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Title: Diderot and the Encyclopædists - Volume II.
Author: Morley, John, 1838-1923
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Diderot and the Encyclopædists - Volume II." ***

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_First published elsewhere_

_New Edition 1886. Reprinted 1891, 1897, 1905_





  (1) _The Conversations of a Father with his Children_              1
      Remarks upon it.
  (2) _The Inconsistency of Public Judgment on Private Actions_      8
  (3) _Supplement to Bougainville's Travels_                        14
  Philosophical qualities of the discussion not satisfactory        19
  Nothing gained by his criticism on marriage                       21



  Digression inevitable in dealing with Diderot                     24
  Richardson's influence in Europe                                  26
  Diderot's _Éloge_ upon him                                        28
  Rousseau and Richardson                                           29
  Diderot writes _The Nun_ (1796)                                   31
  Circumstances of its composition                                  32
  Its intention                                                     33
  And characteristics                                               35
  Sterne                                                            36
  Diderot writes _Jacques le Fataliste_                             37
  Its history                                                       38
  Goethe's criticism on it                                          38
  Nature of Diderot's imitation of Richardson and Sterne            40
  No true creation in _Jacques le Fataliste_                        41
  Its unredeemed grossness                                          43
  Its lack of poetry and of flavour                                 44



  The _Salons_                                                      45
  Qualities of their criticism                                      45
  Deep foundation of Diderot's critical quality                     46
  French art-criticism                                              48
  Dufresnoy, Dubos, Webb, André, Batteux                        48, 49
  Travellers in Italy                                               50
  Diderot never in Italy                                            52
  Spirit of French art in his day                                   52
  Greuze, Diderot's favourite                                       56
  Greuze's _Accordée de Village_                                    57
  Hogarth would have displeased Diderot                             59
  Diderot's considerateness in criticism                            60
  Boucher                                                           62
  Fragonard                                                         62
  Diderot adds literary charm to scientific criticism               63
  His readiness for moral asides                                    65
  His suggestions of pictorial subjects                             68
  His improved versions                                             69
  Illustration of his variety of approach                           72
  Diderot's Essay on Painting                                       73
  Goethe's commentary                                               73
  Difference of type between Goethe and Diderot                     76
  Diderot's Essay on Beauty                                         78
  His anticipation of Lessing                                       82
  Music                                                             83



  Diderot's resolution to visit the Empress of Russia               84
  The Princess Dashkow                                              84
  Prince Galitzin                                                   85
  Diderot in Holland (1773)                                         86
  St. Petersburg and Russian civilisation                           89
  The Empress                                                       91
  Accounts of her by men of affairs                                 92
  Her pursuit of French culture                                     94
  Her interest in the French philosophic party                      96
  Partly the result of political calculation                        98
  The philosophers and the Partition of Poland                     101
  Rulhière's narrative of Catherine's accession                    102
  Falconet, the first Frenchman welcomed by her                    104
  Diderot arrives at St. Petersburg (1773)                         106
  His conversations with the Empress                               107
  Not successful as a politician                                   108
  General impression of him                                        109
  Grimm outstrips him in court favour                              110
  Diderot's return to the Hague                                    112
  Björnstähl's report of him                                       114
  Contemporary literature in Holland                               117
  Hemsterhuys                                                      118
  The Princess Galitzin                                            119
  Diderot's return to Paris                                        121



  Three works of which Diderot was regarded as the inspirer        123
  Helvétius's _L'Esprit_                                           123
  Contemporary protests against it                                 123
  Turgot's weighty criticism                                       124
  Real drift of the book                                           127
  Account of Helvétius                                             127
  The style of his book                                            134
  The momentous principle contained in it                          135
  Adopted from Helvétius by Bentham                                136
  Helvétius's statement of doctrine of Utility                     137
  Miscarriage of the doctrine in his hands                         139
  His fallacy                                                      140
  True side of his objectionable position                          140
  Helvétius's reckless presentation of a true theory               141
  Confusion of beneficence with self-love                          142
  Imitation from Mandeville                                        143
  Mean anecdotes                                                   144
  Nature of Helvétius's errors                                     144
  Explanation of them                                              146
  Positive side of his speculation                                 147
  Its true significance                                            149
  Second great paradox of _L'Esprit_                               149
  Benjamin Constant's _Adolphe_                                    152



  Publication of the _System of Nature_ (1770)                     155
  Its startling effect                                             156
  Voltaire's alarm                                                 158
  He never understood Holbach's position                           159
  Account of Holbach                                               160
  Disregard of historic opinion in his book                        163
  Its remarkable violence against the government                   165
  The sting of this violence                                       166
  The doctrine from which Holbach's book arose                     167
  Account of Holbach's Naturalism                                  168
  His proposition concerning Man                                   173
  He uses the orthodox language about the pride of man             177
  His treatment of Morals                                          178
  Onslaught upon the theory of Free Will                           178
  Connection of necessarianism with humanity in punishment         181
  His answer to some objections against necessarianism             181
  Chapter on the Immortality of the Soul                           183
  His enthusiasm for reforms                                       185
  The literature of a political revolution                         187
  Misrepresentation of Holbach's ethical theory                    188
  The _System of Nature_, a protest against ascetic ideals         191
  The subject of the second half of the book                       193
  Repudiation of the _à priori_ method                             194
  Replies to the common charges against atheism                    197
  The chapter on the superiority of Naturalism                     198
  Political side of the indictment against religion                199
  Holbach's propagandism                                           202



  Contemporary estimate of _The History of the Indies_             204
  Account of Raynal                                                205
  Composition of the book                                          207
  Its varied popularity                                            209
  Frederick the Great dislikes it                                  210
  Signal merit of the History                                      213
  Its shortcomings                                                 214
  Its idyllic inventions                                           215
  Its animation and variety                                        218
  Superficial causes of its popularity                             220
  Its deeper source                                                221
  Catholicism in contact with the lower races                      222
  The other side of this                                           223
  Raynal's book a plea for justice and humanity                    224
  Morality towards subject races                                   226
  Slavery                                                          227
  Raynal's conduct in the Revolution                               229
  His end                                                          231



