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Title: The Reveries of the Solitary Walker Author: Jean Jacques Rousseau * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1900981h.html Language: English Date first posted: September 2019 Most recent update: September 2019 This eBook was produced by: Colin Choat Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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The text of The Reveries of The Solitary Walker is included in The Confessions of J. J. Rousseau, Third Edition, Volume II, pp187-380, published in 1796. The text of the "Confessions" is not included in this present ebook, but is available from Project Gutenberg. The "Reveries" do not appear to be at Project Gutenberg, hence their publication here.
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BEHOLD me, then, as if alone upon the earth, having neither brother, relative, friend, or society, but my own thoughts; the most social and affectionate of men, proscribed, as it were, by unanimous consent. They have sought in the refinement of their hatred, what would be the most cruel torment to my susceptible soul, and have rent asunder every bond which attached me to them. I should have loved mankind in spite of themselves, and it was only by throwing off humanity that they could avoid my affection. At length, then, behold them strangers, unknown, as indifferent to me as they desired to be; but thus detached from mankind, and everything that relates to them, what am I? This remains to be sought. Unhappily, the search must be preceded by casting a glance on my own situation, since I must necessarily pass through this examination, in order to judge between them and myself.
It is now above fifteen years since I have been in this strange situation, which yet appears to me like a dream; ever imagining, that disturbed by indigestion, I sleep uneasily, but shall soon awake, freed from my troubles, and surrounded by my friends. Yes, surely, I have glided unconsciously from nightly watchings into profound sleep, or rather from life to death; dragged, I know not how, from the natural order of things, I find myself precipitated into an incomprehensible chaos, where I can distinguish nothing, and the more I consider my present situation, the less I seem to comprehend it.
How could I possibly foresee the destiny that awaited me? Or, how can I even now, though betrayed into this state, form any adequate idea of it? Could I, if in my right senses, suppose that one day, the man I was, and yet remain, should be taken, without any kind of doubt, for a monster, a poisoner, an assassin, the horror of the human race, the sport of the rabble, my only salutation to be spit upon, and that a whole generation would unanimously amuse themselves in burying me alive? When this strange revolution first happened, taken by unawares, I was overwhelmed with astonishment; my agitation, my indignation, plunged me into a delirium, which ten years have scarcely been able to calm: during this interval, falling from error to error, from fault to fault, and folly to folly, I have, by my imprudence, furnished the contrivers of my fate with instruments, which they have artfully employed to fix it without resource.
For a long time, my struggles were as violent as unavailing, employed without art, dissimulation, or prudence: warm, open, impatient, and frank in my disposition, every endeavour to disengage myself did but entangle me the more, and give my enemies incessant advantages, which they took care to improve: at length, finding all my efforts useless, all my uneasiness vain, I adopted the only means that remained; which was, to submit without murmuring to my fate; and found an indemnification for my misfortunes, by the tranquillity, which this resignation procured me, and which could not be allied with the continual struggle of a painful and ineffectual resistance.
Another circumstance has contributed to this tranquillity: in the eagerness of their malice, my persecutors had omitted one thing highly necessary to the accomplishment of their designs, this was, to portion out the effects of their malice in such a manner that they might maintain and renew my sorrows by successive oppressions. Had they possessed the skill to have left me some beam of hope, they might have held me by that, and continued me their play-thing by false lures, till at length they had totally overwhelmed me by successive torments, arising from deceived expectation; but they exhausted all their inventions at once, and in stripping me of every hope, deprived themselves of every resource. The defamation, oppression, scandal, and derision with which they have loaded me, are no more capable of augmentation than they are of being palliated, and can no more increase my misfortunes, than I can remove them; they have been so precipitate in bringing my misery to the utmost pitch, that all the powers on earth, aided by all the machinations of hell, can add nothing to it; even bodily pains, instead of augmenting my calamities, serve only to divert them, and while they extort groans, prevent shudderings; the pangs of my body making me less sensible to those of my soul.
What then have I to fear from mankind, since my situation cannot be rendered worse? No more can they alarm me; inquietude and fear are evils from which they have delivered me forever; which is no insignificant consolation. Present evils make little impression on me; when I encounter them, I readily take my measures; but it is different with those that keep me in doubt; alarmed imagination combines, turns, extends, and augments the idea of them, tormenting me an hundred times more than their reality can do, the threat being ever more terrible than the stroke. When misfortunes actually arrive, being stripped of every imaginary horror, and reduced to their real weight, I always think them much less than I had feared, and find relief even in the midst of my sufferings. In this state, freed from fear, and delivered from suspense and hope, even custom alone will suffice to render that situation daily more supportable, which no calamities can render worse. By degrees, the sensation of unhappiness becomes less acute, when there remains no possibility of giving it re-animation; and this service I have received from my persecutors, for by showering down at once the whole violence of their animosity, they have lost all authority over me, and hereafter I can securely laugh at their malice.
For about two months since, a complete calm has been re-established in my heart. I had long been a stranger to fear; but I continued to encourage hope; this sentiment sometimes flattered, sometimes frustrated, was a medium, through which a thousand different passions found means to agitate me: an event, as melancholy as it was unforeseen, has at length banished from my heart every beam of hope, and made me consider my worldly destiny as irrevocably fixed; since then, I have resigned myself without reserve, and have regained my tranquillity. When I became acquainted with the extent of the plot formed against me, I totally gave tip the idea of regaining, during life, the good opinion of the public; and even was this acquisition possible, the confidence could not be reciprocal, and consequently must be useless. Should mankind return to me it would be vain, I am no longer to be found; they have inspired me with such disgust, that their commerce would not only be insipid, but painful; and I am an hundred times happier in my solitude, than I could possibly be in their company. They have torn from my heart all the sweets of society, which at my age can never spring up again; 'tis too late!—henceforward let them do me good or harm it is perfectly indifferent, my contemporaries can never give me a moment of concern.
I once looked forward to the future, and hoped for a better generation, who, examining with care and impartiality the opinion formed by the present, and thence forming a judgment between us, would easily unravel the artifice of those who gave rise to it, and view me as I really am. This hope suggested the idea of writing my Dialogues, with a thousand useless expedients to make them reach posterity, and though distant, kept my mind in the same agitation as when I endeavoured to find a mind actuated by principles of justice in the present age, still rendering me the sport of my contemporaries. I have mentioned in my Dialogues, on what this expectation was founded; it was a mistake, and I have happily discovered my error time enough to enjoy before my last hour an interval of perfect tranquillity. This interval began from the time I have already mentioned, and I have reason to believe will never more be interrupted.
Few days pass, without my being confirmed by new reflections, how much I erred in flattering myself that I should ever recover the good opinion of the public, even in a future age; considering it is conducted by guides who are perpetually renewed in those very societies that hold me in such implacable aversion. Particulars die, but collective bodies never can; the same passions are perpetuated, and their ardent hatred, immortal as the demon that inspires it, has ever the same activity. Though all my particular enemies should be no more, Physicians and Oratorians will still exist, and should I have no other persecutors, those two description of people, I may be assured, will show no more savour to my memory, than they have done to my person. Perhaps in the course of time, the Physicians whom I have really offended, might be appeased; but the Oratorians, whom I loved, esteemed, in whom I placed the utmost confidence, and whom I never offended, the Oratorians,* church-men, and half-monks, will be forever implacable, their own iniquity being my crime, which self-love can never par on; and the public, whose animosity they will continually increase and re-animate, will no more be appeased than themselves.
[* An order of priests, who take their name from the orator of St. Jerome, at Rome.]
My fate, therefore, is absolutely fixed; no circumstance can bring me either good or evil; nothing remains for me either to hope or fear in this world; yet, though plunged into this fearful abyss, behold me tranquil!—poor, unfortunate, and infirm; but completely beyond the reach of suffering.
Every future occurrence will be immaterial to me; I have in the world neither relative, friend, or brother; I am on the earth, as if I had fallen into some unknown planet; if I contemplate anything around me, it is only distressing, heart rending objects; everything I cast my eyes on, conveys some new subject either of indignation or affliction; I will endeavour, henceforward, to banish from my mind all painful ideas, which unavailingly distress me. Alone for the rest of my life, I must only look for consolation, hope, or peace, in my own breast; and neither ought, or will, henceforward, think of anything but myself. It is in this state, that I return to the continuation of that severe and just examination which I formerly called my Confessions; I consecrate my latter days to the study of myself; and to the preparation of that account, which I must shortly render up of my actions. I resign my thoughts entirely to the pleasure of conversing with my own soul; that being the only consolation that man cannot deprive me of. If by dint of reflection on my internal propensities, I can, attain to putting them in better order, and correcting the evil that remains in me, their meditations will not be utterly useless; and though I am accounted worthless on earth, shall not cast away my latter days. The leisure of my daily walks has frequently been filled with charming contemplations, which I regret having forgot; but will write down those that occur in future; then, every time I read them over, I shall forget my misfortunes, disgraces, and persecutors, on recollecting, and contemplating, the integrity of my own heart.
These sheets will only contain a concise journals of my reveries, treating principally of myself, because a solitary must be very much employed with his own person, but if during my walk other ideas pass through my mind, they shall equally find place. I will relate my thoughts, precisely as they strike me, and with as little connection as the ideas of yesterday have with those of today, since from these will result a clearer knowledge of my temper, with the complexion and tendency of those thoughts and sentiments which are my daily food, in the singular situation I am thrown into, than could otherwise be obtained. These sheets, should, therefore be looked on as an appendix to my Confessions; but I no longer give them that name, since I have more anything to say that suits the appellation my heart is purified by repeated strokes of adversity and I can hardly find, though I search with the utmost care, any remains of reprehensible inclinations. What should I confess then, when all terrestrial affections are erased? I have as little to praise as blame, for henceforward I am nothing among mankind; nor can I ever be otherwise, possessing no actual relation or real society'; no longer having it in my power to attempt any good, which would not turn to evil, nor to act without injuring either others or myself, thus obstinacy has become my greatest duty, and I maintain it to the utmost of my power. But in this inactive state of body my soul is still alive, producing thoughts and sentiments; its moral and internal faculties, appear to have augmented by the death of every earthly and temporal concern; my body is only an embarrassment, an obstacle, which I already endeavour to disengage myself from.
A situation so singular, certainly deserves to be both examined and described; it is to this examination I consecrate my future days, and in order to accomplish it with success, I should proceed with circumspection and methods but I am incapable of such labour, nay it would even divert me from my purpose, which is to render an account to myself of the successive modifications of my soul. In some measure, I perform the operation on myself, which physicians do on the air, in order to ascertain the daily condition of it; applying (if I may use the expression) the barometer to my soul, not doubting but these experiments, well directed, and constantly repeated, will procure information equally to be depended on; but I do not equally extend my views, content with keeping a register of operations, without seeking to reduce them into a system. I undertake the same enterprise Montaigne did, but for a direct contrary purpose; he wrote his Essays only for others, I my Reveries entirely for myself. If in my more advanced age, and on the verge of dissolution, I remain (according to my present wish) in the same disposition, I shall recollect, on reading these Reveries, the pleasure I experienced on writing them; and thus, recalling past time, shall redouble my existence. Even in spite of mankind, I shall yet enjoy the charms of society, and, when decrepit with age, hold converse with myself, as I now should with a friend younger than I am.
I wrote the first of my Confessions, and my Dialogues, in continual care; being anxious to preserve them from the rapacious hands of my enemies, and transmit them, if possible, to other generations, This uneasiness no longer torments me, I know what I write will be useless, and a desire to be better known by mankind is extinguished in my heart, where nothing remains but profound indifference on the fate of my real writings and monuments of my innocence, which, perhaps, are by this time totally annihilated. Let them watch all my motions, and disquiet themselves about these sheets; let them seize, suppress, and defame them, it is henceforward absolutely equal to me; I will neither conceal, or endeavour to make them public; if they are taken from me while I live, they cannot deprive me of the pleasure of having wrote them, the remembrance of their contents, or the solitary meditations of which they are the transcript, and whose source can only be exhausted with my being.
If, at the beginning of my calamities, I had but known how to refrain from struggling with my fate; could I have adopted the method I do at present; all the efforts of man, all their tremendous contrivances, would have been ineffectual; their plots would no more have destroyed my tranquillity, than the success of them can henceforward. Let them enjoy my disgrace, they cannot debar me from the enjoyment of my innocence; and I shall conclude my days in peace, spite of all their machinations.
HAVING resolved to describe the habitual state of my soul, in the most unaccountable situation that ever mortal experienced, I can find no manner so simple and effectual, to execute this purpose, as to keep a faithful register of my solitary walks, and the reveries which accompany them; when I find my mind entirely free, and suffer my ideas to follow their bent, without resistance or control These hours of solitude and meditation are the only ones in the day when I am entirely myself, and for myself, without diversion, or obstacle; and when I can truly say, I am what nature designed me.
I was soon convinced that I had begun this project too late; my imagination, being already less lively, is not, as formerly, enraptured at the contemplation, temptation of those objects which animate it. I am less intoxicated with the delirium of my reveries, there is more of remembrance than creation in their productions; a cold languishment enervates all my facilities; the animal spirits extinguish by degrees; my soul creeps painfully from its feeble tenement, and were I deprived of the hope of that state to which my soul aspires, because I feel a right to the expectation of it, I should no longer exist but in remembrance. Thus, if I would contemplate myself before my decline, I must at least look back some years, to the time, when losing all hope below, and finding no support for my heart on earth, I accustomed myself, by little and littler to nourish it with its own substance, and to seek, support entirely within myself.
This resource, which I adopted too late, became so fruitful, that it soon recompensed me for every loss. The habit of retiring within myself, made me soon lose the feeling, and almost the remembrance of my sorrows; thus I learned, by my own experience that the source of true happiness is in ourselves, and that it is beyond the power of man to render those truly miserable, who determine to be otherwise. For five or six years past, I have enjoyed habitually those inward delights which are found in the contemplations of mild, affectionate souls; the raptures, the ecstasies which I sometimes experienced in my lonely walks, were enjoyments which I owed to my persecutors; without them, I should never have found, or known, the treasures contained within myself. In the midst of so much riches, how was it possible to keep a faithful register? Endeavouring to recall so many pleasing reveries, instead of describing, I fall into them again; it is a state which remembrance recalls, and which it would be impossible to relate, did I entirely cease to feel it.
I experienced the truth of this in those walks which immediately succeeded the project of writing the continuation of my Confessions, particularly in that I am about to relate, and in which, an unforeseen accident broke the thread of my ideas, and gave them for some time a different turn.
On Thursday, the twenty-fourth of October, 1776, I walked after dinner through the Boulevards, as far as the Rue du Chemin-verd; from whence I gained the heights of Menil-montant, and, pasting through the vineyards and meadows, crossed, as far as Charronne, the lovely manor that separates those two villages; after which, I took a circle, designing to cross the same meadows by another path. While walking through them, I felt that pleasure and interest which agreeable prospects ever give me, frequently stopping to examine plants which I saw among the grass. I perceived two which are seldom found near Paris, though common enough in this place; one was the Pieris Hieracioides, and the other the Bupleurum Falcatum. This discovery amused me for a long time, and ended by my finding a plant still more scarce, especially in a high country; this was the Cerastium Aquaticum, which, notwithstanding the accident that happened the same day, I afterwards found in a book I then had about me, and placed it in my collection. In short, after having observed several plants that were in flower, the appearance and examination of which, though familiar, ever gave me pleasures, by degrees I discontinued my observations, and gave myself up to the no less pleasing impressions they had altogether made upon me. The vintage, which brings so many walkers from the city, had been over a few days; the peasants too, having completed their autumnal labour, had retired till the return of Winter should furnish them with fresh employment; the country was yet green and pleasant, though the trees, partly stripped of their leaves, presented the picture of solitude, and indicated the approach of a more dreary season. From these various objects, resulted a mingled impression of melancholy and pleasure, too analogous to my age and fate, not to enforce the application. I contemplated within myself the decline of an innocent, though unhappy life, my soul still full of lively feelings, and my mind yet graced with some remaining lustre, though already faded with grief, and dried up by sorrow. Lonely and forsaken, I felt the forward frost steal on me; exhausted imagination no longer peopling my solitude with beings formed to delight my heart. I said to myself, with a sigh, what have I to do on earth; I was made for life, and am dying without having enjoyed it; but this was not my fault, and I shall bear to the Author of my being, if not an offering of good works, which I was prevented from performing, at least a tribute of good intentions frustrated, found sentiments, but given without effect, and a patience proof against man's disdain. I was moved with these reflections, recapitulating the motions of my soul from my early youth, during my riper years, since my sequestration from mankind; and in the course of that long retreat in which I shall conclude my days. I reviewed with complacency all the affections of my heart, all its tender, though blind attachments, those ideas, more consoling than melancholy, with which I had sustained my mind for some years past, and was preparing to recollect every particular sufficiently to describe them, with a pleasure equal to what I felt on experiencing those emotions Having passed my afternoon in these peaceful meditation, I was returning very content with my walk, when I was drawn from my reveries by the following event:
About six o'clock, as I was on the descent of Menil-montant, just opposite the Galant Jardinier; some people that walked before me having suddenly turned aside, I saw a large Danish dog rushing towards me. He was running with his utmost swiftness before a coach, and had neither time to stop his speed, or turn aside, when he perceived me in his way. I judged that the only means I had to prevent being thrown down, was to take a high leap, so exactly timed, that the dog might pass under my feet. This idea, which struck me with the rapidity of lightning, and which I had neither time to consider or execute, was the last before my accident. I neither felt the blow or fall, nor anything that followed it, till I returned to my senses.
It was almost night when I came to myself, and found I was supported by some young people, who told me what had happened. The dog not being able to stop his speed, had leaped violently against my legs, and with his size and swiftness had thrown me head foremost with my whole weight on my upper jaw, on a very rough pavement, and what increased the shock, Being on a descent, my head sell lower than my feet.
The coach the dog belonged to immediately followed, and must have passed over me, if the coach-man had not instantly pulled in his horses. This account I had from those who took me up, and continued supporting me when I returned to my senses. The state I was in at that moment is too singular to pass without being described.
The night was advancing, I saw the sky, some stars, and a little verdure. This first sensation was delightful; and at that time I felt nothing further. It appeared that I was just awakened into life, and had inspired me with the charm of my new existence every object that surrounded me. Fully occupied with the present moment, I remembered nothing that had passed, had no distinct idea of myself, nor the least notion of what had just happened. I neither knew who I was, nor where I came from; felt no pain, fear, or inquietude and saw my blood run as I would have seen a rivulet, without thinking in any manner that it belonged to me. I felt throughout my whole being the most ravishing calm, to which, on recollection, I can find nothing comparable among our most active and distinguished pleasures.
They asked me where I lived?—It was impossible for me to resolve them. I enquired, in return, where I was?—They informed me at the Haute Borne; they might as well have told me I was at Mount Atlas. I should have demanded the name of the kingdom, province, and part where I found myself; yet even that would not have been sufficient to restore my recollection. It was necessary I should recall to my memory every recent circumstance, even to walking through the Boulevards, in order to recollect my name and dwelling. A gentleman whom I did not know, and who had the charity to accompany me some part of the way, understanding that I lived at such a distance, advised me to take a coach from the Temple to my own house. I walked very well and lightly, without feeling any wound or pain, though I continued spitting a great deal of blood; but I had cold shiverings, which made my loosened teeth chatter very disagreeably. On my arrival at the Temple, I Imagined that as I had walked without pain, it was better to continue my way on foot, than expose myself to the danger of perishing with cold in a hackney-coach; I therefore walked the half league from the Temple to la rue Platriere, keeping on without difficulty, shunning interruption and coaches, and finding my way as if I had been in perfect health. I arrive at home, open the door by a private spring, go up stairs in the dark, and enter my apartment, without any accident, except the above mentioned fall and its consequences, which I was not yet sensible of.
The screams of my wise on my appearance, informed I was more hurt than I had apprehended. I passed the night without feeling, or being sensible of my situation; but felt it the next day. My upper lip was slit on the inside, quite up to my nose the skin having prevented a total separation; four of my teeth were forced into the upper jaw, and that part of my face that covered them was much swelled and bruised; my left thumb extremely hurt, the right thumb bruised and swelled very large; the left arm violently sprained; the left knee swelled, and incapable of bending, form a large and painful contusion, but with all this hurt nothing was broken, not even a tooth, which happiness, in such a violent fall, was almost a prodigy.
This is a true account of my accident, which in a few days was spread all over Paris, but so altered and disfigured, that it was impossible to recognize it. I ought to have expected some such metamorphosis before hand, but so many ridiculous circumstances were added, so many obscure private inferences were drawn, and they were mentioned to me with an air so laughably discreet, that the appearance of so much mystery gave me some uneasiness. I ever hated ambiguities; they naturally inspire a horror, which those I have been surrounded by for so many years have not been able to eradicate. Among the singularities which attended this occurrence, I shall only remark one, which will be sufficient to furnish some idea of the rest:
Monsieur Lenoir, Lt. General of Police, with whom I had never been acquainted, sent his Secretary to enquire after my health, and make me pressing offers of service, which in my present circumstances, did not appear of any utility or consolation. The Secretary pressed me very warmly to accept them, adding, that if I could not depend on him, I might immediately write to Monsieur Lenoir. The urgency with which he Pressed this, and the air of confidence that accompanied it, made me apprehend that some mystery, was concealed under all this, which I fought in vain to develop. So much was not necessary to alarm me, particularly during the agitated state in which the accident and its attendant fever had put my head. I gave myself up to a thousand uneasy and melancholy conjectures, making commentaries on all that surrounded me, which rather indicates the delirium of a fever than the apathy of a man who no longer interested, himself in anything.
Another circumstance helped to disturb my tranquillity: Madame D'Ormoy had sought my acquaintance for some years, by many little affected insignificancies without my being able to divine the cause of it; her frequent visits, without object of pleasure, seeming to mark some secret end. She had mentioned the plan of a novel, which she had a mind to write, and present to the Queen: I told her my opinion of female authors, and she gave me to understand that this project was formed for the re-establishment of her fortune, which required protection. This reason was certainly an unanswerable one. She afterwards informed me, that not being able to gain access to the Queen, she had determined to give her book to the Public: there was no longer any necessity to offer advice, which was not required and which she would not have followed had I given it. She proposed showing me her manuscript: I declined seeing it, and accordingly no more was said on the subject.
