I replace melancholy with courage,
doubt with certainty, despair with hope,
evil with good, lamentations with duty,
scepticism with faith, sophistry with the
indifference of calm, and pride with
THE POETIC whimperings of this century are nothing but sophistry. First principles should be beyond argument.
I accept Euripides and Sophocles; but I do not accept Aeschylus.
Do not manifest toward the Creator a lack of the most elementary conventions and good taste.
Cast aside disbelief: you will make me happy.
Only two kinds of poetry exist; there is only one.
A far from tacit convention exists between author and reader, by which the former calls himself the sick one, and accepts the latter as nurse. It is the poet who consoles humanity! The roles are arbitrarily inverted.
I do not wish to be dubbed a poseur.
I shall leave behind no Memoirs.
Poetry is no more tempest than it is cyclone. It is a majestic and fertile river.
It is only by admitting the night physically that one is able to admit it morally. O, Nights of Young! How many headaches you have caused me!
One dreams only when asleep. These are words like the word dream, nothingness of life, terrestrial way, perhaps the preposition, the distorted tripod, which have permitted to creep into our souls that poetry dripping with weakness, resembling decay.
Disturbances, anxieties, depravities, death, exceptions in the physical or moral order, the spirit of negation, brutalities, hallucinations served by the will, tortures, destructions, upsets, tears, dissatisfactions, slaveries, deep- digging imaginations, novels, unexpected things, that which must not be done, the chemical peculiarities of the mysterious vulture who watches over the carrion of some dead illusion, precocious and abortive experiments, obscurities with flea-like armor, the terrible monomania of pride, the inoculation with deep stupors, the funereal prayers, the envies, betrayals, tyrannies, impieties, irritations, bitternesses, aggressive insults, madness, spleen, rational terrors, strange uneasinesses which the reader would prefer not to feel, grimaces, neuroses, the bloody channels through which one forces logic at bay, the exaggerations, absence of sincerity, the saws, the platitudes, the darkness, the gloom, the infantilisms which are worse than murders, the clan of court-of-assizes novelists, the tragedies, odes, melodramas, the extremes presented ad infinitum, reason whistled at with impunity, the smells of wet chicken, the sicklinesses, the frogs, squids, sharks, desert simooms, all that is somnambulist, cross- eyed, nocturnal, soporific, night roving, viscous, talking-seal, equivocal, consumptive, spasmodic, aphrodisiac, anemic, obscure, hermaphrodite, bastard, albino, pederastic, phenomena of the aquaria and bearded-lady, the hours drunk with silent discouragement, fantasies, monsters, demoralizing syllogisms, ordures, that which does not reflect like a child, desolation, that intellectual manchineel-tree, perfumed cankers, camellia-like thighs, the guilt of a writer who rolls down the slope of nothingness and scorns himself with cries of joy, remorse, hypocrisy, the vague perspectives that crush you within their imperceptible networks, the serious spittings upon sacred axioms, vermin and their insinuating ticklings, insensate prefaces like those of Cromwell, Mlle, de Maupin and Dumas the Younger, the decays, impotencies, blasphemies, asphyxiations, stiflings, rages—before these disgusting charnel-houses, which I blush to mention, it is at last time to react against that which shocks us and so royally bows us down.
You are being perpetually driven out of your mind and caught in the trap of shadows constructed with so coarse a skill by egoism and self-esteem.
Taste is the fundamental quality which sums up all other qualities. It is the ne plus ultra of the intelligence. By it alone is genius the supreme health and balance of all the faculties. Villemain is thirty-four times more intelligent than Eugène Sue and Frederick Soulié. His preface to the Dictionary of the Academy will witness the death of Walter Scott’s novels, of Fenimore Cooper’s novels, of all novels possible and imaginable.
The novel is a false genre, because it describes passions for their own sakes: the moral conclusion is lacking. To describe passions is nothing; it suffices to be born part jackal, part vulture, part panther. We do not care for it. To describe them, like Corneille, in order to subject them to a high ethic, is a different matter. He who will refrain from doing the former, at the same time remaining capable of admiring and understanding those to whom it is given to do the latter, surpasses with all the superiority of virtue over vice him who does the former.
By this alone, were a teacher of the second grade to say to himself:
“Were they to give me all the treasures of the universe, I should not wish to have written novels like those of Balzac and Alexandre Dumas,” by this alone he is more intelligent than Alexandre Dumas and Balzac. By this alone, if a pupil of the third grade is convinced that he must not sing physical and intellectual deformities, by this alone he is stronger, more capable, more intelligent, than Victor Hugo, if he had written only novels, plays and letters.
Alexandre Dumas fils will never—no, never—make a prize- giving speech for a school. He does not know what morality is. Morality does not compromise. If he did make one, he should first strike out with a single stroke of the pen all he had written hitherto, beginning with his absurd Prefaces. Summon a jury of competent men: I maintain that a good second-grade pupil is smarter than he in no matter what, even on the dirty subject of courtesans.
The masterpieces of the French language are prize-giving speeches for schools, and academic speeches. Indeed, the instruction of youth is perhaps the finest practical expression of duty, and a good appreciation of the works of Voltaire (dwell upon the word “appreciation”) is preferable to the works themselves. Naturally!
The best authors of novels and plays would in the end distort the famous idea of good, if the army of teachers, preservers of Right, did not constrain generations young and old to the path of honesty and of work.
In its personal name, and it must be despite it, I have just disowned, with an implacable will and a tenacity of iron, the hideous past of cry-baby humanity. Yes: I shall proclaim beauty upon a golden lyre, making allowances for goitrous unhappiness and stupid pride which pollute at its source the marshy poetry of this century. I shall trample underfoot the harsh stanzas of scepticism, which have no reason for existence. Judgment, once entered into the efflorescence of its energy, imperious and resolute, without hesitating one instant over the absurd uncertainties of misplaced pity, like
a public prosecutor, prophetically condemns them. We must guard incessantly against purulent insomnia and atrabilious nightmares. I scorn and execrate pride, and the infamous voluptuousness of any irony become extinguisher, which set aside justness of thought.
