Shakespeare and Voltaire

By Thomas R. Lounsbury | Go to book overview
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"THE Appeal to the Nations" seems to have fallen flat, so far as that statement can be made of any work written by Voltaire. For those who knew nothing of the English dramatist it was unnecessary. Upon them it could have no other effect than to impart a still darker shade to the density of their ignorance, and to confirm them still more in their indisposition to be enlightened. For them on that very account interest was lacking. They were so perfectly satisfied with their own stage that they did not even care to learn about the stage of another country. On the other hand to those who really knew something of Shakespeare the treatise was shallow and inconclusive. Its sophistry and unfairness were obtrusively apparent. Of these two classes of readers the former was at that time in the vast majority. The little impression made on its indifference by this appeal can be inferred from the conduct of the Comte d'Argental, Voltaire's faithful friend and supporter. Though sent to him to superintend its publication, he did not deem it worth while to mention it in his letters. "The dissertation against the barbarous English," wrote Voltaire, "you do not speak of it."1

Letter of Feb. 16, 1760.


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