[Page 281]

An EPISTLE from the King of PRUSSIA, to Monsieur VOLTAIRE.

1757.

CROYEZ que si j' etois, Voltaire,
Particulier aujourdhui,
Me contentant du necessaire,
Je verrois envoler la Fortune legere,
Et m' en mocquerois comme lui.
Je connois l' ennui des grandeurs,
Le fardeau des devoirs, le jargon des flateurs,
Et tout l' amas des petitesses,
Et leurs genres et leurs especes,
Dont il faut s' occuper dans le sein des honneurs.
Je meprise la vaine gloire,
Quoique Poëte et Souverain,
Quand du ciseau fatal retranchant mon destin
Atropos m' aura vu plongé dans la nuit noire,
Que m' importe l' honneur incertain
De vivre apres ma mort au temple de Memoire:
Un instant de bonheur vaut mille ans dans l' histoire.
Nos destins sont ils donc si beaux?
Le doux Plaisir et la Mollesse,
La vive et naïve Allegresse
Ont toujours fui des grands, la pompe, et les faisceaux,
Nes pour la liberté leurs troupes enchantresses
Preferent l' aimable paresse
Aux austeres devoirs guides de nos travaux.
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Aussi la Fortune volage
N' a jamais causé mes ennuis,
Soit qu' elle m' agaçe, ou qu' elle m' outrage,
Je dormirai toutes les nuits
En lui refusant mon hommage.
Mais notre etat nous fait loi,
Il nous oblige, il nous engage
A mesurer notre courage,
Sur ce qu' exige notre emploi.
Voltaire dans sons hermitage,
Dans un païs dont l' heritage
Est son antique bonne foi,
Peut s' addonner an paix a la vertu du sage
Dont Platon nous marque la loi.
Pour moi menacé du naufrage,
Je dois, en affrontant l' orage,
Penser, vivre, et mourir en Roi.
Translated into English.
1 VOLTAIRE, believe me, were I now
2 In private life's calm station plac'd,
3 Let Heav'n for nature's wants allow,
4 With cold indiff'rence would I view
5 Changing Fortune's winged haste,
6 And laugh at her caprice like you.
7 Th' insipid farce of tedious state,
8 Imperial duty's real weight,
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9 The faithless courtier's supple bow,
10 The fickle multitude's caress,
11 And the great Vulgar's Littleness,
12 By long experience well I know;
13 And, tho' a Prince and Poet born,
14 Vain blandishments of glory scorn.
15 For when the ruthless shears of Fate
16 Have cut my life's precarious thread,
17 And rank'd me with th' unconscious dead,
18 What wil't avail that I was great,
19 Or that th' uncertain tongue of Fame
20 In Mem'ry's temple chaunts my name?
21 One blissful moment whilst we live
22 Weighs more than ages of renown;
23 What then do Potentates receive
24 Of good, peculiarly their own?
25 Sweet Ease and unaffected Joy,
26 Domestic Peace, and sportive Pleasure,
27 The regal throne and palace fly,
28 And, born for liberty, prefer
29 Soft silent scenes of lovely leisure,
30 To, what we Monarchs buy so dear,
31 The thorny pomp of scepter'd care.
32 My pain or bliss shall ne'er depend
33 On fickle Fortune's casual flight,
34 For, whether she's my foe or friend,
35 In calm repose I'll pass the night;
36 And ne'er by watchful homage own
37 I court her smile, or fear her frown.
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38 But from our stations we derive
39 Unerring precepts how to live,
40 And certain deeds each rank calls forth,
41 By which is measur'd human worth.
42 Voltaire, within his private cell
43 In realms where ancient honesty
44 Is patrimonial property,
45 And sacred Freedom loves to dwell,
46 May give up all his peaceful mind,
47 Guided by Plato's deathless page,
48 In silent solitude resign'd
49 To the mild virtues of a Sage;
50 But I, 'gainst whom wild whirlwinds wage
51 Fierce war with wreck-denouncing wing,
52 Must be, to face the tempest's rage,
53 In thought, in life, in death a king.

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    About this text

    Title (in Source Edition): An EPISTLE from the King of PRUSSIA, to Monsieur VOLTAIRE. 1757.
    Themes: retirement; monarchy (heads of state); virtue; vice
    Genres: epistle; translation; philosophic poetry
    References: DMI 27908

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    A Collection of Poems in Six Volumes. By Several Hands. Vol. VI. London: printed by J. Hughs, for R. and J. Dodsley, 1763 [1st ed. 1758], pp. 281-284. 6v.: music; 8⁰. (ESTC T131163; OTA K104099.006) (Page images digitized by the Eighteenth-Century Poetry Archive from a copy in the archive's library.)

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    The text has been typographically modernized, but without any silent modernization of spelling, capitalization, or punctuation. The source of the text is given and all editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. Based on the electronic text originally produced by the ECCO-TCP project, this ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 3.0.