Voltaire and the Theatre of the Eighteenth Century

By Marvin Carlson | Go to book overview

West Indies to which Macheath has been transported, had nothing in it to offend the court or the Whigs. Not surprisingly, however, other authors were quick to follow up on the enormous success of The Beggar's Opera, and over fifty examples appeared on London stages, none of them seriously rivalling the popularity of Gay's initiating work.

Voltaire also enjoyed his major literary success in England this spring, his long-promised Henriade appearing in March and dedicated to Queen Caroline. The sales were excellent and Voltaire was again welcomed at court, even to intimate supper parties there. Voltaire did not again plunge into the social world, however. With his major English publishing project finished, he began to consider a return to France, where he was now arranging for the publication of the Henriade and other works. He again retired to Wandsworth where he spent the summer in literary projects, among which the theatre took a central position it had not held since his arrival in England, and the English influence on such activity was clear. Haunted by his exposure to the English stage in general and Shakespeare in particular, he sketched out the first act of a tragedy, Brutus, in English prose, and began work on La Mort de César, both of which he would complete soon after his return to France.

Voltaire's last letter from London is dated August 1728. In the next, February 1729, he is in Paris after an incognito stay of some time at Dieppe, gaining assurances that he would be welcome back in the capital. Voltaire had been in England for approximately two years and three months, but during this rather brief period he had become acquainted with most of the leading political and cultural figures of that country. More importantly, he gained a love and knowledge of an alternative social and literary world that would provide him with an invaluable perspective from which to view and critique his own culture and tradition in the many years to come.


NOTES
1.
Voltaire, Lettres philosophiques, 2 vols. ( Paris: Corny, 1909), II:110 (henceforward VLP).
2.
Sidney Low, Dictionary of English History ( London: Cassell, 1885), 714.
3.
Elwin Whitwell, The Works of Alexander Pope, 10 vols. ( London: Murray, 1871-1889), 7:398.
4.
Quoted in Fernand Baldesperger, "La chronologie de séjour de Voltaire en Angleterre et les Lettres philosophiques", Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen 129 ( 1912): 140. The other substantive study on this subject is J. C. Collins, Voltaire in England ( New York: Harper and Brothers, 1886).

-36-

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Voltaire and the Theatre of the Eighteenth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Contents ix
  • Series Foreword xi
  • Abbreviations xiii
  • Introduction xv
  • Chapter 1 Voltaire's Career Begins, 1694-1726 1
  • Notes 19
  • Chapter 2 Voltaire in England, 1726-1728 21
  • Notes 36
  • Chapter 3 Triumph in the Theatre, 1729-1743 39
  • Notes 57
  • Chapter 4 Voltaire at Court, 1743-1750 59
  • Notes 79
  • Chapter 5 Voltaire and Germany, 1750-1755 81
  • Notes 96
  • Chapter 6 Voltaire and the Philosophes, 1755-1760 97
  • Notes 118
  • Chapter 7 The Sage of Ferney, 1761-1769 121
  • Notes 138
  • Chapter 8 The Final Triumph, 1770-1778 141
  • Notes 155
  • Chapter 9 The Path to the Pantheon, 1778-1791 157
  • Notes 166
  • Chronology of Voltaire's Life 169
  • Further Reading 175
  • Index 179
  • About the Author 187
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