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In that dim and distant æon
Known as Ante-Mycenaan,
When the proud Pelasgian still
Bounded on his native hill,
And the shy Iberian dwelt
Undisturbed by conquering Celt,
Ere from out their Aryan home
Came the lords of Greece and Rome,
Somewhere in those ancient spots
Lived a man who painted Pots-
Painted with an art defective,
Quite devoid of all perspective,
Very crude, and causing doubt
When you tried to make them out,
Men (at least they looked like that),
Beasts that might be dog or cat,
Pictures blue and pictures red,
All that came into his head :
Not that any tale he meant
On the Pots to represent :
Simply 'twas to make them smart,
Simply Decorative Art.
So the seasons onward hied,
And the Painter-person died-
But the Pot whereon he drew
Still survived as good as new :
Painters come and painters go,
Art remains in statu quo.

When a thousand years (perhaps)
Had proceeded to elapse,
Out of Time's primeval mist
Came an Aetiologist;
He by shrewd and subtle guess
Wrote Descriptive Letterpress,
Setting forth the various causes
For the drawings on the vases,

All the motives, all the plots
Of the painter of the pots,
Entertained the nations with
Fable, Saga, Solar Myth,
Based upon ingenious shots
At the Purpose of the Pots,
Showing ages subsequent
What the painter really meant
(Which, of course, the painter hadn't;
He'd have been extremely saddened
Had he seen his meanings missed
By the Aetiologist).

Next arrives the Prone to Err
Very ancient Chronicler,
All that mythologic lore
Swallowing whole and wanting more,
Crediting what wholly lacked
All similitude of Fact,
Building on this wondrous basis
All we know of early races;
So the Past as seen by him
Furnished from its chambers dim
Hypothetical foundations
Whence succeeding generations
Built, as on a basis sure,
Branches three of Literature,
Social Systems four (or five),
Two Religions Primitive;
So that one may truly say
(Speaking in a general way)
All the facts and all the knowledge
Taught in School and taught in College,
All the books the printer prints-
Everything that's happened since-
Feels the influence of what
Once was drawn upon that Pot,
Plus the curious mental twist
Of that Aetiologist !
But the Pot that caused the trouble
Lay entombed in earth and rubble,

Left about in various places,
In the way that early races-
Hittites, Greeks, or Hottentots-
Used to leave important Pots;
Till at length, to close the list,
Came an Archäologist,
Came and dug with care and pain,
Came and found the Pot again :
Dug and delved with spade and shovel,
Made a version wholly novel
Of the Potman's old design
(Others none were genuine).
Pots were in a special sense
Echt-Historisch Documents :
All who Error hope to stem
Must begin by studying them;
So the Public (which, he said,
Had been grievously misled)
Must in all things freshly start
From his views of Ancient Art.
All (the learned man proceeded)
Otherwise who thought than he did,
Showed a stupid, base, untrue,
Obscurantist point of view;
Men like these (the sage would say)
Should be wholly swept away;
They, and eke the faults prodigious
Which beset their creeds religious,
Render totally impure
All their so-called Literature,
Vitiate lastly in particular
Pedagogues' effete curricula,-
Just because they've quite forgot
What was meant, and what was not,
By the Painter of the Pot!

Pots are long and life is fleeting;
Artists, when their subjects treating,
Should be very, very far
Carefuller than now they are.





Just one hundred and seventy-eight years ago there landed at Greenwich, on an exquisite May day, a man who was to reveal the philosophy, the science, and the literature of England to France and to the world; who was to introduce Shakespeare to the Continent, and to hold up the government of England to the admiration and the imitation of all other hierarchies; who was to receive from British thinkers those liberal opinions by which he prepared his countrymen for freedom and the French Revolution ; who was to become the first and the greatest of Anglomaniacs ; to write English as no foreigner has written it before or since; and to number among Englishmen the closest and the most illustrious of his friends.

The man was Arouet de Voltaire. Some two-and-thirty years old, lean, poor, cynical, not a little ailing in health, a constant thorn in the side of a most paternal government, a scapegrace, a ne’er-do-well, and the greatest genius of France—that country thought herself well rid of him. He had begun life as a notary's son; and the notary had cast him off. He had been the spoilt darling of dissolute women of fashion and the spoilt wit of the great, who were great in nothing but name. For a lampoon on the Regent he had been bastilled. For a fight with Rohan he had been bastilled again. In prison he had changed his name and dreamt of liberty.

When, released at last, he asked for permission to visit Eng. land, the authorities of his country naturally hailed with delight 80 effective a means of ridding their house of an evil spirit. How were they to guess that he would return from that barbarous little island with other spirits, called learning, philosophy, free-thought, enlightenment, more wicked than himself?

Voltaire knew no English when he landed in the spring of 1726 at Greenwich, save a little he may have acquired from some English books he had had brought to him in the Bastille. But he had in England at least one powerful English friend. In 1721 and in 1723 he had stayed at La Source, near Orleans, the home of the great exiled Lord Bolingbroke and of his French bride, who was a niece of Madame de Maintenon.

The brilliant Tory politician, the intimate of Swift and of Congreve, of Gay, of Prior and of Arbuthnot, the all-accomplished St. John' of Pope, was at this time about forty-three years old, and, what he was at all times, of boundless passions and ambitions.

Impeached as a Jacobite on the death of Queen Anne, he fled abroad and threw in his lot with the Old Pretender. But that miserable creature, the most despicable of a despicable race, was soon prevailed upon by the favourites who ruled him to dismiss from his councils the only genius they had. Bolingbroke retired to La Source.

Showy in everything and sound in nothing, not a little loose in morals, the author of a daring philosophy, and at war with the powers of his country, Bolingbroke was just the man to appeal to this reckless Arouet of seven-and-twenty. Then, too, my lord spoke French like a Frenchman ; and my lady was a compatriot. Voltaire read aloud cantos of his infant epic, the ‘ Henriade’; and his listeners went into the most flattering raptures. Surely the finest poem ever written in France ! No wonder that Voltaire wrote of my lord as having all the learning of his own country and ‘all the charm of ours.'

But Bolingbroke was, first of all, not a man of letters, but a free-thinker. From him Voltaire learnt to study the science of Locke and the Newtonianism which he was to teach his clever mistress, Madame du Châtelet, and which were long to be his refuge from her jealous temper and her shrewish tongue. From Bolingbroke he learnt some of the first principles of that creed which, as Voltairism, was to kill with ridicule the debasing superstitions of ages. To Bolingbroke, though Voltaire did condemn his style fifty years later, as full of 'distorted expressions and intolerably long periods, Voltaire's own style owes something of its copious illustration, its vivid and compelling interest. Listening to the man whose conversation excelled his writing, the keen and acquisitive pupil soon, indeed, outstripped the master.

When Voltaire came to La Source he was a philosophic poet; when he left it he was a poet-philosopher. When he landed in England in the spring of 1726 he had formed into a system of his own the teachings of the great St. John ; when he left England eighteen months later that system, fertilised by the redundant cleverness of Bolingbroke and matured by the ripened genius of Voltaire, was ready to be given to the world.

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