Candide, by Voltaire

Chapter XII.

Candide still continues his travels — new adventures.

Candide travelled a long time without knowing whither he was going. At length he resolved to go to Denmark, where he had heard that everything went pretty well. He had a few pieces of money about him, which the Armenian had made him a present of; and this sum, though inconsiderable, he hoped would carry him to the end of his journey. Hope rendered his misery supportable to him, and he still passed some happy moments. He found himself one day in an inn with three travellers, who talked to him with great warmth about a plenum and the materia subtilis. “This is well,” said Candide to himself, “these are philosophers. Gentlemen,” said he to them, “a plenum is incontestable; there is no vacuum in nature, and the materia subtilis is a well-imagined hypothesis.” “You are then a Cartesian?” cried the three travellers. “Yes,” answered Candide, “and a Leibnitzian, which is more.” “So much the worse for you,” replied the philosophers. “Descartes and Leibnitz had not common sense. We are Newtonians, and we glory in it; if we dispute, it is only the better to confirm ourselves in our opinions, and we all think the same. We search for truth in Newton’s tract, because we are persuaded that Newton is a very great man.” “And Descartes, too, and Leibnitz and Pangloss likewise,” said Candide; “these great men are worth a thousand of yours.” “You are a fool, friend,” answered the philosophers; “do you know the laws of refraction, attraction, and motion? Have you read the truths which Dr. Clarke has published in answer to the vagaries of your Leibnitz? Do you know what centrifugal and centripetal force is? and that colors depend on their density? Have you any notion of the theory of light and gravitation? Do you know the period of twenty-five thousand nine hundred and twenty years, which unluckily do not agree with chronology? No, undoubtedly, you have but false ideas of all these things; peace then, thou contemptible monad, and beware how you insult giants by comparing them to pygmies.” “Gentlemen,” answered Candide, “were Pangloss here, he would tell you very fine things; for he is a great philosopher; he has a sovereign contempt for your Newton; and, as I am his disciple, I likewise make no great account of him.” The philosophers, enraged beyond measure, fell upon poor Candide and drubbed him most philosophically.

Their wrath subsiding, they asked our hero’s pardon for their too great warmth. Upon this one of them began a very fine harangue on mildness and moderation.

While they were talking they saw a grand funeral procession pass by; our philosophers thence took occasion to descent on the foolish vanity of man. “Would it not be more reasonable,” said one of them, “that the relatives and friends of the deceased should, without pomp and noise, carry the bier themselves? would not this funeral act, by presenting to them the idea of death, produce an effect the most salutary, the most philosophical? This reflection, which would offer itself, namely, ‘the body I carry is that of my friend, my relative; he is no more; and, like him, I must cease to be in this world;’ would not this, I say, be a means of lessening the number of crimes in this vile world, and of bringing back to virtue beings who believe in the immortality of the soul? Men are too much inclined to remove from them the thoughts of death, for fear of presenting too strong images of it. Whence is it that people keep at a distance from such a spectacle as a mother and a wife in tears? The plaintive accents of nature, the piercing cries of despair, would do much greater honor to the ashes of the dead, than all these individuals clad in black from head to foot, together with useless female mourners, and that crowd of ministers who sing funeral orations which the deceased cannot hear.”

“This is extremely well spoken,” said Candide; “and did you always speak thus well, without thinking proper to beat people, you would be a great philosopher.”