  Diderot's meditation on life and death                           232
  Age overtakes him on his return from Russia                      233
  Writes his life of Seneca                                        235
  Its quality                                                      236
  Interest to Diderot of Seneca's career                           237
  Strange digression in the Essay                                  239
  Reason for Diderot's anger against Rousseau                      240
  His usual magnanimity                                            241
  Diderot's relations with Voltaire                                244
  Naigeon                                                          246
  Romilly's account of Diderot                                     247
  Palissot and the conservative writers                            249
  The ecclesiastical champions of the old system                   251
  The precursors gradually disappearing                            253
  Galiani                                                          254
  Beaumarchais's _Mariage de Figaro_                               255
  Diderot's famous couplet                                         256
  His fellow-townsmen at Langres                                   257
  Last days                                                        258



  The variety of Diderot's topics                                  261

  (1) _Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature_                   262
    Maupertuis's _Loi d'Epargne_                                   262
    General scope of Diderot's aphorisms                           263
    Prophecy about geometry                                        264
    Utility made to prescribe limits to speculation                267
    The other side of this principle                               267
    On Final Causes                                                268
    Adaptation of the Leibnitzian law of economy                   269

  (2) _D'Alembert's Dream_                                         271
    Diderot not the originator of French materialism               272
    Materialism of the three dialogues                             273
    Mdlle. Lespinasse's moral objections                           274

  (3) _Plan of a University for Russia_                            275
    Religious instruction                                          276
    Latin and Greek                                                277
    Letter to the Countess of Forbach                              278

  (4) _Conversation with the Maréchale de ----_                    278
    Parable of the young Mexican                                   279

  (5) _Letters to Falconet_                                        281
    Diderot defends the feeling for posterity                      283


  _Rameau's Nephew: a Translation_                                 285




We may now pass to performances that are nearer to the accepted surface
of things. A short but charming example of Diderot's taste for putting
questions of morals in an interesting way, is found in the _Conversation
of a Father with his Children_ (published in 1773). This little dialogue
is perfect in the simple realism of its form. Its subject is the peril
of setting one's own judgment of some special set of circumstances above
the law of the land. Diderot's venerable and well-loved father is
sitting in his arm-chair before the fire. He begins the discussion by
telling his two sons and his daughter, who are tending him with pious
care, how very near he had once been to destroying their inheritance. An
old priest had died leaving a considerable fortune. There was believed
to be no will, and the next of kin were a number of poor people whom the
inheritance would have rescued from indigence for the rest of their
days. They appointed the elder Diderot to guard their interests and
divide the property. He finds at the bottom of a disused box of ancient
letters, receipts, and other waste-paper, a will made long years ago,
and bequeathing all the fortune to a very rich bookseller in Paris.
There was every reason to suppose that the old priest had forgotten the
existence of the will, and it involved a revolting injustice. Would not
Diderot be fulfilling the dead man's real wishes by throwing the
unwelcome document into the flames?

At this point in the dialogue the doctor enters the room and interrupts
the tale. It appears that he is fresh from the bedside of a criminal who
is destined to the gallows. Diderot the younger reproaches him for
labouring to keep in the world an offender whom it were best to send out
of it with all despatch. The duty of the physician is to say to so
execrable a patient--"I will not busy myself in restoring to life a
creature whom it is enjoined upon me by natural equity, the good of
society, the well-being of my fellow-creatures, to give up. Die, and let
it never be said that through my skill there exists a monster the more
on earth!" The doctor parries these energetic declamations with
sufficient skill. "My business is to cure, not to judge; I shall cure
him, because that is my trade; then the judge will have him hung,
because that is his trade." This episodic discussion ended, the story of
the will is resumed. The father, when on the point of destroying it, was
seized with a scruple of conscience, and hastened to a curé well versed
in casuistry. As in England the agents of the law itself not seldom play
the part of arbitrary benevolence, which the old Diderot would fain have
played against the law, the scene may perhaps be worth transcribing:

     "'Nothing is more praiseworthy, sir, than the sentiment of
     compassion that touches you for these unfortunate people. Suppress
     the testament and succour them--good; but on condition of restoring
     to the rightful legatee the exact sum of which you deprive him,
     neither more nor less. Who authorised you to give a sanction to
     documents, or to take it away? Who authorised you to interpret the
     intentions of the dead?'

     'But then, father Bouin, the old box?'

     'Who authorised you to decide whether the will was thrown away on
     purpose, or mislaid by accident? Has it never happened to you to do
     such a thing, and to find at the bottom of a chest some valuable
     paper that you had tossed there inadvertently?'

     'But, father Bouin, the far-off date of the paper, and its

     'Who authorised you to pronounce on the justice or injustice of the
     document, and to regard the bequest as an unlawful gift, rather
     than as a restitution or any other lawful act which you may choose
     to imagine?'

     'But, these poor kinsfolk here on the spot, and that mere
     collateral, distant and wealthy?'

     'Who authorised you to weigh in your balance what the dead man owed
     to his distant relations, whom you don't know?'

     'But, father Bouin, that pile of letters from the legatee, which
     the departed never even took the trouble to open?'

     'There is neither old box, nor date, nor letters, nor father Bouin,
     nor if, nor but, in the case. No one has any right to infringe the
     laws, to enter into the intention of the dead, or to dispose of
     other people's property. If providence has resolved to chastise
     either the heir or the legatee or the testator--we cannot tell
     which--by the accidental preservation of the will, the will must

    [1] _Oeuv._, v. 289.