Certain characters, excessively intelligent (there is no call for you to invalidate this with the recantations of a dubious taste), have flung themselves head first into the arms of evil. It was absinthe—savory, I do not believe, but harmful—that morally slew the author of Rolla. Woe unto the greedy! Scarcely has the English aristocrat entered into the years of discretion, than his harp is shattered beneath the walls of Missolonghi, having gathered on his way naught but the blossoms of drear annihilation bred by opium.
Although his was a genius greater than ordinary, if there had been during his time another poet, endowed as he was in similar proportions with exceptional intelligence, and capable of presenting himself like his rival, he would have been the first to confess the uselessness of his efforts to produce ill-assorted maledictions; and that the good exclusively is declared by the voice of everyone alone worthy of appropriating our esteem. The fact is that there was no one successfully to rival him. Here is something that no one has said. Strange thing! Even upon rummaging through anthologies and books of his epoch, we find that no critic thought of outlining the foregoing strict syllogism. And it is not he who will surpass it, who could have invented it. One was so much filled with wonder and uneasiness, rather than considered admiration, before works written by a treacherous hand—works, however, which revealed the imposing manifestations of a mind which did not belong to the common run of men, and which found itself at ease amid the ultimate consequences of one of the less obscure problems which interest non-solitary hearts: good and evil. To no one is it given to approach extremes except either in one direction or another. This explains why it is that, while forever praising without mental reservation the marvelous intelligence which at every moment he manifests, he, one of the four or five beacons of humanity, has silently made his numerous reserves concerning applications and the unjustifiable use he has knowingly made of them. He should not have encroached upon the kingdoms of Satan.
The savage revolt of the Tropmanns, the Napoleons I, the Papavoines, the Byrons, the Victor Noirs, and the Charlotte Cordays, shall be held at a distance in my stern regard. These great criminals with their diverse titles I brush aside with a gesture. Whom are they thinking to fool here, I ask, with an interposing slowness? O, hobby-horses of the hulks! Soap bubbles! Puppets in gold leaf! Worn-out strings! Let them draw near, the Conrads, the Manfreds, the Laras, the sailors who resemble the Corsair, the Mephistopheles, the Werthers, the Don Juans, the Fausts, the Iagos, the Rodins, the Caligulas, the Cains, the Iridions, the shrews in the manner of Colomba, the Ahrimans, the addle-brained heretical earth-spirits who ferment the blood of their victims in the sacred pagodas of Hindustan, the snake, the toad and the crocodile, gods considered abnormal in ancient Egypt, the sorcerers and the demoniac powers of the Middle Ages, the Prometheuses, the mythological Titans destroyed by the thunderbolts of Jupiter, the Evil Gods spewed out by the primitive imagination of savages—the whole clamorous series of pasteboard devils. With the certainty of overwhelming them, I seize and balance the lash of indignation and concentration, and I await these monsters firm-footed as their predestined conqueror.
There are down-at-heel writers, dangerous buffoons, quadroon humbugs, gloomy mystifiers, actual madmen, who deserve to inhabit Bedlam. Their softening heads in which there is a screw loose, create giant phantoms which sink downward instead of rising. Rugged exercise, specious gymnastic. Away with you, grotesque nutmeg. Kindly remove yourselves from my presence, fabricators of dozens of forbidden riddles, in which I used not previously to see at once, as I do now, the seam of the frivolous solution. Pathological case of overpowering egoism. Fantastic automata: point out to one another, my children, the epithet which puts them in their place.
If they existed somewhere in plastic reality they would be, despite their proven but deceptive intelligence, the opprobrium, the bitterness, of the planets which they inhabited, and the shame. Imagine them for a moment, gathered together with beings their equals. It is an uninterrupted succession of battles, undreamed of by bulldogs, forbidden in France, by sharks, and by macrocephalic cachalots. There are torrents of blood in those chaotic regions abounding in hydras and minotaurs, whence the dove, utterly terrified, wings swiftly away. It is a mass of apocalyptic beasts, who know not what they do. There are the impacts of passions, irreconcilabilities and ambitions vying with the shrieks of impenetrable and unrestrained pride, of which no one may even approximately plumb the reefs and the depths.
But they shall impose themselves no longer upon me. To suffer is a weakness, when one can prevent it and do something better. To give vent to the sufferings of an unbalanced splendor—that is to demonstrate, O dying ones of the perverse maremmas! still less resistance and courage. With my voice and my solemnity of the grand days, I recall you within my deserted halls, glorious hope. Come, sit by my side, wrapped in the cloak of illusion, upon the reasonable tripod of appeasement. Like a piece of cast- off furniture I chased you from my abode with scorpion- lashed whip. If you wish that I should be convinced that you have forgotten, in returning to my home, the miseries which, in the name of penances, I once caused you—then, by all that’s holy, bring back with you that sublime procession—support me, I am swooning!—of offended virtues and their imperishable reparations.
I state with bitterness that there remain only a few drops of blood in the arteries of our consumptive epoch. Since the odious and particular whimperings, patented without guarantee of a trademark, of your Jean-Jacques Rousseaus, your Chateaubriands, your nurses in babies’ panties like Obermann, through the other poets who have wallowed in corrupt slime, up to the dream of Jean-Paul, the suicide of Dolores of Ventimiglia, the Raven of Allan, the Infernal Comedy of the Pole, the bloody eyes of Zorilla, and the immortal cancer, the Carrion, once lovingly painted by the morbid lover of the Hottentot Venus, the improbable sorrows created for itself by this century, in their monotonous and disgusting insistence, have made it consumptive.
Yes, good people, it is I who command you to burn upon a hot shovel, with a little brown sugar, the duct of doubt with its lips of vermouth, which, shedding in the midst of a melancholy struggle between good and evil, tears that come not from the heart, causes everywhere without a pneumatic pump, the universal vacuum. This is the best thing you have to do.
