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D. WILSON. 

BOOKSELLER, 

Kirkgate, 

BRADFORD. 



THE SCOTT LIBRARY, 



SENANCOUR'S OBERMANN. 



THE SCOTT LIBRARY. 

,*, FOR FULL LIST OP THE VOLUMES IN THIS SERIES, 
SEE CATALOGUE AT END OF BOOiC 



Obermann. By £tienne Pivert 
DE Senancour. Translated, 
WITH Introduction and Notes, 
BY J. Anthony Barnes, b.a. 



VOL. I. 



THE WALTER SCOTT PUBLISHING CO., LTD. 

LONDON AND FELLING-ON-TYNE. 

NEW YORK: 3 EAST 14TH STREET. 

AND MELBOURNE. 



LIBRARY 

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA 
SANTA BARBARA 



INTRODUCTION. 

Every reader of Matthew Arnold must have felt his 
curiosity aroused by the two poems entitled "Stanzas 
in Memory of the Author of Obermann,'''' and '■''Ober- 
mann Once More," the former composed in 1849, and 
the latter some twenty years afterwards. They tell us 
little about the person to whom they refer, but the 
air of mystery with which they surround him holds 
our attention with a spell far stronger than the interest 
of personal details. They hint at more than they re- 
veal, like the silken drapery beneath which we can 
trace the profile of a recumbent marble figure. They 
suggest a beauty that is firm, clear-cut, and noble, 
though infinitely sad in its marble coldness, and they 
make us eager to lift the veil and study every detail 
of the figure for ourselves. They call up the image 
of a stern and lonely spirit wandering amid scenes of 
Alpine purity and grandeur, wrapped in silent and 
sorrowful meditation — 

" Ves, though the virgin mountain air 
Fresh through these pages blows; 
Though to these leaves the glaciers spare 
The soul of their white snows ; 

Though here a mountain-murmur swells 
Of many a dark-bough'd pine ; 
Though, as you read, you hear the btlls 
Of the high-pasturing kine — 



vi INTRODUCTION. 

Yet, through the hum of torrent lone, 
And brooding mountain-bee, 
There sobs I know not wliat ground-tone 
Of human agony. " 

This Alpine recluse is ranked as a seer with Words- 
worth and Goethe — 



" Yet, of the spirits who have reign'd 
In this our troubled day, 
I know but two, who have attain'd, 
Save thee, to see their way. 



By England's lakes, in grey old age, 
His quiet home one keeps ; 
And one, the strong much-toiling Sage, 
In German Weimar sleeps." 



When the poet is recalled from communion with this 
solitary spirit and his dreams to the realities of daily 
life, he cries : 

" I go, Pate drives me : but I leave 
Half of my life with you." 

And in the later poem, Obermann is addressed as the 
"master of my wandering- youth." Some of Arnold's 
finest and best known lines are put into his lips ; the 
description, for instance, of the effete Roman world, be- 
ginning- : 

" On that hard Pagan world disgust 
And secret loathing fell ; " 



INTRODUCTION. vii 

and the beautiful, if despairing-, reference to the Founder 
of Christianity : 

" Now he is dead ! Far hence he lies 
In the lorn Syrian town ; 
And on his grave, with shining eyes, 
The Syrian stars look down." 

The place assigned to Obermann in these poems is 
confirmed by a note appended to them in prose, in 
which Arnold speaks of the profound inwardness, 
the austere sincerity of the work, the delicate feeling- for 
nature which it exhibits, and the melancholy eloquence 
of many passages of it, and sums up his appreciation 
in the words: "To me, indeed, it will always seem 
that the impressiveness of this production can hardly 
be rated too high." 

A work which Matthew Arnold, " the literary dictator 
of the nineteenth century," could eulogize so highly, 
must always appeal to the curiosity, even if it fails to 
command the admiration, of English readers. 

Other great critics have held Obermann in equally 
high esteem, though it had to wait long for their 
verdict. It was published in 1804, more than a hundred 
years ago, and for a quarter of a century it endured a 
neglect as profound as that which befell Fitzgerald's 
Omar, and for similar reasons — the diflidence of the 
author, and the fact that the book appeared before the 
psychological hour for its appreciation had struck. 
Apparently Senancour himself regarded it as a failure, 
for he announced his resolve never to reprint it, and 
dismembered it to incorporate its best passages in later 
works. Sainte-Beuve, the Matthew Arnold of French 



viii INTRODUCTION. 

critics, was one of the first to call attention to it, and 
in 1S33 he supphed the preface to a new edition which 
Senancour reluctantly allowed to appear. Seven years 
later a third edition was broug-ht out, this time with a 
preface by Georg-e Sand. To her its chief interest was 
psychological, and she traces its affinities with Goethe's 
Werther and Chateaubriand's Rene. Werther represents 
frustrated passion ; Rene i\\Q. consciousness of superior 
powers without the will to exercise them ; Obennann 
the clear, persistent, admitted consciousness of inade- 
quate powers. Rene says: "'If I could will, I could 
Ao;'' Obermann says: 'What is the use of willing? 
I am powerless to do. . . .' Obermann is a manly 
breast with feeble arms, an ascetic soul possessed by 
a cankering" doubt which betrays its impotence instead 
of exhibiting its daring. He is a philosopher who just 
missed being; a saint." She traces in Obermann a 
distant kinship with Hamlet, "that obscure yet pro- 
found type of human weakness, so complete even in its 
failure, so logical in its very inconsistency." 

Vinet, the great Swiss theologian and critic, also 
draws out an elaborate parallel between Obermann and 
Rene, not to the advantage of the former, which was 
sure to be found wanting when weighed in the scales 
of orthodoxy. In Norway, Sweden, F'inland, and 
America the book is well known and has found en- 
thusiastic admirers. But in 1804, the year in which 
Napoleon was proclaimed Emperor, France was en- 
g^rossed by the agitations and hopes that followed the 
Revolution and persisted through the stormful years of 
Napoleon, and few cared to listen to the introspective 
musing's of a solitary dreamer. The popular note was 



INTRODUCTION. ix 

dogmatic Voltarianism, that ig-nored the maladies of 
the soul and was confident of finding- complete satis- 
faction for human needs in external prosperity and 
splendour. But by the year 1830 this mood had 
changed; Goethe and Byron were in vogue; doubt had 
again awakened, doubt of materialism itself as well as 
of the religion it had so jubilantly banished; doubt of 
the wisdom of human laws and the worth of human 
ambitions, as well as of the laws and sanctions once 
believed in as divine. Hence the men of 1830 found in 
Obennann the expression of a mood they themselves 
were passing through, a phase of universal doubt that 
reduced all things to solution in the hope that some 
clear order would crystallize out of them by laws of 
nature's own. All this had been felt and uttered a 
quarter of a century before by a poor and unknown 
writer now growing grey in their midst. 

Many who turn to Obennann in the hope of finding 
the haunting, elusive charm distilled from it by Matthew 
Arnold will be disappointed, and will agree with 
A. E. Waite, a recent critic and translator, that the 
poet presents him "in a kind of transfigured aspect." 
R. L. Stevenson confesses that he always owed Arnold 
a grudge for leading him to " the cheerless fields of 
Obennann " in the days of his own youthful despon- 
dencies. Much of it is akin to one of Tennyson's 
poems, "Confessions of a Second-rate Sensitive Mind," 
and might be aptly described by that title. It is 
perhaps the fullest expression in literature of the mood 
of ennui, that untranslatable word which occurs in so 
many of the letters. It is a diagnosis of the malady 
from within, as Marie Bashkirtseff's Journal is a diag- 



X INTRODUCTION. 

nosis of frustrated ambition. Obermann is a pure and 
lofty soul, with fine sensibilities, and a great craving' to 
love and to serve, but disheartened and disenchanted; 
chafed and repelled by the imperfections of the existing 
social order, he indulges in vague and beautiful dreams 
of unattainable ideals, only to wake to the paralyzing" 
consciousness of his own impotence and life-weari- 
ness. 

Sometimes this mood of ennui reflects with wonderful 
clearness and colour Obermann's natural surroundings, 
as some still forest pool reflects the flowers that fringe 
its margin and the trees that shut it in; blue sky and 
floating cloud are mirrored in it by day, and starry 
depths of space by night; sometimes an impatient gust 
ruffles its surface with chasing ripples as though it 
were trying to break away and flow like a living 
stream, a source of energy and fertility, but the 
impulse passes by, and the pool is there still, as 
motionless as ever. 

Obermann is the pathology of a soul unequal to the 
demands of life, and scourged to exhaustion by the 
tyranny of the ideal. In a normal human being every 
faculty carries in itself the impulse to its own exercise, 
and in that exercise there is pleasure; or even if it be 
arduous and painful the craving of the whole man for 
some end is sufficient to outweigh the discomfort of 
particular faculties. But in Obermann the driving force 
of life is not sufficient for the machinery. His wheels 
move slowly and painfully. None of the prizes of life 
are sufficient to rouse him from his inertia. Not that 
he is blind to them. He sees them only too clearly; he 
sees throuirh them and knows beforehand how hollow 



INTRODUCTION. xi 

and unsatisfying; they are. Mere selfish pleasure has 
no charms for him. Power, benevolently used, is better 
worth striving for, but he sees that the reformer is often 
baffled, and that his greatest triumphs fall far short of 
establishing" the ideal order. Love is the one illusion 
that could still cast over him a spell, but he has seen 
its bloom rubbed off by the sordidness of poverty and 
its promise blighted by fatal incompatibility, and he 
prefers to let it hover before him as a dream rather 
than risk all in the great venture. As a moralist and 
philosopher he follows Rousseau, and advocates a 
return to nature and simplicity of life. 

His one intellectual interest is in analyzing and 
recording his own sensations, and he has sufficient 
physical vigour to find a moderate pleasure in bodily 
exertion. In Letter ix. he describes the restfulness of 
spirit he found in a quiet week of grape-gathering, in 
terms that remind us of Thoreau and his bean-field. 
His most interesting letters are those describing long 
solitary walks in the Forest of Fontainebleau or among 
the Alps. He comes nearest to the true and joyous self 
for which he is always yearning like a home-sick exile, 
when he has climbed the Dent du Midi and put the 
world beneath his feet (vii.), and he tastes positive 
exhilaration and rapture when he has lost his way in 
crossing the St. Bernard, and commits himself in the 
dark to the course of a mountain torrent, slipping, 
plunging, falling, forgetting everything in the tension 
of muscular exertion and the effort of self-preservation. 
And yet even then his delight is self-conscious, and he 
keeps saying to himself: " For this one moment I am 
willing what I ought, and doing what I will" (xci.). 



xii INTRODUCTION. 

There is little plot or coherence in the book, and 
man}- of its admirers, including- Saint-Beuve and George 
Sand, think it would be seen to best advantag^e in 
extracts, while others maintain, with the late M. Leval- 
lois, one of its most competent critics, that " it exhibits 
the only unity possible in a work of this kind, unity of 
soul ... a personality sometimes in harmony, some- 
times disordered, but always in touch with Nature." 
Apart from considerations of literary completeness, the 
present translator would have preferred to omit some 
of the reiterated expressions of personal moods and 
tedious philosophical discussions such as that on the 
nature of numbers in Letter XLVii., or the two frag- 
ments between xxxv. and xxxvi. on the good man and 
false contempt of money, or the fictitious Manual of 
Pseusophanes in xxxiii. But even when uninteresting 
in themselves these passages all help to throw light 
upon the working- of the author's mind, and have their 
value for students of psychology. 

Though the epistolary form of the book is evidently 
a mere literary device, and the imaginary friend to 
whom the letters are addressed is a lay figure of whom 
no clear picture is presented, the contents have every 
appearance of being a genuine record of experience. 
The descriptions of scenery both in Switzerland and 
Fontainebleau are as detailed and accurate as if pen- 
cilled on the spot, like James Smetham's "ventilators," 
and the varying^ shades of the writer's mood, his self- 
contradictions and inconsistencies, and the essential 
sameness of the ground-tone of ennui, have an equally 
convincing appearance of verisimilitude. It is probably 
safe to assume that we have here the contents of a 



INTRODUCTION. xiii 

g'enuine private diary disguised in the form of letters, 
and moulded on a framework of incident more or less 
fictitious. In later life Senancour denied the strictly 
autobiographical character of the work, just as Borrow 
did in the case ot Laveiigro, and no doubt both authors 
handled their materials freely enough to justify them 
in taking shelter under this denial from inferences 
based on the supposition that their works were auto- 
biographical. A brief comparison of the story of 
Obertnann with the known facts of Senancour's life 
will bring out the intentional discrepancies. 

The letters are supposed to cover a period of ten 
years, beginning immediately after the sudden flight 
of the writer from his home in France to Switzerland 
to escape the prospective yoke of an uncongenial voca- 
tion. He represents himself as being not yet twenty- 
one years of age. After a few months of wandering 
in search of an ideal peace and well-being, he is recalled 
to Paris to save the remnants of his fortune, now in 
the hands of the lawyers (i.-ix.). Weary of the law's 
delays, he seeks out a hermitage in the Forest of 
Fontainebleau, and spends the summer of the second 
year there (x.-xxv.). Spring of the third year finds 
him again in Paris, and his aff"airs are at last wound 
up, leaving him practically penniless, but with the 
remote prospect of a windfall that may restore to him 
a modest competence (xxvi.-xxxv.). The fourth year 
is passed over in silence, and the fifth is only re- 
presented by a brief fragment. The sixth year is spent 
in Lyons (xxxvi.-xLix.), where a chance meeting with 
a former object of his affections, now married to a 
man much older than herself, stirs his pulses for a 



xiv INTRODUCTION. 

moment, but only to let him fall back into a deeper 
sense of his helplessness. The letters of this and the 
following year include discussions on various topics, 
from the moral influence of feminine fashions to the 
ethics of suicide. Three letters bridge over the seventh 
year, which includes a visit to Paris (l.-lii.). In spring- 
of the eighth year we find Obermann again in Switzer- 
land, and before the end of summer he settles down 
at Imenstrom, near the head of Lake Geneva, on a 
small estate which an improvement in his fortunes 
has enabled him to purchase. The letters take a more 
cheerful tone as he describes the erection of his wooden 
chalet and outbuildings, and his plans for spending his 
time (liii.-lxxiii.). In the ninth year a further element 
of interest is brought into his life by the arrival of 
an old friend, Fonsalbe, to share his solitude (lxxiv.- 
Lxxxix.). The letters of the tenth year were added 
as a supplement to the second edition (1833). The 
sister of Fonsalbe, who is the old love of Obermann 
already referred to, now appears on the scene, but she 
is bound by a promise to her late husband's family not 
to marry again, and Obermann has not sufficient resolu- 
tion or confidence in his own destiny to yield to his 
impulses and persuade her to break it. So once again 
he resigns himself to the austere life of a solitary 
thinker. 

Turning now to the life of Senancour himself, we find 
its main outlines are clear, but in details there is either 
vagueness or complete dearth of information. Little 
was known of him by his own contemporaries. 
Matthew Arnold, writing three years after his death, 
was uncertain whether he was buried: — 



INTRODUCTION. xv 

" Where with clear-rustling wave 
The scented pines of Switzerland 
Stand dark round thy green grave; 

Or whether, by maligner fate, 
Among the swarms of men, 
Where between granite terraces 
The blue Seine rolls her wave, 
The Capital of Pleasure sees 
Thy hardly-heard-of grave;" 

though he clears up the point in the second poem: 

" At Sevres by the Seine 

(If Paris that brief flight allow) 
My humble tomb explore! 
It bears : Eternity, be thou 
My refuge! and no more.'" 

Doubtless this absence of personal details about the 
author constituted part of the charm of Obermann to 
Matthew Arnold, who was fond of such strange 
wandering figures, whether real or imaginary — as, for 
example, The Scholar Gipsy, The Gipsy Child by the 
Sea Shore, and Empedocles on Etna. The best authority 
is a monograph on the life and works of Senancour, 
published in 1897 by the late M. Jules Levallois, an 
enthusiast who devoted a great part of his life to the 
investigation of Senancour's history, and who had the 
advantage of personal acquaintance with Senancour's 
daughter and of perusing the scanty autobiographical 
material in her possession. But even this book is 
much more complete and luminous as a study of 
Senancour's works and the development of his thought 
than as a record of his outer life. 



xvi INTRODUCTION. 

The bare facts, as established by Levallois, are as 
follows. Etienne Pivert de Senancour was born in 
Paris in the year 1770. His father was a coiitrdlleur 
des rentes, and had also the title of conseiller dti roi. 
In 1789 {cct. 19), in consequence of some domestic 
differences, he accompanied his mother to Fribourg-, 
in Switzerland. It is usually supposed that their de- 
parture was due to Senancour's revolt ag^ainst an 
attempt on the part of his father to make him a 
priest, but Levallois treats this report as legendary, 
and Senancour himself in later life explicitly denied 
that he and his father were not on good terms. 

A year later Senancour, still at Fribourg, married a 
young- lady of good family but apparently without a 
dowry, and of a disposition incompatible with that of 
her husband. The explanation has been offered that 
Senancour married in haste, and more from a too scru- 
pulous conscientiousness than from g^enuine affection, 
and the facts are said to be veiled under the episode 
related of Fonsalbe in Letter lxvii. M. Levallois 
was unable to elicit any confirmation of this view 
from Mile. Senancour, who simply " shrugg^ed her 
shoulders" when he mentioned it. But it was not a 
matter on which a father would be likely to take his 
daughter into his confidence, and even if she were 
aware of it she might prefer to keep her own counsel 
when talking to his biog^rapher. Her expressive 
gesture might mean anything. Senancour had seen 
this analogy to Fonsalbe delicately suggested in an 
article by Saint-Beuve, and he pencilled in the margin 
of his copy: "All these analogies may be misleading"; 
but the mildness of his disclaimer does not leave us 



INTRODUCTION. xvii 

much the wiser, Senancour's wife died six years after 
the marriag-e, leaving- him with a son and daughter. 
Both his parents seem to have died not long- before. 

The Revolution had broken out a few weeks before 
Senancour left Paris in 17S9, and during- the Reign of 
Terror he was constantly passing to and fro between 
France and Switzerland, in a vain endeavour to save 
some remnants of the family property. These journeys 
were full of risk, and he was several times arrested 
under suspicion of being a refractory priest or an 
emigre, but his coolness and transparent sincerity 
brought him off safely. Few things in Obennann are 
more unaccountable than the absence of any reference 
to the scenes of the Revolution. The storming of the 
Bastille took place a month before his first departure, 
and in his later visits he must have seen something of 
the deluge of blood in the streets of Paris, but no hint 
of guillotine or grape-shot is given in his pages. 
Matthew Arnold's assertion that the fiery storm of the 
French Revolution, and the first faint promise and 
dawn of the new world, may be felt and almost touched 
in Ohermann, is only true of the general spirit of the 
book. The writer is oblivious of current events. 

After the death of his wife Senancour reluctantly left 
Switzerland for Paris, and began the long struggle for 
a livelihood as an author. His first book, Reveries 
sit r la nature primitive de Vhoinjue, was written in 1797 
at the house of a friend at Villemetrie, near Senlis, and 
published in 1799, but it fell dead from the press. 
Obermann was begun in Paris in 1801, and finished at 
Agis, near Fribourg, in 1^03. These dates, given by 
M. Levallois, do not preclude the supposition already 

2 



xviii INTRODUCTION. 

stated that the letters were worked up from previously 
existing material. 

The chief points in which the imaginary circumstances 
of Obermann differ from the actual facts of Senancour's 
life may now be summarized in the words of M. 
Levallois. "Senancour was married, Obermann is a 
bachelor ; Senancour was poor and became still poorer, 
Obermann is fairly well off at the beginning of the 
book, and is so far favoured by circumstances that 
he escapes the cares of wealth, and yet fashions for 
himself eventually a very comfortable existence." But 
in the main the outer life of Obermann coincides with 
that of its author, and in a book that is chiefly a record 
of solitary musings it would be easy to introduce the 
changes in matters of fact enumerated above. Senan- 
cour's reluctance to have it regarded as autobiographical, 
and his subsequent dislike of the book and anxiety to 
suppress it, were probably due to the feeling that in it 
he had laid his soul too bare to the universal prick of 
light. All critics are argreed that Obermann is a perfect 
portraiture of Senancour's inner life between the ages 
of twenty and thirty, if not of his external circumstances. 

On its first appearance in 1804, the book attracted no 
attention. Its author was too guileless and diffident 
to force it into notice, and he had no friendly log-rollers 
to perform the service for him. But in the following 
year he unwittingly took the surest means of gaining a 
hearing by publishing a book which shocked the unco' 
guidy and aroused some hostility in the religious press. 
It was entitled De F Anion r considcrc dans les lois rcelles 
et dans les formes sociales de rnnioti des sexes; and its 
object, as defined by its author in a later edition, was 



INTRODUCTION. xix 

"to combat alike the levity which ignores principles 
and the austerity which perverts them." A sufficient 
idea of its contents may be formed from the passage 
quoted from it at the end of Letter lxxx., and the 
author's views on the same topic may be further 
illustrated by Letter lxiii. 

Senancour's career henceforth was that of a quiet, 
inoffensive, hard-working- man of letters struggling to 
support himself by his pen, and at the same time to 
find such expression as might be possible for those 
high and pure ideals that were the source of his 
discontent and the secret of whatever charm his work 
still possesses. He attempted a play, wrote several 
political pamphlets, contributed to Reviews and 
Dictionaries of Biography, and compiled to order 
Histories of China and of Rome. All these were mere 
hackwork ; the books in which Senancour reveals 
the development of his soul will be considered more 
fully after this outline of his external history. 

In 1827 the second edition of his Resume dc Vhistoire 
des traditions morales et religieuscs involves him in a 
prosecution by the public prosecutor, the point of the 
accusation being that he had referred to Jesus as "a 
youthful sage" and "a moralist worthy of respect," 
and that these terms were an outrage on religion. 
Judgment was at first given against him, the penalty 
being a fine of 300 francs and nine months' imprison- 
ment. An appeal was at once entered, and Senancour 
defended himself with great modesty, calmness, and 
ability. The decision was then reversed, and the result 
was hailed by the whole of the Liberal press as a victory 
for toleration and freedom of conscience. The re- 



XX INTRODUCTION. 

sultant notoriety widened Senancour's circle of literary 
acquaintance and increased the number of his readers. 
Within six years of the trial De VAmotir and Litres 
Meditations each passed through two new editions, and 
Ohermann was dragged from its long obscurity and 
repubhshed. 

Between 1832 and 1836 Senancour made several 
applications to be admitted to the select fellowship of 
the x'Xcademy of Moral Sciences, but they were on each 
occasion politely refused. He was, however, elected a 
member of the Historic Institute in 1834, and retained 
his place in it until 1840, when he resigned, either 
because of the infirmities of age, or for the still more 
pathetic reason that in his straitened circumstances a 
twenty-franc subscription was more than he could well 
afford. 

In 1841 he was designated tor the Legion of Honour, 
but for some reason or other the Cross never came into 
his possession. Documentary evidence of the dis- 
tinction exists in a curious and flattering letter of 
congratulation from the honimes de peine or men-of-all- 
work attached to the headquarters of the Legion of 
Honour. As M. Levallois naively remarks, "it is not 
easy to see what service these men could render 
Senancour, but it is obvious that the art of extracting 
tips had already reached perfection." 

Unfortunately neither literary friendships nor the 
measure of popularity and public recognition he ob- 
tained brought much improvement in his material 
resources, though he always succeeded in keeping his 
head above water. A note quoted by Levallois from 
the third edition of the Reveries (1833) is no doubt a 



INTRODUCTION. xxi 

cry from the heart: "To spend the years of youth In 
uncertainty and the prime of Hfe in unavoidable con- 
straint ; to forego, through lack of success, the 
simpHcity one always yearned for ; to undertake 
useless labours, to embrace distasteful cares, to struggle 
painfully to an undesired goal ; to sacrifice oneself for 
relations whom one cannot make happy, or to sedulously 
hold aloof from people one might have deeply cared 
for ; to be ill at ease with acquaintances and cool with 
friends ; daily to speakand act without grace, naturalness, 
or freedom ; to be utterly sincere and yet suppress one's 
frankness ; to have a true soul and refined feelings and 
yet to exhibit neither nobility nor energy ; to be for 
ever silent about one's dearest projects, and only to 
accomplish others very imperfectly — that is what it 
means to lose the whole of one's fortune." 

Though Senancour was never robust, he seems to 
have retained a fair measure of health until late in life, 
and at the age of sixty-eight was still fond of taking 
long walks. He died on January loth, 1846, at the 
age of seventy-five, in a private hospital at St. Cloud. 
By his own wish, it is said, no minister was invited 
to visit him, and the serenity with which he faced the 
unknown after his life-long search for truth was grandly 
exhibited in his last request to his son to inscribe on 
his tomb the words : Eteniitc, sot's vion asilc. 

The most interesting and significant of the works that 
followed Obennanv^ as enabling us to trace the develop- 
ment of Senancour's mind, is the one entitled Litres 
Meditations d'nn solitaire inconmi sur divers ohjets de 
la morale religieiise^ and it may be supplemented by 
the new matter introduced into successive editions of 



xxii INTRODUCTION. 

the Reveries. These later works afford ample evidence 
that Obennajin was to a great extent a mere phase 
in the spiritual history of Senancour, the preliminary 
burning and draining- that was needful to prepare his 
swampy forest land for cultivation. True, Senancour's 
low-lying clearing never became very fertile and smiling; 
mists of doubt often overhung it, and blighting winds 
of poverty checked its most promising growths, but 
it was made of some service to the community and 
yielded a grudging sustenance to its struggling culti- 
vator. He himself grew calmer as years went on, 
and learned to see blue sky and far horizons where 
once he only saw the mist. 

In the second edition of the Reveries (1809) he defends 
himself from the charge of atheism which was brought, 
not without reason, against his earlier works. " If God 
is not, can anything be at all ? Might of all existing 
ordered being ! A sense of order prostrates me at thy 
feet, but if my recognition of that order were more 
complete I should sink into nothingness before thee, 
O Changeless One. . . . From my childhood I felt 
myself under the eye of incorruptible truth, and I 
cannot conceive of anything good that is not also 
the true, or of anything real outside the universal 
harmony. Infinite source of order and existence, God 
or Truth!" 

Ten years later the first edition of the Litres 
Meditations appeared. The real authorship is thinly 
veiled by the device of ascribing it to Lallemand, a 
noted hermit of Fontainebleau [c. 1753), in whose cell 
Senancour professes to have found the document of 
which he poses as editor. Compared with Obermann^ 



INTRODUCTION. xxiii 

a more hopeful outlook pervades the whole book. The 
mood of ennui has disappeared ; the stagnant pool has 
found an outlet. If Senancour has not in the full sense 
found his vocation, he has at least found something- to 
do, and the effort to know what he can work at has de- 
livered him from the barren misery of trying to know 
himself and his destiny. The endless recurrence of 
nature's changes that once filled him with weariness 
now stirs ripples of gladness, and he almost recovers 
that fresh andchildish delight inoutward thingsexpressed 
by Stevenson's lines : 



" I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings, 
The world is so full of such numbers of things." 



** Men complain of the ennui of their days," he writes, 
" but the ocean lifts its waves, the sun shines, and the 
flowers expand, and the endless panorama of the world's 
life is unrolled before us. Inexhaustible circulation of 
waters, secret beauty of wilderness flowers ! you pro- 
claim eloquently and unceasingly that the end of man 
is not to be found in a career whose noblest prize is 
human applause, and that the divine gleam ought never 
to be smothered in the shade of our dreary customs, 
our petty jealousies, and our unprofitable cares." 

This sense of something above and beyond human 
life at times almost rises to a positive aflirmation of 
God: " If one were to conclude that God is not, there 
would then be nothing great to look forward to, and 
one would take little interest in the passing of the 
irrevocable hours." In Senancour's darkest days, when 
all that he touched 



xxiv INTRODUCTION. 

" Fell into dust, and he was left alone 
And wearying, in a land of sand and thorns," 

his quest had been that of lig-ht and truth, and silent 
and slowly out of the darkness there dawned on him 
the Gleam, indefinable and unknowable, that he never 
ceased to follow 

"Until to the land's 
Last limit he came." 

One characteristic of this dawning hope in God and 
human destiny was that it refused to be bounded by the 
horizon of the present life. In Obermann he had tacitly 
assumed that death ended all, but now, even if he has 
nothing- positive to affirm, he permits those cravings 
for continuance and emancipation that are within him 
to lift up their heads. " If I shared the misfortune of 
those who regard our immortality as a chimera, I 
should have lost the sole expectation that can give 
worth to existence." 

This change had come about by no sudden conversion 
or revulsion of feeling; it was the natural development 
of a mind always seeking reality. He does not seem 
to have been aware of any contradiction in terms be- 
tween the statements in Ohennann and those made in 
the Libres Meditations until his critics taxed him with 
it. He justifies himself by saying that a distinction 
must be made between fundamental religious notions 
and the accidental beliefs of particular countries. The 
sarcasms of Obermann are directed against the latter; 
as to the former, he may be a doubter, but is never 
scornful. The solitary of the Libres Meditations is 



INTRODUCTION. xxv 

Obermann grown older. " He still doubts, but he lays 
more stress on the verisimilitude of the religious ideas 
to which his wider thought has led him. . . . After his 
renunciation of the rash teaching- of the sects, he first 
found nothing but doubt, but afterwards he felt deeply 
convinced that the real world, the world unseen, is the 
expression of a divine thought." 

We cannot agree with Waite, who affirms that 
Senancour has "a distinct bond of union" with the 
Christian mystics, and in particular with Saint-Martin, 
a distinguished exponent of that school. It is impos- 
sible to characterize as Christian the attitude of one 
who held none of the crucial doctrines of Christianity, 
and who regarded its founder as *'a youthful sage." 
Senancour is as far from Christianity as the writer of 
the Book of Ecclesiastes; and indeed it would be easy 
to find striking parallels between his writings and 
that old Hebrew scripture. But we may admit with 
M. Levallois that of mysticism in the general sense 
there is a decided flavour in the Litres Meditations. 
Senancour is an illustration of the fact that the decadent 
and the mystic are but two faces under the same hood, 
a remark that has also been made about M. Bourget. 
If with Bourget himself we define decadence as "the 
weariness of life felt by those whose over-sensitiveness 
unfits them for the struggle of life under the conditions 
of modern civilization," we cannot have a more typical 
expression of this mood than in Obermann. And that 
very sense of being unequal to life is the strongest 
stimulus to the quest of a supernatural invigoration 
and comfort. Both decadence and mysticism are phases 
of a lack of healthy-mindedness. The thorough-going 



xxvi INTRODUCTION. 

mystic, whether Brahmui or Christian, withdraws him- 
self from the world and broods over his conceptions 
of the deity until they excite within him an ecstasy as 
abnormal as his previous unrest and dejection. His 
spiritual satisfactions are the projections of his own 
hunger of soul. Senancour was saved from the excess 
of mysticism by his passion for reality. His belief in 
God never went beyond a reverent recognition of an 
inscrutable " something- more," and his religion con- 
sisted in the effort to make effectual the divine order 
which he saw hinted at but obstructed in the world 
around him. He never made the mystic's claim to 
conscious fellowship with the Supreme. In a private 
letter to a lady he writes: "If you can pray, that is 
a refuge; in your case it cannot be other than noble 
and untrammelled by formulcE. ... I know no speech 
common to the creature and the Infinite, to us who 
pass and the Unknown Permanence." 

Senancour escaped from the Slough of Despond, not 
on the side of his intellect into abstract theology or 
rationalism, nor on the side of his emotions into 
mysticism, but on the volitional and active side of his 
nature into a working theory of life. The only sense 
in which that theory of life can be called mystical is in 
its recognition of a spiritual purpose and order in the 
Universe transcending human thought. 

Some will say — why publish the story of Senancour's 
wallowings in ennui ? Why not rather give us the more 
hopeful utterances of his later life.-' Such people will 
be disposed to apply to Ohcrmann a sentence penned 
by Carlyle after reading Froude's Nemesis of Faith, 
another book of the Obcrmann type: " What on earth 



INTRODUCTION. xxvii 

is the use of a wretched mortal's vomiting- up all his 
interior crudities, dubitations, and spiritual agonizing- 
bellyaches, into the view of the public, and howling 
tragically 'See!'" But even Carlyle found relief for 
his soul in a private diary, and the most interesting of 
his works is the one in which he reveals his own 
struggles with the Everlasting No. We may justify 
Obermann out of Carlyle's own mouth: "The Great 
Goethe, in passionate words, had to write his Sorroivs 
of Wcrther before the spirit freed herself, and he 
could become a man. . . . For your nobler minds, the 
publishing of some such work of art, in one or the 
other dialect, becomes almost a necessity. For what 
is it properly but an altercation with the devil, before 
you begin honestly fighting him ? Your Byron publishes 
his Sorrows of Lord George^ in verse and in prose, and 
copiously otherwise your Buonaparte represents his 
Sorrows of Napoleon opera, in an ail-too stupendous 
style." So for Senancour the writing of Obermann 
was a spiritual necessity ; it was an anodyne that saved 
him from desperation at the time, and when once he 
had written himself out he was freer to turn to external 
tasks. 

It has its utility to-day for two classes of readers. 
First for those whose work it is to understand and 
develop the character of others. Even the pathology 
of a soul may be a contribution to the science of 
spiritual health. How to deal with minds of the 
Obermann type is a problem that Society is already 
face to face with. The schoolmaster does his best to 
grapple with it, guided by increasing light from 
psychology and medical science. His aim is to make 



xxviii INTRODUCTION. 

every child under his care equal to life ; to awaken 
wholesome interests, to qualify for useful activities, to 
check morbid tendencies and fixed ideas, and to develop 
the joy of living. Already society is growing- wiser in 
the treatment of its waste products. We are learning 
how to train the ears and fingers of the blind, and the 
eyes and lips of the deaf, and to keep them in an 
environment where they will be safeguarded from the 
dangers to which their defective sense would expose 
them. The mentally weak are taught such physical 
aptitudes as are possible to them. There are even 
indications of a more rational treatment of criminals, 
an attempt to safeguard them from the temptation to 
which a defective moral sense renders them liable, and 
to develop those powers by which they can contribute 
to the welfare of Society and live at peace with them- 
selves and their fellows. As methods of discrimination 
improve we shall learn how to deal with every shade of 
morbidness of mind. And among the text-books 
essential to mastering the pathology of over-sensitive- 
ness to which some of the best minds are liable, few 
could be more useful than Obcrmann, that "handbook 
of consistent egoism," as Stevenson calls it. "The 
first consideration with the psychologist," says George 
Sand, "is to diagnose the complaint; after that to 
look for the remedy. Possibly the human race will 
find owe for its moral sufferings when it has probed and 
analyzed them as thoroughly as its physical maladies." 
Concurrently with the improvement of methods for 
developing to the fullest extent every human individual 
will go some attempt to improve the stuff and substance 
of human nature ; the segregation of all who are 



INTRODUCTION. xxix 

physically or mentally unfit to share in the parentage of 
the coming race, thus ensuring as far as may be that 
all who enter life shall have vitality enough to find 
happiness in the exercise of life's activities. 

The other class of persons for whom Obermann will 
possess interest is that of the kindred spirits whom 
Senancour has in mind in his introduction, those who 
are passing through a similar phase of development. 
It may console them to know that one who struggled 
so long- and wearily in the Slough of Despond did at 
last come out on the other side, even if like Bunyan's 
Mr. Fearing he carried a Slough of his own in his 
heart to the end of his pilgrimage. And not less 
cheering is it to find that in these " wild and wandering 
cries " of Senancour's darkest days, when his life 
seemed an utter failure, there is so much of permanent 
worth — charm of description, penetration of thought, 
and purity of soul. Some of the shy woodland flowers 
of his uncleared forest have a fragrance and beauty 
that is unsurpassed by the more laboured if more 
useful products of his later days. 

The only existing English translation of Obermann 
is the one by Waite, to which reference has already 
been made. The labours of the present translator 
have been much lightened by the fact that a track 
had been made over the untrodden snow, though his 
footprints rarely coincide with those of his predecessor, 
and often diverge widely from them. Why, for instance, 
send Obermann to gather grapes into a iinnnoimiig- 
fan (Letter ix.) instead of into the tub that is used in 
Switzerland? And why translate Uiistoirc de Japan dc 
Kcenipfer (xxi.) as "the story of Japon de Kaempfer " 



XXX INTRODUCTION. 

instead of Kampfer's History of Japan (xxi.) ? Tabac, 
too, means snuff as well as tobacco, or we miss the 
point of the reference to the artisan "who goes without 
his tobacco [sic) when he is at work inside a house 
because he has no handkerchief which he can dare to 
use before everybody" (lxv.). "Muses" as a trans- 
lation for nourriccs, wet-nurses, must surely be a 
misprint, but why is soiifflei, a box on the ear, tran- 
slated " whistle," and niarche commode, convenient 
market, rendered "broad walk?" it is true that 
Obermann is often obscure, as a writer must be who 
pours out the whole contents of his mind, whether 
digested or not; when his mood is nebulous his descrip- 
tion of it will be so too; but can it be allowed that 
" Obermann's pages are often a running stream of 
sound , . . voicing too often the vaguest qualities of 
sense, using more than is endurable the terminology 
of the nebulous and insignificant — construction, in a 
word, without tangible meaning ? " Waite claims that 
Obermann is a philosophical work and should be rendered 
into philosophical rather than colloquial terminology. 
But Senancour endeavours throughout to give it a 
colloquial character. Even if a more formal style is 
justifiable when Obermann wanders into philosophical 
discussions, it is hardly necessary to render such a 
phrase as homme a gages (hired servant) by "one in 
a fiduciary position." 

Senancour in his Introduction offers an apology for 
the prolixities and digressions of his style and for his 
rambling and inaccurate meditations, and the present 
translator will be glad to take fullest advantage of that 
apology. But when it is stretched to its furthest limits 



INTRODUCTION. xxxi 

he is still painfully aware of many imperfections in his 
work that it fails to cover. He will be more than 
satisfied if he has succeeded to any extent in conveying" 
to English readers the same impression of haunting- 
charm that may be felt in the finest passages of Senan- 
cour's French, 

Notes added by the translator are indicated by the 
letters Tr. or enclosed in square brackets ; the rest 
are by Senancour himself, and are sometimes ex- 
planatory and sometimes intended merely to maintain 
the fiction of the authorship.^ 

^ Since the preceding pages were in type a new life of our author 
has appeared, Senancour: ses .4 wis et ses Ennetnis, by M. G. Michaut 
(Sansot). It supplies further details of his career, but does not affect 
our main conclusions. — Tk. 

J. A. BARNES. 

March igio. 



OBSERVATIONS. 

[By Senancour.] 

It will be seen that these letters were penned by a man 
of feeling-, not by a man of action. They are full of 
interest for the initiated, though they possess very little 
for outsiders. Many will discover with pleasure what 
one of themselves has experienced : many indeed have 
had the same experience themselves, but here is one 
who has described it, or at least has made the attempt. 
But he must be judged by the whole of his life, not by 
his earliest years ; by all his letters, not by some casual 
passage too free or too romantic in expression. 

Letters like these, without art or plot, will meet with 
little favour outside the scattered and secret brotherhood 
of which nature had made their writer a member. Those 
who belong to it are mostly unknown individuals, and 
the kind of private monument which one of them leaves 
behind can only reach the others through a public 
channel, at the risk of boring a great many serious, 
learned, and worthy people. The editor's duty is 
simply to state at the outset that it contains neither wit 
nor science, that it is not a work, and that possibly it 
will be said that it is not a rational book. 

We have many writings in which the whole race is 
described in a few lines, and yet if these long letters 
were to make a single man approximately known they 
would be both fresh and useful. It will take a great 

3 



xxxiv OBSERVATIONS. 

deal for them to attain this limited object ; but if they 
do not contain all one mig-ht expect, they do at any rate 
contain something- ; and that is enough to justify their 
publication. 

These letters are not a novel. ^ There is in them no 
dramatic movement, no deliberate working- up of events, 
no climax, nothing- of what is called the interest of a 
work — the gradual development, the incidents, and the 
stimulus to curiosity, which are the magic of many 
good books and the tricks of the trade in bad ones. 

There are descriptions in them, such as help to a 
better understanding of natural objects, and throw 
light, possibly too much neglected, on the relation of 
man to what he calls the inaminate world. 

There are passions in them ; but they are those of a 
man who was destined to reap their results without 
actually experiencing them ; to try everything, but only 
to have a single aim. 

There is love in them, but love felt in a way that has 
perhaps never before found expression. 

There are prolixities in them, but so there are in 
Nature ; the heart is seldom concise; it is no dialectician. 
There are repetitions ; but if a thing is good why so care- 
fully avoid returning to it. The repetitions in Clarissa, 
the lack of arrangement and the feigned selfishness of 
Montaigne have never repelled any but merely pedantic 
readers. Jean-Jacques was often long-winded. The 
writer of these letters apparently was not afraid of the 

^ I am far from imjjlying by this that a good novel is not a good book. 
Moreover, outside what I should strictly call novels there are many books 
of real worth or charm that are usually classed under this head, such as the 
Ckaumfefe iniienne, and others. 



OBSERVATIONS. xxxv 

prolixities and digressions of an unconventional style ; 
he wrote as he thought. True, Jean-Jacques was 
entitled to be a little long- ; if our author has used the 
same freedom, it is simply because he thought it good 
and natural. 

There are contradictions in them ; at any rate what 
are often called such. But why should it offend one to 
see the pros and cons of an open question stated by the 
same man? Since we must combine both sides to get 
the sense of them, to deliberate, to decide, to make one's 
choice, does it matter at all whether they are in a single 
book or in several? Nay, rather, when the same man 
states both, he does it with more equal emphasis, in a 
more analogous fashion, and you can see better what 
to adopt. Our affections, our desires, and even our 
feelings and opinions are modified by the teaching of 
experience, by opportunities for thought, by age, and 
in fact by our whole existence. The man who is rigidly 
consistent is either deceiving you or himself. He has 
a system; he is acting a part. The sincere man says: 
"I once felt like that, now I feel like this; there are 
my materials, build up for yourself the edifice of your 
thought." 

A phlegmatic man is not a fit judge of the disparities 
of human feelings; since he does not know their range, 
neither does he know their fluctuations. Why should 
different ways of looking at a thing be more surprising 
in the same man at different ages — sometimes even at 
the same moment — than in different men. One may 
observe and investigate without deciding. Surely you 
do not expect a man to drop on the right weight the 
moment he takes up the scales ? Everything should 



xxxvi OBSERVATIONS. 

be consistent no doubt in a precise and formal treatise 
on matters of fact, but would you have Montaigne true 
after the fashion of Hume, and Seneca as exact as 
Bezout ? I imagine one might well expect to find as 
great or greater contrasts between different ages of 
the same man than between several cultured men of 
the same age. That is why it is not a good thing for 
legislators to be all old men; unless, indeed, they are 
a body of really picked men capable of acting on their 
general ideas and recollections rather than on their 
thought at the time. The man who devotes himself 
wholly to the exact sciences is the only one who has no 
need to fear being surprised by what he wrote when he 
was younger. 

