Shakespeare and Voltaire

By Thomas R. Lounsbury | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVI
PESSIMISTIC VIEWS OF VOLTAIRE

IT was not the unwillingness of the English to accept his estimate of their greatest dramatist which disturbed Voltaire. From the middle of the century, if not earlier, he had abandoned all hope of seeing them converted from the error of their ways. In the failure to say anything about Shakespeare during the sixth decade, there had been no affectation on his part. He had taught the Continent all that it was really necessary to know about the English dramatist. He had pointed out precisely his merits and defects. His duty had accordingly been discharged, and he was willing at the time to abide by the results. To him, therefore, the consideration of Shakespeare had become a closed incident. The subject had been adequately discussed; the verdict had been pronounced. There was no need of saying anything more.

As he was something of a philanthropist as well as a philosopher, the aberration of the English brought him, to be sure, a certain regret. That a nation usually so sensible should miss the right way, when it had been so clearly pointed out to them by Addison, was indeed something almost inexplicable. But he had learned to recognize the hopelessness of efforts to rescue these deluded fanatics from the slough into which they were

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