Zadig, by Voltaire

Chapter I.

The Blind Eye.

In the Reign of King Moabdar, there was a young Man, a Native of Babylon, by name Zadig; who was not only endowed by Nature with an uncommon Genius, but born of illustrious Parents, who bestowed on him an Education no ways inferior to his Birth. Tho’ rich and young, he knew how to give a Check to his Passions; he was no ways self-conceited; he didn’t always act up to the strictest Rules of Reason himself, and knew how to look on the Foibles of others, with an Eye of Indulgence. Every one was surpriz’d to find, that notwithstanding he had such a Fund of Wit, he never insulted; nay, never so much as rallied any of his Companions, for that Tittle Tattle, which was so vague and empty, so noisy and confus’d; for those rash Reflections, those illiterate Conclusions, and those insipid Jokes; and, in short, for that Flow of unmeaning Words, which was call’d polite Conversation in Babylon. He had learned from the first Book of Zoroaster, that Self-love is like a Bladder full blown, which when once prick’d, discharges a kind of petty Tempest. Zadig, in particular, never boasted of his Contempt of the Fair Sex, or of his Facility to make Conquests amongst them. He was of a generous Spirit; insomuch, that he was not afraid of obliging even an ungrateful Man; strictly adhering to that wise Maxim of Zoroaster. When you are eating, throw an Offal to the Dogs that are under the Table, lest they should be tempted to bite you. He was as wise as he could well be wish’d; since he was fond of no Company, but such as were distinguish’d for Men of Sense. As he was well-grounded, in all the Sciences of the antient Chaldeans, he was no Stranger to those Principles of Natural Philosophy, which were then known: And understood as much of Metaphysics as any one in all Ages after him; that is to say, he knew little or nothing of the Matter. He was firmly convinc’d, that the Year consisted of 365 Days and an half, tho’ directly repugnant to the new Philosophy of the Age he liv’d in; and that the Sun was situated in the Center of the Earth; And when the Chief Magi told him, with an imperious Air, that he maintain’d erroneous Principles; and that it was an Indignity offered to the Government under which he liv’d, to imagine the Sun should roll round its own Axis, and that the Year consisted of twelve Months, he knew how to sit still and quiet, without shewing the least Tokens of Resentment or Contempt.

As Zadig was immensely rich, and had consequently Friends without Number; and as he was a Gentleman of a robust Constitution, and remarkably handsome; as he was endowed with a plentiful Share of ready and inoffensive Wit: And, in a Word, as his Heart was perfectly sincere and open, he imagin’d himself, in some Measure, qualified to be perfectly happy. For which Purpose he determin’d to marry a gay young Lady (one Semira by name) whose Beauty, Birth and Fortune, render’d her the most desirable Person in all Babylon. He had a sincere Affection for her, grounded on Honour, and Semira conceiv’d as tender a Passion for him. They were just upon the critical Minute of a mutual Conjunction in the Bands of Matrimony, when, as they were walking Hand in Hand together towards one of the Gates of Babylon, under the Shade of a Row of Palm-trees, that grew on the Banks of the River Euphrates, they were beset by a Band of Ruffians, arm’d with Sabres, Bows and Arrows. They were the Guards, it seems, of young Orcan (Nephew of a certain Minister of State) whom the Parasites, kept by his Uncle, had buoy’d up with a Permission to do, with Impunity, whatever he thought proper. This young Rival, tho’ he had none of those internal Qualities to boast of that Zadig had, yet he imagin’d himself a Man of more Power; and for that Reason, was perfectly outrageous to see the other preferr’d before him. This Fit of Jealousy, the Result of mere Vanity, prompted him to think that he was deeply in Love with the fair Semira; and fir’d with that amorous Notion, he was determin’d to take her away from Zadig, by Dint of Arms. The Ravishers rush’d rudely upon her, and in the Transport of their Rage, drew the Blood of a Beauty, the Sight of whose Charms would have soften’d the very Tigers of Mount Imaüs. The injur’d Lady rent the very Heavens with her Exclamations. Where’s my dear Husband, she cried? They have torn me from the Arms of the only Man whom I adore. She never reflected on the Danger to which she was expos’d; her sole Concern was for her beloved Zadig. At the same Time, he defended her, like a Lover, and a Man of Integrity and Courage. With the Assistance only of two domestic Servants, he put those Sons of Violence to Flight, and conducted Semira, bloody as she was, and in fainting Fits, to her own House. No sooner was she come to her self, but she fix’d her lovely Eyes on her Dear Deliverer. O Zadig, said she, I love thee as affectionately, as if I were actually thy Bride: I love thee, as the Man, to whom I owe my Life, and what is dearer to me, the Preservation of my Honour. No Heart sure could be more deeply smitten than that of Semira. Never did the Lips of the fairest Creature living utter softer Sounds; never did the most enamoured Lady breathe such tender Sentiments of Love and Gratitude for his signal Service; never, in short, did the most affectionate Bride express such Transports of Joy for the fondest Husband. Her Wounds, however, were but very superficial, and she was soon recover’d. Zadig receiv’d a Wound that was much more dangerous: An unlucky Arrow had graz’d one of his Eyes, and the Orifice was deep. Semira was incessant in her Prayers to the Gods that they might restore her Zadig. Her Eyes were Night and Day overwhelm’d with Tears. She waited with Impatience for the happy Moment, when those of Zadig might dart their Fires upon her; but alas! the wounded Eye grew so inflam’d and swell’d, that she was terrified to the last Degree. She sent as far as Memphis for Hermes, the celebrated Physician there, who instantly attended his new Patient with a numerous Retinue. Upon his first Visit, he peremptorily declared that Zadig would lose his Eye; and foretold not only the Day, but the very Hour when that woful Disaster would befal him. Had it been, said that Great Man, his right Eye, I could have administred an infallible Specific; but as it is, his Misfortune is beyond the Art of Man to cure. Tho’ all Babylon pitied the hard Case of Zadig, they equally stood astonish’d at the profound Penetration of Hermes. Two Days after the Imposthume broke, without any Application, and Zadig soon after was perfectly recover’d. Hermes thereupon wrote a very long and elaborate Treatise, to prove that his Wound ought not to have been heal’d. Zadig, however, never thought it worth his while to peruse his learned Lucubrations; but, as soon as ever he could get abroad, determin’d to pay the Lady a Visit, who had testified such uncommon Concern for his Welfare, and for whose Sake alone he wish’d for the Restoration of his Sight. Semira he found had been out of Town for three Days; but was inform’d, by the bye, that his intended Spouse, having conceived an implacable Aversion to a one-ey’d Man, was that very Night to be married to Orcan. At this unexpected ill News, poor Zadig was perfectly thunder-struck: He laid his Disappointment so far to Heart, that in a short Time he was become a mere Skeleton, and was sick almost to death for some Months afterwards. At last, however, by Dint of Reflection, he got the better of his Distemper; and the Acuteness of the Pain he underwent, in some Measure, contributed towards his Consolation.

Since I have met with such an unexpected Repulse, said he, from a capricious Court–Lady, I am determin’d to marry some substantial Citizen’s Daughter. He pitch’d accordingly upon Azora, a young Gentlewoman extremely well-bred, an excellent Oeconomist, and one, whose Parents were very rich.

Their Nuptials accordingly were soon after solemniz’d, and for a whole Month successively, no two Turtles were ever more fond of each other. In Process of Time, however, he perceiv’d she was a little Coquettish, and too much inclin’d to think, that the handsomest young Fellows were always the most virtuous and the greatest Wits.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/v/voltaire/zadig/chapter1.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25