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"The Travels of Scarmentado" by Voltaire

The following is the text of Voltaire's "The Travels of Scarmentado." To see all available titles by other authors, drop by our index of free books alphabetized by author or arranged alphabetically by title.

Visit these other works by Voltaire (Francois-Marie Arouet)
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The Black and the White
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Dialogues: Liberty
The Good Brahmin
Grecian Metamorphoses and Mysteries of the Egyptians
Jeannot and Colin

Memnon, the Philosopher
Of Bacchus
Of Idolatry
Of Miracles
Of Oracles
Of the Egyptian Rites
Of the Greek Sibyls
Of Zaleucus
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The Study of Nature
The Two Comforters
The World As It Goes

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"The Travels of Scarmentado" by Voltaire



I was born in Candia, in the year 1600. My father was governor of the city; and I remember that a poet of middling parts, and of a most unmusical ear, whose name was Iro, composed some verses in my praise, in which he made me to descend from Minos in a direct line; but my father being afterwards disgraced, he wrote some other verses, in which he derived my pedigree from no nobler an origin than the amours of Pasiphae and her gallant. This Iro was a most mischievous rogue, and one of the most troublesome fellows in the island.

My father sent me at fifteen years of age to prosecute my studies at Rome. There I arrived in full hopes of learning all kinds of truth; for I had hitherto been taught quite the reverse, according to the custom of this lower world from China to the Alps. Monsignor Profondo, to whom I was recommended, was a man of a very singular character, and one of the most terrible scholars in the world. He was for teaching me the categories of Aristotle; and was just on the point of placing me in the category of his minions; a fate which I narrowly escaped. I saw processions, exorcisms, and some robberies.

It was commonly said, but without any foundation, that la Signora Olympia, a lady of great prudence, had deceived many lovers, she being both inconstant and mercenary. I was then of an age to relish such comical anecdotes.

A young lady of great sweetness of temper, called la Signora Fatelo, thought proper to fall in love with me.

I traveled to France. It was during the reign of Louis the Just. The first question put to me was, whether I chose to breakfast on a slice of the Marshal D'Ancre, whose flesh the people had roasted and distributed with great liberality to such as chose to taste it.

This kingdom was continually involved in civil wars, sometimes for a place at court, sometimes for two pages of theological controversy. This fire, which one while lay concealed under the ashes, and at another burst forth with great violence, had desolated these beautiful provinces for upwards of sixty years. The pretext was, defending the liberties of the Gallican church. "Alas!" said I, "these people are nevertheless born with a gentle disposition. What can have drawn them so far from their natural character? They joke and keep holy days. Happy the time when they shall do nothing but joke!"

I went over to England, where the same disputes occasioned the same barbarities. Some pious Catholics had resolved, for the good of the church, to blow up into the air with gunpowder the king, the royal family, and the whole parliament, and thus to deliver England from all these heretics at once. They showed me the place where Queen Mary of blessed memory, the daughter of Henry VIII., had caused more than five hundred, of her subjects to be burnt.

From thence I went to Holland, where I hoped to find more tranquillity among a people of a more cold and phlegmatic temperament. Just as I arrived at the Hague, the people were cutting off the head of a venerable old man. It was the bald head of the prime minister Barnevelt; a man who deserved better treatment from the republic. Touched with pity at this affecting scene, I asked what was his crime, and whether he had betrayed the state.

"He has done much worse," replied a preacher in a black cloak; "he believed that men may be saved by good works as well as by faith. You must be sensible," adds he, "that if such opinions were to gain ground, a republic could not subsist; and that there must be severe laws to suppress such scandalous and horrid blasphemies."

A profound politician said to me with a sigh: "Alas! sir, this happy time will not last long; it is only by chance that the people are so zealous. They are naturally inclined to the abominable doctrine of toleration, and they will certainly at last grant it." This reflection set him a groaning.

For my own part, in expectation of that fatal period when moderation and indulgence should take place, I instantly quitted a country where severity was not softened by any lenitive, and embarked for Spain.

