An "Attic" Philosopher, v2
This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]
AN "ATTIC" PHILOSOPHER
(Un Philosophe sous les Toits)
By EMILE SOUVESTRE
June 7th, Four O'clock A.M.
I am not surprised at hearing, when I awake, the birds singing so
joyfully outside my window; it is only by living, as they and I do, in a
top story, that one comes to know how cheerful the mornings really are up
among the roofs. It is there that the sun sends his first rays, and the
breeze comes with the fragrance of the gardens and woods; there that a
wandering butterfly sometimes ventures among the flowers of the attic,
and that the songs of the industrious work-woman welcome the dawn of day.
The lower stories are still deep in sleep, silence, and shadow, while
here labor, light, and song already reign.
What life is around me! See the swallow returning from her search for
food, with her beak full of insects for her young ones; the sparrows
shake the dew from their wings while they chase one another in the
sunshine; and my neighbors throw open their windows, and welcome the
morning with their fresh faces! Delightful hour of waking, when
everything returns to feeling and to motion; when the first light of day
strikes upon creation, and brings it to life again, as the magic wand
struck the palace of the Sleeping Beauty in the wood! It is a moment of
rest from every misery; the sufferings of the sick are allayed, and a
breath of hope enters into the hearts of the despairing. But, alas! it
is but a short respite! Everything will soon resume its wonted course:
the great human machine, with its long strains, its deep gasps, its
collisions, and its crashes, will be again put in motion.
The tranquillity of this first morning hour reminds me of that of our
first years of life. Then, too, the sun shines brightly, the air is
fragrant, and the illusions of youth-those birds of our life's morning-
sing around us. Why do they fly away when we are older? Where do this
sadness and this solitude, which gradually steal upon us, come from? The
course seems to be the same with individuals and with communities: at
starting, so readily made happy, so easily enchanted; and at the goal,
the bitter disappointment or reality! The road, which began among
hawthorns and primroses, ends speedily in deserts or in precipices! Why
is there so much confidence at first, so much doubt at last? Has, then,
the knowledge of life no other end but to make it unfit for happiness?
Must we condemn ourselves to ignorance if we would preserve hope? Is the
world and is the individual man intended, after all, to find rest only in
an eternal childhood?
How many times have I asked myself these questions! Solitude has the
advantage or the danger of making us continually search more deeply into
the same ideas. As our discourse is only with ourself, we always give
the same direction to the conversation; we are not called to turn it to
the subject which occupies another mind, or interests another's feelings;
and so an involuntary inclination makes us return forever to knock at the
I interrupted my reflections to put my attic in order. I hate the look
of disorder, because it shows either a contempt for details or an
unaptness for spiritual life. To arrange the things among which we have
to live, is to establish the relation of property and of use between them
and us: it is to lay the foundation of those habits without which man
tends to the savage state. What, in fact, is social organization but a
series of habits, settled in accordance with the dispositions of our
I distrust both the intellect and the morality of those people to whom
disorder is of no consequence--who can live at ease in an Augean stable.
What surrounds us, reflects more or less that which is within us. The
mind is like one of those dark lanterns which, in spite of everything,
still throw some light around. If our tastes did not reveal our
character, they would be no longer tastes, but instincts.
While I was arranging everything in my attic, my eyes rested on the
little almanac hanging over my chimney-piece. I looked for the day of
the month, and I saw these words written in large letters: "FETE DIEU!"
It is to-day! In this great city, where there are no longer any public
religious solemnities, there is nothing to remind us of it; but it is,
in truth, the period so happily chosen by the primitive church. "The day
kept in honor of the Creator," says Chateaubriand, "happens at a time
when the heaven and the earth declare His power, when the woods and
fields are full of new life, and all are united by the happiest ties;
there is not a single widowed plant in the fields."
What recollections these words have just awakened! I left off what I was
about, I leaned my elbows on the windowsill, and, with my head between my
two hands, I went back in thought to the little town where the first days
of my childhood were passed.
The 'Fete Dieu' was then one of the great events of my life! It was
necessary to be diligent and obedient a long time beforehand, to deserve
to share in it. I still recollect with what raptures of expectation I
got up on the morning of the day. There was a holy joy in the air. The
neighbors, up earlier than usual, hung cloths with flowers or figures,
worked in tapestry, along the streets. I went from one to another, by
turns admiring religious scenes of the Middle Ages, mythological
compositions of the Renaissance, old battles in the style of Louis XIV,
and the Arcadias of Madame de Pompadour. All this world of phantoms
seemed to be coming forth from the dust of past ages, to assist--silent
and motionless--at the holy ceremony. I looked, alternately in fear and
wonder, at those terrible warriors with their swords always raised, those
beautiful huntresses shooting the arrow which never left the bow, and
those shepherds in satin breeches always playing the flute at the feet of
the perpetually smiling shepherdess. Sometimes, when the wind blew
behind these hanging pictures, it seemed to me that the figures
themselves moved, and I watched to see them detach themselves from the
wall, and take their places in the procession! But these impressions
were vague and transitory. The feeling that predominated over every
other was that of an overflowing yet quiet joy. In the midst of all the
floating draperies, the scattered flowers, the voices of the maidens, and
the gladness which, like a perfume, exhaled from everything, you felt
transported in spite of yourself. The joyful sounds of the festival were
repeated in your heart, in a thousand melodious echoes. You were more
indulgent, more holy, more loving! For God was not only manifesting
himself without, but also within us.
And then the altars for the occasion! the flowery arbors! the triumphal
arches made of green boughs! What competition among the different
parishes for the erection of the resting-places where the procession was
to halt! It was who should contribute the rarest and the most beautiful
of his possessions!
It was there I made my first sacrifice!
The wreaths of flowers were arranged, the candles lighted, and the
Tabernacle dressed with roses; but one was wanting fit to crown the
whole! All the neighboring gardens had been ransacked. I alone
possessed a flower worthy of such a place. It was on the rose-tree given
me by my mother on my birthday. I had watched it for several months, and
there was no other bud to blow on the tree. There it was, half open, in
its mossy nest, the object of such long expectations, and of all a
child's pride! I hesitated for some moments. No one had asked me for
it; I might easily avoid losing it. I should hear no reproaches, but one
rose noiselessly within me. When every one else had given all they had,
ought I alone to keep back my treasure? Ought I to grudge to God one of
the gifts which, like all the rest, I had received from him? At this
last thought I plucked the flower from the stem, and took it to put at
the top of the Tabernacle. Ah! why does the recollection of this
sacrifice, which was so hard and yet so sweet to me, now make me smile?
Is it so certain that the value of a gift is in itself, rather than in
the intention? If the cup of cold water in the gospel is remembered to
the poor man, why should not the flower be remembered to the child? Let
us not look down upon the child's simple act of generosity; it is these
which accustom the soul to self-denial and to sympathy. I cherished this
moss-rose a long time as a sacred talisman; I had reason to cherish it
always, as the record of the first victory won over myself.
It is now many years since I witnessed the celebration of the 'Fete
Dieu'; but should I again feel in it the happy sensations of former days?
I still remember how, when the procession had passed, I walked through
the streets strewed with flowers and shaded with green boughs. I felt
intoxicated by the lingering perfumes of the incense, mixed with the
fragrance of syringas, jessamine, and roses, and I seemed no longer to
touch the ground as I went along. I smiled at everything; the whole
world was Paradise in my eyes, and it seemed to me that God was floating
in the air!
Moreover, this feeling was not the excitement of the moment: it might be
more intense on certain days, but at the same time it continued through
the ordinary course of my life. Many years thus passed for me in an
expansion of heart, and a trustfulness which prevented sorrow, if not
from coming, at least from staying with me. Sure of not being alone,
I soon took heart again, like the child who recovers its courage, because
it hears its mother's voice close by. Why have I lost that confidence of
my childhood? Shall I never feel again so deeply that God is here?
How strange the association of our thoughts! A day of the month recalls
my infancy, and see, all the recollections of my former years are growing
up around me! Why was I so happy then? I consider well, and nothing is
sensibly changed in my condition. I possess, as I did then, health and
my daily bread; the only difference is, that I am now responsible for
myself! As a child, I accepted life when it came; another cared and
provided for me. So long as I fulfilled my present duties I was at peace
within, and I left the future to the prudence of my father! My destiny
was a ship, in the directing of which I had no share, and in which I
sailed as a common passenger. There was the whole secret of childhood's
happy security. Since then worldly wisdom has deprived me of it. When
my lot was intrusted to my own and sole keeping, I thought to make myself
master of it by means of a long insight into the future. I have filled
the present hour with anxieties, by occupying my thoughts with the
future; I have put my judgment in the place of Providence, and the happy
child is changed into the anxious man.
