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Full text of "Death"

THE LIBRARY 

OF 

THE UNIVERSITY 

OF CALIFORNIA 

LOS ANGELES 



Digitized by the Internet Arciiive 

in 2008 with funding from 

IVIicrosoft Corporation 



http://www.archive.org/details/deathmaeterlinckOOmaet 



DEATH 



THE WORKS OF MAURICE MAETERLINCK IN 
UNIFORM STYLE AND BINDING 

ESSAYS 
The Treasure of the Humble 
Wisdom and Destiny 
The Life of the Bee 
The Buried Temple 
The Double Garden 
The Measure of the Hours 
Death 

PLAYS 
Sister Beatrice and Ardiane and Barbe Bleue 

JOYZELLE and MONNA VaNNA 

The Blue Bird, A Fairy Play 

Mary Magdalene 

Pelleas and Melisande, and Other Plays 

Princess Maleine 

The Intruder, and Other Plays 

Aglavaine and Selysette 

HOLIDAY EDITIONS 

The text in each case is an extract from one of 
the above mentioned books. 
Our Friend the Dog 
Old-Fashioned Flowers 
The Swarm 

The Intelligence of the Flowers 
Chrysanthemums 
The Leaf of Olive 
Thoughts from Maeterlinck 




Camera Portrait by E. O. Hopp«, London 



1-^^ 



DEATH 



BY 



MAURICE MAETERLINCK 



TRANSLATED BY 

ALEXANDER TEIXEIRA DE MATTOS 




Copyright, igii 

By Maurice Maeterlinck 

Published, January, 191 2 
All rights resei'ved 



CONTENTS 

CHAP. PAGE 

I OUR IDEA OF DEATH 3 



II A PRIMITIVE IDEA 



5 



III WE MUST ENLIGHTEN ADD ESTABLISH OUR 

IDEA OF DEATH lO 

IV WE MUST RID DEATH OF THAT WHICH 

GOES BEFORE 12 

V THE PANGS OF DEATH MUST BE ATTRIBUTED 

TO MAN ALONE 1 4 

VI THE MISTAKE OF THE DOCTORS IN PRO- 
LONGING THE PANGS OF DEATH . . I7 

VII THEIR ARGUMENTS I9 

VIII THAT WHICH DOES NOT BELONG TO DEATH 21 
IX THE HORRORS OF THE GRAVE ALSO DO 

NOT BELONG TO DEATH 25 

X WHEN CONTEMPLATING THE UNKNOWN INTO 
WHICH DEATH HURLS US, LET US FIRST 
PUT RELIGIOUS FEARS FROM OUR MINDS 29 
XI ANNIHILATION IMPOSSIBLE .... 



33 



XII THE SURVIVAL OF OUR CONSCIOUSNESS . 87 
XIII IT SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE OQ 



202S818 



CONTENTS 

CHAP. PAOB 

XIV THE SAME, CONllNUED 45 

XV IF IT WERE POSSIBLE, IT WOULD NOT 

BE DREADFUL 1^8 

XVI THE SURVIVAL WITHOUT CONSCIOUS- 
NESS 5 1 

XVII THE SAME, CONTINUED 54 

XVIII THE LHIITED EGO WOULD BECOME A 

TORTURE 57 

XIX A NEW EGO CAN FIND A NUCLEUS AND 

DEVELOP ITSELF IN INFINITY . . 60 

XX THE ONLT SORROW THAT CAN TOUCH 

OUR MIND 65 

XXI INFINITY AS CONCEIVED BT OUR REASON 68 

XXII INFINITY AS PERCEIVED BY OUR SENSES 7 1 

XXIII WHICH OF THE TWO SHALL WE KNOW? 74 

XXIV THE INFINITY WHICH BOTH OUR REASON 

AND OUR SENSES CAN ADMIT . . 77 

XXV OUR FAITH IN INFINITY .... 8 1 

XXVI THE SAME, CONTINUED 84 

XXVII SHALL WE BE UNHAPPY THERE? • . 87 

XXVIII QUESTIONS WITHOUT ANSWERS? . . QO 

XXIX THE SAME, CONTINUED g5 

XXX IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO ANSWER 

THEM 99 

XXXI EVERYTHING MUST FINISH EXEMPT FROM 

SUFFERING 102 



DEATH 



DEATH 
I 

OUR IDEA OF DEATH 



^} J/ f ]^g^g ]yQQji ^yeii sal(J ; 

*• Death and death alone is what 
we must consuh about Kfe ; and 
not some vague future or survival, 
in which we shall not be present. 
It is our own end ; and every- 
thing happens in the interval 
between death and now. Do not 
talk to me of those imaginary pro- 
longations which wield over us 
the childish spell of number ; do 
not talk to me — to me who am 
-1 3 h 



DEATH 

to die outright — of societies and 
peoples I There is no reality, 
there is no true duration, save 
that between the cradle and the 
grave. The rest is mere bombast, 
show, delusion I They call me a 
master because of some magic 
in my speech and thoughts ; but 
I am a frightened child in the 
presence of death !"^ 

1 Marie Leneru, Les Ajjranchis, Act m., Sc. iv. 



-J 4 {- 




II 

A PRIMITIVE IDEA 



HAT is where we stand. 
For us, death is the one event that 
counts in our hfe and in our uni- 
verse. It is the point whereat all 
that escapes our vigilance unites 
and conspires against our happi- 
ness. The more our thoughts 
struggle to turn away from it, 
the closer do they press around 
it. The more we dread it, the 
more dreadful it becomes, for it 
battens but on our fears. He who 
seeks to forget it burdens his 
memory with it; he who tries to 
shun it meets naught else. But, 

H 5 H 



DEATH 

though we think of death inces- 
santly, we do so unconsciously, 
without learning to know death. 
We compel our attention to turn 
its back upon it, instead of going 
to it with uplifted head. We ex- 
haust all our forces, which ought 
to face death boldly, in distract- 
ing our will from it. We deliver 
death into the dim hands of 
instinct and we grant it not one 
hour of our intelligence. Is it 
surjDrising that the idea of deatk»_- 
which should Le the most perfect-^ 
and the most luminous — being: 
the most persistent and the most 
inevitable — remains the flimsiest 
of our ideas and the only one that 
is backward ? How should we 
know the one power which we 
never looked in the face? How 
could it profit by flashes kindled 
H 6 h 



DEATH 

only to help us escape it? To 
fathom its abysses, we wait until 
the most enfeebled, the most dis- 
ordered moments of our life 
arrive. We do not think of 
death until we have no longer the 
strength, I will not say, to think, 
but even to breathe. A man re- 
turning among us from another 
century would not recognize with- 
out difficulty, in the depths of a 
present-day soul, the image of his 
gods, of his duty, of his love or 
of his universe ; but the figure of 
death, when everything has 
changed around it and when even 
that which composes it and upon 
which it rests has vanished, he 
would find almost untouched, 
rough-drawn as it was by our 
fathers, hundreds, nay, thousands 
of years ago. Our intelligence, 
H 7 h 



DEATH 

grown so bold and active, has 
not worked upon this figure, 
has added no single touch to it. 
Though we may no longer believe 
in the tortures of the damned, all 
the vital cells of the most skepti- 
cal among us are still steeped in 
the appalling mystery of the 
Hebrew Sheol, the pagan Hades, 
or the Christian Hell. Though 
it may no longer be lighted by 
very definite flames, the gulf still 
opens at the end of life, and, if 
less known, is all the more formi- 
dable. And, therefore, when the 
impending hour strikes to which 
we dared not raise our eyes, every- 
thing fails us at the same time. 
Those two or three uncertain ideas 
whereon, without examining them, 
we had meant to lean, give way 
like rushes beneath the weight 
-3 8 h 



DEATH 

of the last moments. In vain we 
seek a refuge among reflections 
that rave or are strange to us and 
do not know the roads to our 
heart. No one awaits us on the 
last shore where all is unprepared, 
where naught remains afoot save 
terror. 



