Front Page Titles (by Subject) PLAN OF THE ORPHAN. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XIX (Philosophical Letters)
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PLAN OF “THE ORPHAN.” - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XIX (Philosophical Letters) 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. XIX.
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PLAN OF “THE ORPHAN.”
An old gentleman of Bohemia, named Acasto, had retired to his castle with his two sons, Castalio and Polydore: it is true, these are no more Bohemian names, than that of Claudius is Danish. Serina, his daughter, lives with him; he has also at his house a Monimia, who is very different from the Monimia of Racine. This young lady was intrusted to his care by her deceased father. In the castle of Lord Acasto there is a chaplain, a page, and two valets de chambre; this is the retinue of the good man, at least all of it that is seen upon the stage. Add to these, Serina’s maid, and a brother of Monimia’s, a passionate man, just come from Hungary, and you have all the persons of the drama.
If the tragedy of “Hamlet” is opened by two sentinels, that of “The Orphan” is opened by two domestics; for great men should by all means be imitated. These domestics talk of their good master Acasto, and his two sons, Castalio and Polydore, whose only amusement is hunting. Not to keep the reader any longer in suspense, it is proper to inform him that, if he suspects that the two brothers are both in love with Monimia, as in Racine, he is not mistaken; but he will, in all likelihood, be somewhat surprised at being told that Castalio, one of the brothers, who is loved by Monimia, gives his dear Polydore leave to lie with her if he can; he is satisfied, provided he himself may have the same liberty; for he swears that he has no desire to marry her, and “that he will marry when he is old, in order to mortify the flesh.”
However, immediately after having thus declared against marriage, he privately marries Monimia, and Acasto’s chaplain gives them the nuptial benediction. During these transactions, M. Chamont, brother of Monimia, arrives from Hungary; this M. Chamont is a very odd man, and very hard to be pleased; he immediately asks his sister whether she has her maidenhead.1 Monimia swears to him that her honor is unviolated. “Ah, wherefore have you any doubt concerning my maidenhead, brother?” says she. “Hear me, my sister,” says Chamont, “I not long since had a dream in Hungary; my bed shook, I saw you between two young fellows, who caressed you, turn about. I took my great sword, I ran to them; and upon waking, I found that I had pierced the figured tapestry, just at a place that represented the Theban brothers, Polinices and Etheocles, killing one another.”1
“Well, brother,” says Monimia, “since you have been tormented in your sleep, you must torment me waking.” “Oh, this is not all, sister; do not justify yourself too fast. As I walked along, thinking of my dream, I met a toothless old hag, bent double with age, her vaulted back was clothed with a piece of an old hanging, her thighs were hardly covered by rags of all sorts of colors—variety of wretchedness—she gathered a few sticks, she asked me where I was going, and bade me make haste, if I desired to preserve my sister; in fine, she spoke to me of Castalio and Polydore.”
Monimia is greatly surprised at this adventure; she immediately confesses that she was engaged to Castalio; but she swears to her brother that she had never lain with him.
M. Chamont is by no means satisfied with this confession; he is a rough man, as has been already hinted; he goes in quest of the chaplain. “Come,” says he, “Mr. Gravity, tell me, are not you chaplain to the family?” “And you, sir; are you not an officer?” returns the chaplain. “Yes, friend,” says Chamont. “I was once an officer myself,” says the chaplain, “but my friends consigned me to the church; yet I am an honest man, though I wear black; I am tolerably respected in the family; I do not pretend to know more than other people, I concern myself about nobody’s affairs but my own; I rise early, study little, eat and drink merrily; and for this my behavior am held in esteem by everybody.” “Did you know old Chamont, my father?” says the officer. “Yes,” says the chaplain, “I was greatly concerned for his death.” “What, you loved him?” says Chamont; “I could embrace you for that; tell me, do you think Castalio loves my sister?” “Do I think he loves her?” says the chaplain. “Aye, do you think he loves her?” replies Chamont. “Faith I never asked him,” answers the chaplain, “and I am surprised you should ask me such a question.” “Ah, hypocrite,” cries Chamont, “you are like all those of your profession, a good–for–nothing fellow; you have not courage to speak the truth, and you pretend to teach it: are you a party concerned in this affair? What do you do in it? Curse upon the villain’s serious face; you goggle your eyes just as bawds do; they talk of heaven, they look devoutly, and tell lies; they preach like a priest, and thou art a bawd.”
