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Full text of "Obermann; selections from letters to a friend by Etienne Pivert de Senancour; chosen and tr. with an introductory essay and notes by Jessie Peabody Frothingham"

OBERMANN 

VOLUME II 



L O HERMANN 

SELECTIONS FROM 

LETTERS TO A FRIEND 

BY 

ETIENNE PIVERT DE SENANCOUR 

Cfiosen and translated with an Introductory 
Essay and Notes by JESSIE PEABODY 
FROTHINGHAM, Translator of the 
Journal of Maurice de Guerin 

VOLUME TWO 




Tbe RIVERSIDE PRESS, Cambridge 
1901 



Copyright, 1901 
By Jessie Peabody Frothingbam 

All rights reserved 



OBERMANN 



LETTERS 

TO A 

FRIEND 



LETTER XXXVII 

Lyons, May 2d, 6th year. 
& $ $ ^ $F all the vague and fleet- 

^ *SL 

/^V * ing moments when I be- 
^ V-/ ^ lieved, in my simplicity, 
& ^ ^ ^ ^ that we were upon the earth 
in order to live, none have left mem- 
ories so deep as those twenty days of 
forgetfulness and hope, when, towards 
the close of March, near the torrent, 
beside the rocks, among the happy 
hyacinth and the simple violet, I had 
the illusion that it would be given me 
to love. 

I touched what I was destined never 



4 OBERMANN 

to grasp. Without tastes, without hope, 
I might have existed weary but tran- 
quil ; instinctively I could picture to 
myself human energy, but in my 
shadowed life I was content to endure 
my apathy. What sinister power has 
opened the gates of the world before 
me, and swept away the consolations of 
the nothing ? 

Carried along by a wide activity, 
eager to love everything, to support 
everything, to console everything, for- 
ever torn between the desire to see so 
many wrongs redressed and the convic- 
tion that they never will be redressed, 
I am weary of the evils of life, and 
still more indignant against the perfi- 
dious seduction of pleasures, my gaze 
being ever fixed upon the vast mass of 
hate, iniquity, shame, and misery of 
this misguided earth. 

And I ! twenty-seven years have 
come and gone ; the beautiful days 
have passed away, and I have not even 



OBERMANN 5 

seen them. Unhappy in the years of 
joy, what can I expect from future 
years ? I have spent in weariness and 
emptiness the glad season of confidence 
and hope. On all sides repressed, suf- 
fering, my heart empty and wounded, 
I knew while still young the regrets 
of old age. Accustomed to seeing all 
the flowers of life wither beneath my 
blighting steps, I am like those old 
men from whom all things have taken 
flight ; but more unfortunate than they, 
I have lost everything long before I 
have myself reached the consummation 
of life. With an eager soul, I cannot 
rest in this silence of death. 

Memory of years long passed away, 
of things that have forever perished, of 
places never to be seen again, of men 
who are wholly changed ! sentiment 
of the life that is lost ! 

What scenes were ever for me what 
they are for other men ? What seasons 
were ever endurable, and under what 






6 OBERMANN 

sky have I found peace of the soul ? 
I have seen the stir of the cities, the 
void of the plains, the austerity of the 
mountains ; I have seen the coarseness 
of ignorance, and the travail of the 
arts ; I have seen useless, paltry success, 
and all the good lost in all the evil ; 
I have seen men and fate in unequal 
strife, and always deceived ; and, in the 
unbridled struggle of the passions, the 
odious victor receiving, as the price of 
his triumph, the heaviest link in the 
chain of evils which he has forged. 

Were man planned for misfortune 
I should pity him less ; and in view of 
his fleeting span of years I should de- 
spise, for him as for me, the afflictions 
of a day. But all good things surround 
him, all his faculties summon him to 
enjoy, all say to him, " Be happy ; " 
and man has answered, " Happiness 
shall be for the brute ; art, science, 
glory, greatness, shall be for me." His 
mortality, his sorrows, his very crimes, 



7 

are but the smallest part of his mis- 
ery. I mourn over the things that he 
has lost : peace, choice, unity, tranquil 
possession. I lament a hundred years 
which millions of sentient beings waste 
in anxieties and in restraint, in the 
midst of what goes to make security, 
liberty, and joy ; living in bitterness on 
a delectable earth, because they have 
desired a mythical good, and special 
blessings. 

But all this is of small account ; fifty 
years ago I did not realize it, and fifty 
years hence I shall realize it no more. 

I said to myself: If it has not been 
given me to lead back to primitive 
ways even a narrow and isolated land, 
if I must strive to forget the world, 
and believe that I am sufficiently happy 
when I can attain endurable days upon 
this misguided earth, then I claim only 
one boon, one vision in this dream from 
which I long never to awake. There 
remains upon the earth, as it now is, 



8 OBERMANN 

one illusion which can still beguile me ; 
it is the only one, and I shall have the 
wisdom to be deceived by it ; nothing 
else is worth the effort. So said I to 
myself. But chance alone could grant 
me this priceless delusion. Chance is 
slow and uncertain ; life is swift and 
irrevocable ; its springtime passes, and 
this disappointed longing, by complet- 
ing the ruin of my life, must at last 
alienate my heart and change my na- 
ture. I already feel, at times, that I am 
growing bitter, exasperated, and that 
my affections are contracting ; des- 
peration gives me fierce resolve, and 
disdain urges me on to great and au- 
stere designs. But this bitterness does 
not endure in all its strength ; I soon 
grow disheartened, as though I realized 
that careless men, and uncertain things, 
and my fleeting life^ were not worth 
the anxiety of a day, and that a stern 
awakening is useless when we must so 
soon fall asleep forever. 





* 









* . 



OBERMANN o 

' Tb" * 
, ,*: rr > ^g* ".. 

THIRD FRAGMENT 

. * V ' 

On Romantic Expression and the 
Ranz des V aches %* 

* A ' 

A rich and vivid fancy is charmed 

* '-'"; ' * * ' 

by romance; but a great soul and true ' 
feeling are alone satisfied by the ro- 
mantic. 1 Nature is full of romantic 
effects in primitive regions ; persistent 
cultivation has destroyed these effects 
in overworked lands, especially on the 
plains, which are readily made subject. 
to man. 

Romantic effects are the accents of 
w . 

a language which all men do not un- 
derstand, and which in many places is- 
becoming a foreign tongue. We soon 
cease to hear these accents when we no 
longer live among them ; and still it 
is this romantic harmony which alone 

keeps fresh in our hearts the bloom of 
* *C" ^ * '-*r * * *s* * 

youth and the springtime of life. The 

man of the world no longer feels these 

o * n * t ^*. ftt. *c 

!^*il-* : * \ : ;* : : '3&- 



* 



^ ^-SSa?-' * 

jr 



A, 

* k * '" 

10 OBERMANN 

' V ^ * 

effects, for they are too far removed 
from his usual habits of thought, and 
he ends by saying : " What do I care ? " 
He is like those temperaments worn 
out by the parching heat of a slow 
and constant poison ; he has grown old 
in the years of his strength, and the 
springs of his inner life are unstrung, 
even though he still bears the outward 
semblance of a man. 

But you, whom ordinary men be- 
lieve to be made of the same stuff 
as themselves, because forsooth your 
ways are simple, because you have gen- 
ius without pretension, or else merely 
f"** because you live, and like them you 

eat and, sleep you, primitive jnerf, 
. scattered here and there over the fruit- 
less centuries to perpetuate the type 
of natural things, you, recognize one 
another, you understand one another 
in a tongue unknown to 'the common 
herd, when the October sun shines 
through the mist on the golden woods ; 

.. " * 

** *! ' - 

v ;t * * 
\ , .1 

. > 



"** ' 



'* 

. '< ' 



OBERMANN n 

when the rippling brook flows through 
a meadow encircled by trees, at the 
waning of the moon ; when under 
the summer sky, on a cloudless day, a 
woman's voice sings in the distance, . . 
among the walls and the roofs of a 
great city. 

Picture to yourself an expanse of 
water, limpid and white. It is vast, 
but not boundless ; its curved and 
oblong shape stretches out toward the 
winter sunset. High peaks, majestic 
mountain-chains, inclose it on three 
sides. You are seated on the slope 
of the mountain, above the northern 
strand, where the waves ebb and flow. , 
Steep rocks rise behind you ; they lift 
their heights to the region of the 
clouds ; the melancholy wind of the 
north has never swept across this happy 
shore. On your left, the mountains part, 
a quiet valley lies amid their depths, a * 
torrent leaps down from the snowy 
summits which inclose it ; and when 

**' **-.!' *. ** ; *' *J 

* * \\ *> ' -.-.*: 



: 






12 OBERMANN 

the morning sun rises between the ice- 

. clad pinnacles, above the mists, when 

the voices of the mountains tell of hid- 

* * 

den chalets, above the meadows still in 
* 

shadow, it is the awakening of a prim- 
itive earth, it is a record of our unreal- 
* 

ized destinies. 

* 

And here come the heralds of the 

* * 

night ; the hour of rest and of sublime 
melancholy. The valley is flooded with 



vapor ; darkness steals over it. At noon 
it is still night upon the lake ; the en- 
circling rocks form a belt of darkness, 
beneath the ice-clad dome which lifts 
its height above, and seems to hold the 
light of day in its white frost. Then 
the dying rays gild the chestnut groves 
on the wild clifFs, steal in long, slant- 
ing beams beneath the tall spires of 
the Alpine fir, darken the mountains, 
kindle the snows, illumine the air ; 
, * ' and the waveless water, shining with 

light and mingled with the sky, has 




OBERMANN 13 

and purer, more ethereal, more beauti- 
ful still. Its peace is bewildering, its 
clearness is deceptive, the aerial splen- 
dor reflected upon its surface seems to 
increase its depth ; and beneath those 
heights, divided from the earth and 
suspended in space, you see at your 
feet the void of the heavens and the 
immensity of the world. 

Such moments are filled with magic 
and forgetfulness. Where is the sky, 
where are the mountains, on what do 
we stand ? There is no level, no ho- 
rizon ; thoughts are new, feelings are 
strange ; we are above the life we know. 

And when darkness covers this val- 
ley of water, when the eye can dis- 
cern neither object nor space, when the 
wind of the evening ruffles the waves, 
then, toward the west, the farthest end 
of the lake alone glimmers in the pale 
light ; but all within the encircling 
rocks is a mysterious gulf, and, in the 
midst of the darkness and the silence, 



* 9 



r< 






14 OBERMANN 

you hear, a thousand feet below, the 
stir of the ever-moving waves which 
rise and fall and never cease, which 
tremble on the beach in measured ca- 
dence, plunge among the rocks, dash 
against the shore, and echo with a 
lengthened murmur through the dark 
abyss. 

It is to sound that nature has given 
the strongest expression of the roman- 
tic character ; it is above all through 
the sense of hearing that we can shape, 
in bold, simple outlines, a picture of 
striking scenes and things. Odors pro- 
duce swift and broad but indefinite 
perceptions ; sight seems to awaken 
perceptions which belong more to the 
mind than to the heart ; we admire 
what we see, but we feel what we hear. 
The voice of a beloved woman is more 
beautiful than her features ; the sounds 
that are associated with sublime scenes 
produce a deeper and more lasting im- 
pression than their forms. I have never 



OBERMANN 15 

seen a painting of the Alps that could 
bring them as distinctly before my eyes 
as can a truly Alpine melody. 

The Ranz des Caches 2 does not sim- 
ply renew memories ; it delineates. . . . 
If it is rendered in a way more charac- 
teristic than technical, and with true 
depth of feeling, the first notes carry 
us to the high valleys, near the bare, 
russet-gray rocks, under the cold sky, 
beneath the burning sun. We are on 
the brow of the rolling mountain-tops, 
where the pastures lie. We are filled 
with a sense of the slowness of things 
and the grandeur of nature ; we see the 
tranquil pace of the cows, and the mea- 
sured swing of their great bells, near to 
the clouds, on the gently falling ground 
between the crest of imperishable gran- 
ite and the shattered rocks in the snow 
ravines. The winds rustle harshly in 
the distant larches ; we hear the rush- 
ing of the torrent, hidden among the 
steep crags, which, century by century, 



16 OBERMANN 

have been hollowed out by the wa- 
ters. 

Then, close upon these lonely sounds, 
there come through the air the hurried 
and heavy accents of the Kuheren^ the 
nomadic expression of a mirthless plea- 
sure, of a mountain joy. The songs 
cease ; the man is lost in the distance ; 
the bells have passed beyond the larches; 
there is no sound save the noise of the 
rolling pebbles, and, now and again, 
the plunge of the trees, swept down 
by the torrent to the valleys beyond. 
These Alpine sounds swell and wane on 
the wind ; and when they fade away, all 
things seem cold, motionless, and dead. 

It is the abode of impassive man. He 
comes from under the low, wide roof, 
which heavy stones protect from the 
ravages of the storms. The sun may 
send down its scorching heat, the wind 
may sweep across the pastures, the thun- 
der may roll beneath his feet, but he 
is alike unconscious. He goes to the 



OBERMANN 17 

wonted pasture of the cows, and they 
are there ; he calls them, they gather 
from all sides, they draw near, one by 
one ; and then he retraces his steps as 
slowly as he came, carrying the milk 
which is to be sent to those plains that 
he will never see. The cows linger 
and ruminate ; there is no visible stir, 
there is no sign of man. The air is 
cold, the wind has fallen with the even- 
ing light ; nothing is left but the gleam 
of the timeless snows, and the dash of 
the waters, whose wild roar, rising from 
the abyss, seems to add to the silent per- 
manence of the high peaks, the glaciers, 
and the night. 



LETTER XXXIX 

Lyons, May nth, 6th year. 

I HAVE seen the valley flooded with 
a soft radiance in the shadow, un- 
der the veil of haze, the misty charm of 



i8 OBERMANN 

the morning ; and it was full of beauty. 
I have seen it change and fade ; the con- 
suming planet had passed over it ; he 
had scorched and wearied it with light ; 
he had left it dry, old, and pitifully 
barren. Even thus the happy veil of 
our days has slowly lifted and has faded 
away. No longer do I see those half- 
shadows, those hidden places, so de- 
lightful to explore ; nor can my eyes 
again find rest in that vague, transpar- 
ent light. All is sterile and wearisome, 
like the burning sands under the skies 
of the Sahara ; all the things of life, 
stripped of this disguise, show with 
repulsive truth the unadorned and mel- 
ancholy mechanism of their denuded 
skeletons. Their ceaseless, inevitable, 
resistless movements drag me along 
without interesting me, and make me 
move without making me live. 



OBERMANN 19 



LETTER XL 

Lyons, May ifth, 6th year. 

1WAS near the Saone, behind the 
long wall where we walked to- 
gether in old times, when we were boys, 
and talked of Tinian, 4 and aspired to 
happiness, and were filled with the high 
resolve to live. I looked upon that river 
which still flowed onward as before, 
and at the autumn sky, as tranquil and 
as beautiful as in those far distant years 
that have forever gone. A carriage ap- 
proached ; unconsciously I turned aside, 
and, as I walked, kept my eyes fixed 
upon the yellowed leaves which the 
wind chased over the dry grass and the 
dusty road. The carriage stopped ; Ma- 
dame Del was alone with her lit- 
tle girl of six. As you know, Madame 

Del is only twenty-five, and she 

has greatly changed; but she speaks 



20 OBERMANN 

with the same simple and perfect grace ; 
her eyes have a more melancholy, but a 
no less beautiful expression. We did not 
refer to her husband ; you may remem- 
ber that he is thirty years her senior, 
and that he is a financier, very wise on 
the subject of money, but wholly ig- 
norant of everything else. Unfortunate 
woman ! Hers is a wasted life ; yet 
destiny seemed to have given her the 
promise of so much happiness ! What 
did she lack to merit joy, and to make 
the happiness of another? What a 
mind ! What a soul ! What purity of 
intention ! All this is useless. 

It was almost five years since I had 
seen her. . . . 

Her image, though weakened by 
discouragement, by time, and by the 
waning even of my trust in such use- 
less or deceptive affections her im- 
age was linked to the very conscious- 
ness of my existence and of my life 
in the midst of the world. I saw her 



OBERMANN 21 

within me, but like the indelible mem- 
ory of a dream that has faded away, 
like those ideals of happiness the im- 
pression of which we cherish, but which 
belong to our past. . . . 

An all-winning grace, an eloquence 
sweet and deep, an expression ampler 
than the things expressed, a harmony 
which is the universal bond, all this 
lies revealed in the eye of a woman. 
All this, and more still, dwells in the 
fathomless voice of the woman who 
feels. 



LETTER XLI 

Lyons , May i8th y 6th year. 

IT would seem as though fate were 
determined to lead man back under 
the yoke which he had striven to shake 
off in defiance of that very fate. Of 
what avail has it been to me to have 
renounced my former ways, and to have 



22 OBERMANN 

gone out in search of a freer life ? If I 
have seen things that were in harmony 
with my nature, I was given a glimpse 
of them only as I passed along the 
road of life, and they brought me no 
enjoyment, but served merely to in- 
crease twofold my feverish longing to 
possess them. 

I am not the slave of passion ; I am 
still more unfortunate, for its vanity 
does not deceive me. But, after all, 
must not life be filled by something ? 
When existence is empty can it be 
satisfying ? If the life of the heart is 
nothing but a restless void, would it 
not be better to leave it for a more tran- 
quil void ? It seems to me that intelli- 
gence looks for a result, and I should 
like to be told the result of my life. 
I long for something that will blind- 
fold my days, and carry them swiftly 
onward. It is intolerable to feel them 
rolling perpetually over my head, slug- 
gish, slow, and solitary, without aspi- 



OBERMANN 23 

rations, without illusions, without aim. 
If I am to know only the miseries of 
life, is it good to have been given life ; 
is it wise to preserve it ? s 

You do not believe that, too weak 
to stand steadfast against the ills of hu- 
manity, I dare not even endure the fear 
of them. You know me better. Not 
in misfortune would I think of throw- 
ing away my life. Resistance awakens 
the soul and lends it a prouder bearing. 
When we are called upon to battle with 
great sorrows, we are finally worthy of 
ourselves ; we take delight in our en- 
ergy, we have at least something to do. 
But it is the perplexity, the tedium, 
the restraint, the insipidity of life that 
dishearten and repel me. The passion- 
ate man can be resigned to suffer, since 
he claims some day to enjoy ; but what 
thought can sustain the man who ex- 
pects nothing ? I am weary of leading 
so empty a life. It is true that I might 
still find it in my heart to be patient ; 



24 OBERMANN 

but my days are passing without a 
useful act, without enjoyment, without 
hope, and without peace. Think you 
that with an indomitable soul all this 
can endure through long years ? . . . 

Again I see rising before me the 
sad memory of the long, wasted years. 
I see how the ever - seductive future 
changes and diminishes as we approach 
it. Struck by the breath of death, 
under the lurid light of the present's 
funeral torch, that future fades at the 
very moment when we think to enjoy 
it ; throwing off the seductions which 
disguised it, and the spell which has 
already grown old, it moves onward, 
solitary and abandoned ; and bears with 
stolidity and inertness its hideous and 
worn-out sceptre, as though mocking 
at the baleful clanking of its eternal 
chain and the weariness of it all. 

When I foresee the disenchanted 
void through which the ruins of my 
youth and my life are to be dragged, 



OBERMANN 25 

when my thought strives to follow in 
advance the uniform slope down which 
everything flows and is lost, what think 
you that I can expect at its close, and 
who can hide from me the abyss in 
which all this is to end ? Is it not meet 
that, dejected and disheartened, when 
I feel certain that I am capable of no- 
thing, I shall at least seek rest ? And 
when an inexorable force weighs un- 
ceasingly upon me, how can I rest 
except by hurrying myself onward to 
my release ? 

All things must have an end in 
harmony with their nature. Since my 
relative life is cut off from the course 
of the world, why should I vegetate 
through a long future, useless to the 
others, and tiresome to myself? To sat- 
isfy the mere love of life ! to breathe 
and grow old ! to awake in bitterness 
when all is at rest, and to grope in 
darkness when the earth is in bloom ; 
to possess only the need of aspirations, 



26 OBERMANN 

and to know only the dream of life ; 
to be forever isolated and out of place 
on the stage of human afflictions, while 
through me no one is made happy, and 
I am vouchsafed only the conception 
of a man's part ; to cling to a wasted 
life, cowardly slave ! whom life rejects, 
and who still pursues life's shadow, 
eager for existence, as though real ex- 
istence had been granted it, and who 
lives in misery, for want of the courage 
not to live at all ! 

Of what avail to me is the sophis- 
try of a soft and flattering philosophy, 
hollow disguise of a dastard instinct, 
empty wisdom of patient souls who per- 
petuate the evils they endure so well, 
and who justify our servitude by an 
imaginary law of necessity ? 

" Wait," they will say to me, "moral 
evil exhausts itself by its very continu- 
ity. Wait, times will change, and you 
will be satisfied ; or if times remain the 
same, you will yourself change. By 



OBERMANN 27 

making use of the present such as it 
is, you will weaken the too vivid con- 
sciousness of a better future ; and when 
you tolerate life, then life will be good 
to your more tranquil heart." 

