—A. J. Ayer
Candide, or Optimismby Voltaire
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Candide is the story of a gentle man who, though pummeled and slapped in every direction by fate, clings desperately to the belief that he lives in "the best of all possible worlds." On the surface a witty, bantering tale, this eighteenth-century classic is actually a savage, satiric thrust at the philosophical optimism that proclaims that all disaster and human suffering is part of a benevolent cosmic plan. Fast, funny, often outrageous, the French philosopher's immortal narrative takes Candide around the world to discover that contrary to the teachings of his distringuished tutor Dr. Pangloss all is not always for the best. Alive with wit, brilliance, and graceful storytelling, Candide has become Voltaire's most celebrated work.
—A. J. Ayer
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How Candide was brought up in a beautiful castle, and how he was driven from it.
In the castle of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh in Westphalia, there once lived a youth endowed by nature with the gentlest of characters. His soul was revealed in his face. He combined rather sound judgment with great simplicity of mind; it was for this reason, I believe, that he was given the name of Candide. The old servants of the household suspected that he was the son of the baron's sister by a good and honorable gentleman of the vicinity, whom this lady would never marry because he could prove only seventy-one generations of nobility, the rest of his family tree having been lost, owing to the ravages of time.
The baron was one of the most powerful lords in Westphalia, for his castle had a door and windows. Its hall was even adorned with a tapestry. The dogs in his stable yards formed a hunting pack when necessary, his grooms were his huntsmen, and the village curate was his chaplain. They all called him "My Lord" and laughed when he told stories.
The baroness, who weighed about three hundred fifty pounds, thereby winning great esteem, did the honors of the house with a dignity that made her still more respectable. Her daughter Cunegonde, aged seventeen, was rosy-cheeked, fresh, plump and alluring. The baron's son appeared to be worthy of his father in every way. The tutor Pangloss was the oracle of the household, and young Candide listened to his teachings with all the good faith of his age and character.
Pangloss taught metaphysico-theologo-cosmonigology. He proved admirably that in this best of all possible worlds, His Lordship's castle was the most beautiful of castles, and Her Ladyship the best of all possible baronesses.
"It is demonstrated," he said, "that things cannot be otherwise: for, since everything was made for a purpose, everything is necessarily for the best purpose. Note that noses were made to wear spectacles; we therefore have spectacles. Legs were clearly devised to wear breeches, and we have breeches. Stones were created to be hewn and made into castles; His Lordship therefore has a very beautiful castle: the greatest baron in the province must have the finest residence. And since pigs were made to be eaten, we eat pork all year round. Therefore, those who have maintained that all is well have been talking nonsense: they should have maintained that all is for the best."
Candide listened attentively and believed innocently, for he found Lady Cunegonde extremely beautiful, although he was never bold enough to tell her so. He concluded that, after the good fortune of having been born Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh, the second greatest good fortune was to be Lady Cunegonde; the third, to see her every day; and the fourth, to listen to Dr. Pangloss, the greatest philosopher in the province, and therefore in the whole world.
One day as Cunegonde was walking near the castle in the little wood known as "the park," she saw Dr. Pangloss in the bushes, giving a lesson in experimental physics to her mother's chambermaid, a very pretty and docile little brunette. Since Lady Cunegonde was deeply interested in the sciences, she breathlessly observed the repeated experiments that were performed before her eyes. She clearly saw the doctor's sufficient reason, and the operation of cause and effect. She then returned home, agitated and thoughtful, reflecting that she might be young Candide's sufficient reason, and he hers.
On her way back to the castle she met Candide. She blushed, and so did he. She greeted him in a faltering voice, and he spoke to her without knowing what he was saying. The next day, as they were leaving the table after dinner, Cunegonde and Candide found themselves behind a screen. She dropped her handkerchief, he picked it up; she innocently took his hand, and he innocently kissed hers with extraordinary animation, ardor and grace; their lips met, their eyes flashed, their knees trembled, their hands wandered. Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh happened to pass by the screen; seeing this cause and effect, he drove Candide from the castle with vigorous kicks in the backside. Cunegonde fainted. The baroness slapped her as soon as she revived, and consternation reigned in the most beautiful and agreeable of all possible castles.
What happened to Candide among the Bulgars.