A melancholy course, yet perhaps an important lesson. Who knows that,
if I had trusted more to Him who rules the world, I should not have been
spared all this anxiety? It may be that happiness is not possible here
below, except on condition of living like a child, giving ourselves up to
the duties of each day as it comes, and trusting in the goodness of our
heavenly Father for all besides.
This reminds me of my Uncle Maurice! Whenever I have need to strengthen
myself in all that is good, I turn my thoughts to him; I see again the
gentle expression of his half-smiling, half-mournful face; I hear his
voice, always soft and soothing as a breath of summer! The remembrance
of him protects my life, and gives it light. He, too, was a saint and
martyr here below. Others have pointed out the path of heaven; he has
taught us to see those of earth aright.
But, except the angels, who are charged with noting down the sacrifices
performed in secret, and the virtues which are never known, who has ever
heard of my Uncle Maurice? Perhaps I alone remember his name, and still
recall his history.
Well! I will write it, not for others, but for myself! They say that,
at the sight of the Apollo, the body erects itself and assumes a more
dignified attitude: in the same way, the soul should feel itself raised
and ennobled by the recollection of a good man's life!
A ray of the rising sun lights up the little table on which I write; the
breeze brings me in the scent of the mignonette, and the swallows wheel
about my window with joyful twitterings. The image of my Uncle Maurice
will be in its proper place amid the songs, the sunshine, and the
Seven o'clock.--It is with men's lives as with days: some dawn radiant
with a thousand colors, others dark with gloomy clouds. That of my Uncle
Maurice was one of the latter. He was so sickly, when he came into the
world, that they thought he must die; but notwithstanding these
anticipations, which might be called hopes, he continued to live,
suffering and deformed.
He was deprived of all joys as well as of all the attractions of
childhood. He was oppressed because he was weak, and laughed at for his
deformity. In vain the little hunchback opened his arms to the world:
the world scoffed at him, and went its way.
However, he still had his mother, and it was to her that the child
directed all the feelings of a heart repelled by others. With her he
found shelter, and was happy, till he reached the age when a man must
take his place in life; and Maurice had to content himself with that
which others had refused with contempt. His education would have
qualified him for any course of life; and he became an octroi-clerk--
[The octroi is the tax on provisions levied at the entrance of the town]
--in one of the little toll-houses at the entrance of his native town.
He was always shut up in this dwelling of a few feet square, with no
relaxation from the office accounts but reading and his mother's visits.
On fine summer days she came to work at the door of his hut, under the
shade of a clematis planted by Maurice. And, even when she was silent,
her presence was a pleasant change for the hunchback; he heard the
clinking of her long knitting-needles; he saw her mild and mournful
profile, which reminded him of so many courageously-borne trials; he
could every now and then rest his hand affectionately on that bowed neck,
and exchange a smile with her!
This comfort was soon to be taken from him. His old mother fell sick,
and at the end of a few days he had to give up all hope. Maurice was
overcome at the idea of a separation which would henceforth leave him
alone on earth, and abandoned himself to boundless grief. He knelt by
the bedside of the dying woman, he called her by the fondest names, he
pressed her in his arms, as if he could so keep her in life. His mother
tried to return his caresses, and to answer him; but her hands were cold,
her voice was already gone. She could only press her lips against the
forehead of her son, heave a sigh, and close her eyes forever!
They tried to take Maurice away, but he resisted them and threw himself
on that now motionless form.
"Dead!" cried he; "dead! She who had never left me, she who was the
only one in the world who loved me! You, my mother, dead! What then
remains for me here below?"
A stifled voice replied:
Maurice, startled, raised himself! Was that a last sigh from the dead,
or his own conscience, that had answered him? He did not seek to know,
but he understood the answer, and accepted it.
It was then that I first knew him. I often went to see him in his little
toll-house. He joined in my childish games, told me his finest stories,
and let me gather his flowers. Deprived as he was of all external
attractiveness, he showed himself full of kindness to all who came to
him, and, though he never would put himself forward, he had a welcome for
everyone. Deserted, despised, he submitted to everything with a gentle
patience; and while he was thus stretched on the cross of life, amid the
insults of his executioners, he repeated with Christ, "Father, forgive
them, for they know not what they do."
No other clerk showed so much honesty, zeal, and intelligence; but those
who otherwise might have promoted him as his services deserved were
repelled by his deformity. As he had no patrons, he found his claims
were always disregarded. They preferred before him those who were better
able to make themselves agreeable, and seemed to be granting him a favor
when letting him keep the humble office which enabled him to live. Uncle
Maurice bore injustice as he had borne contempt; unfairly treated by men,
he raised his eyes higher, and trusted in the justice of Him who cannot
He lived in an old house in the suburb, where many work-people, as poor
but not as forlorn as he, also lodged. Among these neighbors there was a
single woman, who lived by herself in a little garret, into which came
both wind and rain. She was a young girl, pale, silent, and with nothing
to recommend her but her wretchedness and her resignation to it. She was
never seen speaking to any other woman, and no song cheered her garret.
She worked without interest and without relaxation; a depressing gloom
seemed to envelop her like a shroud. Her dejection affected Maurice; he
attempted to speak to her; she replied mildly, but in few words. It was
easy to see that she preferred her silence and her solitude to the little
hunchback's good-will; he perceived it, and said no more.
But Toinette's needle was hardly sufficient for her support, and
presently work failed her! Maurice learned that the poor girl was in
want of everything, and that the tradesmen refused to give her credit.
He immediately went to them privately and engaged to pay them for what
they supplied Toinette with.
Things went on in this way for several months. The young dressmaker
continued out of work, until she was at last frightened at the bills she
had contracted with the shopkeepers. When she came to an explanation
with them, everything was discovered. Her first impulse was to run to
Uncle Maurice, and thank him on her knees. Her habitual reserve had
given way to a burst of deepest feeling. It seemed as if gratitude had
melted all the ice of that numbed heart.
Being now no longer embarrassed with a secret, the little hunchback could
give greater efficacy to his good offices. Toinette became to him a
sister, for whose wants he had a right to provide. It was the first time
since the death of his mother that he had been able to share his life
with another. The young woman received his attentions with feeling, but
with reserve. All Maurice's efforts were insufficient to dispel her
gloom: she seemed touched by his kindness, and sometimes expressed her
sense of it with warmth; but there she stopped. Her heart was a closed
book, which the little hunchback might bend over, but could not read. In
truth he cared little to do so; he gave himself up to the happiness of
being no longer alone, and took Toinette such as her long trials had made
her; he loved her as she was, and wished for nothing else but still to
enjoy her company.
This thought insensibly took possession of his mind, to the exclusion of
all besides. The poor girl was as forlorn as himself; she had become
accustomed to the deformity of the hunchback, and she seemed to look on
him with an affectionate sympathy! What more could he wish for? Until
then, the hopes of making himself acceptable to a helpmate had been
repelled by Maurice as a dream; but chance seemed willing to make it a
reality. After much hesitation he took courage, and decided to speak to
It was evening; the little hunchback, in much agitation, directed his
steps toward the work-woman's garret just as he was about to enter, he
thought he heard a strange voice pronouncing the maiden's name. He
quickly pushed open the door, and perceived Toinette weeping, and leaning
on the shoulder of a young man in the dress of a sailor.
At the sight of my uncle, she disengaged herself quickly, and ran to him,
"Ah! come in--come in! It is he that I thought was dead: it is Julien;
it is my betrothed!"
Maurice tottered, and drew back. A single word had told him all!
It seemed to him as if the ground shook and his heart was about to break;
but the same voice that he had heard by his mother's deathbed again
sounded in his ears, and he soon recovered himself. God was still his
He himself accompanied the newly-married pair on the road when they left
the town, and, after wishing them all the happiness which was denied to
him, he returned with resignation to the old house in the suburb.
It was there that he ended his life, forsaken by men, but not as he said
by the Father which is in heaven. He felt His presence everywhere; it
was to him in the place of all else. When he died, it was with a smile,
and like an exile setting out for his own country. He who had consoled
him in poverty and ill-health, when he was suffering from injustice and
forsaken by all, had made death a gain and blessing to him.
Eight o'clock.--All I have just written has pained me! Till now I have
looked into life for instruction how to live. Is it then true that human
maxims are not always sufficient? that beyond goodness, prudence,
moderation, humility, self-sacrifice itself, there is one great truth,
which alone can face great misfortunes? and that, if man has need of
virtues for others, he has need of religion for himself?
When, in youth, we drink our wine with a merry heart, as the Scripture
expresses it, we think we are sufficient for ourselves; strong, happy,
and beloved, we believe, like Ajax, we shall be able to escape every
storm in spite of the gods. But later in life, when the back is bowed,
when happiness proves a fading flower, and the affections grow chill-
then, in fear of the void and the darkness, we stretch out our arms, like
the child overtaken by night, and we call for help to Him who is
I was asking this morning why this growing confusion alike for society
and for the individual? In vain does human reason from hour to hour
light some new torch on the roadside: the night continues to grow ever
darker! Is it not because we are content to withdraw farther and farther
from God, the Sun of spirits?
