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‘Beg My Bread’
The Old Conductress: Voltaire’s Candide, Chapter 3, pages 11-14


The Optimist, born honest and raised with an inculcated opinion that society was the result and foundation of goodness, stumbles anonymously across the landscape of war and rapine. Befalling emerges here as Voltaire’s central concept, that men, even of privilege, in his age were sailors on a sea of ire fate hoping and striving and very often failing to resist being swept from the slick deck of their social station…

“How Candide Escaped from the Bulgarians and What Befell Him Afterward”

Some offhand sardonics and comic relief at the casual disposal of human life in this mode of uniformed war, when princes dressed up condemned men in bright uniforms and paraded them before cannon to be blown to shreds, shines through Voltaire’s prose.

“Candide trembled like a philosopher and concealed himself as well as he could during this heroic butchery.”

Having escaped the stern “laws of war” Candide wanders into a village after lurching like a ghost among the ruins of two nations and the gruesome heaps of the shredded dead. Coming to a “Christian” village he besought the ancient custom of catholic charity now veiled behind the stern administration of Protestant severity.

“He asked charity of some grave-looking people, who one and all answered him, that if he continued to follow this trade they would have him sent to a house of correction, where he should be taught to get his bread.”

And so the third chapter in The Optimist’s life reminds him once again that slavery is the basis for society and that he is an unmoored soul forever in debt to the capricious world. However, he is rescued from his plight by James the Anabaptist who offers to instruct him in his arts of weaving and helps him escape from the savage puritanism of a man in black cloak and hat with his vindictive wife who had accused him of being an accursed worshipper of the Antichrist for the crime of begging.

The eternal optimist now renews his affection for a just and purposeful world.

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