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CANDIDE Voltaire

CANDIDE

Voltaire

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INTRODUCTIONEver since 1759, when Voltaire wrote Candide in ridicule of the notionthat this is the best of all possible worlds, this world has been agayer place for readers. Voltaire wrote it in three days, and five orsix generations have foundMoreINTRODUCTIONEver since 1759, when Voltaire wrote Candide in ridicule of the notionthat this is the best of all possible worlds, this world has been agayer place for readers. Voltaire wrote it in three days, and five orsix generations have found that its laughter does not grow old.Candide has not aged. Yet how different the book would have looked ifVoltaire had written it a hundred and fifty years later than 1759. Itwould have been, among other things, a book of sights and sounds. Amodern writer would have tried to catch and fix in words some of thoseAtlantic changes which broke the Atlantic monotony of that voyage fromCadiz to Buenos Ayres. When Martin and Candide were sailing the lengthof the Mediterranean we should have had a contrast between naked scarpedBalearic cliffs and headlands of Calabria in their mists. We should havehad quarter distances, far horizons, the altering silhouettes of anIonian island. Colored birds would have filled Paraguay with theirsilver or acid cries.Dr. Pangloss, to prove the existence of design in the universe, saysthat noses were made to carry spectacles, and so we have spectacles. Amodern satirist would not try to paint with Voltaires quick brush thedoctrine that he wanted to expose. And he would choose a morecomplicated doctrine than Dr. Panglosss optimism, would study it moreclosely, feel his destructive way about it with a more learned andcaressing malice. His attack, stealthier, more flexible and more patientthan Voltaires, would call upon us, especially when his learning got alittle out of control, to be more than patient. Now and then he wouldbore us. Candide never bored anybody except William Wordsworth.Voltaires men and women point his case against optimism by startinghigh and falling low. A modern could not go about it after this fashion.He would not plunge his people into an unfamiliar misery. He would justkeep them in the misery they were born to.But such an account of Voltaires procedure is as misleading as theplaster cast of a dance. Look at his procedure again. MademoiselleCunégonde, the illustrious Westphalian, sprung from a family that couldprove seventy-one quarterings, descends and descends until we find herearning her keep by washing dishes in the Propontis. The aged faithfulattendant, victim of a hundred acts of rape by negro pirates, remembersthat she is the daughter of a pope, and that in honor of herapproaching marriage with a Prince of Massa-Carrara all Italy wrotesonnets of which not one was passable. We do not need to know Frenchliterature before Voltaire in order to feel, although the lurking parodymay escape us, that he is poking fun at us and at himself. His laughterat his own methods grows more unmistakable at the last, when hecaricatures them by casually assembling six fallen monarchs in an inn atVenice.A modern assailant of optimism would arm himself with social pity. Thereis no social pity in Candide. Voltaire, whose light touch on familiarinstitutions opens them and reveals their absurdity, likes to remind usthat the slaughter and pillage and murder which Candide witnessed amongthe Bulgarians was perfectly regular, having been conducted according tothe laws and usages of war. Had Voltaire lived to-day he would have doneto poverty what he did to war. Pitying the poor, he would have shown uspoverty as a ridiculous anachronism, and both the ridicule and the pitywould have expressed his indignation.Almost any modern, essaying a philosophic tale, would make it long.Candide is only a Hamlet and a half long. It would hardly have beenshorter if Voltaire had spent three months on it, instead of those threedays. A conciseness to be matched in English by nobody except Pope, whocan say a plagiarizing enemy steals much, spends little, and hasnothing left, a conciseness which Pope toiled and sweated for, came aseasy as wit to Voltaire. He can afford to be witty, parenthetically, bythe way, prodigally, without saving, because he knows there is more witwhere that came from.One of Max Beerbohms cartoons shows us the young Twentieth Centurygoing at top speed, and watched by two of his predecessors. Underneathis this legend: The Grave Misgivings of the Nineteenth Century, and theWicked Amusement of the Eighteenth, in Watching the Progress (orwhatever it is) of the Twentieth. This Eighteenth Century snuff-takingand malicious, is like Voltaire, who nevertheless must know, if hehappens to think of it, that not yet in the Twentieth Century, not forall its speed mania, has any one come near to equalling the speed of aprose tale by Voltaire. Candide is a ful