What is pleasant enough is that the chaplain, won by these obliging expressions, owns that he had that morning married Castalio and Monimia in a garret.1
The brother is well enough satisfied, and goes with the chaplain. The married couple arrive; nothing remains but to consummate the marriage. Those who are not let into the secret might think, from what had passed before, that this ceremony was to be performed on the stage; but the modest Monimia only bids her husband come and knock three times at her chamber door, when all the family should be asleep. Polydore, the brother, hears what was said from between the side scenes; and not knowing that his brother Castalio is Monimia’s husband, he resolves to be beforehand with him, and to go without delay and make sure of Monimia’s first favors. He addresses himself to the little rogue of a page, promises him sweetmeats and money, if he would amuse his brother Castalio during part of the night: the page plays his part admirably; he talks to Castalio of Monimia’s love, of her garters, and her breasts; he is for singing him a song; and thus he makes him lose time.
Polydore did not lose his; he went to Monimia’s door, he struck three times gently, the maid opened to him; and thus he contrived to lie with his brother’s wife.
At last Castalio comes to the door, and gives three gentle raps; the servant, who ought to know both him and his brother by their voices, does not so much as apprehend a mistake; she thinks that Polydore is the pretended husband who desires admittance, and that it is the true husband Castalio who is in bed; she bids him go about his business, tells him he is a madman; it is to no purpose for him to tell his name, she shuts the door in his face; he is treated by the maid just as Amphitryon is by Sofia.
Polydore having reaped the fruits of his stratagem, probably without uttering a single word, leaves his conquest, and returns to his own bed. Castalio, who was refused admittance, is seized with despair, becomes frantic, rolls himself upon the floor, inveighs against the whole sex; and concludes that, from the time of Eve, who fell in love with the devil, and damned the human species, women have always given rise to ills of every kind.
Monimia, who rose in haste to meet her dear Castalio, in whose company she hoped to enjoy some rapturous moments, meets him, and is going to embrace him; he treats her with the utmost cruelty, and pulls her by the hair off the stage.
M. Chamont, who still remembers his dream, and the old witch he had met, comes with great gravity to ask his sister an account of the consummation of her marriage. The poor woman owns that her husband, after having passed the night with her in raptures, had dragged her about by the hair upon the floor.
This Chamont, who is not to be trifled with, goes in quest of the father—who by the by had been taken ill during the representation of the tragedy, through his great age—he speaks to him in the same tone that he had before used to the chaplain; “Do you know,” says he, “that your son Castalio has married my sister?” “I am sorry for it,” answers the good man. “How! sorry for it!” says Chamont; “by God there’s not a nobleman that might not be proud to marry my sister; but damn me he has used her ill; either teach him manners, or I’ll set your house on fire.” “Well, well, I’ll do you justice; farewell, my dear boy,” says Acasto.
The poor father goes in quest of his son Castalio, in order to examine him with regard to what had passed; whilst he is in conversation with him, Polydore is desirous of knowing how Monimia was, after having passed the night with him; he thinks he had only enjoyed his brother’s mistress in virtue of the permission he had received from him: this discourse makes Monimia begin to suspect her mistake; in fine, Polydore owns that he had enjoyed her; Monimia faints away, and recovers her senses only to abandon herself to the transports of despair.
If such a subject, such language, and such manners, disgust persons of taste all over Europe, they ought to excuse the author: he never so much as suspected that there was anything extravagant in his piece: he dedicates it to the duchess of Cleveland with the simplicity and want of art with which he wrote it; he congratulates that lady upon having had two children by Charles II.
We are fully sensible how much the Monimia of Racine in “Mithridates” is inferior to the Monimia of Mr. Thomas Otway; it is the same author who wrote “Venice Preserved”; it is a pity this “Venice Preserved” has not been translated with exactness; we are deprived of a senator who bites the legs of his mistress, who plays the dog, who barks, and is whipped out of doors; we should likewise have had the pleasure of seeing a scaffold, a wheel, a priest who comes to exhort Captain Pierre at his execution, and who is abused and bidden to go about his business by the latter; there are many other strokes of this nature, which the translator has omitted in compliance with our false delicacy.
We cannot sufficiently lament that the translator has, with the same cruelty, deprived us of the finest scenes of Shakespeare’s “Othello.” With what pleasure should we have seen the first scene at Venice, and the last at Cyprus! First of all, a Moor runs away with the daughter of a senator: Iago, the Moor’s officer, runs to the window of the father’s house; the father appears in his shirt at the window. “Zounds,” says he, “put on your clothes; a black ram has got upon your white ewe; come, come, rise and come down, or the devil will make you a grandsire.”
