An "Attic" Philosopher, entire
Emile Souvestre

Part 3 out of 3

roofs, and with a low, rushing sound ran along the gurgling gutters;
sometimes a gust of wind forced itself beneath the tiles, which rattled
together like castanets, and afterward it was lost in the empty corridor.
Then a slight and pleasurable shiver thrilled through my veins: I drew
the flaps of my old wadded dressing-gown around me, I pulled my
threadbare velvet cap over my eyes, and, letting myself sink deeper into
my easy-chair, while my feet basked in the heat and light which shone
through the door of the stove, I gave myself up to a sensation of
enjoyment, made more lively by the consciousness of the storm which raged
without. My eyes, swimming in a sort of mist, wandered over all the
details of my peaceful abode; they passed from my prints to my bookcase,
resting upon the little chintz sofa, the white curtains of the iron
bedstead, and the portfolio of loose papers--those archives of the
attics; and then, returning to the book I held in my hand, they attempted
to seize once more the thread of the reading which had been thus

In fact, this book, the subject of which had at first interested me, had
become painful to me. I had come to the conclusion that the pictures of
the writer were too sombre. His description of the miseries of the world
appeared exaggerated to me; I could not believe in such excess of poverty
and of suffering; neither God nor man could show themselves so harsh
toward the sons of Adam. The author had yielded to an artistic
temptation: he was making a show of the sufferings of humanity, as Nero
burned Rome for the sake of the picturesque.

Taken altogether, this poor human house, so often repaired, so much
criticised, is still a pretty good abode; we may find enough in it to
satisfy our wants, if we know how to set bounds to them; the happiness of
the wise man costs but little, and asks but little space.

These consoling reflections became more and more confused. At last my
book fell on the ground without my having the resolution to stoop and
take it up again; and insensibly overcome by the luxury of the silence,
the subdued light, and the warmth, I fell asleep.

I remained for some time lost in the sort of insensibility belonging to
a first sleep; at last some vague and broken sensations came over me.
It seemed to me that the day grew darker, that the air became colder.
I half perceived bushes covered with the scarlet berries which foretell
the coming of winter. I walked on a dreary road, bordered here and there
with juniper-trees white with frost. Then the scene suddenly changed.
I was in the diligence; the cold wind shook the doors and windows; the
trees, loaded with snow, passed by like ghosts; in vain I thrust my
benumbed feet into the crushed straw. At last the carriage stopped, and,
by one of those stage effects so common in sleep, I found myself alone in
a barn, without a fireplace, and open to the winds on all sides. I saw
again my mother's gentle face, known only to me in my early childhood,
the noble and stern countenance of my father, the little fair head of my
sister, who was taken from us at ten years old; all my dead family lived
again around me; they were there, exposed to the bitings of the cold and
to the pangs of hunger. My mother prayed by the resigned old man, and my
sister, rolled up on some rags of which they had made her a bed, wept in
silence, and held her naked feet in her little blue hands.

It was a page from the book I had just read transferred into my own

My heart was oppressed with inexpressible anguish. Crouched in a corner,
with my eyes fixed upon this dismal picture, I felt the cold slowly
creeping upon me, and I said to myself with bitterness:

"Let us die, since poverty is a dungeon guarded by suspicion, apathy, and
contempt, and from which it is vain to try to escape; let us die, since
there is no place for us at the banquet of the living!"

And I tried to rise to join my mother again, and to wait at her feet for
the hour of release.

This effort dispelled my dream, and I awoke with a start.

I looked around me; my lamp was expiring, the fire in my stove
extinguished, and my half-opened door was letting in an icy wind.
I got up, with a shiver, to shut and double-lock it; then I made for
the alcove, and went to bed in haste.

But the cold kept me awake a long time, and my thoughts continued the
interrupted dream.

The pictures I had lately accused of exaggeration now seemed but a too
faithful representation of reality; and I went to sleep without being
able to recover my optimism--or my warmth.

Thus did a cold stove and a badly closed door alter my point of view.
All went well when my blood circulated properly; all looked gloomy when
the cold laid hold on me.

This reminds me of the story of the duchess who was obliged to pay a
visit to the neighboring convent on a winter's day. The convent was
poor, there was no wood, and the monks had nothing but their discipline
and the ardor of their prayers to keep out the cold. The duchess, who
was shivering with cold, returned home, greatly pitying the poor monks.
While the servants were taking off her cloak and adding two more logs to
her fire, she called her steward, whom she ordered to send some wood to
the convent immediately. She then had her couch moved close to the
fireside, the warmth of which soon revived her. The recollection of what
she had just suffered was speedily lost in her present comfort, when the
steward came in again to ask how many loads of wood he was to send.

"Oh! you may wait," said the great lady carelessly; "the weather is very
much milder."

Thus, man's judgments are formed less from reason than from sensation;
and as sensation comes to him from the outward world, so he finds himself
more or less under its influence; by little and little he imbibes a
portion of his habits and feelings from it.

