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THE CREED OF A SAVOYARD PRIEST - Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, or Education 
Emile, or Education. Translated by Barbara Foxley, M.A. (London & Toronto: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1921; New York: E.P. Dutton, 1921).
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THE CREED OF A SAVOYARD PRIEST
My child, do not look to me for learned speeches or profound arguments. I am no great philosopher, nor do I desire to be one. I have, however, a certain amount of common-sense and a constant devotion to truth. I have no wish to argue with you nor even to convince you; it is enough for me to show you, in all simplicity of heart, what I really think. Consult your own heart while I speak; that is all I ask. If I am mistaken, I am honestly mistaken, and therefore my error will not be counted to me as a crime; if you, too, are honestly mistaken, there is no great harm done. If I am right, we are both endowed with reason, we have both the same motive for listening to the voice of reason. Why should not you think as I do?
By birth I was a peasant and poor; to till the ground was my portion; but my parents thought it a finer thing that I should learn to get my living as a priest and they found means to send me to college. I am quite sure that neither my parents nor I had any idea of seeking after what was good, useful, or true; we only sought what was wanted to get me ordained. I learned what was taught me, I said what I was told to say, I promised all that was required, and I became a priest. But I soon discovered that when I promised not to be a man, I had promised more than I could perform.
Conscience, they tell us, is the creature of prejudice, but I know from experience that conscience persists in following the order of nature in spite of all the laws of man. In vain is this or that forbidden; remorse makes her voice heard but feebly when what we do is permitted by well-ordered nature, and still more when we are doing her bidding. My good youth, nature has not yet appealed to your senses; may you long remain in this happy state when her voice is the voice of innocence. Remember that to anticipate her teaching is to offend more deeply against her than to resist her teaching; you must first learn to resist, that you may know when to yield without wrong-doing.
From my youth up I had reverenced the married state as the first and most sacred institution of nature. Having renounced the right to marry, I was resolved not to profane the sanctity of marriage; for in spite of my education and reading I had always led a simple and regular life, and my mind had preserved the innocence of its natural instincts; these instincts had not been obscured by worldly wisdom, while my poverty kept me remote from the temptations dictated by the sophistry of vice.
This very resolution proved my ruin. My respect for marriage led to the discovery of my misconduct. The scandal must be expiated; I was arrested, suspended, and dismissed; I was the victim of my scruples rather than of my incontinence, and I had reason to believe, from the reproaches which accompanied my disgrace, that one can often escape punishment by being guilty of a worse fault.
A thoughtful mind soon learns from such experiences. I found my former ideas of justice, honesty, and every duty of man overturned by these painful events, and day by day I was losing my hold on one or another of the opinions I had accepted. What was left was not enough to form a body of ideas which could stand alone, and I felt that the evidence on which my principles rested was being weakened; at last I knew not what to think, and I came to the same conclusion as yourself, but with this difference: My lack of faith was the slow growth of manhood, attained with great difficulty, and all the harder to uproot.
I was in that state of doubt and uncertainty which Descartes considers essential to the search for truth. It is a state which cannot continue, it is disquieting and painful; only vicious tendencies and an idle heart can keep us in that state. My heart was not so corrupt as to delight in it, and there is nothing which so maintains the habit of thinking as being better pleased with oneself than with one’s lot.
I pondered, therefore, on the sad fate of mortals, adrift upon this sea of human opinions, without compass or rudder, and abandoned to their stormy passions with no guide but an inexperienced pilot who does not know whence he comes or whither he is going. I said to myself, “I love truth, I seek her, and cannot find her. Show me truth and I will hold her fast; why does she hide her face from the eager heart that would fain worship her?”
Although I have often experienced worse sufferings, I have never led a life so uniformly distressing as this period of unrest and anxiety, when I wandered incessantly from one doubt to another, gaining nothing from my prolonged meditations but uncertainty, darkness, and contradiction with regard to the source of my being and the rule of my duties.
I cannot understand how any one can be a sceptic sincerely and on principle. Either such philosophers do not exist or they are the most miserable of men. Doubt with regard to what we ought to know is a condition too violent for the human mind; it cannot long be endured; in spite of itself the mind decides one way or another, and it prefers to be deceived rather than to believe nothing.
My perplexity was increased by the fact that I had been brought up in a church which decides everything and permits no doubts, so that having rejected one article of faith I was forced to reject the rest; as I could not accept absurd decisions, I was deprived of those which were not absurd. When I was told to believe everything, I could believe nothing, and I knew not where to stop.
I consulted the philosophers, I searched their books and examined their various theories; I found them all alike proud, assertive, dogmatic, professing, even in their so-called scepticism, to know everything, proving nothing, scoffing at each other. This last trait, which was common to all of them, struck me as the only point in which they were right. Braggarts in attack, they are weaklings in defence. Weigh their arguments, they are all destructive; count their voices, every one speaks for himself; they are only agreed in arguing with each other. I could find no way out of my uncertainty by listening to them.
I suppose this prodigious diversity of opinion is caused, in the first place, by the weakness of the human intellect; and, in the second, by pride. We have no means of measuring this vast machine, we are unable to calculate its workings; we know neither its guiding principles nor its final purpose; we do not know ourselves, we know neither our nature nor the spirit that moves us; we scarcely know whether man is one or many; we are surrounded by impenetrable mysteries. These mysteries are beyond the region of sense, we think we can penetrate them by the light of reason, but we fall back on our imagination. Through this imagined world each forces a way for himself which he holds to be right; none can tell whether his path will lead him to the goal. Yet we long to know and understand it all. The one thing we do not know is the limit of the knowable. We prefer to trust to chance and to believe what is not true, rather than to own that not one of us can see what really is. A fragment of some vast whole whose bounds are beyond our gaze, a fragment abandoned by its Creator to our foolish quarrels, we are vain enough to want to determine the nature of that whole and our own relations with regard to it.
If the philosophers were in a position to declare the truth, which of them would care to do so? Every one of them knows that his own system rests on no surer foundations than the rest, but he maintains it because it is his own. There is not one of them who, if he chanced to discover the difference between truth and falsehood, would not prefer his own lie to the truth which another had discovered. Where is the philosopher who would not deceive the whole world for his own glory? If he can rise above the crowd, if he can excel his rivals, what more does he want? Among believers he is an atheist; among atheists he would be a believer.
The first thing I learned from these considerations was to restrict my inquiries to what directly concerned myself, to rest in profound ignorance of everything else, and not even to trouble myself to doubt anything beyond what I required to know.
I also realised that the philosophers, far from ridding me of my vain doubts, only multiplied the doubts that tormented me and failed to remove any one of them. So I chose another guide and said, “Let me follow the Inner Light; it will not lead me so far astray as others have done, or if it does it will be my own fault, and I shall not go so far wrong if I follow my own illusions as if I trusted to their deceits.”
I then went over in my mind the various opinions which I had held in the course of my life, and I saw that although no one of them was plain enough to gain immediate belief, some were more probable than others, and my inward consent was given or withheld in proportion to this improbability. Having discovered this, I made an unprejudiced comparison of all these different ideas, and I perceived that the first and most general of them was also the simplest and the most reasonable, and that it would have been accepted by every one if only it had been last instead of first. Imagine all your philosophers, ancient and modern, having exhausted their strange systems of force, chance, fate, necessity, atoms, a living world, animated matter, and every variety of materialism. Then comes the illustrious Clarke who gives light to the world and proclaims the Being of beings and the Giver of things. What universal admiration, what unanimous applause would have greeted this new system—a system so great, so illuminating, and so simple. Other systems are full of absurdities; this system seems to me to contain fewer things which are beyond the understanding of the human mind. I said to myself, “Every system has its insoluble problems, for the finite mind of man is too small to deal with them; these difficulties are therefore no final argument against any system. But what a difference there is between the direct evidence on which these systems are based! Should we not prefer that theory which alone explains all the facts, when it is no more difficult than the rest?
Bearing thus within my heart the love of truth as my only philosophy, and as my only method a clear and simple rule which dispensed with the need for vain and subtle arguments, I returned with the help of this rule to the examination of such knowledge as concerned myself; I was resolved to admit as self-evident all that I could not honestly refuse to believe, and to admit as true all that seemed to follow directly from this; all the rest I determined to leave undecided, neither accepting nor rejecting it, nor yet troubling myself to clear up difficulties which did not lead to any practical ends.
But who am I? What right have I to decide? What is it that determines my judgments? If they are inevitable, if they are the results of the impressions I receive, I am wasting my strength in such inquiries; they would be made or not without any interference of mine. I must therefore first turn my eyes upon myself to acquaint myself with the instrument I desire to use, and to discover how far it is reliable.
I exist, and I have senses through which I receive impressions. This is the first truth that strikes me and I am forced to accept it. Have I any independent knowledge of my existence, or am I only aware of it through my sensations? This is my first difficulty, and so far I cannot solve it. For I continually experience sensations, either directly or indirectly through memory, so how can I know if the feeling of self is something beyond these sensations or if it can exist independently of them?
My sensations take place in myself, for they make me aware of my own existence; but their cause is outside me, for they affect me whether I have any reason for them or not, and they are produced or destroyed independently of me. So I clearly perceive that my sensation, which is within me, and its cause or its object, which is outside me, are different things.
Thus, not only do I exist, but other entities exist also, that is to say, the objects of my sensations; and even if these objects are merely ideas, still these ideas are not me.
But everything outside myself, everything which acts upon my senses, I call matter, and all the particles of matter which I suppose to be united into separate entities I call bodies. Thus all the disputes of the idealists and the realists have no meaning for me; their distinctions between the appearance and the reality of bodies are wholly fanciful.
I am now as convinced of the existence of the universe as of my own. I next consider the objects of my sensations, and I find that I have the power of comparing them, so I perceive that I am endowed with an active force of which I was not previously aware.
To perceive is to feel; to compare is to judge; to judge and to feel are not the same. Through sensation objects present themselves to me separately and singly as they are in nature; by comparing them I rearrange them, I shift them so to speak, I place one upon another to decide whether they are alike or different, or more generally to find out their relations. To my mind, the distinctive faculty of an active or intelligent being is the power of understanding this word “is.” I seek in vain in the merely sensitive entity that intelligent force which compares and judges; I can find no trace of it in its nature. This passive entity will be aware of each object separately, it will even be aware of the whole formed by the two together, but having no power to place them side by side it can never compare them, it can never form a judgment with regard to them.
To see two things at once is not to see their relations nor to judge of their differences; to perceive several objects, one beyond the other, is not to relate them. I may have at the same moment an idea of a big stick and a little stick without comparing them, without judging that one is less than the other, just as I can see my whole hand without counting my fingers.1 These comparative ideas, greater, smaller, together with number ideas of one, two, etc., are certainly not sensations, although my mind only produces them when my sensations occur.
We are told that a sensitive being distinguishes sensations from each other by the inherent differences in the sensations; this requires explanation. When the sensations are different, the sensitive being distinguishes them by their differences; when they are alike, he distinguishes them because he is aware of them one beyond the other. Otherwise, how could he distinguish between two equal objects simultaneously experienced? He would necessarily confound the two objects and take them for one object, especially under a system which professed that the representative sensations of space have no extension.
When we become aware of the two sensations to be compared, their impression is made, each object is perceived, both are perceived, but for all that their relation is not perceived. If the judgment of this relation were merely a sensation, and came to me solely from the object itself, my judgments would never be mistaken, for it is never untrue that I feel what I feel.
Why then am I mistaken as to the relation between these two sticks, especially when they are not parallel? Why, for example, do I say the small stick is a third of the large, when it is only a quarter? Why is the picture, which is the sensation, unlike its model which is the object? It is because I am active when I judge, because the operation of comparison is at fault; because my understanding, which judges of relations, mingles its errors with the truth of sensations, which only reveal to me things.
Add to this a consideration which will, I feel sure, appeal to you when you have thought about it: it is this—If we were purely passive in the use of our senses, there would be no communication between them; it would be impossible to know that the body we are touching and the thing we are looking at is the same. Either we should never perceive anything outside ourselves, or there would be for us five substances perceptible by the senses, whose identity we should have no means of perceiving.
This power of my mind which brings my sensations together and compares them may be called by any name; let it be called attention, meditation, reflection, or what you will; it is still true that it is in me and not in things, that it is I alone who produce it, though I only produce it when I receive an impression from things. Though I am compelled to feel or not to feel, I am free to examine more or less what I feel.
Being now, so to speak, sure of myself, I begin to look at things outside myself, and I behold myself with a sort of shudder flung at random into this vast universe, plunged as it were into the vast number of entities, knowing nothing of what they are in themselves or in relation to me. I study them, I observe them; and the first object which suggests itself for comparison with them is myself.
All that I perceive through the senses is matter, and I deduce all the essential properties of matter from the sensible qualities which make me perceive it, qualities which are inseparable from it. I see it sometimes in motion, sometimes at rest,1 hence I infer that neither motion nor rest is essential to it, but motion, being an action, is the result of a cause of which rest is only the absence. When, therefore, there is nothing acting upon matter it does not move, and for the very reason that rest and motion are indifferent to it, its natural state is a state of rest.
I perceive two sorts of motions of bodies, acquired motion and spontaneous or voluntary motion. In the first the cause is external to the body moved, in the second it is within. I shall not conclude from that that the motion, say of a watch, is spontaneous, for if no external cause operated upon the spring it would run down and the watch would cease to go. For the same reason I should not admit that the movements of fluids are spontaneous, neither should I attribute spontaneous motion to fire which causes their fluidity.2
You ask me if the movements of animals are spontaneous; my answer is, “I cannot tell,” but analogy points that way. You ask me again, how do I know that there are spontaneous movements? I tell you, “I know it because I feel them.” I want to move my arm and I move it without any other immediate cause of the movement but my own will. In vain would any one try to argue me out of this feeling, it is stronger than any proofs; you might as well try to convince me that I do not exist.
If there were no spontaneity in men’s actions, nor in anything that happens on this earth, it would be all the more difficult to imagine a first cause for all motion. For my own part, I feel myself so thoroughly convinced that the natural state of matter is a state of rest, and that it has no power of action in itself, that when I see a body in motion I at once assume that it is either a living body or that this motion has been imparted to it. My mind declines to accept in any way the idea of inorganic matter moving of its own accord, or giving rise to any action.
Yet this visible universe consists of matter, matter diffused and dead,1 matter which has none of the cohesion, the organisation, the common feeling of the parts of a living body, for it is certain that we who are parts have no consciousness of the whole. This same universe is in motion, and in its movements, ordered, uniform, and subject to fixed laws, it has none of that freedom which appears in the spontaneous movements of men and animals. So the world is not some huge animal which moves of its own accord; its movements are therefore due to some external cause, a cause which I cannot perceive, but the inner voice makes this cause so apparent to me that I cannot watch the course of the sun without imagining a force which drives it, and when the earth revolves I think I see the hand that sets it in motion.
If I must accept general laws whose essential relation to matter is unperceived by me, how much further have I got? These laws, not being real things, not being substances, have therefore some other basis unknown to me. Experiment and observation have acquainted us with the laws of motion; these laws determine the results without showing their causes; they are quite inadequate to explain the system of the world and the course of the universe. With the help of dice Descartes made heaven and earth; but he could not set his dice in motion, nor start the action of his centrifugal force without the help of rotation. Newton discovered the law of gravitation; but gravitation alone would soon reduce the universe to a motionless mass; he was compelled to add a projectile force to account for the elliptical course of the celestial bodies; let Newton show us the hand that launched the planets in the tangent of their orbits.
The first causes of motion are not to be found in matter; matter receives and transmits motion, but does not produce it. The more I observe the action and reaction of the forces of nature playing on one another, the more I see that we must always go back from one effect to another, till we arrive at a first cause in some will; for to assume an infinite succession of causes is to assume that there is no first cause. In a word, no motion which is not caused by another motion can take place, except by a spontaneous, voluntary action; inanimate bodies have no action but motion, and there is no real action without will. This is my first principle. I believe, therefore, that there is a will which sets the universe in motion and gives life to nature. This is my first dogma, or the first article of my creed.
How does a will produce a physical and corporeal action? I cannot tell, but I perceive that it does so in myself; I will to do something and I do it; I will to move my body and it moves, but if an inanimate body, when at rest, should begin to move itself, the thing is incomprehensible and without precedent. The will is known to me in its action, not in its nature. I know this will as a cause of motion, but to conceive of matter as producing motion is clearly to conceive of an effect without a cause, which is not to conceive at all.
It is no more possible for me to conceive how my will moves my body than to conceive how my sensations affect my mind. I do not even know why one of these mysteries has seemed less inexplicable than the other. For my own part, whether I am active or passive, the means of union of the two substances seem to me absolutely incomprehensible. It is very strange that people make this very incomprehensibility a step towards the compounding of the two substances, as if operations so different in kind were more easily explained in one case than in two.
The doctrine I have just laid down is indeed obscure; but at least it suggests a meaning and there is nothing in it repugnant to reason or experience; can we say as much of materialism? Is it not plain that if motion is essential to matter it would be inseparable from it, it would always be present in it in the same degree, always present in every particle of matter, always the same in each particle of matter, it would not be capable of transmission, it could neither increase nor diminish, nor could we ever conceive of matter at rest. When you tell me that motion is not essential to matter but necessary to it, you try to cheat me with words which would be easier to refute if there was a little more sense in them. For either the motion of matter arises from the matter itself and is therefore essential to it; or it arises from an external cause and is not necessary to the matter, because the motive cause acts upon it; we have got back to our original difficulty.
The chief source of human error is to be found in general and abstract ideas; the jargon of metaphysics has never led to the discovery of any single truth, and it has filled philosophy with absurdities of which we are ashamed as soon as we strip them of their long words. Tell me, my friend, when they talk to you of a blind force diffused throughout nature, do they present any real idea to your mind? They think they are saying something by these vague expressions—universal force, essential motion—but they are saying nothing at all. The idea of motion is nothing more than the idea of transference from place to place; there is no motion without direction; for no individual can move all ways at once. In what direction then does matter move of necessity? Has the whole body of matter a uniform motion, or has each atom its own motion? According to the first idea the whole universe must form a solid and indivisible mass; according to the second it can only form a diffused and incoherent fluid, which would make the union of any two atoms impossible. What direction shall be taken by this motion common to all matter? Shall it be in a straight line, in a circle, or from above downwards, to the right or to the left? If each molecule has its own direction, what are the causes of all these directions and all these differences? If every molecule or atom only revolved on its own axis, nothing would ever leave its place and there would be no transmitted motion, and even then this circular movement would require to follow some direction. To set matter in motion by an abstraction is to utter words without meaning, and to attribute to matter a given direction is to assume a determining cause. The more examples I take, the more causes I have to explain, without ever finding a common agent which controls them. Far from being able to picture to myself an entire absence of order in the fortuitous concurrence of elements, I cannot even imagine such a strife, and the chaos of the universe is less conceivable to me than its harmony. I can understand that the mechanism of the universe may not be intelligible to the human mind, but when a man sets to work to explain it, he must say what men can understand.
If matter in motion points me to a will, matter in motion according to fixed laws points me to an intelligence; that is the second article of my creed. To act, to compare, to choose, are the operations of an active, thinking being; so this being exists. Where do you find him existing, you will say? Not merely in the revolving heavens, nor in the sun which gives us light, not in myself alone, but in the sheep that grazes, the bird that flies, the stone that falls, and the leaf blown by the wind.
I judge of the order of the world, although I know nothing of its purpose, for to judge of this order it is enough for me to compare the parts one with another, to study their co-operation, their relations, and to observe their united action. I know not why the universe exists, but I see continually how it is changed; I never fail to perceive the close connection by which the entities of which it consists lend their aid one to another. I am like a man who sees the works of a watch for the first time; he is never weary of admiring the mechanism, though he does not know the use of the instrument and has never seen its face. I do not know what this is for, says he, but I see that each part of it is fitted to the rest, I admire the workman in the details of his work, and I am quite certain that all these wheels only work together in this fashion for some common end which I cannot perceive.
Let us compare the special ends, the means, the ordered relations of every kind, then let us listen to the inner voice of feeling; what healthy mind can reject its evidence? Unless the eyes are blinded by prejudices, can they fail to see that the visible order of the universe proclaims a supreme intelligence? What sophisms must be brought together before we fail to understand the harmony of existence and the wonderful co-operation of every part for the maintenance of the rest? Say what you will of combinations and probabilities; what do you gain by reducing me to silence if you cannot gain my consent? And how can you rob me of the spontaneous feeling which, in spite of myself, continually gives you the lie? If organised bodies had come together fortuitously in all sorts of ways before assuming settled forms, if stomachs are made without mouths, feet without heads, hands without arms, imperfect organs of every kind which died because they could not preserve their life, why do none of these imperfect attempts now meet our eyes; why has nature at length prescribed laws to herself which she did not at first recognise? I must not be surprised if that which is possible should happen, and if the improbability of the event is compensated for by the number of the attempts. I grant this; yet if any one told me that printed characters scattered broadcast had produced the Æneid all complete, I would not condescend to take a single step to verify this falsehood. You will tell me I am forgetting the multitude of attempts. But how many such attempts must I assume to bring the combination within the bounds of probability? For my own part the only possible assumption is that the chances are infinity to one that the product is not the work of chance. In addition to this, chance combinations yield nothing but products of the same nature as the elements combined, so that life and organisation will not be produced by a flow of atoms, and a chemist when making his compounds will never give them thought and feeling in his crucible.1
I was surprised and almost shocked when I read Neuwentit. How could this man desire to make a book out of the wonders of nature, wonders which show the wisdom of the author of nature? His book would have been as large as the world itself before he had exhausted his subject, and as soon as we attempt to give details, that greatest wonder of all, the concord and harmony of the whole, escapes us. The mere generation of living organic bodies is the despair of the human mind; the insurmountable barrier raised by nature between the various species, so that they should not mix with one another, is the clearest proof of her intention. She is not content to have established order, she has taken adequate measures to prevent the disturbance of that order.
There is not a being in the universe which may not be regarded as in some respects the common centre of all, around which they are grouped, so that they are all reciprocally end and means in relation to each other. The mind is confused and lost amid these innumerable relations, not one of which is itself confused or lost in the crowd. What absurd assumptions are required to deduce all this harmony from the blind mechanism of matter set in motion by chance! In vain do those who deny the unity of intention manifested in the relations of all the parts of this great whole, in vain do they conceal their nonsense under abstractions, co-ordinations, general principles, symbolic expressions; whatever they do I find it impossible to conceive of a system of entities so firmly ordered unless I believe in an intelligence that orders them. It is not in my power to believe that passive and dead matter can have brought forth living and feeling beings, that blind chance has brought forth intelligent beings, that that which does not think has brought forth thinking beings.
I believe, therefore, that the world is governed by a wise and powerful will; I see it or rather I feel it, and it is a great thing to know this. But has this same world always existed, or has it been created? Is there one source of all things? Are there two or many? What is their nature? I know not; and what concern is it of mine? When these things become of importance to me I will try to learn them; till then I abjure these idle speculations, which may trouble my peace, but cannot affect my conduct nor be comprehended by my reason.
Recollect that I am not preaching my own opinion but explaining it. Whether matter is eternal or created, whether its origin is passive or not, it is still certain that the whole is one, and that it proclaims a single intelligence; for I see nothing that is not part of the same ordered system, nothing which does not co-operate to the same end, namely, the conservation of all within the established order. This being who wills and can perform his will, this being active through his own power, this being, whoever he may be, who moves the universe and orders all things, is what I call God. To this name I add the ideas of intelligence, power, will, which I have brought together, and that of kindness which is their necessary consequence; but for all this I know no more of the being to which I ascribe them. He hides himself alike from my senses and my understanding; the more I think of him, the more perplexed I am; I know full well that he exists, and that he exists of himself alone; I know that my existence depends on his, and that everything I know depends upon him also. I see God everywhere in his works; I feel him within myself; I behold him all around me; but if I try to ponder him himself, if I try to find out where he is, what he is, what is his substance, he escapes me and my troubled spirit finds nothing.
Convinced of my unfitness, I shall never argue about the nature of God unless I am driven to it by the feeling of his relations with myself. Such reasonings are always rash; a wise man should venture on them with trembling, he should be certain that he can never sound their abysses; for the most insolent attitude towards God is not to abstain from thinking of him, but to think evil of him.
After the discovery of such of his attributes as enable me to conceive of his existence, I return to myself, and I try to discover what is my place in the order of things which he governs, and I can myself examine. At once, and beyond possibility of doubt, I discover my species; for by my own will and the instruments I can control to carry out my will, I have more power to act upon all bodies about me, either to make use of or to avoid their action at my pleasure, than any of them has power to act upon me against my will by mere physical impulsion; and through my intelligence I am the only one who can examine all the rest. What being here below, except man, can observe others, measure, calculate, forecast their motions, their effects, and unite, so to speak, the feeling of a common existence with that of his individual existence? What is there so absurd in the thought that all things are made for me, when I alone can relate all things to myself?
It is true, therefore, that man is lord of the earth on which he dwells; for not only does he tame all the beasts, not only does he control its elements through his industry; but he alone knows how to control it; by contemplation he takes possession of the stars which he cannot approach. Show me any other creature on earth who can make a fire and who can behold with admiration the sun. What! can I observe and know all creatures and their relations; can I feel what is meant by order, beauty, and virtue; can I consider the universe and raise myself towards the hand that guides it; can I love good and perform it; and should I then liken myself to the beasts? Wretched soul, it is your gloomy philosophy which makes you like the beasts; or rather in vain do you seek to degrade yourself; your genius belies your principles, your kindly heart belies your doctrines, and even the abuse of your powers proves their excellence in your own despite.
For myself, I am not pledged to the support of any system. I am a plain and honest man, one who is not carried away by party spirit, one who has no ambition to be head of a sect; I am content with the place where God has set me; I see nothing, next to God himself, which is better than my species; and if I had to choose my place in the order of creation, what more could I choose than to be a man!
I am not puffed up by this thought, I am deeply moved by it; for this state was no choice of mine, it was not due to the deserts of a creature who as yet did not exist. Can I behold myself thus distinguished without congratulating myself on this post of honour, without blessing the hand which bestowed it? The first return to self has given birth to a feeling of gratitude and thankfulness to the author of my species, and this feeling calls forth my first homage to the beneficent Godhead. I worship his Almighty power and my heart acknowledges his mercies. Is it not a natural consequence of our self-love to honour our protector and to love our benefactor?
But when, in my desire to discover my own place within my species, I consider its different ranks and the men who fill them, where am I now? What a sight meets my eyes! Where is now the order I perceived? Nature showed me a scene of harmony and proportion; the human race shows me nothing but confusion and disorder. The elements agree together; men are in a state of chaos. The beasts are happy; their king alone is wretched. O Wisdom, where are thy laws? O Providence, is this thy rule over the world? Merciful God, where is thy Power? I behold the earth, and there is evil upon it.
