Candide, by Voltaire

Chapter XXVI.

Candide and Martin sup with six sharpers — who they were.

One evening as Candide, with his attendant Martin, was going to sit down to supper with some foreigners who lodged in the same inn where they had taken up their quarters, a man with a face the color of soot came behind him, and taking him by the arm, said, “Hold yourself in readiness to go along with us; be sure you do not fail.” Upon this, turning about to see from whom these words came, he beheld Cacambo. Nothing but the sight of Miss Cunegund could have given him greater joy and surprise. He was almost beside himself. After embracing this dear friend, “Cunegund!” said he, “Cunegund is come with you doubtless! Where, where is she? Carry me to her this instant, that I may die with joy in her presence.” “Cunegund is not here,” answered Cacambo; “she is in Constantinople.” “Good heavens! in Constantinople! but no matter if she were in China, I would fly thither. Quick, quick, dear Cacambo, let us be gone.” “Soft and fair,” said Cacambo, “stay till you have supped. I cannot at present stay to say anything more to you; I am a slave, and my master waits for me; I must go and attend him at table: but mum! say not a word, only get your supper, and hold yourself in readiness.”

Candide, divided between joy and grief, charmed to have thus met with his faithful agent again, and surprised to hear he was a slave, his heart palpitating, his senses confused, but full of the hopes of recovering his dear Cunegund, sat down to table with Martin, who beheld all these scenes with great unconcern, and with six strangers, who had come to spend the carnival at Venice.

Cacambo waited at table upon one of those strangers. When supper was nearly over, he drew near to his master, and whispered in his ear, “Sire, your majesty may go when you please; the ship is ready”; and so saying he left the room. The guests, surprised at what they had heard, looked at each other without speaking a word; when another servant drawing near to his master, in like manner said, “Sire, your majesty’s post-chaise is at Padua, and the bark is ready.” The master made him a sign, and he instantly withdrew. The company all stared at each other again, and the general astonishment was increased. A third servant then approached another of the strangers, and said, “Sire, if your majesty will be advised by me, you will not make any longer stay in this place; I will go and get everything ready”; and instantly disappeared.

Candide and Martin then took it for granted that this was some of the diversions of the carnival, and that these were characters in masquerade. Then a fourth domestic said to the fourth stranger, “Your majesty may set off when you please;” saying which, he went away like the rest. A fifth valet said the same to a fifth master. But the sixth domestic spoke in a different style to the person on whom he waited, and who sat near to Candide. “Troth, sir,” said he, “they will trust your majesty no longer, nor myself neither; and we may both of us chance to be sent to jail this very night; and therefore I shall take care of myself, and so adieu.” The servants being all gone, the six strangers, with Candide and Martin, remained in a profound silence. At length Candide broke it by saying, “Gentlemen, this is a very singular joke upon my word; how came you all to be kings? For my part I own frankly, that neither my friend Martin here, nor myself, have any claim to royalty.”

Cacambo’s master then began, with great gravity, to deliver himself thus in Italian. “I am not joking in the least, my name is Achmet III. I was grand seignor for many years; I dethroned my brother, my nephew dethroned me, my viziers lost their heads, and I am condemned to end my days in the old seraglio. My nephew, the Grand Sultan Mahomet, gives me permission to travel sometimes for my health, and I am come to spend the carnival at Venice.”

A young man who sat by Achmet, spoke next, and said: “My name is Ivan. I was once emperor of all the Russias, but was dethroned in my cradle. My parents were confined, and I was brought up in a prison, yet I am sometimes allowed to travel, though always with persons to keep a guard over me, and I am come to spend the carnival at Venice.”

The third said: “I am Charles Edward, king of England; my father has renounced his right to the throne in my favor. I have fought in defence of my rights, and near a thousand of my friends have had their hearts taken out of their bodies alive and thrown in their faces. I have myself been confined in a prison. I am going to Rome to visit the king my father, who was dethroned as well as myself; and my grandfather and I have come to spend the carnival at Venice.”

The fourth spoke thus: “I am the king of Poland; the fortune of war has stripped me of my hereditary dominions. My father experienced the same vicissitudes of fate. I resign myself to the will of Providence, in the same manner as Sultan Achmet, the Emperor Ivan, and King Charles Edward, whom God long preserve; and I have come to spend the carnival at Venice.”

The fifth said: “I am king of Poland also. I have twice lost my kingdom; but Providence has given me other dominions, where I have done more good than all the Sarmatian kings put together were ever able to do on the banks of the Vistula; I resign myself likewise to Providence; and have come to spend the carnival at Venice.”

It now came to the sixth monarch’s turn to speak: “Gentlemen,” said he, “I am not so great a prince as the rest of you, it is true, but I am, however, a crowned head. I am Theodore,7 elected king of Corsica. I have had the title of majesty, and am now hardly treated with common civility. I have coined money, and am not now worth a single ducat. I have had two secretaries, and am now without a valet. I was once seated on a throne, and since that have lain upon a truss of straw, in a common jail in London, and I very much fear I shall meet with the same fate here in Venice, where I came, like your majesties, to divert myself at the carnival.”

The other five kings listened to this speech with great attention; it excited their compassion; each of them made the unhappy Theodore a present of twenty sequins, and Candide gave him a diamond, worth just a hundred times that sum. “Who can this private person be,” said the five princes to one another, “who is able to give, and has actually given, a hundred times as much as any of us?”

Just as they rose from table, in came four serene highnesses, who had also been stripped of their territories by the fortune of war, and had come to spend the remainder of the carnival at Venice. Candide took no manner of notice of them; for his thoughts were wholly employed on his voyage to Constantinople, where he intended to go in search of his lovely Miss Cunegund.

7 This remarkable personage, after having lain in the common prison of the king’s bench, for a paltry debt, was cleared by an act of parliament, passed for the relief of insolvent debtors; and the schedule of his effects, delivered for the benefit of his creditors, contained his right and pretensions to the crown of Corsica. He died at London in extreme misery, to the reproach of the English nation, which had at one time acknowledged him as a sovereign prince, and their ally.

A gentleman caused a marble to be erected for him in St. Anne’s churchyard, with the following inscription:

Near this place is interred
Theodore, king of Corsica,
Who died in this parish, Dec. 11, 1756,
Immediately after leaving
The king’s bench prison,
By the benefit of the act of insolvency:
In consequence of which,
He resigned his kingdom of Corsica
For the use of his creditors.

The grave, great teacher, to a level brings
Heroes and beggars, galley-slaves and kings;
But Theodore this moral learned ere dead;
Fate poured its lessons on his living head,
Bestowed a kingdom, and denied him bread.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:24