Chapter 1 – How Candide Was Brought Up in a Magnificent Castle, and How He Was Expelled Thence


1 6 In a castle of Westphalia, belonging to the Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronckh, lived a youth, whom nature had endowed with the most gentle manners. His countenance was a true picture of his soul. He combined a true judgment with simplicity of spirit, which was the reason, I apprehend, of his being called Candide. The old servants of the family suspected him to have been the son of the Baron’s sister, by a good, honest gentleman of the neighborhood, whom that young lady would never marry because he had been able to prove only seventy-one quarterings, the rest of his genealogical tree having been lost through the injuries of time.
2 3 The Baron was one of the most powerful lords in Westphalia, for his castle had not only a gate, but windows. His great hall, even, was hung with tapestry. All the dogs of his farm-yards formed a pack of hounds at need; his grooms were his huntsmen; and the curate of the village was his grand almoner. They called him “My Lord,” and laughed at all his stories.
3 3 The Baron’s lady weighed about three hundred and fifty pounds, and was therefore a person of great consideration, and she did the honours of the house with a dignity that commanded still greater respect. Her daughter Cunegonde was seventeen years of age, fresh-coloured, comely, plump, and desirable. The Baron’s son seemed to be in every respect worthy of his father. The Preceptor Pangloss was the oracle of the family, and little Candide heard his lessons with all the good faith of his age and character.
4 3 Pangloss was professor of metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology. He proved admirably that there is no effect without a cause, and that, in this best of all possible worlds, the Baron’s castle was the most magnificent of castles, and his lady the best of all possible Baronesses.
5 5 “It is demonstrable,” said he, “that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for all being created for an end, all is necessarily for the best end. Observe, that the nose has been formed to bear spectacles—thus we have spectacles. Legs are visibly designed for stockings—and we have stockings. Stones were made to be hewn, and to construct castles—therefore my lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best lodged. Pigs were made to be eaten—therefore we eat pork all the year round. Consequently they who assert that all is well have said a foolish thing, they should have said all is for the best.”
6 Candide listened attentively and believed innocently; for he thought Miss Cunegonde extremely beautiful, though he never had the courage to tell her so. He concluded that after the happiness of being born of Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronckh, the second degree of happiness was to be Miss Cunegonde, the third that of seeing her every day, and the fourth that of hearing Master Pangloss, the greatest philosopher of the whole province, and consequently of the whole world.
7 1 One day Cunegonde, while walking near the castle, in a little wood which they called a park, saw between the bushes, Dr. Pangloss giving a lesson in experimental natural philosophy to her mother’s chamber-maid, a little brown wench, very pretty and very docile. As Miss Cunegonde had a great disposition for the sciences, she breathlessly observed the repeated experiments of which she was a witness; she clearly perceived the force of the Doctor’s reasons, the effects, and the causes; she turned back greatly flurried, quite pensive, and filled with the desire to be learned; dreaming that she might well be a sufficient reason for young Candide, and he for her.
8 She met Candide on reaching the castle and blushed; Candide blushed also; she wished him good morrow in a faltering tone, and Candide spoke to her without knowing what he said. The next day after dinner, as they went from table, Cunegonde and Candide found themselves behind a screen; Cunegonde let fall her handkerchief, Candide picked it up, she took him innocently by the hand, the youth as innocently kissed the young lady’s hand with particular vivacity, sensibility, and grace; their lips met, their eyes sparkled, their knees trembled, their hands strayed. Baron Thunder-ten-Tronckh passed near the screen and beholding this cause and effect chased Candide from the castle with great kicks on the backside; Cunegonde fainted away; she was boxed on the ears by the Baroness, as soon as she came to herself; and all was consternation in this most magnificent and most agreeable of all possible castles.

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23 Responses to “Chapter 1 – How Candide Was Brought Up in a Magnificent Castle, and How He Was Expelled Thence”

The story begins like a fairy tale, ‘Once upon a time…’. But the mood does not last long: it has already soured by the end of the paragraph, with the ironic reference to the snobbishness of the Baron’s sister. And nothing is quite what is seems – the story of Candide’s birth is an obvious rewrite of the birth of the hero in Fielding’s Tom Jones, a novel which came out only a few years before Candide.

