François Marie Arouet de Voltaire (16941778). Candide, or The Optimist. 1884.
Candide and Martin pay a visit to Signor Pococuranté, a noble Venetian
CANDIDE and his friend Martin went into a gondola on the Brenta, and arrived at the palace of the noble Pococuranté: the gardens were laid out in elegant taste, and adorned with fine marble statues; his palace was built after the most approved rules of architecture. The master of the house, who was a man of sixty, and very rich, received our two travellers with great politeness, but without much ceremony, which somewhat disconcerted Candide, but was not at all displeasing to Martin.
As soon as they were seated, two very pretty girls, neatly dressed, brought in chocolate, which was extremely well frothed. Candide could not help making encomiums upon their beauty and graceful carriage. The creatures are well enough, said the senator. I make them my companions, for I am heartily tired of the ladies of the town, their coquetry, their jealousy, their quarrels, their humours, their meannesses, their pride, and their folly. I am weary of making sonnets, or of paying for sonnets to be made on them; but after all, these two girls begin to grow very indifferent to me.
After having refreshed himself, Candide walked into a large gallery, where he was struck with the sight of a fine collection of paintings. Pray, said Candide, by what master are the two first of these? They are Raphaels, answered the senator. I gave a great deal of money for them seven years ago, purely out of curiosity, as they were said to be the finest pieces in Italy; but I cannot say they please me: the colouring is dark and heavy; the figures do not swell nor come out enough; and the drapery is very bad. In short, notwithstanding the encomiums lavished upon them, they are not, in my opinion, a true representation of nature. I approve of no paintings but where I think I behold Nature herself; and there are very few, if any, of that kind to be met with. I have what is called a fine collection, but I take no manner of delight in them.
While dinner was getting ready Pococuranté ordered a concert. Candide praised the music to the skies. This noise, said the noble Venetian, may amuse one for a little time, but if it was to last above half-an-hour, it would grow tiresome to everybody, though perhaps no one would care to own it. Music is become the art of executing what is difficult; now, whatever is difficult cannot be long pleasing.
I believe I might take more pleasure in an opera, if they had not made such a monster of that species of dramatic entertainment as perfectly shocks me; and I am amazed how people can bear to see wretched tragedies set to music; where the scenes are contrived for no other purpose than to lug in, as it were by the ears, three or four ridiculous songs, to give a favourite actress an opportunity of exhibiting her pipe. Let who will or can die away in raptures at the trills of a eunuch quavering the majestic part of Cæsar or Cato, and strutting in a foolish manner upon the stage. For my part, I have long ago renounced these paltry entertainments, which constitute the glory of modern Italy, and are so dearly purchased by crowned heads. Candide opposed these sentiments; but he did it in a discreet manner. As for Martin, he was entirely of the old senators opinion.
Dinner being served up, they sat down to table, and after a very hearty repast, returned to the library. Candide observing Homer richly bound, commended the noble Venetians taste. This, said he, is a book that was once the delight of the great Pangloss, the best philosopher in Germany. Homer is no favourite of mine, answered Pococuranté very coolly. I was made to believe once that I took a pleasure in reading him; but his continual repetitions of battles must have all such a resemblance with each other; his gods that are for ever in a hurry and bustle, without ever doing anything; his Helen, that is the cause of the war, and yet hardly acts in the whole performance; his Troy, that holds out so long without being taken; in short, all these things together make the poem very insipid to me. I have asked some learned men whether they are not in reality as much tired as myself with reading this poet. Those who spoke ingenuously assured me that he had made them fall asleep, and yet that they could not well avoid giving him a place in their libraries; but that it was merely as they would do an antique, or those rusty medals which are kept only for curiosity, and are of no manner of use in commerce.
But your excellency does not surely form the same opinion of Virgil? said Candide. Why, I grant, replied Pococuranté, that the second, third, fourth, and sixth books of his Æneid are excellent; but as for his pious Æneas, his strong Cloanthus, his friendly Achates, his boy Ascanius, his silly king Latinus, his ill-bred Amata, his insipid Lavinia, and some other characters much in the same strain, I think there cannot in nature be anything more flat and disagreeable. I must confess I prefer Tasso far beyond him; nay, even that sleepy tale-teller Ariosto.