Despair, feeding upon the foregone conclusion of its phantasmagoria, imperturbably guides the literary man to the mass abrogation of divine and social laws, and to theoretical and practical wickedness. In a word, causes the human backside to predominate in reasoning. Come, it’s my turn to speak! I repeat, wickedness results, and eyes take on the hue of those of the damned. I shall not retract what I propose. I desire that my poetry may be read by a young girl of fourteen years.
Real sorrow is incompatible with hope. No matter how great that sorrow may be, hope raises it one hundred cubits higher. Very well, leave me in peace with the seekers. Down, down with the outlandish bitches, muddlemakers, poseurs. Whatever suffers, whatever dissects the mysteries surrounding us, does not hope. The poetry that disputes the necessary truths is less beautiful than that which does not dispute them. Indecisions ad infinitum, ill-used talent, loss of time: nothing is easier to verify.
To sing of Adamastor, Jocelyn, Rocambole, is puerile. It is not even that the author hopes that the reader infers that these rascally heroes—whom he himself betrays, emphasizing good in order to pass off descriptions of evil—will be pardoned. It is in the name of these same virtues, misunderstood by Frank, that we are anxious to support him, O mountebanks of incurable unease.
Do not behave as do these unchaste (in their eyes magnificent) explorers of melancholy, who find unknown things in their souls and their bodies!
Melancholy and sadness are already the beginnings of doubt; doubt is the beginning of despair; despair is the cruel beginning of varying degrees of wickedness. To convince yourself of this, read “Confession of a Child of the Century.” The slope is fatal once we are launched upon it. We are sure to arrive at wickedness. Beware of the slope. Rip out evil by the roots. Trust not the cult of adjectives such as indescribable, crimson, incomparable, colossal, which shamelessly give the lie to the nouns they distort: they are pursued by lewdness.
Second-rate minds, like that of Alfred de Musset, are able stubbornly to thrust forward one or two of their faculties much farther than the corresponding faculties of first-rate minds—Lamartine, Hugo. We are in the presence of the derailment of an overturned locomotive. A nightmare holds the pen. Learn that the soul is composed of a score of faculties. Don’t talk to me about these beggars with their outsize hats and their sordid rags!
Here is a method for proving the inferiority of Musset to the two other poets. Read to a young girl “Rolla” or “The Nights,” “The Fools,” of Cobb, or else the portraits of Gwynplaine and Dea or the speech of Theramenus of Euripides, translated into French verse by Racine. She starts, frowns, raises and lowers her hands without purpose like a drowning man; her eyes flash with greenish fires. Read to her “Prayer for All” by Victor Hugo. The effects are diametrically opposed. The kind of electricity is no longer the same. She bursts into peals of laughter, and asks for more.
Of Hugo, nothing will be left but poems about children, in which much badness is to be found.
“Paul and Virginia” shocks our deepest aspirations. Once upon a time, that episode, which exudes blackness from the first to the last page, made me gnash my teeth. I rolled on the carpet and kicked my wooden horse. The description of pain is nonsense. It must be shown in all its beauty. If that story had been told as a simple biography I should not attack it. It instantly changes character. Unhappiness becomes august through the impenetrable will of God who created it. But man should not create unhappiness in his books. This is to concentrate, with all strength, upon one side of things only. O, what maniacal raving!
Do not deny the immortality of the soul, the wisdom of God, the greatness of life, the order of the universe, physical beauty, family love, marriage, social institutions. Forget the funereal scribblers: Sand, Balzac, Alexandre Dumas, Musset, Du Ferrail, Féval, Flaubert, Baudelaire, Leconte and the “Blacksmiths’ Strike!”
Communicate to your readers only the experience resulting from pain, which is no longer pain itself. Do not weep in public.
One must know how to wrest literary beauty from the very bosom of death; but these beauties do not belong to death. Here, death is only the occasional cause of them. Death is not the means; it is the end.
The immutable and necessary truths which make the glory of nations, and which doubt struggles in vain to shatter, began ages ago. They are things which should not be touched. Those who would make literary anarchy under pretext of novelty arrive at nonsense. One does not dare to attack God; one attacks the immortality of the soul. But the immortality of the soul itself is as old as the beginning of the world. What other belief will replace it, were it to be replaced? This will not be always a negation.
If one bear in mind the truth whence arise all other truths, the absolute goodness of God and his absolute ignorance of evil, sophistry breaks down of itself. And at the same time, that scarcely poetic literature based upon sophistry will break down too. All literature which disputes eternal axioms is condemned to live only upon itself. It is unjust. It devours its own liver. The novissima verba cause the handkerchiefless kids of the fourth grade to smile superbly. We have no right to question the Creator on any matter whatsoever.
If you are unhappy, do not tell the reader. Keep it to yourself.
If one were to correct sophistries according to the truths corresponding to those sophistries, only the correction would be true; while the work thus made over would have the right to call itself no longer false. The rest would be out of bounds of truth, with a trace of false, and consequently, necessarily considered null and void.
Personal poetry has had its day of relative jugglery and contingent contortions. Let us take up again the indestructible thread of impersonal poetry, abruptly severed since the birth of the ineffectual philosopher of Ferney, before the abortion of the great Voltaire.
It seems to be fine, sublime, under the pretext of humility or of pride, to dispute final causes, to falsify their stable and known consequences. Undeceive yourself, for there is nothing more stupid! Let us link together again the regular chain of past times; poetry is geometry par excellence. Since Racine, poetry has not progressed one millimeter. It has fallen backwards. Thanks to whom? To the Great Softheads of our epoch. Thanks to the Sissies—Chateaubriand, the Melancholy-Mohican; Sénancourt, the Man-in-the-Petti-coat; Jean- Jacques Rousseau, the Sulky-Socialist; Edgar Poe, the Muckamuck-of- Alcoholic-Dreams; Mathurin, the Godfather-of-Shadows; Georges Sand, the Circumcised-Hermaphrodite; Théophile Gautier, the Incomparable-Grocer; Leconte, the Devil’s- Captive; Goethe, the Weeping-Suicide; Sainte-Beuve, the Laughing-Suicide; Lamartine, the Tearful-Stork; Lermontoff, the Bellowing-Tiger; Victor Hugo, the Funereal-Green-stick; Mickiewicz, Satan’s-Imitator; Musset, the Intellectual- Shirtless-Dandy; and Byron, the Hippopotamus-of-the- Infernal- Jungles.