Would you believe it, dear friend, from these gloomy thoughts and apparent contradictions, there was shaped in my mind the sublime idea of the soul, which all my seeking had hitherto failed to discover? While I meditated upon man’s nature, I seemed to discover two distinct principles in it; one of them raised him to the study of the eternal truths, to the love of justice, and of true morality, to the regions of the world of thought, which the wise delight to contemplate; the other led him downwards to himself, made him the slave of his senses, of the passions which are their instruments, and thus opposed everything suggested to him by the former principle. When I felt myself carried away, distracted by these conflicting motives, I said, No; man is not one; I will and I will not; I feel myself at once a slave and a free man; I perceive what is right, I love it, and I do what is wrong; I am active when I listen to the voice of reason; I am passive when I am carried away by my passions; and when I yield, my worst suffering is the knowledge that I might have resisted.
Young man, hear me with confidence. I will always be honest with you. If conscience is the creature of prejudice, I am certainly wrong, and there is no such thing as a proof of morality; but if to put oneself first is an inclination natural to man, and if the first sentiment of justice is moreover inborn in the human heart, let those who say man is a simple creature remove these contradictions and I will grant that there is but one substance.
You will note that by this term substance I understand generally the being endowed with some primitive quality, apart from all special and secondary modifications. If then all the primitive qualities which are known to us can be united in one and the same being, we should only acknowledge one substance; but if there are qualities which are mutually exclusive, there are as many different substances as there are such exclusions. You will think this over; for my own part, whatever Locke may say, it is enough for me to recognise matter as having merely extension and divisibility to convince myself that it cannot think, and if a philosopher tells me that trees feel and rocks think1 in vain will he perplex me with his cunning arguments; I merely regard him as a dishonest sophist, who prefers to say that stones have feeling rather than that men have souls.
Suppose a deaf man denies the existence of sounds because he has never heard them. I put before his eyes a stringed instrument and cause it to sound in unison by means of another instrument concealed from him; the deaf man sees the chord vibrate. I tell him, “The sound makes it do that.” “Not at all,” says he, “the string itself is the cause of the vibration; to vibrate in that way is a quality common to all bodies.” “Then show me this vibration in other bodies,” I answer, “or at least show me its cause in this string.” “I cannot,” replies the deaf man; “but because I do not understand how that string vibrates why should I try to explain it by means of your sounds, of which I have not the least idea? It is explaining one obscure fact by means of a cause still more obscure. Make me perceive your sounds; or I say there are no such things.”
The more I consider thought and the nature of the human mind, the more likeness I find between the arguments of the materialists and those of the deaf man. Indeed, they are deaf to the inner voice which cries aloud to them, in a tone which can hardly be mistaken. A machine does not think, there is neither movement nor form which can produce reflection; something within thee tries to break the bands which confine it; space is not thy measure, the whole universe does not suffice to contain thee; thy sentiments, thy desires, thy anxiety, thy pride itself, have another origin than this small body in which thou art imprisoned.
No material creature is in itself active, and I am active. In vain do you argue this point with me; I feel it, and it is this feeling which speaks to me more forcibly than the reason which disputes it. I have a body which is acted upon by other bodies, and it acts in turn upon them; there is no doubt about this reciprocal action; but my will is independent of my senses; I consent or I resist; I yield or I win the victory, and I know very well in myself when I have done what I wanted and when I have merely given way to my passions. I have always the power to will, but not always the strength to do what I will. When I yield to temptation I surrender myself to the action of external objects. When I blame myself for this weakness, I listen to my own will alone; I am a slave in my vices, a free man in my remorse; the feeling of freedom is never effaced in me but when I myself do wrong, and when I at length prevent the voice of the soul from protesting against the authority of the body.
I am only aware of will through the consciousness of my own will, and intelligence is no better known to me. When you ask me what is the cause which determines my will, it is my turn to ask what cause determines my judgment; for it is plain that these two causes are but one; and if you understand clearly that man is active in his judgments, that his intelligence is only the power to compare and judge, you will see that his freedom is only a similar power or one derived from this; he chooses between good and evil as he judges between truth and falsehood; if his judgment is at fault, he chooses amiss. What then is the cause that determines his will? It is his judgment. And what is the cause that determines his judgment? It is his intelligence, his power of judging; the determining cause is in himself. Beyond that, I understand nothing.
No doubt I am not free not to desire my own welfare, I am not free to desire my own hurt; but my freedom consists in this very thing, that I can will what is for my own good, or what I esteem as such, without any external compulsion. Does it follow that I am not my own master because I cannot be other than myself?
The motive power of all action is in the will of a free creature; we can go no farther. It is not the word freedom that is meaningless, but the word necessity. To suppose some action which is not the effect of an active motive power is indeed to suppose effects without cause, to reason in a vicious circle. Either there is no original impulse, or every original impulse has no antecedent cause, and there is no will properly so-called without freedom. Man is therefore free to act, and as such he is animated by an immaterial substance; that is the third article of my creed. From these three you will easily deduce the rest, so that I need not enumerate them.
If man is at once active and free, he acts of his own accord; what he does freely is no part of the system marked out by Providence and it cannot be imputed to Providence. Providence does not will the evil that man does when he misuses the freedom given to him; neither does Providence prevent him doing it, either because the wrong done by so feeble a creature is as nothing in its eyes, or because it could not prevent it without doing a greater wrong and degrading his nature. Providence has made him free that he may choose the good and refuse the evil. It has made him capable of this choice if he uses rightly the faculties bestowed upon him, but it has so strictly limited his powers that the misuse of his freedom cannot disturb the general order. The evil that man does reacts upon himself without affecting the system of the world, without preventing the preservation of the human species in spite of itself. To complain that God does not prevent us from doing wrong is to complain because he has made man of so excellent a nature, that he has endowed his actions with that morality by which they are ennobled, that he has made virtue man’s birthright. Supreme happiness consists in self-content; that we may gain this self-content we are placed upon this earth and endowed with freedom, we are tempted by our passions and restrained by conscience. What more could divine power itself have done on our behalf? Could it have made our nature a contradiction, and have given the prize of well-doing to one who was incapable of evil? To prevent a man from wickedness, should Providence have restricted him to instinct and made him a fool? Not so, O God of my soul, I will never reproach thee that thou hast created me in thine own image, that I may be free and good and happy like my Maker!
It is the abuse of our powers that makes us unhappy and wicked. Our cares, our sorrows, our sufferings are of our own making. Moral ills are undoubtedly the work of man, and physical ills would be nothing but for our vices which have made us liable to them. Has not nature made us feel our needs as a means to our preservation? Is not bodily suffering a sign that the machine is out of order and needs attention? Death. . . . Do not the wicked poison their own life and ours? Who would wish to live for ever? Death is the cure for the evils you bring upon yourself; nature would not have you suffer perpetually. How few sufferings are felt by man living in a state of primitive simplicity! His life is almost entirely free from suffering and from passion; he neither fears nor feels death; if he feels it, his sufferings make him desire it; henceforth it is no evil in his eyes. If we were but content to be ourselves we should have no cause to complain of our lot; but in the search for an imaginary good we find a thousand real ills. He who cannot bear a little pain must expect to suffer greatly. If a man injures his constitution by dissipation, you try to cure him with medicine; the ill he fears is added to the ill he feels; the thought of death makes it horrible and hastens its approach; the more we seek to escape from it, the more we are aware of it; and we go through life in the fear of death, blaming nature for the evils we have inflicted on ourselves by our neglect of her laws.
O Man! seek no further for the author of evil; thou art he. There is no evil but the evil you do or the evil you suffer, and both come from yourself. Evil in general can only spring from disorder, and in the order of the world I find a never-failing system. Evil in particular cases exists only in the mind of those who experience it; and this feeling is not the gift of nature, but the work of man himself. Pain has little power over those who, having thought little, look neither before nor after. Take away our fatal progress, take away our faults and our vices, take away man’s handiwork, and all is well.
Where all is well, there is no such thing as injustice. Justice and goodness are inseparable; now goodness is the necessary result of boundless power and of that self-love which is innate in all sentient beings. The omnipotent projects himself, so to speak, into the being of his creatures. Creation and preservation are the everlasting work of power; it does not act on that which has no existence; God is not the God of the dead; he could not harm and destroy without injury to himself. The omnipotent can only will what is good.1 Therefore he who is supremely good, because he is supermely powerful, must also be supremely just, otherwise he would contradict himself; for that love of order which creates order we call goodness and that love of order which preserves order we call justice.
Men say God owes nothing to his creatures. I think he owes them all he promised when he gave them their being. Now to give them the idea of something good and to make them feel the need of it, is to promise it to them. The more closely I study myself, the more carefully I consider, the more plainly do I read these words, “Be just and you will be happy.” It is not so, however, in the present condition of things, the wicked prospers and the oppression of the righteous continues. Observe how angry we are when this expectation is disappointed. Conscience revolts and murmurs against her Creator; she exclaims with cries and groans, “Thou hast deceived me.”
“I have deceived thee, rash soul! Who told thee this? Is thy soul destroyed? Hast thou ceased to exist? O Brutus! O my son! let there be no stain upon the close of thy noble life; do not abandon thy hope and thy glory with thy corpse upon the plains of Philippi. Why dost thou say, ‘Virtue is naught,’ when thou art about to enjoy the reward of virtue? Thou art about to die! Nay, thou shalt live, and thus my promise is fulfilled.”
One might judge from the complaints of impatient men that God owes them the reward before they have deserved it, that he is bound to pay for virtue in advance. Oh! let us first be good and then we shall be happy. Let us not claim the prize before we have won it, nor demand our wages before we have finished our work. “It is not in the lists that we crown the victors in the sacred games,” says Plutarch, “it is when they have finished their course.”
If the soul is immaterial, it may survive the body; and if it so survives, Providence is justified. Had I no other proof of the immaterial nature of the soul, the triumph of the wicked and the oppression of the righteous in this world would be enough to convince me. I should seek to resolve so appalling a discord in the universal harmony. I should say to myself, “All is not over with life, everything finds its place at death.” I should still have to answer the question, “What becomes of man when all we know of him through our senses has vanished?” This question no longer presents any difficulty to me when I admit the two substances. It is easy to understand that what is imperceptible to those senses escapes me, during my bodily life, when I perceive through my senses only. When the union of soul and body is destroyed, I think one may be dissolved and the other may be preserved. Why should the destruction of the one imply the destruction of the other? On the contrary, so unlike in their nature, they were during their union in a highly unstable condition, and when this union comes to an end they both return to their natural state; the active vital substance regains all the force which it expended to set in motion the passive dead substance. Alas! my vices make me only too well aware that man is but half alive during this life; the life of the soul only begins with the death of the body.
But what is that life? Is the soul of man in its nature immortal? I know not. My finite understanding cannot hold the infinite; what is called eternity eludes my grasp. What can I assert or deny, how can I reason with regard to what I cannot conceive? I believe that the soul survives the body for the maintenance of order; who knows if this is enough to make it eternal? However, I know that the body is worn out and destroyed by the division of its parts, but I cannot conceive a similar destruction of the conscious nature, and as I cannot imagine how it can die, I presume that it does not die. As this assumption is consoling and in itself not unreasonable, why should I fear to accept it?
I am aware of my soul; it is known to me in feeling and in thought; I know what it is without knowing its essence; I cannot reason about ideas which are unknown to me. What I do know is this, that my personal identity depends upon memory, and that to be indeed the same self I must remember that I have existed. Now after death I could not recall what I was when alive unless I also remembered what I felt and therefore what I did; and I have no doubt that this remembrance will one day form the happiness of the good and the torment of the bad. In this world our inner consciousness is absorbed by the crowd of eager passions which cheat remorse. The humiliation and disgrace involved in the practice of virtue do not permit us to realise its charm. But when, freed from the illusions of the bodily senses, we behold with joy the supreme Being and the eternal truths which flow from him; when all the powers of our soul are alive to the beauty of order and we are wholly occupied in comparing what we have done with what we ought to have done, then it is that the voice of conscience will regain its strength and sway; then it is that the pure delight which springs from self-content, and the sharp regret for our own degradation of that self, will decide by means of overpowering feeling what shall be the fate which each has prepared for himself. My good friend, do not ask me whether there are other sources of happiness or suffering; I cannot tell; that which my fancy pictures is enough to console me in this life and to bid me look for a life to come. I do not say the good will be rewarded, for what greater good can a truly good being expect than to exist in accordance with his nature? But I do assert that the good will be happy, because their maker, the author of all justice, who has made them capable of feeling, has not made them that they may suffer; moreover, they have not abused their freedom upon earth and they have not changed their fate through any fault of their own; yet they have suffered in this life and it will be made up to them in the life to come. This feeling relies not so much on man’s deserts as on the idea of good which seems to me inseparable from the divine essence. I only assume that the laws of order are constant and that God is true to himself.
Do not ask me whether the torments of the wicked will endure for ever, whether the goodness of their creator can condemn them to the eternal suffering; again, I cannot tell, and I have no empty curiosity for the investigation of useless problems. How does the fate of the wicked concern me? I take little interest in it. All the same I find it hard to believe that they will be condemned to everlasting torments. If the supreme justice calls for vengeance, it claims it in this life. The nations of the world with their errors are its ministers. Justice uses self-inflicted ills to punish the crimes which have deserved them. It is in your own insatiable souls, devoured by envy, greed, and ambition, it is in the midst of your false prosperity, that the avenging passions find the due reward of your crimes. What need to seek a hell in the future life? It is here in the breast of the wicked.
When our fleeting needs are over, and our mad desires are at rest, there should also be an end of our passions and our crimes. Can pure spirits be capable of any perversity? Having need of nothing, why should they be wicked? If they are free from our gross senses, if their happiness consists in the contemplation of other beings, they can only desire what is good; and he who ceases to be bad can never be miserable. This is what I am inclined to think though I have not been at the pains to come to any decision. O God, merciful and good, whatever thy decrees may be I adore them; if thou shouldst commit the wicked to everlasting punishment, I abandon my feeble reason to thy justice; but if the remorse of these wretched beings should in the course of time be extinguished, if their sufferings should come to an end, and if the same peace shall one day be the lot of all mankind, I give thanks to thee for this. Is not the wicked my brother? How often have I been tempted to be like him? Let him be delivered from his misery and freed from the spirit of hatred that accompanied it; let him be as happy as I myself; his happiness, far from arousing my jealousy, will only increase my own.
Thus it is that, in the contemplation of God in his works, and in the study of such of his attributes as it concerned me to know, I have slowly grasped and developed the idea, at first partial and imperfect, which I have formed of this Infinite Being. But if this idea has become nobler and greater it is also more suited to the human reason. As I approach in spirit the eternal light, I am confused and dazzled by its glory, and compelled to abandon all the earthly notions which helped me to picture it to myself. God is no longer corporeal and sensible; the supreme mind which rules the world is no longer the world itself; in vain do I strive to grasp his inconceivable essence. When I think that it is he that gives life and movement to the living and moving substance which controls all living bodies; when I hear it said that my soul is spiritual and that God is a spirit, I revolt against this abasement of the divine essence; as if God and my soul were of one and the same nature! As if God were not the one and only absolute being, the only really active, feeling, thinking, willing being, from whom we derive our thought, feeling, motion, will, our freedom and our very existence! We are free because he wills our freedom, and his inexplicable substance is to our souls what our souls are to our bodies. I know not whether he has created matter, body, soul, the world itself. The idea of creation confounds me and eludes my grasp; so far as I can conceive of it I believe it; but I know that he has formed the universe and all that is, that he has made and ordered all things. No doubt God is eternal; but can my mind grasp the idea of eternity? Why should I cheat myself with meaningless words? This is what I do understand; before things were—God was; he will be when they are no more, and if all things come to an end he will still endure. That a being beyond my comprehension should give life to other beings, this is merely difficult and beyond my understanding; but that Being and Nothing should be convertible terms, this is indeed a palpable contradiction, an evident absurdity.
God is intelligent, but how? Man is intelligent when he reasons, but the Supreme Intelligence does not need to reason; there is neither premise nor conclusion for him, there is not even a proposition. The Supreme Intelligence is wholly intuitive, it sees what is and what shall be; all truths are one for it, as all places are but one point and all time but one moment. Man’s power makes use of means, the divine power is self-active. God can because he wills; his will is his power. God is good; this is certain; but man finds his happiness in the welfare of his kind, God’s happiness consists in the love of order; for it is through order that he maintains what is, and unites each part in the whole. God is just; of this I am sure, it is a consequence of his goodness; man’s injustice is not God’s work, but his own; that moral justice which seems to the philosophers a presumption against Providence, is to me a proof of its existence. But man’s justice consists in giving to each his due; God’s justice consists in demanding from each of us an account of that which he has given us.
If I have succeeded in discerning these attributes of which I have no absolute idea, it is in the form of unavoidable deductions, and by the right use of my reason; but I affirm them without understanding them, and at bottom that is no affirmation at all. In vain do I say, God is thus, I feel it, I experience it, none the more do I understand how God can be thus.
In a word: the more I strive to envisage his infinite essence the less do I comprehend it; but it is, and that is enough for me; the less I understand, the more I adore. I abase myself, saying, “Being of beings, I am because thou art; to fix my thoughts on thee is to ascend to the source of my being. The best use I can make of my reason is to resign it before thee; my mind delights, my weakness rejoices, to feel myself overwhelmed by thy greatness.”
Having thus deduced from the perception of objects of sense and from my inner consciousness, which leads me to judge of causes by my native reason, the principal truths which I require to know, I must now seek such principles of conduct as I can draw from them, and such rules as I must lay down for my guidance in the fulfilment of my destiny in this world, according to the purpose of my Maker. Still following the same method, I do not derive these rules from the principles of the higher philosophy, I find them in the depths of my heart, traced by nature in characters which nothing can efface. I need only consult myself with regard to what I wish to do; what I feel to be right is right, what I feel to be wrong is wrong; conscience is the best casuist; and it is only when we haggle with conscience that we have recourse to the subtleties of argument. Our first duty is towards ourself; yet how often does the voice of others tell us that in seeking our good at the expense of others we are doing ill? We think we are following the guidance of nature, and we are resisting it; we listen to what she says to our senses, and we neglect what she says to our heart; the active being obeys, the passive commands. Conscience is the voice of the soul, the passions are the voice of the body. Is it strange that these voices often contradict each other? And then to which should we give heed? Too often does reason deceive us; we have only too good a right to doubt her; but conscience never deceives us; she is the true guide of man; it is to the soul what instinct is to the body;1 he who obeys his conscience is following nature and he need not fear that he will go astray. This is a matter of great importance, continued my benefactor, seeing that I was about to interrupt him; let me stop awhile to explain it more fully.
The morality of our actions consists entirely in the judgments we ourselves form with regard to them. If good is good, it must be good in the depth of our heart as well as in our actions; and the first reward of justice is the consciousness that we are acting justly. If moral goodness is in accordance with our nature, man can only be healthy in mind and body when he is good. If it is not so, and if man is by nature evil, he cannot cease to be evil without corrupting his nature, and goodness in him is a crime against nature. If he is made to do harm to his fellow-creatures, as the wolf is made to devour his prey, a humane man would be as depraved a creature as a pitiful wolf; and virtue alone would cause remorse.
My young friend, let us look within, let us set aside all personal prejudices and see whither our inclinations lead us. Do we take more pleasure in the sight of the sufferings of others or their joys? Is it pleasanter to do a kind action or an unkind action, and which leaves the more delightful memory behind it? Why do you enjoy the theatre? Do you delight in the crimes you behold? Do you weep over the punishment which overtakes the criminal? They say we are indifferent to everything but self-interest; yet we find our consolation in our sufferings in the charms of friendship and humanity, and even in our pleasures we should be too lonely and miserable if we had no one to share them with us. If there is no such thing as morality in man’s heart, what is the source of his rapturous admiration of noble deeds, his passionate devotion to great men? What connection is there between self-interest and this enthusiasm for virtue? Why should I choose to be Cato dying by his own hand, rather than Cæsar in his triumphs? Take from our hearts this love of what is noble and you rob us of the joy of life. The mean-spirited man in whom these delicious feelings have been stifled among vile passions, who by thinking of no one but himself comes at last to love no one but himself, this man feels no raptures, his cold heart no longer throbs with joy, and his eyes no longer fill with the sweet tears of sympathy, he delights in nothing; the wretch has neither life nor feeling, he is already dead.
There are many bad men in this world, but there are few of these dead souls, alive only to self-interest, and insensible to all that is right and good. We only delight in injustice so long as it is to our own advantage; in every other case we wish the innocent to be protected. If we see some act of violence or injustice in town or country, our hearts are at once stirred to their depths by an instinctive anger and wrath, which bids us go to the help of the oppressed; but we are restrained by a stronger duty, and the law deprives us of our right to protect the innocent. On the other hand, if some deed of mercy or generosity meets our eye, what reverence and love does it inspire! Do we not say to ourselves, “I should like to have done that myself”? What does it matter to us that two thousand years ago a man was just or unjust? and yet we take the same interest in ancient history as if it happened yesterday. What are the crimes of Cataline to me? I shall not be his victim. Why then have I the same horror of his crimes as if he were living now? We do not hate the wicked merely because of the harm they do to ourselves, but because they are wicked. Not only do we wish to be happy ourselves, we wish others to be happy too, and if this happiness does not interfere with our own happiness, it increases it. In conclusion, whether we will or not, we pity the unfortunate; when we see their suffering we suffer too. Even the most depraved are not wholly without this instinct, and it often leads them to self-contradiction. The highwayman who robs the traveller, clothes the nakedness of the poor; the fiercest murderer supports a fainting man.
Men speak of the voice of remorse, the secret punishment of hidden crimes, by which such are often brought to light. Alas! who does not know its unwelcome voice? We speak from experience, and we would gladly stifle this imperious feeling which causes us such agony. Let us obey the call of nature; we shall see that her yoke is easy and that when we give heed to her voice we find a joy in the answer of a good conscience. The wicked fears and flees from her; he delights to escape from himself; his anxious eyes look around him for some object of diversion; without bitter satire and rude mockery he would always be sorrowful; the scornful laugh is his one pleasure. Not so the just man, who finds his peace within himself; there is joy not malice in his laughter, a joy which springs from his own heart; he is as cheerful alone as in company, his satisfaction does not depend on those who approach him; it includes them.
Cast your eyes over every nation of the world; peruse every volume of its history; in the midst of all these strange and cruel forms of worship, among this amazing variety of manners and customs, you will everywhere find the same ideas of right and justice; everywhere the same principles of morality, the same ideas of good and evil. The old paganism gave birth to abominable gods who would have been punished as scoundrels here below, gods who merely offered, as a picture of supreme happiness, crimes to be committed and lust to be gratified. But in vain did vice descend from the abode of the gods armed with their sacred authority; the moral instinct refused to admit it into the heart of man. While the debaucheries of Jupiter were celebrated, the continence of Xenocrates was revered; the chaste Lucrece adored the shameless Venus; the bold Roman offered sacrifices to Fear; he invoked the god who mutilated his father, and he died without a murmur at the hand of his own father. The most unworthy gods were worshipped by the noblest men. The sacred voice of nature was stronger than the voice of the gods, and won reverence upon earth; it seemed to relegate guilt and the guilty alike to heaven.
There is therefore at the bottom of our hearts an innate principle of justice and virtue, by which, in spite of our maxims, we judge our own actions or those of others to be good or evil; and it is this principle that I call conscience.
But at this word I hear the murmurs of all the wise men so-called. Childish errors, prejudices of our upbringing, they exclaim in concert! There is nothing in the human mind but what it has gained by experience; and we judge everything solely by means of the ideas we have acquired. They go further; they even venture to reject the clear and universal agreement of all peoples, and to set against this striking unanimity in the judgment of mankind, they seek out some obscure exception known to themselves alone; as if the whole trend of nature were rendered null by the depravity of a single nation, and as if the existence of monstrosities made an end of species. But to what purpose does the sceptic Montaigne strive himself to unearth in some obscure corner of the world a custom which is contrary to the ideas of justice? To what purpose does he credit the most untrustworthy travellers, while he refuses to believe the greatest writers? A few strange and doubtful customs, based on local causes, unknown to us; shall these destroy a general inference based on the agreement of all the nations of the earth, differing from each other in all else, but agreed in this? O Montaigne, you pride yourself on your truth and honesty; be sincere and truthful, if a philosopher can be so, and tell me if there is any country upon earth where it is a crime to keep one’s plighted word, to be merciful, helpful, and generous, where the good man is scorned, and the traitor is held in honour.
Self-interest, so they say, induces each of us to agree for the common good. But how is it that the good man consents to this to his own hurt? Does a man go to death from self-interest? No doubt each man acts for his own good, but if there is no such thing as moral good to be taken into consideration, self-interest will only enable you to account for the deeds of the wicked; possibly you will not attempt to do more. A philosophy which could find no place for good deeds would be too detestable; you would find yourself compelled either to find some mean purpose, some wicked motive, or to abuse Socrates and slander Regulus. If such doctrines ever took root among us, the voice of nature, together with the voice of reason, would constantly protest against them, till no adherent of such teaching could plead an honest excuse for his partisanship.
It is no part of my scheme to enter at present into metaphysical discussions which neither you nor I can understand, discussions which really lead nowhere. I have told you already that I do not wish to philosophise with you, but to help you to consult your own heart. If all the philosophers in the world should prove that I am wrong, and you feel that I am right, that is all I ask.
For this purpose it is enough to lead you to distinguish between our acquired ideas and our natural feelings; for feeling precedes knowledge; and since we do not learn to seek what is good for us and avoid what is bad for us, but get this desire from nature, in the same way the love of good and the hatred of evil are as natural to us as our self-love. The decrees of conscience are not judgments but feelings. Although all our ideas come from without, the feelings by which they are weighed are within us, and it is by these feelings alone that we perceive fitness or unfitness of things in relation to ourselves, which leads us to seek or shun these things.
To exist is to feel; our feeling is undoubtedly earlier than our intelligence, and we had feelings before we had ideas.1 Whatever may be the cause of our being, it has provided for our preservation by giving us feelings suited to our nature; and no one can deny that these at least are innate. These feelings, so far as the individual is concerned, are self-love, fear, pain, the dread of death, the desire for comfort. Again, if, as it is impossible to doubt, man is by nature sociable, or at least fitted to become sociable, he can only be so by means of other innate feelings, relative to his kind; for if only physical well-being were considered, men would certainly be scattered rather than brought together. But the motive power of conscience is derived from the moral system formed through this twofold relation to himself and to his fellow-men. To know good is not to love it; this knowledge is not innate in man; but as soon as his reason leads him to perceive it, his conscience impels him to love it; it is this feeling which is innate.