One fine day, during my convalescence, I received this book from her, printed, and even bound. In the preface were such gross encomiums on myself, daubed on with such affectation, that I was disgusted; the palpable flattery it contained, never been allied to real good wishes, is what my heart was ever on its guard against.
Some days after, Madame D'Ormoy paid me a visit attended by her daughter. She informed me that her book had made a great noise, occasioned by a note it contained. In running over the novel, had hardly remarked this note; after her departure I read it over again, examined it, and thought I could plainly discover the motives of her visits, her coaxing, and all the violent praises in the preface, judging they were designed to make the public attribute this note to me, and consequently the blame its author might incur under the circumstances in which it had been published. I had no means of crushing this report, and the impressions it might give rise to, all could possibly do, was not to suffer a repetition of the vain and troublesome visits, either of Madame D'Ormoy or her daughter for which purpose; I wrote the following note: As Rousseau receives no author at his house, he thanks Madame D'Ormoy for all former civilities; but declines in future the honour of her visits.
She answered this by a very polite letter, but in the style of all those written to me on similar occasions: I had barbarously plunged a dagger in her feeling heart, and; I was to believe, that possessing for me such true and lively sentiments, her death must infallibly be the consequence of this rupture. Thus it is, that an upright, frank behaviour, is made to appear like a fearful crime in the eyes-of the world! And I am convinced I should seem wicked and ferocious in the opinion of my contemporaries, though, they could attribute no other crime to me than not being as false and perfidious as themselves.
I had already been out several times since my accident, frequently walking even to the Thuileries when, by the visible astonishment of several persons I met, I was convinced something new was stirring with respect to me, but could not possibly conjecture what; till at length, I learned it was currently reported, I had died from the effects of my fall, and this news was propagated so rapidly, and maintained with such obstinacy, that even a fortnight after, I heard it was mentioned at Court as an absolute certainty; and the courier of Avignon (as somebody took the pains to write to me word) in announcing this happy news, had not failed to anticipate that tribute of outrage and indignity which is prepared for my memory, on quitting this world, by a kind of funeral oration. This piece of information was accompanied by a circumstance yet more singular, which I only learned by chance, and could never get any particular account of; this was, that a subscription had actually been opened for printing the collection of manuscripts that should be found at my house. This convinced me that a parcel of fabricated writings were kept ready to be attributed to me after my decease; for to imagine they would print any faithfully that might be found at the time of my death, was a folly that could never enter the imagination of any thinking person, whom fifteen year's experience had sufficiently enlightened.
These incidents; which were sudden, and followed by others not less extraordinary, added fresh indignation to my feelings, which I thought already callous, and the dark clouds that perpetually surrounded me, revived the horror they naturally give rise to in my heart. I fatigued myself with conjectures, endeavouring to develop these, to me incomprehensible mysteries. The constant explanation of these enigmas, tended to confirm my former belief, which was, that my fate and reputation having been concerted and determined by the unanimous concurrence of the present generation, could not be over-ruled by any effort of mine, since it would be impossible to transmit any deposit to a future age, without its having to pass in this through hands that would be interested to suppress it.
But I now carried my conclusions further; the concurrence of so many accidental circumstances, the situation of my most cruel enemies, distinguished as it were by rank and fortune, all that governed the state, all those who have the direction of the public opinion, place-men, everyone in credit, seeming eager to find those who had any secret animosity, and would join the general cry against me; this universal agreement is too extraordinary to be entirely fortuitous. The refusal of one single person to become an accomplice in this persecution, one favourable event on my side, a single unforeseen circumstance, as an obstacle to their designs, might have staggered my opinion; but all dispositions, fatalities, accidents, and revolutions, have contributed to further the attempts of man by so striking a concurrence, that it appears miraculous, and leaves me no room to doubt but their success was established by an immutable decree, and a multitude of observations both on the past and present, confirm me so entirely in this persuasion, that I cannot help, henceforward, regarding that work as one of the secrets impenetrable to human reason, which I hitherto looked on as proceeding, from the wickedness of mankind.
This idea, far from being melancholy, consoles and tranquilizes my mind, teaching me resignation; though I cannot go so far as St. Augustine, who was comforted even under the idea of damnation, if such should prove to be the will of God. My resignation arises from a more interested source, I must confess, but not less pure, and more worthy, in my opinion, of that perfect Being I adore.
God is just; it is his will that I should suffer; he knows my innocence: this is the foundation of my confidence, and both my heart and understanding combine to assure me I am not deceived. Let mankind and fate, therefore, pursue their course; let me learn to suffer without murmuring; at length all things will regain their natural order, and sooner or later my turn will be remembered.
In Continuing to Learn I Grow Old
SOLON frequently repeated these words in his old age: in one sense, I may repeat them likewise in mine; but it is a melancholy science which I have acquired in twenty year's experience, even ignorance is preferable to it. Adversity is, doubtless, a great master, but a master whose lessons are dearly purchased, and sometimes not worth the price we give for them. Besides, before we have obtained sufficient knowledge from such tardy studies, the season to profit by it is over. Youth is the proper time to acquire wisdom, age is the period when we should practice it. I confess that experience ever improves, but can only be of service for the future. Is it not too late to learn how we ought to live, at the very moment we are about to die? Of what utility are the informations so lately and sorrowfully acquired on my own fate, and the contrivances of those who have been the instruments of it? I have only learned to know mankind, that I might feel more acutely the miseries into which they have plunged me: this knowledge, only discovering their snares, without enabling me to avoid them. Why did I not always remain in that thoughtless, but pleasing confidence, which rendered me for so many years, the scorn and plaything of my pretended friends? So far from guarding against their contrivances, I had not the least suspicion of them. I was their dupe and victim, it is true, but I thought myself beloved, and my heart enjoyed the sweets of that friendship with which they had inspired me while I attributed to them an equal portion of it. These pleasing illusions are melancholy truth, which time and reason have unveiled, in making me feel my misfortunes, has also shown me they are without remedy; that resignation is my only resource; that all the experience of age, in my situation, is without present utility, and utterly unprofitable for the future. At our birth we begin that race whose goal is death; of what utility would it be to learn to conduct the chariot with skill, at the very end of our journey? To think of quitting it gracefully, is all that is then necessary. The only proper study for an old man, if any remains for him, is to learn to die, a business least attended to in an advanced age, everything but that being thought of. Old people hold more to life than children, and leave it with more reluctance than young ones; because their cares having been all for this world, they find on quitting it that they have lost their labour. All their hopes, all their wealth, the fruit of so many laborious watchings, must then be relinquished, having thought of gaining nothing during life, which they can carry with them.
I began this study in good time, and if I did not profit by my reflections, it was not for want of having made, or well considered the weight of them. Thrown at an early age into the storms of life, I learned by experience that I was not formed for this world, and should never attain that condition which my heart felt the necessity of. Despairing, therefore, to find happiness among mankind, my ardent imagination leaped over that space of my existence which I had yet scarcely entered on, as over a strange inhospitable soil, wishing to fix my abode in a more tranquil asylum.
This sentiment, nurtured by education from my infancy, and strengthened during my whole life by that inexhaustible train of sorrows and misfortunes which have accompanied it, has called me at all times to the consideration of the nature and destination of my being with more attention and care than I have observed in any other person. I have seen many who philosophize more learnedly than myself, but their philosophy (to use the expression) is foreign to themselves. Wishing to appear wiser than others, they examine the arrangement of the world, as they would study some complicated machine through mere curiosity, contemplating human nature, that they may speak of it learnedly, but without any thought of self improvement; still labouring to instruct others, without enlightening themselves. Some of these determine to write a book, no matter what, provided it is well received. When wrote and published, its contents interest the author no longer, except by a wish to have others adopt the opinions it inculcates, and a resolution to defend them in case of an attack; but he entertains no idea of using it for his own improvement, or embarrassing himself whether these opinions are true or false, provided no one refuses them. On the contrary, whatever I desired to learn was for nay own information, and not to instruct others. I have ever been persuaded that before we set tip for teachers, we should acquire a competent knowledge of ourselves, and of all the studies I have pursued, while surrounded by the bustle of the world, there is none I should not equally have applied to, had I been confined to a desert isle for the rest of my days. What we ought to do depends, greatly on what we ought to believe, and in all that does not relate to the immediate calls of nature, our opinions are the rule of our actions. Governed by these principles, which were ever mine, I long and repeatedly sought to regulate the enjoyment of my life, to discover its real allotment, and was, at length, consoled for my want of aptitude in conducting myself skilfully in this world, on feeling it; is a science we should not endeavour to attain.
Born in a family where morality and piety were conspicuous, afterwards brought up by a minister remarkable for wisdom and religion, I imbibed principles, maxims, some will say prejudices, which have never forsaken me. Given up to my own government, while yet a child, allured by caresses, seduced by vanity, and constrained by necessity, I became a Catholic, but still remained a Christian. Confirmed in time by habit, my heart was sincerely attached to my new religion the instructions and example of Madame de Warrens gave stability to this attachment, the rural solitude in which I passed the flower of my youth, the study of good books, to which I applied myself, strengthened these natural propensities and affectionate dispositions, rendering me religious almost after the manner of Fenelon. Placed in a calm retreat, meditation, the study of Nature, the contemplation of the universe, incessantly carries the thoughts of a recluse, towards the Author of all these objects, prompting him to search with pleasing inquietude the final destination of what he sees, and the source of his feelings. Afterwards, when my destiny again threw me in the torrent of the world, I recognized nothing that could delight my heart for a single moment. The regret of my peaceful leisures continually pursued me, and mingled indifference and disgust with every pleasure that was within my reach, and with every pursuit that could conduct me to riches or honour. Irresolute in my unsatisfactory wishes, I hoped little, obtained less, and felt, in the allurements of prosperity, that even should I obtain all I believed myself in search of I should not find that happiness my heart so ardently sought after, without entertaining any precise, idea of its object. Thus, everything contributed to detach my affections from this world, even before misfortunes had entirely estranged me from it. To the age of forty I continued floating between indigence and riches, wisdom and folly, full of habitual failings, without any vicious inclinations; living at hazard, without being guided by principles, or regulated by reason; wavering in my duties, without despising them, but frequently without comprehending their tendency.
From my youth, I had fixed on the age of forty as the period of my efforts and pretensions of every kind, fully resolved, that when I should attain that age, in whatever situation I might find myself, I would contentedly remain there for the rest of my life, living from day to day, without care for my future subsistence. When that period arrived, I executed my resolution without regret; and though my fortune seemed inclined to take a more favourable turn, relinquished it, not only without pain, but even with a sensible satisfaction. In renouncing every false hope and allurement, I delivered myself up to that calm repose which was ever my predominant taste, the most durable of my inclinations. I gave up the world and its vanities, and renounced all superfluous ornaments, no longer wore a sword, watch, white stockings, or lace, confining myself to a good cloth suit, with a plain wig, and what was still better, rooted, from my heart, those covetings and desires which stamped a value on those objects. I gave up the situation I then occupied, for which I felt Nature: had not designed me, and; set about copying music at so much a page, and employment always had a decided inclination for.
I did not confine my reform to exteriors. I was sensible that these privations required others, more difficult, doubtless, but far more necessary, and resolving not to do my work by halves, undertook: to submit my interior to a strict examination, which might reduce it to that state I should wish to find it in at my death.
A remarkable resolution which had lately taken place in me, a new moral world which began to present itself, the unreasonable judgment of mankind, which (without foreseeing how much I should become its victim) I began to feel the absurdity of, the increasing necessity of a more substantial good than literary fame, which inclination had securely reached me before I felt myself disgusted with it, the desire to pursue, for the remainder of my life, a more salutary course than that which had employed the most valuable part of it; in a word, every consideration tended to point out the immediate necessity of this reform, which I had long felt the want of, I undertook it, therefore, and spared nothing that depended on me to render the execution of my enterprise effectual.
It is from this epoch, that I may date an entire renunciation of the world, and an increased desire for solitude, which has never since forsaken me. The work I had resolved on could not be accomplished without an absolute retreat; it required long and uninterrupted meditations, which the tumult of society would not admit; this forced me to adopt, for some time, a different manner of life, and presently I so well relished its enjoyments, that I never discontinued it since, except at intervals and by constraint, ever returning to it again, then opportunity offered, with redoubled affection; and, in the sequel, when mankind had rendered this sequestration necessary, I found that what they supposed would have rendered me miserable, turned out my greatest happiness, which I could not otherwise have procured myself.
I entered on the work I had resolved-to undertake with a zeal proportioned to its importance, and the necessity I felt to perfect it. At that time I lived, I lived among modern philosophers, who bear little; resemblance to the ancients; these, instead of removing doubts or fixing irresolutions, presently staggered all those certitudes which I thought it necessary to obtain confirmation of; for your ardent missionaries of atheism, and furious dogmatists, cannot endure those who differ from themselves in the most trifling particular. I frequently defended my opinion weakly, partly from a dislike to disputes, and partly for want of talents to maintain them; but I never adopted their distressing doctrines; and this resistance, to intolerant minds, who, besides, had private views to answer, was not one of the least causes of their animosity.
They had not prevailed on me to adopt their sentiments, but they had rendered me uneasy in my own: their arguments had staggered, but not convinced me I could not think of any pertinent answers, but I felt their objections were not unanswerable; I accused myself less of error than ineptitude, and my feelings, disputed much better than my reason.
At length, I said, shall I forever: suffer myself to be tossed about by the sophism of these plausible reasoners, when I am not even certain that they believe what they preach to others with so much earnestness? Those passions which govern their opinions, self-interest, which demands you should believe this or that, render it impossible to penetrate their true sentiments. Should we seek for the simplicity of truth in the leaders of a party? Their philosophy is designed for others, I must have one of my own: let me seek it diligently while it is yet time that I may possess a fixed rule for the conduct of my latter days. I am now in a mature age, possessed of all the powers of my understanding, already I approach the decline; if I wait longer, my intellectual faculties will have lost their activity, and my tardy deliberations may be less useful than they promise to be at this time: I will, therefore, seize the present moment; it is the epoch of my external and mental reform; let me ultimately fix my opinions and principles, remaining for the residue of my life, what mature deliberation shall convince me I ought to be.
I executed this project slowly, and at different times, but with as much application and care as I was capable of employing, being fully persuaded that the repose of my life and future happiness depended on it. At first, I found myself in such a labyrinth of embarrassments, difficulties, objections, and obscurity, that I was tempted twenty, times over to abandon all, to renounce my vain researches, and level my deliberations to the rules of common prudence, without searching further into those principles it was so much labour to develop; but this prudence was foreign to my disposition, and I felt myself no more able to adopt it, than I should have been to profit by its admonitions; labouring to acquire it, therefore, was failing over a stormy sea without rudder or compass, in search of a light-house, which, when found, directed to no port.
I persisted, notwithstanding every discouragement: for the first time in my life, I possessed courage, and to that I am indebted for having been able to sustain the horrible destiny which from that, period began to envelope me, without my entertaining the least idea of its approach. After the most ardent and sincere researches that were ever undertaken, perhaps, by one mortal, I determined on those sentiments for the residue of my life, which appeared reasonable and necessary, and, if I have been mistaken in the result, have at least the consolation of knowing, that my errors cannot be imputed to me as a crime, since I used my utmost efforts to guard against mistakes. I make no doubt but the prejudices of childhood, and the secret wishes of my heart, may have inclined the balance to that side which procured me most consolation; for is it difficult to defend our belief from what we ardently desire. Who can doubt, but being interested to admit or reject particular notions of a future state, determines the belief of the major part of mankind, through the medium of their hopes and fears? These, I allow, might fascinate my judgment, but not render my faith less sincere, for I examined cautiously, and feared to be mistaken in every particular. If our whole term of existence is confined to this life, it was expedient for me to know this, that I might take my measures accordingly, while some part of my being remained, and before I was completely duped; but what I had most to fear, in my present undertaking, was, venturing the everlasting state of my soul for the sake of temporal enjoyments, which in my opinion, were never very desirable.
I confess that I did not answer to my own satisfaction all the difficulties that had embarrassed me, and which our philosophers had so often thundered in my ears; but being determined to decide on points which human understanding has so little direction to, and finding on all hands impenetrable mysteries and unanswerable objections, I adopted in each question, such sentiments as appeared to me best established, and most conformable to reason, without stopping at those objections which I could not resolve, and which I knew were opposed by others, not less powerful, in the opposite system. A dogmatical method of treating these subjects is only conformable to a spirit of imposition; meantime, it is necessary to have a belief of one's own, and to select it with all possible maturity of judgment. If, in spite of these precautions, we yet fall into error, we cannot in justice be pronounced culpable, since we have not erred either wilfully or carelessly. This was the immovable principle which I established as the basis of my security.
The result of my wearisome researches were nearly those opinions which I have since put together in the Confession of Faith of my Savoyard Vicar, a work that has been unworthily profaned by the present generation, but which may one day cause a revolution in the opinions of mankind, if good sense and truth should ever revive among them.
From this time, easy in the principles I had adopted, after such long and painful meditation, I have made them the fixed rule of my conduct and belief, without perplexing myself, either with those objections I cannot resolve, or those I could not foresee, and which, presenting themselves from time to time, have sometimes staggered, but never overthrown me. I have ever said, these are but metaphysical subtleties, arguments which should have no weight against found principles, adopted by reason, confirmed by the feelings of my heart, and bearing the seal of inward approbation, by the silence and subjection of the passions. In these concerns, so superior to human understanding, shall one objection, which I cannot resolve, overthrow a body of doctrine so well constructed, so firmly connected, composed with so much meditation and care, so well appropriated to my understanding, my heart, my whole being, and reinforced by that, internal satisfaction which I feel wanting in all others? No vain delusive arguments shall ever; destroy that affinity which I perceive between my immortal nature, and the construction of this world, with the exact order which reigns therein. I find in the correspondent and moral order of things, from whence the system I have adopted results, those very resources which I stand in need of to support the miseries of life. In any other system I should live without comfort, and die without hope, being the most miserable of all creatures; let me then adhere to that opinion which is alone sufficient to make me happy, in spite of fortune or mankind.
This deliberation, and the conclusion I drew from it, seemed dictated by reason itself, as a preparation for the destiny that was approaching, which might enable me to sustain it. What would have been my fate, or what would yet become of me, among the dreadful trials with which I have been surrounded, and in the incredible situation to which I am reduced for the rest of my life, if without asylum from my implacable persecutors, indemnification for the scandals which have been heaped on me by the world, or hope of ever obtaining that justice I feel due to me, I saw myself given up without future hope to the most horrible fate a mortal can possibly experience? While tranquil in my innocence I pictured nothing but affection and benevolence among mankind, my believing, confident heart was laid open to them as to friends and brothers; meanwhile, the traitors silently entangled me in nets forged at the bottom of Hell. Surprised by the most unforeseen of all misfortunes, the most terrible for a feeling haughty soul, dragged into the snare without knowing why, or to what end, I plunged into an abyss of ignominy, surrounded by fearful obscurity, through which I could discover nothing but distressing objects. On the first surprise, I was overwhelmed, and should never have recovered from the fit of horror these unforeseen misfortunes plunged me into, had I not already, laid up a magazine of strength, which served to raise me from my fall.
It was not until after years of agitation, that recovering my spirits, and beginning to return to myself, I felt the full value of those resources I had procured for my moments of adversity; when, deciding on all those things which I saw it necessary to form a judgment of, I saw, in comparing my maxims with my situation, that I gave infinitely more importance to the opinions of men, and the little wants of this transitory existence, than, they deserved; since this life, being but a state of probation, it is immaterial what kind of trials we experienced in it, provided they produced the designed effect; consequently, the greater and more multiplied our afflictions are, the more meritorious it is to sustain them properly. The most acute troubles lose their edge with those who consider the great and sure reward that attends them; and the certainty of obtaining this recompense, was the principal fruit I had gathered from my former meditation.
It is true, that in the midst of those numberless outrages, and unbounded indignities, which overwhelmed me from all parts, some intervals of uneasiness and doubt, from time to time, shook my hopes, and disturbed my tranquillity. The powerful objections, which I could not resolve, during these moments of despondency, presented themselves to my mind with redoubled strength, and added to the hopelessness of my situation, when weighed down with my destiny, I was ready to give up all for lost. Frequently, new arguments which I heard, took hold of my thoughts, and strengthened those that already tormented me.—"Alas!" said I, my heart overwhelmed with grief, "what shall save me from utter despair, if, in the darkness of my fate, I contemplate only as chimeras those consolations which my reason had collected? If destroying thus, its own work, it strikes away the prop of hope and confidence it had procured me in adversity, what support have I but those illusions which amuse myself alone? The whole present generation viewing only errors and prejudices in what I singly adopt, finding truth and evidence in a contrary system, and appearing scarce able to believe that I am sincere in my profession of them; while giving into these opinions with my utmost belief, I find insurmountable difficulties, which yet do not prevent me from persisting in them. Am I, then, alone wife and enlightened among mankind? To be persuaded that things are thus, is it sufficient that they accord; with my ideas, and that I find this order of them convenient? Can I derive a firm confidence from appearances, which have no solidity for the rest of mankind, and which would appear delusive even to myself if my heart did not support my reason? Ought I not rather to have sought my persecutors with equal weapons, by adopting their maxims, than to depend on delusions of my own, and become a prey to their attempts, without a single effort to replace them? I think myself prudent, while, perhaps, I am but the dupe, victim, and martyr of a vain, error."
How many times, in these moments of doubt and uncertainty, have I been ready to abandon, myself to despair! and had I ever passed a month in that state, it would have been all over with me in this world; but their attacks, though frequent, were short, and though even yet I am not entirely delivered from them, they have become so scarce and momentary, that they have not even strength to interrupt my felicity, being light inquietudes, which, no longer affect my soul, any more than the falling of a feather into a river, can affect its course.