A passion dies, a loss is forgotten, a 
wrong may be redressed ; but I have 
neither passions, nor losses, nor wrongs, 
nothing that can die, or be forgotten, 
or redressed. A fresh passion has the 
power to bring solace for the loss of 
the old ; but what will give life to my 
heart when it shall have lost the thirst 
that consumes it ? It desires everything, 
claims everything, contains everything. 
What will take the place of the bound- 
less which my thought requires ? Af- 
flictions are forgotten ; fresh benefits 
wipe them away. But what benefits 
can assuage universal grief ? . . . Know 
you of any good that brings consola- 
tion for world-sorrow ? If my suffer- 
ing has its source in the nothingness 
of my life, will time allay evils which 



28 OBERMANN 

time increases, and can I hope that they 
will die, when it is by their very con- 
tinuance that they are intolerable ? 

" Wait, for better times may bear 
the fruits which fate seems to withhold 
from you to-day." 

Men of a day, who scheme as you 
grow old, and argue for a distant future 
when death walks in your footsteps, 
will you never realize the swift current 
of time, while you are lost in dreams 
of consoling illusions amid the insta- 
bility of mortal things ? Will you never 
see that your life falls asleep as it sways 
to and fro, and that the very changes 
which give courage to your deluded 
heart stir it only in order to quench its 
life with a last, swift blow ? 

Were man's life unending, or were 
it longer and changeless until near its 
last hour, then hope might seduce me, 
and I might perhaps wait for what 
would be at least a possibility. But is 
there any permanence in life? Can 



OBERMANN 29 

the future have the needs of the pre- 
sent ? And what was meet yesterday, 
will it be good to-morrow ? Our heart 
changes more swiftly than the seasons 
of the year ; their variations are at least 
fraught with some degree of constancy, 
since they repeat themselves through- 
out the course of the centuries. But 
our days, never to be renewed, have 
not two hours that are alike; our sea- 
sons, which are never retrieved, have 
each their individual needs. If one age 
loses its peculiar rights, it has lost them 
without return, and no other age can 
attain to what the age of strength has 
missed. . . . 

But I am calmer now, and am be- 
ginning to be tired of my very impa- 
tience. Thoughts sombre, yet tranquil, 
are becoming more familiar to me. 
My mind willingly reverts to those 
who in the morning of their lives have 
found their eternal night ; this feeling 
rests and consoles me ; it is the instinct 



30 OBERMANN 

of evening. But why this need of dark- 
ness ? why is light painful to me ? 
They will know one day, when they 
will have changed, when I shall no 
longer be. 

" When you will no longer be ! . . . 
Do you meditate a crime ?" 

If, weary of the ills of life, but espe- 
cially disillusioned of its benefits, al- 
ready suspended over the abyss, set apart 
for the supreme moment, held back by 
a friend, accused by the moralist, con- 
demned by my country, culpable in the 
eyes of social man, I were called upon 
to reply to his reproaches and his exer- 
tions in my behalf, this, it seems to me, 
is what I might say : 

I have searched everything, known 
everything, and if I have not expe- 
rienced, I have at least foreseen every- 
thing. Your sorrows have withered my 
soul ; they are intolerable because they 
are aimless. Your pleasures are illusive, 
evanescent ; one day suffices to know 



OBERMANN 31 

them and renounce them. I sought hap- 
piness within myself, but not blindly, 
and I found that joy was not made for 
isolated man. I proffered it to those 
around me, but they had no leisure to 
give it thought. I questioned the mul- 
titude blighted by misery, and the elect 
oppressed by tedium ; they answered, 
" We suffer to-day, but to-morrow we 
shall enjoy." As for myself, I know 
that the day that is to come will walk 
in the footprints of the waning day. 
Live on, you who can still be duped 
by the magic of happy illusions ; but 
tired of what may lead hope astray, 
expecting nothing, and wellnigh de- 
siring nothing, I must no longer live. 
I judge of life like the man who goes 
to his grave ; may that grave open for 
me also. Ought I to delay the end 
when it has already been reached ? Na- 
ture offers illusions to be believed in 
and loved ; she lifts the veil only at 
the hour marked for death. She has 



32 OBERMANN 

not raised it for you live on. She 
has lifted it for me my life has 
already passed. . . . 

Without aspirations what can one 
do with life ? Vegetate stupidly ; drag 
one's self over the lifeless tracks of cares 
and concerns ; crawl impotently in the 
abasement of the slave, or the nullity of 
the multitude ; think, without serving 
universal order ; feel, without living. 
Thus, the pitiable plaything of an in- 
scrutable destiny, man abandons his life 
to the chances of times and things. . . . 

It is true, I leave behind me friends 
whom I shall grieve, my country whose 
benefits I have not sufficiently repaid, 
all men whom I ought to serve ; for 
this I feel, not remorse, but regret. 
Who, more than I, could realize the 
value of union, the authority of duty, 
the happiness of a useful life ? I had 
hoped to do some good ; it was the 
most pleasing, the most foolish of my 
dreams. 



OBERMANN 33 

Amid the ceaseless uncertainty of 
an existence forever troubled, fleeting, 
servile, you all follow, in your blindness 
and docility, the beaten track of estab- 
lished order; and thus give up your 
life to your habits, wasting it as heed- 
lessly as you would waste a day. I 
might, if I were likewise carried away 
by this general aberration, leave behind 
me a few benefits along these paths of 
error ; but this good, easy to all, will 
be done without me by virtuous men. 
There are such men ; may they live, 
and, useful in some way, may they be 
happy. As for me, I confess that I 
should not be consoled if, in this abyss 
of evils, I could not do more. The bur- 
den of one unfortunate man near me 
might perhaps be lightened, but the 
groans of a hundred thousand would 
still strike upon my ear, and, powerless 
in their midst, I should see the bitter 
fruits of human error always attributed 
to the nature of things, and I should 



34 OBERMANN 

watch the perpetuation of those miser- 
ies which are looked upon as the inev- 
itable work of necessity, but in which 
I trace the accidental caprice of an ex- 
periment in perfection. I ought to be 
severely condemned if I should refuse 
to sacrifice a happy life for the general 
good ; but since I am doomed to remain 
useless, I feel only regrets, and not re- 
morse, when I claim a rest too long 
delayed. . . . 

If it were a clearly defined duty to 
allow the life that has been given me 
to run its full course, I should, doubt- 
less, face its miseries ; time would soon 
carry them along on its swift current. 
However harassed may be our days, 
they are endurable since they are lim- 
ited. Death and life are in my power ; 
I neither cling to one, nor desire the 
other. Let reason decide whether I 
have the right to choose between 
them. . . . 

The Eternal has given me life, you 



OBERMANN 35 

say, and has intrusted me with my part 
in the harmony of his works ; I must 
fill it to the end, and I have not the 
right to flee from his sovereignty. 

You forget too quickly the soul 
which you have given me. This earthly 
body is only dust, do you no longer re- 
member ? But my intelligence, imper- 
ishable breath which emanated from 
universal intelligence, can never escape 
from its law. How can I flee beyond 
the dominion of the Lord of all things ? 
It is merely a change of place, and 
places are as nought to Him who holds 
and governs all things. . . . 

Nature watches over my preserva- 
tion ; I must also preserve myself in 
order to obey her laws, and since she 
has given me the fear of death, she for- 
bids me to seek death. 

This is a fine phrase. But nature pre- 
serves or sacrifices me at will ; there is, 
at least, in the natural course of things, 
no known law on this point. When I 



36 OBERMANN 

desire to live, a gulf opens to swallow 
me up, the lightning falls from heaven 
to consume me. If nature takes away 
the life which she has made me love, I 
take it away when I no longer love it. 
If she wrests from me a good, I throw 
away an evil. If she surrenders my ex- 
istence to the arbitrary course of events, 
I leave it or preserve it according to my 
choice. Since she has given me the 
faculty of willing and choosing, I use 
it under circumstances when I am led 
to decide between the greatest interests ; 
and I cannot comprehend that by using 
the liberty she has given me, in choos- 
ing a course inspired by her, I am 
by this very act outraging her. I, the 
work of nature, study her laws, and 
find in them my liberty. . . . 



OBERMANN 37 



LETTER XLII 

Lyons, May 2gth, 6th year. 

1HAVE read over your entire letter 
several times. It was dictated by 
too keen an interest. I respect the 
friendship which deceives you, and 
realize that I was not as solitary as I 
had claimed to be. You are clever in 
laying stress upon most praiseworthy 
motives ; but, believe me, while a great 
deal may be said to the passionate man 
who is carried away by despair, there 
is not a single valid word in answer to 
the man who quietly reasons out his 
own death. 

Not that I have decided on anything. 
Despondency overwhelms me, disgust 
crushes me. I know that this evil takes 
its spring from within. Why can I not 
be content to eat and to sleep for I 
do eat and sleep. The life that I drag 



38 OBERMANN 

along is not so very wretched after all. 
Each separate day is endurable, but 
their whole overpowers me. An organ- 
ized being must act, and act in har- 
mony with his nature. Can it satisfy 
him to be well sheltered, to sleep in 
warmth and ease, to be fed on delicate 
fruits, to be surrounded by the murmur 
of the waters and the fragrance of the 
flowers ? You keep him stagnant ; this 
indolence wearies him, these scents 
annoy him, this delicate food fails to 
nourish him. Take back your gifts 
and your fetters. Let him act ; let him 
suffer, even. Let him act, for to act is 
to enjoy and to live. 

But apathy has become natural to 
me, as it were ; the thought of an ac- 
tive life alarms or surprises me. Small 
things offend me, but I cling to them 
as to a habit. Great things will always 
attract me, but my sloth fears them. I 
do not know what I am, what I love, 
what I desire ; I groan without reason, 



OBERMANN 39 

I yearn without object, and the only 
thing I realize is that I am not in my 
right place. 

Man's moral sense, his enthusiasm, 
the restlessness of his desires, his con- 
stant need of development, all seem to 
indicate that his existence does not end 
with this passing life ; that his activity 
is not limited to visible illusions ; that 
his thought must deal with inevitable 
and eternal concepts ; that his vocation 
is to work for the betterment or the 
reformation of the world ; that his 
destiny is, in a measure, to perfect, to 
deepen, to organize, to give to matter 
more energy, to beings greater power, 
to faculties fuller perfection, to germs 
ampler fruitfulness, to the relations of 
things completer equity, to order a 
wider dominion. 

He is looked upon as the instrument 
of nature, employed by her to complete 
and perfect her work ; to make use of 
the brute matter that comes within his 



4 o OBERMANN 

reach; to bring formless compounds 
into subjection to the laws of harmony ; 
to refine the metals, beautify the plants ; 
to separate or combine elements ; to 
transform gross into volatile substances, 
and inert into active matter ; to uplift 
less developed beings, and to himself 
progress and mount upward to the uni- 
versal principle of fire, light, order, 
harmony, and energy. 

Starting with this hypothesis, the 
man who is worthy of so high a min- 
istry, a conqueror of obstacles and dis- 
couragements, will stand at his post 
until the last. I respect this constancy. 
. . . The upright man will undoubt- 
edly not renounce his life as long as he 
can be useful ; to be useful and to be 
happy are for him synonymous. If he 
suffers, but at the same time does great 
good, he is more satisfied than discon- 
tented. But when the evil he expe- 
riences is greater than the good he 
can accomplish, then he may abandon 
everything. . . . 



OBERMANN 41 



LETTER X LI II 

Lyons, May joth, 6th year. 

WISE men, it is said, live with- 
out passion, without impa- 
tience, and as they look at all things 
from the same point of view, they find 
in their quietude the peace and the dig- 
nity of life. . . . 

The wise man of Epicurus must have 
neither wife nor children ; but even that 
is not enough. As soon as the interests 
of another depend upon our prudence, 
trifling and vexing cares destroy our 
peace, harass our soul, and often quench 
our very genius. . . . 

One must be neither father nor hus- 
band, if one wishes to live independ- 
ently, and one ought, perhaps, not 
even to have friends ; but a life so lonely 
would be sad and useless. A man who 
rules the destiny of a people, who 



42 OBERMANN 

meditates and does great things, may 
be bound to no particular individual ; 
the people are his friends, and, a bene- 
factor of men, he may be exempt from 
being the benefactor of one man. But 
to me it seems as if those who live in 
obscurity ought to at least find some 
one toward whom they have duties to 
fulfill. . . . 

It would be terrible to end one's 
days in saying : " Through me no 
heart has been made happy ; no joy of 
man has been my work ; I have passed 
through life impassive and null, like 
the glacier, which, in the mountain 
fastnesses, has resisted the noonday sun 
and has never flowed downward to the 
valley below, to redeem with its waters 
the pastures which lay parched in the 
burning heat." . . . 



OBERMANN 43 



LETTER XLV 

Chessely July 2fth, 6th year. 

THE multitude of living men is 
sacrificed to the prosperity of 
the few, even as the majority of chil- 
dren die and are sacrificed to the exist- 
ence of those who remain, as millions 
of acorns are sacrificed to the beauty of 
the great oaks which spread out their 
wide branches, free and unhampered. 
And the lamentable part of it is, that 
in this throng which fate abandons and 
thrusts back into the miry morass of 
life, there are men who struggle against 
their lot, and whose impotent energy 
becomes exasperated even while it is 
being consumed. 

General laws are very beautiful, and 
I would willingly sacrifice to them 
one, two, even ten years of my life ; but 
all my being, that is too much ! It is 



44 OBERMANN 

nothing to nature, but everything to 
me. . . . These laws for the whole, 
this heed for species, this scorn of indi- 
viduals, this onward march of beings, 
is hard for us who are individuals. I 
reverence a Providence that carves out 
everything in broad masses, but how 
man is tossed among the shavings ! and 
how amusing it is for him to think 
himself something ! . . . 

Man, counting for so little in nature, 
and for so much to himself, ought to 
be concerned somewhat less with the 
laws of the world, and somewhat more 
with his own laws ; ought to set aside, 
perhaps, those of transcendental science 
which have never dried a solitary tear 
in hamlet or attic ; set aside, perhaps, 
certain admirable but useless arts, he- 
roic and evil passions ; and seek, if 
possible, to form institutions which 
shall hold man in check and cease to 
brutalize him, to have less science and 
less ignorance ; and admit that if man 



OBERMANN 45 

is not a blind energy to be abandoned 
to the forces of fate, if his acts have in 
them something spontaneous, morality 
is the only science which man is per- 
mitted to frame. 



LETTER XL VI 

Lyons y August 2d, 6th year. 

WHEN the day first dawns, I 
am- downcast, I feel sad and 
troubled ; I take no interest in things, 
and it seems impossible to fill the long 
hours. When the day is in its full 
strength, it overwhelms me, and I flee 
from its dazzling brightness. But when 
the light is softened, and I feel around 
me that charm of happy evenings so 
long alien to my heart, then I drain 
the cup of misery and abandon myself 
to grief. 

In this my life of ease more sorrows 
crowd upon me than upon the man 
who is pursued by misfortune. 



46 OBERMANN 

I have been told : " You are tranquil 
now." The paralytic is tranquil on his 
bed of pain. What a lot, to consume 
the days of our strength, even as the old 
man passes the days of repose ! For- 
ever waiting, without hope ; restless, 
without aspiration ; disquieted, without 
cause ; hours ever empty ; talk always 
superficial ; . . . friends, without inti- 
macy ; pleasures, for the sake of appear- 
ances ; laughter, to satisfy those who 
are as bored as one's self; and not one 
feeling of joy in two years ! The body 
always inactive, the mind tormented, 
the soul unhappy, and not even in sleep 
to escape from this sense of bitterness, 
of restraint, of restless tedium this is 
the slow agony of the heart. It is not 
thus that man should live. 

August 3d. 

. . . Resignation is often good for 
individuals ; it can only be fatal to the 
race. 



OBERMANN 47 

Will it be said that one must not 
insist on imaginary beauty, on absolute 
happiness, but rather on the details of 
direct usefulness in the actual order of 
things ? and that, as perfection is not 
possible to man, and especially to men, 
it is both useless and romantic to talk 
to them about it ? But nature herself 
always sows much to reap little. Of a 
thousand seeds only one will germi- 
nate. We must keep our eyes fixed 
upon the greatest good, not because we 
hope to reach it, but because we shall 
come nearer to it than if we were to 
elect the possible as the goal of our 
efforts. . . . 

You alone know how to fill your 
lives, men simple and just, full of 
confidence and broad affections, of sen- 
timent, and of repose, who experience 
your existence to the full, and who will 
reap the results of your work ! You 
find your joy in domestic order and 
tranquillity, on the brow of a friend, on 



48 OBERMANN 

the happy lips of a wife. Come not 
to our cities to be a slave to wretched 
mediocrity, to proud weariness. . . . 
Forget not the things of nature. . . . 
I say again, time flies ever more 
swiftly as the seasons of man come and 
go. My lost days are heaped up be- 
hind me ; they fill the indefinite space 
with their colorless shadows ; they hud- 
dle together their wasted skeletons 
it is the shadowy phantom of a fu- 
nerary monument. And if my restless 
gaze turns away and seeks rest on the 
once happier chain of future days, it 
finds that their full forms and brilliant 
images have paled. Their colors fade. 
That softened distance, which, by the 
magic of uncertainty, once clothed them 
with a celestial grace, now strips to the 
bone their lifeless and mournful phan- 
toms. By the austere light which be- 
trays them in the eternal night, I can 
already see the last day advancing alone 
across the abyss, and between it and me 
there is nought. 



OBERMANN 49 

Do you remember our vain aspira- 
tions, the projects of our childhood ? 
The joy of a beautiful sky, the forget- 
fulness of the world, and the freedom 
of the lonely wilds ! 

Youthful enchantment of a heart 
that believes in happiness, wants to 
satisfy its desires, and is ignorant of life! 
Simplicity of hope, where hast thou 
flown ? The silence of the forests, the 
limpidness of the waters, the wild fruits, 
the intimacy of comradeship, these were 
sufficient for us. The real world holds 
nothing that can replace these desires 
of a true heart, of an untaught mind, 
the early dream of our early years. 

But when a happier hour crowns 
our brow with unwonted serenity, with 
a fleeting shadow of peace and well- 
being, the following hour is quick to 
draw across it deep lines of sorrow and 
fatigue, furrows steeped in bitterness, 
which stamp out forever its early inno- 
cence. 



50 OBERMANN 

I am not suffering, impatient, irri- 
tated ; I am downcast and weary ; I 
am overwhelmed with despondency. 
Now and again, it is true, I fling 
myself by an unexpected impulse be- 
yond the narrow limits of the sphere in 
which I was compressed. This move- 
ment is so swift that it comes upon 
me with unforeseen strength, and I am 
filled and carried away by it before I 
remember the vanity of my impulse. I 
lose in this way the reasoned repose 
which perpetuates our ills, and calcu- 
lates our miseries with its impassive 
compass, according to its wise and soul- 
destroying formulas. 

In that hour ... I see only, on 
the one side, my soul with its powers 
and its aspirations, like a limited but 
independent agent, which nothing can 
hinder from destroying itself at its 
allotted time, and which nothing can 
prevent from living in harmony with 
its own nature ; and, on the other side, 



OBERMANN 51 

I see the whole earth as the necessary 
domain of my soul, as the means of 
its activity, as the materials of its life. 
I scorn that inert and spiritless prudence 
which forgets the power of genius, 
quenches the fire of the heart, and loses 
for all time what constitutes life, that 
it may fashion playthings and set up 
puerile shadows. 

I ask myself what I am doing ; why 
I do not begin to live ; what force 
enthralls me, when I am free ; what 
weakness holds me back, when I feel an 
energy that consumes me in the very 
effort to repress it ; what I look forward 
to, when I hope for nothing ; what I 
seek here, when here I love nothing, 
desire nothing ; what fatality forces me 
to act in opposition to my wishes, when 
it is incomprehensible how this fatal- 
ity should have the power to control 
me? . 



52 OBERMANN 



LETTER XLVIII 

Meterville, September 1st, 6th year. 

THOUGH we drag along our 
years in indifference, we still 
may chance to see the sky on a cloud- 
less night. We see the vast planets ; 
they are not delusions of the fancy, 
they are real before our eyes ; we see 
the yet vaster space, and the suns that 
give light to other worlds, where be- 
ings different from ourselves are born, 
feel, and die. 

The trunk of the young fir stands 
near me, straight and firm ; it rises 
into the air, and seems to have neither 
life nor motion ; but it exists, and if it 
knows itself, its secret and the spring 
of its life are within. It grows unseen. 
It is the same by night and by day ; the 
same under the cold snow, and under 
the summer sun. It turns with the 



OBERMANN 53 

earth ; motionless it turns among all 
these worlds. The grasshopper is alert 
while man is at rest ; it will die, the fir 
will fall, the worlds will change. 

In that day where will our books be, 
our fame, our fears, our prudence, and 
the house we were to have built, and 
the grain which the hail had spared ? 
For what season do you harvest ? In 
what age do you place your hope ? One 
more revolution of a planet, one more 
hour of its span, and all that is you will 
no longer be. . . . 

Intelligence of the worlds ! how vain 
are the cares of man ! What laughable 
solicitude for the incidents of an hour ! 
What senseless torments to arrange the 
details of this life which a breath of 
time will destroy ! 



54 OBERMANN 



L ETTER L I 

Paris, September 2d, fth year. 

