Zadig, by Voltaire

Chapter IV.

The Envious Man.

As Zadig had met with such a Series of Misfortunes, he was determin’d to ease the Weight of them by the Study of Philosophy, and the Conversation of select Friends. He was still possess’d of a little pretty Box in the Out-parts of Babylon, which was furnish’d in a good Taste; where every Artist was welcome, and wherein he enjoy’d all the rational Pleasures that a virtuous Man could well wish for. In the Morning, his Library was always open for the Use of the Learned; at Night his Table was fill’d with the most agreeable Companions; but he was soon sensible, by Experience, how dangerous it was to keep learned Men Company. A warm Dispute arose about a certain Law of Zoroaster; which prohibited the Eating of Griffins: But to what Purpose said some of the Company, was that Prohibition, since there is no such Animal in Nature? Some again insisted that there must; for otherwise Zoroaster could never have been so weak as to give his Pupils such a Caution. Zadig, in order to compromize the Matter, said; Gentlemen, If there are such Creatures in Being, let us never touch them; and if there are not, we are well assur’d we can’t touch them; so in either Case we shall comply with the Commandment.

A learned Man at the upper End of the Table, who had compos’d thirteen Volumes, expatiating on every Property of the Griffin, took this Affair in a very serious Light, which would greatly have embarrass’d Zadig, but for the Credit of a Magus, who was Brother to his Friend Cador. From that Day forward, Zadig ever distinguish’d and preferr’d good, before learned Company: He associated with the most conversible Men, and the most amiable Ladies in all Babylon; he made elegant Entertainments, which were frequently preceded by a Concert of Musick, and enliven’d by the most facetious Conversation, in which, as he had felt the Smart of it, he had laid aside all Thoughts of shewing his Wit, which is not only the surest Proof that a Man has none, but the most infallible Means to spoil all good Company.

Neither the Choice of his Friends, nor that of his Dishes, was the Result of Pride or Ostentation. He took Delight in appearing to be, what he actually was, and not in seeming to be what he was not; and by that Means, got a greater real Character than he actually aim’d at.

Directly opposite to his House liv’d Arimazes, one puff’d up with Pride, who not meeting with Success in the World, sought his Revenge in railing against all Mankind. Rich as he was, it was almost more than he could accomplish, to procure ev’n any Parasites about him. Tho’ the rattling of the Chariots which stopp’d at Zadig’s Door was a perfect Nuisance to him; yet the good Character which every Body gave him was still a higher Provocation. He would sometimes intrude himself upon Zadig, and set down at his Table without any Invitation; when there, he would most certainly interrupt the Mirth of the Company, as Harpies, they say, infect the very Carrion that they eat.

Arimazes took it in his Head one Day to invite a young Lady to an Entertainment; but she, instead of accepting of his Offer, spent the Evening at Zadig’s. Another Time, as Zadig and he were chatting together at Court, a Minister of State came up to them, and invited Zadig to Supper, but took no Notice of Arimazes. The most implacable Aversions have frequently no better Foundations. This Gentleman, who was call’d the envious Man, would have taken away the Life of Zadig if he could because most People distinguish’d him by the Title of the Happy Man. “An Opportunity of doing Mischief, says Zoroaster, offers itself a hundred Times a Day; but that of doing a Friend a good Office but once a Year.”

Arimazes went one Day to Zadig’s House, when he was walking in his Garden with two Friends, and a young Lady, to whom he said Abundance of fine Things, with no other Design but the innocent Pleasure of saying them. Their Conversation turn’d on a War that the King had happily put an End to, between him and his Vassal, the Prince of Hyrcania. Zadig having signaliz’d himself in that short War, commended his Majesty very highly, but was more lavish of his Compliments on the Lady. He took out his Pocket Book, and wrote four extempore Verses on that Occasion, and gave them the Lady to read. The Gentlemen then present begg’d to be oblig’d with a Sight of them, as well as the Lady, But either thro’ Modesty, or rather a self-Consciousness that he hadn’t happily succeeded, he gave them a flat Denial. He was sensible, that a sudden poetic Flight must prove insipid to every one but the Person in whose Favour it is written, whereupon he snapt the Table in two whereon the Lines were wrote, and threw both Pieces into a Rose-bush, where they were hunted for, but to no Purpose. Soon after it happened to rain, and all the Company flew into the House, but Arimazes. Notwithstanding the Shower, he continued in the Garden, and never quitted it, till he had found one Moiety of the Tablet, which was unfortunately broke in such a Manner, that even the half Lines were good sense, and good Metre, tho’ very short. But what was still more remarkably unfortunate, they appear’d at first View, to be a severe satyr upon the King: The Words were these:

