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Chapter 12


The young Huron resembled one of those vigorous trees, which, languishing in an ungrateful soil, extend in a little time their roots and branches when transplanted to a more favorable spot; and it was very extraordinary that this favorable spot should be a prison.

Among the books which employed the leisure of the two captives were some poems and also translations of Greek tragedies, and some dramatic pieces in French. Those passages that dwelt on love communicated at once pleasure and pain to the soul of the Huron. They were but so many images of his dear Miss St. Yves. The fable of the two pigeons rent his heart: for he was far estranged from his tender dove.

Molière enchanted him. He taught him the manners of Paris and of human nature.

"To which of his comedies do you give the preference?"

"Doubtless to his Tartuffe."

"I am of your opinion," said Gordon; "it was a Tartuffe that flung me into this dungeon, and perhaps they were Tartuffes who have been the cause of your misfortunes."

"What do you think of these Greek tragedies?"

"They are very good for Grecians."

But when he read the modern Iphigenia, Phædrus, Andromache, and Athalia, he was in ecstacy, he sighed, he wept,—and he learned them by heart, without having any such intention.

"Read Rodogune," said Gordon; "that is said to be a capital production; the other pieces which have given you so much pleasure, are trifles compared to this."

The young man had scarce got through the first page, before he said, "This is not written by the same author."

"How do you know it?"

"I know nothing yet; but these lines neither touch my ear nor my heart."

"O!" said Gordon, "the versification does not signify." The Huron asked, "What must I judge by then?"

After having read the piece very attentively without any other design than being pleased, he looked steadfastly at his friend with much astonishment, not knowing what to say. At length, being urged to give his opinion with respect to what he felt, this was the answer he made: "I understood very little of the beginning; the middle disgusted me; but the last scene greatly moved me, though there appears to me but little probability in it. I have no prejudices for or against any one, but I do not remember twenty lines, I, who recollect them all when they please me."

"This piece, nevertheless, passes for the best upon our stage."

"If that be the case," said he, "it is perhaps like many people who are not worthy of the places they hold. After all, this is a matter of taste, and mine cannot yet be formed. I may be mistaken; but you know I am accustomed to say what I think or rather what I feel. I suspect that illusion, fashion, caprice, often warp the judgments of men."

Here he repeated some lines from Iphigenia, which he was full of; and though he declaimed but indifferently, he uttered them with such truth and emotion that he made the old Jansenist weep. He then read Cinna, which did not excite his tears, but his admiration.

Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire

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