Diderot the younger declaims against all this with his usual vehemence,
while his brother, the abbé, defends the supremacy of the law on the
proper ground, that to evade or defy it in any given case is to open the
door to the sophistries of all the knaves in the universe. At this point
a journeyman of the neighbourhood comes in with a new case of
conscience. His wife has died after twenty years of sickness; in these
twenty years the cost of her illness has consumed all that he would
otherwise have saved for the end of his days. But, as it happens, the
marriage portion that she brought him has lain untouched. By law this
ought to go to her family. Equity, however, seems to justify him in
keeping what he might have spent if he had chosen. He consults the party
round the fire. One bids him keep the money; another forbids him; a
third thinks it fair for him to repay himself the cost of his wife's
illness. Diderot's father cries out, that since on his own confession
the detention of the inheritance has brought him no comfort, he had
better surrender it as speedily as possible, and eat, drink, sleep,
work, and make himself happy so.

     "'Not I,' cried the journeyman abruptly, 'I shall be off to

     'And dost thou think to leave remorse behind?'

     'I can't tell, but to Geneva I go.'

     'Go where thou wilt, there wilt thou find thy conscience.'

     The hatter went away; his odd answer became the subject of our
     talk. We agreed that perhaps distance of place and time had the
     effect of weakening all the feelings more or less, and stifling the
     voice of conscience even in cases of downright crime. The assassin
     transported to the shores of China is too far off to perceive the
     corpse that he has left bleeding on the banks of the Seine.

     Remorse springs perhaps less from horror of self than from fear of
     others; less from shame for the deed, than from the blame and
     punishment that would attend its discovery. And what clandestine
     criminal is tranquil enough in his obscurity not to dread the
     treachery of some unforeseen circumstance, or the indiscretion of
     some thoughtless word? What certainty can he have that he will not
     disclose his secret in the delirium of fever, or in dreams? People
     will understand him if they are on the scene of the action, but
     those about him in China will have no key to his words."[2]

    [2] v. 295, 296.

Two other cases come up. Does the husband or wife who is the first to
break the marriage vow, restore liberty to the other? Diderot answered
affirmatively. The second case arose from a story that the abbé had been
reading. A certain honest cobbler of Messina saw his country overrun by
lawlessness. Each day was marked by a crime. Notorious assassins braved
the public exasperation. Parents saw their daughters violated; the
industrious saw the fruits of their toil ravished from them by the
monopolist or the fraudulent tax-gatherer. The judges were bribed, the
innocent were afflicted, the guilty escaped unharmed. The cobbler
meditating on these enormities devised a plan of vengeance. He
established a secret court of justice in his shop; he heard the
evidence, gave a verdict, pronounced sentence, and went out into the
street with his gun under his cloak to execute it. Justice done, he
regained his stall, rejoicing as though he had slain a rabid dog. When
some fifty criminals had thus met their doom, the viceroy offered a
reward of two thousand crowns for information of the slayer, and swore
on the altar that he should have full pardon if he gave himself up. The
cobbler presented himself, and spoke thus: "I have done what was your
duty. 'Tis I who condemned and put to death the miscreants that you
ought to have punished. Behold the proofs of their crimes. There you
will see the judicial process which I observed. I was tempted to begin
with yourself; but I respected in your person the august master whom you
represent. My life is in your hands: dispose of it as you think right."
Well, cried the abbé, the cobbler, in spite of all his fine zeal for
justice, was simply a murderer. Diderot protested. His father decided
that the abbé was right, and that the cobbler was an assassin.

Nothing short of a transcript of the whole would convey a right idea of
the dramatic ease of this delightful dialogue--its variety of
illustration with unity of topic, the naturalness of movement, the
pleasant lightness of touch. At its close the old man calls for his
nightcap; Diderot embraces him, and in bidding him good-night whispers
in his ear, "Strictly speaking, father, there are no laws for the sage.
All being open to exception, 'tis for him to judge the cases in which we
ought to submit to them, or to throw them over." "I should not be
sorry," his father answers, "if there were in the town one or two
citizens like thee; but nothing would induce me to live there, if they
all thought in that way." The conclusion is just, and Diderot might have
verified it by the state of the higher society of his country at that
very moment. One cause of the moral corruption of France in the closing
years of the old _régime_ was undoubtedly the lax and shifting
interpretations, by which the Jesuit directors had softened the rigour
of general moral principles. Many generations must necessarily elapse
before a habit of loosely superseding principles in individual cases
produces widespread demoralisation, but the result is inevitable, sooner
or later; and this, just in proportion as the principles are sound. The
casuists practically constructed a system for making the observance
alike of the positive law, and of the accepted ethical maxims, flexible
and conditional. The Diderot of the present dialogue takes the same
attitude, but has the grace to leave the demonstration of its
impropriety to his wise and benevolent sire.

