Pleasure In Having No Pleasure

“Hitherto,” said Candide to Martin, “I have met with none but unfortunate people in the whole habitable globe, except in El Dorado, but, observe those gondoliers, are they not perpetually singing?”

“You do not see them,” answered Martin, “at home with their wives and brats. The doge has his chagrin, gondoliers theirs. Nevertheless, in the main, I look upon the gondolier’s life as preferable to that of the doge; but the difference is so trifling, that it is not worth the trouble of examining into.”

“I have heard great talk,” said Candide, “of the Senator Pococurante, who lives in that fine house at the Brenta, where, they say, he entertains foreigners in the most polite manner. They pretend this man is a perfect stranger to uneasiness.”

“I should be glad to see so extraordinary a being,” said Martin.

Candide thereupon sent a messenger to Seignior Pococurante, desiring permission to wait on him the next day.

Accordingly, Candide and his friend Martin went in a gondola on the Brenta, and arrived at the palace of the noble Pococurante. The gardens were laid out in elegant taste, and adorned with fine marble statues; his palace was built after the most approved rules in architecture. The master of the house, who was a man of sixty, and very rich, received our two travelers with great politeness, but without much ceremony, which somewhat disconcerted Candide, but was not at all displeasing to Martin.

As soon as they were seated, two very pretty girls, neatly dressed, brought in chocolate, which was extremely well frothed. Candide could not help making encomiums upon their beauty and graceful carriage.

“The creatures are well enough,” said the senator, “but I am heartily tired of women, of their coquetry, their jealousy, their quarrels, their humors, their vanity, their pride, and their folly; I am weary of making sonnets, or of paying for sonnets to be made on them; and, after all, those two girls begin to grow very indifferent to me.”

After having refreshed himself, Candide walked into a large gallery, where he was struck with the sight of a fine collection of paintings.

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“Pray,” said Candide, “by what master are the first two of these?”

“They are Raphael’s,” answered the senator. “I gave a great deal of money for them seven years ago, purely out of curiosity, as they were said to be the finest pieces in Italy; but I cannot say they please me: the coloring is dark and heavy; the figures do not swell nor come out enough, and the drapery is very bad. In short, notwithstanding the encomiums lavished upon them, they are not, in my opinion, a true representation of nature. I approve of no paintings but where I think I behold nature herself; and there are very few, if any, of that kind to be met with. I have what is called a fine collection, but it affords me no delight.”

While dinner was getting ready, Pococurante ordered a concert. Candide praised the music to the skies.

“This noise,” said the noble Venetian, “may amuse one for a little time, but if it were to last above half an hour, it would grow very tiresome, though perhaps no one would care to own it. Music has become the art of executing that which is difficult. Now whatever is difficult cannot long continue pleasing. I might take more pleasure in an opera if they had not made that species of dramatic entertainment so shockingly monstrous; and I am amazed that people can bear to see wretched tragedies set to music, where the scenes are contrived for no other purpose than to lug in, as it were by the ears, three or four ridiculous songs, to give a favorite actress an opportunity of exhibiting her voice. Let who will or can die away in raptures at the trills of an eunuch quavering the majestic part of Cæsar or Cato, and strutting in a foolish manner on the stage; for my part, I have long ago renounced these paltry entertainments, which constitute the glory of modern Italy, and are so dearly purchased by crowned heads.”

Candide opposed these sentiments; but he did it in a discreet manner; as for Martin, he was entirely of the old senator’s opinion.

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Dinner being served up, they sat down to table, and after a very hearty repast returned to the library. Candide observing Homer richly bound, commended the noble Venetian’s taste.

“This,” said he, “is a book that was once the delight of the great Pangloss, the best philosopher in Germany.”

“Homer is no favorite of mine,” answered Pococurante, very coolly: “I was made to believe once that I took a pleasure in reading him; but his continual repetitions of battles have all such a resemblance with each other; his gods, that are forever in a hurry and bustle without ever doing anything; his Helen, that is the cause of the war, and yet hardly acts in the whole performance; his Troy, that holds out so long, without being taken; in short, all these things together make the poem very insipid to me. I have asked some learned men, whether they are not in reality as much tired as myself with reading this poet? Those who spoke ingenuously, assured me that he had made them fall asleep; and yet, that they could not well avoid giving him a place in their libraries; but it was merely as they would do an antique, or those rusty medals which are kept only for curiosity, and are of no manner of use in commerce.”

“But your excellency does not surely form this same opinion of Virgil?” said Candide.

“Why, I grant,” replied Pococurante, “that the second, third, fourth, and sixth book, of his Æneid are excellent; but as for his pious Æneas, his strong Cloanthus, his friendly Achates, his boy Ascanius, his silly King Latinus, his ill-bred Amata, his insipid Lavinia, and some other characters much in the same strain, I think there cannot be in nature anything more flat and disagreeable. I must confess, I much prefer Tasso to him; nay, even that sleepy tale-teller Ariosto.”

