Places Discussed

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Castle of Thunder-ten-tronckh

Castle of Thunder-ten-tronckh. Castle in Westphalia of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh, Candide’s presumed father, in which Candide is born and from which he is eventually expelled. Voltaire’s ironic description of the castle sets the tone for the entire text. According to Candide’s mentor, the Optimist philosopher Pangloss, the castle is the best of all castles in the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire immediately undercuts this notion by “supporting” it with carefully chosen ironic details. For example, the castle is a fine one because it has windows and a door, and a piece of tapestry in the great hall. A fine castle would have many windows and doors, and tapestries everywhere to insulate its occupants from the cold stone walls. Voltaire’s narrator goes further, describing the castle’s 350-pound baroness of Thunder-ten-tronckh, a pack of ordinary dogs that doubles as the baron’s hunting pack, and household servants who double as huntsmen. If the castle truly were the best of all possible castles, its baroness should personify grace and beauty, it would have dogs used for hunting only, and would have servants dedicated to training and managing the hunting dogs. The greatest irony lies in Pangloss’s insistence that stones were made for building castles, so man has castles. Castles were built for defense; in an ideal world, there would be no need for defense.

El Dorado

El Dorado. South American utopia that Candide and his servant, Cacambo, discover by accident during their flight from Jesuit missionaries in Paraguay. Unlike other locales in the novel, El Dorado truly is the best of all possible worlds, the very antithesis of corrupt European civilization. Gold, which the people of El Dorado call “yellow mud,” is everywhere, and precious stones litter the ground, but the inhabitants care nothing for these riches. Travelers in El Dorado—even outsiders like Candide and Cacambo—are welcomed and entertained sumptuously at government expense. The people do little but praise God, as if with one voice, and the king of El Dorado is the very model of the modern enlightened monarch. No one wants to leave this paradise—except the two irrational European visitors, who want nothing more than to exploit its wealth.


*Lisbon. Capital city of Portugal, in which thirty thousand people were killed by an earthquake on All Saints’ Day in 1755. Lisbon’s earthquake forced Optimists to re-examine their beliefs, in part because it occurred on a religious holiday and candles used in the celebrations caused countless fires. How could a benevolent God permit such a tragedy in the best of all possible worlds? In the novel, Lisbon symbolizes all that is wrong with Pangloss’s beloved Optimism. The most generous man in the novel, Jacques the Anabaptist, drowns in the harbor, while the brutish sailor he rescues survives unscathed.

Candide and Pangloss help the people of Lisbon extinguish fires and care for the injured while the rescued sailor, who epitomizes the evil in human nature, robs the dead, gets drunk, and fornicates with a prostitute amid the stench of the burning city and the moans of the dying. To prevent more earthquakes, the leaders of the Inquisition (also leaders of the university and therefore some of the best educated men in Europe) try to appease God by burning to death supposed heretics, none of whom is actually guilty. After rain—perhaps a sign from God the Inquisitors choose to ignore—extinguishes the fires, Pangloss is hanged for nothing more than discussing free will over dinner, and the naïve Candide is flogged merely for listening to Pangloss. Later that same day, another earthquake strikes, revealing the vanity of this “civilized” human sacrifice. For...

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Voltaire, this great capital represents greed, cruelty, and superstition, the real bases of European “civilization.”

Land of the Oreillons

Land of the Oreillons. Region bordering Paraguay that Voltaire uses to build an attack on his bitter rival, Jean Jacques Rousseau, an Enlightenment philosopher who believed that people were inherently good but were inevitably corrupted by society and its institutions. In a pure state of nature, Rousseau argued, mankind would be governed only by its goodness. The land of the Oreillons has no recognizable social structure or institutions, and Voltaire describes it as the pure state of nature envisioned by Rousseau. Its people, however, far from being good, practice bestiality and cannibalism.