But what do these hermit's reveries signify to the world? The inward
turmoils of most men are stifled by the outward ones; life does not give
them time to question themselves. Have they time to know what they are,
and what they should be, whose whole thoughts are in the next lease or
the last price of stock? Heaven is very high, and wise men look only at
But I--poor savage amid all this civilization, who seek neither power nor
riches, and who have found in my own thoughts the home and shelter of my
spirit--I can go back with impunity to these recollections of my
childhood; and, if this our great city no longer honors the name of God
with a festival, I will strive still to keep the feast to Him in my
THE PRICE OF POWER AND THE WORTH OF FAME
Sunday, July 1st
Yesterday the month dedicated to Juno (Junius, June) by the Romans ended.
To-day we enter on July.
In ancient Rome this latter month was called Quintiles (the fifth),
because the year, which was then divided into only ten parts, began in
March. When Numa Pompilius divided it into twelve months this name of
Quintiles was preserved, as well as those that followed--Sexteles,
September, October, November, December--although these designations did
not accord with the newly arranged order of the months. At last, after a
time the month Quintiles, in which Julius Caesar was born, was called
Julius, whence we have July. Thus this name, placed in the calendar, is
become the imperishable record of a great man; it is an immortal epitaph
on Time's highway, engraved by the admiration of man.
How many similar inscriptions are there! Seas, continents, mountains,
stars, and monuments, have all in succession served the same purpose! We
have turned the whole world into a Golden Book, like that in which the
state of Venice used to enroll its illustrious names and its great deeds.
It seems that mankind feels a necessity for honoring itself in its elect
ones, and that it raises itself in its own eyes by choosing heroes from
among its own race. The human family love to preserve the memory; of the
parvenus of glory, as we cherish that of a great ancestor, or of a
In fact, the talents granted to a single individual do not benefit
himself alone, but are gifts to the world; everyone shares them, for
everyone suffers or benefits by his actions. Genius is a lighthouse,
meant to give light from afar; the man who bears it is but the rock upon
which this lighthouse is built.
I love to dwell upon these thoughts; they explain to me in what consists
our admiration for glory. When glory has benefited men, that admiration
is gratitude; when it is only remarkable in itself, it is the pride of
race; as men, we love to immortalize the most shining examples of
Who knows whether we do not obey the same instinct in submitting to the
hand of power? Apart from the requirements of a gradation of ranks, or
the consequences of a conquest, the multitude delight to surround their
chiefs with privileges--whether it be that their vanity makes them thus
to aggrandize one of their own creations, or whether they try to conceal
the humiliation of subjection by exaggerating the importance of those who
rule them. They wish to honor themselves through their master; they
elevate him on their shoulders as on a pedestal; they surround him with a
halo of light, in order that some of it may be reflected upon themselves.
It is still the fable of the dog who contents himself with the chain and
collar, so that they are of gold.
This servile vanity is not less natural or less common than the vanity of
dominion. Whoever feels himself incapable of command, at least desires
to obey a powerful chief. Serfs have been known to consider themselves
dishonored when they became the property of a mere count after having
been that of a prince, and Saint-Simon mentions a valet who would only
wait upon marquises.
July 7th, seven o'clock P. M.--I have just now been up the Boulevards;
it was the opera night, and there was a crowd of carriages in the Rue
Lepelletier. The foot-passengers who were stopped at a crossing
recognized the persons in some of these as we went by, and mentioned
their names; they were those of celebrated or powerful men, the
successful ones of the day.
Near me there was a man looking on with hollow cheeks and eager eyes,
whose thin black coat was threadbare. He followed with envious looks
these possessors of the privileges of power or of fame, and I read on his
lips, which curled with a bitter smile, all that passed in his mind.
"Look at them, the lucky fellows!" thought he; "all the pleasures of
wealth, all the enjoyments of pride, are theirs. Their names are
renowned, all their wishes fulfilled; they are the sovereigns of the
world, either by their intellect or their power; and while I, poor and
unknown, toil painfully along the road below, they wing their way over
the mountain-tops gilded by the broad sunshine of prosperity."
I have come home in deep thought. Is it true that there are these
inequalities, I do not say in the fortunes, but in the happiness of men?
Do genius and authority really wear life as a crown, while the greater
part of mankind receive it as a yoke? Is the difference of rank but a
different use of men's dispositions and talents, or a real inequality in
their destinies? A solemn question, as it regards the verification of
July 8th, noon.--I went this morning to call upon a friend from the same
province as myself, who is the first usher-in-waiting to one of our
ministers. I took him some letters from his family, left for him by a
traveller just come from Brittany. He wished me to stay.
"To-day," said he, "the Minister gives no audience: he takes a day of
rest with his family. His younger sisters are arrived; he will take them
this morning to St. Cloud, and in the evening he has invited his friends
to a private ball. I shall be dismissed directly for the rest of the
day. We can dine together; read the news while you are waiting for me."
I sat down at a table covered with newspapers, all of which I looked over
by turns. Most of them contained severe criticisms on the last political
acts of the minister; some of them added suspicions as to the honor of
the minister himself.
Just as I had finished reading, a secretary came for them to take them to
He was then about to read these accusations, to suffer silently the abuse
of all those tongues which were holding him up to indignation or to
scorn! Like the Roman victor in his triumph, he had to endure the
insults of him who followed his car, relating to the crowd his follies,
his ignorance, or his vices.
But, among the arrows shot at him from every side, would no one be found
poisoned? Would not one reach some spot in his heart where the wound
would be incurable? What is the worth of a life exposed to the attacks
of envious hatred or furious conviction? The Christians yielded only the
fragments of their flesh to the beasts of the amphitheatres; the man in
power gives up his peace, his affections, his honor, to the cruel bites
of the pen.
While I was musing upon these dangers of greatness, the usher entered
hastily. Important news had been received: the minister is just summoned
to the council; he will not be able to take his sisters to St. Cloud.
I saw, through the windows, the young ladies, who were waiting at the
door, sorrowfully go upstairs again, while their brother went off to the
council. The carriage, which should have gone filled with so much family
happiness, is just out of sight, carrying only the cares of a statesman
The usher came back discontented and disappointed. The more or less of
liberty which he is allowed to enjoy, is his barometer of the political
atmosphere. If he gets leave, all goes well; if he is kept at his post,
the country is in danger. His opinion on public affairs is but a
calculation of his own interest. My friend is almost a statesman.
I had some conversation with him, and he told me several curious
particulars of public life.
The new minister has old friends whose opinions he opposes, though he
still retains his personal regard for them. Though separated from them
by the colors he fights under, they remain united by old associations;
but the exigencies of party forbid him to meet them. If their
intercourse continued, it would awaken suspicion; people would imagine
that some dishonorable bargain was going on; his friends would be held to
be traitors desirous to sell themselves, and he the corrupt minister
prepared to buy them. He has, therefore, been obliged to break off
friendships of twenty years' standing, and to sacrifice attachments which
had become a second nature.
Sometimes, however, the minister still gives way to his old feelings; he
receives or visits his friends privately; he shuts himself up with them,
and talks of the times when they could be open friends. By dint of
precautions they have hitherto succeeded in concealing this blot of
friendship against policy; but sooner or later the newspapers will be
informed of it, and will denounce him to the country as an object of
For whether hatred be honest or dishonest, it never shrinks from any
accusation. Sometimes it even proceeds to crime. The usher assured me
that several warnings had been given the minister which had made him fear
the vengeance of an assassin, and that he no longer ventured out on foot.
Then, from one thing to another, I learned what temptations came in to
mislead or overcome his judgment; how he found himself fatally led into
obliquities which he could not but deplore. Misled by passion, over-
persuaded by entreaties, or compelled for reputation's sake, he has many
times held the balance with an unsteady hand. How sad the condition of
him who is in authority! Not only are the miseries of power imposed upon
him, but its vices also, which, not content with torturing, succeed in
We prolonged our conversation till it was interrupted by the minister's
return. He threw himself out of the carriage with a handful of papers,
and with an anxious manner went into his own room. An instant afterward
his bell was heard; his secretary was called to send off notices to all
those invited for the evening; the ball would not take place; they spoke
mysteriously of bad news transmitted by the telegraph, and in such
circumstances an entertainment would seem to insult the public sorrow.
I took leave of my friend, and here I am at home. What I have just seen
is an answer to my doubts the other day. Now I know with what pangs men
pay for their dignities; now I understand
That Fortune sells what we believe she gives.
This explains to me the reason why Charles V aspired to the repose of the
And yet I have only glanced at some of the sufferings attached to power.
