Babo’s Vision / , Himself

Redaction of Voltaire’s ‘The World as It Is’.

Wounded Soldier, Marc Chagall

Among the empires of the world, Ithuriel ranks of upper Asia. 
One morning the Scythian Babo said to him: “The follies and 
wrath of that faithful city. I have never been there.” “All the better,”
said the angel, “from heaven you fear—nothing. You shall
be.” Babo mounted the Persian army in the war. “By all gods!”
the soldier said, “I know nothing—to kill and be killed. I might well 
expect this fine league from Persepolis; I hear that war, abandon
my family to seek fortune or death. I have nothing. There is hardly
anyone who knows why we are cutting each other’s throats.” Babo,
astounded, came to know this war, which has been a eunuch and a
million soldiers to ruin. The universe suffers, the fury continues. India
is destroyed and few provinces not ravaged. The next day, peace. 
The Persian general and the Indian general made bloody, blunders
and all the abominations of manoeuvre, officers who their leader saw
killed by their own troops; soldiers of bloody rags, covered with mud. 
The wounded, inhuman negligence of these wild animals. “I can clearly
see that Persepolis will be destroyed.” The Indian had struck him with horror. 
“Oh,” he said to himself, “if Ithuriel exterminates the Persians, then the angel
must destroy the Indians, too.” In what nobility, magnanimity, and humility,
transported him—exclaimed PEACE of the VICTORY. Their bloodshed
went to court to intrigue for public virtue. “Earth be praised!” said Babo.
“Persepolis will be purified innocence; it will not be destroyed, let us 
hasten without delay to this capital of Asia.”

That immense city, which was wholly barbarous and whose disgusting
time for spite, of men’s stubbornness in praising the ancient at the expense
of art. Crude Babo mingled in a crowd—all the ugliest of both sexes. This 
crowd was rushing into a dark, constant hum. The money which they were 
selling straw-bottomed their pretending voice. On the plains of the Pictav
-ians, they stopped up his ears; when he saw workmen enter the temple
, they removed a big stone and exhaled a pestilent, then they came and
deposited a man in the stone. “What!” cried Babo, “these people bury 
their dead in the same place they worship! Their temples are paved 
with corpses! I am no longer astonished at those diseases which putre 
the dead. So many of the living gathered and crammed is capable of
poisoning the terrestrial globe. Oh! what a nasty city is Persepolis!
The angels destroy in order to rebuild, unclean, and sing better. 
may have 

The sun was to dine with a lady, an officer in the army, several Persepolis
; temples built, better decorated, filled with harmonious music; he noticed
the public struck by their beauty; the best kings seemed to breathe in bronze
; he heard the people cry: “When shall we see the river, the superb palaces
built up right and an immense house where thousands of old soldiers give
thanks each day to the god of armies.” Finally he entered the house of the lady.
The house was neat and the lady young, beautiful, witty, engaging, the company
worthy of the angel—Ithuriel is jesting about wanting to destroy so charming a city.
He perceived that the lady, by asking him tenderly for news, was talking even more
tenderly with a young magus. There a magistrate who, in the presence of his wife,
was enthusiastically hugging a young widow, got up first to go and talk in the little
adjoining room with her spiritual director, arriving too late; the director, again, has
Paris in mind. The “immense house” a few lines below represents the Hôtel des
Invalides. In this little room with so much unction—that inflamed speech, trembling.
Babo began to fear Ithuriel was right. The lady confided in the young magus, and 
assured him that in all the houses of Persepolis he would find the equivalent jealousy,
discord, vengeance. Tears and blood must flow—husbands would certainly kill
their wives, or be killed by them; Ithuriel was doing very well in destroying a city
abandoned to continual gloomy thoughts. 

At the door a grave man in a black cloak gave him some papers, and dismissed
Babo. That man was the mistress of one of the best lawyers in the city; he has 
been studying the laws for fifty years. The young gentleman, who is only twenty
-five, a satrap of the law, is giving him to the judge, which he has not yet examined.
“The giddy young man does wisely,” said Babo, “but why is it not the old man who 
is the judge?” “You are joking,” they told him; “never do those who have grown toil
-some and subordinate attain high dignities. That young man has a great father
because the right of dispensing justice is bought here like a farm.” “O unhappy
city!” cried Babo, “that is the height of the abyss—thus marking sorrow.  And
that very day come, from the judicial right to confront death—cost me forty
thousand gold darics this year to sleep on the ground thirty nights in a row
in a red uniform and then to receive two good arrow wounds which I ruin
to serve the Persian emperor. My lord the satrap of the law may well pay
to have the pleasure of giving Babo—condemning peace and war;” he concluded
they must be absolutely ignorant of war and of law. Even if Ithuriel should
not exterminate this people they would perish through their detestable arrival.
The whole company approached the young officer and said to him: “I can lend
you empire’s custom. This man who learned in plebeian kings the Persian empire
and out of what they made the monarch.”