*Surinam. Dutch colony north of Brazil in which Candide encounters a slave who has endured the hell of the Caribbean sugar plantations, arguably the worst place in the world in which to be a slave. The slave has had all of his limbs amputated as punishment for his various escape attempts and now can do nothing but lie in the dust, waiting for his master. Despite his uselessness, he is still kept as a slave. Candide’s brief visit to Surinam exposes the European sugar consumers’ responsibility for the cruelty of Caribbean slavery.

Turk’s farm

Turk’s farm. Twenty-acre farm in Turkey run by an old man who ignores the outside world and lives contentedly on what he and his family can produce on their own land. This farm illustrates the primary theme of the novel: rather than try to reform or to explain away the evils of the world, Voltaire suggests, people should cultivate their own gardens, that is, improve conditions in their own immediate spheres. The Turk’s farm is a model, self-sufficient society in microcosm, wherein each member satisfies a need and each member’s needs are satisfied. Candide buys a similar farm nearby on which he and his friends form their own “family,” and he ends his travels.

Historical Context

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Lisbon was destroyed by earthquake on the morning of All Saints' Day, November 1, 1755. The six-minute earthquake kills 15,000 people, injures at least that many more, and destroys thirty churches as well as thousands of houses. Despite the sophistication of natural science, the coincidence that Lisbon, a city fervently Catholic, is destroyed on a Catholic feast day—when the pious were at church—gives rise to superstitious speculation.

On November 19, 1500 Pilgrim homes are destroyed by earthquake. Many explanations again explain the disasters in religious terms. Voltaire outraged at such stupidity, writes an infamous reaction to the Lisbon earthquake. In response comes a letter from Rousseau, stating that Voltaire is the one who is wrong. Humans are at fault. Had we not left the natural world, or committed the original sins, and lived in cities, the disasters would not have happened. Further, Rousseau argues that Leibnitz is right—in the long run, everything must be for the best in this best of all possible worlds. To believe otherwise is to give into suicidal pessimism.

The Enlightenment period in Europe is about to give way to political revolution. Reason, during this period, is held to be the supreme power with which to challenge the old institutions and superstitions. In Britain, where the church had long been relegated to the role of ceremonial trappings, science and industry were the dynamos of progress. France on the other hand, is still dominated by the Catholic Church. In addition, France is still under the control of a nearly all-powerful King. The bourgeoisie in France is weak and its numbers few. The majority of people belong to the lower classes and are barely literate, burdened by taxes, and underemployed. France is slowly industrializing and cannot compete with British factories. France needs reform desperately.

In government, various reforms are attempted. The finance minister attempts to overhaul the economic framework of government. It is too painful, however, and Etienne de Silhouette succeeded only in giving us a new word: A silhouette is the reduction of a figure to its simplest form.

Seven Years War
France renewed hostilities with England over the issue of control over North America. Two moves by the British in 1759 effectively conclude the question of America. First, well-equipped British forces and their American and Native-American allies drive the French out of the Lake Champlain region. They even take Duquesne and, consequently, Crown Point Military road is built through Vermont. The second push is more decisive. The British take Niagara. Then, an epic battle occurs upon the Plains of Abraham just outside the city of Quebec. British General Wolfe beats French General Louis-Joseph Montcalm in a battle that effectively ends the Seven Years War. Both men die as a result of wounds received during the battle.


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Candide's journey takes him around Europe, across South America to the fabled El Dorado, and back to Europe again. His companions at various points in his journey include the Baron's daughter and son, a loyal manservant of mixed race, and his tutor, Pangloss, who persists in the belief that this is the best of all possible worlds. Candide endures great dangers in war and other human blunders as well as natural disasters, all accurately represented in Voltaire's satirical fashion. Voltaire shows an up-to-date knowledge of geography as well as a wry perceptiveness for international relations. The satirical tone makes Candide's ever-changing fortunes a good match for his plucky, good-humored nature.

Literary Style

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Taking seriously the old adage that the entire world is a stage Voltaire employed that idea in his novel. Much the same way science fiction does today, Voltaire placed ideal societies and backward societies in obscure parts of the world. The rest simply needed to be exaggerated. For example, with a few facts about the unexplored mountains of Peru and the legends of golden cities, Voltaire can create a credible Eldorado. Likewise, the lack of knowledge about tribes in the Amazon jungle allows the tale of the cannibalistic Oreillons.

