Chapter 5 – Tempest, Shipwreck, Earthquake, and What Became of Doctor Pangloss, Candide, and James the Anabaptist


1 6 Half dead of that inconceivable anguish which the rolling of a ship produces, one-half of the passengers were not even sensible of the danger. The other half shrieked and prayed. The sheets were rent, the masts broken, the vessel gaped. Work who would, no one heard, no one commanded. The Anabaptist being upon deck bore a hand; when a brutish sailor struck him roughly and laid him sprawling; but with the violence of the blow he himself tumbled head foremost overboard, and stuck upon a piece of the broken mast. Honest James ran to his assistance, hauled him up, and from the effort he made was precipitated into the sea in sight of the sailor, who left him to perish, without deigning to look at him. Candide drew near and saw his benefactor, who rose above the water one moment and was then swallowed up for ever. He was just going to jump after him, but was prevented by the philosopher Pangloss, who demonstrated to him that the Bay of Lisbon had been made on purpose for the Anabaptist to be drowned. While he was proving this a priori, the ship foundered; all perished except Pangloss, Candide, and that brutal sailor who had drowned the good Anabaptist. The villain swam safely to the shore, while Pangloss and Candide were borne thither upon a plank.
2 3 As soon as they recovered themselves a little they walked toward Lisbon. They had some money left, with which they hoped to save themselves from starving, after they had escaped drowning. Scarcely had they reached the city, lamenting the death of their benefactor, when they felt the earth tremble under their feet. The sea swelled and foamed in the harbour, and beat to pieces the vessels riding at anchor. Whirlwinds of fire and ashes covered the streets and public places; houses fell, roofs were flung upon the pavements, and the pavements were scattered. Thirty thousand inhabitants of all ages and sexes were crushed under the ruins. The sailor, whistling and swearing, said there was booty to be gained here.
3 3

“What can be the sufficient reason of this phenomenon?” said Pangloss.

“This is the Last Day!” cried Candide.

4 1 The sailor ran among the ruins, facing death to find money; finding it, he took it, got drunk, and having slept himself sober, purchased the favours of the first good-natured wench whom he met on the ruins of the destroyed houses, and in the midst of the dying and the dead. Pangloss pulled him by the sleeve.
5 1

“My friend,” said he, “this is not right. You sin against the universal reason; you choose your time badly.”

“S’blood and fury!” answered the other; “I am a sailor and born at Batavia. Four times have I trampled upon the crucifix in four voyages to Japan; a fig for thy universal reason.”

6 2

Some falling stones had wounded Candide. He lay stretched in the street covered with rubbish.

“Alas!” said he to Pangloss, “get me a little wine and oil; I am dying.”

“This concussion of the earth is no new thing,” answered Pangloss. “The city of Lima, in America, experienced the same convulsions last year; the same cause, the same effects; there is certainly a train of sulphur under ground from Lima to Lisbon.”

“Nothing more probable,” said Candide; “but for the love of God a little oil and wine.”

“How, probable?” replied the philosopher. “I maintain that the point is capable of being demonstrated.”

7 2 Candide fainted away, and Pangloss fetched him some water from a neighbouring fountain. The following day they rummaged among the ruins and found provisions, with which they repaired their exhausted strength. After this they joined with others in relieving those inhabitants who had escaped death. Some, whom they had succoured, gave them as good a dinner as they could in such disastrous circumstances; true, the repast was mournful, and the company moistened their bread with tears; but Pangloss consoled them, assuring them that things could not be otherwise.
8 1 “For,” said he, “all that is is for the best. If there is a volcano at Lisbon it cannot be elsewhere. It is impossible that things should be other than they are; for everything is right.”
9 1

A little man dressed in black, Familiar of the Inquisition, who sat by him, politely took up his word and said: “Apparently, then, sir, you do not believe in original sin; for if all is for the best there has then been neither Fall nor punishment.”

