After reading Candide, I received the honor of inviting a few guests to Voltaire’s chateau in Ferney. An invitation soon arrived to the invetés, Thomas Jefferson, Mary Wollstonecraft, Marie Antoinette, and a certain few others to come visit Voltaire’s chateau. Voltaire wrote to the guests, “The garden is looking rather handsome and I should be charmed to show you around the little palace.” The estate, bought back in 1758, was a considerable property located at Ferney and nearby the soil of Geneva.
It was here at this chateau where Voltaire threw his continentally esteemed dinner parties in which he employed many individuals well-versed in the subjects of the time to spend a day weekend. It was on New Year’s eve that the much awaited dinner took place. Decorations of Venetian glass filled with many winter wildflowers that the fragrance overwhelmed the heavy smell of any perfume.
Platters of well-cooked food including, light colored-bread unlike the dark ones much of France lived on laid on the circular table in the dining room. Set aside for later hours were plates of macaroons, fondant-filled pastries, and cakes as well as the luxuries of tea and coffee. Of course, there was the hot chocolate for Marie Antoinette.We enjoyed an afternoon out in the gardens and had begun to dine – the Queen adorned in a muslin dress smiled graciously at the others while the French peasant looked around, overwhelmed with at the immense presence of unfamiliar foods that were very unlike and much more luxurious than what he ate daily.
Thomas Jefferson having come from America shared his observations of France as he pleased himself with a rather large plate of macaroni and cheese. “I am rather surprised,” he said, “at the manner in how some French women solicit in their husband’s or persons of office’s affairs. They could be a threatening political influence, but I am glad most do not have the cleverness to interfere with affairs beyond their domestic duty. I don’t think the public is ready In that sense, I find American women to lead a much more tranquil and enjoyable life. I must confess that it is a comparison of Amazons and Angels (George W, Albert G.
.)”. He chuckled, amused at his last remark while taking a sip of wine. Marie Antoinette laughed and said, “Maybe the ones out there on the streets. But not I, I don’t take much interest in politics. When my princess, Marie Thérèse was born, she unfortunately was not what was desired by the rest, as they wanted a male heir (168). She is no less dear to me but it is important to uphold the salic law. (322)”She nodded and smiled at Jefferson, however his prior comment did not sit well with the British writer, Mary Wollstonecraft.
“As a man, you may not understand”, she started, “but I believe that it is in all’s, including in men’s best interest to allow women representation in government positions rather than not. That way, with better education virtue and human knowledge can be better developed in our society as well as in marital relationships(107, 264, 260 VRW)” she refuted angrily.Thomas Jefferson thought upon her comment and then nonchalantly replied, “A plan for female education has never been much of a thought to me (Nathaniel Burwell). I’d say that women rather take part in lessons like dancing, playing the harpsichord, and drawing that will prepare her for domestic life (Mary J). Oh, and attending to her dress always, of course. (Martha J)”.
Mary Wollstonecraft slammed her hands on the table, causing the French Peasant’s bread to fall in his soup. “It’s never human nature for us women to only care for the beauties of our face. (138) It is the lack of the opportunity of an equally rational education that render woman to seemingly be ignorant by men like Rousseau (66-67,71) and render themselves to judging one another by beauty and dress (151). The divine right of men and husbands, like the divine right of kings in this enlightened age is quite a tyrannical contradiction to whatever morality and pursuit of liberty you claim. (67)”Jonathan Swift another inventée, and an Anglo-Irish writer and cleric in the midst of this quarrel laughed at Jeffersons’ prior comments. “I find it almost hilarious how men are disillusioned by their idealisations of women. Women, especially all those rich, upper class ones go to such extensive measures to please men that although being they human, it’s quite disgusting what some do (Prior, Dressing room).” Voltaire nodded.
“Women seem to hold the idea that their virtue is linked to sexuality and modesty (31) and my, do men buy on this to commit rather vulgar acts they seem to uphold as normal, even noble (13,105). ” He pondered some more as the others quieted to listen. “It is a wonder to me how we men often forget to recognise that the knowledge and experience of a woman is so rich. (38-39)”Jonathan Swift added, “Jefferson, I will have to say however that Ms. Wollstonecraft’s suggestion of education for both sexes will be beneficial for marriage and raising children. There is almost in fact, universal neglect of good education among our nobility, gentry, and indeed among all others who are born to good estates (SwiftEdofD).