H 9 h 



4^i^i^^£i^Si^SS^I^^i^^^^^^ 



III 



WE MUST ENLIGHTEN AND ESTABLISH 
OUR IDEA OF DEATH 



Viict-^^ T were a salutary thing for 
each of us to work out his idea of 
death in the hght of his days and 
the strength of his intelhgence and 
to learn to stand by it. He would 
say to death: 

"I know not who you are, or 
I would be your master ; but, in 
days when my eyes saw clearer 
than to-day, I learnt what you are 
not : that is enough to prevent 
you from becoming my master." 

He would thus carry, imprinted 
on his memory, a tried image 
H lo h 



DEATH 

against which the last agony would 
not prevail and in which the 
phantom-stricken eyes would take 
fresh comfort. Instead of the 
terrible prayer of the dying, which 
is the prayer of the depths, he 
would say his own prayer, that 
of the peaks of his life, where 
would be gathered, like angels of 
peace, the most limpid, the most 
pellucid thoughts of his life. Is 
not that the prayer of prayers? 
After all, what is a true and 
worthy prayer, if not the most 
ardent and disinterested effort to 
reach and grasp the unknown ? 



H 11 F» 



IV 



WE MUST RID DEATH OF THAT 
WHICH GOES BEFORE 



%J 



^ HE doctors and the 

priests," said Napoleon, "have 
long been making death grievous. " 
Let us, then, learn to look upon 
it as it is in itself, free from the 
horrors of matter and stripped of 
the terrors of the imagination. 
Let us first get rid of all that goes 
before and does not belong to it. 
Thus, we impute to it the tortures 
of the last illness ; and that is not 
right. Illnesses have nothing in 
common with that which ends 
them. They form part of life and 

H 13 h 



DEATH 

not of death. We easily forget 
the most cruel sufferings that 
restore us to health ; and the first 
sun of convalescence destroys the 
most unbearable memories of the 
chamber of pain. But let death 
come ; and at once we overwhelm 
it with all the evil done before it. 
Not a tear but is remembered and 
used as a reproach, not a cry of 
pain but becomes a cry of accusa- 
tion. Death alone bears the 
weight of the errors of nature 
or the ignorance of science that 
have uselessly prolonged torments 
in whose name we curse death 
because it puts an end to them. 



H i3 h 



THE PANGS OF DEATH MUST BE 
ATTRIBUTED TO MAN ALONE 






-.1-^ N point of fact, whereas the 
sicknesses belong to nature or to 
life, the agony, which seems pecu- 
liar to death, is wholly in the 
hands of men. Now Avhat we 
m.ost dread is the awful struggle 
at the end and especially the hate- 
ful moment of rupture which we 
shall perhaps see approaching dur- 
ing long hours of helplessness 
and which suddenly hurls us, dis- 
armed, abandoned and stripped, 
into an unknown that is the home 
of the only invincible terrors 
H i4 H 



DEATH 

■which the human soul has ever 
felt. 

It is twice unjust to impute the 
torments of that moment to death. 
We shall see presently in what 
manner a man of to-day, if he 
would remain faithful to his ideas, 
should picture to himself the un- 
known into which death flings us. 
Let us confine ourselves here to 
the last struggle. As science pro- 
gresses, it prolongs the agony 
which is the most dreadful moment 
and the sharpest peak of human 
pain and horror, for the witnesses, 
at least; for, often, the sensibility 
of him who, in Bossuet's phrase, 
is "at bay with death," is already 
greatly blunted and perceives no 
more than the distant murmur of 
the sufferings which he seems 
to be enduring. All the doctors 
H i5 h* 



DEATH 

consider it their first duty to pro- 
tract as long as possible even the 
most excruciating convulsions of 
the most hopeless agony. Who 
has not, at a bedside, twenty times 
wished and not once dared to 
throw himself at their feet and 
implore them to show mercy? 
They are filled with so great a 
certainty and the duty which they 
obey leaves so little room for the 
least doubt that pity and reason, 
blinded by tears, curb their revolt 
and shrink back before a law which 
all recognize and revere as the 
highest law of human conscience. 



H i6 H 



YI 

THE MISTAKE OF THE DOCTORS IN 
PROLONGING THE PANGS OF DEATH 



i f 

NE day, this prejudice will 
strike us as barbarian. Its roots 
go down to the unacknowledged 
fears left in the heart by rehgions 
that have long since died out in 
the mind of men. That is why 
the doctors act as though they 
were convinced that there is no 
known torture but is preferable to 
those awaiting us in the unknown. 
They seem persuaded that every 
minute gained amidst the most 
intolerable sufferings is snatched 
from the incomparably more 

H 17 h 



DEATH 

dreadful sufferings which the mys- 
teries of the hereafter reserve for 
men ; and, of two evils to avoid 
that which they know to be imagi- 
nary, they choose the real one. 
Besides, in thus postponing the 
end of a torture, which, as good 
Seneca says, is the best part of 
that torture, they are only yield- 
ing to the unanimous error which 
daily strengthens the circle wherein 
it is confined : the prolongation 
of the agony increasing the horror 
of death ; and the horror of death 
demanding the prolongation of the 
agony. 



M 18 M 



VII 

THEIR ARGUMENTS 

^' > HEY, on their part, say 
or might say that, in the present 
stage of science, two or three 
cases excepted, there is never a 
certainty of death. Not to sup- 
port Hfe to its last hmits, even at 
the cost of insupportable torments, 
were perhaps to kill. Doubtless 
there is not one chance in a hun- 
dred thousand that the sufferer 
escape. No matter. If that 
chance exist which, in the major- 
ity of cases, will give but a few 
days, or, at the utmost, a few 

H 19 H 



DEATH 

months of a life that will not be the 
real life, but much rather, as the 
Latin said, "an extended death," 
those hundred thousand torments 
will not have been in vain. A 
single hour snatched from death 
outweighs a whole existence of 
tortures. 

Here are, face to face, two 
values that cannot be compared; 
and, if we mean to weigh them 
in the same balance, we must 
heap the scale which we see with 
all that remains to us, that is, 
with every imaginable pain, for 
at the decisive hour this is the 
only weight which counts and 
which is heavy enough to raise 
by a few degrees the other scale 
that dips into what we do not see 
and is loaded with the thick dark- 
ness of another world. 
♦-j 20 {-• 



,''„.'5'> 



VIII 



THAT WHICH DOES NOT BELONG 
TO DEATH 




^' NGREASED by so many 
adventitious horrors, the horror of 
death becomes such that, without 
reasoning, we accept the doctors' 
reasons. And jet there is one 
point on which they are beginning 
to yield and to agree. They are 
slowly consenting, when there is 
no hope left, if not to deaden, 
at least to lull the last agonies. 
Formerly, none of them would 
have dared to do so ; and, even 
to-day, many of them hesitate and, 
like misers, measure out drop 

♦^ 21 {-♦ 



DEATH 

by drop the clemency and peace 
which they grudge and which they 
ought to lavish, dreading lest they 
should weaken the last resistance, 
that is to say, the most useless 
and painful quiverings of life that 
does not wish to give place to the 
coming quiet. 

It is not for me to decide 
whether their pity might show 
greater daring. It is enough to 
state once more that all this does 
not concern death. It happens 
before it and below it. It is not 
the arrival of death, but the de- 
parture of life that is appalling. 
It is not death, but life that we 
must act upon. It is not death 
that attacks life ; it is life that 
wrongfully resists death. Evils 
hasten up from every side at the 
approach of death, but not at 

H 3a {-• 



DEATH 

its call ; and, though they gather 
round it, they did not come with 
it. Do you accuse sleep of the 
fatigue that oppresses you if you 
do not yield to it? All those 
strugglings, those waitings, those 
tossings, those tragic cursings are 
on this same side of the slope to 
which we cling and not on the 
other side. They are, for that 
matter, accidental and temporary 
and emanate only from our igno- 
rance. All our knowledge only 
helps us to die in greater pain than 
the animals that know nothing. 
A day will come when science 
will turn against its error and no 
longer hesitate to shorten our mis- 
fortunes. A day will come when 
it will dare and act with certainty ; 
when life, grown wiser, will de- 
part silently at its hour, knowing 
H 23 h 



DEATH 

that it has reached its term, even 
as it withdraws silently e\ery 
evening, knowing that its task is 
done. Once the doctor and the 
sick man have learnt what they 
have to learn, there will be no 
physical nor metaphysical reason 
why the advent of death should 
not be as salutary as that of sleep. 
Perhaps even, as there will be 
other things to consider, it will be 
possible to surround death with 
deeper delights and fairer dreams. 
Henceforth, in any case, once 
death is exonerated from all that 
goes before, it will be easier to face 
it without fear and to enlighten 
that which follows after. 



