Candide By François Voltaire Summary and Analysis Chapters XVII-XVIII

At the frontiers of the Oreillon country, Cacambo told Candide that this hemisphere was no better than the other and that they ought to go back to Europe. Candide, rudely awakened regarding the world he knew in Western Europe, had been sure that the New World would be that best of all possible ones. But he replied that return would be impossible: in Westphalia, the war continued; in Portugal, he would be burned at the stake. Yet if they remained in South America, he continued, they would risk being put on the spit and roasted. The one imponderable was that he could not leave this part of the world where Cunégonde lived.


Summary

At the frontiers of the Oreillon country, Cacambo told Candide that this hemisphere was no better than the other and that they ought to go back to Europe. Candide, rudely awakened regarding the world he knew in Western Europe, had been sure that the New World would be that best of all possible ones. But he replied that return would be impossible: in Westphalia, the war continued; in Portugal, he would be burned at the stake. Yet if they remained in South America, he continued, they would risk being put on the spit and roasted. The one imponderable was that he could not leave this part of the world where Cunégonde lived.

Cacambo proposed that they go to Cayenne, where they would find Frenchmen who might help them and take pity on them. They started out on the arduous journey, crossing mountains and rivers and meeting brigands and savages. Their horses died of fatigue, and for a month they lived on wild fruits. At last they came to a little river bordered with coconut trees, which provided them with food. Cacambo spotted an empty canoe on the beach and suggested that the two fill it with coconuts and then drift with the current. A river, he explained, always led to some inhabited spot. Candide agreed to this plan. The trip was not without its hazards, and at last their canoe was smashed on the reefs. With difficulty they continued afoot, finally coming to a vast open country bordered by inaccessible mountains. On the roads were splendidly ornate carriages in which were men and women of singular attractiveness and which were drawn rapidly by big red sheep.

As he surveyed the scene, Candide concluded that this strange country was even better than Westphalia. Children dressed in gold brocade were playing quoits. And the quoits were made of gold, emeralds, and rubies that would have been an ornament to a mogul's throne. Cacambo was sure that the children were sons of the king. When the village schoolmaster called to the children, Candide was no less sure that he was the tutor of the royal family. The children went from their game to the school, leaving the priceless quoits lying on the ground, whereupon Candide picked them up and ran to the tutor with them. He made the tutor understand by means of signs that the quoits had been forgotten. But the tutor, smiling, merely threw them to the ground and walked away. Candide and Cacambo did not fail to pick them up. Both were surprised that these "King's children" should have been reared to despise gold and jewels.

They next approached the first house in the village and found a crowd of people at the door, heard pleasant music, and enjoyed the odor of cooking. Cacambo discovered that the people spoke his native tongue, Peruvian. When the two entered what they now took to be an inn, he served as interpreter.

Two boys and four girls dressed in cloth of gold invited them to sit down at the host's table, and they were served a sumptuous dinner of many strange and rare dishes. Most of the guests were merchants and coachmen. All were extremely polite and tactfully asked many questions. When the dinner was over, Cacambo and Candide thought that they should pay their bill for the dinner, so Cacambo threw on the host's table two of the golden quoits, at the sight of which the host and hostess laughed heartily.

"We can readily see that you are foreigners," said the host, and he asked their pardon for having laughed. He referred to the golden quoits as the "pebbles of our highways" and explained that in this country payment was not required since the government paid for the upkeep of all hostelries. He concluded by apologizing for what he called a bad meal and assured the two that they would fare better elsewhere.

Candide listened in amazement to Cacambo's translation of the host's remarks. Both he and his companion were sure that at last they had found the one country where indeed all was best. Candide now admitted that whatever Doctor Pangloss had said, things were really pretty bad in Westphalia.

