Candide and Related Texts

By Voltaire; David Wootton | Go to book overview

The Lisbon Earthquake:
Rousseau versus Voltaire

PREFACE TO THE “POEM ON THE LISBON DISASTER” (1756)1

If the question of physical evil has ever deserved the attention of all human beings, it is when these dreadful events occur, events that call us back to the contemplation of our feeble nature, events like the great plagues that killed off one quarter of the population of the known world, the earthquake that swallowed up four hundred thousand people in China in 1699, those that happened in Lima and in Callao, and finally the earthquake in Portugal and in the kingdom of Fez. The axiom that “All is well” seems a little odd to those who witness these disasters. All is arranged, all is organized, doubtless, by Providence; but it is only too apparent that All, for a long time now, is not arranged for our present welfare.

When the illustrious Pope published his Essay on Man, and developed in poetry that will endure forever the systems of Leibniz, of Lord Shaftesbury,* and of Lord Bolingbroke, a crowd of theologians from every

1. The footnote marked by an asterisk is Voltaire’s own. In this note I have substituted Shaftesbury’s own words for Voltaire’s translation of Shaftesbury. The same passage recurs below, p. 140.

*This is perhaps the first time that anyone has said that Pope’s system was the same as Lord Shaftesbury’s, yet this is an indisputable truth. The whole of the discussion of physical nature is drawn almost word for word from the chapter entitled “The Moralists,” section 3: “Much is alleged in answer to show why Nature errs, and how she came thus impotent and erring from an unerring hand. But I deny she errs…. the world’s beauty [is] founded thus on contrarieties, whilst from such various and disagreeing principles a universal concord is established. Thus in the several orders of terrestrial forms a resignation is required, a sacrifice and mutual yielding of natures one to another. The vegetables by their death sustain the animals, and animal bodies dissolved enrich the earth, and raise again the vegetable world…. The central powers, which hold the lasting orbs in their just poise and movement, must not be controlled to save a fleeting form, and rescue from the precipice a puny animal, whose brittle frame, however protected, must of itself so soon dissolve.”

This is admirably said; but that doesn’t mean the illustrious Dr. Clarke, in his treatise on the existence of God, can’t write that “the human race finds itself in a situation where the natural order of things in this world is manifestly turned upside down” (2nd ed., vol. 2, p. 10, translated by M. Ricotier). That doesn’t mean human beings can’t say, “I, a thinking and feeling creature, ought to be as dear to my master as the planets, who in all probability have no feelings.” That doesn’t mean that it would be impossible for this world to be different, for we are taught that the natural order has been perverted, and that it will be reestablished; that doesn’t mean that physical evil and moral evil are things that cannot be understood by the human intellect; that doesn’t mean that we cannot question the saying that “All is well,” while showing respect for Shaftesbury and Pope, whose system was at first attacked as being tainted with

-95-

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Candide and Related Texts
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction viii
  • Chronology xxxiv
  • Further Reading xxxviii
  • A Note on the Texts xli
  • Notes on the Translation xlii
  • Candide, or Optimism1 1
  • Before Voltaire 84
  • The Lisbon Earthquake- Rousseau versus Voltaire 95
  • Toward Candide 123
  • Voltaire’s Correspondence 132
  • After Candide 137
  • Voltaire’s Feminism 143
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