H 24 t-» 



IX 

THE HORRORS OF THE GRAVE ALSO 
DO NOT BELONG TO DEATH 



EATH, as we usually 
picture it, has two terrors looming 
behind it. The first has neither 
face nor shape and overshadows 
the whole region of our mind; 
the other is more definite, more 
explicit, but almost as powerful 
and strikes all our senses. Let 
us first examine the latter. 

Even as we impute to death all 
the evils that precede it, so do we 
add to the dread which it inspires 
all that happens beyond it, thus 
doing it the same injustice at its 
H 25 H 



DEATH 

going as at its coming. Is it 
death that digs our graves and 
orders us to keep there that which 
was made to disappear ? If we 
cannot think without horror of 
the fate of the beloved in the 
grave, is it death or we that 
placed him there ? Because death 
carries the spirit to some place 
unknown, shall we reproach it 
with our bestowal of the body 
which it leaves with us ? Death 
descends upon us to take away 
a life or change its form : let us 
judge it by what it does and not 
by what we do before it comes 
and after it is gone. And it is 
already far away when we begin 
the frightful work which we try 
hard to prolong as much as we 
possibly can, as though we were 
persuaded that it is our only 

H 36 H 



DEATH 

security against forgetfulness. I 
am well aware that, from any 
other than the human point of 
view, this proceeding is very in- 
noxious. Looked upon from a 
sufficient height, decomposing 
flesh is no more repulsive than 
a fading flower or a crumbling U 
stone. But, when all is said, it 
off'ends our senses, shocks our 
memory, daunts our courage, 
whereas it would be so easy for 
us to avoid the hateful test. Puri- 
fied by fire, the memory lives in 
the heights as a beautiful idea ; 
and death is naught but an im- 
mortal birth cradled in flames. 
This has been well understood by 
the wisest and happiest nations 
in history. What happens in our 
graves poisons our thoughts to- 
gether with our bodies. The 
H 27 H 



DEATH 

figure of death, in the imagination 
of men, depends before all upon 
the form of burial; and the 
funeral rites govern not only the 
fate of those who depart, but also 
the happiness of those who stay, 
for they raise in the very back- 
ground of life the great image 
upon which their eyes linger in 
consolation or despair. 



H 38 h* 



WHEN CONTEMPLATING THE UNKNOWN 
INTO WHICH DEATH HURLS US, 
LET US FIRST PUT RELIGIOUS 
FEARS FROM OUR MINDS 



€ i HERE is, therefore, but 
one terror particular to death : 
that of the unknown into which 
it hurls US. In facing it, let us 
not delay in putting from our 
minds all that the positive re- 
ligions have left there. Let us 
remember only that it is not for 
us to prove that they are not 
proved, but for them to establish 
that they are true. Now not one 
of them brings us a proof before 
H 29 h 



DEATH 

which a candid intelHgence can 
bow. Nor would it suffice if that 
inteUigence were able to bow ; 
for man lawfully to believe and 
thus to limit his endless seeking, 
the proof would need to be irre- 
sistible. The God offered to us 
by the best and strongest proof 
has given us our reason to employ 
loyally and fully, that is to say, 
<.\^ : to try to attain, before all and in 
V^>^ all things, that which appears to 

be the truth. Can He exact that 
we should accept, in spite of it, 
a belief of which the wisest and 
the most ardent do not, from the 
human point of view, deny the 
uncertainty? He proposes for our 
consideration a very doubtful 
story which, even if scientifically 
established, would prove nothing 
and which is buttressed by proph- 

H 3o h* 



DEATH 

ecies and miracles no less uncer- 
tain. If not by our reason, by 
what then would He have us 
decide? By usage? By the acci- 
dents of race or birth, by some 
aesthetic or sentimental hazard ? 
Or has He set within us another 
higher and surer faculty before 
which the understanding must 
yield? If so, where is it? What 
is its name ? If that God punishes 
us for not having blindly followed 
a faith that does not force itself 
irresistibly upon the intelligence 
which He gave us ; if He chastises 
us for not having made, in the 
presence of the great enigma with 
which He confronts us, a choice 
which condemns the best and most 
divine part of that which He has 
placed in us, we have nothing left 
to reply : we are the dupes of a 
H 3i h 



DEATH 

cruel and incomprehensible sport, 
we are the victims of a terrible 
snare and an immense injustice ; 
and, whatever the torments where- 
with the latter loads us, they will 
be less intolerable than the eternal 
presence of its Author. 



H 33 H 



XI 

ANNIHILATION IMPOSSIBLE 




ERE we stand before 
the abyss. It is void of all the 
dreams with which our fathers 
peopled it. They thought that 
they knew what was there ; we 
know only what is not there. It 
has enlarged itself with all that 
we have learnt to know nothing 
of. While waiting for a scientific 
certainty to break through its 
darkness — for man has the right 
to hope for that which he does 
not yet conceive — the only point 
that interests us, because it is situ- 
ated in the little circle which our 
H 33 h 



DEATH 

actual intelligence traces in the 
thickest blackness of the night, is 
to know whether the unknown 
for which we are bound will be 
dreadful or not. 

V\'^^ Outside the religions, there are 

^0 four imaginable solutions and no 

more : total annihilation ; survival 
with our consciousness of to-day ; 
survival without any sort of con- 
sciousness ; lastly, survival with 
universal consciousness different 
from that which we possess in 

•\^^^' this world. 



■f.' 



4= Total annihilation is impossible. 
We are the prisoners of an infin- 
ity without outlet, wherein noth- 
ing perishes, wherein everything 
is dispersed, but nothing lost. 
Neither a body nor a thought can 
drop out of the universe, out of 
time and space. Not an atom of 

-1 34 H 



DEATH 

our flesh, not a quiver of our 
nerves vv^ill go where ihey will 
cease to be, for there is no place 
where anything ceases to be. The 
brightness of a star extinguished 
millions of years ago still wanders 
in the ether where our eyes will 
perhaps behold it this very night, 
pursuing its endless road. It is 
the same with all that we see, as 
with all that we do not see. To be 
able to do away with a thing, that 
is to say, to fling it into nothing- 
ness, nothingness would have to 
exist ; and, if it exist, under what- 
ever form, it is no longer nothing- 
ness. As soon as we try to 
analyze it, to define it, or to un- 
derstand it, thoughts and expres- 
sions farl us, or create that which 
they are struggling to deny. It is 
as contrary to the nature of our 
H 35 H 



DEATH 

reason and probably of all imagina- 
ble reason to conceive nothingness 
as to conceive limits to infinity. 
yf>- V ;^-^_ Nothingness, besides, is but a 
^ U^ '*^'^'^ negative infinity, a sort of infin- 

^\} d^ ity of darkness opposed to that 

which our intelligence strives to 
enlighten, or rather it is but a 
child-name or nickname which 
our mind has bestowed upon that 
which it has not attempted to em- 
brace, for we call nothingness all 
that which escapes our senses or 
our reason and exists without our 
knowledge. The more that human 
thought rises and increases, the 
less comprehensible does nothing- 
ness become. In any case — and 
this is what matters here — if 
nothingness were possible, since 
it could not be anything whatever, 
it could not be dreadful. 
H 36 I- 



XII 

THE SURVIVAL OF OUR CONSCIOUSNESS 




EXT comes survival 
with our consciousness of to-day. 
I have broached this question in 
an essay on Immortality,^ of which 
I will only reproduce an essential 
passage, contenting myself with 
supporting it with a few new 
considerations. 

