While he was thus sauntering he met a hermit, whose white and venerable
beard hung down to his girdle. He held a book in his hand, which he
read with great attention. Zadig stopped, and made him a profound
obeisance. The hermit returned the compliment with such a noble and
engaging air, that Zadig had the curiosity to enter into conversation
with him. He asked him what book it was that he had been reading? "It
is the Book of Destinies," said the hermit; "wouldst thou choose to
look into it?" He put the book into the hands of Zadig, who, thoroughly
versed as he was in several languages, could not decipher a single
character of it. This only redoubled his curiosity.
"Thou seemest," said this good father, "to be in great distress."
"Alas," replied Zadig, "I have but too much reason."
"If thou wilt permit me to accompany thee," resumed the old man,
"perhaps I may be of some service to thee. I have often poured the balm
of consolation into the bleeding heart of the unhappy."
Zadig felt himself inspired with respect for the air, the beard, and
the book of the hermit. He found, in the course of the conversation,
that he was possessed of superior degrees of knowledge. The hermit
talked of fate, of justice, of morals, of the chief good, of human
weakness, and of virtue and vice, with such a spirited and moving
eloquence, that Zadig felt himself drawn toward him by an irresistible
charm. He earnestly entreated the favor of his company till their
return to Babylon.
"I ask the same favor of thee," said the old man; "swear to me by
Oromazes, that whatever I do, thou wilt not leave me for some days."
Zadig swore, and they set out together.
In the evening the two travelers arrived in a superb castle. The hermit
entreated a hospitable reception for himself and the young man who
accompanied him. The porter, whom one might have easily mistaken for a
great lord, introduced them with a kind of disdainful civility. He
presented them to a principal domestic, who showed them his master's
magnificent apartments. They were admitted to the lower end of the
table, without being honored with the least mark of regard by the lord
of the castle; but they were served, like the rest, with delicacy and
profusion. They were then presented with water to wash their hands, in
a golden basin adorned with emeralds and rubies. At last they were
conducted to bed in a beautiful apartment; and in the morning a
domestic brought each of them a piece of gold, after which they took
their leave and departed.
"The master of the house," said Zadig, as they were proceeding on the
journey, "appears to be a generous man, though somewhat too proud; he
nobly performs the duties of hospitality." At that instant he observed
that a kind of large pocket, which the hermit had, was filled and
distended; and upon looking more narrowly he found that it contained
the golden basin adorned with precious stones, which the hermit had
stolen. He durst not take any notice of it, but he was filled with a
About noon, the hermit came to the door of a paltry house inhabited by
a rich miser, and begged the favor of an hospitable reception for a few
hours. An old servant, in a tattered garb, received them with a blunt
and rude air, and led them into the stable, where he gave them some
rotten olives, moldy bread, and sour beer. The hermit ate and drank
with as much seeming satisfaction as he had done the evening before;
and then addressing himself to the old servant, who watched them both,
to prevent their stealing anything, and rudely pressed them to depart,
he gave him the two pieces of gold he had received in the morning, and
thanked him for his great civility.
"Pray," added he, "allow me to speak to thy master." The servant,
filled with astonishment, introduced the two travelers. "Magnificent
lord," said the hermit, "I cannot but return thee my most humble thanks
for the noble manner in which thou hast entertained us. Be pleased to
accept this golden basin as a small mark of my gratitude." The miser
started, and was ready to fall backward; but the hermit, without giving
him time to recover from his surprise, instantly departed with his
young fellow traveler.
"Father," said Zadig, "what is the meaning of all this? Thou seemest to
me to be entirely different from other men; thou stealest a golden
basin adorned with precious stones from a lord who received thee
magnificently, and givest it to a miser who treats thee with
"Son," replied the old man, "this magnificent lord, who receives
strangers only from vanity and ostentation, will hereby be rendered
more wise; and the miser will learn to practice the duties of
hospitality. Be surprised at nothing, but follow me."
Zadig knew not as yet whether he was in company with the most foolish
or the most prudent of mankind; but the hermit spoke with such an
ascendancy, that Zadig, who was moreover bound by his oath, could not
refuse to follow him.
In the evening they arrived at a house built with equal elegance and
simplicity, where nothing favored either of prodigality or avarice. The
master of it was a philosopher, who had retired from the world, and who
cultivated in peace the study of virtue and wisdom, without any of that
rigid and morose severity so commonly to be found in men of his
character. He had chosen to build this country house, in which he
received strangers with a generosity free from ostentation. He went
himself to meet the two travelers, whom he led into a commodious
apartment, where he desired them to repose themselves a little. Soon
after he came and invited them to a decent and well-ordered repast
during which he spoke with great judgment of the last revolutions in
Babylon. He seemed to be strongly attached to the queen, and wished
that Zadig had appeared in the lists to dispute the crown. "But the
people," added he, "do not deserve to have such a king as Zadig."
Zadig blushed, and felt his griefs redoubled. They agreed, in the
course of the conversation, that the things of this world did not
always answer the wishes of the wise. The hermit still maintained that
the ways of Providence were inscrutable; and that men were in the wrong
to judge of a whole, of which they understood but the smallest part.
They talked of passions. "Ah," said Zadig, "how fatal are their
"They are in the winds," replied the hermit, "that swell the sails of
the ship; it is true, they sometimes sink her, but without them she
could not sail at all. The bile makes us sick and choleric; but without
bile we could not live. Everything in this world is dangerous, and yet
everything is necessary."