It is not, then, without cause that, when we wish to judge of a stranger
beforehand, we look for indications of his character in the circumstances
which surround him. The things among which we live are necessarily made
to take our image, and we unconsciously leave in them a thousand
impressions of our minds. As we can judge by an empty bed of the height
and attitude of him who has slept in it, so the abode of every man
discovers to a close observer the extent of his intelligence and the
feelings of his heart. Bernardin de St.-Pierre has related the story of
a young girl who refused a suitor because he would never have flowers or
domestic animals in his house. Perhaps the sentence was severe, but not
without reason. We may presume that a man insensible to beauty and to
humble affection must be ill prepared to feel the enjoyments of a happy

14th, seven o'clock P.M.--This morning, as I was opening my journal to
write, I had a visit from our old cashier.

His sight is not so good as it was, his hand begins to shake, and the
work he was able to do formerly is now becoming somewhat laborious to
him. I had undertaken to write out some of his papers, and he came for
those I had finished.

We conversed a long time by the stove, while he was drinking a cup of
coffee which I made him take.

M. Rateau is a sensible man, who has observed much and speaks little; so
that he has always something to say.

While looking over the accounts I had prepared for him, his look fell
upon my journal, and I was obliged to acknowledge that in this way I
wrote a diary of my actions and thoughts every evening for private use.
From one thing to another, I began speaking to him of my dream the day
before, and my reflections about the influence of outward objects upon
our ordinary sentiments. He smiled.

"Ah! you, too, have my superstitions," he said, quietly. "I have always
believed, like you, that you may know the game by the lair: it is only
necessary to have tact and experience; but without them we commit
ourselves to many rash judgments. For my part. I have been guilty of
this more than once, but sometimes I have also drawn a right conclusion.
I recollect especially an adventure which goes as far back as the first
years of my youth--"

He stopped. I looked at him as if I waited for his story, and he told it
me at once.

At this time he was still but third clerk to an attorney at Orleans. His
master had sent him to Montargis on different affairs, and he intended to
return in the diligence the same evening, after having received the
amount of a bill at a neighboring town; but they kept him at the debtor's
house, and when he was able to set out the day had already closed.

Fearing not to be able to reach Montargis in good time, he took a
crossroad they pointed out to him. Unfortunately the fog increased,
no star was visible in the heavens, and the darkness became so great that
he lost his road. He tried to retrace his steps, passed twenty
footpaths, and at last was completely astray.

After the vexation of losing his place in the diligence, came the feeling
of uneasiness as to his situation. He was alone, on foot, lost in a
forest, without any means of finding his right road again, and with a
considerable sum of money about him, for which he was responsible. His
anxiety was increased by his inexperience. The idea of a forest was
connected in his mind with so many adventures of robbery and murder,
that he expected some fatal encounter every instant.

To say the truth, his situation was not encouraging. The place was not
considered safe, and for some time past there had been rumors of the
sudden disappearance of several horse-dealers, though there was no trace
of any crime having been committed.

Our young traveller, with his eyes staring forward, and his ears
listening, followed a footpath which he supposed might take him to some
house or road; but woods always succeeded to woods. At last he perceived
a light at a distance, and in a quarter of an hour he reached the

A single house, the light from which had attracted him, appeared at a
little distance. He was going toward the entrance gate of the courtyard,
when the trot of a horse made him turn his head. A man on horseback had
just appeared at the turning of the road, and in an instant was close to

The first words he addressed to the young man showed him to be the farmer
himself. He related how he had lost himself, and learned from the
countryman that he was on the road to Pithiviers. Montargis was three
leagues behind him.

The fog had insensibly changed into a drizzling rain, which was beginning
to wet the young clerk through; he seemed afraid of the distance he had
still to go, and the horseman, who saw his hesitation, invited him to
come into the farmhouse.

It had something of the look of a fortress. Surrounded by a pretty high
wall, it could not be seen except through the bars of the great gate,
which was carefully closed. The farmer, who had got off his horse, did
not go near it, but, turning to the right, reached another entrance
closed in the same way, but of which he had the key.

Hardly had he passed the threshold when a terrible barking resounded
from each end of the yard. The farmer told his guest to fear nothing,
and showed him the dogs chained up to their kennels; both were of an
extraordinary size, and so savage that the sight of their master himself
could not quiet them.

A boy, attracted by their barking, came out of the house and took the
farmer's horse. The latter began questioning him about some orders he
had given before he left the house, and went toward the stable to see
that they had been executed.

Thus left alone, our clerk looked about him.

A lantern which the boy had placed on the ground cast a dim light over
the courtyard. All around seemed empty and deserted. Not a trace was
visible of the disorder often seen in a country farmyard, and which shows
a temporary cessation of the work which is soon to be resumed again.
Neither a cart forgotten where the horses had been unharnessed, nor
sheaves of corn heaped up ready for threshing, nor a plow overturned in a
corner and half hidden under the freshly-cut clover. The yard was swept,
the barns shut up and padlocked. Not a single vine creeping up the
walls; everywhere stone, wood, and iron!

He took up the lantern and went up to the corner of the house. Behind
was a second yard, where he heard the barking of a third dog, and a
covered wall was built in the middle of it.

Our traveller looked in vain for the little farm garden, where pumpkins
of different sorts creep along the ground, or where the bees from the
hives hum under the hedges of honeysuckle and elder. Verdure and flowers
were nowhere to be seen. He did not even perceive the sight of a
poultry-yard or pigeon-house. The habitation of his host was everywhere
wanting in that which makes the grace and the life of the country.