What composes this sense of 
the ego which turns each of us 
into the centre of the universe, 
the only point that matters in 

^ This essay forms part of the volume pub- 
lished under the title of The Measure of the Hours. 
— Translator's Note. 

•^ 37 r- 



DEATH 

space and time ? Is it formed of 
sensations of our body, or of 
thoughts independent of our bodj? 
Would our body be conscious of 
itself without our mind ? And, 
on the other hand, what would 
our mind be without our body? 
We know bodies without mind, 
but no mind without a body. It 
is almost certain that an intellect 
devoid of senses, devoid of organs 
to create and nourish it, exists ; 
but it is impossible to imagine 
that ours could thus exist and yet 
remain similar to that which de- 
rived from our sensibility all that 
gave it life. 



H 38 H 



XIII 

IT SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE 




^»* — ^ HIS ego, as we conceive 
it when we reflect upon the con- 
sequences of its destruction, this 
ego is neither our mind nor our 
body, since we recognize that both 
are waves that flow away and are 
renewed incessantly. Is 
immovable point, which could 
not be form or substance, for 
these are always in evolution, nor 
life, which is the cause or effect 
of form and substance? In truth, 
it is impossible for us to appre- 
hend or define it, to tell where it 
dwells. When we try to go back 
H 39 h 



It an^^ ^ ^^ 



?D^ 






I 



jjUmX^ 



/^"^ 



.^i>^ DEATH 



^ , to its last source, we find hardly 

V^^8>^ more than a succession of memo- 

•^(ii^^i, ^ ries, a series of ideas, confused, 

!^,^4 ^^^ that matter, and unsettled, 

rjj' ^ attached to the one instinct of 

living : a series of habits of our ! ^ i^' 

sensibility and of conscious or un- ' 

conscious reactions against the sur- 

l^^/K* rounding phenomena. When all 

A^ \>a ^'^^^ ^^ ^^^^' ^^^ most steadfast point of 

tr\^ tA^^ ^^^^ nebula is our memory, which 

Yiv^*^ seems, on the other hand, to be a 

somewhat external, a somewhat 

accessory faculty and, in any case, 

one of the frailest faculties of 

our brain, one of those which 

(^f^ I disappear the most promptly at 

^\^ r^ the least disturbance of our health. 

^^^^ "As an English poet has very truly 

said, that which clamours aloud 

for eternity is the very part of me 

that will perish." 

•-1 4o H 



DEATH 

It matters not : that uncertain, 
indiscernible, fleeting and pre- 
carious ego is so much the centre 
of our being, interests us so 
exclusively,^ that every reality of )^^^^^ 
our life disappears before this -^^J\Mr O^ 
phantom. It is a matter of utter 
indifference to us that throughout 
eternity our body or its substance 
should know every joy and every 
glory, undergo the most splendid 
and delightful transformations, 
become flower, perfume, beauty, 
light, air, star ; it is likewise in- 
different to us that our intellect 
should expand until it mixes with 
the life of the worlds, understands 
and governs it. We are per- 
suaded that all this will not affect 
us, will give us no pleasure, will 
not happen to ourselves, unless 
that memory of a few almost 
H ki ^ 



DEATH 

always insignificant facts accom- 
pany us and witness those un- 
imaginable joys. 

"I care not," says this narrow 

ego, in its firm resolve to under- 

»«/>-' stand nothing. "I care not if 

hj^f *^® loftiest, the freest, the fairest 

0\ ^ ^ «>f portions of my mind be eternally 

i living and radiant in the supreme 

gladnesses: they are no longer 

mine ; I do not know them. 

_, ,i? Death has cut the network of 

^,Ui ^ "" nerves or memories that connected 

W^*(\v*^ ^ them with I know not what centre 

^ J[i^ wherein lies the sensitive point 

which I feel to be all myself. 

They are now set loose, floating 

in space and time, and their fate 

is as unknown to me as that of 

the most distant constellations. 

Anything that occurs exists for 

me only upon condition that I 

H 4a H 



^ 



DEATH 

be able to recall it within that 
mysterious being which is I know 
not where and precisely nowhere, 
which I turn like a mirror about 
this world whose phenomena take 
shape only in so far as they are 
reflected in it." 

Let us then consider that all 
that composes our consciousness 
comes first of all from our body. 
Our mind does but organize that 
which is supplied by our senses ; 
and even the images and words 

— which in reality are but images 

— by the aid of which it strives 
to tear itself from those senses 
and deny their sway are borrowed 
from them. How could that mind 
remain what it was when there is 
nothing left to it of that which 
formed it ? When our mind no 
longer has a body, what shall it 

H 43 h 



DEATH 

carry with it into infinity whereby 
to recognize itself, seeing that it 
knows itself only by grace of that 
body ? A few memories of a life 
in common ? Will those memo- 
ries, which were already fading 
in this world, suffice to separate 
it for ever from the rest of the 
universe, in boundless space and 
in unlimited time ? 



H 44 H 



^-si*^'^^''' 



XIV 

THE SAME, CONTINUED 






r 



UT," I shall be told, 
' ' there is more in us than the x>^A ^ '' 

intellect discovers. We haYeH"*^ JjjjM^ ■. 
many things within us which our '^ ..<ij..*^ "^ 
senses have not placed there; we '^^^jr^ f jih^^ 
contain a being superior to the 
one we know." 

Th^t is probable, nay, certain : 
the share occupied by uncon- 
sciousness, that is to say, by that . c^pcycC ot.CMf^^^ 
which represents the universe, is ' ^- '-^-'^^'^''^"''' 
enormous and preponderant. But 
how shall the ego which we know 
and whose destiny alone concerns 
us recognize all those things and 
•^ 45 h 



DEATH 

that superior being whom it has 
never known? What will it do 
in the presence of that stranger? 
If I be told that stranger is my- 
self, I will readily agree ; but was 
that which upon earth felt and 
measured my joys and sorrows 
and gave birth to the few memo- 
ries and thoughts that remain to 
me, was that this unmoved, un- 
seen stranger who existed in me 
without my cognizance, even as I 
am probably about to live in him 
without his concerning himself 
with a presence that will bring 
him but the pitiful recollection of 
a thing that is no more? Now 
that he has taken my place, while 
destroying, in order to acquire a 
greater consciousness, all that 
formed my small consciousness 
here below, is it not another life 
H 46 h» 



DEATH 

commencing, a life whose joys and 
sorrows will pass above my head, 
not even brushing with their new 
wings that which I feel myself to 
be to-day? 



H /I7 h 



'^^^^^^f:^i^ii^^^^:m-^^?i!^^j:^i^^5^^ri^^ 



XV 

IF IT WERE POSSIBLE, IT WOULD 
>OT BE DREADFUL 







^y Ja ' ' ^ T seems, therefore, that a 



ij^ €^ survival with our present con- 

.>■ ^' sciousness is as impossible and as 

\/fA incomprehensible as total annihi- 

lation. Moreover, even if it were 
admissible, it would not be dread- 
ful. It is certain that, when the 
body disappears, all physical suf- 
ferings will disappear at the same 
time ; for we cannot imagine a 
soul suffering in a body which it 
no longer possesses. With them 
will vanish simultaneously all that 
we call mental or moral suffer- 
H 48 H 



DEATH 

ings, seeing that all of them, if 
we examine them well, spring 
from the ties and habits of our 
senses. Our soul feels the reac- 
tion of the sufferings of our body, 
or of the bodies that surround it ; 
it cannot suffer in itself or through 
itself. Slighted affection, shat- 
tered love, disappointments, fail- 
ures, despair, treachery, personal 
humiliations, as well as the afflic- 
tions and the loss of those whom 
it loves, acquire the sting that 
hurts it only by passing through 
the body which it animates. Out- 
side its own sorrow, which is the 
sorrow of not knowing, the soul, 
once delivered from its body, 
could suffer only at the recollec- 
tion of that body. It is possible 
that it still grieves over the troubles 
of those whom it has left behind 
H 49 H 



DEATH 

on earth. But, in the eyes of 
that which no longer counts the 
days, those troubles will seem so 
brief that it will not grasp their 
duration; and, knowing what they 
are and whither they lead, it will 
not behold their severity. 

