Candide is the story of a gentle man who, though pummeled and slapped in every direction by fate, clings desperately to the belief that he lives in "the best of all possible worlds." On the surface a witty, bantering tale, this eighteenth-century classic is actually a savage, satiric thrust at the philosophical optimism that proclaims that all disaster and human suffering is part of a benevolent cosmic plan.
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August 25, 2003
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Excerpt from Candide by Voltaire
IN THE castle of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh in Westphalia, there once lived a youth endowed by nature with the gentlest of characters. His soul was revealed in his face. He combined rather sound judgment with great simplicity of mind; it was for this reason, I believe, that he was given the name of Candide. The old servants of the household suspected that he was the son of the baron's sister by a good and honorable gentleman of the vicinity, whom this lady would never marry because he could prove only seventy-one generations of nobility, the rest of his family tree having been lost, owing to the ravages of time.
The baron was one of the most powerful lords in Westphalia, for his castle had a door and windows. Its hall was even adorned with a tapestry. The dogs in his stable yards formed a hunting pack when necessary, his grooms were his huntsmen, and the village curate was his chaplain. They all called him "My Lord" and laughed when he told stories.
The baroness, who weighed about three hundred fifty pounds, thereby winning great esteem, did the honors of the house with a dignity that made her still more respectable. Her daughter Cunegonde, aged seventeen, was rosy-cheeked, fresh, plump and alluring. The baron's son appeared to be worthy of his father in every way. The tutor Pangloss was the oracle of the household, and young Candide listened to his teachings with all the good faith of his age and character.
Pangloss taught metaphysico-theologo-cosmonigology. He proved admirably that in this best of all possible worlds, His Lordship's castle was the most beautiful of castles, and Her Ladyship the best of all possible baronesses.
"It is demonstrated," he said, "that things cannot be otherwise: for, since everything was made for a purpose, everything is necessarily for the best purpose. Note that noses were made to wear spectacles; we therefore have spectacles. Legs were clearly devised to wear breeches, and we have breeches. Stones were created to be hewn and made into castles; His Lordship therefore has a very beautiful castle: the greatest baron in the province must have the finest residence. And since pigs were made to be eaten, we eat pork all year round. Therefore, those who have maintained that all is well have been talking nonsense: they should have maintained that all is for the best."