The young man thought that his host must be of a very careless or a very
calculating disposition, to concede so little to domestic enjoyments and
the pleasures of the eye; and judging, in spite of himself, by what he
saw, he could not help feeling a distrust of his character.

In the mean time the farmer returned from the stables, and made him enter
the house.

The inside of the farmhouse corresponded to its outside. The whitewashed
walls had no other ornament than a row of guns of all sizes; the massive
furniture hardly redeemed its clumsy appearance by its great solidity.
The cleanliness was doubtful, and the absence of all minor conveniences
proved that a woman's care was wanting in the household concerns. The
young clerk learned that the farmer, in fact, lived here with no one but
his two sons.

Of this, indeed, the signs were plain enough. A table with the cloth
laid, that no one had taken the trouble to clear away, was left near the
window. The plates and dishes were scattered upon it without any order,
and loaded with potato-parings and half-picked bones. Several empty
bottles emitted an odor of brandy, mixed with the pungent smell of

After seating his guest, the farmer lighted his pipe, and his two sons
resumed their work by the fireside. Now and then the silence was just
broken by a short remark, answered by a word or an exclamation; and then
all became as mute as before.

"From my childhood," said the old cashier, "I had been very sensible to
the impression of outward objects; later in life, reflection had taught
me to study the causes of these impressions rather than to drive them
away. I set myself, then, to examine everything around me with great

"Below the guns, I had remarked on entering, some wolftraps were
suspended, and to one of them still hung the mangled remains of a wolf's
paw, which they had not yet taken off from the iron teeth. The blackened
chimneypiece was ornamented by an owl and a raven nailed on the wall,
their wings extended, and their throats with a huge nail through each; a
fox's skin, freshly flayed, was spread before the window; and a larder
hook, fixed into the principal beam, held a headless goose, whose body
swayed about over our heads.

"My eyes were offended by all these details, and I turned them again upon
my hosts. The father, who sat opposite to me, only interrupted his
smoking to pour out his drink, or address some reprimand to his sons.
The eldest of these was scraping a deep bucket, and the bloody scrapings,
which he threw into the fire every instant, filled the room with a
disagreeable fetid smell; the second son was sharpening some butcher's
knives. I learned from a word dropped from the father that they were
preparing to kill a pig the next day.

"These occupations and the whole aspect of things inside the house told
of such habitual coarseness in their way of living as seemed to explain,
while it formed the fitting counterpart of, the forbidding gloominess of
the outside. My astonishment by degrees changed into disgust, and my
disgust into uneasiness. I cannot detail the whole chain of ideas which
succeeded one another in my imagination; but, yielding to an impulse I
could not overcome, I got up, declaring I would go on my road again.

"The farmer made some effort to keep me; he spoke of the rain, of the
darkness, and of the length of the way. I replied to all by the absolute
necessity there was for my being at Montargis that very night; and
thanking him for his brief hospitality, I set off again in a haste which
might well have confirmed the truth of my words to him.

"However, the freshness of the night and the exercise of walking did not
fail to change the directions of my thoughts. When away from the objects
which had awakened such lively disgust in me, I felt it gradually
diminishing. I began to smile at the susceptibility of my feelings,
and then, in proportion as the rain became heavier and colder, these
strictures on myself assumed a tone of ill-temper. I silently accused
myself of the absurdity of mistaking sensation for admonitions of my
reason. After all, were not the farmer and his sons free to live alone,
to hunt, to keep dogs, and to kill a pig? Where was the crime of it?
With less nervous susceptibility, I should have accepted the shelter they
offered me, and I should now be sleeping snugly on a truss of straw,
instead of walking with difficulty through the cold and drizzling rain.
I thus continued to reproach myself, until, toward morning, I arrived at
Montargis, jaded and benumbed with cold.

"When, however, I got up refreshed, toward the middle of the next day,
I instinctively returned to my first opinion. The appearance of the
farmhouse presented itself to me under the same repulsive colors which
the evening before had determined me to make my escape from it. Reason
itself remained silent when reviewing all those coarse details, and was
forced to recognize in them the indications of a low nature, or else the
presence of some baleful influence.

"I went away the next day without being able to learn anything concerning
the farmer or his sons; but the recollection of my adventure remained
deeply fixed in my memory.

"Ten years afterward I was travelling in the diligence through the
department of the Loiret; I was leaning from the window, and looking at
some coppice ground now for the first time brought under cultivation, and
the mode of clearing which one of my travelling companions was explaining
to me, when my eyes fell upon a walled inclosure, with an iron-barred
gate. Inside it I perceived a house with all the blinds closed, and
which I immediately recollected; it was the farmhouse where I had been
sheltered. I eagerly pointed it out to my companion, and asked who lived
in it.

"'Nobody just now,' replied he.

"'But was it not kept, some years ago, by a farmer and his two sons?'

"'The Turreaus;' said my travelling companion, looking at me; 'did you
know them?'

"'I saw them once.'

"He shook his head.

"'Yes, yes!' resumed he; 'for many years they lived there like wolves in
their den; they merely knew how to till land, kill game, and drink. The
father managed the house, but men living alone, without women to love
them, without children to soften them, and without God to make them think
of heaven, always turn into wild beasts, you see; so one morning the
eldest son, who had been drinking too much brandy, would not harness the
plow-horses; his father struck him with his whip, and the son, who was
mad drunk, shot him dead with his gun.'"

