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Tuesday, 25 June 2019 23:21

Shakespeare gets Voltaire into trouble!

From Voltaire to the Abbé Asselin, 4 November 1735 

'I’m sending you the last scene of La Mort de César, which is a pretty faithful translation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Accordingly, the piece takes its place as a singular and quite interesting work in the republic of letters—which is precisely the point of view from which any journalist ought to have examined my tragedy. It offers a true idea of English taste. One doesn’t demonstrate the poetic genius of a nation by translating its poets into prose, but by imitating their taste and style in verse. A dissertation on this taste, so different from our own, is just what one would have expected from the Abbé Desfontaines [fierce critic of V. in the journal Observations des Écrits Modernes]. He knows English; he must have read Shakespeare; he had the opportunity to enlighten the public about all this. If, instead of crying down my piece with ‘What bad verses! What hard verses!’ he had cared to distinguish between the printer and myself, and had the critical wisdom to demonstrate the differences in taste between nations, he would have done a service to literature and would not have affronted me.

'I know poetry well enough (even though I don’t write it any more) to be confident that this tragedy, as it is now being printed in Holland, has the greatest poetic power of anything I’ve written. All its foreign readers—who by the way recognise in this piece the bold strokes that are used in Italy and London, and that long ago were used in Athens—do me greater justice than the Abbé Desfontaines and my enemies …

'Disputes between people of letters only serve to make fools laugh at the expense of people of intelligence, and to dishonour talents that should be held in respect … I hope the Abbé will come round to me with the friendship that I have a right to expect of him; my friendship will not be altered by our differences of opinion. You may communicate this letter to him.

'With much gratitude, I am attached to you for life.'

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Sunday, 16 June 2019 11:50

The show goes on

Writing opera our way--spent yesterday with Nicholas Gentile working on the finale for Act I of Émilie & Voltaire. Beautiful music, folks!

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What did Émilie confide to her friend and former lover, Richelieu, while he was staying with her and Voltaire at Cirey? She claims to be able to feel two deep emotions 'without the slightest self-reproach'. Nonetheless, I'm guessing the secret she shared with Richelieu is a somewhat guilty one.

'The conversation I’ve just had with you proves to me that man is not free. I should never have told you what I just confessed, but I had to have the relief of letting you know that I’ve always judged you fairly, and always recognised your value. Friendship in a heart like yours seems to me the best gift that heaven could bestow, and I could never console myself if I weren’t quite sure that, despite all your resolutions, you’re impelled to feel the same about me …

'I’ve given up everything to live with the only person who has ever filled my heart and my mind, but I would give up everything in the universe—except him—to share all the sweetness of friendship with you. These two emotions are not at all incompatible, since my heart is able to feel both at once, without the slightest self-reproach. The only true passion I’ve ever experienced is for what I have now, and it forms the charm and torment of my life, the good and the evil; but I’ve only ever felt true friendship for Madame de Richelieu and you …

'I’m happy to have seen you once more, even if I never see you again. I’m even happy about my indiscretion, because it revealed my heart to you—but I would be very unhappy if you don’t cherish my friendship and continue to give me proof of it …

'Farewell. There will be no perfect happiness for me in this world unless I can unite the pleasure of living in it with you, and that of loving the man to whom I have consecrated my life.'

Image: reflections in the Blaise at Cirey.

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