May I take the liberty to ask if you do not receive great pleasure from reading Horace? said Candide. There are maxims in this writer, replied Pococuranté, from whence a man of the world may reap some benefit; and the short measure of the verse makes them more easily to be retained in the memory. But I see nothing extraordinary in his journey to Brundusium, and his account of his bad dinner; nor in his dirty low quarrel between one Rupilius, whose words, as he expresses it, were full of poisonous filth; and another, whose language was dipped in vinegar. His indelicate verses against old women and witches have frequently given me great offence; nor can I discover the great merit of his telling his friend Mæcenas that, if he will but rank him in the class of lyric poets, his lofty head shall touch the stars. Ignorant readers are apt to advance everything by the lump in a writer of reputation. For my part, I read only to please myself. I like nothing but what makes for my purpose. Candide, who had been brought up with a notion of never making use of his own judgment, was astonished at what he heard; but Martin found there was a good deal of reason in the senators remarks.
Oh, here is a Tully! said Candide; this great man, I fancy, you are never tired of reading? Indeed, I never read him at all, replied Pococuranté. What a deuce is it to me whether he pleads for Rabirius or Cluentius? I try causes enough myself. I had once some liking to his philosophical works; but when I found he doubted of everything, I thought I knew as much as himself, and had no need of a guide to learn ignorance.
Ha! cried Martin, here are fourscore volumes of the Memoirs of the Academy of Sciences; perhaps there may be something curious and valuable in this collection. Yes, answered Pococuranté; so there might, if any one of these compilers of this rubbish had only invented the art of pin-making. But all these volumes are filled with mere chimerical systems, without one single article conductive to real utility.
I see a prodigious number of plays, said Candide, in Italian, Spanish, and French. Yes, replied the Venetian; there are I think three thousand, and not three dozen of them good for anything. As to those huge volumes of divinity, and those enormous collections of sermons, they are not altogether worth one single page of Seneca; and I fancy you will readily believe that neither myself nor any one else ever looks into them.
Martin, perceiving some shelves filled with English books, said to the senator: I fancy that a republican must be highly delighted with those books, which are most of them written with a noble spirit of freedom. It is noble to write as we think, said Pococuranté; it is the privilege of humanity. Throughout Italy we write only what we do not think; and the present inhabitants of the country of the Cæsars and Antoninuses dare not acquire a single idea without the permission of a Father Dominican. I should be enamoured of the spirit of the English nation did it not utterly frustrate the good effects it would produce by passion and the spirit of party.
Candide, seeing a Milton, asked the senator if he did not think that author a great man. Who? said Pococuranté sharply. That barbarian, who writes a tedious commentary, in ten books of rambling verse, on the first chapter of Genesis! That slovenly imitator of the Greeks, who disfigures the creation by making the Messiah take a pair of compasses from Heavens armoury to plan the world; whereas Moses represented the Diety as producing the whole universe by his fiat! Can I think you have any esteem for a writer who has spoiled Tassos hell and the devil; who transforms Lucifer, sometimes into a toad, and at others into a pigmy; who makes him say the same thing over again a hundred times; who metamorphoses him into a school-divine; and who, by an absurdly serious imitation of Ariostos comic invention of fire-arms, represents the devils and angels cannonading each other in heaven! Neither I, nor any other Italian, can possibly take pleasure in such melancholy reveries. But the marriage of Sin and Death, and snakes issuing from the womb of the former, are enough to make any person sick that is not lost to all sense of delicacy. This obscene, whimsical, and disagreeable poem met with the neglect it deserved at its first publication; and I only treat the author now as he was treated in his own country by his contemporaries.
Candide was sensibly grieved at this speech, as he had a great respect for Homer and was very fond of Milton. Alas! said he softly to Martin, I am afraid this man holds our German poets in great contempt. There would be no such great harm in that, said Martin. Oh, what a surprising man! said Candide to himself; what a prodigious genius is this Pococuranté! Nothing can please him.
After finishing their survey of the library they went down into the garden, when Candide commended the several beauties that offered themselves to his view. I know nothing upon earth laid out in such bad taste, said Pococuranté, everything about it is childish and trifling; but I shall have another laid out to-morrow upon a nobler plan.
As soon as our two travellers had taken leave of his excellency, Well, said Candide to Martin, I hope you will own that this man is the happiest of all mortals, for he is above everything he possesses. But do not you see, answered Martin, that he likewise dislikes everything he possesses? It was an observation of Plato long since, that those are not the best stomachs that reject, without distinction, all sorts of aliments. True, said Candide, but still there must certainly be a pleasure in criticising everything, and in perceiving faults where others think they see beauties. That is, replied Martin, there is a pleasure in having no pleasure. Well, well, said Candide, I find that I shall be the only happy man at last, when I am blessed with the sight of my dear Cunegund. It is good to hope, said Martin.
In the meanwhile, days and weeks passed away, and no news of Cacambo. Candide was so overwhelmed with grief that he did not reflect on the behaviour of Pacquette and Friar Giroflée, who never staid to return him thanks for the presents he had so generously made them.