After dinner he went into one of the grandest temples; he sat down
in the middle of a crowd to pass the time. A magus appeared in an 
elevated allusion to the French farmers-general (fermiers généraux)
about vice and virtue. This magus divided into parts methodically
—that was clear. He grew impassioned. And, sweating, and out
of breath. The whole assembly then awoke and thought they had
done best to bore three hundred fellow citizens; is reason enough
for Persepolis. This assembly was entertainment every day of the 
year; it was a basilica in the depths of the most beautiful Persepolis,
the most important satraps, arranged in order, formed a spectacle
that Babo thought at first entertainment. Persons appeared to be
kings and queens, their language was different from that of the 
people; it was measured, harmonious, and sublime. No one slept
, people listened in deep silence. The duty of kings, love of virtue
, dangers of passion, such moving touches—Babo shed tears
, had no doubt that these heroes and heroines, these kings and 
queens were the preachers of empire; he even purposed to persuade
Ithuriel to come to hear them, quite sure that such a spectacle would 
reconcile him forever to this entertainment. The queen in so pure a 
morality; he was taken up to the badly furnished and pathetic air. “This
profession does not give me a living; one with child; to be delivered
; I lack money, and without money you can’t be delivered.” Babo 
gave her a hundred gold darics. “If only Ithuriel would spend
an evening at the stores of the merchants of the city’s pun
-ishment.” As he was writing, someone knocked on his door
; the merchant himself coming to bring him his mistake. 
“How can it be,” exclaimed Babo, “that you are so honest
and generous, having no shame selling me trinkets at four
times their value?” “There is no businessman in the city,”
replied the merchant, “who would not have deceived you. 
I sold you what you bought for four times more than it is
worth; I sold it to you for ten times more, and if you want
to sell it again, you won’t even get one tenth. Nothing 
is more just: men’s fancy sets the frivolous workmen
I employ; gives me a fine house, a comfortable carriage
, and horses; it maintains taste, traffic, and abundance. 
I sell the same trifles to the neighbouring nations at a higher
price than to you, and thereby I am useful to the empire.”
Babo, after reflecting a bit, scratched the man’s name
from his tablets.

Babo resolved to see the magi and the men of the arts.
Luxury in an empire is populous and opulent. Ithuriel 
seems to me a bit severe. For the latter study wisdom
, the others religion; mercy for the morning—a college
of the magi. A hundred crowns of poverty, humility; the
lowly friar was showing him this house of penitence.
He said in substance: “These societies were all nece
-ssary. They all deserve to be annihilated.” In order to
edify the universe—dominion over man himself! A demi
-magus said to him: “I clearly see that Zerdust has re
-turned to prophesy, whipped against that pontiff-king
who resides in Tibet.” An allusion to the convulsionaries.
The demi-magus represents a Jansenist, and the Grand
Lama the Pope. “So we ask the world about to end;
could you not, before that lovely time, protect us, Grand
Lama?” The pontiff-king resides in Tibet. The little demi
-magus with a stubborn war on Babo. “No,” said the other
, “we have written against him three or four thousand fat
books that no one reads that we get women to read.” “
Then you are making war on him, and raising armies?”
“No—man is free. We write little books. He does not
read; he has hardly heard of us; he has only as a 
master the caterpillars from the trees in his folly.”
These men of wisdom, renounced the world, the
ambitious and arrogant who taught humility and
disinterestedness: he concluded that Ithuriel 
had good reasons for destroying this whole

