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Page 201

PART III - THE PAST
CHAPTER VI - VOLTAIRE'S LABORATORY

also a complete sportsman's outfit-gun, costume ; also facepowder, hair-powder, scent, nail-scissors, sponges, two very large pots of orange-flower pomatum ; also a young priest who will officiate in the chapel, and knows a little chemistry besides ; and a young mat~ematician who knows astronomy ; also he does not want the publications of the French Academy, but the publications of the Academy of Sciences : the good Abbe has confused the two institutions, and sent the wrong volumes, so that Voltaire feels like the man who ordered eighteen swans for his ornamental water, and received eighteen monkeys by mistake ; also-also-the list of wants rolls on ; what, meantime, is Madame du ChAtelet doing at her end of the house ?
She, too, is entering for the prize competition on the Nature and Propagation of Fire, but she has not told her lover this. It is to be a surprise. An indefatigable inquirer, she has visited foundries and scorched vegetables until she is left with very little time for the actual writing, and has to dip her hand constantly in cold water, it aches so. Her suite is even more gorgeous than his : everything matches in blue and yellow, down to the little dog's basket, the bed is covered with blue satin, Veroneses and Watteaus adorn the walls, her writing table, inlaid with amber, was the gift of Prince Frederick of Prussia, her bathroom is tiled, and paved with marble, the chandeliers are exquisite, a lookingglass door leads from the bedroom into the library. Far into the night she writes ; so does Voltaire ; and between them slumbers the dilapidated central portion of the house, possibly occupied by her husband.
Life at Cirey was certainly comic, but before we have our good laugh at it we had better remind ourselves that Voltaire and Madame du Chdtelet were abreast of their age, and their science relatively no more absurd than our own-indeed, it may well prove to be less absurd, for they were highly intelligent. We find them funny because we know more, but if we patronize them for not knowing more it is we who become funny. For example, their difficulties over fire were shared by all their contemporaries. Chemistry now informs us that fire is not an element, but a state through which bodies are passing, and which is likely to be accompanied by certain reactions under some conditions, when they are heated, they give out gas, and so get

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