“Every man is guilty of the good he did not do.” –Voltaire
NEW YORK CITY – Candide, one of Voltaire’s astonishing satires first published in 1759 that propelled the French novelist to heights during the Age of Enlightenment, is our friend Ilonggo philosopher and lawyer Ernie Dayot’s most favorite.
Dayot, a deist or believer of the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe, wanted to emphasize that religion does not necessarily make someone a moral or an ethical person.
It’s from Dayot’s story about Candide that I learned the deeply practical precept, “let’s cultivate our own garden” which I have enormously used in some of my articles to refer to self reliance and initiative.
It’s actually a Leibnizian mantra popularized by Pangloss, Candide’s professor, which is “all is for the best”.
Leibniz was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a German polymath and philosopher who occupies a prominent place in the history of mathematics and the history of philosophy.
An illegitimate nephew of a German baron, Candide grew up in the baron’s castle under the tutelage of Professor Pangloss.
It was from Pangloss that he learned about “the best of all possible worlds.”
The baron had a young daughter, Cunegonde, and Candide fell in love with her.
Candide was expelled from the castle when the baron caught them kissing.
Having been conscripted into the army of the Bulgars, Candide wandered away from the camp for a brief walk, and was brutally flogged as a deserter.
He escaped to Holland after witnessing a horrific battle where he was taken care of by Jacques. He soon met a deformed beggar who turned out to be Pangloss.
Sick with syphilis, Pangloss told Candide that Cunegonde and her family had been brutally massacred by the Bulgars.
He brought Pangloss to Jacques and they travelled to Lisbon. On their way, the ship was whipped by a storm and Jacques was drowned.
Candide and Pangloss survived, but when they arrived, Lisbon was in ruins after being hit by an earthquake. It was also under the control of Inquisition.
Pangloss was hanged as a heretic, and Candide was flogged for listening with approval to Pangloss’ philosophy. After his beating, an old woman dressed Candide’s wounds and then, to his astonishment, took him to Cunegonde.
Though the Bulgar army killed the rest of her family, Cunegonde narrated that she was merely raped and then captured by a captain, who sold her to a Jew named Don Isaachar.
She became a sex slave jointly owned by Don Isaachar and the Grand Inquisitor of Lisbon. Each of Cunegonde’s two owners arrived in turn as she and Candide were talking, and Candide killed them both.
Candide, the old woman, and Cunegonde fled and boarded a ship bound for South America. During their journey, the old woman shared her own story that she was born the Pope’s daughter but has suffered a litany of misfortunes that included rape, enslavement, and cannibalism.
Candide and Cunegonde planned to marry, but as soon as they arrived in Buenos Aires, the governor, Don Fernando, proposed to Cunegonde.
She accepted Don Fernando, as she was thinking of her own financial welfare.
Authorities looking for the murderer of the Grand Inquisitor arrived from Portugal in pursuit of Candide. Along with a newly acquired valet named Cacambo, Candide fled to territory controlled by Jesuits who are revolting against the Spanish government.
After demanding an audience with a Jesuit commander, Candide discovers that the commander was Cunegonde’s brother, the baron, who also managed to escape from the Bulgars. Candide announced that he wanted to marry Cunegonde, but the baron insisted that his sister would never marry a commoner. Enraged, Candide killed the baron with his sword and escaped into the wilderness together with Cacambo, where they narrowly avoided being eaten by a native tribe called the Biglugs.
Candide and Cacambo found themselves in the land of Eldorado, where gold and jewels litter the streets, after traveling for days. This utopian country has advanced scientific knowledge, no religious conflict, no court system, and placed no value on its plentiful gold and jewels. But Candide longed to return to Cunegonde, and after a month in Eldorado he and Cacambo departed with countless invaluable jewels loaded onto swift pack sheep.
When they reached the territory of Suriname, Candide sent Cacambo to Buenos Aires with instructions to use part of the fortune to purchase Cunegonde from Don Fernando and then to meet him in Venice. An unscrupulous merchant named Vanderdendur stole much of Candide’s fortune, dampening his optimism somewhat. Candide sailed off to France with a specially chosen companion, an unrepentantly pessimistic scholar named Martin. On the way there, he recovered part of his fortune when a Spanish captain sank Vanderdendur’s ship. Candide took this as proof that there is justice in the world, but Martin staunchly disagreed.
Candide and Martin mingled with the social elite in Paris. Candide’s fortune attracted a number of hangers-on, several of whom succeeded in filching jewels from him. Candide and Martin proceeded to Venice, where, to Candide’s dismay, Cunegonde and Cacambo were nowhere to be found.
However, they did encounter other colorful individuals there, including Paquette, the chambermaid-turned-prostitute who gave Pangloss syphilis, and Count Pococurante, a wealthy Venetian who was hopelessly bored with the cultural treasures that surrounded him. Eventually, Cacambo, now a slave of a deposed Turkish monarch, surfaced, explaining that Cunegonde was in Constantinople, having herself been enslaved along with the old woman. Martin, Cacambo, and Candide departed for Turkey, where Candide bought Cacambo’s freedom.
Candide discovered Pangloss and the baron in a Turkish chain gang. Both have actually survived their apparent deaths and, after suffering various misfortunes, arrived in Turkey. Despite everything, Pangloss remained an optimist. An overjoyed Candide bought their freedom, and he and his growing retinue went on to find Cunegonde and the old woman.
Cunegonde has grown ugly since Candide last saw her, but he bought her freedom anyway. He also purchased the old woman’s freedom and purchased a farm outside of Constantinople. He kept his longstanding promise to marry Cunegonde, but only after being forced to send the baron, who still cannot abide his sister marrying a commoner, back to the chain gang. Candide, Cunegonde, Cacambo, Pangloss, and the old woman settled into a comfortable life on the farm but soon find themselves growing bored and quarrelsome.
Candide finally encountered a farmer who lived a simple life, worked hard, and avoided vice and leisure who inspired them.
Candide and his friends took to cultivating a garden in earnest. All their time and energy went into the work, and none was left over for philosophical speculation. At last everyone was fulfilled and happy./WDJ