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Voltaire: Visit to the Lord Pococurante, Venetian nobleman

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Candide and Martin went in gondola on the Brenta, and reached the palace of the noble Pococurante. The gardens were pretty good, and adorned with beautiful statues of marble; the palace of a beautiful architecture. The master of the house, a man of sixty, very rich, received very politely the two curious, but with very little eagerness, which disconcerted Candide, and did not displease Martin.

At first two pretty and clean girls put on chocolate, which they did very well. Candide could not stop praising them for their beauty, their good grace, and their skill.

They are pretty good creatures,” said Senator Pococurante; I sometimes make them sleep in my bed; for I am very weary of the ladies of the town, their coquetries, their jealousies, their quarrels, their humours, their pettiness, their pride, their follies, and the sonnets which must be made or ordered for they; but, after all, these two girls are beginning to bother me.

Candide, after breakfast, walking in a long gallery, was surprised at the beauty of the pictures. He asked which master were the first two.

“They are from Raphael,” said the senator; I bought them very much from vanity a few years ago;  it is said that they are the finest in Italy, but they do not please me at all: the color is very dark, the figures are not rounded enough, and do not go out enough; the draperies do not resemble anything at all: in a word, whatever may be said of them, I do not find there a true imitation of nature. I will love a picture only when I think I see nature itself: there is none of this kind. I have many pictures, but I do not look at them any more.

Pococurante, while waiting for dinner, got himself a concerto. Candide found the music delicious. This noise, says Pococurante, may amuse for half an hour; but if it lasts longer, it fatigues all the world, although no one dares to confess it. Music today is only the art of performing difficult things, and what is difficult is not pleasing in the long run. I wish it could be better opera, if we had not found the secret of making a monster that revolts me. Will see who will want bad tragedies in music, where the scenes are made only to bring very badly about two or three ridiculous songs that make the throat of an actress; will swoon with pleasure, who will or will be able, when he sees a castrate humming the part of Caesar and Cato, and walk awkwardly on planks: for me, I have long ago abandoned those poverty which is today the glory of Italy, and which sovereigns pay so dearly.

Candide argued a little, but discreetly. Martin was entirely in the honorable senator’s opinion.

They sat down to table; and after an excellent dinner they entered the library. Candide, seeing a magnificently connected Homer, praised the illustrious on his good taste.

This, he says, is a book which was the delight of the great Pangloss, the best philosopher in Germany.

“It is not mine,” said Pococurante coldly. “I was formerly told that I had pleasure in reading it; but this continual repetition of battles, all of which resemble each other, these gods, who always act to do nothing decisive, that Helen, who is the subject of war, and scarcely an actress in the play; this Troy which is besieged and not taken; all this caused me the most mortal boredom. Sometimes I asked scholars whether they were as bored as I was at this reading: all the sincere people told me that the book fell from their hands, but that it was always necessary to have it in their library, like a monument of antiquity, and like those rusty medals which can not be of commerce.

Your Excellency does not think so of Virgil? said Candide.

“I agree,” said Pococurante, “that the second, fourth, and sixth book of his Aeneid are excellent; but for his pious Aeneas, and Fort Cloanthe, and the friend Achates, and the little Ascanius, and the imbecile King Latinus, and the bourgeois Amata, and the insipid Lavinia, I do not think there is anything so cold and disagreeable. I prefer Tasse and the stories of Ariosto to sleep standing up.

“Dare I ask you, sir,” said Candide, “if you do not have a great pleasure in reading Horace?”

“There are maxims,” ​​said Pococurante, “that a man of the world can make his own profit, and who, being constrained by energetic verses, are more easily engraved in memory: but I care little for his journey to Brindisi; from his description of a bad dinner, and from the quarrel of the crookers between some Pupilus [It is not Pupilus, but Rupilius, which Horace calls, Book I, satire VII, verse I: Rupili pus atque venenum] whose words, he said, were full of pus, and another whose words were vinegar [Italo perfusus aceto, says Horace, in the same room]. I have only read with extreme disgust his gross verses against old women and against witches; and I do not see what merit it may be to say to his friend Mecenas, that if he is placed by him in the ranks of the lyric poets, he will strike the stars with his sublime forehead (Horace, odes). Fools admire everything in an esteemed author. I only read for myself; I love only what is for my use.