Returned home, for new books to cheer him up.
There came two sorts of persons, the dead and
themselves, never contemporaries. The master
of dissimulation, the magi of their ambition. They
said to each other’s face insulting things which
they thought were flashes of wit. They had gained
some knowledge of Babo’s mission—the general.
As soon as he got rid of them, he began to read
some of the new books. He recognised the indig
-nation, slander, those archives of bad taste, base
-ness, those cowardly satires that humour the vulture
and tear the dove to pieces; those novels devoid of
imagination, so many portraits of women whom
the author does not know. All these detestable 
writings and evening letters. The crowd—discretion. 
Babo spoke with grief of what he had seen. 
The wise man of letters told him: “at all times
, and in all genres, the bad teems and good 
is rare. House the scum of imprudence.
The true sages live among men and books 
worthy of your attention.” In time their talk
was so agreeable, Babo admitted he had
never heard anything like it. “Here are men,”
he whispered to himself, “whom the angel
Ithuriel will not dare to touch.” Reconciled
with the men of letters, he was still angry
with the rest of the judicious crowd; these
very abuses, escapes you. Among men of 
letters there were some who were not 
envious, and some who were virtuous. 
These great bodies prepare their common
ruin, each society of magi was the same 
morality. The submissive tutors watch over
the son of the master, and found celestial 
madmen who aspired to make war on the
Grand Lama. Finally he suspected that 
Persepolis seemed worthy of pity with

He said to this man of letters: “I know
that these dangerous magi are in fact very useful.
Wise government keeps them from your young mag
-istrates, who buy a judge’s seat. They learn to mount
a display in the most ridiculous impertinence and the most
perverse old jurists who have spent their whole lives weigh
-ing the pros and cons.”

The man of letters replied to him: “You saw our army
before your arrived in Persepolis, our young officers;
maybe you will see that our young magistrates do not
judge badly, although they have paid to judge.” He took
him the next day to the high court. The case was known
to everyone. All the old lawyers, wavering in their opinions,
cited a hundred laws. They looked at the affair from a hun
-dred angles. The judges were almost unanimous; they judged
well, because they followed the light of reason, and the others
had given bad opinions, because they had consulted only their
books. Babo concluded that there was often much good in abuse.
He saw riches which revolted him. The Emperor needed money, 
by ordinary channels; he saw that these fat clouds, swollen with
the dew of the earth, gave back to the earth more rain than they
received from the children of those of the older families—a good
judge, a brave warrior, an able statesman, the necessary folly of 
ruin. To judge or fight, a folly which produces great men of letters
, among whom were the ambitious and intriguing magi, in whom
there were more great virtues than petty vices. All the love affairs
, the ladies, the havoc must fill him with anxiety and insight. He was
trembling all the time. He remained in this interval. Ithuriel, the mini
-ster, and his antechamber was filled with ladies, magi with all colours
, eccentric pleasures. The intriguer ruined by a cabal. The women
heard their remarks; could not help saying: “There is a very happy
man; he crushes those who envy him; he sees at last the weight
of years and affairs.” The conversation became interesting. He was
a very unhappy man; that he passed for rich; he was all-powerful and
constantly contradicted; he had hardly forty years, had faults. The angel
Ithuriel wanted to punish—he should not exterminate him but merely
leave him his post. 

While he was talking the minister, entered suddenly the beautiful
lady. Babo had symptoms of grief and burst into tears; she had 
been refused to aspire with so much force, so much grace 
in annihilation, so much skill, so much eloquence, she did
not leave Babo for a man you do not love and from whom
you have everything to fear. She cried. “There is nothing
I would not sacrifice except my lover; he would do anything
for me, except leave his mistress. Full of wit and world;
we are together this evening with my husband and my 
little magus: come and share our joy.” The lady took 
Babo to her house. The husband, plunged in grief,
delight, and gratitude; he embraced in turn his wife,
his mistress, the little magus, and Babo. Unity, gaiety
, and the graces were the soul of the meal. “Learn,” 
said the fair lady, “women almost always have as much
merit as an honourable man; convince yourself of it, and
dine with me tomorrow at the beautiful Teona’s. There 
are a few old vestals who pick all of them together. 
She would not commit; she gives her lover only
magnanimous glory; he would blush to face her
if he had any occasion of doing good; for nothing
encourages virtuous actions than having a mistress
whose house reigned all pleasures.” Teona reigned
over them; she knew how to talk to everyone in their
own language. Her natural wit set the wit of others
at ease; she was attractive as she was kind; and
, what enhanced the value of all her good qualities
, she was beautiful. Babo, Scythian though he was
and envoy of a genie, perceived that if he stayed in
Persepolis he would forget Ithuriel for Teona. He was
growing polite, gentle, although frivolous, slanderous
, and full of vanity. He feared to see Persepolis condemned
; he even feared the report he was going to give. 

Here is how he went about giving his report. He had a little
statue composed of all the most precious and all the basest
metals, he took it to Ithuriel. “Will you break the statue?” he said.
Ithuriel resolved not to correcting Persepolis, and all is all is Per
-sepolis. Babo was Jonah. Nineveh was destroyed. A man has 
been in the body of a whale, he is not as good humoured as when
he has been in good company.