“I humbly ask your Excellency’s pardon,” answered Pangloss, still more politely; “for the Fall and curse of man necessarily entered into the system of the best of worlds.”

“Sir,” said the Familiar, “you do not then believe in liberty?”

“Your Excellency will excuse me,” said Pangloss; “liberty is consistent with absolute necessity, for it was necessary we should be free; for, in short, the determinate will——”

Pangloss was in the middle of his sentence, when the Familiar beckoned to his footman, who gave him a glass of wine from Porto or Opporto.

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22 Responses to “Chapter 5 – Tempest, Shipwreck, Earthquake, and What Became of Doctor Pangloss, Candide, and James the Anabaptist”

When Voltaire has Candide and company run afoul of an earthquake in Lisbon, he is not indulging his fancy. On the morning of November 1, 1755, a terrible seismic event shook the Iberian peninsula. Somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 people in Portugal, Spain, and Morocco were crushed by falling walls, consumed by fires, or drowned by the tsunami. A few estimates place the death toll as high as 100,000.

More than any single event, the Great Lisbon Earthquake crystallized the Enlightenment critique of conventional Christian thought. Why would a benevolent Deity permit such a calamity on All Saints Day, when so many people would be demonstrating their love for him by attending Mass? Why did God allow the earthquake to destroy a cathedral, a convent, and dozens of basilicas?

Today it’s impossible to read Voltaire’s account of the Lisbon earthquake without thinking of the cataclysm that recently devastated the country of Haiti, leaving at least 200,000 dead and one million homeless. The January 12, 2010, disaster also occasioned theological speculation, with the American evangelist Pat Robertson ascribing it to a compact that the Haitian people’s ancestors allegedly made with the Devil. The renowned British biologist Richard Dawkins offered a different view: “We know what caused the catastrophe in Haiti. It was the bumping and grinding of the Caribbean Plate rubbing up against the North American Plate: a force of nature, sin-free and indifferent to sin, un-premeditated, unmotivated, supremely unconcerned with human affairs or human misery.”

When Doctor Pangloss endeavors to prove a priori that “the Bay of Lisbon had been made on purpose for the Anabaptist to be drowned,” Voltaire is again accentuating the impotence of ordinary metaphysics when confronted with the problem of evil. In Western philosophy, a priori arguments proceed on the basis of things already known or easily assumed, as opposed to a posteriori arguments, predicated on observed facts. Placed in the eternally mobile mouth of Pangloss, all such terms, whether Latinate or not, become feeble sources of solace indeed, if not sheer gobbledygook.

The drowning of the virtuous Anabaptist underscores the novella’s main thematic obsession. In Voltaire’s view, we inhabit a world utterly bereft of retributive justice. Our collective condition is one in which villains may expect to prosper, while good souls like James should anticipate only stones for bread.

“The sheets were rent.” Not the most astute translation, since the “sheets” on a wind-driven ship are the ropes used to change a sail’s position. In other editions the sentence reads, “The sails were torn.”

This description of the cataclysm is sufficiently vivid that it’s reasonable to suppose Voltaire had access to eyewitness accounts. Some scholars suggest that the Lisbon earthquake led to the birth of modern seismology. Not long after the shocks subsided, the Portuguese prime minister ordered a formal query into the event. The Marquis of Pombol’s initiative resulted in the first objective scientific description of the causes and consequences of an earthquake.

“The Last Day.” That is, Judgment Day – the Dies Irae, the Day of Wrath – when the last trumpet will summon all souls before the throne of God, the saved to be delivered and the unsaved cast into eternal flames.

When the sailor claims to have trampled on the crucifix, he is alluding to an actual 17th and 18th century practice. So great was the Japanese government’s antipathy toward Western religion that all European merchants and sailors were required to stomp on the cross, shed every trapping of the Church, and swear that they were not of the Christian faith.