Doubt has always existed in the minority. In this century it is in the majority. We inhale the violation of duty through the pores. This is to be seen only once; it will never be seen again.
The ideas of simple reason are so obscured at this time that the first thing that fourth grade teachers do when they teach their pupils—young poets with their mothers’ milk still moist upon their lips—to make Latin verses, is to reveal to them in practice the name of Alfred de Musset. I ask you, now! Third grade teachers, then, in their classes, give for translation into Greek verse two bloody episodes. The first is the repulsive fable of the pelican. The second is the awful catastrophe that overtook the laborer. Of what use is it to contemplate evil? Is it not in the minority? Why turn the head of a schoolchild upon questions which, owing to their not having been understood, caused men such as Pascal and Byron to lose theirs?
A student told me that his second grade teacher had given his class, day after day, these two cadavers to translate into Hebrew verse. These wounds of animal and human nature made him sick for a month in an infirmary. As we were known to each other, he sent his mother for me. He told me, albeit naively, that his nights were troubled by persistent dreams. He thought he saw an army of pelicans which threw themselves upon his bosom and rent it. Then they flew to a flaming cottage. They devoured the laborer’s wife and his children. The laborer, his body blackened with burns, emerged from his home and engaged in an atrocious battle with the pelicans. They all flung themselves into the cottage, which collapsed in ruins. From the heap of rubbish he saw his teacher emerge bearing in one hand his heart, in the other a piece of paper upon which could be deciphered in sulphurous script the fables of the pelican and the laborer, just as Musset himself composed them. It was not easy at first to diagnose his sickness. I advised him to remain strictly silent, to speak of it to no one, above all to his teacher. I counseled his mother to take him home with her for a few days, assuring her that this would pass. And indeed, I was careful to visit him for a few hours every day, and it passed off.
Criticism must attack form, never the content of your ideas, of your phrases. Do as you please.
Sentiment is the most incomplete imaginable form of reasoning.
All the waters of the ocean would be insufficient to wash away one intellectual blood-stain.
Genius guarantees the faculties of the heart.
Man is no less immortal than the soul.
Great thoughts come from reason!
Fraternity is no myth.
Children born know nothing of life, not even its greatness. In misfortune, friends increase.
Goodness, thy name is Man.
Here dwells the wisdom of the nations.
Each time I read Shakespeare it seems to me that I am dissecting the brain of a jaguar.
I shall set down my thoughts in orderly manner, by means of a plan without confusion. If they are correct, the first will be the consequence of the others. This is the true order. It marks my object by calligraphic disorder. I should honor my subject too much if I should not treat it with order. I wish to show that it is capable of this.
I do not accept evil. Man is perfect. The soul does not fall. Progress exists. God is irreducible. Antichrists, accusing angels, eternal sufferings, religions, are the products of doubt.
Dante, Milton, describing hypothetically the infernal regions, have proved that they were first-class hyenas. The proof is excellent. The result is bad. Nobody buys their works.
Man is an oak. Nature does not consider him robust. It is not necessary that the universe take up arms to defend him. A drop of water is not sufficient for his preservation. Even should the universe protect him, it would not be more dishonored than that which does not protect him. Mankind knows that its reign has no death, that the universe has a beginning. The universe knows nothing: at most, it is a thinking reed.
I imagine Elohim to be cold rather than sentimental.
Love of a woman is incompatible with love of humanity. Imperfection should be rejected. Nothing is more imperfect than shared egoism. During life, defiance, recrimination, sermons written in dust, swarm. It is no longer the lover of Chimène; it is the lover of Graziella. It is no longer Petrarch; it is Alfred de Musset.
In death, a rock by the seashore, any lake, Fontainebleau forest, the island of Ischia, a workroom accompanied by a raven, a Star Chamber with a crucifix, a cemetery whence arises the beloved one beneath the rays of a moon which finally become irritating, some stanzas or a group of girls whose names are unknown come parading in their turn, giving the author the measure and expressing regrets. There is in the two cases no dignity whatsoever.
Error is an unhappy story.
Hymns to Elohim accustom vanity to concern itself not with worldly things. Such is the shield of hymns. They cause humanity to lose the habit of depending on authors. They abandon him. They call him mystic, eagle, and they perjure his mission. You are not the sought-for dove.
Anyone could contrive a literary luggage for himself by stating the contrary of what has been said by the poets of this century. He would replace their affirmations with negations. And vice versa. If it is ridiculous to attack first principles, it is more ridiculous to defend them against these same attacks. I shall not defend them.
Sleep is a blessing for some, a punishment for others. For all, it is a sanction.
If Cleopatra’s morals had been shorter, the face of the world would have been changed. Her nose would not have increased in length.
Concealed actions are the most estimable. When I see so many in history, they please me greatly. They have not been altogether hidden. They have been known about. Their small appearances augment their merit. The finest thing is, that it has not been possible to conceal them.
The charm of death exists only for the brave.
Man is so great that his greatness shows itself above all in his refusal to acknowledge his misery. A tree knows not its greatness. To be great is to know one’s greatness. To be great is to refuse to acknowledge misery. Man’s greatness refutes his miseries. Greatness of a king.
When I write down my thoughts, they do not escape me. This act reminds me of my strength, which I forget always. I teach myself in proportion to my enslaved thoughts. I strive only to understand the contradiction between my soul and nothingness.
The heart of man is a book, which I have learned to prize.
Not imperfect, not fallen, man is the greatest of mysteries.
I permit no one, not even Elohim, to doubt my sincerity. We are at liberty to do good.
Judgment is infallible.
We are not at liberty to do evil.
Man is the conqueror of chimeras, the novelty of
tomorrow, the regularity with which chaos groans, the subject of conciliation. He judges all. He is no imbecile. He is no earthworm. He is the repository of truth, the mass of certainty, the glory, not the outcast, of the universe. If he degrades himself, I praise him. If he praises himself, I praise him more. I conciliate him. He comes to the understanding that he is the angel’s sister.