OF what avail to my happiness is 
a fame which during my life is 
still in its bud, and will bloom forth 
only after my death ? It is pride that 
makes the living utter with such deep 
respect the great names of the dead. I 
do not see that it is any great benefit 
to us to minister, a thousand years 
from now, to the passions of different 
parties, or the whims of public opinion. 
I am content if honest men cannot cast 
a slur upon my memory ; the rest is 
vanity. Chance holds too often the 
casting vote, and oftener still the means 
repel me ; I should not wish to be 
either a Charles XII., or a Pacomus. 6 
To seek glory and not attain it is hu- 
miliating ; to be worthy of it, and yet 
lose it, is melancholy perhaps, but, after 



OBERMANN 55 

all, to gain it is not the chief end of 
man. 

Tell me whether the greatest names 
are those of just men ? When we can 
do good deeds let us do them for their 
own sakes, and if our destiny leads us far 
away from great things, let us at least 
not neglect those which glory does not 
reward ; let us put aside uncertainties, 
and be good in obscurity. Some men, 
seeking fame for fame's sake, may pos- 
sibly give a needed impetus to public 
enterprise in great states; but, as for 
ourselves, let us strive to do only those 
things which ought to bring glory, and 
be indifferent to the whims of fate that 
often grant it to happiness, sometimes 
deny it to heroism, and rarely accord 
it to purity of intention. 

I have felt for some days a great 
longing for simple things, . . . violets 
which we find with so much pleasure, 
and seek with so much interest ! ber- 
ries, nuts, strawberries ; wild pears, and 



56 OBERMANN 

fallen chestnuts ; fir cones for the au- 
tumn hearth gentle ways of a more 
natural life ! Joy of simple men ; sim- 
plicity of happy lands ! . . . 



LETTER LII 

Paris, October Qth, fth year. 

1AM delighted with your young 
friend. . . . He seems to justify 
all the interest you take in him ; were 
he your son, I should congratulate you. 
Yours would have been of his age ; and 
he has no father ! Your son and his 
mother were destined to die early. I 
do not avoid speaking of this. Old sor- 
rows sadden, but do not torture us ; that 
deep bitterness, softened and made en- 
durable by time, becomes to us a ne- 
cessity ; it brings back to us the charm 
of the ways of old ; it stirs our hearts 
eager for emotion, and seeking the 
boundless even in their regrets. . . . 



OBERMANN 57 

To return to my protege; I wrote 
you that we were to make a long trip 
through the neighborhood of Paris. 
. . . We started on the I4th of Sep- 
tember ; and throughout almost our 
entire trip we had beautiful autumn 
weather a peaceful sky, a gentle and 
half-veiled sun, misty mornings, beau- 
tiful evenings, wet earth and good roads, 
and everywhere abundant fruit. We 
were well, and in good spirits ; he, 
keen to see and ready to admire ; I, 
content to roam. . . . 

Of the little that I know of France, 
Chessel 7 and Fontainebleau are the 
only places where I should willingly 
consent to stay, and Chessel the only 
one where I should wish to live. You 
will soon see me there. 

I have already told you that the as- 
pens and the birches of Chessel are not 
like other aspens and other birches ; the 
chestnuts, and the ponds, and the boat, 
are not the same as those elsewhere. 



58 OBERMANN 

There, the autumn sky is like the sky 
of one's native land. Those muscatel 
grapes, those pale starworts which you 
used not to love but which now we 
love together, and the fragrance of the 
Chessel hay in that great barn where 
we played when I was still a child ! 
What hay ! What delicious fresh cheese 
and cream ! What beautiful heifers ! 
And what a pleasant sound the chest- 
nuts made as they were emptied out of 
the bag and rolled over the floor above 
my room. 

My friend, happiness has fled. You 
have your cares and your profession ; 
your mind has matured ; your heart 
has not changed, but mine has con- 
tracted. You no longer have time to 
put the chestnuts under the ashes, they 
have to be prepared for you ; what have 
you done with our pleasures ? 



OBERJVJANN 59 



LETTER LV 

Fribourg, March joth, 8th year. 

I AM still able to judge as before of 
the beauty of a picturesque land- 
scape ; but I feel it less, or else the 
way in which I feel it has no longer 
the power to satisfy me. I might say, 
" I remember that this is beautiful." 
When in other days I turned away 
from beautiful places, it was with the 
impatience of desire, with the restless- 
ness born of lonely and incomplete en- 
joyment. To-day I again leave them ; 
but now from weariness at their silence. 
The language they speak is not exalted 
enough for me ; I do not hear, I do 
not see, what I desire to see, what I 
desire to hear, and I feel that by no 
longer finding myself in the world of 
things, I now fail to find myself in the 
life within. 



60 OBERMANN 

I am beginning to look at physical 
beauties as I do at moral illusions ; 
everything fades imperceptibly and in- 
evitably. The sense of outward con- 
gruity is merely the indirect perception 
of intellectual harmony. How can I 
expect to find in things a life, an activ- 
ity, which are no longer in my own 
heart, an eloquence of the passions 
which I do not possess, and the silent 
sounds, the flights of hope, the voices 
of a joyful nature magic of a world 
already left far behind. 



LETTER L VI I 

Bains du Schwartz-s'ee? May 6th> 8th year. 

THE snow melted early on the 
lower slopes of the mountains. 
The valley is level, the mountains rise 
cragged from their base ; there are only 
pastures, firs, and water. It is a soli- 
tude after my heart, and the weather 
is good, but the days are long. 



OBERMANN 61 



LETTER LIX 

Chateau de Chupru, May 22d y 8th year. 

AT two o'clock we were already 
in the woods looking for straw- 
berries. They covered the southern 
slopes ; some were only just beginning 
to form, but many already had the 
color and fragrance of maturity. The 
strawberry is one of the loveliest of 
nature's products ; it is among fruits 
what the violet is among flowers, sweet, 
fair, and simple. Its scent is wafted on 
the light breath of the air, as, now and 
again, it steals beneath the arches of 
the woods and softly stirs the thorny 
thickets and the bindweed which 
climbs over the tall trunks. It is car- 
ried into the deepest shadows by the 
warm breath of the earth, which lies 
uncovered where the strawberries ripen; 
it mingles with the fresh moisture, and 



62 OBERMANN 

seems to exhale from the mosses and 
the brambles. Wild harmonies! you 
are formed of these contrasts. 

While we scarcely felt the stir of 
the air in the cool and gloomy solitude, 
a fierce wind swept over the tops of 
the fir-trees ; their branches moaned 
with a strange sound as they bent 
to meet the buffets of their fellows. 
Sometimes the high boughs swayed 
apart, as they were swept to and fro, 
and we could see their pointed crests 
illumined by the full light of day, and 
burned by the sun's hot rays, high 
above the shades of that silent earth 
where their roots found refreshment. 

When our baskets were filled, we 
left the woods, some of us gay, others 
full of content. We took our way 
through narrow lanes, across fields shut 
in by hedges and lined with great trees 
of the wild cherry and wild pear. A 
land still patriarchal, while the men 
no longer are ! . . . 



OBERMANN 63 

A deep ravine borders the woods of 
the chateau ; on each side rise steep 
rocks, cragged and wild. On their 
crest, at the further end of the wood, 
are the ruins of an old quarry ; the 
sharp edges left by the blasting had 
been rounded off by time, and a rude 
in closure had been formed, large enough 
to seat six or eight persons with ease. 
After leveling off the bottom of the 
stones, and finishing the rock shelf 
which was to serve as a sideboard, we 
made a circular bench of heavy branches 
covered with leaves. The table was a 
plank laid upon blocks of wood left by 
some workmen who had been cutting 
down several acres of beech-trees in 
the neighborhood. 

All this was made ready in the morn- 
ing, and the secret carefully kept. 
Then we led our guests, all laden with 
strawberries, to this wild retreat, which 
was to them a complete surprise. Pine 
branches were lighted in an angle of 



64 OBERMANN 

the rock overhanging the precipice, 
which was made less terrifying by the 
outspreading branches of the beech- 
trees. Wooden spoons, made after the 
pattern of the Koukisberg, dainty cups, 
and baskets of wild cherries were placed 
here and there along the stone shelf, 
together with platefuls of thick moun- 
tain cream, and bowls filled with the 
second skimming, which is used for 
the coffee, and is flavored with a deli- 
cate almond perfume, known only in 
the region of the Alps. Small jugs con- 
tained the sweetened water prepared 
for the strawberries. 

Everything had been arranged and 
thought out beforehand, but when the 
time came to make the coffee, we 
found that the simplest thing was want- 
ing ; there was no water. We then tied 
together some ends of rope and lowered 
several jugs over the side of the preci- 
pice ; and after breaking a number of 
them against the rocks, we finally sue- 



OBERMANN 65 

ceeded in filling two with the ice-cold 
water of the torrent, three hundred feet 
below us. 

The gathering was friendly, the 
laugh sincere. The weather was fine ; 
the wind moaned through the gloomy 
depths of the long gully, where the 
torrent, white with foam, dashed be- 
tween the jagged rocks. The song of 
the " K-hou-hou " was heard in the 
woods, and its harsh notes were re- 
echoed by the higher forests ; from the 
far distance came the sound of the great 
clanging bells, as the cows climbed 
slowly to the Kousin-berg. The pun- 
gent odor of the burning fir was min- 
gled with these mountain sounds ; and 
in the midst of wild fruits, in a solitary 
spot, a party of friends sat around the 
table on which stood the smoking cof- 
fee-pot. 

But the only ones among us who 
enjoyed that moment were those who 
did not feel its moral harmony. As for 



66 OBERMANN 

me, I turned to dreams rather than to 
enjoyment. I need very little, but that 
little must be harmonious ; the most 
seductive pleasures would not attract 
me if I were to discover in them a dis- 
cord, and the most trifling, but unsul- 
lied joy fully satisfies my longings. 
This is what makes simplicity essential 
to my nature ; for simplicity alone is 
harmonious. To-day the scene was 
too beautiful. Our picturesque hall, 
our rustic hearth, a lunch of fruit and 
cream, our intimacy born of the 
moment, the song of the birds, and 
the wind which every moment tossed 
the fir-needles into our cups this 
was enough. But the torrent in the 
shadows, and the distant sounds of the 
mountain this was far too much. I 
was the only one who heard them. 



OBERMANN 67 



LETTER LX 

Villeneuve, June idth, 8th year. 

I HAVE just returned from a visit to 
all the inhabited valleys between 
Charney, Thun, Sion, Saint-Maurice, 
and Vevay. I did not go with hope- 
fulness, to admire or to enjoy. I have 
once again seen the mountains that I 
saw almost seven years ago. I did 
not bring to them that exuberance of 
youth which sought with avidity their 
savage beauties. The ancient names 
were there, but I, too, bear the same 
name as of old ! I rested on the strand 
near Chillon. I had once understood 
the voices of the waves, and yet again 
I strove to comprehend them. 

That spot where I had stood in days 
gone by, that strand so beautiful in my 
memory, those waves that France can 
never know, and the high peaks, and 



68 OBERMANN 

Chillon, and Lake Leman all these 
did not fill me with wonder, nor did 
they satisfy me. I felt there even as I 
would have felt elsewhere. The scenes 
I found again, but the years I cannot 
call back. . . . 

I have searched through all the val- 
leys for an isolated, but accessible up- 
land, with a mild climate, a good situ- 
ation, crossed by a stream, and in the 
distance the sound of a falling torrent, 
or the lapping of the waves on the 
shores of a lake. What I now want is 
a large tract of land, but one of no 
great value, and different from what is 
found in the Rhone valley. I also want 
to build a frame house, an easier task 
here than in the Bas-Valais. 

Hantz, who speaks Romance, 9 and 
is also somewhat familiar with the 
Oberland German, followed the valleys 
and highways, and made inquiries in 
the villages. I, meanwhile, climbed 
from chalet to chalet, across the moun- 



OBERMANN 69 

tains, and through places where he 
would not have dared to go, even 
though he is more athletic than I, and 
more familiar with the Alps places, 
indeed, through which I should not 
have had the nerve to pass had I not 
been alone. 

I have ended by finding a piece of 
land which I like extremely, but 
which I am not sure of being able to 
purchase. 



LETTER LXI 

Saint-Saphorin June i6th, 8 thy ear. 

1AM not sorry that I engaged Hantz 
and brought him with me. Tell 

Madame T that I thank her for 

having given him to me. He seems 
frank, affectionate, and intelligent ; and 
he plays the horn with more taste than 
I should have expected. He is a truly 
good man, and I must keep him, since 



70 OBERMANN 

he seems to like being in my service. 
He tells me that his mind is now at 
ease, and that he hopes he may stay 
with me. He is right. Why should I 
throw away the only good I possess, 
a contented man ? . . . 

The lake is fair when the moon 
silvers our sails ; when the echoes of 
Chillon repeat the notes of the horn, 
and the great wall of Meillerie looms 
in deep shadow against the soft, trans- 
parent sky, and forms a dark back- 
ground to the shimmering lights on the 
water ; when the waves break around 
our floating boats, and in the distance we 
hear the surf washing over the countless 
pebbles, swept down by the Vevayse 
from the mountain-sides. . . . 

I find that in a few days I can secure 
the land about which I told you ; and 
I shall start work at once, for the sea- 
son is advancing. 



OBERMANN 71 



LETTE R LXII I 

July, 8th year. 

IT was midnight ; the moon had set ; 
the lake was troubled, the sky 
limpid, the night deep and beautiful. 
There was restlessness upon the earth. 
I could hear the birches tremble, and 
the leaves fall from the poplar-trees. 
The pines gave angry moans ; roman- 
tic sounds came from the mountain- 
side ; high waves swept over the strand. 
Then the osprey wailed within the 
rocky caverns ; and when his lamenta- 
tions ceased, the waves had fallen, and 
an austere silence reigned. 

Ever and anon, the nightingale sent 
forth into the restless hush his lonely 
note, unrivaled and oft repeated, that 
song of happy nights, the sublime 
expression of a primitive melody ; 
ineffable outburst of love and sorrow ; 



72 OBERMANN 

rapturous as the longing that consumes 
me ; simple, mysterious, boundless as 
the heart that loves. 

Yielding myself with an almost 
deathlike repose to the measured ca- 
dence of the pale, silent, ever-moving 
waves, I was filled with their slow and 
changeless motion, with the enduring 
peace, with the sounds which came 
now and again amid the long silence. 
Nature seemed to me too beautiful ; 
and the waters, and the earth, and the 
night too languid, too happy. The 
peaceful harmony of things was pain- 
ful to my troubled heart. 

I thought of the springtime of per- 
ishable earth, and of the springtime of 
my life. I saw the years, melancholy 
and fruitless, as they move on from 
future eternity into the vast unknown. 
I saw the present, ever profitless and 
unblest, loose its misty chain from the 
indefinite future ; I saw it, as in a vi- 
sion, approach my death, which was at 



ft; 



OBERMANN 73 

last made manifest, and trail my phan- 
tom days through the darkness, con- 
sume them, and lay them waste ; then 
it reached the only remaining phan- 
tom, devoured even that last day as 
relentlessly as the others, and closed 
the silent abyss. 

As though all men had not passed 
away, and all had not passed in vain ! 
As though life were real, and essen- 
tially existent ! As though the concep- 
tion of the universe were the idea of 
a positive being, and the ego of man 
other than the accidental expression of 
an ephemeral alloy ! What do I de- 
sire ? What am I ? What shall I ask 
of nature ? Is there a universal system, 
is there a fitness, are there laws to meet 
our needs ? Does intelligence direct the 
results that my intellect wishes to at- 
tain ? 

The cause of things is unseen, the 
end of things is delusive ; forms change, 
life is wasted ; and the torment of an 




74 OBERMANN 

insatiable heart is like the blind im- 
petus of a meteor rushing aimlessly 
through the void in which it is soon 
to be lost. Fulfillment never equals 
anticipation. We cannot know things 
as they exist. We see relationships, not 
essences ; we deal not with things, but 
with their images. And this nature, 
which we strive to see outside of us, 
and which is inscrutable within us, is 
everywhere shrouded in darkness. " I 
feel " is the only reality left to the man 
in search of truth. And that which 
makes the certainty of my being is also 
its torment. I feel, I exist, merely to 
be consumed with ungovernable desires, 
satiated with the seductions of a fan- 
tastic world, and oppressed by its capti- 
vating illusions. . . . 

Man loves himself, he loves man, he 
loves all animate existences. This love 
seems necessary to an organized being ; 
it is the motive power of its preserv- 
ing forces. Man loves himself; without 



OBERMANN 75 

this animating principle, what spring 
of action would he have, how could he 
subsist ? Man loves other men, because 
he feels as they feel, because he is linked 
to them in the order of the world; 
without this relationship, what would 
his life be? 

Man loves all animate beings. If he 
ceased to suffer at sight of suffering, 
if he ceased to feel in unison with all 
creatures who have sensations like his 
own, he would no longer be interested 
in what was outside of himself, he might 
even cease to love himself. There is 
surely no love limited to the individual 
since there is no being essentially iso- 
lated. 

If man feels in unison with all ani- 
mate beings, the joys and misfortunes 
of his fellows are, to him, as real as his 
personal affections. The happiness of 
those around him is necessary to his 
own happiness; he is linked to every- 
thing that feels, he lives in the organ- 
ized world. 



76 OBERMANN 

The chain of relationships of which 
he is the centre, and which cannot 
be wholly severed excepting when all 
things come to an end, makes him a 
part of this universe, a numerical unity 
in the number of nature. The bond 
formed by these personal links consti- 
tutes the order of the world ; and the 
force which perpetuates its harmony is 
natural law. . . . 

An isolated being is never perfect. 
His existence is incomplete ; he is nei- 
ther truly good nor truly happy. The 
complement of each thing has been 
placed outside of itself, but the rela- 
tionship must be reciprocal. There is 
an end and a fulfillment for all natural 
beings. It is reciprocity that leads to 
productiveness ; it is a feeling mutually 
shared that leads to happiness. In this 
harmony all existence is completed, all 
animate beings find rest and enjoy- 
ment. . . . 

Every possession which we do not 



OBERMANN 77 

share with another increases our long- 
ings, but does not satisfy our hearts ; it 
does not nourish them, but saps their 
strength, and exhausts their life. . . . 

Love must govern the earth which 
ambition exhausts. Love is that fire, 
calm and productive, that celestial 
warmth, which animates and renews, 
gives birth and bloom, sheds color, 
grace, hope, and life. Ambition is the 
sterile fire which burns beneath the ice, 
consumes but does not animate. It 
rends deep chasms and the earth trem- 
bles at its voice, and on the very verge 
of the abyss it has opened, it bursts 
asunder and carries death and desola- 
tion over the land that had been daz- 
zled by its passing glare. 

All is sorrow, void, despair, when 
love departs ; all is joy, hope, felicity, 
when love comes near. A distant voice, 
a sound on the air, the stir of the 
branches, the tremor of the waters, all 
declare it, all express it, all echo its 



78 OBERMANN 

accents and add to our longing. The 
grace of nature is in the movement of 
an arm ; the law of the world is in the 
expression of a glance. 

It is for love that the light of the 
morning wakens the creatures, and 
colors the skies ; it is for him that the 
heat of the noon warms the moist earth 
under the moss of the woods ; it is for 
him that the evening light sends forth 
the sweet melancholy of its mysterious 
rays. Silence watches over the dreams 
of love. The stir of the waters fills him 
with its sweet unrest ; the fury of the 
waves inspires him with its fierce tur- 
moil ; and all things wait on his plea- 
sure when the night is soft, when the 
moon shines in the midnight sky, when 
enchantment is in the shadows and the 
light, in the solitude, the air, and the 
waters, and the night. 

Happy delirium ! sole moment left 
to man. That flower rare, solitary, 
ephemeral under a leaden sky, unshel- 



OBERMANN 79 

tered, beaten by the winds, and wearied 
with the storms, languishes and dies 
before it blooms ; a cold blast, a pass- 
ing vapor, a breath and hope fades 
in its withered bud. Again we press 
onward, we are" filled with hope, we 
hasten our steps, and, yonder, growing 
as before in sterile ground, we see 
other flowers precarious, uncertain, tran- 
sient as the first flowers which will 
also prove vain, and will also perish. 
Happy is he who possesses what man 
must seek, and who enjoys the frui- 
tion of all things that man must feel ! 
Happy also, it is said, is he who seeks 
nothing, feels nothing, has need of 
nothing, and for whom to exist is to 
live. . . . 

It is a sign of greatness to be stronger 
than one's passions, but it is a sign of 
stupidity to commend the silence of the 
senses and of the heart. . . . 

A true man knows how to love love, 
while remembering always that love is 



So- OBERMANN 

merely an accident of life. When these 
illusions come to him, he will enjoy the 
possession of them, but he will not for- 
get that the sternest truths are still 
greater than the happiest illusions. A 
true man knows how to choose and how 
to wait with patience, how to love with 
constancy, and how to give himself 
wholly but without weakness. The in- 
tensity of a deep passion is to him the 
spirit of good, the fire of genius ; he 
finds in love the ardent zeal, the virile 
enjoyment of a heart, just, sensitive, and 
great; he meets with happiness, and 
knows how to make it a part of him- 
self. 

That mutual delight, that gradual 
growth of trust and confidence, that 
happiness which is a hope fulfilled, that 
ardent faith which inspires us to expect 
all things from the beloved heart, that 
still greater rapture of giving joy to the 
one we love, and of being all-sufficient 
and necessary each to the other all 



OBERMANN 81 

this fullness of sentiment and of hope 
enlarges the soul and makes it long 
to live. Ineffable abandonment ! The 
man who has known it need never 
blush ; and he who is not capable of 
feeling it was not born to judge of love. 

