Voltaire\'s Candide

Translated with an Introduction by John Butt

In a world of bureaucrats, engineers, and producers, Voltaire is the necessary philosopher.
--Gustave Lanson

The Best of All Possible Worlds
An Introduction to Candide

While Candide is without a doubt a farcical, humorous, and far-fetched tale, a seriousness lies beneath its satirical veneer. Candide is the story of an innocent young man embarking on a series of adventures during which he discovers much evil in the world. Throughout his journey Candide believes in and adheres to the philosophy of his teacher, Pangloss, that "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds." This philosophy was prevalent during Voltaire\'s day, and Candide is Voltaire\'s scathing response to what he saw as an absurd belief that for its followers, the Optimists, was an easy way to rationalize evil and suffering. Candide was composed mainly as an attack on Gottfried Leibniz, the main proponent of Optimism. Candide was also written in opposition to Alexander Pope\'s Essay on Man, which espouses that "partial evil" is for the "greater good." Though he was by no means a pessimist, Voltaire refused to believe that what happens is always for the best.

Voltaire\'s vehement response was triggered in part by two catastrophic events: an earthquake in Lima, Peru, in 1746, and an even more devastating earthquake in Lisbon, Spain, that killed fifty thousand people in 1755. Incensed that the Optimists were comforting the earthquake victims by assuring them that this event had happened for "the best," Voltaire wrote Po鋗e sur le d廥astre de Lisbonne (1756), in which he expresses sympathy for the earthquake victims and lashes out at the Optimists. In the Introduction to the poem, Voltaire addresses their callousness by writing: "The heirs of the dead would now come into their fortunes, masons would grow rich in rebuilding the city, beasts would grow fat on corpses buried in the ruins; such is the natural effect of natural causes. So don\'t worry about your own particular evil; you are contributing to the general good." Voltaire again confronted the mockery of this belief in Candide, which he wrote three years later in 1759.

Candide is rooted in historical events of the time, including the Seven Years\' War, the execution of Admiral Byng in 1747, and the war between England and France for Canadian territory. Furthering this time of political unrest was the beginning of the Enlightenment period during which an educated elite called the Philosophes--including Voltaire and other well-known figures such as Denis Diderot--began questioning European beliefs and institutions and speaking out against intolerance and injustice. While extremely popular with the Parisian public, his contemporaries, and even royalty, Voltaire himself was subjected to injustices (particularly his imprisonment in the Bastille for writing a satire about the Regent of France) that are believed to have influenced his writing of Candide.

Due to its scandalous nature, Candide was published clandestinely and anonymously, and its exact publication date is unknown. However, in mid-January of 1759, Voltaire\'s publisher sent 1,000 copies of Candide to Paris, and by late February Voltaire\'s identity was revealed. The police were ordered to seize all copies of Candide that could be found, but the controversy only served to further fuel the book\'s popularity--and by the end of the year, at least seventeen editions of the work had been published.

Religious officials, however, pronounced the book "full of dangerous principles concerning religion and tending to moral depravation." The critic Madame de Sta螔 remarked that Candide was a work of "infernal gaiety" by a writer who laughs "like a demon, or like a monkey at the miseries of this human race with which he has nothing in common." Nonetheless, the reading public adored Candide, and the phrase "Let us eat Jesuit" was spoken repeatedly, and since the late nineteenth century, Candide has been recognized as a masterpiece. Even Gustave Flaubert admitted that he read Candide one hundred times and used it as a model in his own writing.

About Voltaire

From his birth (n?Fran蔞is-Marie Arouet) in Paris in 1694, Voltaire\'s life was filled with turmoil. He was never on good terms with his father, Fran蔞is, or his elder brother, Armand. He believed his real father was an officer and songwriter named Rochebrune. His mother died when he was seven, and after her death he rebelled against