       *       *       *       *       *

II. We shall presently see that Diderot did not shrink from applying a
vigorous doubt to some of the most solidly established principles of
modern society. Let us meanwhile in passing notice that short piece of
plangent irony, which did not appear until many years after his death
(1798), and which he or some one else entitled, _On the inconsistency of
the Public Judgment on our Private Actions_. This too is in the form of
dialogue, but the argument of the story is in its pith as follows.
Desroches, first an abbé, then a lawyer, lastly a soldier, persuades a
rich and handsome widow to marry him. She is aware of his previous
gallantries, and warns him in very dramatic style before a solemn
gathering of friends, that if he once wounds her by an infidelity, she
will shut herself up and speedily die of grief. He makes such vows as
most men would make under such circumstances; he presses her hands
ardently to his lips, bedews them with his tears, and moves the whole
company to sympathy with his own agitation. The scene is absurd enough,
or seems so to us dull people of phlegmatic habit. Yet Diderot, even for
us, redeems it by the fine remark: "'Tis the effect of what is good and
virtuous to leave a large assembly with only one thought and one soul.
How all respect one another, love one another in such moments! For
instance, how beautiful humanity is at the play! Ah, why must we part so
quickly? Men are so good, so happy, when what is worthy unites all their
suffrages, melts them, makes them one."[3] For some time all went well,
and our pair were the happiest of men and women. Then various assaults
were made on the faithfulness of Desroches. He resisted them, until in
endeavouring to serve a friend he was forced to sue for the goodwill of
a lady with whom in his unregenerate days he had had passages of
gallantry. The old intrigue was renewed. Letters of damning proof fell
by ill hazard into his wife's hands. She reassembled her friends,
denounced the culprit, and forthwith carried away her child to seek
shelter with her aged mother. Desroches's fervent remorse was unheeded,
his letters were sent back unopened, he was denied the door. Presently,
the aged mother died. Then the infant. Lastly, the wife herself. Now,
says Diderot to his interlocutor, I pray you to turn your eyes to the
public--that imbecile crowd that pronounces judgment on us, that
disposes of our honour, that lifts us to the clouds or trails us through
the mud. Opinion passed through every phase about Desroches. The
shifting event is ever their one measure of praise and blame. A fault
which nobody thought more than venial became gradually aggravated in
their eyes by a succession of incidents which it was impossible for
Desroches either to foresee or to prevent. At first opinion was on his
side, and his wife was thought to have carried things with too high a
hand. Then, after she had fallen ill, and her child had died, and her
aged mother had passed away in the fulness of years, he began to be held
answerable for all this sea of troubles. Why had not Desroches written
to his wife, beset her doors, waylaid her as she went to church? He
had, as matter of fact, done all these things, but the public did not
know it. The important thing is, not to know, but to talk. Then, as it
befell, his wife's brother took Desroches's place in his regiment; there
he was killed. More exclamations as to the misfortune of being connected
with such a man. How was Desroches responsible for the death of his
mother-in-law, already well stricken in years? How could he foresee that
a hostile ball would pierce his brother-in-law in his first campaign?
But his wife? He must be a barbarian, a monster, who had gradually
pressed a poniard into the bosom of a divine woman, his wife, his
benefactress, and then left her to die, without showing the least sign
of interest or feeling. And all this, cries Diderot, for not knowing
what was concealed from him, and what was unknown and unsuspected even
by those who were daily about her? What presumption, what bad logic,
what incoherence, what unjustified veering and vacillation in all these
public verdicts from beginning to end!

    [3] _Oeuv._, v. 342.

Yet we feel that Diderot's impetuous taunts fail to press to the root of
the matter. Diderot excels in opening a subject; he places it in a new
light; he furnishes telling concrete illustrations; he thoroughly
disturbs and unsettles the medium of conventional association in which
it has become fixed. But he does not leave the question readjusted. His
mind was not of that quality which is slow to complain where it cannot
explain; which does not quit a discussion without a calm and orderly
review of the conditions that underlie the latest exhibition of human
folly, shortsightedness, or injustice. The public condemnation of
Desroches for consequences that were entirely strange to his one
offence, was indefensible on grounds of strict logic. But then men have
imagination as well as reason. Imagination is stronger than reason with
most of them. Their imagination was touched by the series of disasters
that followed Madame Desroches's abandonment of her husband. They admit
no plea of remoteness of damage, such as law courts allow. In a way that
was loose and unreasonable, but still easily intelligible, the husband
became associated with a sequel for which he was not really answerable.
If the world's conduct in such cases were accurately expressed, it would
perhaps be found that people have really no intention to pronounce a
judicial sentence; they only mean that an individual's associations have
become disagreeable and doubtful to them. They may think proper to
justify the grievously meagre definition of _homo_ as _animal
rationale_, by varnishing their distaste with reasons; the true reason
is that the presence of a Desroches disturbs their comfort, by recalling
questionable and disorderly circumstances. That this selfish and rough
method many a time inflicts horrible cruelty is too certain, and those
to whom the idea of conduct is serious and deep-reaching will not fall
into it. A sensible man is aware of the difficulty of pronouncing wisely
upon the conduct of others, especially where it turns upon the
intricate and unknowable relations between a man and a woman. He will
not, however, on that account break down the permanent safeguards, for
the sake of leniency in a given case. _A great enemy to indifference, a
great friend to indulgence_, said Turgot of himself; and perhaps it is
what we should all do well to be able to say of ourselves.

Again, though these ironical exposures of the fatuity and recklessness
and inconsistency of popular verdicts are wholesome enough in their
degree in all societies, yet it has been, and still remains, a defect of
some of the greatest French writers to expect a fruit from such
performances which they can never bear. In the long run a great body of
men and women is improved less by general outcry against its collective
characteristics than by the inculcation of broader views, higher
motives, and sounder habits of judgment, in such a form as touches each
man and woman individually. It is better to awaken in the individual a
sense of responsibility for his own character than to do anything,
either by magnificent dithyrambs or penetrating satire, to dispose him
to lay the blame on Society. Society is after all only a name for other
people. An instructive contrast might be drawn between the method of
French writers of genius, from Diderot down to that mighty master of our
own day, Victor Hugo, in pouring fulminant denunciations upon Society,
and the other method of our best English writers, from Milton down to
Mill, in impressing new ideas on the Individual, and exacting a
vigorous personal answer to the moral or spiritual call.

One other remark may be worth making. It is characteristic of the
immense sociability of the eighteenth century, that when he saw
Desroches sitting alone in the public room, receiving no answers to his
questions, never addressed by any of those around him, avoided, coldly
eyed, and morally proscribed, Diderot never thought of applying the
artificial consolation of the Stoic. He never dreamed of urging that
expulsion from the society of friends was not a hardship, a true
punishment, and a genuine evil. No one knew better than Diderot that a
man should train himself to face the disapprobation of the world with
steadfast brow and unflinching gaze; but he knew also that this is only
done at great cost, and is only worth doing for clear and far-reaching
objects. Life was real to Diderot, not in the modern canting sense of
earnestness and making a hundred thousand pounds; but in the sense of
being an agitated scene of living passion, interest, sympathy, struggle,
delight, and woe, in which the graceful ascetic commonplaces of the
writer and the preacher barely touch the actual conditions of human
experience, or go near to softening the smart of chagrin, failure,
mistake, and sense of wrong, any more than the sweet music of the birds
poised in air over a field of battle can still the rage and horror of
the plain beneath. As was said by a good man, who certainly did not fail
to try the experiment,--"Speciosa quidem ista sunt, oblitaque rhetoricæ
et musicæ melle dulcedinis; tum tantum cum audiuntur oblectant. Sed
miseris malorum altior sensus est. Itaque quum hæc auribus insonare
desierint, insitus animum moeror prægravat."[4]

    [4] Boethius.