After being driven from his earthly paradise, Candide walked for a long time without knowing where he was going, weeping, raising his eyes to heaven, looking back often toward the most beautiful of castles, which contained the most beautiful of young baronesses. He lay down without eating supper, between two furrows in an open field; it was snowing in large flakes. The next day, chilled to the bone, he dragged himself to the nearest town, whose name was Waldberghofftrarbk-dikdorff. Penniless, dying of hunger and fatigue, he stopped sadly in front of an inn. Two men dressed in blue1 noticed him.
"Comrade," said one of them, "there's a well-built young man who's just the right height."
They went up to Candide and politely asked him to dine with them.
"Gentlemen," said Candide with charming modesty, "I'm deeply honored, but I have no money to pay my share."
"Ah, sir," said one of the men in blue, "people of your appearance and merit never pay anything: aren't you five feet five?"
"Yes, gentlemen, that's my height," he said, bowing.
"Come, sir, sit down. We'll not only pay for your dinner, but we'll never let a man like you be short of money. Men were made only to help each other."
"You're right," said Candide, "that's what Dr. Pangloss always told me, and I see that all is for the best."
They begged him to accept a little money; he took it and offered to sign a note for it, but they would not let him. They all sat down to table.
"Don't you dearly love--"
"Oh, yes!" answered Candide. "I dearly love Lady Cunegonde."
"No," said one of the men, "we want to know if you dearly love the King of the Bulgars."
"Not at all," said Candide, "because I've never seen him."
"What! He's the most charming of kings, and we must drink to his health."
"Oh, I'll be glad to, gentlemen!"
And he drank.
"That's enough," he was told, "you're now the support, the upholder, the defender and the hero of the Bulgars: your fortune is made and your glory is assured."
They immediately put irons on his legs and took him to a regiment. He was taught to make right and left turns, raise and lower the ramrod, take aim, fire, and march double time, and he was beaten thirty times with a stick. The next day he performed his drills a little less badly and was given only twenty strokes; the following day he was given only ten, and his fellow soldiers regarded him as a prodigy.
Candide, utterly bewildered, still could not make out very clearly how he was a hero. One fine spring day he decided to take a stroll; he walked straight ahead, believing that the free use of the legs was a privilege of both mankind and the animals. He had not gone five miles when four other heroes, all six feet tall, overtook him, bound him, brought him back and put him in a dungeon. With proper legal procedure, he was asked which he would prefer, to be beaten thirty-six times by the whole regiment, or to receive twelve bullets in his brain. It did him no good to maintain that man's will is free and that he wanted neither: he had to make a choice. Using the gift of God known as freedom, he decided to run the gauntlet thirty-six times, and did so twice. The regiment was composed of two thousand men, so his punishment was so far composed of four thousand strokes, which had laid bare every muscle and nerve from his neck to his backside. As they were preparing for a third run, Candide, unable to go on, begged them to blow his brains out instead. The favor was granted; he was blindfolded and made to kneel. Just then the King of the Bulgars came by and inquired about the condemned man's crime. Being a highly intelligent king, he realized from what he was told that Candide was a young metaphysician, utterly ignorant of worldly matters, and pardoned him with a clemency that will be praised in all newspapers and all ages. A worthy surgeon healed Candide in three weeks with the emollients prescribed by Dioscorides. He already had a little skin, and was able to walk, when the King of the Bulgars joined battle with the King of the Avars.
How Candide escaped from the Bulgars,
and what happened to him.
Nothing could have been more splendid, brilliant, smart or orderly than the two armies. The trumpets, fifes, oboes, drums and cannons produced a harmony whose equal was never heard in hell. First the cannons laid low about six thousand men on each side, then rifle fire removed from the best of worlds about nine or ten thousand scoundrels who had been infesting its surface. The bayonet was also the sufficient reason for the death of several thousand men. The total may well have risen to thirty thousand souls. Candide, trembling like a philosopher, hid himself as best he could during this heroic carnage.
Finally, while the two kings were having Te Deums sung, each in his own camp, Candide decided to go elsewhere to reason about cause and effect. He made his way over heaps of dead and dying men until he came to a nearby village. It was in ashes, for it was an Avar village which the Bulgars had burned in accordance with international law. Old men with wounds all over their bodies were watching the death throes of butchered women who clutched their children to their bloody breasts; girls who had been disemboweled after satisfying the natural needs of several heroes were breathing their last sighs; others, mortally burned, were shrieking for someone to hasten their death. The ground was strewn with brains and severed arms and legs.
