25. Seignior Pococurante
From Candide by Voltaire (1759)

The visit to Seignior Pococurante, the noble venetian.

Candide and Martin went in a gondola on the Brenta, and arrived at the palace of the noble Pococurante. His gardens were very spacious and ornamented with fine statues of marble, and the palace itself was a piece of excellent architecture. The master of the house, a very rich man, of about threescore, received our two inquisitives very politely, but with very little heartiness; which, though it confused Candide, did not give the least uneasiness to Martin.

At first, two young girls, handsome, and very neatly dressed, served them with chocolate, which was frothed extremely well. Candide could not help dropping them a compliment on their beauty, their politeness, and their address.

"The creatures are well enough," said the senator Pococurante , "I sometimes make them sleep with me; for I am quite disgusted with the ladies of the town; their coquetry, their jealousies, quarrels, humours, monkey-tricks, pride, follies, and the sonnets one is obliged to make, or hire others to make for them; but, after all, these two girls begin to grow tiresome to me."

After breakfast, Candide, taking a walk in a long gallery, was charmed with the beauty of the pictures. He asked by what master were the two first.

"They are by Raphael," said the senator , "I bought them at a very high price, merely out of vanity, some years ago. They are said to be the finest paintings in Italy: but they do not please me at all; the colors are dead, the figures not finished, and do not appear with relief enough; the drapery is very bad. In short, let people say what they will, I do not find there a true imitation of nature. I do not like a piece, unless it makes me think I see nature itself; but there are no such pieces to be met with. I have, indeed, a great many pictures, but I do not value them at all."

While they were waiting for dinner, Pococurante entertained them with a concert; Candide was quite charmed with the music.

"This noise," said Pococurante , "might divert one for half an hour, or so; but if it were to last any longer, it would grow tiresome to everybody, though no soul durst own it. Music is, now-a-days, nothing else but the art of executing difficulties; and what has nothing but difficulty to recommend it, does not please in the long run."
"I might, perhaps, take more pleasure in the opera, if they had not found out the secret of making such a monster of it as shocks me. Let those go that will to see wretched tragedies set to music, where the scenes are composed for no other end than to lug in by the head and ears two or three ridiculous songs, in order to show off the throat of an actress to advantage. Let who will, or can, swoon away with pleasure, at hearing a eunuch trill out the part of Caesar and Cato, while strutting upon the stage with a ridiculous and affected air. For my part, I have long ago bid adieu to those paltry entertainments, which constitute the glory of Italy, and are purchased so extravagantly dear."

Candide disputed the point a little, but with great discretion. Martin was entirely of the same sentiments with the senator. They sat down to table, and after an excellent dinner, went into the library. Candide, casting his eyes upon a Homer very handsomely bound, praised his High Mightiness for the goodness of his taste.

"There," said he , "is a book that was the delight of the good Pangloss, the greatest philosopher in Germany."
"It doesn't delight me," said Pococurante, with utter indifference , "I was made to believe formerly that I took a pleasure in reading Homer. But his continued repetition of battles that resemble each other; his gods, who are always very busy without bringing anything to a decision; his Helen, who is the subject of the war, and has scarce anything to do in the whole piece; I say all these defects give me the greatest disgust. I have asked some learned men, if they perused him with as little pleasure as I did? Those who were candid confessed to me that they could not bear to touch the book, but that they were obliged to give it a place in their libraries, as a monument of antiquity, as they do old rusty medals, which are of no use in commerce."
"Your Excellence does not entertain the same opinion of Virgil?" said Candide.
"I confess," replied Pococurante , "that the second, the fourth, and the sixth book of his AEneid are excellent; but as for his pious AEneas, his brave Cloanthus, his friend Achates, the little Ascanius, the infirm King Latinus, the burgess Amata, and the insipid Lavinia, I do not think any thing can be more frigid or more disagreeable. I prefer Tasso, and Ariosto's soporiferous tales far before him."
"Shall I presume to ask you, sir," said Candide , "whether you do not enjoy a great deal of pleasure in perusing Horace?"
"He has some maxims," said Pococurante , "which may be of a little service to a man who knows the world, and being delivered in expressive numbers, are imprinted more easily on the memory. But I set little value on his voyage to Brundusium, his description of his bad dinner, and the Billingsgate squabble between one Pupillus, whose speech he said was full of filthy stuff, and another whose words were as sharp as vinegar. I never could read without great disgust his indelicate lines against old women and witches; and I cannot see any merit in his telling his friend Maecenas, that if he should be ranked by him amongst the lyric poets, he would strike the stars with his sublime brow. Some fools admire everything in an author of reputation; for my part, I read only for myself; I approve nothing but what suits my own taste."