       *       *       *       *       *

III. We may close this chapter with a short account of the _Supplement
to Bougainville's Travels_, which was composed in 1772, and published
twenty-four years later. The second title is, _A dialogue on the
disadvantage of attaching moral ideas to certain physical actions which
do not really comport with them_. Those who believe that the ruling
system of notions about marriage represents the last word that is to be
said as to the relations between men and women, will turn away from
Diderot's dialogue with some impatience. Those, on the contrary, who
hold that the present system is no more immovably fixed in ultimate laws
of human nature, no more final, no more unimprovable, no more sacred,
and no more indisputably successful, than any other set of social
arrangements and the corresponding moral ideas, will find something to
interest them, though, as it seems to the present writer, very little to
instruct. Bougainville was the first Frenchman who sailed round the
world. He did in 1766-69 what Captain Cook did about the same time. The
narrative of his expedition appeared in 1771, and the picture of life
among the primitive people of the Southern Seas touched Diderot almost
as deeply as if he had been Rousseau. As one says so often in this
history of the intellectual preparation for the Revolution, the
corruption and artificiality of Parisian society had the effect of
colouring the world of primitive society with the very hues of paradise.
Diderot was more free from this besetting weakness than any of his
contemporaries. He never fell into Voltaire's fancy that China is a land
of philosophers.[5] But he did not look very critically into the real
conditions of life in the more rudimentary stages of development, and
for the moment he committed the sociological anachronism of making the
poor people of Otaheite into wise and benevolent patriots and sound
reasoners. The literary merit of the dialogue is at least as striking as
in any of the pieces of which we have already spoken. The realism of the
scenes between the ship-chaplain and his friendly savage, with too
kindly wife, and daughters as kindly as either, is full of sweetness,
simplicity, and a sort of pathos. A subject which easily takes on an air
of grossness, and which Diderot sometimes handled very grossly indeed,
is introduced with an idyllic grace that to the pure will hardly be
other than pure. We have of course always to remember that Diderot is an
author for grown-up people, as are the authors of the Bible or any other
book that deals with more than the surface of human experience. Our
English practice of excluding from literature subjects and references
that are unfit for boys and girls, has something to recommend it, but it
undeniably leads to a certain narrowness and thinness, and to some most
nauseous hypocrisy. All subjects are evidently not to be discussed by
all; and one result in our case is that some of the most important
subjects in the world receive no discussion whatever.

    [5] See, however, above, vol. i. p. 274.

The position which Diderot takes up in the present dialogue may be
inferred from the following extract. The ship-chaplain has been
explaining to the astonished Otaheitan the European usage of strict
monogamy, as the arrangement enjoined upon man by the Creator of the
universe, and vigilantly guarded by the priest and the magistrate. To
which, Orou thus:

     "These singular precepts I find opposed to nature and contrary to
     reason. They are contrary to nature because they suppose that a
     being who thinks, feels, and is free, can be the property of a
     creature like itself. Dost thou not see that in thy land they have
     confounded the thing that has neither sensibility, nor thought, nor
     desire, nor will; that one leaves, one takes, one keeps, one
     exchanges, without its suffering or complaining--with a thing that
     is neither exchanged nor acquired, that has freedom, will, desire,
     that may give or may refuse itself for the moment; that complains
     and suffers; and that cannot become a mere article of commerce,
     unless you forget its character and do violence to nature? And they
     are contrary to the general law of things. Can anything seem more
     senseless to thee than a precept which proscribes the law of change
     that is within us, and which commands a constancy that is
     impossible, and that violates the liberty of the male and the
     female, by chaining them together in perpetuity;--anything more
     senseless than are oaths of immutability, taken by two creatures of
     flesh, in the face of a sky that is not an instant the same, under
     vaults that threaten ruin, at the base of a rock crumbling to
     dust, at the foot of a tree that is splitting asunder?... You may
     command what is opposed to nature, but you will not be obeyed. You
     will multiply evil-doers and the unhappy by fear, by punishment,
     and by remorse; you will deprave men's consciences; you will
     corrupt their minds; they will have lost the polar star of their
     pathway." (225.)

After this declamation he proceeds to put some practical questions to
the embarrassed chaplain. Are young men in France always continent, and
wives always true, and husbands never libertines? The chaplain's answers
disclose the truth to the keen-eyed Orou:

     "What a monstrous tissue is this that thou art unfolding to me! And
     even now thou dost not tell me all; for as soon as men allow
     themselves to dispose at their own will of the ideas of what is
     just and unjust, to take away, or to impose an arbitrary character
     on things; to unite to actions or to separate from them the good
     and the evil, with no counsellor save caprice--then come blame,
     accusation, suspicion, tyranny, envy, jealousy, deception, chagrin,
     concealment, dissimulation, espionage, surprise, lies; daughters
     deceive their parents, wives their husbands, husbands their wives;
     young women, I don't doubt, will smother their children; suspicious
     fathers will despise and neglect their children; mothers will leave
     them to the mercy of accident; and crime and debauchery will show
     themselves in every guise. I know all that, as if I had lived among
     you. It is so, because it must be so; and that society of thine, in
     spite of thy chief who vaunts its fine order, is nothing but a
     collection of hypocrites who secretly trample the laws under foot;
     or of unfortunate wretches who make themselves the instrument of
     their own punishment, by submitting to these laws; or of imbeciles,
     in whom prejudice has absolutely stifled the voice of nature."