I am convinced that re-considering those points which I had formerly concluded on, is supposing myself to possess more information, more discernment, or a greater degree of zeal, than I employed at the time these decisions were made; but I am persuaded this is not the case, and no substantial reason can induce me to prefer those opinions, which while overwhelmed with despair served only to augment my misery, to sentiments adopted in the vigour of my age, in the full maturity of my understanding, after the most serious examination, and at a period when the serenity of my life left no predominant interest but the investigation of truth. Now that no heart is wrung with distress, my soul weighed down by cares, my imagination bewildered, my brain perplexed by the multitude of distressing mysteries which surround me; now when every faculty, enfeebled by age and sufferings, have lost their vigour, shall foolishly cast away those resources I had so carefully procured, giving more confidence to the declining state of my intellects, in order to render myself unavailingly miserable, than to my reason, when possessing all its vigour, it endeavoured to guard me against the anguish of unmerited misfortunes? No; I am neither wiser, better instructed, nor more sincere than when I decided these important questions. I was not then unconscious of those difficulties which now perplex me, they were then surmounted, and if at present some new ones start up, which I was not then aware of, they are the sophisms of subtle metaphysicians, which should not be permitted to invalidate those eternal truths which have been admitted at all times, and by all the sages, which are acknowledged by all nations, and are engraven on the human hearten characters indelible. I knew when meditating on these subjects, that human reason, circumscribed by the senses, could not comprehend them in their full extent; I contented myself, therefore, with that evidence that was within my reach, without attempting what was beyond it: this conclusion was reasonable, and I adhere to it with the full approbation of my heart and reason. On what evidence should I renounce it, which might not be combated by still more forcible arguments to continue, firm in my attachment? What dangers do I find in this adherence? What advantages would accrue from a change? That morality without root or produce which they pompously display in some of their writings, or theatrical representations, without an idea of its producing any effect on the heart or understanding; or rather that secret and crude morality, the inferior doctrine of all their adherents, to which the former serves as a mask, which they only follow in their outward conduct, and have so dexterously made use of with regard to myself; this hostile morality, is of no use for defence, being good for nothing but attack. Of what use, then, would it be to me, in the condition I am reduced to? Innocence is the only support I depend on in my sufferings, how much more wretched then should I make myself, if relinquishing this last, this powerful resource, I substituted wickedness in its place? Could I hope to rival them in the art of mischief? And even could I attain to it, what consolation should I derive from the retribution I might deal them! I should forfeit my own esteem and gain nothing in return.
Reasoning thus with myself, I so far established my principles, as to have them shaken no longer by captious arguments, or unanswerable objections, by difficulties beyond my reach and perhaps beyond the reach of human reason. Resting my belief on the most solid basis I could possibly establish for it, I accustomed myself to repose pose so securely under the shadow of my conscience, that no contradictory arguments, either ancient or modern, could have power for a single instant to shake or trouble my repose. Declined into a languor and inactivity of understanding, I have even forgot the evidences and maxims on which my belief was founded, but I shall never forget the conclusions, which with the approbation of my reason and conscience, I drew from them, and to this point I will adhere. Let all the philosophers of the universe unite to explode these principles, I will continue firm for the rest of my life, in every particular to the decisions of that time, when I was more able than I now am of choosing wisely.
Tranquil in these dispositions, together with self approbation, I find them supply that hope and those consolations, I stand so much in need of in my present situation. It is impossible that a solitude so complete, permanent, and distressing in itself, the perpetually active animosity of the whole present generation, and the indignities it is perpetually loading me with, should not sometimes depress my spirits, that my hope should not be shaken, and that discouraging doubts should not arise at times to trouble my soul and sill it with distress; but it is then, when incapable of those exertions which would be necessary to give me assurance, that I recall my former resolutions; it is then that the care, attention, and sincerity of heart, with which I formed them, return to my remembrance, and bring back my fleeting hopes.
Thus confined to the contracted sphere of my former acquisitions, I have not, like Solon, the happiness of gaining some piece of information every day of my old age, since I find it necessary to guard against the dangerous pride of endeavouring to acquire that knowledge I formerly found beyond my comprehension; but there remain few acquisitions to hope for on the side of useful knowledge, many important ones remain on the side of those virtues necessary in my situation. This is the proper season to enrich and ornament my soul with those acquirements she may carry with her, when delivered from this mortal body, which clouds every object, and viewing the truth without a veil, she will perceive the poverty and insufficiency of all that knowledge, which our learned pedants are so vain of, and will lament those moments as lost in this life, when she endeavoured to obtain it; but patience, gentleness, resignation, and impartial justice, are possessions she will carry with her; with these we may enrich ourselves incessantly, without fearing that death should rob us of our acquisitions, or diminish their value. It is to this invaluable study alone that I will consecrate the remainder of my old age, happy if by the knowledge of myself I can attain to leave life, not better, for that is impossible, but more virtuous than I entered it.
AMONG the small number of books I yet continue to read, the works of Plutarch are what I am most attached to, and profit most by. This was the first study of my childhood, will be the last of my old age, and is almost the only author that I never read without reaping some advantage. Two days ago I read in his moral works, the treatise, How to profit by our Enemies. The same day, while ranging some papers which had been sent me by different author I met with one of the journals of the Abbé Rosier, to which he had put these words, as a motto, Vitam vero impendent! Rosier. Too well acquainted with the turns of these gentlemen to be mistaken in this, I was convinced he meant to convey a cruel piece of irony under this appearance of politeness? but on what could it be founded? What reason was there for this sarcasm? What occasion could I have given him? Wishing to practice the lessons of the good Plutarch, I resolved to examine myself during my next day's walk on the article of lying, being well confirmed in the opinion I had for some time past entertained, that the know thyself, of the temple of Delphos, was not a point so easily attained as I had imagined in my Confessions.
The next day, having begun my walk in order to fulfil this design, the first idea that presented itself to my imagination, was the remembrance of a dreadful untruth, advanced in my early youth, the recollection of which has troubled my whole life, and reaches even to my old age, grieving that heart already rent by so many sorrows. This lie, which was a great crime in itself, was probably more terrible in its effects, which I have ever remained ignorant of, but which remorse has pictured in the most distressing colours; aid yet, were my dispositions at the time I committed this crime to be considered, it could only be called false shame; since, far from being occasioned by a design to injure her who was the victim of it, I can vow, in the light of Heaven, that at the very moment this invincible shame rent it from my lips, I would joyfully have given every drop of my blood, to have turned all the evil of it on myself. It was a delirium which I cannot explain, otherwise than by saying (what I am persuaded was the fact) that my natural timidity had mastered, during that moment, every other feeling of my soul.
The remembrance of this unhappy crime, and the inextinguishable and bitter remorse which has followed it, have inspired me with a horror and detection for lying, which effectually secured me, ever after, from that vice. When I first chose my motto as an author, I was persuaded it was what I merited, and I made no doubt but I should find myself worthy of it, when, on the insinuation of the Abbé Rosier set about a more serious re-examination of my conduct.
Proceeding in this review with the utmost circumspection, I was greatly surprised at the number of things I had mentioned as truths, which were purely of my own invention, at the very time, when proud of my love of truth, I sacrificed to it my safety, interest, and person, with an impartiality, perhaps, without example.
What surprised me most, on the recollection of these inventions, was to find I had never experienced any real repentance on that account I, in whom the horror of falsehood is so great, that I know nothing my heart so much detests; I, who have braved sufferings, which I could easily have evaded by a lie, by what unaccountable extravagance of disposition could I be guilty of this folly for mere pastime, without any advantage in view, and by what inconceivable contradiction did I escape feeling the least regret on that account, while the remorse of a single untruth has not ceased to afflict me for fifty years? I was never hardened in my crimes; moral instinct has ever conducted me right; my conscience has ever maintained its primitive integrity, and even had it sometimes declined, and faded with my interest, how, maintaining all its uprightness on those occasions, where man, hurried away by his passions, might at least plead human weakness as an excuse, should it sleep over indifferent transactions, where vice had nothing to excuse it? I was convinced, that on the solution of this problem, depended the justice of that decision I had to pronounce in this particular on myself, and after having examined it thoroughly, I arrived, by the following means, at a conclusion:
I remembered to have read, in some philosophical treatise, that concealing a truth we ought to divulge is to lie: It naturally follows, from this definition, that to conceal a truth we ought not to divulge, is not to lie. But he, who not being bound to speak the truth, advances the contrary, does he lie? According to the former definition it cannot properly be said he does, for if we give counterfeit money to a man we are not indebted to, we may deceive him, it is true, we do not rob him.
On these premises two questions present themselves for examination, and both of great importance; first, on what occasions we ought to speak the truth, since we are not always bound to a declaration of it? and, secondly, whether there are situations in which we may deceive innocently? This latter question is, I know, already copiously decided on: negatively, in books, where the most austere morality costs the author nothing; affirmatively, in society, where the morality of books passes for an impracticable jargon: leaving, therefore, these two authorities, let me endeavour, from my own principles, at an attempt to resolve these questions for myself.
Abstract and universal truth is the most precious of all things. Without her, man would be blind; she is the eye of reason; it is by her he is taught to conduct himself, and arrive at what he ought to be, to perform his duty, and accomplish the end of his creation. Particular and individual truth, does not always confer a benefit, it is sometimes an evil, and frequently indifferent. The things a man should be acquainted with, the knowledge of which are necessary to his happiness, are not, perhaps, very numerous; but in whatever number they may be, they are his property, and he has an undoubted right to claim them wherever they may be found, and no one can keep him from the possession of them, without being guilty of the most unjustifiable of all thefts, since they are the common right of all, and a communication deprives no one of his acquisitions.
As to those truths which are of no kind of utility, either for instruction or practice, how can they become a debt? for since property is only founded on utility, where there is no possible advantage to be derived there can be no claim. An estate, though barren, may be demanded, because, at least, it may serve to build a habitation on, but an idle tale, indifferent in every particular, whether true or false, cannot be of consequence to anyone. In the moral order of things nothing is useless, any more than in the physical. Nothing can become a debt that is not of some possible utility; consequently that truth may become so, it must be that species of it, by which justice might be affected; and it is profaning the sacred name of truth, to apply it to those frivolous objects, whose existence is utterly indifferent to everyone, and the knowledge of which is absolutely unavailing. Truth, then, divested of all possible utility, cannot become a debt, and, consequently, he who is silent, or disguises it, in such circumstances does not lie.
But can truths, however trivial they may appear, be utterly without use? This is another question, that remains to be discussed, which we will return to presently; at present, let us pass to the second question.
To leave unsaid that which is true, and to speak that which is false, are two things very different in themselves, but which, notwithstanding, frequently produces the same effect. In every case where the truth is indifferent, the opposite error must be equally so; from whence it follows, by a parity of reasoning, that he who deceives in advancing a falsehood, is not more unjust than he who deceives by not declaring the truth. In respect to unmeaning truth, error is not worse than ignorance; for example, whether I believe the sand at the bottom of the sea to be white or red, is of no more service than to be ignorant what colour it is. How can he be unjust that injures no one, since injustice consists in wrong done to our neighbour?
But these questions, decided in this summary manner, could not yet furnish me with any certain rule for my practice, without many preliminary examinations, which would be necessary, in order to apply them with precision in all possible exigences that might present themselves; for if the obligation to speak truth is only founded on its utility, how halt I become a competent judge of this expediency? Very frequently the advantage of one party is the detriment of the other, and private interest is almost always contrary to the public: —How then should we conduct ourselves in these situations r Must the interest of the absent person be sacrificed to him we speak to? Must we be silent, or speak that truth, which being serviceable to one party, may be an injury to the other? Is it necessary to weigh all that ought to be said for public good, or distributive justice? And am I sufficiently assured that I am acquainted with all these relations so fully, as always to determine on the side of equity? Again; in examining what we owe to others, have I sufficiently examined what we owe to ourselves, and what we owe to truth for its own fake? If I do no wrong to another, does it follow that I do none to myself? And does it suffice, never to have been unjust, to be always innocent?
How many embarrassing discussions might we avoid by resolving always to declare the truth, whatever might be the consequence! Justice herself dwells in the truth of things; lying is always iniquity; error becomes imposture when we give that which is not, for the rule of what ought to be done or believed; and whatever effects may result from truth, we are ever unblameable when that alone is employed, and nothing of our own invention mingled with it.
But this is cutting the question without resolving it. The object of the present enquiry is not, whether we should always speak the truth, but whether we are at all times equally obliged to it; and, on the definition before recited, supposing we are not, how to distinguish those cases where the truth is rigorously due, from those we may be silent on without injustice, or disguise without lying: for I have found that such cases really exist. It remains, therefore, to discover a certain rule, by which we may judge, and determine between them.
But whence extract this rule, and the evidence of its infallibility? In all difficult questions like the present, relating to morality, I have always found it safer to resolve them by the dictates of my conscience, than by the information of my reason. Never has moral instinct deceived me, having maintained until now its purity in my heart sufficiently to authorize this reliance; and if it has sometimes been silent in the presence of my passions, has regained its empire over them in my recollections, where I judge myself with as much severity, as, perhaps, I shall be at the bar of the? Sovereign Judge of all.
Deciding on discourses from the effects they produce, is a method very liable to error; for, exclusive of the consideration that these effects are not always sufficiently obvious, they vary to infinity, with the circumstances that produce them: we should endeavour, therefore, to weigh the intention of the speaker, and determine the degree of malice or benevolence they contain. To advance an untruth, is not to lie, except it is done with an intention to deceive, and even that intention, far from being always attended by a mischievous design, has sometimes a quite contrary tendency. But to render a lie innocent, it is not sufficient there should be no injury intended; a fixed persuasion should be obtained, that the mistake into which we lead the person our discourse is directed to, can be of no possible detriment either to him or any other: but it is difficult to obtain this certitude, consequently it is very seldom that a lie can be innocent. To lie for self-advantage is imposture; to lie for the emolument of another is fraud; to be guilty of a falsehood that may do harm is calumny, which is the worst kind of lying; and to advance an untruth, without profit or prejudice either to ourselves or others, is not lying, but fiction.
Fictions which have a moral tendency are called apologues or fables; and as their design is only to convey some useful truth under striking and agreeable similitudes, it is not necessary to preserve even the appearance of reality, and he who invents and relates a fable as such, does not lie in any respect.
There are other fictions purely idle, such as the greater part of our novels and tales, which, without containing any real instruction, aim only at amusement. A judgment should be formed of these from the apparent intention of the author; but when published under an assurance of being real facts, it is impossible to give any other name than direct lies; meantime, whoever scrupled being guilty of these falsities? Or, whoever seriously reproached anyone with them as a crime? Suppose, for example, there is some moral purpose in the Temple de Gnide, that object is secured and vitiated by voluptuous descriptions and seducing images, which the author has endeavoured to varnish over with an affectation of modesty. He pretends this work was translated from a Greek manuscript, giving such a history of its discovery as he thought most likely to impose it on his readers for a truth; and if this is not a direct lie, let anyone inform me what is? Yet no one ever thought of reproaching this author with it as a crime, or treating him as an imposture!
It will be said, this was but a pleasantry; that in making this affirmation he never expected to be believed, and that the Public never entertained any doubt but he was the inventor of this Greek work, which he pretends only to have translated. I answer, that such a pleasantry without object, would have been a very childish amusement; that a liar is no less guilty of falsehood because his lie is universally discovered: that we should distinguish between the enlightened part of the Public, and the multitude of simple, credulous readers, on whom the history of this manuscript, related by a grave author with an air of seriousness, has really imposed, and who drink that poison without scruple from an antique vase, which they would have rejected had it been offered in a modern cup.
Whether these distinctions are to be found in; any book is immaterial, their existence is not less real in the heart of every man who is in earnest, with himself, and will not indulge in anything his conscience can reproach him with for the invention of what is merely advantageous to ourselves is not less a lie than if it tended to the disadvantage of our neighbour, though the cases are not equally criminal. To procure an advantage for anyone which he has no right to enjoy, is to subvert the order of justice. Falsely to attribute to ourselves, or others, any action, from which praise or blame, inculpation or exculpation may ensue, is to be guilty of injustice; then, everything contrary to truth, which, tends to the subversion of justice, is a lie, and this is the precise boundary of that vice; but that which is not truth, yet has no kind of influence on natural justice, is only fiction; and I must confess, that whoever reproaches himself with simple fiction as being guilty of a lie, has a conscience more delicate than mine.
Those which are called good-natured, or obliging falsehoods, are, notwithstanding, real lies; because an imposition, whether to the advantage of ourselves or others, is not less unjust than an imposition of a contrary tendency. That a man who bestows either praise or blame contrary to truth is guilty of a falsehood, when any real person is spoken of; but if imaginary beings only are concerned, he is at liberty to say what he pleases, without being guilty of a lie; provided he does not undertake to decide on the morality of the imaginary facts, and forms no false conclusion, for then if he does not lie in regard to facts, he lies against moral truth, which is an hundred times more respectable.
I have seen those whom the world calls people of veracity, whose regard to truth amounted only to being scrupulously exact in frivolous conversations such as reciting with the utmost exactitude every circumstance of time, place, and persons, not permitting themselves the least latitude for fiction, or a single circumstance to be embellished or exaggerated. In every particular where their interest is not concerned, they maintain an inviolable fidelity in their relations; but let any subject be started by which any advantage may be obtained, every art is employed to represent things in the most favourable light, and should downright lies appear necessary, if they abstain from telling them, they take care to act in such a manner, that others may adopt erroneous opinions, without their suffering the imputation of falsehood, and thus, when prudence takes the opposite side, bid adieu to veracity.
The man of real veracity pursues a direct contrary course: in things perfectly indifferent, he pays little regard to that exactitude which the other class so much pride themselves on; he makes no scruple of amusing a company by feigned relations, from whence no unjust conclusion can be drawn, either for or against any person, dead or living; but every conversation which might unjustly produce good or evil, profit or loss, esteem or disdain for anyone, he considers as a lie, which is never suffered to take possession of his heart, his lips, or his pen. He is of strict veracity, even in opposition to his interest, though he prides himself little on maintaining it in idle conversation. He is of strict veracity, because he never seeks to deceive, but is as firm to the truth that condemns, as to that which honors him, never attempting imposition, either for his own advantage, or to the detriment of his enemies. The difference, then, between the man of real veracity, and he who only puts on the appearance of it, is, that the latter is most rigorously punctual to that truth which costs him nothing, but no further: while the former never adheres so pertinaciously to his veracity as when sacrificing his interest to the love of it.
But it will be said, how can this relaxation, in regard to indifferent concerns, be consistent with that ardent love of truth, which I make the principal distinction of the man of real veracity? Is not this love of truth contaminated in admitting such an alloy? No; it is pure and sincere; it is an emanation from the love of justice, which would scorn to be false, though frequently fictitious. Justice and truth, in his idea, are synonymous terms, which he uses indifferently. The holy truth, which his heart adores, consists not in frivolous expressions, or in indifferent actions, but in rendering everyone what is actually his due, whether it may be imputations favourable or unfavorable, either retributions of honour or shame, praise or disapprobation. He scorns to do his neighbour the slightest wrong, either from ill-will, or for his own emolument; his love of equity prevents the former, nor would his conscience suffer him to appropriate to his own use what belongs to another. He is ever most anxious to preserve the esteem of his own hears, it is the satisfaction he can least bear to part with, and he would feel a loss on acquiring the approbation of the whole world, at the expense of his own. He will lie, then, sometimes, in things indifferent, without scruple or consciousness of acting wrong; but never to the detriment, or advantage of his neighbour, or of himself. In everything that concerns historical truth, in all that respects the conduct of mankind, justice, social intercourse, or useful knowledge, he will, to the utmost of his abilities, keep both himself and others from error; and beyond this, he cannot conceive the existence of a lie. If the Temple de Guide is a useful work, the account of the Greek manuscript is an innocent fiction; if the work has an immoral tendency, it is an unjustifiable falsehood.
Such were the rules my conscience established with regard to truth and lying; but I felt, on examination, that I had followed these rules instinctively, before they were approved by my reason, moral instinct having ever made the application. That criminal lie of which poor Marion became the victim, was followed by inextinguishable remorse, which secured me for the rest of my life, not only from all lies of equal turpitude, but from all those (of whatever kind they might be) that could possibly affect the interest or reputation of another. By this general exclusion I have avoided the necessity of weighing whether the good which might follow a deviation from truth, was greater than the evil; for in thus marking the precise limits of lying, I have equally excluded mischievous or good-natured untruths, and regarding both as culpable, have forbid myself the use of either.
In this particular, as in most others, my disposition has greatly influenced my maxims, or, rather my habits; for I was never governed by rules, having ever followed the guidance of natural impulse. Never did a premeditated lie take possession of my thoughts, never did I lie for my interest, though frequently from shame, to extricate myself from embarrassment, in things utterly indifferent, or, at least, only interesting to myself when having a converse ion to sustain, the tardiness of my ideas rendered my discourse unentertaining, and obliged me to have recourse to fiction, which might furnish something to say. When it was necessary to speak, and amusing truths did not present themselves to my mind, I made use of fiction rather than remain silent; but, in the invention of these fables, I took every possible precaution that they should not be lies; that is to say, that they should neither wound justice, or interfere with that truth we owe to our neighbour, confining those discourses to a kind of fiction indifferent to myself and all mankind. I attempted to substitute moral possibilities in the place of moral facts; to represent the natural affections of the human hearts and draw some useful instruction from them; in one word, to invent moral tales and apologues; but it required more presence of mind, and facility of expression, than ever I possessed, to turn the familiar chat of conversation into useful instruction; its course, being too rapid for my ideas, forced me, generally, to speak before I thought, and by this means to utter ridiculous follies, which my reason, disapproved, and my heart rejected, at the very moment they were passing my lips, but which, continually preceding my judgment, could not be reformed by its censures.
It is, likewise, from this sudden irresistible impulse of constitution, that in circumstances entirely unforeseen, shame and timidity frequently force lies from me, without my will having any part in them, being produced by the necessity of an instant reply. The profound impression of the wrong done to poor Marion, is sufficient to restrain any that might be injurious to others, but not to prevent those which serve to extricate me from embarrassment, when none but myself is concerned, though not less contrary to my conscience and principles, than those which might influence the fate of others.
