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Title: The Buried Temple
Author: Maeterlinck, Maurice, 1862-1949
Language: English
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The Buried Temple


Maurice Maeterlinck

Translated by Alfred Sutro



Published in April 1902

  POCKET EDITION, March 1911
  November 1911
  July 1919
  December 1921
  October 1924

Twenty first Thousand

(All rights reserved)

Printed in Great Britain


Of the five essays in this volume, two only, those on "The Past" and
"Luck," were written in 1901.  The others, "The Mystery of Justice,"
"The Evolution of Mystery," and "The Kingdom of Matter," are anterior
to "The Life of the Bee," and appeared in the _Fortnightly Review_ in
1899 and 1900.  The essay on "The Past" appeared in the March number of
the _Fortnightly Review_ and of the New York _Independent_; and parts
of "The Mystery of Justice" in this last journal and _Harper's
Magazine_.  The author's thanks are due to Messrs. Chapman & Hall,
Messrs. Harper & Brothers, and the proprietors of _The Independent_ for
their permission to republish.


   V. LUCK




I speak, for those who do not believe in the existence of a unique,
all-powerful, infallible Judge, for ever intent on our thoughts, our
feelings and actions, maintaining justice in this world and completing
it in the next.  And if there be no Judge, what justice is there?  None
other than that which men have made for themselves by their laws and
tribunals, as also in the social relations that no definite judgment
governs?  Is there nothing above this human justice, whose sanction is
rarely other than the opinion, the confidence or mistrust, the approval
or disapproval, of our fellows?  Is this capable of explaining or
accounting for all that seems so inexplicable to us in the morality of
the universe, that we at times feel almost compelled to believe an
intelligent Judge must exist?  When we deceive or overcome our
neighbour, have we deceived or overcome all the forces of justice?  Are
all things definitely settled then, and may we go boldly on: or is
there a graver, deeper justice, one less visible perhaps, but less
subject to error; one that is more universal, and mightier?

That such a justice exists we all of us know, for we all have felt its
irresistible power.  We are well aware that it covers the whole of our
life, and that at its centre there reigns an intelligence which never
deceives itself, which none can deceive.  But where shall we place it,
now that we have torn it down from the skies?  Where does it weigh good
and evil, happiness and disaster?  Whence does it issue to deal out
reward and punishment?  These are questions that we do not often ask
ourselves, but they have their importance.  The nature of justice, and
all our morality, depend on the answer; and it cannot be fruitless
therefore to inquire how that great idea of mystic and sovereign
justice, which has undergone more than one transformation since history
began, is being received to-day in the mind and the heart of man.  And
is this mystery not the loftiest, the most passionately interesting, of
all that remain to us: does it not intertwine with most of the others?
Do its vacillations not stir us to the very depths of our soul?  The
great bulk of mankind perhaps know nothing of these vacillations and
changes, but for the evolution of thought it suffices that the eyes of
the few should see; and when the clear consciousness of these has
become aware of the transformation, its influence will gradually attain
the general morality of men.


In these pages we shall naturally have much to say of social justice:
of the justice, in other words, that we mutually extend to each other
through life; but we shall leave on one side legal or positive justice,
which is merely the organisation of one side of social justice.  We
shall occupy ourselves above all with that vague but inevitable
justice, intangible and yet so effective, which accompanies and sets
its seal upon every action of our life; which approves or disapproves,
rewards or punishes.  Does this come from without?  Does an inflexible,
undeceivable moral principle exist, independent of man, in the universe
and in things?  Is there, in a word, a justice that might be called
mystic?  Or does it issue wholly from man; is it inward even though it
act from without; and is the only justice therefore psychologic?  These
two terms, mystic and psychologic justice, comprehend, more or less,
all the different forms of justice, superior to the social, that would
appear to exist to-day.


It is scarcely conceivable that any one who has forsaken the easy, but
artificially illumined, paths of positive religion, can still believe
in the existence of a physical justice arising from moral causes,
whether its manifestations assume the form of heredity or disease, of
geologic, atmospheric, or other phenomena.  However eager his desire
for illusion or mystery, this is a truth he is bound to recognise from
the moment he begins earnestly and sincerely to study his own personal
experience, or to observe the external ills which, in this world of
ours, fall indiscriminately on good and wicked alike.  Neither the
earth nor the sky, neither nature nor matter, neither air nor any force
known to man (save only those that are in him) betrays the slightest
regard for justice, or the remotest connection with our morality, our
thoughts or intentions.  Between the external world and our actions
there exist only the simple and essentially non-moral relations of
cause and effect.  If I am guilty of a certain excess or imprudence, I
incur a certain danger, and have to pay a corresponding debt to nature.
And as this imprudence or excess will generally have had an immoral
cause--or a cause that we call immoral because we have been compelled
to regulate our life according to the requirements of our health and
tranquillity--we cannot refrain from establishing a connection between
this immoral cause and the danger to which we have been exposed, or the
debt we have had to pay; and we are led once more to believe in the
justice of the universe, the prejudice which, of all those that we
cling to, has its root deepest in our heart.  And in our eagerness to
restore this confidence we are content deliberately to ignore the fact
that the result would have been exactly the same had the cause of our
excess or imprudence been--to use the terms of our infantine
vocabulary--heroic or innocent.  If on an intensely cold day I throw
myself into the water to save a fellow-creature from drowning, or if,
seeking to drown him, I chance to fall in, the consequences of the
chill will be absolutely the same; and nothing on this earth or beneath
the sky--save only myself, or man if he be able--will enhance my
suffering because I have committed a crime, or relieve my pain because
my action was virtuous.


Let us consider another form of physical justice: heredity.  There
again we find the same indifference to moral causes.  And truly it were
a strange justice indeed that would throw upon the son, and even the
remote descendant, the burden of a fault committed by his father or his
ancestor.  But human morality would raise no objection: man would not
protest.  To him it would seem natural, magnificent, even fascinating.
It would indefinitely prolong his individuality, his consciousness and
existence; and from this point of view would accord with a number of
indisputable facts which prove that we are not wholly self-contained,
but connect, in more than one subtle, mysterious fashion, with all that
surrounds us in life, with all that precedes us, or follows.

And yet, true as this may be in certain cases, it is not true as
regards the justice of physical heredity, which is absolutely
indifferent to the moral causes of the deed whose consequences the
descendants have to bear.  There is physical relation between the act
of the father, whereby he has undermined his health, and the consequent
suffering of the son; but the son's suffering will be the same whatever
the intentions or motives of the father, be these heroic or shameful.
And, further, the area of what we call the justice of physical heredity
would appear to be very restricted.  A father may have been guilty of a
hundred abominable crimes, he may have been a murderer, a traitor, a
persecutor of the innocent or despoiler of the wretched, without these
crimes leaving the slightest trace upon the organism of his children.
It is enough that he should have been careful to do nothing that might
injure his health.


So much for the justice of Nature as shown in physical heredity.  Moral
heredity would appear to be governed by similar principles; but as it
deals with modifications of the mind and character infinitely more
complex and more elusive, its manifestations are less striking, and its
results less certain.  Pathology is the only region which admits of its
definite observation and study; and there we observe it to be merely
the spiritual form of physical heredity, which is its essential
principle: moral heredity being only a sequel, and revealing in its
elementary stage the same indifference to real justice, and the same
blindness.  Whatever the moral cause of the ancestor's drunkenness or
debauch, the same punishment may be meted out in mind and body to the
descendants of the drunkard or the debauchee.  Intellectual blemish
will almost always accompany material blemish.  The soul will be
attacked simultaneously with the body; and it matters but little
whether the victim be imbecile, mad, epileptic, possessed of criminal
instincts, or only vaguely threatened with slight mental derangement:
the most frightful moral penalty that a supreme justice could invent
has followed actions which, as a rule, cause less harm and are less
perverse than hundreds of other offences that Nature never dreams of
punishing.  And this penalty, moreover, is inflicted blindly, not the
slightest heed being paid to the motives underlying the actions,
motives that may have been excusable perhaps, or indifferent, or
possibly even admirable.

It would be absurd, however, to imagine that drunkenness and debauchery
are the only agents in moral heredity.  There are a thousand others,
all more or less unknown.  Certain moral qualities appear to be
transmitted as readily as though they were physical.  In one race, for
instance, we will almost constantly discover certain virtues which have
probably been acquired.  But who shall say how much is due to heredity,
and how much to environment and example?  The problem becomes so
complicated, the facts so contradictory, that it is impossible, amidst
the mass of innumerable causes, to follow the track of one particular
cause to the end.  Let it suffice to say that in the only clear,
striking, definitive cases where an intentional justice could have
revealed itself in physical or moral heredity, no trace of justice is
found.  And if we do not find it in these, we are surely far less
likely to find it in others.


We may affirm therefore that not above us, or around us, or beneath us,
neither in this life nor in our other life which is that of our
children, is the least trace to be found of an intentional justice.
But, in the course of adapting ourselves to the laws of life, we have
naturally been led to credit with our own moral ideas those principles
of causality that we encounter most frequently; and we have in this
fashion created a very plausible semblance of effective justice, which
rewards or punishes most of our actions in the degree that they
approach, or deviate from, certain laws that are essential for the
preservation of the race.  It is evident that if I sow my field, I
shall have an infinitely better prospect of reaping a harvest the
following summer than my neighbour, who has neglected to sow his,
preferring a life of dissipation and idleness.  In this case,
therefore, work obtains its admirable and certain reward; and as work
is essential for the preservation of our existence, we have declared it
to be the moral act of all acts, the first of all our duties.  Such
instances might be indefinitely multiplied.  If I bring up my children
well, if I am good and just to those round about me, if I am honest,
active, prudent, wise, and sincere in all my dealings, I shall have a
better chance of meeting with filial piety, with respect and affection,
a better chance of knowing moments of happiness, than the man whose
actions and conduct have been the very reverse of mine.  Let us not,
however, lose sight of the fact that my neighbour, who is, let us say,
a most diligent and thrifty man, might be prevented by the most
admirable of reasons--such as an illness caught while nursing his wife
or his friend--from sowing his ground at the proper time, and that he
also would reap no harvest.  _Mutatis mutandis_, similar results would
follow in the other instances I have mentioned.  The cases, however,
are exceptional where a worthy or respectable reason will hinder the
accomplishment of a duty; and we shall find, as a rule, that sufficient
harmony exists between cause and effect, between the exaction of the
necessary law and the result of the complying effort, to enable our
casuistry to keep alive within us the idea of the justice of things.


This idea, however, deeply ingrained though it be in the hearts and
minds of the least credulous and least mystic of men, can surely not be
beneficial.  It reduces our morality to the level of the insect which,
perched on a falling rock, imagines that the rock has been set in
motion on its own special behalf.  Are we wise in allowing certain
errors and falsehoods to remain active within us?  There may have been
some in the past which, for a moment, were helpful; but, this moment
over, men found themselves once again face to face with the truth, and
the sacrifice had only been delayed.  Why wait till the illusion or
falsehood which appeared to do good begins to do actual harm, or, if it
do no harm, at least retards the perfect understanding that should
obtain between the deeply felt reality and our manner of interpreting
and accepting it?  What were the divine right of kings, the
infallibility of the Church, the belief in rewards beyond the grave,
but illusions whose sacrifice reason deferred too long?  Nor was
anything gained by this dilatoriness beyond a few sterile hopes, a
little deceptive peace, a few consolations that at times were
disastrous.  But many days had been lost; and we have no days to lose,
we who at last are seeking the truth, and find in its search an
all-sufficient reason for existence.  Nor does anything retard us more
than the illusion which, though torn from its roots, we still permit to
linger among us; for this will display the most extraordinary activity
and be constantly changing its form.

But what does it matter, some will ask, whether man do the thing that
is just because he thinks God is watching; because he believes in a
kind of justice that pervades the universe; or for the simple reason
that to his conscience this thing seems just?  It matters above all.
We have there three different men.  The first, whom God is watching,
will do much that is not just, for every god whom man has hitherto
worshipped has decreed many unjust things.  And the second will not
always act in the same way as the third, who is indeed the true man to
whom the moralist will turn, for he will survive both the others; and
to foretell how man will conduct himself in truth, which is his natural
element, is more interesting to the moralist than to watch his
behaviour when enmeshed in falsehood.


It may seem idle to those who do not believe in the existence of a
sovereign Judge to discuss so seriously this inadmissible idea of the
justice of things; and inadmissible it does indeed become when
presented thus in its true colours, as it were, pinned to the wall.
This, however, is not our way of regarding it in every-day life.  When
we observe how disaster follows crime, how ruin at last overtakes
ill-gotten prosperity; when we witness the miserable end of the
debauchee, the short-lived triumph of iniquity, it is our constant
habit to confuse the physical effect with the moral cause; and however
little we may believe in the existence of a Judge, we nearly all of us
end by a more or less complete submission to a strange, vague faith in
the justice of things.  And although our reason, our calm observation,
prove to us that this justice cannot exist, it is enough that an event
should take place which touches us somewhat more nearly, or that there
should be two or three curious coincidences, for conviction to fade in
our heart, if not in our mind.  Notwithstanding all our reason and all
our experience, the merest trifle recalls to life within us the
ancestor who was convinced that the stars shone in their eternal places
for no other purpose than to predict or approve a wound he was to
inflict on his enemy upon the field of battle, a word he should speak
in the assembly of the chiefs, or an intrigue he would bring to a
successful issue in the women's quarters.  We of to-day are no less
inclined to divinise our feelings for the benefit of our interests; the
only difference being that, the gods having no longer a name, our
methods are less sincere and less precise.  When the Greeks, powerless
before Troy, felt the need of supernatural signal and support, they
went to Philoctetes, deprived him of Hercules' bow and arrows, and
abandoned him, ill, naked, and defenceless, on a desert island.  This
was the mysterious Justice, loftier than that of man; this was the
command of the gods.  And similarly do we, when some iniquity seems
expedient to us, cry loudly that we do it for the sake of posterity, of
humanity, of the fatherland.  On the other hand, should a great
misfortune befall us, we protest that there is no justice, and that
there are no gods; but let the misfortune befall our enemy, and the
universe is at once repeopled with invisible judges.  If, however, some
unexpected, disproportionate stroke of good fortune come to us, we are
quickly convinced that we must possess merits so carefully hidden as to
have escaped our own observation; and we are happier in their discovery
than at the windfall they have procured us.


"One has to pay for all things," we say.  Yes, in the depths of our
heart, in all that pertains to man, justice exacts payment in the coin
of our personal happiness or sorrow.  And without, in the universe that
enfolds us, there is also a reckoning; but here it is a different
paymaster who measures out happiness or sorrow.  Other laws obtain;
there are other motives, other methods.  It is no longer the justice of
the conscience that presides, but the logic of nature, which cares
nothing for our morality.  Within us is a spirit that weighs only
intentions; without us, a power that only balances deeds.  We try to
persuade ourselves that these two work hand in hand.  But in reality,
though the spirit will often glance towards the power, this last is as
completely ignorant of the other's existence as is the man weighing
coals in Northern Europe of the existence of his fellow weighing
diamonds in South Africa.  We are constantly intruding our sense of
justice into this non-moral logic; and herein lies the source of most
of our errors.


And further, what right have we to complain of the indifference of the
universe, what right to declare it incomprehensible, and monstrous?
Why this surprise at an injustice in which we ourselves take so active
a part?  It is true that there is no trace of justice to be found in
disease, accident, or most of the hazards of external life, which fall
indiscriminately on the good and the wicked, the hero and traitor, the
poisoner and sister of charity.  But we are far too eager to include
under the title "Justice of the Universe" many a flagrant act that is
exclusively human, and infinitely more common and more destructive than
disease, the hurricane, or fire.  I do not allude to war; it might be
urged that we attribute this rather to the will of the people or kings
than to Nature.  But poverty, for instance, which we still rank with
irremediable ills such as shipwreck or plague; poverty, with all its
crushing sorrows and transmitted degeneration--how often may this be
ascribed to the injustice of the elements, and how often to the
injustice of our social condition, which is the crowning injustice of
man?  Need we, at the sight of unmerited wretchedness, look to the
skies for a reason, as though a flash of lightning had caused it?  Need
we seek an impenetrable, unfathomable judge?  Is this region not our
own; are we not here in the best explored, best known portion of our
dominion; and is it not we who organise misery, we who spread it
abroad, as arbitrarily, from the moral point of view, as fire and
disease scatter destruction or suffering?  Is it reasonable that we
should wonder at the sea's indifference to the soul-state of its
victims, when we who have a soul, the pre-eminent organ of justice, pay
no heed whatever to the innocence of the countless thousands whom we
ourselves sacrifice, who are our wretched victims?  We choose to regard
as beyond our control, as a force of fatality, a force that rests
entirely within our own hands.  But does this excuse us?  Truly we are
strange lovers of an ideal justice, we are strange judges!  A judicial
error sends a thrill of horror from one end of the world to another;
but the error which condemns three-fourths of mankind to misery, an
error as purely human as that of any tribunal, is attributed by us to
some inaccessible, implacable power.  If the child of some honest man
we know be born blind, imbecile, or deformed, we will seek everywhere,
even in the darkness of a religion we have ceased to practise, for some
God whose intention to question; but if the child be born poor--a
calamity, as a rule, no less capable than the gravest infirmity of
degrading a creature's destiny--we do not dream of interrogating the
God who is wherever we are, since he is made of our own desires.
Before we demand an ideal judge, we shall do well to purify our ideas,
for whatever blemish there is in these will surely be in the judge.
Before we complain of Nature's indifference, or ask at her hands an
equity she does not possess, let us attack the iniquity that dwells in
the homes of men; and when this has been swept away, we shall find that
the part we assign to the injustice of fate will be less by fully
two-thirds.  And the benefit to mankind would be far more considerable
than if it lay in our power to guide the storm or govern the heat and
the cold, to direct the course of disease or the avalanche, or contrive
that the sea should display an intelligent regard to our virtues and
secret intentions.  For indeed the poor far exceed in number those who
fall victims to shipwreck or material accident, just as far more
disease is due to material wretchedness than to the caprice of our
organism, or to the hostility of the elements.


And for all that, we love justice.  We live, it is true, in the midst
of a great injustice; but we have only recently acquired this
knowledge, and we still grope for a remedy.  Injustice dates such a
long way back; the idea of God, of destiny, of Nature's mysterious
decrees, had been so closely and intimately associated with it, it is
still so deeply entangled with most of the unjust forces of the
universe, that it was but yesterday that we commenced the endeavour to
isolate such elements contained within it as are purely human.  And if
we succeed; if we can distinguish them, and separate them for all time
from those upon which we have no power, justice will gain more than by
all that the researches of man have discovered hitherto.  For indeed in
this social injustice of ours, it is not the human part that is capable
of arresting our passion for equity; it is the part that a great number
of men still attribute to a god, to a kind of fatality, or to imaginary
laws of Nature.


This last inactive part shrinks every day.  Nor is this because the
mystery of justice is about to disappear.  A mystery rarely disappears;
as a rule, it only shifts its ground.  But it is often most important
and most desirable that we should bring about this change of abode.  It
may be said that two or three such changes almost stand for the whole
progress of human thought: the dislodgment of two or three mysteries
from a place where they did harm, and their transference to a place
where they become inoffensive and capable of doing good.  Sometimes
even, there is no need for the mystery to change its place; we have
only to identify it under another name.  What was once called "the
gods," we now term "life."  And if life be as inexplicable as were the
gods, we are at least the gainers to the extent that none has the right
to speak or do wrong in its name.  The aim of human thought can
scarcely be to destroy mystery, or lessen it, for that seems
impossible.  We may be sure that the same quantity of mystery will ever
enwrap the world, since it is the quality of the world, as of mystery,
to be infinite.  But honest human thought will seek above all to
determine what are the veritable irreducible mysteries.  It will
endeavour to strip them of all that does not belong to them, that is
not truly theirs, of the additions made by our errors, our fears, and
our falsehoods.  And as the artificial mysteries vanish, so will the
ocean of veritable mystery stretch out further and further: the mystery
of life, its aim and its origin; the mystery of thought; the mystery
that has been called "the primitive accident," or the "perhaps
unknowable essence of reality."


Where had men conceived the mystery of justice to lodge?  It pervaded
the world.  At one moment it was supposed to rest in the hands of the
gods, at another it engulfed and mastered the gods themselves.  It had
been imagined everywhere except in man.  It had dwelt in the sky, it
had lurked behind rocks, it had governed the air and the sea, it had
peopled an inaccessible universe.  Then at last we peered into its
imaginary retreats, we pressed close and examined; and its throne of
clouds tottered, it faded away; but at the very moment we believed it
had ceased to be, behold it reappeared, and raised its head once more
in the very depths of our heart; and yet another mystery had sought
refuge in man, and embodied itself in him.  For it is in ourselves that
the mysteries we seek to destroy almost invariably find their last
shelter and their most fitting abode, the home which they had forsaken,
in the wildness of youth, to voyage through space; as it is in
ourselves that we must learn to meet and to question them.  And truly
it is no less wonderful, no less inexplicable, that man should have in
his heart an immutable instinct of justice, than it was wonderful and
inexplicable that the gods should be just, or the forces of the
universe.  It is as difficult to account for the essence of our memory,
our will, or intelligence, as it was to account for the memory, will,
or intelligence of the invisible powers or laws of Nature; and if, in
order to enhance our curiosity, we have need of the unknown or
unknowable; if, in order to maintain our ardour, we require mystery or
the infinite, we shall not lose a single tributary of the unknown and
unknowable by at last restoring the great river to its primitive bed;
nor shall we have closed a single road that leads to the infinite, or
lessened by the minutest fraction the most contested of veritable
mysteries.  Whatever we take from the skies we find again in the heart
of man.  But, mystery for mystery, let us prefer the one that is
certain to the one that is doubtful, the one that is near to the one
that is far, the one that is in us and of us to the harmful one from
without.  Mystery for mystery, let us no longer parley with the
messengers, but with the sovereign who sent them; no longer question
those feeble ones who silently vanish at our first inquiry, but rather
look into our heart, where are both question and answer; the answer
which it has forgotten, but, some day perhaps, shall remember.


Then we shall be able to solve more than one disconcerting problem as
to the distribution, often very equitable, of reward and punishment
among men.  And by this we do not mean only the inward, moral reward
and punishment, but also the reward and punishment that are visible and
wholly material.  There was some measure of reason in the belief held
by mankind from its very origin, that justice penetrates, animates as
it were, every object of this world in which we live.  This belief has
not been explained away by the fact that our great moral laws have been
forcibly adapted to the great laws of life and matter.  There is more
beyond.  We cannot refer all things, in all circumstances, to a simple
relation of cause and effect between crime and punishment.  There is
often a moral element also; and though events have not placed it there,
though it is we alone who have created it, it is not the less powerful
and real.  Of a physical justice, properly so called, we deny the
existence; but besides the wholly inward psychologic justice, to which
we shall soon refer, there is also a psychologic justice which is in
constant communication with the physical world; and it is this justice
that we attribute to we know not what invisible and universal
principle.  And while it is wrong to credit Nature with moral
intentions, and to allow our actions to be governed by fear of
punishment or hope of reward that she may have in store for us, this
does not imply that, even materially, there is no reward for good, or
punishment for evil.  Such reward and punishment undoubtedly exist, but
they issue not from whence we imagine; and in believing that they come
from an inaccessible spot, that they master us, judge us, and
consequently dispense us from judging ourselves, we commit the most
dangerous of errors; for none has a greater influence upon our manner
of defending ourselves against misfortune, or of setting forth to
attempt the legitimate conquest of happiness.


Such justice as we actually discover in Nature does not issue from her,
but from ourselves, who have unconsciously placed it there, through
becoming one with events, animating them and adapting them to our uses.
Accident, disease, the thunderbolt, which strike to right or to left,
without apparent reason or warning, wholly indifferent as to what our
thoughts may be, are not the only elements in our life.  There are
other, and far more frequent, cases when we have direct influence on
the things and persons around us, and invest these with our own
personality; cases when the forces of nature become the instruments of
our thoughts, which, when unjust, will make improper use of them,
thereby calling forth retaliation and inviting punishment and disaster.
But in Nature there is no moral reaction; for this emanates from our
own thoughts or the thoughts of other men.  It is not in things, but in
us, that the justice of things resides.  It is our moral condition that
modifies our conduct towards the external world; and if we find this
antagonistic, it is because we are at war with ourselves, with the
essential laws of our mind and our heart.  The attitude of Nature
towards us is uninfluenced by the justice or injustice of our
intentions; and yet these will almost invariably govern our attitude
towards Nature.  Here once more, as in the case of social justice, we
ascribe to the universe, to an unintelligible, eternal, fatal
principle, a part that we play ourselves; and when we say that justice,
heaven, nature, or events are rising in revolt against us to punish or
to avenge, it is in reality man who is using events to punish man, it
is human nature that rises in revolt, and human justice that avenges.


In a former essay I referred to Napoleon's three crowning acts of
injustice: the three celebrated crimes that were so fatally unjust to
his own fortune.  The first was the murder of the Duc d'Enghien,
condemned by order, without trial or proof, and executed in the
trenches of Vincennes; an assassination that sowed insatiable hatred
and vengeance in the path of the guilty dictator.  Then the detestable
intrigues whereby he lured the too trustful, easy-going Bourbons to
Bayonne, that he might rob them of their hereditary crown; and the
horrible war that ensued, a war that cost the lives of three hundred
thousand men, swallowed up all the morality and energy of the empire,
most of its prestige, almost all its convictions, almost all the
devotion it inspired, and engulfed its prosperous destiny.  And finally
the frightful, unpardonable Russian campaign, wherein his fortune came
at last to utter shipwreck amid the ice of the Berezina and the
snow-bound Polish steppes.

"These prodigious catastrophes," I said, "had numberless causes; but
when we have slowly traced our way through all the more or less
unforeseen circumstances, and have marked the gradual change in
Napoleon's character, have noted the acts of imprudence, folly, and
violence which this genius committed; when we have seen how
deliberately he brought disaster to his smiling fortune, may we not
almost believe that what we behold, standing erect at the very
fountain-head of calamity, is no other than the silent shadow of
misunderstood human justice?  Human justice, wherein there is nothing
supernatural, nothing very mysterious, but built up of many thousand
very real little incidents, many thousand falsehoods, many thousand
little offences of which each one gave rise to a corresponding act of
retaliation--human justice, and not a power that suddenly, at some
tragic moment, leaps forth like Minerva of old, fully armed, from the
formidable, despotic brow of destiny.  In all this there is only one
thing of mystery, and that is the eternal presence of human justice;
but we are aware that the nature of man is very mysterious.  Let us in
the meanwhile ponder this mystery.  It is the most certain of all, it
is the profoundest, it is the most helpful, it is the only one that
will never paralyse our energy for good  And though that patient,
vigilant shadow be not as clearly defined in every life as it was in
Napoleon's, though justice be not always as active or as undeniable, we
shall none the less do wisely to study a case like this whenever
opportunity offers.  It will at least give rise to doubt within us, it
will stimulate inquiry; and these things are worth far more than the
idle, short-sighted affirmation or denial that we so often permit
ourselves: for in all questions of this kind our endeavour should not
be to prove, but rather to arouse attention, to create a certain grave,
courageous respect for all that yet remains unexplained in the actions
of men, in their subjection to what appear to be general laws, and in
the results that ensue."