In order that Cacambo might satisfy his curiosity about the country, the friendly host took him to see an elderly retired courtier. This man lived in a modest home, one with only a silver door and gold paneling in the apartments, which were adorned only with rubies and emeralds. He received the two visitors on a sofa stuffed with humming bird feathers, served them drinks in diamond vases, and proceeded to tell them about himself and the kingdom. They learned that their host was one hundred and seventy-two years old and that his father had taught him the history of the country. That country had been the ancient kingdom of the Incas, who imprudently had left it to conquer part of the world and were finally destroyed by the Spaniards. But the wiser Incan prince remained in this country, and, with popular consent, ruled that no others should leave it, thus their innocence and happiness were preserved. The Spaniards had learned something about the country, which they call Eldorado. And an Englishman named Walter Raleigh nearly reached it a hundred years ago, but the inaccessible rocks and precipices protected the land so that the inhabitants were sheltered from the rapacity of Europeans.

Candide and Cacambo learned a great deal about the form of government, women, public spectacles, and arts. Then the youth asked if the Eldoradoans had a religion. To be sure they had, and they worshipped the only God, not two or three. No, they did not pray to him because they did not have to; they had all they wanted, but they did sing hymns of thanksgiving. Nor was there a separate priesthood; all were priests. They would have been crazy to have monks "to teach, to dispute, to govern, to intrigue, and to have people burned for not being of their opinion." Candide was in ecstasy, for he had heard of nothing like this in Westphalia or elsewhere in Europe. Travel was indeed enlightening.

At last the good old man ordered a carriage drawn by six sheep, gave the travelers twelve servants, and directed them to visit the king, who would welcome them. In only four hours Candide and his valet arrived at the palace, the most remarkable edifice imaginable. They were received by twenty beautiful girls and accorded every courtesy. As they were being conducted to the throne room, they learned that they were not expected to grovel or in other ways demean themselves before His Majesty. The custom was to embrace him and kiss him on both cheeks. They were most graciously received, invited to supper, and conducted about part of the town with its great squares paved with precious stones. To his surprise, Candide learned that neither law courts nor prisons were needed for these happy, law-abiding people. What most impressed him, however, was the Palace of Sciences with its many instruments for mathematics and physics. Later, the royal supper completed the wonderful experiences of the day. What amazed Candide was the king's witty conversation.

For a month the two remained in Eldorado, but Candide pined for his lovely Cunégonde, and he was sure that Cacambo must have a lady love in Europe. Why, he asked, should they not take their twelve sheep laden with the "pebbles" of Eldorado and return? Wealthy as they would be, they would fear no one, and they could recover Madamoiselle Cunégonde easily. Cacambo agreed. But the king warned them that they were being foolish: when a person is reasonably well off, he should not grow restless. Yet he conceded that he had no right to detain foreigners; such an action would be tyrannical, for all men are free. To help them on the arduous journey out of Eldorado, he ordered the necessary supplies and equipment that would get them beyond the mountains. They would be accompanied to the borders of the country. When Cacambo asked that they be given "a few sheep loaded with victuals, pebbles, and some of the country's mud," the king, greatly amused, granted the request, although he declared that he could not understand the European's obsession for the yellow mud. So the travelers were able to leave this fabulous land, riding on two big red sheep and leading a pack of twenty others laden in the manner requested. Candide was content. Now he had enough wealth to ransom Cunégonde. First he and Cacambo would head for Cayenne and then see what kingdom they could buy.

Analysis

Voltaire learned of the fabled land of Eldorado by reading Sir Walter Raleigh's account in The Discoverie of the Large and Rich and Beautiful Empire of Guiana, first published in 1595. If he did not read the account in English, he could have found it available in the Voyage de Francois Correal aux Indes Occidentales, Volume II (Paris, 1722). Raleigh described a fabulous country, one possessing towering mountains and immense treasures, so that the name came to be used metaphorically of any place where wealth could be acquired rapidly. In his Eldorado, also, the ruling princes were descended from the once-powerful Incas, famed for their magnificent civilization. Various travel books may well have influenced Voltaire as well. And no one who wrote of a utopia could avoid owing a debt to Sir Thomas More, the author of the first modern one. In More's work he could have found a completely happy people who, without Divine Revelation, recognized one God to whom they sang hymns of adoration but did not presume to petition when they had more than they needed to satisfy their wants — a people who considered gold and precious gems to be mere baubles for children to play with. The benign philosopher-ruler also flourished in More's utopia, wherein the well-planned cities and impressive public buildings and works bore testimony to an enlightened government. But More's account of the fabled land is remarkably circumstantial. One learns the width of streets and comparable details. Thus, like Swift in Gulliver's Travels, he secures the willing suspension of disbelief on the reader's part through verisimilitude. The landscape of Voltaire's Eldorado, like that of Milton's Hell, remains most impressive but rather indefinite most of the time — and that is another way in which a reader, for the time being, is led to accept it as believable; it is left to him to fill in the details imaginatively.