So I do not think, my young friend, that it is impossible to explain the immediate force of conscience as a result of our own nature, independent of reason itself. And even should it be impossible, it is unnecessary; for those who deny this principle, admitted and received by everybody else in the world, do not prove that there is no such thing; they are content to affirm, and when we affirm its existence we have quite as good grounds as they, while we have moreover the witness within us, the voice of conscience, which speaks on its own behalf. If the first beams of judgment dazzle us and confuse the objects we behold, let us wait till our feeble sight grows clear and strong, and in the light of reason we shall soon behold these very objects as nature has already showed them to us. Or rather let us be simpler and less pretentious; let us be content with the first feelings we experience in ourselves, since science always brings us back to these, unless it has led us astray.
Conscience! Conscience! Divine instinct, immortal voice from heaven; sure guide for a creature ignorant and finite indeed, yet intelligent and free; infallible judge of good and evil, making man like to God! In thee consists the excellence of man’s nature and the morality of his actions; apart from thee, I find nothing in myself to raise me above the beasts—nothing but the sad privilege of wandering from one error to another, by the help of an unbridled understanding and a reason which knows no principle.
Thank heaven we have now got rid of all that alarming show of philosophy; we may be men without being scholars; now that we need not spend our life in the study of morality, we have found a less costly and surer guide through this vast labyrinth of human thought. But it is not enough to be aware that there is such a guide; we must know her and follow her. If she speaks to all hearts, how is it that so few give heed to her voice? She speaks to us in the language of nature, and everything leads us to forget that tongue. Conscience is timid, she loves peace and retirement; she is startled by noise and numbers; the prejudices from which she is said to arise are her worst enemies. She flees before them or she is silent; their noisy voices drown her words, so that she cannot get a hearing; fanaticism dares to counterfeit her voice and to inspire crimes in her name. She is discouraged by ill-treatment; she no longer speaks to us, no longer answers to our call; when she has been scorned so long, it is as hard to recall her as it was to banish her.
How often in the course of my inquiries have I grown weary of my own coldness of heart! How often have grief and weariness poured their poison into my first meditations and made them hateful to me! My barren heart yielded nothing but a feeble zeal and a lukewarm love of truth. I said to myself: Why should I strive to find what does not exist? Moral good is a dream, the pleasures of sense are the only real good. When once we have lost the taste for the pleasures of the soul, how hard it is to recover it! How much more difficult to acquire it if we have never possessed it! If there were any man so wretched as never to have done anything all his life long which he could remember with pleasure, and which would make him glad to have lived, that man would be incapable of self-knowledge, and for want of knowledge of goodness, of which his nature is capable, he would be constrained to remain in his wickedness and would be for ever miserable. But do you think there is any one man upon earth so depraved that he has never yielded to the temptation of well-doing? This temptation is so natural, so pleasant, that it is impossible always to resist it; and the thought of the pleasure it has once afforded is enough to recall it constantly to our memory. Unluckily it is hard at first to find satisfaction for it; we have any number of reasons for refusing to follow the inclinations of our heart; prudence, so called, restricts the heart within the limits of the self; a thousand efforts are needed to break these bonds. The joy of well-doing is the prize of having done well, and we must deserve the prize before we win it. There is nothing sweeter than virtue; but we do not know this till we have tried it. Like Proteus in the fable, she first assumes a thousand terrible shapes when we would embrace her, and only shows her true self to those who refuse to let her go.
Ever at strife between my natural feelings, which spoke of the common weal, and my reason, which spoke of self, I should have drifted through life in perpetual uncertainty, hating, evil, loving good, and always at war with myself, if my heart had not received further light, if that truth which determined my opinions had not also settled my conduct, and set me at peace with myself. Reason alone is not a sufficient foundation for virtue; what solid ground can be found? Virtue we are told is love of order. But can this love prevail over my love for my own well-being, and ought it so to prevail? Let them give me clear and sufficient reason for this preference. Their so-called principle is in truth a mere playing with words; for I also say that vice is love of order, differently understood. Wherever there is feeling and intelligence, there is some sort of moral order. The difference is this: the good man orders his life with regard to all men; the wicked orders it for self alone. The latter centres all things, round himself; the other measures his radius and remains on the circumference. Thus his place depends on the common centre, which is God, and on all the concentric circles which are His creatures. If there is no God, the wicked is right and the good man is nothing but a fool.
My child! May you one day feel what a burden is removed when, having fathomed the vanity of human thoughts and tasted the bitterness of passion, you find at length near at hand the path of wisdom, the prize of this life’s labours, the source of that happiness which you despaired of. Every duty of natural law, which man’s injustice had almost effaced from my heart, is engraven there, for the second time in the name of that eternal justice which lays these duties upon me and beholds my fulfilment of them. I feel myself merely the instrument of the Omnipotent, who wills what is good, who performs it, who will bring about my own good through the co-operation of my will with his own, and by the right use of my liberty. I acquiesce in the order he establishes, certain that one day I shall enjoy that order and find my happiness in it; for what sweeter joy is there than this, to feel oneself a part of a system where all is good? A prey to pain, I bear it in patience, remembering that it will soon be over, and that it results from a body which is not mine. If I do a good deed in secret, I know that it is seen, and my conduct in this life is a pledge of the life to come. When I suffer injustice, I say to myself, the Almighty who does all things well will reward me: my bodily needs, my poverty, make the idea of death less intolerable. There will be all the fewer bonds to be broken when my hour comes.
Why is my soul subjected to my senses, and imprisoned in this body by which it is enslaved and thwarted? I know not; have I entered into the counsels of the Almighty? But I may, without rashness, venture on a modest conjecture. I say to myself: If man’s soul had remained in a state of freedom and innocence, what merit would there have been in loving and obeying the order he found established, an order which it would not have been to his advantage to disturb? He would be happy, no doubt, but his happiness would not attain to the highest point, the pride of virtue, and the witness of a good conscience within him; he would be but as the angels are, and no doubt the good man will be more than they. Bound to a mortal body, by bonds as strange as they are powerful, his care for the preservation of this body tempts the soul to think only of self, and gives it an interest opposed to the general order of things, which it is still capable of knowing and loving; then it is that the right use of his freedom becomes at once the merit and the reward; then it is that it prepares for itself unending happiness, by resisting its earthly passions and following its original direction.
If even in the lowly position in which we are placed during our present life our first impulses are always good, if all our vices are of our own making, why should we complain that they are our masters? Why should we blame the Creator for the ills we have ourselves created, and the enemies we ourselves have armed against us? Oh, let us leave man unspoilt; he will always find it easy to be good and he will always be happy without remorse. The guilty, who assert that they are driven to crime, are liars as well as evil-doers; how is it that they fail to perceive that the weakness they bewail is of their own making; that their earliest depravity was the result of their own will; that by dint of wishing to yield to temptations, they at length yield to them whether they will or no and make them irresistible? No doubt they can no longer avoid being weak and wicked, but they need not have become weak and wicked. Oh, how easy would it be to preserve control of ourselves and of our passions, even in this life, if with habits still unformed, with a mind beginning to expand, we were able to keep to such things as we ought to know, in order to value rightly what is unknown; if we really wished to learn, not that we might shine before the eyes of others, but that we might be wise and good in accordance with our nature, that we might be happy in the performance of our duty. This study seems tedious and painful to us, for we do not attempt it till we are already corrupted by vice and enslaved by our passions. Our judgments and our standards of worth are determined before we have the knowledge of good and evil; and then we measure all things by this false standard, and give nothing its true worth.
There is an age when the heart is still free, but eager, unquiet, greedy of a happiness which is still unknown, a happiness which it seeks in curiosity and doubt; deceived by the senses it settles at length upon the empty show of happiness and thinks it has found it where it is not. In my own case these illusions endured for a long time. Alas! too late did I become aware of them, and I have not succeeded in overcoming them altogether; they will last as long as this mortal body from which they arise. If they lead me astray, I am at least no longer deceived by them; I know them for what they are, and even when I give way to them, I despise myself; far from regarding them as the goal of my happiness, I behold in them an obstacle to it. I long for the time when, freed from the fetters of the body, I shall be myself, at one with myself, no longer torn in two, when I myself shall suffice for my own happiness. Meanwhile I am happy even in this life, for I make small account of all its evils, in which I regard myself as having little or no part, while all the real good that I can get out of this life depends on myself alone.
To raise myself so far as may be even now to this state of happiness, strength, and freedom, I exercise myself in lofty contemplation. I consider the order of the universe, not to explain it by any futile system, but to revere it without ceasing, to adore the wise Author who reveals himself in it. I hold intercourse with him; I immerse all my powers in his divine essence; I am overwhelmed by his kindness, I bless him and his gifts, but I do not pray to him. What should I ask of him—to change the order of nature, to work miracles on my behalf? Should I, who am bound to love above all things the order which he has established in his wisdom and maintained by his providence, should I desire the disturbance of that order on my own account? No, that rash prayer would deserve to be punished rather than to be granted. Neither do I ask of him the power to do right; why should I ask what he has given me already? Has he not given me conscience that I may love the right, reason that I may perceive it, and freedom that I may choose it? If I do evil, I have no excuse; I do it of my own free will; to ask him to change my will is to ask him to do what he asks of me; it is to want him to do the work while I get the wages; to be dissatisfied with my lot is to wish to be no longer a man, to wish to be other than what I am, to wish for disorder and evil. Thou source of justice and truth, merciful and gracious God, in thee do I trust, and the desire of my heart is—Thy will be done. When I unite my will with thine, I do what thou doest; I have a share in thy goodness; I believe that I enjoy beforehand the supreme happiness which is the reward of goodness.
In my well-founded self-distrust the only thing that I ask of God, or rather expect from his justice, is to correct my error if I go astray, if that error is dangerous to me. To be honest I need not think myself infallible; my opinions, which seem to me true, may be so many lies; for what man is there who does not cling to his own beliefs; and how many men are agreed in everything? The illusion which deceives me may indeed have its source in myself, but it is God alone who can remove it. I have done all I can to attain to truth; but its source is beyond my reach; is it my fault if my strength fails me and I can go no further; it is for Truth to draw near to me.
The good priest had spoken with passion; he and I were overcome with emotion. It seemed to me as if I were listening to the divine Orpheus when he sang the earliest hymns and taught men the worship of the gods. I saw any number of objections which might be raised; yet I raised none, for I perceived that they were more perplexing than serious, and that my inclination took his part. When he spoke to me according to his conscience, my own seemed to confirm what he said.
“The novelty of the sentiments you have made known to me,” said I, “strikes me all the more because of what you confess you do not know, than because of what you say you believe. They seem to me very like that theism or natural religion, which Christians profess to confound with atheism or irreligion which is their exact opposite. But in the present state of my faith I should have to ascend rather than descend to accept your views, and I find it difficult to remain just where you are unless I were as wise as you. That I may be at least as honest, I want time to take counsel with myself. By your own showing, the inner voice must be my guide, and you have yourself told me that when it has long been silenced it cannot be recalled in a moment. I take what you have said to heart, and I must consider it. If after I have thought things out, I am as convinced as you are, you will be my final teacher, and I will be your disciple till death. Continue your teaching however; you have only told me half what I must know. Speak to me of revelation, of the Scriptures, of those difficult doctrines among which I have strayed ever since I was a child, incapable either of understanding or believing them, unable to adopt or reject them.”
“Yes, my child,” said he, embracing me, “I will tell you all I think; I will not open my heart to you by halves; but the desire you express was necessary before I could cast aside all reserve. So far I have told you nothing but what I thought would be of service to you, nothing but what I was quite convinced of. The inquiry which remains to be made is very different. It seems to me full of perplexity, mystery, and darkness; I bring to it only doubt and distrust. I make up my mind with trembling, and I tell you my doubts rather than my convictions. If your own opinions were more settled I should hesitate to show you mine; but in your present condition, to think like me would be gain.1 Moreover, give to my words only the authority of reason; I know not whether I am mistaken. It is difficult in discussion to avoid assuming sometimes a dogmatic tone; but remember in this respect that all my assertions are but reasons to doubt me. Seek truth for yourself; for my own part I only promise you sincerity.
“In my exposition you find nothing but natural religion; strange that we should need more! How shall I become aware of this need? What guilt can be mine so long as I serve God according to the knowledge he has given to my mind, and the feelings he has put into my heart? What purity of morals, what dogma useful to man and worthy of its author, can I derive from a positive doctrine which cannot be derived without the aid of this doctrine by the right use of my faculties? Show me what you can add to the duties of the natural law, for the glory of God, for the good of mankind, and for my own welfare; and what virtue you will get from the new form of religion which does not result from mine. The grandest ideas of the Divine nature come to us from reason only. Behold the spectacle of nature; listen to the inner voice. Has not God spoken it all to our eyes, to our conscience, to our reason? What more can man tell us? Their revelations do but degrade God, by investing him with passions like our own. Far from throwing light upon the ideas of the Supreme Being, special doctrines seem to me to confuse these ideas; far from ennobling them, they degrade them; to the inconceivable mysteries which surround the Almighty, they add absurd contradictions, they make man proud, intolerant, and cruel; instead of bringing peace upon earth, they bring fire and sword. I ask myself what is the use of it all, and I find no answer. I see nothing but the crimes of men and the misery of mankind.
“They tell me a revelation was required to teach men how God would be served; as a proof of this they point to the many strange rites which men have instituted, and they do not perceive that this very diversity springs from the fanciful nature of the revelations. As soon as the nations took to making God speak, every one made him speak in his own fashion, and made him say what he himself wanted. Had they listened only to what God says in the heart of man, there would have been but one religion upon earth.
“One form of worship was required; just so, but was this a matter of such importance as to require all the power of the Godhead to establish it? Do not let us confuse the outward forms of religion with religion itself. The service God requires is of the heart; and when the heart is sincere that is ever the same. It is a strange sort of conceit which fancies that God takes such an interest in the shape of the priest’s vestments, the form of words he utters, the gestures he makes before the altar and all his genuflections. Oh, my friend, stand upright, you will still be too near the earth. God desires to be worshipped in spirit and in truth; this duty belongs to every religion, every country, every individual. As to the form of worship, if order demands uniformity, that is only a matter of discipline and needs no revelation.
“These thoughts did not come to me to begin with. Carried away by the prejudices of my education, and by that dangerous vanity which always strives to lift man out of his proper sphere, when I could not raise my feeble thoughts up to the great Being, I tried to bring him down to my own level. I tried to reduce the distance he has placed between his nature and mine. I desired more immediate relations, more individual instruction; not content to make God in the image of man that I might be favoured above my fellows, I desired supernatural knowledge; I required a special form of worship; I wanted God to tell me what he had not told others, or what others had not understood like myself.
“Considering the point I had now reached as the common centre from which all believers set out on the quest for a more enlightened form of religion, I merely found in natural religion the elements of all religion. I beheld the multitude of diverse sects which hold sway upon earth, each of which accuses the other of falsehood and error; which of these, I asked, is the right? Every one replied, ‘My own;’ every one said, ‘I alone and those who agree with me think rightly, all the others are mistaken.’ And how do you know that your sect is in the right? Because God said so. And how do you know God said so?1 And who told you that God said it? My pastor, who knows all about it. My pastor tells me what to believe and I believe it; he assures me that any one who says anything else is mistaken, and I give no heed to them.
“What! thought I, is not truth one; can that which is true for me be false for you? If those who follow the right path and those who go astray have the same method, what merit or what blame can be assigned to one more than to the other? Their choice is the result of chance; it is unjust to hold them responsible for it, to reward or punish them for being born in one country or another. To dare to say that God judges us in this manner is an outrage on his justice.
“Either all religions are good and pleasing to God, or if there is one which he prescribes for men, if they will be punished for despising it, he will have distinguished it by plain and certain signs by which it can be known as the only true religion; these signs are alike in every time and place, equally plain to all men, great or small, learned or unlearned, Europeans, Indians, Africans, savages. If there were but one religion upon earth, and if all beyond its pale were condemned to eternal punishment, and if there were in any corner of the world one single honest man who was not convinced by this evidence, the God of that religion would be the most unjust and cruel of tyrants.
“Let us therefore seek honestly after truth; let us yield nothing to the claims of birth, to the authority of parents and pastors, but let us summon to the bar of conscience and of reason all that they have taught us from our childhood. In vain do they exclaim, ‘Submit your reason;’ a deceiver might say as much; I must have reasons for submitting my reason.
“All the theology I can get for myself by observation of the universe and by the use of my faculties is contained in what I have already told you. To know more one must have recourse to strange means. These means cannot be the authority of men, for every man is of the same species as myself, and all that a man knows by nature I am capable of knowing, and another may be deceived as much as I; when I believe what he says, it is not because he says it but because he proves its truth. The witness of man is therefore nothing more than the witness of my own reason, and it adds nothing to the natural means which God has given me for the knowledge of truth.
“Apostle of truth, what have you to tell me of which I am not the sole judge? God himself has spoken; give heed to his revelation. That is another matter. God has spoken, these are indeed words which demand attention. To whom has he spoken? He has spoken to men. Why then have I heard nothing? He has instructed others to make known his words to you. I understand; it is men who come and tell me what God has said. I would rather have heard the words of God himself; it would have been as easy for him and I should have been secure from fraud. He protects you from fraud by showing that his envoys come from him. How does he show this? By miracles. Where are these miracles? In the books. And who wrote the books? Men. And who saw the miracles? The men who bear witness to them. What! Nothing but human testimony! Nothing but men who tell me what others told them! How many men between God and me! Let us see, however, let us examine, compare, and verify. Oh! if God had but deigned to free me from all this labour, I would have served him with all my heart.
“Consider, my friend, the terrible controversy in which I am now engaged; what vast learning is required to go back to the remotest antiquity, to examine, weigh, confront prophecies, revelations, facts, all the monuments of faith set forth throughout the world, to assign their date, place, authorship, and occasion. What exactness of critical judgment is needed to distinguish genuine documents from forgeries, to compare objections with their answers, translations with their originals; to decide as to the impartiality of witnesses, their common-sense, their knowledge; to make sure that nothing has been omitted, nothing added, nothing transposed, altered, or falsified; to point out any remaining contradictions, to determine what weight should be given to the silence of our adversaries with regard to the charges brought against them; how far were they aware of those charges; did they think them sufficiently serious to require an answer; were books sufficiently well known for our books to reach them; have we been honest enough to allow their books to circulate among ourselves and to leave their strongest objections unaltered?
“When the authenticity of all these documents is accepted, we must now pass to the evidence of their authors’ mission; we must know the laws of chance, and probability, to decide which prophecy cannot be fulfilled without a miracle; we must know the spirit of the original languages, to distinguish between prophecy and figures of speech; we must know what facts are in accordance with nature and what facts are not, so that we may say how far a clever man may deceive the eyes of the simple and may even astonish the learned; we must discover what are the characteristics of a prodigy and how its authenticity may be established, not only so far as to gain credence, but so that doubt may be deserving of punishment; we must compare the evidence for true and false miracles, and find sure tests to distinguish between them; lastly we must say why God chose as a witness to his words means which themselves require so much evidence on their behalf, as if he were playing with human credulity, and avoiding of set purpose the true means of persuasion.
“Assuming that the divine majesty condescends so far as to make a man the channel of his sacred will, is it reasonable, is it fair, to demand that the whole of mankind should obey the voice of this minister without making him known as such? Is it just to give him as his sole credentials certain private signs, performed in the presence of a few obscure persons, signs which everybody else can only know by hearsay? If one were to believe all the miracles that the uneducated and credulous profess to have seen in every country upon earth, every sect would be in the right; there would be more miracles than ordinary events; and it would be the greatest miracle if there were no miracles wherever there were persecuted fanatics. The unchangeable order of nature is the chief witness to the wise hand that guides it; if there were many exceptions, I should hardly know what to think; for my own part I have too great a faith in God to believe in so many miracles which are so little worthy of him.
“Let a man come and say to us: Mortals, I proclaim to you the will of the Most Highest; accept my words as those of him who has sent me; I bid the sun to change his course, the stars to range themselves in a fresh order, the high places to become smooth, the floods to rise up, the earth to change her face. By these miracles who will not recognise the master of nature? She does not obey impostors, their miracles are wrought in holes and corners, in deserts, within closed doors, where they find easy dupes among a small company of spectators already disposed to believe them. Who will venture to tell me how many eye-witnesses are required to make a miracle credible? What use are your miracles, performed in proof of your doctrine, if they themselves require so much proof? You might as well have let them alone.
“There still remains the most important inquiry of all with regard to the doctrine proclaimed; for since those who tell us God works miracles in this world, profess that the devil sometimes imitates them, when we have found the best attested miracles we have got very little further; and since the magicians of Pharaoh dared in the presence of Moses to counterfeit the very signs he wrought at God’s command, why should they not, behind his back, claim a like authority? So when we have proved our doctrine by means of miracles, we must prove our miracles by means of doctrine,1 for fear lest we should take the devil’s doings for the handiwork of God. What think you of this dilemma?
“This doctrine, if it comes from God, should bear the sacred stamp of the godhead; not only should it illumine the troubled thoughts which reason imprints on our minds, but it should also offer us a form of worship, a morality, and rules of conduct in accordance with the attributes by means of which we alone conceive of God’s essence. If then it teaches us what is absurd and unreasonable, if it inspires us with feelings of aversion for our fellows and terror for ourselves, if it paints us a God, angry, jealous, revengeful, partial, hating men, a God of war and battles, ever ready to strike and to destroy, ever speaking of punishment and torment, boasting even of the punishment of the innocent, my heart would not be drawn towards this terrible God, I would take good care not to quit the realm of natural religion to embrace such a religion as that; for you see plainly I must choose between them. Your God is not ours. He who begins by selecting a chosen people, and proscribing the rest of mankind, is not our common father; he who consigns to eternal punishment the greater part of his creatures, is not the merciful and gracious God revealed to me by my reason.
“Reason tells me that dogmas should be plain, clear, and striking in their simplicity. If there is something lacking in natural religion, it is with respect to the obscurity in which it leaves the great truths it teaches; revelation should teach us these truths in a way which the mind of man can understand; it should bring them within his reach, make him comprehend them, so that he may believe them. Faith is confirmed and strengthened by understanding; the best religion is of necessity the simplest. He who hides beneath mysteries and contradictions the religion that he preaches to me, teaches me at the same time to distrust that religion. The God whom I adore is not the God of darkness, he has not given me understanding in order to forbid me to use it; to tell me to submit my reason is to insult the giver of reason. The minister of truth does not tyrannise over my reason, he enlightens it.
“We have set aside all human authority, and without it I do not see how any man can convince another by preaching a doctrine contrary to reason. Let them fight it out, and let us see what they have to say with that harshness of speech which is common to both.
“Inspiration. Reason tells you that the whole is greater than the part; but I tell you, in God’s name, that the part is greater than the whole.
“Reason. And who are you to dare to tell me that God contradicts himself? And which shall I choose to believe, God who teaches me, through my reason, the eternal truth, or you who, in his name, proclaim an absurdity?
“Inspiration. Believe me, for my teaching is more positive; and I will prove to you beyond all manner of doubt that he has sent me.
“Reason. What! you will convince me that God has sent you to bear witness against himself? What sort of proofs will you adduce to convince me that God speaks more surely by your mouth than through the understanding he has given me?
“Inspiration. The understanding he has given you! Petty, conceited creature! As if you were the first impious person who had been led astray through his reason corrupted by sin.
“Reason. Man of God, you would not be the first scoundrel who asserts his arrogance as a proof of his mission.
“Inspiration. What! do even philosophers call names?
“Reason. Sometimes, when the saints set them the example.
“Inspiration. Oh, but I have a right to do it, for I am speaking on God’s behalf.
“Reason. You would do well to show your credentials before you make use of your privileges.
“Inspiration. My credentials are authentic, earth and heaven will bear witness on my behalf. Follow my arguments carefully, if you please.
“Reason. Your arguments! You forget what you are saying. When you teach me that my reason misleads me, do you not refute what it might have said on your behalf? He who denies the right of reason, must convince me without recourse to her aid. For suppose you have convinced me by reason, how am I to know that it is not my reason, corrupted by sin, which makes me accept what you say? Besides, what proof, what demonstration, can you advance, more self-evident than the axiom it is to destroy? It is more credible that a good syllogism is a lie, than that the part is greater than the whole.
“Inspiration. What a difference! There is no answer to my evidence; it is of a supernatural kind.
“Reason. Supernatural! What do you mean by the word? I do not understand it.
“Inspiration. I mean changes in the order of nature, prophecies, signs, and wonders of every kind.
“Reason. Signs and wonders! I have never seen anything of the kind.
“Inspiration. Others have seen them for you. Clouds of witnesses—the witness of whole nations. . . .
“Reason. Is the witness of nations supernatural?
“Inspiration. No; but when it is unanimous, it is incontestable.
“Reason. There is nothing so incontestable as the principles of reason, and one cannot accept an absurdity on human evidence. Once more, let us see your supernatural evidence, for the consent of mankind is not supernatural.
“Inspiration. Oh, hardened heart, grace does not speak to you.
“Reason. That is not my fault; for by your own showing, one must have already received grace before one is able to ask for it. Begin by speaking to me in its stead.
“Inspiration. But that is just what I am doing, and you will not listen. But what do you say to prophecy?
“Reason. In the first place, I say I have no more heard a prophet than I have seen a miracle. In the next, I say that no prophet could claim authority over me.
“Inspiration. Follower of the devil! Why should not the words of the prophets have authority over you?
“Reason. Because three things are required, three things which will never happen: firstly, I must have heard the prophecy; secondly, I must have seen its fulfilment; and thirdly, it must be clearly proved that the fulfilment of the prophecy could not by any possibility have been a mere coincidence; for even if it was as precise, as plain, and clear as an axiom of geometry, since the clearness of a chance prediction does not make its fulfilment impossible, this fulfilment when it does take place does not, strictly speaking, prove what was foretold.
“See what your so-called supernatural proofs, your miracles, your prophecies come to: believe all this upon the word of another, submit to the authority of men the authority of God which speaks to my reason. If the eternal truths which my mind conceives of could suffer any shock, there would be no sort of certainty for me; and far from being sure that you speak to me on God’s behalf, I should not even be sure that there is a God.