Another element of Voltaire's use of setting is his invocation of the Eden trope. Many writers since the writer of the biblical book Genesis have used the idea of gardens as paradises (or hells) that one finds oneself in and, for some reason, banished from. Candide journeys through a series of such gardens. Each garden has a geographic location and a lesson to be learned. However, the best garden, like the best bed, turns out to be the one Candide makes himself.

Voltaire chose satire as a way to challenge the cult of optimism that reigned during that time. While this form of storytelling and literary composition is ancient, its historical form came into being with the Greek author, Aristophanes, and became its own genre with two Roman poets, Horace and Juvenal. Voltaire is a comic satirist. He simply loved humans too much to be tragic. But because he loved them, he tried to help them as much as possible. Through the exposure of man's follies in the insane but fantastic adventure of Candide his satire is fresh for all time.

The picaresque story originates in Spanish efforts to satirize the chivalric romance. Whereas the romance tells about the ideal knight and his brave adventures, the hero of the picaresque rambles along the highway living by his wits rather than his honest work. Both the knight and the picaresque hero share the motto, "a rolling stone gathers no moss." During the eighteenth century, changing demographics led to a demand for tightly woven, realistic novels. The picaresque became a low form of artistry.

Candide is a picaresque novel. Candide is forced by fate to ramble about the world collecting people and losing them, gaining riches and losing it all. His travels bring him into contact with the workings of the world, but this only makes him more skeptical. Finally, he just stops rambling. So long as he is still and at work—like neither the picaresque hero nor the brave knight—he can find peace of mind.

Literary Qualities

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Voltaire was one of the most voluminous writers of all time and he had much to say. He used a larger vocabulary than any of his non-technical contemporaries, and by his clear, flexible precision, he avoided much of the circumlocution so often found in French prose. Often, he included extremely technical words in a very readable sentence, to improve the exactness of what was being said. Reading Candide or any of Voltaire's prose fiction was a learning experience, and still is today.

It is almost impossible to translate this story from the French without capturing something of the stilted, formal prose and the satirical tone of the original. Voltaire never lets go of his sense of humor, even when describing acts of torture and barbarism. It is not that the author marvels at or laughs at human cruelty; Voltaire simply finds it ludicrous that people think so well of themselves and the world when they do so many terrible things to each other.

This sense of humor seems to sustain Candide as well, or at least keeps him marveling at each turn of events. The reader's interest in Candide is perpetually renewed, despite a series of depressing events alternating with opportunities for adventure. It would be too easy for a lesser writer to fall into the trap of a serial adventure story, but Voltaire manages to sustain a sense that Candide is likeable, means well, and is holding up rather well in astonishing conditions. Candide's good humor is as simple as his earnest willingness to go on breathing and eating even when beaten or beggared.

There are arch references to French society and fashion, particularly when Candide is in Paris, which are clear examples of self-referential humor. Voltaire does not let his own community and fellow writers off lightly when describing the scoundrels of the world.

This story is carefully written to suit both the content and purpose. With a light touch and precise language, Voltaire gives this pleasant story an underlying serious intent. The result is a story that is still as practical and enjoyable as the day it was written.

Social Sensitivity

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Cacambo, a man of mixed race, becomes Candide's friend as well as his servant. Other characters that befriend Candide and help him include Jacques, an Anabaptist, and Martin, a scholar and Manichean heretic. Voltaire goes to great lengths to show how these men, who would have been reviled by Europeans of high status, were trustworthy and honest to a far greater extent than the people who should have been held accountable for helping Candide.

In contrast, many of the characters in positions of leadership and social status are lampooned; their desires, greed, and frailties are shown to be as great or greater than could be expected in any person. Voltaire does not hesitate to show us how ridiculous it is to venerate the role or the robe when the person wearing it is unworthy.