What shall I say of the falls in which its possessors are precipitated
from the heights of heaven to the very depths of the earth? of that path
of pain along which they must forever bear the burden of their
responsibility? of that chain of decorums and ennuis which encompasses
every act of their lives, and leaves them so little liberty?
The partisans of despotism adhere with reason to forms and ceremonies.
If men wish to give unlimited power to their fellow-man, they must keep
him separated from ordinary humanity; they must surround him with a
continual worship, and, by a constant ceremonial, keep up for him the
superhuman part they have granted him. Our masters cannot remain
absolute, except on condition of being treated as idols.
But, after all, these idols are men, and, if the exclusive life they must
lead is an insult to the dignity of others, it is also a torment to
themselves. Everyone knows the law of the Spanish court, which used to
regulate, hour by hour, the actions of the king and queen; "so that,"
says Voltaire, "by reading it one can tell all that the sovereigns of
Spain have done, or will do, from Philip II to the day of judgment." It
was by this law that Philip III, when sick, was obliged to endure such an
excess of heat that he died in consequence, because the Duke of Uzeda,
who alone had the right to put out the fire in the royal chamber,
happened to be absent.
When the wife of Charles II was run away with on a spirited horse, she
was about to perish before anyone dared to save her, because etiquette
forbade them to touch the queen. Two young officers endangered their
lives for her by stopping the horse. The prayers and tears of her whom
they had just snatched from death were necessary to obtain pardon for
their crime. Every one knows the anecdote related by Madame Campan of
Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI. One day, being at her toilet, when
the chemise was about to be presented to her by one of the assistants, a
lady of very ancient family entered and claimed the honor, as she had the
right by etiquette; but, at the moment she was about to fulfil her duty,
a lady of higher rank appeared, and in her turn took the garment she was
about to offer to the queen; when a third lady of still higher title came
in her turn, and was followed by a fourth, who was no other than the
king's sister. The chemise was in this manner passed from hand to hand,
with ceremonies, courtesies, and compliments, before it came to the
queen, who, half naked and quite ashamed, was shivering with cold for the
great honor of etiquette.
12th, seven o'clock, P.M.--On coming home this evening, I saw, standing
at the door of a house, an old man, whose appearance and features
reminded me of my father. There was the same beautiful smile, the same
deep and penetrating eye, the same noble bearing of the head, and the
same careless attitude.
I began living over again the first years of my life, and recalling to
myself the conversations of that guide whom God in his mercy had given
me, and whom in his severity he had too soon withdrawn.
When my father spoke, it was not only to bring our two minds together by
an interchange of thought, but his words always contained instruction.
Not that he endeavored to make me feel it so: my father feared everything
that had the appearance of a lesson. He used to say that virtue could
make herself devoted friends, but she did not take pupils: therefore he
was not desirous to teach goodness; he contented himself with sowing the
seeds of it, certain that experience would make them grow.
How often has good grain fallen thus into a corner of the heart, and,
when it has been long forgotten, all at once put forth the blade and come
into ear! It is a treasure laid aside in a time of ignorance, and we do
not know its value till we find ourselves in need of it.
Among the stories with which he enlivened our walks or our evenings,
there is one which now returns to my memory, doubtless because the time
is come to derive its lesson from it.
My father, who was apprenticed at the age of twelve to one of those
trading collectors who call themselves naturalists, because they put all
creation under glasses that they may sell it by retail, had always led a
life of poverty and labor. Obliged to rise before daybreak, by turns
shop-boy, clerk, and laborer, he was made to bear alone all the work of a
trade of which his master reaped all the profits. In truth, this latter
had a peculiar talent for making the most of the labor of other people.
Though unfit himself for the execution of any kind of work, no one knew
better how to sell it. His words were a net, in which people found
themselves taken before they were aware. And since he was devoted to
himself alone, and looked on the producer as his enemy, and the buyer as
prey, he used them both with that obstinate perseverance which avarice
My father was a slave all the week, and could call himself his own only
on Sunday. The master naturalist, who used to spend the day at the house
of an old female relative, then gave him his liberty on condition that he
dined out, and at his own expense. But my father used secretly to take
with him a crust of bread, which he hid in his botanizing-box, and,
leaving Paris as soon as it was day, he would wander far into the valley
of Montmorency, the wood of Meudon, or among the windings of the Marne.
Excited by the fresh air, the penetrating perfume of the growing
vegetation, or the fragrance of the honeysuckles, he would walk on until
hunger or fatigue made itself felt. Then he would sit under a hedge, or
by the side of a stream, and would make a rustic feast, by turns on
watercresses, wood strawberries, and blackberries picked from the hedges;
he would gather a few plants, read a few pages of Florian, then in
greatest vogue, of Gessner, who was just translated, or of Jean Jacques,
of whom he possessed three old volumes. The day was thus passed
alternately in activity and rest, in pursuit and meditation, until the
declining sun warned him to take again the road to Paris, where he would
arrive, his feet torn and dusty, but his mind invigorated for a whole
One day, as he was going toward the wood of Viroflay, he met, close to
it, a stranger who was occupied in botanizing and in sorting the plants
he had just gathered. He was an elderly man with an honest face; but his
eyes, which were rather deep-set under his eyebrows, had a somewhat
uneasy and timid expression. He was dressed in a brown cloth coat, a
gray waistcoat, black breeches, and worsted stockings, and held an ivory-
headed cane under his arm. His appearance was that of a small retired
tradesman who was living on his means, and rather below the golden mean
My father, who had great respect for age, civilly raised his hat to him
as he passed. In doing so, a plant he held fell from his hand; the
stranger stooped to take it up, and recognized it.
"It is a Deutaria heptaphyllos," said he; "I have not yet seen any of
them in these woods; did you find it near here, sir?"
My father replied that it was to be found in abundance on the top of the
hill, toward Sevres, as well as the great Laserpitium.
"That, too!" repeated the old man more briskly. "Ah! I shall go and
look for them; I have gathered them formerly on the hillside of Robaila."
My father proposed to take him. The stranger accepted his proposal with
thanks, and hastened to collect together the plants he had gathered; but
all of a sudden he appeared seized with a scruple. He observed to his
companion that the road he was going was halfway up the hill, and led in
the direction of the castle of the Dames Royales at Bellevue; that by
going to the top he would consequently turn out of his road, and that it
was not right he should take this trouble for a stranger.
My father insisted upon it with his habitual good-nature; but, the more
eagerness he showed, the more obstinately the old man refused; it even
seemed to my father that his good intention at last excited his
suspicion. He therefore contented himself with pointing out the road to
the stranger, whom he saluted, and he soon lost sight of him.
Many hours passed by, and he thought no more of the meeting. He had
reached the copses of Chaville, where, stretched on the ground in a mossy
glade, he read once more the last volume of Emile. The delight of
reading it had so completely absorbed him that he had ceased to see or
hear anything around him. With his cheeks flushed and his eyes moist,
he repeated aloud a passage which had particularly affected him.
An exclamation uttered close by him awoke him from his ecstasy; he raised
his head, and perceived the tradesman-looking person he had met before on
the crossroad at Viroflay.
He was loaded with plants, the collection of which seemed to have put him
into high good-humor.
"A thousand thanks, sir," said he to my father. "I have found all that
you told me of, and I am indebted to you for a charming walk."
My father respectfully rose, and made a civil reply. The stranger had
grown quite familiar, and even asked if his young "brother botanist" did
not think of returning to Paris. My father replied in the affirmative,
and opened his tin box to put his book back in it.
The stranger asked him with a smile if he might without impertinence ask
the name of it. My father answered that it was Rousseau's Emile.
The stranger immediately became grave.
They walked for some time side by side, my father expressing, with the
warmth of a heart still throbbing with emotion, all that this work had
made him feel; his companion remaining cold and silent. The former
extolled the glory of the great Genevese writer, whose genius had made
him a citizen of the world; he expatiated on this privilege of great
thinkers, who reign in spite of time and space, and gather together a
people of willing subjects out of all nations; but the stranger suddenly
"And how do you know," said he, mildly, "whether Jean Jacques would not
exchange the reputation which you seem to envy for the life of one of the
wood-cutters whose chimneys' smoke we see? What has fame brought him
except persecution? The unknown friends whom his books may have made for
him content themselves with blessing him in their hearts, while the
declared enemies that they have drawn upon him pursue him with violence
and calumny! His pride has been flattered by success: how many times has
it been wounded by satire? And be assured that human pride is like the
Sybarite who was prevented from sleeping by a crease in a roseleaf. The
activity of a vigorous mind, by which the world profits, almost always
turns against him who possesses it. He expects more from it as he grows
older; the ideal he pursues continually disgusts him with the actual; he
is like a man who, with a too-refined sight, discerns spots and blemishes
in the most beautiful face. I will not speak of stronger temptations and
of deeper downfalls. Genius, you have said, is a kingdom; but what
virtuous man is not afraid of being a king? He who feels only his great
powers, is--with the weaknesses and passions of our nature--preparing for
great failures. Believe me, sir, the unhappy man who wrote this book is
no object of admiration or of envy; but, if you have a feeling heart,
My father, astonished at the excitement with which his companion
pronounced these last words, did not know what to answer.
