The Merope of George Jeffreys as a Source of Voltaires Mérope

The Merope of George Jeffreys as a Source of Voltaires Mérope

The Merope of George Jeffreys as a Source of Voltaires Mérope

The Merope of George Jeffreys as a Source of Voltaires Mérope

Excerpt

Voltaire dedicates his "Mérope française," as he calls it, to his predecessor in the same field, Francesco Scipione Maffei. In this dedicatory introduction there is contemptuous reference and stinging, inaccurate, and hence unjust, criticism of an English Merope produced in London in 1731. For some, as yet unexplained, reason Voltaire does not mention the name of the author of the English play although he gives the names of all other authors dealing with the same theme. This omission greatly added to the suspicion which Voltaire's ironical words had already aroused in the mind of the present writer. Scholars have learned to be suspicious of Voltaire whenever he is dealing with his predecessors or contemporaries in any literary endeavor. One recalls his attitude toward Crébillon, toward Shakespeare, toward Maffei, toward anyone who in any way crossed his path or whom he in any respect felt to be a rival. A merely casual perusal of Professor Thomas R. Lounsbury excellent book Shakespeare and Voltaire affords ample evidence of Voltaire's methods of enhancing his own reputation by belittling the achievements of others. The fictitious "Lettre de Monsieur de La Lindelle," which forms so large a part of the introductory matter of Voltaire Mérope, has been rightly termed by Matthew Arnold "one of the most signal instances of literary sharp practice on record."

We were eager to investigate the truth about the English play, convinced that what Voltaire had said about it would in some degree or other be found inconsistent with the facts. Such has indeed proved to be the case. While no claim can be made that this English play is an outstanding one in the field of English drama, yet we believe that the present study will show that it has decided merits measured . . .

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