16th, P.M.--I have been thinking of the story of the old cashier these
two days; it came so opportunely upon the reflections my dream had
suggested to me.

Have I not an important lesson to learn from all this?

If our sensations have an incontestable influence upon our judgments,
how comes it that we are so little careful of those things which awaken
or modify these sensations? The external world is always reflected in us
as in a mirror, and fills our minds with pictures which, unconsciously to
ourselves, become the germs of our opinions and of our rules of conduct.
All the objects which surround us are then, in reality, so many talismans
whence good and evil influences are emitted, and it is for us to choose
them wisely, so as to create a healthy atmosphere for our minds.

Feeling convinced of this truth, I set about making a survey of my attic.

The first object on which my eyes rest is an old map of the history of
the principal monastery in my native province. I had unrolled it with
much satisfaction, and placed it on the most conspicuous part of the
wall. Why had I given it this place? Ought this sheet of old worm-eaten
parchment to be of so much value to me, who am neither an antiquary nor a
scholar? Is not its real importance in my sight that one of the abbots
who founded it bore my name, and that I shall, perchance, be able to make
myself a genealogical tree of it for the edification of my visitors?
While writing this, I feel my own blushes. Come, down with the map!
let us banish it into my deepest drawer.

As I passed my glass, I perceived several visiting cards complacently
displayed in the frame. By what chance is it that there are only names
that make a show among them? Here is a Polish count--a retired colonel--
the deputy of my department. Quick, quick, into the fire with these
proofs of vanity! and let us put this card in the handwriting of our
office-boy, this direction for cheap dinners, and the receipt of the
broker where I bought my last armchair, in their place. These
indications of my poverty will serve, as Montaigne says, 'mater ma
superbe', and will always make me recollect the modesty in which the
dignity of the lowly consists.

I have stopped before the prints hanging upon the wall. This large and
smiling Pomona, seated on sheaves of corn, and whose basket is
overflowing with fruit, only produces thoughts of joy and plenty; I was
looking at her the other day, when I fell asleep denying such a thing as
misery. Let us give her as companion this picture of Winter, in which
everything tells of sorrow and suffering: one picture will modify the

And this Happy Family of Greuze's! What joy in the children's eyes!
What sweet repose in the young woman's face! What religious feeling in
the grandfather's countenance! May God preserve their happiness to them!
but let us hang by its side the picture of this mother, who weeps over an
empty cradle. Human life has two faces, both of which we must dare to
contemplate in their turn.

Let me hide, too, these ridiculous monsters which ornament my
chimneypiece. Plato has said that "the beautiful is nothing else than
the visible form of the good." If it is so, the ugly should be the
visible form of the evil, and, by constantly beholding it, the mind
insensibly deteriorates.

But above all, in order to cherish the feelings of kindness and pity, let
me hang at the foot of my bed this affecting picture of the Last Sleep!
Never have I been able to look at it without feeling my heart touched.

An old woman, clothed in rags, is lying by a roadside; her stick is at
her feet, and her head rests upon a stone; she has fallen asleep; her
hands are clasped; murmuring a prayer of her childhood, she sleeps her
last sleep, she dreams her last dream!

She sees herself, again a strong and happy child, keeping the sheep on
the common, gathering the berries from the hedges, singing, curtsying to
passers-by, and making the sign of the cross when the first star appears
in the heavens! Happy time, filled with fragrance and sunshine! She
wants nothing yet, for she is ignorant of what there is to wish for.

But see her grown up; the time is come for working bravely: she must cut
the corn, thresh the wheat, carry the bundles of flowering clover or
branches of withered leaves to the farm. If her toil is hard, hope
shines like a sun over everything and it wipes the drops of sweat away.
The growing girl already sees that life is a task, but she still sings as
she fulfills it.

By-and-bye the burden becomes heavier; she is a wife, she is a mother!
She must economize the bread of to-day, have her eye upon the morrow,
take care of the sick, and sustain the feeble; she must act, in short,
that part of an earthly Providence, so easy when God gives us his aid,
so hard when he forsakes us. She is still strong, but she is anxious;
she sings no longer!

Yet a few years, and all is overcast. The husband's health is broken;
his wife sees him pine away by the now fireless hearth; cold and hunger
finish what sickness had begun; he dies, and his widow sits on the ground
by the coffin provided by the charity of others, pressing her two half-
naked little ones in her arms. She dreads the future, she weeps, and she
droops her head.

At last the future has come; the children are grown up, but they are no
longer with her. Her son is fighting under his country's flag, and his
sister is gone. Both have been lost to her for a long time--perhaps
forever; and the strong girl, the brave wife, the courageous mother, is
henceforth only a poor old beggar-woman, without a family, and without a
home! She weeps no more, sorrow has subdued her; she surrenders, and
waits for death.

Death, that faithful friend of the wretched, is come: not hideous and
with mockery, as superstition represents, but beautiful, smiling, and
crowned with stars! The gentle phantom stoops to the beggar; its pale
lips murmur a few airy words, which announce to her the end of her
labors; a peaceful joy comes over the aged beggarwoman, and, leaning on
the shoulder of the great Deliverer, she has passed unconsciously from
her last earthly sleep to her eternal rest.