Our travellers parted with expressions of mutual confidence and friendship. Candide still continued travelling towards Denmark. He plunged into the woods; where, musing deeply on all the misfortunes which had happened to him in the best of worlds, he turned aside from the road and lost himself. The day began to draw towards the evening, when he perceived his mistake; he was seized with dismay, and raising his eyes to heaven, and leaning against the trunk of a tree, our hero spoke in the following terms: “I have gone over half the world; seen fraud and calumny triumphant; have only sought to do service to mankind, and I have been persecuted. A great king honors me with his favor and fifty blows. I arrive with a wooden leg in a very fine province; there I taste pleasures after having drunk deep of mortifications. An abbé comes; I protect him; he insinuates himself at court through my means, and I am obliged to kiss his feet. I meet with my poor Pangloss only to see him burned. I find myself in company with philosophers, the mildest and most sociable of all the species of animals that are spread over the face of the earth, and they give me an unmerciful drubbing. All must necessarily be for the best, since Pangloss has said it; but nevertheless I am the most wretched of all possible beings.” Here Candide stopped short to listen to the cries of distress which seemed to come from a place near him. He stepped forward out of curiosity, when he beheld a young woman who was tearing her hair as if in the greatest despair. “Whoever you are,” said she to him, “if you have a heart, follow me.” He went with her, but they had not gone many paces before Candide perceived a man and a woman stretched out on the grass. Their faces declared the nobleness of their souls and origin; their features, though distorted by pain, had something so interesting that Candide could not forbear informing himself with a lively eagerness about the cause which reduced them to so miserable a situation. “It is my father and mother whom you see,” explained the young woman; “yes, these are the authors of my wretched being,” continued she, throwing herself into their arms. “They fled to avoid the rigor of an unjust sentence; I accompanied them in their flight, happy to share in their misfortune, thinking that in the deserts where we were going to hide ourselves my feeble hands might procure them a necessary subsistence. We have stopped here to take some rest; I discovered that tree which you see, whose fruit has deceived me — alas! sir, I am a wretch to be detested by the world and myself. Arm your hand to avenge offended virtue, and to punish the parricide! Strike! This fruit I presented to my father and mother; they ate of it with pleasure; I rejoiced to have found the means of quenching the thirst with which they were tormented — unhappy wretch! it was death I presented to them; this fruit is poison.”

This tale made Candide shudder; his hair stood on end and a cold sweat ran over all his body. He was eager, as much as his present condition could permit, to give some relief to this unfortunate family; but the poison had already made too much progress; and the most efficacious remedies would not have been able to stop its fatal effect.

“Dear child, our only hope!” cried the two unhappy parents, “God pardon thee as we pardon thee; it was the excess of thy tenderness which has robbed us of our lives. Generous stranger, vouchsafe to take care of her; her heart is noble and formed to virtue; she is a trust which we leave in your hands that is infinitely more precious to us than our past fortune. Dear Zenoida, receive our last embraces; mingle thy tears with ours. Heavens! how happy are these moments to us! Thou hast opened to us the dreary cave in which we languished for forty years past. Tender Zenoida, we bless thee; mayest thou never forget the lessons which our prudence hath dictated to thee; and may they preserve thee from the abyss which we see ready to swallow thee.”

They expired as they pronounced these words. Candide had great difficulty to bring Zenoida to herself. The moon enlightened the affecting scene; the day appeared, and Zenoida, plunged in sorrow, had not as yet recovered the use of her senses. As soon as she opened her eyes she entreated Candide to dig a hole in the ground in order to inter the bodies; she assisted in the work with an astonishing courage. This duty fulfilled, she gave free scope to her tears. Our philosopher drew her from this fatal place; they travelled a long time without observing any certain route. At length they perceived a little cottage; two persons in the decline of life dwelt in this desert, who were always ready to give every assistance in their power to their fellow-creatures in distress. These old people were such as Philemon and Baucis are described to us. For fifty years they had tasted the soft endearments of marriage, without ever experiencing its bitterness; an unimpaired health, the fruit of temperance and tranquillity of mind, mild and simple manners; a fund of inexhaustible candor in their character; all the virtues which man owes to himself, formed the glorious and only fortune which heaven had granted them. They were held in veneration in the neighboring villages, the inhabitants of which, full of a happy rusticity, might have passed for honest people, had they been Catholics. They looked upon it as a duty not to suffer Agaton and Sunama (for so the old couple were called) to want for anything. Their charity extended to the newcomers. “Alas!” said Candide, “it is a great loss, my dear Pangloss, that you were burned; you were master of sound reason; but yet in all the parts of Europe and Asia which I have travelled over in your company, everything is not for the best. It is only in El Dorado, whither no one can go, and in a little cottage situated in the coldest, most barren, and frightful region in the world. What pleasure should I have to hear you harangue about the pre-established harmony and monads! I should be very willing to pass my days among these honest Lutherans; but I must renounce going to mass, and resolve to be torn to pieces in the Journal Chrétien.”

Candide was very inquisitive to learn the adventures of Zenoida, but compassion withheld him from speaking to her about it; she perceived the respectful constraint he put upon himself, and satisfied his impatience in the following terms:

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