Just then they reached the paved road which led from Meudon Castle to
that of Versailles; a carriage was passing.
The ladies who were in it perceived the old man, uttered an exclamation
of surprise, and leaning out of the window repeated:
"There is Jean Jacques--there is Rousseau!"
Then the carriage disappeared in the distance.
My father remained motionless, confounded, and amazed, his eyes wide
open, and his hands clasped.
Rousseau, who had shuddered on hearing his name spoken, turned toward
"You see," said he, with the bitter misanthropy which his later
misfortunes had produced in him, "Jean Jacques cannot even hide himself:
he is an object of curiosity to some, of malignity to others, and to all
he is a public thing, at which they point the finger. It would signify
less if he had only to submit to the impertinence of the idle; but, as
soon as a man has had the misfortune to make himself a name, he becomes
public property. Every one rakes into his life, relates his most trivial
actions, and insults his feelings; he becomes like those walls, which
every passer-by may deface with some abusive writing. Perhaps you will
say that I have myself encouraged this curiosity by publishing my
Confessions. But the world forced me to it. They looked into my house
through the blinds, and they slandered me; I have opened the doors and
windows, so that they should at least know me such as I am. Adieu, sir.
Whenever you wish to know the worth of fame, remember that you have seen
Nine o'clock.--Ah! now I understand my father's story! It contains the
answer to one of the questions I asked myself a week ago. Yes, I now
feel that fame and power are gifts that are dearly bought; and that, when
they dazzle the soul, both are oftenest, as Madame de Stael says, but 'un
deuil eclatant de bonheur!
'Tis better to be lowly born,
And range with humble livers in content,
Than to be perk'd up in a glistering grief,
And wear a golden sorrow.
[Henry VIII., Act II., Scene 3.]
MISANTHROPY AND REPENTANCE
August 3d, Nine O'clock P.M.
There are days when everything appears gloomy to us; the world, like the
sky, is covered by a dark fog. Nothing seems in its place; we see only
misery, improvidence, and cruelty; the world seems without God, and given
up to all the evils of chance.
Yesterday I was in this unhappy humor. After a long walk in the
faubourgs, I returned home, sad and dispirited.
Everything I had seen seemed to accuse the civilization of which we are
so proud! I had wandered into a little by-street, with which I was not
acquainted, and I found myself suddenly in the middle of those dreadful
abodes where the poor are born, to languish and die. I looked at those
decaying walls, which time has covered with a foul leprosy; those
windows, from which dirty rags hang out to dry; those fetid gutters,
which coil along the fronts of the houses like venomous reptiles!
I felt oppressed with grief, and hastened on.
A little farther on I was stopped by the hearse of a hospital; a dead
man, nailed down in his deal coffin, was going to his last abode, without
funeral pomp or ceremony, and without followers. There was not here even
that last friend of the outcast--the dog, which a painter has introduced
as the sole attendant at the pauper's burial! He whom they were
preparing to commit to the earth was going to the tomb, as he had lived,
alone; doubtless no one would be aware of his end. In this battle of
society, what signifies a soldier the less?
But what, then, is this human society, if one of its members can thus
disappear like a leaf carried away by the wind?
The hospital was near a barrack, at the entrance of which old men, women,
and children were quarrelling for the remains of the coarse bread which
the soldiers had given them in charity! Thus, beings like ourselves
daily wait in destitution on our compassion till we give them leave to
live! Whole troops of outcasts, in addition to the trials imposed on all
God's children, have to endure the pangs of cold, hunger, and
humiliation. Unhappy human commonwealth! Where man is in a worse
condition than the bee in its hive, or the ant in its subterranean city!
Ah! what then avails our reason? What is the use of so many high
faculties, if we are neither the wiser nor the happier for them? Which
of us would not exchange his life of labor and trouble with that of the
birds of the air, to whom the whole world is a life of joy?
How well I understand the complaint of Mao, in the popular tales of the
'Foyer Breton' who, when dying of hunger and thirst, says, as he looks at
the bullfinches rifling the fruit-trees:
"Alas! those birds are happier than Christians; they have no need of
inns, or butchers, or bakers, or gardeners. God's heaven belongs to
them, and earth spreads a continual feast before them! The tiny flies
are their game, ripe grass their cornfields, and hips and haws their
store of fruit. They have the right of taking everywhere, without paying
or asking leave: thus comes it that the little birds are happy, and sing
all the livelong day!"
But the life of man in a natural state is like that of the birds; he
equally enjoys nature. "The earth spreads a continual feast before him."
What, then, has he gained by that selfish and imperfect association which
forms a nation? Would it not be better for every one to turn again to
the fertile bosom of nature, and live there upon her bounty in peace and
August 20th, four o'clock A.M.--The dawn casts a red glow on my bed-
curtains; the breeze brings in the fragrance of the gardens below. Here
I am again leaning on my elbows by the windows, inhaling the freshness
and gladness of this first wakening of the day.
My eye always passes over the roofs filled with flowers, warbling, and
sunlight, with the same pleasure; but to-day it stops at the end of a
buttress which separates our house from the next.
The storms have stripped the top of its plaster covering, and dust
carried by the wind has collected in the crevices, and, being fixed there
by the rain, has formed a sort of aerial terrace, where some green grass
has sprung up. Among it rises a stalk of wheat, which to-day is
surmounted by a sickly ear that droops its yellow head.
This poor stray crop on the roofs, the harvest of which will fall to the
neighboring sparrows, has carried my thoughts to the rich crops which are
now falling beneath the sickle; it has recalled to me the beautiful walks
I took as a child through my native province, when the threshing-floors
at the farmhouses resounded from every part with the sound of a flail,
and when the carts, loaded with golden sheaves, came in by all the roads.
I still remember the songs of the maidens, the cheerfulness of the old
men, the open-hearted merriment of the laborers. There was, at that
time, something in their looks both of pride and feeling. The latter
came from thankfulness to God, the former from the sight of the harvest,
the reward of their labor. They felt indistinctly the grandeur and the
holiness of their part in the general work of the world; they looked with
pride upon their mountains of corn-sheaves, and they seemed to say, Next
to God, it is we who feed the world!
What a wonderful order there is in all human labor!
While the husbandman furrows his land, and prepares for every one his
daily bread, the town artizan, far away, weaves the stuff in which he is
to be clothed; the miner seeks underground the iron for his plow; the
soldier defends him against the invader; the judge takes care that the
law protects his fields; the tax-comptroller adjusts his private
interests with those of the public; the merchant occupies himself in
exchanging his products with those of distant countries; the men of
science and of art add every day a few horses to this ideal team, which
draws along the material world, as steam impels the gigantic trains of
our iron roads! Thus all unite together, all help one another; the toil
of each one benefits himself and all the world; the work has been
apportioned among the different members of the whole of society by a
tacit agreement. If, in this apportionment, errors are committed, if
certain individuals have not been employed according to their capacities,
those defects of detail diminish in the sublime conception of the whole.
The poorest man included in this association has his place, his work, his
reason for being there; each is something in the whole.
There is nothing like this for man in the state of nature. As he depends
only upon himself, it is necessary that he be sufficient for everything.
All creation is his property; but he finds in it as many hindrances as
helps. He must surmount these obstacles with the single strength that
God has given him; he cannot reckon on any other aid than chance and
opportunity. No one reaps, manufactures, fights, or thinks for him; he
is nothing to any one. He is a unit multiplied by the cipher of his own
single powers; while the civilized man is a unit multiplied by the whole
But, notwithstanding this, the other day, disgusted by the sight of some
vices in detail, I cursed the latter, and almost envied the life of the
One of the infirmities of our nature is always to mistake feeling for
evidence, and to judge of the season by a cloud or a ray of sunshine.
Was the misery, the sight of which made me regret a savage life, really
the effect of civilization? Must we accuse society of having created
these evils, or acknowledge, on the contrary, that it has alleviated
them? Could the women and children, who were receiving the coarse bread
from the soldier, hope in the desert for more help or pity? That dead
man, whose forsaken state I deplored, had he not found, by the cares of a
hospital, a coffin and the humble grave where he was about to rest?
Alone, and far from men, he would have died like the wild beast in his
den, and would now be serving as food for vultures! These benefits of
human society are shared, then, by the most destitute. Whoever eats the
bread that another has reaped and kneaded, is under an obligation to his
brother, and cannot say he owes him nothing in return. The poorest of us
has received from society much more than his own single strength would
have permitted him to wrest from nature.