“My child, here are difficulties enough, but these are not all. Among so many religions, mutually excluding and proscribing each other, one only is true, if indeed any one of them is true. To recognise the true religion we must inquire into, not one, but all; and in any question whatsoever we have no right to condemn unheard.1 The objections must be compared with the evidence; we must know what accusation each brings against the other, and what answers they receive. The plainer any feeling appears to us, the more we must try to discover why so many other people refuse to accept it. We should be simple, indeed, if we thought it enough to hear the doctors on our own side, in order to acquaint ourselves with the arguments of the other. Where can you find theologians who pride themselves on their honesty? Where are those who, to refute the arguments of their opponents, do not begin by making out that they are of little importance? A man may make a good show among his own friends, and be very proud of his arguments, who would cut a very poor figure with those same arguments among those who are on the other side. Would you find out for yourself from books? What learning you will need! What languages you must learn; what libraries you must ransack; what an amount of reading must be got through! Who will guide me in such a choice? It will be hard to find the best books on the opposite side in any one country, and all the harder to find those on all sides; when found they would be easily answered. The absent are always in the wrong, and bad arguments boldly asserted easily efface good arguments put forward with scorn. Besides books are often very misleading, and scarcely express the opinions of their authors. If you think you can judge the Catholic faith from the writings of Bossuet, you will find yourself greatly mistaken when you have lived among us. You will see that the doctrines with which Protestants are answered are quite different from those of the pulpit. To judge a religion rightly, you must not study it in the books of its partisans, you must learn it in their lives; this is quite another matter. Each religion has its own traditions, meaning, customs, prejudices, which form the spirit of its creed, and must be taken in connection with it.
“How many great nations neither print books of their own nor read ours! How shall they judge of our opinions, or we of theirs? We laugh at them, they despise us; and if our travellers turn them into ridicule, they need only travel among us to pay us back in our own coin. Are there not, in every country, men of common-sense, honesty, and good faith, lovers of truth, who only seek to know what truth is that they may profess it? Yet every one finds truth in his own religion, and thinks the religion of other nations absurd; so all these foreign religions are not so absurd as they seem to us, or else the reason we find for our own proves nothing.
“We have three principal forms of religion in Europe. One accepts one revelation, another two, and another three. Each hates the others, showers curses on them, accuses them of blindness, obstinacy, hardness of heart, and falsehood. What fair-minded man will dare to decide between them without first carefully weighing their evidence, without listening attentively to their arguments? That which accepts only one revelation is the oldest and seems the best established; that which accepts three is the newest and seems the most consistent; that which accepts two revelations and rejects the third may perhaps be the best, but prejudice is certainly against it; its inconsistency is glaring.
“In all three revelations the sacred books are written in languages unknown to the people who believe in them. The Jews no longer understand Hebrew, the Christians understand neither Hebrew nor Greek; the Turks and Persians do not understand Arabic, and the Arabs of our time do not speak the language of Mahomet. Is not it a very foolish way of teaching, to teach people in an unknown tongue? These books are translated, you say. What an answer! How am I to know that the translations are correct, or how am I to make sure that such a thing as a correct translation is possible? If God has gone so far as to speak to men, why should he require an interpreter?
“I can never believe that every man is obliged to know what is contained in books, and that he who is out of reach of these books, and of those who understand them, will be punished for an ignorance which is no fault of his. Books upon books! What madness! As all Europe is full of books, Europeans regard them as necessary, forgetting that they are unknown throughout three-quarters of the globe. Were not all these books written by men? Why then should a man need them to teach him his duty, and how did he learn his duty before these books were in existence? Either he must have learnt his duties for himself, or his ignorance must have been excused.
“Our Catholics talk loudly of the authority of the Church; but what is the use of it all, if they also need just as great an array of proofs to establish that authority as the other seeks to establish their doctrine? The Church decides that the Church has a right to decide. What a well-founded authority! Go beyond it, and you are back again in our discussions.
“Do you know many Christians who have taken the trouble to inquire what the Jews allege against them? If any one knows anything at all about it, it is from the writings of Christians. What a way of ascertaining the arguments of our adversaries! But what is to be done? If any one dared to publish in our day books which were openly in favour of the Jewish religion, we should punish the author, publisher, and bookseller. This regulation is a sure and certain plan for always being in the right. It is easy to refute those who dare not venture to speak.
“Those among us who have the opportunity of talking with Jews are little better off. These unhappy people feel that they are in our power; the tyranny they have suffered makes them timid; they know that Christian charity thinks nothing of injustice and cruelty; will they dare to run the risk of an outcry against blasphemy? Our greed inspires us with zeal, and they are so rich that they must be in the wrong. The more learned, the more enlightened they are, the more cautious. You may convert some poor wretch whom you have paid to slander his religion; you get some wretched old-clothes-man to speak, and he says what you want; you may triumph over their ignorance and cowardice, while all the time their men of learning are laughing at your stupidity. But do you think you would get off so easily in any place where they knew they were safe? At the Sorbonne it is plain that the Messianic prophecies refer to Jesus Christ. Among the rabbis of Amsterdam it is just as clear that they have nothing to do with him. I do not think I have ever heard the arguments of the Jews as to why they should not have a free state, schools and universities, where they can speak and argue without danger. Then alone can we know what they have to say.
“At Constantinople the Turks state their arguments, but we dare not give ours; then it is our turn to cringe. Can we blame the Turks if they require us to show the same respect for Mahomet, in whom we do not believe, as we demand from the Jews with regard to Jesus Christ in whom they do not believe? Are we right? On what grounds of justice can we answer this question?
“Two-thirds of mankind are neither Jews, Mahometans, nor Christians; and how many millions of men have never heard the name of Moses, Jesus Christ, or Mahomet? They deny it; they maintain that our missionaries go everywhere. That is easily said. But do they go into the heart of Africa, still undiscovered, where as yet no European has ever ventured? Do they go to Eastern Tartary to follow on horseback the wandering tribes, whom no stranger approaches, who not only know nothing of the pope, but have scarcely heard tell of the Grand Lama? Do they penetrate into the vast continents of America, where there are still whole nations unaware that the people of another world have set foot on their shores? Do they go to Japan, where their intrigues have led to their perpetual banishment, where their predecessors are only known to the rising generation as skilful plotters who came with feigned zeal to take possession in secret of the empire? Do they reach the harems of the Asiatic princes to preach the gospel to those thousands of poor slaves? What have the women of those countries done that no missionary may preach the faith to them? Will they all go to hell because of their seclusion?
“If it were true that the gospel is preached throughout the world, what advantage would there be? The day before the first missionary set foot in any country, no doubt somebody died who could not hear him. Now tell me what we shall do with him? If there were a single soul in the whole world, to whom Jesus Christ had never been preached, this objection would be as strong for that man as for a quarter of the human race.
“If the ministers of the gospel have made themselves heard among far-off nations, what have they told them which might reasonably be accepted on their word, without further and more exact verification? You preach to me God, born and dying, two thousand years ago, at the other end of the world, in some small town I know not where; and you tell me that all who have not believed this mystery are damned. These are strange things to be believed so quickly on the authority of an unknown person. Why did your God make these things happen so far off, if he would compel me to know about them? Is it a crime to be unaware of what is happening half a world away? Could I guess that in another hemisphere there was a Hebrew nation and a town called Jerusalem? You might as well expect me to know what was happening in the moon. You say you have come to teach me; but why did you not come and teach my father, or why do you consign that good old man to damnation because he knew nothing of all this? Must he be punished everlastingly for your laziness, he who was so kind and helpful, he who sought only for truth? Be honest; put yourself in my place; see if I ought to believe, on your word alone, all these incredible things which you have told me, and reconcile all this injustice with the just God you proclaim to me. At least allow me to go and see this distant land where such wonders, unheard of in my own country, took place; let me go and see why the inhabitants of Jerusalem put their God to death as a robber. You tell me they did not know he was God. What then shall I do, I who have only heard of him from you? You say they have been punished, dispersed, oppressed, enslaved; that none of them dare approach that town. Indeed they richly deserved it; but what do its present inhabitants say of their crime in slaying their God? They deny him; they too refuse to recognise God as God. They are no better than the children of the original inhabitants.
“What! In the very town where God was put to death, neither the former nor the latter inhabitants knew him, and you expect that I should know him, I who was born two thousand years after his time, and two thousand leagues away? Do you not see that before I can believe this book which you call sacred, but which I do not in the least understand, I must know from others than yourself when and by whom it was written, how it has been preserved, how it came into your possession, what they say about it in those lands where it is rejected, and what are their reasons for rejecting it, though they know as well as you what you are telling me? You perceive I must go to Europe, Asia, Palestine, to examine these things for myself; it would be madness to listen to you before that.
“Not only does this seem reasonable to me, but I maintain that it is what every wise man ought to say in similar circumstances; that he ought to banish to a great distance the missionary who wants to instruct and baptise him all of a sudden before the evidence is verified. Now I maintain that there is no revelation against which these or similar objections cannot be made, and with more force than against Christianity. Hence it follows that if there is but one true religion and if every man is bound to follow it under pain of damnation, he must spend his whole life in studying, testing, comparing all these religions, in travelling through the countries in which they are established. No man is free from a man’s first duty; no one has a right to depend on another’s judgment. The artisan who earns his bread by his daily toil, the ploughboy who cannot read, the delicate and timid maiden, the invalid who can scarcely leave his bed, all without exception must study, consider, argue, travel over the whole world; there will be no more fixed and settled nations; the whole earth will swarm with pilgrims on their way, at great cost of time and trouble, to verify, compare, and examine for themselves the various religions to be found. Then farewell to the trades, the arts, the sciences of mankind, farewell to all peaceful occupations; there can be no study but that of religion, even the strongest, the most industrious, the most intelligent, the oldest, will hardly be able in his last years to know where he is; and it will be a wonder if he manages to find out what religion he ought to live by, before the hour of his death.
“Hard pressed by these arguments, some prefer to make God unjust and to punish the innocent for the sins of their fathers, rather than to renounce their barbarous dogmas. Others get out of the difficulty by kindly sending an angel to instruct all those who in invincible ignorance have lived a righteous life. A good idea, that angel! Not content to be the slaves of their own inventions they expect God to make use of them also!
“Behold, my son, the absurdities to which pride and intolerance bring us, when everybody wants others to think as he does, and everybody fancies that he has an exclusive claim upon the rest of mankind. I call to witness the God of Peace whom I adore, and whom I proclaim to you, that my inquiries were honestly made; but when I discovered that they were and always would be unsuccessful, and that I was embarked upon a boundless ocean, I turned back, and restricted my faith within the limits of my primitive ideas. I could never convince myself that God would require such learning of me under pain of hell. So I closed all my books. There is one book which is open to every one—the book of nature. In this good and great volume I learn to serve and adore its Author. There is no excuse for not reading this book, for it speaks to all in a language they can understand. Suppose I had been born in a desert island, suppose I had never seen any man but myself, suppose I had never heard what took place in olden days in a remote corner of the world; yet if I use my reason, if I cultivate it, if I employ rightly the innate faculties which God bestows upon me, I shall learn by myself to know and love him, to love his works, to will what he wills, and to fulfil all my duties upon earth, that I may do his pleasure. What more can all human learning teach me?
“With regard to revelation, if I were a more accomplished disputant, or a more learned person, perhaps I should feel its truth, its usefulness for those who are happy enough to perceive it; but if I find evidence for it which I cannot combat, I also find objections against it which I cannot overcome. There are so many weighty reasons for and against that I do not know what to decide, so that I neither accept nor reject it. I only reject all obligation to be convinced of its truth; for this so-called obligation is incompatible with God’s justice, and far from removing objections in this way it would multiply them, and would make them insurmountable for the greater part of mankind. In this respect I maintain an attitude of reverent doubt. I do not presume to think myself infallible; other men may have been able to make up their minds though the matter seems doubtful to myself; I am speaking for myself, not for them; I neither blame them nor follow in their steps; their judgment may be superior to mine, but it is no fault of mine that my judgment does not agree with it.
“I own also that the holiness of the gospel speaks to my heart, and that this is an argument which I should be sorry to refute. Consider the books of the philosophers with all their outward show; how petty they are in comparison! Can a book at once so grand and so simple be the work of men? Is it possible that he whose history is contained in this book is no more than man? Is the tone of this book, the tone of the enthusiast or the ambitious sectary? What gentleness and purity in his actions, what a touching grace in his teaching, how lofty are his sayings, how profoundly wise are his sermons, how ready, how discriminating, and how just are his answers! What man, what sage, can live, suffer, and die without weakness or ostentation? When Plato describes his imaginary good man, overwhelmed with the disgrace of crime, and deserving of all the rewards of virtue, every feature of the portrait is that of Christ; the resemblance is so striking that it has been noticed by all the Fathers, and there can be no doubt about it. What prejudices and blindness must there be before we dare to compare the son of Sophronisca with the son of Mary. How far apart they are! Socrates dies a painless death, he is not put to open shame, and he plays his part easily to the last; and if this easy death had not done honour to his life, we might have doubted whether Socrates, with all his intellect, was more than a mere sophist. He invented morality, so they say; others before him had practised it; he only said what they had done, and made use of their example in his teaching. Aristides was just before Socrates defined justice; Leonidas died for his country before Socrates declared that patriotism was a virtue; Sparta was sober before Socrates extolled sobriety; there were plenty of virtuous men in Greece before he defined virtue. But among the men of his own time where did Jesus find that pure and lofty morality of which he is both the teacher and pattern?1 The voice of loftiest wisdom arose among the fiercest fanaticism, the simplicity of the most heroic virtues did honour to the most degraded of nations. One could wish no easier death than that of Socrates, calmly discussing philosophy with his friends; one could fear nothing worse than that of Jesus, dying in torment, among the insults, the mockery, the curses of the whole nation. In the midst of these terrible sufferings, Jesus prays for his cruel murderers. Yes, if the life and death of Socrates are those of a philosopher, the life and death of Christ are those of a God. Shall we say that the gospel story is the work of the imagination? My friend, such things are not imagined; and the doings of Socrates, which no one doubts, are less well attested than those of Jesus Christ. At best, you only put the difficulty from you; it would be still more incredible that several persons should have agreed together to invent such a book, than that there was one man who supplied its subject matter. The tone and morality of this story are not those of any Jewish authors, and the gospel indeed contains characters so great, so striking, so entirely inimitable, that their invention would be more astonishing than their hero. With all this the same gospel is full of incredible things, things repugnant to reason, things which no natural man can understand or accept. What can you do among so many contradictions? You can be modest and wary, my child; respect in silence what you can neither reject nor understand, and humble yourself in the sight of the Divine Being who alone knows the truth.
“This is the unwilling scepticism in which I rest; but this scepticism is in no way painful to me, for it does not extend to matters of practice, and I am well assured as to the principles underlying all my duties. I serve God in the simplicity of my heart; I only seek to know what affects my conduct. As to those dogmas which have no effect upon action or morality, dogmas about which so many men torment themselves, I give no heed to them. I regard all individual religions as so many wholesome institutions which prescribe a uniform method by which each country may do honour to God in public worship; institutions which may each have its reason in the country, the government, the genius of the people, or in other local causes which make one preferable to another in a given time or place. I think them all good alike, when God is served in a fitting manner. True worship is of the heart. God rejects no homage, however offered, provided it is sincere. Called to the service of the Church in my own religion, I fulfil as scrupulously as I can all the duties prescribed to me, and my conscience would reproach me if I were knowingly wanting with regard to any point. You are aware that after being suspended for a long time, I have, through the influence of M. Mellarède, obtained permission to resume my priestly duties, as a means of livelihood. I used to say Mass with the levity that comes from long experience even of the most serious matters when they are too familiar to us; with my new principles I now celebrate it with more reverence; I dwell upon the majesty of the Supreme Being, his presence, the insufficiency of the human mind, which so little realises what concerns its Creator. When I consider how I present before him the prayers of all the people in a form laid down for me, I carry out the whole ritual exactly; I give heed to what I say, I am careful not to omit the least word, the least ceremony; when the moment of the consecration approaches, I collect my powers, that I may do all things as required by the Church and by the greatness of this sacrament; I strive to annihilate my own reason before the Supreme Mind; I say to myself, Who art thou to measure infinite power? I reverently pronounce the sacramental words, and I give to their effect all the faith I can bestow. Whatever may be this mystery which passes understanding, I am not afraid that at the day of judgment I shall be punished for having profaned it in my heart.
Honoured with the sacred ministry, though in its lowest ranks, I will never do or say anything which may make me unworthy to fulfil these sublime duties. I will always preach virtue and exhort men to well-doing; and so far as I can I will set them a good example. It will be my business to make religion attractive; it will be my business to strengthen their faith in those doctrines which are really useful, those which every man must believe; but, please God, I shall never teach them to hate their neighbour, to say to other men, You will be damned; to say, No salvation outside the Church.1 If I were in a more conspicuous position, this reticence might get me into trouble; but I am too obscure to have much to fear, and I could hardly sink lower than I am. Come what may, I will never blaspheme the justice of God, nor lie against the Holy Ghost.
“I have long desired to have a parish of my own; it is still my ambition, but I no longer hope to attain it. My dear friend, I think there is nothing so delightful as to be a parish priest. A good clergyman is a minister of mercy, as a good magistrate is a minister of justice. A clergyman is never called upon to do evil; if he cannot always do good himself, it is never out of place for him to beg for others, and he often gets what he asks if he knows how to gain respect. Oh! if I should ever have some poor mountain parish where I might minister to kindly folk, I should be happy indeed; for it seems to me that I should make my parishioners happy. I should not bring them riches, but I should share their poverty; I should remove from them the scorn and opprobrium which are harder to bear than poverty. I should make them love peace and equality, which often remove poverty, and always make it tolerable. When they saw that I was in no way better off than themselves, and that yet I was content with my lot, they would learn to put up with their fate and to be content like me. In my sermons I would lay more stress on the spirit of the gospel than on the spirit of the church; its teaching is simple, its morality sublime; there is little in it about the practices of religion, but much about works of charity. Before I teach them what they ought to do, I would try to practise it myself, that they might see that at least I think what I say. If there were Protestants in the neighbourhood or in my parish, I would make no difference between them and my own congregation so far as concerns Christian charity; I would get them to love one another, to consider themselves brethren, to respect all religions, and each to live peaceably in his own religion. To ask any one to abandon the religion in which he was born is, I consider, to ask him to do wrong, and therefore to do wrong oneself. While we await further knowledge, let us respect public order; in every country let us respect the laws, let us not disturb the form of worship prescribed by law; let us not lead its citizens into disobedience; for we have no certain knowledge that it is good for them to abandon their own opinions for others, and on the other hand we are quite certain that it is a bad thing to disobey the law.
“My young friend, I have now repeated to you my creed as God reads it in my heart; you are the first to whom I have told it; perhaps you will be the last. As long as there is any true faith left among men, we must not trouble quiet souls, nor scare the faith of the ignorant with problems they cannot solve, with difficulties which cause them uneasiness, but do not give them any guidance. But when once everything is shaken, the trunk must be preserved at the cost of the branches. Consciences, restless, uncertain, and almost quenched like yours, require to be strengthened and aroused; to set the feet again upon the foundation of eternal truth, we must remove the trembling supports on which they think they rest.
“You are at that critical age when the mind is open to conviction, when the heart receives its form and character, when we decide our own fate for life, either for good or evil. At a later date, the material has hardened and fresh impressions leave no trace. Young man, take the stamp of truth upon your heart which is not yet hardened. If I were more certain of myself, I should have adopted a more decided and dogmatic tone; but I am a man ignorant and liable to error; what could I do? I have opened my heart fully to you; and I have told what I myself hold for certain and sure; I have told you my doubts as doubts, my opinions as opinions; I have given you my reasons both for faith and doubt. It is now your turn to judge; you have asked for time; that is a wise precaution and it makes me think well of you. Begin by bringing your conscience into that state in which it desires to see clearly; be honest with yourself. Take to yourself such of my opinions as convince you; reject the rest. You are not yet so depraved by vice as to run the risk of choosing amiss. I would offer to argue with you, but as soon as men dispute they lose their temper; pride and obstinacy come in, and there is an end of honesty. My friend, never argue; for by arguing we gain no light for ourselves or for others. So far as I myself am concerned, I have only made up my mind after many years of meditation; here I rest, my conscience is at peace, my heart is satisfied. If I wanted to begin afresh the examination of my feelings, I should not bring to the task a purer love of truth; and my mind, which is already less active, would be less able to perceive the truth. Here I shall rest, lest the love of contemplation, developing step by step into an idle passion, should make me lukewarm in the performance of my duties, lest I should fall into my former scepticism without strength to struggle out of it. More than half my life is spent; I have barely time to make good use of what is left, to blot out my faults by my virtues. If I am mistaken, it is against my will. He who reads my inmost heart knows that I have no love for my blindness. As my own knowledge is powerless to free me from this blindness, my only way out of it is by a good life; and if God from the very stones can raise up children to Abraham, every man has a right to hope that he may be taught the truth, if he makes himself worthy of it.
“If my reflections lead you to think as I do, if you share my feelings, if we have the same creed, I give you this advice: Do not continue to expose your life to the temptations of poverty and despair, nor waste it in degradation and at the mercy of strangers; no longer eat the shameful bread of charity. Return to your own country, go back to the religion of your fathers, and follow it in sincerity of heart, and never forsake it; it is very simple and very holy; I think there is no other religion upon earth whose morality is purer, no other more satisfying to the reason. Do not trouble about the cost of the journey, that will be provided for you. Neither do you fear the false shame of a humiliating return; we should blush to commit a fault, not to repair it. You are still at an age when all is forgiven, but when we cannot go on sinning with impunity. If you desire to listen to your conscience, a thousand empty objections will disappear at her voice. You will feel that, in our present state of uncertainty, it is an inexcusable presumption to profess any faith but that we were born into, while it is treachery not to practise honestly the faith we profess. If we go astray, we deprive ourselves of a great excuse before the tribunal of the sovereign judge. Will he not pardon the errors in which we were brought up, rather than those of our own choosing?
“My son, keep your soul in such a state that you always desire that there should be a God and you will never doubt it. Moreover, whatever decision you come to, remember that the real duties of religion are independent of human institutions; that a righteous heart is the true temple of the Godhead; that in every land, in every sect, to love God above all things and to love our neighbour as ourself is the whole law; remember there is no religion which absolves us from our moral duties; that these alone are really essential, that the service of the heart is the first of these duties, and that without faith there is no such thing as true virtue.
“Shun those who, under the pretence of explaining nature, sow destructive doctrines in the heart of men, those whose apparent scepticism is a hundredfold more self-assertive and dogmatic than the firm tone of their opponents. Under the arrogant claim, that they alone are enlightened, true, honest, they subject us imperiously to their far-reaching decisions, and profess to give us, as the true principles of all things, the unintelligible systems framed by their imagination. Moreover, they overthrow, destroy, and trample under foot all that men reverence; they rob the afflicted of their last consolation in their misery; they deprive the rich and powerful of the sole bridle of their passions; they tear from the very depths of man’s heart all remorse for crime, and all hope of virtue; and they boast, moreover, that they are the benefactors of the human race. Truth, they say, can never do a man harm. I think so too, and to my mind that is strong evidence that what they teach is not true.1
“My good youth, be honest and humble; learn how to be ignorant, then you will never deceive yourself or others. If ever your talents are so far cultivated as to enable you to speak to other men, always speak according to your conscience, without caring for their applause. The abuse of knowledge causes incredulity. The learned always despise the opinions of the crowd; each of them must have his own opinion. A haughty philosophy leads to atheism just as blind devotion leads to fanaticism. Avoid these extremes; keep steadfastly to the path of truth, or what seems to you truth, in simplicity of heart, and never let yourself be turned aside by pride or weakness. Dare to confess God before the philosophers; dare to preach humanity to the intolerant. It may be you will stand alone, but you will bear within you a witness which will make the witness of men of no account with you. Let them love or hate, let them read your writings or despise them; no matter. Speak the truth and do the right; the one thing that really matters is to do one’s duty in this world; and when we forget ourselves we are really working for ourselves. My child, self-interest misleads us; the hope of the just is the only sure guide.”
I have transcribed this document not as a rule for the sentiments we should adopt in matters of religion, but as an example of the way in which we may reason with our pupil without forsaking the method I have tried to establish. So long as we yield nothing to human authority, nor to the prejudices of our native land, the light of reason alone, in a state of nature, can lead us no further than to natural religion; and this is as far as I should go with Emile. If he must have any other religion, I have no right to be his guide; he must choose for himself.
We are working in agreement with nature, and while she is shaping the physical man, we are striving to shape his moral being, but we do not make the same progress. The body is already strong and vigorous, the soul is still frail and delicate, and whatever can be done by human art, the body is always ahead of the mind. Hitherto all our care has been devoted to restrain the one and stimulate the other, so that the man might be as far as possible at one with himself. By developing his individuality, we have kept his growing susceptibilities in check; we have controlled it by cultivating his reason. Objects of thought moderate the influence of objects of sense. By going back to the causes of things, we have withdrawn him from the sway of the senses; it is an easy thing to raise him from the study of nature to the search for the author of nature.
When we have reached this point, what a fresh hold we have got over our pupil; what fresh ways of speaking to his heart! Then alone does he find a real motive for being good, for doing right when he is far from every human eye, and when he is not driven to it by law. To be just in his own eyes and in the sight of God, to do his duty, even at the cost of life itself, and to bear in his heart virtue, not only for the love of order which we all subordinate to the love of self, but for the love of the Author of his being, a love which mingles with that self-love, so that he may at length enjoy the lasting happiness which the peace of a good conscience and the contemplation of that supreme being promise him in another life, after he has used this life aright. Go beyond this, and I see nothing but injustice, hypocrisy, and falsehood among men; private interest, which in competition necessarily prevails over everything else, teaches all things to adorn vice with the outward show of virtue. Let all men do what is good for me at the cost of what is good for themselves; let everything depend on me alone; let the whole human race perish, if needs be, in suffering and want, to spare me a moment’s pain or hunger. Yes, I shall always maintain that whoso says in his heart, “There is no God,” while he takes the name of God upon his lips, is either a liar or a madman.
Reader, it is all in vain; I perceive that you and I shall never see Emile with the same eyes; you will always fancy him like your own young people, hasty, impetuous, flighty, wandering from fête to fête, from amusement to amusement, never able to settle to anything. You smile when I expect to make a thinker, a philosopher, a young theologian, of an ardent, lively, eager, and fiery young man, at the most impulsive period of youth. This dreamer, you say, is always in pursuit of his fancy; when he gives us a pupil of his own making, he does not merely form him, he creates him, he makes him up out of his own head; and while he thinks he is treading in the steps of nature, he is getting further and further from her. As for me, when I compare my pupil with yours, I can scarcely find anything in common between them. So differently brought up, it is almost a miracle if they are alike in any respect. As his childhood was passed in the freedom they assume in youth, in his youth he begins to bear the yoke they bore as children; this yoke becomes hateful to them, they are sick of it, and they see in it nothing but their masters’ tyranny; when they escape from childhood, they think they must shake off all control, they make up for the prolonged restraint imposed upon them, as a prisoner, freed from his fetters, moves and stretches and shakes his limbs.1 Emile, however, is proud to be a man, and to submit to the yoke of his growing reason; his body, already well grown, no longer needs so much action, and begins to control itself, while his half-fledged mind tries its wings on every occasion. Thus the age of reason becomes for the one the age of licence; for the other, the age of reasoning.