Lie there, thou poor way-wearied woman! The leaves will serve thee for a
winding-sheet. Night will shed her tears of dew over thee, and the birds
will sing sweetly by thy remains. Thy visit here below will not have
left more trace than their flight through the air; thy name is already
forgotten, and the only legacy thou hast to leave is the hawthorn stick
lying forgotten at thy feet!

Well! some one will take it up--some soldier of that great human host
which is scattered abroad by misery or by vice; for thou art not an
exception, thou art an instance; and under the same sun which shines so
pleasantly upon all, in the midst of these flowering vineyards, this ripe
corn, and these wealthy cities, entire generations suffer, succeed each
other, and still bequeath to each the beggar's stick!

The sight of this sad picture shall make me more grateful for what God
has given me, and more compassionate for those whom he has treated with
less indulgence; it shall be a lesson and a subject for reflection for

Ah! if we would watch for everything that might improve and instruct us;
if the arrangements of our daily life were so disposed as to be a
constant school for our minds! but oftenest we take no heed of them.
Man is an eternal mystery to himself; his own person is a house into
which he never enters, and of which he studies the outside alone. Each
of us need have continually before him the famous inscription which once
instructed Socrates, and which was engraved on the walls of Delphi by an
unknown hand:




December 30th, P.M.

I was in bed, and hardly recovered from the delirious fever which had
kept me for so long between life and death. My weakened brain was making
efforts to recover its activity; my thoughts, like rays of light
struggling through the clouds, were still confused and imperfect; at
times I felt a return of the dizziness which made a chaos of all my
ideas, and I floated, so to speak, between alternate fits of mental
wandering and consciousness.

Sometimes everything seemed plain to me, like the prospect which, from
the top of some high mountain, opens before us in clear weather. We
distinguish water, woods, villages, cattle, even the cottage perched on
the edge of the ravine; then suddenly there comes a gust of wind laden
with mist, and all is confused and indistinct.

Thus, yielding to the oscillations of a half-recovered reason, I allowed
my mind to follow its various impulses without troubling myself to
separate the real from the imaginary; I glided softly from one to the
other, and my dreams and waking thoughts succeeded closely upon one

Now, while my mind is wandering in this unsettled state, see, underneath
the clock which measures the hours with its loud ticking, a female figure
appears before me!

At first sight I saw enough to satisfy me that she was not a daughter of
Eve. In her eye was the last flash of an expiring star, and her face had
the pallor of an heroic death-struggle. She was dressed in a drapery of
a thousand changing colors of the brightest and the most sombre hues, and
held a withered garland in her hand.

After having contemplated her for some moments, I asked her name, and
what brought her into my attic. Her eyes, which were following the
movements of the clock, turned toward me, and she replied:

"You see in me the year which is just drawing to its end; I come to
receive your thanks and your farewell."

I raised myself on my elbow in surprise, which soon gave place to bitter

"Ah! you want thanks," cried I; "but first let me know what for?

"When I welcomed your coming, I was still young and vigorous: you have
taken from me each day some little of my strength, and you have ended by
inflicting an illness upon me; already, thanks to you, my blood is less
warm, my muscles less firm, and my feet less agile than before! You have
planted the germs of infirmity in my bosom; there, where the summer
flowers of life were growing, you have wickedly sown the nettles of old

"And, as if it were not enough to weaken my body, you have also
diminished the powers of my soul; you have extinguished her enthusiasm;
she is become more sluggish and more timid. Formerly her eyes took in
the whole of mankind in their generous survey; but you have made her
nearsighted, and now she hardly sees beyond herself! "That is what you
have done for my spiritual being: then as to my outward existence, see to
what grief, neglect, and misery you have reduced it! "For the many days
that the fever has kept me chained to this bed, who has taken care of
this home in which I placed all my joy? Shall I not find my closets
empty, my bookcase ,stripped, all my poor treasures lost through
negligence or dishonesty? Where are the plants I cultivated, the birds I
fed? All are gone! my attic is despoiled, silent and solitary! "As it
is only for the last few moments that I have returned to a consciousness
of what surrounds me, I am even ignorant who has nursed me during my long
illness! Doubtless some hireling, who will leave when all my means of
recompense are exhausted ! "And what will my masters, for whom I am
bound to work, have said to my absence? At this time of the year, when
business is most pressing, can they have done without me, will they even
have tried to do so? Perhaps I am already superseded in the humble
situation by which I earned my daily bread! And it is thou-thou alone,
wicked daughter of Time--who hast brought all these misfortunes upon me:
strength, health, comfort, work--thou hast taken all from me. I have
only received outrage and loss from thee, and yet thou darest to claim my

"Ah! die then, since thy day is come; but die despised and cursed; and
may I write on thy tomb the epitaph the Arabian poet inscribed upon that
of a king:

"'Rejoice, thou passer-by: he whom we have buried here
cannot live again.'"


I was wakened by a hand taking mine; and opening my eyes, I recognized
the doctor.

After having felt my pulse, he nodded his head, sat down at the foot of
the bed, and looked at me, rubbing his nose with his snuffbox. I have
since learned that this was a sign of satisfaction with the doctor.

"Well! so we wanted old snub-nose to carry us off?" said M. Lambert, in
his half-joking, half-scolding way. "What the deuce of a hurry we were
in! It was necessary to hold you back with both arms at least!"