                                    To flagrant Crimes
                                         His Crown he owes;
                                     To peaceful Times
                                         The worst of Foes.

This was the first Moment that ever Arimazes was happy. He had it now in his Power to ruin the most virtuous and innocent of Men. Big with his execrable Joy, he flew to his Majesty with this virulent Satyr of Zadig’s under his own Hand. Not only Zadig, but his two Friends and the Lady were immediately close confin’d. His Cause was soon over; for the Judges turn’d a deaf Ear to what he had to say. When Sentence of Condemnation was pass’d upon him, Arimazes, still spiteful, was heard to say, as he went out of Court, with an Air of Contempt, that Zadig’s Lines were Treason indeed, but nothing more. Tho’ Zadig didn’t value himself on Account of his Genius for Poetry; yet he was almost distracted to find himself condemn’d for the worst of Traitors, and his two Friends and the Lady lock’d up in a Dungeon for a Crime, of which he was no ways guilty. He wasn’t permitted to speak one Word for himself. His Pocket–Book was sufficient Evidence against him. So strict were the Laws of Babylon! He was carried to the Place of Execution, through a Croud of Spectators, who durstn’t condole with him, and who flock’d about him, to observe whether his Countenance chang’d, or whether he died with a good Grace. His Relations were the only real Mourners; for there was no Estate in Reversion for them; three Parts of his Effects were confiscated for the King’s Use, and the fourth was devoted, as a Reward, to the use of the Informer.

Just at the Time that he was preparing himself for Death, the King’s Parrot flew from her Balcony, into Zadig’s Garden, and alighted on a Rose-bush. A Peach, that had been blown down, and drove by the Wind from an adjacent Tree, just under the Bush, was glew’d, as it were, to the other Moiety of the Tablet. Away flew the Parrot with her Booty, and return’d to the King’s Lap. The Monarch, being somewhat curious, read the Words on the broken Tablet, which had no Meaning in them as he could perceive, but seem’d to be the broken Parts of a Tetrastick. He was a great Admirer of Poetry; and the odd Adventure of his Parrot, put him upon Reflection. The Queen who recollected full well the Lines that were wrote on the Fragment of Zadig’s Tablet, order’d that Part of it to be produc’d: Both the broken Pieces being put together, they answered exactly the Indentures; and then the Verses which Zadig had written, in a Flight of Loyalty, ran thus,

Tyrants are prone to flagrant Crimes;
   To Clemency his Crown he owes;
 To Concord and to peaceful Times,
   Love only is the worst of Foes.

Upon this the King order’d Zadig to be instantly brought before him; and his two Friends and the Lady to be that Moment discharg’d. Zadig, as he stood before the King and Queen, fix’d his Eyes upon the Ground, and begg’d their Majesty’s Pardon for his little worthless, poetical Attempt. He spoke, however, with such a becoming Grace, and with so much Modesty and good Sense, that the King and the Queen, ordered him to be brought before them once again. He was brought accordingly, and he pleas’d them still more and more. In short, they gave him all the immense Estate of Arimazes, who had so unjustly accus’d him; but Zadig generously return’d the wicked Informer the Whole to a Farthing. The envious Man, however, was no ways affected, but with the Restoration of his Effects. Zadig every Day grew more and more in Favour at Court. He was made a Party in all the King’s Pleasures, and nothing was done in the Privy–Council without him. The Queen, from that very Hour, shew’d him so much Respect, and spoke to him in such soft and endearing Terms, that in Process of Time, it prov’d of fatal Consequence to herself, her Royal Consort, to Zadig, and the whole Kingdom. Zadig now began to think it was not so difficult a Thing to be happy as at first he imagin’d.

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