One can sense the mind-set that led to the French Revolution throughout this short novel, and in other works written by Voltaire during this time. There is an egalitarian sensibility in Candide that leads the young noble bastard to consider a half-breed as dear a friend as the son of the baron who fostered him. From the perspective of 1759, that is the voice of the future, the voice of the revolution that had "Liberty! Equality! Brotherhood!" for its cry to arms. This is not the voice of a dandy writing lightweight love comedies to pander to the fashions of a paying audience.

The world changed around Voltaire as he wrote his many works. The French Revolution did not begin and end on a single day. It began in the hearts and minds of the people long before the Bastille was stormed. The slogans and pamphlets of the revolution would have had far less impact without the novels and poetry of Voltaire and other writers. We "make up" the world in which we live, even as writers make up stories and citizens make up a community.

For a man who lived in Paris, Voltaire shows more appreciation for geography and awareness of anthropology than was usual in his time. Even men of education who took some pains to study the world and the peoples in it frequently came away from their studies with a Euro-centric viewpoint which suggested that Western life experiences were not only the best, but the only standard by which to measure the world. It was not only ignorance that Voltaire sought to correct with this story—it was prejudice and hateful discrimination.

Any discussion of Voltaire's stories, according to Theodore Besterman in his introduction to The World's Classics 1966 edition, "must point to the role they played in changing men's ideas about their place in the nation, the world, and the universe. Voltaire put Western man in his place by reminding him that there exist other parts of the world, occupied by pagans and savages whose behavior was oddly like that of civilized Christians.... the earth they all alike inhabited was after all no more than a globule scarcely perceptible in the space of infinity. Above all, he never ceased to underscore not merely the horror but the laughable silliness of injustice, and its progeny: intolerance, fanaticism, cruelty and war."

Compare and Contrast

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The Eighteenth Century: France and Britain are continually fighting to see who will be the number one colonial power. Half of this war effort involves stirring up Indian "allies" to kill each other before the colonists spread into the wilderness.

Today: With the demise of the Soviet Union, America stands as the sole superpower.

The Eighteenth Century: The first intentional use of biological agents by a military occurs during King Phillip's War. The British intentionally infect blankets en route to the Indians with smallpox.

Today: The United States enforces economic sanctions against Iraq because of their suspected development and use of biological weapons.

The Eighteenth Century: General George Washington advocates fighting from behind trees and rocks, ambush style, instead of the traditional parade-style formation.

Today: Though guerilla warfare is now the style when necessary, fighting strategies today rely heavily on airpower and missile bombardment to soften up the enemy before ground troops move in. The style today seeks to minimize casualties.

The Eighteenth Century: Medical technology is crude, often doing more damage than the original problem. The STD syphilis is the most dangerous disease of the time.

Today: AIDS remains a devastating and deadly virus despite "space age" medical technology.

The Eighteenth Century: Modes of transportation are limited. All entertainment, such as concerts and plays, is live and industrial necessity attracts more and more people into the large cities.

Today: With cellular phones, computers, and automobiles, people are moving out of the cities and into smaller communities.

Media Adaptations

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Candide was adapted to the stage with a great deal of difficulty. The writing of the stage production took several decades. The basis for the play was created in 1953 by Lillian Hellman and Leonard Bernstein as their reaction to the "Washington Witch Trials" being waged by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Poet Richard Wilbur was the lyricist, though Dorothy Parker contributed to "The Venice Gavotte." Tyrone Guthrie directed the first performance of the play, with sets by Oliver Smith and costumes by Irene Sharaff. It opened at the Martin Beck Theater in New York on December 1, 1956, to mixed reviews. The play has been continually rewritten ever since.

For Further Reference

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Bottiglia, William F. Voltaire's Candide: Analysis of a Classic, 2nd edition, Geneva, 1964. A book about Candide that includes a critical analysis of the work.

Brailsford, H. N. Voltaire, Oxford, 1935. A book about Voltaire.

Lanson, Gustav. Voltaire, Paris: Hachette, 1906. A book that discusses Voltaire.

Vulliamy, C. E. Voltaire, Geoffrey Bles, 1930. A book about Voltaire.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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A. Owen Aldridge, in Voltaire and the Century of Light, Princeton University Press, 1975.