Let us now try to discover in what way this great mystery of justice
does truly and inevitably work itself out within us.  The heart of him
who has committed an unjust act becomes the scene of ineffaceable
drama, the paramount drama of human nature; and it becomes the more
dangerous, and deadlier, in the degree of the man's greatness and

A Napoleon will say to himself, at such troubled moments, that the
morality of a great life cannot be as simple as that of an ordinary
one, and that an active, powerful will has rights which the feeble,
inert will cannot claim.  He will hold that he may the more
legitimately sweep aside certain conscientious scruples, inasmuch as it
is not ignorance or weakness that causes him to disregard these, but
the fact that he views them from a standpoint higher than that of the
majority of men; and further, that his aim being great and glorious,
this passing deliberate callousness of his is therefore truly a victory
won by his strength and his intellect, since there can be no danger in
doing wrong when it is done by one who does it knowingly, and has his
very good reason.  All this, however, does not for a moment delude that
which lies deepest within us.  An act of injustice must always shake
the confidence a man had in himself and his destiny; at a given moment,
and that generally of the gravest, he has ceased to rely upon himself
alone; and this will not be forgotten, nor will he ever again be wholly
himself.  He has confused, and probably corrupted, his fortune by the
introduction of strange powers.  He has lost the exact sense of his
personality and of the force that is in him.  He can no longer clearly
distinguish between what is his own and comes from himself, and what he
is constantly borrowing from the pernicious collaborators whom his
weakness has summoned.  He has ceased to be the general who has none
but disciplined soldiers in the army of his thoughts; he becomes the
usurping chief around whom are only accomplices.  He has forsworn the
dignity of the man who will have none of the glory at which his heart
can only smile as sadly as an ardent, unhappy lover will smile at a
faithless mistress.

He who is truly strong will examine with eager care the praise and
advantages that his actions have won for him, and will silently reject
whatever oversteps a certain line that he has drawn in his
consciousness.  And the stronger he is, the more nearly will this line
approach the one that has already been drawn by the secret truth that
lies at the bottom of all things.  An act of injustice is almost always
a confession of weakness; and very few such confessions are needed to
reveal to the enemy the most vulnerable spot of the soul.  He who
commits an unjust deed that he may gain some measure of glory, or
preserve the little glory he has, does but admit that what he desires
or what he possesses is beyond his deserving, and that the part he has
sought to play exceeds his powers of loyal fulfilment.  And if,
notwithstanding all, he persist in his endeavour, his life will soon be
beset by falsehoods, errors, and phantoms.

And at last, after a few acts of weakness, of treachery, of culpable
self-indulgence, the survey of our past life can bring discouragement
only, whereas we have great need that our past should inspire and
sustain us.  For therein alone do we truly know what we are; it is only
our past that can come to us, in our moments of doubt, and say: "Since
you were able to do that thing, it shall lie in your power to do this
thing also.  When that danger confronted you, when that terrible grief
laid you prostrate, you had faith in yourself, and you conquered.  The
conditions to-day are the same; do you but preserve your faith in
yourself, and your star will be constant."  But what reply shall we
make if our past can only whisper: "Your success has been solely due to
injustice and falsehood, wherefore it behoves you once more to deceive
and to lie"?  No man cares to let his eyes rest on his acts of
disloyalty, weakness, or treachery; and all the events of bygone days
which we cannot contemplate calmly and peacefully, with satisfaction
and confidence, trouble and restrict the horizon which the days that
are not yet are forming far away.  It is only a prolonged survey of the
past that can give to the eye the strength it needs in order to sound
the future.


No, it was not the inherent justice of things that punished Napoleon
for his three great acts of injustice, or that will punish us for our
own in a less startling, but not less painful, fashion.  Nor was it an
unyielding, incorruptible, irresistible justice, "attaining the very
vault of heaven."  We are punished because our entire moral being, our
mind no less than our character, is incapable of living and acting
except in justice.  Leaving that, we leave our natural element; we are
carried, as it were, into a planet of which we know nothing, where the
ground slips from under our feet, and all things disconcert us; for
while the humblest intellect feels itself at home in justice, and can
readily foretell the consequences of every just act, the most profound
and penetrating mind loses its way hopelessly in the injustice itself
has created, and can form no conception of what results shall ensue.
The man of genius who forsakes the equity that the humble peasant has
at heart will find all paths strange to him; and these will be stranger
still should he overstep the limit his own sense of justice imposes:
for the justice that soars aloft, keeping pace with the intellect,
creates new boundaries around all it throws open, while at the same
time strengthening and rendering more insurmountable still the ancient
barriers of instinct.  The moment we cross the primitive frontier of
equity all things seem to fail us; one falsehood gives birth to a
hundred, and treachery returns to us through a thousand channels.  If
justice be in us we may march along boldly, for there are certain
things to which the basest cannot be false; but if injustice possess us
we must beware of the justest of men, for there are things to which
even these cannot remain faithful.  As our physical organism was
devised for existence in the atmosphere of our globe, so is our moral
organism devised for existence in justice.  Every faculty craves for
it, and is more intimately bound up with it than with the laws of
gravitation, of light or heat; and to throw ourselves into injustice is
to plunge headlong into the hostile and the unknown.  All that is in us
has been placed there with a view to justice; all things tend thither
and urge us towards it: whereas, when we harbour injustice, we battle
against our own strength; and at last, at the hour of inevitable
punishment, when, prostrate, weeping and penitent, we recognise that
events, the sky, the universe, the invisible are all in rebellion, all
justly in league against us, then may we truly say, not that these are,
or ever have been, just, but that we, notwithstanding ourselves, have
contrived to remain just even in our injustice.


We affirm that Nature is absolutely indifferent to our morality, and
that were this morality to command us to kill our neighbour, or to do
him the utmost possible harm, Nature would aid us in this no less than
in our endeavour to comfort or serve him.  She as often would seem to
reward us for having made him suffer as for our kindness towards him.
Does this warrant the inference that Nature has no morality--using the
word in its most limited sense as meaning the logical, inevitable
subordination of the means to the accomplishment of a general mission?
This is a question to which we must not too hastily reply.  We know
nothing of Nature's aim, or even whether she have an aim.  We know
nothing of her consciousness, or whether she have a consciousness; of
her thoughts, or whether she think at all.  It is with her deeds and
her manner of doing that we are solely concerned.  And in these we find
the same contradiction between our morality and Nature's mode of action
as exists between our consciousness and the instincts that Nature has
planted within us.  For this consciousness, though in ultimate analysis
due to her also, has nevertheless been formed by ourselves, and, basing
itself upon the loftiest human morality, offers an ever stronger
opposition to the desires of instinct.  Were we to listen only to these
last, we should act in all things like Nature, which would invariably
seem to justify the triumph of the stronger, the victory of the least
scrupulous and best equipped; and this in the midst of the most
inexcusable wars, the most flagrant acts of injustice or cruelty.  Our
one object would be our own personal triumph; nor should we pay the
least heed to the rights or sufferings of our victims, to their
innocence or beauty, moral or intellectual superiority.  But, in that
case, why has Nature placed within us a consciousness and a sense of
justice that have prevented us from desiring those things that she
desires?  Or is it we ourselves who have placed them there?  Are we
capable of deriving from within us something that is not in Nature; are
we capable of giving abnormal development to a force that opposes her
force; and if we possess this power, must not Nature have reasons of
her own for permitting us to possess it?  Why should there be only in
us, and nowhere else in the world, these two irreconcilable tendencies,
that in every man are incessantly at strife, and alternately
victorious?  Would one have been dangerous without the other?  Would it
have overstepped its goal, perhaps; would the desire for conquest,
unchecked by the sense of justice, have led to annihilation, as the
sense of justice without the desire for conquest might have lured us to
inertia?  Which of these two tendencies is the more natural and
necessary, which is the narrower and which the vaster, which is
provisional and which eternal?  Where shall we learn which one we
should combat and which one encourage?  Ought we to conform to the law
that is incontestably the more general, or should we cherish in our
heart a law that is evidently exceptional?  Are there circumstances
under which we have the right to go forth in search of the apparent
ideal of life?  Is it our duty to follow the morality of the species or
race, which seems irresistible to us, being one of the visible sides of
Nature's obscure and unknown intentions; or is it essential that the
individual should maintain and develop within him a morality entirely
opposed to that of the race or species whereof he forms part?


The truth is that the question which confronts us here is only another
form of the one which lies at the root of evolutionary morality, and is
probably scientifically unsolvable.  Evolutionary morality bases itself
on the justice of Nature--though it dare not speak out the word; on the
justice of Nature, which imposes upon each individual the good or evil
consequences of his own character and his own actions.  But when, on
the other hand, it is necessary for evolutionary morality to justify
actions which, although intrinsically unjust, are necessary for the
prosperity of the species, it falls back upon what it reluctantly terms
Nature's indifference or injustice.  Here we have two unknown aims,
that of humanity and that of Nature; and these, wrapped as they are in
a mystery that may some day perhaps pass away, would seem to be
irreconcilable in our mind.  Essentially, all these questions resolve
themselves into one, which is of the utmost importance to our
contemporary morality.  The race would appear to be becoming conscious,
prematurely it may be, and perhaps disastrously, not, we will say, of
its rights, for that problem is still in suspense, but of the fact that
morality does not enter into certain actions that go to make history.

This disquieting consciousness would seem to be slowly invading our
individual life.  Thrice, and more or less in the course of one year,
has this question confronted us, and assumed vast proportions: in the
matter of America's crushing defeat of Spain (although here the issues
were confused, for the Spaniards, besides their present blunders, had
been guilty of so many acts of injustice in the past, that the problem
becomes very involved); in the case of an innocent man sacrificed to
the preponderating interests of his country; and in the iniquitous war
of the Transvaal.  It is true that the phenomenon is not altogether
without precedent.  Man has always endeavoured to justify his
injustice; and when human justice offered him no excuse or pretext, he
found in the will of the gods a law superior to the justice of man.
But our excuse or pretext of to-day is fraught with the more peril to
our morality inasmuch as it reposes on a law, or at least a habit, of
Nature, that is far more real, more incontestable and universal than
the will of an ephemeral and local god.

Which shall prevail in the end, justice or force?  Does force contain
an unknown justice that will absorb our human justice, or is the
impulse of justice within us, that would seem to resist blind force,
actually no more than a devious emanation from that force, tending to
the same end; and is it only the point of deviation that escapes us?
This is not a question that we can answer, we who ourselves form part
of the mystery we seek to solve; the reply could come only from one who
might be gazing upon us from the heights of another world: one who
should have learned the aim of the universe and the destiny of man.  In
the meanwhile, if we say that Nature is right, we say that the instinct
of justice, which she has placed in us, and which therefore also is
nature, is wrong; whereas if we approve this instinct, our approval is
necessarily derived from the exercise of the very faculty that is
called in question.


That is true; but it is no less true that the endeavour to sum up the
world in a syllogism is one of the oldest and vainest habits of man.
In the region of the unknown and unknowable, logic-chopping has its
perils; and in the present case all our doubts would seem to arise from
another hazardous syllogism.  We tell ourselves--boldly at times, but
more often in a whisper--that we are Nature's children, and bound
therefore in all things to conform to her laws and copy her example.
And since Nature regards justice with indifference, since she has
another aim, which is the sustaining, the renewing, the incessant
development of life, it follows. . . .  So far we have not formulated
the conclusion, or, at least, this conclusion has not yet openly dared
to force its way into our morality; but, although its influence has
hitherto only been remotely felt in that familiar sphere which includes
our relations, our friends, and our immediate surroundings, it is
slowly penetrating into the vast and desolate region whither we
relegate all those whom we know not and see not, who for us have no
name.  It is already to be found at the root of many of our actions; it
has entered our politics, our industry, our commerce; indeed it affects
almost all we do from the moment we emerge from the narrow circle of
our domestic hearth, the only place for the majority of men where a
little veritable justice is still to be found, a little benevolence, a
little love.  It will call itself economic or social law, evolution,
competition, struggle for life; it will masquerade under a thousand
names, forever perpetrating the selfsame wrong.  And yet nothing can be
less legitimate than such a conclusion.  Apart from the fact that we
might with equal justification reverse the syllogism, and cause it to
declare that there must be a certain justice in Nature, since we, her
children, are just, we need only consider it as it stands to realise
how doubtful and contestable is at least one of its premisses.

We have seen in the preceding chapters that Nature does not appear to
be just from our point of view; but we have absolutely no means of
judging whether she be not just from her own.  The fact that she pays
no heed to the morality of our actions does not warrant the inference
that she has no morality, or that ours is the only one there can be.
We are entitled to say that she is indifferent as to whether our
intentions be good or evil, but have not the right to conclude that she
has therefore no morality and no equity; for that would be tantamount
to affirming that there are no more mysteries or secrets, and that we
know all the laws of the universe, its origin and its end.  Her mode of
action is different from our own, but, I say it once more, we know not
what her reason may be for acting in this different fashion; and we
have no right to imitate what seems to us iniquitous and cruel, so long
as we have no precise knowledge of the profound and salutary reasons
that may underlie such action.  What is the aim of Nature?  Whither do
the worlds tend that stretch across eternity?  Where does consciousness
begin, and is its only form that which it assumes in ourselves?  At
what point do physical laws become moral laws?  Is life unintelligent?
Have we sounded all the depths of Nature, and is it only in our
cerebro-spinal system that she becomes mind?  And finally, what is
justice when viewed from other heights?  Is the intention necessarily
at its centre; and can no regions exist where intentions no longer
shall count?  We should have to answer these questions, and many
others, before we could tell whether Nature be just or unjust from the
point of view of masses whose vastness corresponds to her own.  She
disposes of a future, a space, of which we can form no conception; and
in these there exists, it may be, a justice proportioned to her
duration, to her extent and aim, even as our own instinct of justice is
proportioned to the duration and narrow circle of our own life.  The
wrong that she may for centuries commit she has centuries wherein to
repair; but we, who have only a few days before us, what right have we
to imitate what our eye cannot see, understand, or follow?  By what
standard are we to judge her, if we look away from the passing hour?
For instance, considering only the imperceptible speck that we form in
the worlds, and disregarding the immensity that surrounds us, we are
wholly ignorant of all that concerns our possible life beyond the tomb;
and we forget that, in the present state of our knowledge, nothing
authorises us to affirm that there may not be a kind of more or less
conscious, more or less responsible after-life, that shall in no way
depend on the decisions of an external will.  He would indeed be rash
who should venture to maintain that nothing survives, either in us or
in others, of the efforts of our good intentions and the acquirements
of our mind.  It may be--and serious experiments, though they do not
seem to prove the phenomenon, may still allow us to class it among
scientific possibilities--it may be that a part of our personality, of
our nervous force, may escape dissolution.  How vast a future would
then be thrown open to the laws that unite cause to effect, and that
always end by creating justice when they come into contact with the
human soul, and have centuries before them!  Let us not forget that
Nature at least is logical, even though we call her unjust; and were we
to resolve on injustice, our difficulty would be that we must also be
logical; and when logic comes into touch with our thoughts and our
feelings, our intentions and passions, what is there that
differentiates it from justice?


Let us form no too hasty conclusion; too many points are still
uncertain.  Should we seek to imitate what we term the injustice of
Nature, we would run the risk of imitating and fostering only the
injustice that is in ourselves.  When we say that Nature is unjust, we
are in effect complaining of her indifference to our own little
virtues, our own little intentions, our own little deeds of heroism;
and it is our vanity, far more than our sense of equity, that considers
itself aggrieved.  Our morality is proportioned to our stature and our
restricted destiny; nor have we the right to forsake it because it is
not on the scale of the immensity and infinite destiny of the universe.

And further, should it even be proved that Nature is unjust at all
points, the other question remains intact: whether the command be laid
upon man to follow Nature in her injustice.  Here we shall do well to
let our own consciousness speak, rather than listen to a voice so
formidable that we hear not a word it utters, and are not even certain
whether words there be.  Reason and instinct tell us that it is right
to follow the counsels of Nature; but they tell us also that we should
not follow those counsels when they clash with another instinct within
us, one that is no less profound: the instinct of the just and the
unjust.  And if instincts do indeed draw very near to the truth of
Nature, and must be respected by us in the degree of the force that is
in them, this one is perhaps the strongest of all, for it has struggled
alone against all the others combined, and still persists within us.
Nor is this the hour to reject it.  Until other certitudes reach us, it
behoves us, who are men, to continue just in the human way and the
human sphere.  We do not see far enough, or clearly enough, to be just
in another sphere.  Let us not venture into a kind of abyss, out of
which races and peoples to come may perhaps find a passage, but
whereinto man, in so far as he is man, must not seek to penetrate.  The
injustice of Nature ends by becoming justice for the race; she has time
before her, she can wait, her injustice is of her girth.  But for us it
is too overwhelming, and our days are too few.  Let us be satisfied
that force should reign in the universe, but equity in our heart.
Though the race be irresistibly, and perhaps justly, unjust, though
even the crowd appear possessed of rights denied to the isolated man,
and commit on occasions great, inevitable, and salutary crimes, it is
still the duty of each individual of the race, of every member of the
crowd, to remain just, while ever adding to and sustaining the
consciousness within him.  Nor shall we be entitled to abandon this
duty till all the reasons of the great apparent injustice be known to
us; and those that are given us now, preservation of the species,
reproduction and selection of the strongest, ablest, "fittest," are not
sufficient to warrant so frightful a change.  Let each one try by all
means to become the strongest, most skilful, the best adapted to the
necessities of the life that he cannot transform; but, so far, the
qualities that shall enable him to conquer, that shall give the fullest
play to his moral power and his intelligence, and shall truly make him
the happiest, most skilful, the strongest, and "fittest"--these
qualities are precisely the ones that are the most human, the most
honourable, and the most just.


"Within me there is more," runs the fine device inscribed on the beams
and pediment of an old patrician mansion at Bruges, which every
traveller visits; filling a corner of one of those tender and
melancholy quays, that are as forlorn and lifeless as though they
existed only on canvas.  And so too might man exclaim, "Within me there
is more;" every law of morality, every intelligible mystery.  There may
be many others, above us and below us; but if these are to remain for
ever unknown, they become for us as though they were not; and should
their existence one day be revealed to us; it can only be because they
already are in us, already are ours.  "Within me there is more;" and we
are entitled to add, perhaps, "I have nothing to fear from that which
is in me."

This much at least is certain, that the one active, inhabited region of
the mystery of justice is to be found within ourselves.  Other regions
lack consistency; they are probably imaginary, and must inevitably be
deserted and sterile.  They may have furnished mankind with illusions
that served some purpose, but not always without doing harm; and though
we may scarcely be entitled to demand that all illusions should be
destroyed, they should at least not be too manifestly opposed to our
conception of the universe.  To-day we seek in all things the illusion
of truth.  It is not the last, perhaps, or the best, or the only one
possible; but it is the one which we at present regard as the most
honourable and the most necessary.  Let us limit ourselves therefore to
recognising the admirable love of justice and truth that exists in the
heart of man.  Proceeding thus, yielding admiration only where it is
incontestably due, we shall gradually acquire some knowledge of this
passion, which is the distinguishing note of man; and one thing, most
important of all, we shall most undoubtedly learn--the means whereby we
can purify it, and still further increase it.  As we observe its
incessant activity in the depths of our heart, the only temple where it
can truly be active: as we watch it blending with all that we think,
and feel, and do, we shall quickly discover which are the things that
throw light upon it, and which those that plunge it in darkness; which
are the things that guide it, and which those that lead it astray; we
shall learn what nourishes it and what atrophies, what defends and what

Is justice no more than the human instinct of preservation and defence?
Is it the purest product of our reason; or rather to be regarded as
composed of a number of those sentimental forces which so often are
right, though directly opposed to our reason--forces that in themselves
are a kind of unconscious, vaster reason, to which our conscious reason
invariably accords its startled approval when it has reached the
heights whence those kindly feelings long had beheld what itself was
unable to see?  Is justice dependent on intellect, or rather on
character?  Questions, these, that are perhaps not idle if we indeed
would know what steps we must take to invest with all its radiance and
all its power the love of justice that is the central jewel of the
human soul.  All men love justice, but not with the same ardent,
fierce, and exclusive love; nor have they all the same scruples, the
same sensitiveness, or the same deep conviction.  We meet people of
highly developed intellect in whom the sense of what is just and unjust
is yet infinitely less delicate, less clearly marked, than in others
whose intellect would seem to be mediocre; for here a great part is
played by that little-known, ill-defined side of ourselves that we term
the character.  And yet it is difficult to tell how much more or less
unconscious intellect must of necessity go with the character that is
unaffectedly honest.  The point before us, however, is to learn how
best to illumine, and increase within us, our desire for justice; and
it is certain that, at the start, our character is less directly
influenced by the desire for justice than is our intellect, the
development of which this desire in a large measure controls; and the
co-operation of the intellect, which recognises and encourages our good
intention, is necessary for this intention to penetrate into, and
mould, our character.  That portion of our love of justice, therefore,
which depends on our character, will benefit by its passage through the
intellect; for in proportion as the intellect rises, and acquires
enlightenment, will it succeed in mastering, enlightening, and
transforming our instincts and our feelings.

But let us no longer believe that this love must be sought in a kind of
superhuman, and often inhuman, infinite.  None of the grandeur and
beauty that this infinite may possess would fall to its portion; it
would only be incoherent, inactive, and vague.  Whereas by seeking it
in ourselves, where it truly is; by observing it there, listening to
it, marking how it profits by every acquirement of our mind, every joy
and sorrow of our heart, we soon shall learn what we best had do to
purify and increase it.


Our task within these limits will be sufficiently long and mysterious.
To increase and purify within us the desire for justice: how shall this
thing be done?  We have some vague conception of the ideal that we
would approach; but how changeable still, and illusory, is this ideal!
It is lessened by all that is still unknown to us in the universe, by
all that we do not perceive or perceive incompletely, by all that we
question too superficially.  It is hedged round by the most insidious
dangers; it falls victim to the strangest oblivion, the most
inconceivable blunders.  Of all our ideals it is the one that we should
watch with the greatest care and anxiety, with the most passionate,
pious eagerness and solicitude.  What seems irreproachably just to us
at the moment is probably the merest fraction of what would seem just
could we shift our point of view.  We need only compare what we were
doing yesterday with what we do to-day; and what we do to-day would
appear full of faults against equity, were it granted to us to rise
still higher, and compare it with what we shall do to-morrow.  There
needs but a passing event, a thought that uses, a duty to ourselves
that takes definite form, an unexpected responsibility that is suddenly
made clear, for the whole organisation of our inward justice to totter
and be transformed.  Slow as our advance may have been, we still should
find it impossible to begin life over again in the midst of many a
sorrow whereof we were the involuntary cause, many a discouragement to
which we unconsciously gave rise; and yet, when these things came into
being around us, we appeared to be in the right, and did not consider
ourselves unjust.  And even so are we convinced to-day of our excellent
intentions, even so do we tell ourselves that we are the cause if no
suffering and no tears, that we stay not a murmur of happiness, shorten
no moment of peace or of love; and it may be that there passes,
unperceived of us, to our right or our left, an illimitable injustice
that spreads over three-fourths of our life.


I chanced to-day to take up a copy of the "Arabian Nights," in the very
remarkable translation recently published by Dr. Mardrus; and I
marvelled at the extraordinary picture it gives of the ancient,
long-vanished civilisations.  Not in the Odyssey or the Bible, in
Xenophon or Plutarch, could their teaching be more clearly set forth.
There is one story that the Sultana Schahrazade tells--it is one of the
very finest the volume contains--that reveals a life as pure and as
admirable as mankind ever has known; a life replete with beauty,
happiness, and love; spontaneous and vivid, intelligent, nourishing,
and refined; an abundant life that, to a certain point, comes as near
truth as a life well can.  It is, in many respects, almost as perfect
in its moral as in its material civilisation.  And the pillars on which
this incomparable structure of happiness rests--like pillars of light
supporting the light--are formed of ideas of justice so exquisitely
delicate, counsels of wisdom so deeply penetrating, that we of to-day,
being less fine in grain, less eager and buoyant, have lost the power
to formulate, or to discern, them.  And for all that, this abode of
felicity, that harbours a moral life so active and vigorous, so
graciously grave, so noble--this palace, wherein the purest and holiest
wisdom governs the pleasures of rejoicing mankind, is in its entirety
based on so great an injustice, is enclosed by so vast, so profound, so
frightful an iniquity, that the wretchedest man of us all would shrink
in dismay from its glittering, gem-bestrewn threshold.  But of this
iniquity they who linger in that marvellous dwelling have not the
remotest suspicion.  It would seem that they never draw near to a
window; or that, should one by some chance fly open and reveal to their
sorrowful gaze the misery strewn in the midst of the revels and
feasting, they still would be blind to the crime which was infinitely
more revolting, infinitely more monstrous, than the most appalling
poverty--the crime of the slavery, and the even more terrible
degradation, of their women.  For these, however exalted their
position, and at the moment even when they are speaking to the men
round about them of goodness and justice--when they are reminding them
of their most touching and generous duties--these women never are more
than objects of pleasure, to be bought or sold, or given away in a
moment of gratitude, ostentation, or drunkenness, to any barbarous or
hideous master.


"They tell us," says the beautiful slave Nozhatan, as, concealed behind
a curtain of silk and of pearls, she speaks to Prince Sharkan and the
wise men of the kingdom; "they tell us that the Khalif Omar set forth
one night, in the company of the venerable Aslam Abou-Zeid, and that he
beheld, far away from his palace, a fire that was burning; and drew
near, as he thought that his presence might perhaps be of service.  And
he saw a poor woman who was kindling wood underneath a cauldron; and by
her side were two little wretched children, groaning most piteously.
And Omar said, 'Peace unto thee, O woman!  What dost thou here, alone
in the night and the cold?'  And she answered, 'Lord, I am making this
water to boil, that my children may drink, who perish of hunger and
cold; but for the misery we have to bear Allah will surely one day ask
reckoning of Omar the Khalif.'  And the Khalif, who was in disguise,
was much moved, and he said to her, 'But dost thou think, O woman, that
Omar can know of thy wretchedness, since he does not relieve it?'  And
she answered, 'Wherefore then is Omar the Khalif, if he be unaware of
the misery of his people and of each one of his subjects?'  Then the
Khalif was silent, and he said to Aslam Abou-Zeid, 'Let us go quickly
from hence.'  And he hastened until he had reached the storehouse of
his kitchens, and he entered therein and drew forth a sack of flour
from the midst of the other sacks, and also a jar that was filled to
the brim with sheep-fat, and he said to Abou-Zeid, 'O Abou-Zeid, help
thou me to charge these on my back.'  But Abou-Zeid refused, and he
cried, 'Suffer that I carry them on my back, O Commander of the
Faithful.'  And Omar said calmly to him, 'Wilt thou also, O Abou-Zeid,
bear the weight of my sins on the day of resurrection?'  And Abou-Zeid
was obliged to lay the jar filled with fat, and the sack of flour, on
the Khalif's back.  And Omar hastened, thus laden, until he had once
again reached the poor woman; and he took of the flour, and he took of
the fat, and placed these in the cauldron, over the fire; and with his
own hands did he then get ready the food, and he quickened the fire
with his breath; and as he bent over, his beard being long, the smoke
from the wood forced its way through the beard of the Khalif.  And at
last, when the food was prepared, Omar offered it unto the woman and
the two little children; and with his breath did he cool the food while
they ate their fill.  Then he left them the sack of flour and the jar
of fat; and he went on his way, and said unto Aslam Abou-Zeid, 'O
Abou-Zeid, the light from this fire I have seen to-day has enlightened
me also.'"


And it is thus that, a little further on, there speaks to a very wise
king one of five pensive maidens whom this king is invited to purchase:
"Know thou, O king," she says, "that the most beautiful deed one can do
is the deed that is disinterested.  And so do they tell us that in
Israel once were two brothers, and that one asked the other, 'Of all
the deeds thou hast done, which was the most wicked?'  And his brother
replied, 'This.  As I passed a hen-roost one day, I stretched out my
arm and I seized a chicken and strangled it, and then flung it back
into the roost.  That is the wickedest deed of my life.  And thou, O my
brother, what is thy wickedest action?'  And he answered, 'That I
prayed to Allah one day to demand a favour of him.  For it is only when
the soul is simply uplifted on high that prayer can be beautiful.'"

