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

Voltaire (1694–1778)

The Philosophy of Dr. Pangloss

From “Candide

ONCE upon a time there lived in the castle of the noble Baron of Thundertentronckh, in Westphalia, a young lad to whom Nature had given the most pleasing manners. His countenance expressed his soul. He had a pretty correct judgment, together with the utmost simplicity of mind; and it was for that reason, I suppose, that he bore the name of Candide. The old servants of the house suspected that he was the son of the noble baron’s sister and of a worthy gentleman in the neighborhood, whom the young lady would never marry, because he could show no more than three score and eleven quarterings, the rest of his family tree having perished through the ravages of time.

The baron was one of the most powerful nobles of Westphalia, for his castle had a gate as well as windows, and his great hall was even adorned with tapestry. All the dogs in his stable-yard formed at need a pack of hounds, and his grooms acted as whippers-in; the vicar of the village was his grand almoner. Everybody called him “my Lord,” and laughed at all his good stories.

My lady the baroness, who weighed about three hundred and fifty pounds, and thereby commanded the greatest consideration, did the honors of the house with a dignity which raised its reputation still higher. Her daughter Cunégonde, aged seventeen, was of a fresh and ruddy complexion, plump and appetizing. The baron’s son appeared in all respects worthy of his sire. The tutor Pangloss was the oracle of the house, and little Candide listened to his lessons with all the ready faith natural to his age and disposition.

Pangloss used to teach the science of metaphysico-theologo-cosmologo-noodleology. He demonstrated most admirably that there is no effect without a cause, and that, in this best of all possible worlds, the castle of my lord baron was the most magnificent of castles, and my lady the best of all possible baronesses.

“It has been proved,” said he, “that things cannot be otherwise than they are; for, everything being made for a certain end, the end for which everything is made is necessarily the best end. Observe how noses were made to carry spectacles, and spectacles we have accordingly. Our legs are clearly intended for shoes and stockings, so we have them. Stone has been formed to be hewn and dressed for building castles, so my lord has a very fine one, for it is meet that the greatest baron in the province should have the best accommodation. Pigs were made to be eaten, and we eat pork all the year round. Consequently those who have asserted that all is well have said what is silly; they should have said of everything that is, that it is the best that could possibly be.”

Candide listened attentively, and innocently believed all that he heard; for he thought Mlle. Cunégonde extremely beautiful, though he never had the boldness to tell her so. He felt convinced that, next to the happiness of being born Baron of Thundertentronckh, the second degree of happiness was to be Mlle. Cunégonde, the third to see her every day, and the fourth to hear Professor Pangloss, the greatest philosopher in the province, and therefore in all the world.

One day Mlle. Cunégonde, while taking a walk near the castle, in the little wood which was called the park, saw through the bushes Dr. Pangloss giving a lesson in experimental physics to her mother’s chambermaid, a little brunette, very pretty and very willing to learn. As Mlle. Cunégonde had a great taste for science, she watched with breathless interest the repeated experiments that were carried on under her eyes; she clearly perceived that the doctor had sufficient reason for all he did; she saw the connection between causes and effects, and returned home much agitated, though very thoughtful, and filled with a yearning after scientific pursuits, for sharing in which she wished that young Candide might find sufficient reason in her, and that she might find the same in him.

She met Candide as she was on her way back to the castle, and blushed; the youth blushed likewise. She bade him good morning in a voice that struggled for utterance; and Candide answered her without well knowing what he was saying. Next day, as the company were leaving the table after dinner, Cunégonde and Candide found themselves behind a screen. Cunégonde let fall her handkerchief; Candide picked it up; she innocently took hold of his hand, and the young man, as innocently, kissed hers with an ardor, a tenderness, and a grace quite peculiar; their lips met and their eyes sparkled. His lordship, the Baron of Thundertentronckh, happened to pass by the screen, and, seeing that particular instance of cause and effect, drove Candide out of the castle with vigorous kicks. Cunégonde swooned away, but, as soon as she recovered, my lady the baroness boxed her ears, and all was confusion and consternation in that most magnificent and most charming of all possible castles.