” He then took a large bite of his food and smiled, quite satisfied.Mary Wollstonecraft having calmed down remarked in response, “Yes, not just in the aristocracy. I think that it’ll be even more beneficial if children go to a public day-school where boys and girls, the rich and poor meet together. And to prevent any of the distinctions of vanity, they should be dressed alike, and all obliged to submit to the same discipline (253). Not private schools because they teach children to think themselves different from children who can’t afford to go nor homeschool, which leads the child to think that they are the center of the universe.
(241,242).” I noticed that the French Peasant seemed quite approving of her statements. “Yes! An equal education system for all of France is quite favorable in my eyes. Better education will allow us to get better jobs and lead better lives”, he exulted. Thomas Jefferson cleared his throat. “Yes, actually I proposed a legislation in 1779 called A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge in which I outlined a three tiered system of education. I want to implement at least three years of free education and then grammar schools, as well as state universities.
This way, we can have a literate and educated American population, which is best in order to preserve freedom and happiness (Wythe, BfEd).”, he said. This was the first agreement between him and Mary Wollstonecraft tonight. In order to maintain a stable relationship between a government and its people in a democracy, he figured that it was not best to leave the people in ignorance.As silence fell upon the party, I looked over to the Queen who has a natural distaste for conflict (101) quietly took sips of her champagne as she looked over to meet my eyes.
“Madame, do you have something to say on the topic?”, I asked. Marie Antoinette had not said a word since the start of the meal.She put her glass down. “Well, I never took much interest in educational studies (32-33) and I’m not sure if reading is helping the people much out there either. They read and buy into libelles (318-9), or rather those miserable gazettes that make false stories and accusations of myself! They call me ‘Madame Deficit’, ‘l’Autrichienne’ (47), and and create horrid songs about me, the French people (146-8)” she shrugged off, laughing rather disdainfully.
“But I do believe that the people are rather volatile and express things with their pens and their tongues that aren’t actually in their hearts.” The French peasant astounded at the Queen’s lack of interest in politics and overall ignorance to the very society she ruled exclaimed, “Do you really not know why? We peasantry who make up the entire nation are in a crisis of starvation, debt, and tyranny (Schama). The privilege of you kings, queens, and the nobles that do nothing (de Sieyes) disgust me. You build model villages at Petit Trianon to mock us (206-8). And the showers of money and gifts you rain on you little friends? Pah! (Schama) A new constitution by the National Assembly shall give us our liberty, feed our starving villages, and bring the people justice more than you, an Austrian woman could do (Fraser, Schama). We are nothing to you, and want to become something! (de Sieyes).” In rage, he added, “You are as the entire reason for our misery and necessity for revolution! (457-8, 225-6).”I did approve and support the Constitution!” Marie Antoinette cried back.
In truth, she privately thought that by openly supporting the Constitution, she would be seen as sincere to the people (354). “A new Constitution that excludes women from the natural rights of mankind…”, Mary Wollstonecraft muttered to herself. “Wait, what about tyranny and men? There is tyranny of one man, which I detest and of many, or mob rule, which I detest more (Tyranny, democracy). An enlightened monarch is the sure way but I’m not quite sure that’s in place at the moment. (states, gov, authority)” Voltaire asked confused. Mary Wollstonecraft snapped back into focus realizing the topic of conversation had changed. “Oh, I’d have to say, Madame Antoinette that keeping you and your little party’s reign of wealth and privilege leads only to first, corruption and oppression, and second, to war and revolution which is what you got. (FR 1,2).
However, the French Revolution is a glorious chance given to humankind to attaining more virtue and happiness that may lead to widespread notions of liberty! (48) But only done with good reason will it end well.” She sighed as she noted, “The English back at home believe that the French are going all mad. (Furniss 68).” Thomas Jefferson nodded. “This ball of liberty, The French Revolution, I believe most piously, is now so well in motion that it will roll round the globe, at least the enlightened part of it, for light & liberty go together.