I do not condemn the man who 
has not loved, but only he who cannot 
love. Circumstances determine our 
affections ; but warmth of sentiment is 
natural to the man whose moral organ- 
ization is perfect. He who is incapable 
of love is also incapable of a magnan- 
imous sentiment, of a sublime affection. 
He may be honest, good, industrious, 
prudent ; he may possess gentle quali- 
ties, and even reflected virtues. But he 
is not a man, he has neither soul nor 
genius. I should like to know him, he 
would have my confidence and even 
my esteem, but he could never be my 
friend. 

But, oh, ye hearts of true sensibility ! 
repressed in the springtime of your 



82 OBERMANN 

youth by a sinister fate, who will blame 
you for not having loved ? Every gen- 
erous sentiment was natural to you, and 
all the fire of passion lay smouldering 
within your virile instinct. Love was 
your birthright ; love would have de- 
veloped you, and fitted you for great 
achievements. But all things were with- 
held from you; the voice of love was 
silent, and, in that day, there opened 
at your feet the void in which your 
life is finally to be extinguished. 

The sense of what is honest and just, 
the need of order and of moral fitness, 
lead necessarily to the need of love. 
Beauty is the object of love; harmony 
is its principle and its aim ; all perfec- 
tion, all excellence, seem to belong to 
it, gentle graces attract it, and a broad 
and virtuous morality holds it steadfast. 
Love does not truly exist without the 
magic of personal beauty, but it de- 
pends still more on intellectual har- 
mony, on graces of thought, on depth 
of sentiment. 



* 

< 





OBERMANN 83 

Harmony, hope, admiration, charm, 
grow ever stronger till the perfect 
union is reached. . . . The man who 
loves does not change ; the more deeply 
he is loved, the stronger becomes his 
love ; the more fully he possesses what 
he desired, the more tenderly he cher- 
ishes what he has won. 



LETTER LXIV 

Saint-Saphorin, July loth, 8th year. 

IT is generally said that it is harder 
to endure prosperity than adversity. 
But for a man who is not led by strong 
passions, who likes to do well what- 
ever he has to do, whose chief need 
is' order, and who looks rather at the 
whole of things than at their details 
for him it is more difficult to endure 
adversity than prosperity. 

Adversity suits a man of strength 
and enthusiasm, whose soul is intent 



84 OBERMANN 

upon stern virtues, and whose mind, 
happily, is blind to their uncertainty. 
But adversity is sad and discouraging 
for the man with whose nature it is 
not in accord. He wants to do good, 
but for this he must have the power to 
act ; he wants to be of use, but a man 
under a cloud of misfortune finds lit- 
tle opportunity to succor others. He 
knows how to resist calamity, but not 
being upheld by the noble fanaticism 
of Epictetus, he is not proof against an 
unhappy life ; in the end it disheartens 
him, for he feels that it is destroying 
his very being. 

The religious man, and especially 
one who believes in a rewarding God, 
has a great advantage ; it is easy to 
endure affliction when affliction is the 
greatest good that one can have. I con- 
fess I can see nothing surprising in the 
virtue of a man who struggles under 
the eye of his God, and who renounces 
the whims of an hour for a felicity with- 



OBERMANN 85 

out limit and without end. A man of 
firm faith could not do otherwise, ex- 
cepting in a moment of delirium. It 
seems to me evident that he who yields 
to terrestrial passions has no faith ; he 
must have a clear view of nothing but 
the earth. Were he to see, with the 
same distinctness, the heaven and the 
hell which, at times, he remembers, 
were they always as present in his 
thoughts as are the things of this earth, 
it would be impossible for him ever to 
fall. 



LETTER LXV 

Sain f -Sap horin, July ifth, 8th year. 

NO, I shall never forget that, in 
money, man holds one of the 
strongest instruments for good or evil, 
and that by its use he betrays his true 
character. The way of ways most pro- 
fitable and wise is rarely ours to choose. 



86 

We can scarcely ever do good under 
all its aspects, for so many things 
which are in themselves opposed are 
both fit and expedient. I believe it 
is one of the essentials of life to live 
with a certain degree of form, and to 
regulate one's household in an attrac- 
tive and orderly way. Beyond this, a 
reasonable man can find no excuse for 
wasting in superfluities what might be 
the means of doing so many things of 
better value. Where is the man who 
takes account of the fruitfulness of 
money ? Men waste it as they squan- 
der their powers, their health, their 
years. It is so easy to hoard or to lavish 
it ; so difficult to use it wisely. 

I know a priest, near Fribourg, who 
is badly clothed, poorly fed, and who 
does not spend a farthing needlessly ; 
he gives away everything, and gives it 
intelligently. Yet one of his parish- 
ioners referred, in my hearing, to his 
avarice ; but what a noble avarice ! 



OBERMANN 87 

How many wrongs might be pre- 
vented or redressed, what pleasure, what 
consolation might be given ! and in a 
purse of gold this power for good lies 
hidden, like secret and forgotten germs, 
waiting for the workings of a gentle 
heart, to bring forth their fruits of ten- 
derness and sympathy. 

A whole country is wretched and 
degraded ; need, anxiety, disorder, have 
blighted every heart ; all suffer, and 
chafe. The discontent, discord, sick- 
ness, the bad food, brutal education, 
and unfortunate habits all these may 
be changed. Harmony, order, peace, 
confidence may be restored ; and even 
hope, and happy ways ! Fruitfulness 
of money ! 



OBERMANN 



LETTER LXVII 

Imensfrdm," July 2 1st, 8 thy ear. 

AT last I am at home, and my 
home is in the Alps. . . . 
My solitary house is never lighted 
by the early dawn, and only in winter- 
time can I see the setting of the sun. 
Toward the summer solstice, he is hid 
from view at eventide, and at his ris- 
ing does not come in sight for three 
hours after he has crossed the horizon 
line. Then he mounts between the 
straight branches of the firs, and flings 
his rays high above to illumine the bare 
summit of a rocky cliff which stands 
outlined against the sky ; he seems to 
be borne upon the waters of the tor- 
rent before it takes its mighty spring ; 
his dazzling rays pierce every corner of 
the black and gloomy forest ; and, for 
one moment, his resplendent disk rests 



OBERMANN 89 

upon the crest of the wild and wooded 
mountain whose body still lies deep 
in shadow ; it is the flashing eye of a 
dark colossus. 

At the coming of the equinox the 
evenings will be fair, and worthy of a 
younger head than mine. The gorge 
of Imenstr6m falls away and opens to 
the winter sunset ; its northern sweep 
will be in shadow, but the slope on 
which my dwelling stands, looking 
toward the south, will be lighted by 
all the splendor of the sunset, and I 
shall see the sun drop into the broad 
lake aflame with his last rays. My 
deep valley will be a tempered and 
genial resting-place, hidden between 
the burning plain wearied with heat, 
and the cold snows of the mountain- 
peaks, which inclose it on the east. 

I have seventy acres of very fair 
meadow land ; twenty acres of fine 
woodland ; and about thirty-five acres 
of rough ground covered with rocks, 



9 o OBERMANN 

with damp and shady bogs, sparse 
woods, and forests tangled with un- 
derbrush a sterile and unproductive 
tract, but pleasant to own. 

What I like about the property, 
besides its situation, is that all the 
different parts are connected and can 
be united within one large inclosure ; 
and, besides, there are neither fields nor 
vineyards. The grape might be culti- 
vated successfully in certain exposures, 
and was, in fact, at one time ; but the 
vines have now been replaced by chest- 
nut-trees, which I greatly prefer. . . . 

Grass, woods, and fruit are all that 
I desire, especially in this region. Un- 
fortunately, there is not much fruit at 
Imenstrdm ; . . . but this fall and next 
spring I shall plant a great many apple 
and cherry trees, and some pears and 
plums. . . . 



OBERMANN 91 



LETTER LXVIII 

Imenstrom, July 2jd, 8th year. 

THIS beautiful eastern basin of 
Lake Leman, broad and roman- 
tic, and bordered by shores strangely 
picturesque ; the scattered houses and 
chalets; the cows swinging their moun- 
tain bells as they come and go ; the 
, nearness of the plains, .and of the high 
mountain-peaks ; a singular harmony 
rare in Catholic countries ; the sweet- 
ness of a land which sees the sunset 
the distant sunset of the north ; the 
long, curved sweep of water stretching 
its undefined length into the distance ; 
the far-off haze, rising under the rays 
of the noonday sun, or glowing and 
aflame under his evening beams ; and, 
through the still night, the sound of 
the waves as they rise, sweep onward, 
surge and swell, and die out on the 





4 * 





* 
* 






92 OBERMANN 

shore at our feet all these hold sweet 
converse with man in the midst of 
scenes so rare to find. 



LETTER LXIX 

Imenstrom, July 2fth y 8th year. 

I AM delighted to know that M. de 
Fonsalbe has returned from Saint 
Domingo, but I hear that he has lost 
his fortune, and, what is more, that he 
is married. I am also told that he has 
business which will soon take him to 
Zurich. Do ask him to pass through 
Imenstr6m ; he will be most welcome. 
He must be warned, however, that he 
will be far from comfortable if he does 
come, but I hardly think he will ob- 
ject. If he has not greatly changed, he 
has a good heart ; and does a true heart 
ever change ? 

Were he alone, I should pity him 
but little for having had his house de- 



OBERMANN 93 

molished by a cyclone, and his hopes 
destroyed. But since he is married, I 
pity him greatly. If he has a true wife, 
it will be painful for him not to see her 
happy ; if he has merely a woman who 
bears his name, he will be overcome 
by an antipathy which he might have 
borne only by a life of ease. Make him 
promise to pass through Vevey, and to 
stop here for several days. 

The brother of Madame Dellemar 
is perhaps destined to be my friend. 
A new hope is born within me. Tell 
me something about him, you who 
know him so much better than I. Con- 
gratulate his sister on his escape from 
the dangers of the voyage. No, say 
nothing to her from me ; let the past 
be buried. 



94 OBERMANN 



LETTER LXX 

Imenstrdmy July 2Qth, 8th year. 

THE snow covers the mountains, 
the clouds hang low, a cold rain 
floods the valleys. It is bleak, even on 
the shores of the lake. I do not dis- 
like these short winters in the midst 

\ 

of summer. . . . Such changes, more 
sudden and more severe than on the 
plains, make the rugged climate of the 
mountains even more interesting, in a 
way. . . . Changeable, stormy, uncer- 
tain days are necessary to our restless- 
ness; a more even and a milder cli- 
mate, while it may content us, leaves 
us indifferent. 

It may be that unvarying days, cloud- 
less skies, and perpetual summer in- 
spire the common throng with a more 
fervid imagination ; . . . but scenes full 
of strong contrasts, of beauty and of 



OBERMANN 95 

horror, where we experience opposite 
sentiments and swift changes of feel- 
ing, such places exalt the imagination 
of certain men toward the romantic, 
the mysterious, the ideal. 

Temperate plains may breed men of 
deep learning ; burning sands may de- 
velop gymnosophists and ascetics ; but 
Greece, the land of mountains, Greece 
both cold and mild, now stern now 
radiant, covered here with snow and 
there with olive-groves, Greece gave 
birth to Orpheus, to Homer, and to 
Epimenides ; while Caledonia of the 
north, more rigid, more changeable, 
less joyous, produced Ossian. 

When the trees, the waters, and the 
clouds are peopled by the souls of an- 
cestors, by the spirits of heroes, by 
dryads and divinities ; when invisible 
beings are chained in caverns, or carried 
on the wings of the wind, when they 
wander among the silent tombs, and 
the sound of their wailings is wafted 



96 OBERMANN 

through the air, on a dark and sombre 
night what a land for the heart of 
man ! what a world for eloquence ! 

Under a changeless sky, on an illim- 
itable plain, straight palm-trees shade 
the banks of a broad and silent river ; 
a mussulman sits at his ease, and smokes 
throughout the long hours of the day, 
while the sweep of fans stirs the air 
around him. 

The scene has changed : moss-clad 
rocks reach out over an abyss of dash- 
ing waves ; through the long winter, a 
dense fog has separated them from the 
world. Now the sky is brilliant, violets 
are in flower and strawberries ripen fast, 
the days bloom forth, the forests take 
on life. On the tranquil ocean the 
daughters of warriors sing of the bat- 
tles and the hopes of their nation. 
Then clouds surge in the heavens, the 
sea is unchained, lightning blasts the 
giant oaks, ships are swallowed up in 
the seething waters, snow covers the 



OBERMANN 97 

mountain-tops, rushing torrents sweep 
over the land and hollow out deep 
ravines. The wind changes ; the sky 
is clear and cold. By the light of the 
stars, we can see a wreck floating on 
the raging sea ; the warriors' daughters 
are no more. 

Then the voices of the winds are 
silent ; all is at peace. And from the 
crags above is heard the sound of hu- 
man voices, and cold drops fall from the 
cavern's roof. The Caledonian flies to 
arms, he sets forth in the night, he 
hurries onward over mountain and tor- 
rent, he rushes to Fingal, and cries : 
" Slisama I2 is dead, but she spoke, and 
I heard her ; she will not leave us 
desolate ; she told the names of your 
friends ; she commanded us to win." 

It is to the lands of the north that 
belong the heroism born of enthusiasm, 
and the titanic dreams bred of sublime 
melancholy. To the lands of the south 
belong austere conceptions, mystic rev- 



98 OBERMANN 

cries, inscrutable dogmas, secret, magic, 
and cabalistic sciences, and the inflexi- 
ble endurance of the recluse. . . . 

Even if it were possible for the total 
yearly heat to be equal both in Nor- 
way and in the Hedjas, the difference 
between the two countries would still 
be very marked, and it would be al- 
most as great between the peoples them- 
selves. The Arab is familiar with no- 
thing but undeviating nature, uniform 
days, unbroken seasons, and the burn- 
ing monotony of an arid earth. The 
Norwegian, after long months when 
dark and gloomy fogs cover the land, 
when the earth is frozen, the waters are 
motionless, and the sky is convulsed by 
the winds, will at last see the coming 
of a new season which will illumine 
the skies, give life to the waters, and 
fertilize the earth, now decked with 
flowers and robed in all the beauty of 
harmonious colors and romantic sounds. 
There are, in the springtime, hours of 



OBERMANN 99 

inexpressible beauty ; there are autumn 
days made still more alluring by that 
melancholy which fills the soul, but 
does not lead it astray, which fails to 
excite it with delusive pleasures, but 
inspires and sustains it with a rapture 
full of mystery, of grandeur, and of 
lassitude. 

It may be that the changes of the 
earth and sky, the permanence or the 
mobility of natural phenomena, leave 
their impress only on men of high 
organization, and not on the multitude 
who seem limited, either from impo- 
tence or from misery, to the experi- 
ences of mere animal instinct. But the 
men who possess broad faculties are 
those who guide their country, who, by 
means of institutions, example, open or 
hidden forces, become the leaders of 
men ; and the multitude unconsciously 
obey their compelling power. . . . 



ioo OBERMANN 



LETTER LXXII 

Imenstrom, August 6th, 8th year. 

1AM not in the least surprised that 
your friends censure me for having 
hidden myself in a remote and lonely 
spot. ... It is not that I like one 
kind of life better than another, but 
rather the life which seems nearest to 
perfection in its own sphere, the one 
which best fulfills its own nature. 

I should prefer the life of a wretched 
Finlander amid his ice-clad steeps, to 
that of countless little commoners in 
small towns, who, wrapped in their 
daily habits, pale with vexation, and 
immersed in stupidities, think them- 
selves superior to the heedless and stal- 
wart beings who vegetate in the coun- 
try, and are merry every Sunday. . . . 



OBERMANN 101 



LETTER LXXIV 

Imenstrom, June i6th y gth year. 

WHEN I remember that your 
life is full and calm, that you 
work with interest and take delight in 
restful pleasures, I find myself on the 
verge of censuring my own independ- 
ence, which is, nevertheless, very dear 
to me ! It is undeniable that man has 
need of an object to charm him, a 
thralldom to allure him and rule over 
him. Yet it is a delight to be free, to 
select what is best suited to one's na- 
ture, and not to be as a slave forever 
toiling for a master. But when I am 
filled with a sense of all the uselessness\ 
all the vanity of what I do, I realize 
that my days are too empty. This 
passionless estimate of the true value 
of things is near akin to antipathy for 

everything. 

* 

* 



102 OBERMANN 

You are to sell Chessel, and buy pro- 
perty near Bordeaux. Shall we never 
meet again ? You were so delightfully 
settled ! But the destiny of every one 
must be fulfilled. It is not enough to 
seem contented ; I, too, appear to be, 
yet I am not happy. . . . But you will 
be happy, you whose heart is obedient 
to reason, who are both good and wise, 
whom I admire but cannot imitate. 
You know how to make use of life ; I 
still stand in waiting. I am ever search- 
ing in the beyond, as though my hours 
were not wasted, and eternal death 
nearer than my dreams. 



LETTER LXXV 

Imenstrom, June 28th y gth year. 

1 SHALL no longer look for better 
days. The months pass, the years 
come and go. All things are renewed 
in vain : I am ever the same. In the 



OBERMANN 103 

midst of what I so ardently desired, I 
am destitute of all things. I have found 
nothing, I possess nothing ; weariness 
consumes my years in unending silence. 
Whether the futile solicitudes of life 
blot out the remembrance of natural 
things, whether the unprofitable long- 
ing for enjoyment lures me back to 
their faint images, I am forever encom- 
passed by an empty void, which, as the 
seasons pass in long procession by, 
spreads in ever-widening circles round 
me. No intimate companionship has 
given solace to my weariness through 
the long days of winter mists. Spring- 
time came for nature ; for me it came 
not. The days that brought the vital 
spark of life awakened every being ; 
yet their unquenchable fire did not 
revive me, but filled me with lassitude. 
I was an alien in the world of gladness. 
And now the flowers have fallen, the 
lily is withered ; the heat is gaining 
strength, the days grow long, the nights 



104 OBERMANN 

more fair. Season of joy ! For me the 
beautiful days are profitless, the soft 
nights are full of gall. Peace of the 
shadows ! dash of the waves ! silence ! 
moon ! birds that sang in the night ! 
sentiment of youth ! whence whence 
have ye flown ! 

Their ghosts are here. They steal 
before me ; they pass and pass again, 
and fade away, like an ever-changing 
cloud in countless pale and giant shapes. 
Vainly I strive to enter with calmness 
the long night of the grave ; my eyes 
do not close. These phantoms of life 
appear without surcease, and hold their 
silent wantonings ; they steal nigh, and 
flee away, they vanish and reappear. I 
see them all, but I hear nothing ; like 
wreaths of smoke, I chase them and 
they are gone. I listen, I call, my very 
voice I cannot hear; an insufferable void 
surrounds me, and I am alone, lost, 
perplexed, stifling with disquietude and 
wonder, in the midst of the wander- 



OBERMANN 105 

ing shadows, in intangible and voiceless 
space. 

Inscrutable nature ! Thy splendor 
crushes me, and thy favors consume 
me. What are thy unending days to 
me ? Their dawn too soon dispels the 
shadows ; their burning noon-day dis- 
arms and deadens me ; and the heart- 
breaking harmony of their heavenly 
evenings exhausts the ashes of my heart ; 
the spirit which slept beneath its ruins 
shudders at the stir of life. 

The snows are melting on the moun- 
tain peaks ; storm clouds roll over the 
valley. Miserable man that I am ! The 
heavens are on fire, the earth brings 
forth fruit, but the waste of winter still 
keeps its watch within me. Soft beams 
of the waning sunset ! vast shadows of 
the enduring snows ! And shall man 
feel nought but the rapture of bitter- 
ness, when the torrent rolls afar its 
rushing waters in the universal silence, 
when the peace of the night closes 



106 OBERMANN 

upon the threshold of the mountain 
chalets, when the moon rises above the 
Velan ? 

When I left behind me that oft re- 
gretted childhood, my imagination and 
my sensibility pictured to themselves 
a life of reality ; but I found only fan- 
tastic impressions. I had conjured up 
beings, I met phantoms. I longed for 
harmony, I detected dissonance. Then 
I grew sombre ; the void entered my 
heart. Boundless cravings consumed me 
amid the silence ; and a sense of the 
weariness of life was the sole feeling 
left to me on the very threshold of ex- 
perience. All things spoke to me of 
that full, universal happiness whose ideal 
image is in the heart of man, while its 
real manifestation seems effaced from 
nature. I was proving as yet only un- 
known sorrows. But when I saw the 
Alps, the shore-bound lakes, the silent 
chalets, the permanence, the regular- 
ity of times and things, I recognized 



OBERMANN 107 

in them a few solitary phases of that 
preconceived nature. . . . 

Then I came back to earth again, 
and I saw vanishing into the far dis- 
tance that blind faith in the real exist- 
ence of beings, that chimera of homo- 
geneous relations, of perfection, and 
true joy that brilliant assumption, 
which is the toy of an unformed heart, 
but which brings a smile of melan- 
choly to the lips of him whose soul 
has been cooled by depth of experi- 
ence, or ripened by time. 

Unending transmutations, aimless 
activity, universal obscurity : this is all 
we know of the world in which we 
reign supreme. 