Nothing is incomprehensible.
Thought is no less clear than crystal. A religion, whose lies depend upon it, may cloud it for a moment, speaking of those effects which are long-lasting. Speaking of those effects of brief duration, the assassination of eight persons at a city’s gates would certainly cloud it unto the destruction of evil. Thought soon regains its limpidity.
Poetry should have as its goal, practical truth. It enunciates the relationships existing between the first principles and the secondary truths of life. Each thing rests in its place. Poetry’s mission is difficult. It does not involve itself with political happenings, with the manner of governing a people, does not allude to periods of history, to coups-d’état, to regicides, to court intrigues. It tells not of the battles between man and himself, his passions. It discovers the laws by which exist political theory, universal peace, Machiavellian refutations, the paper horns which compose the works of Proudhon, the psychology of humanity. A poet should be more useful than any member of his tribe. His work is the code of diplomats, of law-makers, of instructors of youth. We are far from Homer, Virgil, Klopstock, Camoens, from emancipated imaginations, contrivers of odes, fabricators of epigrams against divinity. Let us return to Confucius, to Buddha, to Socrates, to Jesus Christ, moralist who roamed the villages starving! In future it will be necessary to count on reason, which operates only on the faculties which preside over the category of phenomena of pure good-will.
Nothing is more natural than to read “Discours de la Méthode” after having read “Bérénice.” Nothing is less natural than to read “Traité de l’Induction” by Biéchy, “Problème du Mal” by Naville, after having read “Les Feuilles d’Automne,” “Les Contemplations.” The transition loses itself. The spirit rebels against the ironmongery, the mystagogy. The heart is appalled by these pages scribbled by a puppet. This violence enlightens him. He closes the book. He lets fall a tear in memory of the savage authors. Contemporary poets have abused their intelligence. The philosophers have not abused theirs. Memory of the former will fade. The latter are classics.
Racine and Corneille would have been able to compose the works of Descartes, of Malebranche, of Bacon. The soul of the former is with that of the latter. Lamartine and Hugo would not have been capable of composing “Traité de l’Intelligence.” The soul of the former is not adequate to those of the latter. Fatuity made them lose the central qualities. Lamartine and Hugo, although superior to Taine, possess only, as he does—it is hard to make this avowal—secondary faculties.
Tragedies inspire pity and terror through duty. This is something. It is bad. It is not as bad as is modern lyricism. The “Medea” of Legouvé is preferable to the collection of the works of Byron, Capendu, Zaccone, Félix, Gagne, Gaboriau, Lacordaire, Sardou, Goethe, Ravignan, Charles Diguet. What writer among you, I pray, can bear—what is this? What are these uprisings of resistance?—the weight of the monologue of Augustus? The barbarous vaudevilles of Hugo do not proclaim duty. The melodramas of Racine, Corneille, the novels of La Calprenède, do proclaim it. Lamartine is capable of writing the “Phèdre” of Pradon; Hugo, the “Wenceslas” of Rotrou; Sainte-Beuve, the tragedies of La Harpe or Marmontel. Musset is able to invent proverbs. Tragedy is an involuntary mistake, admits struggle, is the first step towards good, will not appear in this work. It conserves its prestige. This is not true of sophistry—after the metaphysical drivel of the autoparodists of my heroic-burlesque times is over and done with.
The principle of cults is pride. It is ridiculous to address Elohim, as did Job, Jeremiah, David, Solomon, Turquéty. Prayer is a false act. The best way to please him is indirect, more in keeping with our strength. It consists in making our race happy. There are no two ways of pleasing Elohim. The idea of virtue is one. Since virtue in little is also virtue in much, I permit mention of the example of maternity. To please his mother, a son will not proclaim that he is good, radiant, that he will behave in a manner deserving of her praises. He will do otherwise. Instead of saying it himself, he will make her believe it by his deeds, he casts off that sadness which swells Newfoundland dogs. We must not confuse Elohim’s goodness with triviality. Each is probable. Familiarity breeds contempt; veneration breeds the contrary. Work destroys the abuse of feelings.
No reasoner believes contrary to his reason.
Faith is a natural virtue by which we accept the truths revealed to us by Elohim through conscience.
I know of no greater blessing than to have been born. An impartial spirit finds it complete.
Good is victory over evil, the negation of evil. If one sings the good, evil is eliminated by this adequate act. I do not sing what one must not do. I sing what one must do. The former does not contain the latter. The latter does not contain the former.
Youth pays heed to the counsels of mature age. It has an unlimited confidence in itself.
I know of no obstacle to oppose the strength of the human spirit, excepting truth.
Maxims have no need of it for proof. An argument demands an argument. A maxim is a law which includes a collection of arguments. An argument is perfected insofar as it approaches the maxim. When it has become a maxim, its perfection rejects the proofs of the metamorphosis.
Doubt is an homage rendered to hope. It is not a voluntary homage. Hope would not consent to be nothing but an homage.
Evil arises against good. It could not do less.
It is a proof of friendship to pay no attention to the growth of that of our friends.
Love is not happiness.
If we had no faults, we should not take so much pleasure in correcting ourselves, in praising in others what is lacking in ourselves.
Men who have resolved to hate their own kind are not aware that this must begin by self-hate.
Men who do not duel believe that those who duel to the death are brave.
How the degenerates of the novel squat in the shop windows! For a man losing himself, as some would for a five-franc piece, it sometimes seems that one might destroy a book.
Lamartine believed that the fall of an angel would become the Elevation of a Man. He was wrong to believe it.
To make evil serve the cause of good, I shall state that the intentions of the former are bad.
A banal truth contains more genius than the works of Dickens, Gustave Aymard, Victor Hugo, Landelle. With these latter, a child, surviving the universe, could not reconstruct the human soul. With the former, he could. I suppose he would not sooner or later discover the definition of sophistry.
The words expressing evil are destined to take on a useful significance. Ideas improve. The meaning of words participates.
Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It presses after an author’s phrase, uses his expressions, erases a false idea, replaces it with the correct one.