"Then you had given me up, doctor?" asked I, rather alarmed.

"Not at all," replied the old physician. "We can't give up what we have
not got; and I make it a rule never to have any hope. We are but
instruments in the hands of Providence, and each of us should say, with
Ambroise Pare: 'I tend him, God cures him!"'

"May He be blessed then, as well as you," cried I; "and may my health
come back with the new year!"

M. Lambert shrugged his shoulders.

"Begin by asking yourself for it," resumed he, bluntly. "God has given
it you, and it is your own sense, and not chance, that must keep it for
you. One would think, to hear people talk, that sickness comes upon us
like the rain or the sunshine, without one having a word to say in the
matter. Before we complain of being ill we should prove that we deserve
to be well."

I was about to smile, but the doctor looked angry.

"Ah! you think that I am joking," resumed he, raising his voice; "but
tell me, then, which of us gives his health the same attention that he
gives to his business? Do you economize your strength as you economize
your money? Do you avoid excess and imprudence in the one case with the
same care as extravagance or foolish speculations in the other? Do you
keep as regular accounts of your mode of living as you do of your income?
Do you consider every evening what has been wholesome or unwholesome for
you, with the same care that you bring to the examination of your
expenditure? You may smile; but have you not brought this illness on
yourself by a thousand indiscretions?"

I began to protest against this, and asked him to point out these
indiscretions. The old doctor spread out his fingers, and began to
reckon upon them one by one.

"Primo," cried he, "want of exercise. You live here like a mouse in a
cheese, without air, motion, or change. Consequently, the blood
circulates badly, the fluids thicken, the muscles, being inactive, do not
claim their share of nutrition, the stomach flags, and the brain grows

"Secundo. Irregular food. Caprice is your cook; your stomach a slave
who must accept what you give it, but who presently takes a sullen
revenge, like all slaves.

"Tertio. Sitting up late. Instead of using the night for sleep, you
spend it in reading; your bedstead is a bookcase, your pillows a desk!
At the time when the wearied brain asks for rest, you lead it through
these nocturnal orgies, and you are surprised to find it the worse for
them the next day.

"Quarto. Luxurious habits. Shut up in your attic, you insensibly
surround yourself with a thousand effeminate indulgences. You must have
list for your door, a blind for your window, a carpet for your feet, an
easy-chair stuffed with wool for your back, your fire lit at the first
sign of cold, and a shade to your lamp; and thanks to all these
precautions, the least draught makes you catch cold, common chairs give
you no rest, and you must wear spectacles to support the light of day.
You have thought you were acquiring comforts, and you have only
contracted infirmities.


"Ah! enough, enough, doctor!" cried I. "Pray, do not carry your
examination farther; do not attach a sense of remorse to each of my

The old doctor rubbed his nose with his snuffbox.

"You see," said he, more gently, and rising at the same time, "you would
escape from the truth. You shrink from inquiry--a proof that you are
guilty. 'Habemus confitentem reum'! But at least, my friend, do not go
on laying the blame on Time, like an old woman."

Thereupon he again felt my pulse, and took his leave, declaring that his
function was at an end, and that the rest depended upon myself.

When the doctor was gone, I set about reflecting upon what he had said.

Although his words were too sweeping, they were not the less true in the
main. How often we accuse chance of an illness, the origin of which we
should seek in ourselves! Perhaps it would have been wiser to let him
finish the examination he had begun.

But is there not another of more importance--that which concerns the
health of the soul? Am I so sure of having neglected no means of
preserving that during the year which is now ending? Have I, as one of
God's soldiers upon earth, kept my courage and my arms efficient? Shall
I be ready for the great review of souls which must pass before Him WHO
IS in the dark valley of Jehoshaphat?

Darest thou examine thyself, O my soul! and see how often thou hast

First, thou hast erred through pride! for I have not duly valued the
lowly. I have drunk too deeply of the intoxicating wines of genius, and
have found no relish in pure water. I have disdained those words which
had no other beauty than their sincerity; I have ceased to love men
solely because they are men--I have loved them for their endowments; I
have contracted the world within the narrow compass of a pantheon, and my
sympathy has been awakened by admiration only. The vulgar crowd, which I
ought to have followed with a friendly eye because it is composed of my
brothers in hope or grief, I have let pass by with as much indifference
as if it were a flock of sheep. I am indignant with him who rolls in
riches and despises the man poor in worldly wealth; and yet, vain of my
trifling knowledge, I despise him who is poor in mind--I scorn the
poverty of intellect as others do that of dress; I take credit for a gift
which I did not bestow on myself, and turn the favor of fortune into a
weapon with which to attack others.

Ah! if, in the worst days of revolutions, ignorance has revolted and
raised a cry of hatred against genius, the fault is not alone in the
envious malice of ignorance, but comes in part, too, from the
contemptuous pride of knowledge.

Alas! I have too completely forgotten the fable of the two sons of the
magician of Bagdad.

One of them, struck by an irrevocable decree of destiny, was born blind,
while the other enjoyed all the delights of sight. The latter, proud of
his own advantages, laughed at his brother's blindness, and disdained him
as a companion. One morning the blind boy wished to go out with him.