The chaplain has the presence of mind to fall back upon the radical
difficulty of all such solutions of the problem of family union as were
practised in Otaheite, or were urged by philosophers in Paris, or are
timidly suggested in our own times in the droll-sounding form of
marriages for terms of years with option of renewal. That difficulty is
the disposal of the children which are the fruit of such unions. Orou
rejoins to this argument by a very eloquent account how valuable, how
sought after, how prized, is the woman who has her quiver full of them.
His contempt for the condition of Europe grows more intense, as he
learns that the birth of a child among the bulk of the people of the
west is rather a sorrow, a perplexity, a hardship, than a delight and
ground of congratulation.

The reader sees by this time that in the present dialogue Diderot is
really criticising the most fundamental and complex arrangement of our
actual western society, from the point of view of an arbitrary and
entirely fanciful naturalism. Rousseau never wrote anything more
picturesque, nor anything more dangerous, nor more anarchic and
superficially considered. It is true that Diderot at the close of the
discussion is careful to assert that while we denounce senseless laws,
it is our duty to obey them until we have procured their reform. "He who
of his own private authority infringes a bad law, authorises every one
else to infringe good laws. There are fewer inconveniences in being mad
with the mad, than in being wise by oneself. Let us say to ourselves,
let us never cease to cry aloud, that people attach shame, chastisement,
and infamy to acts that in themselves are innocent; but let us abstain
from committing them, because shame, punishment, and infamy are the
greatest of evils." And we hear Diderot's sincerest accents when he
says, "Above all, one must be honest, and true to a scruple, with the
fragile beings who cannot yield to our pleasures without renouncing the
most precious advantages of society."[6]

    [6] _Oeuv._, ii. 249.

This, however, does not make the philosophical quality of the discussion
any more satisfactory. Whatever changes may ultimately come about in the
relations between men and women, we may at least be sure that such
changes will be in a direction even still further away than the present
conditions of marriage, from anything like the naturalism of Diderot and
the eighteenth-century school. Even if--what does not at present seem at
all likely to happen--the idea of the family and the associated idea of
private property should eventually be replaced by that form of communism
which is to be seen at Oneida Creek, still the discipline of the
appetites and affections of sex will necessarily on such a system be not
less, but far more rigorous to nature than it is under prevailing
western institutions.[7] Orou would have been a thousand times more
unhappy among the Perfectionists under Mr. Noyes than in Paris or
London. We cannot pretend here to discuss the large group of momentous
questions involved, but we may make a short remark or two. One reason
why the movement, if progressive, must be in the direction of greater
subordination of appetite, is that all experience proves the position
and moral worth of women, taking society as a whole, to be in proportion
to the self-control of their male companions. Nobody doubts that man is
instinctively polygamous. But the dignity and self-respect, and
consequently the whole moral cultivation of women, depends on the
suppression of this vagrant instinct. And there is no more important
chapter in the history of civilisation than the record of the steps by
which its violence has been gradually reduced.

    [7] See Nordhoff's _Communistic Societies of the United States_
    (London: Murray, 1875), pp. 259-293. This grave and most instructive
    book shows how modifiable are some of those facts of existing human
    character which are vulgarly deemed to be ultimate and ineradicable.

There is another side, we admit. The home, of which sentimental
philosophers love to talk, is too often a ghastly failure. The conjugal
union, so tender and elevating in its ideal, is in more cases than we
usually care to recognise, the cruellest of bonds to the woman, the most
harassing, deadening, spirit-breaking of all possible influences to the
man. The purity of the family, so lovely and dear as it is, has still
only been secured hitherto by retaining a vast and dolorous host of
female outcasts. When Catholicism is praised for the additions which it
has made to the dignity of womanhood and the family, we have to set
against that gain the frightful growth of this caste of poor creatures,
upon whose heads, as upon the scapegoat of the Hebrew ordinance, we put
all the iniquities of the children of the house, and all their
transgressions in all their sins, and then banish them with maledictions
into the foul outer wilderness and the land not inhabited.

On this side there is much wholesome truth to be told, in the midst of
the complacent social cant with which we are flooded. But Diderot does
not help us. Nothing can possibly be gained by reducing the attraction
of the sexes to its purely physical elements, and stripping it of all
the moral associations which have gradually clustered round it, and
acquired such force as in many cases among the highest types of mankind
to reduce the physical factor to a secondary place. Such a return to the
nakedness of the brute must be retrograde. And Diderot, as it happened,
was the writer who, before all others, habitually exalted the delightful
and consolatory sentiment of the family. Nobody felt more strongly the
worth of domestic ties, when faithfully cherished. It can only have been
in a moment of elated paradox that he made one of the interlocutors in
the dialogue on Bougainville pronounce Constancy, "The poor vanity of
two children who do not know themselves, and who are blinded by the
intoxication of a moment to the instability of all that surrounds them:"
and Fidelity, "The obstinacy and the punishment of a good man and a
good woman:" and Jealousy, "The passion of a miser; the unjust sentiment
of man; the consequence of our false manners, and of a right of property
extending over a feeling, willing, thinking, free creature."[8]

    [8] _Oeuv._, ii. 243.

It is a curious example of the blindness which reaction against excess
of ascetic doctrine bred in the eighteenth century, that Diderot should
have failed to see that such sophisms as these are wholly destructive of
that order and domestic piety, to whose beauty he was always so keenly
alive. It is curious, too, that he should have failed to recognise that
the erection of constancy into a virtue would have been impossible, if
it had not answered first, to some inner want of human character at its
best, and second, to some condition of fitness in society at its best.

How is it, says one of the interlocutors, that the strongest, the
sweetest, the most innocent of pleasures is become the most fruitful
source of depravation and misfortune? This is indeed a question well
worth asking. And it is comforting after the anarchy of the earlier part
of the dialogue to find so comparatively sensible a line of argument
taken in answer as the following. This evil result has been brought
about, he says, by the tyranny of man, who has converted the possession
of woman into a property; by manners and usages that have overburdened
the conjugal union with superfluous conditions; by the civil laws that
have subjected marriage to an infinity of formalities; by religious
institutions that have attached the name of vices and virtues to actions
that are not susceptible of morality. If this means that human happiness
will be increased by making the condition of the wife more independent
in respect of property; by treating in public opinion separation between
husband and wife as a transaction in itself perfectly natural and
blameless, and often not only laudable, but a duty; and by abolishing
that barbarous iniquity and abomination called restitution of conjugal
rights, then the speaker points to what has been justly described as the
next great step in the improvement of society. If it means that we do
wrong to invest with the most marked, serious, and unmistakable
formality an act that brings human beings into existence, with uncounted
results both to such beings themselves and to others who are equally
irresponsible for their appearance in the world, then the position is
recklessly immoral, and it is, moreover, wholly repugnant to Diderot's
own better mind.



