Fiction > Voltaire > Candide, or The Optimist

François Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694–1778).  Candide, or The Optimist.  1884.
Chapter XVIII
What they saw in the Country of El Dorado
CACAMBO vented all his curiosity upon his landlord by a thousand different questions: the honest man answered him thus: “I am very ignorant, sir, but I am contented with my ignorance; however, we have in this neighbourhood an old man retired from Court, who is the most learned and communicative person in the kingdom.” He then carried Cacambo to the old man; Candide acted now only a second character, and attended his valet. They entered a very plain house, for the door was nothing but silver, and the ceiling was only of beaten gold, but wrought in so elegant a taste as to vie with the richest. The antechamber, indeed, was only incrusted with rubies and emeralds; but the order in which everything was disposed made amends for this great simplicity.  1
  The old man received the strangers on his sofa, which was stuffed with humming-birds, feathers, and ordered his servants to present them with liquors in golden goblets; after which he satisfied their curiosity in the following terms:—  2
  “I am now one hundred and seventy-two years old; and I learnt of my late father, who was equerry to the king, the amazing revolutions of Peru to which he had been an eyewitness. This kingdom is the ancient patrimony of the Incas, who very imprudently quitted it to conquer another part of the world, and were at length conquered and destroyed themselves by the Spaniards.  3
  “Those princes of their family who remained in their native country acted more wisely. They ordained, with the consent of their whole nation, that none of the inhabitants of our little kingdom should ever quit it; and to this wise ordinance we owe the preservation of our innocence and happiness. The Spaniards had some confused notion of this country, to which they gave the name of El Dorado; and Sir Walter Raleigh, an Englishman, actually came very near it about three hundred years ago; but the inaccessible rocks and precipices with which our country is surrounded on all sides, has hitherto secured us from the rapacious fury of the people of Europe, who have an unaccountable fondness for the pebbles and dirt of our land, for the sake of which they would murder us all to the very last man.”  4
  The conversation lasted some time, and turned chiefly on the form of government, their manners, their women, their public diversions, and the arts. At length, Candide, who had always had a taste for metaphysics, asked whether the people of that country had any religion.  5
  The old man reddened a little at this question. “Can you doubt it?” said he. “Do you take us for wretches lost to all sense of gratitude?” Cacambo asked in a respectful manner what was the established religion of El Dorado. The old man blushed again, and said: “Can there be two religions then? Ours, I apprehend, is the religion of the whole world. We worship God from morning till night.” “Do you worship but one God?” said Cacambo, who still acted as the interpreter of Candide’s doubts. “Certainly,” said the old man; “there are not two nor three nor four Gods. I must confess the people of your world ask very extraordinary questions.” However, Candide could not refrain from making many more inquiries of the old man. He wanted to know in what manner they prayed to God in El Dorado. “We do not pray to him at all,” said the reverend sage. “We have nothing to ask of him. He has given us all we want, and we give him thanks incessantly.” Candide had a curiosity to see some of their priests, and desired Cacambo to ask the old man where they were; at which he, smiling, said: “My friends, we are all of us priests. The king and all the heads of families sing solemn hymns of thanksgiving every morning, accompanied by five or six thousand musicians.” “What!” says Cacambo, “have you no monks among you to dispute, to govern, to intrigue, and to burn people who are not of the same opinion with themselves?” “Do you take us for fools?” said the old man; “here we are all of one opinion, and know not what you mean by your monks.” During the whole of this discourse Candide was in raptures, and he said to himself: “What a prodigious difference is there between this place and Westphalia, and this house and the baron’s castle! Ah, Master Pangloss! had you ever seen El Dorado you would no longer have maintained that the castle of Thunder-ten-tronckh was the finest of all possible edifices. There is nothing like seeing the world, that’s certain.”  6
  This long conversation being ended, the old man ordered six sheep to be harnessed and put to the coach, and sent twelve of his servants to escort the travellers to Court. “Excuse me,” said he, “for not waiting on you in person; my age deprives me of that honour. The king will receive you in such a manner that you will have no reason to complain; and doubtless you will make a proper allowance for the customs of the country if they should not happen altogether to please you.”  7
  Candide and Cacambo got into the coach, the six sheep flew, and in less than a quarter of an hour they arrived at the king’s palace, which was situated at the further end of the capital. At the entrance was a portal two hundred and twenty feet high, and one hundred wide; but it is impossible for words to express the materials of which it was built. The reader, however, will readily conceive that they must have a prodigious superiority over the pebbles and sand which we call gold and precious stones.  8
