Sedgwick (1789-1867) was a widely published American novelist. She published the account of her 1739 European travels in Letters from Abroad to Kindred at Home.
You would not thank me, perhaps, for saying nothing of Ferney, though I can have nothing new to say of a place that every traveller visits. We made an hour's drive of it to the village of Ferney, a place which grew up under Voltaire's fostering hand during his twenty years' residence here. The church is standing which he erected for others to worship in. The pious revolutionists have removed the stone on which he inscribed "Deo erexit Voltaire." The chateau and grounds are in good preservation. The show rooms, Voltaire's bedroom, and an adjoining salon are, with good taste, kept by the proprietor as Voltaire left them, that is, as far as the virtuoso-spoilers will permit them to be. The bed-curtains have been torn off shred by shred, till only fragments remain. The apartment struck me as one of the saddest monuments of human vanity. There were everywhere traits of that littleness of mind which, in spite of Voltaire's infinite genius and his love of freedom--his utter hatred of bigotry and tyranny ecclesiastical and political--degraded him, justly diminished his influence with most people and destroyed it with the best. None but moral power has an indestructible agency.
There is a picture in the salon--a wretched daub--said to have been painted by his direction, at any rate it was hung up under his eye. He is represented as being led to the throne of Apollo by Henry the Fourth, with the Henriade in his hand, while Fame blows her trumpet, and a host of allegorical winged figures stand ready with smoking censers in their hands to usher him into the temple of Memory. Beneath his feet lie his detractors undergoing every species of torment.
In his bedroom is another apotheosis, a "fantasie," called "Le Tombeau de Voltaire." The four quarters of the globe, represented by emblematical figures, are approaching to do homage, while Ignorance, with bat's wings and bandaged eyes, is advancing to drive them away. America is represented by Franklin in a fur cap, moccasins, and a blanket!--The dear old sage, the very antagonist principle of savage life! Opposite the fireplace is a huge erection, that looks more like a German stove than anything else, with an urn on the top of it, in which Voltaire's heart was to have been placed. It is thus inscribed: "Mes mânes sont consolés puisque mon coeur est au milieu de vous;" and underneath, "Son esprit est partout et son cur est ici." The empire of his mind has contracted to a small space; and as to his heart--but God forgive us for our narrow judgments!
By the side of a portrait of Catharine II of Russia, worked in worsted by herself for Voltaire, there is a picture of a very sweet-looking young woman, his laundress, and another of a Savoyard peasant-boy whom he adopted; this looked well. On one side of the fireplace is a portrait of Madame de Châtelet, tremendously rouged; and on the other, of Mademoiselle St. Denis. Among some indifferently-engraved heads hanging up, I noticed Racine, Corneille, Milton, Newton, Washington, and Franklin. If, as I have fancied, the pictures a man selects for his bedroom afford some indication of his character, these are good witnesses for Voltaire. The furniture was ordinary, and nothing superfluous.
We walked over the grounds, and were shown the "petit forêt" (a long avenue through a wood), down which he daily drore in great state with six horses and gilded harness. We passed through his "Berceau," a walk between elm-trees closely planted and trained to meet overhead, where, it is said, he composed as he walked.
On one side the boundary of his estate is marked by a high embankment, which, we were told, he had made to shut out the view of the chateau from a man with whom he had had a controversy at law. Was it in his own heart that he found the gall to write his satires on human nature ? He was, they say, the terror of all the little boys in the neighbourhood; and yet there are local tales of his generosity and benevolence; an ocean of them could scarcely wash out this stain.
We went to see an old man living in a lodge on the estate, who was the son of Voltaire's gardener, and who had the honour of carrying his note-book for him during his walks the last four years of his life. He drives a good trade showing "antiquities," as he calls some old rubbish, relics of his saint--canes, wig, &c. The only thing worthy of note was a book of seals, which Voltaire was in the habit of taking from the letters of his correspondents, and preserving in this way for reference, so that he might know who were the writers of subsequent letters, and take them or not, as suited him, from the post-office. To many of them he had affixed after the name a word of comment, as "J.J. Rousseau--un Bouillon!" The prevailing one is "Fou!" The old man gave us an absurd narrative of the beginning of Voltaire's and Gibbon's acquaintance. I do not know what foundation in truth it has, but there is some wit in it. Voltaire had been offended by a sarcasm of Gibbon's on his person; and when he first visited Ferney, its master shut himself up in his room, desiring his niece to be polite to his visiter. But his visiter persevering in staying, he wrote him the following note: "Don Quichotte prenait les auberges pour des châteaux, mais vous prenez mon château pour une auberge."
"Eh bien, madame," said François, as we returned to the carriage,"Vous avez vu le château du plus grand poête du monde." Oh, shades of Shakspeare, Milton, Dante, that even a courier should thus style Voltaire! but this is fame.