Shakespeare and Voltaire

By Thomas R. Lounsbury | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
VOLTAIRE'S KNOWLEDGE OF ENGLISH LITERATURE

ACCURACY is a very useful quality in a writer, but it never tends of itself to make him interesting. In the equipment of a man of genius, it is at best but a virtue of secondary importance. In works of imagination who but a pedant cares whether facts have been misstated, whether chronology has been defied, whether the manners of one age have been transferred to those of another? It is the truth of life at which the great artist aims, not at the truth of detail. Furthermore, if the man of genius be a very prolific author, accuracy is for him a simple impossibility. That demands leisure and vigilance and painstaking on matters of minor importance. The time and toil necessary to secure it are wasted in the case of him who aims at results which are independent of any consonance with the actual course of events. What he gains on one side he loses on the other. If the mistakes of the man of genius are of importance in themselves, it becomes the duty of the humble gleaner who follows in his footsteps to point out things as they were, and not as in the glowing imagination of the writer they were supposed to be; to correct the errors arising from carelessness or ignorance, or to indicate the artistic skill which can overleap the

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