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A LETTER from Mr. DE VOLTAIRE to Father

Porée, a Jesuit.

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DISCOURSE on TRAGEDY, in a Letter to Lord


BRUTUS, a Tragedy.

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OU will receive, my dear father, · by this packet, the new edition of my tragedy of

Oedipus. I have taken care to wash out, as well as I could, the disagreeable colours of a loveplot, very ill placed, which, in spite of myself, I was obliged to mix with those strokes of the manly and terrible, which the subject naturally demands. I must at the same time inform you, in my own justification, that, * young as I was when Oedipus was

* Oedipus was written when Mr. de Voltaire was but nineteen years of age. It was played for the first time in 1718, and ran five-and-forty nights. Du Fresne, a celebrated actor, and of the same age with the author, played the part of Oedipus ; and Madame Delmarêts, a famous actress, did Jocasta, and soon after quitted the stage. In this edition, the part of Philoctetes is restored, and stands exactly as it was in the first representation. VOL. I.



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written, it was then very nearly the same as it now stands : my mind filled with the reading of the antients, and your judicious reflections on them, and little acquainted with the theatre of Paris, I set about the performance as if I had been at Athens. I consulted Mr. Dacier, who was of the country: he advised me to put a chorus into every scene, after the manner of the Greeks: he might as well have advised me to walk about the {treets of Paris with Plato's gown on. I had much ado only to persuade the players to perform the chorusses which appear three or four times in the piece; and greater still was the difficulty to make them act a tragedy almost without any love in it: the actresses laughed at me when they found there was never a tender scene for them; the reciprocal confidence of Oedipus and Jocasta, taken partly from Sophocles, was thought quite insipid : in a word, the actors, who at that time were all grand figniors and petits-maîtres, absolutely refused to represent it. I was extremely young, and believed they might be in the right of it. To please them, I spoiled my play, by inserting several uninteresting fcenes of tenderness in a subject intirely foreign to them. When I had put a little love into it, they became partly reconciled; but would by no means permit me to bring in the grand feene between Oedipus and Jocasta : So


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phocles and his imitator were treated with equal contempt. I ftill persevered, repeated my reasons, employed my friends to follicit, and at last, by dint of powerful protection, got my Oedipus on the stage. One of the actors, whose name was Quinaut, declared openly, that the piece should be played exactly as it was written, with the vile fourth act taken from the Greek; which would be a sufficient punishment for my obstinacy. Besides all this, I was looked on as a rash young man, for daring to write on a subject which the great Corneille had already treated lo successfully. At that time Corneille's Oedipus was esteemed a master-piece : I thought it a poor performance, but durst not say so till about twelve years after, when all the world were of the fame opinion. In things of this nature, it is generally fome years before strict justice is suffered to take place. The two tragedies of La Motte on this subject met with it indeed a little fooner than ordinary. Father Tournemine has, I suppofe, shewn to you the little preface in which I have attacked him. Monf. de la Motte has a great deal of wit: he is not unlike the famous Grecian wrestler, who, when he was thrown down, could always prove that he was uppermost. We totally disagree in our opinions; but you have taught me to dispute like a man of honour and a


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gentleman. I wrote against him with so much politeness, that I even desired him to criticise himself that preface wherein I have endeavoured in every line to prove him in the wrong; and my little polemic dissertation met with his applause. This is the method which men of letters should always make use of in their controversies with each other; and this they would always pursue, who had been under your tuition : but they are generally as full of acrimony as a lawyer, and as angry as a Jansenist. Polite literature is grown, of all things, the most unpolite. We cabal, we asperse, we calumniate, we write verses against one another. It is pleasant enough thatwe should be at liberty. to tell folks in writing what we dare not speak to their faces. You, my dear father, taught me to avoid all such mean practices; how to live, as well as how to write.

With love alone the heav'n-born muses glow,
No jealous pangs th' immortal sisters know;
They taste no gall, but with ambrosia fed,
O'er all their kind their genial influence shed;
When Jove convenes them to the blest abodes,
He calls not satire to the feast of gods,
Left the foul fiend should ranc'rous hate inspire,
And jar the strings of their harmonious lyre.

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