In order to be well constructed, a maxim does not require to be corrected. It requires to be developed.
At the break of dawn, young girls come to gather roses. A wave of innocence flows through valleys and capitals, stirs the intelligence of the most enthusiastic poets, lets fall protection for cradles, crowns for youth, belief in immortality for the aged.
I have seen men weary moralists to discover their hearts and bring down upon them the blessing from on high. They emitted the most extensive meditations possible, making rejoice the Author of our happiness. They respected youth, age, all that breathes and does not breathe, paid homage to womankind, consecrated to chastity those parts which the body reserves the right to name. The firmament, whose beauty I admit, the earth, image of my heart, were invoked by me in order to discover a man who did not believe himself virtuous. The spectacle of this monster, had he materialized, would not have caused me to die of astonishment: death takes more than this. All this is beyond comment.
Reason and sentiment counsel and beseech one another. Who does not know that one of the two, in renouncing the other, deprives itself of all the help that has been granted to us for our guidance. Vauvenargues said: “a part of the help.”
Whatever his phrase, mine is based upon personifications of the soul in sentiment, reason, the one which I chose at random, would be no better than the other if I had made them. One can not be rejected by me. Vauvenargues was able to accept the other.
When a predecessor uses in connection with good a word belonging to evil, it is dangerous that his phrase should exist beside the other. It is better to leave to the word the meaning of evil. To use in connection with good a word belonging to evil, one must have the right. He who uses for evil, words belonging to good does not possess it. He is not believed. No one would wish to wear Gérard de Nerval’s tie.
The soul being one, sensibility, intelligence, will, reason, imagination, may be introduced into the discussion.
I have spent much time in the study of the abstract sciences. The few persons with whom I communicated were not of the stuff to disgust me with them. When I began to study man, I saw that these sciences belong to him alone, that I was less well off in penetrating them than others in their ignorance of them. I forgave them for not engaging in the study! I did not expect to find many companions in my study of mankind. That belongs to him alone. I was strong. There are more who study him than who study geometry.
We lose our lives joyfully, providing we do not speak of it.
Passions dwindle with age. Love, which should not be classed among the passions, dwindles too. What it loses on the one hand it regains on the other. It is no longer severe with the object of its vows, doing itself justice: the expansion is accepted. The senses no longer have their spur to excite fleshly desires. Love of humanity begins. In the days when a man feels that he has become an altar decked with his virtues, makes an accounting of every sorrow, his soul in a fold of the heart wherein all seems to have birth, he feels something which flutters no more. I have named memory.
The writer, without separating one from the other, can indicate the law which regulates each of his poems.
Some philosophers are more intelligent than some poets. Spinoza, Malebranche, Aristotle, are not Hégésippe Moreau, Malfilatre, Gilbert, André Chénier.
Faust, Manfred, Conrad are types. They are not reasoning types. They are types of agitators.
Descriptions are a meadow, three rhinoceri, and half a bier. They can be memory and prophecy. They are not the paragraph that I am about to finish.
The governor of the soul is not the governor of a soul. The governor of a soul is the governor of the soul when these two kinds of soul are sufficiently confused to affirm that a governor is a governess only in the imagination of a jesting fool.
Phenomenon passes. I seek laws.
There are men who are not types. Types are not men. One must not permit one’s self to be dominated by the accidental.
Judgments on poetry have more value than poetry. They are the philosophy of poetry. Philosophy, thus understood, comprises poetry. Poetry cannot do without philosophy. Philosophy can do without poetry.
Racine is not capable of condensing his tragedies into precepts. A tragedy is not a precept. To a similar spirit, a precept is a more intelligent action than a tragedy.
Place a goose quill in the hands of a moralist who is a first- class writer. He will be superior to poets.
Love of justice is with most men the courage to suffer injustice.
Sentiments express happiness, bring smiles. The analysis of sentiment expresses happiness, all personality apart; and brings smiles. The former uplift the soul, independently of space and duration, up to the conception of humanity considered as itself, in their illustrious arms! The latter uplifts the soul, independently of duration and space, up to the conception of humanity considered in its highest expression, the will! The former is concerned with vice and virtue. The latter is concerned with virtue alone. Feelings know not the order of their going. The analysis of feeling teaches how to know this, increases the vigor of the feelings. With the former, all is uncertainty. They are expressions of happiness, of unhappiness, two extremes. With the latter, all is certainty. It is the expression of that happiness which results at a given moment from knowing restraint in the midst of good and evil passions. It uses its calm to dissolve the description of those passions in a principle which circulates throughout the pages: the non- existence of evil. Feelings weep when they must, as when they must not. Analysis of feeling does not weep. It possesses a latent sensibility which takes hold without warning, bears up beyond misery, teaches to dispense with a guide, provides a weapon for combat. Feelings, sign of weakness, are not feeling! The analysis of feeling, sign of strength, breeds the most magnificent feelings I know. The writer who permits himself to be taken in by feelings should not be considered in the same category as the writer who is taken in neither by feelings nor himself. Youth treats itself to sentimental lucubrations. Maturity begins to reason without difficulty. It was necessary only to feel, he thinks. He let his sensations drift: here he gives them a pilot. If I were to consider humanity as a woman, I should not maintain that its youth were in its decline, that its maturity were approaching. Its spirit changes for the better. The ideal of its poetry will change. Tragedies, poems, elegies, will no longer prevail. The coldness of the maxim will prevail! In Quinault’s time they could have understood what I have just said. Thanks to a few sparse glimmerings during the last few years in magazines and folios, I can myself. The style which I undertake is as different from the style of the moralists, who merely confirm evil without suggesting a remedy, as this last is not different from melodramas, funeral orations, odes, and religious science. There is no feeling of struggle.
Elohim is made in the image of Man.
Many certain things are contradicted. Many false things are uncontradicted. Contradiction is the sign of falsity. Uncontradiction is the sign of truth.
A philosophy of science exists. It does not exist for poetry. I know of no moralist who is a first-rate poet. This is strange, someone will say.