Would you know which of the two is nearer to the order of nature? Consider the differences between those who are more or less removed from a state of nature. Observe young villagers and see if they are as undisciplined as your scholars. The Sieur de Beau says that savages in childhood are always active, and ever busy with sports that keep the body in motion; but scarcely do they reach adolescence than they become quiet and dreamy; they no longer devote themselves to games of skill or chance. Emile, who has been brought up in full freedom like young peasants and savages, should behave like them and change as he grows up. The whole difference is in this, that instead of merely being active in sport or for food, he has, in the course of his sports, learned to think. Having reached this stage, and by this road, he is quite ready to enter upon the next stage to which I introduce him; the subjects I suggest for his consideration rouse his curiosity, because they are fine in themselves, because they are quite new to him, and because he is able to understand them. Your young people, on the other hand, are weary and overdone with your stupid lessons, your long sermons, and your tedious catechisms; why should they not refuse to devote their minds to what has made them sad, to the burdensome precepts which have been continually piled upon them, to the thought of the Author of their being, who has been represented as the enemy of their pleasures? All this has only inspired in them aversion, disgust, and weariness; constraint has set them against it; why then should they devote themselves to it when they are beginning to choose for themselves? They require novelty, you must not repeat what they learned as children. Just so with my own pupil, when he is a man I speak to him as a man, and only tell him what is new to him; it is just because they are tedious to your pupils that he will find them to his taste.
This is how I doubly gain time for him by retarding nature to the advantage of reason. But have I indeed retarded the progress of nature? No, I have only prevented the imagination from hastening it; I have employed another sort of teaching to counter-balance the precocious instruction which the young man receives from other sources. When he is carried away by the flood of existing customs and I draw him in the opposite direction by means of other customs, this is not to remove him from his place, but to keep him in it.
Nature’s due time comes at length, as come it must. Since man must die, he must reproduce himself, so that the species may endure and the order of the world continue. When by the signs I have spoken of you perceive that the critical moment is at hand, at once abandon for ever your former tone. He is still your disciple, but not your scholar. He is a man and your friend; henceforth you must treat him as such.
What! Must I abdicate my authority when most I need it? Must I abandon the adult to himself just when he least knows how to control himself, when he may fall into the gravest errors? Must I renounce my rights when it matters most that I should use them on his behalf? Who bids you renounce them; he is only just becoming conscious of them. Hitherto all you have gained has been won by force or guile; authority, the law of duty, were unknown to him, you had to constrain or deceive him to gain his obedience. But see what fresh chains you have bound about his heart. Reason, friendship, affection, gratitude, a thousand bonds of affection, speak to him in a voice he cannot fail to hear. His ears are not yet dulled by vice, he is still sensitive only to the passions of nature. Self-love, the first of these, delivers him into your hands; habit confirms this. If a passing transport tears him from you, regret restores him to you without delay; the sentiment which attaches him to you is the only lasting sentiment, all the rest are fleeting and self-effacing. Do not let him become corrupt, and he will always be docile; he will not begin to rebel till he is already perverted.
I grant you, indeed, that if you directly oppose his growing desires and foolishly treat as crimes the fresh needs which are beginning to make themselves felt in him, he will not listen to you for long; but as soon as you abandon my method I cannot be answerable for the consequences. Remember that you are nature’s minister; you will never be her foe.
But what shall we decide to do? You see no alternative but either to favour his inclinations or to resist them; to tyrannise or to wink at his misconduct; and both of these may lead to such dangerous results that one must indeed hesitate between them.
The first way out of the difficulty is a very early marriage; this is undoubtedly the safest and most natural plan. I doubt, however, whether it is the best or the most useful. I will give my reasons later; meanwhile I admit that young men should marry when they reach a marriageable age. But this age comes too soon; we have made them precocious; marriage should be postponed to maturity.
If it were merely a case of listening to their wishes and following their lead it would be an easy matter; but there are so many contradictions between the rights of nature and the laws of society that to conciliate them we must continually contradict ourselves. Much art is required to prevent man in society from being altogether artificial.
For the reasons just stated, I consider that by the means I have indicated and others like them the young man’s desires may be kept in ignorance and his senses pure up to the age of twenty. This is so true that among the Germans a young man who lost his virginity before that age was considered dishonoured; and the writers justly attribute the vigour of constitution and the number of children among the Germans to the continence of these nations during youth.
This period may be prolonged still further, and a few centuries ago nothing was more common even in France. Among other well-known examples, Montaigne’s father, a man no less scrupulously truthful than strong and healthy, swore that his was a virgin marriage at three and thirty, and he had served for a long time in the Italian wars. We may see in the writings of his son what strength and spirit were shown by the father when he was over sixty. Certainly the contrary opinion depends rather on our own morals and our own prejudices than on the experience of the race as a whole.
I may, therefore, leave on one side the experience of our young people; it proves nothing for those who have been educated in another fashion. Considering that nature has fixed no exact limits which cannot be advanced or postponed, I think I may, without going beyond the law of nature, assume that under my care Emile has so far remained in his first innocence, but I see that this happy period is drawing to a close. Surrounded by ever-increasing perils, he will escape me at the first opportunity in spite of all my efforts, and this opportunity will not long be delayed; he will follow the blind instinct of his senses; the chances are a thousand to one on his ruin. I have considered the morals of mankind too profoundly not to be aware of the irrevocable influence of this first moment on all the rest of his life. If I dissimulate and pretend to see nothing, he will take advantage of my weakness; if he thinks he can deceive me, he will despise me, and I become an accomplice in his destruction. If I try to recall him, the time is past, he no longer heeds me, he finds me tiresome, hateful, intolerable; it will not be long before he is rid of me. There is therefore only one reasonable course open to me; I must make him accountable for his own actions, I must at least preserve him from being taken unawares, and I must show him plainly the dangers which beset his path. I have restrained him so far through his ignorance; henceforward his restraint must be his own knowledge.
This new teaching is of great importance, and we will take up our story where we left it. This is the time to present my accounts, to show him how his time and mine have been spent, to make known to him what he is and what I am; what I have done, and what he has done; what we owe to each other; all his moral relations, all the undertakings to which he is pledged, all those to which others have pledged themselves in respect to him; the stage he has reached in the development of his faculties, the road that remains to be travelled, the difficulties he will meet, and the way to overcome them; how I can still help him and how he must henceforward help himself; in a word, the critical time which he has reached, the new dangers round about him, and all the valid reasons which should induce him to keep a close watch upon himself before giving heed to his growing desires.
Remember that to guide a grown man you must reverse all that you did to guide the child. Do not hesitate to speak to him of those dangerous mysteries which you have so carefully concealed from him hitherto. Since he must become aware of them, let him not learn them from another, nor from himself, but from you alone; since he must henceforth fight against them, let him know his enemy, that he may not be taken unawares.
Young people who are found to be aware of these matters, without our knowing how they obtained their knowledge, have not obtained it with impunity. This unwise teaching, which can have no honourable object, stains the imagination of those who receive it if it does nothing worse, and it inclines them to the vices of their instructors. This is not all; servants, by this means, ingratiate themselves with a child, gain his confidence, make him regard his tutor as a gloomy and tiresome person; and one of the favourite subjects of their secret colloquies is to slander him. When the pupil has got so far, the master may abandon his task; he can do no good.
But why does the child choose special confidants? Because of the tyranny of those who control him. Why should he hide himself from them if he were not driven to it? Why should he complain if he had nothing to complain of? Naturally those who control him are his first confidants; you can see from his eagerness to tell them what he thinks that he feels he has only half thought till he has told his thoughts to them. You may be sure that when the child knows you will neither preach nor scold, he will always tell you everything, and that no one will dare to tell him anything he must conceal from you, for they will know very well that he will tell you everything.
What makes me most confident in my method is this: when I follow it out as closely as possible, I find no situation in the life of my scholar which does not leave me some pleasing memory of him. Even when he is carried away by his ardent temperament or when he revolts against the hand that guides him, when he struggles and is on the point of escaping from me, I still find his first simplicity in his agitation and his anger; his heart as pure as his body, he has no more knowledge of pretence than of vice; reproach and scorn have not made a coward of him; base fears have never taught him the art of concealment. He has all the indiscretion of innocence; he is absolutely out-spoken; he does not even know the use of deceit. Every impulse of his heart is betrayed either by word or look, and I often know what he is feeling before he is aware of it himself.
So long as his heart is thus freely opened to me, so long as he delights to tell me what he feels, I have nothing to fear; the danger is not yet at hand; but if he becomes more timid, more reserved, if I perceive in his conversation the first signs of confusion and shame, his instincts are beginning to develop, he is beginning to connect the idea of evil with these instincts, there is not a moment to lose, and if I do not hasten to instruct him, he will learn in spite of me.
Some of my readers, even of those who agree with me, will think that it is only a question of a conversation with the young man at any time. Oh, this is not the way to control the human heart. What we say has no meaning unless the opportunity has been carefully chosen. Before we sow we must till the ground; the seed of virtue is hard to grow; and a long period of preparation is required before it will take root. One reason why sermons have so little effect is that they are offered to everybody alike, without discrimination or choice. How can any one imagine that the same sermon could be suitable for so many hearers, with their different dispositions, so unlike in mind, temper, age, sex, station, and opinion. Perhaps there are not two among those to whom what is addressed to all is really suitable; and all our affections are so transitory that perhaps there are not even two occasions in the life of any man when the same speech would have the same effect on him. Judge for yourself whether the time when the eager senses disturb the understanding and tyrannise over the will, is the time to listen to the solemn lessons of wisdom. Therefore never reason with young men, even when they have reached the age of reason, unless you have first prepared the way. Most lectures miss their mark more through the master’s fault than the disciple’s. The pedant and the teacher say much the same; but the former says it at random, and the latter only when he is sure of its effect.
As a somnambulist, wandering in his sleep, walks along the edge of a precipice, over which he would fall if he were awake, so my Emile, in the sleep of ignorance, escapes the perils which he does not see; were I to wake him with a start, he might fall. Let us first try to withdraw him from the edge of the precipice, and then we will awake him to show him it from a distance.
Reading, solitude, idleness, a soft and sedentary life, intercourse with women and young people, these are perilous paths for a young man, and these lead him constantly into danger. I divert his senses by other objects of sense; I trace another course for his spirits by which I distract them from the course they would have taken; it is by bodily exercise and hard work that I check the activity of the imagination, which was leading him astray. When the arms are hard at work, the imagination is quiet; when the body is very weary, the passions are not easily inflamed. The quickest and easiest precaution is to remove him from immediate danger. At once I take him away from towns, away from things which might lead him into temptation. But that is not enough; in what desert, in what wilds, shall he escape from the thoughts which pursue him? It is not enough to remove dangerous objects; if I fail to remove the memory of them, if I fail to find a way to detach him from everything, if I fail to distract him from himself, I might as well have left him where he was.
Emile has learned a trade, but we do not have recourse to it; he is fond of farming and understands it, but farming is not enough; the occupations he is acquainted with degenerate into routine: when he is engaged in them he is not really occupied; he is thinking of other things; head and hand are at work on different subjects. He must have some fresh occupation which has the interest of novelty—an occupation which keeps him busy, diligent, and hard at work, an occupation which he may become passionately fond of, one to which he will devote himself entirely. Now the only one which seems to possess all these characteristics is the chase. If hunting is ever an innocent pleasure, if it is ever worthy of a man, now is the time to betake ourselves to it. Emile is well-fitted to succeed in it. He is strong, skilful, patient, unwearied. He is sure to take a fancy to this sport; he will bring to it all the ardour of youth; in it he will lose, at least for a time, the dangerous inclinations which spring from softness. The chase hardens the heart as well as the body; we get used to the sight of blood and cruelty. Diana is represented as the enemy of love; and the allegory is true to life; the languors of love are born of soft repose, and tender feelings are stifled by violent exercise. In the woods and fields, the lover and the sportsman are so diversely affected that they receive very different impressions. The fresh shade, the arbours, the pleasant resting-places of the one, to the other are but feeding grounds, or places where the quarry will hide or turn to bay. Where the lover hears the flute and the nightingale, the hunter hears the horn and the hounds; one pictures to himself the nymphs and dryads, the other sees the horses, the huntsman, and the pack. Take a country walk with one or other of these men; their different conversation will soon show you that they behold the earth with other eyes, and that the direction of their thoughts is as different as their favourite pursuit.
I understand how these tastes may be combined, and that at last men find time for both. But the passions of youth cannot be divided in this way. Give the youth a single occupation which he loves, and the rest will soon be forgotten. Varied desires come with varied knowledge, and the first pleasures we know are the only ones we desire for long enough. I would not have the whole of Emile’s youth spent in killing creatures, and I do not even profess to justify this cruel passion; it is enough for me that it serves to delay a more dangerous passion, so that he may listen to me calmly when I speak of it, and give me time to describe it without stimulating it.
There are moments in human life which can never be forgotten. Such is the time when Emile receives the instruction of which I have spoken; its influence should endure all his life through. Let us try to engrave it on his memory so that it may never fade away. It is one of the faults of our age to rely too much on cold reason, as if men were all mind. By neglecting the language of expression we have lost the most forcible mode of speech. The spoken word is always weak, and we speak to the heart rather through the eyes than the ears. In our attempt to appeal to reason only, we have reduced our precepts to words, we have not embodied them in deeds. Mere reason is not active; occasionally she restrains, more rarely she stimulates, but she never does any great thing. Small minds have a mania for reasoning. Strong souls speak a very different language; and it is by this language that men are persuaded and driven to action.
I observe that in modern times men only get a hold over others by force or self-interest, while the ancients did more by persuasion, by the affections of the heart; because they did not neglect the language of symbolic expression. All agreements were drawn up solemnly, so that they might be more inviolable; before the reign of force, the gods were the judges of mankind; in their presence, individuals made their treaties and alliances, and pledged themselves to perform their promises; the face of the earth was the book in which the archives were preserved. The leaves of this book were rocks, trees, piles of stones, made sacred by these transactions, and regarded with reverence by barbarous men; and these pages were always open before their eyes. The well of the oath, the well of the living and seeing one; the ancient oak of Mamre, the stones of witness, such were the simple but stately monuments of the sanctity of contracts; none dared to lay a sacrilegious hand on these monuments, and man’s faith was more secure under the warrant of these dumb witnesses than it is to-day under all the rigour of the law.
In government the people were over-awed by the pomp and splendour of royal power. The symbols of greatness, a throne, a sceptre, a purple robe, a crown, a fillet, these were sacred in their sight. These symbols, and the respect which they inspired, led them to reverence the venerable man whom they beheld adorned with them; without soldiers and without threats, he spoke and was obeyed. In our own day men profess to do away with these symbols.1 What are the consequences of this contempt? The kingly majesty makes no impression on all hearts, kings can only gain obedience by the help of troops, and the respect of their subjects is based only on the fear of punishment. Kings are spared the trouble of wearing their crowns, and our nobles escape from the outward signs of their station, but they must have a hundred thousand men at their command if their orders are to be obeyed. Though this may seem a finer thing, it is easy to see that in the long run they will gain nothing.
It is amazing what the ancients accomplished with the aid of eloquence: but this eloquence did not merely consist in fine speeches carefully prepared; and it was most effective when the orator said least. The most startling speeches were expressed not in words but in signs; they were not uttered but shown. A thing beheld by the eyes kindles the imagination, stirs the curiosity, and keeps the mind on the alert for what we are about to say, and often enough the thing tells the whole story. Thrasybulus and Tarquin cutting off the heads of the poppies, Alexander placing his seal on the lips of his favourite, Diogenes marching before Zeno, do not these speak more plainly than if they had uttered long orations? What flow of words could have expressed the ideas as clearly? Darius, in the course of the Scythian war, received from the king of the Scythians a bird, a frog, a mouse, and five arrows. The ambassador deposited this gift and retired without a word. In our days he would have been taken for a madman. This terrible speech was understood, and Darius withdrew to his own country with what speed he could. Substitute a letter for these symbols and the more threatening it was the less terror it would inspire; it would have been merely a piece of bluff, to which Darius would have paid no attention.
What heed the Romans gave to the language of signs! Different ages and different ranks had their appropriate garments, toga, tunic, patrician robes, fringes and borders, seats of honour, lictors, rods and axes, crowns of gold, crowns of leaves, crowns of flowers, ovations, triumphs, everything had its pomp, its observances, its ceremonial, and all these spoke to the heart of the citizens. The state regarded it as a matter of importance that the populace should assemble in one place rather than another, that they should or should not behold the Capitol, that they should or should not turn towards the Senate, that this day or that should be chosen for their deliberations. The accused wore a special dress, so did the candidates for election; warriors did not boast of their exploits, they showed their scars. I can fancy one of our orators at the death of Cæsar exhausting all the commonplaces of rhetoric to give a pathetic description of his wounds, his blood, his dead body; Anthony was an orator, but he said none of this; he showed the murdered Cæsar. What rhetoric was this!
But this digression, like many others, is drawing me unawares away from my subject; and my digressions are too frequent to be borne with patience. I therefore return to the point.
Do not reason coldly with youth. Clothe your reason with a body, if you would make it felt. Let the mind speak the language of the heart, that it may be understood. I say again our opinions, not our actions, may be influenced by cold argument; they set us thinking, not doing; they show us what we ought to think, not what we ought to do. If this is true of men, it is all the truer of young people who are still enwrapped in their senses and cannot think otherwise than they imagine.
Even after the preparations of which I have spoken, I shall take good care not to go all of a sudden to Emile’s room and preach a long and heavy sermon on the subject in which he is to be instructed. I shall begin by rousing his imagination; I shall choose the time, place, and surroundings most favourable to the impression I wish to make; I shall, so to speak, summon all nature as witness to our conversations; I shall call upon the eternal God, the Creator of nature, to bear witness to the truth of what I say. He shall judge between Emile and myself; I will make the rocks, the woods, the mountains round about us, the monuments of his promises and mine; eyes, voice, and gesture shall show the enthusiasm I desire to inspire. Then I will speak and he will listen, and his emotion will be stirred by my own. The more impressed I am by the sanctity of my duties, the more sacred he will regard his own. I will enforce the voice of reason with images and figures, I will not give him long-winded speeches or cold precepts, but my overflowing feelings will break their bounds; my reason shall be grave and serious, but my heart cannot speak too warmly. Then when I have shown him all that I have done for him, I will show him how he is made for me; he will see in my tender affection the cause of all my care. How greatly shall I surprise and disturb him when I change my tone. Instead of shrivelling up his soul by always talking of his own interests, I shall henceforth speak of my own; he will be more deeply touched by this. I will kindle in his young heart all the sentiments of affection, generosity, and gratitude which I have already called into being, and it will indeed be sweet to watch their growth. I will press him to my bosom, and weep over him in my emotion; I will say to him: “You are my wealth, my child, my handiwork; my happiness is bound up in yours; if you frustrate my hopes you rob me of twenty years of my life, and you bring my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.” This is the way to gain a hearing and to impress what is said upon the heart and memory of the young man.
Hitherto I have tried to give examples of the way in which a tutor should instruct his pupil in cases of difficulty. I have tried to do so in this instance; but after many attempts I have abandoned the task, convinced that the French language is too artificial to permit in print the plainness of speech required for the first lessons in certain subjects.
They say French is more chaste than other languages; for my own part I think it more obscene; for it seems to me that the purity of a language does not consist in avoiding coarse expressions but in having none. Indeed, if we are to avoid them, they must be in our thoughts, and there is no language in which it is so difficult to speak with purity on every subject than French. The reader is always quicker to detect than the author to avoid a gross meaning, and he is shocked and startled by everything. How can what is heard by impure ears avoid coarseness? On the other hand, a nation whose morals are pure has fit terms for everything, and these terms are always right because they are rightly used. One could not imagine more modest language than that of the Bible, just because of its plainness of speech. The same things translated into French would become immodest. What I ought to say to Emile will sound pure and honourable to him; but to make the same impression in print would demand a like purity of heart in the reader.
I should even think that reflections on true purity of speech and the sham delicacy of vice might find a useful place in the conversations as to morality to which this subject brings us; for when he learns the language of plain-spoken goodness, he must also learn the language of decency, and he must know why the two are so different. However this may be, I maintain that if instead of the empty precepts which are prematurely dinned into the ears of children, only to be scoffed at when the time comes when they might prove useful, if instead of this we bide our time, if we prepare the way for a hearing, if we then show him the laws of nature in all their truth, if we show him the sanction of these laws in the physical and moral evils which overtake those who neglect them, if while we speak to him of this great mystery of generation, we join to the idea of the pleasure which the Author of nature has given to this act the idea of the exclusive affection which makes it delightful, the idea of the duties of faithfulness and modesty which surround it, and redouble its charm while fulfilling its purpose; if we paint to him marriage, not only as the sweetest form of society, but also as the most sacred and inviolable of contracts, if we tell him plainly all the reasons which lead men to respect this sacred bond, and to pour hatred and curses upon him who dares to dishonour it; if we give him a true and terrible picture of the horrors of debauch, of its stupid brutality, of the downward road by which a first act of misconduct leads from bad to worse, and at last drags the sinner to his ruin; if, I say, we give him proofs that on a desire for chastity depends health, strength, courage, virtue, love itself, and all that is truly good for man—I maintain that this chastity will be so dear and so desirable in his eyes, that his mind will be ready to receive our teaching as to the way to preserve it; for so long as we are chaste we respect chastity; it is only when we have lost this virtue that we scorn it.
It is not true that the inclination to evil is beyond our control, and that we cannot overcome it until we have acquired the habit of yielding to it. Aurelius Victor says that many men were mad enough to purchase a night with Cleopatra at the price of their life, and this is not incredible in the madness of passion. But let us suppose the maddest of men, the man who has his senses least under control; let him see the preparations for his death, let him realise that he will certainly die in torment a quarter of an hour later; not only would that man, from that time forward, become able to resist temptation, he would even find it easy to do so; the terrible picture with which they are associated will soon distract his attention from these temptations, and when they are continually put aside they will cease to recur. The sole cause of our weakness is the feebleness of our will, and we have always strength to perform what we strongly desire. “Volenti nihil difficile!” Oh! if only we hated vice as much as we love life, we should abstain as easily from a pleasant sin as from a deadly poison in a delicious dish.
How is it that you fail to perceive that if all the lessons given to a young man on this subject have no effect, it is because they are not adapted to his age, and that at every age reason must be presented in a shape which will win his affection? Speak seriously to him if required, but let what you say to him always have a charm which will compel him to listen. Do not coldly oppose his wishes; do not stifle his imagination, but direct it lest it should bring forth monsters. Speak to him of love, of women, of pleasure; let him find in your conversation a charm which delights his youthful heart; spare no pains to make yourself his confidant; under this name alone will you really be his master. Then you need not fear he will find your conversation tedious; he will make you talk more than you desire.
If I have managed to take all the requisite precautions in accordance with these maxims, and have said the right things to Emile at the age he has now reached, I am quite convinced that he will come of his own accord to the point to which I would lead him, and will eagerly confide himself to my care. When he sees the dangers by which he is surrounded, he will say to me with all the warmth of youth, “Oh, my friend, my protector, my master! resume the authority you desire to lay aside at the very time when I most need it; hitherto my weakness has given you this power. I now place it in your hands of my own free-will, and it will be all the more sacred in my eyes. Protect me from all the foes which are attacking me, and above all from the traitors within the citadel; watch over your work, that it may still be worthy of you. I mean to obey your laws, I shall ever do so, that is my steadfast purpose; if I ever disobey you, it will be against my will; make me free by guarding me against the passions which do me violence; do not let me become their slave; compel me to be my own master and to obey, not my senses, but my reason.”
When you have led your pupil so far (and it will be your own fault if you fail to do so), beware of taking him too readily at his word, lest your rule should seem too strict to him, and lest he should think he has a right to escape from it; by accusing you of taking him by surprise. This is the time for reserve and seriousness; and this attitude will have all the more effect upon him seeing that it is the first time you have adopted it towards him.
You will say to him therefore: “Young man, you readily make promises which are hard to keep; you must understand what they mean before you have a right to make them; you do not know how your fellows are drawn by their passions into the whirlpool of vice masquerading as pleasure. You are honourable, I know; you will never break your word, but how often will you repent of having given it! How often will you curse your friend, when, in order to guard you from the ills which threaten you, he finds himself compelled to do violence to your heart. Like Ulysses who, hearing the song of the Sirens, cried aloud to his rowers to unbind him, you will break your chains at the call of pleasure; you will importune me with your lamentations, you will reproach me as a tyrant when I have your welfare most at heart; when I am trying to make you happy, I shall incur your hatred. Oh, Emile, I can never bear to be hateful in your eyes; this is too heavy a price to pay even for your happiness. My dear young man, do you not see that when you undertake to obey me, you compel me to promise to be your guide, to forget myself in my devotion to you, to refuse to listen to your murmurs and complaints, to wage unceasing war against your wishes and my own. Before we either of us undertake such a task, let us count our resources; take your time, give me time to consider, and be sure that the slower we are to promise, the more faithfully will our promises be kept.
You may be sure that the more difficulty he finds in getting your promise, the easier you will find it to carry it out. The young man must learn that he is promising a great deal, and that you are promising still more. When the time is come, when he has, so to say, signed the contract, then change your tone, and make your rule as gentle as you said it would be severe. Say to him, “My young friend, it is experience that you lack; but I have taken care that you do not lack reason. You are ready to see the motives of my conduct in every respect; to do this you need only wait till you are free from excitement. Always obey me first, and then ask the reasons for my commands; I am always ready to give my reasons so soon as you are ready to listen to them, and I shall never be afraid to make you the judge between us. You promise to follow my teaching, and I promise only to use your obedience to make you the happiest of men. For proof of this I have the life you have lived hitherto. Show me any one of your age who has led as happy a life as yours, and I promise you nothing more.”
When my authority is firmly established, my first care will be to avoid the necessity of using it. I shall spare no pains to become more and more firmly established in his confidence, to make myself the confidant of his heart and the arbiter of his pleasures. Far from combating his youthful tastes, I shall consult them that I may be their master; I will look at things from his point of view that I may be his guide; I will not seek a remote distant good at the cost of his present happiness. I would always have him happy, always if that may be.
