Front Page Titles (by Subject) PREFACE TO MÉROPE. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. X The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Zaire, Caesar, The Prodigal, Prefaces) and Part II (The Lisbon Earthquake and Other Poems).
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PREFACE TO MÉROPE. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. X The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Zaire, Caesar, The Prodigal, Prefaces) and Part II (The Lisbon Earthquake and Other Poems). 
From The Works of Voltaire, A Contemporary Version, (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901), A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming. Vol. X The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Zaire, Caesar, The Prodigal, Prefaces) and Part II (The Lisbon Earthquake and Other Poems).
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PREFACE TO MÉROPE.
A Letter from the Jesuit Tournemine to Father Brumoy, on the Tragedy of Mérope.
The Mérope which you desired to be returned last night. I have sent you this morning at eight o’clock. I have taken time to read it with attention. Whatever success the fluctuating taste of Paris may think proper to bestow on it, I am satisfied that posterity will applaud it as one of our best performances, and indeed as the model of true tragedy. Aristotle, the legislator of the stage, has allotted to Mérope the first rank among the fine subjects for tragedy. It is treated by Euripides, we know, and in such a manner, as we learn from Aristotle, that whenever his Cresphontes was exhibited at Athens, that ingenious people, who were accustomed to the finest dramatic performances, were struck, ravished and transported in the most extraordinary manner. If the taste of Paris should not correspond with that of Athens, we know which is to blame. The Cresphontes of Euripides is lost; M. Voltaire has restored it to us. You, my dear sir, who have given us an Euripides in French, exactly as he appeared to admiring Greece, have acknowledged in the Mérope of our illustrious friend, the natural, the simple, and the pathetic of Euripides. M. Voltaire has preserved the simplicity of the subject, has not only disencumbered it from superfluous episodes, but from many unnecessary scenes also; the danger of Ægisthus alone fills the stage; the interest increases from scene to scene, till we come to the catastrophe, the surprise of which is managed and prepared with the greatest art. We expect it indeed from the grandson of Alcides. Everything passes upon the stage as it did in Mycenæ. The theatrical strokes are not forced and unnatural; nor such as, by their great degree of the marvellous, shock all probability: they arise entirely from the subject; it is the historical event represented to us in the most lively manner. It is impossible not to be deeply moved and affected by that scene where Narbas arrives, at the very instant when Mérope is going to sacrifice her son, on a supposition that she is about to avenge him: or by that scene, where she has no other means of saving him from inevitable death, than by revealing him to the tyrant. The fifth act equals, if not surpasses, any of those few excellent last acts, which our stage has to boast of. Everything passes without; notwithstanding which the author has so artfully and judiciously contrived, as to bring all the action before us; the narration by Ismenia is not one of those studied artificial pieces which are foreign to the subject; where the poet’s wit is made to shine out of its place, such as throw an air of coldness and insipidity over the whole fable. This is nothing but action throughout. The trouble and agitation visible in Ismenia are expressive of the tumult she describes. I say nothing of the versification, which is more clear and beautiful than any I remember to have seen, even in Voltaire, who is certainly an excellent poet; all those, in short, who feel an honest indignation at the corruption and depravity of our present taste; all who have at heart the reformation of our stage; who wish, that, by a careful imitation of the Greeks, whom in many perfections of the drama we have surpassed, we might endeavor to obtain the true end and design of it, by making the theatre what it might be made, the school of virtue: all those, who think thus rationally and seriously, must be pleased to see so great and celebrated a poet as Voltaire employing his fine talents in such a tragedy as this, without love in it.
He has not imprudently hazarded the success of so noble a design; but in the place of love has substituted sentiments of virtue, which are not less forcible. As much prejudiced as we are in favor of tragedies founded on love intrigues, it is nevertheless true—and we have often observed it—that those tragedies, which have met with the greatest success, were not indebted to their love scenes for it: on the other hand, all our good critics allow that romantic gallantry has disgraced and degraded our stage, and some of our best writers also. The great Corneille was sensible of this; he submitted, not without reluctance, to the reigning taste of the age; not venturing to banish love entirely, he went at least so far as to banish successful love; he would not permit it to appear weak or mean, but raised it even to heroism, choosing rather to go beyond nature than to sink it into a too tender and contagious passion.
Thus, reverend father, have I sent you that judgment of which your illustrious friend seemed desirous; I wrote it in haste, which is a proof of my regard; but the paternal friendship which I have had for him, even from his infancy, has not so far prevailed as to blind me in his favor. You will let him see what I have written. I have the honor to be, my dear friend, my dear son, the glory of your father, as I ever must be, sincerely yours,
Dec. 23, 1738.