It is a horrible thing to feel what one possesses slipping away. One becomes attached only with the idea of finding out if there is not something permanent.
Man is a subject empty of errors. Everything shows him the truth! Nothing abuses him. The two principles of truth, reason and sense, provided they do not lack sincerity, enlighten one another. The senses enlighten reason by real appearances. The same service they render it, they receive from it. Each takes its revenge. The phenomena of the soul pacify the senses, make impressions upon them which I will guarantee not to be vexatious. They do not lie. They do not make the mistake of vying with one another.
Poetry should be made by all. Not by one. Poor Hugo! Poor Racine! Poor Coppée! Poor Corneille! Poor Boileau! Poor Scarron! All ticks!
The sciences have two ends which meet. The first is the ignorance in which man finds himself at birth. The second is that attained by great minds. They have been through everything men may know, find they know all, and meet in that same ignorance whence they departed. It is a learned ignorance, which knows itself. Those among them who, having emerged from the first ignorance, have not been able to attain the other, have a slight touch of that sufficient science and pretend to wisdom. These will not trouble the world, will not judge everything worse than the others. The people, the experts, set the pace of a nation. The others, who respect it, are no less respected.
To know things, one must not know the details. As it is finished, our understandings are sound.
Love is not confused with poetry.
Woman is at my feet!
To describe the heavens, the sky, it is not necessary to carry earthly materials up there. We must leave the earth and its materials there where they are in order to embellish life with its ideal. To speak familiarly to Elohim is an unsuitable buffoonery. The best way to acknowledge him is not to trumpet in his ears that he is powerful, that he created the world, that we are maggots compared to his greatness. He knows this better than we. Men may refrain from informing him of it. The best way to acknowledge him is to console humanity, to attribute all to it, to take it by the hand, to treat it as a brother. This is truer.
To study order, do not study disorder. Scientific experiments, like tragedies, stanzas to my sister, the gibberish of the afflicted, have no place here below.
Not all laws are good to state.
To study evil in order to produce good is not to study good itself. A good phenomenon being given, I shall seek out its cause.
Hitherto, unhappiness has been described in order to inspire terror and pity. I shall describe happiness in order to inspire their contraries.
A logic exists for poetry. It is not the same as that for philosophy. Philosophers are not as much as poets. Poets have the right to consider themselves above philosophers.
I do not need to occupy myself with what I shall do later. I must do as I do. I need not discover what things I shall discover later. In the new science, each thing comes in its turn, such is its excellence.
There is the stuff of poets in moralists and philosophers. The poet comprises the thinker. Each caste suspects the other, develops its qualities to the detriment of those which approach it from the other caste. The jealousy of the former will not admit that poets are stronger than they. The pride of the latter declares itself incompetent to render justice to more sensitive brains. Whatever be the intelligence of a man, the procedure of thought must be the same for all.
The existence of ticks having been established, let no one be surprised to see the same words recurring more often than in their turn: in Lamartine, the tears that fall from the nostrils of his horse, the color of his mother’s hair. In Hugo, shadow and disorder form part of the building.
The science undertaken by me is a distinct science of poetry. I do not sing this latter. I strive to discover its origin. By the rudder that steers all poetic thought, billiard-teachers will distinguish the development of sentimental theses.
The theorem is a mocker by nature. It is not indecent. The theorem does not ask to serve as application. The application made of it degrades the theorem, makes it indecent. Call application the struggle against matter, against the ravages of the mind.
To strive against evil is to do it too much honor. If I permit men to scorn it, let them not fail to add that this is all I can do for them.
Man is certain to make no mistakes.
We are not content with the life we have within us. We wish to live in the ideas of others, in an imaginary life. We force ourselves to appear as we are. We labor to preserve this imaginary being, which is none other than the real. If we have generosity, fidelity, we are eager not to make it known, in order to attach their virtues to this being. We do not detach them from ourselves to bring about this coupling. We are valiant in order to acquire the reputation of not being poltroons. Sign of the capacity of our being, to be dissatisfied with the one without the other, to renounce neither to one nor the other. The man who did live to preserve his virtue would be infamous.
Despite the aspect of our greatness, which seizes us by the throat, we have an instinct which corrects us, which we cannot repress, which elevates us!
Nature has perfections to show that she is the image of Elohim, and defects to show that she is not less than the image.
It is good to obey laws. The people understand what makes them just. One does not abandon them. When their justice is made to depend upon something else, it is easy to make it doubtful. The people are not subjects for revolt.
Those who are in disorder tell those who are in order that it is they who depart from nature. They believe they themselves follow it. There must be an established point for judgment. Where shall we not find that point in morality?
Nothing is less strange than the contradictions to be found in man. He is created to know truth. He seeks it. When he tries to seize it he is dazzled, confused in such a manner that there is no arguing with him the possession of it. Some seek to deprive Man of the knowledge of truth; others seek to assure him of it. Each is activated by motives so different that they destroy man’s perplexity. There is no other light than that to be found in his nature.
We are born just. Each turns to himself. This is the reverse of order. One should incline toward generality. The inclination toward self is the end of all disorder, in war, in economics.
Men, having been able to recover from death, from misery, from ignorance, have decided, in order to gain happiness, not to think about them. This is all they have been able to discover as consolation for so few evils. A super-rich consolation! It does riot go as far as curing evil. It conceals it for a little while. By concealing evil, it makes us think about remedying it. By a legitimate reversal of man’s nature, we do not find boredom, which is the most pronounced of his evils, to be his greatest good. More than anything else it can contribute most to the discovery of his rehabilitation. This is all. Amusement, which he looks upon as his greatest benefit, is the very least of his evils. More than anything else, he employs it in the search for a remedy for his ills. Each is a counter-proof of misery, of man’s corruption, with the exception of his greatness. Man is bored, he seeks a multitude of occupations. He has an idea of happiness won; which, finding itself within him, he seeks in exterior things. He is happy. Unhappiness is neither within us nor within other creatures. It is within Elohim.
Nature makes us happy in all states; our desires depict for us a state of unhappiness. It connects with the state in which we are the sorrows of the state in which we are not. When we shall arrive at these sorrows, we shall not be unhappy because of this; we shall have other desires in keeping with a new state.