And one of her companions, captive and slave like herself, also speaks
to the king: "Learn to know thyself," she says.  "Learn to know
thyself!  And do thou not act till then.  And do thou then only act in
accordance with all thy desires, but having great care always that thou
do not injure thy neighbour."

To this last formula our morality of today has nothing to add; nor can
we conceive a precept that shall be more complete.  At most we could
widen somewhat the meaning of the word "neighbour," and raise, render
somewhat more subtle and more elastic, that of the word "injure."  And
the book in which these words are found is a monument of horror,
notwithstanding all its flowers and all its wisdom  a monument of
horror and blood and tears, of despotism and slavery.  And they who
pronounce these words are slaves.  A merchant buys them I know not
where, and sells them to some old hag who teaches them, or causes them
to be taught, philosophy, poetry, all Eastern sciences, in order that
one day they may become gifts worthy of a king.  And when their
education is finished, and their beauty and wisdom call forth the
admiration of all who approach them, the industrious, prudent old woman
does indeed offer them to a very wise, very just king.  And when this
very wise, very just king has taken their virginity from them, and
seeks other loves, he will probably bestow them (I have forgotten the
end of this particular story, but it is the invariable destiny of all
the heroines of these marvellous legends) on his viziers.  And these
viziers will give them away in exchange for a vase of perfume or a belt
studded with jewels; or perhaps despatch them to a distant country,
there to conciliate a powerful protector, or a hideous, but dreaded,
rival.  And these women, so fully conscious of themselves, whose gaze
can penetrate so deeply into the consciousness of others--these women
who forever are pondering the loftiest, grandest problems of justice,
of the morality of men and of nations--never throw one questioning
glance on their fate, or for an instant suspect the abominable
injustice whereof they are the victims.  Nor do those suspect it either
who listen to them, and love and admire them, and understand them.  And
we who marvel at this--we who also reflect on justice and virtue, on
pity and love--are we so sure that they who come after us shall not
some day find, in our present social condition, a spectacle no less


It is difficult for us to imagine what the ideal justice will be, for
every thought of ours that tends towards it is clogged by the injustice
wherein we still live.  Who shall say what new laws or relations will
stand revealed when the misfortunes and inequalities due to the action
of man shall have been swept away; when, in accordance with the
principles of evolutionary morality, each individual shall "reap the
results, good or bad, of his own nature, and of the consequences that
ensue from that nature"?  At present things happen otherwise; and we
may unhesitatingly declare that, as far as the material condition of
the vast bulk of mankind is concerned, the connection between conduct
and consequences--to use Spencer's formula--exists only in the most
ludicrous, arbitrary, and iniquitous fashion.  Is there not some
audacity in our imagining that our thoughts can possibly be just when
the body of each one of us is steeped to the neck in injustice?  And
from this injustice no man is free, be it to his loss or his gain:
there is not one whose efforts are not disproportionately rewarded,
receiving too much or too little; not one who is not either advantaged
or handicapped.  And endeavour as we may to detach our mind from this
inveterate injustice, this lingering trace of the sub-human morality
needful for primitive races, it is idle to think that our thoughts can
be as strenuous, independent, or clear as they might have been had the
last vestige of this injustice disappeared; it is idle to think that
they can achieve the same result.  The side of the human mind that can
attain a region loftier than reality is necessarily timid and
hesitating.  Human thought is capable of many things; it has, in the
course of time, brought startling improvement to bear upon what seemed
immutable in the species or the race.  But even at the moment when it
is pondering the transformation of which it has caught a distant
glimpse, the improvement that it so eagerly desires, even then it is
still thinking, feeling, seeing like the thing that it seeks to alter,
even then it lies captive beneath the yoke.  All its efforts
notwithstanding, it is practically that which it would change.  For the
mind of man lacks the power to forecast the future; it has been formed
rather to explain, judge, and co-ordinate that which was, to help,
foster, and make known what already exists, but so far cannot be seen;
and when it ventures into what is not yet, it will rarely produce
anything very salutary or very enduring.  And the influence of the
social condition in which we exist lies heavy upon it.  How can we
frame a satisfactory idea of justice, and ponder it loyally, with the
needful tranquillity, when injustice surrounds us on every side?
Before we can study justice, or speak of it with advantage, it must
become what it is capable of being: a social force, irreproachable and
actual.  At present all we can do is to invoke its unconscious, secret,
and, as it were, almost imperceptible efforts.  We contemplate it from
the shores of human injustice; never yet has it been granted us to gaze
on the open sea beneath the illimitable, inviolate sky of a conscience
without reproach.  If men had at least done all that it was possible
for them to do in their own domain, they would then have the right to
go further, and question elsewhere; and their thoughts would probably
be clearer, were their consciences more at ease.


And further, a heavy reproach lies on us and chills our ardour whenever
we try to grow better, to increase our knowledge, our love, our
forgiveness.  Though we purify our consciousness and ennoble our
thoughts, though we strive to render life softer and sweeter for those
who are near us, all our efforts halt at our threshold, and have no
influence on what lies outside our door; and the moment we leave our
home we feel that we have done nothing, that there is nothing for us to
do, and that we are taking part, ourselves notwithstanding, in the
great anonymous injustice.  Is it not almost ludicrous that we, who
within our four walls strive to be noble and faithful, pitiful, simple
and loyal; we whose consciousness balances the nicest, most delicate
problems, and rejects even the suspicion of a bitter thought, have no
sooner gone into the street and met faces that are unfamiliar, than, at
that very instant, and without the least possibility of our having it
otherwise, all pity, equity, love, should be completely ignored by us?
What dignity, what loyalty, can there be in this double life, so wise
and humane, uplifted and thoughtful, this side the threshold, and
beyond it so callous, so instinctive and pitiless!  For it is enough
that we should feel the cold a little less than the labourer who passes
by, that we should be better fed or clad than he, that we should buy
any object that is not strictly indispensable, and we have
unconsciously returned, through a thousand byways, to the ruthless act
of primitive man despoiling his weaker brother.  There is no single
privilege we enjoy but close investigation will prove it to be the
result of a perhaps very remote abuse of power, of an unknown violence
or ruse of long ago; and all these we set in motion again as we sit at
our table, stroll idly through the town, or lie at night in a bed that
our own hands have not made.  Nay, what is even the leisure that
enables us to improve, to grow more compassionate and gentler, to think
more fraternally of the injustice others endure--what is this, in
truth, but the ripest fruit of the great injustice?


These scruples, I know, must not be carried too far: they would either
induce a spirit of useless revolt, possibly disastrous to the species
whose mild and mighty sluggishness we are bound to respect; or they
would lead us back to I know not what mystic, inert renouncement,
directly opposed to the most evident and unchanging desires of life.
Life has laws that we call inevitable; but we are already becoming more
sparing in our use of the word.  And here especially do we note the
change that has come over the attitude of the wise and upright man.
Marcus Aurelius--than whom perhaps none ever craved more earnestly for
justice, or possessed a soul more wisely impressionable, more nobly
sensitive--Marcus Aurelius never asked himself what might be happening
outside that admirable little circle of light wherein his virtue and
consciousness, his divine meekness and piety, had gathered those who
were near him, his friends and his servants.  Infinite iniquity, he
knew full well, stretched around him on every side; but with this he
had no concern.  To him it seemed a thing that must be, a thing
mysterious and sacred as the mighty ocean; the boundless domain of the
gods, of fatality, of laws unknown and superior, irresistible,
irresponsible, and eternal.  It did not lessen his courage; on the
contrary, it enhanced his confidence, his concentration, and spurred
him upwards, like the flame that, confined to a narrow area, rises
higher and higher, alone in the night, urged on by the darkness.  He
accepted the decree of fate, that allotted slavery to the bulk of
mankind.  Sorrowfully but with full conviction, did he submit to the
irrevocable law; wherein he once again gave proof of his piety and his
virtue.  He retired into himself, and there, in a kind of sunless,
motionless void, became still more just, still more humane.  And in
each succeeding century do we find a similar ardour, self-centred and
solitary, among those who were wise and good.  The name of more than
one immovable law might change, but its infinite part remained ever the
same; and each one regarded it with the like resigned and chastened
melancholy.  But we of to-day--what course are we to pursue?  We know
that iniquity is no longer necessary.  We have invaded the region of
the gods, of destiny, and unknown laws.  These may still control
disease or accident, perhaps, no less than the tempest, the
lightning-flash, and most of the mysteries of death--we have not yet
penetrated to them--but we are well aware that poverty, wretchedness,
hopeless toil, slavery, famine, are completely outside their domain.
It is we who organise these, we who maintain and distribute them.
These frightful scourges, that have grown so familiar, are wielded by
us alone; and belief in their superhuman origin is becoming rarer and
rarer.  The religious, impassable ocean, that excused and protected the
retreat into himself of the sage and the man of good, now only exists
as a vague recollection.  To-day Marcus Aurelius could no longer say
with the same serenity: "They go in search of refuges, of rural
cottages, of mountains and the seashore; thou too art wont to cherish
an eager desire for these things.  But is this not the act of an
ignorant, unskilled man, seeing that it is granted thee at whatever
hour thou pleasest to retire within thyself?  It is not possible for
man to discover a retreat more tranquil, less disturbed by affairs,
than that which he finds in his soul; especially if he have within him
those things the contemplation of which suffices to procure immediate
enjoyment of the perfect calm, which is no other, to my mind, than the
perfect agreement of soul."

Other matters concern us to-day than this agreement of soul; or let us
rather say that what we have to do is to bring into agreement there
that from which the soul of Marcus Aurelius was free--three-fourths of
the sorrows of mankind, in a word--which have become real to us,
intelligible, human, and urgent, and are no longer regarded as the
inexplicable, immutable, intangible decrees of fatality.


This does not imply, however, that we should abandon the old sages'
desire for "agreement"; and even though we may not be entitled to
expect such perfect "agreement" as they derived from their pardonable
egoism, we may still look for agreement of a provisional, conditional
kind.  And although such "agreement" be not the last word of morality,
it is none the less indispensable that we should begin by being as just
as we possibly can within ourselves and to those round about us, our
neighbours, our friends, and our servants.  It is at the moment when we
have become absolutely just to these, and within our own consciousness,
that we realise our great injustice to all the others.  The method of
being more practically just towards these last is not yet known to us;
to return to great, heroic renouncements would effect but little, for
these are incapable of unanimous action, and would probably run counter
to the profoundest laws of nature, which rejects renouncement in every
form save that of maternal love.

This practical justice, therefore, remains the secret of the race.  Of
such secrets it has many, which it reveals one by one, at such moments
of history as become truly critical; and the solutions it offers to
insuperable difficulties are almost always unexpected, and of strangest
simplicity.  The hour approaches, perhaps, when it will speak once
more.  Let us hope, without being too sanguine; for we must bear in
mind that humanity has yet by no means emerged from the period of
"sacrificed generations."  History has known no others; and it is
possible that, to the end of time, all generations may call themselves
sacrificed.  Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the sacrifices,
however unjust and useless they still may be, are growing ever less
inhuman and less inevitable; and that the laws which govern them are
becoming better and better known, and would seem to draw nearer and
nearer to those that a lofty mind might accept without being pitiless.


It must be admitted, however, that a majestic, redoubtable slowness
attends the movements of these "ideas of the species."  Centuries had
to pass before it dawned upon primitive men, who fled from each other,
or fought when they met at the mouth of their caverns, that they would
do well to form into groups, and unite in defence against the mighty
enemies who threatened them from without.  And besides, these "ideas"
of the species will often be widely different from those that the
wisest man might hold.  They would seem to be independent, spontaneous,
often based on facts of which no trace is shown by the human reason of
the epoch that witnessed their birth; and indeed there is no graver or
more disturbing problem before the moralist or sociologist than that of
determining whether all his efforts can hasten by one hour or divert by
one hair's-breadth the decisions of the great anonymous mass which
proceeds, step by step, towards its indiscernible goal.

Long ago--so long indeed that this is one of the first affirmations of
science when, quitting the bowels of the earth, the glaciers and
grottoes, it ceased to call itself geology and palaeontology and became
the history of man--humanity passed through a crisis not wholly unlike
that which now lies ahead of it, or is actually menacing it at the
moment; the difference being only that in those days the dilemma seemed
vastly more tragic and more unsolvable.  It may truly be said that
mankind never has known a more perilous or more decisive hour, or a
period when it drew nearer its ruin; and the fact that we exist to-day
would appear to be due to the unexpected expedient which saved the race
at the moment when the scourge that fed on man's very reason, on all
that was best and most irresistible in his instinct of justice and
injustice, was actually on the point of destroying the heroic
equilibrium between the desire to live and the possibility of living.

I refer to the acts of violence, rapine, outrage, murder, which were of
natural occurrence among the earliest human groups.  These crimes,
which will probably have been of the most frightful description, must
have very seriously endangered the existence of the race; for vengeance
is the terrible, and, as it were, the epidemic form which the craving
for justice at first assumes.  Now this spirit of vengeance, abandoned
to itself and forever multiplying--revenge followed by the revenge of
revenge--would finally have engulfed, if not the whole of mankind, at
least all those of the earliest men who were possessed of energy or
pride.  We find, however, that among these barbarous races, as among
most of the existing savage tribes whose habits are known to us, there
comes a time, usually at the period when their weapons are growing too
deadly, when this vengeance suddenly halts before a singular custom,
known as the "blood-tribute," or the "composition for murder;" which
allows the homicide to escape the reprisals of the victim's friends and
relations by payment to them of an indemnity, that, from being
arbitrary at the start, soon becomes strictly graduated.

In the whole history of these infant races, in whom impulse and heroism
were the predominant factors, there is nothing stranger, nothing more
astounding, than this almost universal custom, which for all its
ingenuity would seem almost too long-suffering and mercantile.  May we
attribute it to the foresight of the chiefs?  We find it in races among
whom authority might almost be said to be entirely lacking.  Did it
originate among the old men, the thinkers, the sages, of the primitive
groups?  That is not more probable.  For underlying this custom there
is a thought which is at the same time higher and lower than could be
the thought of an isolated prophet or genius of those barbarous days.
The sage, the prophet, the genius--above all, the untrained genius--is
rather inclined to carry to extremes the generous and heroic tendencies
of the clan or epoch to which he belongs.  He would have recoiled in
disgust from this timid, cunning evasion of a natural and sacred
revenge, from this odious traffic in friendship, fidelity, and love.
Nor is it conceivable, on the other hand, that he should have attained
sufficient loftiness of spirit to be able to let his gaze travel beyond
the noblest and most incontestable duties of the moment, and to behold
only the superior interest of the tribe or the race: that mysterious
desire for life, which the wisest of the wise among us to-day are
generally unable to perceive or to justify until they have wrought
grave and painful conquest over their isolated reason and their heart.

No, it was not the thought of man which found the solution.  On the
contrary, it was the unconsciousness of the mass, compelled to act in
self-defence against thoughts  too  intrinsically, individually human
to satisfy the irreducible exigencies of life on this earth.  The
species is extremely patient, extremely long-suffering.  It will bear
as long as it can and carry as far as it can the burden which reason,
the desire for improvement, the imagination, the passions, vices,
virtues, and feelings natural to man, may combine to impose upon it.
But the moment the burden becomes too overwhelming, and disaster
threatens, the species will instantaneously, with the utmost
indifference, fling it aside.  It is careless as to the means; it will
adopt the one that is nearest, the simplest, most practical, being
doubtless perfectly satisfied that its own idea is the justest and
best.  And of ideas it has only one, which is that it wishes to live;
and truly this idea surpasses all the heroism, all the generous dreams,
that may have reposed in the burden which it has discarded.

And indeed, in the history of human reason, the greatest and the
justest thoughts are not always those which attain the loftiest
heights.  It happens somewhat with the thoughts of men as with a
fountain; for it is only because the water has been imprisoned and
escapes through a narrow opening that it soars so proudly into the air.
As it issues from this opening and hurls itself towards the sky, it
would seem to despise the great, illimitable, motionless lake that
stretches out far beneath it.  And yet, say what one will, it is the
lake that is right.  For all its apparent motionlessness, for all its
silence, it is tranquilly accomplishing the immense and normal task of
the most important element of our globe; and the jet of water is merely
a curious incident, which soon returns into the universal scheme.  To
us the species is the great, unerring lake; and this even from the
point of view of the superior human reason that it would seem at times
to offend.  Its idea is the vastest of all, and contains every other;
it embraces limitless time and space.  And does not each day that goes
by reveal more and more clearly to us that the vastest idea, no matter
where it reside, always ends by becoming the most just and most
reasonable, the wisest and the most beautiful?


There are times when we ask ourselves whether it might not be well for
humanity that its destinies should be governed by the superior men
among us, the great sages, rather than by the instinct of the species,
that is always so slow and often so cruel.

It is doubtful whether this question could be answered to-day in quite
the same fashion as formerly.  It would surely have been highly
dangerous to confide the destinies of the species to Plato or
Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Shakespeare, or Montesquieu.  At the very
worst moments of the French Revolution the fate of the people was in
the hands of philosophers of none too mean an order.  It cannot be
denied, however, that in our time the habits of the thinker have
undergone a great change.  He has ceased to be speculative or Utopian;
he is no longer exclusively intuitive.  In politics as in literature,
in philosophy as in all the sciences, he displays less imagination, but
his powers as an observer have grown.  He inclines rather to
concentrate his attention on the thing that is, to study it and strive
at its organisation, than to precede it, or to endeavour to create what
is not yet, or never shall be.  And therefore he may possibly have some
claim to more authoritative utterance; nor would so much danger attend
his more direct intervention.  It must be admitted, however, that there
is no greater likelihood now than in former times of such intervention
being permitted him.  Nay, there is less, perhaps; for having become
more circumspect and less blinded by narrow convictions, he will be
less audacious, less imperious, and less impatient.  And yet it is
possible that, finding himself in natural sympathy with the species
which he is content merely to observe, he will by slow degrees acquire
more and more influence; so that here again, in ultimate analysis, it
is the species that will be right, the species that will decide: for it
will have guided him who observes it, and therefore, in following him
whom it has guided, it will truly only be following its own
unconscious, formless desires, which shall have been expressed by him,
and by him brought into light.


Until such time as the species shall discover the new and needful
experiment--and this it will quickly do when the danger becomes more
acute; nay, for all we know, the expedient may have already been found,
and, entirely unsuspected of us, be already transforming part of our
destinies--until such time, while bound to act in external matters as
though our brothers' salvation depended entirely on our exertions, it
is open to us, no less than to the sages of old, to retire occasionally
within ourselves.  We in our turn shall perhaps find there "one of
those things" of which the contemplation shall suffice to bring us
instantaneous enjoyment, if not of the perfect calm, at least of an
indestructible hope.  Though nature appear unjust, though nothing
authorise us to declare that a superior power, or the intellect of the
universe, rewards or punishes, here below or elsewhere, in accordance
with the laws of our consciousness or with other laws that we shall
some day admit; and, finally, though between man and man, in other
words, in our relations with our fellows, our admirable desire for
equity translate itself into a justice that is always incomplete, at
the mercy of every error of reason, of every ambush laid by personal
interest, and of all the evil habits of a social condition that still
is sub-human, it is none the less certain that an image of that
invisible and incorruptible justice, which we have vainly sought in the
sky or the universe, reposes in the depths of the moral life of every
man.  And though its method of action be such as to cause it to pass
unperceived of most of our fellows, often even of our own
consciousness, though all that it does be hidden and intangible, it is
none the less profoundly human and profoundly real.  It would seem to
hear, to examine, all that we say and think and strive for in our
exterior life; and if it find a little sincerity beneath, a little
earnest desire for good, it will transform these into moral forces that
shall extend and illumine our inner life, and help us to better
thoughts, better speech, better endeavour in the time to come.  It will
not add to, or take from, our wealth; it will bring no immunity from
disease or from lightning; it will not prolong by one hour the life of
the being we cherish; but if we have learned to reflect and to love,
if, in other words, heart and brain have both done their duty, it will
establish in heart and brain a contentment that, though perhaps
stripped of illusion, shall still be inexhaustible and noble; it will
confer a dignity of existence, and an intelligence, that shall suffice
to sustain our life after the loss of our wealth, after the stroke of
disease or of lightning has fallen, after the loved one has for ever
quitted our arms.  A good thought or deed brings a reward to our heart
that it cannot, in the absence of an universal judge of nature, extend
to the things around.  It endeavours to create within us the happiness
it is unable to produce in our material life.  Denied all external
outlet, it fills our soul the more.  It prepares the space that soon
shall be required by our developing intellect, our expanding peace and
love.  Helpless against the laws of nature, it is all-powerful over
those that govern the happy equilibrium of human consciousness.  And
this is true of every stage of thought, of every class of action.  A
vast distance might seem to divide the labourer who brings up his
children honourably, lives his humble life and honourably does the work
that falls to his lot, from the man who steadfastly perseveres in moral
heroism; but each of these is acting and living on the same plane as
the other, and the same loyal, consoling region receives them both.
And though it be certain that what we say and do must largely influence
our material happiness, yet, in ultimate analysis, it is only by means
of the spiritual organs that even material happiness can be fully and
permanently enjoyed.  Hence the preponderating importance of thought.
But of supreme importance, from the point of view of the reception we
shall offer to the joys and sorrows of life, is the character, the
frame of mind, the moral condition, that the things we have said and
done and thought will have created within us.  Here is evidence of
admirable justice; and the intimate happiness that our moral being
derives from the constant striving of the mind and heart for good,
becomes the more comprehensible when we realise that this happiness is
only the surface of the goodly thought or feeling that is shining
within our heart.  Here may we indeed find that intelligent, moral bond
between cause and effect that we have vainly sought in the external
world; here, in moral matters, reigning over the good and evil that are
warring in the depths of our consciousness, may we in truth discover a
justice exactly similar to the one which we could desire to recognise
in physical matters.  But whence do we derive this desire if not from
the justice within us; and is it not because this justice is so mighty
and active in our heart that we are reluctant to believe in its
non-existence in the universe?


We have spoken at great length of justice; but is it not the great
mystery of man, the one that tends to take the place of most of the
spiritual mysteries that govern his destiny?  It has dethroned more
than one god, more than one nameless power.  It is the star evolved
from the nebulous mass of our instincts and our incomprehensible life.
It is not the word of the enigma; and when, in the fulness of time, it
shall become clearer to us, and shall truly reign all over the earth,
there will come to us no greater knowledge of what we are, or why we
are, whence we come or whither we go; but we shall at least have obeyed
the first word of the enigma, and shall proceed, with a freer spirit
and a more tranquil heart, to the search for its last secret.

Finally, it comprises all the human virtues; and none but itself can
offer the welcoming smile whereby these are ennobled and purified, none
but itself can accord them the right to penetrate deep into our moral
life.  For every virtue must be maleficent and steeped in artifice that
cannot support the fixed and eager regard of justice.  And so do we
find it too at the heart of our every ideal.  It is at the centre of
our love of truth, at the centre of our love of beauty.  It is kindness
and pity, it is generosity, heroism, love; for all these are the acts
of justice of one who has risen sufficiently high to perceive that
justice and injustice are not exclusively confined to what lies before
him, to the narrow circle of obligations chance may have imposed, but
that they stretch far beyond years, beyond neighbouring destinies,
beyond what he regards as his duty, beyond what he loves, beyond what
he seeks and encounters, beyond what he approves or rejects, beyond his
doubts and his fears, beyond the wrong-doing and even the crimes of the
men, his brothers.



It is not unreasonable to believe that the paramount interest of life,
all that is truly lofty and remarkable in the destiny of man, reposes
almost entirely in the mystery that surrounds us; in the two mysteries,
it may be, that are mightiest, most dreadful of all--fatality and
death.  And indeed there are many whom the fatigue induced in their
minds by the natural uncertainties of science has almost compelled to
accept this belief.  I too believe, though in a somewhat different
fashion, that the study of mystery in all its forms is the noblest to
which the mind of man can devote itself; and truly it has ever been the
occupation and care of those who in science and art, in philosophy and
literature, have refused to be satisfied merely to observe and portray
the trivial, well-recognised truths, facts, and realities of life.  And
we find that the success of these men in their endeavour, the depth of
their insight into all that they know, has most strictly accorded with
the respect in which they held all they did not know, with the dignity
that their mind or imagination was able to confer on the sum of
unknowable forces.  Our consciousness of the unknown wherein we have
being gives life a meaning and grandeur which must of necessity be
absent if we persist in considering only the things that are known to
us; if we too readily incline to believe that these must greatly
transcend in importance the things that we know not yet.


It behoves every man to frame for himself his own general conception of
the world.  On this conception reposes his whole human and moral
existence.  But this general conception of the world, when closely
examined, is truly no more than a general conception of the unknown.
And we must be careful; we have not the right, when ideas so vast
confront us, ideas the results of which are so highly important, to
select the one which seems most magnificent to us, most beautiful, or
most attractive.  The duty lies on us to choose the idea which seems
truest, or rather the only one which seems true; for I decline to
believe that we can sincerely hesitate between the truth that is only
apparent and the one that is real.  The moment must always come when we
feel that one of these two is possessed of more truth than the other.
And to this truth we should cling: in our actions, our words, and our
thoughts; in our art, in our science, in the life of our feelings and
intellect.  Its definition, perhaps, may elude us.  It may possibly
bring not one grain of reassuring conviction.  Nay, essentially,
perhaps, it may be but the merest impression, though profounder and
more sincere than any previous impression.  These things do not matter.
It is not imperative that the truth we have chosen should be
unimpeachable or of absolute certainty.  There is already great gain in
our having been brought to experience that the truths we had loved
before did not accord with reality or with faithful experience of life;
and we have every reason, therefore, to cherish our truth with
heartiest gratitude until its own turn shall come to experience the
fate it inflicted on its predecessor.  The great mischief, the one
which destroys our moral existence and threatens the integrity of our
mind and our character, is not that we should deceive ourselves and
love an uncertain truth, but that we should remain constant to one in
which we no longer wholly believe.


If we sought nothing more than to invest our conception of the unknown
with the utmost possible grandeur and tragedy, magnificence and might,
there would be no need of such restrictions.  From many points of view,
doubtless, the most beautiful, most touching, most religious attitude
in face of mystery is silence, and prayer, and fearful acceptance.
When this immense, irresistible force confronts us--this inscrutable,
ceaselessly vigilant power, humanly super-human, sovereignly
intelligent, and, for all we know, even personal--must it not, at first
sight, seem more reverent, worthier, to offer complete submission,
trying only to master our terror, than tranquilly to set on foot a
patient, laborious investigation?  But is the choice possible to us;
have we still the right to choose?  The beauty or dignity of the
attitude we shall assume no longer is matter of moment.  It is truth
and sincerity that are called for to-day for the facing of all
things--how much more when mystery confronts us!  In the past, the
prostration of man, his bending the knee, seemed beautiful because of
what, in the past, seemed to be true.  We have acquired no fresh
certitude, perhaps; but for us, none the less, the truth of the past
has ceased to be true.  We have not bridged the unknown; but still,
though we know not what it is, we do partially know what it is not; and
it is before this we should bow, were the attitude of our fathers to be
once more assumed by us.  For although it has not, perhaps, been
incontrovertibly proved that the unknown is neither vigilant nor
personal, neither sovereignly intelligent nor sovereignly just, or that
it possesses none of the passions, intentions, virtues and vices of
man, it is still incomparably more probable that the unknown is
entirely indifferent to all that appears of supreme importance in this
life of ours.  It is incomparably more probable that if, in the vast
and eternal scheme of the unknown, a minute and ephemeral place be
reserved for man, his actions, be he the strongest or weakest, the best
or the worst of men, will be as unimportant there as the movements of
the obscurest geological cell in the history of ocean or continent.
Though it may not have been irrefutably shown that the infinite and
invisible are not for ever hovering round us, dealing out sorrow or joy
in accordance with our good or evil intentions, guiding our destiny
step by step, and preparing, with the help of innumerable forces, the
incomprehensible but eternal law that governs the accidents of our
birth, our future, our death, and our life beyond the tomb, it is still
incomparably more probable that the invisible and infinite, intervene
as they may at every moment in our life, enter therein only as
stupendous, blind, indifferent elements; and that though they pass over
us, in us, penetrate into our being, and inspire and mould our life,
they are as careless of our individual existence as air, water, or
light.  And the whole of our conscious life, the life that forms our
one certitude, that is our one fixed point in time and space, rests
upon "incomparable probabilities" of this nature; but rarely are they
as "incomparable" as these.