Candide, having been taught to judge of nothing for himself, was very much surprised at what he heard; but Martin looked upon the sentiment of Pococurante as very rational.

"Oh, there's Cicero," said Candide , "this great man, I fancy, you are never tired of reading."
"I never read him at all," replied the Venetian. "What is it to me, whether he pleads for Rabirius or Cluentius? I have trials enough of my own. I might, indeed, have been a greater friend to his philosophical works, but when I found he doubted of everything, I concluded I knew as much as he did, and that I had no need of a tutor to learn ignorance."
"Well! here are four and twenty volumes of the Academy of Sciences," cried Martin , "it is possible there may be something valuable in them."
"There might be," said Pococurante , "if a single one of the authors of this hodgepodge had been even the inventor of the art of making pins; but there is nothing in all those volumes but chimerical systems, and scarce a single article of real use."
"What a prodigious number of theatrical pieces you have got here," said Candide , "in Italian, Spanish, and French!"
"Yes," said the Senator , "there are about three thousand, and not three dozen good ones among them all. As for that collection of sermons, which all together are not worth one page of Seneca, and all those huge volumes of divinity, you may be sure they are never opened either by me or anybody else."

Martin perceiving some of the shelves filled with English books;

"I fancy" said he , "a republican, as you are, must certainly be pleased with compositions that are writ with so great a degree of freedom."
"Yes," said Pococurante , "it is commendable to write what one thinks; it is the privilege of man. But all over our Italy they write nothing but what they don't think. Those who now inhabit the country of the Caesars and Antonines, dare not have a single idea, without taking out a license from a Jacobin. I should be very well satisfied with the freedom that breathes in the English writers, if passion and the spirit of party did not corrupt all that was valuable in it."

Candide discovering a Milton, asked him if he did not look upon that author as a great genius?

"What!" said Pococurante , "that blockhead, that has made a long commentary in ten books of rough verse, on the first chapter of Genesis? That gross imitator of the Greeks, who has disfigured the creation, and who, when Moses has represented the Eternal producing the world by a word, makes the Messiah take a large pair of compasses from the armoury of God, to mark out his work? How can I have any esteem for one who has spoiled the hell and devils of Tasso; who turns Lucifer sometimes into a toad, and sometimes into a pigmy; makes him deliver the same speech a hundred times over; represents him disputing on divinity; and who, by a serious imitation of Ariosto's comic invention of firearms, represents the devils letting off their cannon in heaven? Neither myself, nor any one else in Italy, can be pleased at these outrages against common sense; but the marriage of Sin and Death, and the adders of which Sin was brought to bed, are enough to make every person of the least delicacy or taste vomit. This obscure, fantastical, and disgusting poem was despised at its first publication; and I only treat the author now in the same manner as he was treated in his own country by his contemporaries. By the by, I speak what I think; and I give myself no uneasiness whether other people think as I do, or not."

Candide was vexed at this discourse; for he respected Homer, and was fond of Milton.

"Ah!" said he, whispering to Martin , "I am very much afraid that this strange man has a sovereign contempt for our German poets."
"There would be no great harm in that," said Martin.
"Oh, what an extraordinary man!" said Candide, muttering to himself. "What a great genius is this Pococurante! nothing can please him."

After having thus reviewed a1l the books, they went down into the garden. Candide expatiated upon its beauties.

"I never knew anything laid out in such bad taste," said the master , "we have nothing but trifles here; but a day or two hence, I shall have one laid out upon a more noble plan."

When our two inquisitives had taken their leave of his Excellency,

"Now, surely," said Candide to Martin , "you will confess that he is one of the happiest men upon earth, for he is above everything that he has."
"Do not you see," said Martin , "that he is disgusted with everything that he has? Plato has said a long time ago, that the best stomachs are not those which cast up all sorts of victuals."
"But," said Candide , "is not there pleasure in criticising everything? in perceiving defects where other people fancy they see beauties?"
"That is to say," replied Martin , "that there is pleasure in having no pleasure."
"Ah, well," said Candide , "no person will be so happy as myself, when I see Miss Cunegonde again."
"It is always best to hope," said Martin.

In the mean time, days and weeks passed away, but no Cacambo was to be found. And Candide was so immersed in grief, that he did not recollect that Paquetta and Girofllee never so much as once came to return him thanks.

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