The strength of reason appears better in those who understand it than in those who do not.
We are so little presumptuous that we would desire to be known upon the earth even by those who will come when we are no more. We are so little vain that the respect of five persons, or say six, amuses us, honors us.
Few things console us. Many things afflict us.
Modesty is so natural in man’s heart that a workingman is careful not to brag, wants to have his admirers. Philosophers want them. Poets above all! Those who write in favor of glory wish to have the glory of having written well. Those who read it wish to have the glory of having read it. Those who will read it will boast similarly.
Man’s inventions increase. The goodness, the malice, of people in general does not remain the same.
The spirit of the greatest man is not so dependent that it should be troubled by the least murmur of the uproar that goes on about it. The silence of a cannon is not necessary to impede his thoughts. The sounds of a weather-cock, of a pulley, are not necessary. The fly does not reason well at present. A man buzzes at its ears. This is sufficient to make it incapable of good counsel. If I desire that it should discover truth, I should chase away that animal which holds its reason in check—disturbs that intelligence which governs kingdoms.
The object of these people who play tennis with such concentration of mind, such bodily activity, is to boast before their friends that they have played better than someone else. Some sweat in their studies to show the erudite that they have resolved an algebraic equation hitherto unsolvable. Others expose themselves to dangers in order to brag of a place that they would have taken less spiritually, to my mind. These latter destroy themselves to observe these things. It is not in order to become less wise through them. It is above all to show that they understand the solidity of them. These are the least stupid of the bunch; and they are conscious of it. One may think of others who would not be, lacking this consciousness.
The example of the chastity of Alexander has not created more continent peoples than that of his drunkenness has created temperate people. One is not ashamed of having been less virtuous than he. One believes one’s self to be not quite among the virtues of the common man when one sees one’s self among the virtues of these great men. We hold on to them by the end where they hang on to the people. However high they may be, they are united somewhere with the rest of mankind. They are not suspended in the air, separated from our society. If they are greater than we, it is because their feet are as high as ours. They are all at the same level, rest upon the same earth. By this extremity they are as high as we, as children, a little more than the beasts.
The best way to persuade is not to persuade.
Despair is the least of our errors.
When a thought offers itself to us like a truth running through the streets, when we take the trouble to develop it, we find that it is a discovery.
One may be just, if one is not human.
The storms of youth precede brilliant days.
The unconsciousness, dishonor, lewdness, hatred, contempt of men is worth money. Liberality multiplies the advantage of riches.
Those who are honest in their pleasures are sincere in their business. It is a sign of a mild nature when pleasure make us human.
The moderation of great men limits only their virtues.
It is offensive to humans to offer them praises which enlarge only the bounds of their merits. Many persons are modest enough to suffer appreciation without pain.
Everything should be expected, nothing feared, from time and men.
If merit and glory do not make men unhappy, that which is called unhappiness is not worthy of their sorrow. A soul deigns to accept fortune and repose if the vigor of its feelings and the mainspring of its genius are to be superimposed.
We value great plans when we feel ourselves capable of great successes.
Reserve is the apprenticeship of the mind.
We say sound things when we are not trying to say extraordinary ones.
Nothing true is false; nothing false is true. All is the contrary of dream, of falsehood.
We must not believe that what Nature has made friendly should be vicious. There has not been a century or a people that has not established imaginary virtues and vices.
We can judge of the beauty of life only by that of death.
A dramatist can give to the word passion a meaning of usefulness. He is no longer a dramatist. A moralist gives any word a meaning of usefulness. He is still a moralist!
Whoever considers the life of a man finds therein the history of the species. Nothing has been able to make it evil.
Must I write in verse to separate myself from the rest of mankind? Charity forbid!
The pretext of those who work for the happiness of others is that they desire their own good.
Generosity rejoices in the happiness of others as if she herself were responsible for it.
Order prevails in the human species. Reason and virtue are not the strongest.
There are few ingrates among princes. They give all they can.
We can love with all our hearts those in whom we recognize great faults. It would be impertinent to believe that imperfection alone has the right to please us. Our weaknesses draw us together as much as that which is not virtue may do.
If our friends do us a service, we think that as friends they owe it to us. We do not at all think that they owe us their enmity.
He who is born to command will command as far as the throne.
When duties have exhausted us, we think we have exhausted duties. We say that all may fill the heart of man.
Everything lives by action. Thence, communication among beings, harmony of the universe. This law, so fertile in Nature, we find to be a vice in man. He is forced to obey it. Since he cannot exist in repose, we conclude that he is in his place.
We know what the sun and the heavens are. We know the secret of their movements. In the hand of Elohim, blind instrument, unfeeling spring, the world attracts our worship. The revolutions of empires, the aspect of the times, the nations, the conquerors of science, all that springs from a random atom, lasts only for a day, destroys the spectacle of the universe throughout the ages.
There is more truth than error, more good qualities than bad ones, more pleasures than pains. We like to control character. We raise ourselves above our kind. We enrich ourselves with the consideration with which we load it. We do not believe we can separate our interest from that of humanity, that we can disparage the species without compromising ourselves. This ridiculous vanity has filled books with hymns in favor of Nature. With those who think, mankind is in disgrace. He is for whomever charges him with the least vice. When was he not on the verge of uplifting himself, of reinstating himself in virtue?
Nothing is said. It is too soon since more than seven thousand years that there have been men. As for customs, as for all the rest, the least good is removed. We have the advantage of working after the ancients, the wise men among the moderns.
We are susceptible of friendship, justice, compassion, reason. O, my friends! What, then, is this absence of virtue?
Inasmuch as my friends do not die, I shall not speak of death.
To witness our relapses, to observe that our sorrows have been able to correct our faults, fills us with consternation.
We can judge the beauty of death only by the beauty of life.
The three final points make me shrug my shoulders in pity. Is that necessary in order to prove that one is an intelligent man, in other words an imbecile? As if light were not as good as shadow, speaking of points!
Translated by Guy Wernham