The President de Brosses on a visit to Paris, in 1754, was anxious to
make the acquaintance of that "furious metaphysical head," as he styled
Diderot. Buffon introduced him. "He is a good fellow," said the
President, "very pleasant, very amiable, a great philosopher, a strong
reasoner, but given to perpetual digressions. He made twenty-five
digressions yesterday in my room, between nine o'clock and one o'clock."
And so it is that a critic who has undertaken to give an account of
Diderot, finds himself advancing from digression to digression, through
a chain of all the subjects that are under the sun. The same Diderot,
however, is present amid them all, and behind each of them; the same
fresh enthusiasm, the same expansive sympathy, the same large
hospitality of spirit. Always, too, the same habitual reference of
ideas, systems, artistic forms, to the complex realities of life, and to
these realities as they figured to sympathetic emotions.

It was inevitable that Diderot should make an idol of the author of
_Clarissa Harlowe_. The spirit of reaction against the artificiality of
the pseudo-classic drama, which drove him to feel the way to a drama of
real life in the middle class, made him exult in the romance of ordinary
private life which was invented by Richardson. It was no mere accident
that the modern novel had its origin in England, but the result of
general social causes. The modern novel essentially depends on the
interest of the private life of ordinary men and women. But this
interest was only possible on condition that the feudal and aristocratic
spirit had received its deathblow, and it was only in England that such
a revolution had taken place even partially. It was only in England as
yet that the middle class had conquered a position of consideration,
equality, and independence. Only in England, as has been said, had every
man the power of making the best of his own personality, and arranging
his own destiny according to his private goodwill and pleasure.[9] The
greatest of Richardson's successors in the history of English fiction
adds to this explanation. "Those," says Sir Walter Scott, "who with
patience had studied rant and bombast in the folios of Scuderi, could
not readily tire of nature, sense, and genius in the octavos of
Richardson." The old French romances in which Europe had found a dreary
amusement, were stories of princes and princesses. It was to be expected
that the first country where princes and princesses were shorn of
divinity and made creatures of an Act of Parliament, would also be the
country where imagination would be most likely to seek for serious
passion, realistic interest, and all the material for pathos and tragedy
in the private lives of common individuals. It is true that Marivaux,
the author of _Marianne_, was of the school of Richardson before
Richardson wrote a word. But this was an almost isolated appearance, and
not the beginning of a movement. Richardson's popularity stamped the
opening of a new epoch. It was the landmark of a great social, no less
than a great literary transition, when all England went mad with
enthusiasm over the trials, the virtue, the triumph of a rustic

    [9] Hettner's _Literaturgeschichte_, i. 462.

In the literary circles of France the enthusiasm for Richardson was
quite as great as it was in England. There it was one of the signs of
the certain approach of that transformation which had already taken
place in England; the transformation from feudalism to industrial
democracy. It may sound a paradox to say that a passion for Richardson
was a symbol that a man was truly possessed by the spirit of political
revolution. Yet it is true. Voltaire was a revolter against superstition
and the tyranny of the church, but he never threw off the monarchic
traditions of his younger days; he was always a friend of great nobles;
he had no eye and no inclination for social overthrow. And this is what
Voltaire said of _Clarissa Harlowe_: "It is cruel for a man like me to
read nine whole volumes in which you find nothing at all. I said--Even
if all these people were my relations and friends, I could take no
interest in them. I can see nothing in the writer but a clever man who
knows the curiosity of the human race, and is always promising something
from volume to volume, in order to go on selling them." In the same way,
and for exactly the same reasons, he could never understand the
enthusiasm for the _New Heloïsa_, the greatest of the romances that were
directly modelled on Richardson. He had no vision for the strange social
aspirations that were silently haunting the inner mind of his
contemporaries. Of these aspirations, in all their depth and
significance, Diderot was the half-conscious oracle and unaccepted
prophet. It was not deliberate philosophical calculation that made him
so, but the spontaneous impulse of his own genius and temperament. He
was no conscious political destroyer, but his soul was open to all those
voices of sentiment, to all those ideals of domestic life, to those
primary forces of natural affection, which were so urgently pressing
asunder the old feudal bonds, and so swiftly ripening a vast social
crisis. Thus his enthusiasm for Richardson was, at its root, another
side of that love of the life of peaceful industry, which gave one of
its noblest characteristics to the Encyclopædia.

To this enthusiasm Diderot gave voice in half a dozen pages which are
counted among his masterpieces. Richardson died in 1761, and Diderot
flung off a commemorative piece, which is without any order and
connection; but this makes it more an echo, as he called it, of the
tumult of his own heart. Here, indeed, he merits Gautier's laudatory
phrase, and is as "flamboyant" as one could desire. To understand the
march of feeling in French literature, and to measure the growth and
expansion in criticism, we need only compare Diderot's _eloge_ on
Richardson with Fontenelle's _éloge_ on Dangeau or Leibnitz. The
exaggerations of phrase, the violences of feeling, the broken
apostrophes, give to Diderot's _éloge_ an unpleasant tone of
declamation. Some of us may still prefer the moderation, the subtlety,
the nice discrimination, of the critics of another school. Still it
would be a sign of narrowness and short-sight not to discern the
sincerity, the movement, the real meaning underneath all that profusion
of glaring colour.