Eldorado is Voltaire's ideal world, one that he knew could never exist, but which provided him with the means to point out grievous shortcomings of the real world — how very far short of perfection it really was; and this was another way in which he attacked the doctrine of philosophic optimism. Of course, it may well be argued that, given a land rich enough that all have plenty, most people would be utopians devoid of rapacity. For if indeed avarice is the root of all evil, as Chaucer's Pardoner insisted, there existed no such root in Voltaire's utopia and therefore none of the evils found elsewhere. So it would seem that the superior civilization of the Eldoradoans does not really redound to their credit: they simply have been incredibly lucky, but there is more to it than this. Voltaire used his utopia to provide emphatic contrast with what Candide had experienced elsewhere — in Westphalia, where life once seemed ideal to the youth, thanks especially to Pangloss' arguments; elsewhere in Europe, where he experienced the horrors of war, a devastating earthquake and the terrifying work of the Inquisition in Portugal; and in South America, where he had witnessed more warfare and tyranny. In short, intolerance, rapine, utter cruelty everywhere, to say nothing of what he learned from the story of the old woman. The experiences in Eldorado also provided an illuminating contrast with what Candide will experience after leaving the country. Perhaps the most significant point that Voltaire wished to make was that the utopians were Utopians primarily not because they occupied a land of plenty but because they were dedicated to Right Reason at all levels of private and public activity.

It is true that the lowliest subject enjoyed the benefits of what seemed to be the ideal welfare state. Merchants and coachmen, others of even lowlier status, were looked after by an enlightened government. But the point is that all were wise enough to work and to be satisfied with their lot and, unlike their Incan ancestors, remain in Eldorado and not attempt the conquest of other lands. To look forward to the most important lesson Candide was to learn from his varied, often harrowing, experiences, the Eldoradoans had learned to cultivate their gardens; thus they lived in comfort and safety. Practically all critics find in Voltaire's creation of an ideal society all the virtues of the perfect state: belief in one god, tolerance, wisdom, liberty, happiness, an enlightened government. As William F. Bottiglia has pointed out (Voltaire's Candide: Analysis of a Classic, Vol. VII of Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, ed. Theodore Besterman, 1959), "the key trait is not tolerance as the ground of liberty but deism as the ground of an unanimously cultivated social and practical morality which produces all the other traits." For Voltaire, deism was the true faith. It was based on fundamental, universal principles with which God had endowed all men and which were lastingly valid. When he had the wise old man expound this belief to Candide and Cacambo, Voltaire was indicting institutional religion, just as his description of the Eldoradoan government was a criticism of governmental systems elsewhere.

Among the points of interest in this section is personal satire. It has been reasonably argued that the pebbles, at one level, represent the sums of money that Voltaire had received from Frederick the Great during his stay in Prussia. And, most ingeniously, it has been argued that the big red sheep, which as we shall see later Candide loses, represented Frederick's literary works bound in sheepskin that Voltaire was forced to relinquish to the officials at the time of the distressing Frankfort incident.

The host, the old man, and the king represent respectively the commoner who is an intelligent conformer, the intellectual leader or philosophe, and the statesman. One may reasonably assume that each in turn represents the voice of Voltaire expressing earnest opinions.

Most ironic is the fact that the now happy Candide and Cacambo resolved to be happy no longer. Five reasons have been advanced for their determination to leave Eldorado: (1) the country provided neither end nor consummation; (2) Candide's vanity manifested by his desire to impress others with an account of his experiences; (3) Candide's restlessness — his continuing inability to be content to "cultivate his garden"; (4) his desire for power and superiority to be purchased with the wealth he would bring along; (5) his deep love for Cunégonde. The last reason, strictly in the romantic tradition, is the only really valid one. Obviously Candide's education was incomplete; he remained sufficiently callow and was not ready to assume the status of a utopian.

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