These letters are as unequal and irregular in style as 
in other respects. Only one point has pleased me; I 
have not found in them any of those exaggerated and 
trivial phrases which a writer should always regard as 
absurd, or weak, to say the least of it.^ These expres- 
sions are either vicious in themselves, or else their too 
frequent repetition, by forcing them into wrong appli- 
cations, has debased their original significance and 
caused their force to be lost sight of. 

Not that I pretend to justify the style of these letters. 

1 The pastoral and descriptive styles are full of hackneyed phrases, 
the most intolerable of which, in my opinion, are similes that have been 
used millions of times, and from the first weakened the thing they 
pretended to magnify. The enamelled meadows, the azure skies, the 
crystal waters, the lilies and roses of her complexion, the pledges of 
his love, village innocence, torrents flowed from his eyes, to contem- 
plate the wonders of nature, to scatter flowers on his tomb ; and ever 
so many more that I would not condemn outright, but that I prefer 
not to meet with. 



OBSERVATIONS. xxxvii 

I might have somethhig to say in defence of phrases 
which may seem too bold, and which notwithstanding 
I have left unchanged ; but I know of no valid excuse 
for the inaccuracies. I am well aware that a critic will 
discover plenty to find fault with; it has not been my 
aim to "enrich the public" with a finished work, but 
to give to a few persons here and there in Europe the 
feelings, the opinions, the rambling and inaccurate 
meditations of an often solitary man, who wTote in 
privacy and not for a bookseller. 

The editor has had, and will have, only one object in 
view. Everything that bears his name will lead in the 
same direction; whether he writes or simply edits he 
will never swerve from a moral purpose. He is not 
as yet attempting to reach the goal: an important 
treatise and one likely to be of service — a real work, 
such as one can only outline but never hope to com- 
plete — should not be hastily published or even entered 
on too soon.^ 

^ Obermann needs to be read with a little imagination. He is far, 
for instance, from taking a definite stand on several questions that he 
raises. But possibly he is more decisive in the continuation of his 
letters. Up to the present time this second part is wholly missing. 



OBERMANN. 

FIRST YEAR. 

LETTER I. 

Geneva, /«/)' 8//^ (I). 

It is only some three weeks since I wrote to you from 
Lyons, and I said nothing then of any new plan; I had 
none in fact ; and yet now I have left everything-, and 
am here on foreign soil. 

I fear my letter will not find you at Chessel,^ and 
that you will not be able to reply as soon as I should 
like. I want to know what you think, or rather what 
you will think when you have read this. You know 
how I should feel it if I were not on good terms with 
you, yet I am afraid you will think me to blame, and 
I am not quite sure that I do not deserve it. I did not 
even wait long enough to consult you. I should have 
liked to do so in a crisis of this kind; even yet 1 scarcely 
know what judgment to pass on a decision which annuls 
all previous arrangements, which suddenly transplants 

' His correspondent's place of residence. 



2 OBERMANN. 

me into a new situation, and which destines me to 
events I had not foreseen, whose sequence and results 
I cannot even forecast. 

But that is not all. It is true my action was as 
sudden as my decision, but it was not simply lack of 
time that kept me from writing-. Even if I had had 
plenty, I fear you would still have been left in the dark. 
I should have dreaded your prudence; for once I felt 
the necessity of throwing it to the winds. A narrow 
and timorous prudence on the part of those among 
whom my lot has been cast has spoiled my earlier 
years, and I fear done me life-long injury. Wisdom 
takes the difficult middle course between mistrust and 
rashness, and is to be followed when she sees what is 
before her, but in things unknown we have only instinct. 
If that is a more dangerous g-uide than prudence, it 
achieves greater results; it is a case of kill or cure; 
its rashness sometimes becomes our only refug^e, 
and it may possibly repair the injuries wrought 
by prudence. 

It was a case of letting the yoke gall me for ever, or 
summarily throwing it off; so far as I could see there 
was no other alternative. If you are of the same 
opinion, reassure me by saying so. Vou are well aware 
what a wretched chain was about to be riveted. I was 
expected to do what I could not possibly do well; to 
undertake a profession merely for its profits, to employ 
my faculties in what went utterly against the grain. 
Ought I to have stooped to a temporary compliance, 
to have deceived a kinsman by pretending that I was 
undertaking permanently what I should have wanted 
to give up from the very start? Ought I to have lived 



LETTER I. 3 

thus in a state of strain and perpetual repugnance ? 
Let him recognize how powerless I was to satisfy him, 
and forgive me. He will one day realize that circum- 
stances so varied and conflicting, in which the most 
diverse types of character find what is congenial to 
them, cannot be suited indiscriminately to all types; 
that if a profession which has to do with private in- 
terests and litigations is to be regarded as honest, it 
needs something more than the fact that one can make 
a couple of thousand a year by it without stealing; and 
that, in a word, I could not forego being a man in order 
to be a business man. 

I am not trying to persuade you ; I merely state the 
facts; judge for yourself. A friend should not be too 
lenient in his judgments, as you yourself once remarked. 
If you had been at Lyons I should not have decided 
without consulting you, for in that case I should have 
had to keep out of your way; as it was, I had simply 
to be silent. As one tries to find sanctions even in 
mere chance for what one believes to be necessary, 
your very absence seemed to me opportune. I could 
never have acted contrary to your advice, but I felt no 
uneasiness in acting without having your opinion, so 
thoroughly alive I was to all that reason could bring 
forward against the law that was laid upon me by a 
kind of necessity, against the feeling that carried me 
away. I paid more attention to this secret but imperi- 
ous impulse than to the cold inducements to hesitation 
and delay, which, under the name of prudence, arise 
largely from my indolent disposition and tendency to 
shrink from carrying things out. I have set out, and 
rejoice in the fact; but who can ever know whether 



4 OBERMANN. 

he has acted wisely or not as regards the far-off conse- 
quences of thuigfs. 

I have told you why I did not do what was expected 
of me; I must also tell you why I have acted as I have. 
I began by considering whether I should throw up 
entirely the line I was desired to take, and that led 
me to consider what other I should take, and what 
resolution I should come to. 

I had to choose and enter upon, possibly for life, 
what so many people who have nothing else to boast 
of call a profession. I did not discover one that was 
not foreign to my nature or opposed to my convictions. 
I questioned my inmost self; I rapidly passed in review 
my surroundings; I inquired of men if they felt as I 
did. I inquired of the facts of life whether they were 
suited to my tastes, and I discovered that there was no 
harmony either between myself and society, or between 
my needs and what society has produced. I stopped 
short in dismay, perceiving that I was about to hand 
over my life to unbearable tedium, and to antipathies 
without end or aim. I set before myself in turn all 
that men strive after in the various professions they 
embrace. I even tried to invest with a glow of imagin- 
ation the manifold objects they offer to their passions, 
and the visionary quest to which they devote their 
years. I tried, but it was no use. Why is the world 
so disenchanted in my eyes ? 1 know nothing of satiety; 
everywhere I find emptiness. 

On that day when I first perceived the nothingness 
around me, the day which changed the current of my 
life, if the pages of my destiny had been in my hands to 
be turned over or closed for ever, how unconcernedly 



LETTER I. 5 

I would have resigned the vain procession of these long 
though fleeting hours, blighted by so much bitterness 
and never to be cheered by any real joy. It is my mis- 
fortune, as you know, not to be able to feel young; the 
dreary miseries of my earliest years have apparently 
destroyed the charm of life. Gilded appearances do not 
impose upon me ; my half-closed eyes are never dazzled ; 
they are too fixed to be surprised. 

That day of indecision was at least a day of enlight- 
enment; it revealed within me what I had never clearly 
seen. In this supreme anxiety of my life I enjoyed 
for the first time the consciousness of my true self. 
Hunted out of the gloomy calm of my settled apathy, 
driven to be something, I became at last myself, and 
in those hitherto unknown agitations I felt an energy 
whose outflowing, in spite of some strain and distress 
at first, was a kind of calm I had never before ex- 
perienced. This welcome and unexpected state of mind 
gave rise to the consideration which decided me. I 
discovered why it is that differences in external circum- 
stances, as one daily observes, are not the chief sources 
of human happiness or misery. 

The real life of man, I argue, is within himself; what 
he receives from without is only accidental and sub- 
ordinate. The effect things have upon him depends 
much more on the state of mind in which they find 
him than on their intrinsic character. Their lifelong 
influence may so far modify him that he becomes their 
handiwork, but in the never-ending procession of events 
he alone stands fixed though plastic, while the external 
objects related to him are completely altered. The 
result is that the impression each of them makes on 



6 OBERMANN. 

him depends far more for weal or woe on the mood 
in which it finds him than on the feeHng it awakens 
or the immediate change it makes in him. Thus at 
each several moment the chief thing" is that man 
should be what he ought to be. Next to that must 
be reckoned favourable circumstances; they are useful 
from moment to moment in a secondary sense. But as 
the whole series of these impulses becomes the real 
basis of man's inward motives, it follows that even 
though each one makes a very trifling impression, 
their sum total determines our destiny. Must we 
then consider everything of equal importance in this 
chain of affinities and mutual reactions ? Though 
man's actual freedom is so questionable, and his 
apparent freedom so restricted, is he bound to a con- 
tinual exercise of choice, requiring a steadfast will, 
always free and powerful ? Though he can influence 
his circumstances so little, and cannot control the 
majority of his inclinations, can he only attain a peace- 
ful life by foreseeing, directing, and deciding everything 
with a solicitude which would of itself be fatal to his 
peace, even if attended with uninterrupted success ? 
If it seems equally necessary to control these two re- 
ciprocal forces [self and circumstances], and if on the 
other hand the task is beyond human strength, and 
every eff'ort in that direction tends to produce the very 
opposite of the calm one expects from it, how can we 
come anywhere near the attainments of this result by 
giving up the impracticable method [i.e., constant exer- 
cise of choice] which seemed at first sight the only 
means of securing it ? The answer to this question 
would be the supreme achievement of human wisdom. 



LETTER I. 7 

as it is the highest aim one can oflfer to the inward 
hiw which compels us to the pursuit of happiness. 
I think I have found a solution of this problem adapted 
to my present needs; possibly they had something to 
do with making me accept it. 

It became obvious to me that in this endless action 
and reaction the primary combination is of the highest 
importance, since it determines more or less the whole 
series. Let us then, said I, first of all be what we 
ought to be; let us set ourselves where our nature 
demands ; and then let us yield to the drift of circum- 
stances, endeavouring simply to be true to ourselves. 
Thus, whatever happens, we shall regulate our circum- 
stances without superfluous anxiety; not by altering 
things themselves, but by controlling the impressions 
they make upon us, which is the only thing that con- 
cerns us. It is easier too, and does more to establish 
our true self, by fixing its boundaries and economizing 
its energy. Whatever effect things produce on us by 
that intrinsic force which we cannot change, we shall 
at any rate retain much of our initial direction, and 
shall approximate more nearly by that means than we 
could hope by any other to the happy perseverance of 
the wise man. 

As soon as man begins to think and is no longer 
at the mercy of the first desire or of the unconscious 
laws of instinct, all justice and morality become to 
some extent a matter of calculation, and prudence 
consists in reckoning up the surplus or deficit. The 
conclusion I reached seemed as clear to me as the 
result of a sum in arithmetic. As I am unfolding to 
you my plans and not my soul, and as I am less 



8 OBERMANN. 

anxious to justify my decision than to tell you how I 
reached it, I will not try to give you a better account 
of my calculation. 

Following- out this way of looking- at things, I am 
letting go the far-off and manifold cares of the future, 
always so exhausting and often so profitless, and am 
devoting myself wholly to the task of adjusting, once 
for all, both myself and circumstances. I am well 
aware how far from complete this work will doubt- 
less always be, and how much I shall be impeded by 
the facts of life, but I will at least do whatever I find 
feasible. 

I thought it necessary to change my environment 
before changing myself. The first end can be more 
immediately attained than the second; and in my former 
manner of life I could not have taken mj'self seriously 
In hand. The diflficult situation in which I found myself 
left me no alternative but to contemplate a change of 
surroundings. It is in freedom from the constraint 
of circumstances as in the silence of the passions that 
one can examine oneself. I am going to seek out a 
retreat among those quiet mountains that I used 
to gaze at in the distance even as a child. ^ I do 
not know where I shall stay, but write to me at 
Lausanne. 

^ From near Lyons the summits of the Alps are distinctly visible on 
the horizon. 



LETTER II. 



LETTER II. 

Lausanne, July ()'h, (I.) 

I arrived in Geneva after dark and spent the nig-ht 
in a somewhat dismal inn. My windows looked into 
a courtyard, but I did not at all beg-rudg-e the fact. 
As I was entering" such a beautiful region I deliberately 
planned for myself a kind of surprise view; I reserved 
it for the best hour of the day; 1 wanted to enjoy it in 
all its fulness, without weakening- its effect by coming- 
upon it g-radually. 

On leaving Geneva I started out alone and free, with 
no fixed aim and no guide but an adequate map I 
carry with me. 

I was entering on an independent life. I was going 
to live in perhaps the only country in Europe where in 
a fairly congenial climate one can still find the austere 
beauties of natural scenery. Calmed by that very 
energy which the circumstances of my departure had 
awakened in me, happy in the possession of my true 
self for the first time in my barren existence, seeking 
great and simple delights with the keenness of a youth- 
ful heart, and with a susceptibility which was the bitter 
though precious fruit of my dreary miseries, I was in 
a strenuous but restful mood. I felt happy under the 
lovely sky of Geneva^ when the sun appeared above 
the snowclad peaks and illumined before my e3es this 
wondrous landscape. It was near Coppet that I saw 

1 The sky at Geneva is very much the same as anywhere else in the 
neighbourhood. 



lo OBERMANN. 

the dawn, not in barren splendour as I had so often 
seen it before, but in beauty and sublimity g-reat enough 
to spread again the veil of elusive charm before my 
jaded eyes. 

You have never seen this country, to which Tavernier 
thought nothing could be compared, except a single 
place in the East. You can form no adequate con- 
ception of it ; Nature's great effects cannot be im- 
agined as they really are. If I had been less impressed 
by the magnificence and the harmony of the effect as a 
whole, if the purity of the air had not given it a tone 
which words cannot describe, if I had been someone 
else, I might have tried to picture for you those snow- 
clad glowing peaks, those misty vales, the black 
escarpments of the ridge of Savoy, the hills of Vaux 
and Jorat, themselves perhaps too smiling, but over- 
topped by the Alps of Gruyere and Ormpnt ; and then 
the sweep of Leman's waters, the motion of its waves 
and its rhythmic calm. Possibly my inward condition 
contributed something to the glamour of these places ; 
possibly no one has ever felt just as I did at the sight 
of them. 

It is characteristic of a deeply sensitive nature to 
find more intense pleasure in subjective ideas than in 
objective enjoyments; the latter betray their limitations, 
but those which are offered us by the sense of limitless 
power are vast as the power itself, and seem to point 
the way to that unknown world that we are always 
seeking. I would almost venture to say that the man 
whose heart has been crushed by his continual sufferings 
has gained from his very miseries a capacity for 
pleasures unknown to the happy, and superior to theirs 



LETTER II. II 

in being- more self-contained, and permanent enoug;h to 
be his stay even in old age. For my part I realized at 
that moment, when the only thing- wanting was another 
heart in sympathy with my own, how an hour of life 
may be worth a whole year of existence, how completely 
everything within us is relative to what is without, and 
how our miseries chiefly arise from our mal-adjustments 
to the order of things. 

The main road from Geneva to Lausanne is pleasant 
throughout ; it clings as a rule to the shore of the lake, 
and it was taking me towards the mountains, so I was 
quite content to follow it. I did not stop until I was 
close on Lausanne, where, on a hillside not overlooking 
the town, I awaited the close of the day. 

Evenings in an inn are not pleasant, except when 
the fire and the darkness help to pass the time till 
supper. During the long days one can only escape 
this tedious hour by making a halt during the heat of 
the day, and that is what I never do. Since my 
rambles at Forez I have adopted the plan of going on 
foot if the country is interesting ; and when I am 
walking, a kind of impatience will not allow me to 
stop until I am nearly at my journey's end. Carriages 
are a necessity when one wants to leave rapidly behind 
the dust of the highways and the muddy ruts of the 
plains, but when one is not on business, and in genuine 
country, I see no reason for posting it, and to take 
o-ne's own horses is to me too great a check on one's 
freedom. I confess that when one arrives on foot one 
does not all at once meet with so good a reception at 
an inn, but if the landlord knows his business it only 
takes him a few moments to discover that even if there 

4 



12 OBERMANN. 

is dust on one's shoes there is no pack on one's 
shoulder, and that therefore one may be a profitable 
enough customer to make it worth his while to give 
one some sort of a polite salutation. You will soon 
have the servants asking you, just as they would any- 
one else, "Are you being- attended to, sir?" 

I was under the pines of Jorat ; the evening was 
fine, the woods silent, and the air still ; the western 
sky was hazy, but cloudless. Everything seemed 
settled, light-filled, motionless, and when I happened 
to lift my eyes after keeping them long fixed on the 
moss beneath me, I experienced a wonderful illusion 
which my pensive mood prolonged. The steep slope 
which fell away to the water's edge was hidden from 
me by the knoll on which I sat, and the surface of the 
lake seeme-d inclined at a high angle, as though its 
opposite shore were lifted into the air. The Alps of 
Savoy were partly veiled by clouds indistinguishable from 
themselves and of the same tint. The sunset light, and 
the dim air in the depths of the Valais, lifted these 
mountains and cut them off from the earth by making 
their bases invisible ; and their huge formless bulk, 
neutral-tinted, sombre and touched with snow, light 
filled and yet partly invisible, seemed to me nothing 
but a mass of storm-clouds suspended in the air ; and 
the only solid earth was that which held me up over 
empty space, alone, in immensity. 

That moment was worthy of the first day of a new 
life ; I shall have few like it. I was intending to finish 
this by chatting with you freely, but my head and hand 
are growing heavy with sleep. My recollections and 
the pleasure of telling them to you cannot stave it off, 



LETTER III. 13 

and I do not want to go on describing" to you so feebly 
what I felt so much more keenly. 

Beside Nyon I had a fairly clear view of Mont Blanc 
from its base upwards, but the time of day was not at 
all suitable ; it was badly lighted. 



LETTER in. 

Cully, /n/y ii.'/i (I.). 

I have no wish to rush through Switzerland as a mere 
traveller or novelty-hunter. I am trying to settle here, 
because I imagine I should be ill at ease anywhere else; 
it is the only country within reach of my own which 
possesses in the main the things I require. 

I do not even yet know in which direction I shall turn. 
I know no one here; and not having any sort of ties, I 
can only make my choice on grounds based upon the 
character of the localities. In the places I should like 
best the Swiss climate is trying. I must have a fixed 
place to stay at for the winter: that is the point I should 
like to settle first; but the winter is long at high 
elevations. 

At Lausanne I was told : "Here is the finest part of 
Switzerland, the one that all foreigners like. You 
have seen Geneva and the shores of the lake ; you 
have still to see Yverdon, Neuchatel, and Berne, and 
you should also go to Locle, which is celebrated for its 
[watch-making-] industry. As for the rest of Switzer- 
land, it is quite an outlandish country, and one gets 



14 OBERMANN. 

over the English craze for wearhig" oneself out and 
risking one's life to look at ice and sketch waterfalls. 
Here is where you will settle; the province of Vaud^ is 
the only one suitable to a foreigner ; and even in the 
province of Vaud there is only Lausanne, especially for 
a Frenchman." 

I assured them that I should not choose Lausanne, 
and they quite thought I was making a mistake. The 
province of Vaud has very beautiful features, but I am 
satisfied beforehand that the greater part of it would be 
to me among the least attractive of the Swiss provinces. 
The place and people are pretty much the same as else- 
where ; whereas I am looking out for other modes of 
life and different natural scenery.'^ If I knew German I 
think I should make for Lucerne, but French is only 
spoken in a third of Switzerland, and that third is just 
the part that is most gay and least remote from French 
customs, so 1 am in great uncertainty. I have almost 
made up my mind to see the shores of Neuchatel and 
the Bas Valais; after that I shall go to the neighbour- 
hood of Schwitz, or into the Underwalden, in spite of 
the very serious drawback of a language which is quite 
unfamiliar to me. 

I had noticed a little lake, called Bre or Bray in the 

^ The word l^aiid does not here mean valley, but it comes from the 
Celtic word from which Welsh is derived. The German Swiss call the 
province of Vaud Welschland. The ancient Germans used to designate 
the Gauls by the word Wale, whence come the names of the principality 
of Wales, of the province of Vaud, of the place in Belgium called Walon, 
of Gascony, etc. 

- Il is quite likely that at the present time Oberiiiann would willingly 
settle in the canton of \'aud, and would consider it a delightful place to 
live in. 



LETTER III. 15 

maps, situated in the highlands above Cully, and I came 
to this town in order to visit its shores, which are far 
from the main roads and almost unknown. I have 
g"iven up the idea. I fear the district is too ordinary, 
and that the mode of life of the country folk, so near 
Lausanne, would suit me still less. 

I was anxious to cross the lake, and yesterday I had 
engfaged a boat to take me to the Savoy side. I hav^e 
had to defer the project ; the weather has been bad all 
day, and the lake is still very rough. The storm has 
gfone by, and the evening' is fine. My windows look out 
on the lake; the white foam of the waves is sometimes 
flung- rig^ht into my room; it has even wet the roof. 
The wind is blowing- from the south-west in such a 
way that just at this point the waves are strong-est and 
hig-hest. I assure you that this display of energy and 
these rhythmic sounds give a powerful stimulus to the 
soul. If I had to break away from ordinary life and 
really live, and if notwithstanding I felt disheartened, 
I should like to spend a quarter of an hour alone by a 
lake in storm. I fancy it would not be great things 
that would daunt me. 

I am somewhat impatiently awaiting the reply I asked 
you for; and though as a matter of fact it cannot arrive 
just yet, I am constantly thinking of sending to Lau- 
sanne to see if they have neglected to forward it. It 
will no doubt tell me quite definitely what you think, 
and what you anticipate for the future, and also whether 
I did wrong, being the man I am, to take a step which 
in many people would have been the essence of caprice. 
I used to consult you about trifles, and yet I came to a 
conclusion of the utmost importance without you. Vou 



1 6 OBERMANN. 

will surely not refuse to give me your opinion ; I need 
it to check or to encourage me. You have forgotten by 
this time, I hope, that I schemed this matter as if I 
wanted to keep it a secret from you; the errors of a 
friend can affect our thoughts but not our feelings. I 
congratulate you on having to forgive me some weak- 
nesses ; but for that I should not have so much pleasure 
in leaning on you ; my own strength would not make 
me feel so safe as yours. 

I write to you just as I should speak, or as if I were 
talking to myself. There are times when people have 
nothing particular to tell each other, and yet they yearn 
for a talk; it is often then that they chat most com- 
fortably. The only kind of walk I know that gives 
genuine pleasure is one that has no object, when one 
rambles for the sake of rambling, observant without 
wanting anything in particular ; when the weather is 
calm and nearly cloudless, when one has no business 
on hand and no wish to know the time ; when one sets 
out to explore at random the swamps and forests of an 
unknown region; when one's talk is of mushrooms, 
and deer, and reddening leaves just beginning to fall; 
when I remark: "This place is just like one where my 
father stopped, ten years ago now, to play quoits with 
me, and where he left his hunting-knife, which next 
day we could not find"; and you chime in: " My father 
would have been charmed with the place where we just 
now crossed the brook. Towards the end of his days 
he used to drive out a good league from the town into 
a dense wood, where there were rocks and water; then 
he would leave his carriage and take his seat on a 
block of grit, sometimes alone, sometimes with me, 



LETTER III. 17 

and there we would read the Lives of the Desert 
Fathers. He would say to me: 'If I had entered a 
monastery in my youth, as God called me, I should 
not have had all the afflictions that have befallen me 
in the world outside, and I should not now he so weak 
and shattered ; but then I should have no son, and 
dying- should leave nothing- behind me.' . . . And now 
he is no more! They are no more!" 

There are men who imagine they are taking- a country 
walk when they trudg-e along a gravel path. They 
have dined; they ^o as far as the statue and return to 
backgammon. But when we used to lose ourselves in 
the woods of Forez, we roamed freely and at random. 
There was something sacred in those recollections of a 
time even then remote, coming to us as they did in 
the depth and grandeur of the woods. How the soul 
expands when it comes face to face with what is 
beautiful and unforeseen. In what concerns the soul 
I do not like to have things cut and dried beforehand. 
Let the understanding pursue its end methodically and 
reduce to system its achievements. But the heart, it 
toils not; and if you ask it to produce it will produce 
nothing; cultivation makes it barren. Vou remember 
the letters R. used to write to L., whom he called 
his friend. There was plenty of cleverness in those 
letters but no abandon. Each one contained some- 
thing different and treated of a special topic ; every 
paragraph had its purpose and line of thought. Every- 
thing was arranged as if for printing, like the chapters 
of a text-book. That will not be our method, I think; 
what do we want with cleverness ? When friends 
converse it is to sav whatever comes into their heads. 



i8 OEERMANN. 

One request I will make; let your letters be long* ones; 
take plenty of time to write, that I may be as long in 
reading-; I will often set you the example. As to the 
contents I am not greatly concerned ; of course we 
shall sa)' what we think, and what we feel, and is not 
that just what we ought to say? When one wants to 
gossip, does one think of saying " Let us talk of such 
a subject; let us divide it up, and begin here? " 

They were bringing supper in when I started to 
write, and now they have just announced that "really 
the fish is quite cold; at any rate, It will not be nice." 
Good-bye, then. They are Rhone trout. They praise 
them up to me as if they did not see that I shall take 
my meal alone. 



LETTER IV. 

Thiei.e, fitly \()/h (I.). 

I have been to Yverdon, and I have seen Neuchatel, 
Bienne and its surroundings. I am sta3-ing a few 
days at Thiele, on the frontier between Neuchatel and 
Berne. I engaged at Lausanne one of those hired 
chaises that are so common in Switzerland. I was 
not afraid of the monotony of the carriage ; I was 
too engrossed in my situation, in my faint hopes, my 
uncertain future, my already barren present, and in the 
intolerable emptiness I find everywhere. I am sending 
you a few jottings made at various places on my way. 

From Yverdon. I enjoyed for a little while the feel- 



LETTER IV. 19 

ing" of being- free and in finer scenery. I thoug-ht I 
should find here a better life, but I confess to you that 
I am not satisfied. At Moudon, in the heart of the 
province of Vaud, I asked myself, "Could I live happily 
in these be-praised and soug-ht-after regions ? " But 
a deep sense of dissatisfaction compelled me to leave 
it at once. Afterwards I tried to delude myself into 
thinking' that this impression was due chiefly to some- 
thing dreary in the locality. The landscape at Moudon 
is wooded and picturesque, but there is no lake. I 
resolved to spend the nig^ht at Yverdon, in the hope 
of recovering by its shores that state of well-being 
tinged with sadness which I prefer to joy. It is a 
beautiful valley, and the town is one of the prettiest 
in Switzerland. But in spite of the scenery, in spite 
of the lake, in spite of the loveliness of the day, I 
found Yverdon more dreary than Moudon. Whatever 
sort of place ivill suit me, I wonder ? 

From NeuchdteL I left Yverdon this morning; the 
town is pretty enough, and to other eyes agreeable, 
but dreary in mine. I do not exactly know even yet 
what makes it so for me, but I feel myself quite a 
different man to-day. If I had to postpone my choice 
of that fixed abode I am on the look out for, I would 
far sooner decide to pass a year at Neuchatel than a 
month at Yverdon. 

From Saint-Blaise. I am returning from a tour in 
the Val de Travers. There I began to realize what 
sort of country 1 am in. The shores of the lake of 
Geneva are no doubt very fine, and yet it seems to 
me that one could find the same beauties elsewhere, 
while as for the people, one can see at a glance that 



20 OBERMANN. 

they are just like those m the lowlands, they and all 
their belongings.^ But this vale, in a fold of the Jura, 
wears an aspect of grandeur and simplicity, it is wild 
and yet cheerful, it is at once peaceful and romantic; 
and though it has no lake it impressed me more than 
the shores of Neuchatel or even of Geneva. The earth 
seems there less dominated by man, and man less en- 
slaved to pitiful conventionalities. The eye is not 
everlastingly confronted with ploughed fields, with 
vineyards and country houses, the counterfeit wealth 
of so many unhappy regions. But alas ! there were 
big villages, stone houses, aristocracy, affectation, 
vanity, smartness, irony. Where were my idle dreams 
leading me? At every step one takes here the enchant- 
ment comes and goes ; at every step one hopes and 
loses heart; one's mood is ever changing in this land, 
so different both from others and from itself. I am 
going to the Alps. 

From Thicle. I was on my way to Vevey by Morat, 
and did not think of stopping here, but to-day, on 
awaking, I was captivated by the finest spectacle the 
dawn can create in a landscape whose special type of 
beauty is rather genial than sublime. That has induced 
me to spend a few days here. 

My window had been open all night, as usual. About 
four o'clock I was awakened by the coming of daylight 
and by the scent of the hay which had been cut in the 
cool of the night, by moonlight. I expected quite an 
ordinary view, but I had a shock of surprise. The 



' This is not true if it is meant to apply to llie \vliole of the north 
bani<, 



LETTER IV. 21 

rains of the solstice had kept up the flood previously 
caused by the melting" snows of the Jura, and the space 
between the lake and the Thiele was almost entirely 
under water. The higher ground formed isolated 
pastures amid these plains of water ruffled by the cool 
morning" breeze. One could see in the distance the 
waves of the lake as the wind drove them upon its half 
submerg-ed shore. Some gloats and cows with their 
herdsman, who was drawing" rustic sounds from his 
horn, were just passing" along" a strip of land left dry 
between the flooded plain and the Thiele. At the 
worst places stones had been set to help out or continue 
this kind of natural causeway. I could not disting"uish 
the pasture for which these placid creatures were 
making, and to judg"e by their slow and hesitating- steps 
one would have said they were g"oing" right into the lake 
to perish. The heig"hts of Anet and the dense woods 
of Julemont rose from the bosom of the water like an 
uninhabited desert island. The mountainous rang-e of 
Vuilly skirted the lake on the horizon. Southwards 
the outlook stretched away behind the hills of Mont- 
mirail, and beyond all, sixty leagues of aeonian snow- 
fields dominated the whole landscape with the inimitable 
grandeur of those bold natural features that make a 
scene sublime. 

I dined with the toll-collector, whose ways rather 
pleased me. He is more given to smoking and drinking 
than to spite, scheming, and worry. I rather like 
these habits in other people, though I shall certainly 
not acquire them myself. They banish ennui ; they 
occupy the time without our having to bother about it; 
they sav'e a man from many worse things, and instead 



22 OBERMANN. 

of the calm of happiness, which one never sees on any 
brow, they do at least give that of a satisfying" diversion 
which reconciles everything, and is only harmful to 
intellectual progress. 

In the evening I took the key so that I could come 
in late, without being bound to time. The moon was 
not up, and I strolled along by the green waters of the 
Thiele. But feeling inclined for long musing, and 
finding it warm enough to stay out all night, I took 
the road to Saint-Blaise. I left it again at a little 
village called Marin, which has the lake to the south, 
and descended a steep slope to the sand on which the 
waves were breaking. The air was calm ; not a trace 
of haze was visible on the lake. Everybody was 
asleep ; forgetful, some of labours, others of griefs. 
The moon appeared ; I stayed on and on. Towards 
morning she diffused over land and water the exquisite 
melancholy of her last beams. Nature seemed grand 
indeed, as one heard in one's long meditation the roll 
of the waves on the lonely shore, in the calm of a night 
still glowing w ith the radiance of a dying moon. 

Inexpressible responsiveness, alike the charm and 
torment of our idle years, profound sense of a Nature 
everywhere overwhelming and everywhere inscrutable ; 
infinite passion, ripened wisdom, ecstatic self-surrender, 
everything a human heart can hold of need and utter 
weariness, I felt them all, sounded the depths of all, 
during that memorable night. I took an ominous 
stride towards the age of decline ; I swallowed up ten 
years of my life. Happy the simple-minded man whose 
heart is always young ! 

There, in the quiet of the night, I questioned my 



LETTER IV. 23 

problematic destiny, my storm-tossed heart, and that 
incomprehensible Nature which includes all things and 
yet seems not to include the satisfactions of my desires. 
What in the world am I ? said I to myself. What 
pathetic combination of boundless affection with in- 
difference to all the concrete objects of real life? Is 
imag'inatlon leading me to seek in an arbitrary scheme of 
thing-s objects that are preferable for this sole reason, 
that their fictitious existence, which can be moulded at 
will, assumes in my eyes attractive forms and a pure 
unalloyed beauty even more unreal than themselves. 

In that case, seeing in things relations which can 
hardly be said to exist, and always seeking what I 
shall never attain, an alien in nature and an oddity 
among men, I shall have none but barren affections, 
and whether I live in my own way or the world's, 
eternal constraint in the one case and my own limita- 
tions in the other, will be the ceaseless torment of a 
life always repressed and always miserable. But the 
vagaries of a vivid and unregulated imagination are as 
fickle as they are wayward ; a man of that type, the 
sport of his fluctuating passions and of their blind 
ungoverned energy, will neither have constancy in his 
tastes nor peace in his heart. 

What have I in common with such a man? All my 
tastes are invariable, everything I care for is feasible 
and natural ; I only want simple habits, peaceable 
friends, an evenly-flowing life. How can my wishes 
be ill-regulated? I see nothing in them but the need, 
nay, the sense of harmony and the proprieties of life. 
How can my affections be distasteful to other men ? 
I only like what the best among them have liked, I 



24 OBERMANN. 

seek nothing" at the expense of any one of them ; I seek 
only what everyone can have, what the needs of all 
require, what would end their woes, what draws men 
together, unites, and consoles them ; I only want the 
life of the g'ood, my peace in the peace of all. 

True, I love nothing- but Nature, and yet for that very 
reason my self-love is not exclusive, and what I love 
most in Nature is mankind. A resistless impulse sways 
me to all loving- emotions; my heart has been too much 
concerned with itself, with humanity, and with the 
original harmony of existence to have ever known 
selfish or vindictive passions. I love myself, but it is as 
a part of Nature, in the order she desires, in fellowship 
with man as she desires him to be, in fellowship with 
man as she made him, and in harmony with the scheme 
of things as a whole. To tell the truth, up to the present 
time at any rate, no existing thing has fully claimed my 
affection, and an emptiness beyond words is the prevail- 
ing mood of my thirsty soul. But everything I crave 
might exist, the whole world might be after my own 
heart, without anything being changed in nature or in 
man himself, except the fleeting accidental features of 
the social fabric. 

The eccentric man is not of this type. The grounds 
of his madness are artificial. There is no sequence of 
unity in his affections; and as error and absurdity only 
exist in human innovations, all the objects about which 
he is crazed are found in the sphere which rouses the 
lawless passions of men, and agitates their minds with 
a continual ferment of conflicting desires. 

1, on the other hand, love existing things, and I love 
them as they are. I neither desire nor seek, nor imagine 



LETTER IV. 25 

anything- outside Nature. Nay, far from letting- my 
thoughts wander and settle on objects that are difficult 
of attainment or absurd, remote or extraordinary, far 
from being indifferent to what comes to hand, to what 
Nature regularly produces, and aspiring to what is 
denied me, to things strange and infrequent, to 
improbable surroundings and a romantic destiny, the 
very opposite is the case. I only want, I only demand 
of Nature and of men for my whole life, what Nature of 
necessity contains, and what all men ought to possess, 
that alone which can occupy our days and fill our hearts, 
that which makes life. 

As I do not need things that are privileged or difficult 
of attainment, no more do 1 need things that are new- 
fangled, changing, manifold. What has already pleased 
me will always please me; what has satisfied my wants 
will always satisfy them. A day like a previous happy 
day is just as much a happy one for me; and as the 
practical needs of my Nature are always pretty much 
the same, simply seeking what is essential, I always 
desire pretty much the same things. If I am satisfied 
to-day, I shall be also to-morrow, for a twelvemonth, for 
a lifetime; and if my environment remains the same, 
my modest wants will always be supplied. 

The love of power or of wealth is almost as foreign to 
my disposition as envy, hatred, or revenge. There is 
nothing- in me to alienate the affections of others. I 
am not the rival of any of them ; I can no more envy 
than hate them; I should decline what infatuates them, 
I should refuse to triumph over them, and 1 have no 
wish even to excel them in virtue. I am content with 
my native goodness. Happy in being able to avoid 



26 OBERMANN. 

wrong-doing- without special effort, I will not torment 
myself needlessly ; and so long as 1 am an honest sort 
of fellow I will not set up to be virtuous. That is a very 
praiseworthy quality, but fortunately it is not in- 
dispensable to me, and I resign it in their favour, thus 
abolishing the only ground of rivalry that could exist 
between us. Their virtues are ambitious like their 
passions; they parade them ostentatiously, and what 
they seek above all to get by them is pre-eminence. I 
am not their rival, and will not be even in that. What 
shall I lose if I resign to them this superiority? 

Among their so-called virtues, some — the only useful 
ones, in fact — exist spontaneously in a man constituted 
as I am, and as I would gladly believe every man is at 
bottom; the others, which are complex, hard to acquire, 
impressive and brilliant, are not an essential outgrowth 
of human nature, and for that reason 1 count them 
either spurious or barren, and am not specially anxious 
to have the doubtful merit of possessing them. I have 
no need to struggle for what is part of my nature, and 
what is contrary to that nature I certainly will not 
struggle to attain. My reason rejects it, and assures 
me that in my case at any rate these ostentatious 
virtues would be defects and the beginning of deterior- 
ation. 

The only effort required of me by the love of good is 
a continual watchfulness, which never allows the maxims 
of our spurious morality to gain admission to a soul that 
is too honest to wear them for outside shovv^, and too 
simple to contain them within. Such is the virtue I 
owe to myself, and the duty 1 accept. I have an 
irresistible conciousness that my inclinations are natural ; 



LETTER IV. 27 

it only remains that I should watch myself carefully to 
ward off from this general tendency any special impulse 
that mig"ht interfere with it, and to keep myself always 
simple and honest, amid the endless changes and 
confusions which may arise from the pressure of my 
precarious future, and from the frustrations of so many 
unstable circumstances. Whatever happens I must 
always keep the same, and always be myself, — I do not 
mean exactly what I am in habits opposed to my real 
needs, but what I feel myself to be, what I wish to be, 
what I really am in that inner life which is the one 
refuge of my sorrowful emotions. 

I will question myself, I will study myself, I will probe 
to the bottom this heart of mine, naturally so true 
and loving, but already staled perchance by its many 
mortifications. I will ascertain what I am, or rather, 
what I should be; and when once that point is cleared 
up I will set myself to be loyal to it all my life, assured 
that nothing which is natural to me is either dangerous 
or blamable, satisfied that the only state of well-being 
is one in harmony with Nature, and resolved never to 
repress anything within me but what would tend to 
deteriorate my original form. 

I have felt the spell of arduous virtues. In that 
sublime mistake I thought to replace all the motives 
of social life by this other motive, as illusory as they. 
My stoical hardihood defied alike misfortune and 
passion, and I felt sure of being the happiest of men 
if only I were the most virtuous. The delusion lasted 
nearly a month in full vigour ; a single incident shattered 
it. Then it was that all the bitterness of a grey and 
fleeting life overflowed my soul as the last mirage that 

5 



28 OBERMANN. 

had deceived it was dissipated. Since then I have 
made no pretence of using my life ; I only seek to get 
through it; I no longer desire to enjoy it, but only 
to endure it ; I am not concerned that it should be 
virtuous, but simply that it should never be culpable. 

And yet even that, where shall I hope for it, where 
attain it? Where shall I find congenial, simple, well- 
spent, equable days ? Where shall I escape misfortune ? 
That is all I desire. But what a career is that in which 
sorrows remain and joys exist no more ! Possibly some 
peaceful days may be given me, but as for charm, 
increase of that means increasing delirium ; never a 
moment of pure joy — never ! And I am not yet 
twenty-one! And I was born so responsive, so eager! 
And I have never known the taste of joy! And after 
death. . . . Nothing left in life, nothing in Nature. 
... I did not weep; the fountain of my tears is dry. 
I felt myself growing cold; I rose and started to walk, 
and the exercise did me good. 

Insensibly I returned to my first inquiry. How shall 
I settle down? Can I do it? And what place shall 
I select? How, among men, can I live otherwise than 
they do, and how can I get away from them in a 
world whose furthest recesses they profane ? Without 
money one cannot even get what money cannot buy, 
or avoid what money procures. The fortune I had 
reason to expect is falling to pieces, and the little 
I now have is becoming insecure. My absence will 
probably mean the loss of everything, and I am not 
the kind of man to launch out afresh. I fancy in 
this matter I must let things take their chance. Mv 
position depends on circumstances whose issues are 



LETTER IV. 29 

still remote. It is not certain that even if I sacrificed 
my present years to the task I could earn enough to 
arrange the future to my liking. I will wait, I will 
give no heed to a futile prudence, which would yoke 
me afresh to burdens that had become unbearable. 
And yet I cannot at present settle myself once for all 
and adopt a fixed location and a constant mode of life. 
I must put it off, perhaps for a long time; and so life 
slips away. I must for years to come be subject to 
the freaks of fate, to the bondage of circumstances, 
and to the so-called proprieties of life. I mean to live 
in a haphazard fashion, without a definite purpose, 
until the time arrives when I can adopt the only one 
that suits me. Well for me if in this fallow period I 
succeed in evolving a better; if I can select the loca- 
tion, the mode, the habits of my future life, rule my 
affections, control myself, and confine this yearning, 
simple heart of mine, to which nothing will be given, 
in the loneliness and limitations imposed upon it by 
accidental circumstances. Well for me if I can teach 
it to be self-sufiicing in its desolation, to rest in 
vacancy, to be still in this galling silence, to endure 
though Nature is dumb. 