A classic Voltairean juxtaposition: the stricken Candide begging for oil and wine – that is, for last rites – while the pedantic Pangloss scolds him on his choice of words. Ignoring his pupil’s plight, the philosopher insists that his correlation of the Lima quake with the Lisbon quake is not just “probable” but utterly demonstrable – though in fact Pangloss’s seismology is pseudo-scientific nonsense.

Playwright Lillian Hellman called Candide “the greatest piece of slap-dash ever written, at the greatest speed.” But not every moment is hectic. Consider the poignant image of the relief workers moistening the bread with their tears.

“If there is a volcano at Lisbon it cannot be elsewhere.” Precisely sort of acerbic aphorism – why is it not more famous? – that has inspired many readers to judge Candide the most satisfying of all possible satires.

Candide and the “Familiar” – the particular term for a Roman Catholic Church officer charged with arresting suspected heretics – are here debating the second great theodicy developed by Christian thinkers over the years. Just as the “ontological defense” attempts to account for God’s ostensible acquiescence to earthquakes, tornadoes, syphilis, cancer, and other sorts of “natural evil,” so does the “free will defense” seek to absolve the Almighty of any complicity in “moral evil”: war, rape, torture – the whole spectrum of human cruelty. If God routinely constrained us from eating forbidden fruit – or committing atrocities – our free will would be illusory. In fact, we would be little more that Heaven’s puppets, robots of circumstance, lacking the glorious gift of liber arbitrium.

Voltaire and other Enlightenment philosophers were as impatient with the free will defense as with the ontological defense. If liber arbitrium is such a valuable commodity, why does Providence distribute it so erratically? A world containing so many blind, lame, sick, hungry, and impoverished people hardly seems the handiwork of a Deity who puts a premium on individual freedom.

When the Familiar asks, “Sir, you do not then believe in liberty?”, we are not getting an ideal translation. In other editions of Candide, the key term is more appropriately rendered as “free will.”

Lucy Hunter says:

After Pangloss tries to filter the horror of the earthquake through the model of optimism, Voltaire juxtaposes the philosopher’s inquiry with a laundry list of the best of all possible human characteristics… Greed, debauchery, lust, negligence. The critique of philosophical optimism is not subtle, and neither is the gendered portrayal of the sailor (man) and the prostitutes (women). Men throughout the book (Pangloss, Don Isaachar, etc.) seem helpless to their carnal impulses. The women, too, seem helpless–not in that they suffer from the same affliction, but in that they are obliged to satisfy the “needs” of men. There seems a critical interdependence between the aggressive sexuality of men and the passive (if not victimized) sexuality of women. There is no model of healthy, consensual sexuality to be found: by the time Candide and Cunegonde are out of peril, she’s become too ugly to be considered a viable object of desire. Object-hood, it seems, is the sustained condition of women in this book.

Jim Boone says:

The epicenter of the earthquake was actually some distance from Lisbon–about 100 mile to the southwest of Sagres in the Algarve, out in the Atlantic. The quake created a tsunami that reached the Outer Islands of North Carolina and Barbados at a height of about 20 feet or so. The devastation in the Algarve was particularly severe–an English travel guide on Portugal by John Murray in the 1850s indicates the area hadn’t really recovered a century later. It may be the reason the area remained so undeveloped well into the 20th century.

Jim Boone says:

The earthquake is also the reason why Lisbon has so many big wide boulevards today–Pombal directed their construction out of the ruins in emulation of Paris.

An interesting point about the translation of ’sheets’ — I had forgotten the correct use, myself. A zip into the Oxford dictionary shows that literary figures had been misusing the term, indeed, for 120 years, and Alexander Pope was one of them. Not surprising, since sheet makes one think of sheet of paper, and so, back to sail — at least, it makes a bookish person think as much!

The slip also gives some evidence that the unknown translator, in 1918, was consulting a translation done in 1759 (unknown translator, working for Nourse). I’ve looked at a few passages now — I re-edited the Nourse version for Broadview Press, so I know it well — it looks very much like the translator was copying and altering the Nourse version in minor respects, for the most part.

