Zadig, by Voltaire

Chapter XVII.

The Hermit.

As Zadig was travelling along, he met with a Hermit, whose grey and venerable Beard descended to his Girdle. He had in his Hand a little Book, on which his Eyes were fix’d. Zadig threw himself in his Way, and made him a profound Bow. The Hermit return’d the Compliment with such an Air of Majesty and Benevolence, that Zadig’s Curiosity prompted him to converse with so agreeable a Stranger. Pray, Sir, said he, what may be the Contents of the Treatise you are reading with such Attention. ’Tis call’d, said the Hermit, the Book of Fate; will you please to look at it. He put the Book into the Hands of Zadig, who, tho’ he was a perfect Master of several Languages, couldn’t decypher one single Character. This rais’d his Curiosity still higher. You seem dejected, said the good Father to him. Alas! I have Cause enough, said Zadig. If you’ll permit me to accompany you, said the old Hermit, perhaps I may be of some Service to you. I have sometimes instill’d Sentiments of Consolation into the Minds of the Afflicted. Zadig had a secret Regard for the Air of the old Man, for his Beard, and his Book. He found, by conversing with him, that he was the most learned Person he had ever met with. The Hermit harangu’d on Destiny, Justice, Morality, the sovereign Good, the Frailty of Nature; on Virtue and Vice, in such a lively Manner, and in such a Flow of Words, that Zadig was attach’d to him by an invincible Charm. He begg’d earnestly that he would favour him with his Company to Babylon. That Favour I was going to ask my self, said the old Man. Swear to me by Orosmades, that you won’t leave me, for some Days at least, let me do what I please. Zadig took the Oath requir’d, and both pursu’d their Journey.

The two Travellers arriv’d that Evening at a superb Castle. The Hermit begg’d for an hospitable Reception of himself and his young Comrade. The Porter, whom any One might have taken for some Grandee, let them in, but with a kind of Coldness and Contempt. However, he conducted them to the Head–Steward, who went with them thro’ every rich Apartment of his Master’s House. They were seated at Supper afterwards at the lower End, indeed, of the Table, and where they were taken little or no Notice of by the Host; but they were serv’d with as much Delicacy and Profusion, as any of the other Guests. When they arose from Table, they wash’d their Hands in a Golden Bason set with Emeralds, and other costly Stones. When ’twas Time to go to Rest, they were conducted into a Bed-chamber richly furnish’d; and the next Morning two Pieces of Gold were presented to him for their mutual Service, by a Valet in waiting; and then they were dismiss’d.

The Proprietor of this Castle, said Zadig, as they were upon the Road, seems to me to be a very hospitable Gentleman; tho’ somewhat too haughty indeed, and too imperious: The Words were no sooner out of his Mouth, but he perceiv’d that the Pocket of his Comrade’s Garment, tho’ very large, was swell’d, and greatly extended: He soon saw what was the Cause, and that he had clandestinely brought off the Golden Laver. He durst not immediately take Notice of the Fact; but was ready to sink at the very Thoughts on’t. About Noon, the Hermit rapp’d at a petty Cottage with his Staff, the beggarly Residence of an old, rich Miser. He desir’d that he and his Companion might refresh themselves there for a few Hours. An old, shabby Domestick let them in indeed, but with visible Reluctance, and carried them into the Stable, where all their Fare was a few musty Olives, and a Draught or two of sower small Beer. The Hermit seem’d as content with his Repast, as he was the Night before. At last, rising off from his Seat, he paid his Compliments to the old Valet (who had as watchful an Eye over them all the Time, as if they had been a Brace of Thieves, and intimated every now and then that he fear’d they would be benighted) and gave him the two Pieces of Gold, he had but just receiv’d that Morning, as a Token of his Gratitude for his courteous Entertainment. He added moreover, I would willingly speak one Word with your Master before I go. The Valet, thunder-struck at his unexpected Gratuity, comply’d with his Request: Most hospitable Sir, said the Hermit, I couldn’t go away without returning you my grateful Acknowledgments for the friendly Reception we have met with this Afternoon. Be pleas’d to accept this Golden Bason as a small Token of my Gratitude and Esteem. The Miser started, and was ready to fall down backwards at the Sight of so valuable a Present. The Hermit gave him no Time to recover out of his Surprise, but march’d off that Moment with his young Comrade. Father, said Zadig, What is all this that I have seen? You seem to me to act in a quite different Manner from the Generality of Mankind. You plunder One, who entertain’d you with all the Pomp and Profusion in the World, to enrich a covetous, sordid Wretch, who treated you in the most unworthy Manner. Son, said the old Man, that Grandee, who receives Visits of Strangers, with no other View than to gratify his Pride, and to raise their Astonishment at the Furniture of his Palace, will henceforward learn to be wiser; and the Miser to be more liberal for the Time to come. Don’t be surpris’d, but follow me. Zadig was at a stand at present; and couldn’t well determine whether his Companion was a Man of greater Wisdom than ordinary, or a Mad-man. But the Hermit assum’d such an Ascendency over him, exclusive of the Oath he had taken, that he couldn’t tell how to leave him. At Night they came to a House very commodiously built, but neat and plain; where nothing was wanting, and yet nothing profuse. The Master was a Philosopher, that had retir’d from the busy World, in order to live in Peace, and form his Mind to Virtue. He was pleas’d to build this little Box for the Reception of Strangers, in a handsome Manner, but without Ostentation. He came in Person to meet them at the Door, and for a Time, advis’d them to sit down and rest themselves in a commodious Apartment. After some Respite, he invited them to a frugal, yet elegant Repast; during which, he talk’d very intelligently about the late Revolutions in Babylon. He seem’d entirely to be in the Queen’s Interest, and heartily wish’d that Zadig had entred the Lists for the regal Prize: But Babylon, said he, don’t deserve a King of so much Merit. A modest Blush appear’d in Zadig’s Face at this unexpected Compliment, which innocently aggravated his Misfortunes. It was agreed, on all Hands, that the Affairs of this World took sometimes a quite different Turn from what the wisest Patriots would wish them. The Hermit replied, the Ways of Providence are often very intricate and obscure, and Men were much to blame for casting Reflections on the Conduct of the Whole, upon the bare Inspection of the minutest Part.