You who know me, who understand me, but who, 
happier and wiser than I, submit without impatience 
to the customs of life, you know what are the needs 
in me which cannot be satisfied, separated as we are 
doomed to live. One thing indeed consoles me — that 
I am sure of your friendship ; that feeling will never 
desert me. But as we always declared, we ought both 
to feel alike, to share the same destiny, to spend our 
lives together. How often have I regretted that we 



30 OBERMANN. 

were not so placed to each other ! With whom would 
unreserved confidence be so sweet to me, and so 
natural? Have you not been until now my only 
comrade ? You know that fine saying- : Est aliqiiid 
sacri in antiqiiis necessitiidinibiis. I am sorry it was 
not uttered by Epicurus, or even by Leontius, rather 
than by an orator.^ 

You are the centre where I love to rest amid the 
distraction that sways me, to which I love to return 
when I have wandered everywhere and have found 
myself alone in the world. If we lived together, if 
we sufficed each other, I would take my stand there, 
I would know the meaning of rest, I would do some- 
thing in the world, and my life would begin. But I 
must wait, and seek, and hurry on to the unknown, 
and though I know not whither I am bound I must 

^ Cicero was no common man; he was even a great man. He had 
fine qualities and fine talents; he occupied a distinguished position; he 
wrote well on philosophical topics; but I fail to see that he had the 
soul of a wise man. Obermann objected to his having merely a wise 
man's pen. He was of opinion too that a statesman has opportunity 
enough of showing what he is; he also believed that a statesman may 
make mistakes, but must not be weak, that a "father of his country" 
has no need to deal in flattery, that vanity is sometimes the almost 
unavoidable expedient of the unknown, but in other cases it is only 
due to littleness of soul. I fancy also that he objected to a Roman 
consul weeping phirimis lacrymis, because the wife of his bosom was 
obliged to change her abode. That was most likely his attitude towards 
this orator, whose genius was perhaps not so great as his talents. I 
fear I may be mistaken, however, in my interpretation of his feeling 
from the point of view of these letters, for I find I am attributing to 
him exactly my own. I am quite content that the author of De Officiis 
succeeded in the affair of Catiline; but I would have liked him to be 
great in his reverses. 



LETTER V. 31 

flee from the present as if I had something- to hope for 
in the future. 

You excuse my departure; you even justify it; and 
that in full view of the fact that friendship demands 
a stricter justice than your leniency w^ould mete out 
to strangers. You are quite right; I had to do it; 
circumstances compelled me. I cannot look without a 
kind of indignation on the preposterous life I have left, 
but I am under no delusion about the one before me. 
I enter with dread on years full of uncertainties, and I 
see something ominous in the dense cloud which rests 
in front of me. 



LETTER V. 

Saint-Maurice, August i^th (I.)- 

I have been waiting for a settled abode before writing 
to you. At last I have made up my mind ; I shall spend 
the winter here. I shall make first of all some little 
excursions ; but as soon as autumn is set in I shall 
not move again. 

I meant to traverse the Canton of Fribourg, and 
enter the Valais through the mountains, but the rains 
compelled me to make for Vevey, by way of Payerne 
and Lausanne. The weather had taken up when I 
entered Vevey, but whatever the weather had been, I 
could not have determined to proceed by carriage. 
Between Lausanne and Vevey the road is all ups and 
downs, generally along- the hillside, among vineyards 
which seem to me in such a region somewhat monot- 



32 OBERMANN. 

onous. But Vevey, Clarens, Chillon, the three leagues 
from Saint-Saphorien to Villeneuve, surpass everythuig' 
I have hitherto seen. People generally admire the 
lake of Geneva near Rolle. Well, I have no wish to 
settle the point, but for my part I think it is at Vevey, 
and still more at Chillon, that one sees it in all its 
beauty. If only there were in this wonderful basin, in 
sight of the Dent de Jaman, of the Aiguille du Midi 
and the snows of Velan, just there, in front of the cliffs 
of Meillerie, a peak rising from the water, a rock-bound 
islet, well-wooded, difficult of access, and on that 
island two, or at most three, houses ! I would budge 
no further. Why does Nature hardly ever contain 
what imagination creates for our needs? Is it that 
men oblige us to imagine and long for what Nature 
does not usually produce, and that if she happens to 
have produced it anywhere, they soon destroy it? 

I slept at Villeneuve, a dreary place in so fine a 
region. I traversed before the day grew hot the 
wooded hills of Saint-Tryphon, and the succession of 
orchards filling the valley as far as Bex. I was ad- 
vancing between two ranges of Alps of great elevation ; 
looking up to their snows I was following a level road 
through fertile country, which seemed as though in 
limes gone by it had been almost entirely under water. 

The valley along which the Rhone flows from 
Martigny to the lake is cut in two, about the middle, 
by cliffs crowned with pastures and forests. These 
cliffs are the lowest terraces of the Dents de Morcle 
and du Midi respectively, and are only separated by 
the bed of the river. On the northern side the rocks 
are partly covered by chestnut woods, and above that 



LETTER V. 33 

by pines. Here, in these somewhat outlandish regions, 
is my residence at the foot of the Aiguille du Midi. 
This peak is one of the most beautiful in the Alps, and 
also one of the loftiest, if judged not merely by its 
height above sea level, but also by its apparent 
elevation and the well-proportioned amphitheatre which 
brings out all the grandeur of its outlines. Of all the 
summits whose height has been determined by trigono- 
metrical survey or barometrical readings, I do not see 
one, so far as I can tell from a glance at the maps and 
from the water system, whose base lies in such deep 
valleys. I think I am safe in assigning to it an 
apparent elevation almost as great as that of any other 
summit in Europe. 

On seeing these tenanted, fertile, and yet wild 
ravines, I left the road to Italy, which turns off at this 
point for Bex, and made for the bridge over the Rhone, 
taking footpaths through meadows the like of which 
our painters hardly ever depict. The bridge, the 
castle, and the flowing Rhone form at this point a 
most charming picture ; as for the town, the only 
special feature I noticed was a kind of simplicity. Its 
situation has a touch of melancholy, but the sort of 
melancholy I like. The mountains are fine, the valley 
level ; the cliffs verge on the town and seem to over- 
hang it; the muffled roll of the Rhone gives a tone of 
melancholy to this little self-contained world, whose 
sunken floor seems shut in on all sides. Though 
populous and cultivated, it seems notwithstanding to 
be frowned upon, or shall I say beautified, by all the 
austerity of the desert, when the black clouds over- 
shadow it, rolling along the sides of the mountains, 



34 OBERMANN. 

darkening- the sombre pines, drawing- together, piling 
in masses, and hanging motionless like a gloom-filled 
roof; or when, on a cloudless day, the heat of the sun 
pours down upon it, fermenting its invisible vapours, 
pursuing with relentless energy whatever breathes 
beneath the arid sky, and making of this too lovely 
solitude a bitter desolation. 

The cold rains I had just experienced as I passed the 
Jorat, which is a mere hillock compared to the Alps, 
and the snows under which at the same time I saw the 
mountains of Savoy grow white, even in the middle of 
summer, made me think more seriously of the severity 
and still more of the duration of the winters in the 
higher parts of Switzerland. I was anxious to com- 
bine the beauty of the mountains with the climate of 
the plains. I was hoping to find in the high mountain 
valleys some slopes of southern aspect, a serviceable 
precaution for clear cold weather, but of very little 
avail against the months of fog, and least of all against 
the lateness of the spring. As I had quite decided not 
to live down here in the towns I thought I should be 
well compensated for these disadvantages if I could 
lodge with worthy mountaineers, on some little dairy- 
farm, sheltered from the cold winds, beside a mountain- 
stream, amid pasture lands and evergreen pines. 

Circumstances have decided otherwise. Here I have 
found a mild climate, not in the mountains, it is true, 
but surrounded by them. I have let myself be prevailed 
upon to stay near Saint-Maurice. I will not tell you 
how that came about, in fact 1 should be at a loss how 
to explain it if I were obliged. 

What you may think on the face of it rather odd, is 



LETTER V. 35 

that the utter ennui I felt here during- four wet days 
contributed largely to my staying-. My heart failed me; 
it was not the monotony of solitude I dreaded in the 
winter, but that of the snow. And then, too, I was 
led to decide involuntarily, without choice, by a kind 
of instinct which seemed to tell me that so it had to be. 

When it was known that I thought of staying in the 
neighbourhood, several people expressed their good- 
will in a very kind and unassuming way. The only one 
with whom I became intimate is the owner of a pretty 
house not far from the town. He urged me to stay at 
his country residence, or to make choice among some 
others he mentioned, belonging- to his friends. But 
I wanted a picturesque locality and a house to myself. 
Fortunately I realized in time that if I went to inspect 
these various residences I should let myself be betrayed 
into taking one out of mere politeness or in weak com- 
pliance, even if they were all far from what I wanted. 
Then if I regretted a wrong choice I could not without 
discourtesy have tried any other alternative than that 
of leaving the district altogether. I frankly told him 
my reasons, and he seemed to appreciate them. I set 
out to explore the neighbourhood, visiting the scenes 
I liked best, and casually looking out for a house, 
without even ascertaining beforehand whether any were 
to be found there or not. 

I had been engaged in the search for a couple of 
days, in a neighbourhood not far from the town, where 
there were places as secluded as any to be found in the 
heart of a wilderness, and where accordingly I only 
meant to spend three days on a quest that I did not 
want to push very far. I had seen many habitations 



36 OBERMANN. 

in places that did not suit me, and many lovely spots 
without buildings, or with such wretchedly-built stone 
houses that they made me think of giving up my 
scheme, and then I noticed a trace of smoke behind 
a grove of chestnuts. 

The waters, the depth ot the shade, the solitude ot 
the meadows over the whole slope greatly charmed me; 
but it faced the north, and as I wanted a more genial 
aspect, I should not have stopped but for this smoke. 
After a good deal of winding about and crossing rapid 
streamlets I reached a solitary house on the edge of 
the woods and in the loneliest of meadows. A decent 
dwelling-house, a wooden barn, a kitchen garden 
bounded by a fair-sized stream, two springs of good 
water, some rocks, the sound of torrents, sloping 
ground, quick-set hedges, luxuriant vegetation, a sweep 
of meadow stretching away under scattered beeches 
and chestnuts right up to the pines of the mountain — 
such is Charrieres, The very same evening I made 
arrangements with the tenant ; then I went to see the 
landlord, who lives at Monthey, half a league further 
on. He offered me the most generous terms, and we 
settled the matter at once, though not on the too 
favourable basis of his first suggestion. His first offer 
could only have been accepted by a friend, and the one 
he insisted on my accepting would have been generous 
if we had been old acquaintances. Conduct like 
this must be native to some localities, especially in 
certain families. When I mentioned it to his people 
at Saint- Maurice, nobody seemed in the least sur- 
prised. 

I want to taste the joys of Charrieres before winter. 



LETTER V. 37 

I vv^ant to be there for the chestnut-gathering', and I 
have quite decided not to miss the quiet autumn. 

In three weeks I take possession of the house, the 
chestnut grove, and part of the meadows and orchards. 
I leave to the farmer the rest of the pastures and fruit- 
trees, the kitchen-garden, the hemp-ground, and, above 
all, the ploughed land. 

The stream winds through the part I have kept for 
myself. This is the poorest land, but it has the finest 
woods and the loneliest nooks. The moss spoils the 
hay crop and the chestnuts are too crowded to bear 
much fruit ; no outlook has been contrived over the 
long valley of the Rhone; everything is wild and 
neglected. They have not even cleared a place shut 
in by rocks, where trees blown down by the wind and 
rotted with age hold the mud and form a kind of dam. 
Alders and hazels have taken root on it and com- 
pletely block the way. But the brook filters through 
the debris and pours from it all foaming into a natural 
pool of wonderful purity. Thence it finds its way 
between the rocks, dashing headlong over the moss, 
and far below it slackens its pace, leaves the woods, 
and flows in front of the house under a bridge made 
of three planks of pine. They say that the wolves, 
driven by the heavy snows, come down in winter and 
hunt right up to the doors for the bones and scraps 
of the flesh meat that man cannot do without even in 
pastoral valleys. Dread of these animals has long 
kept this house uninhabited. That is not what I am 
afraid of there. Let me be undisturbed by men, at 
any rate near the dens of the wolves ! 



38 OBERMANN. 



LETTER VI. 

Saint-Maurice, August 26(k (I.). 

A moment may transform one's mood, though such 
moments are rare. 

It happened yesterday. I put off writing to you till 
next day ; I did not want the agitation to subside so 
quickly. I felt I was really in contact with something. 
I had what seemed like joy ; I let myself go ; it is always 
good to have that experience. 

Now do not smile at me because I acted for a whole 
day as if I 'were taking leave of my senses. To tell you 
the truth, I only just missed being so stupid as not to 
keep up my infatuation for a quarter of an hour. 

I was entering Saint-Maurice. A travelling carriage 
was passing at a walking pace, and there were several 
people also coming off the bridge. You already 
conclude that one of the number was a woman. My 
French dress apparently drew attention to me; they 
bowed. Her lips are full ; her glance. ... As to her 
figure and everything else, I have no more idea than I 
have of her age; I am not at all concerned about that; 
it is even possible that she is not specially pretty. 

I did not inquire to what inn they were going, but I 
stayed the night at Saint-Maurice. I suppose the 
innkeeper (the one to whose place I always go) must 
have put me at the same table because they are French ; 
I fancy he suggested it to me. You may be sure I 
ordered something dainty for dessert that I might offer 
her some of it. 



LETTER VI. 39 

I spent the rest of the day by the Rhone. They must 
have left this morning-; they are goings as far as Sion, 
on the way to Leuk, where one of the travellers intends 
to take the baths. It is said to be a fine route. 

It is really amazing- how a man who is not without 
vigour will let his life be swallowed up in depression, 
when it takes so little to rouse him from his lethargy. 

Do you think that a man who ends his days without 
ever having been in love has really entered into the 
mysteries of life, that his heart is thoroughly known to 
him, and that the range of his being has been revealed 
to him? It seems to me that he has remained anoutsider, 
and has only seen from afar what the world might have 
been to him. 

I let myself talk freely to you, because you will not 
say: "Ah! he is love sick." Never may that stupid 
remark be made about me by any but fools, for it makes 
ridiculous either him who says it or him of whom it is 
said. 

When a couple of glasses of punch have put to flight 
our misgivings, and have given a sustaining impetus to 
our ideas, we fancy that henceforth we shall have more 
energy of disposition and enjoy a freer life, but next 
morning we are more out of conceit with ourselves than 
ever. 

If the weather were not stormy I do not know how I 
should get through the day; but the thunder is already 
resounding among the crags, the wind is growing 
furious. I revel in this turmoil of the elements. If it 
rains this afternoon it will be cooler, and in any case I 
can read by the fire. 

The postman who is due in an hour should bring me 



40 OBERMANN. 

some books from Lausanne, where I paid a subscription ; 
but if he forgets I will do somethmg better, and the time 
will slip away all the same, — I will write you a letter, if 
I only have courage enough to begin. 



LETTER VII. 

Saint-Maurice, Sept. yd{\.). 

I have been up as far as the perennial snow-fields, on 
the Dent du Midi. Before the sun had risen on the 
valley I had already reached the top of the great cliff 
which overhangs the town, and was crossing the partly- 
cultivated terrace above it. I kept on up a steep slope, 
through thick pine-forests, which in places had been 
laid low in winters long gone by, forming an inextricable 
tangle of decaying remains and vegetation growing out 
of it. At eight o'clock I arrived at the bare peak which 
rises above this slope and forms the first step of that 
stupendous stairway from whose summit I was still so 
remote. 

At this point I sent back my guide and trusted to my 
own resources. I did not want any mercenary bond to 
interfere with this mountain freedom, or any mere plain- 
dweller to tone down the sternness of nature at her 
wildest. I felt my whole being expand as I thus faced 
alone these forbidding obstacles and dangers, far from 
the artificial restrictions and tyrannical ingenuity of 
men. 

With a thrill of delicious independence I watched the 



LETTER VII. 41 

disappearing figure of the only man I was likely to meet 
among those great precipices. I left on the ground my 
watch, my money, and everything I had with me, as 
well as most of my clothing, and strode away without 
even troubling to hide them. So you will say that my 
first independent action was an eccentric one, to say the 
least of it, and that I was like children who have been 
too much repressed, and who do all sorts of absurd 
things when left to themselves. I admit that there was 
something childish in my eagerness to leave everything 
behind, and in my hovel get-up, but I moved more 
freely for it, and set myself to climb on hands and knees 
the rocky ridge which joins this minor peak to the main 
body of the hill, most of the time holding between my 
teeth the stick I had cut to help me on the downward 
slopes. Here and there I crawled along between two 
abysses which I could not see to the bottom of. Thus 
I reached at last the granite. 

My guide had told me that I should not be able to 
climb beyond that point, and, as a matter of fact, I was 
brought to a standstill for some time ; but at last by 
going down again a little, I found an easier ascent. 
Attacking it with the daring of a mountaineer, I 
reached a basin-like depression, full of hard frozen snow 
which summer never melted. I climbed much higher 
still, but when I arrived at the foot of the highest peak 
in the range I could not scale it. The face of the rock 
was almost perpendicular, and towered to a height of 
some 500 feet above where I stood. 

Although the snow I had crossed was trifling in 
extent, I had made no provision for it: my eyes were 
tired with its glare, and dazzled by the reflection of the 



42 OBERMANN. 

midday sun from its frozen surface, and I could not see 
anything- distinctly. Moreover, many of the peaks I 
did see were unknown to me ; I could only be sure of 
the most striking-. Since I came to Switzerland I have 
given all my time to reading de Saussure, Bourrit, the 
Tableau de la Suisse, and the like, but I am still quite 
a novice among the Alps. I could not, however, 
mistake the huge bulk of Mont Blanc, which towered 
perceptibly above me, nor that of Velan ; another further 
off but higher, I took to be Mont Rosa. On the 
opposite side of the valley, not far away, but lower 
down, beyond the abysses, was the Dent de Morcle. 
The mass I could not climb interfered considerably with 
what was probably the most striking part of this 
mag-nificent view. Behind that lay the long deep trough 
of the Valais, streaked on either hand by the glaciers 
of Sanetsch, Lauter-brunnen, and the Pennines, and 
closed by the domes of Gotthard and Titlis, the snows 
of Furka, the pyramids of the Schreckhorn and 
Finster-aar-horn. 

But this view of mountain tops beneath one's feet, 
grand and imposing- as it was, and far removed from 
the blank monotony of the plains, was not after all the 
object of my quest in this region of unfettered Nature, 
of silent stillness and pure air. On lower levels man as 
he is by nature cannot but be warped by breathing the 
turbid and restless atmosphere of social life, full of 
ferment as it is, always disturbed by the din of human 
occupations, and the bustle of so-called pleasures, by 
cries of hate and never-ending groans of anxiety and 
pain. But there, in mountain solitudes, where the sky 
is vast, the air calmer, the flight of time less hurried, 



LETTER VII. 43 

and life more permanent; there, all nature expresses a 
nobler plan, a more evident harmony, an eternal whole- 
ness. There, man recovers that true self which may be 
warped, but cannot perish; he breathes a free air 
untainted by the exhalations of social life. He exists 
for himself as he does for the Universe; he lives a real 
life of his own in the sublime unity of things. 

This was what I wanted to experience, what I was in 
quest of at least. Unsure of myself in the scheme of 
thing's arranged at great cost by a race of clever 
children,^ I went to the hills to inquire of Nature why 
I am ill at ease among my fellows. 1 wanted to settle 
the point whether it is my existence that is alien to the 
human scheme, or the actual social order that has 
drifted away from the eternal harmony, and become 
something abnormal and exceptional in the develop- 
ment of the world. Now at last I believe I am sure of 
myself. There are single moments that put to flight 
doubt, mistrust, prejudice; moments in which one 
recognizes the real by an imperative and unshakable 
conviction. 

Be it so then. I shall live unhappy, and almost an 
object of ridicule, in a world enslaved to the fancies of 
this fleeting age, counteracting my boredom by the 
conviction which sets me inwardly beside man as he 

^ If any youthful reader shares this feeling, let him not conclude that 
it will be permanent. Though you may not alter yourself, time will 
calm you ; you will accept what is, instead of what you would like. 
Sheer fatigue will incline you to an easy life, and nothing is easier than 
this acquiescence. Vou will seek relaxation ; sit at table, see the comic 
side ot things, and inwardly smile. Vou will find an enjoyable kind of 
luxury in your very ennui, and will j)ass away forgetting that you have 
never really lived. So has many another passed away before you. 





44 OBERMANN. 

might be. And if there ever crosses my path any one 
with a disposition so unyielding that his nature, 
moulded on the primal type, cannot take the stamp of 
social forms — if, I say, it should ever be my lot to meet 
such a man, we shall understand each other; he will 
link himself with me, and I will be his for all time. 

Each of us will transfer to the other his relations with 
the world outside, and rid of other men whose vain 
desires we will pity, we will follow if possible a more 
natural and evenly balanced life. And yet who can tell 
whether it would be any happier, since it would still be 
out of tune witM its surroundings, and spent in the 
midst of suffering humanity ! 

I should be at a loss to give you a clear idea of this 
new world, and to describe the permanence of the 
mountains in the vocabulary of the plains. The hours 
seemed to me alike calmer and more fruitful, and in 
the deliberateness and intensity of my thought I was 
conscious of a progress which was more rapid than 
usual and }'et unhurried, as though the spheric revolu- 
tions had been slowed down in the all-pervading calm. 
When I wanted to reckon how long this march of 
thought had lasted, I found the sun had not kept pace 
with it, and 1 inferred that the consciousness of exist- 
ence actually weighs more heavily and is more barren 
in the vmrest of human surroundings. I saw that on 
tranquil mountain heights, where thought is less 
' hurried, it is more truly active, in spite of the apparent 
slowness of its movements. The dweller in the valley 
devours without enjoyment his chafed and restless 
span of life, like those unresting insects that waste 
their energies in idly darting to and fro, and are left 



LETTER VII. 45 

behind by others, as weak as themselves but calmer, 
that keep steadily moving" onward. 

The day was hot, the horizon dim, and the valleys 
ha^^y. The reflected glare of the ice-fields scattered 
gleams of light through the lower air, but an unknown 
purity seemed characteristic of the air I breathed. At 
that height no exhalation from below, no play of light, 
disturbed or divided up the dark and limitless depth of 
the sky. Its apparent colour was not that pale and 
luminous blue which vaults the plains, that charming 
and delicate tint which gives the inhabited world a 
palpable sphere as the resting-place and boundary of 
vision. Up there the impalpable ether allows the sight 
to lose itself in boundless space; from amid the glare 
of sun and glaciers it goes out in quest of other worlds 
and other suns, as though under a midnight sky; it 
reaches a universe of night beyond the air illumined by 
the lights of day. 

Imperceptibly vapours rose from the glaciers and 
formed clouds beneath my feet. The glare of the snow 
no longer tired my eyes, and the sky grew darker and 
deeper than ever. A mist settled upon the Alps, and 
only a few solitary peaks stood out above the sea of 
cloud ; some streaks of snow that lingered in their 
furrowed sides made the granite look all the more 
black and forbidding. The snow-clad dome of Mount 
Blanc heaved its ponderous bulk out of this grey and 
shifting sea, above the piling fogs, which the wind 
ridged and furrowed into mighty waves. A black speck 
appeared in the midst of them ; it rose swiftly and came 
straight towards me; it was the mighty Alpine eagle; 
its wings were mist-drenched and its eye was ravenous ; 



46 OBERMANN. 

it was hunting' for prey, but on seeing- a human form 
it turned to flee with an ominous cry, and disappeared 
headlong in the clouds. The cry was twenty times 
re-echoed, but in sharp, dry sounds, like so many 
separate cries in the all-pervading silence. Then an 
absolute calm fell upon everything; it was as if sound 
itself had ceased to be, as if the property of sonorous 
bodies had been struck out of the universe. Such 
silence is never known in the bustling valleys ; it is 
only on the cold heights that stillness like this holds 
sway ; no tongue can describe, no imagination con- 
ceive, its impressive abidingness. But for memories 
brought from the plains one could not believe that 
outside oneself there was such a thing- as movement 
in Nature; the revolution of the heavenly bodies would 
be inexplicable, and everything would seem permanent 
in the very act of chang-ing, even the transformation 
of the clouds themselves. Each present moment seem- 
ing endless, one would witness the fact without having 
the feeling of the succession of events, and the un- 
ceasing changes of the universe would be to one's 
thought an insoluble problem. 

I should have liked to retain more definite impres- 
sions not only of my moods of mind in those silent 
regions — there is no fear of my forgetting them — but 
of the thoughts they gave rise to, for of these my 
memory has retained scarcely anything. In places so 
different, imagination can scarcely recapture a train 
of thought which surrounding objects seem to banish. 
I should have had to write down what I felt, but in 
that case the mood of exaltation would soon have de- 
serted me. In the very act of recording one's thought 



LETTER VII. 47 

for future reference there is somethings that savours of 
bondage and the cares of a life of dependence. In 
moments of intensity one is not concerned with other 
times and other men ; one does not then pay any heed 
to artificial conventions, to fame, or even public good. 
We are more spontaneous, not even considering how 
to utilize the present moment; we do not control our 
ideas, or will to follow out a train of thought, we do 
not set ourselves to get to the bottom of a thing, to 
make new discoveries, to say what has not been said 
before. Thought at such times is not aggressive and 
directed, but passive and free; we dream and let our- 
selves go; we think profoundly without mental effort; 
we are great without enthusiasm, energetic without 
volition; it is dreaming, not meditation. 

You need not be surprised that I have nothing to 
tell you after experiencing for more than six hours 
emotions and ideas which the whole of my future life 
will perhaps never bring me again. You know how 
disappointed those men of Dauphind were when they 
went botanizing with Jean Jacques. They reached a 
hill-top which was just the place to kindle poetic 
genius ; they waited for a fine outburst of eloquence, 
but the author oi Julia sat himself down, started play- 
ing with some grass blades, and said never a word. 

It might be about five o'clock when I noticed how 
the shadows were lengthening, and felt a touch of 
cold in the westward-facing nook where I had stayed 
motionless so long on the granite. I could not have 
moved about ; walking was too difficult among those 
crags. The clouds had dispersed, and I saw that the 
evening would be fine, even in the valleys. 



48 OBERMANN. 

If the clouds had thickened I should have been in 
real danger, but this had never occurred to me till 
that very moment. The stratum of turbid air which 
clings to the earth was too remote from me in the 
pure air I was breathing, close to where ether begins^; 
all caution had deserted me, as if it were only a con- 
vention of artificial life. 

As I came down to inhabited regions I felt that I 
was taking up again the long chain of cares and 
boredoms. I reached home at ten o'clock; the moon 
was shining in at my window. The Rhone babbled 
noisily along; there was no wind, the whole town was 
asleep. I dreamt of the mountains I was about to 
leave, of Charrieres where I am going to live, of the 
freedom I had won. 



LETTER VIII. 

Saint-Maurice, Sept. i\th (I.). 

I am just home from a tour in the mountains, lasting 
several days. I do not mean to give you any descrip- 
tion of it; I have other things to tell you. I had found 
a bit of lovely scenery, and was looking forward to 
many another visit to it ; it is not far from Saint- 
Maurice. Before going to bed I opened a letter. It 
was not in your hand, and the word urgent, con- 
spicuously written, gave me some uneasiness. Every- 
thing arouses suspicion in the man who is laboriously 
freeing himself from long-standing restrictions. In 

^ It is not known exactly where the so-called ether does begin. 



LETTER VIII. 49 

my present tranquillity any change was bound to be 
distasteful; I expected nothing good, and I felt there 
was much to fear. 

You will readily guess, I think, what was the matter. 
I was stunned, overwhelmed ; then I resolved to let 
everything go, to rise above it all, and resign for ever 
what would entangle me again with the things I had 
left. Nevertheless, after much hesitation I came to 
the conclusion, either wisely or weakly, that I must 
sacrifice part of my time to ensure quiet in the future. 
I submit ; I am giving up Charri^res, and making 
ready to leave. We will discuss this unhappy affair 
when we meet. 

This morning I could not bear the thought of such a 
revolution, and I even began to reconsider it. In the 
end I went to Charrieres to make other arrangements 
and to announce my departure. It was there that I 
finally decided, while trying' to keep at bay the idea of 
the approaching season and of the tedium that already 
began to weigh upon me. I went into the meadows; 
they were being cut for the last time. I lay back on a 
rock so as to see nothing but sky; it was hidden by a 
pall of cloud. I looked at the chestnuts, and saw falling 
leaves. Then I wandered to the brook, as if I feared 
even that would be dried up, but it was running just the 
same. 

How inexplicable is the grip of compulsion on human 
affairs! I am going to Lyons, then on to Paris; so far 
things are settled. Good-bye. Pity the man who finds 
but little, and from whom that little is again snatched 
away. 

Well, well; we shall meet at Lyons. 



50 OBERMANN. 



LETTER IX. 

Lyons, October 22nd {\.). 

I set out for Meterville on the second day after you left 
Lyons, and spent eighteen days there. You know how 
unsettled I am and in what wretched cares I am en- 
tangled, with no prospect of any satisfactory result. 
But while waiting for a letter which could not arrive 
for twelve or fifteen days, I went to spend the interval 
at Meterville. 

If I cannot be calm and unconcerned amid the worries 
I have to take in hand when the issue seems to depend 
on myself, I am at any rate quite capable of forgetting 
them completely when there is nothing more I can do. 
I can calmly await the future, however threatening it 
may be, as soon as the task of preparing for it no 
longer demands immediate attention, and I am left free 
to banish the memory of it and turn my thoughts 
elsewhere. 

As a matter of fact I could not desire for the happiest 
days of my life a deeper peace than I have enjoyed in 
this short interval. And yet it was secured amid cares 
whose duration cannot be foreseen. How? think you. 
By means so simple that they would excite the laughter 
of many who will never know the same calm. 

This estate is of no great importance, and its sur- 
roundings are more restful than imposing. You know 
the owners of it, their dispositions, mode of life, 
unassuming friendliness, and engaging manners. I 
arrived at an opportune moment. The very next day 



LETTER IX. 51 

they were to begin g-athering- the grapes on a terraced 
slope facing the south and overlooking the forest of 
Armand. It was decided at supper-time that these 
grapes, which were meant for a choice brand of wine, 
should be gathered by our own hands alone, selecting 
the ripest, so that the backward bunches might be 
allowed a few days longer. Next day, as soon as the 
mist had somewhat thinned, I put my tub on a barrow 
and was the first to make my way into the heart of the 
enclosure and begin the vintage. I did it almost alone, 
without seeking any quicker method ; I enjoyed the 
very slowness of it, and felt sorry when I saw any one else 
at work. It lasted, I think, twelve days. My barrow 
went and came along neglected paths overgrown with 
damp grass. I chose the roughest and most toilsome, 
and the days slipped imperceptibly away amid autumn 
mists, and fruits, and sunshine. When evening came 
we drank our tea with milk warm from the cow ; we 
laughed at those who seek for pleasures ; we wandered 
among the aged hornbeams, and went to bed contented. 
I have seen the vanities of life, and I kave within me 
the living germ of the greatest passions; I have 
also an interest in great social movements and In the 
philosophic ideal; I have read Marcus Aurellus and 
found nothing in him to surprise me; I appreciate 
arduous virtues, even monastic heroism. All these can 
stir my soul and yet not fill it. This barrow that I load 
with fruit and trundle gently before me, supports it 
better. It seems to wheel m}' hours peacefully along, 
and this slow and useful exercise, this measured pace, 
seems suited to the normal course of life. 



SECOND YEAR. 

LETTER X. 

Paris, y^we zoth (II.). 

Nothing makes any headway; the wretched business 
that keeps me here drags on from day to day, and the 
more I chafe at these delays the more doubtful it be- 
comes how long- it will last. Men of the agent tribe do 
business with the unconcern of those who are used to 
its tardiness, and they delight in that slow obstructed 
pace; it matches their crafty souls, and is convenient 
for their underhand wiles, I should have more of their 
mischief to report to you if they were doing less to me. 
Besides, you know my opinion of the trade; I have 
always looked upon it as most questionable or most 
pernicious. A lawyer is now dragging me through 
quibble after quibble ; supposing me to be selfish and 
unprincipled, he is haggling for his own side. He thinks 
if he wears me out with delays and formalities he will 
get me to give what I cannot bestow, because I do not 
possess it. So after spending six months at Lyons 
against my will, I am still doomed to spend perhaps 
longer than that here. 

The year is slipping away; one more to deduct from 
my existence. I bore the loss of spring almost without 

52 



LETTER X. 53 

a murmur, but summer in Paris ! I spend part of my 
time in the irksome tasks inseparable from what is 
called attending- to business, and when I would fain be 
at peace for the rest of the day, and seek at home a 
kind of refuge from these long--drawn irritations, I am 
irritated there more unbearably still. There I am in 
silence surrounded by uproar, and I alone have nothing' 
to do in a bustling- world. There is no mean here 
between turmoil and inaction ; one cannot but be bored 
if one is free from business and from passions. I 
occupy a room which vibrates to the continual din 
of all the cries, the labours, and the turmoil of an 
energfetic people. Beneath my window there is a kind 
of open space frequented by quacks, conjurers, coster- 
mongers, and hawkers of every description. Opposite 
is the high wall of a public building; the sun shines on 
it from two o'clock until evening; its white and glaring 
expanse clashes harshly with the blue sky, and the 
brightest days are to me the most excruciating. An 
indefatigable newsvendor reiterates the names of his 
papers; his rasping monotonous voice seems to make 
the sun-scorched square more arid still ; and if I hear 
some washer-woman singing at her attic window I lose 
patience and clear out. For three days past a lame 
and ulcerated beggar has stationed himself at the 
corner of a street close by, and there he whines in 
a doleful, high pitched voice for twelve long hours. 
Imagine the effect of this wail repeated at regular 
intervals right through the settled fine days. There 
is nothing for it but to stay out all day long, until he 
finds a fresh place. But where can I go ? I know very 
few people here, and it would be a mere chance if 



54 OBERMANN. 

among so few there were a single one to whom I should 
be congenial, so I go nowhere. As for public promen- 
ades, there are in Paris very fine ones ; but not one 
where I can spend half an hour without ennui. 

I know nothing so exhausting as this everlasting 
dilatoriness of all things. It keeps one in a continual 
attitude of expectation ; it lets life slip away before one 
has reached the point at which one really begins to live. 
And yet what have I to complain of ! How few there are 
who make anything of life ! Not to mention those who 
spend it in dungeons beneficently provided by the laws ! 
How can such a one make up his mind to go on living? 
One, for instance, who holds out through twenty years 
of his youth in a dungeon ? Well, he never knows how 
much longer he will have to stay; what if the moment 
of deliverance be at hand ! I was forgetting those who 
would not dare to end it of their own free will; they 
have lived on simply because men have not allowed 
them to die. And we dare to bemoan ourselves ! 



LETTER XI. 

FAUiSj/ime 2'jth (11.)- 

Occasionally I spend a couple of hours in the library; 
not exactly to improve my mind — that longing is per- 
ceptibly cooling— but because I am at a loss for some- 
thing to fill these hours which all the same are slipping 
irrevocably away, and they seem less irksome when 
I occupy them outside than when I have to struggle 



LETTER XI. 55 

through them at home. Tasks to some extent com- 
pulsory suit my mood of depression ; too much freedom 
would leave me a prey to indolence. I have more peace 
of mind in the company of folk who are silent like 
myself, than alone in a noisy neii^hbourhood. 1 like 
these long- rooms, some empty, others full of people 
engrossed in study, in that cool and venerable store- 
house of human efforts and vanities. 

When I read Bougainville,^ Chardin,- or Laloubere,^ 
1 am impressed by old-time memories of effete civiliza- 
tions, by the fame of far-off wisdom, or by the youthful 
vigour of the happy islands; but in the end losing sight 
of Persepolis and Benares, and even Tinian,* I fore- 
shorten all time and place into the point of present 
consciousness in which the human mind perceives them. 
I see the eager minds around me acquiring knowledge 
in silent intensity of application, while endless oblivion 
flows over their absorbed and learned heads, bringing 
with it their inevitable end, and the dissolution in what 
to nature is but a moment, both of their being and their 
thought and their age. 

The rooms surround a long, quiet, grass-grown court, 
in which are two or three statues, some ruins, and a 
basin, which looks as old as the monuments, full of 
green water. 1 seldom leave without spending a 
quarter of an hour in this silent enclosure; I love to 

^ Navigator, 1729-1811; wrote Voyage autour da monde. — Tr. 

- Traveller in India and Persia, 1643-1713. — Tk. 

^ Sent by Louis XIV. to Siam to establish diplomatic and commercial 
relations, 1687. Wrote a full account of origin, manners, and govern- 
ment of Siamese. — Tk. 

* One of the Ladrones or Mariana Islands in the North Pacific. — Tk. 



56 OBERMANN. 

pace meditatively these old stones riven from their 
quarries to afford a clean, dry surface for the foot of 
man. But time and neg^lect are replacing- them, as it 
were, in the earth, by covering them with a fresh layer 
and restoring to the soil its vegetation and natural 
hues. Sometimes I find these stones more eloquent 
than the books I have just been reading. 

Yesterday while consulting the Encyclopcvdia I opened 
the volume at a place I was not in search of, and I do 
not remember now the title of the article, but it was 
about a man worn out by distraction and disappoint- 
ment, who broke away into absolute solitude by one of 
those masterful resolutions whose force of will is ever 
after g^round for self-congratulation. The notion of this 
independent life did not sugg^est to me the freedom and 
solitude of Imaiis, nor the genial islands of the Pacific, 
nor the more accessible Alps, already so much regretted, 
but a vivid and impressive reminiscence brought up 
with a flash of surprise and inspiration the bare rocks 
and the woods of Fontainebleau. 

Let me tell you something- more of this outlandish 
place in the midst of our pastoral landscapes. You 
will then better understand why I am so fond of it. 

You know that as a child I lived several years in 
Paris. The relations with whom I stayed, in spite of 
their liking for the city, on several occasions spent the 
month of September with friends in the country. One 
year it was at Fontainebleau, and on two subsequent 
occasions we visited the same people, who then lived 
on the edge of the forest next the river. I think I 
should be fourteen, fifteen, and seventeen when I saw 
Fontainebleau. After my stay-at-home, inactive, and 



LETTER XI. 57 

wearisome childhood, I was still a child in many re- 
spects, if I felt myself a man in others. I was awkward, 
hesitating ; having- a presentiment possibly of every- 
thing, but knowing nothing; alien to my surroundings, 
my only fixed trait was that of being restless and un- 
happy. On the first occasion I did not go alone into 
the forest, and remember little of what I felt in it ; I 
only know that I preferred this place to all others 1 
had seen, and that it was the only one I wanted to 
revisit. 

The year after I eagerly explored these solitudes; I 
used to lose myself on purpose, happy in being com- 
pletely out of my bearings, with no beaten track in 
sight. Whenever I reached the edge of the forest, I 
shrank from the sight of those wide bare plains and 
those steeples in the distance. I turned my back on 
them at once and plunged into the thickest of the 
woods, and when I found a clear space shut in all 
round, where I could see nothing but sand and junipers, 
then I had a sense of peace, of freedom, and of un- 
tutored joy — Nature's power realized for the first time, 
at an age when one is easily made happy. And yet 
I was not exuberant; I just missed happiness and only 
felt a wholesome eagerness. I grew weary even while 
enjoying it, and always came home sad. Several times 
I was in the woods before sunrise. I toiled up summits 
still wrapped in gloom, I drenched myself in the dewy 
heather, and when the sun appeared I thought regret- 
fully of the dim light which heralded the dawn. I 
loved the hollows, the dusky vales, the thick woods; 
I loved the heather-covered hills; I greatly loved the 
scattered boulders and the crumbling rocks; still more 



58 OBERMANN. 

I loved those shiftingf sands, whose arid surface showed 
no mark of human foot, but here and there was ruffled 
by the hurried tracks of flying" deer or hare. If I heard 
a squirrel or put up a stag-, I stopped short, my spirits 
rose, and for the moment I wanted nothing more. 

It was in those days that I noticed the birch, that 
solitary tree which even so early made me sad, though 
since I have never seen it without pleasure. I love 
the birch ; I love its white, smooth-peeling- bark, its 
sylvan stem, its branches drooping to the ground, its 
fluttering leaves, and all its careless, native grace and 
wilding pose. 

Ah me! the days gone by, that one never can forget! 
How vain the glamour of an ardent, sympathetic soul! 
How great is man in his inexperience! How fruitful 
he would be if the cold glance of his fellows, and the 
parching breath of injustice, did not come to dry up 
his heart ! I yearned for happiness ; I was born to 
suffer. You know those dismal days just before the 
hoar-frosts, whose very dawn thickens the mists and 
only heralds the light of day by ominous streaks of 
glowing colour on the piling clouds. That pall of 
gloom, those stormy squalls, those pale gleams, that 
whistling of the wind through bending and shuddering 
trees, those long-drawn wails like funereal lamentations 
— such is the morning of life; at noon, still colder and 
more lasting gales ; at nightfall, thicker gloom, and 
the day of man is done. 

That infinite bewitching charm, born with the heart 
of man, and seeming as like to last as he, one day 
revived; I even fancied I should have the joy of satisfied 
desires. But the sudden and too violent flame blazed 



LETTER XII. 59 

up in vacancy, and died away without an object to 
illuminate. So in thundery weather, startling- what- 
ever lives, come swift flashes in the gloomy night. 

It was in March ; I was at Lu . There were 

violets at the roots of the bushes, and lilacs in a 
delightfully quiet vernal meadow, facing the noonday 
sun. The house was above, much higher up ; a terraced 
garden hid the windows from sight. Below the meadow 
rocks dropped steep and straight as a wall ; at their 
feet a full torrent, and beyond that another wall of 
rock, with meadows, hedges, and pines above it. 
Through all ran the antiquated city walls; there was 
an owl in their ancient towers. At night the moon 
shone ; horns answered each other in the distance, 
and the voice that I shall hear no more . . . ! I was 
carried away by it all. It was the sole illusion of my 
life. Why then this memory of Fontainebleau, and 
not that of Lu ? 



LETTER XII. 

[Near Fontainrhleau] //^/j/ zZih (II.). 

At last I can really fancy myself in the desert. There 
are regions here where not a trace of man is to be seen. 
I have fled for a while from those uneasy cares which 
wear away our term of days, and overcast our life with 
the shadows before and after, making it seem but a 
more restless emptiness than they. 

This evening, when I traversed the length of the 

7 



6o OBERMANN. 

forest, and came down to Valvin, beneath the woods, in 
silence, it looked as though I should be lost among 
torrents and morasses, in awesome and romantic scenes. 
What I found were mounds of tumbled boulders, little 
patches of sand, a landscape almost level and hardly 
picturesque; but its silence, its desolation, and its 
barrenness sufficed me. 

Do you understand the pleasure I feel when my foot 
sinks in loose burning sand, when I make headway 
with difficulty, and there is neither water, coolness, nor 
shade, nothing but an untilled, silent waste; bare, 
crumbling, shattered rocks; Nature's forces conquered 
by the forces of time? Does it not seem as if the 
condition of peace with me is to find outside, under a 
burning sky, other difficulties and other devastations 
than those in my own heart ? 

I never take my bearings; on the contrary, I lose 
myself when I can. Often I keep straight on, ignoring 
the footpaths. I try not to retain any impressions of 
the landmarks, not to get to know the forest, so that I 
may always have something fresh to find in it. There 
is one road I like to follow; it describes a circle like the 
forest itself, leading neither to the plains nor the town; 
it does not take any usual line; it is neither in the vales 
nor on the hills; it seems to have no destination; it 
wanders everywhere and arrives nowhere. I can 
imagine myself tramping it for a lifetime. 