But cannot society give us more? Who doubts it? Errors have been
committed in this distribution of tasks and workers. Time will diminish
the number of them; with new lights a better division will arise; the
elements of society go on toward perfection, like everything else. The
difficulty is to know how to adapt ourselves to the slow step of time,
whose progress can never be forced on without danger.
August 14th, six o'clock A.M.--My garret window rises upon the roof like
a massive watch-tower. The corners are covered by large sheets of lead,
which run into the tiles; the successive action of cold and heat has made
them rise, and so a crevice has been formed in an angle on the right
side. There a sparrow has built her nest.
I have followed the progress of this aerial habitation from the first
day. I have seen the bird successively bring the straw, moss, and wool
designed for the construction of her abode; and I have admired the
persevering skill she expended in this difficult work. At first, my new
neighbor spent her days in fluttering over the poplar in the garden, and
in chirping along the gutters; a fine lady's life seemed the only one to
suit her. Then all of a sudden, the necessity of preparing a shelter for
her brood transformed our idler into a worker; she no longer gave herself
either rest or relaxation. I saw her always either flying, fetching, or
carrying; neither rain nor sun stopped her. A striking example of the
power of necessity! We are indebted to it not only for most of our
talents, but for many of our virtues!
Is it not necessity that has given the people of less favored climates
that constant activity which has placed them so quickly at the head of
nations? As they are deprived of most of the gifts of nature, they have
supplied them by their industry; necessity has sharpened their
understanding, endurance awakened their foresight. While elsewhere man,
warmed by an ever brilliant sun, and loaded with the bounties of the
earth, was remaining poor, ignorant, and naked, in the midst of gifts he
did not attempt to explore, here he was forced by necessity to wrest his
food from the ground, to build habitations to defend himself from the
intemperance of the weather, and to warm his body by clothing himself
with the wool of animals. Work makes him both more intelligent and more
robust: disciplined by it, he seems to mount higher on the ladder of
creation, while those more favored by nature remain on the step nearest
to the brutes.
I made these reflections while looking at the bird, whose instinct seemed
to have become more acute since she had been occupied in work. At last
the nest was finished; she set up her household there, and I followed her
through all the phases of her new existence.
When she had sat on the eggs, and the young ones were hatched, she fed
them with the most attentive care. The corner of my window had become a
stage of moral action, which fathers and mothers might come to take
lessons from. The little ones soon became large, and this morning I have
seen them take their first flight. One of them, weaker than the others,
was not able to clear the edge of the roof, and fell into the gutter. I
caught him with some difficulty, and placed him again on the tile in
front of his house, but the mother has not noticed him. Once freed from
the cares of a family, she has resumed her wandering life among the trees
and along the roofs. In vain I have kept away from my window, to take
from her every excuse for fear; in vain the feeble little bird has called
to her with plaintive cries; his bad mother has passed by, singing and
fluttering with a thousand airs and graces. Once only the father came
near; he looked at his offspring with contempt, and then disappeared,
never to return!
I crumbled some bread before the little orphan, but he did not know how
to peck it with his bill. I tried to catch him, but he escaped into the
forsaken nest. What will become of him there, if his mother does not
August 15th, six o'clock.--This morning, on opening my window, I found
the little bird dying upon the tiles; his wounds showed me that he had
been driven from the nest by his unworthy mother. I tried in vain to
warm him again with my breath; I felt the last pulsations of life; his
eyes were already closed, and his wings hung down! I placed him on the
roof in a ray of sunshine, and I closed my window. The struggle of life
against death has always something gloomy in it: it is a warning to us.
Happily I hear some one in the passage; without doubt it is my old
neighbor; his conversation will distract my thoughts.
It was my portress. Excellent woman! She wished me to read a letter
from her son the sailor, and begged me to answer it for her.
I kept it, to copy it in my journal. Here it is:
"DEAR MOTHER: This is to tell you that I have been very well ever
since the last time, except that last week I was nearly drowned with
the boat, which would have been a great loss, as there is not a
better craft anywhere.
"A gust of wind capsized us; and just as I came up above water, I
saw the captain sinking. I went after him, as was my duty, and,
after diving three times, I brought him to the surface, which
pleased him much; for when we were hoisted on board, and he had
recovered his senses, he threw his arms round my neck, as he would
have done to an officer.
"I do not hide from you, dear mother, that this has delighted me.
But it isn't all; it seems that fishing up the captain has reminded
them that I had a good character, and they have just told me that I
am promoted to be a sailor of the first class! Directly I knew it,
I cried out, 'My mother shall have coffee twice a day!' And really,
dear mother, there is nothing now to hinder you, as I shall now have
a larger allowance to send you.
"I include by begging you to take care of yourself if you wish to do
me good; for nothing makes me feel so well as to think that you want
"Your son, from the bottom of my heart,
This is the answer that the portress dictated to me:
"MY GOOD JACQUOT: It makes me very happy to see that your heart is
still as true as ever, and that you will never shame those who have
brought you up. I need not tell you to take care of your life,
because you know it is the same as my own, and that without you,
dear child, I should wish for nothing but the grave; but we are not
bound to live, while we are bound to do our duty.
"Do not fear for my health, good Jacques; I was never better! I do
not grow old at all, for fear of making you unhappy. I want
nothing, and I live like a lady. I even had some money over this
year, and as my drawers shut very badly, I put it into the savings'
bank, where I have opened an account in your name. So, when you
come back, you will find yourself with an income. I have also
furnished your chest with new linen, and I have knitted you three
"All your friends are well. Your cousin is just dead, leaving his
widow in difficulties. I gave her your thirty francs' remittance
and said that you had sent it her; and the poor woman remembers you
day and night in her prayers. So, you see, I have put that money in
another sort of savings' bank; but there it is our hearts that get
"Good-bye, dear Jacquot. Write to me often, and always remember the
good God, and your old mother,
Good son, and worthy mother! how such examples bring us back to a love
for the human race! In a fit of fanciful misanthropy, we may envy the
fate of the savage, and prefer that of the bird to such as he; but
impartial observation soon does justice to such paradoxes. We find, on
examination, that in the mixed good and evil of human nature, the good so
far abounds that we are not in the habit of noticing it, while the evil
strikes us precisely on account of its being the exception. If nothing
is perfect, nothing is so bad as to be without its compensation or its
remedy. What spiritual riches are there in the midst of the evils of
society! how much does the moral world redeem the material!
That which will ever distinguish man from the rest of creation, is his
power of deliberate affection and of enduring self-sacrifice. The mother
who took care of her brood in the corner of my window devoted to them the
necessary time for accomplishing the laws which insure the preservation
of her kind; but she obeyed an instinct, and not a rational choice. When
she had accomplished the mission appointed her by Providence, she cast
off the duty as we get rid of a burden, and she returned again to her
selfish liberty. The other mother, on the contrary, will go on with her
task as long as God shall leave her here below: the life of her son will
still remain, so to speak, joined to her own; and when she disappears
from the earth, she will leave there that part of herself.
Thus, the affections make for our species an existence separate from all
the rest of creation. Thanks to them, we enjoy a sort of terrestrial
immortality; and if other beings succeed one another, man alone
THE FAMILY OF MICHAEL AROUT
September 15th, Eight O'clock
This morning, while I was arranging my books, Mother Genevieve came in,
and brought me the basket of fruit I buy of her every Sunday. For the
nearly twenty years that I have lived in this quarter, I have dealt in
her little fruit-shop. Perhaps I should be better served elsewhere, but
Mother Genevieve has but little custom; to leave her would do her harm,
and cause her unnecessary pain. It seems to me that the length of our
acquaintance has made me incur a sort of tacit obligation to her; my
patronage has become her property.
She has put the basket upon my table, and as I want her husband, who is a
joiner, to add some shelves to my bookcase, she has gone downstairs again
immediately to send him to me.
At first I did not notice either her looks or the sound of her voice:
but, now that I recall them, it seems to me that she was not as jovial as
usual. Can Mother Genevieve be in trouble about anything?
Poor woman! All her best years were subject to such bitter trials, that
she might think she had received her full share already. Were I to live
a hundred years, I should never forget the circumstances which made her
known to me, and which obtained for her my respect.
It was at the time of my first settling in the faubourg. I had noticed
her empty fruit-shop, which nobody came into, and, being attracted by its
forsaken appearance, I made my little purchases in it. I have always
instinctively preferred the poor shops; there is less choice in them, but
it seems to me that my purchase is a sign of sympathy with a brother in
poverty. These little dealings are almost always an anchor of hope to
those whose very existence is in peril--the only means by which some
orphan gains a livelihood. There the aim of the tradesman is not to
enrich himself, but to live! The purchase you make of him is more than
an exchange--it is a good action.