The soul is insensible to all 

that is not happiness. It is made 

only for infinite joy, which is the 

^v^^ . ji,-*^ joy of knowing and understand- 

'J'^'.'.aJ) cT^'' ing- It can grieve only at per- 

^J^'j^v';^ ceiving its own limits; but to 

r^n.7>*-* perceive those limits, when one 

is no longer bound by space and 

time, is already to transcend them. 



H 5o h 



^j^i^^-j^^^gB^^S^^S^^fe^^sj^J* 



XVI 



THE SURVIVAL WITHOUT 
CONSCIOUSNESS 



i-._^^ HERE remains but the 
survival without consciousness, 
or survival with a consciousness 
different from that of to-day. 

A survival without conscious- 
ness seems at first sight the most 
probable. From the point of view 
of the good or ill awaiting us on 
the other side of the grave, it 
amounts to annihilation. It is 
lawful, therefore, for those who 
prefer the easiest solution and that 
most consistent with the present 
state of human thought, to set 
H 5i h 



DEATH 
that limit to their anxiety there. 
They have nothing to dread ; for 
every fear, if any remain, would, 
if we look into it carefully, deck 
itself with hopes. The body dis- 
integrates and can no longer suffer ; 
the mind, separated from the 
source of pleasure and pain, is 
extinguished, scattered and lost in 
a boundless darkness ; and what 
comes is the great peace so often 
prayed for, the sleep without 
measure, without dreams and with- 
out awakening. 

But this is only a solution that 
flatters indolence. If we press 
those who speak of a survival 
without consciousness, we per- 
ceive that they mean only their 
present consciousness, for man 
conceives no other ; and we have 
just seen that it is almost impos- 
H 52 H 



DEATH 

sible for that manner of con- 
sciousness to persist in infinity. 

Unless, indeed, they would deny 
every sort of consciousness, even 
that of the universe into which 
their own will fall. But that 
means solving very quickly and 
very blindly, with a stroke of the 
sword in the night, the greatest 
and most mysterious question that 
can arise in a man's brain. 



H 53 h 



Sra^ 



XVII 

THE SAME, CONTINUED 






HIS question is closely 
allied to our modified conscious- 
ness. There is for the moment no 
hope of solving it; but we are free 
to grope in its darkness, which is 
not perhaps equally dense at all 
points. 

Here begins the open sea. Here 

begins the glorious adventure, the 

only one abreast with human 

. ^ ,1 curiosity, the only one that soars as 

avtA/^ high as its highest longing. Let 

-^ sjr' J us accustom ourselves to regard 

.X^ ^W^' death as a form of life which we 

Ji^^"^ do not yet understand ; let us 

H 54 H 



DEATH 

learn to look upon it with the 
same eye that looks upon birth ; 
and soon our mind will be accom- 
panied to the steps of the tomb 
with the same glad expectation 
that greets a birth. If, before 
being born, we were permitted to 
choose between the great peace 
of non-existence and a life that 
should not be completed by the 
magnificent hour of death, which 
of us, knowing what we ought to 
know, would accept the disquiet- 
ing problem of an existence that 
would not end in the reassuring 
mystery of its conclusion? Which 
of us would care to come into a 
world where there is so little to 
learn, if he did not know that he 
miust enter it if he would leave 
it and learn more ? The best part 
of life is that it prepares this hour 
H 55 h 



DEATH 

for US, that it is the one and only 
road leading to the magic gate- 
way and into that incomparable 
mystery where misfortunes and 
sufferings will no longer be pos- 
sible, because we shall have lost 
the body that produced them; 
where the worst that can befall 
us is the dreamless sleep which 
we count among the number of the 
greatest boons on earth ; where, 
lastly, it is almost unimaginable 
that a thought can survive to 
mingle with the substance of the 
universe, that is to say, with in- 
finity, which, if it be not a waste 
of indifference, can be nothing 
but a sea of joy. 



H 56 H 



XYIII 

THE LIMITED EGO WOULD BECOME 
A TORTURE 



^^^^^ EFORE fathoming that 

sea, let us remark to those who 
aspire to maintain their ego that 
they are calhng down the suffer- 
ings which they dread. The ego 
impKes Hmits. The ego cannot 
subsist except in so far as it is ^ ^ « 

separated from that which sur- cW-tfi-Q-^^^^^y 
rounds it. The stronger the ego, I. u^ s**^*^ 
the narrower its hmits and the ' ^ ; - C-» ^^^ 
clearer the separation. The more 
painful too ; for the mind, if it 
remain as we know it — and we 
are not able to imagine it different 
H 57 h 



>^^ DEATH 

^P — will no sooner have seen its 

'-^15 ' limits than it will wish to over- 

step them: and, the more sep- 
arated it feels, the greater will be 
its longing to unite with that 
which lies outside. There will 
therefore be an eternal struggle 
between its being and its aspira- 
tions. And really there were no 
object in being born and dying 
only for the purpose of these 
endless contests. Have we not 
here yet one more proof that our 
ego, as we conceive it, could 
never subsist in the infinity where 
it must needs go, since it cannot 
go elsewhere? It behooves us 
therefore to get rid of imagina- 
tions that emanate only from our 
body, even as the mists that veil 
the daylight from our sight em- 
anate only from low places. 
H 58 h 



DEATH 

Pascal has said, once and for all : 

"The narrow limits of our being I'^^wnnU //^'"' 

conceal infinity from our view." ^ n<-Ay pIau^^^ 



H 59 V* 



^W»i^ 



XIX 



A NEW EGO CAN FIND A NUCLEUS AND 
DEVELOP ITSELF IN INFINITY 




N the other hand — for we 
must be honest, probe the con- 
flicting darkness which we beheve 
nearest to the truth and show no 
bias — on the other hand, we can 
grant to those who are wedded to 
the thought of remaining as thej 
are that the survival of a mere 
particle of themselves would suf- 
fice to renew them again in the 
heart of an infinity wherefrom 
their body no longer separates 
them. If it seems impossible that 
anything — a movement, a vibra- 
tion, a radiation — should stop or 
H 60 h 



DEATH 

disappear, why then should 
thought be lost? There will, no 
doubt, subsist more than one idea 
powerful enough to allure the new 
ego, which will nourish itself and 
thrive on all that it will find in 
that new and endless environment, 
just as the other ego, on this earth, 
nourished itself and throve on all 
that it met there. Since we have 
been able to acquire our present 
consciousness, why should it be 
impossible for us to acquire 
another? For that ego which is 
so dear to us and which we be- 
lieve ourselves to possess was not 
made in a day ; it is not at pres- 
ent what it was at the hour of our 
birth. Much more chance than 
purpose has entered into it ; and 
much more foreign substance than 
any inborn substance which it con- 
-; 6i H* 



DEATH 

talned. It is but a long series of 
acquisitions and transformations, 
of which we do not become aware 
until the awakening of our mem- 
ory ; and its nucleus , of which 
we do not know the nature, is 
perhaps more immaterial and less 
concrete than a thought. If the 
new environment which we enter 
on leaving our mother's womb 
transforms us to such a point that 
there is, so to speak, no connexion 
between the embryo that we were 
and the man that we have become, 
is it not right to think that the 
much newer, more unknown, 
wider and more fertile environ- 
ment which we enter on quitting 
life will transform us even more? 
One can see in what happens to 
us here a figure of that which 
awaits us elsewhere and readily 
H 62 h 



DEATH 

admit that our spiritual being, 
liberated from its body, if it does 
not mingle at the first onset with 
the infinite, will develop itself 
there gradually, will choose itself 
a substance and, no longer tram- 
melled by space and time, will 
grow without end. It is very pos- 
sible that our loftiest wishes of 
to-day will become the law of our 
future development. It is very 
possible that our best thoughts 
will welcome us on the other 
bank and that the quality of our 
intellect will determine that of the 
infinite that crystallizes around it. 
Every hypothesis is permissible 
and every question, provided it be 
addressed to happiness ; for un- 
happiness is no longer able to 
answer us. It finds no place in 
the human imagination that ex- 
H 63 h 



DEATH 

plores the future methodically. 