" But one must come home at night," say you, not 
taking seriously what I say about my solitude. You 
are mistaken, however; you imagine I am at Fontaine- 
bleau, or in a village, or a cottage. Nothing of the sort. 
I like the rural dwellinir^ of these resfions as little as their 



LETTER XII. 6i 

villages, and their villages as little as their towns. If 
I condemn luxury, I hate squalor. Were it not so, I 
had better have stayed in Paris; I might have found 
both there. 

But now for the point I omitted to explain in my last 
letter, which was full of the unsettlement that often 
agitates me. 

Once when I was roaming these woods, I saw, in a 
part where they were very dense, two deer flying from a 
wolf. It was close upon them ; I concluded it was sure 
to overtake them, and I followed in the same direction 
to watch the struggle and to render help if possible. 
They broke from the wood into an open space, covered 
with rocks and heather, but when I reached the spot 
they were no longer to be seen. It was an undulating 
and uneven kind of moor, where a quantity of stone 
had been quarried for paving; I explored all its hollows, 
but found nothing. On taking another direction to 
re-enter the wood, I caught sight of a dog. At first he 
watched me in silence, and did not bark until I moved 
away. I was really making straight for the entrance of 
the dwelling he was guarding. It was a kind of under- 
ground place, formed partly by natural rock, partly by 
piled up boulders, branches of juniper, heather, and 
moss. A workman who had quarried paving stones in 
the adjoining quarries for more than thirty years, being 
without property or family, had taken refuge there, so 
that he might escape the necessity of slaving till the 
day of his death, without submitting to the degradation 
of the workhouse. I saw he had a larder, and in a 
patch of poor soil beside his bit of rock were a few 
vegetables. There they were living, himself, his dog. 



62 OBERMANN. 

and his cat, on bread and water and freedom. "I have 
worked hard," he said, "and never had a thing to call 
my own; but I am having- a quiet time now, and the 
end will soon come." In those words the simple fellow 
had told me the story of mankind; but did he know it? 
Did he fancy other men happier than himself? Did he 
suffer as he compared himself with them? I made no 
enquiriesabout all that ; I wasquite young. His boorish, 
half-savage look haunted my thoughts. I had offered 
him a five-franc piece; he took it, and said he would 
get some wine. That lowered him in my estimation. 
Wine ! thought I ; there are more useful things than 
that; possibly it is wine and misconduct that have 
brought him here, and not love of solitude. Forgive 
me, simple fellow, unhappy hermit! I had not then 
learned that one may drink to forget one's sorrows. I 
know now the bitterness which chafes our energies and 
the aversions which paralyze them ; I can respect the 
man whose first want is to have a moment's rest from 
groaning; I am indignant when I see men with whom 
everything goes smoothly, harshly rebuking some poor 
fellow for drinking wine when he has no bread. What- 
ever sort of soul can these people have, if they know 
no greater misery than that of being hungry! 

Now you can understand the force of the reminiscence 
that unexpectedly flashed upon me in the library. That 
sudden image filled me with the idea of a real life, of a 
wise simplicity, of being independent of man in a Nature 
all one's own. 

Not that I imagine the life I lead here is such a one 
as that, or that amid my boulders oi\ these dismal moors 
I fancy myself to be man in harmony with nature. Just 



LETTER XII. 63 

as well mlg-ht I, like some denizen of the ward of Saint- 
Paul, exhibit to my neighbours the rural charms of a 
pot of mignonette standing in a spout, and of a bed of 
parsley boxed up on a window-ledge, or give to a half- 
acre of ground encircled by a streamlet the names of the 
capes and lonely shores of another hemisphere, in order 
to recall striking memories and far-off" customs amid the 
thatch and plaster of a hamlet in Champagne. 

The simple fact is, since I am doomed to be always 
waiting for life, I am trying to vegetate in perfect 
loneliness and solitude ; I prefer to spend four months 
so than to waste them in Paris on greater and more 
pitiful stupidities. I will tell you when we meet how I 
chose my hermitage and how I enclosed it ; how I 
conveyed here the few things I have brought, without 
letting anybody into my secret ; how I live on fruit and 
a few vegetables ; where I go for water, what I wear 
when it rains ; and all the precautions I take to keep 
well out of sight, so that no Parisian, spending a week 
in the country, may come here to ridicule me. 

You also laugh, but I do not mind that ; your laugh 
is not like theirs. I have laughed at it all myself before 
now. All the same, I find great charm in this life, 
when, the better to feel its superiority, I leave the 
forest and enter the cultivated lands, and see in the 
distance some pretentious mansion in a bare landscape, 
when beyond a league of blank ploughed fields I notice 
a hundred thatched cottages, huddled into a wretched 
heap, whose streets, stables, gardens, walls, floors, 
dank roofs, and even clothes and furniture seem all one 
slough, in which all the women screech, the children 
sob, and the men sweat. And if amid these squalid 



64 OBERMANN. 

miseries I look for any moral peace or religious hopes 
for these wretched people, I find as their patriarch a 
greedy priest, soured by regrets, set apart too soon 
from the world; a melancholy stripling, without dignity, 
without wisdom, without fervour, who enjoys no 
respect and no privacy, who damns the weak and does 
not comfort the good ; for any symbol of hope and 
unity I find a symbol of dread and of sacrifice ; a 
strange emblem, the mournful relic of great and vener- 
able institutions that have been miserably perverted. 

And yet there are men who regard all that quite 
calmly, and who never even suspect that it is possible 
to take another view of it. 

Ah sad and vain ideal of a better world ! Unutterable 
out-going of love ! Regret for the hours that slip 
fruitlessly away ! Universal Consciousness,^ sustain 
and swallow up my life ; what would it be without 
thy awful beauty? Through thee that life is realized, 
and through thee it will perish. 

Ah, sometimes again, under an autumn sky, in those 

^The current conception of a man ot feeling is too narrow. It is 
usual to represent an absurd sort of person, sometimes even a woman, 
I mean one of those women who cry over the illness of a pet bird, who 
faint at the blood of a needle-prick, and who shudder at the sound of 
such words as serpent, spider, grave-digger, small-pox, tomb, old age. 

My conception includes a certain restraint in our emotions, a sudden 
combination of opposite feelings, an attitude of superiority even to the 
affection which sways us, a seriousness of soul and a depth of thought, 
a breadth of view which instantly calls up in us tlie secret generalization 
with which Nature would have us meet a particular sensation ; a 
wisdom of tlie heart in its continual agitation ; in a word, a blending, 
a harmony of all things that only a man of deep feeling is capable of. 
In his energy he has a foretaste of all that is in store for man ; in his 



LETTER XIII. 65 

lingering fine days all mellowed by the mists, sitting- 
where some stream bears away the yellow leaves, may 
I hear the simple moving tones of a rustic melody ! 
One day climbing high on Grimsel or on Titlis, alone 
with some herdsman of the mountains, may I hear in 
the short-cropped pastures that border on the snow the 
well-known romantic tinkling of the herds of Under- 
vvalden and of Hasly ; and there just once before I die, 
may I say to a man who understands — *' Had we 
but lived !" 

LETTER XIII. 

FONTAINEBLEAU, July ^ist (11.)- 

When we are carried away by a resistless tide of 
feeling, and filled with ecstasy, soon followed by regret, 
at the idea of bliss which nothing can impart, this deep 

restraint he alone has known the melancholy of pleasure and the 
charm of sorrow. 

The man who feels warmly, and even deeply, without restraint, 
wastes that almost supernatural energy on things of no importance. 
I do not say that he will be deficient in it when there are opportunities 
for genius ; some men who are great in little things are notwithstanding 
just as much so on great occasions. In spite of their real worth, this 
temperament has two drawbacks. They will be counted mad by fools 
and by many clever people, and they will be prudently avoided even 
by men who realize their value, and form a high opinion of tliein. 
They degrade their genius by prostituting it to utterly base uses, 
among the lowest types of men. Thus they supply the general public 
with plausible grounds for asserting that commonsense is worth more 
than genius, because it has not its aberrations, and for asserting what 
is more fatal still, that strong, upright, outspoken, and generous men 
are not superior to those who are prudent, ingenious, methodical, 
always reserved, and often selfish. 



66 OBERMANN. 

yet evanescent mood is nothing- but an inward testi- 
mony to the fact that our capacities are superior to our 
lot. That is why it is so brief and turns so soon to 
regret; it is delicious, then heartrending. Prostration 
inevitably follows excessive stimulation. We suffer 
from not being what we might be, and yet if we really 
were in a scheme of things adjusted to our desires, we 
should no longer possess that over-plus of desires and 
capacities, we should cease to enjoy the pleasure of 
being above our lot, greater than our environment, and 
more creative than necessity requires. 

If we experienced those delights which imag^ination 
paints in such glowing colours, we should remain cold 
and often absent-minded, uninterested, perhaps even 
bored; for no one can really be more than himself. 
We should become aware of the rigid limitations of our 
nature — of the fact that we cannot have our faculties 
eng-rossed in things around us and at the same time 
use them to transport us beyond, into that imaginary 
sphere where ideal circumstances are at the beck and 
call of the actual man. 

But why should such circumstances be wholly ideal ? 
That is what I am at a loss to understand. Why 
should that which is not seem more in harmony with 
human nature than that which is? Our actual life 
itself is like a dream; it has no unity, no sequence, 
and no aim; some of its elements are sure and stable, 
others are mere chance and discord, fading- like 
shadows, and never yielding to us what they seemed 
to promise. In like fashion there enter our minds in 
sleep things true and consecutive along with others 
that are fantastic, disconnected, and incongruous, yet 



LETTER XIV. 67 

somehow bound up with the first. The feeHng-s of the 
day are a medley Hke the dreams of the nig-ht. The 
wisdom of the ancients said the waking moment would 
arrive at last. 



LETTER XIV. 

FONTAINEBLEAU, AltgUSt "JSt (II.)- 

Mr. W , whom you know, remarked the other day, 

"When I am sipping my coffee, I arrange the world 
beautifully." I too indulge in dreams of this kind, and 
sometimes as I tramp through the heather, between the 
still dewy junipers, I catch myself picturing^ men as 
happy. Honestly, it seems to me they might be. I do 
not want another species, or another globe; I do not 
want to reform everything; schemes of that kind, you 
say, never come to anything", because they are not 
applicable to things as we know them. Very well, let 
us take what exists of necessity; take it as it is, simply 
adjusting what is accidental. I do not desire new or 
Utopian species; given the materials, with them I will 
work out my ideal scheme. 

Two things I should like to have — a settled climate 
and true men. If I know when the rain will flood the 
river, when the sun will scorch my plants, when the 
storm will shake my dwelling, it rests with my diligence 
to cope with the natural forces opposed to my interests; 
but if I know not when anything will happen, if misfor- 
tune overtakes me without warning, if caution may 
ruin me, and the concerns of others entrusted to my 



/ 



68 OBERMANN. 

care prevent me from taking- things easily or even 
feeling secure, must not my life of necessity be ill-at- 
ease and unhappy ? Must not inaction alternate with 
over-exertion, and as Voltaire has so well said, must I 
not spend all my days in the pangs of anxiety or in the 
stagnation of ennui ? 

If men are nearly all deceivers, if the double-dealing 
of some compels others to be at least on their guard, 
is it not a necessary consequence that there will be 
added to the evil which many are trying to do to others 
for selfish ends a far greater number of gratuitous 
evils? In spite of themselves people will mutually 
injure each other, every one watching and guarding 
against his fellow; enemies will be cunning and friends 
cautious. A good reputation will be liable to be lost 
through a rash statement or an error in judgment; 
enmity based on misunderstanding will become deadly; 
the well-meaning will be discouraged; false principles 
established, craft prove more serviceable than wisdom, 
courage, and magnanimity. Children will reproach 
their father for neglecting sharp practice, and States 
will perish for not stooping to crime. What becomes 
of morality, in the dark as we are about our fellows ? 
What of security, in our equal uncertainty about things 
around us ? And without security or morality, is not 
happiness a mere infant's dream ? 

I would let the moment of death remain unknown. 
When existence ends, evil ends too ; and for twenty 
other reasons death should not be counted a misfortune. 
It is well not to know when the end will come; we 
would seldom begin what we knew could not be 
finished. I admit then that man's ignorance of the 



LETTER XIV. 69 

length of his Hfe, even in his present condition, is more 
profitable than disadvantageous, but uncertainty about 
what will happen in life is not at all the same thing as 
uncertainty about its duration. An unforeseen event 
dislocates your plans and lets you in for long-continued 
obstructions, but death does not dislocate, it annihilates; 
what you know nothing about you will not suffer from. 
The scheme of those who are left behind may perhaps 
be obstructed by it, but if we have light for our own 
affairs we have light enough, and I have no wish to 
conceive a state of things absolutely satisfactory from 
man's point of view. I should have misgivings about 
the world I am planning if there were no evil left in it, 
and I should be dismayed at the idea of a perfect 
harmony; Nature seems to me not to admit of one. 

A settled climate, and above all true men, inevitably 
true, would satisfy me. I am happy when I know 
things as they are. The sky may still keep its storms 
and thunderbolts, the earth its mud and drought, the 
soil its barrenness, our bodies their weakness and 
decay; men may keep their inequalities and incom- 
patibilities, their fickleness, their mistakes, even their 
vices and their ineradicable selfishness ; time may still 
be tardy and irrevocable ; my Utopia will be happy if 
the course of events is regular and men's motives are 
known. Nothing more is needed but good legislation, 
and that cannot be lackin"" if motives are known. 



70 OBERMANN. 



LETTER XV. 

FONTAINEBLEAU, AugtlSt (jth (II.)- 

Among" some handy volumes I brought with me, I 
hardly know why, I have discovered that clever romance, 
Phrosine and Mclidor^ ; I have been through it, and 
read and re-read the conclusion. There are days when 
sorrows seem in season; when we love to seek them 
within us, to sound their depths and stand aghast at 
their huge proportions ; we taste in our miseries, if 
nowhere else, that attribute of affinity with which we 
would fain invest our empty shade before the breath 
of time effaces it. 

What a terrible moment in the story, what a tragic 
situation, is that death in the night, within reach of 
mystic raptures! So much love, such depths of loss, 
such horrors of revenge, enveloped in that shroud of 
mist ! And then that rending of a heart deceived, 
when Phrosine, swimming for the rock and the torch, 
is led astray by a treacherous light and perishes ex- 
hausted in the mighty deep. I know no catastrophe 
more impressive, no death more pathetic. 

The daylight was fading; there was no moon; every- 
thing was still; the sky was calm, the trees motionless. 
A few insects among the grass and a single far-away 
bird were piping in the warm night. I sat down and 
did not stir for a long time, vague ideas drifting through 

' [An ojjera in three acts by Arnault pire ; played at the Opera 
Comiquc, IMay 4th, 1794. A story of virtuous lovers persecuted by 
cruel parents. — Tk.] 



LETTER XVI. 71 

my mind. I viewed the world and its past ages, and 
shuddered at the handiwork of man. I came back to 
myself, and found chaos and a wasted life ; I dipped 
into the future of the world. Ah, cliffs of Rigi, if you 
had been at my feet ! ^ 

By this time it was dark. I wandered slowly back, 
stepping" aimlessly, utterly heart-weary. I longed for 
tears, but could only groan. My early da3'S are gone; 
I hav^e the sufferings of youth but none of its con- 
solations. My heart, still vexed by the fires of a 
useless past, is wilted and dried up, as if its strength 
were sapped by chill old age. I am deadened without 
being calmed. Some there are who find pleasure in 
their woes, but with me all is over; I have neither joy, 
nor hope, nor rest; nothing is left, not even tears. 



LETTER XVL 

FONTAINEBLEAU, AltgilSt 12/// (II.). 

What generous emotions ! What memories! What 
calm sublimity there is on a mild, still, starlight night! 
What grandeur! And yet the soul is sunk in perplexity. 
We see that the impressions made upon us by external 
things are misleading; we see that truth exists, but 
how terribly remote. Nature passes our understanding 
when we gaze on those vast stars in the unchanging 
sky. Its permanence overwhelms us; to man it seems 

^ The Rigi is near Lucerne; the lake is at the foot of the precipices 
referred to. 



72 OBERMANN. 

an appalling eternity. Everything else passes away, 
man himself passes; but the worlds above never pass! 
Thought hangs in an abyss between the changes of the 
earth and the unvarying skies. 



LETTER XVII. 

FONTAINEBLEAU, Aupisl I4//1 (II.). 

I wander into the woods before the sun is up ; I watch 
him rise with promise of a lovely day; I tramp through 
dewy ferns and brambles, among the deer and under 
the birch trees of Mont Chauvet; a sense of the happi- 
ness that might have been throbs powerfully within 
me, urgent and yet oppressive. Up hill and down dale 
I go, like one who means to enjoy himself; then a 
sigh, a touch of bitterness, and a whole day of misery. 



LETTER XVIIL 

FONTAINHBLEAU, AllgUSt IJth {II. ). 

Even here, it is only the evening that I love. The 
dawn gladdens me for a moment; I fancy I could feel 
the charm of it if the day that is to follow were not 
bound to be so long! I certainly have a free domain 
to wander in, but it is not wild and impressive enough. 
Its features are tame, its rocks small and uninteresting, 
the vegetation as a rule lacks the luxuriance and pro- 



LETTER XVIII. 73 

fusion I like to see; one never catches here the murmur 
of a torrent far down in the depths ; it is a land of 
plains. Nothing" burdens me here ; nothing- satisfies 
me. I fancy, if anything-, my boredom increases; 
simply because I have not enoug-h to suffer. I am 
happier then, you think ? Not a bit of it ; to suffer 
and to be unhappy are not at all the same thing-, no 
more than enjoyment is identical with happiness. 

I am delightfully circumstanced, and yet I live a 
melancholy life. I could not be better off than I am 
here: free, undistracted, well in health, unyoked from 
business, unconcerned about a future from which I 
expect nothing-, and leaving- behind without regret a 
past I have not enjoyed. But there is within me a 
persistent unrest, a yearning I cannot define, imperative 
and absorbing, which takes me out of the sphere of 
perishable creatures. . . . No, it is not the yearning 
to love ; you are mistaken there, as I once was mis- 
taken myself. The interval is wide enough between 
the emptiness of my heart and the love it has so 
eagerly desired, but the distance between what I am 
and what I want to be is infinite. Love is vast, but 
it is not infinite. I do not want to enjoy possession; 
I want to hope, I should like to know. I need limitless 
illusions, receding before me to keep me always under 
their spell. What use to me is anything that can end ? 
The hour which will arrive in sixty years' time is already 
close at hand. I have no liking for anything that takes 
its rise, draws near, arrives, and is no more. I want 
a good, a dream, in fact a hope that is ever in advance, 
ever beyond me, greater than my expectation itself, 
greater than the things which pass away. I would 



74 OBERMANN. 

like to be pure intellig-ence, I would like the eternal 
order of the world. . . . And yet, thirty years a.go, 
that order was, and I had no existence. 

Worthless and accidental creature of a day, I used 
not to exist, and soon I shall exist no more. I dis- 
cover with surprise that my thought is greater than 
my being, and when I consider that my life is absurd 
in my own eyes, I lose my way in hopeless darkness. 
Truly, happier is he who fells trees and burns charcoal, 
and flies to holy water when the thunder peals. He 
lives like the brute. Nay; for he sings at his work. 
I shall never know his peace, and yet I shall pass like 
him. His life will glide along with time, but mine is 
led astray and hurried on by excitement and unrest, 
and by the phantoms of an unknown greatness. 



LETTER XIX. 

FONTAINEELEAU, AugJtsi \%th (II.). 

There are moments, however, when I find myself full of 
hope and freedom ; time and events unroll before me 
in majestic harmony, and I feel happy, as if a happy 
life might be in store. I surprise myself returning to 
my early years ; I recapture in the rose its delightful 
charm and heavenly eloquence. Happy ! I ? Yes, 
even I am happy ; happy to overflowing, like one who 
wakes from the terrors of a dream to a life of peace 
and liberty ; like one who leaves behind the filth of 
dungeons and sees once more, after ten years, the 



LETTER XX. 75 

peaceful sky ; happy as the man who loves — her whom 
he has saved from death ! But the moment passes by ; 
a cloud before the sun cuts off his sthnulating" lig-ht ; 
the birds fall silent, the spreading shadow involves 
and drives before it my dream and joy alike. 

Then I start to my feet ; I hurry sadly homewards, 
and soon return to the woods, because the sun may 
agfain appear. In all this there is something which 
calms and consoles. What it is I do not exactly 
know ; but even when I am benumbed by sorrow, time 
does not stand still, and I love to watch the ripening- 
of the fruit which an autumn gust will bring to the 
"•round. 



LETTER XX. 

FONTAINEBLEAU, Aligns/ lyk (11.). 

How little is needed by the man who wishes simply to 
live, and how much by him who wishes to live with 
satisfaction and to make good use of his time. If one 
had strength to renounce happiness as too impracticable 
one would be far happier, but must one remain always 
alone ? Peace itself is a mournful gift if one has no 
hope of sharing it. 

I know that many do not look beyond the good of 
the moment, and that others can put up with a mode of 
life without order and refinement. I have seen such a 
one trimming his beard before a broken mirror ; the 
children's linen was hung out of the window, and one 
of their frocks over the handle of the frying-pan ; their 



76 OBERMANN. 

mother was washing- them beside the table, on the bare 
top of which some hashed beef and the remains of 
Sunday's turkey were set out in cracked dishes. There 
would have been some soup, if the cat had not upset 
the broth. ^ That is called a simple life ; I call it an 
unhappy life, if it is temporary ; a life of misery if it is 
compulsory and permanent ; but if it is voluntary and 
not irksome, if one takes it as a matter of course, I call 
it a ridiculous existence. 

Contempt of riches is a very fine thing- in books, but 
with a house to keep up and no money, one must either 
be devoid of susceptibility or have unquenchable 
vitality ; now I doubt whether a strong character would 
tolerate such a life. One can put up with what is 
accidental, but to give in permanently to this wretched- 
ness is to make it one's own. Are Stoics like this 
devoid of that sense of the fitn-ess of things which tells 
a man that to live thus is not living- according to his 
nature ? Simplicity like theirs, without order, refine- 
ment, or decency, is more akin, in my opinion, to the 
sordid self-denial of a begging friar, or the brutal 
penance of a fakir, than to philosophical resignation. 

In simplicity itself there is neatness, carefulness, 
harmony, unit}'. The people I refer to have not a 
tenpenny mirror and yet they g-o to the play ; they have 
broken china and clothes of fine material ; they have 
stylish cuffs on shirts of coarse cotton. If they take 
a stroll, it is to the Champs-Elysees ; they say they go 
to see the passers-by, hermits though they are ; and in 

^ No doubt ihe author of these letters would have apolot^ised for 
ihese and other details if he had foreseen their publication. 



LETTER XX. 77 

order to see them they submit to their contempt, and 
sit on some patch of turf amid the dust raised by 
the crowd. In their philosophic apathy they disdain 
appearances, and sit munching" their cakes on the 
ground, among dogs and children and the feet of 
those who are passing to and fro. There they study 
man, while gossiping with servant-girls and nurses; 
there they plan a treatise in which kings will be warned 
of the dangers of ambition, the luxury of high life be 
reformed, and all men be taught to moderate their 
desires, to live according to nature, and to eat the 
cakes of Nanterre.^ 

I will say no more about it. If I put you too much 
into the humour for joking on certain topics, you 
might also poke fun at my curious mode of life in my 
forest ; there is certainly something childish in creating 
for oneself a desert close to a capital. You must admit, 
however, that there is a vast difference between my 
woods near Paris and a tub in Athens, ^ and I will grant 
on my side that the Greeks, though as cultured as our- 
selves, were freer than we are to do eccentric things, 
because they were nearer primitive times. The tub 
was chosen in order to exhibit publicly, in the maturity 
of age, a wise man's life. That is certainly extra- 
ordinary, but the extraordinary was no special bugbear 
to the Greeks. Custom and the usual thing were not 
their ruling principles. Everything with them could 
preserve its individual character, and the rare thing 
was to meet with anything common and universal. As 

^ Nanterre is famous for a special kind of cake, of which children are 
very fond. 
'■' This incident of ihe tub is disputed on several grounds. 



78 OBERMANN. 

a people whose social life was still tentative, they 
seemed to be trying" experiments with institutions and 
customs, and to be still in the dark as to what lines of 
conduct were entirely satisfactory. But we who have 
no doubt on the matter, we who have adopted the best 
way possible in everything-, we rightly consecrate our 
minor manners, and punish with contempt the man 
who is stupid enough to leave so obvious a track. 
Joking apart, however, it is excuse enough for me, 
who have no wish to imitate the cynics, that I do not 
pretend either to be proud of this juvenile freak, or 
when living" among my fellows, to set up my mode of 
life in opposition to theirs, in things which duty does 
not prescribe. I take the liberty of being singular in 
a matter which is of itself indifferent, and in some 
respects, I consider, wholesome for me. It would clash 
with their way of thinking", and as that seems to me 
the only drawback it could have, I avoid it by keeping 
out of their sisfht. 



LETTER XXI. 

FONTAINEIJLEAU, Sept. ls( (II.). 

The weather is simply perfect, and I am in a mood of 
utter calm. Once I should have felt keener delight in 
this complete freedom, this throwing up of all business 
and plannmg, this indifference to whatever may happen. 
I begin to realize that I am getting on in life. Those 
rapturous impressions, those sudden emotions that 
once used to thrill me and transport me so far from a 



LETTER XXI. 79 

world of sadness, I now only recover In a modified and 
weakened form. The desire that every perception of 
beauty in external objects used to awaken in me, the 
vag"ue and captivating^ hope, the heavenly fire which 
dazzles and consumes a youthful heart, the overflowing 
ecstasy with which it irradiates the mighty phantom 
before it, all these are even now no more. I begin to 
have an eye for what is useful and convenient, and no 
longer for what is beautiful. 

Tell me, you who know my limitless needs, what I 
shall make of life when I have lost these moments of 
enchantment which glowed in the darkness like stormy 
glimmers on a lurid night. They made it darker I 
confess, but they showed that it might change, and 
that light existed still. But what will become of me 
now if I must restrict myself to what is, and be tied 
down to my mode of life, my personal interests, and 
the cares of getting up, killing time, and going to bed 
again ? 

I was quite diff"erent in those days when love was 
still a possibility. I had been romantic as a child, and 
still pictured a haven suited to my tastes. I had mis- 
takenly imagined, somewhere in Dauphiny, a combina- 
tion of Alpine features with a climate fit for olives and 
citrons. Eventually the name Chartreuse took my 
fancy, and it was there near Grenoble that I fixed my 
dream dwelling. In those days I used to fancy that 
pleasant places went far to make a pleasant life, and 
that there, with a loved one by my side, I might possess 
that incorruptible felicity for which my deluded heart 
was yearning. 

Now here is a very curious thing, from which I can 



8o OBERMANN. 

draw no conclusion and about which I will assert 
nothing except that it is literal fact. I had never seen 
and never read anything, so far as I know, to give me 
any idea of the surroundings of the Grande Chartreuse. 
The only thing I knew was that this solitary spot was 
among the mountains of Dauphiny. My imagination 
fashioned out of this vague idea and its own inclinations 
the situation the monastery would be in, and close by 
it, my dwelling. It came remarkably near the truth. 
Long after, on seeing an engraving of this very place, 
I said to myself, before reading the title, "That is the 
Grande Chartreuse," so vividly did it recall what I had 
pictured. And when it proved to be really so, it gave 
me a shock of surprise and regret ; it seemed as if I 
had lost something which was, as it were, destined to 
be mine. Since that project of my earliest youth I have 
never heard the word Chartreuse without a pang. 

The further I go back into my youth the deeper 
impressions I find. If I go beyond the age when my 
ideas had begun to expand, if I look in my childhood 
for the first notions of a mournful heart, which never 
had a real childhood, and which was drawn to powerful 
emotions and things out of the common before it had 
even decided whether to be fond of games or not; if, 
I say, I try to find out what I felt at seven, at six, at 
five years old, I find impressions as ineffaceable as any 
since, more trustful too and sweeter, and based on 
those perfect illusions which no later age has been 
fortunate enough to possess. 

I am not mistaken as to the time. I am perfectly 
sure how old I was when I thought of certain things 
and read a certain book. I read Kiimpfer's History of 



LETTER XXI. 8i 

Japan^ in my usual seat by a particular window in that 
house by the Rhone which my father left a little before 
his death. The summer after, I read Robinson Crusoe. 
That was the time when I lost the exactness for which 
I had been remarkable. I became unable to do, with- 
out a pen, less difficult sums than one I had done at 
four and a half without writing- anything and without 
knowing a single rule of arithmetic, unless it were 
addition; a sum which amazed all who were present at 

Madame Belp 's, at a certain party you have heard 

about. 

At that age the power to perceive indeterminate 
relations got the better of the power to combine 
mathematical relations. Moral relations were becoming 
apparent, the sense of beauty was being born. . . . 



September 2nd (II.)- 

I found I was drifting into a line of argument, so I 
broke off. In matters of feeling one can only consult 
oneself, but in things open to discussion it is alwaj's an 
advantage to know what other people have thought. 
I have by me a volume containing the Pensces Philo- 
sophiques of Diderot,^ his Traiti' dn Beau^ etc. I took 
it up and went out. 

If I hold Diderot's opinion it may seem to be because 
he has spoken last, and I own this usually counts for 

^ Kiimpfer spent two years in Japan, 1692-94. — Tk. 

^ Diderot, 1713-84, a voluminous writer, and editor of the notorious 
CyclopeJie. The re)istes were burned liy the parliament of Paris, 
1746.— Tr. 



82 OBERMANN. 

much ; but I modify his thought in my own way, for I 
still have the last word. 

Leaving" out Wolf,^ Crouzas," and the sixth sense 
of Hutcheson,^ I agree in the main with all the rest, 
and for that reason I do not think the definition of the 
beautiful admits of such brief and simple expression as 
Diderot has given it. I believe with him that the 
feeling for beauty cannot exist apart from the per- 
ception of relations, but of what relations ? If one has 
a notion of beauty at the sight of any relations whatso- 
ever, it is not because one actually perceives it ; one 
only imagines it. Seeing relations, we assume a 
centre ; we conceive analogies, we anticipate a fresh 
expansion cf soul ideas ; but what is beautiful does 
not make us think of all that merely by suggestion, 
or incidentally; it contains and exhibits it. It is an 
advantage, no doubt, when a definition can be stated 
in a single phrase, but this conciseness must not make 
it too general and therefore false. 

This is my statement of it : The beautiful is that 
which evokes in iis the idea of relations tending to a 
conmioji end, on lines in harmony with our nature. 
This definition includes the notions of order, proportion, 
unity, and even utility. 

These relations are directed to a centre or end; that 

' Wolf, German philosopher, 1679-1754; popularized Leibnitz and 
gave a great impulse to Rationalism. — Tr. 

- Crouzas, Swiss philosopher and mathematician, 1613-1748; tried 
to conciliate contemporary systems and refute extreme ones, especially 
Bayle's scepticism and the formalism of Wolf and Leibnitz. — Tr. 

^ Ilutcheson, 1694-1746, Professor of Moral Philosophy in Glasgow, 
one of the founders of the Scottish School of Metaphysics. — Tr. 



LETTER XXI. 83 

gives order and unity. They move on lines which are 
nothing- but proportion, regularity, symmetry, and 
simplicity, according as one or other of these principles 
happens to be more or less essential to the nature of 
the whole constituted by these relations. This whole 
is the unity without which there is no result, no work 
of beauty, because in that case there is not a work at 
all. Every product must be a thing in itself; we have 
made nothing if we have not made it a coherent whole. 
Without this coherence nothing is beautiful; it is not 
a thing at all, but a collection of things which may 
produce unity and beauty when they are combined to 
form a whole with what is still lacking. Until then 
they are mere materials ; their association does not 
generate beauty, though they may be severally beauti- 
ful, like those private note-books whose formless 
contents do not constitute a work, though they may 
be filled up and entire. Thus a compilation of random 
and disjointed moral reflections of the noblest kind is 
far from being a treatise on morals. 

If this coherent whole, complete in itself though 
more or less composite, is perceptibly adapted to the 
nature of man, it is directly or indirectly serviceable 
to him. It can supply his needs, or at any rate extend 
his knowj^edge; it may serve as a new instrument, or 
afford scope for a new industry; it may intensify his life 
and gratify his restless, grasping spirit. 

The object is more beautiful and has a genuine unity 
when the relations we perceive in it are exact, and 
converge to a common centre; and if there is absolutely 
nothing but what is necessary to produce this result, 
its beauty is greater still; it has simplicity. Every 



84 OBERMANN. 

quality is impaired by the admixture of a foreign 
quality; when there is no admixture the thing is more 
exact, more symmetrical, simpler, more of a unity, 
more beautiful; it is perfect. 

There are two chief ways in which the idea of utility 
enters into that of beauty. First, the utility of every 
part to the common end; next, the utility of the whole 
to us who have correspondences with that whole. 

In the rhilosophie de la Nature we read: " It seems 
to me that the philosopher may define beauty as the 
obvious harmony of a whole with its parts." I find 
from a note that you once defined it thus: "The 
adaptation of the different parts of a thing to their 
common end on the most effective and at the same 
time the simplest lines." That has almost the very 
flavour of the statement of Crouzas. He gives five 
characteristics of the beautiful, and thus defines pro- 
portion, which is one of them: ^'•\}\\\\.y flavoured with 
variety, with regularity and order in each part." 

Given something which is well-adjusted, adapted to 
our requirements, and evoking a sense of beauty, if 
it seems to be superior or equal to what we contain 
within us we call it beautiful; if it seems inferior we 
call it pretty. If its adaptation to ourselves has 
reference to matters of slight importance, though they 
minister directly to our habits and immediate desires, 
we call it agreeable. If its correspondences are with 
our souls, inspiring and broadening our thought, 
expanding and ennobling our aflfections, showing us 
in external objects new and striking adaptations which 
awaken in us the sense of a universal order, of an end 
common to a host of beings, then we call it sublime. 



LETTER XXI. 85 

The perception of definite relations is the source of 
the idea of beauty, and the expansion of soul resulting- 
from their adaptation to our nature constitutes the 
feeling- of beauty. 

When the relations referred to have a touch of 
vagueness and immensity, when their correspondences 
with ourselves and with part of Nature are better felt 
than seen, they evoke a delightful mood, full of hope 
and charm, an indefinable joy that gives promise of 
joys unbounded; that is the kind of beauty which 
enchants and enthrals. What is pretty diverts us; the 
beautiful sustains the soul, the sublime astounds or 
uplifts it; but that which ravishes and captivates 
the heart is that still more elusive and pervading 
beauty, little known, never explained, mysterious and 
ineffable. 

Thus it is that in hearts meant for love, love gives 
radiance to all things, and makes every phase of con- 
sciousness an ecstasy. As it sets up within us the 
highest relation we can have with anything external, 
it makes us readily responsive to all relations, to all 
harmonies; it reveals a new world to our affections. 
Borne along by its rapid movement, carried away by 
that energy which promises everything, and even yet 
in spite of all deludes us, we seek, we feel, we love, we 
long for all that Nature has in store for man. 

But the frustrations of life come to curb us, driving 
us in upon ourselves. As we retreat we set ourselves 
to renounce eternal things, and limit ourselves to actual 
needs ; a melancholy sphere, where bitterness and 
baffled questioning do not wait until we die, but dig 
a yawning grave within our hearts which swallows up 



86 OBERMANN. 

and extinguishes all they might have had of candour, 
charm, desire, and native goodness. 



LETTER XXII. 

FONTAINEBLEAU, August ()th {II.). 

I felt I must see once more all the places I used to be 
so fond of, and I am visiting the most distant before 
the nights grow cold, the trees are stripped, and the 
birds take their flight. 

Yesterday I set out before daybreak ; the moon was 
still shining, and the shadows it cast were perceptible 
in spite of the dawn. The valley of Changy was still 
in darkness while I was on the heights of Avon. I 
dropped down to Basses-Loges, and was just arriving 
at Valvin when the sun rose behind Samoreau and 
glowed on the rocks of Samois. 

Valvin is not a village and has no arable land. Its 
inn stands solitary at the foot of an eminence, on a 
smooth strip of beach between the river and the woods. 
To see the place at its best, one ought either to put up 
with the tedium of the coach, a horrid conveyance, and 
reach Valvin or Thomery by water in the evening, when 
the slope is in gloom and the stags are belling- in the 
forest, or else at sunrise, when everything is still asleep, 
when the deer are put to flight by the cry of the boat- 
man as it rings through the tall poplars and echoes 
from the heather-clad hills all steaming in the first rays 
of the sun. 

In a level country, mild effects like this are worth a 



LETTER XXII. 87 

great deal. At the very least they are hiteresting at 
certain hours. But the slightest alteration spoils them; 
rid the neighbouring woods of fallow deer, or cut down 
the trees that clothe the hill, and Valvin will be nothing. 
Even as it is, I should not care to stay there; in broad 
daylight it is a very ordinary place; besides, the inn is 
not fit to sleep in. 

On leaving Valvin I took an uphill road to the north, 
skirting a mass of sandstone whose situation in flat 
and open country, encircled by woods and facing the 
west, gives a sense of desolation touched with melan- 
choly. As I walked on, I compared this place with 
one near Bourron which had given me just the opposite 
impression. Finding the two places very much alike 
in all save aspect, it dawned on me at last why, among 
the Alps, places identical in appearance had produced 
on me such contrary effects. Thus BuUe and Plan- 
fayon saddened me, though they have the characteristic 
features of La Gruy^re, on the borders of which they 
are situated ; and in both localities the tone and customs 
of a mountain region are at once perceptible. On the 
other hand, I felt sorry when I was prevented from 
settling in a wild and barren gorge of the Dent du 
Midi.^ So I found ennui at Yverdon'^; but at Neu- 
chatel, on the same lake, an exceptional sense of well- 
being. The charm of Vevey and the melancholy of 
Unterwalden are thus accounted for, and possibly the 
different characteristics of the people may be explained 
on similar grounds. People are influenced as much, 
or even more, by diff'erences in aspect, climate, and 

' See Letter V.— Tr. - Ibid., IV.— Tr. 



88 OBERMANN. 

humidity than by differences in laws and customs. In 
fact, the last-mentioned variations have themselves 
arisen, in the first instance, from physical causes. 

I next turned westward and hunted up the fountain 
of Mont Chauvet. With the boulders that strew the 
ijround a shelter has been contrived to protect the 
spring- from the sun and the drifting sand, and there 
is also a circular mound where it is usual to breakfast 
when one comes to draw water. Sometimes one meets 
with sportsmen, ramblers, working men ; but some- 
times also with a dismal gathering- of Parisian valets, 
and shopkeepers from the Quartier Saint-Martin or 
the Rue Saint-Jacques, who have retired to a town 
patronized by the king. Here they cluster, either by 
the water, which is convenient when one wants to cat 
a meat pie with one's friends, or by a certain naturally 
hollowed boulder near the road, which greatly interests 
them. They regard it with reverence and call it the 
confessional, recognizing in it with emotion one of those 
freaks of Nature that mimic sacred objects and prove 
that the national religion is the end and aim of all 
things. 

I, however, plunged into the lonely vale, where this 
feeble rivulet sinks away without forming a brook. 
Turning towards the cross of Grand-Veneur, I dis- 
covered a solitude as stern as the renunciation I am 
striving after. I went round the rocks of Cuvier, 
steeped in sadness, and stayed a long time in the 
gorges of Aspremont. Towards evening I neared the 
solitudes of Grand-Franchart, an old monastery isolated 
among hills and stretches of sand ; its now deserted 
ruins were originally dedicated by human vanity, even 



LETTER XXII. 89 

in this uninhabited reg-ion, to morbid humility and the 
craving" for notoriety. At a later time brigands, they 
say, replaced the monks ; they restored the principles 
of freedom, but in a way disastrous to any who were 
not free, as they were. Night was coming on, so I 
selected a shelter in a kind of parlour, the ancient 
door of which I burst open. I collected into it some 
brushwood along with bracken and other herbage, so 
as not to spend the night on the bare stone, and then 
I wandered off for some hours longer, for the moon 
was due to shine. As a matter of fact so it did, and 
yet dimly, as if to add to the solitude of that desolate 
relic. Not a cry, not a bird, not a movement broke 
the silence the whole night long. But when all that 
chafes us is still, when everything sleeps and leaves 
us in peace, then awake the spectres in our own hearts. 

Next day I turned southwards, and while I was 
among the hills a storm passed over. I was delighted 
to see it brewing, and easily found a shelter among 
the rocks, which were full of clefts and piled one upon 
another. From the back of my cave I loved to see 
how the junipers and birches withstood the gusts of 
wind, defrauded though they were of a fertile habitat 
and congenial soil, and how they maintained their free 
though impoverished existence, with no support but 
the walls of fissured rock between which they hung, 
and no nourishment but a little earthy moisture collected 
in the crevices their roots had penetrated. 

When the rain began to pass ofT, I plunged into the 
moist and freshened woods and skirted the edge of the 
forest towards Reclose, La Vignette, and Bourron. 
Then I veered aijain towards Little Mont Chauvet as 



90 - OBERMANN. 

far as Croix-Herant and took my way between Mal- 
montagne and Route-aux-Nymphes. I reached home 
regretfully towards evening, well pleased with my 
ramble ; if anything can strictly be said to give me 
either pleasure or regret. 

There is within me something out of joint ; a kind of 
delirium which is not that of the passions, any more 
than that of insanity ; it is the irritation of ennui, the 
discord it has set up between myself and circumstances, 
the uneasiness that long-suppressed wants have sub- 
stituted for desires. 

Not that I still crave for desires ; they do not in the 
least delude me. No more do I wish for their extinc- 
tion ; that utter silence would be more dreadful still. 
Desires are but the futile beauty of the rose before an 
eye for ever closed ; they point to what I can scarcely 
see and could never possess. If hope still seems to 
fling a gleam into the darkness round me, it tells of 
nothing but the gloom it will leave behind when it 
fades; it only reveals the vastness of that void in which 
I have groped and found nothing. 

Lovely climates, beautiful places, nightly skies, 
special sounds, old memories, times and seasons. 
Nature full of charm and meaning, noble affections, 
all have passed before my eyes ; all entice and all elude 
me. I am alone. The energies of my heart have no 
outlet, they react upon themselves ; they wait and 
wait. Here I am, wandering and solitary in the earth, 
amid a crowd which to me is nothing, like a man long 
since by accident deprived of hearing. His eager eye 
is fixed on all the silent beings who pass and bustle 
before him ; he sees everything, and everything is 



LETTER XXIII. 91 

denied him ; he imagines the sounds he loves, he listens 
for them, and hears them not ; he endures the silence 
of all things amid a world of noise. Everything- 
presents itself to his gaze but he cannot grasp it ; an 
all-pervading melody is in external things, it is in his 
imagination, but no longer in his heart ; he is cut off 
from the universe of life, there is no longer any point of 
contact between them ; everything exists before him in 
vain, he lives alone, he is an alien in the living world. 



LETTER XXIII. 