The hour when a lofty conviction forsakes us should never be one of
regret.  If a belief we have clung to goes, or a spring snaps within
us; if we at last dethrone the idea that so long has held sway, this is
proof of vitality, progress, of our marching steadily onwards, and
making good use of all that lies to our hand.  We should rejoice at the
knowledge that the thought which so long has sustained us is proved
incapable now of even sustaining itself.  And though we have nothing to
put in the place of the spring that lies broken, there need still be no
cause for sadness.  Far better the place remain empty than that it be
filled by a spring which the rust corrodes, or by a new truth in which
we do not wholly believe.  And besides, the place is not really empty.
Determinate truth may not yet have arrived, but still, in its own deep
recess, there hides a truth without name, which waits and calls.  And
if it wait and call too long in the void, and nothing arise in the
place of the vanished spring, it still shall be found that, in moral no
less than in physical life, necessity will be able to create the organ
it needs, and that the negative truth will at last find sufficient
force in itself to set the idle machinery going.  And the lives that
possess no more than one force of this kind are not the least
strenuous, the least ardent, or the least useful.

And even though our belief forsake us entirely, it still will take with
it nothing of what we have given, nor will there be lost one single
sincere, religious, disinterested effort that we have put forth to
ennoble this faith, to exalt or embellish it.  Every thought we have
added, each worthy sacrifice we have had the courage to make in its
name, will have left its indelible mark on our moral existence.  The
body is gone, but the palace it built still stands, and the space it
has conquered will remain for ever unenclosed.  It is our duty, and one
we dare not renounce, to prepare homes for truths that shall come, to
maintain in good order the forces destined to serve them, and to create
open spaces within us; nor can the time thus employed be possibly


These thoughts have arisen within me through my having been compelled,
a few days ago, to glance through two or three little dramas of mine,
wherein lies revealed the disquiet of a mind that has given itself
wholly to mystery; a disquiet legitimate enough in itself, perhaps, but
not so inevitable as to warrant its own complacency.  The keynote of
these little plays is dread of the unknown that surrounds us.  I, or
rather some obscure poetical feeling within me (for with the sincerest
of poets a division must often be made between the instinctive feeling
of their art and the thoughts of their real life), seemed to believe in
a species of monstrous, invisible, fatal power that gave heed to our
every action, and was hostile to our smile, to our life, to our peace
and our love.  Its intentions could not be divined, but the spirit of
the drama assumed them to be malevolent always.  In its essence,
perhaps, this power was just, but only in anger; and it exercised
justice in a manner so crooked, so secret, so sluggish and remote, that
its punishments--for it never rewarded--took the semblance of
inexplicable, arbitrary acts of fate.  We had there, in a word, more or
less the idea of the God of the Christian blent with that of ancient
fatality, lurking in nature's impenetrable twilight, whence it eagerly
watched, contested, and saddened the projects, the feelings, the
thoughts and the happiness of man.


This unknown would most frequently appear in the shape of death.  The
presence of death--infinite, menacing, for ever treacherously
active--filled every interstice of the poem.  The problem of existence
was answered only by the enigma of annihilation.  And it was a callous,
inexorable death; blind, and groping its mysterious way with only
chance to guide it; laying its hands preferentially on the youngest and
the least unhappy, since these held themselves less motionless than
others, and that every too sudden movement in the night arrested its
attention.  And around it were only poor little trembling, elementary
creatures, who shivered for an instant and wept, on the brink of a
gulf; and their words and their tears had importance only from the fact
that each word they spoke and each tear they shed fell into this gulf,
and were at times so strangely resonant there as to lead one to think
that the gulf must be vast if tear or word, as it fell, could send
forth so confused and muffled a sound.


Such a conception of life is not healthy, whatever show of reason it
may seem to possess; and I would not allude to it here were it not for
the fact that we find this idea, or one closely akin to it, governing
the hearts of most men, however tranquil, or thoughtful, or earnest
they may be, at the approach of the slightest misfortune.  There is
evidently a side to our nature which, notwithstanding all we may learn
and master and the certitudes we may acquire, destines us never to be
other than poor, weak, useless creatures, consecrated to death, and
playthings of the vast and indifferent forces that surround us.  We
appear for an instant in limitless space, our one appreciable mission
the propagation of a species that itself has no appreciable mission in
the scheme of a universe whose extent and duration baffle the most
daring, most powerful brain.  This is a truth; it is one of those
profound but sterile truths which the poet may salute as he passes on
his way; but it is a truth in the neighbourhood of which the man with
the thousand duties who lives in the poet will do well not to abide too
long.  And of truths such as this many are lofty and deserving of all
our respect, but in their domain it were unwise to lay ourselves down
and sleep.  So many truths environ us that it may safely be said that
few men can be found, of the wickedest even, who have not for counsel
and guide a grave and respectable truth.  Yes, it is a truth--the
vastest, most certain of truths, if one will--that our life is nothing,
and our efforts the merest jest; our existence, that of our planet,
only a miserable accident in the history of worlds; but it is no less a
truth that, to us, our life and our planet are the most important, nay,
the only important phenomena in the history of worlds.  And of these
truths which is the truer?  Does the first of necessity destroy the
second?  Without the second, should we have had the courage to
formulate the first?  The one appeals to our imagination, and may be
helpful to it in its own domain; but the other directly interests our
actual life.  It is well that each have its share.  The truth that is
undoubtedly truest from the human point of view must evidently appeal
to us more than the truth which is truest from the universal point of
view.  Ignorant as we are of the aim of the universe, how shall we tell
whether or no it concern itself with the interests of our race?  The
probable futility of our life and our species is a truth which regards
us indirectly only, and may well, therefore, be left in suspense.  The
other truth, that indicates clearly the importance of life, may perhaps
be more restricted, but it has a direct, incontestable, actual bearing
upon ourselves.  To sacrifice or even subordinate it to an alien truth
must surely be wrong.  The first truth should never be lost sight of;
it will strengthen and illumine the second, whose government will thus
become more intelligent and benign: the first truth will teach us to
profit by all that the second does not include.  And if we allow it to
sadden our heart or arrest our action, we have not sufficiently
realised that the vast but precarious space it fills in the region of
important truths is governed by countless problems which as yet are
unsolved; while the problems whereon the second truth rests are daily
resolved by real life.  The first truth is still in the dangerous,
feverish stage, through which all truths must pass before they can
penetrate freely into our heart and our brain; a stage of jealousy,
truculence, which renders the neighbourhood of another truth
insupportable to them.  We must wait till the fever subsides; and if
the home that we have prepared in our spirit be sufficiently spacious
and lofty, we shall find very soon that the most contradictory truths
will be conscious only of the mysterious bond that unites them, and
will silently join with each other to place in the front rank of all,
and there help and sustain, that truth from among them which calmly
went on with its work while the others were fretfully jangling; that
truth which can do the most good, and brings with it the uttermost hope.

The strangest feature of the present time is the confusion which reigns
in our instincts and feelings--in our ideas, too, save at our most
lucid, most tranquil, most thoughtful moments--on the subject of the
intervention of the unknown or mysterious in the truly grave events of
life.  We find, amidst this confusion, feelings which no longer accord
with any precise, living, accepted idea; such, for instance, as concern
the existence of a determinate God, conceived as more or less
anthropomorphic, providential, personal, and unceasingly vigilant.  We
find feelings which, as yet, are only partially ideas; as those which
deal with fatality, destiny, the justice of things.  We find ideas
which will soon turn into feelings; those that treat of the law of the
species, evolution, selection, the will-power of the race, &c.  And,
finally, we discover ideas which still are purely ideas, too uncertain
and scattered for us to be able to predict at what moment they will
become feelings, and thus materially influence our actions, our
acceptance of life, our joys, and our sorrows.


If in actual life this confusion is not so apparent, it is only because
actual life will but rarely express itself, or condescend to make use
of image or formula to relate its experience.  This state of mind,
however, is clearly discernible in all those whose self-imposed mission
it is to depict real life, to explain and interpret it, and throw light
on the hidden causes of good and evil destiny.  It is of the poets I
speak, of dramatic poets above all, who are occupied with external and
active life; and it matters not whether they produce novels, tragedies,
the drama properly so called, or historical studies, for I give to the
words poets and dramatic poets their widest significance.

It cannot be denied that the possession of a dominant idea, one that
may be said to exclude all others, must confer considerable power on
the poet, or "interpreter of life;" and in the degree that the idea is
mysterious, and difficult of definition or control, will be the extent
of this power and its conspicuousness in the poem.  And this is
entirely legitimate, so long as the poet himself has not the least
doubt as to the value of his idea; and there are many admirable poets
who have never hesitated, paused, or doubted.  Thus it is that we find
the idea of heroic duty filling so enormous a space in the tragedies of
Corneille, that of absolute faith in the dramas of Calderon, that of
the tyranny of destiny in the works of Sophocles.


Of these three ideas, that of heroic duty is the most human and the
least mysterious; and although far more restricted to-day than at the
time of Corneille--for there are few such duties which it would not now
be reasonable, and even heroic, perhaps, to call into question, and it
becomes ever more and more difficult to find one that is truly
heroic--conditions may still be imagined under which recourse thereto
may be legitimate in the poet.

But will he discover in faith--to-day no more than a shadowy memory to
the most fervent believer--that inspiration and strength, by whose aid
Corneille was able to depict the God of the Christians as the august,
omnipresent actor of his dramas, invisible but untiringly active, and
sovereign always?  Or is it possible still for a reasonable being,
whose eyes rest calmly on the life about him, to believe in the tyranny
of fate; of that sluggish, unswerving, preordained, inscrutable force
which urges a given man, or family, by given ways to a given disaster
or death?  For though it be true that our life is subject to many an
unknown force, we at least are aware that these forces would seem to be
blind, indifferent, unconscious, and that their most insidious attacks
may be in some measure averted by the wisest among us.  Can we still be
allowed, then, to believe that the universe holds a power so idle, so
wretched, as to concern itself solely in saddening, frustrating, and
terrifying the projects and schemes of man?

Immanent justice is another mysterious and sovereign force, whereof use
has been made; but it is only the feeblest of writers who have ventured
to accept this postulate in its entirety: only those to whom reality
and probability were matters of smallest moment.  The affirmation that
wickedness is necessarily and visibly punished in this life, and virtue
as necessarily and visibly rewarded, is too manifestly opposed to the
most elementary daily experience, too wildly inconsistent a dream, for
the true poet ever to accept it as the basis of his drama.  And, on the
other hand, if we refer to a future life the bestowal of reward and
punishment, we are merely entering by another gate the region of divine
justice.  For, indeed, unless immanent justice be infallible,
permanent, unvarying, and inevitable, it becomes no more than a
curious, well-meaning caprice of fate; and from that moment it no
longer is justice, or even fate: it shrinks into merest chance--in
other words, almost into nothingness.

There is, it is true, a very real immanent justice; I refer to the
force which enacts that the vicious, malevolent, cruel, disloyal man
shall be morally less happy than he who is honest and good,
affectionate, gentle, and just.  But here it is inward justice whose
workings we see; a very human, natural, comprehensible force, the study
of whose cause and effect must of necessity lead to psychological
drama, where there no longer is need of the vast and mysterious
background which lent its solemn and awful perspective to the events of
history and legend.  But is it legitimate deliberately to misconceive
the unknown that governs our life in order that we may reconstruct this
mysterious background?


While on this subject of dominant and mysterious ideas, we shall do
well to consider the forms that the idea of fatality has taken, and for
ever is taking: for fatality even to-day still provides the supreme
explanation for all that we cannot explain; and it is to fatality still
that the thoughts of the "interpreter of life" unceasingly turn.

The poets have endeavoured to transform it, to make it attractive, to
restore its youth.  They have contrived, in their works, a hundred new
and winding canals through which they may introduce the icy waters of
the great and desolate river whose banks have been gradually shunned by
the dwellings of men.  And of those most successful in making us share
the illusion that they were conferring a solemn, definitive meaning on
life, there are few who have not instinctively recognised the sovereign
importance conferred on the actions of men by the irresponsible power
of an ever august and unerring destiny.  Fatality would seem to be the
pre-eminent tragical force; it no sooner appears in a drama than it
does of itself three-fourths of all that needs doing.  It may safely be
said that the poet who could find to-day, in material science, in the
unknown that surrounds us, or in his own heart, the equivalent for
ancient fatality--a force, that is, of equally irresistible
predestination, a force as universally admitted--would infallibly
produce a masterpiece.  It is true, however, that he would have, at the
same time, to solve the mighty enigma for whose word we are all of us
seeking, so that this supposition is not likely to be realised very


This is the source, then, whence the lustral water is drawn with which
the poets have purified the cruellest of tragedies.  There is an
instinct in man that worships fatality, and he is apt to regard
whatever pertains thereto as incontestable, solemn, and beautiful.  His
cry is for freedom; but circumstances arise when he rather would tell
himself that he is not free.  The unbending, malignant goddess is more
acceptable often than the divinity who only asks for an effort that
shall avert disaster.  All things notwithstanding, it pleases us still
to be ruled by a power that nothing can turn from its purpose; and
whatever our mental dignity may lose by such a belief is gained by a
kind of sentimental vanity in us, which complacently dwells on the
measureless force that for ever keeps watch on our plans, and confers
on our simplest action a mysterious, eternal significance.  Fatality,
briefly, explains and excuses all things, by relegating to a sufficient
distance in the invisible or the unintelligible all that it would be
hard to explain, and more difficult still to excuse.


Therefore it is that so many have turned to the dismembered statue of
the terrible goddess who reigned in the dramas of Euripides, Sophocles,
and Aeschylus, and that the scattered fragments of her limbs have
provided more than one poet with the marble required for the fashioning
of a newer divinity, who should be more human, less arbitrary, and less
inconceivable than she of old.  The fatality of the passions, for
instance, has thus been evolved.  But for a passion truly to be fatal
in a soul aware of itself, for the mystery to reappear that shall make
crime pardonable by investing it with loftiness and lifting it high
above the will of man: for these we require the intervention of a God,
or some other equally irresistible, infinite force.  Wagner, therefore,
in "Tristram and Iseult," makes use of the philtre, as Shakespeare of
the witches in "Macbeth," Racine of the oracle of Calchas in
"Iphigenia" and of Venus' hatred in "Phèdre."  We have travelled in a
circle, and find ourselves back once more at the very heart of the
craving of former days.  This expedient may be more or less legitimate
in archaic or legendary drama, where there is room for all kinds of
poetic fantasy; but in the drama which pretends to actual truth we
demand another intervention, one that shall seem to us more genuinely
irresistible, if crimes like Macbeth's, such a deed of horror as that
to which Agamemnon consented: perhaps, too, the kind of love that
burned in Phèdre, shall achieve their mysterious excuse, and acquire a
grandeur and sombre nobility that intrinsically they do not possess.
Take away from Macbeth the fatal predestination, the intervention of
hell, the heroic struggle with an occult justice that for ever is
revealing itself through a thousand fissures of revolting nature, and
Macbeth is merely a frantic, contemptible murderer.  Take away the
oracle of Calchas, and Agamemnon becomes abominable.  Take away the
hatred of Venus, and what is Phèdre but a neurotic creature, whose
"moral quality" and power of resistance to evil are too pronouncedly
feeble for our intellect to take any genuine interest in the calamity
that befalls her?


The truth is that these supernatural interventions to-day satisfy
neither spectator nor reader.  Though he know it not, perhaps, and
strive as he may, it is no longer possible for him to regard them
seriously in the depths of his consciousness.  His conception of the
universe is other.  He no longer detects the working of a narrow,
determined, obstinate, violent will in the multitude of forces that
strive in him and about him.  He knows that the criminal whom he may
meet in actual life has been urged into crime by misfortune, education,
atavism, or by movements of passion which he has himself experienced
and subdued, while recognising that there might have been circumstances
under which their repression would have been a matter of exceeding
difficulty.  He will not, it is true, always be able to discover the
cause of these misfortunes or movements of passion; and his endeavour
to account for the injustice of education or heredity will probably be
no less unsuccessful.  But, for all that, he will no longer incline to
attribute a particular crime to the wrath of a God, the direct
intervention of hell, or to a series of changeless decrees inscribed in
the book of fate.  Why ask of him, then, to accept in a poem an
explanation which he refuses in life?  Is the poet's duty not rather to
furnish an explanation loftier, clearer, more widely and profoundly
human than any his reader can find for himself?  For, indeed, this
wrath of the gods, intervention of hell, and writing in letters of
fire, are to him no more to-day than so many symbols that have long
ceased to content him.  It is time that the poet should realise that
the symbol is legitimate only when it stands for accepted truth, or for
truth which as yet we cannot, or will not, accept; but the symbol is
out of place at a time when it is truth itself that we seek.  And,
besides, to merit admission into a really living poem, the symbol
should be at least as great and beautiful as the truth for which it
stands, and should, moreover, precede this truth, and not follow a long
way behind.


We see, therefore, how surpassingly difficult it must have become to
introduce great crimes, or cruel, unbridled, tragical passions, into a
modern work, above all if that work be destined for stage presentation;
for the poet will seek in vain for the mysterious excuse these crimes
or passions demand.  And yet, for all that, so deeply is this craving
for mysterious excuse implanted within us, so satisfied are we that man
is, at bottom, never as guilty as he may appear to be, that we are
still fully content, when considering passions or crimes of this
nature, to admit some kind of fatal intervention that at least may not
seem too manifestly unacceptable.

This excuse, however, will be sought by us only when the persons guilty
of crimes which are contrary to human nature, when the victims of
misfortunes which they could not foresee, and which seem undeserved to
us, inexplicable, wholly abnormal, are more or less superior beings,
possessed of their fullest share of consciousness.  We are loath to
admit that an extraordinary crime or disaster can have a purely human
cause.  In spite of all, we persistently seek in some way to explain
the inexplicable.  We should not be satisfied if the poet were simply
to say to us: "You see here the wrong that was done by this strong,
this conscious, intelligent man.  Behold the misfortune this hero
encountered; this good man's ruin and sorrow.  See, too, how this sage
is crushed by tragic, irremediable wickedness.  The human causes of
these events are evident to you.  I have no other explanation to offer,
unless it be perhaps the indifference of the universe towards the
actions of man."  Our dissatisfaction would vanish if he could succeed
in conveying to us the sensation of this indifference, if he could show
it in action; but, as it is the property of indifference never to
interfere or act, that would seem to be more or less unachievable.


But when we turn to the by no means inevitable jealousy of Othello, or
to the misfortunes of Romeo and Juliet, which were surely not
preordained, we discover no need of explanation, or of the purifying
influence of fatality.  In another drama, Ford's masterpiece, "'Tis
Pity She's a Whore," which revolves around the incestuous love of
Giovanni for his sister Annabella, we are compelled either to turn away
in horror, or to seek the mysterious excuse in its habitual haunt on
the shore of the gulf.  But even here, the first painful shock over, we
find it is not imperative.  For the love of brother for sister, viewed
from a standpoint sufficiently lofty, is a crime against morality, but
not against human nature; and there is at least some measure of
palliation in the youth of the pair, and in the passion that blinds
them.  Othello, too, the semi-barbarian who does Desdemona to death,
has been goaded to madness by the machinations of Iago; and even this
last can plead his by no means gratuitous hatred.  The disasters that
weighed so heavily on the lovers of Verona were due to the inexperience
of the victims, to the manifest disproportion between their strength
and that of their enemies; and although we may pity the man who
succumbs to superior human force, his downfall does not surprise us.
We are not impelled to seek explanation elsewhere, to ask questions of
fate; and unless he appear to fall victim to superhuman injustice, we
are content to tell ourselves that what has happened was bound to
happen.  It is only when disaster occurs after every precaution is
taken that we could ourselves have devised, that we become conscious of
the need for other explanation.


We find it difficult, therefore, to conceive or admit as naturally,
humanly possible that a crime shall be committed by a person who
apparently is endowed with fullest intelligence and consciousness; or
that misfortune should befall him which seems in its essence to be
inexplicable, undeserved, and unexpected.  It follows, therefore, that
the poet can only place on the stage (this phrase I use merely as an
abbreviation: it would be more correct to say, "cause us to assist at
some adventure whereof we know personally neither the actors nor the
totality of the circumstances") faults, crimes, and acts of injustice
committed by persons of defective consciousness, as also disasters
befalling feeble beings unable to control their desires--innocent
creatures, it may be, but thick-sighted, imprudent, and reckless.
Under these conditions there would seem to be no call for the
intervention of anything beyond the limit of normal human psychology.
But such a conception of the theatre would be at absolute variance with
real life, where we find crimes committed by persons of fullest
consciousness, and the most inexplicable, inconceivable, unmerited
misfortunes befalling the wisest, the best, most virtuous and prudent
of men.  Dramas which deal with unconscious creatures, whom their own
feebleness oppresses and their own desires overcome, excite our
interest and arouse our pity; but the veritable drama, the one which
probes to the heart of things and grapples with important truths--our
own personal drama, in a word, which for ever hangs over our life--is
the one wherein the strong, intelligent, and conscious commit errors,
faults, and crimes which are almost inevitable; wherein the wise and
upright struggle with all-powerful calamity, with forces destructive to
wisdom and virtue: for it is worthy of note that the spectator, however
feeble, dishonest even, he may be in real life, still enrols himself
always among the virtuous, just, and strong; and when he reflects on
the misfortunes of the weak, or even witnesses them, he resolutely
declines to imagine himself in the place of the victims.


Here we attain the limit of the human will, the gloomy boundary-line of
the influence that the most just and enlightened of men is able to
exert on events that decide his future happiness or sorrow.  No great
drama exists, or poem of lofty aim, but one of its heroes shall stray
to this frontier where his destiny waits for the seal.  Why has this
wise, this virtuous man committed this fault or this crime?  Why has
that woman, who knows so well the meaning of all that she does,
hazarded the gesture which must so inevitably summon everlasting
sorrow?  By whom have the links been forged of the chain of disaster
whose fetters have crushed this innocent family?  Why do all things
crumble around one, and fall into ruins, while the other, his
neighbour, less active and strong, less skilful and wise, finds ever
material by him to build up his life anew?  Why do tenderness, beauty,
and love flock to the path of some, where others meet hatred only, and
malice, and treachery?  Why persistent happiness here, and yonder,
though merits be equal, nought but unceasing disaster?  Why is this
house for ever beset with the storm, while over that other there shines
the peace of unvarying stars?  Why genius, and riches, and health on
this side, and yonder disease, imbecility, poverty?  Whence has the
passion been sent that has wrought such terrible grief, and whence the
passion that proved the source of such wonderful joy?  Why does the
youth whom yesterday I met go on his tranquil road to profoundest
happiness, while his friend, with the same methodical, peaceful,
ignorant step, proceeds on his way to death?


Life will often place such problems before us; but how rarely are we
compelled to refer their solution to the supernatural, mysterious,
superhuman, or preordained!  It is only the fervent believer who will
still be content to see there the finger of divine intervention.  Such
of us, however, as have entered the house where the storm has raged, as
well as the house of peace, have rarely departed without most clearly
detecting the essentially human reasons of both peace and storm.  We
who have known the wise and upright man who has been guilty of error or
crime, are acquainted also with the circumstances which induced his
action, and these circumstances seem to us in no way supernatural.  As
we draw near to the woman whose gesture brought misery to her, we learn
very soon that this gesture might have been avoided, and that, in her
place, we should have refrained.  The friends of the man around whom
all fell into ruins, and of the neighbour who ever was able to build up
his life anew, will have observed before that the acorn sometimes will
fall on to rock, and sometimes on fertile soil.  And though poverty,
sickness, and death still remain the three inequitable goddesses of
human existence, they no longer awake in us the superstitious fears of
bygone days  We regard them to-day as essentially indifferent,
unconscious, blind.  We know that they recognise none of the ideal laws
which we once believed that they sanctioned; and it only too often has
happened that at the very moment we were whispering to ourselves of
"purification, trial, reward, punishment," their undiscerning caprice
gave the lie to the too lofty, too moral title which we were about to


Our imagination, it is true, is inclined to admit, perhaps to desire,
the intervention of the superhuman; but, for all that, there are few,
even among the most mystic, who are not convinced that our moral
misfortunes are, in their essence, determined by our mind and our
character; and, similarly, that our physical misfortunes are due in
part to the workings of certain forces which often are misunderstood,
and in part to the generally ill-defined relation of cause to effect:
nor is it unreasonable to hope that light may be thrown on these
problems as we penetrate further into the secrets of nature.  We have
here a certitude upon which our whole life depends; a certitude which
is shaken only when we consider our own misfortunes, for then we shrink
from analysing or admitting the faults we ourselves have committed.
There is a hopefulness in man which renders him unwilling to grant that
the cause of his misfortune may be as transparent as that of the wave
which dies away in the sand or is hurled on the cliff, of the insect
whose little wings gleam for an instant in the light of the sun till
the passing bird absorbs its existence.


Let me suppose that a neighbour of mine, whom I know very intimately,
whose regular habits and inoffensive manners have won my esteem, should
successively lose his wife in a railway accident, one son at sea,
another in a fire, the third and last by disease.  I should, of course,
be painfully shocked and grieved; but still it would not occur to me to
attribute this series of disasters to a divine vengeance or an
invisible justice, to a strange, ill-starred predestination, or an
active, persistent, inevitable fatality.  My thoughts would fly to the
myriad unfortunate hazards of life; I should be appalled at the
frightful coincidence of calamity; but in me there would be no
suggestion of a superhuman will that had hurled the train over the
precipice, steered the ship on to rocks, or kindled the flames; I
should hold it incredible that such monstrous efforts could have been
put forth with the sole object of inflicting punishment and despair
upon a poor wretch, because of some error he might have committed--one
of those grave human errors which yet are so petty in face of the
universe; an error which perhaps had not issued from either his heart
or his brain, and had stirred not one blade of grass on the earth's
whole surface.


But he, this neighbour of mine, on whom these terrible blows have
successively fallen, like so many lightning-flashes on a black night of
storm--will he think as I do; will these catastrophes seem natural to
him, and ordinary, and susceptible of explanation?  Will not the words
destiny, fortune, hazard, ill-luck, fatality, star--the word
Providence, perhaps--assume in his mind a significance they never have
assumed before?  Will not the light beneath which he questions his
consciousness be a different light from my own, will he not feel round
his life an influence, a power, a kind of evil intention, that are
imperceptible to me?  And who is right, he or I?  Which of us two sees
more clearly, and further?  Do truths that in calmer times lie hidden
float to the surface in hours of trouble; and which is the moment we
should choose to establish the meaning of life?

