Context: Candide, separated from Mlle. Cunegonde, whom he loves dearly, leaves South America to find her at Venice. Buying his way out of punishment in France, Candide sails from Dieppe on a Dutch vessel which touches at Portsmouth, England. As the ship approaches the shore, he sees a multitude of persons watching the execution of a man aboard a British warship. When he asks why "four soldiers placed opposite the man each shot three bullets into his brain in the calmest manner imaginable," he is told that the government has just executed an admiral because he did not kill enough Frenchmen in a naval battle, staying, it was alleged, too far from the opposing force. Voltaire had himself tried every way to secure a reprieve for Admiral Byng, executed in 1757, and this incident in Candide undoubtedly reflects his bitterness over his failure to prevent Byng's execution. When Candide says to an onlooker that the executed admiral was no farther from his opponents than the French admiral from the British, he receives this reply:
"That is indisputable," was the answer, "but in this country it is a good thing to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others."Candide was so bewildered and so shocked by what he saw and heard that he would not even set foot on shore. . . .