I call Heaven to witness, that if I could the next instant recall the lie that has excused, and declare the truth that would upbraid me, without doing myself an additional injury by such manifest retraction, I would do it gladly; but the shame of exposing myself thus evidently, forbids this acknowledgment, and I sincerely repent my fault, without having the power to repair it. One example will explain this better than all I can say, and show that I neither lie from interest or self love, still less from any mischievous intention; but merely from embarrassment and false shame, though frequently conscious that the lie is obvious, without even that consideration having power to prevent it.
Sometime ago M. Foulquier persuaded (contrary to my usual custom) to bring my wife, and join with him and M. Benoit in a friend dinner, which was provided for us at Mrs. Voussin's, the tavern-keeper, who was invited to dine with us, as were her two daughters. While we were at table, the eldest of these, who had lately been married, and was now with child [...*] looking in my face, asked me suddenly, whether I ever had any children? I answered with confusion, that I had not that happiness; on which, smiling maliciously, she looked round at the company, in a way that sufficiently expressed her meaning.
[* Some words illegible in the manuscript.]
It is evident this was not the answer I should have wished to make, even had I meant to deceive them, for I plainly saw by the looks of the company that my answer would not change their opinion in this particular. The negative I gave this question was expected; nay it was proposed on purpose to enjoy the satisfaction of making me lie, and I was not so stupid as not to perceive this. Two minutes after, the following answer, which I should have returned, presented itself to my mind. This is a very strange question from a young woman, to a man who remained a bachelor till his old age. Had I spoke thus, without lying, or making any avowal, I should have had no cause to blush, since I should have had the laughers on my side, with the satisfaction of having given her a kind of lesson, which might have taught her to be more cautious in questioning me impertinently. But I let this opportunity slip; indeed I seldom say what I ought, usually blundering on the contrary. It is certain, in this instance, that neither my judgment or will, dictated the answer I returned, which was the mechanical effect of my embarrassment. Formerly, I was less sensible of this shame, avowing my faults with more frankness than confusion; because I made no doubt, but the sorrow for them, which I felt so strongly, would be perceived; but the eye of malignity wounds and disconcerts me, as my unhappiness increases I become more fearful, and never did I venture on a lie but from timidity.
I was never more sensible of my natural aversion to falsehood than while writing my Confessions, for then temptations to this vice were strong and frequent, had my disposition inclined that way; but far from having concealed or used dissimulation in any particular I had to charge myself with, by a turn of mind I find it difficult to describe, and which proceeded, perhaps, from my dislike to every species of imitation, I rather found myself inclined to err in a contrary sense, by accusing myself too severely, than by covering my faults with too much indulgence; and my conscience assures me, that one day I shall be judged with more lenity than I have already dealt to myself. Yes, I aver with a noble elevation of soul, that I carried veracity and freedom as far, or I dare believe further, in that work, than ever man did; for feeling that the good outweighed the evil, I was proud to divulge all; accordingly nothing was concealed.
I have never said less than the truth, I have sometimes said more, not in regard to facts, but the feelings they produced; and this kind of falsehood was rather an effect of the delirium of imagination, than an act of my will. I do wrong even to call this falsehood, for none of these additions deserve that name. I wrote my Confessions in my old age, after having been disgusted with the vain pleasures of life, which I had lightly ran over, and which my heartfelt the insufficiency of. I wrote from memory; this frequently failed me, of furnished but imperfect ideas; I was obliged therefore to fill up these chasms by the assistance of imagination, which never contradicted reality. I loved to dwell on the happy moments of my life, and sometimes to embellish them with ornaments, which tender regret for their loss supplied me with. I represented those things which had escaped my memory, as I was persuaded they had been, and perhaps, as they really were; but never different from what I recollected of them. I might give truth some borrowed charms, but never did I put lies in the place of it, in order to palliate my vices or enhance my virtues.
If, sometimes, by an involuntary motion, while painting myself in profile, I have exhibited that side which was least deformed, these concealments have been fully compensated by others more extraordinary, by which I have frequently concealed graces more carefully than dissects. This is a singularity in my disposition which mankind will be very pardonable in disbelieving; but which, however incredible, is no less true. I have often exposed my faults in all their turpitude; but I have seldom related what was praise-worthy with every possible advantage, and I have sometimes suppressed altogether what seemed to give me too much honour, lest, instead of writing my Confessions, I should seem to have been writing my panegyric. I have described my early youth without dwelling on those happy qualities with which my heart was endowed, and even sometimes concealing facts which would have put them beyond doubt. I now recollect two in particular, both which occurred while writing my Confessions, that I omitted them for the above mentioned reason.
I went almost every Sunday to pass the day at Paques with Monsieur Fazy, who had married one of my aunts, and who had a manufactory there of India stuffs. I was one day in the calendering room, looking at the brass rollers, whose brightness took my attention and tempted me to rub my fingers on them; when young Fazy, having got into the wheel, gave it about the eight of a turn so suddenly, that the rollers caught the ends of two of my fingers and crushed them. I screamed out, and Fazy instantly turned back the machine; but my nails continued on the cylinder, and the blood ran from my fingers. Fazy cried out with fright, hastened from the wheel, embraced me, conjuring me to cease my cries, or he should be undone. In the height of my anguish, his uneasiness affected me; I was silent; we went to the carp pond where he helped to wash my fingers, and stop the blood with some moss. He begged me with tears not to accuse him; I promised him I would not, and kept my word as well, that twenty years after, nobody knew by what accident my fingers had been scarred, for they ever remained so. I was obliged to keep my bed for three weeks on this account; it was more than two months before I was able to use my hand, and when anyone enquired how I came by this hurt, I said a great stone had fallen on my fingers, and crushed them.
Magnanima menzôgna! or quando è il vero
Si bello che si possa à te preporre?
One circumstance, however, that attended this accident, rendered it very vexatious; it happened to be at the time they were teaching the citizens their exercise; they had formed a rank with three other boys, who, with myself, in our uniforms, were to exercise in the company which belonged to our quarter of the town, and I had the mortification to hear the drum pass under my window, attended by my three companions, while I was confined to my bed.
The other instance is similar, but happened when I was something older.
I was at Plain-Palais with one of my acquaintance, whose name was Plince, playing a game at mall. Happening to quarrel in our game, we fought, and during the combat, he gave me a blow on the head with the mall, so well applied, that, with a little more strength, it must have split my skull. I instantly sell, and never in my life was witness of such violent agitation as this poor boy expressed on seeing the blood run down my hair. He thought I was killed, threw himself on me and bursting into tears, even shrieked out with anguish. I embraced him, as well as I was able, mingling my tears with his, being sensible of an emotion that was not without its charms. At length he endeavoured to stop the blood, which yet continued to run, and finding we could not effect this with our handkerchiefs, he took me to his mother, who had a little garden just by. This good lady could hardly support herself on seeing me in this condition; she retained strength enough, however, to administer the assistance I stood in need of, and after having fomented my wound, dressed it with lilies steeped in brandy, which is reckoned an excellent vulnerary, and is much used in that country. Her tears, and those of her son, penetrated my heart to such a degree, that for a long time after, I looked on her as my mother, and him and my brother; till after having been absent some years, I gradually forgot them.
I was as secret in this instance as I had been in the former, and an hundred circumstances of this kind have happened in my life, which I was not tempted to speak of in my Confessions; so little did I endeavour to make the most advantage of those good qualities I felt in my character. No; whenever I spoke contrary to known truth, it was in things that were utterly indifferent, and proceeded from the difficulty I found in expressing my thoughts, or the pleasure of writing, and not from any interested motive, or to the prejudice of any person; and whoever will be at the pains of reading my Confessions impartially, if that should ever be the case, will find that those particulars which I have avowed are more humiliating and difficult to be acknowledged than many of greater atrocity, but less disgraceful, and which I have not considered, because I never, with intention, committed them.
It follows from all these reflections, that the profession of veracity I had made was rather founded on my own sentiments of uprightness and equity than on the nature of things, and that in my practice I have rather followed the dictates of my conscience than any abstract notions of truth and falsehood. I have often invented fables, but seldom lied. By following these principles, I have often given my enemies advantage over me, but have done no wrong to anyone, nor have I attributed more merit to myself than was my due. It seems to me, that truth is only a virtue when considered in this light; in other respects, it is only a metaphysical study, from which neither good or evil can result.
I do not, however, feel my heart sufficiently satisfied to believe myself absolutely irreprehensible In weighing so carefully what I owed to others, have I sufficiently examined what I owed to myself? If we should be just to our neighbour, we certainly should be so to ourselves; it is an homage which every honest man should pay to his own dignity. When I supplied the barrenness of my Conversation with innocent fiction, I was certainly wrong, because we ought never to disgrace ourselves in order to amuse others; and when carried away by the pleasure of writing, I added to reality invented ornaments, I was still more blameable, since to decorate truth with fables, is in fact to disfigure it.
But what rendered me still less inexcusable was the motto I had chosen, which obliged me more than any other man to a strict adherence to truth; it was not sufficient, therefore, that I should sacrifice my interest and inclinations, I should likewise have conquered my weakness and natures timidity if should have shown courage and strength on all occasions, and fiction or fable should never have escaped the lips or pen which were particularly consecrated to truth. Thus I should have resolved, when I adopted that proud device, and this should have been continually in my remembrance while I dared to bear it. Never did premeditated falsehood dictate my deviations from truth, they ever arose from weakness; though I confess this is a bad excuse. A weak soul finds sufficient difficulty in abstaining from vice; but it is arrogance and temerity for it to make profession of heroic virtues.
Perhaps these reflections would never have occurred, had not the Abbé Rosier suggested them. It is very late, doubtless, to put them in practice; bus it is not too late to be convinced of my errors, and to rectify my will: henceforward, that is all that depends on me; but on this, and every other similar occasion, the maxim of Solon is applicable to all ages, and it is never too late to learn, even from our enemies, to be just, modest, and unpresuming.
OF all the places I have inhabited (and I have been in some that were delightful) none ever rendered me so truly happy, or left such pleasing impressions on my memory, as the Island of Saint Pierre, in the Lake of Bienne. This little island, which is called at Neufchâtel the Isle of La Motte, is little known, even in Switzerland, no traveller, that I recollect, having mentioned it; notwithstanding it is very agreeable, and peculiarly calculated for the happiness of a man who loves to circumscribe his steps: for though I am, perhaps, the only one in the world to whom Fate has given law in that particular, I cannot believe I am the only person who possesses so natural a taste, though, to the present moment, I have never happened to meet with anyone of that disposition.
The banks of the Lake of Bienne are more wild and romantic even than those of the Lake of Geneva, since the rocks and woods approach nearer to the edge of the water, and in other respects are no less delightful. If well cultivated meadows and vineyards are not so numerous; if there are fewer towns and houses, there is more natural verdure, fields, study retreats and groves; in a word, agreeable and well-contrasted objects more frequently present themselves. As there is no commodious road on these smiling banks for carriages, the country is little frequented by travellers; but is highly interesting to the contemplative philosopher, who loves to ruminate at leisure on the charms of Nature, while retiring into a silence broken only by the cry of eagles, the mingled warbling of various song-birds, or the rustling of torrents which precipitate themselves from the surrounding mountains. This beautiful basin, which is almost round, contains near its centre, two small islands; one, cultivated and inhabited, which is about half a league in circumference; the other, smaller, desert and wild, which will in time be totally destroyed, from the transportation of earth, which is continually being removed to repair the devastation made by the waves and storms on the larger one. Thus, in every instance, the substance of the weak; is employed to give additional strength to the powerful. There is but one house at this place, which is large, agreeable, and commodious, this belongs to the hospital of Berne, as does the whole island, and is inhabited by the Steward of this estate, his family and domestics; who has poultry in abundance, a dove house, fish-ponds, lie. The island, though small, is so diversified by its various products and aspect, that it presents a variety of prospects; being proper for every kind of culture, you see alternately, fields, vineyards, orchards, and rich pastures, shaded by groves of trees, and intermingled with shrubs of all kinds, which, from the vicinity of the water are kept perpetually fresh. A high terrace, planted with two rows of trees, runs the whole length of the island, and in the middle of this terrace a pretty saloon is erected, where the inhabitants from the neighbouring shores meet and dance on Sundays, during the vintage. In this island I took refuge, after the lapidation of Motiers, and found its situation so delightful, and the life I led there so conformable to my humour, that I resolved to end my days in this place, and had no inquietude, except a doubt, whether I should be permitted to execute this project, which did not accord with that which carried me to England, for I already began to feel that inclination, and those presentiments of future suffering which yet pursued me. I wished this asylum had been made my perpetual prison, that I had been confined there for life, and deprived of the power or hope of quitting it; cut off from all communication with the rest of the world, ignorant of what passed there, that I might forget its existence, and that mine also be forgotten.
I was permitted to pass only two months in this island, but I could have passed two years, a whole eternity there, without one moment's weariness, though I had, except Teresa, no other company than the above mentioned Steward and his family, who were all very good sort of people, and nothing further; but that was precisely what was necessary for me. I reckon these two months as the most pleasing part of my life; I was so truly happy, that I could have been satisfied with it during my whole existence, without a single wish arising in my soul to exchange that felicity for another kind of enjoyment.
What did this happiness consist of, and what was it I so particularly enjoyed? I leave that to be guessed by the present generation, from the description I shall give of it. The precious far niente was the first and principal of these enjoyments, which I indulged unto the utmost extent, and all I did during my residence there, was but the pleasing and necessary occupation of a man devoted to indolence.
The hope that nothing more could be derived by my persecutors than to leave me in this lonely spot, where I had willingly ensnared myself, which, it was impossible for me to quit with privacy or without assistance, and where I could have neither communication or correspondence, but through the medium of those who surrounded me. This inspired me with expectation of concluding my days in more tranquillity than I had hitherto passed them, and the idea that I should have time to settle all at leisure, occasioned me to neglect everything. Hurried there naked and alone, I successively sent for my wise, my books, and some other little necessaries, which I never had the pleasure of unpacking, but left my cares and chests as they arrived, living on the spot where I hoped to conclude my life, as in an inn, which I purposed to quit the next day. I found everything here so perfectly to my mind, that to have made any change would have spoiled all. One of my greatest pleasures was, to leave my books well packed, and to have no ink-stand, and on receiving any troublesome letter, which I was obliged to answer, I borrowed the Steward's, grumbling the whole time, and hastening to return it, with the vain wish that I might have no more occasion for pens or ink. Instead of stupid manuscripts and musty books, I filled my apartment with; flowers and plants, for I was then in the first server of botany, which taste the Doctor of Invernois had lately inspired me with, and which presently became a passion. Rejecting, therefore, all laborious researches, I was only for studies which suited an indolent life, and would furnish amusement, without much trouble. I undertook to compose: the Flora Petrinsularis, and describe all the plants of the island, without a single exception, a detail sufficient to have employed all the rest of my days.
'Tis said that a certain German wrote a book on the zest of a lemon; I should have written one on each herb the field produced, on every kind of moss that adhered to the trees, on each weed that covered and: adorned the rocks; in short, I designed that not a single blade of grass or vegetable atom should escape an ample description.
In consequence of this noble resolution, every morning after breakfast (which we partook of all together) I went, with a magnifying glass in my hand, and my Systema Natura under my arm, to visit a certain portion of the island, which I had, for that purpose, divided into four parts, with an intention to explore them successively in each season of the year. Nothing can be more singular than the delight and ecstasy I experienced on each observation of the structure, organization, and action of the sexual parts in the fructification of vegetables; which system was hitherto absolutely new to me. The distinction of generical characters which I traced among common plants till others should present themselves, and which I had not before the least conception of, charmed me beyond measure. The long forked stamina of the Brunelle, the observations I made on those of the nettle and pellitory, the explosion of the fruit of the balfam-apple, and the bud of the box-tree, a thousand little acts of fructification which I observed for the first time, overwhelmed me with delight; I was ready to run to everyone and enquire, whether they had seen the horns of the Brunelle, as Fontaine enquired if anyone had ever read Habakkuk. In two or three hours, I usually returned with an ample provision—a stock of amusement for the employment of the afternoon at home, in case of rain. I employed the rest of the morning, in going with the Steward, his wise, and Teresa, to see the husbandmen, and observe the harvest, usually putting my hand to the work; and frequently, when the inhabitants of Berne came to visit me, they found me perched up in a great tree, girded about with a sack that I was filling with fruit, and which I afterwards let down by a cord. The exercise I had taken in the morning, and the good humour inseparable from it, rendered rest at dinner-time very agreeable, but when it was too long, and the fine weather invited me abroad, I could not spare so much time, and while others were yet at table, I stole away, then leaping into the boat, rowed it to the middle of the Lake, and when the water was calm, laying at my whole length, with my eyes towards Heaven, let it drive slowly with the waters, sometimes, for several hours, enjoying a thousand pleasing, though confused reveries, which, without any particular and fixed object, were, in my opinion, an hundred times preferable to what I had ever found among the most delightful of what are called the pleasures of life. Sometimes on being informed by the declination of the Sun, that it was time to return home, I found myself so far from the island, that I was obliged to labour with my utmost strength to reach it before night.
At other times, instead of passing my time on the water, I amused myself in walking along the verdant banks of the island, where the limpid waters and refreshing shades frequently invited me to bathe; but one of my most customary excursions, was a voyage to the small island, where I used to disembark, and pass the afternoon in extremely circumscribed walks, in the midst of water-pepper, thistles, rook-stalk, and shrubs of every kind. Sometimes reposing on the top of a sandy hillock, covered with graft, wild thyme, flowers, and even clover, which possibly had been sown there formerly, and was very proper nourishment for rabbits, who might multiply there in peace, without fear for themselves, or injury to anything. I made this remark to the Steward, who sent to Neufchatel for some rabbits, and went with great ceremony, accompanied by his wise, one of his sisters, Teresa, and myself, to establish them on this little island, which they began to people before my departure, and where, without doubt, they continued to increase, if they could sustain the rigor of the winter. The planting of this little colony was a holiday, and the pilot of the Argonauts could not have been prouder of his office than I was on that occasion, while taking the company and rabbits from the large to the small island; nor did I forget to remark, that the Steward's wise, who was extremely apprehensive of water, embarked with confidence under my care, and showed no signs of fear during the passage.
When the Lake was too much agitated to permit my navigating it with safety, I passed the afternoon in walking through the island, herbalizing in all parts, or seating myself on some pleasant solitary spot, enjoyed at ease the charm of contemplation. At other times, I gained the natural terraces and heights of the island, from whence my eye ran over the magnificent and delightful prospect of the Lake and its shores, crowned on one side by the neighbouring mountains, exhibiting on the other a view of open and richly cultivated plains, beyond which the sight was lost among the bluish mountains which bounded the horizon. On the approach of night, I descended from these eminences, and, seated on the sands at the edge of the Lake, or in some concealed retreat, where the roaring of the waves, and commotion of the waters taking my attention, chased the idea of every other agitation from my soul, plunging it into delicious reveries, during which night frequently stole on me unperceived.
The ebb and flow of the water, its continual noise, increased at intervals by the wind, perpetually striking on the organs of sight and hearing, kept up those inward sensations which my reveries almost extinguished, just enough to make me sensible of my existence, without the trouble of reflection; and if at times some comparisons occurred On the instability of worldly concerns, which were aptly compared to the troubled face of the waters, these light impressions were quickly effaced by the continued uniformity of the scene. Charmed, without any active concurrence of my soul, I felt myself so powerfully attached to the spot, that when informed by night and the appointed signal, that it was time to return, I could not quit it without regret.
After supper, when the evening was fine, we walked all together on the terrace, and breathed the fresh air from the Lake, or, seated, in the pavilion, laughed, chatted, or sung some good old songs, which were preferable to the laboured composition of our modern ones; and, at length, retired to rest, content with the pleasures of the day, and desirous of spending the succeeding one in a similar manner.
Thus passed my time, during my residence on this island, when not interrupted by unforeseen and troublesome visitors. But what was there in all this sufficiently attractive to excite in my heart regrets so lively, tender, and durable, that after fifteen years, it is impossible to think of this beloved habitation, without feeling myself in a manner transported thither by the ardour of my wishes?
I have remarked during the vicissitudes of a long life, that the periods of sweetest enjoyment, and most lively pleasure, are not those whose remembrance wins and delights me most. These moments of delirium and passion, however charming they might be, appear from their vivacity itself, but as points thinly scattered along the line of life, being too detached and rapid to constitute any permanent idea of felicity. The happiness my heart regrets is not composed of fugitive moments, but is an uniform and lasting condition, which has nothing ravishing in itself, but whose continuation increases the charm, till at length it arrives at supreme felicity.
Everything fluctuates on earth; nothing remains in a constant and lasting form, and those affections which are attached to external things necessarily change with their object. We are ever looking forward or backward, ruminating on what is past, and can return no more, or anticipating the future, which may never arrive; there is nothing solid to which the heart can attach, itself, neither have we here below any pleasures that are lasting. Permanent, happiness is, I fear, unknown, and scarcely is there an instant in our most lively enjoyments when the heart can truly say, May this moment last forever!!! How then can such a fugitive state be called happiness, which leaves an uneasy void in the heart, which ever prompts us to regret something that is past, or desire something for the future?
But if there is a state where the soul can find a hold strong enough to lean on securely, to attach its whole being to, without a single wish to recall the past or anticipate the future, where time appears avoid, and the present is extended without our noticing its duration, or tracing its successions without any idea of privation or enjoyment, pleasure or pain, desire, fear, or sensation, except of our existence, that sentiment alone employing it, while this state lasts, the person who feels it may call himself happy; not possessing an imperfect happiness, poor and dependent, but a complete felicity, perfect and full, which leaves no wish or void in the soul.
Such is the state in which I frequently found myself in the island of Saint Pierre, in my solitary reveries; whether stretched in a boat which I let float to the will of the waters, seated on the banks of the agitated Lake, on the borders of a beautiful river, or by a brook murmuring over its pebbled bottom.