The "interpreter of life," as a rule, selects the troubled hours.  He
places himself, and us, in the soul-state of his victims.  He shows
their misfortunes to us in perspective; and so sharply, concretely,
that we have for the moment the illusion of a personal disaster.  And,
indeed, it is more or less impossible for him to depict them as they
would occur in real life.  If we had spent long years with the hero of
the drama which has stirred us so painfully, had he been our brother,
our father, our friend, we should have probably noted, recognised,
counted one by one as they passed, all the causes of his misfortune,
which then would not only appear less extraordinary to us, but
perfectly natural even, and humanly almost inevitable.  But to the
"interpreter of life" is given neither power nor occasion to acquaint
us with each veritable cause.  For these causes, as a rule, are
infinitely slow in their movement, and countless in number, and slight,
and of small apparent significance.  He is therefore led to adopt a
general cause, one sufficiently vast to embrace the whole drama, in
place of the real and human causes which he is unable to show us,
unable, too, himself to examine and study.  And where shall a general
cause of sufficient vastness be found, if not in the two or three words
we breathe to ourselves when silence oppresses us: words like fatality,
divinity, Providence, or obscure and nameless justice?


The question we have to consider is how far this procedure can be
beneficial, or even legitimate; as also whether it be the mission of
the poet to present, and insist on, the distress and confusion of our
least lucid hours, or to add to the clear-sightedness of the moments
when we conceive ourselves to enjoy the fullest possession of our force
and our reason.  In our own misfortunes there is something of good, and
something of good must therefore be found in the illusion of personal
misfortune.  We are made to look into ourselves; our errors, our
weaknesses, are more clearly revealed; it is shown to us where we have
strayed.  There falls a light on our consciousness a thousand times
more searching, more active, than could spring from many arduous years
of meditation and study.  We are forced to emerge from ourselves, and
to let our eyes rest on those round about us; we are rendered more
keenly alive to the sorrows of others.  There are some who will tell us
that misfortune does even more--that it urges our glance on high, and
compels us to bow to a power superior to our own, to an unseen justice,
to an impenetrable, infinite mystery.  Can this indeed be the best of
all possible issues?  Ah, yes, it was well, from the standpoint of
religious morality, that misfortune should teach us to lift up our eyes
and look on an eternal, unchanging, undeniable God, sovereignly
beautiful, sovereignly just, and sovereignly good.  It was well that
the poet who found in his God an unquestionable ideal should
incessantly hold before us this unique, this definitive ideal.  But
to-day, if we look away from the truth, from the ordinary experience of
life, on what shall our eager glance rest?  If we discard the more or
less compensatory laws of conscience and inward happiness, what shall
we say when triumphant injustice confronts us, or successful,
unpunished crime?  How shall we account for the death of a child, the
miserable end of an innocent man, or the disaster hurled by cruel fate
on some unfortunate creature, if we seek explanations loftier, more
definite, more comprehensive and decisive than those that are found
satisfactory in everyday life for the reason that they are the only
ones that accord with a certain number of realities?  Is it right that
the poet, in his eager desire to contrive a solemn atmosphere for his
drama, should arouse from their slumber sentiments, errors, prejudices
and fears, which we would attack and rebuke were we to discover them in
the hearts of our friends or our children?  Man has at last, through
his study of the habits of spirit and brain, of the laws of existence,
the caprices of fate and the maternal indifference of nature--man has
at last, and laboriously, acquired some few certitudes, that are worthy
of all respect; and is the poet entitled to seize on the moment of
anguish in order to oust all these certitudes, and set up in their
place a fatality to which every action of ours gives the lie; or powers
before which we would refuse to kneel did the blow fall on us that has
prostrated his hero; or a mystic justice that, for all it may sweep
away the need for many an embarrassing explanation, bears yet not the
slightest kinship to the active and personal justice we all of us
recognise in our own personal life?


And yet this is what the "interpreter of life" will more or less
deliberately do from the moment he seeks to invest his work with a
lofty spirit, with a deep and religious beauty, with the sense of the
infinite.  Even though this work of his may be of the sincerest, though
it express as nearly as may be his own most intimate truth, he believes
that this truth is enhanced, and established more firmly, by being
surrounded with phantoms of a forgotten past.  Might not the symbols he
needs, the hypotheses, images, the touchstone for all that cannot be
explained, be less frequently sought in that which he knows is not
true, and more often in that which will one day be a truth?  Does the
unearthing of bygone terrors, or the borrowing of light from a Hell
that has ceased to be, make death more sublime?  Does dependence on a
supreme but imaginary will ennoble our destiny?  Does justice--that
vast network woven by human action and reaction over the unchanging
wisdom of nature's moral and physical forces--does justice become more
majestic through being lodged in the hands of a unique judge, whom the
very spirit of the drama dethrones and destroys?


Let us ask ourselves whether the hour may not have come for the earnest
revision of the symbols, the images, sentiments, beauty, wherewith we
still seek to glorify in us the spectacle of the world.

This beauty, these feelings and sentiments, to-day unquestionably bear
only the most distant relation to the phenomena, thoughts, nay even the
dreams, of our actual existence; and if they are suffered still to
abide with us, it is rather as tender and innocent memories of a past
that was more credulous, and nearer to the childhood of man.  Were it
not well, then, that those whose mission it is to make more evident to
us the beauty and harmony of the world we live in, should march ever
onwards, and let their steps tend to the actual truth of this world?
Their conception of the universe need not be stripped of a single one
of the ornaments wherewith they embellish it; but why seek these
ornaments so often among mere recollections, however smiling or
terrible, and so seldom from among the essential thoughts which have
helped these men to build, and effectively organise, their spiritual
and sentient life?

It can never be right to dwell in the midst of false images, even
though these are known to be false.  The time will come when the
illusory image will usurp the place of the just idea it has seemed to
represent.  We shall not reduce the part of the infinite and the
mysterious by employing other images, by framing other and juster
conceptions.  Do what we may, this part can never be lessened.  It will
always be found deep down in the heart of men, at the root of each
problem, pervading the universe.  And for all that the substance, the
place of these mysteries, may seem to have changed, their extent and
power remain for ever the same.  Has not--to take but one instance--has
not the phenomenon of the existence, everywhere among us, of a kind of
supreme and wholly spiritual justice, unarmed, unadorned, unequipped,
moving slowly but never swerving, stable and changeless in a world
where injustice would seem to reign--has this phenomenon not cause and
effect as deep, as exhaustless--is it not as astounding, as
admirable--as the wisdom of an eternal and omnipresent Judge?  Should
this Judge be held more convincing for that He is less conceivable?
Are fewer sources of beauty, or occasions for genius to exercise
insight and power, to be found in what can be explained than in what
is, _a priori_, inexplicable?  Does not, for instance, a victorious but
unjust war (such as those of the Romans, of England to-day, the
conquests of Spain in America, and so many others) in the end always
demoralise the victor and thrust upon him errors, habits, and faults
whereby he is made to pay dearly for his triumph; and is not the
minute, the relentless labour of this psychological justice as
absorbing, as vast, as the intervention of a superhuman justice?  And
may not the same be said of the justice that lives in each one of us,
that causes the space left for peace, inner happiness, love, to expand
or contract in our mind and our heart in the degree of our striving
towards that which is just or is unjust?


And to turn to one mystery more, the most awful of all, that of
death--would any one pretend that our perception of justice, of
goodness and beauty, or our intellectual, sentient power, our eagerness
for all that draws near to the infinite, all-powerful, eternal, has
dwindled since death ceased to be held the immense and exclusive
anguish of life?  Does not each new generation find the burden lighter
to bear as the forms of death grow less violent and its posthumous
terrors fade?  It is the illness that goes before, the physical pain,
of which we are to-day most afraid.  But death is no longer the hour of
the wrathful, inscrutable judge; no longer the one and the terrible
goal, the gulf of misery and eternal punishment.  It is slowly
becoming--indeed, in some cases, it has already become--the wished-for
repose of a life that draws to its end.  Its weight no longer oppresses
each one of our actions; and, above all--for this is the most striking
change--it has ceased to intrude itself into our morality.  And is this
morality of ours less lofty, less pure, less profound, because of the
disinterestedness it has thus acquired?  Has the loss of an
overwhelming dread robbed mankind of a single precious, indispensable
feeling?  And must not life itself find gain in the importance wrested
from death?  Surely: for the neutral forces we hold in reserve within
us are waiting and ready; and every discouragement, sorrow, or fear
that departs has its place quickly filled by a certitude, admiration,
or hope.


The poet is inclined to personify fatality and justice, and give
outward form to forces really within us, for the reason that to show
them at work in ourselves is a matter of exceeding difficulty; and
further, that the unknown and the infinite, to the extent that they
_are_ unknown and infinite--_i.e._ lacking personality, intelligence,
and morality--are powerless to move us.  And here it is curious to note
that we are in no degree affected by material mystery, however
dangerous or obscure, or by psychological justice, however involved its
results.  It is not the incomprehensible in nature that masters and
crushes us, but the thought that nature may possibly be governed by a
conscious, superior, reasoning will; one that, although superhuman, has
yet some kinship with the will of man.  What we dread, in a word, is
the presence of a God; and speak as we may of fatality, justice, or
mystery, it is always God whom we fear: a being, that is, like
ourselves, though almighty, eternal, invisible, and infinite.  A moral
force that was not conceived in the image of man would most likely
inspire no fear.  It is not the unknown in nature that fills us with
dread; it is not the mystery of the world we live in.  It is the
mystery of another world from which we recoil; it is the moral and not
the material enigma.  There is nothing, for instance, more obscure than
the combination of causes which produce the earthquake, that most
terrible of all catastrophes.  But the earthquake, though it alarm our
body, will bring no fear to our mind unless we regard it as an act of
justice, of mysterious vengeance, of supernatural punishment.  And so
it is, too, with the thunderstorm, with illness, with death, with the
myriad phenomena and accidents of life.  It would seem as though the
true alarm of our soul, the great fear which stirs other instincts
within us than that of mere self-preservation, is only called forth by
the thought of a more or less determinate God, of a mysterious
consciousness, a permanent, invisible justice, or a vigilant, eternal
Providence.  But does the "interpreter of life," who succeeds in
arousing this fear, bring us nearer to truth; and is it his mission to
convey to us sorrow, and trouble, and painful emotion, or peace,
satisfaction, tranquillity, and light?


It is not easy, I know, to free oneself wholly from traditional
interpretation, for it often succeeds in reasserting its sway upon us
at the very moment we strain every nerve to escape from our bondage.
So has it happened with Ibsen, who, in his search for a new and almost
scientific form of fatality, erected the veiled, majestic, tyrannical
figure of heredity in the centre of the very best of his dramas.  But
it is not the scientific mystery of heredity which awakens within us
those human fears that lie so much deeper than the mere animal fear;
for heredity alone could no more achieve this result than could the
scientific mystery of a dreaded disease, a stellar or marine
phenomenon.  No, the fear that differs so essentially from the one
called forth by an imminent natural danger, is aroused within us by the
obscure idea of justice which heredity assumes in the drama; by the
daring pronouncement that the sins of the fathers are almost invariably
visited on the children; by the suggestion that a sovereign Judge, a
goddess of the species, is for ever watching our actions, inscribing
them on her tablets of bronze, and balancing in her eternal hands
rewards long deferred and never-ending punishment.  In a word, even
while we deny it, it is the face of God that reappears; and from
beneath the flagstone one had believed to be sealed for ever comes once
again the murmur of the very ancient flame of Hell.


This new form of fatality, or fatal justice, is less defensible, and
less acceptable too, than the ancient and elementary power, which,
being general and undefined, and offering no too strict explanation of
its actions, lent itself to a far greater number of situations.  In the
special case selected by Ibsen, it is not impossible that some kind of
accidental justice may be found, as it is not impossible that the arrow
a blind man shoots into a crowd may chance to strike a parricide.  But
to found a law upon this accidental justice is a fresh perversion of
mystery, for elements are thereby introduced into human morality which
have no right to be there; elements which we would welcome, which would
be of value, if they stood for definite truths; but seeing that they
are as alien to truth as to actual life, they should be ruthlessly
swept aside.  I have shown elsewhere that our experience fails to
detect the most minute trace of justice in the phenomena of heredity;
or, in other words, that it fails to discover the slightest moral
connection between the cause: the fault of the father, and the effect:
the punishment or reward of the child.

The poet has the right to fashion hypotheses, and to forge his way
ahead of reality.  But it will often happen that when he imagines
himself to be far in advance, he will truly have done no more than turn
in a circle; that where he believes that he has discovered new truth,
he has merely strayed on to the track of a buried illusion.  In the
case I have named, for the poet to have taught us more than experience
teaches, he should have ventured still further, perhaps, in the
negation of justice.  But whatever our opinion may be on this point, it
at least is clear that the poet who desires his hypotheses to be
legitimate, and of service, must take heed that they be not too
manifestly contrary to the experience of everyday life; for in that
case they become useless and dangerous--scarcely honourable even, if
the error be deliberately made.


And now, what are we to conclude from all this?  Many things, if one
will, but this above all: that it behoves the "interpreter of life," no
less than those who are living that life, to exercise greatest care in
their manner of handling and admitting mystery, and to discard the
belief that whatever is noblest and best in life or in drama must of
necessity rest in the part that admits of no explanation.  There are
many most beautiful, most human, most admirable works which are almost
entirely free from this "disquiet of universal mystery."  We derive no
greatness, sublimity, or depth from unceasingly fixing our thoughts on
the infinite and the unknown.  Such meditation becomes truly helpful
only when it is the unexpected reward of the mind that has loyally,
unreservedly, given itself to the study of the finite and the knowable;
and to such a mind it will soon be revealed how strangely different is
the mystery which precedes what one does not know from the mystery that
follows closely on what one has learned.  The first would seem to
contain many sorrows, but that is only because the sorrows are grouped
there too closely, and have their home upon two of three peaks that
stand too nearly together.  In the second is far less sadness, for its
area is vast; and when the horizon is wide, there exists no sorrow so
great but it takes the form of a hope.


Yes, human life, viewed as a whole, may appear somewhat sorrowful; and
it is easier, in a manner pleasanter even, to speak of its sorrows and
let the mind dwell on them, than to go in search of, and bring into
prominence, the consolations life has to offer.  Sorrows
abound--infallible, evident sorrows; consolations, or rather the
reasons wherefore we accept with some gladness the duty of life, are
rare and uncertain, and hard of detection.  Sorrows seem noble, and
lofty, and fraught with deep mystery; with mystery that almost is
personal, that we feel to be near to us.  Consolations appear
egotistical, squalid, at times almost base.  But for all that, and
whatever their ephemeral likeness may be, we have only to draw closer
to them to find that they too have their mystery; and if this seem less
visible and less comprehensible, it is only because it lies deeper and
is far more mysterious.  The desire to live, the acceptance of life as
it is, may perhaps be mere vulgar expressions; but yet they are
probably in unconscious harmony with laws that are vaster, more
conformable with the spirit of the universe, and therefore more sacred,
than is the desire to escape the sorrows of life, or the lofty but
disenchanted wisdom that for ever dwells on those sorrows.


Our impulse is always to depict life as more sorrowful than truly it
is; and this is a serious error, to be excused only by the doubts that
at present hang over us.  No satisfying explanation has so far been
found.  The destiny of man is as subject to unknown forces to-day as it
was in the days of old; and though it be true that some of these forces
have vanished, others have arisen in their stead.  The number of those
that are really all-powerful has in no way diminished.  Many attempts
have been made, and in countless fashions, to explain the action of
these forces and account for their intervention; and one might almost
believe that the poets, aware of the futility of these explanations in
face of a reality which, all things notwithstanding, is ever revealing
more and more of itself, have fallen back on fatality as in some
measure representing the inexplicable, or at least the sadness of the
inexplicable.  This is all that we find in Ibsen, the Russian novels,
the highest class of modern fiction, Flaubert, &c. (see "War and
Peace," for instance, _L'Education Sentimentale_, and many others).

It is true that the fatality shown is no longer the goddess of old, or
rather (at least to the bulk of mankind) the clearly determinate God,
inflexible, implacable, arbitrary, blind, although constantly watchful;
the fatality of to-day is vaster, more formless, more vague, less human
or actively personal, more indifferent and more universal.  In a word,
it is now no more than a provisional appellation bestowed, until better
be found, on the general and inexplicable misery of man.  In this sense
we may accept it, perhaps, though we do no more than give a new name to
the unchanging enigma, and throw no light on the darkness.  But we have
no right to exaggerate its importance or the part that it plays; no
right to believe that we are truly surveying mankind and events from a
point of some loftiness, beneath a definitive light, or that there is
nothing to seek beyond, because at times we become deeply conscious of
the obscure and invincible force that lies at the end of every
existence.  Doubtless, from one point of view, unhappiness must always
remain the portion of man, and the fatal abyss be ever open before him,
vowed as he is to death, to the fickleness of matter, to old age and
disease.  If we fix our eyes only upon the end of a life, the happiest
and most triumphant existence must of necessity contain its elements of
misery and fatality.  But let us not make a wrong use of these words;
above all, let us not, through listlessness or undue inclination to
mystic sorrow, be induced to lessen the part of what could be explained
if we would only give more eager attention to the ideas, the passions
and feelings of the life of man and the nature of things.  Let us
always remember that we are steeped in the unknown; for this thought is
the most fruitful of all, the most sustaining and salutary.  But the
neutrality of the unknown does not warrant our attributing to it a
force, or designs, or hostility, which it cannot be proved to possess.
At Erfurt, in his famous interview with Goethe, Napoleon is said to
have spoken disparagingly of the dramas in which fatality plays a great
part--the plays that we, in our "passion for calamity," are apt to
consider the finest.  "They belong," he remarked, "to an epoch of
darkness; but how can fatality touch us to-day?  Policy--_that_ is
fatality!"  Napoleon's dictum is not very profound: policy is only the
merest fragment of fatality; and his destiny very soon made it manifest
to him that the desire to contain fatality within the narrow bounds of
policy was no more than a vain endeavour to imprison in a fragile vase
the mightiest of the spiritual rivers that bathe our globe.  And yet,
incomplete as this thought of Napoleon's may have been, it still throws
some light on a tributary of the great river.  It was a little thing,
perhaps, but on these uncertain shores it is the difference between a
little thing and nothing that kindles the energy of man and confirms
his destiny.  By this ray of light, such as it was, he long was enabled
to dominate all that portion of the unknown which he declined to term
fatality.  To us who come after him, the portion of the unknown that he
controlled may well seem insufficient, if surveyed from an eminence,
and yet it was truly one of the vastest that the eye of man has ever
embraced.  Through its means every action of his was accomplished, for
evil or good.  This is not the place to judge him, or even to wonder
whether the happiness of a century might not have been better served
had he allowed events to guide him; what we are considering here is the
docility of the unknown.  For us, with our humbler destinies, the
problem still is the same, and the principle too; the principle being
that of Goethe: "to stand on the outermost limit of the conceivable;
but never to overstep this line, for beyond it begins at once the land
of chimeras, the phantoms and mists of which are fraught with danger to
the mind."  It is only when the intervention of the mysterious,
invisible, or irresistible becomes strikingly real, actually
perceptible, intelligent, and moral, that we are entitled to yield or
lay down our arms, meekly accepting the inactive silence they bring;
but their intervention, within these limits, is rarer than one
imagines.  Let us recognise that mystery of this kind exists; but,
until it reveal itself, we have not the right to halt, or relax our
efforts; not the right to cast down our eyes in submission, or resign
ourselves to silence.




In a preceding essay we were compelled to admit that, eager as man
might be to discover in the universe a sanction for his virtues,
neither heaven nor earth displayed the least interest in human
morality; and that all things would combine to persuade the upright
among us that they merely are dupes, were it not for the fact that they
have in themselves an approval words cannot describe, and a reward so
intangible that we should in vain endeavour to portray its least
evanescent delights.  Is that all, some may ask, is that all we may
hope in return for this mighty effort of ours, for our constant denial
and pain, for our sacrifice of instincts, of pleasures, that seemed so
legitimate, necessary even, and would certainly have added to our
happiness had there not been within us the desire for Justice--a desire
arising we know not whence, belonging, perhaps, to our nature, and yet
in apparent conflict with the vaster nature whereof we all form part?
Yes, it is open to you, if you choose, to regard as a very poor thing
this unsubstantial justice: since its only reward is a vague
satisfaction, and that this satisfaction even grows hateful, and
destroys itself, the moment its presence becomes too perceptibly felt.
Bear in mind, however, that all things that happen in our moral being
must be equally lightly held, if regarded from the point of view whence
you deliver this judgment.  Love is a paltry affair, the moment of
possession once over that alone is real and ensures the perpetuity of
the race; and yet we find that as man grows more civilised, the act of
possession assumes ever less value in his eyes if there go not with it,
if there do not precede, accompany, and follow it, the insignificant
emotion built up of our thoughts and our feelings, of our sweetest and
tenderest hours and years.  Beauty, too, is a trivial matter: a
beautiful spectacle, a beautiful face, or body, or gesture: a melodious
voice, or noble statue--sunrise at sea, flowers in a garden, stars
shining over the forest, the river by moonlight--or a lofty thought, an
exquisite poem, an heroic sacrifice hidden in a profound and pitiful
soul.  We may admire these things for an instant; they may bring us a
sense of completeness no other joy can convey; but at the same time
there will steal over us a tinge of strange sorrow, unrest; nor will
they give happiness to us, as men use the word, should other events
have contrived to make us unhappy.  They produce nothing the eye can
measure, or weigh; nothing that others can see, or will envy; and yet,
were a magician suddenly to appear, capable of depriving one of us of
this sense of beauty that may chance to be in him, possessed of the
power of extinguishing it for ever, with no trace remaining, no hope
that it ever will spring into being again--would we not rather lose
riches, tranquillity, health even, and many years of our life, than
this strange faculty which none can espy, and we ourselves can scarcely
define?  Not less intangible, not less elusive, is the sweetness of
tender friendship, of a dear recollection we cling to and reverence;
and countless other thoughts and feelings, that traverse no mountain,
dispel no cloud, that do not even dislodge a grain of sand by the
roadside.  But these are the things that build up what is best and
happiest in us; they are we, ourselves; they are precisely what those
who have them not should envy in those who have.  The more we emerge
from the animal, and approach what seems the surest ideal of our race,
the more evident does it become that these things, trifling as they
well may appear by the side of nature's stupendous laws, do yet
constitute our sole inheritance; and that, happen what may to the end
of time, they are the hearth, the centre of light, to which mankind
will draw ever more and more closely.


We live in a century that loves the material, but, while loving it,
conquers it, masters it, and with more passion than any preceding
period has shown; in a century that would seem consumed with desire to
comprehend matter, to penetrate, enslave it, possess it once and for
all to repletion, satiety--with the wish, it may be, to ransack its
every resource, lay bare its last secret, thereby freeing the future
from the restless search for a happiness there seemed reason once to
believe that matter contained.  So, in like manner, is it necessary
first to have known the love of the flesh before the veritable love can
reveal its deep and unchanging purity.  A serious reaction will
probably arise, some day, against this passion for material enjoyment;
but man will never be able to cast himself wholly free.  Nor would the
attempt be wise.  We are, after all, only fragments of animate matter,
and it could not be well to lose sight of the starting-point of our
race.  And yet, is it right that this starting-point should enclose in
its narrow circumference all our wishes, all our happiness, the
totality of our desires?  In our passage through life we meet scarcely
any who do not persist, with a kind of unreasoning obstinacy, in
throning the material within them, and there maintaining it supreme.
Gather together a number of men and women, all of them free from life's
more depressing cares--an assembly of the elect, if you will--and
pronounce before them the words "beatitude, happiness, joy, felicity,
ideal."  Imagine that an angel, at that very instant, were to seize and
retain, in a magic mirror or miraculous basket, the images these words
would evoke in the souls that should hear them.  What would you see in
the basket or mirror?  The embrace of beautiful bodies; gold, precious
stones, a palace, an ample park; the philtre of youth, strange jewels
and gauds representing vanity's dreams; and, let us admit it, prominent
far above all would be sumptuous repasts, noble wines, glittering
tables, splendid apartments.  Is humanity still too near its beginning
to conceive other things?  Has the hour not arrived when we might have
reasonably hoped the mirror to reflect a powerful, disinterested
intellect, a conscience at rest: a just and loving heart, a perception,
a vision capable of detecting, absorbing beauty wherever it be--the
beauty of evening, of cities, of forests and seas, no less than of
face, of a word or a smile, of an action or movement of soul?  The
foreground of the magical mirror at present reflects beautiful women,
undraped; when shall we see, in their stead, the deep, great love of
two beings to whom the knowledge has come that it is only when their
thoughts and their feelings, and all that is more mysterious still than
thoughts and feelings, have blended, and day by day become more
essentially one, that the joys of the flesh are freed from the after
disquiet, and leave no bitterness behind?  When shall we find, instead
of the morbid, unnatural excitement produced by too copious, oppressive
repasts, by stimulants that are the insidious agents of the very enemy
we seek to destroy--when shall we find, in their place, the contained
and deliberate gladness of a spirit that is for ever exalted because it
for ever is seeking to understand, and to love? . . .  These things
have long been known, and their repetition may well seem of little
avail.  And yet, we need but to have been twice or thrice in the
company of those who stand for what is best in mankind, most
intellectually, sentiently human, to realise how uncertain and groping
their search is still for the happier hours of life; to marvel at the
resemblance the unconscious happiness they look for bears to the
happiness craved by the man who has no spiritual existence; to note how
opaque, to their eyes, is the cloud which separates all that pertains
to the being who rises from all that is his who descends.  Some will
say that the hour is not yet when man can thus make clear division
between the part of the spirit and that of the flesh.  But when shall
that hour be looked for if those for whom it should long since have
sounded still suffer the obscurest prejudice of the mass to guide them
when they set forth in search of their happiness?  When they achieve
glory and riches, when love comes to meet them, they will be free, it
may be, from a few of the coarser satisfactions of vanity, a few of the
grosser excesses; but beyond this they strive not at all to secure a
happiness that shall be more spiritual, more purely human.  The
advantage they have does not teach them to widen the circle of material
exaction, to discard what is less justifiable.  In their attitude
towards the pleasures of life they submit to the same spiritual
deprivation as, let us say, some cultured man who may have wandered
into a theatre where the play being performed is not one of the five or
six masterpieces of universal literature.  He is fully aware that his
neighbours' applause and delight are called forth, in the main, by more
or less obnoxious prejudices on the subject of honour, glory, religion,
patriotism, sacrifice, liberty, or love--or perhaps by some feeble,
dreary poetical effusion.  None the less, he will find himself affected
by the general enthusiasm; and it will be necessary for him, almost at
every instant, to pull himself violently together, to make startled
appeal to every conviction within him, in order to convince himself
that these partisans of hoary errors are wrong, notwithstanding their
number, and that he, with his isolated reason, alone is right.