—“What’s the matter, what would you be at? Are you a mad man?”
—“Zounds, sir, are you one of those who would not serve God if the devil forbade them? We are come to do you a service, and you take us for ruffians; I tell you your daughter will be covered by a Barbary horse; your grandchildren will neigh after you, and African nags will be your cousins–german.”
—“What profane rogue talks to me at this rate?”
—“Know that your daughter Desdemona and the Moor Othello now make the beast with two backs.”
This same Iago accompanies to Cyprus the Moor Othello and the lady Desdemona, whom the senate of Venice kindly grants, in spite1 of the father, for a wife to the Moor, whom they appoint governor of Cyprus.
Scarcely have they arrived in that island, when Iago undertakes to make the Moor jealous of his wife, and to inspire him with a suspicion of her fidelity. The Moor begins to feel some inquietude, he makes the following reflections. “After all,” says he, “what sense had I of the pleasure that others had given her, and of her debauchery? I did not see it, it did not hurt me; I slept as well as usual. When a thing has been stolen from us of which we had no occasion, if we are ignorant of the theft, we have lost nothing. I had been happy if the whole army, and even the pioneers, had enjoyed her, so as I had known nothing of the matter. Oh no—farewell all content—farewell the plumed troops, farewell the proud war that makes a virtue of ambition; farewell the neighing steeds and the shrill trumpets; the fife that pierces the ear, and the drum that excites the courage, the royal banner; and all the rank, pride, pomp, and various circumstances of glorious war; and you, you mortal engines, whose rude throats imitate those of the immortal Jupiter; farewell, Othello has now no occupation.”
This is another of the admirable passages distinguished by Pope’s commas.
—“Is it possible, my lord?”
Othello(taking him by the throat).
—“Villain, prove that my wife’s a whore, give me an ocular proof of it; or by the worth of the eternal soul of man, it would have been better for you, you had been born a dog.”
—“This office by no means pleases me; but since I have gone so far through pure honesty and friendship for you, I will proceed. I lay the other night with your lieutenant Cassio; and could not sleep for the toothache. You cannot but know that there are people so loose of soul, that in their sleep they talk of their affairs; Cassio is one of these: he said in his sleep, ‘Dear Desdemona, let us be careful, let us hide our loves.’ In speaking, he took me by the hand, he patted me, he cried, ‘Oh, charming creature!’ he kissed me with transport, as if he had by the roots torn up kisses planted upon my lips, he put his1 thighs upon my legs, he sighed, he breathed short, he kissed me, he cried out, ‘Cursed fate which has given you to the Moor!’ ”
Upon these proofs, so very decently related, and the handkerchief of Othello, which Cassio had found by accident, the Moorish general strangles his wife in her bed; but he kisses her before he puts her to death. “Come,” says he, “die, thou whore.” “Ah, kill me to–morrow, let me live to–night,” says she. “Wretch, if you stir,” cries he. “Give me but one half hour,” says she. “No,” answers he. “After that I will delay you no longer; let me at least say my prayers,” says she. “No, it is too late,” answers Othello. He strangles her; and Desdemona, after she is strangled, cries out that she is innocent.
When Desdemona is dead, the senate recalls Othello: he is seized in order to be carried to Venice to take his trial. “Hold,” says he, “a word or two. Tell the senate, that one day at Aleppo I found a turbaned Turk, who beat a Venetian, and made a jest of the republic; I took by the beard, the circumcised dog, and smote him thus.” At these words he stabs himself.
A French translator, who has given us sketches of several English pieces, and among others, of the “Moor of Venice,” partly in verse, partly in prose, has not translated any of these important passages which we have laid before our readers; he makes Othello express himself thus:
There is not a word of this in the original; “l’art n’est pas fait pour moi,” is taken from the tragedy of “Zaïre,” but the rest is not.
The reader now has it in his power to decide the dispute for pre–eminence between the tragedies of London and Paris.
[1 ]This passage sufficiently shows how unfairly M. de Voltaire plays the critic upon English authors; there is no such low expression in the tragedy referred to.
[1 ]It seems probable that M. de Voltaire had not Otway’s piece by him when he wrote this, otherwise it is hardly possible to conceive how he could give such a translation of the following passage of Otway:
[1 ]In the original, it is in a grove.
[1 ]This is false, for Brabantio, in Shakespeare, consents to the match as soon as his daughter declares in favor of Othello.
[1 ]Wrongly translated.