Le Brutus de Monsieur de Voltaire, avec un Discours sur la Tragédie.

Paris, J. F. Josse, 1731.

8vo, pp. xxix, [3], 110, [2]ll. (approbation and errata); engraved head-pieces; a few light stains, but a very good copy in French contemporary calf, gilt spine, red morocco lettering-piece, red edges; neat repair to head of spine.


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First edition. Voltaire wrote the first act of his play Brutus in English during his 1726-29 visit to England while staying at Wandsworth with Fawkener, and finished the play in French in Paris. It was first performed in Paris on 11 December 1730 when its portrayal of tension between patriotism and love seemed its principal tragic point, and had its triumphal success there sixty years later on the 17th (Mirabeau was present on this occasion) and the 19th of November 1790, when its possible political message met revolutionary aspiration. The essay on Tragedy, addressed to Lord Bolingbroke, his English patron, included here, gives some views of Voltaire on English and French playwriting.

The Brutus of the play is Lucius Junius Brutus, that is not the tyrannicide of Julius Caesar, a play which Voltaire saw and greatly admired, but a member of the same clan who lived some five hundred years earlier, one of the first two consuls in 509 BC. He had played a leading part in expelling the Tarquins, the former royal family, from Rome. The Tarquins conspired to return; Brutus’ two sons were implicated, motivated in one case by love. Brutus had them executed. The story is variously told by Livy and by Dionysius Halicarnassus and figures in many mentions in Roman literature.

There were three other printings of the play in 1731: the second by E. J. Ledet at Amsterdam; the third with a title-page giving our publisher J. F. Josse, Paris, with 80 pages of main text instead of our 110, but in fact printed in England and attributed by ESTC to the printer Woodfall; and the fourth, with ‘Londres’ on the title page, a location thought improbable (no publisher is given).

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