In what does the enjoyment of such a situation consist? In nothing beyond ourselves, nothing foreign to our own existence, for while this state lasts (like the supreme) the enjoyment of that alone is sufficient felicity. The consciousness of existence, divested of every other sensation, is a sentiment of contentment and peace, which alone suffices to render it dear and satisfactory to whoever can put away those sensual and earthly affections which perpetually disturb and embitter our terrestrial felicity.
But the greater part of mankind, agitated by continual passions, are little acquainted with this state, and having imperfectly enjoyed it, during a few instants, perhaps, thence form a very inadequate idea, which prevents their feeling its worth. Perhaps it might not be convenient, in the present order of things, that, lost in pleasing ecstasies, mankind should be disgusted with an active life, since their multiplied wants have prescribed it as a duty. But an unfortunate being, cut off from human society, who can no longer perform anything useful here below, either for himself or others, may find in this state a pleasing consolation, which neither fortune or man can deprive him of.
It is true that these consolations cannot be felt by all minds, nor in all situations. It is necessary that the heart should be at peace, that no passion should arise to disturb this calm; it requires not only a disposition adapted to it on the part of the person who is to experience this felicity, but a concurrence of surrounding objects; neither an absolute repose, or too much agitation but an uniform form and moderate disposition, not subject to sudden gusts of passion, or utter despondency.—Without motion, life is but a lethargy; but if the agitation is unequal, or too violent, it awakens our feelings, fixes them too much on external objects, destroys the pleasure of the reverie, and, tearing us from ourselves, instantly replaces us under the yoke of fortune and mankind, giving us back the sensation of our misfortunes. Absolute rest is productive of melancholy, and presents the image of death; then the assistance of a cheerful imagination is necessary, which voluntarily presents its aid to those on whom Heaven has bestowed it. This degree of emotion, therefore, if not supplied by outward objects, should arise from within ourselves; this lessens our repose 'tis true, but it is also more agreeable, when the inward soul does nothing more than lightly touch the surface. There should be only just enough to recollect ourselves, and forget all our misfortunes. This kind of reverie may be enjoyed in every situation where we can obtain tranquillity; and I have often thought that in the Bastile, or in a dungeon, where no object struck my sight, I could enjoy agreeable contemplations.
It must be allowed, these were more agreeably produced in a fertile, though solitary island, naturally circumscribed and detached from the rest of the world, where nothing but smiling objects presented themselves, where no painful remembrances were recalled, and where the society of a small number of inhabitants was connected and pleasing, without being sufficiently interesting to occupy me entirely; where, in fine, I could either give myself up for the whole day to those occupations which were most comfortable to my disposition, or to the most luxurious indolence. The occasion was, doubtless, delightful, and a contemplative mind, that could even produce agreeable chimeras, when surrounded by displeasing objects, could enjoy itself completely when presented with a concurrence of every charm that could fill the senses with delight. Awaking from a long and charming reverie, beholding myself surfeited by verdure, flowers and birds, letting my senses wander to the distant romantic shores and vast extent of crystalline waters, I connected all those pleasing objects with my fictitious enjoyments, and returning by degrees to my reason, could scarcely distinguish the point of separation between ideal and real delights; so much did everything concur to complete the happiness of that quiet solitary life I led In this charming abode. Why cannot I recall it? Why cannot I go and finish my days in that peaceful life, without ever quitting it, or seeing any inhabitant of the continent, who might once recall those calamities of all kinds, which have been showered on me during so many years? Delivered from all earthly passions which are engendered by the tumults of society, my soul would frequently bound above its atmosphere, and anticipate its communion with those celestial intelligences whose number it shortly hopes to augment. I know mankind will beware of affording so quiet an asylum, but they cannot prevent me from transporting myself each day on the wings of imagination to that happy spot, and enjoying, for some hours, the pleasure I tasted while I dwelt there. Was I on that island, my pleasing reveries might be more conveniently enjoyed; but if I can imagine myself there, is it not the same thing? It is frequently more; for in addition to abstract and monotonous contemplation, I join every charming idea that could vivify the scene. Real objects frequently escape my senses, during these ecstasies; but the more profound my reveries, the more expressively they represent ideal ones. I am frequently in the midst of these delights, and they appear even more charming than when on the island of Saint Pierre I actually beheld them.
The misfortune is, that as imagination cools, they are represented with more difficulty, and are of shorter duration—Alas! 'tis when we are about to quit this mortal covering, that we are most embarrassed with it.
SCARCELY have we a mechanical propensity whose cause might not be traced in our hearts, if we knew how to search for them. Yesterday, in passing the new Boulevard, to herbalize along the side of the Biévre, next to Gentilly, I turned to the right, on approaching the Barriere d'Enfer, getting into the country on the road to Fontainbleau, and gaining the heights which border that little river. This walk was very indifferent in itself: but recalling to my memory that I had often mechanically taken the same route, I sought within myself for the cause, and could not help laughing on the discovery of it.
In one corner of the Boulevards, as you pass the Barrier d'Enfer, a woman is daily stationed, during the summer, who sells fruit, ptisan, and small loaves. This woman has a son, an agreeable boy, but lame, who hobbling on his crutches, asks charity of the passers by with a tolerable good grace. I scraped a kind of acquaintance with this little fellow, and he never failed to pay his compliments as I passed by, which was always followed by my little gratuity. At first, I was pleased to see him, bestowed my mite willingly, and continued to do so for some time with unabated satisfaction, often listening to, and exciting his little prattle, which I found very entertaining. This pleasure became habitual, and found itself by degrees, I know not how, transformed, into a kind of duty, which I soon felt the weight of, and particularly, as in the preliminary harangue, which one must listen to, he never failed to call me repeatedly Monsieur Rousseau, to demonstrate that he knew me; but which informed me, on the contrary, that he knew me no better than those who had instructed him. From that time, I passed this spot less willingly and, at length, mechanically got into the habit of taking a round when I approached this crossway. On reflection, I discovered the reason of my conduct, for nothing of all this had distinctly occurred till now.
This observation recalled successively a multitude of others, which confirmed me in the opinion, that the true and primitive motives of the greater part of my actions, are not so clearly perceived by myself as I had supposed them. I know and feel, that to do good is the truest happiness that the human heart can experience; but this happiness has been long since out of my reach, and it is riot in so miserable state as mine, that I can hope to select one single action that would be productive of real good. The greatest care of those who govern my fate having been, that everything in respect to me should bear a false deceitful appearance, a seeming virtuous motive, is no more than a lure, which they present in order to lead me into that snare which they have set to entangle me. I am fully sensible of this, and also that the only good remaining in my power is to abstain from acting, for fear of doing ill, without intending or knowing it.
I have known happier moments, when following the emotions of my heart, I could sometimes bestow content on others; and I owe myself the honourable testimony, that whenever I could enjoy that satisfaction, I found it more delightful than any other. This inclination was lively, true, pure, and nothing in my most secret thoughts ever contradicted it, though I have frequently felt the weight of those benefits I conferred, by the chain of obligations they drew after them. On these occasions the pleasure disappeared, and I no longer found in the continuation of my favours, that charm which had before delighted me; but instead of it, a most insupportable constraint.
During my short-lived prosperity, numbers had recourse to me, and never, in any service I could render them, did I once refuse my assistance; but those first benefits, bestowed in the full effusion of my heart, forged chains of successive engagements which I could not foresee, and whose weight I could not support. My first services were, in the opinion of those who received them, an earnest of many which were to follow, and whenever any unfortunate circumstance threw on me the grapple of a benefit received, it was all over with me; this voluntary and free gift established an indisputable debt in all those emergencies which might occur hereafter, without inability itself being a sufficient excuse; and thus a very pleasing and rational enjoyment was, in time, transformed into a burthensome obligation.
These chains, however, did not seem very heavy to me while the public remained ignorant of them, and I lived in obscurity; but when once my writings had made my person known (a great fault, doubtless, but more than expiated by my misfortunes) I became the universal resort of the unfortunate, or those calling themselves, such, of all adventurers who sought a dupe, and of all those who under cover of the great credit they pretended to attribute to me, endeavoured to profit by my easiness. It was then I had occasion to experience that every natural propensity, not excepting even benevolence itself, when carried to extremes, and practiced in society without prudence or discrimination, change their nature, and frequently become as dangerous as they would be useful under proper regulation. So many cruel experiments altered my disposition by degrees; or rather, confined it within proper limits, teaching me to follow my inclination of doing good less blindly, or deny assistance, when it only served to favour the wickedness of others. But I do not regret these mortifications, since they procured me, by reflection, new lights on the knowledge of myself, and on the true motives of my conduct in a thousand particulars, in which I had been usually deceived.
I have found, that in order to do good with satisfaction to myself, it is necessary I should act with freedom; that the pleasure a virtuous action should bestow, is lost when once it becomes a duty, and that the pressure of obligation is sufficient to convert the most pleasing enjoyment into an intolerable burthen. This conviction has greatly modified the opinion I long since had entertained of my own virtue; for there is none in following our inclinations, and doing good, because it procures us satisfaction; but in vanquishing our propensities when duty demands it, ever acting as that prescribes, which I have known less how to perform, than any man in the world.
Born with a feeling and virtuous heart, carrying pity and commiseration even to weakness, my soul exulting in every act of generosity, I was humane, benevolent, and charitable, from inclination, and even through the influence of the passions; my heart alone being interested. I should have been the best and most merciful of men, had I been the most powerful, and to have extinguished in my breast every desire of vengeance, it was only necessary to have put revenge within my reach. I should have been just without constraint, though in opposition to my interest; but, to the disadvantage of persons dear to me, I could never resolve to be so. When my duty and heart were at variance, the former seldom gained the victory, unless forbearance alone was necessary, then I was frequently strong; but to act from duty in opposition to inclination, I found impossible. Let duty, or even necessity, command, when my heart is silent my inclination is also deaf, and I cannot obey: I see the evil that threatens, and let it arrive, instead of attempting to prevent it; I sometimes make an effort, but it presently tires me, and I find it impossible to persevere. Among the things I might easily perform, what I cannot do with pleasure, I find it in vain to attempt. Yet more; constraint, though in instances which naturally accord with my disposition, is sufficient to deaden, and convert them into repugnance, or even aversion, if it acts too strongly: this it was that rendered painful the good actions required of me, though I should have performed them freely had they been undemanded. Unconstrained benevolence is what I love to bestow; but when those who have received it, pretend to extort a continuation, under pain of their hatred, and make out an obligation of ever continuing a benefactor, because I once took pleasure in being such, from that moment constraint arrives and inclination vanishes. What I then give into, is from weakness, or false shame; good will no longer subsists, and, far from applauding, I even reproach myself for acting thus in opposition to my feelings.
I know there is a kind of contract, and even of the most reasonable kind, subsisting between the benefactor and the obliged: it is a sort of society which they form with each other, more closely connected than that which generally unites mankind. If the person obliged engages himself to gratitude, the benefactor engage, in the same degree, to preserve for the other, as long as he shall remain worthy of it, that good will he has thought fit to demonstrate, and to renew those acts of beneficence as often as his abilities will permit, and they should be required of him: these are the express conditions and natural effects of that compact which is established between them. The person who refuses the first favour demanded of him, gives no right of complaint to the person refuse but he who will not repeat a favour formerly granted, frustrates a hope himself has authorized, deceiving and defeating an expectation he at first gave rise to. This refusal is thought more unjust and harsh than the first would have been, though equally proceeding from that independence which the soul loves, and which it cannot renounce without difficulty. When I pay a debt, I fulfil a duty; when I bestow a gift, I procure myself a satisfaction: the pleasure attending the former arises from habitual virtue, that which attends the latter, is a spontaneous effect of nature, and of an inferior quality.
After so many melancholy experiments, I have learned to foresee the consequences which would result from following the first impulse of my feelings, and have frequently abstained from a good action I had both will and ability to perform, from a dread of the obligation it might hereafter draw upon me, if I gave into it inconsiderately. I was not always sensible of this fear; on the contrary, in my youth, I generally became attached to those who received obligations from me, and frequently experienced a return of affection, founded more on gratitude than interest. But things have changed their appearance in this particular, as in most others, since the commencement of my misfortunes. From that time, I have lived as in a new generation which bears no resemblance to the former; and my opinion in regard to others has experienced as great a change as theirs can possibly have done in respect to me. The very people I was acquainted with in the former, appear quite different in this latter generation, and (to use the expression) have assimilated into it. Formerly, open, frank, and generous; then, as they now are, having changed with the times, and acted like the rest. How, then, can I maintain the same opinion for those who have adopted sentiments quite contrary to those which gave rise to it? I do not hate mankind, because I cannot feel hatred; but it is impossible to refuse them that disdain they merit, or refrain from, expressing my disapprobation.
Perhaps a greater change than was necessary has taken place even in myself, without my being sensible of it: but what man could remain unaltered in a situation similar to mine, convinced by twenty years experience, that all the happy dispositions Nature had implanted in my heart, were turned by my destiny, or the contrivance of those who direct it, to the prejudice of myself or others, and can no longer look on a good action demanded of me, but as a snare under which some certain mischief is concealed? I am convinced, that whatever the effect might be, I should no less have the merit of my good intentions; but the interior charm is no more, I feel nothing but indifference and apathy, for being persuaded, that instead of doing an useful action, I am only duped, indignation and self-love join the disapprobation of my reason, inspiring repugnance and aversion, instead of that candour and zeal I should have felt in my natural state of mind.
There are adversities which elevate and strengthen the soul, but there are others which deaden and depress it, and of these I am the prey. Had there been any bad leaven in my soul, the fermentation might have been raised to excess, and made me frantic; but in my present situation, it has only rendered me of no use in the world, being incapable of doing a good action for myself or others. I, therefore, abstain from the endeavour; and this state, which is only innocent because unavoidable, makes me experience a kind of pleasure in giving wholly without reproach, into the natural indolence of my disposition. I doubtless go too far when I avoid every occasion of acting, even where I see nothing but good can result from it; but convinced that I am not permitted to view things as they really are, I abstain from judging by appearances, and whatever lure is thrown over any arguments for acting, their being put in my way, is sufficient to convince me they are fallacious.
Even from infancy, my destiny seems to have spread the first snare which so long since rendered me liable to fall into others. Born the most credulous of men, during a period of forty years, my natural confidence was never once deceived: Falling suddenly among a different order of beings, I gave into a thousand snares without once suspecting them, and twenty years experience has scarcely sufficed to acquaint me with my fate. At length convinced that the demonstrations of regard and friendship they lavished on me, were only falsehood and deceits I passed rapidly to the opposite extreme; for when once we have quitted the natural bias of our inclinations, no bounds contain us. From that time, I was disgusted with mankind, and my will coinciding with theirs in this respect, held me at a greater distance from the world than all their machinations.
Do all they can, my repugnance can never amount to aversion. When I consider the dependence under which they have placed themselves to me, that I might remain equally dependent on them, they inspire me with real pity. If I am not unhappy, they are so, nor do I ever contemplate this subject, without finding their condition truly lamentable. Pride, perhaps, has some influence over my own feelings; conscious superiority forbids my hatred; they may excite my disdain, but it can go no further; in short, I love myself too well to admit of hatred for anyone; that would be closing, contracting my existence, which I rather wish to extend over the whole universe.
I had much rather fly than hate mankind. Their aspect strikes my senses, and through them my heart, with impressions which a thousand cruel circumstances render painful; but the uneasiness ceases the moment the object that caused it disappears. While present, I think of them in spite of myself, but never by means of recollection, and when absent they are as if they did not exist.
They are only indifferent in what relates to myself; for when others are concerned, they interest and move me, like the characters of a drama which I see represented on the stage; for to render justice indifferent to me, my moral being must be annihilated. Scenes of injustice and wickedness yet make my blood boil with anger, while acts of virtue, in which neither affectation or ostentation appear, make me even tremble with delight, and draw tears of satisfaction from my eyes. But then, it is necessary I should see and be convinced of their reality, since after what I have experienced, trusting report, or the judgment of others, would be madness.
If my person and features were as much unknown to mankind as my disposition and temper, I should yet live quietly among them, and their society might even be pleasing, while I remained a perfect stranger. Given up without constraint to my natural inclination, I should yet love them, if they never troubled themselves with me, should exercise an universal and perfectly disinterested benevolence, and, without forming any particular attachment, or bearing the joke of any duty, would do for them freely, all they have taken so much pains to incite by their self-love, or enforce by their laws, dictated by vanity, and pursued with severity.
If I had remained free, obscure, and alone placed in the situation Nature designed me for, I should have done nothing but what was right, for my heart bears not the feeds of any mischievous passion. Had I been invisible and powerful as the Almighty, I should have been benevolent and good like him: it is power and freedom that make good men, weakness and slavery never made any but wicked ones. Had I been in possession of Gyges's ring, it would have removed me from dependence on mankind, and have made them dependent on me. When in my air-built castles, I have frequently asked myself what use I should make of this ring? For a temptation to abuse is very nearly allied to the power. Master of satisfying my desires, everything within my reach, without a possibility of being deceived by anyone, what could I have desired beyond it? Only one thing: that would have been, to see all hearts content: the appearance of universal felicity being alone able to inspire my soul with permanent happiness, while the ardent desire to increase it, had been my most constant passion. Just without partiality, and good without weakness, I should equally have secured myself from blind distrust or implacable hatred: because seeing mankind as they really are, and reading the very bottom of their hearts, I should have found none amiable enough to merit all my affection, few odious enough to deserve all my hatred, or whose wickedness itself did not dispose me to pity, by a certain knowledge of the misery they procured themselves, while endeavouring to inflict it on others. Perhaps, in my moments of gaiety I should have felt a childish inclination for acting prodigies; but perfectly disinterested for myself, needing no law beyond my natural benevolence, and for one act of severe justice, should have done a thousand of clemency and equity. Minister of Providence, and dispenser of its laws according to my will, I should have performed more useful and sagacious miracles than those of the Golden Legend, or the tomb of St. Médard.
There is but one single circumstance in which the power of penetrating everywhere invisible could have drawn, me into temptations which I might not have resisted, and once engaged in these wanderings, whither would they have conducted me! I must be little acquainted with the nature of my own heart to flatter myself that these facilities would not have seduced, or that reason would have withheld me in this fatal inclination. Sure of myself in every other instance, by this I should have spoiled all. Whoever is endowed with a power superior to mankind, should also be above the weakness of humanity, without which, that excess of strength would, in effect, only sink him below the most feeble, or what he would actually have been, had he remained their equal.
Everything considered, I believe I had better throw away my magic ring, before it has made me commit some folly.
If men determine to suppose me the reverse of what I really am, and the sight of me increases their injustice, it is my wisest way to shun, but not to be eclipsed, among them. Let them study arts to conceal their contrivances; let them shun the light of day, and bury themselves in the earth like moles, or let them look on me if they please; so much the better; but that they, cannot do, they will never, see any but the J.J. of their own imagination, fashioned at their will, to be hated at their pleasure. I should do wrong, therefore, to interest myself in the fate of this ideal being, since it is not me they see under this form.
The conclusion I draw from all these reflections is that I was never formed for civil society, where all is constraint, obligation and duty; my natural love of independence ever rendering me incapable of the subjections necessary to those who wish to live well with mankind. While I act freely, I am good, and do nothing but what is right; but the moment I feel the yoke imposed, either by necessity or the will of mankind, I become rebellious, or rather stubborn and useless; for when called on to act against inclination, let what will be the consequence, performance is impossible; nay, from weakness, I neglect even what my inclinations call me to. I abstain from acting, for in that my incapacity is conspicuous; my strength is merely negative, my very sins being of omission, rarely of commission. I ever imagined that the liberty of man consisted in doing whatever he felt an inclination for; but never supposed it consistent with, being forced to do what is disagreeable. An exemption from this is what I have ever claimed, frequently preserved, and by asserting my right to it have most offended my cotemporaries; an active, artful, ambitious race, who detest liberty in others, nor desire it for themselves; provided they sometimes have their will, or rather are permitted to control the will of others; who would suffer constraint during the whole term of their existence, act in a manner repugnant to their inclinations, and omit nothing that is servile, to obtain command. There wrong does not consist in excluding me as an useless member of society, but-in proscribing me as a pernicious one: I have done very little good, I confess, but no ill, that never having once accorded with my inclination; and I question whether any man in the world has really done less, than myself.
HARDLY have I begun this collection of my copious reveries, yet I am already sensible that I draw near the conclusion of it. Another amusement succeeds, absorbs, and even deprives me of opportunity to contemplate and give into my design. This inclination has acquired an ardour which almost reaches to extravagance, nor can I refrain from laughing when I reflect on it; yet even that does not restrain me, for in my present situation, I have but one rule for my conduct, which is, to follow my inclination freely. I cannot change my fate; I have only innocent inclinations; hereafter the opinions of mankind will be; immaterial, and wisdom itself prescribes that I should please myself with everything that remains within my reach, whether in public or alone, having no rule but my fancy, no bounds except the little strength I have remaining; behold me, then, confined to a vegetable diet, and fully employed in botanical researches.
I was already advanced in-years, when I took the first inclination for this study, while with the Doctor, of Invernois, in Switzerland. I herbalized with sufficient success during my travels to acquire a tolerable knowledge of the vegetable kingdom; but having passed the age of sixty, finding my strength insufficient for extensive botanical researches, and being likewise sufficiently occupied with copying music to require no other employ, I deserted ray herbal, sold my books, and was content with inspecting those common plants I found in my walks about Paris. During this interval, the little I had learned almost entirely escaped my memory, with more ease and expedition than it had been placed there. Now that I am turned of sixty-five, deprived of the little memory I once possessed, and strength to ramble about the country, without books, without garden, and even without a common, herbal; behold me once more suddenly seized with this folly, with more ardour than I felt for it on the first attack, and seriously undertaking to learn by heart the whole Regnum Vegetabile of Murray, and to get acquainted with all the various plants on the habitable globe.
Unable to purchase a fresh collection of botanical books, I have set about transcribing those I borrow, and resolve to begin a herbal more copious than my former one, since I design it shall include all the productions of the sea and Alps, with every tree in both the Indies. Mean time, I make sure of the pimpernel, the chervil, borage, and groundsel, botanizing learnedly at the side of my bird cage, and at every trifling plant I meet with, cry with satisfaction, "this is one herb more, however."
