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‘This Piteous Plight’
The Old Conductress: Voltaire’s Candide, chapter 4, pages 15-19


As the well-treated apprentice of James the Anabaptist, Candide meets a wretched and diseased man suffering from syphilis who happens to be Master Pangloss, fallen from his position due to the annihilation of his master’s house, where Cunegund was raped by soldiers, along with her brother, also raped by soldiers, in the very war in which Candide served.

‘How Candide Found His Old Master Pangloss Again and What Happened to Him’

The fact that Pangloss has been diseased in the act of love, which he declared as the one boon of the suffering human soul, gives some insight into his name and his doctrine of best purpose [essentially that of Aristotle] as a post-Cristian holdover of pagan optimism, in which the great god Pan is invoked and at once a smile is painted across his uncaring countenance. The old teacher blames Columbus for bringing syphilis back from the New World to the Old [something still debated by epidemiologists to this day, see Plagues and Peoples].

James the Anabaptist is charitable to Pangloss and provides him with a cure and dependent status as his bookkeeper. One is tempted to read chapter 4 as the first not to touch upon slavery until it is clear that in the slave world of early modern civilization the only succor reliably available is to become a slave to the most benign of men. Indeed, throughout Plantation America during this time, it was far more common for a free person to rue their condition of homelessness and starvation than it was fort he unfree to runaway from their housed condition.

Below are two quotes from the men with whom Candide passes this chapter of his sorrows as they debate the human condition:

James: “Men, must, in some things, have deviated from their innocence; for they were not born like wolves, and yet they worry one another like those beasts of prey. God never gave them twenty-four pounders nor bayonets, and yet they have made cannon and bayonets to destroy one another. To this account I might add not only bankruptcies, but the law which seizes on the effects of the bankrupts, only to cheat the creditors”

Pangloss: “…private misfortunes are public benefits; so that the more private misfortunes there are, the greater is the general good.”

Pangloss here emerges as the penultimate child of Modernity, looking to ideologically abstract meta-good at the expense of the vast swath of humanity, easily predicting the sentiments of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror which would strike the following generation.

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