The next Topick they entred upon was the Passions. Alas! said Zadig, how fatal in their Consequences! However, said the Hermit, they are the Winds that swell the Sail of the Vessel. Sometimes, ’tis true, they overset it; but there is no such Thing as sailing without them. Phlegm, indeed, makes Men peevish and sick; but then there is no living without it. Tho’ every Thing here below is dangerous, yet All are necessary.

In the next Place, their Discourse turn’d on sensual Pleasures; and the Hermit demonstrated, that they were the Gifts of Heaven; for, said he, Man cannot bestow either Sensations or Ideas on himself; he receives them all; his Pain and Pleasure, as well as his Being, proceed from a superior Cause.

Zadig stood astonish’d, to think how a Man that had committed such vile Actions, could argue so well on such Moral Topicks. At the proper Hour, after an Entertainment, not only instructive, but ev’ry way agreeable, their Host conducted them to their Bed-chamber, thanking Heaven for directing two such polite and virtuous Strangers to his House. He offer’d them at the same Time some Silver, to defray their Expences on the Road; but with such an Air of Respect and Benevolence, that ’twas impossible to give the least Disgust. The Hermit, however, refus’d it, and took his leave, as he propos’d to set forward for Babylon by Break of Day. Their Parting was very affectionate and friendly; Zadig, in particular, express’d a more than common Regard for a Man of so amiable a Behaviour. When the Hermit and he were alone, and preparing for Bed, they talk’d long in Praise of their new Host. As soon as Day-light appear’d, the old Hermit wak’d his young Comrade. ’Tis Time to be gone, said he; but as all the House are fast asleep, I’ll leave a Token behind me of my Respect and Affection for the Master of it. No sooner were the Words out of his Mouth, but he struck a Light, kindled a Torch, and set the Building in a Flame: Zadig, in the utmost Confusion, shriek’d out, and would, if possible, have prevented him from being guilty of such a monstrous Act of Ingratitude. The Hermit dragg’d him away, by a superior Force. The House was soon in a Blaze: When they had got at a convenient Distance, the Hermit, with an amazing Sedateness, turn’d back and survey’d the destructive Flames. Behold, said he, our fortunate Friend! In the Ruins, he will find an immense Treasure, that will enable him, from henceforth, to exert his Beneficence, and render his Virtues more and more conspicuous. Zadig, tho’ astonish’d to the last Degree, attended him to their last Stage, which was to the Cottage of a very virtuous and well-dispos’d Widow, who had a Nephew of about fourteen Years of Age. He was a hopeful Youth, and the Darling of her Heart. She entertain’d her two Guests with the best Provisions her little House afforded. In the Morning she order’d her Nephew to attend them to an adjacent Bridge, which, having been broken down some few Days before, render’d the Passage dangerous to Strangers.