Indeed, when we consider the relation of man to matter, it is
surprising to find how little light has yet been thrown upon it, how
little has been definitely fixed.  Elementary, imperious, as this
relation undoubtedly is, humanity has always been wavering, uncertain,
passing from the most dangerous confidence to the most systematic
distrust, from adoration to horror, from asceticism and complete
renouncement to their corresponding extremes.  The days are past when
an irrational, useless abstinence was preached, and put into
practice--an abstinence often fully as harmful as habitual excess.  We
are entitled to all that helps to maintain, or advance, the development
of the body; this is our right, but it has its limits; and these limits
it would be well to define with the utmost exactness, for whatever may
trespass beyond must infallibly weaken the growth of that other side of
ourselves, the flower that the leaves round about it will either stifle
or nourish.  And humanity, that so long has been watching this flower,
studying it so intently, noting its subtlest, most fleeting perfumes
and shades, is most often content to abandon to the caprice of the
temperament, be this evil or good, to the passing moment, or to chance,
the government of the unconscious forces that will, like the leaves, be
discreetly active, sustaining, life-giving, or profoundly selfish,
destructive, and fatal.  Hitherto, perhaps, this may have been done
with impunity; for the ideal of mankind (which at the start was
concerned with the body alone) wavered long between matter and spirit.
To-day, however, it clings, with ever profounder conviction, to the
human intelligence.  We no longer strive to compete with the lion, the
panther, the great anthropoid ape, in force or agility; in beauty with
the flower or the shine of the stars on the sea.  The utilisation by
our intellect of every unconscious force, the gradual subjugation of
matter and the search for its secret--these at present appear the most
evident aim of our race, and its most probable mission.  In the days of
doubt there was no satisfaction, or even excess, but was excusable, and
moral, so long as it wrought no irreparable loss of strength or actual
organic harm.  But now that the mission of the race is becoming more
clearly defined, the duty is on us to leave on one side whatever is not
directly helpful to the spiritual part of our being.  Sterile pleasures
of the body must be gradually sacrificed; indeed, in a word, all that
is not in absolute harmony with a larger, more durable energy of
thought; all the little "harmless" delights which, however inoffensive
comparatively, keep alive by example and habit the prejudice in favour
of inferior enjoyment, and usurp the place that belongs to the
satisfactions of the intellect.  These last differ from those of the
body, whose development some may assist and others retard.  Into the
elysian fields of thought enters no satisfaction but brings with it
youth, and strength, and ardour; nor is there a thing in this world on
which the mind thrives more readily than the ecstasy, nay, the debauch,
of eagerness, comprehension, and wonder.


The time must come, sooner or later, when our morality will have to
conform to the probable mission of the race; when the arbitrary, often
ridiculous restrictions whereof it is at present composed will be
compelled to make way for the inevitable logical restrictions this
mission exacts.  For the individual, as for the race, there can be but
one code of morals--the subordination of the ways of life to the
demands of the general mission that appears entrusted to man.  The axis
will shift, therefore, of many sins, many great offences; until at last
for all the crimes against the body there shall be substituted the
veritable crimes against human destiny; in other words, whatever may
tend to impair the authority, integrity, leisure, liberty, or power of
the intellect.

But by this we are far from suggesting that the body should be regarded
as the irreconcilable enemy which the Christian theory holds it.  Far
from that, we should strive, first of all, to endow it with all
possible vigour and beauty.  But it is like a capricious child:
exacting, improvident, selfish; and the stronger it grows the more
dangerous does it become.  It knows no cult but that of the passing
moment.  In imagination, desires, it halts at the trivial thought, the
primitive, fleeting, foolish delight of the little dog or the negro.
The satisfactions procured by the intellect--the comfort, security,
leisure, the gladness--it regards as no more than its due, and enjoys
in fullest complacency.  Left to itself, it would enjoy these so
stupidly, savagely, that it would very soon stifle the intellect from
which it derived these favours.  Hence there is need for certain
restrictions, renouncements, which all men must observe; not only those
who have reason to hope, and believe, that they are effectively
striving to solve the enigma, to bring about the fulfilment of human
destiny and the triumph of mind over insensible matter, but also the
crowds in the ranks of the massive, unconscious rearguard, who placidly
watch the phosphorescent evolutions of mind as its light gleams on the
world's elementary darkness.  For humanity is a unique and unanimous
entity.  When the thought of the mass--that thought which scarcely is
thought--travels downwards, its influence is felt by philosopher and
poet, astronomer and chemist; it has its pronounced effect on their
character, morals, ideals, their sense of duty, habits of labour,
intellectual vigour.  If the myriad, uniform, petty ideas in the valley
fall short of a certain elevation, no great idea shall spring to life
on the mountain-peak.  Down there the thought may have little strength,
but there are countless numbers who think it; and the influence this
thought acquires may be almost termed atmospheric.  And they up above
on the mountain, the precipice, the edge of the glacier, will be helped
by this influence, or harmed, in the degree of its brightness or gloom,
of its reaching them, buoyed up with generous feeling, or heavily
charged with brutal habit and coarse desire.  The heroic action of a
people (as, for instance, the French Revolution, the Reformation, all
wars of independence and liberation) will fertilise and purify this
people for more centuries than one.  But far less will satisfy those
who toil at the fulfilment of destiny.  Let but the habits of the men
round about them become a little more noble, their desires a little
more disinterested; let but their passions and eagerness, their
pleasures and love, be illumined by one ray of brightness, of grace, of
spiritual fervour; and those up above will feel the support, and draw
their breath freely, no longer compelled to struggle with the
instinctive part of themselves; and the power that is in them will obey
the more readily, and mould itself to their hand.  The peasant who,
instead of carousing at the beershop, spends a peaceful Sunday at home,
with a book, beneath the trees of his orchard; the humble citizen whom
the emotions or din of the racecourse cannot tempt from some worthy
enjoyment, from the pleasure of a reposeful afternoon; the workman who
no longer makes the streets hideous with obscene or ridiculous song,
but wanders forth into the country, or, from the ramparts, watches the
sunset--all these bring their meed of help: their great assistance,
unconscious though it be, and anonymous, to the triumph of the vast
human flame.


But how much there is to be done, and learned, before this great flame
can arise in serene, secure brightness!  We have said that man, in his
relation to matter, is still in the experimental, groping stage of his
earliest days.  He lacks even definite knowledge as to the kind of food
best adapted for him, or the quantity of nourishment he requires; he is
still uncertain as to whether he be carnivorous or frugivorous.  His
intellect misleads his instinct.  It was only yesterday that he learned
that he had probably erred hitherto in the choice of his nourishment;
that he must reduce by two-thirds the quantity of nitrogen he absorbs,
and largely increase the volume of hydrocarbons; that a little fruit,
or milk, a few vegetables, farinaceous substances--now the mere
accessory of the too plentiful repasts which he works so hard to
provide, which are his chief object in life, the goal of his efforts,
of his strenuous, incessant labour--are amply sufficient to maintain
the ardour of the finest and mightiest life.  It is not my purpose here
to discuss the question of vegetarianism, or to meet the objections
that may be urged against it; though it must be admitted that of these
objections not one can withstand a loyal and scrupulous inquiry.  I,
for my part, can affirm that those whom I have known to submit
themselves to this regimen have found its result to be improved or
restored health, marked addition of strength, and the acquisition by
the mind of a clearness, brightness, well-being, such as might follow
the release from some secular, loathsome, detestable dungeon.  But we
must not conclude these pages with an essay on alimentation, reasonable
as such a proceeding might be.  For in truth all our justice, morality,
all our thoughts and feelings, derive from three or four primordial
necessities, whereof the principal one is food.  The least modification
of one of these necessities would entail a marked change in our moral
existence.  Were the belief one day to become general that man could
dispense with animal food, there would ensue not only a great economic
revolution--for a bullock, to produce one pound of meat, consumes more
than a hundred of provender--but a moral improvement as well, not less
important and certainly more sincere and more lasting than might follow
a second appearance on the earth of the Envoy of the Father, come to
remedy the errors and omissions of his former pilgrimage.  For we find
that the man who abandons the regimen of meat abandons alcohol also;
and to do this is to renounce most of the coarser and more degraded
pleasures of life.  And it is in the passionate craving for these
pleasures, in their glamour, and the prejudice they create, that the
most formidable obstacle is found to the harmonious development of the
race.  Detachment therefrom creates noble leisure, a new order of
desires, a wish for enjoyment that must of necessity be loftier than
the gross satisfactions which have their origin in alcohol.  But are
days such as these in store for us--these happier, purer hours?  The
crime of alcohol is not alone that it destroys its faithful and poisons
one half of the race, but also that it exercises a profound, though
indirect, influence upon those who recoil from it in dread.  The idea
of pleasure which it maintains in the crowd forces its way, by means of
the crowd's irresistible action, into the life even of the elect, and
lessens, perverts, all that concerns man's peace and repose, his
expansiveness, gladness and joy; retarding, too, it may safely be said,
the birth of the truer, profounder ideal of happiness: one that shall
be simpler, more peaceful and grave, more spiritual and human.  This
ideal is evidently still very imaginary, and may seem of but little
importance; and infinite time must elapse, as in all other cases,
before the certitude of those who are convinced that the race so far
has erred in the choice of its aliment (assuming the truth of this
statement to be borne out by experience) shall reach the confused
masses, and bring them enlightenment and comfort.  But may this not be
the expedient Nature holds in reserve for the time when the struggle
for life shall have become too hopelessly unbearable--the struggle for
life that to-day means the fight for meat and for alcohol, double
source of injustice and waste whence all the others are fed, double
symbol of a happiness and necessity whereof neither is human?


Whither is humanity tending?  This anxiety of man to know the aim and
the end is essentially human; it is a kind of infirmity or
provincialism of the mind, and has nothing in common with universal
reality.  Have things an aim?  Why should they have; and what aim or
end can there be, in an infinite organism?

But even though our mission be only to fill for an instant a diminutive
space that could as well be filled by the violet or grasshopper,
without loss to the universe of economy or grandeur, without the
destinies of this world being shortened or lengthened thereby by one
hour; even though this march of ours count for nothing, though we move
but for the sake of motion, tending no-whither, this futile progress
may nevertheless still claim to absorb all our attention and interest;
and this is entirely reasonable, it is the loftiest course we can
pursue.  If it lay in the power of an ant to study the laws of the
stars; and if, intent on this study, though fully aware that these laws
are immutable, never to be modified, it declined to concern itself
further with the affairs or the future of the anthill--should we, who
stand to the insect as the great gods are supposed to stand to
ourselves, who judge it and dominate it, as we believe ourselves to be
dominated and judged; should we approve this ant, or, for all its
universality, regard it as either good or moral?

Reason, at its apogee, becomes sterile; and inertia would be its sole
teaching did it not, after recognising the pettiness, the nothingness,
of our passions and hopes, of our being, and lastly, of reason itself,
retrace its footsteps back to the point whence it shall be able once
more to take eager interest in all these poor trivialities, in this
same nothingness, as holding them the only things in the world for
which its assistance has value.

We know not whither we go, but may still rejoice in the journey; and
this will become the lighter, the happier, for our endeavour to picture
to ourselves the next place of halt.  Where will this be?  The
mountain-pass lies ahead, and threatens; but the roads already are
widening and becoming less rugged; the trees spread their branches,
crowned with fresh blossom; silent waters are flowing before us,
reposeful and peaceful.  Tokens all these, it may be, of our nearing
the vastest valley mankind yet has seen from the height of the tortuous
paths it has ever been climbing!  Shall we call it the "First Valley of
Leisure"?  Distrust as we may the surprises the future may have in
store, be the troubles and cares that await us never so burdensome,
there still seems some ground for believing that the bulk of mankind
will know days when, thanks, it may be, to machinery, agricultural
chemistry, medicine perhaps, or I know not what dawning science, labour
will become less incessant, exhausting, less material, tyrannical,
pitiless.  What use will humanity make of this leisure?  On its
employment may be said to depend the whole destiny of man.  Were it not
well that his counsellors now should begin to teach him to use such
leisure he has in a nobler and worthier fashion?  It is the way in
which hours of freedom are spent that determines, as much as war or as
labour, the moral worth of a nation.  It raises or lowers, it
replenishes or exhausts.  At present we find, in these great cities of
ours, that three days' idleness will fill the hospitals with victims
whom weeks or months of toil had left unscathed.


Thus we return to the happiness which should be, and perhaps in course
of time will be, the real human happiness.  Had we taken part in the
creation of the world, we should probably have bestowed more special,
distinctive force on all that is best in man, most immaterial, most
essentially human.  If a thought of love, or a gleam of the intellect;
a word of justice, an act of pity, a desire for pardon or sacrifice; if
a gesture of sympathy, a craving of one's whole being for beauty,
goodness, or truth--if emotions like these could affect the universe as
they affect the man who has known them, they would call forth
miraculous flowery, supernatural radiance, inconceivable melody; they
would scatter the night, recall spring and the sunshine, stay the hand
of sickness, grief, disaster and misery; gladness would spring from
them, and youth be restored; while the mind would gain freedom, thought
immortality, and life be eternal.  No resistance could check them;
their reward would follow as visibly as it follows the labourer's toll,
the nightingale's song, or the work of the bee.  But we have learned at
last that the moral world is a world wherein man is alone; a world
contained in ourselves that bears no relation to matter, upon which its
influence is only of the most exceptional and hazardous kind.  But none
the less real, therefore, is this world, or less infinite: and if words
break down when they try to tell of it, the reason is only that words,
after all, are mere fragments of matter, that seek to enter a sphere
where matter holds no dominion.  The images that words evoke are for
ever betraying the thoughts for which they stand.  When we try to
express perfect joy, a noble, spiritual ecstasy, a profound,
everlasting love, our words can only compare them with animal passion,
with drunkenness, brutal and coarse desire.  And not only do they thus
degrade the noblest triumphs of the soul of man by likening them to
primitive instincts, but they incite us to believe, in spite of
ourselves, that the object or feeling compared is less real, less true
or substantial, than the type to which it is referred.  Herein lies the
injustice and weakness of every attempt that is made to give voice to
the secrets of men.  And yet, be words never so faulty, let us still
pay careful heed to the events of this inner world.  For of all the
events it has lain in our power to meet hitherto, they alone truly are


Nor should they be regarded as useless, even though the immense torrent
of material forces absorb them, as it absorbs the dew that falls from
the pale morning flower.  Boundless as the world may be wherein we
live, it is yet as hermetically enclosed as a sphere of steel.  Nothing
can fall outside it, for it has no outside; nor can any atom possibly
be lost.  Even though our species should perish entirely, the stage
through which it has caused certain fragments of matter to pass would
remain, notwithstanding all ulterior transformations, an indelible
principle and an immortal cause.  The formidable, provisional
vegetations of the primary epoch, the chaotic and immature monsters of
the secondary grounds--Plesiosaurus, Ichthyosaurus, Pterodactyl--these
might also regard themselves as vain and ephemeral attempts, ridiculous
experiments of a still puerile nature, and conceive that they would
leave no mark upon a more harmonious globe.  And yet not an effort of
theirs has been lost in space.  They purified the air, they softened
the unbreathable flame of oxygen, they paved the way for the more
symmetrical life of those who should follow.  If our lungs find in the
atmosphere the aliment they need, it is thanks to the inconceivably
incoherent forests of arborescent fern.  We owe our brains and nerves
of to-day to fearful hordes of swimming or flying reptiles.  These
obeyed the order of their life.  They did what they had to do.  They
modified matter in the fashion prescribed to them.  And we, by carrying
particles of this same matter to the degree of extraordinary
incandescence proper to the thought of man, shall surely establish in
the future something that never shall perish.




Our past stretches behind us in long perspective.  It slumbers on the
horizon like a deserted city shrouded in mist.  A few peaks mark its
boundary, and soar predominant into the air; a few important acts stand
out, like towers, some with the light still upon them, others half
ruined and slowly decaying beneath the weight of oblivion.  The trees
are bare, the walls crumble, and shadow slowly steals over all.
Everything seems to be dead there, and rigid, save only when memory,
slowly decomposing, lights it for an instant with an illusory gleam.
But apart from this animation, derived only from our expiring
recollections, all would appear to be definitively motionless,
immutable for ever, divided from present and future by a river that
shall not again be crossed.

In reality it is alive; and, for many of us, endowed with a profounder,
more ardent life than either present or future.  In reality this dead
city is often the hot-bed of our existence; and, in accordance with the
spirit in which men return to it, shall some find all their wealth
there, and others lose what they have.


Our conception of the past has much in common with our conception of
love and happiness, destiny, justice, and most of the vague but
therefore not less potent spiritual organisms that stand for the mighty
forces we obey.  Our ideas have been handed down to us ready-made by
our predecessors; and even when our second consciousness wakes, and,
proud in its conviction that henceforth nothing shall be accepted
blindly, proceeds most carefully to investigate these ideas, it will
squander its time questioning those that loudly protest their right to
be heard, and pay no heed to the others close by, that as yet, perhaps,
have said nothing.  Nor have we, as a rule, far to go to discover these
others.  They are in us and of us; they wait for us to address them.
They are not idle, notwithstanding their silence.  Amid the noise and
babble of the crowd they are tranquilly directing a portion of our real
life; and, as they are nearer to truth than their self-satisfied
sisters, they will often be far more simple, and far more beautiful too.


Among the most stubborn of these ready-made ideas are those that
preside over our conception of the past, and render it a force as
imposing and rigid as destiny; a force that indeed becomes destiny
working backwards, with its hand outstretched to the destiny that
burrows ahead, to which it transmits the last link of our chains.  The
one thrusts us back, the other urges us forward, with a like
irresistible violence.  But the violence of the past is perhaps more
terrible and more alarming.  One may disbelieve in destiny.  It is a
god whose onslaught many have never experienced.  But no one would
dream of denying the oppressiveness of the past.  Sooner or later its
effect must inevitably be felt.  Those even who refuse to admit the
intangible will credit the past, which their finger can touch, with all
the mystery, the influence, the sovereign intervention whereof they
have stripped the powers that they have dethroned; thus rendering it
the almost unique and therefore more dreadful god of their depopulated


The force of the past is indeed one of the heaviest that weigh upon men
and incline them to sadness.  And yet there is none more docile, more
eager to follow the direction we could so readily give, did we but know
how best to avail ourselves of this docility.  In reality, if we think
of it, the past belongs to us quite as much as the present, and is far
more malleable than the future.  Like the present, and to a much
greater extent than the future, its existence is all in our thoughts,
and our hand controls it; nor is this only true of our material past,
wherein there are ruins that we perhaps can restore; it is true also of
the regions that are closed to our tardy desire for atonement; it is
true above all of our moral past, and of what we consider to be most
irreparable there.


"The past is past," we say, and it is false; the past is always
present.  "We have to bear the burden of our past," we sigh, and it is
false; the past bears our burden.  "Nothing can wipe out the past," and
it is false; the least effort of will sends present and future
travelling over the past to efface whatever we bid them efface.  "The
indestructible, irreparable, immutable past!"  And that is no truer
than the rest.  In those who speak thus it is the present that is
immutable, and knows not how to repair.  "My past is wicked, it is
sorrowful, empty," we say again; "as I look back I can see no moment of
beauty, of happiness or love; I see nothing but wretched ruins . . ."
And that is false; for you see precisely what you yourself place there
at the moment your eyes upon it.


Our past depends entirely upon our present, and is constantly changing
with it.  Our past is contained in our memory; and this memory of ours,
that feeds on our heart and brain, and is incessantly swayed by them,
is the most variable thing in the world, the least independent, the
most impressionable.  Our chief concern with the past, that which truly
remains and forms part of us, is not what we have done, or the
adventures that we have met with, but the moral reactions bygone events
are producing within us at this very moment, the inward being they have
helped to form; and these reactions, that give birth to our sovereign,
intimate being, are wholly governed by the manner in which we regard
past events, and vary as the moral substance varies that they encounter
within us.  But with every step in advance that our feelings or
intellect take, a change will come in this moral substance; and then,
on the instant, the most immutable facts, that seemed to be graven for
ever on the stone and bronze of the past, will assume an entirely
different aspect, will return to life and leap into movement, bringing
us vaster and more courageous counsels, dragging memory aloft with them
in their ascent; and what was once a mass of ruin, mouldering in the
darkness, becomes a populous city whereon the sun shines again.


We have an arbitrary fashion of establishing a certain number of events
behind us.  We relegate them to the horizon of our memory; and having
set them there, we tell ourselves that they form part of a world in
which the united efforts of all mankind could not wipe away a tear, or
cause a flower to lift its head.  And yet, while admitting that these
events have passed beyond our control, we still, with the most curious
inconsistency, believe that they have full control over us; whereas the
truth is that they can only act upon us to the extent in which we have
renounced our right to act upon them.  The past asserts itself only in
those whose moral growth has ceased; then, and not till then, does it
become redoubtable.  From that moment we have indeed the irreparable
behind us, and the weight of what we have done lies heavy upon our
shoulders.  But so long as the life of our mind and character flows
uninterruptedly on, so long will the past remain in suspense above us;
and, as the glance may be that we send towards it, will it, complaisant
as the clouds Hamlet showed to Polonius, adopt the shape of the hope or
fear, the peace or disquiet, that we are perfecting within us.


No sooner has our moral activity weakened than accomplished events rush
forward and assail us; and woe to him who opens the door, and permits
them to take possession of his hearth!  Each one will vie with the
other in overwhelming him with the gifts best calculated to shatter his
courage.  It matters not whether our past has been happy and noble, or
lugubrious and criminal, there shall still be great danger in allowing
it to enter, not as an invited guest, but like a parasite settling upon
us.  The result will be either sterile regret or impotent remorse; and
remorse and regrets of this kind are equally disastrous.  In order to
draw from the past what is precious within it--and most of our wealth
is there--we must go to it at the hour when we are strongest, most
conscious of mastery; enter its domain, and there make choice of what
we require, discarding the rest, and laying our command upon it never
to cross our threshold without our order.  Like all things that only
can live at the cost of our spiritual strength, it will soon learn to
obey.  At first, perhaps, it will endeavour to resist.  It will have
recourse to artifice and prayer.  It will try to tempt us, to cajole.
It will drag forward frustrated hopes and joys that are gone for ever,
broken affections, well-merited reproaches, expiring hatred and love
that is dead, squandered faith and perished beauty; it will thrust
before us all that once had been the marvellous essence of our ardour
for life; it will point to the beckoning sorrows, decaying happiness,
that now haunt the ruin.  But we shall pass by, without turning our
head; our hand shall scatter the crowd of memories, even as the sage
Ulysses, in the Cimmerian night, with his sword prevented the
shades--even that of his mother, whom it was not his mission to
question--from approaching the black blood that would for an instant
have given them life and speech.  We shall go straight to the joy, the
regret or remorse, whose counsel we need; or to the act of injustice we
wish scrupulously to examine, in order either to make reparation, if
such still be possible, or that the sight of the wrong we did, whose
victims have ceased to be, is required to give us the indispensable
force that shall lift us above the injustice it still lies in us to


Yes, even though our past contain crimes that now are beyond the reach
of our best endeavours, even then, if we consider the circumstances of
time and place, and the vast plane of each human existence, these
crimes fade out of our life the moment we feel that no temptation, no
power on earth, could ever induce us to commit the like again.  The
world has not forgiven--there is but little that the external sphere
will forget or forgive--and their material effects will continue, for
the laws of cause and effect differ from those which govern our
consciousness.  At the tribunal of our personal justice, however--the
only tribunal which has decisive action on our inaccessible life, as it
is the only one whose decrees we cannot evade, whose concrete judgments
stir us to our very marrow--the evil action that we regard from a
loftier plane than that at which it was committed, becomes an action
that no longer exists for us save in so far as it may serve in the
future to render our fall more difficult; nor has it the right to lift
its head again except at the moment when we incline once more towards
the abyss it guards.

Bitter, surely, must be the grief of him in whose past there are acts
of injustice whereof every avenue now is closed, who is no longer able
to seek out his victims, and raise them and comfort them.  To have
abused one's strength in order to despoil some feeble creature who has
definitely succumbed beneath the blow; to have callously thrust
suffering upon a loving heart, or merely misunderstood and passed by a
touching affection that offered itself--these things must of necessity
weigh heavily upon our life, and induce a sorrow within us that shall
not readily be forgotten.  But it depends on the actual point our
consciousness has attained whether our entire moral destiny shall be
depressed or lifted beneath this burden.  Our actions rarely die: and
many unjust deeds of ours will therefore inevitably return to life some
day to claim their due and start legitimate reprisals.  They will find
our external life without defence; but before they can reach the inward
being at the centre of that life, they must first listen to the
judgment we have already passed on ourselves; and in accordance with
the nature of that judgment will the attitude be of these mysterious
envoys, who have come from the depths where cause and effect are poised
in eternal equilibrium.  If it has indeed been from the heights of our
newly acquired consciousness that we have questioned ourselves, and
condemned, they will not be menacing justiciaries whom we shall
suddenly see surging in from all sides, but benevolent visitors,
friends we have almost expected, and they will draw near us in silence.
They know in advance that the man before them is no longer the guilty
creature they sought; and instead of bringing hatred, revolt, and
despair, or punishments that degrade and kill, they will come charged
with ennobling, consoling and purifying thought and penance.


The things which differentiate the happy and strong from those who weep
and will not be consoled, all derive from the one same principle of
confidence and ardour; and thus it is that the manner in which we are
able to recall what we have done or suffered is far more important than
our actual sufferings or deeds.  No past, viewed by itself, can seem
happy; and the privileged of fate, who reflect on what remains of the
happy years that have flown, have perhaps more reason for sorrow than
the unfortunate ones who brood over the dregs of a life of
wretchedness.  Whatever was one day and has now ceased to be, makes for
sadness; above all, whatever was very happy and very beautiful.  The
object of our regrets--whether these revolve around what has been or
might have been--is therefore more or less the same for all men, and
their sorrow should be the same.  It is not, however; in one case it
will reign uninterruptedly, whereas in another it will only appear at
very long intervals.  It must therefore depend on things other than
accomplished facts.  It depends on the manner in which men will deal
with these facts.  The conquerors in this world--those who waste no
time setting up an imaginary irreparable and immutable athwart their
horizon, those who seem to be born afresh every morning in a world that
for ever awakes anew to the future--these know instinctively that what
appears to exist no longer is still existing intact, that what appeared
to be ended is only completing itself.  They know that the years time
has taken from them are still in travail; still, under their new
master, obeying the old.  They know that their past is for ever in
movement; that the yesterday which was despondent, decrepit and
criminal, will return full of joyousness, innocence, youth, in the
track of to-morrow.  They know that their image is not yet stamped on
the days that are gone; that a decisive deed, or thought, will suffice
to break down the whole edifice; that however remote or vast the shadow
may be that stretches behind them, they have only to put forth a
gesture of gladness or hope for the shadow at once to copy this
gesture, and, flashing it back to the remotest, tiniest ruins of early
childhood even, to extract unexpected treasure from all this wreckage.
They know that they have retrospective action on all bygone deeds; and
that the dead themselves will annul their verdicts in order to judge
afresh a past that to-day has transfigured and endowed with new life.

They are fortunate who find this instinct in the folds of their cradle.
But may the others not imitate it who have it not; and is not human
wisdom charged to teach us how we may acquire the salutary instincts
that nature has withheld?


Let us not lull ourselves to sleep in our past; and if we find that it
tends to spread like a vault over our life, instead of incessantly
changing beneath our eye; if the present grow into the habit of
visiting it, not like a good workman repairing thither to execute the
labours imposed upon him by the commands of to-day, but as a too
passive, too credulous pilgrim, content idly to contemplate beautiful,
motionless ruins--then, the more glorious, the happier that our past
may have been, with all the more suspicion should it be regarded by us.

Nor should we yield to the instinct that bids us accord it profound
respect, if this respect induce the fear in us that we may disturb its
nice equilibrium.  Better the ordinary past, content with its befitting
place in the shadow, than the sumptuous past which claims to govern
what has travelled beyond its reach.  Better a mediocre but living
present, which acts as though it were alone in the world, than a
present which proudly expires in the chains of a marvellous long ago.
A single step that we take at this hour towards an uncertain goal, is
far more important to us than the thousand leagues we covered in our
march towards a dazzling triumph in the days that were.  Our past had
no other mission than to lift us to the moment at which we are, and
there equip us with the needful experience and weapons, the needful
thought and gladness.  If, at this precise moment, it take from us and
divert to itself one particle of our energy, then, however glorious it
may have been, it still was useless, and had better never have been.
If we allow it to arrest a gesture that we were about to make, then is
our death beginning; and the edifices of the future will suddenly take
the semblance of tombs.