"To what purpose," said he, "since the gods have put nothing in common
between us? For me creation is a stage, where a thousand charming scenes
and wonderful actors appear in succession; for you it is only an obscure
abyss, at the bottom of which you hear the confused murmur of an
invisible world. Continue then alone in your darkness, and leave the
pleasures of light to those upon whom the day-star shines."

With these words he went away, and his brother, left alone, began to cry
bitterly. His father, who heard him, immediately ran to him, and tried
to console him by promising to give him whatever he desired.

"Can you give me sight?" asked the child.

"Fate does not permit it," said the magician.

"Then," cried the blind boy, eagerly, "I ask you to put out the sun!"

Who knows whether my pride has not provoked the same wish on the part of
some one of my brothers who does not see?

But how much oftener have I erred through levity and want of thought!
How many resolutions have I taken at random! how many judgments have I
pronounced for the sake of a witticism! how many mischiefs have I not
done without any sense of my responsibility! The greater part of men
harm one another for the sake of doing something. We laugh at the honor
of one, and compromise the reputation of another, like an idle man who
saunters along a hedgerow, breaking the young branches and destroying the
most beautiful flowers.

And, nevertheless, it is by this very thoughtlessness that the fame of
some men is created. It rises gradually, like one of those mysterious
mounds in barbarous countries, to which a stone is added by every
passerby; each one brings something at random, and adds it as he passes,
without being able himself to see whether he is raising a pedestal or a
gibbet. Who will dare look behind him, to see his rash judgments held up
there to view?

Some time ago I was walking along the edge of the green mound on which
the Montmartre telegraph stands. Below me, along one of the zigzag paths
which wind up the hill, a man and a girl were coming up, and arrested my
attention. The man wore a shaggy coat, which gave him some resemblance
to a wild beast; and he held a thick stick in his hand, with which he
described various strange figures in the air. He spoke very loud, and in
a voice which seemed to me convulsed with passion. He raised his eyes
every now and then with an expression of savage harshness, and it
appeared to me that he was reproaching and threatening the girl, and that
she was listening to him with a submissiveness which touched my heart.
Two or three times she ventured a few words, doubtless in the attempt to
justify herself; but the man in the greatcoat began again immediately
with his loud and angry voice, his savage looks, and his threatening
evolutions in the air. I followed him with my eyes, vainly endeavoring
to catch a word as he passed, until he disappeared behind the hill.

I had evidently just seen one of those domestic tyrants whose sullen
tempers are excited by the patience of their victims, and who, though
they have the power to become the beneficent gods of a family, choose
rather to be their tormentors.

I cursed the unknown savage in my heart, and I felt indignant that these
crimes against the sacred peace of home could not be punished as they
deserve, when I heard his voice approaching nearer. He had turned the
path, and soon appeared before me at the top of the slope.

The first glance, and his first words, explained everything to me: in
place of what I had taken for the furious tones and terrible looks of an
angry man, and the attitude of a frightened victim, I had before me only
an honest citizen, who squinted and stuttered, but who was explaining the
management of silkworms to his attentive daughter.

I turned homeward, smiling at my mistake; but before I reached my
faubourg I saw a crowd running, I heard calls for help, and every
finger pointed in the same direction to a distant column of flame.
A manufactory had taken fire, and everybody was rushing forward to
assist in extinguishing it.

I hesitated. Night was coming on; I felt tired; a favorite book was
awaiting me; I thought there would be no want of help, and I went on my

Just before I had erred from want of consideration; now it was from
selfishness and cowardice.

But what! have I not on a thousand other occasions forgotten the duties
which bind us to our fellowmen? Is this the first time I have avoided
paying society what I owe it? Have I not always behaved to my companions
with injustice, and like the lion? Have I not claimed successively every
share? If any one is so ill-advised as to ask me to return some little
portion, I get provoked, I am angry, I try to escape from it by every
means. How many times, when I have perceived a beggar sitting huddled up
at the end of the street, have I not gone out of my way, for fear that
compassion would impoverish me by forcing me to be charitable! How often
have I doubted the misfortunes of others, that I might with justice
harden my heart against them.

With what satisfaction have I sometimes verified the vices of the poor
man, in order to show that his misery is the punishment he deserves!

Oh! let us not go farther--let us not go farther! I interrupted the
doctor's examination, but how much sadder is this one! We pity the
diseases of the body; we shudder at those of the soul.

I was happily disturbed in my reverie by my neighbor, the old soldier.

Now I think of it, I seem always to have seen, during my fever, the
figure of this good old man, sometimes leaning against my bed, and
sometimes sitting at his table, surrounded by his sheets of pasteboard.

He has just come in with his glue-pot, his quire of green paper, and his
great scissors. I called him by his name; he uttered a joyful
exclamation, and came near me.

"Well! so the bullet is found again!" cried he, taking my two hands into
the maimed one which was left him; "it has not been without trouble,
I can tell you; the campaign has been long enough to win two clasps in.
I have seen no few fellows with the fever batter windmills during my
hospital days: at Leipsic, I had a neighbor who fancied a chimney was on
fire in his stomach, and who was always calling for the fire-engines; but
the third day it all went out of itself. But with you it has lasted
twenty-eight days--as long as one of the Little Corporal's campaigns."

"I am not mistaken then; you were near me?"