An invincible destiny destroys our 
dreams ; and how does she repeople a 
void which must be filled ? Power is 
wearisome ; pleasure is illusive ; glory 
is for our ashes ; religion is for the 
unhappy ; love once had the colors 
of life, but darkness comes, the rose 



io8 OBERMANN 

withers and falls, and eternal night 
closes upon us. ... 

I see without regret the giant tree, 
which has been nourished by two hun- 
dred springs, now lying prostrate upon 
the earth, and struck with death. It 
has fed and sheltered thousands of ani- 
mate beings ; it has drunk of the waters 
of the air, and has stood firm against 
the tempest winds ; now it lies dead 
among trees born of its seed. Its des- 
tiny is fulfilled ; it has received the 
promise ; and though it is no more, it 
has been. 

But the fir which has, by chance, 
taken root on the margin of the swamp, 
grows wild, strong, and proud, like a 
son of the deep forests ; fruitless en- 
ergy ! Its roots drink of fetid water, 
they strike down into the foul mire ; 
its trunk becomes weak and exhausted ; 
its topmost branches, blown over by 
the heavy, moist winds, bow their 
heads with discouragement; its seed, 






OBERMANN 109 

scarce and feeble, useless and unpro- 
ductive, falls into the mire and is lost. 
Languishing, formless, yellowed, old 
before its time, and already bending 
limply over the morass, it seems to 
crave the storm which is to fell it to 
the earth. Its life has ceased long be- 
fore its fall. 



LETTER LXXVIII 

Imenstrom, July i6th y yth year. 

1 AGREE with you entirely. There 
is something which sustains the 
soul in this communion with the 
thinking beings of other centuries. 
The thought that some day we may 
stand beside Pythagoras, Plutarch, or 
Ossian, on the bookshelves of a future 

L , is an inspiring illusion, and one 

of the noblest pleasures of man. . . . 
But he who has seen bitter tears mois- 
tening the cheek of the unhappy, 



* 



no OBERMANN 

dreams of a yet more captivating fan- 
tasy. He believes that he can tell 
the man of melancholy disposition the 
price of another's joy ; that he can 
lighten the burden of the sufferer whom 
the world has forgotten ; that he can 
awaken the wounded heart to new life 
by recalling those images, full of grand- 
eur and consolation, which to some 
are a Fata Morgana, and to others a 
sustaining power. 

He believes that our ills are built 
upon the sands, and that man holds 
moral good in the palm of his hand. 
He follows out theoretic consequences 
which lead to the idea of universal 
happiness ; he loses sight of the secret 
force which keeps the human race in 
a state of perpetual confusion and thus 
achieves its destruction. He says to 
himself : " I shall combat errors, I 
shall study the results of natural prin- 
ciples, and shall formulate ideas that 
are, or may become, helpful to the 



OBERMANN in 

human race." Thus he feels himself 
to be less useless, less hopeless upon the 
earth. He unites the dream of great 
things to the peace of obscurity, he 
enjoys ideal life, and enjoys it truly, 
because he feels that he is making it 
useful. 

The order of ideal things is like a 
new world, as yet unrealized, but still 
within the limits of the possible. The 
spirit of man journeys thither in search 
of a harmony adapted to our needs, 
and brings back to earth timely changes, 
drawn from this supernatural type. 

The unremitting versatility of man 
is a proof that he is skillful in adapting 
himself to opposite habits. One might, 
by collecting the mental product of 
different times and places, shape a 
working system less irksome to the 
heart of man than all that has been, 
thus far, offered to him. This shall 
be my mission. 

It is only by working at some self- 



ii2 OBERMANN 

appointed task, even though its results 
may be fruitless, that we can press on- 
ward, still unwearied, to the close of 
day. I shall journey towards the even- 
ing of life, illusioned, if possible, and 
upheld by the hope of adding some- 
thing to the resources that have been 
given to man. Illusions are needful to 
my heart, too large not to crave them, 
and too weak to live without them. 

As the sentiment of happiness is our 
chief need, what is left for man when 
he neither expects it in the present, 
nor dares hope for it in the future ? 
Must he not look for its expression in 
the eye of a friend, or on the brow of 
his fellow-beings ? He can but be eager 
for the joy of other men ; his sole de- 
light must be to shed happiness around 
him. Unless he can awaken in another 
the consciousness of life, unless he can 
make others glad, he feels that the cold- 
ness of death has entered into his de- 
spised and rejected heart ; and the only 



, - 

?> 



-r 



OBERMANN 113 

end reserved for him is in the darkness 
of the nothing. 

We hear of men who are sufficient 
unto themselves, and live upon their 
own wisdom. If they have eternity 
before them, I admire and envy them ; 
if not, I do not understand them. 

As for me, I not only am not, and 
never shall be happy, but if the plau- 
sible assumptions I might make were 
ever to be realized, even then I should 
not be happy. The affections of man 
are a gulf of avidity, of regrets, and of 
errors. 

I do not tell you what I feel, what I 
want, what I am ; I no longer see my 
own needs, I scarcely know my desires. 
If you think 'to understand my tastes, 
you are mistaken. ... I have greatly 
changed. I remember that once I was 
impatient of life, and endured it as an 
evil that was to last only a few months 
longer. But this memory now seems to 
me a thing foreign to my nature, and 



% 






I 

.v * * 

] 3$'-\-<\ 



,..''' -v . *.', 



ii4 OBERMANN 

would even surprise me, if it were pos- 
sible for the fickleness of my feelings 
to astonish me. . . . 

Life both wearies and amuses me. 
To come into the world, to rise above 
one's fellows, become famous, be in- 
terested in many things, measure the 
orbit of comets, and then, after a few 
days, to lie under the sod this strikes 
me as enough of a burlesque to be 
watched to the end. 

But why pretend that it is from a 
habit of discontent, or from the misfor- 
tune of a gloomy disposition, that our 
desires are unsettled, our views confused, 
and our very life changed to accord 
with this sense of the decadence and 
vanity of the days of man ? A melan- 
choly temper ought not to give the 
coloring to life. Ask not of the son 
of the Incas chained in the mines that 
supplied the gold for the palace of his 
ancestors and the temples of the sun, 
or of the hard-working and blameless 



OBERMANN 115 

commoner, who, infirm and despised 
in his old age, is compelled to beg his 
bread ask not of the countless un- 
fortunates the value of human hopes 
and human prosperity. Ask not of 
Heraclitus the significance of the things 
we project, or of Hegesias I3 the worth 
of the life we lead. 

It is Voltaire laden with success, the 
favorite of courts, and the admiration 
of all Europe, Voltaire famous, clever, 
witty, and generous ; it is Seneca, stand- 
ing beside the throne of the Caesars 
and not far from mounting it himself, 
Seneca filled with wisdom, beguiled by 
honors, and laden with riches it is 
Seneca, useful to men, and Voltaire, 
mocking at their fantasies, who will 
tell you of the soul's joy and the heart's 
repose, who will disclose the value and 
length of our life upon the earth. 

My friend ! I shall linger yet a few 
hours in the world. We are poor, fool- 
ish creatures when we live ; but we are 
such ciphers if we do not live ! 










116* OBERMANN 



i 



LETTER LXXIX 

* * **, 

July 77 'th y $th year. 

F I were to tell you that the possi- 
bility of future fame has no power 
to gratify me, you would, for the first 
time, not believe me ; you would think 
that I was at least deceiving myself, 
and you would not be far wrong. It 
is almost impossible that the need of 
self-esteem should be entirely separated 
from the no less natural pleasure of 
being esteemed by *a few other men 
and knowing that they say of you : he 
is onie of us. 

. But the desire for peace, and a cer- 
tain natural indolence of the soul which 
* ft 

has been increased by a constant sense 

. 
of life-weariness, might well make me 

forget this alluring thought, as they 
have made me forget so many others. 
I have need of being held in check 



* * * 



. ^ ' * I % 

O B E R M A N N . 117, 

% a *^ ^p 

and stimulated by the fear of that self- 
reproach which I should surely feel, / t . 
if I were to make but clumsy use of t , 
things as they are, without any attempt t 

to better them, and thus neglect the 

**' 

only field for activity which is in har- 
mony with the obscurity of my life. 

Must not man be something, and 
must he not express himself, either in 

one way or in another ? He will, other- 
* 

wise, become depressed, and will lose ^ t 

the dignity of his being ; either he will' 

fail to recognize his own abilities, or 

if he does appreciate them, this very , * 

consciousness will become the torment . * 

of his repressed and struggling soul. He 

ft A 9 

will have no listeners, no following, no 
consideration. He will no longer have 
the power to produce that small amount * 
of good which may be the fruit of the 
most insignificant life. Simplicity is a 
beautiful and useful precept ; but it has 
been greatly misunderstood. The mind 


















* 




















- 







u8 OBERMANN 

^ 

g question perverts the best maxims, de- 
grades and dishonors frisdom Ijerself 
by depriving her' of her resources, de- 
spoiling her*o/ her iches, and bringing 
upon* her the degeneracy which must 

* surely follow. /. . 

Every man who^ is right-minded and 
wishes to be useful, were it only in his 
private life, every man, in^act$ who is 
worthy of respect, seeks that respect. 
He acts so as to win it, even about 
things in which the opinion ,of other 
men is in itself of rib value, unless this 
solicitude should demand something in 
. opposition to his duties and to the essen- 
tial development* of his character. ,, If 
there exist one rule without exception, 
I believe it must be this : it is always 
from some vice of the heart or 01 the 
mind that a- man disdains, or affects to 
disdain, public esteem, whenever justice 
does not demand the sacrifice of that 
esteem. * 

* ' 

A man may win respect in the most 



* . 







* - 









& 

t * ; 

O B E R M A N N fio , 

? * *' 
ofcscure life* if he bring order and dig- . 

nity into his ways of living. He may 
command it even in poverty, if he is 
greater than his destiny. , ^ 

t , <:-##* 

? * >. : * 

A man of noble character is never 

lost in the throng. 

^J% * f 

< . V - ' 

A^ense of natural fitness leads every 
man to assume his right place in the 
world. * 
ledge it. 








world. *and to make others ac*know- 

' 



. 

"* m '9 

*M 

* 



*. . ; 

A great rftan Tears dishonor, but is 

' W J^ , 

ft ^undismayed a^ % obscurity, -k does not * ' 

trouble him that he hasnot been given ^ 

a high mission, but that he has* been 






giveri one antipathetic to nis nature. 

&&& * * ***'** 

' * '**^ 

It is both absurd and repellent that 

an author should ^vejiture to fcalk to *. ' 

9 *" 

man about his duties, when he is^not 

* . "* * V' -* v 

* * * * ',* 

^ * * * i . ** 

<**.'* ;^' *' v , 

t * ** 

^ 

* * * 

. ..*-.>... 

_ * * * . 



' * * 



no OBERMANN 

/ < himself an upright man. But if a false 
B mdralist" win only contempt, an ob- 
scure moralist remains entirely useless. 
. . . All that should be held most sa- 
cred among men loses its power when 
> immortal pages and books of wisdom 
are hawked in the market-place, or 
given over to the most contemptible 
* m / mses of trade. 
f *., Recognition and renown, vain in 

themselves, must be neither despised 

** * -i * 

, , nor neglected, since they are some of 

the* chief means towards the most 
praiseworthy and important ends. It 
% is extravagant both to do nothing for 
their sake and to do everything for their 
4 saKe. The great things that we accom- 
plish are made beautiful by their own 
' t grandeua, and need no display or em- 
^ 4 phasis ; it is the game with our.thdughts. 

/ He whb steadfastly meets death*at % the 

bottom of the sea sets a useless ex- 
* * * 
' t ample. In the ' same* way, the truest 

it i i * 

thought and wisest conception are lost 

'**.** . ' 






.**'. % v r * - 

f ; :. *.-:>.; '..*.- 

=? f .. > ? ..* ' ' ' * 



. . * 







OBERMANN 121 









unless they are given to the world ; 
their usefulness depends on their being 
expressed ; their renown makes them 
productive. 

Philosophic writings ought, possibly, 
to be always preceded by a well-written 
book of a more attractive character, 

* * 

which will be widely disseminated, read, 
and enjoyed. The author who has a 
name speaks with greater confidence ; 
he accomplishes more, and does it bet- 
ter, because he hopes that he has not 
worked in vain. But it is not every one, 
unfortunately, who has either the cour- 
age or the resources to follow such de- 
vices. Writings, like many other things 
in life, are the slave of opportunity, and 
even of unrecognized opportunity; they 
are determined by an impulse which 
is often foreign to our* plans and our * 
projects. 

To write a book merely for the pur- 
pose of winning a name,*is a task ; there 
is something in it which is repugnant 



* 






. " . , 

. ' 








* * 

* m 

* * * 

132 OB E*R MANN 

and servile, and although I see reasons 
that^ urge- me to do it, I have not the 
coflrage to undertake, such It task, and 
shall abandon the idea. 
* t Still, I do not want to begin with 
my projected work. It is too impor- 
tant and too difficult ever to be com- 
pleted. I shall consider it a great step 
in aovance, if one day I see an approach 
* <ctwards the ideal conception that I have 
4jformed o, it in my nynd. 14 But this 
disfent perspective would not sustain 
me. I think it is well that I should 
become an % authof, so as to have the 
courage to persevere in being one. It 
will be the fulfillment of my destiny. 



I 



LETTER LXXX 

I ** ' vf '' 

41 August 2d y gth year. 

BELIEVE, a? you do, that it ought 
to be a refinance, a true romance 



*^such as has, now a'nd then, been wrjt- 
/ * * * 



*' * 



* 

* 

' v * * * < 

X * -* .. - 

' t . 





O B E R M A NN 123 

f * 

ten ; but this would bj a gjeat under- 
taking and would require a long time. 
In many ways I fcholild be little fitted 
for the work, ^ntf. thg cjesign c it 
would have to come as an inspiration. 
I think I shall wrhe a book of travels. 
. . . The landscape of life has many 
beauties. One ought to assume to- 
wards it the attitude of spectator, and 
'be interested without illusions, or pas- 
sions, but also without indifference, as 

. . v * 

one is interested in the vicissitudes, the 

passions, the dangers in a story.. ... 

The course of the world is a drama 
of sufficient homogeneity to be absorb- 
ing, of sufficient variety to excite inter- 
est, of sufficient defmiteness, symmetry, 
and system to satisfy and please the rea- 
son, of sufficient uncertainty to awaken 
desire and nourish passion. . . . 

What manner shall I adopt ? None. 
I shall write as we> talk, without re- 
flection ; if it were necessa/y to do 
otherwise I should not write. ... 



- 



, _,-/, 



124 OBERMANN 

In ancient times, poets and philo- 
sophers read their books before the 
assembly of the people. . . . The art 
of reading is like that of writing. The 
grace and truth of expression in read- 
ing are as varied as the modulations of 
thought. It is scarcely conceivable to 
me that a man who reads poorly could 
wield a happy pen, or have a broad and 
just mind. To feel with intensity and 
be incapable of expression seems as in- 
congruous as to express with force what 
one does not feel. 

Whatever point of view be taken, as 
to whether everything has or has not 
been said on the subject of ethics, it 
would be impossible to conclude that 
there remains nothing to be done for 
this science, the only science of man. 
It is not enough that a thing has been 
said ; it must bfe published, proved, gen- 
erally accepted, and universally recog- 
nized. Nothing has been accomplished 
so long as actual law is not made sub- 



"* 

>'.? . 



;.'.:;;.-.>.:/.'. , 



'* ** ' 
. . *? 



OBERMANN 125 

ject to moral law, so long as current 
opinion does not see things in their 
true relations. 

We must rise against disorder so long 
as disorder exists. Do we not see, every 
day, acts that are mistakes of judg- 
ment rather than sins of passion, acts 
that are characterized more by error 
than by perversity, and are less the 
crimes of an individual than the almost 
inevitable results of the heedlessness or 
folly of the public ? 

Is there no further need of saying to 
the rich : " By what fatality do you live 
in greater poverty and anxiety than the 
day-laborers who till your ground ? " 
Or of saying to children whose eyes 
are still blind to the baseness of their 
deceit : " You are veritable thieves, and 
thieves whom the law ought to punish 
with greater severity than he who robs 
a stranger. To the manifest theft, you 
add the most odious perfidy." The 
servant who steals from his master is 



126 OBERMANN 

punished more rigorously than a stran- 
ger, because he abuses the confidence 
which has been placed in him, and also 
because it is imperative that one should 
enjoy security, at least in one's own 
house. These reasons, which are just 
when applied to a hireling, are they 
not far more potent when applied to 
the son of the house ? Who could de- 
ceive with greater impunity ? What 
more sacred duties could be neglected ? 
To whom could it be sadder not to give 
one's confidence ? 

And is there no need of saying to 
women, full of sensibility, purity of 
intention, youth, and candor: "Why 
throw away on the first impostor all 
these priceless gifts? . . . The very 
name ' woman ' is to man a word full 
of nobility when his soul is pure. The 
name ' man,' apparently, can also hold 
sway over young hearts, but however 
sweet such illusions may be, do not 
be deceived by them. If man is the 



OBERMANN 127 

natural friend of woman, he may also 
be one of her worst enemies. All men 
have the instincts of their sex, but wait 
for him who has the soul of his sex." 



LETTER LXXXI 

August $th, gth year. 

YOU admit that moral philosophy 
is the only subject which ought to 
seriously occupy the mind of a writer 
who wishes to devote himself to a 
great and useful object. But you seem 
to think that certain opinions on the 
nature of beings, towards which I have, 
thus far, had a leaning, are not in ac- 
cord with the study of moral law and 
of the basis of duty. 

I should not want to contradict my- 
self, and shall strive not to do so ; but 
I cannot attribute to weakness changes 
caused by uncertainty. I have exam- 
ined myself with thorough impartiality 



128 OBERMANN 

and even with severity, and fail to find 
any real contradictions. Various things 
that I have said might have seemed con- 
tradictory, had any one taken them as 
positive assertions, or as different parts 
of one system, one body of principles 
laid down as certain, joined to and 
deduced from one another. But iso- 
lated thoughts, doubts on impenetrable 
things, can vary without being contra- 
dictory. ... I even acknowledge that 
a conjecture on the course of nature 
which at times appears to me very prob- 
able, seems, at other times, far less so, 
according to the way in which my im- 
agination contemplates it. 

Sometimes I think that all things 
are the result of necessity, and that if 
the world cannot be explained by this 
principle, it would be impossible to 
account for it by any other. And then, 
on the other hand, I sometimes feel 
that as so many things are the work of 
intelligence, it is evident that many 



OBERMANN 129 

other things must also be its product. 
Perhaps intelligence chooses among 
the possibilities that are the result of 
the necessary essence of things ; and the 
nature of these possibilities, which are 
contained within a limited sphere, is 
such, that although the world cannot 
exist excepting in accordance with cer- 
tain definite modes, each thing is nev- 
ertheless susceptible of different modi- 
fications. Intelligence does not hold 
sovereign power over matter, but makes 
use of it. Intelligence can neither cre- 
ate, nor destroy matter, neither can it 
pervert or change its laws ; but it can 
energize, work, and fashion it. Intel- 
ligence is not omnipotent ; it is a vast 
industrial force, but is limited by the 
necessary laws of the essence of beings. 
It is a sublime alchemy, which man 
calls supernatural because he cannot 
conceive it. 

You will say that these are two 
contrary systems, which cannot both 





t 

> 



130 OBERMANN 

receive credence at the same time. I 
acknowledge this, but still it is not a 
contradiction. I state these systems 
merely as hypotheses. Not only I do 
not admit that both are true, but I do 
not positively admit that either one is 
true, and I do not pretend to know 
about things that man cannot compre- 
hend. 

Every general system on the nature 
of being and the laws of the world is 
never more than a hazarded idea. . . . 

But it is entirely different when, 
abandoning these obscure researches, 
we devote ourselves to the only human 
science, that of ethics. The eye of 
man, which is blind when contemplat- 
ing the essence of being, can see with 
full and undimmed power when study- 
ing human relationships. Here we find 
a light tempered to our powers of vi- 
sion ; here we can discover, reason, 
affirm. Here we are responsible for our 
ideas, their succession, their harmony, 



OBERMANN 131 

their truth. It is here that we must 
look for definite principles, and that 
contradictory deductions would be in- 
excusable. 

Only one objection can be raised 
against the study of ethics ; it is un- 
questionably a strong one, but ought 
not to hold us back. If all things are 
the result of necessity, what will be the 
fruit of our researches, our precepts, our 
virtues ? But the necessity of all things 
has not yet been proved ; the opposite 
conviction is the guide of man, and 
it is enough if in all the acts of life 
he believes himself to be a free agent. 
The stoic had faith in virtue, in spite 
of destiny, and Orientals who hold the 
dogma of fatality act, fear, and desire, 
like other men. Even if I were to 
consider the universal law of necessity 
as probable, it would not prevent me 
from studying the principles of the best 
human institutions. . . . 

I understand nothing of the subtle- 



132 OBERMANN 

ties by which it is supposed that one 
can acknowledge both free will and 
predestination, the choice of man and 
the absolute power of God ; that one 
can harmonize the infinite abhorrence 
which the author of all justice must 
necessarily feel toward sin, and the 
inscrutable means he has employed for 
its prevention and redemption, with 
the continual sway of injustice, and our 
power to commit as many crimes as 
we will. I find it difficult to reconcile 
the infinite goodness which voluntarily 
created man, and the absolute know- 
lede of what would result from this 



* ' leage or wnat wouia result rrom tnis 

creation, with the eternity of fearful 

p torment reserved for ninety-nine hun- 

dredths of these well-beloved creatures. 