But the single oddest word in this opening paragraph is ‘I’. Who is it who says ‘I apprehend’ (‘je crois’, in the French original)? Presumably some sort of narrator who is telling the tale? For a moment we seem to be in a conventional fairy tale, where the narrator takes us by the hand and leads us reassuringly through the events. Fair enough – except that after this one appearance, he, or she?, disappears… The narrator leaves us on our own after this brief and apparently pointless appearance. We are not, after all, to be guided through the story; the narrator has let us down by stealing any old plot from Tom Jones; nothing is quite as it seems; and we are on our own, left to make sense of things as best we can…

After the sudden disappearance of the first narrator, here is a second story-teller: the Baron tells stories (‘des contes’ in the French original) to his servants – who laugh because he pays their wages. Story-telling is getting a bad name here.

‘Intelligent design’ is a phrase we hear a lot now, especially since a key US Supreme Court ruling of 1987 concerning the teaching of ‘creationism’ in American schools (discussed in the Wikipedia article on ‘Intelligent design’). In fact the idea is an old one that predates Darwin and the theory of evolution.

In the early 18th century, it was common to argue that the ‘design’ of the universe made it clear that there had to be a divine ‘designer’. Here is Voltaire making fun of the argument from design. To say that ‘the nose has been formed to bear spectacles’ is funny because of the upside-down Alice-in-Wonderland logic. But what Voltaire also shows is how man pretends to argue a general and disinterested point, while in fact arguing from his own personal position.

Look at the choice of examples here: spectacles, stockings, stones (for building a castle), and roast pork: it is the portrait of the Baron sitting down to dinner. His mental universe extends no further than his physical domain: both are rather limited. No philosophical example is innocent, and the give-away here is ‘Pigs were made to be eaten’. The pork-eating German baron, wearing his spectacles and stockings and sitting complacently in his castle, doesn’t seem to know about Jews, or Moslems: why didn’t God design the world for them too? The argument from design is meant to prove the existence of God: here it only proves the existence of German barons.

The longest word in the chapter is also the silliest: ‘metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology’. The narrator plays with words, like a child learning the language. And this gives us a child-like perspective on events, as we spy on the grown-ups having sex in the park. But this is an old story, as old as Adam and Eve in fact. In the beginning was the Word: and it is the words – ‘cause and effect’, ‘sufficient reason’ – that we enjoy here. But is learning the language the same as learning the meaning of words? Or is it child’s play? It seems that the more we play with these terms, the more they lead a life of their own.

Tom Gilbert says:

I believe Voltaire’s attacks’s on Leibniz are never more cutting than in this depiction of Pangloss. The clarity of this attack on Liebniz’ principle of “sufficient reason” – that all things must have a purpose because they exist – in the middle of the enlightenment project centred on the concept of cause=effect perfectly shows Voltaire’s contempt.

- Tom Gilbert (ginandconflict.blogspot.com)

Tom Gilbert says:

This description of the Baron is a great example of Voltaire’s use of paragraph structure to cement irony. His opening sentence, rather than introducing the facts contained within the paragraph, is completely at odds with the facts presented. The Baron is clearly to poor for a proper pack of hounds, to poor to employ huntsmen or even his own chaplain.
The evidence undermines the proposition.

- Tom Gilbert (ginandconflict.blogspot.com)

Chris Morrow says:

I think kashrut (kosher) laws are a very interesting example of religion at work. There isn’t an etiological myth for how certain God-created animals became unclean, unlike, for example, the question of why snakes don’t have legs. It’s simply asserted that “unclean” is what they are.

- Chris Morrow (lenoxus.pbworks.com)

Chris Morrow says:

Actually, I wasn’t totally accurate when I said kosher has no Biblical origin story — I believe the story of Jacob wrestling God explains why Jews are not to eat the sinew. But apart from that, the whole explanation amounts to Jehova-said-so.