And, whateYcr be the force that 

survives us and presides over our 

existence in the other world, this 

existence, to presume the worst, 

could be no less great, no less 

happy than that of to-day. It will 

have no other career than infinity ; 

y and infinity is nothing if it be not 

j^-^t'' I felicity. In any case, it seems 

^. ^ fj^ fairly certain that we spend in this 

^"^ t* ' ix "^o^ld the only narrow, grudging. 



'^i^VjU^ obscure and sorrowful moment of 
'^V ^ our destiny. 



H 64 f- 



•€-d^i«&S? 



XX 



ii>-- 



TIIE ONLY SORROW THAT CAN TOUCH 
OUR MIND 



E have said that the one | ^ ^f^ *^ '^ 

sorrow of the mind is the sorrow ^ /jv^''^^ • 

of not knowinsf or not understand- '^, ,a '^^^ 

ing, which contains the sorrow of ^.t^"'' 



powerlessness ; for he who knows 
the supreme causes, being no 
longer paralyzed by matter, be- 
comes one with them and acts 
with them ; and he who under- 
stands ends by approving, or else 
the universe would be a mistake, 
which is not possible. I do not 
believe that another sorrow of the 
sheer mind can be imagined. The 
only one which, before reflection, 
H 65 h 



p-^ 



DEATH 

might seem admissible and which, 

J ^^ in an J case, could be but ephem- 

^^\^'\^ ^eral would arise from the sight of 

' 10 »^ ^^^^^ the pain and misery that remain 

jiy ^ iJ^ ^^ ^^^^ earth which we have left. 



'^xS^ ^^^-^^ the pain and misery that remain 
jiy ^ iJ^ ^^ ^^^^ earth which we have left. 

^gj^ But this sorrow, after all, would 

be but one side and an insignifi- 
cant phase of the sorrow of 
powerlessness and of not under- 
standing. As for the latter, 
though it is not only beyond the 
domain of our intelligence, but 
even at an insuperable distance 
from our imagination, we may 
say that it would be intolerable 
only if it were without hope. 
But, in order to be without hope, 
the universe would have to aban- 
don any attempt to understand 
itself, or admit within itself an 
object that remained for ever 
foreign to it. Either the mind will 
H 66 I- 



DEATH 

not perceive its limits and, conse- 
quently, will not suffer from them, 
or else it will overstep them as it 
perceives them; for how could 
the universe have parts eternally 
condemned to form no part of 
itself and of its knowledge? 
Hence we cannot understand that 
the torture of not understanding, 
supposing it to exist for a moment, 
should not end hy mingling with 
the state of infinity, which, if it 
be not happiness as we compre- 
hend it, could be naught but an 
indifference higher and purer than 

joy- 



H 67 H 



XXI 



INFINITY AS CONCEIVED BY OUR 
REASON 




ET US turn our thoughts 
towards it. The prohlem extends 
beyond humanity and embraces 
all things. It is possible, I think, 
to view infinity under two dis- 
tinct aspects and try to foresee 
our fate therein. Let us contem- 
^t "\'^ plate the first of these aspects. 
,,;J^\jb ^' >. We are plunged into a universe 
^^.^ ^^^^ ^^^ ^^ limits in space or time. 

'^^ ' ^P^ \. It never began, nor will it ever 
„g) ^^ end. It could not have an aim, 
J^-jy^ for, if it had one, it would have 

attained it in the infinity of years 
H 68 H 



DEATH 

that preceded us. It is not mak- 
ing for anywhere, for it would have 
arrived there ; consequently, all 
that the worlds within its pale, all 
that we ourselves do can have no 
influence upon it. If it have no 
thought, it will never have one. 
If it have one, that thought has 
been at its climax since all time 
and will remain there, changeless 
and immovable. It is as young 
as it has ever been and as old as 
it will ever be. It has made in 
the past all the efforts and all the 
experiments which it will make in 
the future; and, as all the possi- 
ble combinations have been ex- 
hausted since all time, it does not 
seem as if that which has not 
taken place in the eternity that 
extends before our birth can hap- 
pen in that which will follow after 
H 69 h 



DEATH 

our death. If it have not become 
conscious, it will never become 
so ; if it know not what it wishes, 
it will continue in ignorance, 
hopelessly, knowing all or know- 
ing nothing and remaining as near 
its end as its beginning. 



H 70 t- 



XXII 



INFINITY AS PERCEIVED BY OUR 

SENSES 



t FA LL this would be, if 
not intelligible, at least acceptable 
to our reason ; but in that uni- 
verse float thousands of millions 
of worlds limited by space and 
time. They are born, they die 
and they are born again. They 
form part of the whole; and we 
see, therefore, that parts of that 
which has neither beginning nor 
end themselves begin and end. 
We, in fact, know only those 
parts ; and they are of a number 
so infinite that in our eyes they 
H 71 h 



DEATH 

fill all infinity. That which is 
going nowhere teems with that 
which appears to be going some- 
where. That which has always 
known what it wants, or will 
never learn, seems eternally to be 
making more or less unfortunate 
experiments. What is that which 
has already attained perfection try- 
ing to achieve? Everything that 
we discover in that which could 
not possibly have an aim looks as 
though it were pursuing one with 
inconceivable ardour ; and the 
spirit that animates what we see 
in that which should know every- 
thing and possess itself seems to 
know nothing and to seek itself 
without intermission. Thus all 
that is apparent to our senses in 
infinity gainsays that which our 
reason is compelled to ascribe to 
H 7a h 



DEATH 

it. According as we fathom it, 
we understand better the depth 
of our want of understanding ; 
and, the more we strive to pene- 
trate the two incomprehensibihties 
that stand face to face, the more 
they contradict each other. 



H 73 K. 



XXIII 



WHICH OF THE TWO SHALL WE 
KNOW? 




HAT will become of 
us amid all this obscurity? Shall 
we leave the finite wherein we 
dwell to be swallowed up in this 
or the other infinite? In other 
words, shall we end by mingling 
with the infinite which our reason 
conceives, or shall we remain 
eternally in that which our eyes 
behold, that is to say, in number- 
less changing and ephemeral 
worlds? Shall we never leave 
those worlds which seem doomed 
to die and to be reborn eternally, 
to enter at last into that which, 
H 74 t^ 



DEATH 

since all eternity, can neither have 
been born nor have died and 
which exists without either future 
or past ? Shall we one day escape, 
with all that surrounds us, from 
the unhappy experiments, to find 
our way at last into peace, wisdom, 
the changeless and boundless con- 
sciousness, or into the hopeless 
unconsciousness? Shall we have 
the fate which our senses foretell, 
or that which our intelligence de- 
mands? Or are both senses and 
intelligence illusions, puny imple- 
ments, vain weapons of a brief 
hour that were never intended to 
probe or contend with the uni- 
verse? If there really be a con- 
tradiction, is it wise to accept it 
and to deem impossible that which 
we do not understand, seeing that 
we understand almost nothing? 
H 75 h 



DEATH 

Is truth not at an immeasurable 
distance from those inconsistencies 
which appear to us enormous and 
irreducible and which, doubtless, 
are of no more importance than 
the rain that falls upon the sea? 