James Boswell, in The Life of Samuel Johnson, J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1978, pp. 210-11.

William F. Bottiglia, "Candide's Garden," in his Voltaire: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. by W. F. Bottiglia, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1978, pp. 87-111.

Georg Brandes, in Voltaire, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1964.

The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle, Vol. XXIX, May, 1759, pp. 233-37.

Nikolai Mikhailovich Karamzin, "A Letter on October 2, 1789," in his An Account of a Young Russian Gentleman's Tour through Germany, Switzerland France and England, translated by Florence Jonas, Columbia University Press, 1957, pp. 144-50.

Gustave Lanson, in Voltaire, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1966.

André Maurois, "Voltaire: Novels and Tales" in his The Art of Writing, The Bodley Head, 1960, pp. 35-50.

John Morley, in Voltaire, Macmillan and Co., 1872.

For Further Study
C. J. Betts, "On the Beginning and Ending of Candide," Modern Language Review, Vol. 80, 1985, pp. 283-92.

Betts examines the parallels and oppositions between Candide's opening and closing chapter, contending that the end of the story reverses the beginning.

Moishe Black, "The Place of the Human Body in Candide," in Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, Vol. 278, 1990, pp. 173-85.

Black argues that Voltaire employs bodily references throughout Candide in order to concretize his treatment of violence, philosophy, and sexuality.

William F. Bottiglia, "Candide's Garden," in Voltaire: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by William F. Bottiglia, Prentice-Hall, 1968, pp. 87-111.

In his assertive and thorough study, Bottiglia holds that the ending of Candide affirms that social productivity within one's own limits can lead to both "private contentment and public progress."

Donna Isaacs Dalnekoff, "The Meaning of Eldorado: Utopia and Satire in Candide," in Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, Vol. 127, 1974, pp. 41-59.

Dalnekoff examines Voltaire's use of Eldorado to further his satire by offering a utopian counterpoint to the corrupt world. Dalnekoff also believes, however, that Voltaire satirizes Eldorado through mockery and ironic detachment.

Will & Ariel Durant, in The History of Civilization: The Age of Voltaire, Simon and Schuster, 1965.

This series by the historians Will and Ariel Durant synthesizes the width and breadth of Western European history from the dawn of history to the Napoleanic era. Though their rendition of history emphasizes great ideas and great men, it is surprisingly inclusive. The ninth volume is named for Voltaire and, therefore, the eighteenth century is filled in around him.

Josephine Grieder, "Orthodox and Paradox: The Structure of Candide," in The French Review, Vol. 57, No. 4, March, 1984, pp. 485-92.

Grieder places Candide in the genre of "paradox" literature and asserts that its paradoxes attack rhetorical, logical, sentimental, and psychological orthodoxies.

Patrick Henry, "Sacred and Profane Gardens in Candide," in Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, Vol. 176, 1979, pp. 133-52.

Employing a mythical point of view derived from Mircea Eliade, Henry examines three gardens in Candide, connecting them to Voltaire's theme of time and to the tension between myth and history in the book.

Patrick Henry, "Time in Candide," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 14, 1977, pp. 86-8.

In this short article, Henry contends that only when Candide stops looking to the future for fulfillment does he reconcile himself to his situation and live in the present.

Patrick Henry, "Travel in Candide: Moving On but Going Nowhere," in Papers on Language and Literature, Vol. 13, 1977, pp. 193-97.

Henry reads the characters' travels in Candide as an effort "to attain ultimate permanence in the flux of reality."

Patrick Henry, "War as Play in Candide," in Essays in Arts and Sciences, Vol. 5, 1976, pp. 65—72.

Henry analyzes Voltaire's war themes "in light of Johan Huizinga' s Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture.

Frederick M. Keener, "Candide: Structure and Motivation," in Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture," Vol. 9, 1979, pp. 405-27.

Keener closely examines the novel's psychological progression, tracing his self-conscious development and scrutiny of his own character.

