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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Voltaire (1694–1778)

The Martial Bulgarians

From “Candide

CANDIDE, driven out of his terrestrial paradise, walked on for a long time without knowing whither, weeping, lifting up his eyes to heaven, and often turning them toward that most magnificent of castles, which contained the most beautiful of all barons’ daughters. He laid himself down supperless in the midst of the fields, between two ridges, and the snow began to fall upon him in thick flakes. Next morning, Candide, benumbed with cold, dragged himself to the nearest town, which bore the name of Waldberghofdikdorf, without a farthing in his pocket, and dying of hunger and fatigue. He stopped in melancholy mood at a tavern door. Two men dressed in blue noticed him.

“Comrade,” said one of them, “there is a fine young fellow, and just of the right size.”

They stepped forward, and very politely invited Candide to dine with them.

“Gentlemen,” says he, with engaging modesty, “you do me much honor, but I have no money to pay my reckoning.”

“Oh! sir,” says one of the men in blue, “persons of your figure and merit never pay anything; are you not five feet five inches tall?”

“Yes, gentlemen, that is my height,” says he, with his best bow.

“Come, sir, pray take a seat; we will not only pay your score, but we will never allow such a man as you to want money. What are men made for but to help one another?”

“You are right,” says Candide; “that is what Dr. Pangloss always told me, and I see clearly that all is for the best.”

They beg him to accept a few crowns; he takes them, and is about to tender his note of hand for the amount, but they will not hear of it; and so they sit down to table.

“Are you not warmly attached——”

“Oh, yes,” exclaims Candide, “I am warmly attached to Mlle. Cunégonde.”

“Excuse me,” says one, of the gentlemen, “but what we want to know is whether you are not warmly attached to the King of the Bulgarians?”

“Not in the least,” says he, “for I have never seen him.”

“You don’t say so! He is the most charming of monarchs, and we must drink his health.”

“With the greatest pleasure, gentlemen.” And he drinks accordingly.

“Enough,” say they; “now you are the prop, the pillar, the defender, and the hero of the Bulgarians; your fortune is made, and your glory assured.”

They forthwith clap fetters on his feet, and conduct him to the headquarters of their regiment. There he is made to wheel to the right, and wheel to the left, to draw his ramrod, and to return it, to present, to fire, and to march at the double; and he gets thirty strokes with a stick for his pains. On the following day he goes through his exercises not quite so badly, and receives only twenty strokes; while on the next after that he escapes with ten, and is regarded as a prodigy by his comrades.

Candide, astonished to find himself a hero, could not very well make out how it came to pass. One fine spring day he took it into his head to go out for a walk, and followed his nose straight on, supposing that it was the privilege of the human species as well as of the brute creation to make use of their legs at their own will and pleasure. He had not proceeded two leagues, when, lo and behold, four other heroes, each of them six feet high, caught him up, bound him, and led him off to prison. He was brought before a court-martial, and asked whether he would prefer to be flogged thirty-six times by the whole regiment, or to receive at once a dozen bullets in his brain. It was of no use for him to protest that the will is free, and that he wished neither the one nor the other; he found himself obliged to make a choice, and he determined, in virtue of the divine gift called freedom, to run the gantlet thirty-six times. He tried it twice, and, the regiment consisting of two thousand men, this meant four thousand blows for him, which almost laid bare his muscles and nerves from the nape of the neck to the end of the spine. As they were going to give him a third course, Candide, unable to bear any more, entreated them to have the kindness to knock him on the head and finish him. This favor was granted, his eyes were bandaged, and he was made to kneel down. The King of the Bulgarians, happening to pass by that moment, made inquiry into the culprit’s offense; and, as he was a man of discernment, and gathered, from all that Candide told him, that he was a young metaphysician and quite ignorant of the ways of the world, the king graciously vouchsafed him his pardon with a clemency that will be praised by all the papers and appreciated by posterity. A clever surgeon cured Candide’s back in three weeks with the ointments prescribed by Dioscorides; and he had already a little fresh skin and was fit to march, when the King of the Bulgarians gave battle to the King of the Avarians.

Never was seen a spectacle so fine, so smart, so splendid, as the two armies. Trumpets, fifes, hautboys, drums, and cannon made such harmony as never had a match in hell itself. Cannon-balls swept off in the first instance nearly six thousand men on each side; then musket-bullets removed from this best of all possible worlds about nine or ten thousand worthless fellows that tainted its surface. Bayonets were also sufficient reasons for the death of some thousands of men. The total may have amounted to thirty thousand souls. Candide, who trembled as any other philosopher would have done, hid himself as well as he could during this heroic butchery. At last, while both kings were causing a Te Deum to be sung, each in his own camp, he made up his mind to go and reason upon causes and effects somewhere else. He passed over heaps of the dead and dying, and reached first of all a neighboring village; he found it laid in ashes. It was an Avarian village, which the Bulgarians had burned in accordance with the laws of nations. Here old men, covered with wounds, looked helplessly on while their wives were dying with their throats cut, and still holding their infants to their blood-stained breasts; there young girls, ripped open after having satisfied the natural wants of several heroes, were breathing forth their last sighs; while others again, half-roasted, cried out for some one to put them out of their agony. Brains were scattered over the ground, and legs and arms, cut off, lay beside them.