Shakespeare and Voltaire

By Thomas R. Lounsbury | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
VOLTAIRE'S BRUTUS AND ZAÏRE

VOLTAIRE, as a Frenchman, had been profoundly struck with the freedom of thought and speech which he found prevalent in England. To us at this time the political and religious liberty then enjoyed there deserves anything but unqualified praise. To the man, however, who had been twice imprisoned in the Bastille, it seemed almost ideal. He was never weary of contrasting the freedom of utterance which prevailed in the one country with the shameful oppression under which it languished in the other. It was his own bitter personal experience that led him to declare that the highest right of humanity consisted in dependence upon. law, and not upon the caprices of men. The French theologians, according to him, were so enamoured of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, that they sought, whenever possible, to furnish speedy and convincing evidence of its truth to those who presumed to doubt it, by burning their bodies. "Why is it necessary," he exclaimed with some bitterness, "to endure the rigors of slavery in the most beautiful country of the universe, which one cannot leave, and yet in which it is dangerous to live?"

But the freedom of the English stage, especially as represented by Shakespeare, was to him full as much of

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