The court was then at Seville. The galleons had just arrived; and everything breathed plenty and gladness, in the most beautiful season of the year. I observed at the end of an alley of orange and citron trees, a kind of large ring, surrounded with steps covered with rich and costly cloth. The king, the queen, the infants, and the infantas, were seated under a superb canopy. Opposite to the royal family was another throne, raised higher than that on which his majesty sat. I said to a fellow-traveler: "Unless this throne be reserved for God, I don't see what purpose it can serve."

This unguarded expression was overheard by a grave Spaniard, and cost me dear. Meanwhile, I imagined we were going to a carousal, or a match of bull-baiting, when the grand inquisitor appeared in that elevated throne, from whence he ruled the king and the people.

As I was going to bed in the evening, two members of the inquisition came to my lodging with a figure of St. Hermandad. They embraced me with great tenderness, and conducted me in solemn silence to a well-aired prison, furnished with a bed of mat. There I remained for six weeks; at the end of which time the Inquisitor, sent for me. He pressed me in his arms for some time with the most paternal affection, and told me that he was sorry to hear that I had been so ill lodged; but that all the apartments of the house were full, and hoped I should be better accommodated the next time. He then asked me with great cordiality if I knew for what reason I was imprisoned.

I told him that it was evidently for my sins.

"Very well," said he, "my dear child; but for what particular sin? Speak freely."

I racked my brain with conjectures, but could not possibly guess. He then charitably dismissed me. At last I remembered my unguarded expression. I escaped with a little bodily correction, and a fine of thirty thousand reals. I was led to make my obeisance to the grand Inquisitor, who was a man of great politeness. He asked me how I liked his little feast. I told him it was a most delicious one; and then went to press my companions to quit the country, beautiful as it was.

The impulse for traveling still possessed me. I had proposed to finish the tour of Europe with Turkey, and thither we now directed our course. I made a firm resolution not to give my opinion of any public feasts I might see in the future. "These Turks," said I to my companions, "are a set of miscreants that have not been baptized, and therefore will be more cruel than the reverend fathers the inquisitors. Let us observe a profound silence while we are among the Mahometans." When we arrived there, I was greatly surprised to see more Christian churches in Turkey than in Candia. I saw also numerous troops of monks, who were allowed to pray with great freedom, and to curse Mahomet -- some in Greek, some in Latin, and others in Armenian. "What good-natured people are these Turks," cried I.

The Greek Christians, and the Latin Christians in Constantinople were mortal enemies. These sectarians persecuted each other in much the same manner as dogs fight in the streets, till their masters part them with a cudgel.

The grand vizier was at that time the protector of the Greeks. The Greek patriarch accused me of having supped with the Latin patriarch; and I was condemned in full divan to receive an hundred blows on the soles of my feet, redeemable for five hundred sequins. Next day the grand vizier was strangled. The day following his successor, who was for the Latin party, and who was not strangled till a month after, condemned me to suffer the same punishment, for having supped with the Greek patriarch. Thus was I reduced to the sad necessity of absenting myself entirely from the Greek and Latin churches.

In order to console myself for this loss, I frequently visited a very handsome Circassian. She was the most entertaining lady I ever knew in a private conversation, and the most devout at the mosque. One evening she received me with tenderness and sweetly cried, "Alla, Illa, Alla."

These are the sacramental words of the Turks. I imagined they were the expressions of love, and therefore cried in my turn, and with a very tender accent, "Alla, Illa, Alla."

"Ah!" said she, "God be praised, thou art then a Turk?"

I told her that I was blessing God for having given me so much enjoyment, and that I thought myself extremely happy.

In the morning the inman came to enroll me among the circumcised, and as I made some objection to the initiation, the cadi of that district, a man of great loyalty, proposed to have me impaled. I preserved my freedom by paying a thousand sequins, and then fled directly into Persia, resolved for the future never to hear Greek or Latin mass, nor to cry "Alla, Illa, Alla," in a love encounter.

