilatory tweezers, with which he played, and occasionally removed a hair, while conversing with someone.  His face bore the mark of the military punishment which he had received at the Sevre Bridge, in 1715.

In his youth, he had had an agreeable face.  Later, his face lost its flesh, and his arms and legs became emaciated, through the influence of his numerous illnesses.

All his life, he suffered from various indispositions.  He often became angry with people, but excused himself afterward.  “Forgive me,” he would say.  “It’s mainly the pains in my intestines which put me in such a bad humour.”  He would then take some cassia or some rhubarb, which he used two or three times a week, as well as soap enemas.

He wrote to Mme du Deffand, and sent a message to Mr d’Argental, that he had dysentery.  For his correspondents were kept informed of his smallest complaints.  Detailing his infirmities to them, was to honour them with a particular friendship.

He wrote to Cideville:  “I lead a philosophical life, sometimes troubled by colics”.  Some time later, he let him know “that he is dangerously ill with some sort of inflamation of the bowel”.

This inflamation, sort of enteritis, is connected to his dyspepsia, which is his life’s torment.  For Voltaire was, above all, and this point is now well established, a dyspeptic.  According to Dr Cabanes, he suffered from “nervous motor dyspepsia, the dyspepsia of intellectuals and neuro-arthritics, of whom, he is one of the most complete types”.

Fifth part tomorrow.

What was Voltaire’s conduct toward women?  Was he the libertine that some have painted him, or simply indifferent, or worse, as others have said?

In the company of women, he seems to have been polite and courteous, which is symbolic of that time.  However, he never sacrificed his moral tranquillity to them, nor his physical health which he knew to be delicate.

Like all young men, he had his moments.  Although, he never let his passion take control.

At the age of nineteen, he fell for the daughter of a starving writer, who saw him as easy game to be exploited.  Voltaire saw the danger, and shielded himself.  Up until he was almost forty, his love life does not appear to have been much more than “witty debauchery”.

His only known serious and lasting affection was for Mme du Chatelet.  Similar tastes and common work gave birth, at least on Voltaire’s side, to a sentiment which was not strictly platonic.  A small part of sensuality crept in.  This included a certain amount of jealousy, which is demonstrated by a scene he made when he surprised the lady in intimate “conversation” with Saint-Lambert.  A chamber maid reported the spicy details.

First of all, the Marquise tried to convince Voltaire that he had been mistaken about what he had seen, then:

“…  I have used up my health, my fortune, I have sacrificed everything for you, and you are unfaithful to me!” he moaned.

“No, I still love you,” she replied.  “But, for a long time now, you have been complaining that you are ill, that your strength is leaving you, that you can no longer continue.  I have been greatly afflicted by it;  I am far from wanting your death, your health is very dear to me;  no-one in the world is more sympathetic about it than I.  As for you, you have always shown great interest for mine;  you have knowledge of and have approved the diet which suits me, you have even favorised and shared it for as long as you were able.  Since you admit that you are only able to continue to take care of it at great damage to yourself, should you be upset when one of your friends replaces you?”

“Ah, Madame,”  replied Voltaire.  “You will always be right;  but, since things must be this way, at least let them not be within my sight.”

It does not seem possible to be more accomodating or more philosophical.  The most surprising part of the story is that, once the compromise was agreed upon, the love triangle lived in perfect harmony.  Only the death of Mme du Chatelet put an end to this methodically organized happiness.

Voltaire never recovered from the loss.  All of the love affairs attributed to him after that, are just gossip.  He occasionally flirted with a pretty woman, and took pleasure in having a plump, young girl or two next to him.  Even going so far as to caress their rounded arms.  But he went no further.  All of the other, more scandalous, stories about him are pure fiction.

In 1772, Voltaire is 78 years old.  The Marechal de Richelieu, a great debauchee, insinuates that Voltaire kept Mlle Raucourt in his bedroom for several hours, and that the result of this is a worrying loss of consciousness.

First of all, Voltaire doesn’t take the allegation seriously, and even sends the Marechal some light-hearted verses on the subject.  But the rumour swells, and he feels that he must give some sort of explanation.

It is true that he had received a beautiful young lady at Ferney, but it has been supposed, wrongly, that she had shown some kindness toward him, who was totally unable to respond to such a situation.  “Scandalmongers have invented this story and spread it throughout Paris… ”  It is very cruel to have done this to the poor girl, even more to himself, who is dying, literally, from his strangurie.  Even though, he can truthfully say that he does not deserve this illness;  and if he dies, it will be the most innocently in the world.

The letter which he wrote to the actress, after their interview, must convince the most incredulous.  “If I were twenty years old, if I had a body, a fortune and above all a heart worthy of you, you would have their homage;  but I have lost everything.  All that are left to me are eyes to see you, a soul to admire you and a hand to write to you.”

At four times twenty years old, the hermit of Ferney had not lost the secret of fashioning a madrigal.

Fourth part tomorrow.

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