I shall not attempt to justify the resolution I have taken of giving into this propensity; though it is a very reasonable one, in my opinion, since I am persuaded, that to give up myself to those amusements which offer themselves, is the wisest thing I can do in my present situation, and even a great virtue; being a means of preventing any leaven of hatred and vengeance from taking root in my heart; for to find any taste for pleasure in circumstances like mine, gives proof of a disposition little subject to irascible passions; but it is my method of being revenged on my persecutors, for I cannot inflict a severer punishment than by being happy, notwithstanding their endeavours to make me otherwise.
Yes, doubtless, Reason herself permits, nay even prescribes, that I should give into every harmless inclination; but she does not inform me why this amusement invites, or point out what attractions I can find in a vain study, pursued without profit or improvement, which recalls me to the fatigues of youth and the exercises of a school-boy, While weighed down by age and infirmities, and possessing neither activity or memory. This is a whimsicality I wish to investigate, since I imagine it would throw some new light on that knowledge of myself, to which I have consecrated my remaining leisure.
I have sometimes studied profoundly, but seldom with pleasure, almost always against inclination, and as it were by force. Reveries recreate and amuse, but study fatigues and distresses me, thought being ever a painful and unentertaining occupation. Sometimes my reveries end in meditation, but more frequently my meditations convert to reveries; and during these wanderings my soul fleets lightly over the universe on the wings of imagination, wrapped with ecstasies which surpass every other enjoyment.
While I could indulge in the full extent of these ideal pleasures, every other occupation appeared Insipid; but when once engaged in a literary career, by an impulse foreign to my disposition, I felt the fatigue of mental labour, and the importunity of an unhappy celebrity; while pleasing reveries grew cold and languid, my thoughts turning to the melancholy of my situation in spite of every effort to the contrary, and I could seldom enjoy any of those charming ecstasies, which during fifty years had supplied the want of same and fortune, rendering me in a state of indolence, without any other expense than that of time, the happiest of mortals.
Trees, shrubs, and plants, are the decoration and covering of the earth. What is more melancholy than the sight of a naked barren country, which presents the eye with nothing but stones, earth, and sand? but enlivened by nature, and clothed in its wedding suit, in the midst of fragrant flowers, springs of water, and the warbling of various birds, the earth offers, in the concurrence and harmony of the vegetable, mineral, and animal kingdoms, a scene interesting and full of charms, the only object in nature which can never weary the eye or heart.
The more sensibility the soul of a contemplative man possesses, the more it gives into the exact excited by this concord: a pleasing and profound reverie takes possession of his senses, being lost in the delicious intoxication and immensity of this charming system, with which he feels himself so intimately connected. Detached objects make no more impression on him, he only sees and feels the whole, and some particular circumstance must contract and circumscribe his ideas, before he is enabled to enter on a partial observation of that universe, which his imagination is on the stretch to compass.
This is what naturally happened to me, when my heart, contracted by distress, concentrated every impulsive motion about itself, in order to preserve those remains of heat which were almost evaporated and extinguished by the melancholy into which it sung by degrees. I wandered carelessly in the woods and over the mountains, not daring to think for fear of increasing my sorrows; while imagination, which, in me, recoils from painful objects, permitted my senses to run into the light by pleasing impressions produced by the surrounding scenes: my eyes wandered perpetually from object to object, nor was it possible in so great a variety but some should, have power to arrest and amuse them.
I conceived a fondness for this recreation of the fight, which calms and amuses the unfortunate blunting the edge of their sorrows. The nature of the objects which present themselves, greatly aids this amusement, and renders it more seducing, Odoriferous smells, brilliant colours, and the most elegant forms, seem to dispute the right of fixing our attention. A love of pleasure is alone sufficient to make us give into those delightful sensations, and if this effect does not take place in all those who contemplate these charms, it is owing, in some, to natural insensibility, but generally proceeds from the mind being so much occupied with other concerns, that it only steals time for the consideration of those objects which immediately strike the senses.
Another reason which contributes to withdraw the attention of polite people from the vegetable kingdom, is that custom of considering a collection of plants as so many drugs and medicines. Theophrastus thought differently on the subject, and this philosopher, who may be looked on as the only botanist of antiquity, is not much known among us. But thanks to a certain Dioscorides, a great compiler of recipes, and to his commentators, physic has taken such possession of plants, transforming them into simples, that those properties only are pointed out, which it is impossible to discover; that is to say, the pretended virtues which it pleases the generality of botanists to attribute them. It is not conceived that the organization of vegetables can of itself merit our attention. People who pass their lives in learnedly arranging shells, ridicule botany as an useless study, unless accompanied, as they express it, by its application; that is to say, when one does not abandon the observation of Nature, which never lies, and is silent on this system, to give entire credit to the authority of men, who seldom speak truth, yet affirm a number of particulars that we must-believe on their word, which is frequently founded on some borrowed authority. Stop in an enamelled meadow, examine successively the flowers that adorn it; those who observe you thus employed, supposing you are of the healing fraternity, will approach, and enquire what herbs are good to cure the scald in children, the itch in men, or the glanders in horses.
This disgusting prejudice is partly destroyed in other countries, particularly in England, thanks to Linnaeus, who has, in some measure, rescued botany from the school of pharmacy, restoring it to natural history and economical uses; but in France, where this study has not become so general, they have remained so ignorant in this particular, that a Parisian wit, being in the environs of London, and viewing a garden which belonged to some virtuoso, exclaimed, as if that was the greatest encomium that could be bestowed on it, "What a charming garden for an apothecary!" According to this account, Adam should have been the first apothecary, or it is not easy to form an idea of a garden better stocked with plants than that of Eden.
These medicinal Ideas, certainly are not calculated to render the study of botany agreeable; they tarnish the enamel of the meadows, cause the vivid dyes of the flowers to fade, and wither the freshness of the groves, rendering their shades and verdure not only insipid but disgusting. All those charming and beautiful statures which continually present themselves, are nothing to those who only wish to pound them in a mortar; and who would seek or imagine garlands for smiling shepherdesses, among the ingredients for a clister?
But an idea of pharmacy never damped my rural pleasures, nothing being more distant from my thoughts, than diet-drink and plasters. I have often thought, while considering the fields, vineyards, woods, and their numerous progeny attentively, that the vegetable kingdom was a plenteous magazine of food bestowed by nature on man and animals; but it never struck me to seek for drugs and medicines there, nor do I see anything in those various productions which indicates such a destination, and certainly Nature would have pointed out the use, had they been intended for this purpose, as she has done respecting what is proper for food. I am sensible that the pleasure I feel in wandering I through the groves would even be embittered by an idea of human infirmities, and would utterly vanish if once I began to consider severs, the stone, gout, or epilepsy. I do not mean, however, to dispute the great virtues attributed to vegetables, and shall only add, that supposing these virtues real, it is sheer malice in any person to continue ill, since there is not a single malady incident to man, but may be radically cured by twenty different kinds of herbs.
That turn of mind which is ever connected with personal interest, making us seek everywhere for profit or relief, but would incline us to look on all nature with indifference if we were in health and affluence, never governed me. I feel myself, in that particular, quite contrary to other men, since everything that bears any reference to the consideration of my wants, saddens and depraves my ideas; nor could I ever find any real charm in the pleasures of the mind, but when they were entirely independent of personal interest. Had I, then, ever so much confidence in physic, and the practice was in itself ever so agreeable, I could never apply to it, or experience in the study, those pleasures which, flow from a pure and disinterested contemplation, since my soul could not expand and enjoy the works of Nature, while I felt it confined by the bonds of mortality.
Without ever having much faith in medicine, I have put great confidence in physicians, whom I have esteemed and loved, having trusted them with the absolute management of my bodily health. Fifteen years experience has informed me, to my cost, what conclusion I should draw; and returning again to the simple laws of Nature, I have, through them, regained my former health: If the physicians, physicians, therefore, had no other quarrel against me, who can wonder at their animosity? I am a living proof of the vanity of their art, and the inutility of their prescriptions.
No, nothing personal, nothing that is connected with interested views, can truly employ my soul. I never meditate so delightfully as when freed in the fullest sense from every regard to myself; then I experience ecstasies, enjoyments inexpressible; it is then, that rushing as it were into the great system of beings, I assimilate with universal Nature. While I considered mankind as my brethren, I formed plans of terrestrial happiness; and these projects being relative to all, I could only be happy in public felicity; the idea of private, detached advantage, never having reached my heart till I saw mankind seek theirs in my misery: then, if I would avoid hating, I found it was necessary to shun them; taking refuge, therefore, with our common mother, I sought in her arms to sustain myself against the attacks of her children; I became a solitary, or according to them, an unsociable misanthropist, because I thought the wildest retreat preferable to the society of depraved mortals, who are only nourished with treasons and malice.
Abstaining from thought, lest the remembrance of my misfortunes should obtrude in spite of all my efforts to the contrary; obliged to suppress the refrains of a cheerful, though now languishing imagination, which so many sorrows might at length depress; reduced to the necessity of endeavouring to forget mankind, who endeavour to overwhelm me with scandal and indignity, lest indignation should at length convert my thoughts into bitterness against them; I cannot concentrate my whole existence within myself, since my expansive soul seeks to extend its ideas and faculties to other objects; nor can I rush blindfold into the vast ocean of nature, because my weakened and relaxed intellects no longer find objects within their reach sufficiently fixed and powerful to sustain them. I have not strength to wade through the chaos of my former ecstasies, my ideas are now scarce anything but sensations, and the sphere of my understanding is not superior to the objects which immediately surround me.
Shunning mankind and seeking solitude, fancying little, thinking less, yet, notwithstanding, endowed with a lively temper, which preserved me from a languishing and melancholy apathy, I began to find employment, in what surrounded me, and by a very natural instinct, gave the preference to the most agreeable objects.
The mineral kingdom has in it nothing amiable and attractive; its riches, enclosed in the bosom of the earth, seem to be hidden from the sight of matt that they may not tempt his avarice, being there as in reserve, to supply one day the place of those true riches that are more within his reach, for which he loses the inclination in proportion as he becomes corrupt; then must he call industry, pain, and labour to the aid of his sorrows, he digs in the bowels of the earth, searches to the centre at the risk of life and the expense of health, for imaginary treasure, instead of the real wealth, which was freely offered, while he knew how to employ it: he shuns the sun, and hurries himself alive!—he does well, being no longer worthy to enjoy the cheerful light of the day. From thence, quarries, pits, forges, furnaces, with all the apparatus of anvils, hammers, smoke, and fire, succeed to the pleasing images of rural labour. Squalid features, unhappy wretches who languish in the infectious vapour of the mines, sooty forges, hideous Cyclops, are the objects and inhabitants which the mines substitute in the bowels of the earth, for that of verdure, flowers, the azure sky, amorous shepherds and robust labourers, who live and are happy on its surface.
It is easy, I confess, to gather sand or stones, to fill our pockets and cabinets with them, and on the strength of these collections to assume the air of a naturalist; but those who attach and bound their researches to this kind of collections, are, in general, wealthy dunces, who seek no further than the pleasure of arranging and making a show of them. To profit by the study of minerals, it is necessary to be both a chemist and a physician, to make painful and expensive experiments; working in laboratories, spending much time and money among coals, crucibles, furnaces, and alembics, in suffocating vapours and smoke; always at the risk of life, and frequently at the expense of health. From all this insipid and fatiguing labour, results, in general, more pride than knowledge, for even die most indifferent chemist will imagine he has penetrated into the great mysteries of Nature, because chance, perhaps, has taught him a few combinations of that art.
The animal kingdom is more within our reach, and certainly merits much better to be considered; but this study has likewise its difficulties, embarrassments, disasters, and troubles, particularly for a solitary, who has no one to make observations for him, or to assist his labours. How should I observe, dissect, study, and understand the birds of the air, fish in the waters, quadrupeds fleeter than the wind, and stronger than man, who are not more disposed to offer themselves for my examination, than I am able to overtake or make them submit by force? I must then have recourse to snails, worms, and flies; pass my life, and spend my breath, in running after butterflies, impaling poor insects alive, dissecting mice, when I could catch them, or the dead carcasses of animals which I might find by chance.
The study of animals is nothing without anatomy; it is by that we are taught to consider their genus, and to class and distinguish their various species. In order to study their manners and characters, aviaries, reservoirs, and menageries, would be necessary; they must be constrained, by some contrivance, to continue within reach of my observation; but I have not the means to keep them in captivity, nor activity enough to follow them in their speed while in a state of freedom; I must, therefore, study them when dead, separate their bones, and turn at leisure their palpitating entrails! What an assemblage does an anatomical amphitheatre exhibit!—Stinking bodies, putrid and lived flesh, blood, loathsome entrails, hideous skeletons, and pestilential vapours!—It is not among such objects, I promise you, that J. J. will seek amusement.
Beautiful flowers, enamelled meadows, refreshing shades, brooks, groves, and verdure, come and purify my imagination, soiled by these hideous objects. My soul, dead to all lively emotions, can, henceforth, only be affected by sensible images; I have no longer anything but sensations, and through those alone can feel pain or pleasure here below. Attracted by the smiling objects which surround me, I consider, contemplate, compare, and at length learn to class them: behold me, then, on a sudden, as much a botanist as is requisite for any person to be, who only wishes to study Nature, that he may discover perpetual sources of delight. I do not seek instruction, it is too kite; besides, I have never found that profound science contributed to the happiness of life; but I seek to procure myself pleasing and innocent amusements which I may enjoy without constraint, and which, meantime, beguiles my misfortunes. I neither run into expense or trouble while wandering carelessly from herb to herb, from plant to plant, examining and comparing their various characters, and noting their affinity or difference; in short, while I observe vegetable organization follow, in a manner, the course and play of these living machines, seek (sometimes successfully) their general laws, the reason and of their different structures, I give myself up to the charms I feel, in a grateful admiration of that Power, who bestows on me the enjoyment of so many wonders.
Plants appear to have been sown upon the earth in the same profusion that stars are planted in the firmament, and equally invite man, by the attractions of pleasure and curiosity, to the study of Nature; but the stars are placed far from us, and need preliminary studies, instruments, machines, immense ladders (if I may use the expression) to place us where we may understand them. Plants are naturally within our reach, they spring up under our feet, and even in our hands: if the minuteness of their constituent parts are sometimes imperceptible to the naked eye, the instruments necessary to discover them are more easily obtained and applied, than those requisite in the study of astronomy. Botanical objects are most proper to an indolent solitary, a needle and magnifying glass being all the apparatus necessary to consider them; he wanders freely from one object to another, viewing each flower with pleasing curiosity; and when he begins to understand the structure and use of their various parts, enjoys a satisfaction, purchased without care or labour, yet as pure and lively as if obtained with the utmost difficulty.
There exists in this idle occupation, a charm that is not to be experienced except in the full calm of the passions, which alone suffices to render life pleasing and happy, but the moment a motive of interest or vanity mingles with it, whether you seek to obtain a place, or write a book; if you study in order to instruct, and herbalize only to become author or professor, all its attractive charms vanish, and plants, being no longer considered but as instruments of our passions, no more real pleasure can result from the study of them. Our end, then, is not to gain knowledge, but to make others sensible of our acquirements; and while in the wood, or on the hills, considering ourselves as on the theatre of the world, we are employed with, the idea of being admired. Others contract botany within the narrow bounds of the garden or cabinet, and instead of observing vegetables in their natural state, are only busied with systems and rules, furnishing eternal subjects of dispute, which are not calculated to make one single plant better understood, and consequently can throw no light on the natural history of the vegetable kingdom. From thence arises that hatred, and those jealousies, which an emulation for same excites among botanical authors more than those of any other class: thus, taking this pleasing study from its native seat, they have transplanted it into cities and academies, where it is sure to degenerate, like exotic plants in the gardens of the curious.
Very different dispositions have concurred to render this study a kind of passion to me, which occupies the void of those I no longer feel. I climb the rocks and mountains, descend into the valleys and woods, to withdraw myself as much as possible from the remembrance of man, and the pursuits of the wicked. It appears to me, that when shaded by a forest I am forgotten, free and peaceful as though I had no longer any enemies, or that the leaves shield me as much from their attempts, as they put them from my remembrance; supposing, in my folly, that as I no longer think of them, they no longer think of me; and I find so great a pleasure in this illusion, that I should give into it entirely, did not my situation, weakness, and wants, forbid me.
The more profound the solitude in which I now live, the more do I feel that some objects are necessary to fill up the void, and those which imagination denies, or that my memory repulses, are supplied by those spontaneous productions, which the earth, in her uncultivated states offers to my view in every direction, The pleasure of seeking in the desert for new plants, conceals the pain of flying from my persecutors, and when I light on any spot where I can discover no trace of human footsteps, I breathe at ease, as in an asylum where their hatred cannot overtake me.
I shall never, during my whole life, lose the recollection of a herbalizing I one day made on the side of the Robaila, a mountain belonging to the Justicier Clere. I was alone, exploring the hollows and chasms of this mountain, from wood to wood, from rock to rock, when, at length, I discovered a retreat so truly concealed, that never in my life did I behold so wild and romantic a scene. Black firs were mingled with prodigious beech trees, several of which had fallen with age, and crossing each other, shut up this retreat as with an impenetrable barrier. Through some opening of this dreary enclosure, the eye was presented with craggy peaked rocks and horrible precipices, which I dared not cast a look at, without laying down with my face to the ground. The horned owl, the raven, and the spray, screamed from the clefts of this mountain, while some small birds, scarce but familiar, tempered the horror of the solitude. There I found the notched heptaphyllos, the cicclamen, the nidus avis, the greater laserpitium, and some other plants, which delighted and amused me for some time; but insensibly governed by the forcible impression made on me by so many striking objects, I forgot my botany, and seating myself on a bed of lycopodium and moss, began to contemplate at my ease, supposing I was in a retreat unknown to the whole world, and where my persecutors could never find me. A sentiment of pride was mingled with this reverie; I compared myself to those great voyagers who discover desert islands, and said, with self-complacency, "doubtless, I am the first mortal whoever penetrated this retreat," regarding myself as another Columbus. While I was indulging this idea, I heard, at some small distance, a kind of clattering noise, which seemed familiar to me; I listen—the noise is repeated and increased. Surprised, and curious, I rose hastily, and crept through the bushes, on that side from which the found proceeded; when, in a thicket, not twenty paces distant from that retreat which I thought no one but myself had ever discovered, I perceived—a stocking manufactory!
I cannot express the confused and contradictory agitation I felt in my heart on this discovery. My first sensation was an involuntary joy at again finding myself among mortals, when I had supposed myself totally alone; but this emotion, more rapid than lightening, soon gave place to a melancholy and more lasting reflection, which was, that I could not possibly hide myself, even among the cliffs of the Alps, from the cruel search of men, who would delight to torment me; for I was well convinced, there was not, perhaps, two people in this manufactory, but what were initiated into the combination of which that sorry preacher Montmollin was the chief, who drew his hearers from a much greater distance. I hastened to drive away this disagreeable idea, and concluded this adventure at laughing at my ridiculous vanity, and the whimsical manner in which it had been punished.
But who would have expected to find a manufactory on the edge of a precipice? Indeed, there is no spot in the world which exhibits such a mixture of uncultivated nature and human industry, as Switzerland; the whole country, to use the expression, is nothing but one great city, whose streets, longer and wider than those of St. Antoine, are adorned by forests, or separated by mountains, and whose straggling lonely dwellings, only communicate by a kind of English gardens. While on this subject, I recollect another botanical excursion that Du Peyron, Descharney, Colonel Pury, the Justicier Clerc and myself, had taken some time before on the mountain of Chasseron, from whose summit seven lakes may be perceived. We were informed there was but one house on this mountain, and certainly we should never have divined the profession of its inhabitant, if our informer had not added, he was a bookseller, who even gained a very comfortable subsistence in this country*. A single trait of this kind throws a greater light on Switzerland than all the descriptions of travellers.
[* It was doubtless the resemblance of names which caused M. Rousseau to apply the anecdote of this bookseller to Chasseron instead of Chasseral, another very high mountain on the frontiers of the principality of Neuschatel. Fr. Editor.]
I shall relate one more of the same kind, which tends to characterize a very different people. During my residence at Grenoble, I made many little botanical excursions out of the city with the Sieur Bovier, an attorney of that country; not that he loved or understood botany, but having undertaken to be my companion, he scarcely quitted me a moment. One day, as we were walking by the side of the Isere, in a spot covered with thorny willows, I saw some ripe fruit on these shrubs, which I had the curiosity to taste, and finding an agreeable acidity, began eating it by way of refreshment. The Sieur Bovier was by my side, but neither spoke to me, nor followed my example; when one of his friends coming up, and seeing me gather these berries, exclaimed,
"Sir! what are you doing? Do you not know that fruit is poisonous?"
"This fruit poisonous!" replied I with surprise.
"Without doubt," answered he, "and everyone is so well aware of it, that not a single person in the country will taste it."
I looked at the Sieur Bovier, and said,
"Why did not you inform me of this?"
"Ah! Sir," replied he, respectfully, "I did not dare to take that liberty."
I laughed, heartily at his provincial humility, but discontinued my collation, though I was then persuaded, as I am yet, that every natural production which is agreeable to the palate cannot be pernicious, unless taken to excess; however, I confess I took some care of myself for the remainder of the day; but felt no ill effect from this fruit, except a little inquietude; I supped well, slept better, and rose the next morning in perfect health, after having allowed the day before fifteen or twenty berries of this terrible hippophae, of which a very small dose certainly poisons, as everyone assured me the day following at Grenoble. This adventure appeared so ridiculous, that I never recollect it without laughing at the singular discretion of the lawyer Bovier.
My botanical excursions, the local impressions of various objects which have struck me in them, the ideas they gave rise to, and the incidents that occurred, were mingled together, and have left impressions which are renewed by the sight of those plants I then used to gather. I shall no more behold the beautiful landscapes, forests, lakes, groves, rocks, and mountains, whose aspect has ever touched my heart; but though I can no longer stray through those happy regions, I have only to look over my collection, and I am immediately transported thither, the very fragments of plants which I gathered at that time, being sufficient to, make me recollect those magnificent spectacles. My collection is, therefore, to me, a journal of botanical excursions, which brings them back to my memory with new charms, and, producing the effect of a camera, delineates them as present to my sight.
