matured. But I shall make use of his own words, delivered on the general topic of the theatre, when he was neither thinking to recommend or decry Shakespeare’s practice; consequently at a moment when Voltaire was impartial. In the preface to his Enfant Prodigue, that exquisite piece, of which I declare my admiration, and which, should I live twenty years longer, I trust I shall never attempt to ridicule, he has these words, speaking of comedy (but equally applicable to tragedy, if tragedy is, as surely it ought to be, a picture of human life; nor can I conceive why occasional pleasantry ought more to be banished from the tragic scene, than pathetic seriousness from the comic): “On y voit un melange de serieux et de plaisanterie, de comique et de touchant; souvent meme une seule avanture produit tous ces contrastes. Rien n’est si commun qu’une maison dans laquelle un pere gronde, une fille occupée de sa passion pleure; le fils se moque des deux, et quelques parens prennent part differemment à la scene, etc. Nous n’inferons pas de là que toute comedie doive avoir des scenes de bouffonerie et des scenes attendrissantes: il y a beaucoup de tres bonnes pièces où il ne regne que de la gayeté; d’autres toutes serieuses; d’autres melangées: d’autres où l’attendrissement va jusqu’aux larmes: il ne faut donner l’exclusion à aucun genre: et si l’on me demandoit quel genre est le meilleur, je repondrois, celui qui est le mieux traité.” Surely if a comedy may be toute serieuse, tragedy may now and then, soberly, be indulged in a smile. Who shall proscribe it? shall the critic, who, in self-defence, declares that no kind ought to be excluded from comedy, give laws to Shakespeare?

I am aware that the preface from whence I have quoted these passages does not stand in Monsieur de Voltaire’s name, but in that of his editor; yet who doubts that the editor and author were the same person? or where is the editor who has so happily possessed himself of his author’s style and brilliant ease of argument? These passages were indubitably the genuine sentiments of that great writer. In his epistle to Maffei, prefixed to his Merope, he delivers almost the same opinion, though I doubt with a little irony. I will repeat his words, and then give my reason for quoting them. After translating a passage in Maffei’s Merope, Monsieur de Voltaire adds, “Tous ces traits sont naïfs: tout y est convenable à ceux que vous introduisez sur la scene, et aux mœurs que vous leur donnez. Ces familiarités naturelles eussent été, à ce que je crois, bien reçues dans Athenes; mais Paris et notre parterre veulent une autre espece de simplicité.” I doubt, I say, whether there is not a grain of sneer in this and other passages of that epistle; yet the force of truth is not damaged by being tinged with ridicule. Maffei was to represent a Grecian story: surely the Athenians were as competent judges of Grecian manners and of the propriety of introducing them, as the parterre of Paris. On the contrary, says Voltaire (and I cannot but admire his reasoning), there were but ten thousand citizens at Athens, and Paris has near eight hundred thousand inhabitants, among whom one may reckon thirty thousand judges of dramatic works.—Indeed! but, allowing so numerous a tribunal, I believe this is the only instance in which it was ever pretended, that thirty thousand persons, living near two thousand years after the era in question, were, upon the mere face of the poll, declared better judges than the Grecians themselves of what ought to be the manners of a tragedy written on a Grecian story.

I will not enter into a discussion of the espece de simplicité, which the parterre of Paris demands, nor of the shackles with which the thirty thousand judges have cramped their poetry, the chief merit of which, as I gather from repeated passages in The New Commentary on Corneille, consists in vaulting in spite of those fetters; a merit which, if true, would reduce poetry, from the lofty effort of imagination, to a puerile and most contemptible labour—difficiles nugæ with a witness! I cannot, however, help mentioning a couplet, which, to my English ears, always sounded as the flattest and most trifling instance of circumstantial propriety: but which Voltaire, who has dealt so severely with nine parts in ten of Corneille’s works, has singled out to defend in Racine:

De son appartement cette porte est prochaine,
Et cette autre conduit dans celui de la reine.
In English:
To Cæsar’s closet through this door you come,
And t’other leads to the queen’s drawing-room.

Unhappy Shakespeare! hadst thou made Rosencrantz inform his compeer, Guildenstern, of the ichnography of the palace of Copenhagen, instead of presenting us with a moral dialogue between the Prince of Denmark and the grave-digger, the illuminated pit of Paris would have been instructed a second time to adore thy talents.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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