Candide fled to another village as fast as he could: it belonged to the Bulgars, and the Avar heroes had treated it in the same manner. Still walking over quivering limbs, or through ruins, he finally emerged from the theater of war, carrying a little food in his sack and never forgetting Lady Cunegonde. His food ran out when he reached Holland, but since he had heard that everyone was rich in that country, and that the people were Christians, he did not doubt that he would be treated as well there as he had been in the baron's castle before he had been driven away from it because of Lady Cunegonde's lovely eyes.
He asked alms of several solemn individuals who all replied that if he continued to ply that trade he would be shut up in a house of correction to teach him better manners.
Next he approached a man who had just spoken about charity for a whole hour in front of a large assembly. This orator scowled at him and said, "What are you doing here? Are you for the good cause?"
"There is no effect without a cause," replied Candide modestly. "All things are necessarily connected and arranged for the best. I had to be driven away from Lady Cunegonde, I had to run the gauntlet, and I have to beg my bread until I can earn it; all that could not have been otherwise."
"My friend," said the orator, "do you believe that the Pope is the Antichrist?"
"I've never heard anyone say so," answered Candide, "but whether he is or not, I still have nothing to eat."
"You don't deserve to eat," said the orator. "Go, you scoundrel, you wretch, and never come near me again!"
The orator's wife, having looked out the window and seen a man who doubted that the Pope was the Antichrist, poured on his head the contents of a full . . . O heaven! To what excesses are ladies driven by religious zeal!
A man who had not been baptized, a good Anabaptist by the name of James, witnessed this cruel and ignominious treatment of one of his fellow men, a featherless biped who had a soul; he took him to his home, washed him, served him bread and beer, made him a gift of two florins and even offered to teach him to work for him in the manufacture of those Persian fabrics that are produced in Holland. Candide almost threw himself at his feet. "Dr. Pangloss was right when he told me that all is for the best in this world," he said, "because your extreme generosity has moved me much more deeply than the harshness of that gentleman in the black cloak and his wife."
The next day, as he was taking a walk he met a beggar covered with sores; his eyes were lifeless, the tip of his nose had been eaten away, his mouth was twisted, his teeth were black, his voice was hoarse, he was racked by a violent cough, and he spat out a tooth with every spasm.
How Candide met his former philosophy teacher, Dr. Pangloss, and what ensued.
Candide, moved even more by compassion than by horror, gave this appalling beggar the two florins he had received from James, the worthy Anabaptist. The apparition stared at him, shed tears and threw his arms around his neck. Candide drew back in terror.
"Alas," said one pauper to the other, "don't you recognize your dear Pangloss?"
"What are you saying! You, my dear master! You, in this horrible condition! What misfortune has befallen you? Why are you no longer in the most beautiful of castles? What has become of Lady Cunegonde, the pearl of young ladies, the masterpiece of nature?"
"I'm at the end of my strength," said Pangloss.
Candide immediately took him to the Anabaptist's stable, where he gave him a little bread to eat, and when he had revived he said to him, "Well, what about Cunegonde?"
"She's dead," replied Pangloss.
Candide fainted at this word; his friend brought him back to consciousness with some bad vinegar that happened to be in the stable. Candide opened his eyes and said, "Cunegonde is dead! Oh, best of all possible worlds, where are you? But what did she die of? Was it from seeing me kicked out of the beautiful castle by her father?"
"No," said Pangloss, "she was disemboweled by Bulgar soldiers after having been raped as much as a woman can be. They smashed the baron's head when he tried to defend her, the baroness was hacked to pieces, and my poor pupil was treated exactly the same as his sister. As for the castle, not one stone was left standing on another; there's not one barn left, not one sheep, not one duck, not one tree. But we were well avenged, because the Avars did the same thing to a nearby estate that belonged to a Bulgar lord."
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—A. J. Ayer
Meet the Author
Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) (1694—1778) was one of the key thinkers of the European Enlightenment. Of his many works, Candide remains the most popular.
Peter Constantine was awarded the 1998 PEN Translation Award for Six Early Stories by Thomas Mann and the 1999 National Translation Award for The Undiscovered Chekhov: Forty-three New Stories. Widely acclaimed for his recent translation of the complete works of Isaac Babel, he also translated Gogol’s Taras Bulba and Tolstoy’s The Cossacks for the Modern Library. His translations of fiction and poetry have appeared in many publications, including The New Yorker, Harper’s, and Paris Review. He lives in New York City.
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