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Caroline Warman

27. Voltaire, Candide, 17591

Texte intégral

  • 1 Voltaire, Candide, ou loptimisme, traduit de lAllemand de Mr. le docteur Ralph, 1759, ch. 19.

1Voltaire’s Candide is both tender-hearted and savagely ironic. His hero witnesses tragic events without being able to do anything to stop them. Along with his servant Cacambo, and a train of sheep loaded with gold, gems and diamonds, Candide sets off for Surinam to find his beloved Cunégonde. But once he gets there, he discovers the horror of the slave trade.

2As they came closer to the town they came across a negro lying on the ground, only half dressed, that is to say, wearing nothing but some blue canvas trousers. This poor man no longer had his left leg or his right hand.

3‘Oh good God!’ Candide said to him in Dutch, ‘what are you doing here, my friend, in this horrible state I see you in?’

4‘I am waiting for my master, the famous merchant, Mr Vanderendur’ replied the negro.

5‘Is it Mr Vanderendur’, asked Candide, ‘who has treated you in this way?’

6‘Yes, sir’, said the negro, ‘that’s how it works. Twice a year, they give us blue canvas trousers and nothing else to wear. When we work in the sugar factories and the mill traps a finger, they cut our hand off; when we want to run away, they cut our leg off: I found myself in both these situations. This is the price we pay for the sugar you eat in Europe. And yet when my mother sold me for two Spanish crowns on the Guinea coast, she said to me: ‘My dear child, bless our shamans, love them always, and they will give you happiness in life, for you have the honour of becoming the slave of our masters the white men, and in so doing you are making your father and mother’s fortune’. Alas! I don’t know if I made their fortune, but they certainly didn’t make mine. Dogs, monkeys, and parrots are a thousand times less miserable than we are: the Dutch shamans who converted me tell me every Sunday that we are all children of Adam, black and white. I am no genealogist, but if these preachers are telling the truth, then we are all cousins. In which case you will concede that it would be not be possible to treat your relatives any worse’.

7‘Oh Pangloss’, cried Candide, ‘you had not foreseen this abomination; I have had enough, I am finally obliged to give up on your optimism’.

8‘What is optimism?’ asked Cacambo.

9‘Alas’, exclaimed Candide, ‘it is the obsessive insistence that everything is fine when it couldn’t be worse’. And he burst into tears as he gazed at the negro, and he was still weeping when he reached Surinam.

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1 Voltaire, Candide, ou loptimisme, traduit de lAllemand de Mr. le docteur Ralph, 1759, ch. 19.

Table des illustrations

Titre Portrait of Voltaire, workshop of Nicolas de Largillière (after 1724-25)
Fichier image/jpeg, 89k


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