H 76 h* 



XXIV 



THE INFINITY WHICH BOTH OUR REASON 
AND OUR SENSES CAN ADMIT 




UT, even to our poor 
understanding of to-day, the dis- 
crepancy between the infinity con- 
ceived by our reason and that 
perceived by our senses is perhaps 
more apparent than real. When 
we say that, in a universe that has 
existed since all eternity, every 
experiment, every possible com- 
bination has been made ; when 
we declare that there is not a 
chance that that which has not 
taken place in the uncountable 
past can take place in the un- 

-} 77 H 



DEATH 

countable future, our imagination 
attributes to the infinity of time 
a preponderance which it cannot 
possess. In truth, all that in- 
finity contains must be as infinite 
as the time at its disposal; and 
the chances, encounters and com- 
binations that lie therein have not 
been exhausted in the eternity that 
goes before us any more than 
they could be in the eternity that 
comes after us. There is, there- 
fore, no climax, no changeless- 
ness, no immovability. It is 
probable that the universe is seek- 
ing and finding itself every day, 
that it has not become entirely 
conscious and does not yet know 
what it wants. It is almost cer- 
tain that its ideal is still veiled by 
the shadow of its immensity and 
almost evident that the experi- 
-3 78 h 



DEATH 

ments and chances are following 
one upon the other in unimagin- 
able worlds, compared wherewith 
all those which we see on starry 
nights are no more than a pinch 
of gold-dust in the ocean depths. 
Lastly, it is yery nearly sure that 
we ourselves, or whatever remains 
of us — it matters not — will profit 
one day by those experiments and 
those chances. That which has 
not yet happened may suddenly 
supervene ; and the best state, 
as well as the supreme wisdom 
which will recognize and establish 
it, is perhaps ready to arise from 
the clash of circumstance. It 
were not at all astonishing if the 
consciousness of the universe, in 
the endeavour to form itself, had 
not yet met with the aid of the 
necessary chances and if human 
H 79 h- 



DEATH 

thought were seconding one of 
those decisive chances. Here 
there is a hope. Small as man 
and his thought may appear, he 
has exactly the value of the most 
enormous forces that he is able 
to conceive, since there is neither 
great nor small in the immeasur- 
able ; and, if our body equalled 
the dimensions of all the worlds 
which our eyes can see, it would 
have exactly the same weight and 
the same importance with regard 
to the universe that it has to-day. 
The mind alone perhaps occupies 
in infinity a space which com- 
parisons do not reduce to nothing. 



H 80 {- 



XXV 

OUR FATE IN INFINITY 

HATEYER the ulti- 
mate truth may be, whether we 
admit the abstract, absolute and 
perfect infinity — the changeless, 
immovable infinity which has 
attained perfection and which 
knows everything, to which our 
reason tends — or whether we 
prefer that offered to us by the 
evidence, here below undeniable, 
of our senses — the infinity which 
seeks itself, which is still evolving 
and not yet established — it be- 
hoves us above all to foresee in 
it our fate, which, in any case, 
H 8i h 



DEATH 

must end hj absorption in that 
very infinity. 

The first infinity, the ideal in- 
finity, is so strangely contrary to 
all that we see that it is best not 
to attack it until we have tried to 
explore the second. Moreover, 
it is quite possible that it may 
succeed the other. As we have 
said, that which has not taken 
place in the eternity before may 
happen in the eternity after us; 
and nothing save innumerous 
accidents is opposed to the pros- 
pect that the universe may at last 
acquire the integral consciousness 
that will establish it at its climax. 
After giving a glance, useless, for 
that matter, and impotent, at all 
that may perhaps arise, we shall 
try to interrogate, without hope 
of answer, the mystery of the 

H 82 h 



DE AT H 

boundless peace into which it is 
possible that we may sink with 
the other worlds. 



H 83 t- 



XXVI 

THE SAME, CONTINUED 




EHOLD us, then, in 
the infinity of those worlds, the 
stellar infinity, the infinity of the 
heavens, which assuredly veils 
other things from our eyes, but 
could never be a total illusion. 
It seems to us to be peopled only 
with objects — planets, suns, 
stars, nebulae, atoms, imponder- 
ous fluids — which move, unite 
and separate, repel and attract 
one another, which shrink and 
expand, displace one another in- 
cessantly and never arrive, which 
measure space in that which has 
H 84 H 



DEATH 

no limit and number the hours 
in that which has no term. In 
a word, we are in an infinity that 
seems to have ahnost the same 
character, the same habits as that 
power in the midst of which we 
breathe and which, upon our 
earth, we call nature or life. 

What will be our fate in that 
infinity? It is not vain to ask 
one's self the question, even if 
we should mingle with it after 
losing all consciousness, all notion 
of the ego, even if our existence 
should be no more than a little 
substance without name, soul or 
matter — one cannot tell — sus- 
pended in the equally nameless 
abyss that replaces time and space. 
It is not vain to ask one's self the 
question, for we are concerned 
with the history of the worlds or 
H 85 h 



DEATH 

of the universe ; and this history, 
far more than that of our petty 
existence, is our own great history, 
in which perhaps something of 
ourselves or something incompar- 
ably better and vaster will end by 
finding us again some day. 



H 86 h 



XXYII 

SHALL WE BE UNHAPPY THERE 




^ HALL we be unhappy 
there ? It is hardly reassuring 
when we consider the habits of 
our nature and remember that we 
form part of a universe that has 
not yet collected its wisdom. We 
have seen, it is true, that good 
and bad fortune exist only in so 
far as regards our body and that, 
when we have lost the agent of 
our sufferings, we shall not meet 
any of the earthly sorrows again. 
But our anxiety does not end 
here; and will not our mind, 
lingering upon our erstwhile sor- 

H 87 h 



DEATH 

rows, drifting derelict from world 
to world, unknown to itself in 
the unknowable that seeks itself 
hopelessly ; will not our mind 
know here the frightful torture 
of which we have already spoken 
and which is doubtless the last 
which the imagination can touch 
with its wing? Lastly, if there 
were nothing left of our body and 
our mind, there would still re- 
main the matter and the spirit 
(or, at least, the obviously single 
force to which we give that double 
name) which composed them and 
whose fate must be no more in- 
different to us than our own fate ; 
for, let us repeat, from our death 
onwards, the adventure of the 
universe becomes our own adven- 
ture. Let us not, therefore, say 
to ourselves: 

H 88 H 



DEATH 

' ' What can it matter ? We 
shall not be there." 

We shall be there always, be- 
cause everything will be there. 



XXYIII 

QUESTIONS WITHOUT ANSWERS 




ILL all this to which 



we shall belong, in a world ever 
seeking itself, continue a prey to 
new, unceasing and perhaps pain- 
ful experiments? Since the part 
that we were was unhappy, why 
should the part that we shall be 
enjoy a better fortune? Who can 
assure us that those unending com- 
binations and endeavours will not 
be more sorrowful, more awkward 
and more baneful than those 
which we are leaving; and how 
shall we explain that these have 
come about after so many millions 
H 90 h* 



DEATH 
of others which should have opened 
the eyes of the genius of infinity ? 
It is idle to persuade ourselves, 
as Hindu wisdom would, that our 
sorrows are but illusions and ap- 
pearances : it is none the less true 
that they make us very really 
unhappy. Has the universe else- 
where a more complete conscious- 
ness, a more just and serene 
principle of thought than on this 
earth and in the worlds which we 
perceive? And, if it be true that 
it has somewhere attained that bet- 
ter thought, why does the thought 
that presides over the destinies of 
our earth not profit by it? Could 
no communication be possible 
between worlds which must have 
been born of the same idea and 
are steeped in it? What would 
be the mystery of that isolation ? 
-J 91 H 



DEATH 

Are we to believe that the earth 
marks the most advanced stage 
and the most favoured experi- 
ment? What, then, can the 
thought of the universe have done 
and against what darkness must 
it have struggled, to have come 
no farther than this ? But, on 
the other hand, can it have been 
stayed by that darkness or by 
those obstacles which, being un- 
able to arise from any elsewhere, 
can but have sprung from itself? 
Who then could have set those 
insoluble problems to infinity and 
from what more remote and pro- 
found region than itself would 
they have issued? Some one, 
after all, must know what they 
ask; and, as behind infinity 
there can be none that is not 
infinity itself, it is impossible to 

•^ ga {-. 