I . ".' Jr * V * i 

I might, like any other, talk wisely, 

* " * ' V 

cleverly, and at length, upon these 
incomprehensible questions ; but if I 
should ever write, I should choose to 
devote myself to what concerns man, 
in his temporal life, and as a social 
' v.- -.-.' 






>.*% 



OBERMANN 133 

being, because it seems to me that by 
observing merely phenomena for which 
we have definite data, I might think 
true thoughts and say useful things. 

I can learn something about man, 
but I cannot divine nature. I find it 
impossible to understand two contrary 
principles, coeternally doing and undo- 
ing. I cannot comprehend a universe, 
created so late, where before there had 
been nothing, subsisting only for a time, 
and thus severing into three parts indi- 
visible eternity. I do not like to speak 
seriously of things about which I am 
ignorant ; animalis homo non percipit ea 
qua sunt spiritus Dei. ls . . . 

But there is a still more serious 
objection. Since there exist religions 
established from early times, since they 
form part of human institutions, seem 
essential to our weakness, and are the 
curb or the consolation of many, it is 
well to practice and uphold the religion 
of the country in which we live. If 



i 3 4 O 3 E R M A'N N 

we allow ourselves not to believe in it, 
we must, at least, as authors, say no- 
thing o our unbelief, and must not 
strive to wean men from a faith which 
they love. This is your advice ; and 
now I shall tell you why I cannot fol- 
low it. 

I should not attempt to weaken 
religious faith in the valleys of the 
Cevennes or the Apennines, or even 
among my own surroundings, in the 
Maurienne or the Schweitzerland ; but 
when one speaks of morality, how is 
it possible to say nothing of religion ? 
Such an omission would be a misplaced 
affectation ; it would deceive no one ; 
it would merely hamper what I should 
wish to say, and deprive it of its unity, 

which alone could make it useful. ' * 

' 

It is said that one must respect opin- 
ions on which are founded the hope 
of "many, and the entire morality of 
others. I believe this reservation to be 
wise and suitable for those who treat 



OBERMANN 135 

merely incidentally of moral questions, 
or who write .with other ends in view 
than those that must necessarily be 
mine. But if, in writing of human in- 
stitutions, I should refrain from speak- 
ing of religious systems, the world would 
see, in this forbearance, nothing more 
than a desire to curry favor with some 
powerful party. It would be a blame- 
worthy weakness. In daring to assume 
such an obligation, I must, above all, 
impose upon myself certain duties. I 
cannot answer for my resources, and 
they will be more or less inadequate ; 
but my intentions depend upon myself; 
if they are not invariably pure and 
strong, I shall be unworthy of so great 
a ministry. 

I shall have no personal enemy in 
literature any more than I have in my 
private life ; but when it is a question 
of telling men what I consider to be 
the truth, I must not fear the displeasure 
of any sect or party. I have nothing 



' . '*' 

o ; . 

*- 



136 OBERMANN 

against them, but I do not acknow- 
ledge their laws. I shall attack things 
and not men. . . . 

In writing of the affections of man, 
and of the general system of ethics, I 
shall therefore speak of religion ; and 
surely, in speaking of it, I cannot say 
other than what I believe. . . . 

I should not wish to increase the 
emptyheadedness of those who say : 
" If there were no hell, it would not 
pay to be virtuous." It may happen 
that I shall be read by one of these 
men. I do not flatter myself that no 
harm will come from what I shall say 
in the hope of doing good ; but pos- 
sibly I may also diminish the number 
of these good souls, who believe in 
duty only because they believe in 
hell. 



OBERMANN 137 



LETTER LXXXIII 

September 24th, gth year. 

I HAVE been impatiently waiting for 
you to return from your travels ; I 
have some new things to tell you. 

M. de Fonsalbe has arrived. He has 
been here for five weeks, and will re- 
main ; his wife has been here also. 
Although he has spent years on the sea, 
he is a man of a calm and even disposi- 
tion. He neither plays, nor hunts, nor 
smokes ; he does not drink, has never 
danced, and never sings. He is not sad, 
but I think he has been profoundly so 
in the past. His face unites the happy 
lines traced by peace of the soul, and 
the deep furrows drawn by sorrow. 

His eye, which usually expresses only 
repose and melancholy, has the power 
of expressing all things. The shape of 
his head is remarkable, and if, in the 






138 OBERMANN 

midst of his habitual calm, a great idea, 
a stirring sentiment comes to awaken 
him, he takes unconsciously the silent 
attitude of command. I have seen an 
actor applauded for his fine rendering 
of Nero's 16 " "Je le veux,je Vordonne ; " 
but Fonsalbe could do it better. 

I am impartial. Fonsalbe is not as 
calm internally as he is externally ; but 
if he has the misfortune or the fault 
not to be able to be happy, he has too 
much sense to be discontented. He it 
is who will effectually cure me of my 
impatience. He has shaped his own 
course, and has, moreover, proved to 
me conclusively that I ought to shape 
mine. He declares that when a man in 
good health leads an independent life 
and nothing more, he must be a fool 
to be happy, or a madman to be un- 
happy. After this remark, there was 
nothing left for me to say, as you can 
fancy, excepting that I was neither 
happy nor unhappy. I said it ; and now 



OBERMANN 139 

it remains for me to show that I told 
the truth. 

But I am beginning to find some- 
thing more than health and an inde- 
pendent life. Fonsalbe will be a friend, 
and a friend 'in my solitude. I do not 
say a friend such as we dreamed of in 
other days. We live* no longer in an 
heroic age. * My aim is to assure the 
peaceful flow of my days ; great things 
do not concern me. I am intent upon 
seeing good in all that my destiny sends 
me. What a way for its accomplish- 
ment to dream of the friendship of 
the ancients ! Let us leave the friend- 
ship of antiquity, and the friendship 
of modern social life. Picture to your- 
self a middle course. What does that 
amount to ? you will ask. And I tell 
you that it means a great deal. . . . 



140 OBERMANN 



LETTER LXXXIV 

Saint-Maurice, October yth, gth year. 

AN American friend of Fonsalbe 
has just been here on his way to 
Italy. They went together as far as 
Saint-Branchier, at the foot of the 
mountains. I accompanied them, and 
expected to stop at Saint-Maurice, but 
went on to the falls of Pissevache, 
which are between Saint-Maurice and 
Martigni, and which I had seen before 
only from the road. 

There I waited for the return of the 
carriage. The weather was pleasant ; 
the air calm and soft. The great vol- 
ume of water fell from a height of 
about three hundred feet. I crept as 
close to it as possible, and in a moment 
was drenched as though I had been 
plunged into water. 

But I felt a return of my early emo- 



OBERMANN 141 

tions, as I was bathed in the leaping 
spray which flings its foam toward the 
clouds, as I heard the raging howl of 
the cataract whose waters have their 
birth in the silent ice, flow unceasingly 
from a moveless element, are lost, and 
unendingly lost, with tumultuous roar. 
They plunge into chasms of their own 
hewing, and are forever falling in their 
eternal fall. Even such is the down- 
ward flow of the years and the centu- 
ries of man. Our days glide out of 
silentness, fate guides them, and they 
pass into oblivion. The course of their 
hurried phantoms rolls onward with 
unchanging clamor, and is lost in end- 
less sequence. In its train there ever 
floats a vapor which lifts and falls in 
circling eddies, and whose shadows, 
already gone before, have enwrapped 
that unfathomable and unavailing chain 
of days the perpetual emblem of 
invisible force, the singular and myste- 
rious expression of world-energy. 



i 4 2 OBERMANN 

I confess that Imenstrom, and my 
memories, my habits, my childish pro- 
jects, my trees, my study, all the things 
that had provided amusement for my 
affections, seemed at that moment piti- 
fully small and miserable in my eyes. 
That water, restless, all-invading, filled 
with the spirit of motion, that majestic 
tumult of a leaping torrent, that mist 
forever flinging its billows into the air, 
swept away the forgetf ulness into which 
years of stress and struggle had plunged 
me. 

Separated from the world by the 
encompassing waters and the chainless 
turmoil, I saw all places pass before my 
eyes, yet I was nowhere. Although I 
was fixed and motionless, my very be- 
ing was stirred with unwonted activity. 
Secure in the midst of menacing ruin, 
I seemed engulfed by the waters and 
living in the abyss. I had left the earth ; 
I looked back upon my life and it 
seemed ridiculous in my eyes ; it filled 



OBERMANN 143 

me with pity. A vision turned those 
paltry days into days of productiveness. 
I saw more clearly than I had ever seen 
before, those happy and far-distant pages 
of the book of time. A Moses, a Ly- 
curgus proved to the world their latent 
possibilities ; but their future existence 
was proved to me among the Alps. 

In times when originality was not 
made the butt of ridicule, men sought 
the seclusion of deep solitude, or re- 
treated for a time into mountain fast- 
nesses, not merely in order to meditate 
over the framing of new laws men 
can think at home, and silence may be 
found even in the heart of cities. Nei- 
ther was it merely to gain influence 
over the people a simple wonder of 
magic would have accomplished this 
more easily, and have held no less sway 
over the imagination. But even the 
soul that is held least in bondage can- 
not wholly escape from the control of 
habit ; for the conclusions drawn from 



\. , 



144 OBERMANN 

habit have always had great persuasive 
power for the multitude, and specious 
force for genius itself; and the argu- 
ments based on custom, on the most 
ordinary condition of man, seem to 
hold an obvious proof of man's limited 
sphere of action. Separation from all 
human surroundings is necessary, not 
so as to be given the power to see that 
reforms might be made, but rather to 
find the courage to think them possible. 
This isolation is not needed in order 
to conceive the required means, but to 
hope for their success. When men 
retire from the world and live in soli- 
tude, the force of habit is weakened, 
and the unusual, no longer clothed in 
the garb of romance, is viewed and 
judged with impartiality ; men believe 
in it, return to the world, and succeed. 
I went back to the road before the 
return of Fonsalbe . . . and led him 
to the spot where I had been sitting ; 
but we lingered only for a moment. 



OBERMANN 145 

I tried in vain to make myself under- 
stood excepting by signs, but when we 
reached a distance of several yards I 
asked him, while he was yet filled with 
wonder, what became, among such 
surroundings, of the habits of man, or 
even of his strongest affections, and 
the passions which he believes to be 
indomitable. 

We walked to and fro between 
the cataract and the road. We agreed 
that a man of strong organization may 
have no actual passion, although he is 
susceptible of all passions, and that 
men thus organized have often existed, 
sometimes among rulers of the people, 
or among magi and gymnosophists, 
sometimes among true and faithful 
believers in certain religions, such as 
Christianity, Islamism, and Buddhism. 

A great man possesses all the facul- 
ties that belong to man, and is capable 
of experiencing all human affections, 
but he limits himself to the highest 



146 OBERMANN 

among the gifts of destiny. He who 
renounces his noblest thoughts for triv- 
ial or selfish views, who is moved by 
petty affections and paltry interests, is 
not a great man. 

A great man always looks beyond 
the horizon of his actual existence, 

9 

beyond what he is and what he does ; 
he does not loiter behind his destiny, 
but rather outstrips the bounds which 
destiny has marked out for him, and 
this natural onward impulse of his soul 
is not the passion for power or glory. 
He is above glory and power. He loves 
what is noble, just, and useful ; he loves 
what is beautiful. He accepts power 
because it is needful in the reestablish- 
ment of the useful and the beautiful ; 
but he would love a simple life, be- 
cause a simple life can be pure and 
beautiful. His deeds are sometimes like 
those that are born of passion, but it is 
essentially impossible that he should act 
at the dictates of passion. A great man 



OBERMANN 147 

not only has not a passion for women, 
for play, for wine, but I hold that he 
is not even ambitious. His motives are 
not those that govern the multitude 
born to wonder at such men as he, 
even when his acts resemble theirs. 
He is neither distrustful nor confident, 
neither dissembling nor frank, neither 
grateful nor ingrate ; he has no quali- 
ties of this nature. His heart waits, his 
intelligence leads. When at his post he 
presses forward to the end he has in 
view, which is far-reaching order, and 
the bettering of the condition of men. 
He sees, he wills, he acts. A man of 
whom it can be said that he has a cer- 
tain weakness, or a certain propensity, 
is a man like any other. But the man 
born to govern is just and supreme. 
Disillusioned, he would be something 
still higher ; he would not be sover- 
eign, he would not be a ruler ; he would 
become a sage. 



148 OBERMANN 



LETTER LXXXV 

Imenstrom, October I2th y gth year. 

LIKE you, I feared the result. It 
was natural to suppose that this 
kind of indolence, into which I have 
been plunged by melancholy, would 
soon become a habit almost beyond 
control ; but . . . the way in which 
I am vegetating amid my present sur- 
roundings will have no influence over 
my manner of life in case circum- 
stances should require of me as much 
activity as they now demand apathy. 

Of what avail would it be to remain 
standing at the hour of rest or to be 
alive within my tomb ? Must a laborer, 
who does not wish to lose the day, re- 
fuse, for that reason, to sleep at night ? 
My night is long indeed ; but is it my 
fault if the days were short, if the nights 
were dark at the season of my birth ? 



OBERMANN 149 

Like others, I desire to leave my retreat 
at the coming of summer ; meanwhile 
I dream beside the fire during the days 
of frost. . . . 

In the early morning, when I am 
not asleep, nor yet awake, I dream in 
peace. In those moments of calm, I 
like to look at life ; I seem a stranger 
to it then, and have no part to play. 
What my mind especially dwells upon 
in these days is the din of the machin- 
ery, and the nullity of the products 
the vast labor of human beings, 
and the doubtful, fruitless, perhaps 
inconsistent aim, or, rather, vain and 
opposite aims. The moss flowers on 
the rock beaten by the waves ; but its 
blossom will perish. The violet wastes 
its bloom in the hidden covers of the 
desert. Even thus man desires, and 
dies. He is born by chance, he gropes 
his way without aim, struggles without 
object, feels and thinks in vain, perishes 
before he has lived, and even if to live 



150 OBERMANN 

has been vouchsafed him, he must like- 
wise pass away. Caesar won fifty battles, 
he conquered the West ; he is dead. 
Mahomet, Pythagoras are dead. The 
cedar-tree, which gave shade to the 
flocks and the herds, has perished even 
as the grass on which they trod. 

The more clearly we strive to see, 
the more deeply we are plunged in 
darkness. All things work for self- 
preservation and self-reproduction ; the 
aim of their travail is manifest ; how 
is it that the end of their being is im- 
penetrable ? The animal possesses the 
organs, the powers, the energy to sub- 
sist and perpetuate itself. He struggles 
to- exist, and he exists ; he labors to 
reproduce himself, and he is self-repro- 
ductive. But wherefore live ? Why per- 
petuate himself? All this is a mystery. 

I have replaced De I* Esprit des 
C hoses 11 on my table, and have read 
almost the whole of one volume. 

I confess that this theory of the re- 



OBERMANN 151 

demption of the world does not antag- 
onize me. It is not new, but this fact 
gives it all the greater authority. It is 
broad and credible. ... I would will- 
ingly believe that this hypothesis of a 
fortuitous degradation, and a gradual 
regeneration ; of a force which vivifies, 
uplifts, refines, and another which cor- 
rupts and degrades, is not the least plau- 
sible of our conjectures on the nature 
of things. I only wish that we could 
be told how this revolution took place, 
or, at least, how it must have taken 
place ; how the world thus escaped 
from the control of the Eternal ; how 
it was that the Eternal should have 
allowed it, or could not have prevented 
it ; and what force, alien to universal 
power, has produced the universal cat- 
aclysm ? This theory explains every- 
thing excepting the chief difficulty ; 
but the Oriental dogma of two princi- 
ples was more comprehensible. 

Whatever may be said on a question 



i 5 2 OBERMANN 

which is undoubtedly little suited to 
a dweller upon the earth, I know of 
nothing which accounts for the perpet- 
ual phenomena, all the evils of which 
overwhelm our intelligence and baffle 
our eager curiosity. We see individ- 
uals congregate and propagate accord- 
ing to their kind, and press onward 
with uninterrupted and ever-increasing 
force toward I know not what goal, 
from which they are perpetually re- 
pelled. A celestial industry produces 
without ceasing and by infinite means. 
A principle of inertia, a lifeless force 
stands in unrelenting opposition ; it 
exterminates and destroys all things in 
one dead, immeasurable mass. All the 
individual agents are passive ; but they 
drift willingly onward to an end which 
they cannot divine, and the goal of this 
general tendency, unknown to them, 
seems to be also unrevealed to all things 
that exist. Not only does the entire 
order of beings appear to be full of 



OBERMANN 153 

contrasts in its mechanism, and of op- 
position in its products ; but the force 
which moves it seems indeterminate, 
apprehensive, and paralyzed, or coun- 
terbalanced by another mysterious force. 
Nature seems hindered in her progress, 
baffled and perplexed. 

We shall think to discern a gleam in 
the abyss, if we preconceive the worlds 
as spheres of activity, as workshops of 
regeneration, in which matter, gradu- 
ally worked and refined by a principle 
of life, will pass from its passive and 
crude state to that point of advance- 
ment and of rarefaction when it will 
at last be susceptible of being impreg- 
nated by fire and infused with light. It 
will be used by intelligence, no longer 
as formless material, but as a perfected 
instrument ; later as a direct agent ; and 
finally as an essential part of the one 
being, which will then become truly 
universal and truly one. 

The ox is strong and powerful ; he 



154 OBERMANN 

does not even know it. He eats vora- 
ciously, he devours a whole field. What 
will he gain by it ? He ruminates, he 
vegetates dully in a barn into which 
he has been led by a man sad, dull, and 
useless like himself. The man will slay 
and eat him ; but he will be none the 
better for it. And after the ox has died, 
the man will die. What will remain 
of them both ? A little something to 
fertilize and produce fresh grass, and a 
little grass to nourish new flesh. What 
vain and mute vicissitudes of life and 
death ! What a relentless universe ! 
And how is it good that it is, rather 
than that it is not ? 

But if this silent and terrible fer- 
mentation, which seems to produce 
only to immolate, to create only for the 
sake of having been, to develop germs 
simply to scatter them to the winds, 
or grant the sentiment of life merely 
to give the shudder of death ; if this 
force which moves eternal matter in 



OBERMANN 155 

the darkness, sheds a few rays to try 
the light ; if this power which battles 
against repose and promises life, crushes 
and pulverizes its work so as to prepare 
it for a great purpose ; if this world in 
which we figure is only the experiment 
of a world ; if what is, merely fore- 
shadows what is to be ; would not the 
wonder which visible evil excites in us 
be answered ? 

The present labors for the future, 
and the scheme of the universe is that 
the actual world shall be consumed ; 
this great sacrifice was necessary, and 
is great only in our eyes. We shall 
perish in the hour of the catastrophe ; 
but it had to be, and the history of the 
beings of to-day is all contained in 
the words : they have lived. Fruitful and 
changeless order will be the product of 
the laborious crisis which will annihi- 
late us. The work has already begun, 
and centuries of life will subsist when 
we, our lamentations, our hopes, and 



156 OBERMANN 

our systems shall have forever passed 
away. 



LETTER LXXXVII 

November 2Oth y Qth year. 

WHAT a tangled skein is life ! 
How difficult is the art of 
conduct ! How many afflictions walk 
jn the train of right-doing ! What con- 
fusion follows in the wake of a whole- 
souled sacrifice to order ! How many 
misunderstandings are the result of a 
desire to regulate all the circumstances 
of life, when our destiny did not ask 
for rules ! 

This preamble is probably a mystery 
to you. But, filled as my mind is with 
Fonsalbe, 18 with the thought of his 
despondency, with what has come to 
him, what must necessarily have come 
to him, and knowing what I know, 
what he has told me, I see a whole 



OBERMANN 157 

abyss of injustice, antipathy, and regret. 
And, most lamentable of all, in this 
long chain of wretchedness, I see no- 
thing surprising or unusual, nothing 
which is limited to him alone. 

If all the shrouded secrets were un- 
veiled, if we could look into the hidden 
places of the heart and see the bitter- 
ness to which it is a prey, then all these 
contented men, these pleasant homes, 
these mirthful gatherings, would be- 
come a host of miserable human be- 
ings gnawing at the curb which holds 
them, and devouring the thick dregs 
in the cup of sorrow, the bottom of 
which they will never reach. They 
cloak their sufferings, they call up false 
joys, and wave them aloft that they 
may glitter and shine before the jeal- 
ous and watchful eyes of other men. 
They stand in the fairest light so that 
the tear which glistens in their eye 
may shed a seeming lustre and be 
envied from afar as a signal of delight. 



158 OBERMANN 

Social vanity consists in appearing 
happy. . . . This vain display, this 
mania for appearances, is ignored only 
by fools, and yet almost all men are 
its dupes. " Others have a thousand 
things to enjoy," you say. Have you 
not those same things to delight you, 
and many more, perhaps ? " They 
seem to give me pleasure, but . . ." 
Deluded man, these huts, are they 
not also for thy fellows ? All these 
happy men show themselves with their 
holiday faces, even as people walk out 
with their Sunday clothes. Sorrow 
stays behind in the garret and the 
drawing-room. Joy or patience are 
upon the lips that we see; discourage- 
ment, grief, the frenzy of passion or 
despondency, are in the depths of the 
cankered heart. In this great multi- 
tude of people, the outside is carefully 
apparelled ; it is either dazzling or 
bearable, but the inside is ghastly. On 
these conditions has it been given us 



OBERMANN 159 

to hope. Did we not believe that 
others were happier than ourselves, and 
that therefore we might ourselves be 
happier, who of us would drag out to 
the end our imbecile days ? 