More dangerous still than the past of happiness and glory is the one
inhabited by overpowering and too dearly cherished phantoms.  Many an
existence perishes in the coils of a fond recollection.  And yet, were
the dead to return to this earth, they would say, I fancy, with the
wisdom that must be theirs who have seen what the ephemeral light still
hides from us: "Dry your eyes.  There comes to us no comfort from your
tears: exhausting you, they exhaust us also.  Detach yourself from us,
banish us from your thoughts, until such time as you can think of us
without strewing tears on the life we still live in you.  We endure
only in your recollection; but you err in believing that your regrets
alone can touch us.  It is the things you do that prove to us we are
not forgotten, and rejoice our manes; and this without your knowing it,
without any necessity that you should turn towards us.  Each time that
our pale image saddens your ardour, we feel ourselves die anew, and it
is a more perceptible, irrevocable death than was our other; bending
too often over our tombs, you rob us of the life, the courage and love
that you imagine you restore.

"It is in you that we are, it is in all your life that our life
resides; and as you become greater, even while forgetting us, so do we
become greater too, and our shades draw the deep breath of prisoners
whose prison door is flung open.

"If there be anything new we have learned in the world where we are
now, it is, first of all, that the good we did to you when we were,
like yourselves, on the earth, does not balance the evil wrought by a
memory which saps the force and the confidence of life."


Above all, let us envy the past of no man.  Our own past was created by
ourselves, and for ourselves alone.  No other could have suited us, no
other could have taught us the truth that it alone can teach, or given
the strength that it alone can give.  And whether it be good or bad,
sombre or radiant, it still remains a collection of unique masterpieces
the value of which is known to none but ourselves; and no foreign
masterpiece could equal the action we have accomplished, the kiss we
received, the thing of beauty that moved us so deeply, the suffering we
underwent, the anguish that held us enchained, the love that wreathed
us in smiles or in tears.  Our past is ourselves, what we are and shall
be; and upon this unknown sphere there moves no creature, from the
happiest down to the most unfortunate, who could foretell how great a
loss would be his could he substitute the trace of another for the
trace which he himself must leave in life.  Our past is our secret,
promulgated by the voice of years; it is the most mysterious image of
our being, over which Time keeps watch.  This image is not dead; a mere
nothing degrades or adorns it; it can still grow bright or sombre, can
still smile or weep, express love or hatred; and yet it remains
recognisable for ever in the midst of the myriad images that surround
it.  It stands for what we once were, as our aspirations and hopes
stand for what we shall be; and the two faces blend, that they may
teach us what we are.

Let us not envy the facts of the past, but rather the spiritual garment
that the recollection of days long gone will weave around the sage.
And though this garment be woven of joy or of sorrow, though it be
drawn from the dearth of events or from their abundance, it shall still
be equally precious; and those who may see it shining over a life shall
not be able to tell whether its quickening jewels and stars were found
amid the grudging cinders of a cabin or upon the steps of a palace.

No past can be empty or squalid, no events can be wretched: the
wretchedness lies in our manner of welcoming them.  And if it were true
that nothing had happened to you, that would be the most remarkable
adventure that any man ever had met with; and no less remarkable would
be the light it would shed upon you.  In reality the facts, the
opportunities and possibilities, the passions, that await and invite
the majority of men, are all more or less the same.  Some may be more
dazzling than others; their attendant circumstances may differ, but
they differ far less than the inward reactions that follow; and the
insignificant, incomplete event that falls on a fertile heart and brain
will readily attain the moral proportions and grandeur of an analogous
incident which, on another plane, will convulse a people.

He who should see, spread out before him, the past lives of a multitude
of men, could not easily decide which past he himself would wish to
have lived were he not able at the same time to witness the moral
results of these dissimilar and unsymmetrical facts.  He might not
impossibly make a fatal blunder; he might choose an existence
overflowing with incomparable happiness and victory, that sparkle like
wonderful jewels; while his glance might travel indifferently over a
life that appeared to be empty whereas it was truly steeped to the brim
in serene emotions and lofty, redeeming thoughts whereby, though the
eye saw nothing, that life was yet rendered happy among all.  For we
are well aware that what destiny has given, and what destiny holds in
reserve, can be revolutionised as utterly by thought as by great
victory or great defeat.  Thought is silent; it disturbs not a pebble
on the illusory road we see; but at the crossway of the more actual
road that our secret life follows will it tranquilly erect an
indestructible pyramid; and thereupon, suddenly, every event, to the
very phenomena of earth and heaven, will assume a new direction.

In Siegfried's life, it is not the moment when he forges the prodigious
sword that is most important, or when he kills the dragon and compels
the gods from his path, or even the dazzling second when he encounters
love on the flaming mountain, but indeed the brief instant wrested from
eternal decrees, the little childish gesture, when one of his hands,
red with the blood of his mysterious victim, having chanced to draw
near his lips, his eyes and ears are suddenly opened; he understands
the hidden language of all that surrounds him, detects the treachery of
the dwarf who represents the powers of evil, and learns in a flash to
do that which had to be done.




Once upon a time, an old Servian legend tells us, there were two
brothers of whom one was industrious, but unfortunate, and the other
lazy, but overwhelmingly prosperous.  One day the unfortunate brother
meets a beautiful girl who is tending sheep and weaving a golden
thread.  "To whom do these sheep belong?" he asks.  "They belong to
whom I belong."  "And to whom do you belong?"  "To your brother: I am
his luck."  "And where is my luck then?"  "Very far from here."  "Can I
find it?"  "Yes, if you look for it."

So he wanders away in search of his luck.  And one evening, in a great
forest, he comes across a poor old woman asleep under a tree.  He wakes
her and asks who she is.  "Don't you know me?" she answers.  "It is
true you never have seen me: I am your luck."  "And who can have given
me so wretched a luck?"  "Destiny."  "Can I find destiny?"  "Yes, if
you look long enough."

So he goes off in search of destiny.  He travels a very long time, and
at last she is pointed out to him.  She lives in an enormous and
luxurious palace; but her wealth is dwindling day by day, and the doors
and windows of her abode are shrinking.  She explains to him that she
passes thus, alternately, from misery to opulence; and that her
situation at a given moment determines the future of all the children
who may come into the world at that moment.  "You were born," she says,
"when my prosperity was on the wane; and that is the cause of your
ill-luck."  The only way, she tells him, to hoodwink or get the better
of fortune would be to substitute the luck of Militza, his niece, for
his own, seeing that she was born at a propitious period.  All he need
do, she says, is to take this niece into his house, and to declare to
any one who may ask him that all he has belongs to Militza.

He does as she bids him, and his affairs at once take a new turn.  His
herds multiply and grow fat, his trees are bent beneath the masses of
fruit, unexpected inheritances come in, his land bears prodigious
crops.  But one morning, as he stands there, his heart filled with
happiness, eyeing a magnificent cornfield, a stranger asks him who the
owner may be of these wonderful ears of wheat that, as they sway to and
fro beneath the dew, seem twice as heavy and twice as high as the ears
in the adjoining field.  He forgets himself, and answers, "They are
mine."  At that very instant fire breaks out in the opposite end of the
field, and commences its ravages.  Then he remembers the advice that he
has neglected to follow: he runs after the stranger shouting, "Stop,
come back: I made a mistake: what I told you was not true!  This field
is not mine: it belongs to my niece Militza!"  And the flames have no
sooner heard than they suddenly fall away, and the corn shoots up


This naive and very ancient image, which might almost serve to-day as
an illustration of our actual ignorance, proves that the mysterious
problem of chance has not changed, from the time of man's first
questioning glance.  We have our thoughts, which build up our intimate
happiness or sorrow; and upon this events from without have more or
less influence.  In some men these thoughts will have acquired such
strength, such vigilance, that without their consent nothing can enter
the structure of crystal and brass, they have been able to raise on the
hill that commands the wonted road of adventures.  And we have our
will, which our thoughts feed and sustain; and many useless or harmful
events can be held in check by our will.  But around these islets,
within which is a certain degree of safety, of immunity from attack,
extends a region as vast and uncontrollable as the ocean, a region
swayed by chance as the waves are swayed by the wind.  Neither will nor
thought can keep one of these waves from suddenly breaking upon us; and
we shall be caught unawares, and perhaps be wounded and stunned.  Only
when the wave has retreated can thought and will begin their beneficent
action.  Then they will raise us, and bind up our wounds; restore
animation, and take careful heed that the mischief the shock has
wrought shall not reach the profound sources of life.  Their mission
extends no further, and may, on the surface, appear very humble.  In
reality, however, unless chance assume the irresistible form of cruel
disease or death, the workings of will and thought are sufficient to
neutralise all its efforts, and to preserve what is best and most
essential to man in human happiness.


Redoubtable, multitudinous chance is for ever threading its watchful
way through the midst of the events we have foreseen, and round and
about our most deliberate actions, wherewith we are slowly tracing the
broad lines of our existence.  The air we breathe, the time we
traverse, the space through which we move, are all peopled by lurking
circumstances, which pick us out from among the crowd.  The least study
of their habits will quickly convince us that these strange daughters
of hazard, who should be blind and deaf as their father, by no means
act in his irresponsible fashion.  They are well aware of what they are
doing, and rarely make a mistake.  With inexplicable certainty do they
move to the passer-by whom they have been sent to confront, and lightly
touch his shoulder.  Two men may be travelling upon the same road, and
at the same hour; but there will be no hesitation or doubt in the ranks
of the double, invisible troop whom fortune has ambushed there.
Towards one a band of white virgins will hasten, bearing palms and
amphorae, presenting the thousand unexpected delights of the journey;
as the other approaches, the "Evil Women," whom Aeschylus tells of,
will hurl themselves from the hedges, as though they were charged to
avenge, upon this unwitting victim, some inexpiable crime committed by
him before he was born.


There is scarcely one of us who has not been able, in some measure, to
follow the workings of destiny in life.  We have all known men who met
with a prosperity or disaster entirely out of relation to any of their
actions; men upon whom good or bad luck seemed suddenly, at a turn of
the road, to spring from the ground or descend from the stars,
undeserved, unprovoked, but complete and inevitable.  One, we will say,
who scarcely has given a thought to some appointment for which he knows
his rival to be better equipped, will see this rival vanish at the
decisive moment, another, who has counted upon the protection of a most
influential friend, will see this friend die on the very day when his
assistance could be of value.  A third, who has neither talent nor
beauty, will arrive each morning at the Palace of Fortune, Glory or
Love at the brief instant when every door lies open; while another, a
man of great merit, who long has pondered the legitimate step he is
taking, presents himself at the hour when ill-luck shall have closed
the gate for the next half-century.  One man will risk his health
twenty times in imbecile feats, and never experience the least
ill-effect; another will deliberately venture it in an honourable
cause, and lose it without hope of return.  To help the first,
thousands of unknown people, who never have seen him, will be obscurely
working; to hinder the second, thousands of unknown people labour, who
are ignorant of his existence.  And all, on the one side as well as the
other, are totally unaware of what they are doing; they obey the same
minute, widely-distributed order; and at the prescribed moment the
detached pieces of the mysterious machine join, dovetail, unite; and we
have two complete and dissimilar destinies set into motion by Time.

In a curious book on "Chance and Destiny," Dr. Foissac gives various
strange examples of the persistent, inexplicable, fundamental,
pre-ordained, irreducible iniquity in which many existences are
steeped.  As we go through page after page, we feel almost as though we
were being conducted through the disconcerting laboratories of another
world where, in the absence of every instrument that human justice and
reason might hold indispensable, happiness and sorrow are being
parcelled out and allotted.  Take, for instance, the life of
Vauvenargues, one of the most admirable of men, and certainly, of all
the great sages, the most unfortunate.  Whenever his fortune hangs in
the balance, he is attacked and prostrated by cruel disease; and
notwithstanding the efforts of his genius, his bravery, his moral
beauty, day after day he is wantonly betrayed or falls victim to
gratuitous injustice; and at the age of thirty-two he dies, at the very
moment when recognition is at last awaiting his work.  So too there is
the terrible story of Lesurques,[1] in which we see a thousand
coincidences that might have been contrived in hell, blending and
joining together to work the ruin of an innocent man; while truth,
chained down by fate, dumbly shrieking, as we do when wrestling with
nightmare, is unable to put forth a single gesture that shall rend the
veil of night.  There is Aimar de Ransonnet, President of the
Parliament of Paris, one of the most upright of men, who first of all
is suddenly dismissed from his office, sees his daughter die on a
dunghill before his eyes, his son perish at the hands of the
executioner, and his wife struck by lightning; while he himself is
accused of heresy and sent to the Bastille, where he dies of grief
before he is brought to trial.

The calamities that befell Oedipus and the Atrides are regarded by us
as improbable and fabulous; and yet we find in contemporary history
that fatality clings with no less persistence to families such as the
Stuarts, the Colignys,[2] &c., and hounds to their death, with what
almost seems personal vindictiveness, pitiable and innocent victims
like Henrietta of England, daughter of Henry IV., Louise de Bourbon,
Joseph II., and Marie-Antoinette.

And again in another category, what shall we say of the
injustice--unintelligent but apparently almost conscious, almost
systematic and premeditated--of games of chance, duels, battles,
storms, shipwrecks, and fires?  Or of the inconceivable luck of a
Chastenet de Puységur who, after forty years' service, in the course of
which he took part in thirty battles and a hundred and twenty sieges,
always in the front rank and displaying the most romantic courage, was
never once touched by shot or steel, while Marshal Oudinot was wounded
thirty-five times, and General Trézel was struck by a bullet in every
encounter?  What shall we say of the extraordinary fortune of Lauzun,
Chamillart, Casanova, Chesterfield, &c., or of the inconceivable,
unvarying prosperity that attended the crimes of Sylla, Marius, or
Dionysius the Elder, who, in his extreme old age, after an odious but
fantastically successful life, died of joy on learning that the
Athenians had just crowned one of his tragedies?  Or, finally, of
Herod, surnamed the Great or the Ascalonite, who swam in blood,
murdered one of his wives and five of his children, put to death every
upright man who might chance to offend him, and yet was fortunate in
all his undertakings?


These famous examples, which might be indefinitely multiplied, are in
truth no more than the abnormal and historic presentments of what is
shown to us every day, in a humbler but not less emphatic fashion, by
the thousand and one caprices of propitious or contrary fortune at work
on the small and ill-lit stage of ordinary life.

Doubtless, we must, first of all, when closely examining such insolent
prosperity or unvarying disaster, attribute a royal share to the
physical or moral causes which are capable of explaining them.  Had we
ourselves known Vauvenargues, we should probably have detected a
certain timidity, irresolution or misplaced pride in his character
whereby he was disabled from allowing the opportunity to mature or from
seizing it with sufficient vigour.  And Lesurques, it may be, was
deficient in ability, in one knows not what, in that prodigious
personal force that one expects to find in falsely-accused innocence.
Nor can it be denied that the Stuarts, no less than Joseph II. and
Marie-Antoinette, were guilty of enormous blunders that invited
disaster; or that Lauzun, Casanova, and Lord Chesterfield had flung to
the winds those essential scruples that hinder the honest man.  So too
is it certain that although the existence of Sylla, Marius, Dionysius
the Elder, and Herod the Ascalonite may have been externally almost
incomparably fortunate, few men, I fancy, would care to have lurking
within them the strange, restless, blood-stained phantom, possessed
neither of thought nor of feeling, on which the happiness must depend
(if the word happiness be indeed applicable here) that is founded upon
unceasing crime.  But, this deduction being made, and on the most
reasonable, most liberal scale (which will become the more generous as
we see more of life and understand it better, and penetrate further
into the secrets of little causes and great effects), we shall still be
forced to admit that there remains, in these obstinately recurring
coincidences, in these indissoluble series of good or evil fortune,
these persistent runs of good or bad luck, a considerable, often
essential, and sometimes exclusive share that can be ascribed only to
the impenetrable, incontrovertible will of a real but unknown power;
which is known as Chance, Fatality, Destiny, Luck, Fortune, good or
evil Star, Angel with the White Wings, Angel with the Black Wings, and
by many other names, that vary in accordance with the more or less
imaginative, more or less poetic genius of centuries and peoples.  And
here we have one of the most serious, most perplexing problems of all
those that have to be solved by man before he may legitimately regard
himself as the principal, independent and irrevocable inhabitant of
this earth.


Let us reduce the problem to its simplest terms, and submit it to our
reason.  First, however, let us consider whether it affects man alone.
We have with us, upon this curiously incomprehensible globe, silent and
faithful companions of our existence; and we shall often find it
helpful to let our eyes rest upon these when, having reached certain
altitudes that perhaps are illusory, giddiness seizes our brain and
inclines us too readily to the idea that the stars, the gods or the
veiled representatives of the sublime laws of the universe, are
concerned solely with us.  These poor brothers of our animal life, that
are so calmly, so confidently resigned, would appear to know many
things that we have forgotten; they are the tranquil custodians of the
secret that we seek so anxiously.  It is evident that animals, and
notably domestic animals, have also a kind of destiny.  They too know
what prolonged and gratuitous happiness means; they also have
encountered the persistent misfortune for which no cause can be found.
They have the same right as we to speak of their star, their good or
bad luck, their prosperity or disaster.  Compare the fate of the
cab-horse, that ends its days at the knacker's, after having passed
through the hands of a hundred brutal and nameless masters, with that
of the thorough-bred which dies of old age in the stable of a
kind-hearted master; and from the point of view of justice (unless we
accept the Buddhist theory, that life in this world is the reward or
punishment of an anterior existence) explanation is as completely
lacking as in the case of the man whom chance has reduced to poverty or
raised to wealth.  There is, in Flanders, a breed of draught-dogs upon
which destiny alternately lavishes her favour and her spite.  Some will
be bought by a butcher, and lead a magnificent life.  The work is
trifling: in the morning, harnessed four abreast, they draw a light
cart to the slaughter-house, and at night, galloping joyously,
triumphantly, home through the narrow streets of the ancient towns with
their tiny, lit-up gables, bring it back, overflowing with meat.
Between-times there is leisure, and marvellous leisure, among the rats
and the waste of the slaughter-house.  They are copiously fed, they are
fat, they shine like seals, and taste in its fulness the only happiness
dreamed of by the simple and ferreting instinct of the honest dog.  But
their unfortunate brethren of the same litter, that the lame
sand-pedlar buys, or the old collector of household refuse, or the
needy peasant with his great, cruel clogs--these are chained to heavy
carts or shapeless barrows; they are filthy, mangy, hairless,
emaciated, starving; and follow till they die the circles of a hell
into which they were thrust by a few coppers dropped into some horny
palm.  And, in a world less directly subject to man, there must
evidently be partridges, pheasants, deer, hares, which have no luck,
which never escape the gun; while others, one knows not how or why,
emerge unscathed from every battue.

They, therefore, are exposed, like ourselves, to incontestable
injustice.  But it does not occur to us, when considering their
hardships, to set all the gods in motion or seek explanation from the
mysterious powers; and yet what happens to them may well be no more
than the image, naively simplified, of what happens to us.  It is true
that we play the precise part, in their case, of those mysterious
powers whom we seek in our own.  But what right have we to expect from
these last more consciousness, more intelligent justice, than we
ourselves show in our dealings with animals?  And in any event, if this
instance shall only have deprived chance of a little of its useless
prestige and have proportionately augmented our spirit of initiative
and struggle, there will be a gain the importance of which is by no
means to be despised.


Still further allowance must therefore be made; but yet there
undoubtedly remains--at least as far as the more complex life of man is
concerned--a cause of good or evil fortune as yet untouched by our
explanations, in the often visible will of chance, which one might
almost call the "small change" of fatality.  We know--and this is one
of those formless but fundamental ideas on the laws of life that the
experience of thousands of years has turned into a kind of instinct--we
know that men exist who, other things being equal, are "lucky" or
"unlucky."  Circumstances permitted me to follow very closely the
career of a friend of mine who was dogged by persistent ill-fortune.  I
do not mean to imply by this that his life was unhappy.  It is even
remarkable that the malign influences always respected the broad lines
of his veritable happiness; probably because these were well guarded.
For he had in him a strong moral existence, profound thoughts and
hopes, feelings and convictions.  He was well aware that these were
possessions that fortune could not touch: which indeed could not be
destroyed without his consent.  Destiny is not invincible; through
life's very centre runs a great inward canal, which we have the power
to turn towards happiness or sorrow; although its ramifications, that
extend over our days, and the thousand tributaries that flow in from
external hazards, are all independent of our will.

It is thus that a beautiful river, streaming down from the heights and
ashine with magnificent glaciers, passes at length through plains and
through cities, whence it receives only poisonous water.  For an
instant the river is troubled; and we fear lest it lose, and never
recover again, the image of the pure blue sky that the crystal
fountains had lent: the image that seemed its soul, and the deep and
the limpid expression of its great strength.  But if we rejoin it, down
yonder, beneath those great trees, we shall find that it has already
forgotten the foulness of the gutters.  It has caught the azure again
in its transparent waves; and flows on to the sea, as clear as it was
on the days when it first smilingly leapt from its source on the

And so, as regards this friend of mine, although forced more than once
to shed tears, they were at least not of the kind that memory never
forgets, not of those that fall from our eyes as we mourn our own
death.  Every failure, the inevitable disappointment once over, served
only in effect to knit him the closer to his secret happiness, to
affirm this within him, and draw a more sombre outline around it, that
it might thereby appear the more precious, and ardent, and certain.
But no sooner had he quitted this charmed enclosure than hostile
incidents vied with each other in their attacks upon him.  As for
instance--he was a very good fencer: he had three duels, and was
wounded each time by a less skilful adversary.  If he went on board
ship, the voyage would rarely be prosperous.  Whatever undertaking he
put money into was sure to turn out badly.  A judicial error, into
which a whole series of curiously malevolent circumstances dragged him,
was productive of long and serious trouble.  Further, although his face
was agreeable, and the expression of his eyes loyal and frank, he was
not what one calls "sympathetic": he did not arouse at first sight that
spontaneous affection which we often give, without knowing why, to the
unknown who passes, to an enemy even.  Nor was he more fortunate in his
affections.  Of a loving disposition, and infinitely worthier of being
loved than most of those to whom he was sacrificed by the
chance-governed heart of women--here again he met with nothing but
treachery, deceit and sorrow.  He went his way, extricating himself as
best he could from the paltry snares that malicious fortune prepared at
every step; nor was he discouraged or deeply saddened, only somewhat
surprised at so strange a persistence; until at last there came the
great and solitary good fortune of his life: a love that was the
complement of the one that was eager within him, a love that was
complete, passionate, exclusive, unalterable.  And from that moment it
was as though he had come under the influence of another star, the
beneficent rays of which were blending with his own; vexatious events
grew slowly remoter, fewer, warier of attacking him, tardier in their
approach.  They seemed reluctantly to abandon their habit of selecting
him as their victim.  He actually saw his _luck turn_.  And now that he
has gone back, as it were, into the indifferent and neutral atmosphere
of chance common to most men, he smiles when he remembers the time when
every gesture of his was watched by the invisible enemy, and aroused a


Let us not look to the gods for an explanation of these phenomena.
Until these gods shall have clearly explained themselves, there is
nothing that they can explain for us.  And destiny, which is merely the
god of which we know least, has less right than any of the others to
intervene and cry to us, as it does from the depths of its inscrutable
night: "It is I who so willed it!"  Nor let us invoke the illimitable
laws of the universe, the intentions of history, the will of the
worlds, the justice of the stars.  These powers exist: we submit to
them, as we submit to the might of the sun.  But they act without
knowing us; and within the wide circle of their influence a liberty
remains to us still that is probably immense.  They have better work on
hand than to be for ever bending over us to lift a blade of grass or
drop a leaf in the little paths of our anthill.  Since we ourselves are
here the parties concerned, it is, I imagine, within ourselves that the
key of the mystery shall be found; for it is probable that every
creature carries within him the best solution of the problem that he
presents.  Within us, underlying the conscious existence that our
reason and will control, is a profounder existence, one side of which
connects with a past beyond the record of history, the other with a
future that thousands of years cannot exhaust.  We may safely conceive
that all the gods lie hidden within it; that those wherewith we have
peopled the earth and the planets will emerge one by one, in order to
give it a name and a form that our imagination may understand.  And as
man's vision grows clearer, as he shows less desire for image and
symbol, so will the number of these names, the number of these forms,
tend to diminish.  He will slowly arrive at the stage when there shall
be one only that he will proclaim, or reserve; when it shall be
revealed to him that this last form, this last name, is truly no more
than the last image of a power whose throne was always within him.
Then will the gods that had gone forth from us be found again in
ourselves; and it is there that we will question them to-day.


I hold therefore that it is in this unconscious life of ours, in this
existence that is so vast, so divine, so inexhaustible and
unfathomable, that we must seek for the explanation of fortunate or
contrary chances.  Within us is a being that is our veritable ego, our
first-born: immemorial, illimitable, universal, and probably immortal.
Our intellect, which is merely a kind of phosphorescence that plays on
this inner sea, has as yet but faint knowledge of it.  But our
intellect is gradually learning that every secret of the human
phenomena it has hitherto not understood must reside there, and there
alone.  This unconscious being lives on another plane than our
intellect, in another world.  It knows nothing of Time and Space, the
two formidable but illusory walls between which our reason must flow if
it would not be hopelessly lost.  It knows no proximity, it knows no
distance; past and future concern it not, or the resistance of matter.
It is familiar with all things; there is nothing it cannot do.  To this
power, this knowledge, we have indeed at all times accorded a certain
varying recognition; we have given names to its manifestations, we have
called them instinct, soul, unconsciousness, sub-consciousness, reflex
action, presentiment, intuition, &c.  We credit it more especially with
the indeterminate and often prodigious force contained in those of our
nerves that do not directly serve to produce our will and our reason: a
force that would appear to be the very fluid of life.  Its nature is
probably more or less the same in all men; but it has very different
methods of communicating with the intellect.  In some men this unknown
principle is enshrined at so great a depth that it concerns itself
solely with physical functions and the permanence of the species;
whereas in others it would seem to be for ever on the alert, rising
again and again to the surface of external and conscious life, which
its fairy-like presence quickens; intervening at every instant,
warning, deciding, counselling; blending with most of the essential
facts of a career.  Whence comes this faculty?  There are no fixed or
certain laws.  We do not detect, for instance, any constant relation
between the activity of the unconsciousness and the development of the
intellect.  This activity obeys rules of which we know nothing.  So far
as we at present can tell, it would seem to be purely accidental.  We
discover it in one man, and not in another; nor have we any clue that
shall help us to guess at the reason of this difference.