Those who desire to guide young people rightly and to preserve them from the snares of sense give them a disgust for love, and would willingly make the very thought of it a crime, as if love were for the old. All these mistaken lessons have no effect; the heart gives the lie to them. The young man, guided by a surer instinct, laughs to himself over the gloomy maxims which he pretends to accept, and only awaits the chance of disregarding them. All that is contrary to nature. By following the opposite course I reach the same end more safely. I am not afraid to encourage in him the tender feeling for which he is so eager, I shall paint it as the supreme joy of life, as indeed it is; when I picture it to him, I desire that he shall give himself up to it; by making him feel the charm which the union of hearts adds to the delights of sense, I shall inspire him with a disgust for debauchery; I shall make him a lover and a good man.
How narrow-minded to see nothing in the rising desires of a young heart but obstacles to the teaching of reason. In my eyes, these are the right means to make him obedient to that very teaching. Only through passion can we gain the mastery over passions; their tyranny must be controlled by their legitimate power, and nature herself must furnish us with the means to control her.
Emile is not made to live alone, he is a member of society, and must fulfil his duties as such. He is made to live among his fellow-men and he must get to know them. He knows mankind in general; he has still to learn to know individual men. He knows what goes on in the world; he has now to learn how men live in the world. It is time to show him the front of that vast stage, of which he already knows the hidden workings. It will not arouse in him the foolish admiration of a giddy youth, but the discrimination of an exact and upright spirit. He may no doubt be deceived by his passions; who is there who yields to his passions without being led astray by them? At least he will not be deceived by the passions of other people. If he sees them, he will regard them with the eye of the wise, and will neither be led away by their example nor seduced by their prejudices.
As there is a fitting age for the study of the sciences, so there is a fitting age for the study of the ways of the world. Those who learn these too soon, follow them throughout life, without choice or consideration, and although they follow them fairly well they never really know what they are about. But he who studies the ways of the world and sees the reason for them, follows them with more insight, and therefore more exactly and gracefully. Give me a child of twelve who knows nothing at all; at fifteen I will restore him to you knowing as much as those who have been under instruction from infancy; with this difference, that your scholars only know things by heart, while mine knows how to use his knowledge. In the same way plunge a young man of twenty into society; under good guidance, in a year’s time, he will be more charming and more truly polite than one brought up in society from childhood. For the former is able to perceive the reasons for all the proceedings relating to age, position, and sex, on which the customs of society depend, and can reduce them to general principles, and apply them to unforeseen emergencies; while the latter, who is guided solely by habit, is at a loss when habit fails him.
Young French ladies are all brought up in convents till they are married. Do they seem to find any difficulty in acquiring the ways which are so new to them, and is it possible to accuse the ladies of Paris of awkward and embarrassed manners or of ignorance of the ways of society, because they have not acquired them in infancy? This is the prejudice of men of the world, who know nothing of more importance than this trifling science, and wrongly imagine that you cannot begin to acquire it too soon.
On the other hand, it is quite true that we must not wait too long. Any one who has spent the whole of his youth far from the great world is all his life long awkward, constrained, out of place; his manners will be heavy and clumsy, no amount of practice will get rid of this, and he will only make himself more ridiculous by trying to do so. There is a time for every kind of teaching and we ought to recognise it, and each has its own dangers to be avoided. At this age there are more dangers than at any other; but I do not expose my pupil to them without safeguards.
When my method succeeds completely in attaining one object, and when in avoiding one difficulty it also provides against another, I then consider that it is a good method, and that I am on the right track. This seems to be the case with regard to the expedient suggested by me in the present case. If I desire to be stern and cold towards my pupil, I shall lose his confidence, and he will soon conceal himself from me. If I wish to be easy and complaisant, to shut my eyes, what good does it do him to be under my care? I only give my authority to his excesses, and relieve his conscience at the expense of my own. If I introduce him into society with no object but to teach him, he will learn more than I want. If I keep him apart from society, what will he have learnt from me? Everything perhaps, except the one art absolutely necessary to a civilised man, the art of living among his fellow-men. If I try to attend to this at a distance, it will be of no avail; he is only concerned with the present. If I am content to supply him with amusement, he will acquire habits of luxury and will learn nothing.
We will have none of this. My plan provides for everything. Your heart, I say to the young man, requires a companion; let us go in search of a fitting one; perhaps we shall not easily find such a one, true worth is always rare, but we will be in no hurry, nor will we be easily discouraged. No doubt there is such a one, and we shall find her at last, or at least we shall find some one like her. With an end so attractive to himself, I introduce him into society. What more need I say? Have I not achieved my purpose?
By describing to him his future mistress, you may imagine whether I shall gain a hearing, whether I shall succeed in making the qualities he ought to love pleasing and dear to him, whether I shall sway his feelings to seek or shun what is good or bad for him. I shall be the stupidest of men if I fail to make him in love with he knows not whom. No matter that the person I describe is imaginary, it is enough to disgust him with those who might have attracted him; it is enough if it is continually suggesting comparisons which make him prefer his fancy to the real people he sees; and is not love itself a fancy, a falsehood, an illusion? We are far more in love with our own fancy than with the object of it. If we saw the object of our affections as it is, there would be no such thing as love. When we cease to love, the person we used to love remains unchanged, but we no longer see with the same eyes; the magic veil is drawn aside, and love disappears. But when I supply the object of imagination, I have control over comparisons, and I am able easily to prevent illusion with regard to realities.
For all that I would not mislead a young man by describing a model of perfection which could never exist; but I would so choose the faults of his mistress that they will suit him, that he will be pleased by them, and they may serve to correct his own. Neither would I lie to him and affirm that there really is such a person; let him delight in the portrait, he will soon desire to find the original. From desire to belief the transition is easy; it is a matter of a little skilful description, which under more perceptible features will give to this imaginary object an air of greater reality. I would go so far as to give her a name; I would say, smiling, Let us call your future mistress Sophy; Sophy is a name of good omen; if it is not the name of the lady of your choice at least she will be worthy of the name; we may honour her with it meanwhile. If after all these details, without affirming or denying, we excuse ourselves from giving an answer, his suspicions will become certainty; he will think that his destined bride is purposely concealed from him, and that he will see her in good time. If once he has arrived at this conclusion and if the characteristics to be shown to him have been well chosen, the rest is easy; there will be little risk in exposing him to the world; protect him from his senses, and his heart is safe.
But whether or no he personifies the model I have contrived to make so attractive to him, this model, if well done, will attach him none the less to everything that resembles itself, and will give him as great a distaste for all that is unlike it as if Sophy really existed. What a means to preserve his heart from the dangers to which his appearance would expose him, to repress his senses by means of his imagination, to rescue him from the hands of those women who profess to educate young men, and make them pay so dear for their teaching, and only teach a young man manners by making him utterly shameless. Sophy is so modest? What would she think of their advances! Sophy is so simple! How would she like their airs? They are too far from his thoughts and his observations to be dangerous.
Every one who deals with the control of children follows the same prejudices and the same maxims, for their observation is at fault, and their reflection still more so. A young man is led astray in the first place neither by temperament nor by the senses, but by popular opinion. If we were concerned with boys brought up in boarding schools or girls in convents, I would show that this applies even to them; for the first lessons they learn from each other, the only lessons that bear fruit, are those of vice; and it is not nature that corrupts them but example. But let us leave the boarders in schools and convents to their bad morals; there is no cure for them. I am dealing only with home training. Take a young man carefully educated in his father’s country house, and examine him when he reaches Paris and makes his entrance into society; you will find him thinking clearly about honest matters, and you will find his will as wholesome as his reason. You will find scorn of vice and disgust for debauchery; his face will betray his innocent horror at the very mention of a prostitute. I maintain that no young man could make up his mind to enter the gloomy abodes of these unfortunates by himself, if indeed he were aware of their purpose and felt their necessity.
See the same young man six months later, you will not know him; from his bold conversation, his fashionable maxims, his easy air, you would take him for another man, if his jests over his former simplicity and his shame when any one recalls it did not show that it is he indeed and that he is ashamed of himself. How greatly has he changed in so short a time! What has brought about so sudden and complete a change? His physical development? Would not that have taken place in his father’s house, and certainly he would not have acquired these maxims and this tone at home? The first charms of sense? On the contrary; those who are beginning to abandon themselves to these pleasures are timid and anxious, they shun the light and noise. The first pleasures are always mysterious, modesty gives them their savour, and modesty conceals them; the first mistress does not make a man bold but timid. Wholly absorbed in a situation so novel to him, the young man retires into himself to enjoy it, and trembles for fear it should escape him. If he is noisy he knows neither passion nor love; however he may boast, he has not enjoyed.
These changes are merely the result of changed ideas. His heart is the same, but his opinions have altered. His feelings, which change more slowly, will at length yield to his opinions and it is then that he is indeed corrupted. He has scarcely made his entrance into society before he receives a second education quite unlike the first, which teaches him to despise what he esteemed, and esteem what he despised; he learns to consider the teaching of his parents and masters as the jargon of pedants, and the duties they have instilled into him as a childish morality, to be scorned now that he is grown up. He thinks he is bound in honour to change his conduct; he becomes forward without desire, and he talks foolishly from false shame. He rails against morality before he has any taste for vice, and prides himself on debauchery without knowing how to set about it. I shall never forget the confession of a young officer in the Swiss Guards, who was utterly sick of the noisy pleasures of his comrades, but dared not refuse to take part in them lest he should be laughed at. “I am getting used to it,” he said, “as I am getting used to taking snuff; the taste will come with practice; it will not do to be a child for ever.”
So a young man when he enters society must be preserved from vanity rather than from sensibility; he succumbs rather to the tastes of others than to his own, and self-love is responsible for more libertines than love.
This being granted, I ask you, Is there any one on earth better armed than my pupil against all that may attack his morals, his sentiments, his principles; is there any one more able to resist the flood? What seduction is there against which he is not forearmed? If his desires attract him towards women, he fails to find what he seeks, and his heart, already occupied, holds him back. If he is disturbed and urged onward by his senses, where will he find satisfaction? His horror of adultery and debauch keeps him at a distance from prostitutes and married women, and the disorders of youth may always be traced to one or other of these. A maiden may be a coquette, but she will not be shameless, she will not fling herself at the head of a young man who may marry her if he believes in her virtue; besides she is always under supervision. Emile, too, will not be left entirely to himself; both of them will be under the guardianship of fear and shame, the constant companions of a first passion; they will not proceed at once to misconduct, and they will not have time to come to it gradually without hindrance. If he behaves otherwise, he must have taken lessons from his comrades, he must have learned from them to despise his self-control, and to imitate their boldness. But there is no one in the whole world so little given to imitation as Emile. What man is there who is so little influenced by mockery as one who has no prejudices himself and yields nothing to the prejudices of others. I have laboured twenty years to arm him against mockery; they will not make him their dupe in a day; for in his eyes ridicule is the argument of fools, and nothing makes one less susceptible to raillery than to be beyond the influence of prejudice. Instead of jests he must have arguments, and while he is in this frame of mind, I am not afraid that he will be carried away by young fools; conscience and truth are on my side. If prejudice is to enter into the matter at all, an affection of twenty years’ standing counts for something; no one will ever convince him that I have wearied him with vain lessons; and in a heart so upright and so sensitive the voice of a tried and trusted friend will soon efface the shouts of twenty libertines. As it is therefore merely a question of showing him that he is deceived, that while they pretend to treat him as a man they are really treating him as a child, I shall choose to be always simple but serious and plain in my arguments, so that he may feel that I do indeed treat him as a man. I will say to him, You will see that your welfare, in which my own is bound up, compels me to speak; I can do nothing else. But why do these young men want to persuade you? Because they desire to seduce you; they do not care for you, they take no real interest in you; their only motive is a secret spite because they see you are better than they; they want to drag you down to their own level, and they only reproach you with submitting to control that they may themselves control you. Do you think you have anything to gain by this? Are they so much wiser than I, is the affection of a day stronger than mine? To give any weight to their jests they must give weight to their authority; and by what experience do they support their maxims above ours? They have only followed the example of other giddy youths, as they would have you follow theirs. To escape from the so-called prejudices of their fathers, they yield to those of their comrades. I cannot see that they are any the better off; but I see that they lose two things of value—the affection of their parents, whose advice is that of tenderness and truth, and the wisdom of experience which teaches us to judge by what we know; for their fathers have once been young, but the young men have never been fathers.
But you think they are at least sincere in their foolish precepts. Not so, dear Emile; they deceive themselves in order to deceive you; they are not in agreement with themselves; their heart continually revolts, and their very words often contradict themselves. This man who mocks at everything good would be in despair if his wife held the same views. Another extends his indifference to good morals even to his future wife, or he sinks to such depths of infamy as to be indifferent to his wife’s conduct; but go a step further; speak to him of his mother; is he willing to be treated as the child of an adulteress and the son of a woman of bad character, is he ready to assume the name of a family, to steal the patrimony of the true heir, in a word will he bear being treated as a bastard? Which of them will permit his daughter to be dishonoured as he dishonours the daughter of another? There is not one of them who would not kill you if you adopted in your conduct towards him all the principles he tries to teach you. Thus they prove their inconsistency, and we know they do not believe what they say. Here are reasons, dear Emile; weigh their arguments if they have any, and compare them with mine. If I wished to have recourse like them to scorn and mockery, you would see that they lend themselves to ridicule as much or more than myself. But I am not afraid of serious inquiry. The triumph of mockers is soon over; truth endures, and their foolish laughter dies away.
You do not think that Emile, at twenty, can possibly be docile. How differently we think! I cannot understand how he could be docile at ten, for what hold have I on him at that age? It took me fifteen years of careful preparation to secure that hold. I was not educating him, but preparing him for education. He is now sufficiently educated to be docile; he recognises the voice of friendship and he knows how to obey reason. It is true I allow him a show of freedom, but he was never more completely under control, because he obeys of his own free will. So long as I could not get the mastery over his will, I retained my control over his person; I never left him for a moment. Now I sometimes leave him to himself because I control him continually. When I leave him I embrace him and I say with confidence: Emile, I trust you to my friend, I leave you to his honour; he will answer for you.
To corrupt healthy affections which have not been previously depraved, to efface principles which are directly derived from our own reasoning, is not the work of a moment. If any change takes place during my absence, that absence will not be long, he will never be able to conceal himself from me, so that I shall perceive the danger before any harm comes of it, and I shall be in time to provide a remedy. As we do not become depraved all at once, neither do we learn to deceive all at once; and if ever there was a man unskilled in the art of deception it is Emile, who has never had any occasion for deceit.
By means of these precautions and others like them, I expect to guard him so completely against strange sights and vulgar precepts that I would rather see him in the worst company in Paris than alone in his room or in a park left to all the restlessness of his age. Whatever we may do, a young man’s worst enemy is himself, and this is an enemy we cannot avoid. Yet this is an enemy of our own making, for, as I have said again and again, it is the imagination which stirs the senses. Desire is not a physical need; it is not true that it is a need at all. If no lascivious object had met our eye, if no unclean thought had entered our mind, this so-called need might never have made itself felt, and we should have remained chaste, without temptation, effort, or merit. We do not know how the blood of youth is stirred by certain situations and certain sights, while the youth himself does not understand the cause of his uneasiness—an uneasiness difficult to subdue and certain to recur. For my own part, the more I consider this serious crisis and its causes, immediate and remote, the more convinced I am that a solitary brought up in some desert, apart from books, teaching, and women, would die a virgin, however long he lived.
But we are not concerned with a savage of this sort. When we educate a man among his fellow-men and for social life, we cannot, and indeed we ought not to, bring him up in this wholesome ignorance, and half knowledge is worse than none. The memory of things we have observed, the ideas we have acquired, follow us into retirement and people it, against our will, with images more seductive than the things themselves, and these make solitude as fatal to those who bring such ideas with them as it is wholesome for those who have never left it.
Therefore, watch carefully over the young man; he can protect himself from all other foes, but it is for you to protect him against himself. Never leave him night or day, or at least share his room; never let him go to bed till he is sleepy, and let him rise as soon as he wakes. Distrust instinct as soon as you cease to rely altogether upon it. Instinct was good while he acted under its guidance only; now that he is in the midst of human institutions, instinct is not to be trusted; it must not be destroyed, it must be controlled, which is perhaps a more difficult matter. It would be a dangerous matter if instinct taught your pupil to abuse his senses; if once he acquires this dangerous habit he is ruined. From that time forward, body and soul will be enervated; he will carry to the grave the sad effects of this habit, the most fatal habit which a young man can acquire. If you cannot attain to the mastery of your passions, dear Emile, I pity you; but I shall not hesitate for a moment, I will not permit the purposes of nature to be evaded. If you must be a slave, I prefer to surrender you to a tyrant from whom I may deliver you; whatever happens, I can free you more easily from the slavery of women than from yourself.
Up to the age of twenty, the body is still growing and requires all its strength; till that age continence is the law of nature, and this law is rarely violated without injury to the constitution. After twenty, continence is a moral duty; it is an important duty, for it teaches us to control ourselves, to be masters of our own appetites. But moral duties have their modifications, their exceptions, their rules. When human weakness makes an alternative inevitable, of two evils choose the least; in any case it is better to commit a misdeed than to contract a vicious habit.
Remember, I am not talking of my pupil now, but of yours. His passions, to which you have given way, are your master; yield to them openly and without concealing his victory. If you are able to show him it in its true light, he will be ashamed rather than proud of it, and you will secure the right to guide him in his wanderings, at least so as to avoid precipices. The disciple must do nothing, not even evil, without the knowledge and consent of his master; it is a hundredfold better that the tutor should approve of a misdeed than that he should deceive himself or be deceived by his pupil, and the wrong should be done without his knowledge. He who thinks he must shut his eyes to one thing, must soon shut them altogether; the first abuse which is permitted leads to others, and this chain of consequences only ends in the complete overthrow of all order and contempt for every law.
There is another mistake which I have already dealt with, a mistake continually made by narrow-minded persons; they constantly affect the dignity of a master, and wish to be regarded by their disciples as perfect. This method is just the contrary of what should be done. How is it that they fail to perceive that when they try to strengthen their authority they are really destroying it; that to gain a hearing one must put oneself in the place of our hearers, and that to speak to the human heart, one must be a man. All these perfect people neither touch nor persuade; people always say, “It is easy for them to fight against passions they do not feel.” Show your pupil your own weaknesses if you want to cure his; let him see in you struggles like his own; let him learn by your example to master himself and let him not say like other young men, “These old people, who are vexed because they are no longer young, want to treat all young people as if they were old; and they make a crime of our passions because their own passions are dead.”
Montaigne tells us that he once asked Seigneur de Langey how often, in his negotiations with Germany, he had got drunk in his king’s service. I would willingly ask the tutor of a certain young man how often he has entered a house of ill-fame for his pupil’s sake. How often? I am wrong. If the first time has not cured the young libertine of all desire to go there again, if he does not return penitent and ashamed, if he does not shed torrents of tears upon your bosom, leave him on the spot; either he is a monster or you are a fool; you will never do him any good. But let us have done with these last expedients, which are as distressing as they are dangerous; our kind of education has no need of them.
What precautions we must take with a young man of good birth before exposing him to the scandalous manners of our age! These precautions are painful but necessary; negligence in this matter is the ruin of all our young men; degeneracy is the result of youthful excesses, and it is these excesses which make men what they are. Old and base in their vices, their hearts are shrivelled, because their worn-out bodies were corrupted at an early age; they have scarcely strength to stir. The subtlety of their thoughts betrays a mind lacking in substance; they are incapable of any great or noble feeling, they have neither simplicity nor vigour; altogether abject and meanly wicked, they are merely frivolous, deceitful, and false; they have not even courage enough to be distinguished criminals. Such are the despicable men produced by early debauchery; if there were but one among them who knew how to be sober and temperate, to guard his heart, his body, his morals from the contagion of bad example, at the age of thirty he would crush all these insects, and would become their master with far less trouble than it cost him to become master of himself.
However little Emile owes to birth and fortune, he might be this man if he chose; but he despises such people too much to condescend to make them his slaves. Let us now watch him in their midst, as he enters into society, not to claim the first place, but to acquaint himself with it and to seek a helpmeet worthy of himself.
Whatever his rank or birth, whatever the society into which he is introduced, his entrance into that society will be simple and unaffected; God grant he may not be unlucky enough to shine in society; the qualities which make a good impression at the first glance are not his, he neither possesses them, nor desires to possess them. He cares too little for the opinions of other people to value their prejudices, and he is indifferent whether people esteem him or not until they know him. His address is neither shy nor conceited, but natural and sincere, he knows nothing of constraint or concealment, and he is just the same among a group of people as he is when he is alone. Will this make him rude, scornful, and careless of others? On the contrary; if he were not heedless of others when he lived alone, why should he be heedless of them now that he is living among them? He does not prefer them to himself in his manners, because he does not prefer them to himself in his heart, but neither does he show them an indifference which he is far from feeling; if he is unacquainted with the forms of politeness, he is not unacquainted with the attentions dictated by humanity. He cannot bear to see any one suffer; he will not give up his place to another from mere external politeness, but he will willingly yield it to him out of kindness if he sees that he is being neglected and that this neglect hurts him; for it will be less disagreeable to Emile to remain standing of his own accord than to see another compelled to stand.
Although Emile has no very high opinion of people in general, he does not show any scorn of them, because he pities them and is sorry for them. As he cannot give them a taste for what is truly good, he leaves them the imaginary good with which they are satisfied, lest by robbing them of this he should leave them worse off than before. So he neither argues nor contradicts; neither does he flatter nor agree; he states his opinion without arguing with others, because he loves liberty above all things, and freedom is one of the fairest gifts of liberty.
He says little, for he is not anxious to attract attention; for the same reason he only says what is to the point; who could induce him to speak otherwise? Emile is too well informed to be a chatterbox. A great flow of words comes either from a pretentious spirit, of which I shall speak presently, or from the value laid upon trifles which we foolishly think to be as important in the eyes of others as in our own. He who knows enough of things to value them at their true worth never says too much; for he can also judge of the attention bestowed on him and the interest aroused by what he says. People who know little are usually great talkers, while men who know much say little. It is plain that an ignorant person thinks everything he does know important, and he tells it to everybody. But a well-educated man is not so ready to display his learning; he would have too much to say, and he sees that there is much more to be said, so he holds his peace.
Far from disregarding the ways of other people, Emile conforms to them readily enough; not that he may appear to know all about them, nor yet to affect the airs of a man of fashion, but on the contrary for fear lest he should attract attention, and in order to pass unnoticed; he is most at his ease when no one pays any attention to him.
Although when he makes his entrance into society he knows nothing of its customs, this does not make him shy or timid; if he keeps in the background, it is not because he is embarrassed, but because, if you want to see, you must not be seen; for he scarcely troubles himself at all about what people think of him, and he is not the least afraid of ridicule. Hence he is always quiet and self-possessed and is not troubled with shyness. All he has to do is done as well as he knows how to do it, whether people are looking at him or not; and as he is always on the alert to observe other people, he acquires their ways with an ease impossible to the slaves of other people’s opinions. We might say that he acquires the ways of society just because he cares so little about them.
But do not make any mistake as to his bearing; it is not to be compared with that of your young dandies. It is self-possessed, not conceited; his manners are easy, not haughty; an insolent look is the mark of a slave, there is nothing affected in independence. I never saw a man of lofty soul who showed it in his bearing; this affectation is more suited to vile and frivolous souls, who have no other means of asserting themselves. I read somewhere that a foreigner appeared one day in the presence of the famous Marcel, who asked him what country he came from. “I am an Englishman,” replied the stranger. “You are an Englishman!” replied the dancer, “You come from that island where the citizens have a share in the government, and form part of the sovereign power?1 No, sir, that modest bearing, that timid glance, that hesitating manner, proclaim only a slave adorned with the title of an elector.”
I cannot say whether this saying shows much knowledge of the true relation between a man’s character and his appearance. I have not the honour of being a dancing master, and I should have thought just the opposite. I should have said, “This Englishman is no courtier; I never heard that courtiers have a timid bearing and a hesitating manner. A man whose appearance is timid in the presence of a dancer might not be timid in the House of Commons.” Surely this M. Marcel must take his fellow-countrymen for so many Romans.
He who loves desires to be loved. Emile loves his fellows and desires to please them. Even more does he wish to please the women; his age, his character, the object he has in view, all increase this desire. I say his character, for this has a great effect; men of good character are those who really adore women. They have not the mocking jargon of gallantry like the rest, but their eagerness is more genuinely tender, because it comes from the heart. In the presence of a young woman, I could pick out a young man of character and self-control from among a hundred thousand libertines. Consider what Emile must be, with all the eagerness of early youth and so many reasons for resistance! For in the presence of women I think he will sometimes be shy and timid; but this shyness will certainly not be displeasing, and the least foolish of them will only too often find a way to enjoy it and augment it. Moreover, his eagerness will take a different shape according to those he has to do with. He will be more modest and respectful to married women, more eager and tender towards young girls. He never loses sight of his purpose, and it is always those who most recall it to him who receive the greater share of his attentions.
No one could be more attentive to every consideration based upon the laws of nature, and even on the laws of good society; but the former are always preferred before the latter, and Emile will show more respect to an elderly person in private life than to a young magistrate of his own age. As he is generally one of the youngest in the company, he will always be one of the most modest, not from the vanity which apes humility, but from a natural feeling founded upon reason. He will not have the effrontery of the young fop, who speaks louder than the wise and interrupts the old in order to amuse the company. He will never give any cause for the reply given to Louis XV. by an old gentleman who was asked whether he preferred this century or the last: “Sire, I spent my youth in reverence towards the old; I find myself compelled to spend my old age in reverence towards the young.”
His heart is tender and sensitive, but he cares nothing for the weight of popular opinion, though he loves to give pleasure to others; so he will care little to be thought a person of importance. Hence he will be affectionate rather than polite, he will never be pompous or affected, and he will be always more touched by a caress than by much praise. For the same reasons he will never be careless of his manners or his clothes; perhaps he will be rather particular about his dress, not that he may show himself a man of taste, but to make his appearance more pleasing; he will never require a gilt frame, and he will never spoil his style by a display of wealth.
All this demands, as you see, no stock of precepts from me; it is all the result of his early education. People make a great mystery of the ways of society, as if, at the age when these ways are acquired, we did not take to them quite naturally, and as if the first laws of politeness were not to be found in a kindly heart. True politeness consists in showing our goodwill towards men; it shows its presence without any difficulty; those only who lack this goodwill are compelled to reduce the outward signs of it to an art.
“The worst effect of artificial politeness is that it teaches us how to dispense with the virtues it imitates. If our education teaches us kindness and humanity, we shall be polite, or we shall have no need of politeness.
“If we have not those qualities which display themselves gracefully we shall have those which proclaim the honest man and the citizen; we shall have no need for falsehood.