The conversation turned on pleasure; and the hermit proved that it was
a present bestowed by the deity. "For," said he, "man cannot give
himself either sensations or ideas; he receives all; and pain and
pleasure proceed from a foreign cause as well as his being."
Zadig was surprised to see a man, who had been guilty of such
extravagant actions, capable of reasoning with so much judgment and
propriety. At last, after a conversation equally entertaining and
instructive, the host led back his two guests to their apartment,
blessing Heaven for having sent him two men possessed of so much wisdom
and virtue. He offered them money with such an easy and noble air as
could not possibly give any offense. The hermit refused it, and said
that he must now take his leave of him, as he set out for Babylon
before it was light. Their parting was tender; Zadig especially felt
himself filled with esteem and affection for a man of such an amiable
When he and the hermit were alone in their apartment, they spent a long
time in praising their host. At break of day the old man awakened his
companion. "We must now depart," said he, "but while all the family are
still asleep, I will leave this man a mark of my esteem and affection."
So saying, he took a candle and set fire to the house.
Zadig, struck with horror, cried aloud, and endeavored to hinder him
from committing such a barbarous action; but the hermit drew him away
by a superior force, and the house was soon in flames. The hermit, who,
with his companion, was already at a considerable distance, looked back
to the conflagration with great tranquillity.
"Thanks be to God," said he, "the house of my dear host is entirely
destroyed! Happy man!"
At these words Zadig was at once tempted to burst out a-laughing, to
reproach the reverend father, to beat him, and to run away. But he did
none of all of these, for still subdued by the powerful ascendancy of
the hermit, he followed him, in spite of himself, to the next stage.
This was at the house of a charitable and virtuous widow, who had a
nephew fourteen years of age, a handsome and promising youth, and her
only hope. She performed the honors of her house as well as she could.
Next day, she ordered her nephew to accompany the strangers to a
bridge, which being lately broken down, was become extremely dangerous
in passing. The young man walked before them with great alacrity. As
they were crossing the bridge, "Come," said the hermit to the youth, "I
must show my gratitude to thy aunt." He then took him by the hair and
plunged him into the river. The boy sunk, appeared again on the surface
of the water, and was swallowed up by the current.
"O monster! O thou most wicked of mankind!" cried Zadig.
"Thou promisedst to behave with greater patience," said the hermit,
interrupting him. "Know that under the ruins of that house which
Providence hath set on fire the master hath found an immense treasure.
Know that this young man, whose life Providence hath shortened, would
have assassinated his aunt in the space of a year, and thee in that of
"Who told thee so, barbarian?" cried Zadig; "and though thou hadst read
this event in thy Book of Destinies, art thou permitted to drown a
youth who never did thee any harm?"
While the Babylonian was thus exclaiming, he observed that the old man
had no longer a beard, and that his countenance assumed the features
and complexion of youth. The hermit's habit disappeared, and four
beautiful wings covered a majestic body resplendent with light.
"O sent of heaven! O divine angel!" cried Zadig, humbly prostrating
himself on the ground," hast thou then descended from the Empyrean to
teach a weak mortal to submit to the eternal decrees of Providence?"
"Men," said the angel Jesrad, "judge of all without knowing anything;
and, of all men, thou best deservest to be enlightened."
Zadig begged to be permitted to speak. "I distrust myself," said he,
"but may I presume to ask the favor of thee to clear up one doubt that
still remains in my mind? Would it not have been better to have
corrected this youth, and made him virtuous, than to have drowned him?"
"Had he been virtuous," replied Jesrad, "and enjoyed a longer life, it
would have been his fate to be assassinated himself, together with the
wife he would have married, and the child he would have had by her."
"But why," said Zadig, "is it necessary that there should be crimes and
misfortunes, and that these misfortunes should fall on the good?"
"The wicked," replied Jesrad, "are always unhappy; they serve to prove
and try the small number of the just that are scattered through the
earth; and there is no evil that is not productive of some good."
"But," said Zadig, "suppose there were nothing but good and no evil at
"Then," replied Jesrad, "this earth would be another earth. The chain
of events would be ranged in another order and directed by wisdom; but
this other order, which would be perfect, can exist only in the eternal
abode of the Supreme Being, to which no evil can approach. The Deity
hath created millions of worlds, among which there is not one that
resembles another. This immense variety is the effect of His immense
power. There are not two leaves among the trees of the earth, nor two
globes in the unlimited expanse of heaven that are exactly similar; and
all that thou seest on the little atom in which thou art born, ought to
be in its proper time and place, according to the immutable decree of
Him who comprehends all. Men think that this child who hath just
perished is fallen into the water by chance; and that it is by the same
chance that this house is burned; but there is no such thing as chance;
all is either a trial, or a punishment, or a reward, or a foresight.
Remember the fisherman who thought himself the most wretched of
mankind. Oromazes sent thee to change his fate. Cease, then, frail
mortal, to dispute against what thou oughtest to adore."
"But," said Zadig--as he pronounced the word "But," the angel took his
flight toward the tenth sphere. Zadig on his knees adored Providence,
and submitted. The angel cried to him from on high, "Direct thy course
Next: The Enigmas
Previous: The Combats