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What never alters or can alter, is the absurdity of being a man at all. Where Shakespeare’s humour still touches us most nearly is precisely in those scenes which the superficial custom of our age finds least endurable. It is not in his Gobbos or in his frolicsome boygirls, that his essential spirit must be looked for; but in his Falstaffs and Mercutios. But Shakespeare’s humour is largely, after all, a lovely, dreamy, poetical thing. I doubt if it has the weight or the massive solidity of the humour of Rabelais.

And yet its ribaldry, its irreverence, is unbounded. It sticks at nothing. It says everything. It wags the philosophic tongue at every conceivable embodiment of popular superstition. If the best books are the books which the authors of them have most enjoyed writing, the books that have the thrill of excellent pleasure on every page, then “Candide” certainly bears away the palm. One would like to have watched Voltaire’s countenance as he wrote it. The man’s superb audacity, his courage, his aplomb, his god-like shamelessness, appear in every sentence.

That so tremendous a hope, that so sublime a chance should have appeared at all in the history of the human race is a thing to wonder at; and Pascal, coming upon this chance, this hope, this supreme venture, from the depths of a corrosive all-devouring scepticism, realised it at its true value. Hung between the infinitely great and the infinitely little, frozen by the mockery of two eternities, this “quintessence of dust” which is 33 Suspended Judgments: Essays on Books and Sensation ourselves, cries aloud to be delivered from the body of its living death.

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