Mother Genevieve at that time was still young, but had already lost that
fresh bloom of youth which suffering causes to wither so soon among the
poor. Her husband, a clever joiner, gradually left off working to
become, according to the picturesque expression of the workshops, a
worshipper of Saint Monday. The wages of the week, which was always
reduced to two or three working days, were completely dedicated by him to
the worship of this god of the Barriers,--[The cheap wine shops are
outside the Barriers, to avoid the octroi, or municipal excise.]--and
Genevieve was obliged herself to provide for all the wants of the
One evening, when I went to make some trifling purchases of her, I heard
a sound of quarrelling in the back shop. There were the voices of
several women, among which I distinguished that of Genevieve, broken by
sobs. On looking farther in, I perceived the fruit-woman holding a child
in her arms, and kissing it, while a country nurse seemed to be claiming
her wages from her. The poor woman, who without doubt had exhausted
every explanation and every excuse, was crying in silence, and one of her
neighbors was trying in vain to appease the countrywoman. Excited by
that love of money which the evils of a hard peasant life but too well
excuse, and disappointed by the refusal of her expected wages, the nurse
was launching forth in recriminations, threats, and abuse. In spite of
myself, I listened to the quarrel, not daring to interfere, and not
thinking of going away, when Michael Arout appeared at the shop-door.
The joiner had just come from the Barriers, where he had passed part of
the day at a public-house. His blouse, without a belt, and untied at the
throat, showed none of the noble stains of work: in his hand he held his
cap, which he had just picked up out of the mud; his hair was in
disorder, his eye fixed, and the pallor of drunkenness in his face. He
came reeling in, looked wildly around him, and called Genevieve.
She heard his voice, gave a start, and rushed into the shop; but at the
sight of the miserable man, who was trying in vain to steady himself, she
pressed the child in her arms, and bent over it with tears.
The countrywoman and the neighbor had followed her.
"Come! come!" cried the former in a rage, "do you intend to pay me,
"Ask the master for the money," ironically answered the woman from the
next door, pointing to the joiner, who had just fallen against the
The countrywoman looked at him.
"Ah! he is the father," returned she. "Well, what idle beggars! not to
have a penny to pay honest people; and get tipsy with wine in that way."
The drunkard raised his head.
"What! what!" stammered he; "who is it that talks of wine? I've had
nothing but brandy! But I am going back again to get some wine! Wife,
give me your money; there are some friends waiting for me at the 'Pere
Genevieve did not answer: he went round the counter, opened the till, and
began to rummage in it.
"You see where the money of the house goes!" observed the neighbor to
the countrywoman; "how can the poor unhappy woman pay you when he takes
"Is that my fault?" replied the nurse, angrily. "They owe to me, and
somehow or other they must pay me!"
And letting loose her tongue, as these women out of the country do, she
began relating at length all the care she had taken of the child, and all
the expense it had been to her. In proportion as she recalled all she
had done, her words seemed to convince her more than ever of her rights,
and to increase her anger. The poor mother, who no doubt feared that her
violence would frighten the child, returned into the back shop, and put
it into its cradle.
Whether it is that the countrywoman saw in this act a determination to
escape her claims, or that she was blinded by passion, I cannot say; but
she rushed into the next room, where I heard the sounds of quarrelling,
with which the cries of the child were soon mingled. The joiner, who was
still rummaging in the till, was startled, and raised his head.
At the same moment Genevieve appeared at the door, holding in her arms
the baby that the countrywoman was trying to tear from her. She ran
toward the counter, and throwing herself behind her husband, cried:
"Michael, defend your son!"
The drunken man quickly stood up erect, like one who awakes with a start.
"My son!" stammered he; "what son?"
His looks fell upon the child; a vague ray of intelligence passed over
"Robert," resumed he; "it is Robert!"
He tried to steady himself on his feet, that he might take the baby, but
he tottered. The nurse approached him in a rage.
"My money, or I shall take the child away!" cried she. "It is I who
have fed and brought it up: if you don't pay me for what has made it
live, it ought to be the same to you as if it were dead. I shall not go
until I have my due, or the baby."
"And what would you do with him?" murmured Genevieve, pressing Robert
against her bosom.
"Take it to the Foundling!" replied the countrywoman, harshly; "the
hospital is a better mother than you are, for it pays for the food of its
At the word "Foundling," Genevieve had exclaimed aloud in horror. With
her arms wound round her son, whose head she hid in her bosom, and her
two hands spread over him, she had retreated to the wall, and remained
with her back against it, like a lioness defending her young. The
neighbor and I contemplated this scene, without knowing how we could
interfere. As for Michael, he looked at us by turns, making a visible
effort to comprehend it all. When his eye rested upon Genevieve and the
child, it lit up with a gleam of pleasure; but when he turned toward us,
he again became stupid and hesitating.
At last, apparently making a prodigious effort, he cried out, "Wait!"
And going to a tub filled with water, he plunged his face into it several
Every eye was turned upon him; the countrywoman herself seemed
astonished. At length he raised his dripping head. This ablution had
partly dispelled his drunkenness; he looked at us for a moment, then he
turned to Genevieve, and his face brightened up.
"Robert!" cried he, going up to the child, and taking him in his arms.
"Ah! give him me, wife; I must look at him."
The mother seemed to give up his son to him with reluctance, and stayed
before him with her arms extended, as if she feared the child would have
a fall. The nurse began again in her turn to speak, and renewed her
claims, this time threatening to appeal to law. At first Michael
listened to her attentively, and when he comprehended her meaning, he
gave the child back to its mother.
"How much do we owe you?" asked he.
The countrywoman began to reckon up the different expenses, which
amounted to nearly thirty francs. The joiner felt to the bottom of his
pockets, but could find nothing. His forehead became contracted by
frowns; low curses began to escape him. All of a sudden he rummaged in
his breast, drew forth a large watch, and holding it up above his head:
"Here it is--here's your money!" cried he with a joyful laugh; "a watch,
a good one! I always said it would keep for a drink on a dry day; but it
is not I who will drink it, but the young one. Ah! ah! ah! go and sell
it for me, neighbor, and if that is not enough, I have my earrings. Eh!
Genevieve, take them off for me; the earrings will square all! They
shall not say you have been disgraced on account of the child--no, not
even if I must pledge a bit of my flesh! My watch, my earrings, and my
ring--get rid of all of them for me at the goldsmith's; pay the woman,
and let the little fool go to sleep. Give him me, Genevieve; I will put
him to bed."
And, taking the baby from the arms of his mother, he carried him with a
firm step to his cradle.
It was easy to perceive the change which took place in Michael from this
day. He cut all his old drinking acquaintances. He went early every
morning to his work, and returned regularly in the evening to finish the
day with Genevieve and Robert. Very soon he would not leave them at all,
and he hired a place near the fruit-shop, and worked in it on his own
They would soon have been able to live in comfort, had it not been for
the expenses which the child required. Everything was given up to his
education. He had gone through the regular school training, had studied
mathematics, drawing, and the carpenter's trade, and had only begun to
work a few months ago. Till now, they had been exhausting every resource
which their laborious industry could provide to push him forward in his
business; and, happily, all these exertions had not proved useless: the
seed had brought forth fruit, and the days of harvest were close by.
While I was thus recalling these remembrances to my mind, Michael had
come in, and was occupied in fixing shelves where they were wanted.
During the time I was writing the notes of my journal, I was also
scrutinizing the joiner.
The excesses of his youth and the labor of his manhood have deeply marked
his face; his hair is thin and gray, his shoulders stoop, his legs are
shrunken and slightly bent. There seems a sort of weight in his whole
being. His very features have an expression of sorrow and despondency.
He answers my questions by monosyllables, and like a man who wishes to
avoid conversation. Whence comes this dejection, when one would think he
had all he could wish for? I should like to know!
Ten o'clock.--Michael is just gone downstairs to look for a tool he has
forgotten. I have at last succeeded in drawing from him the secret of
his and Genevieve's sorrow. Their son Robert is the cause of it!
Not that he has turned out ill after all their care--not that he is idle
or dissipated; but both were in hopes he would never leave them any more.
The presence of the young man was to have renewed and made glad their
lives once more; his mother counted the days, his father prepared
everything to receive their dear associate in their toils; and at the
moment when they were thus about to be repaid for all their sacrifices,
Robert had suddenly informed them that he had just engaged himself to a
contractor at Versailles.
Every remonstrance and every prayer were useless; he brought forward the
necessity of initiating himself into all the details of an important
contract, the facilities he should have in his new position of improving
himself in his trade, and the hopes he had of turning his knowledge to
advantage. At, last, when his mother, having come to the end of her
arguments, began to cry, he hastily kissed her, and went away that he
might avoid any further remonstrances.
He had been absent a year, and there was nothing to give them hopes of
his return. His parents hardly saw him once a month, and then he only
stayed a few moments with them.
"I have been punished where I had hoped to be rewarded," Michael said to
me just now. "I had wished for a saving and industrious son, and God has
given me an ambitious and avaricious one! I had always said to myself
that when once he was grown up we should have him always with us, to
recall our youth and to enliven our hearts. His mother was always
thinking of getting him married, and having children again to care for.