The Lad, being very attentive to wait on them, went formost. When they were got upon the Bridge; come hither, my pretty Boy, said the Hermit, I must give your Aunt some small Token of my Respect for her last Night’s Favours. Upon that, he twisted his Fingers in the Hair of his Head, and threw him, very calmly, into the River. Down went the little Lad; he came up once again to the Surface of the Water; but was soon lost in the rapid Stream. O thou Monster! thou worst of Villains, cry’d Zadig! Didn’t you promise, said the Hermit, to view my Conduct with Patience? Know then, that had that Boy liv’d but one Year longer, he would have murder’d his Foster–Mother. Who told you so, you barbarous Wretch, said Zadig? And when did you read that inhuman Event in your Black–Book of Fate? Who gave you Permission pray, to drown so innocent a Youth, that had never disoblig’d you?

No sooner had our young Babylonian ceas’d his severe Reflections, but he perceiv’d that the old Hermit’s long Beard grew shorter and shorter; that the Furrows in his Face began to fill up, and that his Cheeks glow’d with a Rose-coloured Red, as if he had been in the Bloom of Fifteen. His Mantle was vanish’d at once; and on his Shoulders, which were before cover’d, appear’d four angelic Wings, each refulgent as the Sun. O thou Messenger of Heaven! O thou angelic Form! cry’d Zadig, and fell prostrate at his Feet; thou art descended from the Empireum, I find, to instruct such a poor frail Mortal as I am, how to submit to the Mysteries of Fate. Mankind in general, said the Angel Jesrad, judge of the Whole, by only viewing the hither Link of the Chain. Thou, of all the human Race, wast the only Man that deserv’d to have thy Mind enlighten’d. Zadig, begg’d Leave to speak. I am somewhat diffident of myself, ’tis true; but may I presume, Sir, to beg the Solution of one Scruple? Would it not have been better to have chastiz’d the Lad, and by that Means reform’d him, than to have cut him off thus unprepar’d in a Moment. Jesrad, replied, had he been virtuous, and had he liv’d, ’twas his Fate not only to be murder’d himself, but his Wife, whom he would afterwards have married, and the little Infant, that was to have been the Pledge of their mutual Affection. Is it necessary then, venerable Guide, that there should be Wickedness and Misfortunes in the World, and that those Misfortunes should fall with Weight on the Heads of the Righteous? The Wicked, replied Jesrad, are always unhappy. Misfortunes are intended only as a Touch-stone, to try a small Number of the Just, who are thinly scatter’d about this terrestrial Globe: Besides, there is no Evil under the Sun, but some Good proceeds from it: But, said Zadig, Suppose the World was all Goodness, and there was no such Thing in Nature as Evil. Then, that World of yours, said Jesrad, would be another World; the Chain of Events would be another Wisdom; and that other Order, which would be perfect, must of Necessity be the everlasting Residence of the supreme Being, whom no Evil can approach. That great and first Cause has created an infinite Number of Worlds, and no two of them alike. This vast Variety is an Attribute of his Omnipotence. There are not two Leaves on the Trees throughout the Universe, nor any two Globes of Light amongst the Myriad of Stars that deck the infinite Expanse of Heaven, which are perfectly alike. And whatever you see on that small Atom of Earth, whereof you are a Native, must exist in the Place, and at the Time appointed, according to the immutable Decrees of him who comprehends the Whole. Mankind imagine, that the Lad, whom I plung’d into the River, was drown’d by Chance; and that our generous Benefactor’s House was reduc’d to Ashes by the same Chance; but know, there is no such Thing as Chance, all Misfortunes are intended, either as severe Trials, Judgments, or Rewards; and are the Result of Foreknowledge. You remember, Sir, the poor Fisherman in Despair, that thought himself the most unhappy Mortal breathing. The great Orasmades, sent you to amend his Situation. Frail Mortal! Cease to contend with what you ought to adore. But, said Zadig — whilst the Sound of the Word But dwelt upon his Tongue, the Angel took his Flight towards the tenth Sphere. Zadig sunk down upon his Knees, and acknowledg’d an over-ruling Providence with all the Marks of the profoundest Submission. The Angel, as he was soaring towards the Clouds, cried out in distinct Accents; Make thy Way towards Babylon.

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