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HUMANITIES 391 from the same MS source as the epic. Altogether, it would be hard to think of any relevant question, large or small, which the editor has not raised and answered. Whether or not the scholarly reader perseveres through the poem, it and the commentary light up one side of the poet and the war in all their heated immediacy. ( DOUGLAS BUSH) R.S. Ridgway, Voltaire and Sensibility. McGill-Queen's University Press, vii, 298, $12.50 Recent years have seen a number of studies which have contributed to a gradual change in our general 'image' of the eighteenth century. Not that the hroad outlines drawn by the masters of nineteenth-century history and criticism are in danger of being effaced, or fundamentally altered - they are too solidly established for that - but, rather, they are being modified by significant details drawn from evidence previously either passed over, insufficiently appreciated, or even unknown. The great advantage of the telling detail added to the general portrait is that it tends to redress a certain imbalance that results from oversimplification so apt to lead to a stereotyped image, if not a caricature, of the true original. The disadvantage is that the detail must be accompanied by many others before it can have its fullest effect on our perception, which the master stroke, precisely because of its apparent simplicity, does not rely on to establish a view at once immediate and difficult to put out of mind. A case in point is Voltaire, whose image as the brilliant intellectual, the philosophe paT excellence, whose satiric pen, dipped in the venom of his hatred of every imaginable abuse is stronger than the mighty sword of the Ancien Regime, is not easily forgotten and on the whole not naturally associated with that of a man capable of tender emotions, intense feelings, and humane compassion. Yet, after reading Professor Ridgway's thorough and fascinating study of Voltaire and Sensibility it will no longer be possible to deny that the traditional view of Voltaire, even if not completely false, must be revised. As he is himself the first to demonstrate with many references to other sources, Professor Ridgway is not the first to have discussed sensibility as an aspect of Voltaire's life and work, but he is the first to have brought together all the elements of what would appear to be a paradoxical problem in one complete and coherent study. Following the book's argument from chapter to chapter, one soon begins to wonder how one could have missed until now what seems so obvious. Indeed, the evidence that senSibility is a fundamental trait in a man SO often represented as a brilliant wit, a keen mind, but lacking a warm 392 LETTERS IN CANADA heart is so strong, so clearly visible once it is pointed out, that one is reminded of the Eldorado in Candide, where the inhabitants ignore the yellow, red, and green pebbles that lie about everywhere except as playthings for children. It is only the author of this book who, like Candide, recognizes their value as jewels in their proper context and carries them off to the civilized world where they will be better appreciated. It becomes then irresistible to carry the comparison to its logical conclusion by seeing the reviewer as the nasry Dutch captain who must evaluate the red sheep and their burden as cargo worthy of transportation. It is, however, not so likely that he will then go on to steal it from Candide, although he might have liked to. For should one expect a frontal attack at sea, where everything is sent to the bottom of the ocean? No, even though the sailing may not invariably be smooth, this captain, at any rate, wishes Candide's cargo a better fate! The basic problem with a book of this kind does not lie in what one mayor may not accept as evidence of Voltaire's sensibility, but in the nature of sensibility itself. How does one verify that intense feeling, the ability to react emotionally, and a sense of compassion are an essential part of a writer who has been dead for nearly two centuries? The answer might...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 391-393
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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