FONTAINEBI.EAU, October iS//^ (11.). 

Can there be for man too the long peace of autumn, 
after the unrest of his years of vigour ? Like a fire that 
blazes furiously and then dies lingeringly away. 

Long before the equinox the leaves were falling 
thick and fast, and yet the forest still keeps much of its 
greenness and all its beauty. Six weeks ago every- 
thing seemed as if it must end before its time, and yet 
here it is still, holding out beyond the expected limit, 
having obtained a reprieve on the brink of destruction ; 
and as this added term glides swiftly to dissolution, it 
is poised a moment in graceful security, and then slips 
gently away in lingering sweetness which seems to 
blend the peace of its on-coming death with the charm 
of the life left behind. 



92 ORERMANN. 



LETTER XXIV. 

FONTAINEBI.EAU, October 2%lh (II.). 

When the days of hoar-frost are over I scarcely miss 
them; spring- passes and leaves me unmoved; summer 
too, and I feel no regret; but I do enjoy tramping; over 
the fallen leaves in the bare forest during these last fine 
days of the year. 

Whence comes this most abiding- joy of man's heart, 
this ecstasy of melancholy, this mystic charm, which 
g-ives him life through its sorrows and self-contentment 
even in the consciousness of its decay? I love this happy 
season which so soon will be over. It awakens a belated 
interest, a kind of self-conflicting- pleasure, just as it is 
drawing to a close. The same moral law makes me on 
the one hand shrink from the idea of dissolution, and on 
the other makes me in love with the signs of it here, in 
what must end before myself. It is natural to feel a 
deeper joy in our perishable existence when, with open 
eyes to all its frailty, we feel it holding out within 
ourselves. When death severs us from external things 
they live on without us. But at the fall of the leaf 
vegetation stops and dies, while we remain to watch its 
generations come and ^o. Autumn is delicious because 
for us another spring will come. 

So far as Nature herself is concerned spring is more 
beautiful; but to man, as he has made himself, autumn 
is sweeter. Ah, breaking buds and singing birds, and 
opening flowers! Returning warmth that quickens 



LETTER XXV. 93 

life, protecting- shade of dim, secluded nooks, luxuriant 
herbage, wilding fruits, genial nights that leave one 
free to wander! Ah, happy, dreaded time to me, all 
vehement and restless as I am! I find more calm in 
the eventide of the year; the season when all seems 
ending is the only one in which I sleep in peace in the 
world of men. 



LETTER XXV. 

FoNTAlNEBLEAU, November 6th (II.). 

I am leaving my woods. I had some notion of staying 
here for the winter, but if I want to get rid finally of 
the business that brought me to Paris I cannot any 
longer neglect it. They keep sending for me, urging 
me, dinning it into me that since I calmly stay on in 
the country, I can apparently afford not to have it settled 
at all. They have little idea how I live here; if they 
had, they would say just the reverse; they would think 
it was for the sake of economy. 

Even apart from that, I fancy I should have decided 
to leave the forest. By great good luck I have hitherto 
remained undiscovered. Smoke would betray me; I 
could not escape the notice of woodcutters, charcoal- 
burners and sportsmen ; I do not forget that I am in a 
well-patrolled district. Besides I have not been able to 
make the arrangements that would be necessary for 
living here all the year round; I might not quite know 
what to do with myself during the deep snows, the 
thaw^s and cold rains. 



94 OBERMANN. 

So I am leaving the forest with its wandering, pensive 
life, and its faint though restful suggestion of a land of 
liberty. 

You ask me what I think of Fontainebleau apart 
from the memories that give me a special interest in it, 
and from my mode of life during this visit. 

The district as a whole is no great things, and it 
would not take much to spoil the best corners of it. 
The impressions produced by places which Nature has 
not invested with grandeur are inevitably variable, and 
in some sense precarious. It takes twenty centuries to 
alter the look of an Alp, but a wind from the north, the 
felling of a few trees, a new plantation, or comparison 
with other places, are quite enough to transform the 
appearance of an ordinary landscape. A forest full of 
fallow deer suffers much from their removal, and a 
place that is merely pleasant suffers still more when 
seen through older eyes. 

What I like about it is the great extent of the forest, 
the magnificence of the woods in certain parts of it, 
the solitude of its tiny valleys, the freedom of its tracts 
of sand, its wealth of beech and birch; I like, too, the 
trim and comfortable appearance of the town, the very 
considerable advantage of never being muddy, and the 
no less rare one of seeing little poverty. Then there 
are fine roads, a great choice ot byways, and a host of 
accidental features; though these, to tell the truth, lack 
prominence and variety. But as a place of residence it 
could only be really congenial to some one who had 
never known or imagined anything better. One could 
not seriously compare these low-lying regions with any 
scenery of real grandeur; they have neither waves nor 



LETTER XXV. 95 

torrents, nor anything to surprise or charm — a mere 
monotonous surface which would have no beauty left 
if its woods were felled ; a dull and commonplace medley 
of little tracts of heather, little gorges, and paltry, 
regular cliffs; a land of plains, where one can find 
plenty of men greedy for the lot they mean to win, but 
not one satisfied with that which he has. 

The calm of a place like this is only the silence of a 
brief spell of charm; its solitude is not wild enough. 
To create the spell there must be a clear evening sky; 
or a dim yet settled autumn sky, with the forenoon sun 
shining through the haze. There must be deer and 
other woodland creatures to haunt the solitudes, filling 
them with romantic interest — the sound of the stags 
belling near and far in the night, the squirrel leaping 
from branch to branch of the lovely woods of Tillas 
with its chatter of alarm. Ah, lonely cries of living 
creatures ! Ye do not people the solitudes, as the trite 
phrase wrongly puts it, you make them more impressive 
and mysterious; it is through you that they become 
romantic. 



THIRD YEAR. 

LETTER XXVI. 

Paris, February <)th (HI.)- 

I must tell you all my weaknesses so that you may 
help me out, for I am in a hopeless muddle. Some- 
times I feel sorry for myself, and sometimes just the 
reverse. 

When I meet a carriage driven by a woman anything 
like my ideal, I go close alongside the horse until 
the wheel almost touches me; then I drop my eyes, 
clutch the lamp-bracket and bend a little, and the wheel 
goes past. 

Once I was dreaming like this, looking hard, though 
not exactly staring. I had forgotten the wheel, so she 
was obliged to pull up. She was both young and 
womanly, verging on the beautiful, and exceedingly 
gracious. She reined in her horse, and seemed to 
check a rising smile. I still kept my eyes on her, and 
found myself smiling in reply, heedless of the horse 
and the wheel. I am sure my gaze was even then full 
of sadness. The horse cleared me, and she leaned over 
to see if the wheel had not touched me. 1 still dreamed 
on, but directly after I stumbled over those bundles of 
firewood that fruiterers make up to sell to the poor, and 

96 



LETTER XXVII. 97 

the spell was broken. Is it not high time to display 
firmness, to be oblivious, or rather, to be eng^rossed 
only in things meet for manhood ? Ought I not to 
leave behind these puerile fancies that make me so 
weak and weary ? 

I should be only too glad to get rid of them ; but I 
do not know what to put in their place; and if I say to 
myself, I really must be a man at last, I find myself 
wholly at a loss. In your next letter, tell me what it 
is to be a man. 



LETTER XXVII. 

Paris, Febriia'y iil'i (HI.)- 

I cannot make out at all what people mean by Self- 
love \amour-propre\. They condemn it, and yet they 
say one ought to have it. From this I might have 
inferred that the love of self and of proprieties is good 
and necessary, that it is inseparable from a sense of 
honour, that its excess alone is pernicious, as all excess 
must be, and that in the case of actions prompted by 
self-love, one ought to consider whether they are good 
or bad, and not to censure them solely on the ground 
that self-love seems to have prompted them. 

That is not what one finds in practice. One must 
have self-love — or be a servile toady [picd-plaf, flat- 
footj, and yet one must never act from self-love ; 
things good in themselves, or at any rate indiff"erent, 
become bad when self-love instigates them. You are 



98 OBERMANN. 

more used to society than I am ; unravel its mysteries 
for me, please. I fancy you will find this question easier 
to answer than the one in my last letter. Moreover, 
as you have no patience with the abstract, here is a 
concrete instance, so that the problem to be solved 
may be one of practical experience. 

A visitor was recently staying with some well-to-do 
friends in the country ; he considered it a duty to his 
friends and himself not to lower himself in the estima- 
tion of the servants, and he assumed that appearances 
would be everything' with that class of people. He 
received and paid no calls, but one solitary individual, 
a relative who chanced to turn up, happened to be an 
oddity, and badly off to boot, and his eccentric manner 
and somewhat common appearance were bound to give 
the servants the impression that he was a low kind of 
person. One does not talk to servants ; one cannot 
enlighten them by a word, or enter into explanations ; 
they do not know who you are, and they see none of 
your acquaintances except a man who is far from 
commanding their respect, and at whom they may 
indulge in a laugh. The gentleman I refer to was 
therefore greatly annoyed. He was blamed for it all 
the more because it was a relative who provoked it. 
There you have a reputation for self-love established at 
once, and yet in my opinion it was undeserved. 



LETTER XXVIII. 99 

LETTER XXVIII. 

Paris, Febniary zjih (III.). 

You could not have asked me at a more opportune 
moment for the origin of the term pied-plat. This 
morning I knew no more about it than you, and I fear 
I am not much wiser this evening, though I have been 
told what I am about to tell you. 

The Gauls submitted to the Romans, therefore they 
were meant for servants ; the Franks invaded the 
Gauls, therefore they were born to conquer : startling 
conclusions ! Now the Gauls or Welsh had very flat 
feet, and the Franks had high-arched ones. The 
Franks despised all these flat-feet, these conquered 
serfs and clod-hoppers, and now when the descendants 
of the Franks are in danger of having to obey the 
children of the Gauls, a flat-foot is still a man meant 
for a servant. I do not remember where I was reading 
lately that there is not a single family in France that 
can claim with any show of reason to be descended 
from that northern horde which took an already con- 
quered country that its masters could not keep. But 
origins which elude the noble art of heraldry are 
demonstrated by existing facts. In the most hetero- 
geneous mob one can easily pick out the grand-nephews 
of the Scythians,^ and all the flat-feet recognize their 
masters. I have not the faintest recollection of the 

' Some erudite gentlemen allege that the Franks and the Russians 
are the same race. 



loo OBERMANN. 

more or less aristocratic outlines of your foot, but I 
warn you that mine is that of the conquerors ; it is 
for you to see whether you can still address me in 
familiar style. 



LETTER XXIX. 

Paris, March 2nd{\\\.). 

I cannot endure a country where the beggar must 
enforce his plea in the name of Heaven. What a people 
is that to whom man for his own sake counts for 
nothing! 

When some forlorn creature says to me: "May the 
good Virgin bless you!" — when he thus voices his 
pathetic gratitude, I am far from hugging myself in 
secret pride because I am free from the bondage of 
superstitions and from those anti-religious prejudices 
which also sway the minds of men. Nay, my head 
droops involuntarily, my eyes are fixed on the ground, 
and I am distressed and humbled to see the mind of 
man so vast and so obtuse. 

When it happens to be some feeble creature, begging 
all day long with the wail of tedious suffering in the 
heart of a crowded city, I am roused to indignation, 
and could find it in my heart to roughly handle those 
who go out of their way to avoid him, who see him only 
to ignore him. I am chafed to rawness in such a mob 
of sordid tyrants. I take a just and manly delight in 
fancying an avenging conflagration annihilating those 
cities and all their handiwork, their petty crafts, their 



LETTER XXX. loi 

worthless books, their studios, forges and wood-yards. 
And yet do I know what should, what can be done? I 
have not the least idea. 

I look at the facts of life, and am sunk in doubt; 
everything' is wrapped in gloom. I will resign the very 
idea of a better world. Frustrated and weary, I only 
bewail my barren existence and chance desires. Know- 
ing not where I am, I wait for the day that will end 
everything and explain nothing. 

At the dress-circle entrance to the theatre the poor 
fellow did not find a single person to give him anything; 
they had nothing to give, and the doorkeeper who was 
looking after the smart people roughly ordered him off. 
He went towards the booking-office for the pit, where 
the doorkeeper, with a less imposing function, pretended 
not to see him. I still kept my eyes on him. At last a 
man who looked to me like a shop-assistant, and who 
already had in his hand the coin he needed for his ticket, 
refused the beggar courteously, then hesitated, felt his 
pockets but found nothing, and finally handed over to 
him the silver coin and turned away. The beggar 
realized the sacrifice; watched him going away, and 
stepped out as best he could, impelled to try and 
overtake him. 



LETTER XXX. 

Paris, March 1th (III.)- 

The day was dull and somewhat cold ; I was feeling 
depressed and was taking a walk because I could do 
nothing else. I passed some flowers set out on a wall 



I02 OBERMANN. 

breast-high. A single jonquil was in bloom. It is the 
strongest expression of desire, and it was the first 
fragrance of the year. I caught a glimpse of all the 
happiness meant for man. That indescribable harmony 
of creation, the vision of the ideal world, was rounded 
to completeness within me ; I have never felt anything 
so sudden and inspiring. I should be at a loss to say 
what form, what likeness, what subtle association it was 
that suggested to me in this flower an illimitable beauty, 
the expression, the refinement, and the pose of a happy, 
artless woman in all the grace and splendour of the 
days of love. I cannot picture to myself that power, 
that vastness which nothing concrete can display ; that 
form which nothing can reveal ; that conception of a 
better world which may be felt, but never found in 
Nature; that heavenly radiance which we think to 
grasp, which captivates and enthralls us, and which is 
but an intangible phantom, wandering and astray in 
depths of gloom. 

But what man could catch a single glimpse of that 
phantom, that vague and lovely vision, and ever forget 
it, mighty as it is with all the charm of the unknown, 
essential to us in our miseries, and natural to our over- 
weighted hearts ? 

When the blank resistance of a mere sordid brute 
force fetters and entangles us, binding us down and 
keeping us sunk in doubts, loathings, puerilities, and 
weak or cruel follies ; when we know nothing and 
possess nothing ; when all things pass before us like 
the weird figures of an absurd and hideous dream ; 
who can still within us the craving for another order 
and another nature ? 



LETTER XXXI. 103 

Is that light nothing but a capricious gleam ? In 
the all-pervading darkness it entices and overcomes us; 
we yield to it and follow; even if it betrays us, at any 
rate it enlightens and inspires. We give reins to 
fancy, and see a world of peace, order, unity, and 
justice, in which all men feel, desire, and enjoy with the 
restraint that makes pleasure and with the simplicity 
that enhances it. When one has had a glimpse of 
delights that cannot be tarnished or destroyed, when 
one has imagined unstinted ecstasy, ' how vain and 
pitiful seem many of the cares, the longings, and the 
pleasures of the visible world. Everything feels cold 
and hollow; we languish in a place of exile, and from 
the core of our loathings we set our outweary heart 
on its imagined homeland. Everything that occupies 
and detains it here is then only a degrading chain ; we 
should smile in pity if we were not overwhelmed with 
grief. And when imagination reverts once more to 
those better regions and compares a reasonable world 
with the world in which everything over-taxes and chafes 
us, we no longer feel sure whether that glorious vision 
is a mere happy fancy which distracts our thoughts from 
things as they are, or whether social life is not itself one 
lonof distraction. 



LETTER XXXI. 

Paris, March 30/// (III.). 

I take great pains in little things, and in such matters 
have an eye to my interests. I never neglect the details 
of anything, those niceties which would evoke a smile 



I04 OBERMANN. 

of pity in practical men. If serious affairs seem to me 
trifling-, trifles on the other hand are precious to me. 
I must try to account for these pecuHarities, and see 
whether I am naturally precise and faddy. 

If it were a question of really important concerns, it 
I were responsible for the welfare of a nation, I know 
I should rise to the occasion under the heavy and noble 
burden. But I am ashamed of the concerns of every- 
day life ; the cares of men all seem to me but childish 
worries. Many great schemes I can only regard as 
wretched encumbrances, in which man would not seek 
his g-reatness, if he were not weakened and confused 
by a delusive ideal. 

I tell you in all sincerity, if I look at things thus it is 
because I cannot help it ; I am not bigoted with empty 
conceit on the matter. I have many a time wanted to 
regard things differently, but have never succeeded. 
What shall I say ? More wretched than others, I 
suffer among them because they are weak ; and even 
if I were naturally stronger than they, I should suffer 
all the same, because they have weakened me to their 
level. 

If you only knew how engrossed I am in trifles that 
one should dispense with at the age of twelve, how 
fond I am of those discs of hard clean wood which 
serve for plates in the mountains ; how I save up old 
newspapers, not to be re-read, but because one can 
wrap things up in soft paper ! How at the sight of a 
straight smooth board I cannot but exclaim, " Is not 
that fine?" While a well-cut jewel scarcely seems to 
me worth notice, and a string of diamonds makes me 
shrug my shoulders. 



LETTER XXXI. 105 

I only recognize immediate utilities ; indirect ad- 
vantages do not readily occur to me ; I should feel the 
loss of ten louis less acutely than that of a handy knife 
I had long carried about with me. 

You used to tell me long ago "Be sure not to 
neglect your affairs and let slip what you have left ; 
you are not the sort of man to make money." I do 
not think you will have changed your mind even 3-et. 

Am I then in bondage to trifles ? Shall I assign 
these peculiarities to a taste for simplicity and to revolt 
from boredom, or are they a mere childish craze, the 
sign of incapacity for social, manly, and generous 
interests ? When I hear so many over-grown children, 
shrivelled by age and self-interest, talking of their 
serious occupations, when I glance with disgust at my 
own fettered life, when I consider that nothing of all 
the human race requires is being produced, then it is 
that a frown gathers on my brow, the light fades from 
my face, and an involuntary quiver trembles on my 
lips. My eyes grow sunken and discouraged, and I 
look like a man worn-out with sleepless nights. A 
person of some importance once said to me, "You 
must be hard-worked !" Luckily I did not laugh. My 
embarrassment did not tell of diligence. 

All these people who essentially are nobodies, yet 
whom I have to meet sometimes, compensate me a 
little for the ennui inflicted by their towns. The more 
sensible among them I like fairly well ; they interest 
me. 



io6 OBERMANN. 



LETTER XXXII. 



Paris, Ap-il 29/// (HI.)- 

Some time agfo in the Library I heard the celebrated 

L addressed by name close beside me. Another 

time I happened to be at the same table, and as there 
was no ink, I passed him my inkstand. This morning' 
I noticed him as I entered, and seated myself near him. 
He very kindly showed me some idylls he had dis- 
covered in an old Latin manuscript by a little-known 
Greek author. I copied the shortest only, as it was 
nearly closing-time. 



LETTER XXXIII. 

Paris, iMay -jth (III.). 

"If I am not mistaken, my idylls do not g"reatly 
interest you," remarked to me yesterday the author of 
whom I told you. He was looking- out for me, and 
beckoned when I arrived. I was trying to find a reply 
that would be polite and yet true, but he kept his eyes 
on me and spared me the trouble by adding at once — 
" Perhaps you would prefer this moral or philosophical 
fragment, which has been attributed to Aristippus,^ and 
is mentioned by Varro,- but has since been considered 

^ Greek philosopher, c. 390 B.C.; puj)il of Socrates and founder of 
hedonistic philosophy. — Tk. 

- Probably M. Terentius Varro, 116- 125 B.C., said to have been the 
most learned of all the Romans. — Tr. 



LETTER XXXIII. 107 

lost. It was not so, however, for it was translated in 
the fifteenth century into the French of that period. 
I have found it in manuscript, bound up with a set of 
Plutarch, in a copy printed by Amyot that nobody had 
used, because many of its leaves were missing." 

I admitted that, not being- a scholar, I really had the 
misfortune to prefer facts to words, and was therefore 
much more interested in the opinions of Aristippus than 
in an eclogue, were it even by Bion or Theocritus.^ 

There is no sufficient proof, so far as I can see, that 
this little document is really by Aristippus, and it is 
due to his memory that one should not attribute to 
him what he would perhaps repudiate. But if it is by 
him, then that noted Greek, as grossly misjudged as 
Epicurus, set down as an eflfeminate voluptuary or the 
advocate of a loose philosophy, had after all the strict- 
ness required by prudence and order, the only strictness 
meet for man, who was born to enjoy his brief passage 
through the world. 

I have turned its occasionally choice though anti- 
quated style into modern French as best I could. In 
several passages it cost me some trouble to get at 
its meaning. Here then is the whole piece, with the 
exception of the greater part of two lines that could 
not be made out. Its title in the manuscript is The 
Manual of Pseusophancs. 

The Manual. 

Suppose you have just awakened dull and depressed, already 
weary of the coming day. You face life with aversion; it seems 

' Greek pastoral poets of third century B.C.; llie latter especially 
famous for his Idylls. — Tr. 

10 



loS OBERMANN. 

profitless and burdensome ; an hour later it will seem more 
endurable; is the change then in life? 

It has no definite quality; everything man experiences is in 
his heart, eveiy thing he knows is in his thought. He is wholly 
self-contained. 

What losses can thus overwhelm you .'' What have you to 
lose? Does anything belong to you outside yourself? What 
do things perishable matter ? Everything passes away, except 
the justice veiled behind the transient show of things. Every- 
thing is profitless for man if he does not advance with calm 
and steady pace according to the laws of intelligence. 

Everything around you is restless and threatening ; if you 
give way to fears, your anxieties will be endless. You cannot 
possess what is beyond possession, and you will lose your life, 
which does belong to you. Whatever happens is gone for ever. 
Events occur in an endless circle of necessity; they vanish like 
an unforeseen and fleeting shadow. 

What are your evils? Imaginary fears, fancied needs, the 
frustrations of a day. Weak slave ! You cling to what has no 
existence, you follow phantoms. Leave to the deluded crowd 
whatever is illusive, unprofitable, and transitory. Take account 
only of intelligence, which is the source of order in the world, 
and of man who is its instrument — of intelligence to be followed 
and man to be aided. 

Intelligence wrestles with the resistance of matter, and with 
the blind laws whose unknown consequences used to be called 
chance. When the strength bestowed upon you has followed 
intelligence, when you have served the order of the world, what 
would you more ? You have acted according to your nature ; 
and what is there better for a being who feels and knows, than 
to exist according to his nature. 

Daily, as you are reborn to life, call to mind that you have 
resolved not to pass through the world in vain. The world is 
travelling to its goal. But you, you stand still, you lose ground, 
you are still drifting and languid. Can the days gone by be 
lived again in happier times? Life rests wholly on that present 



LETTER XXXIII, 109 

which you neglect for the sake of the future ; the present alone 
is time, the future is but its reflection. 

Live in yourself, and seek what does not perish. Examine 
what it is that our heedless passions seek. Among so many 
things, is there one to suffice the heart of man.'' Intelligence 
only finds in itself the food of its life; be just and strong. No 
one knows the morrow ; you will never find peace in external 
things; seek it in your heart. Force is the rule of Nature; will 
is power; energy in suffering is better than apathy in pleasure. 
One who obeys and suffers is often greater than one who enjoys 
or commands. What you fear is vain, and what you desire is 
vain too. The only thing that can profit you is to be what 
Nature intended. 

You are made up of intelligence and matter. The world 
itself is nothing more. Bodies are modified by a presiding 
harmony, and the whole tends to perfection by the continual 
improvement of its different parts. That law of the Universe 
is also the law of individuals. 

Thus everything is good when intelligence directs it, and 
everything is bad when intelligence forsakes it. Use the good 
things of the body, but with the prudence which makes them 
subservient to order. A pleasure enjoyed in accordance with 
Nature is better than a privation she does not require, and the 
most immaterial action of our life is less harmful than the 
struggle of those superfluous virtues which check the spread 
of wisdom. 

There is for us no other morality than that of man's own heart, 
no other knowledge or wisdom than the recognition of its needs 
and a true estimate of the means of happiness. Have nothing 
to do with useless knowledge, supernatural systems, and mystic 
doctrines. Leave to other intelligences of a higher order or a 
different type what is remote from yourself. What cannot be 
clearly discerned by your intelligence was never intended for it. 

Comfort, enlighten, and support your fellows. The part you 
are to play is fi.\ed by the place you fill in the vast scale of 



no OBERMANN. 

being. Recognize and follow the laws of manhood, and you 
will help other men to know and follow them. Ponder and 
show to them the centre and end of things ; let them see the 
cause of what astounds them, the instability of what disturbs 
them, the nothingness of what allures them. 

Do not hold aloof from the rest of the world; always take 
account of the Universe, and be mindful of justice. You will 
have spent your life worthily and played the man. 



LETTER XXXIV. 

EXTRACT FRO.M TWO LETTERS. 

Faris, /line 2nd and \th (III.). 

Actors of the front rank occasionally visit Bordeaux, 
Marseilles, and Lyons, but to see a good play you must 
go to Paris. Tragedy and genuine comedy require an 
ensemble that cannot be found elsewhere. The per- 
formance of high-class plays becomes tame or even 
ridiculous if they are not acted with almost perfect 
skill; they afford no gratification to a man of taste 
when he cannot applaud In them a worthy and faithful 
representation of natural expression. In plays of the 
second-rate comic order it is sufficient if the leading 
actor has real talent. Burlesque does not require the 
same strict harmony; it even admits of incongruities, 
because it is itself based on a fine sense of incongruity; 
but when the subject is heroic one cannot tolerate faults 
that raise a laugh in the pit. 

Some spectators are so happy as not to need a 



LETTER XXXIV. iii 

realistic setting-; they always fancy the thing is real, 
and whatever the acting they are sure to weep at sighs 
or a dagger. But people not given to weeping would 
hardly go to the play to hear what they could read at 
home; they go to see it interpreted, and to compare 
one actor's treatment of a passage with another's. 

I have seen at intervals of a few days the difficult 
part of Mahomet played by the only three actors who 

are equal to attempting it. La R was badly got up, 

and spouted away with too much animation and too 
little dignity, exaggerating- the final speech most of all, 
and only pleased me in three or four passages where I 
recognized the able tragedian one admires in parts that 
suit him better. 

S. P plays the part well; he has studied it 

thoroughly, and interprets it satisfactorily, but he is 
always the actor, never Mahomet. 

B seemed to me really to understand this wonder- 
ful part. His manner, in itself remarkable, seemed 
just that of an Oriental prophet, though perhaps not so 
great, so stately, so imposing, as befitted a conquering 
lawgiver, a divinely-sent messenger ordained to con- 
vince by astounding, to subdue, to triumph, to reign. 
True, Mahomet — 

"Charge des soins de Fautel et du trone " 

was not so ostentatious as Voltaire has made him, nor 
was he such a knave. But the actor I refer to is 
perhaps not exactly the Mahomet of history, though 
one might reasonably expect him to be the Mahomet 
of the tragedy. He satisfied me better than the other 



112 OBERMANN. 

two, however, thoug-h the second has a finer presence, 

and the first greater resources on the whole. B 

alone was tactful in checking- the imprecation of Pal- 
myra. S. P drew his sivord, and I feared a burst 

of laughter. La R put his hand on it, and cowed 

Palmyra with his look; what then was the use of 
putting his hand on his scimitar — that threat against 

a woman, against Palmyra, young- and beloved ? B 

was not even armed; I liked that to begin with. Then 
whan he was Vv^eary of listening to Palmyra and wished 
to silence her, his piercing, terrible glance seemed to 
command her in the name of God, and compelled her 
to stand wavering- between the dread inspired by her 
former faith and the despair she felt when love and 
conscience were deceived. 

How can one seriously assert that the mode of 
representation is a mere matter of convention ? It is 
a mistake akin to the false application usually given 
to the saying, "There's no accounting for tastes." 

What did M. R. prove by singing- to the same notes, 
" I have lost my Eurydice," and " I have found my 
Eurydice?" Admitting that the same notes may be 
used to express the highest joy or the bitterest sorrow, 
is the significance of the music entirely contained in the 
notes? In substituting the word found for lost, in 
replacing sorrow by joy, though you keep the same 
notes, you completely transform the secondary signs of 
expression. Even a foreigner who understood neither 
of the words would infallibly perceive the difference. 
These secondary signs also form part of the music; one 
might say the particular note is immaterial. 

This play \Mahomct^ is one of Voltaire's finest; but 



LETTER XXXIV. 113 

perhaps for an audience of different nationality he would 
not have made the conquering" prophet the lover of 
Palmyra. True, the love of Mahomet is manly, im- 
perious, somewhat fierce even; he does not love like 
Titus, ^ but it would have been better had he not loved 
at all. Mahomet's fondness for women is well known, 
but it is probable that in his great ambitious heart, 
after so many years of deception, retreat, peril, and 
triumph, it was not the fondness of love. 

This love for Palmyra is not in keeping- with his 
noble destiny and his genius. Love is out of a place 
in a stern heart engrossed in its schemes, aged by the 
hunger for power — a heart to which pleasures would 
be impossible without forgetfulness, and even happiness 
would only be a distraction. 

What signifies his "Love alone consoles me?" 
Who compelled him to seek the throne of the Orient, 
to leave his wives and his humble independence for 
the censer, the scepfre, and arms? " Love alone con- 
soles me!" Was it then so dull and sluggish a life 
of inactivity to shape the destiny of nations, to trans- 
form the worship and laws of half the globe, to exalt 
Arabia on the wreck of a world? It was a difficult 
task, no doubt, but just the one to leave no room 
for love. The cravings of the heart arise from the 
emptiness of the soul; he who has great things in 
hand has the less need of love. 

One could understand it if this man who had long 
distanced his fellows, and had to reign as God in a 

^ The reference is probably lo the Roman emperor of that name 
(40-81 A.D.); a humane and benevolent prince, beloved of his subjects. 
— Tk. 



114 OBERMANN. 

spell-bound universe, if this favourite of the God of 
battles had loved a woman who could help him to 
bewitch the universe, or a woman born to rule like 
Zenobia;^ or even if he had been loved in return; but 
here we have that Mahomet, who subdued nature to 
his stern will, besotted with love for a child who cared 
nothing for him. 

A nig"ht with Lais- may perhaps be man's greatest 
pleasure, yet after all it is a pleasure only. But to be 
devoted to an extraordinary woman, by whom one is 
loved, is more ; it is even a duty, though after all only 
a secondary duty. 

I cannot understand those great ones to whom a 
glance of their mistress is law. I know pretty well 
what love can do, but a man who governs is not at its 
mercy. Love entails mistakes, illusions, blunders ; 
and the blunders of a great man are too far-reaching 
and deadly ; they are public misfortunes. 

I cannot endure those men entrusted with great 
authority who forget to g-overn as soon as they find 
anything else to do ; who set their affections above 
their duty, and think that everything has been placed 
at their disposal for their own pleasure ; who manipu- 
late the affairs of nations to suit the caprices of their 
private life, and who would make mincemeat of their 
army to get a sight of their mistress. I pity the nation 
whose monarch rates it lowest in the scale of his loves, 
and whose fate would be sealed if some favourite's 
chamber-maid saw a prospect of gain by betraying it. 

^ Queen of Palmyra and governor of the East ; led in triumph to 
Rome by Aurelian, 272 li.c. — Tk. 

- A notorious Corinthian courtesan. — Tr. 



LETTER XXXV. 115 

LETTER XXXV. 

Paris, ////j/ %th (III.). 

At last I have found a reliable man to wind up the 
affairs that have been detaining- me. There was not 
much left of them in any case ; there is no help for it ; 
everybody knows I am beggared. I have not even a 
bare pittance, until a contingency, that may be very 
remote, occurs to improve my position. I am not at 
all distressed about it, and I do not seem to have lost 
much in losing all, for I got no pleasure out of it. 
True I may have more unhappiness than I had, but I 
cannot well have less happiness. I am alone, I have 
only my own wants to supply, and so long as I am 
neither ill nor in prison, my lot will ahvays be bearable. 
I have little fear of bad luck, for I am sick to death of 
futile good. Life must needs have its reverses ; then 
is the time for endurance and courage. Then hope 
awakens and we say " I am passing through my time 
of trial, I am working off my share of misfortune, 
better days will surely follow." But in prosperity, 
when circumstances seem to rank us with the happier, 
and yet the heart has joy of nothing, we begrudge the 
loss of what fortune will not continue to bestow. We 
bewail the sadness of our best days, and we dread the 
misfortune that aw^aits us in the ups and downs of 
life,— all the more because we are so unhappy even as 
things are that we cannot but regard the fresh burden 
it will lay upon us as quite unsupportable. Thus it is 



ii6 OBERMANN. 

that people who live in the country can better endure 
its tedium in winter, which they call beforehand the 
dismal season, than in summer, when they expect the 
compensations of country life. 

I can do nothing more to remedy what is past, and 
I cannot tell what step to take in the future until we 
have talked it over together, so I think of nothing" but 
the present. What a happy riddance of all anxiety ! 
Never have I been so tranquil. I am starting for 
Lyons ; I will spend some ten days with you in blissful 
indifference to my fate, and then — we shall see. 



FIFTH YEAR. 



FIRST FRAGMENT. 



If happiness were proportioned to our privations or 
our prosperity there would be too much inequahty 
between men. If happiness were solely dependent on 
character that inequality would still be too i^reat. If it 
were absolutely dependent on the combination of 
character with circumstances, those whom their pru- 
dence and their destiny agreed to favour would have 
too many advantages. Some men would be very 
happy and others profoundly unhappy. But it is not 
circumstances alone that constitute our lot, nor even 
the concurrence of existing- circumstances with the 
effect or with the established habits of past circum- 
stances, or with the distinctive features of our character. 
This combination of causes has far-reaching effects, but 
it is not sufficient to account for our awkward temper 
and vexation, our discontent, our dissatisfaction with 
men and things, and with human life as a whole. We 
have within ourselves this general principle of coldness 
and aversion or indifference; we all have it, quite apart 
from anything our personal inclination may have to do 
with augmenting it or modifying its consequences. 
A specific mood of mind, or a certain attitude of our 
whole being is bound to produce in us this moral affec- 

117 



ii8 OBERMANN. 

tion. Sorrow is necessary to vis as well as joy; we 
have as much need to be chafed by things as we have 
to enjoy them. 

Man can no more desire and possess uninterruptedly 
than he can suffer without intermission. Neither happy 
sensations nor unhappy ones can last long in the com- 
plete absence of contrary sensations. The instability of 
the affairs of life does not admit of constancy in the 
affection that life inspires in us, and even if external 
things were otherwise ordered, our own organization 
is not capable of invariability. 

If the man who believes in his luck does not see 
misfortune approaching from without, he is not slow to 
find it within, and the poor wretch who receives no out- 
ward consolations soon finds them in his heart. When 
we have planned and obtained everything essential to 
constant enjoyment we are far from achieving happi- 
ness. There must still be some unwelcome and dis- 
tressing factor, for if we had succeeded in banishing all 
evil, then the good itself would fail to please us. 

But if neither the faculty of enjoyment nor of suffer- 
ing can be exercised to the complete exclusion of what 
was meant by our very nature to counterbalance it, 
either of them for the time being may be greatly in 
excess of the other; hence circumstances, without being 
all in all to us, have a powerful influence over our 
inner moods. If the favourites of fortune have no great 
provocatives of suffering, small ones are sufficient to 
produce it in them ; causes being absent, everything 
becomes an occasion. The victims of adversity, with 
their great occasions for suffering, will suffer acutely, 
but when they have suffered enough for the present they 



FIRST FRAGMENT. 119 

will not suffer habitually; as soon as circumstances 
leave them in peace they will suffer no longer, because 
the need of suffering- is satisfied within them, and they 
will even enjoy, because each need reacts with all the 
more regularity when the satisfaction of its opposite 
has carried us too far in the other direction.^ 

These two forces tend to equilibrium, but they never 
reach it, unless it be for the race as a whole. If there 
were no tendency to ecjuilibrium there would be no 
order, and if equilibrium were established in details, 
all would be rigid, there would be no movement. On 
either supposition there would be no unity with variety, 
the world would not be. 

It seems to me that the man who is very unhappy, 
but by fits and starts, is bound to have a steadfast 
inclination towards joy, calm, delights of affection, 
confidence, friendship, integrity. 

The man who is very unhappy but in a steady, pro- 
tracted, monotonous fashion, will be continually torn by 
two impulses; his temper will be uncertain, awkward, 
irritable. Always imagining the good, and for that 
very reason always chafed by evil, conscious in every 
detail of this antithesis, he will be more wearied than 
captivated by the least illusions; he is at once dis- 
enchanted, and is equally interested and disheartened 
by everything. 

He who is constantly half happy and half unhappy, 
so to speak, will verge on equilibrium, and in this even 
mood will be good rather than great ; his life will be 

^ In the state of unhappiness the reaction will he all the stronger, 
for the nature of an organized being urges him more definitely to his well- 
being and self preservation. 



120 OBERMANN. 

pleasant rather than happy; he will have judgment, but 
little genius. 

He who is always enjoying, and never has any out- 
ward misfortune, will be captivated by nothing ; he has 
no further need of enjoyment, and amid his external 
well-being he is secretly conscious of a perpetual need 
of suffering. He will not be generous, indulgent, 
loving, but will be unmoved by the greatest joys, apt 
to find a grievance in the smallest inconvenience. Un- 
accustomed to experience reverses, he will have con- 
fidence, but it will be in himself and his luck, not in his 
fellows ; he feels no need of their support, and as he is 
more fortunate than the majority, he almost fancies 
himself wiser than all. He would fain always enjoy, 
and most of all would like to seem to be enjoying him- 
self to the full, and yet he experiences an inner need 
for suffering ; hence on the slightest pretext he readily 
finds reason for quarrelling with circumstances and 
being unsociable with his fellows. Devoid of real well- 
being, yet having nothing better to hope for, he will 
desire nothing definitely, but will be fond of change in 
general, and will like it better in details than in his 
life as a whole. Possessing too much, he will be ready 
to part with all. He will take a certain pleasure and 
foster a kind of vanity in being irritable, unsociable, 
suffering, discontented. He will be hard to please, 
exacting ; for otherwise what would remain to him of 
the superiority he claims over others, a superiority he 
would still aspire to even if he no longer claimed it ? 
He will be a hard man, seeking to surround himself with 
slaves, so that others may admit his superiority, and at 
least suffer from it \\ hen he himself has no joy of it. 



FIRST FRAGMENT. 121 

I question whether it is good for man in his present 
state to be uniformly fortunate without ever having- 
the fates against him. Perhaps the happy man, among 
beings Hke ourselves, is he who has suffered much, but 
not constantly, nor in that protracted wearing manner 
which enervates our faculties without being extreme 
enough to rouse the secret energy of the soul and bring 
it to the happy resolve to seek for iinknown resources 
within.^ It is a lifelong advantage to have been un- 
happy at the age when mind and heart were beginning 
to live. It is the admonition of fate ; it fashions good 
men,- it broadens ideas, and matures the heart before 
old age enfeebles it ; it develops man soon enough for 
him to be man in the fullest sense. If it rob us of joy 
and gaiety, it inspires a sense of order and a taste for 
domestic blessings; it bestows the greatest happiness 
we ought to expect, that of expecting nothing beyond 
a vegetative existence in usefulness and peace. We 
are far less miserable when we are content simply to 
live; we are far nearer being useful when even in the 
very prime of life we seek nothing for self. I am not 
aware of anything but unhappiness that can thus 
mature the average man before he reaches old age. 

True goodness requires broadened conceptions, a 
great soul, and curbed passions. If goodness is man's 
highest merit, if moral perfections are essential to 
happiness, then it is among those who have suffered 
deeply in the early years of their heart's life that we 

' All this, though expressed in a positive manner, must not be taken 
as rif^orously tiue. 

- There are men whom it embitters; those who are not wicked and 
yet fall short of goodness. 



122 OBERMANN. 

shall find characters best moulded for their own ends 
and for the interest of all, most gifted with justice and 
intelligence, nearest to happiness, and most inflexibly 
loyal to virtue. 

What matters it to the social order that an old man 
renounces the objects of his passions, or that a weak 
man harbours no destructive schemes? Goody-goody 
folk are not good men ; those who only do good 
through weakness would do much harm under other 
circumstances. Capable of mistrust, of animosity, 
superstition, and, most of all, of obstinacy, he who is 
a blind instrument in various laudable undertakings in 
which his fancy has enlisted him will equally become 
the base sport of any mad idea that turns his brain, or 
craze that perverts his heart, or pernicious scheme in 
which some rogue or other will employ him. 

But the good man is invariable ; he shares the passions 
of no set, and the habits of no class, he is not made a 
tool of; he is incapable either of animosity, ostentation, 
or foolish crazes; goodness does not surprise him, be- 
cause he would have done the same himself; nor does 
evil, because it is part of nature; he is indignant at 
crime without hating the culprit; he scorns baseness 
of soul, but he is not angry with the worm for not 
having wings. 

He is no enemy of the superstitious man, for he 
cherishes no contrary superstitions. He inquires into 
the origin, often rational enough,^ of many a senseless 

^ Obscure or profound ideas deteriorate with time, and we become 
accustomed to regard them in a difl'erent light; when they begin to 
be false the masses begin to think them divine, and when they have 
become utterly absurd then men are willing to die for them. 



FIRST FRAGMENT. 123 

opinion, and laughs to see how men have followed a 
false scent. His virtues spring- from love of order, not 
from fanaticism; he does good that his life may be 
more useful; he sets the joys of others before his own, 
for enjoyment is possible to them though scarcely to 
himself; he wants simply to keep for himself the means 
of being of some use, and to live in peace and quietness, 
for calm is indispensable to one who has no pleasures 
in prospect. He is by no means suspicious; but as he 
is not taken in, he sometimes thinks it well not to give 
himself away; he can enjoy being played with a little, 
but he does not mean to be a dupe. He may have 
something to put up with from rascals, but he is not 
their cat's-paw. At times he will allow certain men to 
whom he is serviceable to secretly pride themselves 
on being his protectors. He is not content with his 
achievements, for he feels they might be much greater; 
it is only with his intentions that he feels a measure of 
satisfaction, though without being prouder of these 
inward features than he would be of a well-shaped nose. 
Thus he will spend his time in pressing on towards the 
best, sometimes with vigorous though encumbered 
steps ; more often with faltering hesitation, and the 
smile of one who has lost heart. 

When it is necessary to contrast human merit with 
other feigned or useless merits by which men try to 
confuse and debase everything, he maintains that the 
supreme merit is the calm integrity of the good man, 
for that is the most infallibly useful ; and on being taxed 
with pride he laughs. When he endures the discom- 
forts and forgives the injuries of domestic life, and is 
asked why he does not attempt greater things, he 

1 I 



124 OBERMANN. 

laughs. When such great things are entrusted to him, 
and he is accused by the friends of a traitor and blamed 
by the victim of their treachery, he smiles and goes on 
his way. His own people tell him it is an unheard of 
injustice, and he laughs still more. 



SIXTH YEAR. 



SECOND FRAGMENT. 

I AM not surprised that accuracy o{ ideas on ethical 
matters should be so rare. The ancients, even without 
the experience of centuries to guide them, sometimes 
thought of entrusting- the control of the human heart to 
sages. Our modern policy improves on that; it leaves 
the supreme science to the tender mercy of preachers, 
and the mob called men of letters by the printers, while 
it religiously protects the art of icing cakes and 
inventing new styles of wigs. 