“Instead of seeking to please by artificiality, it will suffice that we are kindly; instead of flattering the weaknesses of others by falsehood, it will suffice to tolerate them.
“Those with whom we have to do will neither be puffed up nor corrupted by such intercourse; they will only be grateful and will be informed by it.”1
It seems to me that if any education is calculated to produce the sort of politeness required by M. Duclos in this passage, it is the education I have already described.
Yet I admit that with such different teaching Emile will not be just like everybody else, and heaven preserve him from such a fate! But where he is unlike other people, he will neither cause annoyance nor will he be absurd; the difference will be perceptible but not unpleasant. Emile will be, if you like, an agreeable foreigner. At first his peculiarities will be excused with the phrase, “He will learn.” After a time people will get used to his ways, and seeing that he does not change they will still make excuses for him and say, “He is made that way.”
He will not be fêted as a charming man, but every one will like him without knowing why; no one will praise his intellect, but every one will be ready to make him the judge between men of intellect; his own intelligence will be clear and limited, his mind will be accurate, and his judgment sane. As he never runs after new ideas, he cannot pride himself on his wit. I have convinced him that all wholesome ideas, ideas which are really useful to mankind, were among the earliest known, that in all times they have formed the true bonds of society, and that there is nothing left for ambitious minds but to seek distinction for themselves by means of ideas which are injurious and fatal to mankind. This way of winning admiration scarcely appeals to him; he knows how he ought to seek his own happiness in life, and how he can contribute to the happiness of others. The sphere of his knowledge is restricted to what is profitable. His path is narrow and clearly defined; as he has no temptation to leave it, he is lost in the crowd; he will neither distinguish himself nor will he lose his way. Emile is a man of common-sense and he has no desire to be anything more; you may try in vain to insult him by applying this phrase to him; he will always consider it a title of honour.
Although from his wish to please he is no longer wholly indifferent to the opinion of others, he only considers that opinion so far as he himself is directly concerned, without troubling himself about arbitrary values, which are subject to no law but that of fashion or conventionality. He will have pride enough to wish to do well in everything that he undertakes, and even to wish to do it better than others; he will want to be the swiftest runner, the strongest wrestler, the cleverest workman, the readiest in games of skill; but he will not seek advantages which are not in themselves clear gain, but need to be supported by the opinion of others, such as to be thought wittier than another, a better speaker, more learned, etc.; still less will he trouble himself with those which have nothing to do with the man himself, such as higher birth, a greater reputation for wealth, credit, or public estimation, or the impression created by a showy exterior.
As he loves his fellows because they are like himself, he will prefer him who is most like himself, because he will feel that he is good; and as he will judge of this resemblance by similarity of taste in morals, in all that belongs to a good character, he will be delighted to win approval. He will not say to himself in so many words, “I am delighted to gain approval,” but “I am delighted because they say I have done right; I am delighted because the men who honour me are worthy of honour; while they judge so wisely, it is a fine thing to win their respect.”
As he studies men in their conduct in society, just as he formerly studied them through their passions in history, he will often have occasion to consider what it is that pleases or offends the human heart. He is now busy with the philosophy of the principles of taste, and this is the most suitable subject for his present study.
The further we seek our definitions of taste, the further we go astray; taste is merely the power of judging what is pleasing or displeasing to most people. Go beyond this, and you cannot say what taste is. It does not follow that the men of taste are in the majority; for though the majority judges wisely with regard to each individual thing, there are few men who follow the judgment of the majority in everything; and though the most general agreement in taste constitutes good taste, there are few men of good taste just as there are few beautiful people, although beauty consists in the sum of the most usual features.
It must be observed that we are not here concerned with what we like because it is serviceable, or hate because it is harmful to us. Taste deals only with things that are indifferent to us, or which affect at most our amusements, not those which relate to our needs; taste is not required to judge of these, appetite only is sufficient. It is this which makes mere decisions of taste so difficult and as it seems so arbitrary; for beyond the instinct they follow there appears to be no reason whatever for them. We must also make a distinction between the laws of good taste in morals and its laws in physical matters. In the latter the laws of taste appear to be absolutely inexplicable. But it must be observed that there is a moral element in everything which involves imitation.1 This is the explanation of beauties which seem to be physical, but are not so in reality. I may add that taste has local rules which make it dependent in many respects on the country we are in, its manners, government, institutions; it has other rules which depend upon age, sex, and character, and it is in this sense that we must not dispute over matters of taste.
Taste is natural to men; but all do not possess it in the same degree, it is not developed to the same extent in every one; and in every one it is liable to be modified by a variety of causes. Such taste as we may possess depends on our native sensibility; its cultivation and its form depend upon the society in which we have lived. In the first place we must live in societies of many different kinds, so as to compare much. In the next place, there must be societies for amusement and idleness, for in business relations, interest, not pleasure, is our rule. Lastly, there must be societies in which people are fairly equal, where the tyranny of public opinion may be moderate, where pleasure rather than vanity is queen; where this is not so, fashion stifles taste, and we seek what gives distinction rather than delight.
In the latter case it is no longer true that good taste is the taste of the majority. Why is this? Because the purpose is different. Then the crowd has no longer any opinion of its own, it only follows the judgment of those who are supposed to know more about it; its approval is bestowed not on what is good, but on what they have already approved. At any time let every man have his own opinion, and what is most pleasing in itself will always secure most votes.
Every beauty that is to be found in the works of man is imitated. All the true models of taste are to be found in nature. The further we get from the master, the worse are our pictures. Then it is that we find our models in what we ourselves like, and the beauty of fancy, subject to caprice and to authority, is nothing but what is pleasing to our leaders.
Those leaders are the artists, the wealthy, and the great, and they themselves follow the lead of self-interest or pride. Some to display their wealth, others to profit by it, they seek eagerly for new ways of spending it. This is how luxury acquires its power and makes us love what is rare and costly; this so-called beauty consists, not in following nature, but in disobeying her. Hence luxury and bad taste are inseparable. Wherever taste is lavish, it is bad.
Taste, good or bad, takes its shape especially in the intercourse between the two sexes; the cultivation of taste is a necessary consequence of this form of society. But when enjoyment is easily obtained, and the desire to please becomes lukewarm, taste must degenerate; and this is, in my opinion, one of the best reasons why good taste implies good morals.
Consult the women’s opinions in bodily matters, in all that concerns the senses; consult the men in matters of morality and all that concerns the understanding. When women are what they ought to be, they will keep to what they can understand, and their judgment will be right; but since they have set themselves up as judges of literature, since they have begun to criticise books and to make them with might and main, they are altogether astray. Authors who take the advice of blue-stockings will always be ill-advised; gallants who consult them about their clothes will always be absurdly dressed. I shall presently have an opportunity of speaking of the real talents of the female sex, the way to cultivate these talents, and the matters in regard to which their decisions should receive attention.
These are the elementary considerations which I shall lay down as principles when I discuss with Emile this matter which is by no means indifferent to him in his present inquiries. And to whom should it be a matter of indifference? To know what people may find pleasant or unpleasant is not only necessary to any one who requires their help, it is still more necessary to any one who would help them; you must please them if you would do them service; and the art of writing is no idle pursuit if it is used to make men hear the truth.
If in order to cultivate my pupil’s taste, I were compelled to choose between a country where this form of culture has not yet arisen and those in which it has already degenerated, I would progress backwards; I would begin his survey with the latter and end with the former. My reason for this choice is, that taste becomes corrupted through excessive delicacy, which makes it sensitive to things which most men do not perceive; this delicacy leads to a spirit of discussion, for the more subtle is our discrimination of things the more things there are for us. This subtlety increases the delicacy and decreases the uniformity of our touch. So there are as many tastes as there are people. In disputes as to our preferences, philosophy and knowledge are enlarged, and thus we learn to think. It is only men accustomed to plenty of society who are capable of very delicate observations, for these observations do not occur to us till the last, and people who are unused to all sorts of society exhaust their attention in the consideration of the more conspicuous features. There is perhaps no civilised place upon earth where the common taste is so bad as in Paris. Yet it is in this capital that good taste is cultivated, and it seems that few books make any impression in Europe whose authors have not studied in Paris. Those who think it is enough to read our books are mistaken; there is more to be learnt from the conversation of authors than from their books; and it is not from the authors that we learn most. It is the spirit of social life which develops a thinking mind, and carries the eye as far as it can reach. If you have a spark of genius, go and spend a year in Paris; you will soon be all that you are capable of becoming, or you will never be good for anything at all.
One may learn to think in places where bad taste rules supreme; but we must not think like those whose taste is bad, and it is very difficult to avoid this if we spend much time among them. We must use their efforts to perfect the machinery of judgment, but we must be careful not to make the same use of it. I shall take care not to polish Emile’s judgment so far as to transform it, and when he has acquired discernment enough to feel and compare the varied tastes of men, I shall lead him to fix his own taste upon simpler matters.
I will go still further in order to keep his taste pure and wholesome. In the tumult of dissipation I shall find opportunities for useful conversation with him; and while these conversations are always about things in which he takes a delight, I shall take care to make them as amusing as they are instructive. Now is the time to read pleasant books; now is the time to teach him to analyse speech and to appreciate all the beauties of eloquence and diction. It is a small matter to learn languages, they are less useful than people think; but the study of languages leads us on to that of grammar in general. We must learn Latin if we would have a thorough knowledge of French; these two languages must be studied and compared if we would understand the rules of the art of speaking.
There is, moreover, a certain simplicity of taste which goes straight to the heart; and this is only to be found in the classics. In oratory, poetry, and every kind of literature, Emile will find the classical authors as he found them in history, full of matter and sober in their judgment. The authors of our own time, on the contrary, say little and talk much. To take their judgment as our constant law is not the way to form our own judgment. These differences of taste make themselves felt in all that is left of classical times and even on their tombs. Our monuments are covered with praises, theirs recorded facts.
“Sta, viator; heroem calcas.”
If I had found this epitaph on an ancient monument, I should at once have guessed it was modern; for there is nothing so common among us as heroes, but among the ancients they were rare. Instead of saying a man was a hero, they would have said what he had done to gain that name. With the epitaph of this hero compare that of the effeminate Sardanapalus—
“Tarsus and Anchiales I built in a day, and now I am dead.”
Which do you think says most? Our inflated monumental style is only fit to trumpet forth the praises of pygmies. The ancients showed men as they were, and it was plain that they were men indeed. Xenophon did honour to the memory of some warriors who were slain by treason during the retreat of the Ten Thousand. “They died,” said he, “without stain in war and in love.” That is all, but think how full was the heart of the author of this short and simple elegy. Woe to him who fails to perceive its charm.
The following words were engraved on a tomb at Thermopylæ—
“Go, Traveller, tell Sparta that here we fell in obedience to her laws.”
It is pretty clear that this was not the work of the Academy of Inscriptions.
If I am not mistaken, the attention of my pupil, who sets so small a value upon words, will be directed in the first place to these differences, and they will affect his choice in his reading. He will be carried away by the manly eloquence of Demosthenes, and will say, “This is an orator;” but when he reads Cicero, he will say, “This is a lawyer.”
Speaking generally Emile will have more taste for the books of the ancients than for our own, just because they were the first, and therefore the ancients are nearer to nature and their genius is more distinct. Whatever La Motte and the Abbé Terrasson may say, there is no real advance in human reason, for what we gain in one direction we lose in another; for all minds start from the same point, and as the time spent in learning what others have thought is so much time lost in learning to think for ourselves, we have more acquired knowledge and less vigour of mind. Our minds like our arms are accustomed to use tools for everything, and to do nothing for themselves. Fontenelle used to say that all these disputes as to the ancients and the moderns came to this—Were the trees in former times taller than they are now. If agriculture had changed, it would be worth our while to ask this question.
After I have led Emile to the sources of pure literature, I will also show him the channels into the reservoirs of modern compilers; journals, translations, dictionaries, he shall cast a glance at them all, and then leave them for ever. To amuse him he shall hear the chatter of the academies; I will draw his attention to the fact that every member of them is worth more by himself than he is as a member of the society; he will then draw his own conclusions as to the utility of these fine institutions.
I take him to the theatre to study taste, not morals; for in the theatre above all taste is revealed to those who can think. Lay aside precepts and morality, I should say; this is not the place to study them. The stage is not made for truth; its object is to flatter and amuse; there is no place where one can learn so completely the art of pleasing and of interesting the human heart. The study of plays leads to the study of poetry; both have the same end in view. If he has the least glimmering of taste for poetry, how eagerly will he study the languages of the poets, Greek, Latin, and Italian! These studies will afford him unlimited amusement and will be none the less valuable; they will be a delight to him at an age and in circumstances when the heart finds so great a charm in every kind of beauty which affects it. Picture to yourself on the one hand Emile, on the other some young rascal from college, reading the fourth book of the Æneid, or Tibullus, or the Banquet of Plato: what a difference between them! What stirs the heart of Emile to its depths, makes not the least impression on the other! Oh, good youth, stay, make a pause in your reading, you are too deeply moved; I would have you find pleasure in the language of love, but I would not have you carried away by it; be a wise man, but be a good man too. If you are only one of these, you are nothing. After this let him win fame or not in dead languages, in literature, in poetry, I care little. He will be none the worse if he knows nothing of them, and his education is not concerned with these mere words.
My main object in teaching him to feel and love beauty of every kind is to fix his affections and his taste on these, to prevent the corruption of his natural appetites, lest he should have to seek some day in the midst of his wealth for the means of happiness which should be found close at hand. I have said elsewhere that taste is only the art of being a connoisseur in matters of little importance, and this is quite true; but since the charm of life depends on a tissue of these matters of little importance, such efforts are no small thing; through their means we learn how to fill our life with the good things within our reach, with as much truth as they may hold for us. I do not refer to the morally good which depends on a good disposition of the heart, but only to that which depends on the body, on real delight, apart from the prejudices of public opinion.
The better to unfold my idea, allow me for a moment to leave Emile, whose pure and wholesome heart cannot be taken as a rule for others, and to seek in my own memory for an illustration better suited to the reader and more in accordance with his own manners.
There are professions which seem to change a man’s nature, to recast, either for better or worse, the men who adopt them. A coward becomes a brave man in the regiment of Navarre. It is not only in the army that esprit de corps is acquired, and its effects are not always for good. I have thought again and again with terror that if I had the misfortune to fill a certain post I am thinking of in a certain country, before to-morrow I should certainly be a tyrant, an extortioner, a destroyer of the people, harmful to my king, and a professed enemy of mankind, a foe to justice and every kind of virtue.
In the same way, if I were rich, I should have done all that is required to gain riches; I should therefore be insolent and degraded, sensitive and feeling only on my own behalf, harsh and pitiless to all besides, a scornful spectator of the sufferings of the lower classes; for that is what I should call the poor, to make people forget that I was once poor myself. Lastly I should make my fortune a means to my own pleasures with which I should be wholly occupied; and so far I should be just like other people.
But in one respect I should be very unlike them; I should be sensual and voluptuous rather than proud and vain, and I should give myself up to the luxury of comfort rather than to that of ostentation. I should even be somewhat ashamed to make too great a show of my wealth, and if I overwhelmed the envious with my pomp I should always fancy I heard him saying, “Here is a rascal who is greatly afraid lest we should take him for anything but what he is.”
In the vast profusion of good things upon this earth I should seek what I like best, and what I can best appropriate to myself. To this end, the first use I should make of my wealth would be to purchase leisure and freedom, to which I would add health, if it were to be purchased; but health can only be bought by temperance, and as there is no real pleasure without health, I should be temperate from sensual motives.
I should also keep as close as possible to nature, to gratify the senses given me by nature, being quite convinced that, the greater her share in my pleasures, the more real I shall find them. In the choice of models for imitation I shall always choose nature as my pattern; in my appetites I will give her the preference; in my tastes she shall always be consulted; in my food I will always choose what most owes its charm to her, and what has passed through the fewest possible hands on its way to table. I will be on my guard against fraudulent shams; I will go out to meet pleasure. No cook shall grow rich on my gross and foolish greediness; he shall not poison me with fish which cost its weight in gold, my table shall not be decked with fetid splendour or putrid flesh from far-off lands. I will take any amount of trouble to gratify my sensibility, since this trouble has a pleasure of its own, a pleasure more than we expect. If I wished to taste a food from the ends of the earth, I would go, like Apicius, in search of it, rather than send for it; for the daintiest dishes always lack a charm which cannot be brought along with them, a flavour which no cook can give them—the air of the country where they are produced.
For the same reason I would not follow the example of those who are never well off where they are, but are always setting the seasons at nought, and confusing countries and their seasons; those who seek winter in summer and summer in winter, and go to Italy to be cold and to the north to be warm, do not consider that when they think they are escaping from the severity of the seasons, they are going to meet that severity in places where people are not prepared for it. I shall stay in one place, or I shall adopt just the opposite course; I should like to get all possible enjoyment out of one season to discover what is peculiar to any given country. I would have a variety of pleasures, and habits quite unlike one another, but each according to nature; I would spend the summer at Naples and the winter in St. Petersburg; sometimes I would breathe the soft zephyr lying in the cool grottoes of Tarentum, and again I would enjoy the illuminations of an ice palace, breathless and wearied with the pleasures of the dance.
In the service of my table and the adornment of my dwelling I would imitate in the simplest ornaments the variety of the seasons, and draw from each its charm without anticipating its successor. There is no taste but only difficulty to be found in thus disturbing the order of nature; to snatch from her unwilling gifts, which she yields regretfully, with her curse upon them; gifts which have neither strength nor flavour, which can neither nourish the body nor tickle the palate. Nothing is more insipid than forced fruits. A wealthy man in Paris, with all his stoves and hot-houses, only succeeds in getting all the year round poor fruit and poor vegetables for his table at a very high price. If I had cherries in frost, and golden melons in the depths of winter, what pleasure should I find in them when my palate did not need moisture or refreshment. Would the heavy chestnut be very pleasant in the heat of the dog-days; should I prefer to have it hot from the stove, rather than the gooseberry, the strawberry, the refreshing fruits which the earth takes care to provide for me. A mantelpiece covered in January with forced vegetation, with pale and scentless flowers, is not winter adorned, but spring robbed of its beauty; we deprive ourselves of the pleasure of seeking the first violet in the woods, of noting the earliest buds, and exclaiming in a rapture of delight, “Mortals, you are not forsaken, nature is living still.”
To be well served I would have few servants; this has been said before, but it is worth saying again. A tradesman gets more real service from his one man than a duke from the ten gentlemen round about him. It has often struck me when I am sitting at table with my glass beside me that I can drink whenever I please; whereas, if I were dining in state, twenty men would have to call for “Wine” before I could quench my thirst. You may be sure that whatever is done for you by other people is ill done. I would not send to the shops, I would go myself; I would go so that my servants should not make their own terms with the shopkeepers, and to get a better choice and cheaper prices; I would go for the sake of pleasant exercise and to get a glimpse of what was going on out of doors; this is amusing and sometimes instructive; lastly I would go for the sake of the walk; there is always something in that. A sedentary life is the source of tedium; when we walk a good deal we are never dull. A porter and footmen are poor interpreters, I should never wish to have such people between the world and myself, nor would I travel with all the fuss of a coach, as if I were afraid people would speak to me. Shanks’ mare is always ready; if she is tired or ill, her owner is the first to know it; he need not be afraid of being kept at home while his coachman is on the spree; on the road he will not have to submit to all sorts of delays, nor will he be consumed with impatience, nor compelled to stay in one place a moment longer than he chooses. Lastly, since no one serves us so well as we serve ourselves, had we the power of Alexander and the wealth of Crœsus we should accept no services from others, except those we cannot perform for ourselves.
I would not live in a palace; for even in a palace I should only occupy one room; every room which is common property belongs to nobody, and the rooms of each of my servants would be as strange to me as my neighbour’s. The Orientals, although very voluptuous, are lodged in plain and simply furnished dwellings. They consider life as a journey, and their house as an inn. This reason scarcely appeals to us rich people who propose to live for ever; but I should find another reason which would have the same effect. It would seem to me that if I settled myself in one place in the midst of such splendour, I should banish myself from every other place, and imprison myself, so to speak, in my palace. The world is a palace fair enough for any one; and is not everything at the disposal of the rich man when he seeks enjoyment? “Ubi bene, ibi patria,” that is his motto; his home is anywhere where money will carry him, his country is anywhere where there is room for his strong-box, as Philip considered as his own any place where a mule laden with silver could enter.1 Why then should we shut ourselves up within walls and gates as if we never meant to leave them? If pestilence, war, or rebellion drive me from one place, I go to another, and I find my hotel there before me. Why should I build a mansion for myself when the world is already at my disposal? Why should I be in such a hurry to live, to bring from afar delights which I can find on the spot? It is impossible to make a pleasant life for oneself when one is always at war with oneself. Thus Empedocles reproached the men of Agrigentum with heaping up pleasures as if they had but one day to live, and building as if they would live for ever.
And what use have I for so large a dwelling, as I have so few people to live in it, and still fewer goods to fill it? My furniture would be as simple as my tastes; I would have neither picture-gallery nor library, especially if I was fond of reading and knew something about pictures. I should then know that such collections are never complete, and that the lack of that which is wanting causes more annoyance than if one had nothing at all. In this respect abundance is the cause of want, as every collector knows to his cost. If you are an expert, do not make a collection; if you know how to use your cabinets, you will not have any to show.
Gambling is no sport for the rich, it is the resource of those who have nothing to do; I shall be so busy with my pleasures that I shall have no time to waste. I am poor and lonely and I never play, unless it is a game of chess now and then, and that is more than enough. If I were rich I would play even less, and for very low stakes, so that I should not be disappointed myself, nor see the disappointment of others. The wealthy man has no motive for play, and the love of play will not degenerate into the passion for gambling unless the disposition is evil. The rich man is always more keenly aware of his losses than his gains, and as in games where the stakes are not high the winnings are generally exhausted in the long run, he will usually lose more than he gains, so that if we reason rightly we shall scarcely take a great fancy to games where the odds are against us. He who flatters his vanity so far as to believe that Fortune favours him can seek her favour in more exciting ways; and her favours are just as clearly shown when the stakes are low as when they are high. The taste for play, the result of greed and dullness, only lays hold of empty hearts and heads; and I think I should have enough feeling and knowledge to dispense with its help. Thinkers are seldom gamblers; gambling interrupts the habit of thought and turns it towards barren combinations; thus one good result, perhaps the only good result of the taste for science, is that it deadens to some extent this vulgar passion; people will prefer to try to discover the uses of play rather than to devote themselves to it. I should argue with the gamblers against gambling, and I should find more delight in scoffing at their losses than in winning their money.
I should be the same in private life as in my social intercourse. I should wish my fortune to bring comfort in its train, and never to make people conscious of inequalities of wealth. Showy dress is inconvenient in many ways. To preserve as much freedom as possible among other men, I should like to be dressed in such a way that I should not seem out of place among all classes, and should not attract attention in any; so that without affectation or change I might mingle with the crowd at the inn or with the nobility at the Palais Royal. In this way I should be more than ever my own master, and should be free to enjoy the pleasures of all sorts and conditions of men. There are women, so they say, whose doors are closed to embroidered cuffs, women who will only receive guests who wear lace ruffles; I should spend my days elsewhere; though if these women were young and pretty I might sometimes put on lace ruffles to spend an evening or so in their company.
Mutual affection, similarity of tastes, suitability of character; these are the only bonds between my companions and myself; among them I would be a man, not a person of wealth; the charm of their society should never be embittered by self-seeking. If my wealth had not robbed me of all humanity, I would scatter my benefits and my services broadcast, but I should want companions about me, not courtiers, friends, not protégés; I should wish my friends to regard me as their host, not their patron. Independence and equality would leave to my relations with my friends the sincerity of goodwill; while duty and self-seeking would have no place among us, and we should know no law but that of pleasure and friendship.
Neither a friend nor a mistress can be bought. Women may be got for money, but that road will never lead to love. Love is not only not for sale; money strikes it dead. If a man pays, were he indeed the most lovable of men, the mere fact of payment would prevent any lasting affection. He will soon be paying for some one else, or rather some one else will get his money; and in this double connection based on self-seeking and debauchery, without love, honour, or true pleasure, the woman is grasping, faithless, and unhappy, and she is treated by the wretch to whom she gives her money as she treats the fool who gives his money to her; she has no love for either. It would be sweet to be generous towards one we love, if that did not make a bargain of love. I know only one way of gratifying this desire with the woman one loves without embittering love; it is to bestow our all upon her and to live at her expense. It remains to be seen whether there is any woman with regard to whom such conduct would not be unwise.
He who said, “Lais is mine, but I am not hers,” was talking nonsense. Possession which is not mutual is nothing at all; at most it is the possession of the sex not of the individual. But where there is no morality in love, why make such ado about the rest? Nothing is so easy to find. A muleteer is in this respect as near to happiness as a millionaire.
Oh, if we could thus trace out the unreasonableness of vice, how often should we find that, when it has attained its object, it discovers it is not what it seemed! Why is there this cruel haste to corrupt innocence, to make a victim of a young creature whom we ought to protect, one who is dragged by this first false step into a gulf of misery from which only death can release her? Brutality, vanity, folly, error, and nothing more. This pleasure itself is unnatural; it rests on popular opinion, and popular opinion at its worst, since it depends on scorn of self. He who knows he is the basest of men fears comparison with others, and would be the first that he may be less hateful. See if those who are most greedy in pursuit of such fancied pleasures are ever attractive young men—men worthy of pleasing, men who might have some excuse if they were hard to please. Not so; any one with good looks, merit, and feeling has little fear of his mistress’ experience; with well-placed confidence he says to her, “You know what pleasure is, what is that to me? my heart assures me that this is not so.”
But an aged satyr, worn out with debauchery, with no charm, no consideration, no thought for any but himself, with no shred of honour, incapable and unworthy of finding favour in the eyes of any woman who knows anything of men deserving of love, expects to make up for all this with an innocent girl by trading on her inexperience and stirring her emotions for the first time. His last hope is to find favour as a novelty; no doubt this is the secret motive of this desire; but he is mistaken, the horror he excites is just as natural as the desires he wishes to arouse. He is also mistaken in his foolish attempt; that very nature takes care to assert her rights; every girl who sells herself is no longer a maid; she has given herself to the man of her choice, and she is making the very comparison he dreads. The pleasure purchased is imaginary, but none the less hateful.