I am glad the influence of the revolution in the United States in spreading its ideals for democracy and freedom (Coxe, Short). ” He paused to take a drink and then continued. “However, I have concerns on the excessive violence that goes against reason used by some participants of the revolution (Short, 267-70). The ends will justify the means but there can be revolution without so much blood, we can look to the English with their Glorious Revolution in 1688 as an example.(Short)”, Jefferson stated in a tone of seriousness. He was no stranger to revolutions. He not only was a founding father of the United States but also had witnessed Bastille first hand and worked with Marquis de Lafayette on the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen.
I heard that the Declaration of the National Assembly was inspired much by Jefferson’s own Declaration of Independence as well as the English Bill of Rights and John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government on the notions of natural rights. He then paused before saying quite loudly, “To be honest, if the Queen had just been shut up in a convent there would’ve been no need for revolution (457).” He bought into the very idea of making the Queen a scapegoat of all the issues while brushing away the desperate need for reform in France in such a draconian manner.Marie Antoinette overwhelmed with the attacks seemingly directed at her cried, “Oh my God, if we have committed faults, we have certainly expiated them. (458)” Although members in her family thinks them to be unnecessary, the Queen insisted on personal involvement in humanitarian enterprises when she could (83). Even I could see that her compassionate character was genuine. However, the libelles and the press never have any for her and as a result neither does the public. There was a brief silence before Jonathan Swift jumped in saying, “Well I am not quite sure what exactly happened, however I am against tyranny, as the English are to the Irish.
Although for the Irish, both the masses and rich are the causes of their own degradation. The wealthy are often self indulgent and sometimes the oppressed just wait for help and do nothing. I think it’s good that there is change from within (MP).” He stopped to think. “Personally, I would advocate for an autonomous government, which would secure the most freedom for people but not a republic though.
(CR)” “The wealthy are all quite self indulgent aren’t they? Christianity’s morals are good in theory but there are Catholics out there who claim to be true believers that are hypocrites to their beliefs (ToT). They adhere more to fanaticism, trying to answer questions of no benefit to society and slaughter one another in the God’s name as they did in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre or the Puritan Oliver Cromwell did during the English Civil War (PD).
Intolerance always results in conflict and war. (PfT).” Voltaire grimaced at the thought of fanaticism.Mary Wollstonecraft broke in saying, “The clergy who seem to feel some sort of justified superiority over people and makes them perform ritual ceremonies that eventually have the most fatal effect on the people’s morals. For what good can be expected from the youth who receives the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, to avoid forfeiting half a guinea, which he probably afterwards spends in some sensual manner.
(243) Religion has to have reason behind it and to subject rational being to the mere will of another is simply cruel (235). True grace arises from some kind of independence of mind (167), not from the present Christian systems based on some groundless authority (243-44). “Voltaire and Jefferson seconded these claims and both agreed with each other that the existence of clockmaker God is the most rational notion of God’s existence (JP). “Back in the States, I worked on a statute, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom starting in 1777 actually. It is my personal belief, likewise with you Voltaire that it is better to allow complete religious freedom in order to maintain peace and order. Overall, the State is better off separated from Church affairs. (LDB) The State controlling religion hasn’t ever ended without a fight hence the Holy Roman Empire wanting to make their whole nation Catholic resulting in the Thirty Years’ War or the Huguenots’ wars with the Roman Catholics in France during the 16th century. “The Peasant agreed and noted on the dechristianization efforts back in the towns.
Voltaire found this to be a marvelous notion and asked the Peasant if he knew where the nearest Temple of Reason was to his house.”Are you become dechristianize yourself as well?” I asked. The Peasant said he was going to remain a Catholic like most but said that he would only follow clergy that pledged to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy or essentially to the Revolution itself.
At that moment, the clock struck eight. “Oh my!”, exclaimed Voltaire. “Our debates have made some of our food cold! Let us pause this conversation and go enjoy the meal.” We all agreed to this and with that, I took my first bite of the night.