"Well! I had only to cross the passage. This left hand has not made you
a bad nurse for want of the right; but, bah! you did not know what hand
gave you drink, and it did not prevent that beggar of a fever from being
drowned--for all the world like Poniatowski in the Elster."

The old soldier began to laugh, and I, feeling too much affected to
speak, pressed his hand against my breast. He saw my emotion, and
hastened to put an end to it.

"By-the-bye, you know that from to-day you have a right to draw your
rations again," resumed he gayly; "four meals, like the German meinherrs
--nothing more! The doctor is your house steward."

"We must find the cook, too," replied I, with a smile.

"She is found," said the veteran.

"Who is she?"


"The fruit-woman?"

"While I am talking she is cooking for you, neighbor; and do not fear her
sparing either butter or trouble. As long as life and death were
fighting for you, the honest woman passed her time in going up and down
stairs to learn which way the battle went. And, stay, I am sure this is

In fact we heard steps in the passage, and he went to open the door.

"Oh, well!" continued he, "it is Mother Millot, our portress, another of
your good friends, neighbor, and whose poultices I recommend to you.
Come in, Mother Millot--come in; we are quite bonny boys this morning,
and ready to step a minuet if we had our dancing-shoes."

The portress came in, quite delighted. She brought my linen, washed and
mended by herself, with a little bottle of Spanish wine, the gift of her
sailor son, and kept for great occasions. I would have thanked her, but
the good woman imposed silence upon me, under the pretext that the doctor
had forbidden me to speak. I saw her arrange everything in my drawers,
the neat appearance of which struck me; an attentive hand had evidently
been there, and day by day put straight the unavoidable disorder
consequent on sickness.

As she finished, Genevieve arrived with my dinner; she was followed by
Mother Denis, the milk-woman over the way, who had learned, at the same
time, the danger I had been in, and that I was now beginning to be
convalescent. The good Savoyard brought me a new-laid egg, which she
herself wished to see me eat.

It was necessary to relate minutely all my illness to her. At every
detail she uttered loud exclamations; then, when the portress warned her
to be less noisy, she excused herself in a whisper. They made a circle
around me to see me eat my dinner; each mouthful I took was accompanied
by their expressions of satisfaction and thankfulness. Never had the
King of France, when he dined in public, excited such admiration among
the spectators.

As they were taking the dinner away, my colleague, the old cashier,
entered in his turn.

I could not prevent my heart beating as I recognized him. How would the
heads of the firm look upon my absence, and what did he come to tell me?

I waited with inexpressible anxiety for him to speak; but he sat down by
me, took my hand, and began rejoicing over my recovery, without saying a
word about our masters. I could not endure this uncertainty any longer.

"And the Messieurs Durmer," asked I, hesitatingly, "how have they taken--
the interruption to my work?"

"There has been no interruption," replied the old clerk, quietly.

"What do you mean?"

"Each one in the office took a share of your duty; all has gone on as
usual, and the Messieurs Durmer have perceived no difference."

This was too much. After so many instances of affection, this filled up
the measure. I could not restrain my tears.

Thus the few services I had been able to do for others had been
acknowledged by them a hundredfold! I had sown a little seed, and every
grain had fallen on good ground, and brought forth a whole sheaf. Ah!
this completes the lesson the doctor gave me. If it is true that the
diseases, whether of the mind or body, are the fruit of our follies and
our vices, sympathy and affection are also the rewards of our having done
our duty. Every one of us, with God's help, and within the narrow limits
of human capability, himself makes his own disposition, character, and
permanent condition.

Everybody is gone; the old soldier has brought me back my flowers and my
birds, and they are my only companions. The setting sun reddens my half-
closed curtains with its last rays. My brain is clear, and my heart
lighter. A thin mist floats before my eyes, and I feel myself in that
happy state which precedes a refreshing sleep.

Yonder, opposite the bed, the pale goddess in her drapery of a thousand
changing colors, and with her withered garland, again appears before me;
but this time I hold out my hand to her with a grateful smile.

"Adieu, beloved year! whom I but now unjustly accused. That which I
have suffered must not be laid to thee; for thou wast but a tract through
which God had marked out my road--a ground where I had reaped the harvest
I had sown. I will love thee, thou wayside shelter, for those hours of
happiness thou hast seen me enjoy; I will love thee even for the
suffering thou hast seen me endure. Neither happiness nor suffering came
from thee; but thou hast been the scene for them. Descend again then, in
peace, into eternity, and be blest, thou who hast left me experience in
the place of youth, sweet memories instead of past time, and gratitude as
payment for good offices."


Ambroise Pare: 'I tend him, God cures him!'
Are we then bound to others only by the enforcement of laws
Attach a sense of remorse to each of my pleasures
But above these ruins rises a calm and happy face
Contemptuous pride of knowledge
Death, that faithful friend of the wretched
Houses are vessels which take mere passengers
I make it a rule never to have any hope
Ignorant of what there is to wish for
Looks on an accomplished duty neither as a merit nor a grievance
More stir than work
Nothing is dishonorable which is useful
Richer than France herself, for I have no deficit in my budget
Satisfy our wants, if we know how to set bounds to them
Sensible man, who has observed much and speaks little
Sullen tempers are excited by the patience of their victims
The happiness of the wise man costs but little
We do not understand that others may live on their own account
What have you done with the days God granted you
You may know the game by the lair


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