Full of an interesting, rational, 
though somewhat romantic project, 
Fonsalbe started for Spanish America. 
He was detained at Martinique by a 
rather singular incident, which pro- 
mised to be of short duration, but 
which had a long sequel. Forced at 
last to renounce his scheme, he was on 
the point of recrossing the ocean, and 
was only waiting for an opportunity, 
when the relative with whom he had 
been living during his entire stay at 
the Antilles fell ill and died at the end 
of a few days. Before dying, he told 
Fonsalbe that his sole consolation would 
be to leave him his daughter, feeling 
that in so doing he would assure her 
happiness. Fonsalbe, who had never 
even thought of her in the light of 



160 OBERMANN 

marriage, objected that, as they had 
lived for more than six months in the 
same house and had not formed any 
special attachment, they were and 
doubtless would remain indifferent to 
each other. The father insisted, de- 
claring that his daughter loved Fon- 
salbe, and had confessed her love for 
him when refusing to contract another 
marriage. 

Fonsalbe now made no further ob- 
jection, but still he hesitated. In place 
of his ruined plans, he pictured himself 
as filling with gentleness and fidelity 
the part of an obscure life, making one 
woman happy, and having, while still 
young, children whom he could form 
and develop. He reflected that the 
faults of the woman whom it was pro- 
posed that he should marry were those 
of education and environment, and that 
she possessed simple and natural quali- 
ties of the heart. He chose his course, 
and gave his promise. The father died; 



OBERMANN 161 

several months passed, and the son and 
daughter made arrangements to divide 
his property between them. But it so 
happened that their island was, at that 
time, at war with a foreign power ; the 
enemy's ships hove suddenly in sight, 
and prepared to disembark troops. 
Under pretext of danger, the future 
brother-in-law of Fonsalbe disposed of 
all the salable property, so that he and 
his sister might take flight at short no- 
tice and seek refuge in a place of safety. 
But, under cover of the night, he made 
his own escape to the enemy's fleet, 
carrying with him all their available 
possessions, besides every negro on the 
plantation. It was afterwards known 
that he established himself on one of 
the islands under British rule, where his 
life was not a happy one. 

The sister, thus left penniless, seemed 
to fear that Fonsalbe would now desert 
her, in spite of his promise. This led 
him to hasten his marriage, which he 



162 OBERMANN 

had thus far delayed only that he might 
receive the consent of his family. These 
hurried preparations for the wedding 
were, in fact, the only answer he 
deigned to make to the girl's surmise, 
a suspicion which was not likely to 
increase his esteem for a woman for 
whom he felt no attachment other than 
that of the most ordinary friendship, 
and of whom he had formed no par- 
ticular opinion, either good or bad. 

A loveless union may often be happy. 
But in this case the characters of hus- 
band and wife were little suited to each 
other. Still, in some ways they were 
congenial, and it is precisely under such 
circumstances that love seems to me a 
necessity, in order to cement a perfect 
union. . . . 

Nj ,We live only once. ... I do not 
know whether you look at things in 
the same way that I do ; but I feel that 
Fonsalbe did right. He has been pun- 
ished, and he ought to have been ; but 

* 



OBERMANN 163 

is that any reason for saying that he 
acted wrongly ? We live only once. . . . 
Fonsalbe has not neglected the laws 
of true duty, of final consolation to a 
dying soul, of holy morality, of the 
wisdom that is hid in the heart of man. 
He sacrificed the plans of the moment, 
he forgot our petty rules of life. The 
professional lounger, the ward law- 
giver would have condemned him. But 
the men of olden time, venerated for 
thirty centuries, great men and just, 
would have acted, and did act, as 
Fonsalbe has done. . . . 

The better I know Fonsalbe, the 
more I am convinced that we shall 
always live together. We have already 
decided on this, and the nature of 
things had predetermined it. He will 
fill your place in so far as a new friend 
can fill the place of a friend of twenty 
years' standing, and as I can find in my 
allotted life a faint shadow of our early 
dreams. 



164 OBERMANN 

The intimacy between Fonsalbe and 
myself outstrips the course of time, and 
already possesses the venerable quality 
of antiquity. His confidence has no 
limits ; and, as he is a man of great 
natural discretion and reserve, you can 
understand how deeply I value its 
worth. I owe much to him ; my life is 
a little less useless, and will grow to be 
tranquil in spite of that internal weight 
which at times he can help me to for- 
get, but which he can never lift. He 
has reclothed my desert places with 
something of their happy beauty, and 
with the romanticness of their Alpine 
scenery ; I, a man of misfortune and 
his friend, have found in their midst 
hours filled with a sweetness which I 
had not known before. We walk, we 
talk, we wander at random ; we are 
satisfied when we are together. Each 
day I realize more clearly what noble 
hearts may, through adverse destiny, be 
doomed to live solitary and unknown 



OBERMANN 165 

to one another, lost in the throng, and 
so out of touch with the surrounding 
world that nature ought to have linked 
them closely together. 

Fonsalbe has lived sadly amid end- 
less vexations, and without enjoyment. 
He is two or three years older than I, 
and he feels that his life is gradually 
gliding away. I say to him : " Our 
past is more alien to us than the life of 
a stranger ; it has no touch of reality. 
The memories it leaves behind are too 
vain to be accounted good or evil by a 
wise man. On what ground can rest 
our lamentations, or our regrets for 
what has passed away? Because you 
were once the happiest of men, would 
the present, for that reason, be any more 
endurable ? Because you once suffered 
terrible wrongs ..." Fonsalbe had 
allowed me to talk on, but of my own 
accord I stopped. I felt that as ten 
years passed in a dungeon would leave 
its impress on the body, even so moral 



i66 OBERMANN 

suffering must leave deep imprints on 
the heart ; and when a reasonable man 
complains of misfortunes which he 
seems^no longer to suffer, it is their 
results and their effects that he mourns. 
When we have voluntarily allowed 
an opportunity for well-doing to escape 
our grasp, that opportunity is usually 
forever lost ; this is the punishment 
for neglect in those whose nature it is 
to do good, but who are held back by 
considerations of the moment, or by 
interests of passion. There are those 
who unite to this natural disposition a 
rational willingness to follow it, and a 
habit of silencing every contrary pas- 
sion. Their sole purpose, their chief 
desire, is to fill nobly, in every way, the 
part of a man, and to carry out what 
their judgment tells them is good. Can 
such men see without regret the van- 
ishing of every possibility to dp well 
those things which, though they be- 
long only to private life, are important 



O B E R M A N N 167 

because very few men really think of 
doing them well? 

It is not such a very narrow and sec- 
ondary part in life, to do for one's wife, 
not only what duty prescribes, but what 
an enlightened mind counsels, and even 
all that it may allow. Many men who 
fill with honor great public offices, do 
not know how to conduct themselves 
in their own homes, as Fonsalbe would 
have known had he been given a wife 
who was right-minded and trustworthy. 

The delights of confidence and in- 
timacy between friends are intense ; 
but quickened and increased by all the 
little trifles born of the sentiment of 
love between man and woman, these 
exquisite delights become immeasur- 
able. Can anything be sweeter in the 
wonted domestic life than to be good 
and upright in the eyes of a well-be- 
loved wife ; to do everything for her 
and require nothing in return ; to ex- 
pect from her whatsoever is natural 







i68 X) B E R M A N N 

and seemly, and to claim nothing that 
is exceptional ; to make her above re- 
proach, and leave her unfettered ; to 
sustain, counsel, and protect her, but 
neither rule nor compel her ; to make 
of her a friend who conceals nothing 
and has nothing to conceal ; who needs 
not to be denied things that by this 
very openness become insignificant, but 
when done by stealth must be forbid- 
den ; to make her as perfect, but as 
free, as possible ; to have over her every 
right, in order to give her every liberty 
that an upright soul can accept ; and 
thus to make, at least in the obscurity 
of private life, the happiness of one 
human being who is worthy of receiv- 
ing joy without corrupting it, and free- 
dom of mind without being corrupted 
by it? 



OBERMANN 169 



LETTER LXXXIX 

Imenstrom, December 6th> ^th year. 

LET us confess that it is well with 
us in this world when we have 
power and knowledge. Power without 
knowledge is dangerous ; knowledge 
without power is melancholy and use- 
less. 

As for myself who do not pretend to 
live, but merely to contemplate life, it 
would be well for me to at least con- 
ceive the part that a man ought to play 
in the world. I intend to spend four 
hours every day in my study. This I 
should call work ; but apparently it is 
not work, for while it is accounted 
wrong to forge a lock or hem a hand- 
kerchief on the day of rest, one is free 
to write a chapter of the Monde primitif. 
Since I have determined to write, it 
would be unpardonable were I not to 



170 OBERMANN 

begin now. I am surrounded by every- 
thing needful : leisure, quiet, a small 
but adequate library, and, in place of 
a secretary, a friend who will urge me 
on, and who believes that by writing 
one can, sooner or later, accomplish 
some good. 

But before taking up the weaknesses 
of men, I must, for the last time, speak 
to you of my own. Fonsalbe, from 
whom I shall conceal nothing else, but 
who does not suspect this secret, makes 
me realize every day by his presence, 
and by our talks in which the name of 
his sister constantly recurs, how far dis- 
tant I am from that forgetfulness which 
had grown to be my only refuge. 

In his letters to Madame Del , 

he has spoken of me, and has appeared 
to do so at my instigation. I did not 
know how to prevent this, as I could 
give Fonsalbe no reason for my objec- 
tion. But I regretted it all the more that 
she must have thought it contradictory 



OBERMANN 171 

in me not to have followed out the 
course that I had laid down for myself. 

Do not think it strange that I seek 
bitterness in these memories, and use a 
thousand subterfuges to keep them far 
from me, as though I were uncertain 
of myself. I am neither fanatical nor 
vacillating in my rectitude. My inten- 
tions are under my control, but my 
thoughts are not ; and while I possess 
all the assurance of a man who desires 
what his duty dictates, I have all the 
weakness of one whom nothing has as 
yet anchored. Still, I am not in love ; 
I am too unhappy for that. How is it 
then ? . . . You would not understand 
me when I do not understand myself. 

Many years have passed since I saw 
her, but as my destiny was to grant me 
only a dream of my life, the solitary 
thing that was left to me was her mem- 
ory, linked to my very being as long as 
life was to endure. This much for the 
times that are forever lost. 



172 OBERMANN 

The need of loving had become life 
itself, and the whole consciousness of 
existence was limited to the anticipa- 
tion and the foreshadowing of that 
hour which heralds the dawn of life. 
But while, in the savorless course of 
my days, there flashed one moment that 
seemed to promise to my heart the only 
good which it was then in nature's 
power to give me, her memory had 
apparently been sent to keep that good 
afar. Although I had not loved, I found 
myself thenceforth powerless to love, 
like those men in whom a deep passion 
has destroyed the power to love anew. 

This memory was not love, since I 
found in it neither food nor consola- 
tion. It left me in the void, and held 
me there ; it gave me nothing, and pre- 
vented me from receiving anything. 
Thus I lived, possessing neither the 
happy intoxication which is fed by love, 
nor the bitter and rapturous melan- 
choly by which our hearts, still rilled 



\ ( 

t. 









OBERMANN 173 

with an unhappy passion, delight to be 
consumed. 

I do not wish to recount to you the 
tiresome history of my sorrows. I have 
hidden my untoward fate in these my 
desert places ; it would drag down in its 
wake whatsoever surrounded it, and it 
well-nigh submerged you. You wanted 
to abandon everything in life in order 
to become sad and useless like myself, 
but I forced you to return to your plea- 
sures. You even believed that I too had 
found diversion, and I gently fostered 
your mistake. You came to know that 
my calm was like the smile of despair, 
but I wish that you had been longer 
deceived. When I wrote you, I chose 
the moment when a laugh was on my 
lips . . . when I laughed with pity at 
myself, at my destiny, at all the many 
things that men lament while they are 
continually saying to themselves that 
these things will one day cease. 

I am telling you too much ; but the 



* 



* . 9 

* 

t 



-, .*; 



i 7 4 OBERMANN 

consciousness of my destiny exalts and 
overpowers me. I cannot look within, 
without seeing the spectre of what will 
never be granted me. 

It is inevitable that in speaking to 
you of her I should be wholly myself. 
I cannot comprehend what reserve I 
could enforce upon myself. She felt as 
I did ; we both spoke the same lan- 
guage. Are there many who thus un- 
derstand each other ? But I did not 
indulge in such illusions. I repeat it, I 
do not wish to dwell upon those days 
which forgetfulness ought to efface, and 
which are already lost in the abyss ; 
my dream of happiness has passed away 
with the shadows of those days, even as 
men and the ages perish. 

Why these memories which rise like 
vapor from a lingering death ? They 
come to enshroud the living remains 
of man in the bitterness of the uni- 
versal grave to which he will descend. 
I seek not to justify this broken heart 



OBERMANN 175 

which you know too well, and which 
holds within its ruins only the restless- 
ness of life. You alone know its lost 
hopes, its unfathomable desires, its im- 
measurable needs. Do not excuse it, 
but rather sustain it, and raise its wrecks 
from destruction ; give back to it, if 
within your power, the fire of life, 
and the calm of reason, the activity 
of genius, and the impassiveness of the 
sage. I do not wish to make you pity 
its deep follies. 

At last the most unexpected chance 
led me to meet her near the Sa6ne, 19 
on a day of sadness. ... It was sweet 
to see her now and again. A soul ar- 
dent, tranquil, weary, disillusioned, 
great, would have the power to still 
the restlessness and the unceasing tor- 
ture of my heart. That grace of her 
entire being, that indescribable per- 
fection of every movement, of her 
voice ! . . . 

But my sadness became more con- 



176 OBERMANN 

stant, more bitter. Had Madame 

Del been free, I should have found 

pleasure in at last being unhappy in 
my own way ; but she was not, and I 
left, before it had become impossible 
for me to endure elsewhere the burden 
of time. All things discouraged me 
then, but now I look at all things with 
indifference. It even chances that at 
times I am amused ; and thus it has 
become possible for me to speak to you 
of all this. I am no longer capable of 
loving ; I am benumbed. . . . How 
the affections change, how the heart 
decays, how life passes away, before it 
is ended ! # f 

I was telling you that it was my joy 
to be in full accord with her in her 
aversion to all the things that make up 
the pleasures of life ; and I took de- 
light still more in the quiet evenings. 
This could riot last. 

It has at times, though rarely, been 
given me to forget that I am like a 



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;>. V * **/:' V 

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Nb. . -7* **L . * .*'* . . 



OBERMANN 177 

wandering shadow upon the earth, 

which sees life but. cannot grasp it. 

This is the law of my existence. When "^ 

I have wished to escape from it, I have 

been punished. If an illusion comes to 

me, my misfortunes increase. I felt 

that happiness was near me, and I was * ' 

terrified. The ashes that I believed to 

^ 

be dead, would they, perhaps, be called 

to life again ? It was time to flee. 

Now I am in a sequestered valley. I 
strive to forget life. ... I build, I 
cultivate, I amuse myself with all these 
things. ... I devour my impassive 

days, and am eager to see them lost in 
the past. * 

Fonsalbe is her brother. We speak 
of her ; I cannot prevent it, for he 
truly loves her. He will be my friend. 
I desire it because he is solitary, and 
also for my own sake ; without him 
what would become of me ? But he 
will never know how the image of his 
sister is ever present in these solitudes. 






. 



. 



* 

t* 

'.V ; 

* 






1 7 8 

These sombre gorges, these romantic 
waters ! they were voiceless, they will 
be forever mute! Her image does not 
bring the peace given by forgetfulness 
of the world, but rather the peace born 
of the abandonment of the desert. One 
evening we were under the pines ; their 
topmost branches, restless in the wind, 
were filled with the sounds of the 
mountain. We talked together, he 
wept for her. A brother has tears. 

I take no oaths, I make no vows. 
I despise these vain protestations, this 
eternity with which man thinks to 
lengthen out the passions of a day. I 
promise nothing ; I know nothing. All 
things pass, all men change ; but unless 
I am greatly deceived, I shall never 
love. When a devout man has dreamed 
of his future blessedness, he no longer 
seeks happiness in earthly life ; and if 
ever his beatic illusion fades away, he 
finds no charm in things that are too 
far beneath his early dreams. 

And she will drag along the fetters 



,*V 






OBERMANN 179 

of her days with that disillusioned 
strength, with that sorrowful calm, 
which become her so well. Some of 
us would perhaps lose our rightful 
place in the world if happiness were 
not withheld from us. A life passed in 
indifference and in despondency amid 

all the fascinations of the world, and 

1 

in the bloom and vigor of health ; a 
discontent free from capriciousness, a 
melancholy untouched by bitterness, a * 
smile born of secret grief, a simplicity 
of heart which renounces all things, 
while all things might be rightly 
claimed, regrets that are never voiced, 
a passive resignation, a discouragement 
felt but scorned ; so many riches neg- 
lected, so many losses forgotten, so 
many faculties with no desire to use 
them all this is in exquisite har- 
mony, and belongs to her and to her 
alone. Had she been contented, happy, 
possessing all that seemed to be her due, 
she might have been less herself. Ad- 
versity is good for those who bear it as 



** 



% *,* . >** 


















^ V 

180 OBERMANN 

she does ; and if happiness were to 
come to her now, of what avail would 
* it be ? It is too late. 

What is left to her ? What will be 

left to us in that relinquishment of life, 

the only destiny which is common to 

us all ? When all has fled, to the very 

dreams of our desires ; when even the 

vision of loveliness pales in our unset- 

^ tied thoughts ; when harmony, clothed 

in her ideal grace, descends from the 

celestial spheres, approaches the earth, 

and finds herself enveloped in darkness 

and mist; when nothing: remains of 

' & . 

* our needs, of our affections, of our 

hopes; when we ourselves pass away 
with the unalterable flight of things, 
and in the inevitable mutability of the 
world ! niy friends, my only friends, 
^ . V** 4 she whom I have lost, you who live 

J % far from me, you who alone still fill 

r ' ' . 

me with the consciousness of life ! 
J*.^* % what will be left to us, and what are 

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I A ^ * ^ ^ ^v * * % "^fc. J? ^ "^ * 4 ' * ^* ^ ^^* 

II ^ *i * . . *_ % *^P ^ A fc. ^ * ^ * 



SUPPLEMENT 



LETTER XG 

Imenstrom, June 28th y loth year. 

THE sister of Fonsajoe is here. 
She came unexpectedly, and in- 
tended to stay only a few days with hen 
brother. 

You would find 4ier 4 now as charm* 
ing, as rare as she ever was, and per- 
haps even more rare and charming than 
before. This unlooked-for arrival, the 
changes in life and things, memories 
never to be effaced, the place^the time, 
all these seemed to be in perfect accord. 
And I must acknowledge that while 
there may exist a more faultless beauty 
in the eyes of an artist, no one else 
unites more completely all that to me 
forms the charm of woman. . **** 





* 






. 






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< - \- : ''&$& K- : ^& 
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* -*'- ' * . *!>..: /T j. 



182 OBERMANN 

We were not able to receive her here 
as you would have done at Bordeaux ; 
at the foot of our mountains, all we 
could do was to adapt ourselves to cir- 
cumstances. Late that evening, and at 
early dawn on the following morning, 
two of our meadows were to be mowed, 
so as to escape the heat of the day, and 
I had already planned a little fete for 
my workmen, on this occasion. Some 
musicians from Vevay had been en- 
gaged ; and a rustic breakfast, or supper 
if you prefer to call it so, beginning 
at midnight and suited to the tastes of 
the hay-makers, was to fill the interval 
between the evening and the morning 
work. 

It chanced that toward the close of 
day I passed before a low flight of steps. 
She was standing above ; she spoke my 
name. It was her voice, but with an 
unexpected, unfamiliar, inimitable ac- 
cent. I looked at her without answer- 
ing, without knowing that I did not 



OBERMANN 183 

answer. A mystic half-light, an ethe- 
real veil, a mist enwrapped her, and in 
this shadowy haze her form grew vague 
and undefined. She seemed a fragrance 
of ideal beauty, a rapturous illusion, 
stamped for a moment with inconceiv- 
able reality. So this was the end of my 
delusion, now at last made clear. It 
is then true, I said to myself, that this 
attachment was of the nature of love. 
Its fetters had been upon me. Out of 
this weakness had arisen other doubts. 
Those years are irrevocable ; but to- 
day is free, to-day is still mine. 

I wandered towards the upper end 
of the valley, walking noiselessly in my 
intent abstraction. I had been given a 
sharp warning, but the spell followed 
me, and the power of the past seemed 
invincible. My soul was overflowing 
with thoughts of love, of companion- 
ship, in the tranquil shadows of those 
solitary places. There was one moment 
when I could have exclaimed, like those 



184 O BE KM AN N 

whose weakness I have more than 
once condemned : " To possess her and 
die!" 