  Twenty beautiful young virgins in waiting received Candide and Cacambo on their alighting from the coach, conducted them to the bath, and clad them in robes wove of the down of humming-birds; after which they were introduced by the great officers of the Crown, of both sexes, to the king’s apartment, between two files of musicians, each file consisting of a thousand, agreeably to the custom of the country. When they drew near to the presence-chamber, Cacambo asked one of the officers in what manner they were to pay their obeisance to his majesty; whether it was the custom to fall upon their knees, or to prostrate themselves upon the ground? whether they were to put their hands upon their heads or behind their backs? whether they were to lick the dust off the floor? in short, what was the ceremony usual on such occasions? “The custom,” said the great officer, “is to embrace the king, and kiss him on each cheek.” Candide and Cacambo accordingly threw their arms around his majesty’s neck, who received them in the most gracious manner imaginable, and very politely asked them to sup with him.  9
  While supper was preparing, orders were given to show them the city, where they saw public structures that reared their lofty heads to the clouds; the market-places decorated with a thousand columns; fountains of spring-water, besides others of rose-water, and of liquors drawn from the sugar-cane, incessantly flowing in the great squares, which were paved with a kind of precious stones that emitted an odour like that of cloves and cinnamon. Candide asked to see the High Court of Justice, the Parliament; but was answered that they have none in that country, being utter strangers to lawsuits. He then inquired if they had any prisons; they replied, none. But what gave him at once the greatest surprise and pleasure was the Palace of Sciences, where he saw a gallery, two thousand feet long, filled with the various apparatus in mathematics and natural philosophy.  10
  After having spent the whole afternoon in seeing only about the thousandth part of the city, they were brought back to the king’s palace. Candide sat down at the table with His majesty, his valet Cacambo, and several ladies of the Court. Never was entertainment more elegant, nor could any one possible show more wit than his majesty displayed while they were at supper. Cacambo explained all the king’s bon mots to Candide, and although they were translated, they still appeared to be bon mots. Of all the things that surprised Candide, this was not the least. They spent a whole month in this hospitable place, during which time Candide was continually saying to Cacambo, “I own, my friend, once more that the castle where I was born is a mere nothing in comparison with the place where we now are; but still Miss Cunegund is not here, and you yourself have doubtless some fair one for whom you sigh in Europe. If we remain here, we shall only be as others are; whereas, if we return to our own world with only a dozen of El Dorado sheep loaded with the pebbles of this country, we shall be richer than all the kings in Europe; we shall no longer need to stand in awe of the inquisitors; and we may easily recover Miss Cunegund.”  11
  This speech was perfectly agreeable to Cacambo. A fondness for roving, for making a figure in their own country, and for boasting of what they had seen in their travels, was so prevalent in our two wanderers, that they resolved to be no longer happy; and demanded permission of the king to quit the country.  12
  “You are about to do a rash and silly action,” said the king. “I am sensible my kingdom is an inconsiderable spot; but when people are tolerably at their ease in any place, I should think it would be to their interest to remain there. Most assuredly I have no right to detain you or any strangers against your wills: this is an act of tyranny to which our manners and our laws are equally repugnant: all men are by nature free; you have therefore an undoubted liberty to depart whenever you please, but you will have many and great difficulties to encounter in passing the frontiers. It is impossible to ascend that rapid river which runs under high and vaulted rocks, and by which you were conveyed hither by a kind of miracle. The mountains by which my kingdom are hemmed in on all sides, are ten thousand feet high, and perfectly perpendicular; they are above ten leagues over each, and the descent from them is one continued precipice. “However, since you are determined to leave us, I will immediately give orders to the superintendent of my carriages to cause one to be made that will convey you very safe. When they have conducted you to the back of the mountains, nobody can attend you farther; for my subjects have made a vow never to quit the kingdom, and they are too prudent to break it. Ask me whatever else you please.” “All we shall ask of your majesty,” said Cacambo, “is only a few sheep laden with provisions, pebbles, and the clay of your country.” The king smiled at the request, and said, “I cannot imagine what pleasure you Europeans find in our yellow clay; but take away as much of it as you will, and much good may it do you.”  13
  He immediately gave orders to his engineers to make a machine to hoist these two extraordinary men out of the kingdom. Three thousand good mathematicians went to work and finished it in about fifteen days; and it did not cost more than twenty millions sterling of that country’s money. Candide and Cacambo were placed on this machine, and they took with them two large red sheep, bridled and saddled, to ride upon when they got on the other side of the mountains; twenty others to serve as sumpters for carrying provisions; thirty laden with presents of whatever was most curious in the country; and fifty with gold, diamonds, and other precious stones. The king, at parting with our two adventurers, embraced them with the greatest cordiality.  14
  It was a curious sight to behold the manner of their setting off, and the ingenious method by which they and their sheep were hoisted to the top of the mountains. The mathematicians and engineers took leave of them as soon as they had conveyed them to a place of safety; and Candide was wholly occupied with the thoughts of presenting his sheep to Miss Cunegund. “Now,” says he, “thanks to Heaven, we have more than sufficient to pay the Governor of Buenos Ayres for Miss Cunegund, if she is redeemable. Let us make the best of our way to Cayenne, where we will take shipping, and then we may at leisure think of what kingdom we shall purchase with our riches.”  15

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