On my arrival at Ispahan, the people asked me whether I was for white or black mutton? I told them that it was a matter of indifference to me, provided it was tender. It must be observed that the Persian empire was at that time split into two factions, that of the white mutton and that of the black. The two parties imagined that I had made a jest of them both; so that I found myself engaged in a very troublesome affair at the gates of the city, and it cost me a great number of sequins to get rid of the white and the black mutton.

I proceeded as far as China, in company with an interpreter, who assured me that this country was the seat of gaiety and freedom. The Tartars had made themselves masters of it, after having destroyed everything with fire and sword.

I happened unluckily to be seized by the clerics. They represented me to his Tartarian majesty as a spy of the pope. The supreme council charged a prime mandarin, who ordered a sergeant, who commanded four shires of the country, to seize me and bind me with great ceremony. In this manner I was conducted before his majesty, after having made about an hundred and forty genuflections. He asked me if I was a spy of the pope's, and if it was true that that prince was to come in person to dethrone him. I told him that the pope was a priest of seventy years of age; that he lived at the distance of four thousand leagues from his sacred Tartaro-Chinese majesty; that he had about two thousand soldiers, who mounted guard with umbrellas; that he never dethroned anybody; and that his majesty might sleep in perfect security.

Of all the adventures of my life this was the least fatal. I was sent to Macao, and there I took shipping for Europe.

My ship required to be refitted on the coast of Golconda. I embraced this opportunity to visit the court of the great Aureng-Zeb, of whom such wonderful things have been told, and which was then in Delphi. I had the pleasure to see him on the day of that pompous ceremony in which he receives the celestial present sent him by the Sherif of Mecca. This was the besom with which they had swept the holy house, the Caaba, and the Beth Alla. It is a symbol that sweeps away all the pollutions of the soul.

Aureng-Zeb seemed to have no need of it. He was the most pious man in all Indostan. It is true, he had cut the throat of one of his brothers, and poisoned his father. Twenty Rayas, and as many Omras, had been put to death; but that was a trifle. Nothing was talked of but his devotion. No king was thought comparable to him, except his sacred majesty Muley Ismael, the most serene emperor of Morocco, who always cut off some heads every Friday after prayers.

I spoke not a word. My travels had taught me wisdom. I was sensible that it did not belong to me to decide between these august sovereigns. A young Frenchman, a fellow-lodger of mine, was, however, greatly wanting in respect to both the emperor of the Indies and to that of Morocco. He happened to say very imprudently, that there were sovereigns in Europe who governed their dominions with great equity, and even went to church without killing their fathers or brothers, or cutting off the heads of their subjects.

This indiscreet discourse of my young friend, the interpreter at once translated. Instructed by former experience, I instantly caused my camels to be saddled, and set out with my Frenchman. I was afterwards informed that the officers of the great Aureng-Zeb came that very night to seize me, but finding only the interpreter, they publicly executed him; and the courtiers all claimed, very justly, that his punishment was well deserved.

I had now only Africa to visit in order to enjoy all the pleasures of our continent; and thither I went to complete my voyage. The ship in which I embarked was taken by the Negro corsairs. The master of the vessel complained loudly, and asked why they thus violated the laws of nations. The captain of the Negroes thus replied:

"You have a long nose and we have a short one. Your hair is straight and ours is curled; your skin is ash-colored and ours is of the color of ebon; and therefore we ought, by the sacred laws of nature, to be always at enmity. You buy us in the public markets on the coast of Guinea like beasts of burden, to make us labor in I don't know what kind of drudgery, equally hard and ridiculous. With the whip held over our heads, you make us dig in mines for a kind of yellow earth, which in itself is good for nothing, and is not so valuable as an Egyptian onion. In like manner wherever we meet you, and are superior to you in strength, we make you slaves, and oblige you to cultivate our fields, or in case of refusal we cut off your nose and ears."

To such a learned discourse it was impossible to make any answer. I submitted to labor in the garden of an old negress, in order to save my nose and ears. After continuing in slavery for a whole year, I was at length happily ransomed.

As I had now seen all that was rare, good, or beautiful on earth, I resolved for the future to see nothing but my own home. I took a wife, and soon suspected that she deceived me; but, notwithstanding this doubt, I still found that of all conditions of life this was much the happiest.

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