But when, amid the silence, we 
remember that to-morrow all things 
may cease upon the earth, we see with 
clearer vision what we have done and 
what we ought to do with the gifts of 
life. What I have done ! Still young, 
I now stay myself at the fatal mo- 
ment. She and solitude would be the 
triumph of the heart. No ; forgetful- 
ness of the world without her, this is 
my law. Austere work, and the future ! 

I had reached the bend in the valley, 
and stood midway between the leaping 
torrent whose waters swept from the 
rocks above, and the songs of the coun- 
try ftte which came to me from afar. 
Those distant sounds of merry-making, 
wafted on the moving airs, were caught 
up and scattered, ever and anon, by 
swift eddies of the wind, and I knew 
the appointed hour when they would 



OBERMANN 185 

cease and be heard no more. But the 
torrent endured in its full strength, 
flowing, and forever flowing, even as 
the centuries pass away. The current 
of the waters is like the flight of our 
years. Many times has this been said, 
but in a thousand years it will be said 
again. The course of the waters will 
always be for us the most striking im- 
age of the inexorable flow of time. 
Voice of the torrent amid the darkness, 
thy voice alone is solemn under the 
peace of the heavens, and to thy voice 
alone ought we to listen ! 

Nothing is serious if it be not last- 
ing. Looked at from a higher plane, 
what are the things from which our last 
breath will separate us ? Shall I hesi- 
tate between a meeting which was born 
of chance, and the true ends of my 
destiny ; between a seductive phantasy, 
and the just, the generous use of the 
powers of the mind ? I should be yield- 
ing to the thought of an imperfect tie, 



186 OBERMANN 

of an aimless love, of a blind passion ! 
Do I not know the promise which she 
made to her family when she became 
a widow ? Thus the complete union 
is forbidden ; the question is a simple 
one, and ought no longer to interest 
me. Can the deceptive allurement of 
a fruitless love be worthy of man ? By 
devoting the faculties of our being to 
pleasure alone, we abandon ourselves 
to eternal death. However weak these 
faculties may be, I am responsible for 
them ; they must bear their fruit. I 
shall cherish and honor these gifts of 
life. . . . Profundity of space, shall it be 
in vain that we have been given eyes 
to behold thee ? The majesty of night 
repeats from age to age : " Woe to every 
soul who takes delight in servitude ! " 

Are we made to enjoy in this life 
the allurements of our passions ? After 
the gratification of our desires what 
boast could we make of the pleasures 
of a day ? If that is life, then life is 



OBERMANN 187 

nought. One year, ten years of indul- 
gence is a profitless amusement, and a 
too swift-coming bitterness. What will 
remain of these desires, when genera- 
tions of suffering or of madly heedless 
humanity shall have passed over our 
ashes ? Let us value lightly that which 
perishes quickly. In the midst of the 
great drama of the world, let us strive 
to play a different part. It is the fruit 
of our strong resolves that will perhaps 
live through the future. Man perish- 
eth. That may be, but let us strug- 
gle even though we perish ; and if the 
nothing is to be our portion, let it not 
come to us as a just reward. 

# # # 

Let us not descend below the level 
of our souls. 

# # # 

June 3Oth. 

Nothing occupies me, nothing inter- 
ests me; I still feel as though I were 
suspended in the void. I need one more 



i88 OBERMANN 

day, I think ; but only one. Then all 
this will end, since I have resolved that 
it shall ; but now all things seem to me 
clothed in melancholy. I am not un- 
decided, but moved to the point of 
stupor, as it were, and of exhaustion. I 
continue my letter so as to lean on you 
for support. 

* * 

I was alone for some time longer, 
and already felt less alien to the tran- 
quil harmony of nature. But while the 
supper was still in progress, and before 
the songs had ceased, I returned. 

Henceforth do not expect from me 
either unpardonable sloth or the old 
irresoluteness. Health and ease are gifts 
that cannot always be combined. I 
possess them now, and shall make use 
of them. May this resolve be hence- 
forth my rule of life. If I speak to 
men of their willful weaknesses, is it 
not meet that I should deny such weak- 
nesses to myself? 



OBERMANN 189 

I firmly believe that my only sphere 
is that of an author. On what sub- 
jects shall I write ? You already 
know approximately what they will 
be. But based on what model ? 
Surely, I shall imitate no one, unless it 
were by caprice, and in a short passage. 
It seems to me entirely incongruous to 
assume the manner of another writer 
if one can have a manner of one's own. 
As for the author who has no individ- 
ual manner, who is never carried away, 
never inspired, of what use is it for him 
to write ? But what will your style 
be ? Neither rigorously classic nor 
heedlessly free. In order to make our- 
selves worthy of being read we must 
recognize the true fitness of things. 
But who will be judge of this? My- 
self, apparently. Have I not read au- 
thors who were cautious in their work, 
as well as those who wrote with greater 
independence ? It is for me to choose, 
according to my abilities, a form of ex- 



i 9 o OBERMANN 

pression that will suit, on the one hand, 
my subject or my century, and, on 
the other hand, my character, without 
willfully neglecting any acknowledged 
rules, but without expressly studying 
them. What will be your guaranty 
of success ? The only natural one. 
If it is not sufficient to say things that 
are true, and to strive to express them 
in persuasive language, I shall not have 
success ; that is the whole question. I 
do not consider it imperative to win 
approbation during one's lifetime, un- 
less one is doomed to the misfortune 
of earning one's living by the pen. 

Pass on before, you who clamor for 
the glory of the drawing-room. Pass 
on, men of the world, men of eminence 
where all things are dependent upon 
personal influence, you who are fertile 
in ideas of the day, in books of the 
party, in expedients to produce an 
effect, and who, even after having 
adopted everything, renounced every- 



OBERMANN 191 

thing, returned to everything, used 
everything, are still able to dash off a 
few irresolute pamphlets, in order that 
it may be said : " Here he comes with 
his expressive words, cleverly put to- 
gether, but beaten out rather thin ! " 
Pass on before, men seductive and 
seduced ; for in any case you will pass 
quickly, and it is well that you should 
have your day. So display yourselves 
now, in all your cleverness and pro- 
sperity. 

Is not an author almost sure of mak- 
ing his work useful, without degrading 
it by intrigues which have no other pur- 
pose than to hasten his own celebrity ? 
It matters not, therefore, whether he 
bury himself as a recluse or whether he 
live quietly in the city, for his name is, 
after all, not unknown, and his book 
sells. ... It is probable that his work 
will, sooner or later, take its right place 
in literature with as much certainty as 
though he had begged for approbation. 



i 9 2 OBERMANN 

Thus my task is clearly marked out. 
It only remains for me to carry it into 
execution, if not happily and brilliantly, 
at least with a certain degree of zeal 
and dignity. 21 I renounce many things, 
limiting myself almost entirely to the 
avoidance of sorrow. Am I to be 
pitied in my retreat when I possess 
activity, hope, and friendship ? To be 
occupied, without being hard-worked, 
contributes essentially to the peace of 
the soul, which is the least deceptive 
of any good. We no longer have need 
of pleasures when the simplest gifts 
bring us enjoyment. Who does not 
see that hope is better than memories ? 
In our life, which moves onward in a 
ceaseless current, the future alone is 
important. The past vanishes, and even 
the present escapes our grasp, unless we 
use it as a means to an end. Pleasant 
memories of days that are gone, are not, 
in my eyes, a boon to be desired, ex- 
cepting by those whose imaginations 



OBERMANN 193 

are weak, and although once vivid, have 
become impotent. Such men, having 
pictured things in other than the garb 
of reality, become enthusiastic, but the 
test of experience disillusions them ; 
and having forfeited their exaggerated 
conceits, their imagination becomes 
powerless. True fiction, so to speak, 
being denied them, they have need of 
cheering memories, for otherwise no 
thought delights them. But the man 
of strong and sound imagination can 
always form an adequately clear picture 
of life's different gifts, at least when his 
lot in the world grants him sufficient 
calmness of spirit ; he is not of those 
who, in this regard, win knowledge 
from experience. 

For the daily sweetness of life, I shall 
have our correspondence, and Fonsalbe ; 
these two ties will satisfy me. 

& # # 

How many unhappy men have said, 
from century to century, that the flow- 



i 9 4 OBERMANN 

ers have been given us to adorn our 
fetters, to delude us at the beginning 
of life, and even to aid in keeping us 
enthralled until the end ! But they do 
still more, and perhaps as vainly. They 
seem to typify a mystery which the 
mind of man will never fathom. 

If flowers were only beautiful to our 
eyes, they would still have the power 
to charm us ; but, ever and anon, their 
fragrance stirs our soul as though we 
had beheld a vision of a happier world, 
had heard an unexpected voice, or had 
found again the way to the hidden life. 
Whether I seek this mystic breath, or 
whether it steals upon me swiftly and 
unforeseen, I accept it as the strong 
but evanescent expression of a thought 
whose secret the material world holds 
concealed. 

Colors must also have their elo- 
quence ; all things may be symbols. 
But perfumes are more penetrating be- 
cause they are more mysterious, and 



OBERMANN 195 

while in our daily experience we re- 
quire tangible truths, the great activi- 
ties of the soul are based on a different 
order of truth, on essential truth, which 
in our faltering course is far beyond our 
grasp. 

Jonquil, violet, tuberose ! you bloom 
but for a few fleeting moments, so that 
you may not overwhelm our weakness, 
or perhaps so as to leave us in the doubt 
wherein our souls, now exalted, now 
discouraged, are tossed about. . . -.V.M; 

What is it I desire ? To hope, and 
then to hope no more, is to be, or not 
to be : such is man. But how is it that 
after the accents of a soul - stirring 
voice, after the fragrance of the flow- , 
ers, and the whispers of the imagina- 
tion, and the soarings of thought, we 
must die ? . . . 

There are two flowers, silent per- 
haps, and almost scentless, but which, 
by their enduring character, appeal to 
me in a way I cannot express. The 



196 OBERMANN 

memories they bring up carry me for- 
cibly into the past as though these links 
of time prophesied of happy days. 
These simple flowers are the corn- 
flower of the fields and the early Easter 
daisy the meadow marguerite. 

The corn flower is the flower of 
rural life. It ought to be seen amid 
the freedom of natural ways, hidden 
among the grain, surrounded by the 
echoes of the farm, the crowing of the 
cocks, in the footsteps of the aged hus- 
bandmen ; and I cannot answer that 
such a sight would not lead to tears. 

The violet and the meadow-daisy 
are rivals. They have the same bloom- 
ing time, the same simplicity. The vio- 
let holds us captive at first sight ; the 
daisy claims our love from year to year. 
They are to each other what a painted 
portrait is to a marble bust. The violet 
tells of the purest sentiment of love ; 
this is the language she speaks to up- 
right hearts. But this very love, so 



OBERMANN 197 

sweet, so persuasive, is only a beautiful 
accident of life. It vanishes, while the 
peace that is in the fields is ours until 
our last hour. The daisy is the patri- 
archal symbol of this gentle rest. 

If I attain to old age, if one day 
still full of thoughts, but speaking no 
more to men, I have a friend beside 
me to receive my last farewell upon 
the earth, let my chair be placed upon 
the grass of the fields, beneath the sun, 
under the vast sky, and may the tran- 
quil daisies bloom around me, so that 
as I leave the life that passes, I may 
behold a vision of the infinite illusion. 



NOTES 



NOTE i, Page 9 

TN drawing this contrast between vivid imagi- 
* nations and true sensibility, Senancour makes 
use of the words romanesque and romantique, which 
seem to have had at that time a more distinctive 
meaning than they have to-day. The adjective 
romantique as applied simply to scenery and effects 
of nature was, in fact, created by Jean-Jacques 
Rousseau, and was probably used in that restricted 
sense by his successors of the romantic school. 
Although the common use of the words is more 
intermingled at the present day, their definitions 
seem to imply a certain distinction. They read 
as follows : " Romanesque : qui tient du roman, 
qui est merveilleux, incroyable, passionne. . . . 
Romantique : qui a dans sa nature . . . quelque 
chose de poetique qui 1'eleve au-dessus ou le met 
en dehors de la realite prosaique." 

NOTE 2, Page 15 

The Ranz des Vacbes, the pastoral air or cattle- 
call which has been termed the cattle-Marseillaise, 
is played and sung by the Swiss herdsmen while 



200 NOTES 

leading the cows to the high-mountain pastures. 
The instrument used is, according to some, a 
bagpipe ; according to others, an Alpine horn ; 
while still another authority asserts that the herds- 
men play on long reeds made of the bark of the 
alder, birch, or willow. The melody usually opens 
with a sad and plaintive adagio, followed by an 
allegro, and closes with an adagio. When this 
familiar rustic air was played in the Swiss regi- 
ments of France, the first intense feeling of de- 
light among the troops was followed by a deep 
melancholy and homesickness as the sounds died 
away ; for this reason the playing of it was finally 
forbidden in the French army. Not only does 
each canton have its own ranz, with its distinctive 
music and words, but even the many patois in 
every canton have their separate ranz. The most 
celebrated ranz are those of Appenzell and Siben- 
thal. That of Appenzell was transcribed by 
Meyerbeer ; and Rossini, in the first act of William 
Tell, has introduced the characteristic phrase of the 
ranz of Sibenthal : "Sibenthal ! Sibenthal ! oui, 
tes Sommets, tes vallons." 

It is probable that the ranz heard most fre- 
quently by Senancour was sung in the romance 
patois of la Gruyere of the canton of Fribourg. 
The opening words were : 



NOTES 201 

" Le z'armailli dei Columbette 
De bon matin se san leha. 
Ha ha ! Ha ha ! 
Liauba ! Liauba ! por aria ! " 

Fenimore Cooper has translated this call : 
" The cowherds of Columbette arise at an early 
hour. Ha ha ! Ha ha ! Liauba ! Liauba ! in order 
to milk ! Come all of you, Black and white, Red 
and mottled, Young and old ; Beneath this oak I 
am about to milk you, Beneath this poplar I am 
about to press. Liauba ! Liauba ! in order to 
milk ! " 

NOTE 3, Page 16 

The following note is translated from the 
French edition : 

" Kuher in German, Armailli in Romance, is 
the herdsman who leads the cows to the moun- 
tains, spends the entire season in the high pas- 
tures, and makes cheese. Usually the Armaillis 
stay for four or five months among the high 
Alps, completely separated from the women, and 
often even from other men." 

NOTE 4, Page 19 

Tinian is one of the Ladrone islands in the 
Pacific, formerly celebrated for its wonderful fer- 
tility. 



202 NOTES 

NOTE 5, Page 23 

Letter XLI, in which Senancour argues in 
favor of suicide, and the following letters up to 
LI, mark the crisis in his inward struggle. Later 
we shall see a gradual decrease of his discdntent 
and irresolution, and a stronger control over 
himself. 

NOTE 6, Page 54 

St. Pacomus, who together with St. Anthony 
was the founder of monastic life in the Thebaid, 
was born in 292 A. D., of pagan parents, and was 
a soldier under Constantine during the early years 
of his life. He then became a monk, and prac- 
ticed in solitude the most austere and rigid disci- 
pline. " During fifteen years he never lay down, 
and slept only standing, supported against a wall, 
or half-seated upon a stone bench, after days of 
the hardest labor, as a carpenter, a mason, or a 
cleanser of pits." Montalembert, The Monks of 
the West. 

St. Anthony had been the founder of cenobitic 
life, or life in common as distinguished from the 
isolated life of the anchorites ; but he had gov- 
erned the cenobites merely by oral instruction and 
example. St. Pacomus was the first to give them 
for their guidance a minute and complete written 
rule. He also established the first monastery, 
or group of eight monasteries, on the Nile, at 



NOTES 203 

Tabenne, where he united five thousand monks 
under his rule. He died of the plague in 348. 

NOTE 7, Page 57 

Chessel was the country-seat of Senancour*s 
friend to whom these letters were addressed. 

NOTE 8, Page 60 

The Schwartz-see or lake of Omeinez lies on 
a secluded route from Thun to Gruyere. 

NOTE 9, Page 68 

By Roman Senancour doubtless means one of 
the numerous Romance dialects now spoken in 
western Europe, in Italy, Spain, France, Switzer- 
land, and the Tyrol. It is possible that he re- 
ferred particularly to the Romance dialect used in 
the Gruyere district known as the " Gruerien." 

NOTE 10, Page 69 

Saint-Saphorin is situated on the margin of 
lake Leman between Vevey and Cully. 

NOTE n, Page 88 

I have not been able to find Imenstrom on any 
of the maps of Switzerland, but from Senancour's 
description it would seem to lie in the canton 
of Fribourg, near the frontier line of the Vaud, 
and not far from the Dent de Jaman. Senancour 
speaks of the valley and gorge of Imenstrom as 



204 NOTES 

a secluded spot hidden among the lower moun- 
tains, and within sight of the eastern end of lake 
Leman, but he makes no mention of any village 
by that name. 

NOTE 12, Page 97 

Slisama, or Slissama, was the daughter of Semo 
and the sister of the famous Cuthullin. In several 
places in Ossian's poems occur the words, " like 
a dropping rock in the desert," and, " like cold- 
dropping rocks ; " and in The Songs of Selma^ " the 
son of the rock" is mentioned, meaning, as is 
explained in a note, the echoing back of the 
human voice from a rock. This entire descrip- 
tion of Ossian's Caledonia by Senancour seems 
to be founded on Macpherson's poems without 
being an exact reproduction or containing any 
literal quotation. But what is clear is that Senan- 
cour was profoundly impressed by the poems of 
Ossian, and seems not to have doubted their 
authenticity. 

NOTE 13, Page 115 

Hegesias was a noted philosopher of the Cyre- 
naic School at Alexandria, under the Ptolemies 
(about 260 B. c.). He taught the most complete 
selfishness, the impossibility of happiness, and that 
the chief good consists in being free from all trou- 
ble and pain. He advocated indifference to death, 
and his teaching drove many persons to suicide ; 



NOTES 205 

he was therefore forbidden by Ptolemy to teach, 
and was surnamed HfuriOa.va.Tos (literally, " death- 
persuading " ). 

NOTE 14, Page 122 

Senancour projected an extensive work, la 
Raison des Chases humaines^ the complete plan of 
which he never carried out. The Reveries were 
to have formed the introduction, and his other 
books were merely parts, so to speak, of the whole 
work. 

NOTE 15, Page 133 

This quotation which ought to read, " Animalh 
out em homo non percipit ea, qua sunt spiritus Dei" 
is the first half of the Vulgate version of I. Corin- 
thians^ 2 : 14. The rest of the verse reads, Stul- 
titia enim est ////', et non potest intelligere : quia 
tpiritualiter examinatur. " But the sensual man 
perceiveth not these things that are of the Spirit of 
God : for it is foolishness to him, and he cannot 
understand : because it is spiritually examined " 
(Douay Version). 

NOTE 1 6, Page 138 

Britannicus by Racine, second act, first scene. 
Nero speaking to his governor Burrhus : 

" N'en doutez point, Burrhus : malgre ses injustices ; 
C'est ma mere, et je veux ignorer ses caprices. 
Mais je ne pretends plus ignorer ni souffrir 
Le ministre insolent qui les ose nourrir. 



206 NOTES 

Pallas de ses conseils cmpoisonne ma mere ; 
II seduit, chaque jour, Britannicus mon frere ; 
Us 1'ecoutent lui seul : et qui suivrait leurs pas 
Les trouverait peut-etre assembles chez Pallas. 
C'en est trop. De tous deux il faut que je 1'ecarte. 
Pour la derniere fois, qu'il s'eloigne, qu'il parte : 
Je le veux, je 1'ordonne ; et que la fin du jour 
Ne le retrouve plus dans Rome ou dans ma cour. 
Allez : cet ordre importe au salut de 1* empire." 

NOTE 17, Page 150 

The work referred to is probably that of 
Saint-Martin, French mystic and theosophist, and 
follower of Jakob Boehme, who wrote at the close 
of the eighteenth century, and the beginning of 
the nineteenth, De I 'Esprit des Chases, Coup eTaeil 
philosophique sur la nature des etres et sur Tobjet de 
leur existence . . . par le philosopbe inconnu (Louis- 
Claude de Saint-Martin), Paris, 1800. 

NOTE 1 8, Page 156 

The story of Fonsalbe is based upon Senan- 
cour*s own unhappy marriage, which like that of 
Fonsalbe was entered into, not from affection, but 
from a feeling of obligation and a strong sense of 
honor. 

NOTE 19, Page 175 

Senancour's first meeting with Madame 

Del was probably on that day in March to 

which he refers at the close of Letter XI. 



NOTES 207 

NOTE 20, Page 181 

The letters in the Supplement, from XC to 
the end, were not included in the first edition of 
Obermann. They were collected later, in about 
1833 or after, and were added to the edition of 
1865, for which George Sand wrote the preface. 
The second edition of 1833 na< ^ been brought out 
with a preface by Sainte-Beuve. 

NOTE 21, Page 192 

Not long after this, and many years before 
writing the Meditations, Senancour returned to 
Paris and threw himself into an active but obscure 
literary life. While he remained unknown to the 
general public and lived in almost complete seclu- 
sion, he gathered around him a small group of 
friends among whom were men well known in 
literature. Since his death, one of his most 
enthusiastic admirers, M. Arthur Boisseau, of the 
Paris Opera and the Societe des Concerts^ has writ- 
ten a symphony on Obermann. 



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H. O. Houghton & Company, 
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