“May I take the liberty to ask if you do not receive great pleasure from reading Horace?” said Candide.

“There are maxims in this writer,” replied Pococurante, “from whence a man of the world may reap some benefit; and the short measure of the verse makes them more easy to retain in the memory. But I see nothing extraordinary in his journey to Brundusium, and his account of his bad dinner; nor in his dirty low quarrel between one Rupilius, whose words, as he expresses it, were full of poisonous filth; and another, whose language was dipped in vinegar. His indelicate verses against old women and witches have frequently given me great offense; nor can I discover the great merit of his telling his friend Mecænas, that if he will but rank him in the class of lyric poets, his lofty head shall touch the stars. Ignorant readers are apt to praise everything by the lump in a writer of reputation. For my part, I read only to please myself. I like nothing but that which makes for my purpose.”

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Candide, who had been brought up with a notion of never making use of his own judgment, was astonished at what he had heard; but Martin found there was a good deal of reason in the senator’s remarks.

“O! here is a Tully,” said Candide: “this great man, I fancy, you are never tired of reading?”

“Indeed, I never read him at all,” replied Pococurante. “What is it to me whether he pleads for Rabirius or Cluentius? I try causes enough myself. I had once some liking for his philosophical works; but when I found he doubted of everything, I thought I knew as much as himself, and had no need of a guide to learn ignorance.

“Ha!” cried Martin, “here are fourscore volumes of the Memoirs of the Academy of Sciences. Perhaps there may be something curious and valuable in this collection.”

“Yes,” answered Pococurante, “so there might, if any one of these compilers of this rubbish had only invented the art of pin-making; but all these volumes are filled with mere chimerical systems, without one single article conducive to real utility.”

“I see a prodigious number of plays,” said Candide, “in Italian, Spanish, and French.”

“Yes,” replied the Venetian, “there are, I think, three thousand, and not three dozen of them good for anything. As to these huge volumes of divinity, and those enormous collections of sermons, they are not altogether worth one single page in Seneca; and I fancy you will readily believe that neither myself, nor any one else, ever looks into them.”

Martin, perceiving some shelves filled with English books, said to the senator:

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“I fancy that a republican must be highly delighted with those books, which are most of them written with a noble spirit of freedom.”

“It is noble to write as we think,” said Pococurante; “it is the privilege of humanity. Throughout Italy we write only what we do not think; and the present inhabitants of the country of the Cæsars and Antoninuses dare not acquire a single idea without the permission of a father dominican. I should be enamoured of the spirit of the English nation, did it not utterly frustrate the good effects it would produce, by passion and the spirit of party.”

Candide, seeing a Milton, asked the senator if he did not think that author a great man?

“Who?” said Pococurante, sharply; “that barbarian who writes a tedious commentary in ten books of rambling verse on the first chapter of Genesis? that slovenly imitator of the Greeks, who disfigures the creation by making the Messiah take a pair of compasses from heaven’s armory to plan the world; whereas Moses represented the Deity as producing the whole universe by his fiat? Can I, think you, have any esteem for a writer who has spoiled Tasso’s hell and the devil? who transforms Lucifer sometimes into a toad, and at others, into a pigmy? who makes him say the same thing over again an hundred times? who metamorphoses him into a school-divine? and who, by an absurdly serious imitation of Ariosto’s comic invention of fire-arms, represents the devils and angels cannonading each other in heaven? Neither I nor any other Italian can possibly take pleasure in such melancholy reveries; but the marriage of sin and death, and snakes issuing from the womb of the former, are enough to make any person sick that is not lost to all sense of delicacy. This obscene, whimsical, and disagreeable poem, met with the neglect it deserved at its first publication; and I only treat the author now as he was treated in his own country by his contemporaries.”

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Candide was sensibly grieved at this speech, as he had a great respect for Homer, and was very fond of Milton.

“Alas!” said he softly to Martin, “I am afraid this man holds our German poets in great contempt.”

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

“O, what a surprising man!” said Candide still to himself; “what a genius is this Pococurante! nothing can please him.”

After finishing their survey of the library, they went down into the garden, when Candide commended the several beauties that offered themselves to his view.

“I know nothing upon earth laid out in such bad taste,” said Pococurante; “everything about it is childish and trifling; but I shall soon have another laid out upon a nobler plan.”

“Well,” said Candide to Martin, as soon as our two travelers had taken leave of his excellency: “I hope you will own, that this man is the happiest of all mortals, for he is above everything he possesses.”

“But do you not see,” said Martin, “that he likewise dislikes everything he possesses? It was an observation of Plato, long since, that those are not the best stomachs that reject, without distinction, all sorts of aliments.”

“True,” said Candide; “but still there must certainly be a pleasure in criticising everything, and in perceiving faults where others think they see beauties.”

“That is,” replied Martin, “there is a pleasure in having no pleasure.”

Pleasure In Having No Pleasure by Voltaire

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