- Chris Morrow (lenoxus.pbworks.com)

mary mcelroy says:

if Candide believs the Baron is his father, then he thinks Cunegonde is his sister – shouldn’t he have some feelings of remorse because he is “in love with” his sister ? or, he knows she’s his cousin, which made it ok at that time …

Anonymous says:

Voltaire’s comment about the size of the Baron’s lady seems to play on the notion that persons of heft of the era were generally associated with wealth. In other words, heavy stature was an indicator of higher social status.

Tom Gilbert says:

This is tied perfectly into the historical evidence of diet and exercise right up until the 20th century.

With only the wealthy able to afford meat with regularity, and the food we would consider “healthy” today being very much classified as “peasant food” the rich were the only ones who would be overweight.

Corpulence is often, therefore, tied to opulence.

- Tom Gilbert (ginandconflict.blogspot.com)

Tom Gilbert says:

The logical development of many of these practices is sensible when dealing with early desert tribes.

Food poisoning is not a new phenomina and it is amazing how, even with our modern understanding of how bacteria spreads it is still a frequent phenomina.

In an age with no germ theory cultures still worked out codified rules to prevent transferal of some types of bacteria. And in a hot climate it is easy to see why shellfish could be dangerous. In their own way religious restrictions on food may have “evolved” in literally system of natural selection.

- Tom Gilbert (ginandconflict.blogspot.com)

Ade1a says:

I agree that there is much here that can remind us of *Tom Jones.* In addition to the underlying ironies which, with increasing strength, warn us that this is not the best of all possible worlds, the thwarted genealogical reference and the rhythm of *Candide’s* first pages are Fieldingesque as well. Finally, it is possible to see an echo of Tom Jones in Candide’s excitable nature which is in turn balanced by his blushes.

(twofoldedness.wordpress.com)

Ade1a says:

That reference totally escaped me! Thank you for pointing it out!

(twofoldedness.wordpress.com)

Rinku Skaria says:

The name of the barony Thunder-ten-Tronckh seems ironic to the description of the great castle. Voltaire in a sense mocks the noble heritage of this family by giving such a primitive name to the barony. He also satirizes through his use of exaggerations to expose the irrationality and absurdity of various beliefs.

This discussion threatens to stray too far from the subject, BUT: is not the popular tendency to ‘explain’ religious taboos as functional an interesting example of Panglossian logic?

I find it ironic that the place that’s suppose to be the best castle in the best of all possible worlds is described with such sarcasm. the castle is equipped with the bare minimum yet it belongs to the Baron, “the most powerful lord in Westphalia.” this being what Candide is accustomed to not only foreshadows the chaos of his emotions when he experiences the outside worlds but also satirizes the ideals of injustice between higher society and the poor. The Baron believes him and his family to be too good for Candide when in reality they are way below the standards of royalty when compared to other countries and really he is no better than Candide himself.

Yes, the narrator is indeed unreliable, sometimes switching to present tense, sometimes telescoping the narrative so 30,000 soldiers die within a mere paragraph.

I think this was a very good way to describe Pangloss and his beliefs in a paragraph. It gave me the perfect idea of what kind of character he was.

Amarish Mena says:

I agree with the comment left by Anonymous, in that Voltaire is clearly drawing a direct correlation between physical size and the amount of wealth a person has in order to satirize the wealthy of his time. A similar instance is evident when the old lady is describing her travails, and the religious official implores the soldiers holding her captive to only eat one buttock and that if they enjoyed it they could come back for more, which is, in my opinion, an expression of how Voltaire felt about the religious leaders of his time.

This paragraph is full of malice and satires. The so called park is nothing but a little wood, and Cunegonde’s disposition for the sciences is in fact a desire to engage in phisical experiments and explore the human nature by doing so.

S McGhee says:

I agree, the tone within the this paragraph changes from the beginning to end. Voltaire speaks of how the mother of Candide was of high status in society, however the father is portrayed to be somewhat of a peasant because he was unable to prove is family status.

Voltaire speaks highly of Candide’s Mother as being a member of high society and be-littles the father. Likewise, through the book Voltaire expresses sympathetic views toward women and blames men for their inabilities to care for them.