FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF SHAKESPEARE
IN making the acquaintance of Shakespeare Voltaire felt that in certain ways he had stumbled upon a treasure. He had no disposition to keep to himself what he had found. He became animated indeed with something of the feelings of the explorer. He had lighted upon an unknown land, and he showed all the zeal of a discoverer to communicate to the world what he had there seen and heard. He said -- and at a later period he kept repeating it on every pretext -- that it was he who had first made Shakespeare known to France. In one sense it was perfectly true. Others before him had announced the existence of this great constellation in the northern sky; but their words had attracted no attention and aroused no interest.
He could have said more. It was Voltaire who first really introduced Shakespeare to the knowledge of the Continent. To bring about such a result circumstances came to the aid of his abilities. For all literary as well as diplomatic purposes French was at that time the language of the European mainland. Everywhere cultivated men read it, everywhere they conversed in it. The greatest monarch of his time spoke it better than he did his native tongue. In it his own royal academy