Letters concerning the English Nation

By Voltaire; Nicholas Cronk | Go to book overview

LETTER XIX. On Comedy.

I AM surpriz'd that the judicious and ingenious Mr. de Muralt, who has publish'd some Letters on the English and French Nations,* should have confin'd himself, in treating of Comedy, merely to censure Shadwell the comic Writer. This Author was had in pretty great Contempt in Mr. de Muralt's Time, and was not the Poet of the polite Part of the Nation. His dramatic Pieces which pleas'd some Time in acting, were despis'd by all Persons of Taste and might be compar'd to many Plays which I have seen in France, that drew Crowds to the Play-house, at the same Time that they were intolerable to read; and of which it might be said, that the whole City of Paris exploded them, and yet all flock'd to see 'em represented on the Stage. Methinks Mr. de Muralt should have mention'd an excellent comic Writer (living when he was in England) I mean Mr. Wycherley, who was a long Time known publickly to be happy in the good Graces of the most celebrated Mistress of King Charles the Second. This Gentleman who pass'd his Life among Persons of the highest Distinction, was perfectly well acquainted with their Lives and their Follies, and painted them with the strongest Pencil, and in the truest Colours. He has drawn a Misantrope* or Man-hater, in Imitation of that of Moliere. All Wycherley's Strokes are stronger and bolder than those of our Misantrope, but then they are less delicate, and the Rules of Decorum are not so well observ'd in this Play. The English Writer has corrected the only Defect that is in Moliere's Comedy, the Thinness of the Plot, which also is so dispos'd that the Characters in it do not enough raise our Concern. The English Comedy affects us, and the Contrivance of the Plot is very ingenious, but at the same Time 'tis too bold for the French Manners. The Fable is this.-----A Captain of a Man of War, who is very brave, open-hearted, and enflam'd with a Spirit of

-93-

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