It is this concatenation of ideas which attaches me to botany, by recalling to my recollection all those images that are most delightful; the meadows, waters, woods, and solitudes, but more particularly the peace and repose enjoyed among them, are by this means retraced incessantly on my memory. This makes me forget the persecutions of mankind, the hatred, disdain, wrongs, and all the injuries with which they have repaid my tender and sincere attachment to them. This transports me into peaceful habitations, among innocent and worthy people, like those I was formerly accustomed to. It recalls my youth and harmless pleasures, making me again enjoy them; and often renders me happy, though plunged by Fate into the most melancholy, situation that ever mortal experienced.
Meditating on the dispositions of my soul, in every situation of life which I have passed through, I am extremely surprised at the disproportion I perceive between the different combinations of my destiny, and the habitual conceptions of good and evil with which they have affected me. The several intervals of my short-lived prosperity have scarcely left one permanent agreeable remembrance of the manner in which I enjoyed, them; while, on the contrary, during the greatest miseries of my life, I constantly experienced the most tender sentiments, which, though affecting, were delicious; these, shedding a salutary balm on the sorrows of my wounded heart, seemed to convert grief into enjoyment, and the amiable remembrance of those pleasing sensations, frequently returns, unaccompanied by those sorrows that formerly attended them. It appears to me that I have given more into the pleasure of my existence, and more truly lived, when the peculiarity of my fate had concentrated all my feelings, as it were, about my own heart, than when they evaporated outwardly, in pursuit of those objects which merit so little in themselves, yet constitute the whole felicity of those we think most happy.
When all was right around me, when I was content with everything, and satisfied with the sphere I was to occupy, I filled it with my affections, while my expansive soul, extending itself to other objects, was perpetually attracted by a thousand different inclinations, and by amiable attachments, which continually employed my heart: in these situations I forgot myself in some measure, thinking principally on what was foreign to me, and experiencing in the continual agitation of my feelings, all the vicissitude of earthly things. This exquisite sensibility lest me neither inward peace, nor outward repose; happy in appearance only, I had not a single sentiment that could have borne the proof of reflection, or with which I could truly have been content. Never was I perfectly satisfied either with others or myself; the tumult of the world made me giddy, solitude wearied me, I perpetually wished for a change of situation, and met with happiness in none. Meantime, I was entertained well, and caressed everywhere; I had not a single enemy, none who bore me ill-will, none that were envious, everyone sought to oblige me, and I frequently had it in my power to oblige others. Without wealth, employment, or flatterers; without any display or reputation of particular talents, I enjoyed every advantage that could have resulted from them all, and saw no one in a situation which I thought preferable to my own. What then was wanting to make me happy? I cannot answer this; but I am fully sensible I was not so. What additional misfortune is wanting at this time to make me the most miserable of mankind? Nothing that human malice can add; yet in this deplorable situation, I would not change my being and destiny with the most fortunate among my persecutors; but would rather be myself in the midst of these misfortunes, than any of those who figure in all the glare of prosperity. Cut off from every connection, my soul must nourish itself on its own substance; but she is not exhausted, though I ruminate on a void, if I may be allowed the expression, my clouded imagination and faded ideas no longer furnishing sufficient aliment to my heart, while my soul dimmed and obstructed by the weakness of its bodily organs, sinks daily under the weight of them, having no longer strength sufficient to free itself, and dart as heretofore from its aged and feeble covering.
This entering into ourselves, is what we are naturally forced to by adversity, and this, perhaps, renders it so insupportable to the generality of mankind: for my part (who have only weaknesses to reproach myself with) I easily find consolation, for never did premeditated evil approach my heart: Yet, unless I was fortified by stupidity, how could I contemplate my situation, though but for a single moment, without seeing it in all its horrors, and sinking under the weight of grief and despair? Far from that, though the most feeling of beings, I consider it unmoved, and without struggle or effort nay almost with indifference, see myself in a state which no other man, perhaps, could support the idea of without the utmost perturbation.
How did I acquire this insensibility? For I was very far from this peaceful disposition when I first opened my eyes on that plot which had been so long ensnaring me in secret. I was instantly overwhelmed with this new discovery: infamy and treason sell on me unawares, for what honest soul could be prepared for such attacks, since they must be merited to be foreseen? When I found myself entangled in the snares they spread for me, indignation, fury, and delirium took possession of my heart; I knew not how to act, my head was giddy; while in the fearful obscurity into which they had plunged me, I could discover no light to direct, no support or hold, whose help I might rely on, to resist the despair which threatened to overwhelm me.
How could I hope for happiness or peace in this dreadful situation? yet, though I still continue in it, and am even plunged deeper than ever into this fearful abyss, I have found tranquillity and ease, am happy and cheerful, laughing sometimes at the perpetual torments which my persecutors are giving themselves, while I am content, and so employed with flowers, stamina, and childish amusements, that I do not even think of them.
But how was this change produced? Naturally, insensibly, and without effort. The first surprise indeed was dreadful. I who felt myself worthy of love and esteem; I who thought myself honoured and respected, as I deserved to be, found myself on a sudden transformed into the most fearful monster, such a one, indeed, as never existed. I saw a whole generation precipitate itself into this unreasonable opinion, without explanation, doubt, or shame, and even without my being able to learn the cause of this strange revolution. At first, I struggled violently, and did but entangle myself the more, I wished to force my persecutors to some explanation; but they took care not to satisfy me in this particular. After having a long time tormented myself to no purpose, it was necessary to take breath; meantime, I still hoped, and said to myself, "so stupid a blindness, so absurd a prejudice, cannot long influence the whole human race; there are men of sense who will not share this delirium there are upright minds who detest traitors and imposture, I will seek them; at length, surely, I shall find a man, and if I meet with one, the rest will be confounded." I sought in vain, I found none; the combination was universal, without exception or difference, and I am reduced to a certainty of concluding my days in this horrid proscription, without ever being able to penetrate the mystery.
It is in this deplorable situation, after long and dreadful agonies, that, instead of despair, which seemed my inevitable portion forever, I once more found serenity, tranquillity, peace, and even happiness; since each day of my life I recall the occupations of the preceding one with pleasure, and desire no variation for tomorrow.
From whence proceeds this difference? From one single circumstance, which is, that I have learned to bear the yoke of necessity without murmuring. Formerly, I was attached to a thousand things, all which connections have been rent asunder successively, and I am reduced to depend on myself, and adopt my own plan for happiness. Now that I am pressed on all sides, I maintain my equilibrium, because, no longer attached to anything, I depend on myself alone.
When I struggled with so much ardour against public opinion, I still bore its yoke, though I did riot perceive it; for while I entertained an advantageous idea of mankind, or at least of a part of them, the opinions they might form could not be indifferent to me. I had frequently found that the judgment of the public was very equitable; but did not then perceive that this equity was the effect of chance, or that the rules on which their opinions are founded were drawn from their passions or prejudices, and that even when they judge uprightly, it frequently springs from a bad principle; since they may pretend to honour the merit of another, not from a love of justice, but to give themselves an air of impartiality, that they may caluminate the same man, on other subjects, more securely. But when, after long and vain experiments, I found everyone, without exception, remained in the most cruel and absurd system that infernal malice ever invented; when I saw that, in respect to me, reason was banished from all heads, and equity from all hearts; when I found a frantic generation given up without reserve to the blind furore of its guides, against an unfortunate being who never did, wished, or attempted harm against anyone, it was time to lay aside my lantern, and exclaim "There are none such as I sought for!"
From that time I began to consider myself as alone upon the earth, and that my cotemporaries were, in regard to me, but mechanical beings, who acted by mere impulsion, and whose actions could only be calculated by the laws of motion. Whatever intention, whatever passions I might suppose in their souls, these would never explain their conduct on my account, in any manner that I could comprehend. Their interior dispositions, therefore, cease to be of any consequence to me; since I no longer consider them in any other light than machines moving in various directions, but destitute, in regard to me, of all good or moral reflection.
In all the evils that befall us, we look more to the intention than the effect. A tile falling from a house may wound us more, but does not vex us half so much as a stone thrown from an ill-designing hand; the blow, indeed, may fail, but the intention never misses its mark. Corporeal sufferings are least felt amid the strokes of adverse fortune; and when the unhappy know not on whom to charge their sufferings, they attribute them to Destiny, whom they personify on this occasion, and supply with eyes and understanding, that he may be in a capacity to torment them wilfully. Thus it is with the gamester, who, enraged with his losses, is in a fury, though he knows not with whom; he, therefore, imagines a fate maliciously tormenting him, and thus, giving food to his passion, becomes enraged and exasperated against an enemy himself has created; but a wise man, who only views the misfortunes which happen to him as the strokes of blind Necessity, has not these unreasonable agitations: he complains in his affliction, but without heat or passion, he only feels the actual pain of those evils which assail him; the strokes he receives may slightly wound his person, but not one of them can reach his heart, or in the least remove the early impression of a religious and virtuous education.
It requires much labour to arrive thus far, but this is not all; if we stop there, we only cut off the evil, but leave the root behind, and this root is not implanted in others, but in our own bosoms, from whence we must endeavour to eradicate it. This I was perfectly sensible of when my recollection returned, my reason pointing out nothing but absurdity in all the explications I had given to my sufferings, been soon convinced that the causes, instruments, and means of all this, were unfathomable, inexplicable, and ought to be regarded with indifference; in short, that I ought to consider my whole destiny as so many acts of pure fatality, in which neither plan, intention, nor moral cause existed; that I should submit without murmuring or uneasiness, since both were utterly unavailing; that all I had now to do on earth, was to look on myself as a being merely passive, and that I should not waste that strength in useless struggles against my fate, which was given me in order to support it. This is what I thought both my reason and heart acquiesced in; yet I felt the latter sometimes complain. From whence arose this murmur?—I sought, and found the cause: it arose from self-pride, which having been irritated with mankind, rose up also against the conviction of reason.
This discovery was not so readily made as some may imagine; for an innocent, persecuted man, is apt to mistake affection to his own person for a pure love of justice; but when once the true source is discovered, it may easily be stopped, or at least turned into its proper channel. Self-esteem is the strongest incentive to elevated souls: self-pride, fertile in illusions, often disguises itself, and is mistaken for the former; but when once the fraud is discovered, the danger ceases; for though it is difficult to eradicate it entirely, it may easily be kept in subjection.
I was never much inclined to self pride, but this factitious passion increased with me in the world, particularly after I commenced author: I had less of it, perhaps, than many others, but yet I had a prodigious quantity. The terrible lessons I received, presently confined it within just bounds. This reformation began by a simple dislike of injustice, and concluded by a thorough disdain of it: then, relying on the integrity of my own heart, and striking off those exterior relations which render self importunate, by renouncing all comparisons and preferences, this passion was reduced again to self-esteem, resumed its natural course, and has delivered me from the yoke of opinion.
From this time, my soul regained its peace, and almost its felicity; for in whatever situation we may find ourselves, it is through the mind only that we can be completely miserable; when that is composed, and we listen to the voice of Reason, she consoles us for all those woes which it was not in our power to avoid, and even annihilates them, when they do not immediately act upon us, since we are certain to escape their sharpest stings, the instant they cease to employ our attention; the most distressing situations being nothing to those who do not think of them. Offences, revenge, over-reaching, outrages, or injustice, lose their force with those who, in the evils they experience, see only the actual injury, without considering the intention, and whose self-esteem does not depend on that opinion it pleases others to bestow on their actions. In whatever light men think fit to view me, they cannot change my being, and, in spite of their power or dark intrigues, I shall continue, let them do what they please, to remain precisely what I am. It is certain that their behaviour, in respect to me, influences my real situation; the barrier they have placed between themselves and me, cutting off all resource, subsistence, or relief, which my old age and wants require, renders even money useless, since it cannot procure me those services which are necessary. There is neither commerce, reciprocal trust, or correspondence between me and mankind; alone in the midst of them, I have no resource but myself, and that is a very weak one at my age, especially in the state to which I am reduced. These sorrows are undoubtedly great; but they have lost their force with me, since I have learned to bear them without anger. The situations in which real want is felt, are not very numerous; foresight and imagination multiply them, and it is this continuity of sensation, which causes our inquietude and unhappiness. For me, it is in vain that I am sensible I shall suffer tomorrow, it suffices to render me content, that I do not suffer today. I am not affected with the evils I foresee, but only with those I feel, which reduces my portion of suffering to very little. Alone, sick, and abandoned in my bed, I might die with want, cold, and hunger, without any person concerning himself about it; and, provided I remain unmoved, and as little affected as the rest, of what consequence is all this? But is it nothing, particularly at my age, to view life and death, sickness and health, riches and poverty, glory and defamation, with equal indifference? Other old men are uneasy about everything, while I am regardless of all; nor is this indifference the effect of my own wisdom, but of the malice of my enemies, and is a compensation for the ills they have dealt me; for, by rendering me insensible to the strokes of adverse fortune, they have done me more service than if they had lest me free from its attacks; since never having experienced adversity, I should continually have dreaded its approach, but now that it is vanquished, I can fear it no more.
This state of mind restores me, in the midst of all the crosses of life, to the enjoyment of my natural disposition, almost as completely as if I lived in the highest prosperity, except during those short intervals, when I am recalled by the presence of some particular object to the most melancholy inquietudes. At other times, given up to the guidance of my inclinations, of the affections which most attract me, my heart yet nourishes itself by the indulgence of those sentiments for which it was formed, and I enjoy and partake of them, with the imaginary beings my fancy creates, as though all these things really existed: nay, they do exist for me who create them, and I neither fear they should betray or abandon me; they will exist while Memory holds her seat, or Reason maintains her empire; they will endure while my miseries remain, and suffice to make me forget them.
Everything concurs to bring me back to that peaceful and happy state for which Nature designed me. I pasted three-fourths of my time, either employed with instructive and even agreeable objects, to which I give up my mind and senses with pleasure, or with those ideal beings my fancy forms according to my heart; a commerce with whom, yet keeps its feelings and affections alive: if not thus employed alone, and content with myself, I already experience that happiness which I am conscious is due to me. In all this, self-love does the whole work, self-pride is of no account. It is not thus in those melancholy moments which I yet sometimes pass among men, the dupe of their treacherous caresses, their false deceitful compliments, and honied malignity: however I endeavour to suppress it, self pride then prevails, and the hatred and animosity I perceive in their hearts, through every weak concealment, tears mine with keenest sorrow; while the idea of being taken for so gross a dupe, adds to my grief a childish vexation, the fruit of this foolish pride, which, though I feel the ridiculousness of, I cannot conquer. The efforts I have made to bear these insulting and satirical looks unmoved, are amazing: an hundred times have I passed in the public walks, in order to accustom myself to these painful trials; but so far from having been able to blunt my feelings, I could never advance a single step towards it, and all my vain efforts have left me as susceptible of trouble and vexation as ever.
Governed by the senses, notwithstanding all my endeavours, I have never been able to resist their impressions, and while the object continues to act upon them, my heart cannot cease to be affected; but these fugitive afflictions last no longer than the sensation which gives rise to them. The presence of a malicious person affects me violently; but the instant he disappears, the impression ceases; he is immediately banished from my memory, and if I am ever so well assured he is busying himself about me, I cannot trouble myself about him. The evil which I do not actually feel, does not in the least affect me; and the persecutor I do not see, can give me no concern. I am sensible of the advantage this disposition gives to those who rule my destiny; but let them dispose of it at their pleasure, I had rather they should torment me without resistance, than that I should be forced to think of them, in order to avoid the efforts of their malice.
It is my senses, acting thus immediately on my heart, that occasion the sole torment of my life: In retreats, where I see no one, I think no more of my misfortunes, no longer feel them, no longer suffer, but am happy and content, without obstacle or interruption. At other times, I rarely escape some sensible attack, and frequently when I least expect it: a gesture or malicious look that I observe, an envenomed word that I hear, or an adversary I chance to meet with, suffices to overthrow me. All I can do in these cases is to forget and fly from these affronts as fast as possible; my pain vanishes with the subject that caused it, and calmness resumes it place the moment I am alone, or if anything then disturbs my peace, it is a fear of meeting in my way some new object of inquietude. This is my principal concern; but this is sufficient to embitter my happiness: I lodge in the midst of Paris; in going from my house, I sigh for the country and solitude; but I have a considerable way to go before I can breathe at ease, and in this space I encounter a thousand objects which wound my heart, and half the day passes in agonies, before I can find the wished asylum, happy if at length I am permitted to reach it. The moment I escape the sight of injurious man is delicious, and when I find myself under the trees, surrounded by verdure, I think myself in a terrestrial Paradise, enjoying as lively an interval of pleasure as the happiest of mortals can experience.
I perfectly remember that during my short-lived prosperity, the very same solitary walks, now so delightful to me, were insipid and wearisome. When I happened to be at anyone's house in the country, the necessity of using exercise, and breathing a freer air, made me frequently go out alone; then, escaping like a thief, I wandered in the park, or about the country; but far from finding the pleasing calm I experience at present, I carried with me the vain agitation that employed me in the house, the remembrance of the company I quitted pursued me even to my solitude, while the vapours of self-pride, seemed to tarnish the freshness of the groves, and disturb the quiet of my retreat. It was in vain that I fled to the recesses of the woods, an importunate crowd followed me everywhere in idea, and all nature faded in my sight; nor was it till since I have been detached from social passions, and their melancholy train, that I have found her again in all her charms.
Convinced of the impossibility of restraining these powerful involuntary emotions, I have ceased to attempt it. At every fresh attack, my blood ferments, while rage and indignation immediately take possession of me; I therefore give up to Nature this first explosion, which all my strength could not overcome. I only endeavour to prevent the effects they might produce, if left to themselves; meantime, my eyes sparkle, my features are agitated, I feel an universal trembling and suffocating palpitation; all these proceed from physical causes, and depend on constitution, nor can any effort of reason conquer them; but after having given way to this first transport, we may re-obtain the government of ourselves, and recover our senses by degrees. I attempted this a long time without success; but at length more happily, when ceasing to exhaust my strength in vain resistance, I waited the moment that reason might govern, to vanquish my weakness, for she never speaks but when she may be heard. Alas! what do I say? until reason might govern! I should do wrong to bestow on her the honour of this triumph, in which she has no share; all this is the effect of a versatile disposition, which an impetuous wind sometimes agitates, but which resumes it native calmness the moment this hurricane ceases to blow: it is my natural ardour which catches the momentary agitation, it is my natural indolence which as instantaneously appeases me. I give into every present impulse, each shock occasions a violent emotion; but the cause vanishing, the effect ceases; nothing communicated is lasting, and all the events of fortune, all-the machinations of man, can have but little hold on a being thus formed.
To afflict me with lasting pain, it would be necessary to renew the impression every moment, for intervals, however short, are sufficient to restore me to myself. I am what it pleases men to make me, while they continue to work on my senses; but in the first instant of relaxation, I am again what Nature designed me. To this point, therefore, notwithstanding all endeavours to the contrary, I most constantly return; and in this situation, even in despite of fate itself, enjoy that happiness for which I feel myself peculiarly formed. I have described this state in one of my former reveries, which suits me so well, that I wish for nothing during its continuance, and fear nothing but to see it disturbed. I am not in any manner affected with the evils mankind have heaped on me, the fear of what they may yet do, is alone capable of giving me the smallest agitation; but convinced they have no new contrivance by which they can permanently affect me, I laugh at their inventions, and enjoy myself in spite of their malignity.
HAPPINESS is a permanent condition, which does not seem designed for man, while here below. Everything on earth is in a state of continual fluctuation, which will not permit anything to maintain a constant form. Every object with which we are surrounded, changes; we are equally mutable, nor can any man be certain he shall love tomorrow what he loves today: thus all our plans for happiness in this life, are purely chimerical. Let us, then, prize contentment whenever it offers; let us beware how we banish it by our own folly, neither let us embarrass ourselves with forming projects to ensure its continuance, since such projects are certain follies; I have seen few men, perhaps none, in a state of happiness; but I have seen many content, and of all the objects that ever struck me, it is that which conveys the greatest satisfaction to my heart, and I believe this is a natural consequence of the great power of involuntary sensation on my internal feelings.
Happiness has no particular outward sign to discover itself by; we must be able to view the heart before we can be certain who are truly happy; but contentment is to be read in the eyes, the conversation, the accent, the manner, and seems to communicate itself to him that perceives it. Can there be a greater pleasure than to see a whole people given to the enjoyment of a holiday, every heart expanding with the exhilarating rays of pleasure, which pass joyfully but rapidly amid the clouds of life?
Three days ago, M. P. came with extraordinary haste to show me a eulogy on Madame Geoffrin by M. d'Alembert. The reading was preceded by repeated bursts of laughter on the ridiculous phrases this piece contained, and the silly play on words with which he said it abounded. Still continuing to laugh, he began reading, while I listened with a seriousness, which (on observing that I did not imitate him) calmed his levity. The longest and most laboured article of this piece turned on the pleasure Madame Geoffrin took in seeing children, and exciting their harmless prattle. The author drew from this, and with reason, the proof of an amiable disposition; though he did not stop here, but directly accused these who had not the same taste, with evil dispositions, and wickedness. He maintained this so far, as to assert, that if all the malefactors who are taken up to the gallows or the wheel, were interrogated on that subject, they would universally agree in confessing, they had never loved children. These assertions appeared very singular in the situation they were placed-in; for supposing all this true, was it necessary to foil the praise due to an estimable woman, with disgusting images of executions and malefactors? I easily understood the true motive of this paltry affectation, and when M. P. had finished reading this piece, after praising what I thought worthy, I added, that the author had less friendship than hatred in his heart when he wrote it.—The next day, the weather being fine, though cold, I took a walk as for as the military school, expecting to meet with some moss in full bloom. During my walk, I reflected on the visit of the preceding evening, and on the work of M. D. which I could not believe the far-fetched episode I have before remarked, could be placed there without design. The affectation of bringing this trifle to me, from whom they usually conceal everything, was sufficiently expressive of their meaning. I had sent my children to the Asylum; this was sufficient to make me pass for an unnatural father; from thence, extending and exaggerating the idea, they had deduced, as a necessary consequence, that I hated children. In following the gradations of this chain of thought, I admired with what art human industry may change white to black: for I do not believe that ever man loved better to see these little puppets play together, than myself, and frequently in the streets or public walks, I stop to observe their little tricks and sports, with a degree of interest which I never observed in any other person. The very day I was visited by M. P. and not an hour before his arrival, I had received one from the two younger children of Soussoi, my landlord, the eldest of whom might be about seven years old. They had embraced me so freely, and I had repaid their caresses with such tenderness, that notwithstanding the disparity of years, they seemed sincerely satisfied with me, while I was transported with pleasure to find that my aged figure had not disgusted them: Even the youngest came to me so willingly, that, more childish than they were, I felt myself most attached to him, and saw his departure with as much concern as if he had belonged to me.