The probable course pursued by fortunate or contrary chances may well
be as follows.  A happy or untoward event, that has sprung from the
profound recesses of great and eternal laws, arises before us and
completely blocks the way.  It stands motionless there: immovable,
inevitable, disproportionate.  It pays no heed to us; it has not come
on our account, but for itself, because of itself.  It ignores us
completely.  It is we who approach the event; we who, having arrived
within the sphere of its influence, will either fly from it or face it,
try a circuitous route or fare boldly onwards.  Let us assume that the
event is disastrous: fire, death, disease, or a somewhat abnormal form
of accident or calamity.  It waits there, invisible, indifferent,
blind, but perfect and unalterable; but as yet it is merely potential.
It exists entire, but only in the future; and for us, whose intellect
and consciousness are served by senses unable to perceive things
otherwise than through the succession of time, it is as though it were
not.  Let us be still more precise; let us take the case of a
shipwreck.  The ship that must perish has not yet left the port; the
rock or the shoal that shall rend it sleeps peacefully beneath the
waves; the storm that shall burst forth at the end of the month is
slumbering, far beyond our gaze, in the secret of the skies.  Normally,
were nothing written, had the catastrophe[3] not already taken place in
the future, fifty passengers would have arrived from five or six
different countries, and have duly gone on board.  But destiny has
clearly marked the vessel for its own.  She must most certainly perish.
And for months past, perhaps for years, a mysterious selection has been
at work amongst the passengers who were to have departed upon the same
day.  It is possible that out of fifty who had originally intended to
sail, only twenty will cross the gangway at the moment of lifting the
anchor.  It is even possible that not a single one of the fifty will
listen to the insistent claims of the circumstance that, but for the
disaster ahead, would have rendered their departure imperative, and
that their place will be taken by twenty or thirty others in whom the
voice of Chance does not speak with a similar power.  Here we touch the
profoundest depths of the profoundest of human enigmas; and the
hypothesis necessarily falters.  But is it not more reasonable, in the
fictitious case before us--wherein we merely thrust into prominence
what is of constant occurrence in the more obscure conjunctures of
daily life--to regard both decision and action as emanating from our
unconsciousness, rather than from doubtful, and distant, gods?  Our
unconsciousness is aware of the catastrophe: it must be: our
unconsciousness sees it; for it knows neither time nor space, and the
disaster is therefore happening as actually before its eyes as before
the eyes of the eternal powers.  The mode of prescience matters but
little.  Out of the fifty travellers who have been warned, two or three
will have had a real presentiment of the danger; these will be the ones
in whom unconsciousness is free and untrammelled, and therefore more
readily able to attain the first, and still obscure, layers of
intellect.  The others suspect nothing: they inveigh against the
inexplicable obstacles and delays: they strain every nerve to arrive in
time, but their departure becomes impossible.  They fall ill, take a
wrong road, change their plans, meet with some insignificant adventure,
have a quarrel, a love affair, a moment of idleness or forgetfulness,
which detains them in spite of themselves.  To the first it will never
have even occurred to sail on the ill-starred boat, although this be
the one that they should logically, inevitably, have been compelled to
choose.  But the efforts that their unconsciousness has put forth to
save them have their workings so deep down that most of these men will
have no idea that they owe their life to a fortunate chance; and they
will honestly believe that they never intended to sail by the ship that
the powers of the sea had claimed.


As for those who punctually make their appearance at the fatal tryst,
they belong to the tribe of the unlucky.  They are the unfortunate race
of our race.  When the rest all fly, they alone remain in their places.
When others retreat, they advance boldly.  They infallibly travel by
the train that shall leave the rails, they pass underneath the tower at
the exact moment of its collapse, they enter the house in which the
fire is smouldering, cross the forest on which lightning shall fall,
entrust all they have to the banker who means to abscond.  They love
the one woman on earth whom they should have avoided, they make the
gesture they should not have made, they do the thing they should not
have done.  But when fortune beckons and the others are hastening,
urged by the deep voice of benevolent powers, these pass by, not
hearing; and, vouchsafed no advice or warning but that of their
intellect, the very wise old guide whose purblind eyes see only the
tiny paths at the foot of the mountain, they go astray in a world that
human reason has not yet understood.  These men have surely the right
to exclaim against destiny; and yet not on the grounds that they would
prefer.  They have the right to ask why it has withheld from them the
watchful guard who warns their brethren.  But, this reproach once
made--and it is the cardinal reproach against irreducible
injustice--they have no further cause of complaint.  The universe is
not hostile to them.  Calamities do not pursue them; it is they who go
towards calamity  Things from without wish them no ill; the mischief
comes from themselves.  The misfortune they meet has not been lying in
wait for them; they selected it for their own.  With them, as with all
men, events are posted along the course of their years, like goods in a
bazaar that stand ready for the customer who shall buy them.  No one
deceives them; they merely deceive themselves.  They are in no wise
persecuted; but their unconscious soul fails to perform its duty.  Is
it less adroit than the others: is it less eager?  Does it slumber
hopelessly in the depths of its secular prison: and can no amount of
will-power arouse it from its fatal lethargy, and force the redoubtable
doors that lead from the life that unconsciously is aware of all things
to the intelligent life that knows nothing?


A friend in whose presence I was discussing these matters said to me
yesterday: "Life, whose questions are more searching than those of the
philosophers, will this very day compel me to add a somewhat curious
problem to those you have stated.  I am wondering what the result will
be when two 'lucks'--in other words, two unconsciousnesses, of which
one is adroit and fortunate, the other inept and bungling--meet and in
some measure blend in the same venture, the same undertaking?  Which
will triumph over the other?  I soon shall know.  This afternoon I
propose to take a step that will be of supreme importance to the person
I value above all others in this world.  Her entire future may almost
be said to depend upon it, her exterior happiness, the possibility of
her living in accordance with her nature and her rights.  Now to me
chance has always been a faithful and far-seeing friend; and as I
glance over my past, and review the five or six decisive moments which,
as with all men, were the golden pivots on which fortune turned, I am
induced to believe in my star, and am morally certain that if I alone
were concerned in the step I am taking to-day, it would be bound to
succeed, because I am 'lucky.'  But the person on whose behalf I am
acting has never been fortunate.  Her intellect is remarkably subtle
and profound, her will is a thousand times stronger and better balanced
than my own; but, with all this, one can only believe that she
possesses a foolish or malignant unconsciousness, which has
persistently, ruthlessly, exposed her to act after act of injustice,
dishonesty, and treachery, has robbed her again and again of her due,
and compelled her to travel the path of disastrous coincidence.  Be
sure that it would have forced her to embark on the ship that you speak
of.  I ask myself, therefore, what attitude will my vigilant,
thoughtful unconsciousness adopt towards this indolent and sinning
brother, in whose name it will have to act, whose place, as it were, it
will take?

"How, and where, is the momentous decision being at this moment arrived
at, in search of which I shall so soon set forth?  What power is it
that now, at this very moment, while I am speaking, is balancing the
pros and cons, and decreeing the happiness or sorrow of the woman I
represent?  From which sphere, or perhaps immemorial virtue, from what
hidden spirit or invisible star, will the weight fall that shall
incline the scale to light or to darkness?  To judge by outward
appearance, decision must rest with the will, the reason, the interest
of the parties engaged; in reality it often is otherwise.  When one
finds oneself thus face to face with the problem which directly affects
a person we love, this problem no longer appears quite so simple; our
eyes open wider, and we throw a startled, anxious, in a sense almost a
virgin glance, upon all this unknown that leads us and that we are
compelled to obey.

"I take this step therefore with more emotion, I put forth more zeal
and vigour, than if it were my own life, my own happiness, that stood
in peril.  She for whom I am acting is indeed 'more I than I am
myself,' and for a long time past her happiness has been the source of
mine.  Of this both my heart and my reason are fully aware; but does my
unconsciousness know?  My reason and heart, that form my consciousness,
are barely thirty years old; my unconscious soul, still reminiscent of
primitive secrets, may well date centuries back.  Its evolution is very
deliberate.  It is as slow as a world that turns in time without end.
It will probably therefore not yet have learned that a second existence
has linked itself to mine, and completely absorbs it.  How many years
must elapse before the great news shall penetrate to its retreat?  Here
again we note its diversity, its inequality.  In one man, perhaps,
unconsciousness will immediately recognise what is taking place in his
heart; in another, it will very tardily lend itself to the phenomena of
reason.  There is a love, again, such as that of the mother for her
child, in which it moves in advance of both heart and reason.  Only
after a very long time does the unconscious soul of a mother separate
itself from that of her children; it watches over these at first with
far more zeal and solicitude than over the mother.  But, in a love like
mine, who shall say whether my unconsciousness has gathered that this
love is more essential to me than my life?  I myself believe that it is
satisfied that the step I propose to take in no way concerns me.  It
will not appear; it will not intervene.  At the very moment when I
shall be feverishly displaying all the energy I possess, when I shall
be striving for victory more keenly than were my salvation at stake, it
will be tending its own mysterious affairs deep down in its shadowy
dwelling.  Were I seeking justice for myself, it would already be on
the alert.  It would know, perhaps, that I had better do nothing
to-day.  I should probably have not the slightest idea of intervention;
but it would raise some unforeseen obstacle.  I should fall ill; catch
a bad cold, be prevented by some secondary event from arriving at the
unpropitious hour.  Then, when I was actually in the presence of the
man who held my destiny in his hands, my vigilant friend would spread
its wings over me, its breath would inspire me, its light would dispel
my darkness.  It would dictate to me the words that I must say: they
would be the only words that could meet the secret objections of the
master of my Fate.  It would regulate my attitude, my silence, my
gestures; it would endow me with the confidence, the nameless
influence, which often will govern the decisions of men far more than
the reasons of reason or the eloquence of interest.  But here I am
sorely afraid that my unconsciousness will do none of these things.  It
will remain perfectly passive.  It will not appear on the familiar
threshold.  In its obtuseness, impervious to the fact that my life has
ceased to be self-contained, it will act in accordance with its ancient
traditions, those that have ruled it these hundreds of years; it will
persist in regarding this matter as one that does not concern me, and
will believe that in helping my failure it will be doing me service;
whereas in truth it will afflict me more grievously, cause me more
sorrow, than if it were to betray me at the approach of death.  I shall
be importing, therefore, into this affair, only the palest reflection,
a kind of phantom, of my own luck; and I ask myself with dread whether
this will suffice to counterbalance the contrary fortune which I have,
as it were, assumed, and which I represent."


Some days later my friend informed me that his action had been
unsuccessful.  It may be that this reverse was only due to chance or to
his own want of confidence.  For the confidence that sees success ahead
pursues it with a pertinacity and resource of which hesitation and
doubt are incapable; nor is it troubled by any of those involuntary
weaknesses which give so great an advantage to the adversary's
instinct.  And there may probably be much truth also in his manner of
depicting unconsciousness.  For truly, there are depths in us at which
unconsciousness and confidence would seem to blend, and it becomes
difficult to say where the first begins, or the second leaves off.

We will not pursue this too subtle inquiry, but rather consider the
other and more direct questions that life is ever putting to us
concerning one of its greatest problems--chance.  This possesses what
may be called a daily interest.  It asks us, for instance, what
attitude we should adopt towards men who are incontestably unlucky; men
whose evil star has such pernicious power that it infallibly brings
disaster to whatever comes within the range--often a very wide one--of
its baleful influence.  Ought we unhesitatingly to fly from such men,
as Dr. Foissac advises?  Yes, doubtless, if their misfortunes arise
from an imprudent and unduly hazardous spirit, a heedless, quarrelsome,
mischief-making, Utopian or clouded mind.  Ill-luck is a contagious
disease; and one unconsciousness will often infect another.  But if the
misfortunes be wholly unmerited, or fall upon those who are dear to us,
flight were unjust and shameful.  In such a case the conscious side of
our being--which, though it know but little, is yet able to fashion
truths of a different order, truths that might almost be the first
flowers of a dawning world--is bound to resist the universal wisdom of
unconsciousness, bound to brave its warnings and involve it in its own
ruin, which may well be a victory upon an ideal plane that one day
perhaps shall appeal to the unconsciousness also.


We ask ourselves, therefore, whether unconsciousness, which we regard
as the source of our luck, is really incapable of change or
improvement.  Have we not all of us noticed how strange are the ways of
chance?  When we behold it active in a small town, or among a certain
number of men within the range of our own observation, the goddess
would seem to become as persistent as a gadfly, and no less fantastic.
Her very marked personality and character will vary in accordance with
the event or being whereon she may fasten.  She has all kinds of
eccentricities, but pursues each one logically to the finish.  Her
first gesture will tell us nothing; from her second we can predict all
that she means to do.  Protean divinity that no image could completely
describe, here she leaps suddenly forth, like a fountain in the midst
of a desert, to disappear after having given birth to an ephemeral
oasis; there she returns at regular intervals, collecting and
scattering, like migratory birds that obey the rhythm of the seasons.
On our right she fells a man and concerns herself with him no further;
on our left she bears down another, and furiously worries her victim.
But, though she bring favour or ruin, she will almost always remain
astoundingly faithful to the character she has once and for all assumed
in a particular case.  This man, for instance, who has been
unsuccessful in war, will continue to be unsuccessful; that other will
invariably win or lose at cards; a third will infallibly be deceived; a
fourth will find water, fire, or the dangers of the street especially
hostile; a fifth will be constantly fortunate or unfortunate in love,
money matters, &c., and so to the end.  All this may prove nothing, but
we may regard it at least as some indication that her realm is truly
within us and not without; and that a hidden force that emanates only
from us provides her with form and with vestment.

Her habits at times will suddenly alter, one eccentricity producing
another; some brusque change of front will give the lie to her
character, to confirm it the instant after in a new atmosphere.  We say
then that "luck turns."  May it not rather be our unconsciousness that
is gradually developing, at last displaying some prudence, attention,
and slowly becoming aware that important events are stirring in the
world to which it is attached?  Has it gained some experience?  Has a
ray of intelligence, a spark of will-power, filtered through to its
lair and hinted at danger?  Does it learn, after years have flown, and
trial after trial has had to be borne, the wisdom of casting aside its
confident apathy?  Can external disaster arouse it from perilous
slumber?  Or, if it always has known what was happening over the roof
of its prison, is it able, after long and painful effort, at last, at
the critical moment, to contrive some sort of crevice in the great
wall, built by the indifference of centuries, that separates it from
its unknown sisters; and does it thus succeed in entering the ephemeral
life on which a part of its own life depends?


And yet we must admit that this hypothesis of unconsciousness will not
suffice to account for all the injustice of chance.  Its three most
iniquitous acts are the three disasters--the most terrible of all to
which man is exposed--that habitually strike him before birth: I refer
to absolute poverty, disease (especially in the shocking forms of
physiological degradation and incurable infirmities, of repulsive
ugliness and deformity), and intellectual weakness.  These are the
three great priestesses of unrighteousness that lie in wait for
innocence and brand it, on the threshold of life.  And yet, mysterious
as their method of choice may appear, the triple source whence they
derive these three irremediable scourges is less mysterious than one is
inclined to believe.  We need not look for it in a pre-established
will, in fatal, hostile, eternal, impenetrable laws.  Poverty has its
origin in man's own province; and though we may marvel why one should
be rich and the other poor, we are well aware that the existence, side
by side, of excessive wealth and excessive misery, is due to human
injustice alone.  In this wickedness neither gods nor stars have part.
And as for disease and mental weakness, when we shall have eliminated
from them what now is due to poverty, mother of most of our moral and
physical sorrows, as well as to the anterior, and by no means
inevitable, faults of the parents, then, though some measure of
persistent and unaccountable injustice may still remain, this relic of
mystery will very nigh go into the hollow of the philosopher's hand,
and there he shall, later, examine it at his leisure.  But we of today
shall be wise in refusing to allow our life to be unnecessarily
darkened, or hedged round with imaginary maledictions and foes.

As far as ordinary luck is concerned, we shall do well to believe, for
the moment, that the history of our fortune (which is not necessarily
the history of our real happiness, since this may be wholly independent
of luck) is the history of our unconscious being.  There are more
elements of probability in such a creed than in the assumption that the
stars, eternity, or the spirit of the universe are taking part in our
petty adventures; and it gives more spur to our courage.  And this
idea--even though it may possibly be as difficult to alter the
character of our unconsciousness as to modify the course of Mars or of
Venus--still seems less distant and less chimerical than the other; and
when we have to choose between two probabilities, it is our imperative
duty to select the one that presents the least obstacles to our hopes.
Further, should misfortune be indeed inevitable, there would be I know
not what proud consolation in being able to tell ourselves that it
issues solely from us, and that we are not the victims of a malign will
or the playthings of useless chance that in suffering more than our
brothers we are perhaps only recording, in time and space, the
necessary form of our own personality.  And so long as calamity do not
attack the intimate pride of man, he retains the force to continue the
struggle and accomplish his essential mission: which is, to live with
all the ardour whereof he is capable, and as though his life were of
greater consequence than any other to the destinies of mankind.

This idea is also more conformable to the vast law which restores to
us, one by one, the gods wherewith we had filled the world.  Of these
gods the greater number were merely the effects of causes that reposed
in ourselves.  As we progress we shall discover that many a force that
mastered us and aroused our wonder was only an ill-understood fragment
of our own power; and this will probably become more apparent every day.

And though we shall not have conquered the unknown force by bringing it
nearer or enclosing it within us, there yet shall be gain in knowing
where it abides and where we may question it.  Obscure forces surround
us; but the one that concerns us most nearly lies at the very centre of
our being.  All the others pass through it: it is their trysting-place:
they re-enter and congregate there; and only in the degree of their
relation to it have they interest for us.

To distinguish this force from the host of others we have called it
unconsciousness.  And when we shall have succeeded in studying this
unconsciousness more closely, when its mysterious adroitness, its
antipathies and preference, its helplessness, shall be better known to
us, we shall have most strangely blunted the teeth and nails of the
monster who persecutes us under the name of Fortune, Destiny or Chance.
At the present hour we are feeding it still as a blind man might feed
the lion that at last shall devour him.  Soon perhaps the lion will be
seen by us in its true light, and we shall then learn how to subdue him.

Let us therefore unweariedly follow each path that leads from our
consciousness to our unconsciousness.  We shall thus succeed in hewing
some kind of track through the great and as yet impassable roads that
lead from the seen to the unseen, from man to God, from the individual
to the universe.  At the end of these roads lies hidden the general
secret of life.  In the meanwhile let us adopt the hypothesis that
offers the most encouragement to our existence in this life; in this
life which has need of us for the solution of its own enigmas, seeing
that in us its secrets crystallise the most limpidly and most rapidly.


[1] His history is concisely summed up by Dr. Foissac as follows:--"On
the eighth Floréal of the year IV. the courier and postillion who were
taking the mail from Paris to Lyons were attacked and murdered, at nine
in the evening, in the forest of Senart.  The assassins were Couriol,
who had taken a seat in the cabriolet by the side of the courier;
Durochal, Rossi, Vidal, and Dubosq, who had come to meet him on hired
horses; and lastly Bernard, who had procured the horses, and took part
in the subsequent distribution of plunder.  For this crime, in which
five assassins and one accomplice shared, _seven_ individuals, within
the space of four years, mounted the steps of the guillotine.  Justice,
therefore, killed one man too many: her sword fell upon one who was
innocent; nor could he have been one of these six individuals, all of
whom confessed their crime.  The innocent man was Lesurques, who had
never ceased to declare that he was not guilty; and all his alleged
accomplices disavowed any knowledge of him.  How then came this
unfortunate creature to be implicated in an affair that was to confer
so sad an immortality upon his name?  Fatality so contrived that, four
days before the crime, Lesurques, who had left Douai with an income of
eighteen thousand livres, and had come to Paris that he might give a
better education to his children, happened to be lunching with a
fellow-townsman named Guesno when Couriol came in and was invited to
join them.  Suspicion having at once fallen upon Couriol, the fact of
this lunch was sufficient to cause Guesno to be put under arrest for a
moment; but as he was able to prove an alibi, the judge, Daubenton,
immediately set him at liberty.  Only, as it was late, Daubenton told
him to come the following day to fetch his papers.

"In the morning of the eleventh Floréal, Guesno, on his way for this
purpose to the Prefecture of Police, met Lesurques, whom he invited to
accompany him; an invitation which Lesurques, who had nothing special
to do, accepted.  While they were waiting in the antechamber for the
magistrate to arrive, two women were shown in who had been asked to
attend in connection with the affair; and they, deceived by Lesurques'
resemblance to Dubosq, who had fled, unhesitatingly denounced him as
one of the assassins, and unfortunately persisted in this statement to
the end.  The antecedents of Lesurques pleaded in his favour; and among
other facts that he cited to prove that he had not left Paris during
the day of the eighth Floréal, he declared that he had been present at
certain dealings that had taken place at a jeweller's named Legrand,
between this last and another jeweller named Aldenoff.  These
transactions had actually taken place on the eighth; but Legrand, on
being requisitioned to produce his books, found that he had by a
clerical blunder inscribed them under the date of the ninth.  He
thought the best thing he could do would be to scratch out the nine and
convert it into an eight.  He did this with the idea that he would
thereby save his fellow-townsman Lesurques, whom he knew to be
innocent, whereas he actually succeeded in ruining him.  The alteration
and substitution were easily detected; from that moment the prosecution
and the jury declined to place the least confidence in the eighty
witnesses for the defence called by the accused; he was convicted and
his property confiscated.  Eighty-seven days elapsed between his
condemnation and execution, a delay that was altogether unusual at that
period; but grave doubts had arisen as to his guilt.

"The Directorate did not possess the right of reprieve; they felt it
their duty to refer the case to the Council of Five Hundred, asking
'whether Lesurques was to die because of his resemblance to a
criminal?'  The Council passed to the Order of the Day on the report of
Simeon; and Lesurques was executed, forgiving his judges.  And not only
had he constantly protested his innocence, but at the moment the
verdict was given Couriol had cried out, in firm tones, 'Lesurques is
innocent!'  He repeated this statement both on the fatal hurdle and on
the scaffold.  All the other prisoners, while admitting their own
guilt, also declared the innocence of Lesurques.  It was only in the
year IX. that Dubosq, his double, was arrested and sentenced.

"The fatality that had attacked the head of the family spared none of
its members.  Lesurques' mother died of grief; his wife went mad; his
three children languished in insignificance and poverty.  The
government, however, moved by their great misfortune, restored to the
family of Lesurques, in two instalments, the five or six hundred
thousand francs which had been so iniquitously confiscated; but a
swindler robbed them of the greater part of the money.  Sixty years
elapsed; of Lesurques' three children two were dead: one alone
survived, Virginia Lesurques.  Public opinion had for a long time
already proclaimed the innocence and the rehabilitation of her
unfortunate father.  She wanted more; and when the law of the 29th June
1867 was passed, authorising the revision of criminal judgments, she
hoped that the day had at last come when she might proclaim this
rehabilitation in the sanctuary of justice; but, by a final fatality,
the Court of Appeal, arguing on legal subtleties, declared by its
decree of 17th December 1868 that no cause had been shown for
re-opening the case, and that Virginia Lesurques had not made good her
claim to revision."

It is as though one were enthralled by a horrible dream, in which some
poor wretch was being delivered into the hands of the Furies.  Ever
since the fatal meal, no less tragic than that of Thyestes, which
Lesurques took at Guesno's house, events have been dragging him nearer
and nearer the gulf that yawns at his feet; while his destiny, hovering
above him like an enormous vulture, hides the light from those who
approach him.  And the circles from above press magically forward to
meet those from below: they advance, they contract, and then, uniting
at last, their eddies blend and fasten upon what is now a corpse.

Here, truly, the combination of murderous fatalities may well seem
supernatural; and the case is typical, it is formidable, it is as
symbolic as a myth.  But there can be no doubt that analogous chains of
circumstances reproduce themselves daily in the countless petty or
ridiculous mortifications of merely ordinary lives which are beneath
the influence of an evil or malicious star.

[2] The misfortunes of the Stuarts are well known; those of the
Colignys are less familiar.  Of these last the author we have already
cited gives the following lucid account:--"Gaspard de Coligny, Marshal
of France under Francis I., was married to the sister of the Constable
Anne de Montmorency.  He was reproached with having delayed by half a
day his attack on Charles V., at a time when such might have been most
advantageously offered, and with having thereby let slip an almost
certain opportunity of victory.  One of his sons, who had been made
Archbishop and Cardinal, embraced Protestantism, and was married in his
red cassock.  He fought against the King at the battle of St. Denis,
and fled to England, where, in the year 1571, a servant of his
attempted to poison him.  He escaped, however, and, seeking
subsequently to return to France, was captured at Rochelle, condemned
to death, and executed.  The Admiral de Coligny, brother of the
Cardinal, was reputed one of the greatest captains of his time: he did
marvels at the defence of Saint-Quentin.  The place, however, was taken
by storm, and he was made a prisoner of war.  Having become the real
leader of the Calvinists, under the Prince de Condé, he displayed the
most undaunted courage and extraordinary fertility of resource; neither
his merit nor his military skill was ever called in question; and yet
he was uniformly unsuccessful in every one of his enterprises.  In 1562
he lost the battle of Dreux to the Duc de Guise; that of St. Denis to
the Constable de Montmorency; and, finally, that of Jarnac, which was
no less fatal to his party.  He endured yet another reverse at
Montcontour, in Poitou, but his courage remained unshaken; his skill
was able to parry the attacks of fortune, and he appeared more
redoubtable after his defeats than his enemies in the midst of their
victories.  Often wounded, but always impervious to fear, he remarked
one day quietly to his friends, who wept as they saw his blood flow:
'Should not the profession we follow cause us to regard death with the
same indifference as life?'  A few days before the Massacre of St.
Bartholomew, Maurevert shot him with a carbine from a house in the
cloister of St. Germain-l'Auxerrois, and wounded him dangerously in the
right hand and left arm.  On the eve of that sanguinary day, Besme, at
the head of a party of cutthroats, contrived to enter the admiral's
house, and ran him several times through the body, then flinging him
out of the window into the courtyard, where he expired, it is said, at
the feet of the Duc de Guise.  His body was exposed for three days to
the insults of the mob, and finally hung by the feet to the gibbet of

"Thus, though the Admiral de Coligny passed for the greatest general of
his time, he was always unfortunate and always defeated; while the Duc
de Guise, his rival, who had less wisdom but more audacity, and above
all more confidence in his destiny, was able to take his enemies by
surprise and render himself master of events.  'Coligny was an honest
man,' said the Abbe de Mably; 'Guise wore the mask of a greater number
of virtues.  Coligny was detested by the people; Guise was their idol.'
It is stated that the Admiral left a diary, which Charles IX. read with
interest, but the Marshal de Retz had it flung into the fire.  Finally,
a fatal destiny clinging to all who bore the name of Coligny, the last
descendant of the family was killed in a duel by the Chevalier de

[3] It is a remarkable and constant fact that great catastrophes claim
infinitely fewer victims than the most reasonable probabilities might
have led one to suppose.  At the last moment a fortuitous or
exceptional circumstance is almost always found to have kept away half,
and sometimes two-thirds, of the persons who were threatened by the
still invisible danger.  A steamer that goes to the bottom has
generally fewer passengers on board than would have been the case had
she not been destined to go down.  Two trains that collide, an express
that falls over a precipice, &c., carry less travellers than they would
on a day when nothing is going to happen.  Should a bridge collapse,
the accident will generally be found to occur, in defiance of all
probability, at the moment the crowd has just left it.  In the case of
fires in theatres and other public places, things unfortunately happen
otherwise.  But there, as we know, the principal danger does not lie in
the fire, but in the panic of the terror-stricken crowd.  Again, a
fire-damp explosion will usually occur at a time when the number of
miners inside the mine is appreciably inferior to the number that would
habitually be there.  Similarly, when a powder factory is blown up, the
majority of the workmen, who would otherwise all have perished, will be
found to have left the mill for some trifling, but providential,
reason.  So true is this, that the almost unvarying remark, that we
read every day in the papers, has become familiar and hackneyed, as: "A
catastrophe which might have assumed terrible proportions was
fortunately confined, thanks to such and such a circumstance," &c.,
&c.; or, "One shudders to think what might have happened had the
accident occurred a moment sooner, when all the workmen, all the
passengers," &c.  Is this the clemency of Chance?  We are becoming ever
less inclined to credit it with a personality, with design or
intelligence.  There is more reason in the supposition that something
in man has defined the disaster; that an obscure but unfailing instinct
has preserved a great number of people from a danger that was on the
point of taking shape, of assuming the imminent and imperious form of
the inevitable; and that their unconsciousness, taking alarm, is seized
with hidden panic, which manifests itself outwardly in a caprice, a
whim, some puerile and inconsistent incident, that is yet irresistible
and becomes the means of salvation.

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