For my own part, however riches may change me, there is one matter in which I shall never change. If I have neither morals nor virtue, I shall not be wholly without taste, without sense, without delicacy; and this will prevent me from spending my fortune in the pursuit of empty dreams, from wasting my money and my strength in teaching children to betray me and mock at me. If I were young, I would seek the pleasures of youth; and as I would have them at their best I would not seek them in the guise of a rich man. If I were at my present age, it would be another matter; I would wisely confine myself to the pleasures of my age; I would form tastes which I could enjoy, and I would stifle those which could only cause suffering. I would not go and offer my grey beard to the scornful jests of young girls; I could never bear to sicken them with my disgusting caresses, to furnish them at my expense with the most absurd stories, to imagine them describing the vile pleasures of the old ape, so as to avenge themselves for what they had endured. But if habits unresisted had changed my former desires into needs, I would perhaps satisfy those needs, but with shame and blushes. I would distinguish between passion and necessity, I would find a suitable mistress and would keep to her. I would not make a business of my weakness, and above all I would only have one person aware of it. Life has other pleasures when these fail us; by hastening in vain after those that fly us, we deprive ourselves of those that remain. Let our tastes change with our years, let us no more meddle with age than with the seasons. We should be ourselves at all times, instead of struggling against nature; such vain attempts exhaust our strength and prevent the right use of life.
The lower classes are seldom dull, their life is full of activity; if there is little variety in their amusements they do not recur frequently; many days of labour teach them to enjoy their rare holidays. Short intervals of leisure between long periods of labour give a spice to the pleasures of their station. The chief curse of the rich is dullness; in the midst of costly amusements, among so many men striving to give them pleasure, they are devoured and slain by dullness; their life is spent in fleeing from it and in being overtaken by it; they are overwhelmed by the intolerable burden; women more especially, who do not know how to work or play, are a prey to tedium under the name of the vapours; with them it takes the shape of a dreadful disease, which robs them of their reason and even of their life. For my own part I know no more terrible fate than that of a pretty woman in Paris, unless it is that of the pretty manikin who devotes himself to her, who becomes idle and effeminate like her, and so deprives himself twice over of his manhood, while he prides himself on his successes and for their sake endures the longest and dullest days which human being ever put up with.
Proprieties, fashions, customs which depend on luxury and breeding, confine the course of life within the limits of the most miserable uniformity. The pleasure we desire to display to others is a pleasure lost; we neither enjoy it ourselves, nor do others enjoy it.1 Ridicule, which public opinion dreads more than anything, is ever at hand to tyrannise and punish. It is only ceremony that makes us ridiculous; if we can vary our place and our pleasures, to-day’s impressions can efface those of yesterday; in the mind of men they are as if they had never been; but we enjoy ourselves for we throw ourselves into every hour and everything. My only set rule would be this: wherever I was I would pay no heed to anything else. I would take each day as it came, as if there were neither yesterday nor to-morrow. As I should be a man of the people, with the populace, I should be a countryman in the fields; and if I spoke of farming, the peasant should not laugh at my expense. I would not go and build a town in the country nor erect the Tuileries at the door of my lodgings. On some pleasant shady hill-side I would have a little cottage, a white house with green shutters, and though a thatched roof is the best all the year round, I would be grand enough to have, not those gloomy slates, but tiles, because they look brighter and more cheerful than thatch, and the houses in my own country are always roofed with them, and so they would recall to me something of the happy days of my youth. For my courtyard I would have a poultry-yard, and for my stables a cowshed for the sake of the milk which I love. My garden should be a kitchen-garden, and my park an orchard, like the one described further on. The fruit would be free to those who walked in the orchard, my gardener should neither count it nor gather it; I would not, with greedy show, display before your eyes superb espaliers which one scarcely dare touch. But this small extravagance would not be costly, for I would choose my abode in some remote province where silver is scarce and food plentiful, where plenty and poverty have their seat.
There I would gather round me a company, select rather than numerous, a band of friends who know what pleasure is, and how to enjoy it, women who can leave their arm-chairs and betake themselves to outdoor sports, women who can exchange the shuttle or the cards for the fishing line or the bird-trap, the gleaner’s rake or grape-gatherer’s basket. There all the pretensions of the town will be forgotten, and we shall be villagers in a village; we shall find all sorts of different sports and we shall hardly know how to choose the morrow’s occupation. Exercise and an active life will improve our digestion and modify our tastes. Every meal will be a feast, where plenty will be more pleasing than any delicacies. There are no such cooks in the world as mirth, rural pursuits, and merry games; and the finest made dishes are quite ridiculous in the eyes of people who have been on foot since early dawn. Our meals will be served without regard to order or elegance; we shall make our dining-room anywhere, in the garden, on a boat, beneath a tree; sometimes at a distance from the house on the banks of a running stream, on the fresh green grass, among the clumps of willow and hazel; a long procession of guests will carry the material for the feast with laughter and singing; the turf will be our chairs and table, the banks of the stream our side-board, and our dessert is hanging on the trees; the dishes will be served in any order, appetite needs no ceremony; each one of us, openly putting himself first, would gladly see every one else do the same; from this warmhearted and temperate familiarity there would arise, without coarseness, pretence, or constraint, a laughing conflict a hundredfold more delightful than politeness, and more likely to cement our friendship. No tedious flunkeys to listen to our words, to whisper criticisms on our behaviour, to count every mouthful with greedy eyes, to amuse themselves by keeping us waiting for our wine, to complain of the length of our dinner. We will be our own servants, in order to be our own masters. Time will fly unheeded, our meal will be an interval of rest during the heat of the day. If some peasant comes our way, returning from his work with his tools over his shoulder, I will cheer his heart with kindly words, and a glass or two of good wine, which will help him to bear his poverty more cheerfully; and I too shall have the joy of feeling my heart stirred within me, and I should say to myself—I too am a man.
If the inhabitants of the district assembled for some rustic feast, I and my friends would be there among the first; if there were marriages, more blessed than those of towns, celebrated near my home, every one would know how I love to see people happy, and I should be invited. I would take these good folks some gift as simple as themselves, a gift which would be my share of the feast; and in exchange I should obtain gifts beyond price, gifts so little known among my equals, the gifts of freedom and true pleasure. I should sup gaily at the head of their long table; I should join in the chorus of some rustic song and I should dance in the barn more merrily than at a ball in the Opera House.
“This is all very well so far,” you will say, “but what about the shooting? One must have some sport in the country.” Just so; I only wanted a farm, but I was wrong. I assume I am rich, I must keep my pleasures to myself, I must be free to kill something; this is quite another matter. I must have estates, woods, keepers, rents, seignorial rights, particularly incense and holy water.
Well and good. But I shall have neighbours about my estate who are jealous of their rights and anxious to encroach on those of others; our keepers will quarrel, and possibly their masters will quarrel too; this means altercations, disputes, ill-will, or law-suits at the least; this in itself is not very pleasant. My tenants will not enjoy finding my hares at work upon their corn, or my wild boars among their beans. As they dare not kill the enemy, every one of them will try to drive him from their fields; when the day has been spent in cultivating the ground, they will be compelled to sit up at night to watch it; they will have watch-dogs, drums, horns, and bells; my sleep will be disturbed by their racket. Do what I will, I cannot help thinking of the misery of these poor people, and I cannot help blaming myself for it. If I had the honour of being a prince, this would make little impression on me; but as I am a self-made man who has only just come into his property, I am still rather vulgar at heart.
That is not all; abundance of game attracts trespassers; I shall soon have poachers to punish; I shall require prisons, gaolers, guards, and galleys; all this strikes me as cruel. The wives of those miserable creatures will besiege my door and disturb me with their crying; they must either be driven away or roughly handled. The poor people who are not poachers, whose harvest has been destroyed by my game, will come next with their complaints. Some people will be put to death for killing the game, the rest will be punished for having spared it; what a choice of evils! On every side I shall find nothing but misery and hear nothing but groans. So far as I can see this must greatly disturb the pleasure of slaying at one’s case heaps of partridges and hares which are tame enough to run about one’s feet.
If you would have pleasure without pain let there be no monopoly; the more you leave it free to everybody, the purer will be your own enjoyment. Therefore I should not do what I have just described, but without change of tastes I would follow those which seem likely to cause me least pain. I would fix my rustic abode in a district where game is not preserved, and where I can have my sport without hindrance. Game will be less plentiful, but there will be more skill in finding it, and more pleasure in securing it. I remember the start of delight with which my father watched the rise of his first partridge and the rapture with which he found the hare he had sought all day long. Yes, I declare, that alone with his dog, carrying his own gun, cartridges, and game bag together with his hare, he came home at nightfall, worn out with fatigue and torn to pieces by brambles, but better pleased with his day’s sport than all your ordinary sportsmen, who on a good horse, with twenty guns ready for them, merely take one gun after another, and shoot and kill everything that comes their way, without skill, without glory, and almost without exercise. The pleasure is none the less, and the difficulties are removed; there is no estate to be preserved, no poacher to be punished, and no wretches to be tormented; here are solid grounds for preference. Whatever you do, you cannot torment men for ever without experiencing some amount of discomfort; and sooner or later the muttered curses of the people will spoil the flavour of your game.
Again, monopoly destroys pleasure. Real pleasures are those which we share with the crowd; we lose what we try to keep to ourselves alone. If the walls I build round my park transform it into a gloomy prison, I have only deprived myself, at great expense, of the pleasure of a walk; I must now seek that pleasure at a distance. The demon of property spoils everything he lays hands upon. A rich man wants to be master everywhere, and he is never happy where he is; he is continually driven to flee from himself. I shall therefore continue to do in my prosperity what I did in my poverty. Henceforward, richer in the wealth of others than I ever shall be in my own wealth, I will take possession of everything in my neighbourhood that takes my fancy; no conqueror is so determined as I; I even usurp the rights of princes; I take possession of every open place that pleases me, I give them names; this is my park, that is my terrace, and I am their owner; henceforward I wander among them at will; I often return to maintain my proprietary rights; I make what use I choose of the ground to walk upon, and you will never convince me that the nominal owner of the property which I have appropriated gets better value out of the money it yields him than I do out of his land. No matter if I am interrupted by hedges and ditches, I take my park on my back, and I carry it elsewhere; there will be space enough for it near at hand, and I may plunder my neighbours long enough before I outstay my welcome.
This is an attempt to show what is meant by good taste in the choice of pleasant occupations for our leisure hours; this is the spirit of enjoyment; all else is illusion, fancy, and foolish pride. He who disobeys these rules, however rich he may be, will devour his gold on a dung-hill, and will never know what it is to live.
You will say, no doubt, that such amusements lie within the reach of all, that we need not be rich to enjoy them. That is the very point I was coming to. Pleasure is ours when we want it; it is only social prejudice which makes everything hard to obtain, and drives pleasure before us. To be happy is a hundredfold easier than it seems. If he really desires to enjoy himself the man of taste has no need of riches; all he wants is to be free and to be his own master. With health and daily bread we are rich enough, if we will but get rid of our prejudices; this is the “Golden Mean” of Horace. You folks with your strong-boxes may find some other use for your wealth, for it cannot buy you pleasure. Emile knows this as well as I, but his heart is purer and more healthy, so he will feel it more strongly, and all that he has beheld in society will only serve to confirm him in this opinion.
While our time is thus employed, we are ever on the look-out for Sophy, and we have not yet found her. It was not desirable that she should be found too easily, and I have taken care to look for her where I knew we should not find her.
The time is come; we must now seek her in earnest, lest Emile should mistake some one else for Sophy, and only discover his error when it is too late. Then farewell Paris, far-famed Paris, with all your noise and smoke and dirt, where the women have ceased to believe in honour and the men in virtue. We are in search of love, happiness, innocence; the further we go from Paris the better.
We have reached the last act of youth’s drama; we are approaching its closing scene.
It is not good that man should be alone. Emile is now a man, and we must give him his promised helpmeet. That helpmeet is Sophy. Where is her dwelling-place, where shall she be found? We must know beforehand what she is, and then we can decide where to look for her. And when she is found, our task is not ended. “Since our young gentleman,” says Locke, “is about to marry, it is time to leave him with his mistress.” And with these words he ends his book. As I have not the honour of educating “A young gentleman,” I shall take care not to follow his example.
[1 ] M. de le Cordamines’ narratives tell of a people who only know how to count up to three. Yet the men of this nation, having hands, have often seen their fingers without learning to count up to five.
[1 ] This repose is, if you prefer it, merely relative; but as we perceive more or less of motion, we may plainly conceive one of two extremes, which is rest; and we conceive it so clearly that we are even disposed to take for absolute rest what is only relative. But it is not true that motion is of the essence of matter, if matter may be conceived of as at rest.
[2 ] Chemists regard phlogiston or the element of fire as diffused, motionless, and stagnant in the compounds of which it forms part, until external forces set it free, collect it and set it in motion, and change it into fire.
[1 ] I have tried hard to grasp the idea of a living molecule, but in vain. The idea of matter feeling without any senses seems to me unintelligible and self-contradictory. To accept or reject this idea one must first understand it, and I confess that so far I have not succeeded.
[1 ] Could one believe, if one had not seen it, that human absurdity could go so far? Amatus Lusitanus asserts that he saw a little man an inch long enclosed in a glass, which Julius Camillus, like a second Prometheus, had made by alchemy. Paracelsis (De natura rerum) teaches the method of making these tiny men, and he maintains that the pygmies, fauns, satyrs, and nymphs have been made by chemistry. Indeed I cannot see that there is anything more to be done, to establish the possibility of these facts, unless it is to assert that organic matter resists the heat of fire and that its molecules can preserve their life in the hottest furnace.
[1 ] It seems to me that modern philosophy, far from saying that rocks think, has discovered that men do not think. It perceives nothing more in nature than sensitive beings; and the only difference it finds between a man and a stone is that a man is a sensitive being which experiences sensations, and a stone is a sensitive being which does not experience sensations. But if it is true that all matter feels, where shall I find the sensitive unit, the individual ego? Shall it be in each molecule of matter or in bodies as aggregates of molecules? Shall I place this unity in fluids and solids alike, in compounds and in elements? You tell me nature consists of individuals. But what are these individuals? Is that stone an individual or an aggregate of individuals? Is it a single sensitive being, or are there as many beings in it as there are grains of sand? If every elementary atom is a sensitive being, how shall I conceive of that intimate communication by which one feels within the other, so that their two egos are blended in one? Attraction may be a law of nature whose mystery is unknown to us; but at least we conceive that there is nothing in attraction acting in proportion to mass which is contrary to extension and divisibility. Can you conceive of sensation in the same way? The sensitive parts have extension, but the sensitive being is one and indivisible; he cannot be cut in two, he is a whole or he is nothing; therefore the sensitive being is not a material body. I know not how our materialists understand it, but it seems to me that the same difficulties which have led them to reject thought, should have made them also reject feeling; and I see no reason why, when the first step has been taken, they should not take the second too; what more would it cost them? Since they are certain they do not think, why do they dare to affirm that they feel?
[1 ] The ancients were right when they called the supreme God Optimus Maximus, but it would have been better to say Maximus Optimus, for his goodness springs from his power, he is good because he is great.
[1 ] Modern philosophy, which only admits what it can understand, is careful not to admit this obscure power called instinct which seems to guide the animals to some end without any acquired experience. Instinct, according to some of our wise philosophers, is only a secret habit of reflection, acquired by reflection; and from the way in which they explain this development one ought to suppose that children reflect more than grown-up people: a paradox strange enough to be worth examining. Without entering upon this discussion I must ask what name I shall give to the eagerness with which my dog makes war on the moles he does not eat, or to the patience with which he sometimes watches them for hours and the skill with which he seizes them, throws them to a distance from their earth as soon as they emerge, and then kills them and leaves them. Yet no one has trained him to this sport, nor even told him there were such things as moles. Again, I ask, and this is a more important question, why, when I threatened this same dog for the first time, why did he throw himself on the ground with his paws folded, in such a suppliant attitude calculated to touch me, a position which he would have maintained if, without being touched by it, I had continued to beat him in that position? What! Had my dog, little more than a puppy, acquired moral ideas? Did he know the meaning of mercy and generosity? By what acquired knowledge did he seek to appease my wrath by yielding to my discretion? Every dog in the world does almost the same thing in similar circumstances, and I am asserting nothing but what any one can verify for himself. Will the philosophers, who so scornfully reject instinct, kindly explain this fact by the mere play of sensations and experience which they assume we have acquired? Let them give an account of it which will satisfy any sensible man; in that case I have nothing further to urge, and I will say no more of instinct.
[1 ] In some respects ideas are feelings and feelings are ideas. Both terms are appropriate to any perception with which we are concerned, appropriate both to the object of that perception and to ourselves who are affected by it; it is merely the order in which we are affected which decides the appropriate term. When we are chiefly concerned with the object and only think of ourselves as it were by reflection, that is an idea; when, on the other hand, the impression received excites our chief attention and we only think in the second place of the object which caused it, it is a feeling.
[1 ] I think the worthy clergyman might say this at the present time to the general public.
[1 ] “All men,” said a wise and good priest, “maintain that they hold and believe their religion (and all use the same jargon), not of man, nor of any creature, but of God. But to speak truly, without pretence or flattery, none of them do so; whatever they may say, religions are taught by human hands and means; take, for example, the way in which religions have been received by the world, the way in which they are still received every day by individuals; the nation, the country, the locality gives the religion; we belong to the religion of the place where we are born and brought up; we are baptised or circumcised, we are Christians, Jews, Mahometans, before we know that we are men; we do not pick and choose our religion; for see how ill the life and conduct agree with the religion, see for what slight and human causes men go against the teaching of their religion.”—Charron,De la Sagesse.
It seems clear that the honest creed of the holy theologian of Condom would not have differed greatly from that of the Savoyard priest.
[1 ] This is expressly stated in many passages of Scripture, among others in Deuteronomy xiii., where it is said that when a prophet preaching strange gods confirms his words by means of miracles and what he foretells comes to pass, far from giving heed to him, this prophet must be put to death. If then the heathen put the apostles to death when they preached a strange god and confirmed their words by miracles which came to pass, I cannot see what grounds we have for complaint which they could not at once turn against us. Now, what should be done in such a case? There is only one course; to return to argument and let the miracles alone. It would have been better not to have had recourse to them at all. That is plain common-sense which can only be obscured by great subtlety of distinction. Subtleties in Christianity! So Jesus Christ was mistaken when he promised the kingdom of heaven to the simple, he was mistaken when he began his finest discourse with the praise of the poor in spirit, if so much wit is needed to understand his teaching and to get others to believe in him. When you have convinced me that submission is my duty, all will be well; but to convince me of this, come down to my level; adapt your arguments to a lowly mind, or I shall not recognise you as a true disciple of your master, and it is not his doctrine that you are teaching me.
[1 ] On the other hand, Plutarch relates that the Stoics maintained, among other strange paradoxes, that it was no use hearing both sides; for, said they, the first either proves his point or he does not prove it; if he has proved it, there is an end of it, and the other should be condemned: if he has not proved it, he himself is in the wrong and judgment should be given against him. I consider the method of those who accept an exclusive revelation very much like that of these Stoics. When each of them claims to be the sole guardian of truth, we must hear them all before we can choose between them without injustice.
[1 ] Cf. in the Sermon on the Mount the parallel he himself draws between the teaching of Moses and his own.—Matt. v.
[1 ] The duty of following and loving the religion of our country does not go so far as to require us to accept doctrines contrary to good morals, such as intolerance. This horrible doctrine sets men in arms against their fellow-men, and makes them all enemies of mankind. The distinction between civil toleration and theological toleration is vain and childish. These two kinds of toleration are inseparable, and we cannot accept one without the other. Even the angels could not live at peace with men whom they regarded as the enemies of God.
[1 ] The rival parties attack each other with so many sophistries that it would be a rash and overwhelming enterprise to attempt to deal with all of them; it is difficult enough to note some of them as they occur. One of the commonest errors among the partisans of philosophy is to contrast a nation of good philosophers with a nation of bad Christians; as if it were easier to make a nation of good philosophers than a nation of good Christians. I know not whether in individual cases it is easier to discover one rather than the other; but I am quite certain that, as far as nations are concerned, we must assume that there will be those who misuse their philosophy without religion, just as our people misuse their religion without philosophy; and that seems to put quite a different face upon the matter.
Bayle has proved very satisfactorily that fanaticism is more harmful than atheism, and that cannot be denied; but what he has not taken the trouble to say, though it is none the less true, is this: Fanaticism, though cruel and bloodthirsty, is still a great and powerful passion, which stirs the heart of man, teaching him to despise death, and giving him an enormous motive power, which only needs to be guided rightly to produce the noblest virtues; while irreligion, and the argumentative philosophic spirit generally, on the other hand, assaults the life and enfeebles it, degrades the soul, concentrates all the passions in the basest self-interest, in the meanness of the human self; thus it saps unnoticed the very foundations of all society; for what is common to all these private interests is so small that it will never outweigh their opposing interests.
If atheism does not lead to bloodshed, it is less from love of peace than from indifference to what is good; as if it mattered little what happened to others, provided the sage remained undisturbed in his study. His principles do not kill men, but they prevent their birth, by destroying the morals by which they were multiplied, by detaching them from their fellows, by reducing all their affections to a secret selfishness, as fatal to population as to virtue. The indifference of the philosopher is like the peace in a despotic state; it is the repose of death; war itself is not more destructive.
Thus fanaticism, though its immediate results are more fatal than those of what is now called the philosophic mind, is much less fatal in its after effects. Moreover, it is an easy matter to exhibit fine maxims in books; but the real question is—Are they really in accordance with your teaching, are they the necessary consequences of it? and this has not been clearly proved so far. It remains to be seen whether philosophy, safely enthroned, could control successfully man’s petty vanity, his self-interest, his ambition, all the lesser passions of mankind, and whether it would practise that sweet humanity which it boasts of, pen in hand.
In theory, there is no good which philosophy can bring about which is not equally secured by religion, while religion secures much that philosophy cannot secure.
In practice, it is another matter; but still we must put it to the proof. No man follows his religion in all things, even if his religion is true; most people have hardly any religion, and they do not in the least follow what they have; that is still more true; but still there are some people who have a religion and follow it, at least to some extent; and beyond doubt religious motives do prevent them from wrong-doing, and win from them virtues, praiseworthy actions, which would not have existed but for these motives.
A monk denies that money was entrusted to him; what of that? It only proves that the man who entrusted the money to him was a fool. If Pascal had done the same, that would have proved that Pascal was a hypocrite. But a monk! Are those who make a trade of religion religious people? All the crimes committed by the clergy, as by other men, do not prove that religion is useless, but that very few people are religious.
Most certainly our modern governments owe to Christianity their more stable authority, their less frequent revolutions; it has made those governments less bloodthirsty; this can be shown by comparing them with the governments of former times. Apart from fanaticism, the best known religion has given greater gentleness to Christian conduct. This change is not the result of learning; for whereverlearning has been most illustrious humanity has been no more respected on that account; the cruelties of the Athenians, the Egyptians, the Roman emperors, the Chinese bear witness to this. What works of mercy spring from the gospel! How many acts of restitution, reparation, confession does the gospel lead to among Catholics! Among ourselves, as the times of communion draw near, do they not lead us to reconciliation and to alms-giving? Did not the Hebrew Jubilee make the grasping less greedy, did it not prevent much poverty? The brotherhood of the Law made the nation one; no beggar was found among them. Neither are there beggars among the Turks, where there are countless pious institutions; from motives of religion they even show hospitality to the foes of their religion.
“The Mahometans say, according to Chardin, that after the interrogation which will follow the general resurrection, all bodies will traverse a bridge called Poul-Serrho, which is thrown across the eternal fires, a bridge which may be called the third and last test of the great Judgment, because it is there that the good and bad will be separated, etc.
“The Persians, continues Chardin, make a great point of this bridge; and when any one suffers a wrong which he can never hope to wipe out by any means or at any time, he finds his last consolation in these words: ‘By the living God, you will pay me double at the last day; you will never get across the Poul-Serrho if you do not first do me justice; I will hold the hem of your garment, I will cling about your knees.’ I have seen many eminent men, of every profession, who for fear lest this hue and cry should be raised against them as they cross that fearful bridge, beg pardon of those who complained against them; it has happened to me myself on many occasions. Men of rank, who had compelled me by their importunity to do what I did not wish to do, have come to me when they thought my anger had had time to cool, and have said to me: I pray you “Halal (illegible) antchisra,” that is, “Make this matter lawful and right.” Some of them have even sent gifts and done me service, so that I might forgive them and say I did it willingly; the cause of this is nothing else but this belief that they will not be able to get across the bridge of hell until they have paid the uttermost farthing to the oppressed.”
Must I think that the idea of this bridge where so many iniquities are made good is of no avail? If the Persians were deprived of this idea, if they were persuaded that there was no Poul-Serrho, nor anything of the kind, where the oppressed were avenged of their tyrants after death, is it not clear that they would be very much at their ease, and they would be freed from the care of appeasing the wretched? But it is false to say that this doctrine is hurtful; yet it would not be true.
O Philosopher, your moral laws are all very fine; but kindly show me their sanction. Cease to shirk the question, and tell me plainly what you would put in the place of Poul-Serrho.
[1 ] There is no one who looks down upon childhood with such lofty scorn as those who are barely grown-up; just as there is no country where rank is more strictly regarded than that where there is little real inequality; everybody is afraid of being confounded with his inferiors.
[1 ] The Roman Catholic clergy have very wisely retained these symbols, and certain republics, such as Venice, have followed their example. Thus the Venetian government, despite the fallen condition of the state, still enjoys, under the trappings of its former greatness, all the affection, all the reverence of the people; and next to the pope in his triple crown, there is perhaps no king, no potentate, no person in the world so much respected as the Doge of Venice; he has no power, no authority, but he is rendered sacred by his pomp, and he wears beneath his ducal coronet a woman’s flowing locks. That ceremony of the Bucentaurius, which stirs the laughter of fools, stirs the Venetian populace to shed its life-blood for the maintenance of this tyrannical government.
[1 ] As if there were citizens who were not part of the city and had not, as such, a share in sovereign power! But the French, who have thought fit to usurp the honourable name of citizen which was formerly the right of the members of the Gallic cities, have degraded the idea till it has no longer any sort of meaning. A man who recently wrote a number of silly criticisms on the “Nouvelle Heloise” added to his signature the title “Citizen of Paimbœuf,” and he thought it a capital joke.
[1 ]Considerations sur les mœurs de ce siècle, par M. Duclos.
[1 ] This is demonstrated in an “Essay on the Origin of Languages” which will be found in my collected works.
[1 ] A stranger, splendidly clad, was asked in Athens what country he belonged to. “I am one of the rich,” was his answer; and a very good answer in my opinion.
[1 ] Two ladies of fashion, who wished to seem to be enjoying themselves greatly, decided never to go to bed before five o’clock in the morning. In the depths of winter their servants spent the night in the street waiting for them, and with great difficulty kept themselves from freezing. One night, or rather one morning, some one entered the room where these merry people spent their hours without knowing how time passed. He found them quite alone; each of them was asleep in her arm-chair.