DEATH 

imagine a malignant will in a 
will that leaves no point around 
it but what it fills entirely. Or 
are the experiments begun in the 
stars continued mechanically, by 
virtue of the force acquired, with- 
out regard to their uselessness 
and to their pitiful consequences, 
according to the custom of nature, 
which knows nothing of our par- 
simony and squanders the suns 
in space as it does the seed on 
earth, knowing that nothing can 
be lost? Or, again, is the whole 
question of our peace and happi- 
ness, like that of the fate of the 
worlds, reduced to knowing 
whether or not the infinity of 
endeavours and combinations be 
equal to that of eternity? Or, 
lastly, to come to the greatest 
probability, is it we who deceive 
H 93 h 



DEATH 

ourselves, who know nothing, 
who see nothing and who con- 
sider imperfect that which is per- 
haps fauUless, we, who are but 
an infinitesimal fragment of tlie 
intelligence which we judge with 
the aid of the little shreds of 
thought which it has vouchsafed 
to lend us? 



H 94 5^ 



XXIX 

THE SAME, CONTINUED 




OW could we reply, 
how could our thoughts and 
glances penetrate the infinite and 
the invisible, we who neither 
understand nor even see the thing 
by which we see and which is 
the source of all our thoughts? 
In fact, as has been very justly 
observed, man does not see light 
itself. He sees only matter, or 
rather the small part of the great 
worlds which he knows by the 
name of matter, touched by light. 
He does not perceive the immense 
rays that cross the heavens save 
H 95 {"• 



DEATH 

at the moment when they are 
stopped by an object of the nature 
of those which his eye is accus- 
tomed to see upon this earth : 
were it otherwise, the whole space 
filled with innumerable suns and 
boundless forces, instead of being 
an abyss of absolute darkness 
which absorbs and extinguishes 
the clusters of beams that shoot 
across it from every side, would 
be but a prodigious, untenable 
ocean of flashes. Shakespeare's 
famous Imes : 

"There are more things in heaven and earth, 
Horatio, 
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." 

have long since become utterly 
inadequate. There are no longer 
more things than our philosophy 
can dream of or imagine : there 
is none but things which it cannot 
H 96 {-• 



DEATH 

dream of, there is nothing but the 
unimaginable ; and, if we do not 
even see the Hght, which is the 
onlj thing that we beheved we 
saw, it may be said that there 
is nothing all around us but the 
invisible. 

We move in the illusion of 
seeing and knowing that which 
is strictly indispensable to our 
little lives. As for all the rest, 
which is well-nigh everything, 
our organs not only debar us 
from reaching, seeing or feeling 
it, but even restrain us from sus- 
pecting what it is, just as they 
would prevent us from under- 
standing it, if an intelligence of 
a different order were to bethink 
itself of revealing or explaining it 
to us. It is impossible for us, 
therefore, to appreciate in any 

H 97 f- 



DEATH 

degree whatsoever, in the small- 
est conceivable respect, the pres- 
ent state of the universe and to 
say, as long as we are men, 
whether it follows a straight line 
or describes an immense circle, 
whether it is growing wiser or 
madder, whether it is advancing 
towards the eternity which has no 
end or retracing its steps towards 
that which had no beginning. 
Our sole privilege within our tiny 
confines is to struggle towards that 
which appears to us the best and 
to remain heroically persuaded 
that no part of what we do 
within those confines can ever 
be wholly lost. 



H 98 h» 



^^^Si^Sa^l^^^^^^^^^^^0> 



XXX 



IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO ANSAVER 
TIIEM 




UT let not all these 
insoluble questions drive us 
towards fear. From the point of 
view of our future beyond the 
grave, it is in no waj necessary 
that we should have an answer 
to everything. Whether the uni- 
verse have already found its con- 
sciousness, whether it find it one 
day or see it everlastingly, it could 
not exist for the purpose of being 
unhappy and of suffering, neither 
in its entirety, nor in any one of 
its parts; and it matters little if 
H 99 {- 



DEATH 

the latter be invisible or incom- 
mensurable, considering that the 
smallest is as great as the greatest 
in what has neither limit nor 
measure. To torture a point is 
the same thing as to torture the 
worlds; and, if it torture the 
worlds, it is its own substance 
that it tortures. Its very destiny, 
in which we are placed, protects 
us. Our sufferings there could 
be but ephemeral ; and nothing 
matters that is not eternal. It 
is possible, although somewhat 
incomprehensible, that parts 
should err and go astray; but it 
is impossible that sorrow should 
be one of its lasting and necessary 
laws ; for it would have brought 
that law to bear against itself. 
In like manner, the universe is 
and must be its own law and its 
H 100 {-» 



DEATH 

sole master : if not, the law or 
the master whom it must obey 
would then be the universe ; and 
the centre of a word which we 
pronounce without being able to 
grasp its scope would be simply 
displaced. If it be unhappy, 
that means that it wills its own 
unhappiness ; if it will its un- 
happiness, it is mad; and, if it 
appear to us mad, that means 
that our reason works contrary 
to everything and to the only 
laws possible, seeing that they 
are eternal, or, to speak more 
humbly, that it judges what it 
wholly fails to understand. 



H loi {-• 



XXXI 



EVERYTHING MUST FINISH EXEMPT 
FROM SUFFERING 






YERYTHING, therefore, 
must finish, or perhaps everything 
already is, if not in a state of hap- 
piness, at least in a state exempt 
from all suffering, all anxiety, all 
lasting unhappiness ; and what, 
after all, is our happiness upon 
this earth, if it be not the absence of 
sorrow, anxiety and unhappiness? 
But it is childish to talk of 
happiness and unhappiness where 
infinity is in question. The idea 
which we entertain of happiness 
and unhappiness is something so 



DEATH 

special, so human, so fragile that 
it does not exceed our stature and 
falls to dust as soon as we go 
beyond its little sphere. It pro- 
ceeds entirely from a few accidents 
of our nerves, which are made to 
appreciate very slight happenings, 
but which could as easily have 
felt everything the reverse way 
and taken pleasure in that which 
is now pain. We believe that 
we see nothing hanging over us 
but catastrophes, deaths, torments 
and disasters ; we shiver at the 
mere thought of the great inter- 
planetary spaces, with their cold 
and formidable and gloomy soli- 
tudes ; and we imagine that the 
revolving worlds are as unhappy 
as ourselves because they freeze, or 
clash together, or are consumed 
in unutterable flames. We infer 
H io3 h 



DEATH 

from this that the genius of the 
universe is an outrageous tyrant, 
seized with a monstrous madness, 
and that it deUghts only in the 
torture of itself and all that it 
contains. To millions of stars, 
each many thousand times larger 
than our sun, to nebulae whose 
nature and dimensions no figure, 
no word in our languages is able 
to express, we attribute our mo- 
mentary sensibility, the little 
ephemeral and chance working of 
our nerves; and we are convinced 
that life there must be impossible 
or appalling, because we should 
feel too hot or too cold. It were 
much wiser to say to ourselves 
that it would need but a trifle, 
a few papillae more or less to our 
skin, the slightest modification of 
our eyes and ears, to turn the 
H io4 h 



DEATH 

temperature, the silence and the 
darkness of space into a delicious 
spring-tinne, an unequalled music, 
a divine light. It were much 
more reasonable to persuade our- 
selves that the catastrophes which 
we think that we behold are life 
itself, the joy and one or other of 
those immense festivals of mind 
and matter in which death, thrust- 
ing aside at last our two enemies, 
time and space, will soon permit 
us to take part. Each world dis- 
solving, extinguished, crumbling, 
burnt or colliding with another 
world and pulverized means the 
commencement of a magnificent 
experiment, the dawn of a mar- 
vellous hope and perhaps an un- 
expected happiness drawn direct 
from the inexhaustible unknown. 
What though they freeze or flame, 
H io5 {-• 



DEATH 

collect or disperse, pursue or flee 
one another : mind and matter, no 
longer united bj the same pitiful 
hazard that joined them in us, 
must rejoice at all that happens ; 
for all is but birth and re-birth, 
a departure into an unknown filled 
with wonderful promises and 
maybe an anticipation of some 
unutterable event. . . . 

And, should they stand still one 
day, become fixed and remain 
motionless, it will not be that 
they have encountered calamity, 
nullity or death ; but they will 
have entered into a thing so fair, 
so great, so happy and bathed in 
such certainties that they will for 
ever prefer it to all the prodigious 
chances of an infinity which 
nothing can impoverish. 



THE END 



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