I know that the reproach of have sent my children to the Asylum, has readily degenerated, with the assistance of very little alteration, into that of being an unnatural father, and hating children; though, it is certain that the fear of exposing them to a destiny a thousand times worse, and almost inevitable by any other means, obliged me to take that step. Had I been less concerned for what might become of them, not being in a situation to bring these children up myself, I should have left them to their mother, who would have spoiled them, or to her family, who would have converted them into monsters—I even yet tremble to think of it!—What Mahomet made of Saide, is nothing to what would have been made of them in respect to me, and I am certain, from the snares which were afterwards spread for me on that account, that the project was formed. It is true, I was very far, at that time, from suspecting these atrocious snares, but was then fully convinced that the education least dangerous to them would be that of the Asylum, and accordingly I placed them there. I should do so again, and with less concern, was I in the same circumstances; though I am convinced no father can feel more tenderness for his children than I should have felt for mine, and habit in some degree assisted Nature.
If I have made any progress in the knowledge of the human heart, it is to the pleasure I have experienced in seeing and observing children, that I owe it. This same pleasure, in my youth was rather an obstacle, for I joined so gaily and heartily in their play, that I never thought of studying their dispositions; but as I grew old, and found they were alarmed at the sight of my feeble frame, I abstained from teasing them, rather wishing to deprive myself of a pleasure, than to disturb their joy; I therefore satisfied myself with observing their little tricks and sports, and found a recompense for the sacrifice I made of my satisfaction, by the lights these observations threw on the study of the first and genuine dispositions of Nature, of which our learned men understand nothing. I have given sufficient proof in my writings, of having too carefully and minutely attended to this study, not to have done it with pleasure; for it must certainly appear the most incredible circumstance in the world, that Eloisa and Emilius should have been written by a man who did not love children.
I never possessed either presence of mind or facility of speech, and since my misfortunes, both my tongue and head are still more embarrassed; the idea and expression equally escape me, and nothing requires greater discernment, or a more proper choice of expressions, than a discourse held with children. What augments this embarrassment in me, is the interpretation and weight they give to every word that proceeds from a man who has wrote professedly for children, and whose discourse is supposed to have the weight of oracles for them. The constraint and inaptitude I feel on these occasions, make me uneasy and disconcerted, and I should be more at ease before an Asiatic monarch, than before a child it was necessary to make prattle.
Another inconvenience, which I have already hinted at, puts me at a greater distance from children, and though, since my misfortunes I see them with the same satisfaction, yet I no longer enjoy an equal familiarity. Children do not love old age; the sight of decaying nature is hideous in their eyes: the repugnance I discover in their little faces overwhelms me, and I had rattier abstain from caressing, than inspire them with disgust; but this scruple is nothing to our modern philosophers of either sex. Madame Geoffrin was little concerned whether children were pleased with her or not, provided she was amused with them; but to me, that that enjoyment is nothing unless it is reciprocal, and I am no longer in an age or situation to see the hearts of children bound with pleasure to meet mine; should that ever happen again, the satisfaction, from its scarceness, would be more lively. I had a striking proof of this the other morning, by the pleasure I took in caressing the little ones of Soussoi; not only because the presence of the good nurse who attended them laid me under no restraint, but particularly from the cheerful air with which they accosted me, and because, during the visit, they neither appeared weary, or displeased with my company.
Alas! could I yet experience some moments of real tenderness, proceeding from the heart, were it only from a child; could I once more observe Joy and contentment in some eye, communicated by my presence, for how many sorrows and troubles would it atone, by the short, but delightful effusions my heart would experience! I should not then be reduced to seek among animals that look of friendship which is denied me by mankind. I can judge the effect it would produce by a very few examples; but those are ever dear to my memory. I will describe one, that in any other situation would have been forgotten, and the impression it made on me, may furnish some idea of the unhappiness of mine.
Two years ago, having been walking towards La Nouvelle France, I turned to the left, and willing to extend my walk round Montmartre, crossed the village of Clignancourt. As I walked along, thoughtful, and regardless of the surrounding objects, I felt something clasp my knees, and immediately perceived it was a child of about five or six years old, clinging round them, who at the same time looked up so fondly and familiarly in my face, that I was greatly moved, saying to myself, "thus I should have been treated by my own." I took the child in my arms, and after having kissed it several times, in a kind of transport, continued my way. I felt as I walked on that something was wanting to complete my satisfaction, and this obliged me to return. I reproached myself with having quitted the child so soon, thinking I had discovered in its manner a kind of inspiration, which ought not to have been slighted. Giving into the temptation, I ran towards the child, embraced it again, and gave him money to buy some small Nanterre loaves, a man who sold them happening to be passing by. J began to make him talk; and on asking who's son he was? He pointed to a man that was hooping some barrels. I was just preparing to quit the child, in order to speak to the father, when I was prevented by seeing a man whisper him, who appeared to be one of those spies who are ever at my heels. While this person was speaking, I remarked that the cooper's eyes were fixed attentively on me, with no very friendly aspect: this sight contracted my heart in an instant, and I quitted both father and child, with greater expedition than I had returned to them; but with a sensation less agreeable, and which altered my whole chain of feelings. I have, notwithstanding, frequently felt these sentiments revive, and have often passed Clignancourt, in hopes of seeing this child again, but have never since met either with him or his father, and the only result of this encounter is, a lively remembrance, intermingled with that pleasing melancholy which is natural to me in all those emotions that penetrate my heart.
There is a compensation in all things; if my pleasures are short and seldom occur, they are more lively when enjoyed, than if they were more frequent. I renew them, if I may so express myself, by frequent recollections, and though scarce, if they were unmixed and pure, perhaps I should experience more happiness than I did in my greatest prosperity. In extreme poverty, a very little makes us rich; a beggar who picks up a crown piece is more affected with his good fortune than a rich man would be on finding a purse of gold. The world would laugh could they see into my soul, and view the impression the smallest pleasures of this kind make on it, when I can steal from the vigilance of my persecutors. Four or five years ago, a most pleasing incident presented itself, which I never recollect without delight, from having so well enjoyed it.
One Sunday I went with my wise to dine at Porte Maillot, after which we crossed the wood of Boulogne, as far as La Muette; there we fat ourselves down in the shade, waiting the decline of the sun, designing to return gently through Passy. Soon after, about twenty young girls, conducted by a kind of nun, arrived at the same place: some seated themselves on the grass, while others played round about us. During their play, a man with wafers passed by, furnished with his drum and his lottery-board, seeking for customers. I soon perceived that the young lasses longed for the wafers, and two or three of them, who had, I suppose, some farthings in their pockets, asked leave to play. While the governess was hesitating and disputing on this point, I called the man to me, bidding him let the young ladies draw once each, and I would pay for them. This command inspired so much pleasure throughout the whole company, that the sight of it would more than have repaid me had I emptied my purse for that purpose. As I saw their haste occasioned confusion, with the permission of the governess, I ranged them all on one side, making them pass to the other as they drew. Though there were no blanks, and each must at least get one wafer, which would prevent entire discontent, yet I privately took an opportunity of bidding the man use his ordinary dexterity in a contrary sense so as to bestow as many prizes as possible, and I would pay the difference. By this means near an hundred wafers were distributed among them, though they drew but once each, for on that score I was inexorable, neither favouring those who were least fortunate, or showing any preference that might raise discontents. My wise prevailed with those who had good lots to share them with their comrades, by which means the prizes were nearly equal, and the joy universal.
I entreated the nun to draw in her turn, though dreading to have my offer disdainfully refused; but she accepted it with pleasure, drawing like the pensioners, and taking her lot cheerfully. I respected her for this conduct, looking on it as a kind of politeness far preferable to any airs of affectation. During this sport some disputes arose, which were brought before my tribunal, at which these little ones pleaded in their turns, giving me an opportunity to observe, that though none of them were pretty, the gentility of some obliterated the idea of their want of beauty.
At length we separated, extremely well satisfied with each other, and this afternoon was one of those which I recollect with the greatest satisfaction. The amusement was not a very expensive one, since for thirty sous, which was the most it cost me, I had an hundred crown's worth of content; so true it is that pleasure does not depend on extravagance, and that joy is as readily purchased by pence as pounds. I went several times to this place, in hopes of meeting the lame little company, but was never fortunate enough to do so.
This recalls to my memory another amusement of the same kind, but much further back. It was during that unhappy period, when familiar with the rich and men of letters, I was sometimes constrained to partake of their melancholy amusements. I was at La Chevrette, at a festival occasioned by the birthday of its owner: all the family were assembled to celebrate it, with every kind of noisy entertainment; neither shows, feasting, or fireworks, were omitted; there was hardly time to breathe; it was all giddiness, without amusement. After dinner, we took a walk in the avenue, where a kind of fair was kept. The villagers were dancing: the gentlemen condescended to dance with the country maids; but the ladies maintained their dignity. There were people here who fold gingerbread: a young gentleman took it in his head to buy some, and throw it piece by piece among the crowd; and all the company were so delighted to see the clowns scramble, fight, and overthrow each other in quest of it, that everyone was eager to contribute towards the sport. Gingerbread, therefore, flew in every direction, while men and maids, running, falling, and laming each other, offered a most charming amusement to the spectators. Though not really pleased as they were, I did like the rest, from a principle of false shame; but soon weary of emptying my purse in order to lame my fellow creatures, I quitted the good company, and walked alone through the fair. The variety of objects that presented themselves, amused me for a considerable time: among others, I perceived five or six Savoyard boys round a young girl, who had about a dozen pititful apples yet remaining in her basket, which she would willingly have parted with, but the Savoyards could not muster above two or three farthings among them all, and these were insufficient to make the desired purchase. This basket was to them the garden of the Hesperides, and the young wench the dragon that guarded this precious fruit. The farce amused me for some time; at length, I concluded it by buying the apples, and distributing them among the boys. I then enjoyed the most pleasing spectacle that can flatter the heart of man, that of seeing joy, united with the innocence of youth, spread itself all around me, for the spectators, in contemplating, shared it; but I who purchased it so cheaply, had the additional pleasure of feeling it was my own work.
In comparing this amusement with that I had just quitted, I felt, with satisfaction, the difference between real inclination and natural pleasures, and those that spring from opulence, which are engendered by derision and disdain; for what amusement should be derived from seeing a number of our fellow-creatures, greedy through poverty, overthrowing, choking, and brutally laming each other, from eagerness to procure some morsels of gingerbread, which had been trampled on, and were covered with dust?
For my part, when I reflect on the kind of voluptuousness I have enjoyed on various occasions, I find it consisted less in sentiments of benevolence than in the pleasure of contemplating happy faces. That sight has, indeed, to me a charm, which, though it penetrates my heart, appears to rise entirely from animal sensation; for if I do not feet the satisfaction I bestow, though fully convinced, of its reality, it does not give me half the pleasure. This is to me even a disinterested enjoyment, which does not depend on the part I take in it; for in public holidays, the pleasure of contemplating a number of happy faces, has ever attracted me. This pleasure has often been frustrated in France, for that nation, who pretend to so much gaiety, show little of it in their sports, Formerly, I often went to the Guinguettes, to see the poorer sort of people dance; but these dances were so awkward, and their behaviour and countenances so dull and melancholy, that I always left them rather wearied than amused; but at Geneva, and in Switzerland, where mirth and laughter do not continually evaporate in malignant tricks, everything breathes contentment and gaiety in their public entertainments. The hideous aspect of poverty is banished, neither does pride show its insolence; but good-will, friendship, and concord dispose all hearts to cheerfulness. Frequently, in the transports of innocent joy, strangers accost, embrace, and invite each other to share the pleasures of the day. In order to enjoy these pleating sports, it is not necessary I should be actually engaged in them, let me but see, and I am certain to partake of the jollity; and among so many contented faces, I am convinced there would not be found one heart more happy than my own.
Though this is a pleasure arising only from sensation, it has certainly a moral cause, and what is a proof of this, the same objects, instead of delighting, wound me with grief and indignation, when I am convinced that these expressions of satisfaction and pleasure on the faces as the mischievous, are only signs that their malice is accomplished. An appearance of innocent joy is the only kind that delights my heart; cruel, satirical mirth, overwhelms and afflicts it though I am not the object of its malignity. These symptoms, certainly, are not exactly the fame, arising from such different principles: yet they are equally the marks of satisfaction, and the perceptible difference cannot he proportionate to the emotions which they excite in me.
Expressions of sorrow and pain affect me even yet more powerfully, to a height which I cannot sustain, without being agitated with emotions more lively than those which occasioned them. Imagination adds to the acuteness of my feelings, and incorporates me with the suffering person, frequently inflicting greater torments than himself endures. A discontented face is another sight I cannot support, particularly if I think the cause bears any reference to myself; I cannot tell how many crown pieces the lowring, ill-natured looks of the foot men who waited, have forced out of my pocket, in those houses to which I formerly had the folly to let myself be dragged, and where the servants always made me pay dearly for the hospitality of their masters. Ever too much affected with sensible objects, especially by those which demonstrate pleasure or dissatisfaction, benevolence or aversion, I suffer myself to be influenced by these exterior expressions, having no resource to escape their influence but flight. A sign, a gesture, a glance of the eye, from, an unknown person; is sufficient to destroy my happiness, or calm my sufferings strings. I am only in my own power when alone; at other times, I am the sport of all those who happen to surround me.
Formerly, I lived in the world with pleasure, when I saw nothing but benevolence in every countenance, or, at worst, indifference in those who were unknown to me; but, at present, when my persecutors do not take less pains to make my person generally known, than to hide my disposition, I cannot set my foot in the streets without finding myself surrounded with heart-rending objects. I hasten with my utmost speed into the country, and the instant I perceive the verdure I begin to breathe at ease. Is it astonishing that lam fond of solitude, since I see nothing but animosity on the faces of mankind, while Nature ever wears a smile at my approach?
I must confess, notwithstanding, that I yet feel pleasure in living among those who are strangers to my person, but this satisfaction they have almost entirely deprived me of. I loved, some years ago, to ramble through the villages, to see the countrymen in the morning, mending their flails, or the women sitting at the doors with their children. This sight had in it an inexpressible charm, which touched my heart: I sometimes stopped instinctively to observe the contrivances of these good people, sighing, I knew not why. I am ignorant whether my persecutors took notice that I enjoyed this trifling amusement, and therefore resolved to deprive me of it; but from the altered looks of the villagers, as I passed by, and the air with which they seemed to examine me, I was persuaded that great care had been taken to deprive me of that satisfaction. The same tiling was still more strikingly observable at the Hospital 6s the Invalids: that excellent establishment has ever interested me, nor can I behold without tenderness and veneration, those good old men, who may say with those of Lacedemon,
Once we were, though now grown old,
Valiant, hardy, young, and bold.
One of my favorite walks used to be round the military school, where I frequently met with some invalids who having preserved their ancient military civility, saluted me as I passed. This salute, which my heart returned, an hundred fold, flattered and augmented the pleasure I felt at seeing them. Not being able to conceal anything of this kind, I frequently spoke of the invalids, and the manner in which their presence affected me—No more was necessary—soon after I perceived I was not unknown among them, or rather that was worse than known, since they now viewed me with the public eye. From that time, no more civility, no more salutations; a distant air and visible shyness took place of their former urbanity. The freedom of their ancient profession not permitting them to conceal animosity under smiles and falsehood, they openly showed me the most violent hatred; and such is the extreme misery of my situation, that I am constrained to esteem them most, who least disguise their ill will.
Since then, I walk with less pleasure by the Hospital of the Invalids: but my opinion of them does not depend on their thoughts of me, and I never see without respect and veneration, those ancient defenders of their country, though I feel the hardship of having the justice I do them so indifferently repaid. If by chance I meet with one who has escaped the common information, or not knowing my person, expresses no aversion, the friendly salute I receive from him compensates for the repulsive behaviour of the rest. I forget their unkindness, to remember his good nature, imagining he possesses a soul like mine, into which hatred cannot enter.
I fully experienced this pleasure last year, in crossing the water to the Isle of Swans. A poor old invalid was waiting the arrival of more company; when I came up, I stepped into the boat, and bid the ferryman put off. The water was rough, and the passage tedious. I hardly dared address a word to the invalid, for fear of being repulsed, as usual; but his civility reassured me. We chatted together; he appeared to be a man of sense and morality—I was delighted with his affable and courteous behaviour, not being accustomed to so much kindness; but my surprise ceased when I learned he had just arrived from the country, consequently it was natural to surmise that my person had not been pointed out to him, and that he had not received the usual instructions. I profited by this opportunity to converse one moment with a man, and felt, from the pleasure I experienced in it, how much the value of our most common pleasures is capable of being augmented by their scarcity. When we were about to leave the boat, he prepared his poor halfpenny; but I paid the passage, begging him to put it up, though, I trembled at the same time for fear I should displease him, which, however, did not happen; on the contrary, he seemed sensible of my attention, and particularly to that (as he was older than myself) of helping him out of the boat. Who would believe that I was child enough to cry with pleasure! I ardently wished to put a twenty-sous piece into his hand, to have furnished him with tobacco, but could not take courage to attempt it. The same shame has often prevented me from doing laudable actions, from which I have abstained, deploring my imbecility.
For once, after quitting my invalid, I consoled myself by reflecting, that I should have acted against my own principles, in mingling with native benevolence, pecuniary objects, which foil and degrade its disinterestedness, We should ever hasten to succor those in want; but in the ordinary concerns of life, let us leave benevolence and urbanity to do their work, without daring to approach or corrupt so pure a source with anything venal or mercenary. It is said that the people in Holland make yon pay for being told the hour of the day, or directed to the place you want to find. How despicable must that people be, how lost to the endearing quality of benevolence, who thus sordidly make a traffic of the most simple duties of humanity!
I have remarked, that hospitality is only fold in Europe: throughout Asia you are lodged gratis. I well know that it is not so abundantly furnished with conveniences; but is it nothing to be enabled to say, "I am a man, and as such, received by my fellow creatures: pure humanity affords me this shelter?" Small privations are easily endured when the mind is better treated than the body.
THIS day is Palm Sunday. It is precisely fifty years since my acquaintance commenced with Madame de Warrens. She was then eight and twenty, being born with the century. I wanted something of seventeen, and the increasing warmth of a temperament which I was yet unacquainted with, gave additional heat to a heart naturally full of life. If it was not astonishing that she should conceive an affection for a young man, who, with an agreeable person, was lively, though mild and modest; it is surely less extraordinary, that a charming, sensible, and elegant woman, should inspire me with gratitude, and with a yet more tender sentiment, which I could not distinguish from it; but what is rather particular, this first moment produced an inevitable chain of fate throughout my whole future life. My natural organs not having yet developed the most precious faculties of my soul, it had received no fixed form, but seemed to wait with a kind of impatience for the moment that should impress it, which moment, though accelerated by this meeting, did not arrive so soon as might have been expected; since, by the simplicity of manners which education had given me, that delightful but rapid state was prolonged, in which love and innocence inhabit the same heart. She sent me from her; but everything recalled me back again: I found it necessary to return; this return fixed my destiny, and long before she was mine, I lived for her alone. Ah! had I been everything to her heart, as she was sufficient to mine, what peaceful and happy days should we have puffed together! We have spent such; but they were short and rapid, and what a fate has followed them! Not a day passes in which I do not recollect with pleasure and tenderness, this short, and only time in my life, when I enjoyed myself fully, without alloy or obstacle, and in which I could be truly said to live. I can nearly say with the Roman Prefect, who being disgraced under Vespasian, went to end his days peaceably in the country, I have passed seventy years on the earth, and have lived seven. Had it not been for this short but precious interval, I should have remained a stranger to myself during my whole life, having been so agitated, thrown, and dragged about by the passions of others (though almost passive and unresisting) through a stormy existence, that I should be puzzled to separate what is really my own, in my actions or conduct, from what has been compulsive, so much has cruel necessity kept me in subjection. But during those few years, beloved by a most amiable and accomplished woman, I acted as I pleased, was what I wished to be; while by the employment of my leisure hours, aided by her lessons and example, my soul (yet inexperienced and simple) received the impressions best suited to its nature, and which it has ever since adhered to. An inclination for solitude and contemplation sprang up in my heart, with the expansive and tender sentiments which naturally accompany such propensities. Tumult and noise contract and suppress these feelings, while calmness and peace re-animate and exalt them.
Solitude is necessary to me when in love: I engaged Madame de Warrens, therefore, to retire into the country. A lonely house, on the gentle declivity of a valley, was our asylum, where, for the space of four or five years, I enjoyed an age of life, a full and pure happiness, which enlivens with the charms of its remembrance even my present wretched situation. I wished for a friend adapted to my heart: I possessed her—I sighed for a country life; I obtained it—I could not bear subjection; I was perfectly free, and more than free; since following my attachments only, I did no more than was delightful, my whole time being divided between affectionate cares and rural employments. I only wished for the continuation of so mild a fate, I felt no fear except that which arose from the uncertainty of its continuance; this the difficulties of our situation gave birth to, and it was not without foundation. This too, suggested the idea both of endeavouring to divert this uneasiness, and of providing resources against poverty. I imagined that the attainment of talents was the most certain security against the evils I dreaded; and, therefore, resolved to employ my leisure so as to put myself in a situation to return one day, if possible, to the best of women, that assistance I had received from her.
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