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CO N T E N T S. advertisement prefixed to the tragedy of Mahomet, of the year 1742.
Page 92 On the same subject. In a letter to the king of Prussia.
98 A letter to pope Benedict the fourteenth, on
sending him the tragedy of Mahomet. 107 A letter from the sovereign pontiff, Benedict the fourteenth, to Mr. de Voltaire.
108 A letter to his Holiness, in answer to the former.
IIO Of the excessive delicacy of the French taste in
their dramatic representations. In a letter to the marquis Scipio Maffei, author of the Italian Merope, and of several other celebrat
ed, performances Of Shakespear; and the taste of the English in
their theatrical entertainments. In a preface
to the tragedy of Caesar, 1738. 129 A dissertation on antient and modern tragedy.
Addressed to his eminence cardinal Querini, a noble Venetian, bishop of Brescia, and librarian of the Vatican.
132 Of the contrast of merry and affecting senti
ments, and of the cause of laughter in comedy.
161 Of the proper province of tragedy and of come
dy. In the preface to the comedy of Nanine.
167 Of the excellencies of the Greek, and defects of
the French drama. In a letter to her serene highness the duchess of Maine.
172 Of the Chinese tragedies. In the dedication of
the Orphan of China to dhe duke of Richelieu.
Addressed to Henry St. John, Lord
HOUGH I dedicate to an Euglish
man a play represented at Paris, it is
not, my lord, that there are wanting in France men of great merit, and excellent judges, to whom I might have paid that homage. But, you know, the tragedy of Brutus f was begun in England: you remember when I was retired to Wandsworth at my good friend, Sir Everard Falkener's, that worthy and virtuous patriot, I applied myself to write, in English prose, the first act of this play, pretty much in the same manner as it now stands in
* Prefixed to his Tragedy of Brutus.
+ There is an English Brutus by an author named Lee; but it is a perfornmance unknown, and never represented in London. Voltaire..
the French verse. I spoke to you of it sometimes, and we were both surprized that no English writer had handled this subject, which is so extremely well adapted to your theatre. You emboldened me to continue a subject to susceptible of great sentiments,
Give me leave then, my lord, to offer you Brutus, though wrote in a foreign tongue, docte fermones, utrisque lingue, to you, who could give me instructions in the French as well as in the English ; to you, who, at least, might teach me to add to my native language that energy and force which a noble liberty of thinking inspires: for the vigorous sentiments of the soul pass always to the tongue; a strength of mind always commands a strength of expresfion. I must own that at my return from England, where I spent a couple of years in a continual study of your language, I found myself at a loss, when I attempted to write a French tra. gedy. I was almost accustomed to think in English. I perceived that the French terms did not offer themselves to my imagination in the same abundance they formerly did. a rivulet whose source had been diverted ano. ther way: both time and pains were necessary to bring it back to its former channel. I be. came sensible that, to succeed in an art, we mul cultivate it our whole life. Vi hat terrified me most, was
great strictness of our poetry and the Navery of rhime. I regretted that liferty you possess of writing your tragedies in. blank verfe, of lengthening;
or of shortening almost all your words at plea: sure, of throwing one line into another, and of creating new terms at will, which are always adopted by the nation when their necessity is obvious, their sense easily understood, and their sound harmonious *. An English poet, I used to say, is a free man, who subjects his language to his genius; the Frenchman is a constant slave to rhime, often obliged to write four verf. es to convey a thought, which in English can be expressed in one. An Englishman says what he will say, but a Frenchman, only what he can. The one runs on boldly in a vast career; the other, loaded with chains, steps on slowly in a slippery narrow path.
Notwithstanding these reflections and complaints, we shall never be able to free ourselves from the yoke of rhime. It is essential to French poetry. Our language does not admit of transpofitions, our verse does not allow of lines running into each other, our fyllables are incapable of causing any sensible harmony by long or short
* It must be remarked that in France the admittance of new words finds much more difficulty than the naturalization of a foreign subject. One remarkable instance I remember, which is the word Profateur, prose-writer. The famous Menage, who wrote so much and so well on the French language, and of its origin, was very fond of Profateur, and laboured forty years, it is faid, among his brethren of the French academy to introduce this really useful term; but without success. The writers of that nation are since grown a little less difficult, and among others, this word has gained admittance. measures.' Our hemistics * and a stated num. ber of feet are not alone sufficient to distinguish prose from verse, and therefore the addition of rhime is absolutely necessary in French poetry.
Besides, so many great writers, who have made use of rhime, such as the Corneilles, Ra. cines, and Boileaus, have so accustomed our ears to that kind of harmony, that we can endure no other; and I must repeat it, whoever attempts to get rid of a burden which was borne by the great Corneille, will be, with justice, looked upon, not as an enterprizing genius, who opens out to himself a new road, but as a very weak man unable to support himsef in the antient track.
It has been attempted to give us tragedies in prose; but I do not suppofe that this undertaking will ever fucceed. They who have more will not be easily satisfied with less. He that diminishes the public's pleasure, will be always ill received by them. If, among the pictures of Rubens or of Paul Veronese, any body placed his own designs in crayon, would he nos be in the wrong to put himself in competition with these painters? We are accustomed at feasts to sing and dance; would it be enough merely to walk and speak, because it would be eafier and more natural?
It is probable that verse will be every where found necessary in the tragic scene, and rhime
* In French verse, there is, generally, a pause about the middle of every line, which is called Géfure, and each half-line is diftinct from the other, and called Hémistiche.