Critical Essays Other Sources of Influence


Voltaire's anti-war views, his hatred of war with all its brutalities, are quite prominent in Candide. In Western Europe, in South America, in Morocco, and in Turkey, warfare occurred with all its attendant horrors. Voltaire was particularly depressed by the Seven Years War, which began in 1556, the year after the Lisbon earthquake, and was still raging in Europe and in the New World when he wrote Candide. The Seven Years War, of course, was the name given to the conflict that arose from a coalition of Austria, France, Russia, Sweden, and Saxony against Prussia, with the aim to destroy, or at least to weaken appreciably, the growing power of Frederick the Great. Historians may point out that the war led to the emergence of Germany as a great modern power, and that it laid the foundations of the British Empire, what with English victories on the American continent. But to Voltaire it was a hideous crime. In the Battle of Prague (May 5, 1756) alone, the Germans lost 20.8 per cent of their strength; there was a comparable number of casualties on the other side, and inevitably the civilian population in the theater of war suffered greatly.

Voltaire had endeavored to play the diplomat and to bring together Frederick the Great and the Duc de Richelieu in hope that peace could be secured; he failed. On October 11, 1557, he wrote to Mme. de Saxe-Gothe that 20,000 men had already died in a quarrel in which no one was interested. And he wrote many other letters on this subject. In one addressed to M. D'Alembert, he declared that those who get themselves killed in the service of kings are terrible fools. One remembers that, while serving with the Bulgars, Candide did his best to hide himself during the conflict. So, far from depicting him as a coward in this episode, Voltaire expected his readers to applaud the youth's behavior.

Deserving brief notice also is the Essai sur les meurs (1753-56), which Voltaire began writing during the Cirey period. This work was an attempt, rather successful in consideration of the time in which it was written, to produce a universal history. M. Morize (Candide, 1913) stated that the abstract generalizations of the Essai become persons and incidents in the philosophical tale. For example, the Essai includes material on the French colonies in America; the Jesuits in South America; the Anabaptists; the treatment of captured Christians by the Moors; and comparable material. Indeed, throughout Candide are found details the origin of which may be traced to the earlier work.

As regards Candide, the source hunters have been indefatigable, citing earlier narratives that, in one way or another, have affinities with the philosophical and/or satirical tale. These include the seventeenth and eighteenth century pastoral and heroic-gallant romances, which were so popular. There were also the novels of travel, some of which have been held to have made contributions to Candide. These include Fénelon's Télémaque (1699); Lesage's widely popular Gil Blas (1715-1735), the great picaresque romance memorable for animation of narrative, fluidity, and precision of style; and Montesquieu's Letters persanes (1721; additions 1754), the imaginary correspondence of two Persian princes in which are recorded what they observed and experienced in France and their reflections which provided the opportunity for satirical comment on contemporary society and political institutions.

Not to be ignored are Voltaire's own philosophical tales written prior to Candide, and most particularly Histoire des voyages de Scarmentado (1756), which M. Lanson called a kind of preliminary sketch for Candide. There are in this short prose narrative significant elements that anticipate several found in Voltaire's masterpiece. The Histoire also has as its framework the rapid journey of adventure and disappointment peculiar to most of the author's fiction. The hero visited many of the same countries Candide did — France, England, Spain, Holland, Turkey, and North Africa. Moreover, certain plot elements closely resemble ones in Candide. The lady Fatele, with her three suitors, Scarmentado among them, suggests Cunégonde with her three — Candide, the Grand Inquisitor, and Don Issachar. Scarmentado witnessed an execution just as Candide did that of Admiral Byng. Finally, both protagonists had experiences with pirates and both became involved in the Inquisition.