When we turn our attention to the grievances of a 
certain class of people and begin to ascertain the 
grounds of them, we discover that one of the most 
novel and serviceable tasks we could undertake would 
be that of warning men against deceptive truths and 
destructive virtues. 

Contempt for money is absurd. No doubt it is a 
crime to prefer gold to duty, but we all know that the 
dictates of reason set duty before life as well as before 
riches. And if life is none the less a good thing, speaking 
generally, why should not gold be good too? Certain 

125 



126 OBERMANN. 

independent and isolated individuals do right to dispense 
with it, but all are not in that categ-ory, and great harm 
is done to virtue by such vain and half false declamations. 
The principles of conduct are thereby filled with contra- 
dictions; and if virtue is nothing but a struggle for 
order, will it be furthered among men by all this disorder 
and confusion? Though I myself set greater store on 
qualities of heart than of head, I still think that the 
educator of a people would find it easier to curb the 
bad-hearted than to conciliate the wrong-headed. 

Christians and others have declared perpetual chastity 
to be a virtue, but they have not exacted it of 
men; they have not even advised it, except for those 
who were aiming at perfection. Though a law from 
heaven should be absolute and indiscriminating, it did 
not dare to go further than this. And in telling men not 
to love money we cannot display too much moderation 
and precision of language. Religious and philosophical 
abnegation have inspired in various individuals a genuine 
indifference to riches and even to ownership of any kind, 
but in everyday life the desire for gold is unavoidable. 
With gold, in whatever inhabited region I find myself, 
I make a sign that means — prepare for me, feed me, 
clothe me, amuse me, respect me, wait on me and mine, 
let all around me be merry, let the sufferer speak and 
see the end of his troubles! x'Vnd straightway the order 
is carried out. 

Despisers of gold are like despisers of glory, of women, 
of talents, of bravery, of merit. When feebleness of 
mind, impotence of body, or coarseness of soul render 
them incapable of using any privilege without perverting 
it, they revile the privilege itself without realizing that 



SECOND FRAGMENT. 127 

they are holding" up to reprobation tlieir own baseness. 
A dissolute man despises women; a dull thinker rails 
at mind, a sophist utters platitudes against money. 
Doubtless the weak slaves of passion, fools who try to 
be clever, and gaping Philistines, would be either more 
miserable or more depraved if they were rich; people of 
that sort ought to own little, for with them to possess 
and to abuse are one and the same. Doubtless, too, 
the man who grows rich, and sets himself to get all out 
of life that a rich man can, does not gain, and often 
loses, by his altered circumstances. But why is he no 
better off than before? Because he is not really richer; 
with increase of wealth he has more worry and uneasi- 
ness. He has a large income, and he lives in such 
style that the merest trifle creates a deficit, and his 
debts multiply until he is ruined. Obviously such a 
man is poor. To multiply his wants a hundred-fold, to 
do everything for show, to keep twenty horses because 
someone else has fifteen, and to raise the number to 
thirty next day if his neighbour reaches twenty — all this 
is to load himself with the fetters of a more galling and 
anxious penury than he lived in at first. But to have 
a convenient house in a healthy situation, clean and 
tidy within, to have something to spare, and combine 
simplicity with elegance, to live in the same style even 
if one's wealth is increased four-fold, to employ the 
surplus in relieving the embarrassment of a friend, in 
preparing for a rainy day, in restoring to a good man 
in adversity what he gave in his youth to those now 
more prosperous than himself, in making up the loss of 
her one cow to some good mother, in sending corn to 
the farmer whose crop has been spoiled by hail, in 



128 OBERMANN. 

mending- the road where wagons have been upset^ and 
horses injured, in exercising- one's own faculties and 
tastes, in developing^ the intelligence, orderliness, and 
talents of a family — all this is well worth the privation 
so inaptly extolled by spurious wisdom. 

Contempt of gold, when really encouraged in those 
of an age ignorant of its value, has often robbed 
superior men of one of the greatest and perhaps most 
infallible means of living more usefully than the crowd. 

How many girls, in choosing a husband, pride them- 
selves in caring nothing for worldly goods, and thus 
plunge themselves into all the sordidness of straitened 
circumstances and into the settled ennui which in itself 
contains so many evils ? 

A quiet and sensible man who despises a frivolous 
character is apt to be captivated by similarity in tastes; 
he leaves to the crowd gaiety and merriment, and even 
vivacity and energy ; he chooses a serious, pensive 
wife, who grows melancholy over the first obstacle, 
who is soured by worries, who becomes taciturn, 
brusque, exacting, and austere with increasing years, 
who grudgingly submits to forego anything, and finally 
foregoes everything in a spirit of pique and to set 
an example to others, and ends by making the whole 
household miserable. 

It was in no trivial sense that Epicurus used to say, 
"The wise man chooses a friend of a cheerful and 
cordial disposition." The philosopher of twenty lightly 

^ The word Char is not used in this sense in the greater part of 
France, where two-wheeled carts {charettes h deu.x roues) ■^xc more used. 
But in Switzerland and elsewhere the term is applied to liglit wains and 
four-wheeled country carriages. 



LETTER XXXVI. 129 

ig^nores this advice, and it is much if he does not resent 
it, for he has cast off popular prejudices; but he will 
realize its importance when he has outgrown the pre- 
judices of philosophy. 

It is a small thing to be superior to the common herd 
of men, but it is a real step towards wisdom to be 
superior to the ruck of philosophers. 



LETTER XXXVI. 

Lyons, April Tlh (VI.). 

What would Nature be to man if she did not speak 
to him of other men? Glorious mountains, shuddering" 
rush of drifted snows, lonely peace of wooded vales, 
yellow leaves borne down by some still stream — all 
would be dumb, if our fellows were no more. If I 
were left the last man on the earth, what meaning 
could I find in the weird sounds of night, in the solemn 
stillness of wide valleys, in the sunset glow of a pensive 
sky above unruffled waters. We are only conscious of 
Nature under human relationships, and the eloquence 
of things is nothing but the eloquence of man. The 
fruitful earth, the vast skies, the running streams, are 
only phrases to express relationships which our hearts 
alone create and contain. 

Could we but have a perfect understanding, an old- 
time friendship! When he who enjoyed an unstinted 
aflfection received the pages on which he recognized the 
hand of a friend, had he any eyes left to study the 



I30 OBERMANN. 

beauties of a landscape or the dimensions of a glacier? 
But human life has grown more complicated; our con- 
sciousness of its relationships is vague and uneasy, 
beset with coolnesses and jars ; the older friendship is 
far remote from our hearts and our lot. Its links 
are un welded as we hover between hope and caution, 
between the delights we look for and the bitterness we 
experience. Fellowship itself is clogged by boredom, 
or weakened by participation, or thwarted by circum- 
stances. Man grows old, and his baffled heart ages 
faster than himself. If in his fellows there is all he 
could love, all that he shrinks from is there too. 
Where one finds so much social aflfinity, there inevitably 
are all discords as well. Thus he whose fear is greater 
than his hope holds himself aloof from men. Inanimate 
things have less grip, but they are more at our dis- 
posal; they are what we make them. They afford less 
of what we seek, but what they do afford we are more 
sure of finding when we like. They are average bless- 
ings ; limited, but secure. Passion draws us to our 
kind, but reason sometimes drives us to leave them 
for inferior but less fateful beings. Thus has arisen a 
strong bond between man and the friend he has chosen 
from another species, a friend who suits him so well 
because less tlian himself and yet more than inanimate 
things. If a man had to choose a friend by mere 
chance he would do better to take one from the canine 
than the human race. The lowest of his fellows would 
be a less fruitful source of peace and comfort than the 
lowest of dogs. 

But when a family is lonely and friendless, when its 
weak and harassed members, with so many avenues of 



LETTER XXXVII. 131 

unhappiness and so few of satisfaction, with but a 
moment for enjoyment and only a day to live — when 
husband and wife, mother and daughter, have no for- 
bearance and no unity, when they will not share the 
same interests or bring themselves to accept the same 
hardships and bear up unitedly at equal distances the 
chain of sorrows; when each one through selfishness 
or ill-nature refuses his help, and lets it drag heavily 
over the rough ground, ploughing the long furrow from 
which with fatal productiveness spring the briers that 

tear them all Alas! alas! How rasping then are 

his fellows to man! 

When any little attention, or word of peace and 
good-will and forgiveness is met with disdain and ill- 
temper or with freezing indifference ... so it has been 
ordained by the nature of things, that virtue might 
grow stronger and the heart of man become still nobler 
and more resisfned under the load that crushes it. 



LETTER XXXVIL 

Lyons, J\Iay ziid (VI.). 

There are times when I almost despair of controlling 
the restlessness that tears me to pieces. At such times 
everything allures and mightily elates me, only to let 
me fall back and be lost in the gulf my misgivings have 
opened. 

If I were absolutely alone such moments would be 
unbearable, but I write, and the effort to express to 
you what I feel seems to relax and alleviate the feeling. 



132 OBERMANN. 

to whom could I reveal myself thus freely? Who else 
ould put up with the wearisome babble of my dismal 
moods and idle sensitiveness. The only pleasure I have 
is that of telling you what I can say to you alone, what 
/I should not care to say to any one else, and what no 
one else would care to hear. I care little about the 
contents of my letters. The longer they are, and the 
more time I spend on them, the more good they do me; 
and if I am not mistaken, the bulk of the packet has 
never repelled you. One can spend ten hours at a 
stretch in talking, why should one not write for two? 

Not that I want to cast any reflection on you. You 
are briefer, less prolix than I. Your duties exhaust 
you, and you find less pleasure than I do in writing, 
even to those you love. You tell me what as an 
intimate friend you have to say; but I, hermit and 
eccentric dreamer that I am, have nothing to say, and 
yet take all the longer to say it. Whatever enters 
my head, whatever I would say if we were chatting 
together, I write if a chance occurs; but what I think 
and feel, that I write of necessity; it is a need of my 
nature. When I give it up, you may conclude that I 
am past feeling, that my soul is quenched, that I have 
grown calm and sensible, and am spending my days 
in eating, sleeping, and playing cards. I should be 
happier so ! 

I wish I had a trade; it would invigorate my arms 
and soothe my head. An accomplishment would not 
serve so well; though I think I should not be so rest- 
less if I could paint. For a long time I was in a kind 
of torpor, and am sorry to find myself aroused. My 
depression then was calmer than it is now. 



LETTER XXXVII. 133 

Of all the brief, uncertain moments when I have 
fancied in my simplicity that we were sent into the 
world to live^ not one has left deeper impressions than 
three weeks of unreflecting hopefulness, when one 
springtime, beside a mountain stream at the foot of 
the rocks between the smiling hyacinth and the lowly 
violet, I began to think that it might be given me to 
love. 

I touched what I was never to grasp. Had I been 
without inclinations and without hope I could have 
vegetated in placid boredom ; I should have felt the 
faint pulsation of human energy, but have found it 
tolerable to doze through my darkened life. What 
baneful influence showed me a vision of the world just 
to rob me of the bliss of ignorance ? 

Inspired with generous activity, eager to love, sus- 
tain, and comfort everything; always buff'eted to and 
fro between the longing to see so many harmful things 
altered and the conviction that they will not be altered, 
I am worn out by the ills of life, and even more in- 
dignant at the treacherous allurements of pleasure, my 
gaze always fixed on the vast sum of hatred, injustice, 
infamy, and wretchedness in this distorted world. 

And myself! Here I am in my twenty-seventh year, 
my best days gone, and I have never had a glimpse of 
them. Unhappy at the age of happiness, what can I 
expect from my later years? I have spent the golden 
age of confidence and hope in emptiness and ennui. 
Frustrated and suff"ering at every point, with a bruised 
and empty heart, I have reached while still young the 
regrets of old age. So used am I to see all the flowers 
of life wither under my blighting footsteps, that I am 



134 OBERMANN. 

like those old men who have lost all; but more pitiable 
than they, for I have lost it long- before my own end 
has come. Still hungry of soul, I cannot be at peace in 
this death-like silence. 

Ah, memory of days long- past, of things for ever 
g'one, of places I shall never see again, of men no 
longer what they were ! Alas, the pang of a life that 
is spoiled ! 

What places ever were to me what they are to others? 
What times were endurable, and under what sky did 
I ever find rest of heart? I have seen the bustle of 
towns and the dulness of country places, and the 
austerity of the mountains; I have seen the boorishness 
of ignorance and the strain of art; I have seen barren 
virtues, fruitless successes, and the swallowing up of all 
blessings in all calamities; man and his destiny, always 
unequally matched, endlessly cheating each other; and 
in the unbridled struggle of all the passions I have seen 
the hateful victor receive as the prize of his triumph the 
heaviest link in the chain of evils he had forged. 

If man were adapted to unhappiness I would pity 
him much less, and in view of his fleeting existence I 
would despise on his account as well as my own the 
anguish of a day. But he is surrounded by all good 
things, all his powers command him to enjoy; every- 
thing bids him " Be happy ;" and yet man has said, 
" Be happiness for the brute; art, science, glory, great- 
ness, shall be mine." His mortality, his sufferings, even 
his crimes, are the merest fraction of his wretchedness. 
I bewail his losses, calmness, freedom of choice, unity, 
and undisturbed possession. I bewail the wasting of a 
centurv bv millions of thinkinir bein^rs in cares and 



LETTER XXXVII. 135 

bondage amid everything- that could give safety, free- 
dom, and joy; living- a life of bitterness in a w^orld of 
rapture, because their hearts were set on imaginary 
and exclusive blessings. 

Yet all that amounts to little; half a century ago I 
saw nothing of it, and half a century hence I shall see 
it no more. 

I used to say in those bygone days, "If it is not my 
lot to re-establish primitive customs in some circum- 
scribed and isolated region, if I must compel myself to 
forget the world, and count myself sufficiently happy 
in securing passable days for myself on this deluded 
earth, then I only ask one blessing, one phantom in 
the dream from which I would fain never more awake. 
There remains on the earth, even as it is, one illusion 
which can still enthral me; it is the only one; I should 
be wise enough to yield to it; nothing else is worth 
the effort." 

So I used to think then ; but chance alone could 
grant me this priceless infatuation. Chance is slow 
and uncertain, life swift and irrevocable; its spring- 
time is passing, and that frustrated yearning, by causing 
the wreck of my life, is bound at length to estrange my 
heart and warp my nature.. Sometimes even now I 
feel myself growing sour and cynical, and my affections 
contracting; impatience will make me headstrong, and 
a kind of contempt inclines me to great but austere 
schemes. But this bitterness soon flags, and then I 
let myself drift, as if I realized that distracted men and 
uncertain events and my own brief life were unworthy 
of a day's anxiety, and that a rude awakening is useless 
when one must so soon fall asleep for ever. 



136 OBERMANN. 



LETTER XXXVIII. 

Lyons, May %th (VI.). 

I have been to Blammont to visit the surgeon who 
set so skilfully the arm of that officer who fell from his 
horse on his way home from Chessel. 

You will not have forgotten how, when we entered 
his house on that occasion, more than a dozen years 
ago, he hurried out to gather from his garden the 
finest apricots, and how as he came back with his hands 
full, the old gentleman, even then a little shaky, 
stumbled over the door-step and scattered nearly all 
the fruit. His daughter exclaimed harshly, "There 
you go again ! You will put your finger into every- 
thing, and you only make a mess of it; can't you stay 
quietly in your chair ! Here's a pretty state of things ! " 
He felt it, but made no reply, and our hearts were sore 
for him, poor fellow ! He is now more to be pitied 
than ever. He is paralyzed, laid on a real bed of 
suffering, no one near him but this wretch of a daughter. 
Some months ago he lost his speech, but his right arm 
is not yet affected and he uses it to make signs. He 
made one which, to my regret, it was not for me to 
interpret, and his daughter, as often happens, did not 
understand it. He wanted to tell her to offer me some 
refreshment. When she was called away by duties out- 
side I took the opportunity to let her unhappy father 
know that I understood his misfortunes ; his hearing is 
still quite good. He gave me to understand that his 
daughter, considering his end very near, begrudged 



LETTER XXXVIII. 137 

him everything; that would lessen by a few pence the 
very comfortable fortune he was leaving her; but that 
though he had often been grieved, he forgfave her every- 
thing-, so that he might not in his last hour cease to 
love the only being left him to love. Fancy an old man 
watching his life ebb away like this ! A father ending 
his days in bitterness in his own house ! And our laws 
are helpless ! 

Depths of wretchedness like this cannot but appeal 
to our instincts of immortality. If it were possible that 
after reaching years of discretion I had radically failed 
in duty to my father I should be unhappy for the rest of 
my life, because he is no more, and my fault would be 
as irretrievable as it was unnatural. True, one might 
argue that a wrong done to one who no longer feels it, 
who no longer exists, is strictly speaking imaginary, as 
it were, and of no consequence, as things are that are 
dead and done with. I could not deny it, and yet it 
would bring me no comfort. The cause of this feeling 
is very hard to find. If it were merely the conscious- 
ness of having missed the opportunity of retrieving a 
disgraceful failure with a nobility that would give 
inward consolation, we might still find compensation 
in the sincerity of our intention. When nothing but 
our own self-esteem is involved, the will to do a praise- 
worthy thing should satisfy us as well as its execution. 
The latter only differs from the former in its conse- 
quence, and there can be none when tlie injured person 
is no more. And yet one finds that the consciousness 
of an injustice whose effects are no longer present to 
overwhelm us may humiliate and torment us as if its 
results were to be eternal. One mi<rht think that the 



138 OBERMANN. 

victim of it was merely absent, and that we should have 
to re-assume our old relations with him in a sphere 
which will admit of no change and no reparation, where 
the wrong will last for ever in spite of our remorse. 

The human mind is always baffled by this connection 
between deeds done and their unforeseen results. It is 
conceivable that these notions of a future life and an 
infinite series of consequences have no other basis than 
that of being" thinkable, and that they must be reckoned 
among the agencies which tie man down to the insta- 
bility, the contradictions, and the continual uncertainty 
into which he is plunged by his partial view of the 
qualities and causal relations of events. 

As my letter is not sealed, I must give you a quota- 
tion from Montaigne. I have just dropped on a passage 
so apt to the idea in my mind that I was quite struck 
and delighted with it. In a coincidence of thought like 
this there is a thrill of secret joy ; it is the basis of man's 
need for man, because it fertilizes our ideas, gives con- 
fidence to our imagination, confirms our self-assurance. 

In Montaigne one does not find what one seeks ; one 
takes what there is to find. He should be opened 
haphazard, and that is a compliment to his style. He 
is very original, without caricature or affectation, and I 
am not surprised that some Englishman has placed the 
Essays above everything. Montaigne has been blamed 
for two things which gave him distinction, and for 
which I need not vindicate him between you and me. 

In Chapter VIII. of Book II., he writes :—" As I know 
by certaine experience, there is no comfort so sweet in 
the losse of friends as that our owne knowledge or 



LETTER XXXVIII. 139 

conscience tells vs we never omitted to tell them every- 
thing, and expostulate all matters vnto them, and to 
have had a perfect and free communication with them." 
[Florio's Translation.] 

This complete understanding" with a moral being" like 
ourselves, side by side with us in honourable fellowship, 
seems an essential feature of the part allotted us in the 
play of life. We are dissatisfied with ourselves if, when 
the act is over, we have failed irrevocably in the per- 
formance of the scene entrusted to us. 

That proves, you will perhaps reply, that we have a 
premonition of another life. I grant it ; and we shall 
agtee too that the dog which starves out its life 
because its master has lost his, or which flings itself 
into the blazing pyre that consumes his body, is bent 
on dying with him because it firmly believes in im- 
mortality, and has the comforting assurance of rejoining 
him in another world. 

I do not like to ridicule anything that men would 
fain substitute for despair, and yet I was almost on the 
point of jesting. The confidence with which man 
buttresses himself in opinions that please him, on 
matters beyond his ken, is worthy of respect in so far 
as it assuages the bitterness of his woes, but there is a 
touch of absurdity in the religious infallibility with 
which he tries to invest it. He would not accuse of 
sacrilege any one who asserted that a son might law- 
fully cut his father's throat ; he would take him to the 
asylum, and think no more about it ; but he grows 
furious if one ventures to hint that perhaps he will die 
like a dog or a fox, so terribly afraid is he of believing 
it. Cannot he see that he is giving proof of his own 

12 



140 OBERMANN. 

uncertainty ? His faith is as hollow as that of certain 
pious folk who would raise the cry of profanity if one 
doubted whether eating- a chicken on Friday would 
doom one to hell, and yet would eat it themselves on 
the sly ; so little does the dread of eternal punish- 
ment weigh against the pleasure of eating- a couple of 
mouthfuls of meat without waiting for Sunday. 

Why not leave to each man's own fancy the choice 
of what tickles his sense of humour, and even of the 
hopes that all cannot equally share? Morality would 
gain much by resigning the support of a spasmodic 
fanaticism and basing itself firmly on inviolable evi- 
dence. If you want principles to appeal to the heart 
take those that exist in the heart of every normally 
constituted man. 

Let your motto be — In a world of delight and of 
sadness man's destiny is to augment the sense of joy, 
to develop a radiant energy, and to do battle in every 
phase of experience with the source of degradation 
and sufferinof. 



THIRD FRAGMENT. 

THE ROMANTIC IN NATURE, AND THE " RANZ DES VACHES." 

The sensational captivates crude and lively imagina- 
tions, but thoughtful minds of genuine susceptibility 
are satisfied with the purely romantic. Nature abounds 
in romantic effects in out-of-the way places, but in 
time-worn regions they are spoiled by incessant culti- 



THIRD FRAGMENT. 141 

vation, especially in plains which have readily sub- 
mitted in every part to the sway of man.^ 

Romantic effects are the accents of a tongue which 
is not intelligible to all men, and is becoming" in some 
places quite a dead language. We soon cease to 
understand them when we no longer live in their midst, 
and yet this romantic harmony is the only thing which 
can keep fresh in our hearts the colours of youth and 
the bloom of life. The society man is no longer 
conscious of these effects ; they are too remote from 
his mode of life, and he ends by saying "What use 
are they?" His constitution is burnt out, as it were, 
by the parching heat of a slow and constant poison ; 
he is old when he should be in full vigour, and the 
springs of life are relaxed within him though he still 
wears the husk of a man. 

But you, whom the man in the street considers his 
equals, because you live simply and make no display of 
cleverness with your gifts, or just because your life is 
open to him and he sees that you eat and sleep as he 
does — you, men of primitive tastes, dispersed here and 
there to preserve the flavour of natural things in this 
age of vanity, you recognize each other, you hold con- 
verse in a tongue the crowd knows nothing of, when 
the October sun shines through the mist above the 
yellowing woods ; when beneath the setting moon a 
tumbling streamlet drops into a wood-girt meadow; 
when in a cloudless summer dawn, a woman's voice is 
heard not far away singing amid the walls and roofs of 
some great town. 

^ The force of the word romantic lias been modified since the period 
when these words were written. 



142 OBERMANN. 

Imag-ine a vast though bounded sheet of clear trans- 
parent water, oblong- in shape, and sweeping- in a wide 
curve towards the western horizon.^ Lofty peaks and 
g-lorious ranges enclose it on three sides. You are 
seated on the mountain side that slopes down to the 
northern beach on which the waves are breaking. 
Behind you sheer precipices lift their heads to the 
clouds; the dreary polar wind has never breathed on 
this happy shore. On your left the mountains open 
out and a quiet valley stretches far into their depths; 
a mountain stream comes tumbling downward from 
the snow-clad heights that bound it. Then when the 
morning sun appears between the icy peaks above the 
mists, when mountain voices betray the whereabouts 
of chalets above the meadows still in shadow, that is 
the awakening of an unspoiled world, and the proof of 
what a destiny we have ignored. 

Or take the hour of twilight, the time of rest and 
soul-expanding pensiveness. The valley is hazy and 
darkening fast. Southward night has fallen on the 
lake; the rocks beyond it form a belt of gloom below 
the icy dome that crowns them, where the light of day 
still lingers on the frozen snow. Its last gleams gild 
the countless chestnuts above the desolate crags, they 
shoot in long rays between the tall stems of the 
mountain pines, they glow on the Alps, they kindle 
the snows, they flame in the air, and the unruffled lake, 
radiant with light from the skies reflected in its breast, 
becomes infinite like them, and purer, more ethereal, 
more lovely even than they. Its calm is a marvel, its 

^ The passage that follows is evidently a description of the head of 
Lake Geneva, near Montreux. — Tr. 



THIRD FRAGMENT. 143 

clearness a mystery ; the aerial splendour it mirrors 
seems ensphered in its depths, and under those moun- 
tains, cut off from the earth as though hung- in mid air, 
you see at your feet the vaulted heavens and the great 
round world. It is a time of enchantment and ecstasy. 
Sky and mountains and the solid ground beneath you 
seem adrift in space; the level lake and the horizon are 
dissolved. Your ideas are transformed, your sensations 
wholly new, common life is left behind, and when the 
dusk has settled on this sheet of water, when the eye 
can no longer distinguish objects and distances, when 
the evening breeze ripples the surface, then the western 
extremity of the lake alone gleams with pale light, 
but the part encircled by mountains is all one gulf of 
thickest gloom. Then from the depths of shadow and 
silence a thousand feet below there reaches your ear 
the ceaseless wash of the waves, as billow follows 
billow without intermission to surge over the sand 
with measured pulse, to be shattered by the rocks or 
to break on the shore, while its peals reverberate with 
a long-drawn murmur in the invisible abyss. 

It is in sounds that Nature has vested the most force- 
ful expression of the romantic element; it is through 
the sense of hearing above all that one can bring to 
mind extraordinary places and things with the fewest 
touches and in the most effective way. The associations 
stirred by scents are swift and vast, but vague; those 
of sight have more interest for the mind than the heart; 
seeing evokes wonder; hearing, emotion. ^ 

The voice of a loved one is sweeter than her features ; 

^ The harpsichord of colours was ingenious ; a corresponding one of 
scents would have been more interesting. 



144 OBERMANN. 

sublime scenery makes ri deeper and more lasting im- 
pression by the sounds that haunt it than by its forms. 
I have seen no picture of the Alps which recalled them 
to me so vividly as a g-enuine Alpine melody. 

The " Ranz des Vaches " does more than awaken 
reminiscences; it paints a picture. I know that Rous- 
seau has stated the opposite, but I think he is wrong^. 
It is not mere imagination; a case in point is that of 
two people looking through the plates of the Tableaux 
pittoresqiies de la Suisse independently, and remarking 
at the sight of the Grimsel, "That is the place to 
hear the ' Ranz des Vaches.' " If it is performed with 
sympathy rather than art, if the player's soul is in it, 
the first notes transport us to the high valleys on the 
fringe of the bare, reddish gray rocks, beneath the sun 
that burns in a cool sky. We rest on some rounded 
grass-grown knoll, steeped in the unhasting calm of 
things and in the grandeur of the scene; we see the 
plodding step of the cows and the measured swing of 
their big bells, close under the cloud belt, on the gently 
sloping breast between the solid granite crags, and the 
granite screes of the snow-streaked ghylls. The wind 
moans desolately through the distant larches, and one 
can distinguish the hum of the unseen torrent deep 
sunk in the gorge it has carved out in the course of 
ages. To these lonely sounds succeed the hurried 
doleful tones of the cowherds'^ songs, the pastoral 

1 Kuhei- in German, Annailli in Romance, a man who drives the cows 
up the mountains and spends the whole season in the high pastures 
making cheese. Usually the Armaillis spend four or five months in 
the high Alps, quite cut oft' from the society of women, and often even 
from that of other men. 



THIRD FRAGMENT. 145 

expression of sober g^ladness and mountain exhilaration. 
The song-s come to an end ; the man disappears in the 
distance; the cow-bells have passed the larches; and 
now one only hears the rattle of falling- stones and the 
intermittent crash of trees borne down by the torrent to 
the valley below. These Alpine sounds swell out and 
fail on the wind; and in the intervals of silence, all 
seems chill, motionless, and dead. It is the domain of 
the phlegmatic man. He sets out from his low and 
ample roof, secured with heavy stones against the gales, 
and whether the wind rages or the thunder rolls beneath 
his feet it is all one to him. He trudges off to where 
his cows should be, and there they are; he calls them 
and they gather up and take their turns; then back he 
goes with the same steady pace, carrying milk for the 
plains he will never see. The cows stand chewing the 
cud; nothing stirs, not a soul is visible. The air is 
chilly; the wind drops as twilight falls; and nothing is 
left but the glimmer of perpetual snows, and the plunge 
of torrents whose lonely hum comes up from below, and 
seems to emphasize the unbroken silence of the tower- 
ing peaks, the glaciers, and the night. ^ 

^ Several attempts have been made to write words for this Shepherds' 
March. One such attempt, in the dialect of La Gruyere, contains 
forty-eight lines: — 

" Les armailiis di Columbette 
De bon matin se son leva, " etc. 

Another of these ballads, said lo have been composed at Appenzell, is 
in German, and ends somewhat as follows: — "Retreats profound, 
unruffled calm ! O peace of men and fields, O peace of vales and 
lakes! Ye sturdy shepherds with your rural homes and artless ways ! 
Ah, give to our hearts the charm of your chalets and the resignation 
learnt beneath your frigid skies. Untrodden peaks! Chill sanctuary. 
Last resting-place of a free and simple soul !" 



146 OBERMANN. 

LETTER XXXIX. 

Lyons, May wih (VI.). 

The glamour that is possible in all the relations that 
bind each man to his fellows and the Universe, the 
eager longing that a young heart feels when all the 
world is before it, the unknown and wonderful territory 
there is to explore — that charm is faded, transient, fled. 
The outside world to which I must re-act has become 
desolate and bare; I thought to find in it the life of the 
soul, but it is not there. 

I have seen a valley suffused with mellow light be- 
neath a lovely veil of morning mist; then it was 
beautiful. I have seen it change and tarnish; the 
devouring orb passed over it, scorching and exhausting 
it with its glare, and leaving it burnt up, sapless, and 
pitifully barren. So the happy veil of our days is slowly 
lifted and dispersed. There no longer remain any of 
those half-lights and hidden regions so delightful to 
explore. There are no more misty beams to take the eye. 
Everything is arid and exhausting like the burning sand 
beneath the sky of the Sahara. Stripped of this misty 
robe all objects exhibit with ghastly realism the ingenious 
but dreary mechanism of their naked skeleton. Their 
ceaseless, inevitable, resistless movements involve me 
without interesting me, and disquiet me without 
quickening my life. 

For years past this misery has been threatening, 
accumulating, becoming definite and chronic. If no- 
thing occurs, not even calamity, to break this deadly 
monotony, I shall be driven to end the whole concern. 



LETTER XL. 147 

LETTER XL. 

Lyons, May i^^/i (VI.). 

I was under the long wall on the bank of the Saone, 
where formerly as growing- lads we used to stroll 
together and talk of Tinian/ when our hearts were 
set on happiness and we really meant to live. I was 
watching the river rolling on as it did then and the 
autumn- sky, as calm and fine as in those days of which 
no trace remains. A carriage approached; I drew to 
one side unconsciously and kept walking on, gazing at 
the yellow leaves which the wind was sweeping over 
the dry grass and along the dusty road. The carriage 
stopped; Madame Dellemar alone and her six year old 
daughter were in it. I got in and went as far as her 
country house, but declined to enter. You know that 
Madame Dellemar is not yet twenty-five, and that she 
is greatly altered; but she stills talks with the same 
simple and perfect grace; her eyes have a more sorrow- 
ful but not less lovely expression. We did not mention 
her husband. You will remember that he is thirty years 
her senior, a capitalist of some sort, well up in money 
matters, but a nonentity in everything else. Unhappy 
woman! Hers is a spoiled life, and yet fate seemed to 
promise her such a happy one! She had every 
qualification for happiness and for making another 
happy. And it is all thrown away. It will soon be 

^ See note on Letter XI. — Tk. 

- The reference to autumn sky and yellow leaves is inconsistent with 
the date at the head of the letter. — Tk. 



148 OBERMANN. 

five years since I last saw her. She sent the carriage 
back to town with me, but I got out near the place 
where she overtook me, and stayed till a late hour. 

On my way home a feeble, broken-spirited old man 
came up to me, looking- hard at me the while. He 
addressed me by name and appealed for charity. I 
failed to recognize him at the time, but afterwards I 
was quite shocked by the recollection that it could be 
none other than our old Third Form master, good and 
painstaking fellow that he was. I made some enquiries 
this morning, but am not sure whether I shall succeed 
in discovering the wretched attic in which no doubt he 
is spending his last days. The poor fellow would 
conclude that I did not want to recognize him. If I 
find him, we must see that he has a room and a few 
books to keep him in touch with his old ways. His 
sight seems still quite good. I do not know what I am 
at liberty to promise him on your behalf; let me know, 
please. It is not a question of temporary relief, but 
for the rest of his life. I will do nothing without your 
instructions. 

I had spent, I should think, more than an hour that 
evening hesitating in which of two directions to take a 
short stroll, and though the place where I met her was 
the further from my house, something drew me that 
way ; it must have been the yearning in another of a 
sadness fit to match my own. 

I should readily have declared that I should never 
see her again. That resolution had been firmly taken, 
and yet. . . . Her image, though dimmed by de- 
pression, by time, and even by the shaking of my 
confidence in aftections too often disappointed and 



LETTER XL. 149 

useless, is still bound up with my inner consciousness 
and all my outlook on life. I see it with the mind's 
eye, but it is like the persistent memory of a vanished 
dream, like those castles in the air of which the mind 
retains a trace, though at my time of life they are no 
more. 

For I have really come to man's estate. My repul- 
sions have matured me, and thanks to my destiny, I 
have no other master than that grain of sense one 
receives from above, one knows not why. I am not 
under the yoke of passion, nor led astray by desire ; 
pleasure will not corrupt me. I have said g-ood-bye to 
all those vagaries of strong souls. I shall not make 
myself ridiculous by going into raptures over sensational 
things and then having to recant, or by becoming the 
dupe of a fine sentiment. I feel equal to looking with 
indifference on a lovely view, a fine sky, a virtuous 
deed, or a touching display of feeling ; and if I thought 
it worth while, I could, like any well-bred gentleman, 
perpetually yawn and smile, pretend to be amused 
though bored to extinction, and die of ennui with the 
utmost calmness and dignity. 

I was taken by surprise when I met her, and am so 
even yet, because I do not see what it can lead to. 
But what necessity is there for it to lead anywhere ? 
Plenty of isolated events happen in the world, or events 
which have no perceptible results. And yet I cannot 
rid myself of a kind of instinctive habit of looking for 
a sequel and consequences to everything ; most of all 
to things brought about by chance, I cannot help 
trying to see a purpose in it and the working out of 
some necessity. This curious tendency amuses me ; 



I50 OBERMANN. 

we have more than once laughed over it together, and 
just at present it is not at all inopportune. 

I am quite sure I should not have chosen that road, 
if I had known I should meet her ; but I believe it 
would have been a mistake all the same. A visionary 
should see everything, and a visionary unfortunately 
has nothing special to fear. Besides, is there any need 
to shun everything which pertains to the life of the 
soul, and everything which may remind it of its losses? 
Is it possible so to do? A scent, a sound, a ray of 
light will bring home to me equally well that there is 
more m human nature than mere digestion and sleep. 
A throb of joy in the heart of an unhappy man, or the 
sigh of one who is merry can equally reveal to me that 
mysterious duality which the understanding maintains 
in an infinite series of perpetual oscillations, a duality 
in which our bodies are only the materials with which 
an eternal idea sketches out the plan of something 
invisible, and which it casts like dice, or manipulates 
like numbers. 

When back on the bank of the Saone I said to 
myself. How incomprehensible is the eye ! Not only 
does it receive, so to speak, the infinite ; it seems also 
to reflect it. It sees a whole world, but it mirrors, it 
reveals, it expresses something vaster still. An all- 
captivating grace, a profound and tender eloquence, a 
significance deeper than the things signified, a universal 
bond of harmony — all this is in the eye of a woman. 
All this, and even more, is in her voice if she feels 
deeply. When she speaks she arouses lapsed emotions 
and ideas ; she wakes the soul from its lethargy and 
charms it to follow her through the whole sphere of 



LETTER XL. 151 

moral life. When she sings she seems to influence 
and transform our surroundings and to create new 
sensations. Natural life is no longer commonplace ; 
everything is romantic, inspired, intoxicating. There, 
sitting quietly, or busy with some task or other, she 
transports us with her into the full swing of the mighty 
world, and our life gains dignity from its sublime, 
unhasting revolution. How tame seem then those 
men who make so much to do about mere trifles ! To 
what nonentity they limit us, and how exhausting it is 
to live among such noisy, uninspiring creatures. 

And yet when training and talent, successes and gifts 
of chance, have all united to fashion a lovely face, a 
shapely form, a polished manner, a noble soul, a tender 
heart, and a broad mind, it only takes a day for ennui 
and despondency to set about the obliteration of them 
all, in the desolation of a cloister, in the repulsions of 
a mistaken marriage, or in the bareness of an irksome 
life. 

I shall continue to meet her. She no longer expects 
anything from life, so we shall get on well together. 
She will not be surprised to find me consumed with 
ennui, and I need not fear that I shall add to hers. 
The situation of each of us is fixed, and so definitely 
that I shall not alter mine by going to see her when 
she returns to town. 

I already picture to myself the smiling grace with 
which she hides her weariness and receives the visitors 
who tire her out, and how eagerly she longs for the 
morrow on her days of pleasure. Almost every day 
brings the same irksome round. Concerts, parties, 
and all such entertainments are the toil of the so-called 



152 OBERMANN. 

happy; it is their task, as the toil of the vineyard is the 
labourer's; but heavier, for it does not bring its own 
compensation ; it produces nothing. 



LETTER XLI. 

Lyons, May iS//i (VI.). 

It almost seems as if Fate set itself to rivet upon us 
again the fetters we try to snap oft' in spite of it. What 
have I gained by leaving everything in quest of a freer 
life ? Ev^en if I have seen things suited to my nature, 
it was only in passing, without enjoying them, as if to 
increase my craving for them. 

I am not the slave of passion, but am none the 
happier for that. Its vanity will not delude me; but 
then one must fill life with something. What satis- 
faction is there in an empty existence? If life is a 
mere distracted nothingness, is it not better to forsake 
it for a nothingness without the distraction. One's 
understanding postulates a result; I wish some one 
would tell me what the result of my life is to be. I 
want something to mark and charm away my hours ; 
I cannot go on for ever with them dragging past so 
heavily in slow succession, without desires, illusions, 
or aim. If I can know nothing of life but its miseries, 
was the gift worth having ? Is it wise to keep it? 

You will not suppose me so weak in face of the ills 
of humanity that I cannot even endure the dread of 
them; you know me better than that. It is not mis- 



LETTER XLI. 153 

fortune that would make me think of fling-ing away my 
life. Resistance invigorates the soul and gives it a 
nobler air; we feel our feet in the struggle with great 
griefs ; we find pleasure in the effort of it, there is at 
least something to be done. But the obstructions, the 
boredoms, the limitations, the insipidity of life, it is 
these that wear me out and sicken me. A man domin- 
ated by passion can brace himself to suffer because he 
means to enjoy by-and-by, but what motive can sustain 
the man who has nothing to expect ? I am weary of 
leading so vain a life. True, my patience might hold 
out longer, but life is slipping away without my doing 
anything useful, and as devoid of enjoyment and hope 
as it is of peace. Do you suppose an unconquerable 
soul could submit to that for long years to come? 

I might assume that there is also a purpose in out- 
ward events, and that necessity itself has a regular 
route and some sort of aim which the understanding 
can foresee. I sometimes ask myself whither I shall 
be led by this enforced ennui, this apathy I cannot 
shake off, this blank and insipid environment from 
which I cannot free myself, and in which there is 
nothing but disappointment, delay, and elusiveness ; 
where every probability vanishes, effort is frustrated, 
and every change miscarries ; where expectation is 
always deceived, even the expectation of some calamity, 
which would at least be stimulating; where one might 
almost conclude some hostile will had set itself to keep 
me in a state of indecision and embarrassment, or to 
delude me by vague circumstances and baffling hopes in- 
to spending my whole life without attaining, producing, 
or possessing anything whatever. 



154 OBERMANN. 

I review the dreary vista of my long- and wasted 
years. I see how the ever seductive future changes 
and dwindles as it draws near. Struck with a deadly 
blight by the funereal glimmer of the present, it loses 
its glow the very moment one seeks to enjoy it, and 
dropping- its mask of seductions and already vapid 
charm, it glides past neglected and alone, dragging 
heavily its battered and dingy sceptre, as if mocking 
the weariness inflicted by the terrible clanking of its 
endless chain. When I forecast the disenchanted years 
through which the rest of my youth and of my life must 
be dragged out, when I follow in thought the downward 
grade on which everything is slipping to destruction, 
what do you suppose I can expect at the end of it, and 
who can hide from me the abyss in which everything 
must perish ? Baffled and weary, and convinced of my 
impotence, must I not at any rate seek rest? And 
when a force I cannot escape relentlessly weighs me 
down, how can I rest unless I fling myself headlong ? 

Everything; must have an aim congenial to itself. 
Since my life on the social side is severed from the rest 
of the world, why should I vegetate on through long 
years, alike useless to others and wearisome to myself? 
For the mere instinct of self-preservation ! Just to 
draw breath and grow older ! To wake in bitterness 
when everything- sleeps, and to long for night when 
the earth is blossoming; to be utterly blank of desire 
and only to dream of existence; to be dislocated and 
solitary in this world of sorrows, making no one the 
happier, and having only a theory of the part man 
should play; to cling to a blighted life, an abject slave 
excluded from life and yet grasping at its shadow; 



LETTER XLI. 155 

greedy of existence, as if real existence were still within 
reach, and submitting- to live miserably for lack of 
courage to die. 

What use to me are the specious arguments of a 
comfortable and flattering philosophy, the hollow mask 
of a cowardly instinct, the empty wisdom of sufferers 
who prolong the evils they endure so meekly, and 
who find sanction for our bondage in an imaginary 
necessity ? 

"Wait awhile," they tell me; "moral suffering 
wears itself out in course of time: wait; times will 
improve, and you will be satisfied; or if they remain 
the same, you yourself will alter. By making the best 
of the present you will tone down your too glowing 
conception of a better future, and by taking life as it 
is you will find it grow better as your heart grows 
calmer." A passion may cool, a loss be forgotten, a 
misfortune be retrieved; but I have no passions, I 
bewail neither loss nor misfortune — nothing that can 
cool, be forgotten, or retrieved. A new passion may 
compensate us for an old one, but on what shall I stay 
my heart if it loses the thirst which consumes it ? It 
longs for everything, wills to do everything, embraces 
everything. VVhat can replace the infinite my thought 
demands? Regrets may be forgotten, banTsfied~By 
other advantages; but what advantages can outweigh 
boundless regrets. Everything adapted to human 
nature has to do with my being; I have tried to feed 
on it in harmony with my nature, and have pined 
away on an impalpable shadow. Do you know any 
compensation for the loss of a world? If my calamity 
is simply the emptiness of my life, will time cure the 

I ;! 



