“How I love the English boldness! How I love those who say what they think!”
When we left Voltaire in 1726, he had chosen voluntary exile to England over an indefinite sentence in the Bastille.
Voltaire arrived in England with almost no money and even less English. Yet in less than five months, he could not only converse in English, he could write it fluently. More impressively, he had developed friendships with some of the leading English literary figures of the day: Alexander Pope, John Gay (writer of The Beggars Opera) and Jonathan Swift, whose Gulliver’s Travels had just been published.
But the men with the biggest influences on Voltaire’s thinking were philosopher John Locke, scientist Isaac Newton, and William Shakespeare, whose plays Voltaire found both vulgar and compelling. Writing to a friend in Paris, Voltaire exclaimed:
“If you had seen a whole play of Shakespeare’s, as I have, you would think that our love scenes were pretty feeble.”