Letters concerning the English Nation

By Voltaire; Nicholas Cronk | Go to book overview

APPENDIX B. Extracts from Voltaire's An Essay upon the Civil Wars of France and also upon the Epick Poetry of the European Nations from Homer down to Milton

This volume, published in London in 1727, marks Voltaire's début as an English writer. The two essays were designed to prepare the way for the long-awaited publication the following year of La Henriade, but they also look forward to his next work in English, the Letters concerning the English Nation. It is clear from the 'Advertisement to the Reader' which prefaces the volume that Voltaire is planning a book about the English, and that already at this early stage he is distancing himself from established models of travel-writing about England. The second essay, on epic poetry, gives separate consideration to seven poets, and devotes the longest section of all to Milton. Voltaire's enthusiasm for a poet he can only recently have read in English (the first French translation of Paradise Lost appeared in 1729) anticipates the Letters (XVIII- XXII) on other English writers which Voltaire wrote soon after, also in English, and at a time when he was becoming increasingly prominent in London's literary world.

* * *


ADVERTISEMENT TO THE READER.

It has the Appearance of too great a Presumption in a Traveller, who hath been but eighteen Months in Englandto attempt to write in a Language, which be cannot pronounce at all, and which be hardly understands in Conversation. But I have done what we do every Day at School, where we write Latin and Greek, tho' surely we pronounce them both very pitifully, and should understand neither of them if they were uttered to us with the right Roman or Greek Pronunciation.

I look upon the English Language as a learned one, which deserves to be the Object of our Application in France, as the French Tongue is thought a kind of Accomplishment in England.

Besides, I did not learn English for my Private Satisfaction and Improvement only, but out of a kind of Duty.

-151-

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