The Lisbon earthquake was also notable to Voltaire and Europe because it happened Nov. 1 1755 — while all those Catholics were in church, on All Saints’ Day. John Wesley suggested that it was punishment for all those corrupt souls, and I saw a very few similar pronouncements following the 2006 Boxing Day tsunami.
Voltaire took a different view: in the Poem on the Disaster at Lisbon (translated), he writes:
Cannot then God direct all nature’s course?
Can power almighty be without resource?
Humbly the great Creator I entreat,
This gulf with sulfur and with fire replete,
Might on the deserts spend its raging flame,
God my respect, my love weak mortals claim

You touched upon the drowning of the Anabaptist and Dr. Pangloss’s reasoning that “the Bay of Lisbon had been made on purpose for the Anabaptist to be drowned.” I am curious though, to understand what Pangloss would have said about the “Bay of Lisbon” once the Anabaptist was finished drowning in it. If the bay was specifically made so that the man would perish there, does it now exist without a purpose, seeing as how the purpose it was created for has been fulfilled?

It is true that little is going on in this moment, however, Voltaire is using it to continue to outline the absurdity of Pangloss’ philosophy. Instead of lending a hand to the townspeople he spends his time preaching about how “things could not be otherwise”.

Amy Ward says:

I love your question Armen, but I don’t believe Pangloss would even think that far. His logic isn’t really reason, it is more justification. He uses it to justify why he doesn’t act and why there is terrible events in the world. I doubt he really believes what he says, he just says it to maintain his sanity.

Amy Ward says:

I think this shocks Candide into reality a little. It is one thing to say the sea was there to drown you, but it is something else entirely when YOU are the one in imminent danger. This helps Candide’s progressing in thinking for himself because after this, there is no way he can truly believe in Pangloss theories.

Of course Pangloss believes what he says. I mean he swears by it throughout the entire novel. Even through a supposed murder and hanging, Pangloss continues to believe in his optimism. Remember that Pangloss is the symbol of blind optimism in Candide. I am with Armen though, I too wonder how Pangloss would explain the bay of Lisbon after its supposed purpose has been served.

In many religions, judgement day is said to occur on a day of traumatic natural events. If you read a little from the section right before this you can see that Voltaire definitely makes this earthquake seem horrible. Also, this earthquake is a reference to the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 that killed between 10,000 and 100,000 people.

“The sea swelled and foamed in the harbour, and beat to pieces the vessels riding at anchor. Whirlwinds of fire and ashes covered the streets and public places; houses fell, roofs were flung upon the pavements, and the pavements were scattered. Thirty thousand inhabitants of all ages and sexes were crushed under the ruins(Chapter 5).” To me this seemed like Voltaire satrizing a radical religious belief in the end of time. Every time a natural disaster occurs, someone always says it is the end of the world.

The Port of Lisbon is told to have this purpose to explain the fact that the Anabaptist drowned. Voltaire was most likely referencing Alexander Pope in “whatever is, is right.” Candide is forced to except the death almost like the Ancient Greeks accepted their fate from the gods. If something else were to happen later, Pangloss would be forced to admit that the Bay of Lisbon had been made for both occurrences.

And the fact that the Anabaptist is drowned only shows Voltaire’s strong opinions against organized religion. Voltaire believed that men should not be forcibly instructed how to worship God, but rather do goodwill to others [later expounded in El Dorado]. He believed that since there were so many religions arguing that the others were not true, that none could possibly be correct. Although he respected the Anabaptists gave a conscious choice for conversion and did not instill the religion during the young years of impressibility, James – one of the few characters to treat Candide well – still had to suffer death.

Candide’s outcry at this early point in the novel foretells of how many instances in which the characters believe they have met their fate. It is interesting that disasters and even death seem to have effects which are lessened as the story develops. Those who were believed to have been dead, are in fact alive. The Last Day seems to be successfully dodged by many throughout the novel.