Le meilleur des mondes possibles — PMM

Voltaire [François Marie Arouet de] (1694-1778).

Candide, ou l’Optimisme. [Geneva], [Gabriel Cramer], 1759.

Voltaire [François Marie Arouet de] (1694-1778) Candide, ou l’Optimisme. [Geneva], [Gabriel Cramer], 1759.

12° (161x95 mm). 299, [3] pages. Complete with the penultimate blank leaf, fol. N7 but the final fol. N8 (instructions to the binder) being only a stub. Woodcut ornament to the title-page, and tailpieces. Contemporary Italian mottled sheep-backed boards, gilt spine with title on red morocco lettering-piece. A very good copy. Some light foxing and browning, mostly to the upper margins.

A fine copy of the true first edition, with the following issue points: the title ornament of spray, fruit and flowers is repeated at pp. 193 and 266; p. 103, line 4, has the misprint 'que ce ce fut' (corrected to ‘que ce fut' in later editions); p. 125, line 4, has 'précisément' (corrected to 'précipitamment' in later editions); with Voltaire's revisions on p. 31 eliminating an unnecessary paragraph break, and on p. 41 the rewriting of several short sentences on the Lisbon earthquake. This first edition does not preserve the cancelled paragraph critical of German poets on p. 242 (beginning “Candide était affligé”).

The bibliographical history of this book has been extremely complex and confused, not least because before handing over a final manuscript to the Genevan publisher Gabriel Cramer, Voltaire went behind his back and sent a slightly different version of the manuscript to John Nourse, a printer in London, who may well have dispatched copies to other publishers. The result was that within weeks of the first edition of Candide appearing in Geneva, sixteen other editions appeared in Paris, London, and Amsterdam. The identification of the present issue as the true editio princeps, already supposed by Bengesco and Gagnebin, was recently confirmed by the cumulative analyses of Ira Wade, Giles Barber, and Stephen Weissman: the Genevan printing must be considered earlier than the other three editions containing 299 pages published in 1759, as well as the thirteen other editions of different sizes printed in Europe in the same year. Around 1754 Voltaire “fled [from Berlin] to Geneva where he found and bought the ideal refuge, Ferney, four miles from the city. Here, just on French soil, he could enjoy the political liberty of Geneva with the social liberty of France. Here Candide, the most perfect of the light-weight parables which were his especial and peculiar forte, was written. Typically, it was published anonymously, and many times printed and pirated in its early years” (PMM).

Drawing on the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 for inspiration, this conte philosophique became an almost instant best-seller with about 20,000 copies sold in the first year alone, despite its initial censorship.

Barber 299G; Bengesco 1434; Morize 59a; PMM 204; I. O. Wade, Voltaire and Candide: A Study in the Fusion of History, Art and Philosophy, Princeton, NJ 1959; S. Weismann (ed.), Voltaire: the Martin J. Gross collection in the New York Public Library, New York 2008; Philobiblon, One Thousand Years of Bibliophily, no. 238.

$ 48.000