156 OBERMANN. 

ills it aggravates, and must I hope they are abating 
when it is just their duration that is making them 
intolerable ? 

"Wait; better days will perhaps bring about what 
your present lot seems to make impossible." Ye men of 
a day who keep planning as you grow older, scheming 
for a distant future though death is on your track, 
dreaming of comforting illusions amid the instability of 
everything, do you never realize the flight of time ? Do 
you not see that your life is being rocked to sleep, and 
that this vicissitude, which is the stay of your deluded 
hearts, is just the preliminary to their annihilation in 
one final and imminent catastrophe ? If man's life were 
endless, or if it were merely longer, and if it remained 
uniform almost to his last hour, then hope might be- 
guile me, and 1 might possibly look forward to what 
w'ould at any rate be possible. But is there any per- 
manence in life ? Will the future have the wants of 
the present, and will what we need to-day be good to- 
morrow ? Our heart changes more swiftly than the 
seasons; their alternations have at least some con- 
stancy, for they are repeated through the course of 
ages. But our days, which nothing can renew, have 
never two hours alike; their seasons, which never recur, 
have each their own wants, and if a single one of them 
misses its due, it is gone for ever, and at no later age 
can we enjoy what we have missed in the prime of life. 

"It is only a madman who tries to fight against 
necessity. The wise man takes things as they come ; 
he only gives heed to those aspects of them which can 
make him happier; without needless anxiety about the 
track he shall follow through the world, he knows how 



LETTER XLI. 157 

to secure at each stage of his journey the comforts of 
civiHzation and a good night's rest, and in view of the 
nearness of his destination he travels without exertion, 
and even loses his way without uneasiness. What 
would it profit him to want more, to withstand the 
force of the world and to try to evade its fetters and 
inevitable catastrophe ? No individual can check the 
whole trend of things, and nothing is more futile than 
to bewail the ills which are inseparable from our 
nature." But if everything is necessitated, what fault 
can you find with my ennuis ? Why censure them ? 
Can I feel differently? If, on the other hand, our in- 
dividual lot is in our own hands, if man can exercise 
choice and volition, there may exist for him obstacles 
he cannot overcome, and miseries he cannot evade, but 
the united effort of the human race cannot do more 
than end his life. The only man who can be subjected 
to everything is the man who is determined to live at 
any price ; he who claims nothing can be subjected to 
nothing. You expect me to be resigned to inevitable 
ills; I am perfectly willing to be so, but as soon as I 
resolve to quit the whole concern, inevitable ills no 
longer exist for me. 

The many blessings man enjoys even in misfortune 
would not detain me. No doubt in the abstract, goods 
outnumber evils, but we should be strangely mistaken 
if we estimated things thus in practice. A single evil 
we cannot overlook outweighs twenty goods we seem 
to enjoy, and whatever reason may say there are many 
evils that only time and effort can cure, unless one 
happens to be a crank with a touch of fanaticism. 
Time, it is true, dispels these evils, and a wise man's 



158 OBERMANN. 

firmness makes still shorter work of them, but the busy 
imagniation of other men has so multiplied them that 
new ones are always ready to take their place. Joys, 
too, pass away as well as sorrows, and even if man had 
ten pleasures for a single pain, so long as one pain can 
mar a hundred pleasures while it lasts, life will be, to 
say the least of it, insipid and unprofitable to one who 
is stripped of illusions. The ill is permanent, the good 
temporary; by what attraction, for what end, should I 
tolerate life? The climax of the plot is known — what 
is there left to be done ? The one irreparable loss is 
the loss of desire. 

I know that a natural inclination binds man to life, 
but it is a kind of instinctive habit, and in no way 
proves that life is good. A living creature clings to 
existence simply because it exists; it is reason alone 
that can enable us to view annihilation without dread. 
It is strange that man, whose reason professes to 
despise instinct, should fall back on the blindest of his 
instincts to sanction the fallacies of that same reason. 

It will be objected that habitual impatience is due to 
the violence of the passions, and that the more an old 
man is calmed and enlightened by age the more firmly 
he clings to life. I will not stop to inquire at present 
whether the reason of a man in the decline of life is 
worth more than that of one in his prime; nor whether 
each stage of life has not a type of feeling appropriate 
at the time but unseasonable before and after; nor, 
finally, whether our futile institutions and those senile 
virtues which are the product in the first instance of 
decay are a solid argument in favour of the age at 
which the fires of life are cooled. I will simply reply 



LETTER XLl. 159 

that every mixed blessing is regretted when we lose it; 
an irrevocable loss after long possession is never viewed 
dispassionately; our imagination, as experience shows, 
always disregards a benefit as soon as won, to direct 
our energies to what there still remains to win, and, 
when a thing ends, only gives heed to the good we 
lose, not to the ill from which we are set free. 
. This is not the way to estimate the worth of actual 
life to the majority of men. But ask them each day of 
their ever-hoping existence whether the present moment 
satisfies, disappoints, or is indifferent to them; your 
conclusions will then be reliable. Every other estimate 
is simply a mode of self-deception, and I want to sub- 
stitute a clear and simple truth for confused ideas and 
exploded fallacies. 

This advice will then be given me: "Curb your 
desires; limit your too-grasping needs; set your heart 
on things attainable. Why seek for what circumstances 
forbid? Why exact what men can so well do without? 
Why wish for things that are useful? So many people 
never even think of them ! Why mourn over public 
calamities? Do you find that they disturb the 
sleep of anybody who is happy? W^hat gain is 
there in these throes of a strong soul, this instinct 
for things sublime? Can you not dream of perfec- 
tion without attempting to crane up to it the crowd 
which ridicules it, even amidst its groaning? Must 
you have greatness or simplicity, a stimulating en- 
vironment, unique scenery, men and things just to 
your taste, before you can enjoy life ? Given existence, 
everything is good for man ; and wherever he can live 
at all there he can live in contentment. If he has a 



i6o OBERMANN. 

g"ood reputation, a few acquaintances who wish him 
well, a house and something' respectable to turn out in, 
what more does he need?" Quite right; I have no 
fault to find with such counsels as these which a practical 
man would give me; in fact, I believe them to be very 
good — for those who find them so. 

Nevertheless, I am calmer than I used to be, and am 
beginning to tire even of my impatience. Grim but 
tranquil thoughts visit me more frequently. I ponder 
freely on those who have found their eternal night in 
the morning of their days ; this mood rests and comforts 
me; it is the premonition of eventide. "But why," 
they ask, "this craving for darkness? Why does the 
light distress me?" They will know some day; when 
they too have changed ; when I shall be no more. 

" When you will be no more ! . . . Are you contem- 
plating a crime ?" 

If, worn out with the ills of life and supremely dis- 
enchanted as to its goods, already dangling over the 
abyss and marked to fall, restrained by friends, accused 
by moralists, condemned by my country, ^if, I say, I 
had to reply to the arguments and reproaches of the 
social man in whose eyes I am guilty, this it seems to 
me is what I might say: — 

I have sifted everything thoroughly, if not by actual 
experience, at any rate by anticipation. Your sorrows 
have blighted my soul, they are unbearable because 
they are aimless. Your pleasures are illusory and 
fleeting; it takes but a day to ransack and leave them. 
I sought happiness within me, though not like a fanatic, 
and I found that it was not meant for man in isolation ; 
I suggested it to those around me, but they had no 



LETTER XLI. i6i 

time to think of it. I questioned the multitude enervated 
by misery and the favoured oppressed by ennui ; they 
replied: " We suffer to-day, but we shall be happy to- 
morrow." For my part I know that the coming- day 
will follow in the footsteps of the one that is passing^. 
Live on, you whom a bright illusion can still deceive, 
but as for me, weary of hope betrayed, bereft of expec- 
tation and almost of desire, I am no longer bound to 
live. I regard life from the standpoint of a man on the 
brink of the grave; let it open to receive me. Shall 
I postpone the end when it is already at hand ? Nature 
presents illusions to faith and love; she only lifts the 
veil when the hour of death has struck. She has not 
lifted it for you, live on then; she has lifted it for me, 
my life is already over. 

It may be that man's real good is moral independence, 
and that his miseries are only the consciousness of his 
innate weakness in manifold situations ; that everything 
outside himself is a dream, and that peace dwells in the 
heart that is inaccessible to illusions. But where can 
disenchanted thought find rest ? What is there to do 
in life when one is indifferent to all it contains ? When 
the passion for all things — that infinite yearning of 
strong- souls — has consumed our hearts, the spell on 
our desires is rudely broken, and irreparable ennui 
springs from the cold ashes. Funereal and ominous, 
it swallows up all hope ; it holds sway over the ruins 
of life ; it devours and extinguishes ; with resistless 
force it digs our grave, that refuge which will at least 
give rest through oblivion and calm in annihilation. 

Without desires, what can one make of life? To 
vegetate in stupidity ; to drag- oneself through the dull 



i62 OBERMANN. 

round of cares and business ; to g^rovel abjectly with 
the meanness of the slave or the vacancy of the mob ; 
to think without serving- the universal order, to feel 
without living- ! Thus, the pitiful sport of an inexplic- 
able fate, man will abandon his life to the chances of 
things and of time. Thus, baffled by the conflict between 
his wishes, his reason, his laws, and his nature, he 
hastens with a gay and daring step towards the dark- 
ness of the tomb. With eager, restless, spectre-haunted 
eyes and sorrow-laden heart, he seeks and goes astray, 
he vegetates and lulls himself to sleep. 

World-wide harmony, glorious dream ! Moral aim, 
social obligation, laws, duties — words sacred among 
men ! It is only in the opinion of the deluded crowd 
that I shall seem to set you at defiance. 

Of a truth, I leave some friends whom I shall distress, 
my country whose obligations I have far from repaid, 
all men whom I ought to serve ; but these are occasions 
for regret, not remorse. Who can prize more than I 
the worth of unity, the authority of duties, the delight 
of being useful ? I once hoped to do some good- 
it was the most flattering and the wildest of my dreams. 
You, in the perpetual uncertainty of your ever dis- 
tracted and precarious life of bondage, all follow with 
blind docility the beaten track of the established state of 
things, thus handing over your life to use and wont, 
and wasting it without regret as you would waste a 
day. Had I too been swept away by this all-prevailing 
deviation, I might have left behind me some kind 
actions in these paths of error ; but such kindness is 
easy to all men, and will be done without me by good 
men. There are such men ; long may they live, and 



LETTER XLI. 163 

be happy in finding- themselves useful. It will be no 
comfort to me, I confess, in this gulf of misery, if I can 
do no more than that. A single poor fellow at my side 
may possibly be relieved, but a hundred thousand still 
groan, and I shall look helplessly on while the bitter 
fruits of human error are attributed to the nature of 
things, and while those miseries in which I find the 
accidental caprice of tentative experiments towards 
perfection are perpetuated as if they were the inevitable 
result of necessity ! Let me be severely blamed if I 
refuse to sacrifice a happy life for the general good ; 
but when, in prospect of a useless future, I court a 
repose too long delayed, it is regret, I repeat, and not 
remorse that I feel. 

Under the burden of temporary misfortune, having 
regard to the fluctuations of moods and circumstances, 
I should no doubt look forward to better days. But 
the calamity that burdens my years is no temporary 
one. Who can fill the emptiness in which they glide 
sluggishly away ? Who can restore desires to my life 
and expectation to my will ? It is the good itself that 
I find useless ; let men see to it that they have nothing 
but ills to deplore ! During a storm we are buoyed up 
by hope, and are fortified against the risk because it 
will come to an end, but if calm itself wearies you, 
what can you hope for then ? If to-morrow may be 
good, I am willing to wait ; but if my lot is such that 
to-morrow cannot be better but may be unhappier still, 
I will not see that fatal day. 

If it is a real duty to live out the life that has been 
given me, I will certainly face its miseries; swift time 
will soon sweep them away. However oppressed our 



i64 OBERMANN. 

days may be, they are bearable, because they are 
limited. Death and life are in my power; I do not 
cling to the one, nor do I yearn for the other; let 
reason decide whether I have the right to choose 
between them. 

I am told it is a crime to desert life. And yet those 
very sophists who debar me from death will expose me 
or send me to it. Their innovations multiply it around 
me; their maxims lead me to it; their laws inflict it 
upon me. It is glory to renounce life when it is sweet; 
it is justice to kill a man who wants to live ; and the 
death one must court when dreaded it would be a crime 
to seek when desired! You trifle with my existence on 
a hundred pretexts, either plausible or absurd ; I alone 
have no rights over myself! Wlien I love life, I must 
despise it; when I am happy, you doom me to die; but 
if I long for death, then it is that you debar me from it; 
you thrust life upon me when I abhor it !^ 

^ Beccaria has some excellent arguments against capital punish- 
ment, but I cannot see my way to agree with him. He asserts that 
the citizen — " who can only part with the merest fraction of his liberty," 
cannot consent to the loss of his life ; and further, that "as he has no 
right to kill himself" he cannot hand over the right of killing him to 
the State. [Beccaria was a celebrated writer on jurisprudence ; his 
treatise On Crimes and Punishments led to many reforms in the penal 
codes of Europe. — Tk.] 

One should be very careful only to say what is just and incontestable 
when discussing the principles on which positive laws and ethics are 
based. It is dangerous to buttress the best causes with merely specious 
arguments, for when some day the illusion is dispelled, the truth itself 
which they seemed to support totters with them. Things that are true 
have real reasons in their favour ; there is no need to seek arbitrary 
ones. If the moral and political legislation of antiquity had been 
based only on evident princijiles, its validity, though less plausible at first 



LETTER XLI. 165 

If I cannot put an end to my life, no more can I 
expose myself to imminent death. Is that the kind of 
prudence you expect of your subjects? Then on the 
battlefield they oug-ht to estimate the probabilities 
before charging the enemy, and your heroes are all of 
them criminals. The command you give them does 
not justify them ; you have no right to send them to 
death if they had no right to agree to be sent. An 
identical unreason sanctions your martial fury and 
dictates your maxims, and by glaring inconsistency 
you justify injustice equally glaring. 

If I have not this right of death over myself, who 
has given it to society? Have I surrendered what was 
not mine to give? What social principle have you 
devised which will explain to me how a society can 
acquire an internal and mutual authority which was not 

and less calculated to make enthusiasts, would have remained unshaken. 
If an attempt were made now to erect that still unbuilt edifice, I admit 
that possibly it would only be of service when time had cemented it, 
but that consideration by no means detracts from its beauty or dispenses 
us from undertaking it. 

Obermann does nothing but doubt, theorize, and dream ; he ponders 
but scarcely ever reasons things out; he examines without deciding or 
reaching a conclusion. What he says is nothing, if you like, but may 
lead to something. If in his independent, unsystematic way he still 
follows some principle, it is primarily that of trying to utter nothing 
but truth in support of truth itself, of admitting nothing that all ages 
would not acknowledge, of not confusing good intention with accuracy 
of proof, and of not thinking it immaterial by what argument one 
supports a good cause. The history of ever so many religious and 
political sects proves that expeditious methods only produce ephemeral 
results. This attitude seems to me of the utmost importance, and it is 
my chief reason for publishing these letters, which in other respects are 
so lacking in matter and clearness. 



i66 OBERMANN. 

possessed by its members, and how I have conferred a 
right which may be used to oppress me, when I did not 
possess it even to escape from oppression? Shall I be 
told that if man in isolation enjoys this natural right he 
forfeits it by becoming a member of society? But this 
right is in its nature inalienable, and no one can make 
a contract which deprives him entirely of the power to 
break it when it is being used to his detriment. Others 
have proved before me that man has no right to part 
with his liberty, or in other words, to cease to be a 
man; how then can he forego the most essential, the 
most secure, the most irresistible right of that same 
liberty, the only one which guarantees his independence, 
his last resort against calamity? How long will such 
palpable absurdities keep men in bondage? 

If it can be considered a crime to abandon life I will 
lay the blame on you, for it is your fatal innovations 
that have driven me to desire death; apart from you I 
might have staved it off. Death is an absolute loss 
which nothing can retrieve, and even of that last 
melancholy refuge you would dare to deprive me, as if 
some control over my last hour was in your hands, and 
as if, too, your legal forms could limit rights beyond their 
sphere of government. Oppress my life if you like, 
law is often the strongest reason ; but death is the limit 
I set to your power. Elsewhere you command; here 
you must prove. 

Tell me plainly, without )'Our usual circumlocutions, 
without that sham, wordy eloquence which does not 
deceive, me, without the great perverted words — force, 
virtue, eternal order, moral destiny; tell me simply 
whether the laws of societv are made for the actual and 



LETTER XLI. 167 

visible world, or for a distant future life. If they are 
made for the existing' world, tell me how laws relative 
to a definite order of things can be binding when that 
order is no more; how that which regulates life can 
extend beyond it; how the fashion to which we have 
conformed our relationships can exist when those 
relationships are ended ; and how I could ever consent 
that conventions should bind me when I have had 
enough of them? What is the basis, or rather, the 
pretext, of your laws? Did they not promise the 
happiness of all? When I desire death, obviously I am 
not happy. Must the contract that oppresses me be 
irrevocable? An irksome engagement in the details of 
life may have compensations, and we can forego one 
advantag'e when we retain the privilege of enjoying 
others, but can the idea of absolute abnegation be 
entertained by any man with a sense of right and truth? 
All society is based on co-operation and mutual service ; 
but if I injure society, does it not withdraw its pro- 
tection? If then it does me no g"ood, or a great deal of 
harm, I have also the right of refusing to serve it. 
When our contract no longer suits society, it breaks it; 
when it no longer suits me, I break it too. I do not 
revolt; I make my exit. 

It is the last effort of your jealous tyranny. Too 
many of your victims would escape you, too many sig-ns 
of the prevailing wretchedness would contradict the 
empty noise of your promises and would display your 
crafty codes in all their dreary nakedness and financial 
corruption. It was foolish of me to speak to you of 
justice! I saw the pitying smile in your paternal look. 
It told me that men are swayed by force and self-interest. 



i68 OBERMANN. 

Still, you have decreed ag^ainst self-destruction. 
Well, how will your law be enforced? On whom will 
fall the penalty for its infraction? Can it touch the 
man who is no more? Will it take veng-eance on his 
family for the act it contemns? What futile madness ! 
Multiply our miseries, you will need to for the g^reat 
thing's you purpose; you will need to for the glory you 
seek; enslave and torture if you will, but do at least 
have an object; perpetrate iniquity and cold-blooded 
cruelty, but at least let it not be aimless. What 
mockery — a law of slavery that is neither obeyed nor 
avenged ! 

Where your power ends, there your false pretences 
begin, so essential it is to your sway not to cease 
making men your sport. It is nature, you say, it is the 
Supreme Intelligence that would have me bow my neck 
under the heavy and insulting yoke. They would have 
me hug" my chain and drag- it meekly, until the moment 
when it pleases you to break it over my head. What- 
ever you do, you claim that a God has put my life in 
your hands, and that the order of the world would be 
turned upside down if your slave escaped. 

The Eternal, say you, has given me existence and set 
me my part in the harmony of his works ; I must fulfil 
it to the end, and I have no right to elude his sway. 
You are very soon forgetting the soul with which 
you credited me. This earthly body is but dust, 
you remember, surely. But my intelligence, an im- 
perishable breath derived from the universal Intelligence, 
can never evade His law. How can I desert the empire 
of the Master of all things? I only change my place; 
places are nothing with Him who contains and governs 



LETTER XLI. 169 

all. He has no more bound me exclusively to the earth 
than to the country where he fixed my birth. 

You argue, agahi, that Nature cares for my preserva- 
tion ; I ought to do the same in obedience to her laws, and 
by giving me the fear of death she forbids me to seek it. 
That sounds very fine; but Nature preserves me or 
sacrifices me at will ; the course of events shows no 
trace of a known law in that. When I want to live a 
gulf opens and swallows me up, the bolt falls and 
annihilates me. If Nature takes away the life she has 
made me love, I vi^ill take it away myself when I no 
longer love it; if she robs me of a good, I renounce an 
ill; if she places my existence at the mercy of events, 
I forsake it or preserve it as I please. Since she has 
given me the power to will and to choose, I will make 
use of it when I have to decide in the most important 
matters of all ; and I cannot see that in availing myself 
of the liberty she has given me to choose what she 
suggests I am violating it. As a product of Nature, 
I investigate her laws, and find in them my freedom. 
As a member of the social order I dispute the erroneous 
maxims of moralists, and I repudiate any laws that no 
legislator had a right to make. 

In everything not forbidden by a higher and obvious 
law, my desire is my law, for it is the sign of natural 
impulse; it is my right by the mere fact of being my 
desire. Life is not sweet to me if I am disenchanted 
as to its goods and have nothing left but its ills. It 
then becomes my bane, and I have the right as a being 
who chooses and wills, to leave it. 

If I dare to decide where so many have doubted, it 
is the outcome of profound conviction. Even if mv 



I70 OBERMANN. 

decision happens to tally with my wants, at any rate 
it has not been dictated by any partiality; if I am in 
error, I venture to affirm that I am not guilty, for I 
cannot conceive where the error lies. 



My object in all this has been to ascertain what I 
could do ; I make no statement as to what I shall do. 
I feel neither despair nor passion ; it is sufficient for my 
peace of mind if I am certain that the useless burden 
can be shaken off when it weighs too heavily. Life has 
long been a weariness to me, and every day it becomes 
more so, but I am far from desperation. I still feel 
some repugnance to parting irrevocably with my being. 
If I had to decide here and now either to break all 
bonds or to be held by them of necessity forty years 
more, I do not think I should feel much hesitation; but 
there is the less reason for hurry because I can do it 
just as well a few months hence as to-day, and the 
Alps are the only region suited to the particular way 
in which I should like to put an end to my existence. 



LETTER XLII. 

Lyons, May 29/// (VI.). 

I have read your letter several times through. A too 
kindly interest dictated it. I appreciate the friendship 
that misleads you ; you have made me feel that I am 
not so lonely as I professed to be. You ingeniously 
set forth some very praiseworthy motives ; but believe 



LETTER XLIi. 171 

me, thoLig-h a great deal might be said to a passionate 
man in the grip of despair, there is not a single valid 
answer to a tranquil man discussing his own death. 

Not that I have decided anything. I am over- 
whelmed with ennui, steeped in disgust. I know the 
evil is in myself. Why cannot I be content just to eat 
and sleep? For I do manage to eat and sleep The 
life I lead is one of no great hardship. Every one of 
my days is endurable, but it is their totality that over- 
whelms me. An organized being must act, and act 
according to his nature. Does it suffice him to be 
well sheltered and warmed, softly pillowed, fed on 
delicate fruits, surrounded by the murmur of waters 
and the scent of flowers? If you keep him passive, 
this softness wearies him, these fragrances pall on 
him, these choice fruits fail to nourish him. Take 
back your gifts and your chains; let him act, let him 
suffer even ; for action is enjoyment and life. 

Nevertheless, apathy has become almost natural to 
me. The idea of an active life seems to dismay or to 
stun me. A narrow sphere repels me, yet I cannot get 
out of its groove. A wide sphere always attracts me, 
but my indolence dreads it. I know neither what I 
am, nor what I like, nor yet what I want; i groan 
without cause ; I desire without object, and the only 
thing I see is that I am not in my right place. 

1 regard this inalienable privileg'e of ceasing to be 
not as an object of steadfast desire or fixed resolution, 
but as the consolation which is left in long continued 
calamities, as a limit to disgusts and annoyances that 
is always within reach. 

You call my attention to the concluding sentence in 

14 



172 OBERMANN. 

one of Lord Edward's letters.^ I see nothing' in it to 
disprove my point. I agree as to the principle, but 
the law which forbids under all circumstances the 
voluntary surrender of life does not seem to me a 
necessary inference. 

Man's morality and enthusiasm, his restless wishes 
and perpetual craving for expansion, seem to suggest 
that his goal is not in things that pass away, that his 
activity is not confined to visible phenomena, that his 
thought is concerned with necessary and eternal con- 
ceptions, that his business is to work for the betterment 
or the reformation of the world, that his vocation is in 
some sense to develop, to refine, to organize, to give 
more energy to matter, more power to living beings, 
more perfection to instruments, more fecundity to 
germs, better adjustment to correspondences, wider 
sway to order. 

He is often regarded as Nature's agent, employed 
by her to give the finishing touches to her work, to 
turn to account whatever portions of brute matter are 
accessible to him, to bring shapeless masses under the 
laws of harmony, to refine metals, improve plants, dis- 
entangle or combine principles, to volatilize solids anc! 
transform inertia into energy, to bring up to his level 
those who fall short of it, and himself to rise and pro- 
gress towards the universal principle of fire, light, 
order, and harmony. 

On this supposition, the man who is worthy of so 
high a calling will stay at his post to the last moment, 
victorious over obstacles and aversions. I respect such 

^ Perhaps a character in a drama by Alexander Duval (1S02), based 
on \'oltaire's Sikle de Louis XIV. — Tk. 



LETTER XLII. 173 

constancy, but I am not convinced that that is his post. 
If man survives apparent death, why, I repeat, should 
his post be Hiuited to earth any more than to the 
circumstances or the place he was born in? If on the 
other hand death ends all, what more can be expected 
of him than the betterment of society? He has duties 
to fulfil, but as they are necessarily confined to the 
present life, they can neither bind him beyond nor 
compel him to remain under their sway. While in 
the social order he must maintain order; among- men 
he must serve men. No doubt a g^ood man will not 
forsake life so long- as he can be useful in it; to be 
useful and to be happy are for him the same thing. If 
he suflfers and yet at the same time is doing much 
good, he is more pleased than dissatisfied. But when 
the ill he experiences outweighs the good he achieves, 
he may quit everything, and indeed must do so when 
he is useless and unhappy, if only he can be sure that 
in these two particulars his lot will not change. Life 
was given him without his consent, and if he were also 
bound to keep it, what freedom would he have left? 
He can part with his other rights, but never with that; 
without that last refuge his dependence would be 
appalling. To suffer much for the sake of being a 
little useful is a virtue one may recommend during life, 
but not a duty one can prescribe for a man who is 
leaving it. So long as you are using the things of life 
it is an obligatory virtue; it is on that condition that 
you become a member of the State; but when you sur- 
render the contract, it no longer binds you. Besides, 
what is meant by being useful, when it is said that 
each of us may be so ? A shoemaker who does his 



174 OBERMANN. 

work properly spares his customers some discomfort, 
and yet I doubt whether an utterly miserable shoe- 
maker is in conscience bound to go on measuring feet 
until he dies of paralysis. When we are useful in this 
sense it is quite permissible to discontinue our useful- 
ness. It is often noble in a man to bear the burden 
of life, but that does not mean that he is always bound 
to do it. 

I seem to have said a great deal about a very simple 
matter. But simple though I take it to be, do not 
imagine that I am infatuated with the idea and attribute 
more importance to the voluntary act which puts an 
end to life than to any other act of that life. I fail to 
see that dying is such a very great concern ; plenty of 
men die without having time to think about it, without 
even being aware of it! No doubt a voluntary death 
ought to be well considered, but so should all actions 
whose consequences are not confined to the present 
moment. 

When a contingency becomes probable, let us forth- 
with see what it will require of us. It is worth while 
to consider it beforehand, so as not to be oppressed 
by the alternative of acting without deliberation or of 
losing in deliberation the opportunity of acting. If a 
man who has not determined his principles finds himself 
alone with a woman, he does not set himself to think 
out his duties; he begins by failing in his most sacred 
obligations; he will perhaps think of them later. How 
many heroic deeds too would never have been done 
if it had been necessary, before risking one's life, to 
spend an hour in considering the matter? 

As I say, I have come to no resolution, but I like to 



LETTER XLIII. 175 

feel that I am not debarred from a resource which is 
in itself infallible, and the mere idea of which can often 
lessen my impatience. 



LETTER XLIIL 

Lyons, Ilfay 30/// (VI.). 

La Bruyere^ somewhere remarks — " I should not 
object to entrust myself in confidence to a reasonable 
person, to be governed by him in all circumstances, 
both absolutely and for ever. I should be sure of 
doing the right thing without the anxiety of delibera- 
tion; I should enjoy the peace of mind of one who is 
governed by reason." 

For my own part, I can say to you what I would 
say to no one else, that I should like to be a slave in 
order to be independent, though perhaps you will think 
I am jesting. A man who has a part to play in the 
world, and who can bend things to his will, is no doubt 
freer than a slave, or at any rate leads a more satisfy- 
ing life, since he can live according to his thought. 
But there are men who are bound hand and foot. If 
they make a movement, the inextricable chain which 
holds them like a snare drags them back into futility; 
it is a spring that reacts with more force the further 
it is stretched. What can you expect of a poor wretch 
entangled like this? hi spite of his so-called freedom 

' French author, 1645-96; tutor to the Dauphin along with Bossuet; 
an opponent of Fcnelon. — Tk. 



176 OBERMANN. 

he can no more manifest his vital activities than a man 
who wears away his Hfe in a dungeon. Those who 
have found a weak point in their cage, and whose 
fetters fate has forgotten to rivet, come and say: 
"Courage! you must make an effort; be daring; do 
as we do." They do not see that it was not themselves 
who did it. I do not say that chance produces human 
affairs, but I believe they are controlled, partly at any 
rate, by a force extraneous to man, and that a com- 
bination of circumstances Independent of our will is 
essential to success. 

Were there no moral power modifying what we call 
the probabilities of chance, the course of the world 
would be far more unstable than it is. By the laws of 
probability the lot of a nation would oftener fluctuate, 
every destiny would be at the mercy of an abstruse 
calculation; the world would be different, it would no 
longer have laws because they would have no causality. 
Who does not see the impossibility of it? There would 
be a contradiction ; good men would be free in their 
projects. 

If there is no general power controlling all things, 
what strange delusion prevents men from seeing with 
dismay that in order to keep up Roman candles, clerical 
collars, and christening- cakes, they have so ordered 
everything that a single fault or a single occurrence 
can blight and ruin a man's whole existence ? A 
woman, for losing sight of the future for one minute, 
has nothing to look forward to in that future but nine 
months of bitter anxiety and a lifetime of infamy. The 
heedless scoundrel who has just killed his victim will 
next day ruin his health for ever by forgetting in his 



LETTER XLIII. 177 

turn. And yet you fail to see that the present scheme 
of things, in which one incident can wreck a moral 
career, or a single caprice cost a thousand lives, though 
you call it the social edifice, is nothing but a con- 
glomeration of masked wretchedness and delusions, 
and that you are like children who fancy their toys 
are very costly because they are covered with gilt 
paper. You calmly assert "That is how the world is 
made." Exactly; and is not that a proof that we are 
nothing else in the universe but marionettes worked by 
a showman, set in opposition, whirled here and there, 
made to laugh, to fight, to weep, to jump, for the 
entertainment of — whom ? I cannot tell. But that is 
why I should like to be a slave; my will would be in 
subjection, and my thought would be free. As it is, 
in my alleged independence it is a necessity to act 
according to my thought, and yet I am unable to do 
so, and cannot clearly see why I am unable; the con- 
sequence is that my whole being is in bondage, without 
the resolution to endure it. 

I do not really know what I want. Happy the man 
who only wants to attend to business ; he can define to 
himself his aim. I feel deeply that nothing great, 
nothing that is possible to man and sublime in his 
conceptions, is beyond the reach of my nature ; and 
yet I feel just as much that I have missed my aim, 
wrecked and rendered futile my life ; it is already 
death-stricken; its agitation is as idle as it is excessive; 
it is energetic but barren, inactive and ardent amid the 
calm and endless travail of creation. I do not know 
what to wish for, so I am driven to wish for everything, 
for after all I can find no rest so long as I am devoured 



178 OBERMANN, 

with longing; ; I cannot find any foothold in emptiness. 
I would fain be happy ! But what man has a right to 
expect happiness in a world where nearly all wear 
themselves out completely in merely lessening their 
miseries. 

If I have not the peace of happiness, I must have the 
activity of power. Verily, I have no wish to drag 
myself from grade to grade, to take a position in 
society, to have superiors whom I acknowledge for the 
sake of having inferiors to disdain. Nothing is so 
absurd as that hierarchy of contempt which descends 
in accurately proportioned shades, and includes the 
whole state, from the prince who claims to be subject 
to God alone, down to the poorest street shoeblack, 
subject to the woman who lets him sleep on fusty straw. 
A steward dare not walk into his master's room ; but 
once back in the kitchen, see how he lords it. You 
might take the scullion who trembles under him to be 
the lowest of men. Not a bit of it. He roughly 
orders about the poor woman who comes to carry away 
the sweepings, and who earns a few coppers by his 
patronage. The valet entrusted with orders is a con- 
fidential person, and he in turn gives orders to the 
valet whose less handsome figure is put to rough 
work. The beggar who has found a good line bullies 
with his cleverness the beggar who cannot boast 
of a sore. 

He alone is completely victorious who spends the 
whole of his life in the place for which his temperament 
fits him, or he whose genius grasps many objects, 
whose destiny places him in every situation possible to 
man, and who is equal to the situation in all of theni. 



LETTER XLIII. 179 

In the midst of dang-er he is a Morgan ;^ as a ruler, a 
Lycurg-us ; among- barbarians he is Odin ; among- 
Greeks, Alcibiades ; in the credulous East, Zoroaster ; 
in retirement he lives like Philocles ; '^ he g-overns like 
Trajan ; in the wilds he hardens himself for times to 
come ; he vanquishes allig-ators, swims rivers, chases 
the wild gfoat on frozen crag-s, lights his pipe at volcanic 
lava ; ^ he slaug-hters near his hut the polar bear, 
pierced with arrows made by his own hands. But man 
has so short a time to live, and the permanence of 
what he leaves behind him is so uncertain ! Were his 
heart not so ravenous perhaps his reason would advise 
him simply to steer clear of suffering-, while imparting 
happiness to a few friends worthy to enjoy it without 
stultifying his work. 

It is said that wise men, living without passion, live 
without impatience, and as they see everything in the 
same mood, they find peace and the dignity of life in 
their stability. But there are often great obstacles in 
the way of this tranquil unconcern. In order to take 
things as they come, sitting lightly to the hope as well 
as the fears of the future, there is only one sure way, a 
simple and easy one; and that is to banish the future 

^ Perhaps Henry Morgan, 1635-88, born in Glamorgan, became a 
buccaneer in the Barbadoes, and distinguished himself in e.\j)editions 
against Spanish possessions. — Tk. 

- Tragic Athenian poet, nepliew of .llschylus, I\'. Cent. B.C., 
surnamed Bile, and Salt from his acerbity. The ether names in this 
paragraph need no explanation. — Tk. 

^ A case in point is related in the Histoire des Voyages. An Ice- 
lander told a Danish scientist that he had several times lighted his 
pipe at a stream of fire in Iceland which flowed for nearly two years. 



i8o OBERMANN. 

from one's mind. The thought of it is always distracting- 
because always uncertain. 

To be free from fears and desires we must resign 
everything to circumstances as though to a kind of 
necessity, accepting joy or suffering as they come, and 
utilizing the present moment none the less calmly though 
the hour of one's death were in its wake. A strong 
soul accustomed to high thinking may attain to the 
wise man's unconcern about what the distracted and 
prejudiced call calamities and blessings, but how avoid 
distraction when the future has to be considered? How 
forget it, If it has to be provided for? How escape 
anxiety if one must arrange, make plans, and manage 
things? Events, hindrances, successes, must be fore- 
seen, and to foresee them is to dread or to hope for 
them. Doing implies desiring, and to desire is to be 
dependent. The great misfortune is to be driven to act 
freely. The slave has far more facility for being really 
free. He has only himself to consider; he is led by the 
law of his nature, and that is natural to man, and simple. 
He is subject also to his master, but that law too is 
obvious. Epictetus was happier than Marcus Aurelius. 
The slave is free from anxieties, they are for the free 
man; the slave is not obliged to be always trying to 
adjust himself to the scheme of things, an adjustment 
always insecure and disturbing, the standing difficulty 
of one who would live a human life reasonably. It is 
certainly a necessity, nay more, a duty, to consider the 
future, to be engrossed with it, even to set one's affections 
on it, when one is responsible for the welfare of others. 
Indifference is then no longer permissible ; and what 
man is there, however apparently isolated, who is not 



LETTER XLIII. i8i 

gfood for something", and who oug^ht not therefore to 
seek opportunities of beings so? Who is there whose 
carelessness will injure no one but himself? 

The Epicurean should have neither wife nor children, 
and even that is not sufficient. No sooner are the 
interests of another dependent on our prudence than 
little distracting- cares mar our peace, disturb our soul, 
and often even quench our g-enius. 

What will become of a man bound in such fetters and 
born to be chafed by them? He will be racked between 
the cares in which he is reluctantly engrossed, and the 
contempt which makes them uncongenial to him. He 
will neither be superior to circumstances — for his duty 
will not let him — nor equal to making good use of them. 
In wisdom he will be uncertain, and in business impatient 
or clumsy ; he will do no good because he can do nothing 
according to his nature. If one would live independent 
one should be neither father nor husband, perhaps even 
not have a friend; but to be thus alone is to live very 
sadly and uselessly. A man in control of public affairs 
who plans and carries out great undertakings can do 
without special attachments ; the people are his friends, 
and as a benefactor of men he can dispense with being 
such to any one man. But in an obscure life it seems to 
me there must be at least one person to whom we have 
duties to fulfil. Philosophic independence is a con- 
venient sort of life, but a cold one. Any one but an 
enthusiast would find it Insipid in the long run. It is 
dreadful to end one's days by saying: "No heart has 
been made happy through me; I have wrought nothing 
for the welfare of man ; I have lived unmoved and 
ineffective, like some glacier in a mountain hollow 



i82 OBERMANN. 

which has withstood the noonday sun but has not 
descended to the valley to refresh with its water the 
herbage withered by the scorching' rays." 

Religion settles all these anxieties;^ it resolves so 
many uncertainties ; it gives an end which is never 
unveiled because never attained ; it dominates us in 
order to make us at peace with ourselves; it offers us 
blessings for which we can always hope, because we 
cannot verify them ; it banishes the idea of annihilation 
and the passions of life ; it frees us from our hopeless 
ills and fleeting- goods, and gives us instead a dream, 
the hope of which is perhaps better than all concrete 
gains, lasting at least until death. If it did not pro- 
claim appalling punishment it would seem as beneficent 
as it is solemn, but it plunges the thought of man into 
fresh abysses. It is based on dogmas which many 
cannot believe ; they desire its effects, but cannot ex- 
perience them ; they yearn for its security, but cannot 
enjoy it. They seek for its heavenly visions, but see 
only a mortal dream; they love the good man's reward, 
but do not see that Nature is their debtor ; they would 
like to live for ever, and they see that everything passes 
away. While newly-tonsured novices distinctly hear 
an angel commending their fasts and their merits, 
those who have a feeling for virtue know well that 
they cannot rise so high ; overwhelmed with their 
weakness and the emptiness of their lot, they look for- 
ward to nothing but desire and distraction, and to 
vanishing like an unconscious shadow. 

^ The author does not say definitely what he means here by religion, 
but it is clear that he has in view more particularly the belief of 
western nations, 



LETTER XLIV. 183 

LETTER XLIV. 

Lyons, June 15/// (VI.). 

I have re-read and pondered your objections, or if 
you like, your reproaches. The question is a very 
serious one, and 1 am going to reply fully. If the time 
spent in argument is generally wasted, that spent in 
writing is by no means so. 

Do you really think that those views of mine which 
you say add to my unhappiness, depend on myself? 
I do not dispute that the safest plan is to believe. You 
confront me also with that other assertion, that belief 
is necessary as a sanction of morality. 

First of all let me say that I do not set up to be 
positive ; I should like not to deny, but I find it rash, 
to say the least of it, to affirm. No doubt it is a 
misfortune to be disposed to regard as impossible what 
one would fain believe true, but I do not know how 
one can escape this misfortune,^ when one has been 
overtaken by it. 

Death, you say, has no existence for man. You 
think hie jacet is profane. The man of character and 
of genius is not there, under that cold marble, in those 
dead ashes. Who said he was ? In that sense hie 
jaeet would be false on the grave o'i a dog ; its loyal, 
busy instinct is not there eillier. \Yiiere is it then ? 
It is no more. 

^ Perhaps by deeper rellcction, wliicli would restore l]ioir independ- 
ence to more religious doubts. 



1 84 OBERMANN. 

You ask me what has become of the activity, the 
intelligence, the soul, of that body which has just 
collapsed. The answer is very simple. When the fire 
on your hearth goes out, as everybody knows, its light 
and warmth and energy leave it and pass into another 
world, to be there eternally rewarded for warming your 
feet, or eternally punished for burning your slippers ! 
In the same way the music of the lyre just shattered by 
the ephor^ will be shrilled from pipes until it has ex- 
piated by more austere sounds those voluptuous modu- 
lations which formerly corrupted morality. 

" Nothing can be annihilated," \ov\ say. Not so ; a 
being or an atom cannot, but a form, a relation, a 
faculty, can. I should be glad indeed to think that the 
soul of a good and struggling man survived him for 
eternal happiness. But if the mere idea of this blessed- 
ness has itself a touch of heavenly radiance, that does 
not prove it to be more than a dream. The dogma is 
no doubt beautiful and comforting, but its beautiful 
and comforting elements do not even give the hope of 
believing in it, much less convince me of its existence. 
When some charlatan professes to tell me that if I 
implicitly follow his instructions for ten days I shall 
receive at the end of that time supernatural powers, 
becoming invulnerable, ever young, possessing every- 
thing essential to happiness, equal to every good action 
and incapable of desiring evil ; the dream will captivate 
my imagination no doubt ; I may possibly hanker for 
its fascinating promises, but I could not persuade 
myself they were true. In vain will he object that 1 

^ A Spartan magistrate. — Tr. 



LETTER XLIV. 185 

run no risk in believingf him. If he used even more 
lavish promises to persuade me that the sun was shining" 
at midnight, it would not be in my power to believe it. 
If he turned round and said: "Frankly, I told you a 
lie, and other men are taken in by it ; but do not tell 
them; it is all for their comfort;" — might I not reply 
that in this harsh and sordid world, where some 
hundreds of millions of immortals argue and suffer in 
the same uncertainty, some cheerful, exhilarated, and 
sprightly, others dejected, morose, and disappointed, 
no one has yet proved it a duty to say what one believes 
to be comforting and to suppress what one believes to 
be true. 

Full of unrest and more or less unhappy we are 
always looking forward to the next hour, next day, 
next year. Last of all we need a next life. We have 
existed without living, so we shall live some day ; an 
inference more tempting than accurate. If it is a 
comfort to the unhappy, all the more reason to suspect 
the truth of it. It is a beautiful dream which lasts 
until we fall asleep for ever. Let us cling to the hope; 
happy he who has it ! But let us admit that the ground 
of its universality is not difficult to find. 