Candide, who had been elevated to never judge nothing by himself, was much astonished at what he heard; and Martin found the way of thinking of Pococurante quite reasonable.

Oh! Here is a Cicero,” said Candide; “for this great man, I think you are tired of reading it.”

I never read it,” replied the Venetian. What does it matter to me that he pleaded for Rabirius or for Cluentius? I have enough of the trials I judge; I would have been better accommodated to his philosophical works; but when I saw that he doubted everything, I concluded that I knew as much as he did, and that I needed no one to be ignorant.

Ah! there are eighty volumes of collections of an academy of sciences,” cried Martin; there may be some good.

“There would be,” said Pococurante, “if any of the authors of these fits had invented at least the art of making pins; but there are in all these books nothing but vain systems, and not a single useful thing.

How many theater plays I see here, said Candide, in Italian, Spanish, and French!”

Yes,” said the senator, “there are three thousand, and not even three dozen of them are good. For these collections of sermons, which together are not worth a page of Seneca, and all these large volumes of theology, you may well think that I never open them, neither I nor anybody.

Martin saw shelves laden with with English books.

“I believe,” he said, “that a republican ought to please most of these works, written so freely.”

Yes,” replied Pococurante, “it is beautiful to write what one thinks; it is the privilege of man. In all our Italy we write only what we do not think; those who inhabit the country of the Caesars and the Antonines dare not having an idea without the permission of a Jacobin. I should be satisfied with the liberty which inspires the English genius, if the passion and the spirit of party did not corrupt all that this precious liberty has of estimable.

Candide, perceiving a Milton, asked him if he did not regard this author as a great man.

Who?” said Pococurante, “this barbarian who makes a long commentary on the first chapter of Genesis in ten books of hard verse? that crude imitator of the Greeks, who disfigures creation, and who, while Moses represents the eternal Being producing the world by word, has a great compass taken by the Messiah in a cupboard of heaven to trace his work? To esteem the one who spoiled the hell and the devil of Tasso; who disguises Lucifer sometimes as a toad, sometimes as a pygmy; which makes him repeat a hundred times the same speeches; which makes him dispute on theology; who, by seriously imitating the comic invention of Ariosto’s firearms, has the cannon shot in heaven by the devils? Neither I nor any one in Italy could be pleased with all these sad extravagances. The marriage of sin and death, and the snakes of which sin gives birth, make every man who has a rather delicate taste vomit; and his long description of a hospital is only good for a grave-digger. This obscure, odd, and disgusting poem was despised at his birth; I treat him today as he was treated in his country by contemporaries. Besides, I say what I think, and I care very little that others think as I do.

Candide was afflicted with these discourses; he respected Homer, he loved Milton a little.

Alas! he said to Martin in a low voice, “I am afraid that this man has a sovereign contempt for our German poets.”

There would be no great harm in that,” said Martin.

Oh! what a superior man! said Candide between his teeth, “What a great genius this Pococurante! nothing can please him.

After reviewing all the books, they went down into the garden. Candide praised all the beauties.

“I know nothing of such a bad taste,” said the master; we have here only trinkets, but starting with tomorrow I shall plant one of a nobler design.

When the two curious men had taken leave of his excellency:

“Now,” said Candide to Martin, “you will agree that this is the happiest of all men, for he is above all that he possesses.”

Do you not see,” said Martin, “that he is disgusted with all that he possesses? Plato has said, a long time ago, that the best stomachs are not those that put off all food.

But, said Candide, is there not pleasure in criticizing everything, in feeling faults in which other men think they see beauties?

That is to say,” replied Martin,” that there is pleasure in having no pleasure?”

Oh good! said Candide, “So there is no one happy except myself, when I will see Miss Cunegonde again.”

It’s always good to hope,” said Martin.

Meanwhile, the days and weeks passed; Cacambo did not return, and Candide was so worn out in his grief that he did not even reflect that Paquette and Brother Giroflee had not only come to thank him.

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