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[189] Natur).It will be a theme for never-ending discussion how far this concentration is really due to the exceptional greatness of the subject, and how far to the tendency of genius to draw to itself all the floating materials of the time, to drain its best intellects, to reflect its best impulses. Dante, of all great writers, is the least explainable in this way; but in the case of Shakespeare, of Voltaire, of Goethe, it is obvious enough. The last named was always ready to admit his own obligations, not merely to his own fellow-countrymen, as Schiller, but to Englishmen and Frenchmen; and was profoundly moved on receiving the first French version of his ‘Faust,’ from the thought of the profound influence exercised by Voltaire and his great contemporaries over him as over the whole civilized world. Humbler men are constantly obliged to recognize how they themselves have been fed and nourished by those lowlier still; and we may be very sure that the greatest are formed in the same way, and draw from many obscure and even inexplicable sources, as Heine claims that he learned all the history of the French Revolution through the drumming of an old French drummer.

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M. Voltaire (2)
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