You know women always will busy themselves about others. As for me, I
thought of him working near my bench, and singing his new songs; for he
has learnt music, and is one of the best singers at the Orpheon.
A dream, sir, truly! Directly the bird was fledged, he took to flight,
and remembers neither father nor mother. Yesterday, for instance, was
the day we expected him; he should have come to supper with us. No
Robert to-day, either! He has had some plan to finish, or some bargain
to arrange, and his old parents are put down last in the accounts, after
the customers and the joiner's work. Ah! if I could have guessed how it
would have turned out! Fool! to have sacrificed my likings and my money,
for nearly twenty years, to the education of a thankless son! Was it for
this I took the trouble to cure myself of drinking, to break with my
friends, to become an example to the neighborhood? The jovial good
fellow has made a goose of himself. Oh! if I had to begin again! No,
no! you see women and children are our bane. They soften our hearts;
they lead us a life of hope and affection; we pass a quarter of our lives
in fostering the growth of a grain of corn which is to be everything to
us in our old age, and when the harvest-time comes--good-night, the ear
While he was speaking, Michael's voice became hoarse, his eyes fierce,
and his lips quivered. I wished to answer him, but I could only think of
commonplace consolations, and I remained silent. The joiner pretended he
needed a tool, and left me.
Poor father! Ah! I know those moments of temptation when virtue has
failed to reward us, and we regret having obeyed her! Who has not felt
this weakness in hours of trial, and who has not uttered, at least once,
the mournful exclamation of Brutus?
But if virtue is only a word, what is there then in life that is true
and real? No, I will not believe that goodness is in vain! It does not
always give the happiness we had hoped for, but it brings some other.
In the world everything is ruled by order, and has its proper and
necessary consequences, and virtue cannot be the sole exception to the
general law. If it had been prejudicial to those who practised it,
experience would have avenged them; but experience has, on the contrary,
made it more universal and more holy. We only accuse it of being a
faithless debtor because we demand an immediate payment, and one apparent
to our senses. We always consider life as a fairytale, in which every
good action must be rewarded by a visible wonder. We do not accept as
payment a peaceful conscience, self-content, or a good name among men--
treasures that are more precious than any other, but the value of which
we do not feel till after we have lost them!
Michael is come back, and has returned to his work. His son has not yet
By telling me of his hopes and his grievous disappointments, he became
excited; he unceasingly went over again the same subject, always adding
something to his griefs. He had just wound up his confidential discourse
by speaking to me of a joiner's business which he had hoped to buy, and
work to good account with Robert's help. The present owner had made a
fortune by it, and, after thirty years of business, he was thinking of
retiring to one of the ornamental cottages in the outskirts of the city,
a usual retreat for the frugal and successful workingman. Michael had
not indeed the two thousand francs which must be paid down; but perhaps
he could have persuaded Master Benoit to wait. Robert's presence would
have been a security for him, for the young man could not fail to insure
the prosperity of a workshop; besides science and skill, he had the power
of invention and bringing to perfection. His father had discovered among
his drawings a new plan for a staircase, which had occupied his thoughts
for a long time; and he even suspected him of having engaged himself to
the Versailles contractor for the very purpose of executing it. The
youth was tormented by this spirit of invention, which took possession of
all his thoughts, and, while devoting his mind to study, he had no time
to listen to his feelings.
Michael told me all this with a mixed feeling of pride and vexation. I
saw he was proud of the son he was abusing, and that his very pride made
him more sensitive to that son's neglect.
Six o'clock P.M.--I have just finished a happy day. How many events have
happened within a few hours, and what a change for Genevieve and Michael!
He had just finished fixing the shelves, and telling me of his son, while
I laid the cloth for my breakfast.
Suddenly we heard hurried steps in the passage, the door opened, and
Genevieve entered with Robert.
The joiner gave a start of joyful surprise, but he repressed it
immediately, as if he wished to keep up the appearance of displeasure.
The young man did not appear to notice it, but threw himself into his
arms in an open-hearted manner, which surprised me. Genevieve, whose
face shone with happiness, seemed to wish to speak, and to restrain
herself with difficulty.
I told Robert I was glad to see him, and he answered me with ease and
"I expected you yesterday," said Michael Arout, rather dryly.
"Forgive me, father," replied the young workman, "but I had business at
St. Germain's. I was not able to come back till it was very late, and
then the master kept me."
The joiner looked at his son sidewise, and then took up his hammer again.
"All right," muttered he, in a grumbling tone; "when we are with other
people we must do as they wish; but there are some who would like better
to eat brown bread with their own knife than partridges with the silver
fork of a master."
"And I am one of those, father," replied Robert, merrily, "but, as the
proverb says, "you must shell the peas before you can eat them." It was
necessary that I should first work in a great workshop--"
"To go on with your plan of the staircase," interrupted Michael,
"You must now say Monsieur Raymond's plan, father," replied Robert,
"Because I have sold it to him."
The joiner, who was planing a board, turned round quickly.
"Sold it!" cried he, with sparkling eyes.
"For the reason that I was not rich enough to give it him."
Michael threw down the board and tool.
"There he is again!" resumed he, angrily; "his good genius puts an idea
into his head which would have made him known, and he goes and sells it
to a rich man, who will take the honor of it himself."
"Well, what harm is there done?" asked Genevieve.
"What harm!" cried the joiner, in a passion. "You understand nothing
about it--you are a woman; but he--he knows well that a true workman
never gives up his own inventions for money, no more than a soldier would
give up his cross. That is his glory; he is bound to keep it for the
honor it does him! Ah, thunder! if I had ever made a discovery, rather
than put it up at auction I would have sold one of my eyes! Don't you
see that a new invention is like a child to a workman? He takes care of
it, he brings it up, he makes a way for it in the world, and it is only a
poor creature who sells it."
Robert colored a little.
"You will think differently, father," said he, "when you know why I sold
"Yes, and you will thank him for it," added Genevieve, who could no
longer keep silence.
"Never !" replied Michael.
"But, wretched man!" cried she, "he sold it only for our sakes!"
The joiner looked at his wife and son with astonishment. It was
necessary to come to an explanation. The latter related how he had
entered into a negotiation with Master Benoit, who had positively refused
to sell his business unless one half of the two thousand francs were
first paid down. It was in the hopes of obtaining this sum that he had
gone to work with the contractor at Versailles; he had had an opportunity
of trying his invention, and of finding a purchaser. Thanks to the money
he received for it, he had just concluded the bargain with Benoit, and
had brought his father the key of the new work-yard.
This explanation was given by the young workman with so much modesty and
simplicity that I was quite affected by it. Genevieve cried; Michael
pressed his son to his heart, and in a long embrace he seemed to ask his
pardon for having unjustly accused him.
All was now explained with honor to Robert. The conduct which his
parents had ascribed to indifference really sprang from affection; he had
neither obeyed the voice of ambition nor of avarice, nor even the nobler
inspiration of inventive genius: his whole motive and single aim had been
the happiness of Genevieve and Michael. The day for proving his
gratitude had come, and he had returned them sacrifice for sacrifice!
After the explanations and exclamations of joy were over, all three were
about to leave me; but, the cloth being laid, I added three more places,
and kept them to breakfast.
The meal was prolonged: the fare was only tolerable; but the over-
flowings of affection made it delicious. Never had I better understood
the unspeakable charm of family love. What calm enjoyment in that
happiness which is always shared with others; in that community of
interests which unites such various feelings; in that association of
existences which forms one single being of so many! What is man without
those home affections, which, like so many roots, fix him firmly in the
earth, and permit him to imbibe all the juices of life? Energy,
happiness--do not all these come from them? Without family life where
would man learn to love, to associate, to deny himself? A community in
little, is it not this which teaches us how to live in the great one?
Such is the holiness of home, that, to express our relation with God, we
have been obliged to borrow the words invented for our family life. Men
have named themselves the sons of a heavenly Father!
Ah! let us carefully preserve these chains of domestic union. Do not
let us unbind the human sheaf, and scatter its ears to all the caprices
of chance and of the winds; but let us rather enlarge this holy law; let
us carry the principles and the habits of home beyond set bounds; and,
if it may be, let us realize the prayer of the Apostle of the Gentiles
when he exclaimed to the newborn children of Christ: "Be ye like-minded,
having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind."
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Always to mistake feeling for evidence
Fame and power are gifts that are dearly bought
Fortune sells what we believe she gives
Make himself a name: he becomes public property
My patronage has become her property
Not desirous to teach goodness
Power of necessity
Progress can never be forced on without danger
So much confidence at first, so much doubt at las
The man in power gives up his peace
Virtue made friends, but she did not take pupils
We are not bound to live, while we are bound to do our duty
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