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Chapter 5

The Force of Generosity.


The Time now drew near for the Celebration of a grand Festival,
which was kept but once in five Years. 'Twas a constant Custom in
_Babylon_ at the Expiration of the Term above-mention'd, to
distinguish that Citizen from all the Rest, in the most solemn
Manner, who had done the most generous Action; and the Grandees and
Magi always sat as Judges. The _Satrap_ inform'd them of every
praise-worthy Deed that occurr'd within his District. All were put
to the Vote, and the King himself pronounc'd the Definitive
Sentence. People of all Ranks and Degrees came from the remotest
Part of the Kingdom to be present at this Solemnity. The Victor,
whoever he was, receiv'd from the King's own Hand a golden Cup,
enrich'd with precious Stones, and upon the Delivery, the King made
use of the following Salutation. _Receive this Reward of your
Generosity, and may the Gods grant me Thousands of such valuable
Subjects!_

Upon this memorable Day, the King appear'd in all the Pomp
imaginable on his Throne of State, surrounded by his Grandees, the
Magi, and the Deputies, from all the surrounding Nations, of every
Province that attended these public Sports, where Honour was to be
acquir'd, not by the Velocity of the best Race-Horse, or by bodily
Strength, but by intrinsic Merit. The principal _Satrap_ proclaim'd,
with an audible Voice, such Actions as would entitle the Victor to
the inestimable Prize; but never mention'd one Word of _Zadig's_
Greatness of Soul, in returning his invidious Neighbour all his
Estate, notwithstanding he would have taken away his Life: That was
but a Trifle, and not worth speaking of.

The first that was set up for the Prize, was a Judge, that had
occasion'd a Citizen to lose a very considerable Cause, through some
Mistake, for which he was no ways responsible, and made him
Restitution out of his private Purse.

The next Candidate was a Youth, that tho' violently in Love with one
that he intended shortly to make his Spouse, yet resign'd her to his
Friend, who was just expiring at her Feet; and moreover, gave her a
Portion at the same Time.

After this appear'd a Soldier, who, in the _Hyrcanian_ War, had done
a much more glorious Action than the Lover. A Gang of _Hyrcanians_
having taken his Mistress from him, he fought them bravely, and
rescued her out of their Hands: Soon after, he was inform'd, that
another Band of the same Party had hurried away his Mother to a
Place not far distant; he left his Mistress, all drown'd in Tears,
and ran to his Mother's Assistance: After that Skirmish was over, he
returned to his Sweet-heart, and found her just expiring. He would
fain have plung'd a Dagger into his Heart that Moment; but his
Mother remonstrated to him, that, should he die, she should be
entirely helpless, and upon that Account only he had Courage to live
a little longer.

The Judges seem'd very much inclin'd to give their Votes for the
Soldier; but the King prevented them, by saying, that the Soldier's
Action was praise-worthy enough, and so were those of the rest, but
none of them give me any Surprize. What _Zadig_ did Yesterday
perfectly struck me with Astonishment. I'll mention another
Instance. I had some few Days ago, as a Testimony of my Resentment,
banish'd my Prime-Minister, and Favourite _Coreb_ from the Court. I
complain'd of his Conduct in the warmest Terms; and all my
Sycophants about me, told me that I was too merciful; and loaded him
with the sharpest Invectives. I ask'd _Zadig_ what his Opinion was
of _Coreb_; and he dar'd to give him the best of Characters. I must
confess, I have read in our publick Records, indeed, of Instances
where Restitution have been generally made, for Injuries committed
by Mistake; where a Mistress has been resign'd; and where a Mother
has been preferr'd to a Mistress; but I never read of a Courtier,
that would speak to the Advantage of a Minister in Disgrace, and
against whom the Sovereign was highly incens'd. I'll give 20,000
Pieces of Gold to every Candidate that has been this Day proclaim'd,
but I'll give the Cup to no one but _Zadig_.

Sire, said _Zadig_, 'tis your Majesty alone, that deserves the Cup;
'tis you alone who have done an Action of Generosity, never heard of
before; since you, who are King of Kings, wasn't exasperated against
your Slave, when he contradicted you in the Heat of your Passion.
Every Body gaz'd with Eyes of Admiration on the King and _Zadig_.
The Judge, who had generously made Restitution for his Error; the
Lover, who had married his Mistress to his Friend; the Soldier, who
had preferr'd the Welfare of his Mother to that of his Mistress;
received the promis'd Donation from the Monarch, and saw their Names
register'd in the Book of _Fame_: But _Zadig_ had the Cup. The King
got the universal Character of a good Prince, which he did not long
preserve. This joyful Day was solemniz'd with Festivals beyond the
Time by Law establish'd. Tragedies were acted there that drew Tears
from the Spectators; and Comedies that made them laugh; Entertainments,
that the _Babylonians_ were perfect Strangers to: The Commemoration
of it is still preserv'd in _Asia_. Now, said _Zadig_, I am happy at
last; but he was grosly mistaken.


Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire

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