Manfred Kusch, "The River and the Garden: Basic Spatial Modes in Candide and La Nouvelle Heloise," in The Past as Prologue: Essays to Celebrate the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of ASECS," edited by Carla H. Hay and Sydny M. Conger, AMS, 1995, pp. 79-89.

Kusch analyzes how Voltaire creates a stagnating "closed garden" image of Eldorado by including a river that leads nowhere. He then contrasts this garden with the group's more feasible "open garden" in Constantinople.

James J. Lynch, "Romance Conventions in Voltaire's Candide," in South Atlantic Review, Vol. 50, No. 1, January, 1985, pp. 35–46.

Lynch defines Voltaire's "burlesque of the romance tradition by comparing Candide to one tradition of seventeenth-century romance, the Heliodoran novel."

Haydn Mason, in "Candide: Optimism Demolished," Twayne, 1992.

In this thorough study of Candide, Mason traces the literary and historical context of the work and offers areading of Voltaire's treatment of philosophy, character relationships, and form.

Alan R. Pratt, "'People Are Equally Wretched Everywhere': Candide, Black Humor and the Existential Absurd," in Black Humor: Critical Essays, edited by Alan R. Pratt, Garland, 1993, pp. 181-93.

Pratt connects Voltaire's use of satiric black humor with the works of contemporary black-humor writers who, like Voltaire, use dark comedy to reflect the world's absurdities.

Gloria M. Russo, "Voltaire and Women," in French Women and the Age of Enlightenment, edited by Samia I. Spencer, Indiana University Press, 1984, pp. 285-95.

Russo investigates gender issues in the Enlightenment in her book. In the chapter on "Voltaire and Women," she tells about the many important women in Voltaire's life and their curious, though platonic, interaction with him.

Arthur Scherr, "Voltaire's Candide: A Tale of Women's Equality," in The Midwest Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 3, Spring, 1993, pp. 261-83.

Scherr contends that Candide reveals the equality and mutual dependence between men and women, as shown through Candide's own reliance on women for happiness.

Mary L. Shanley and Peter G. Stillman, "The Eldorado Episode in Voltaire's Candide," in Eighteenth-Century Life, Vol. 6, No. 2-3, January-May, 1981, pp. 79-92.

Shanley and Stillman contrast the unattainable ideal of the static Eldorado with the garden image, which represents an appropriate goal for Europeans living in a non-static world.

Renee Waldinger, ed., in Approaches to Teaching Voltaire's Candide, Modern Language Association," 1987.

Waldinger's collection contains essays detailing a variety of approaches to Candide, including studies of its intellectual ideas, philosophical background, satire, and comedy, among many others.


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Aldridge, Alfred Owen. Voltaire and the Century of Light. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975. A thoughtful study that describes Voltaire’s extraordinarily diverse literary career. Compares Voltaire’s 1759 “philosophical tale” Candide with Jonathan Swift’s masterful satire Gulliver’s Travels.

Besterman, Theodore. Voltaire. 3d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976. An admirable and reliable biography of Voltaire that focuses on his development as a writer. In the discussion of Candide, Besterman explains the moral and emotional transformation of the protagonist from an immature and selfish adolescent into a sensitive, responsible adult.

Mason, Haydn. Voltaire: A Biography. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981. The chapter on Candide describes the philosophical and ethical motivation for Voltaire’s criticism of excessive optimism.

Pearson, Roger. The Fables of Reason: A Study of Voltaire’s “Contes philosophiques.” New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. An insightful literary study of Voltaire’s use of satire, irony, and understatement in his many philosophical tales. The lengthy chapter on Candide includes an explanation for the appropriateness of viewing Candide as a tale on moral education and on the search for human honesty.

Richter, Peyton, and Ilona Ricardo. Voltaire. Boston: Twayne, 1980. Excellent general study on Voltaire’s life and career. Describes several different levels of satire in Candide and Voltaire’s other major philosophical tales, including Zadig (1748) and Micromégas (1752). Also includes a well-annotated bibliography of significant critical studies on his work.




Critical Essays