It is true that one risks nothing by believing it if one 
can, but it is no less true that Pascal's dictum was 
puerile — " Believe, because you risk nothing by be- 
lieving, but much by not believing." This argument is 
decisive in matters of conduct, but absurd in a question 
of faith. When did belief ever depend on the will ? 

A good man cannot but desire immortality, and from 
that the daring inference has been drawn that only a 
bad man will not believe in it. This rash judgment 



i86 OBERMANN. 

classes with those who have reason to dread the 
eternity of justice many of the wisest and greatest of 
men. It would be atrocious in its intolerance were it 
not so imbecile. 

It is further alleged that every man who believes 
death will be the end of him is necessarily selfish and 
vicious as a matter of calculation. Another mistake. 
Helvetius ^ showed more knowledge of the differences 
in human hearts when he said: "There are men so 
unfortunately constituted that they can only find happi- 
ness in acts which lead to the gallows." There are 
also men who can only be at ease when those around 
them are happy ; who sympathize with everything that 
enjoys or suffers, and who would be dissatisfied with 
themselves if they were not serving their day and 
generation. Such as these try to do good without 
having much faith in the lake of brimstone. 

"At any rate," it will be objected, "the masses are 
not like that. With the common herd each individual 
looks after his selfish interests, and will be vicious if 
not wholesomely hoodwinked." That may be true so 
far. If men neither should nor could be undeceived, it 
would then only be a question of deciding whether the 
public well-being justifies lying, and whether it is a 
crime, or at any rate an injury, to reveal the true state 
of the case. But if this wholesome — or supposed 
wholesome — error can only last so long", and if belief 
on hear-say will one day inevitably end, is it not 
obvious that your whole moral structure will be left 

^ A French philosopher, 1715-71; retired in 1751 from his oBlce as 
cjueen's chamberlain, and gave himself up to literary labours, the 
education of his children, and the care of a small estate at Vore. — Tk. 



LETTER XLIV. 1S7 

without support, when once its imposing- scaffolding- 
has collapsed? In order to find a short and easy way 
of safeguarding the present you involve the future in a 
catastrophe that may be irretrievable. On the other 
hand if you had known how to find in the human heart 
the natural foundations of its morality, if you had 
known how to base upon them whatever was necessary 
to social organization and state institutions, your work, 
though more difficult and more intelligent, would have 
been permanent as the world itself. 

If then, ye ministers of dogmatic truth, some one 
unconvinced of what the most respected among your- 
selves have not believed were to come and say : " The 
nations are beginning to want certainties and to 
recognize things that are practical ; ethics are being 
transformed, and faith has died out ; no time must be 
lost in showings men that, apart from a future life, 
justice is a necessity of their hearts, and that even for 
the individual there is no happiness without reason, 
while in society the virtues are as essentially laws of 
Nature as the laws of a man's physical ne&ds " — if I 
say, some of those instinctively just and order-loving 
men whose chief aim is to restore unity, harmony, and 
gladness to their fellows, were to declare the incon- 
testable principles of justice and universal love, while 
leaving in doubt what cannot be proved ; if they 
ventured to speak of the invariable channels of happi- 
ness, and if, constrained by the truth they see and feel, 
and you yourselves admit, they were to devote their 
lives to proclaiming it in various ways and eventually 
with success — pardon, I pray you, the methods which 
are not exactly your own ; bear in mind that stoning 

15 



1 88 OBERMANN. 

is no longer in fashion, that modern miracles have 
provoked too much laughter, that times are changed 
and you must change with them. 

Leaving then these interpreters of heaven, vi^hose 
high function makes them very useful or very perni- 
cious, wholly good or wholly bad, some of them vener- 
able, others despicable, I come back to your letter. It 
would make mine too long if I replied to all its points, 
but there is one plausible objection 1 cannot allow to 
pass without remarking that it is not so well grounded 
as at first sight it might seem to be. 

"Nature," you say, "is controlled by unknown 
forces and according to mysterious laws ; order is its 
rule, intelligence its mainspring, and it is not far from 
these established though obscure premises to our in- 
explicable dogmas." Much further than you think. ^ 

"Many remarkable men have believed in presenti- 
ments, dreams, secret workings of invisible powers; 
many remarkable men have therefore been super- 
stitious." Granted, but at least they were not so 
after the fashion of small minds. The biographer of 
Alexander says that he was superstitious, so also was 
Brother Labre; but Alexander and Brother Labre were 
not superstitious in the same way ; there were con- 
siderable differences in their mental processes. But 
we will discuss that another time. 

^ There is certainly a vast difTerence between admitting that there 
exist things inexplicable to man, and affirming that an inconceivable 
explanation of those things is correct and infallible. It is one thing to 
say in the dark, " I do not see," and another thing to say, "I see a 
divine light ; you who follow me, do not say you fail to see it, but see 
it or be anathema. " 



LETTER XLIV. 189 

I do not see any valid proof of divine origin in the 
almost supernatural efforts religion has inspired. All 
kinds of fanaticism have produced results which seem 
surprising- in cold blood. 

If your saints bestow their coppers freely on the poor 
out of an income of thirty thousand a year, they are 
lauded for charity. If as martyrs the executioner 
"opens the gate of heaven" for them, everybody 
exclaims that without grace from on high they would 
never have had strength to accept eternal blessedness. 
As a rule I fail to see anything in their virtues that is 
surprising from their point of view. The prize is great 
enough, but they are often very small. To keep straight 
they have need always to see hell on the left, purgatory 
on the right, and heaven in front. I do not say there 
are no exceptions; it is enough for my point that they 
are rare. 

If religion has done great things it has been by great 
inducements. Those accomplished by natural goodness 
are less dazzling perhaps, less opinionated and less 
eulogized, but more stable and more serviceable. 

Stoicism also had its heroes, even without eternal 
promises and infinite threats. If a religious cult had 
done so much with so little, grand proofs of its divine 
institution would have been drawn from it, I will 
resume to-morrow. 

There are two points to consider: whether religion 
is not one of the weakest influences with the class 
which receives what is called education, and whether 
it is not absurd that education should only be given 
to a tenth part of mankind. 



I90 OBERMANN. 

To say that the virtue of the Stoic was spurious 
because he made no claim to eternal life is the height 
of bigoted insolence. 

A no less curious instance of the absurdity into which 
rabid dogmatism can betray even an acute mind is 
found in this saying of the celebrated Tillotson^: " The 
real ground of a man's atheism is vice." 

I admit that civil laws are found inefficient with the 
untutored and uncared for masses, whom we allow to 
be born and leave at the mercy of foolish propensities 
and intemperate habits; but this only proves that under 
the apparent calm of powerful States there is nothing 
but wretchedness and confusion, that policy in the 
true sense of the word has vanished from this earth of 
ours, where diplomacy and finance create countries that 
flourish in poetry, and gain victories to report in gazettes. 

I have no wish to discuss a complicated problem ; 
let history decide! But is it not notorious that the 
dread of the future has restrained very few who were 
beyond restraint by anything else ? For others there 
exist more natural and direct, and therefore more 
powerful restrictions. What should have been done 
was to make every man conscious of the need of that 
order for which he possesses an intuitive appreciation. 
There would then have been fewer scoundrels than 
your dogmas have failed to restrain, and you would 
have been minus all those that dogmas have made. 

It is said that first offences at once plant the torture 
of remorse in the heart and leave it rankling there 

1 One of the greatest of English preachers, 1630-94; originally a 
Presbyterian, but submitted in 1662 to Act of Uniformity and became 
Archbishop of Canterbury, 1691.— Tr. 



LETTER XUV. 191 

for ever, and it is also said that a consistent atheist 
will fleece his friend and murder his enemy. That is 
one of the contradictions I think I see in the writings 
of defenders of the faith. But of course it cannot be 
one, for men who write on revealed truth should have 
no excuse for ambiguity and discrepancies ; they are 
so superior to them that they cannot tolerate the mere 
semblance of them in those profane people who say 
they are endowed with a reason that is weak, not 
inspired, and with doubt, not infallibility. 

"What matters inward self-satisfaction," say they 
again, "if one does not believe in a future life?" It 
matters to one's peace of mind in this life, which in 
that case is the only one. 

"If there is no immortality," they continue, "what 
has the virtuous man gained by doing right?" He 
has gained what the virtuous man prizes, and lost only 
what he lightly esteems — namely, what your passions 
often covet in spite of your belief. 

The only motive you recognize is the hope and dread 
of a future life ; but may not a tendency to order be an 
essential feature of our inclinations, of our instinct, 
like self-preservation or reproduction? Is it nothing 
to enjoy the calm and security of the upright man ? 

Accustomed as you are to link every magnanimous 
sentiment and every just and pure idea exclusively with 
your immortal desires and other-worldly notions, you 
always conclude that everything not supernatural is 
base, that everything which does not exalt man to the 
realms of the blessed inevitably sinks him to the level 
of the brute, that earthly virtues are only a miserable 
pretence, and that a soul confined to the present life 



192 OBERMANN. 

has only debased desires and impure thoug-hts. So 
you would make out that if a good and upright man, 
after forty years of patience in sufferings, of equity 
among rogues, and of g"enerous efforts worthy of divine 
approval, were to recognize the falsity of the dogmas 
which consoled him, and sustained his arduous life with 
the hope of lasting- repose, then this wise man, whose 
soul is nourished on the calm of virtue, and for whom 
doing right is life, would alter his present needs 
because he has altered his views of the future, and 
no longer desiring present happiness because he cannot 
live for ever, would begin to plot against an old friend 
who has never doubted him? He would busy himself 
with base and secret schemes for getting wealth and 
power, and so long as he could evade human justice 
would imagine that for the future it would be to his 
interest to deceive the good, to oppress the unfortunate, 
to keep up the mere prudent exterior of an honest man, 
while cherishing in his heart all the vices he had pre- 
viously abhorred ? Seriously, I should hesitate to put 
this question to your bigots, with their monopoly oi' 
virtue; for if they replied in the negative I should tell 
them they were very inconsistent. Now one must 
never lose sight of the fact that inconsistency is just 
what inspired men have no excuse for. If, on the 
other hand, they dared to assert the affirmative — well, 
I should be sorry for them. 

"If the idea of immortality has all the characteristics 
of a beautiful dream, that of annihilation does not 
admit of rigid proof. The good man necessarily desires 
not to perish entirely; is not that ground enough to 
confirm it ?" 



LETTER XLIV. 193 

If one could not be just without hope in a future life, 
that vague possibility would still be sufficient. It is 
superfluous to him who lives by reason ; temporal con- 
siderations may afford him less satisfaction, but they 
are just as convincing- ; he feels a present craving to be 
just. Other men heed only the interests of the moment. 
They think of Paradise when religious rites are in 
question, but in matters of morality they are swayed 
solely by fear of consequences, of public opinion, of law, 
and by the bias of their minds. Imaginary duties are 
faithfully attended to by some, but re-al ones are set aside 
by nearly all when there is no temporal risk involved. 

If men were gifted with sound understanding and 
goodness of heart there would be such a majority on 
the side of right that the rest would be constrained to 
follow, even by the most obvious and mercenary ot 
their interests. As it is, you pervert the understanding 
and dwarf the soul. For thirty centuries the results 
have been worthy of the wisdom displayed. All kinds 
of compulsion have pernicious consequences and only 
ephemeral success ; the right thing then is to convince 
by persuasion. 

I am loth to leave a subject as important as it is 
inexhaustible. 

I am so far from having any prejudice against 
Christianity that I regret in one sense what most of 
its zealous defenders would scarcely think of regretting 
themselves. I am as ready as they are to lament the 
neglect of Christianity, but with this diff'erence: they 
regret it as it was in practice, as it existed a century 
ago, whereas I do not consider we are much worse off 
without that sort of Christianity. 



194 OBERMANN. 

Conquerors, slaves, poets, pag"an priests, and nurses 
have succeeded in distorting- the traditions of ancient 
wisdom by ming-Hng^ races, destroying manuscripts, 
interpreting- and confusing- alleg-ories, overlooking- the 
real intrinsic meaning- in the quest for absurd ideas 
to evoke admiration, and personifying- abstractions in 
order to have more to worship. 

Great conceptions became debased. The Principle 
of Life, Intelligence, Light, the Eternal, was simply 
the husband of Juno ; Harmony, Fecundity, Union, 
henceforth became Venus ; imperishable Wisdom was 
only known by its owl ; the great ideas of immortality 
and recompense were reduced to the dread of turning a 
wheel and the hope of roaming through green wood- 
lands. The indivisible Divinity was split up into a 
complex hierarchy swayed by sordid passions ; the 
product of the genius of primitive races, the symbols 
of universal laws sank to mere superstitious practices 
for city children to laugh at. 

Rome had changed most of the world, and began 
herself to change. The frenzied, restless West, op- 
pressed or threatened, educated yet deluded, ignorant 
though disenchanted, had lost everything without gain- 
ing anything in its place ; still fast asleep in error, it 
was already startled by confused murmurs of the truths 
that science was in quest of. 

Under the same rule, with identical fears and interests, 
sharing the same spirit of resentment and revenge 
against the Romans, all nations were drawn together. 
Their customs had lapsed, their constitutions vanished ; 
patriotism, the spirit of aloofness and isolation and 
hatred of outsiders were weakened in the common 



LETTER XLIV. 195 

desire to withstand the conquerors, or by the necessity 
of accepting- their laws. The name of Rome had 
levelled all differences. The ancient national religions 
were now merely local traditions ; the God of the 
Capitol had banished their own gods, and he in turn 
had been banished by the deification of the emperors. 
The most popular altars were those of the Csesars. 

It was one of the greatest epochs in the world's 
history; there was room for a shrine of majestic sim- 
plicity to be raised above the ruins of these manifold 
local shrines. 

There was need of a moral faith, since morality pure 
and simple was unrecognized ; there was need of 
dogmas, inscrutable perhaps, but in no way ridiculous, 
for light was spreading. Since all forms of worship 
were debased, there was need of some majestic form 
worthy of the man who endeavours to uplift his soul 
by the idea of a God of the world. Rites were needed 
that would be impressive, seldom performed, longed 
for, mysterious, yet simple ; rites on the one hand 
transcendent, and on the other adapted to man's reason 
as well as his heart. There was needed what a great 
genius alone could establish, and what I cannot give 
more than a glimpse of. 

But you have invented, patched up, experimented, 
corrected, and begun again a medley of paltry cere- 
monies and of dogmas cjuite calculated to scandalize 
the weak ; you have associated this random con- 
glomeration with a morality sometimes spurious, often 
very beautiful, and always austere — the only point in 
which you have not been clumsy. You spend several 
hundred years in settling all that by inspiration, and 



196 OBERMANN. 

the tardy result, diligently patched up but badly planned, 
is calculated to last barely as long as you have taken 
to accomplish it. 

Nothing could be more supremely tactless than to 
entrust the priesthood to all comers, and to have a 
horde of men of God. A sacrifice whose nature was 
essentially unique was multiplied beyond all bounds. 
There seemed to be no regard for anything but im- 
mediate results and present convenience ; offerers of 
sacrifice and confessors were planted everywhere ; 
everywhere priests and monks were manufactured ; 
they meddled in everything, and crowds of them existed 
everywhere in luxury or in beggary. 

This multiplication is convenient, they say, for the 
faithful. But it is not a good thing in religious matters 
for the people to find everything they want at the next 
street corner. It is folly to entrust religious functions 
to a million persons ; they are thus constantly being 
left to the lowest of men, and their dignity is com- 
promised ; their sacred character wears off" by too 
frequent repetition, and the time is rapidly hastened 
when everything will perish that has not imperishable 
foundations. 



LETTER XLV. 

CiiEssEL, July 2Tlh (VI.). 

I have never considered it a weakness to shed a tear 
over the ills of others, over a misfortune outside our- 
selves but well known to us. So he is dead — a little 



LETTER XLV. 197 

thing- in itself, for who escapes death ? But he had 
always been unfortunate and sad ; life had never been 
sweet to him ; he had nothing- but sorrow, and now he 
has nothing- at all, I have seen him and pitied him ; I 
respected him, for he was g-ood though unhappy. He 
had no striking" misfortunes, but he found himself on 
entering- life in a dreary track of irksomeness and 
boredom ; he stuck to it, he lived in it, he g-rew old in 
it before his time, and now he has ended his days in it. 

I have not forgotten that country property he 
wanted, and that I went with him to look at, because 
I knew the owner. "You will be comfortable here," 
I told him; "better years will be in store for you to 
banish the memory of the past. You will take these 
rooms and find solitude and quiet in them." " I could 
be happy here," he said, "but it is too good to be 
true." 

"You will realize it to-morrow, when you have 
signed the deed." 

"You will see I shall never get it." 

Nor did he ; you know how it all fell through. 
The bulk of living men are sacrificed to the prosperity 
of a few, just as the majority of infants are sacrificed 
for the sake of those who survive, or as millions of 
acorns to the beauty of the mighty oaks that flourish 
over some great tract of country. And the pity of it is 
that among this crowd whom fate abandons and 
tramples into the mud of life's marshes there are some 
who cannot adapt themselves to their lot, but wear out 
their energies in impotent chafing against it. General 
laws are very fine things, and I would gladly sacrifice 
to them one, two, or even ten years of my life ; but my 



igS OBERMANN. 

whole existence, that is too much. Though nothing to 
Nature, it is everything to me. In this great scramble 
the cry is— " Look out for yourself!" That would be 
all very well if every man's turn came sooner or later, 
or even if one could keep on hoping for it ; but when 
life is slipping away, one knows well that the end is 
drawing near, even though the moment of death be 
uncertain. What hope is there left in a man who 
reaches sixty without anything but hope to go upon ? 
These cosmic laws, this care for types and contempt 
for individuals, this progress of species is very hard on 
us poor individuals. I admire the providence that 
carves everything on such a scale ; but how man is 
tipped out with the rubbish ! And how absurdly we 
fancy ourselves to be something ! Gods in thought, 
insects in happiness, we are that Jupiter whose temple 
is in Bedlam ; he takes for a censer the wooden platter, 
steaming with the soup they bring to his cell ; he reigns 
on Olympus till the buffet of his villainous gaoler 
brings him back to reality, to grovel and moisten with 
tears his mouldy bread. 

Poor fellow ! You lived to see your hair turn grey, 
and yet in all that time you had not a single day of 
satisfaction, not one ; not even the day of your fatal 
marriage ; that love match which gave you an estim- 
able wife and yet was the ruin of you both. Even- 
tempered, affectionate, discreet, virtuous and pious, 
both of you the soul of goodness, you got on worse 
together than those maniacs who are carried away by 
passion and unrestrained by principle, and who cannot 
conceive what profit there is in goodness of heart. 
You said that you married for mutual help, to soothe 



LETTER XLV. 199 

your pains by sharing them, to work out your salva- 
tion ; and the same evening, the very first, dissatisfied 
with each other and your lot, you had no virtue nor 
consolation left to look forward to but that of patience 
to support you to the grave. What then was your 
misfortune, your crime? That of desiring the good, of 
desiring it too keenly, of being unable to ignore it, of 
desiring it scrupulously and with so much passion that 
you could only consider it in the detail of the moment. 

You will have gathered that I knew them. They 
seemed glad to see me; they wanted to convert me; 
and although that scheme did not quite succeed, we had 
many a chat together. It was he whose unhappiness 
struck me most. His wife was no less good and 
estimable, but being weaker, she found in her abnega- 
tion a kind of peace which dulled her misery. Tenderly 
devout, consecrating her griefs, and full of the idea of 
future recompense, she suffered, but in a way that was 
not without its compensations. There was something 
voluntary, too, in her woes; she was unhappy for the 
love of it, and her groans, like those of saints, though 
sometimes full of pain, were precious and needful to 
her. 

As for him, he was religious without being wrapped 
up in devotion ; he was religious as a duty, but as free 
from fads and fanaticisms as from mummery; he used it 
to repress his passions and not to indulge some particular 
one. I could not even say positively that he enjoyed 
the assurance without which religion can please, but 
cannot satisfy. 

That is not all. One could sec how he might 
have been happy; one realized that the causes of his 



200 OBERMANN. 

unhappiness were outside himself. But his wife would 
have been pretty much the same wherever she had lived; 
she would have found scope everywhere for torturing- 
herself and distressing others, while only seeking to do 
good, and in no wise self-centred; always under the 
impression she was sacrificing herself for all, yet never 
sacrificing her ideas, and undertaking every task except 
that of altering her manner. Her unhappiness therefore 
seemed in some sense to be part of her nature, and one 
felt more disposed to sympathize with her, and to take 
it for granted, as one does a consequence of irrevocable 
destiny. Her husband, on the other hand, might have 
lived as others do, had he lived with any one else but her. 
One knows how to set about the cure of an ordinary ill, 
especially one that is hardly worth considering, but one 
can see no end to the wretchedness of being doomed to 
pity her whose perpetual foolishness annoys us with the 
best of intentions, pesters us in tenderness, is always 
provoking us with unruffled serenity, hurts us by a kind 
of necessity, meets our indignation with nothing but 
pious tears, makes matters far worse by excuses, and 
incredibly blind though possessed of intelligence, drives 
us to the point of desperation by lamentations. 

If any men have been a scourge to mankind it is surely 
those far-seeing legislators who have made marriage 
indissoluble to cotiipcl mutual love. To complete the 
story of human wisdom we still need a law-giver who, 
realizing the necessity of keeping a grip on a suspected 
criminal and also the injustice of making a possibly 
innocent man miserable while awaiting his trial, shall 
ordain in all cases two years in the cells as a preliminary 
instead of a month in prison, so that the necessity of 



LETTER XLV. 201 

putting- up with it may sweeten the prisoner's lot and 
make him fond of his chain ! 

We do not sufficiently take into account the intolerable 
succession of crushing- and often mortal suffering's pro- 
duced in private life by those awkward tempers, those 
bickering moods, those proud yet paltry attitudes in 
which so many women casually indulge, without 
suspecting it and without being able to get out of it, 
because we have never tried to make them understand 
the human heart. They end their days without dis- 
covering how useful it is to know how to live with 
men ; they bring up children as stupid as themselves, 
and so the evil is handed down, until there turns up a 
happy disposition which strikes out a line of its own ; 
and all that because we have thought they were well 
enough educated if taught to sew, to dance, to lay the 
table, and to read the Psalms in Latin. 

I do not know what g-ood can come of narrow ideas, 
and I fail to see that doltish ignorance constitutes 
simplicity; on the contrary, breadth of view produces 
less selfishness, less obstinacy, more honesty, helpful 
tact, and a hundred ways of compatibility. Among 
people of limited outlook, unless unusually good- 
hearted — and that is exceptional — you find nothing but 
ill-temper, differences, ridiculous obstinacy, endless 
altercations ; and the slightest altercation grows in a 
couple of minutes to a bitter dispute. Harsh reproaches, 
ugly suspicions, and brutal manners seem to keep them 
in perpetual discord on the slightest provocation. There 
is just one thing in their favour : as they are swayed 
by temper only, if any trifle happens to distract them, 
or if some grudge against an outsider unites them, you 



202 OBERMANN. 

have them laughing- and whispering together, after 
treating each other with supreme contempt. Half an 
hour later comes a fresh disturbance ; a quarter of an 
hour after that they are singing «. chorus. One must 
give such people credit for this, that as a rule nothing 
comes of their brutality, unless it be the unconquerable 
aversion of those who are compelled by special circum- 
stances to live among them. 

You who call yourselves Christians are still men, and 
yet in spite of the laws you cannot repudiate, and in 
spite of those you adore, you foster and perpetuate the 
most glaring disparities in the culture and interests of 
your fellow-men. The inequality exists in Nature, but 
you have exaggerated it beyond measure, though you 
ought rather to have striven to reduce it. The 
prodigies created by your efforts may well be a drug 
in the market, for you have neither time nor skill to 
do so many things that need doing. The mass of 
mankind is brutal, stupid, and left to its own devices ; 
all our miseries spring from that. Either do not bring 
them into being, or give them a chance of living like 
men. 

What then do all these long arguments of mine lead 
up to ? That as man is insignificant in Nature, and 
everything to himself, he ought to concern himself 
somewhat less with the laws of the world and some- 
what more with his own ; dispensing perhaps with 
abstract sciences that have never dried a single tear in 
hamlet or attic ; dispensing too with certain fine but 
useless arts, and with heroic but destructive passions, 
he ought to aim, if he can, at having institutions that 
will keep man human instead of brutalizing him, at 



LETTER XI AT. 203 

having less science but also less ignorance, and to 
admit that if man is not a blind force which must be 
left at the mercy of fatalism, if his activities have any 
spontaneity, then morality is the only science for man 
whose fate is in the hands of his fellows. 

You are letting his widow enter a convent, and quite 
rightly, I think. That is where she should have lived ; 
she was born for the cloister, though I maintain she 
would have been no happier there. So it is not on her 
account that I say you are doing the right thing. But 
if you took her into your own house you would display 
a futile generosity; she would be none the happier for 
it. Your prudent and enlightened beneficence cares 
little for appearances, and in considering what is best 
to be done only takes account of the larger or smaller 
sum total of ""ood that will come of it. 



LETTER XLVL 

Lyons, Aug. 2ud (VI.). 

When day begins I am depressed, sad, and uneasy; 
I can settle to nothing, and see not how to fill up so 
many hours. Midday overwhelms me ; I go inside and 
try to work, shutting everything up to keep out the 
cloudless glare. But when the light is fading and 1 
feel around me that sweet evening" charm now grown 
so strange to me, 1 am distressed and overcome ; in 
my easy-going life I have more bitterness to weary me 
than a man weighed down by misfortunes. Yet people 
say, " You enjov quiet now." 

16 



204 OBERMANN. 

So does the paralytic on his bed of suffering'. To 
waste the days of one's vigour as an old man passes 
those of repose ! Always to wait, with nothing to 
hope for ; always unrest without desire, agitation with- 
out object ; time constantly a blank ; conversations in 
which one makes talk and avoids speaking of facts ; 
meals where one eats from utter ennui ; dreary picnics 
of which nothing is welcome but the end ; friends with- 
out fellowship ; pleasures for the sake of appearances ; 
laughing to please those who are yawning like oneself ; 
and not a throb of joy in two whole years. Ever- 
lastingly to have a sluggish body, a restless brain, a 
doleful soul, and barely to escape in sleep from this 
consciousness of bitterness, repression, and uneasy 
boredom ; it is a long-drawn agony of heart ; it is not 
thus that man should live. 

" If he does live thus," you will say, "it follows that 
thus he should live ; what exists is in accordance with 
order ; where would you look for causes if not in 
Nature?" I am bound to agree with you; but this 
order of things is only temporary, it is not in accord- 
ance with essential order, unless ever3-thing is irre- 
sistibl}' predetermined. If everything is necessitated,' 
so is the fact that I must act as if there were no 
necessity; it is futile to argue; there is no feeling 
preferable to its opposite, no such thing as error, or 
utility. But if it be otherwise, let us admit we have 
gone astray, let us ascertain where we are ; let us see 
how we can recover the ground we have lost. Re- 
signation is often good for individuals ; it can only be 



LETTER XLVI. 205 

fatal to the species. " It's the way of the world," is 
the reply of the man in the street when one talks of 
widespread miseries ; it is that of the wise man only in 
particular cases. 

Will it be said that one ought to fix one's attention 
on details of immediate utility in the existing^ state ot 
things, not on ideal beauty or absolute happiness, and 
that as perfection is beyond the reach of humanity, 
still more of individual men, it is both useless and 
quixotic to discuss it with them ? But even in Nature 
preparation is always more lavish than result. Of a 
thousand seeds a single one will germinate. We 
should try to see what is the highest possible, not 
simply in the hope of reaching it, but so that we may 
come nearer to it than if we regarded the attainable 
as the goal of our efforts. I am looking for indications 
of man's needs, and I look for them in myself to lessen 
the risk of error. I find in my own sensations a limited 
but reliable instance, and by observing the only man 
I can thoroughly know, I set myself to discover the 
characteristics of mankind as a whole. 

You alone know how to fill your lives, you just and 
unaffected men, full of trust and generous affections, 
of calm, deep feeling, you who taste the fulness of life, 
and want to see the fruit of your days ! You find your 
happiness in order and domestic peace, on the clear 
brow of a friend, on the smiling lips of a wife. Beware 
of coming under the yoke of wretched mediocrity and 
haughty ennui in our towns. Do not lose sight of 
natural things ; do not subject your heart to the useless 
torture of questionable passions; their object, which is 
always remote, wears life out with suspense, until old 



2o6 OBERMANN. 

age too late deplores the vacuity in which the power 
of doing- good has been swallowed up. 
^/ I am like those pitiable creatures in whom a too vivid 
impression has caused the permanent hyper-sensitive- 
ness of certain fibres, and who cannot help the re- 
currence of their mania every time that first emotion 
is revived in them by imagination at the stimulus of 
a like object. A feeling for relations is always hinting 
to me of institutions congenial to order and the aim of 
Nature. That need of looking for conclusions when- 
ever I see premises, that instinct to which the idea of 
existing in vain is repulsive — do you suppose I can 
overcome it ? Do you not see that it is part of me, 
stronger than my will, necessary to me ; and that it 
needs must enlighten or mislead me, make me unhappy 
and yet compel me to obey it ? Do you not see that 
I am out of place, isolated, making no headway ? I 
regret all that passes away ; I rush and hurry from 
disgust ; I flee the present without desiring the future. 
I wear myself out, I gulp down my days, I plunge on 
towards the end of my ennuis, with no desire for any- 
thing after them. They say time is only swift to the 
happy man, but they are wrong. I see it slipping 
away now faster than ever 1 knew it. May the worst 
man living never be happy like this! 

■-^ I will make no secret of it ; 1 once did count on 
inward satisfaction, but I have been sadly undeceived. 
What was it then that I looked forward to ? I thought 
men would learn to adjust those details left to them by 
circumstances, to utilize any advantages offered them 
by their talents or temperament, to take up those 
hobbies of which one does not tire and that brighten 



LETTER XLVI. 207 

or while away the time ; I thoug-ht they would learn 
not to waste the best of their years, and not to be 
more unhappy throug"h their ill-management than ill- 
luck ; that they would learn how to live! Should I 
then have ig"nored the lack of all this ? Was I not 
well aware that this apathy, and still more this kind of 
mutual fear and distrust, this hesitation, this ridiculous 
reserve which with some is an instinct and hence with 
others a duty, were dooming all men to be bored by 
each other's society, to be slack in comradeship, 
languid in love, futile in co-operation, and to yawn 
together all their days for lack of saying, once for all, 
*' Let us yawn no more ? " 

In all circumstances and everywhere men waste their 
existence, and then they are angry with themselves 
under the impression it was their own fault. In spite 
of our tenderness for our own failings, perhaps we are 
too severe in that particular, too prone to put down to 
ourselves what we could not avoid. When the time 
has gone by, we forget the details of that fatality which 
is inscrutable in its causes and barely perceptible in its 
results. 

All our hopes are secretly sapped ; the flowers all 
fade, the seeds all come to nothing; everything drops 
like setting fruits death-stricken by frost; they will not 
ripen, all will perish, and yet they still hang vegetating 
for a while from the blighted branches, as if the cause 
of their ruin had tried to remain unperceived. 

One may have health and comradeship, one may see 
in one's possession the essentials for a happy sort of 
life; the means are quite simple and natural; we hold 
them and yet they escape us. How does it happen ? 



2o8 OBERMANN. 

The explanation would be long- and difficult, and yet 
I should prefer it to no end of philosophical treatises; 
it is not to be found even in the three thousand laws of 
Pythagoras. 

Possibly we are too much given to neglecting things 
which are in themselves immaterial, and yet which one 
ought to desire, or at any rate accept, so as to occupy 
our time without languor. There is a kind of indiffer- 
ence which is very empty affectation, and yet into which 
we are betrayed unawares. We meet a great many 
people, and every one of them is so engrossed in his own 
pursuits that he either is or seems to be uninterested 
in many things about which we do not like to seem 
more keen than himself. So there grows up in us a 
settled attitude of indifference and detachment; it 
requires no sacrifices, but it adds to our boredom; 
trifles that are of no use separately become serviceable 
as a whole ; they provide scope for that exercise of the 
affections which makes life. They ar.e inadequate as 
causes of sensation, but they do deliver us from the 
calamity of not having- any at all. Poor as they are, 
these interests are better suited to our nature than the 
childish superiority which scorns them and yet cannot 
supply their place. Vacancy becomes irksome in the 
long run; it deg-enerates into chronic gloom, and, hood- 
winked by our haughty indolence, we let the flame of 
life smoulder away in dismal smoke for want of a 
breath of air to quicken it. 

As I have said before, time flies ever the faster as 
one g-rows older. The days I have lost accumulate 
behind me ; they crowd the dim past with their gray 
spectres; they pile up their wasted skeletons like the 



LETTER XLVI. 209 

gloomy phantom of a sepulchral monument. And if 
my restless eyes turn to g-aze on the future, brighter 
once than the past, I find the full outlines and dazzling 
images of its successive days have sadly fallen off. 
Their colours are fading; that veil of distance whose 
magic dimness invested them with heavenly radiance 
is now stripped from their barren, dreary shapes. By 
the austere glimmer which reveals them in the eternal 
darkness I already see the last of them standing out 
alone on the brink of the abyss with nothing beyond it. 

Do you remember our idle wishes and boyish schemes? 
The rapture of a lovely sky, of forgetfulness of men, and 
desert freedom ! 

What has become of that simplicity of hope, that 
young enchantment of a heart which believes in happi- 
ness and wills whatever it desires in ignorance of life? 
In those days the silent woods, clear streams, wild 
fruits, and our own comradeship sufficed us. The 
world around us has nothing to supply the place of 
those yearnings of an upright heart and restive mind, 
of that first dream of our earliest spring times. 

If some brighter hour chance to smooth our brows 
with unforeseen tranquillity, the fleeting trace of peace 
and well-being, the hour that follows soon prints upon 
them morose and weary lines, eflfacing for ever their 
pristine freshness with wrinkles steeped in bitterness. 

Since that age, now so remote, the rare moments 
which have revived the notion of happiness do not 
make up in my life a single day that I would care to 
live over again. That is the characteristic of my weari- 
some lot; others are more positively unhappy, but I 
doubt if there ever was a man Icss'happy. I tell myself 



2IO OBERMANN. 

that one is prone to complain, and that one feels ev'ery 
detail of one's own miseries while minimizing- or over- 
looking- those not experienced by oneself, and yet I 
think I am rig-ht in supposing- that no one could have 
less enjoyment of life or more uniformly come short of 
his needs than myself. 

Not that I am actively suffering-, provoked, irritated; 
I am just wear}'-, low-spirited, sunk in dejection. Some- 
times, it is true, an unexpected wave of feeling- lifts me 
out of the narrow sphere in which I am confined. It is 
too sudden to g-uard against; it fills me and carries 
me away before I have time to realize the futility of 
the impulse; thus I lose that philosophic calm which 
g-ives permanence to our woes by measuring them up 
with its mechanical instruments and pedantic, finite 
formulae. 

At such times I forget these accidental circum- 
stances — mere wretched links of the brittle chain my 
weakness has forged ; I see on the one hand my soul 
alone, with its energies and desires, as a circumscribed 
but independent centre of activity, which nothing can 
save from final extinction, and yet which nothing can 
hinder from being true to itself; and on the other 
hand I see everything in the world as its appropriate 
sphere, as its instruments, and the materials of its life. 
I disdain that timid and dilatory prudence which over- 
looks the force of genius and lets the fire of the heart 
die out for the sake of the toys it is shaping, and 
letting slip for ever the reality of life to arrange mere 
puerile shadows. 

I ask myself what I am doing ; why I do not set 
myself to live ; what force enslaves me when I am 



LETTER XLAI. 211 

free ; what weakness checks me when I am conscious 
of an energ-y whose suppressed strug'g-les wear me out ; 
what I expect when I hope for nothing" ; what I am 
seeking- here, when I love and desire nothings ; what 
fatality compels me to do what is ag-ainst my will with- 
out my seeing how it compels me ? 

It is easy to g'et out of it ; it is time I did ; I must, 
in fact ; and yet scarcely is the word spoken when the 
impulse is checked, the energ-y flag-s, and I am plung-ed 
once more into the sleep that stultifies my life. Time 
flows steadily away; I rise with reluctance, I g-o to bed 
weary, I wake without desires. I shut myself up, and 
am bored ; I g^o out, and g-roan. If the weather is 
dull, I find it melancholy; if fine, to me it is profitless. 
The town is insipid, the country hateful to me. The 
sight of the unhappy distresses me, that of the happy 
does not deceive me. I laug^h bitterly when I see 
men making- themselves miserable, and if some are 
calmer, I smile to think that they are supposed to be 
contented. 

I see how ridiculous is the attitude I assume. I snub ' 
myself and laugh at my impatience. None the less 
I seek in every circumstance that strange two-fold 
aspect which makes it a source of our miseries, and 
that comedy of contrasts which makes the world of 
men a conflicting scene, where everything is important 
amid universal insignificance. Thus I blunder along, 
not knowing which way to turn. I am restless because 
I have nothing to do ; I talk to escape thinking ; I am 
lively, through sheer dulness. I believe I even jest ; 
I turn my grief to laughter and it is taken for mirth. 
" Look how well he is," they say ; " he is pulling him- 



212 OBERMANN. 

self together." It is a case of necessity ; I cannot stand 

it any longer. 

August yh. 

I fancy, nay, am sure, that a change is imminent. 
The more closely I study my experience, the more 
deeply I am convinced that the facts of life are fore- 
shadowed, arranged, and developed in a forward move- 
ment directed by an unknown power. 

As soon as any series of events approaches a climax, 
the forthcoming result immediately becomes a focus to 
which many other events definitely converge. The 
tendency which binds them to the centre by universal 
ties makes it appear to us an end that Nature has 
deliberately adopted, a link she has forged in accord- 
ance with the general laws, and we try to discover in 
it and to trace out in detail the progress, the order, and 
the harmonies of the scheme of the world. 

If we are mistaken in that, it is perhaps wholly due 
to our eagerness. Our desires always try to anticipate 
the order of events, and our impatience cannot wait for 
their tardy development. 

It almost seems as if an unknown will, an intelligence 
of an indefinable nature, betrayed us by appearances, 
by numerical progressions, and by dreams whose corre- 
spondences with fact far exceed the probabilities of 
chance. One might think that it used all ways of 
seducing us; that the occult sciences, the extraordinary 
results of divination, and the enormous effects due to 
imperceptible causes wrought by its secret operations; 
that it thus brought about what we think we are 
managing ourselves, and that it led us astray to give 
varietv to the world. If vou want to form some idea 



LETTER XLVI. 2x3 

of that invisible force and of the impotence of order 
itself to produce perfection, reckon up all ascertained 
causes, and you will see that they do not account for 
the resultant effect. Go a step further; imagine a state 
of things in which each separate rule was observed, 
and each individual destiny fulfilled ; you will find, I 
think, that the order of every detail would not produce 
the true order of thing's as a whole. Everything would 
be too perfect; that is not the way things work, nor 
indeed could it be; a continual variation and conflict 
in detail seems to be the great law of the universe. 

Here, for instance, are certain facts in a matter 
which admits of an exact calculation of probabilities. 
Twelve or fifteen instances of dreams prior to the 
drawings of the Paris lottery have come under my 
own notice. The old lady who had them was certainly 
not possessed of the demon of Socrates nor of any 
other cabalistic gift, and yet she had better ground 
for obstinacy about her dreams than I had for shaking 
her faith. Most of them came true, though the chances 
were at least twenty thousand to one that they would 
not be thus verified by the event. She was taken in 
by it; she dreamed again, staked her money, and this 
time nothing came of it. 

I am quite aware that men are deceived by false 
reckonings and by passion, but in matters admitting of 
mathematical calculation, have they in all ages ever 
believed what was only supported by as many occur- 
rences as the laws of chance would give ? 

I myself, who have certainly paid little heed to 
dreams of this kind, once dreamed three times that 
I saw the numbers drawn. One of these dreams about 



214 OBERMANN. 

the event of next day was quite out of it; the second 
was as striking as if I had correctly g"uessed a number 
above 80,000. The third Avas stranger still; I saw 
the numbers 7, 39, 72, 81, in the order given. I did 
not see the fifth number, nor the third very distinctly; 
I was not sure whether it was 72 or 70. I had even 
made a note of both, but I decided for 72. On that 
occasion I wanted to try for the quaternion at least, 
so I staked on 7, 39, 72, 81. If I had chosen 70 I 
should have won the quaternion, a remarkable fact in 
itself, but a still more remarkable one is that my note, 
made in the exact order in which I had seen the four 
numbers, bore a determinate sequence of three, and 
it would have been one of four if, when hesitating 
between 70 and 72, I had chosen 70. 

Is there in Nature an intention to hoodwink men, or 
at any rate many of them ? Is this [the excess of coin- 
cidences over probabilit}'] one of its methods ? is it a 
law necessary to make men what they are ? Or have 
all nations been insane in supposing that actual occur- 
rences exceeded the number intrinsically probable? 
Modern philosophy denies the discrepancy ; it denies 
the existence of everything it cannot explain. It has 
supplanted the philosophy which explained what did 
not exist. 

I am far from asserting and literally believing that 
there really is in Nature a force which deludes men 
apart from the glamour of their passions, and that 
there exists an occult chain of correspondences either 
in numbers or in our em.otions, by which we can 
judge, or have a presentiment of those future events 
that we consider accidental. I do not sav : "There 



LETTER XLVI. 215 

is;" but is it not somewhat rash to say: "There 
is not " ? ^ 

Can it be that presentiments are associated with a 
special type of mind and are denied to other men ? 
We see, for instance, that most people cannot imagine 
any relation between the fragrance of a plant and the 
means of world-wide happiness. Ought they on that 
account to regard the consciousness of such a relation- 
ship as a freak of imagination ? Because those tw o 
conceptions are so remote from each other in many 
minds, are they equally so for anyone who can trace 
the chain that unites them. He who struck off the 
tall poppy heads- knew well that he would be under- 
stood, and he knew too that his slaves would not 
comprehend the act, and get at his secret. 

You must not take all this more seriously than I 
mean it. But I am sick of things that are certain, and 
am looking everywhere for doors of hope. 

If you are coming soon, the prospect will somewhat 
revive my courage. Even that of always looking 
forward to the morrow is better than none at all. 

^ "It is stupid presumption to disdain and condemn as false what 
does not seem to us likely, and it is a common fault with those who 
think they have more than average capacity. I used to do it myself 
once . . . and now I think I was at least as much to be pitied 
myself. " — DIontaigtte. 

'" Tarcjuin's reply to his son Sextus, who sent to ask Ikjw he should 
betray the city of Gabii into Tarquin's hands. The answer meant that 
he was to behead the leading citizens. — Tk. 

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TOLSTOY'S PARABLES. 



Volume I. contains — 
WHERE LOVE IS, THERE GOD 

IS ALSO. 
THE GODSON. 

Volume II. contains — 

WHAT MEN LIVE BY. 
WHAT SHALL IT PROFIT A 
MAN? 



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