     "O Richardson, Richardson, unique among men in my eyes, thou shalt
     be my favourite all my life long! If I am hard driven by pressing
     need, if my friend is overtaken by want, if the mediocrity of my
     fortune is not enough to give my children what is necessary for
     their education, I will sell my books; but thou shalt remain to me,
     thou shalt remain on the same shelf with Moses, Homer, Euripides,

     "O Richardson, I make bold to say that the truest history is full
     of falsehoods, and that your romance is full of truths. History
     paints a few individuals; you paint the human race. History sets
     down to its few individuals what they have neither said nor done;
     whatever you set down to man, he has both said and done.... No; I
     say that history is often a bad novel; and the novel, as you have
     handled it, is good history. O painter of nature, 'tis you who are
     never false!

     "You accuse Richardson of being long! You must have forgotten how
     much trouble, pains, busy movement, it costs to bring the smallest
     undertaking to a good issue,--to end a suit, to settle a marriage,
     to bring about a reconciliation. Think of these details what you
     please, but for me they will be full of interest if they are only
     true, if they bring out the passions, if they display character.
     They are common, you say; it is all what one sees every day. You
     are mistaken; 'tis what passes every day before your eyes, and what
     you never see."

In Richardson's work, he says, as in the world, men are divided into two
classes, those who enjoy and those who suffer, and it is always to the
latter that he draws the mind of the reader. It is due to Richardson, he
cries, "if I have loved my fellow-creatures better, and loved my duties
better; if I have never felt anything but pity for the bad; if I have
conceived a deeper compassion for the unfortunate, more veneration for
the good, more circumspection in the use of present things, more
indifference about future things, more contempt for life, more love for
virtue." The works of Richardson are his touch-stone; those who do not
love them, stand judged and condemned in his eyes. Yet in the midst of
this tumult of admiration Diderot admits that the number of readers who
will feel all their value can never be great; it requires too severe a
taste, and then the variety of events is such, relations are so
multiplied, the management of them is so complicated, there are so many
things arranged, so many personages! "O Richardson; if thou hast not
enjoyed in thy lifetime all the reputation of thy deserts, how great
wilt thou be to our grandchildren when they see thee from the distance
at which we now view Homer! Then who will there be with daring enough to
strike out a line of thy sublime work?"[10] Yet of the very moderate
number of living persons who have ever read _Clarissa Harlowe_, it would
be safe to say that the large majority have read it in a certain
abridgment in three volumes which appeared some years ago.

    [10] The _Eloge de Richardson_ is in Diderot's Works, v. 212-227.

Doctor Johnson made the answer of true criticism to some one who
complained to him that Richardson is tedious. "Why, sir," he said, "if
you were to read Richardson for the story, your impatience would be so
much frighted that you would hang yourself. But you must read him for
the sentiment, and consider the story only as giving occasion to the
sentiment." And this is just what Diderot and the Paris of the middle of
the eighteenth century were eager to do. It was the sentiment that
touched and delighted them in _Clarissa_, just as it was the sentiment
that made the fortune of the great romance in their own tongue, which
was inspired by _Clarissa_, and yet was so different from _Clarissa_.
Rousseau threw into the _New Heloïsa_ a glow of passion of which the
London printer was incapable, and he added a beauty of external
landscape and a strong feeling for the objects and movement of wild
natural scenery that are very different indeed from the atmosphere of
the cedar-parlour and the Flask Walk at Hampstead. But the sentiment,
the adoration of the _belle âme_, is the same, and it was the _belle
âme_ that fascinated that curious society, where rude logic and a stern
anti-religious dialectic went hand-in-hand with the most tender and
exalted sensibility.[11] It is singular that Diderot says nothing about
Rousseau's famous romance, and we can only suppose that his silence
arose from his contempt for the private perversity and seeming
insincerity of the author.

    [11] The _belle âme_ was the origin of the _schöne Seele_ that has
    played such a part in German literature and life. The reader will
    find a history of the expression in an appendix to Dr. Erich
    Schmidt's study. _Richardson, Rousseau, und Goethe_ (Jena, 1875).

Diderot made one attempt of his own, in which we may notice the
influence of the minute realism and the tearful pathos of Richardson.
_The Nun_ was not given to the world until 1796, when its author had
been twelve years in his grave. Since then it has been reproduced in
countless editions in France and Belgium, and has been translated into
English, Spanish, and German. It fell in with certain passionate
movements of the popular mind against some anti-social practices of the
Catholic Church. Perhaps it is not unjust to suppose that the horrible
picture of the depraved abbess has had some share in attracting a

It is thoroughly characteristic of Diderot's dreamy, heedless humour,
and of the sincerity both of his interest in his work for its own sake,
and of his indifference to the popular voice, that he should have
allowed this, like so many other pieces, to lie in his drawer, or at
most to circulate clandestinely among three or four of his more
intimate friends. It was written about 1760, and ingenious historians
have made of it a signal for the great crusade against the Church. In
truth, as we have seen, it was a strictly private performance, and could
be no signal for a public movement. _La Religieuse_ was undoubtedly an
expression of the strong feeling of the Encyclopædic school about
celibacy, renunciation of the world, and the burial of men and women
alive in the cloister.

The circumstances under which the story was written are worthy of a word
or two. Among the friends of Madame d'Epinay, Grimm, and Diderot was a
certain Marquis de Croismare. He had deserted the circle, and retired to
his estates in Normandy. It occurred to one of them that it would be a
pleasant stratagem for recalling him to Paris, to invent a personage who
should be shut up in a convent against her will, and then to make this
personage appeal to the well-known courage and generosity of the Marquis
de Croismare to rescue her. A previous adventure of the Marquis
suggested the fiction, and made its success the more probable. Diderot
composed the letters of the imaginary nun, and the conspirators had the
satisfaction of making merry at supper over the letters which the loyal
and unsuspecting Marquis sent in reply. At length the Marquis's interest
became so eager that they resolved that the best way of ending his
torment was to make the nun die. When the Marquis de Croismare returned
to Paris, the plot was confessed, the victim of the mystification
laughed at the joke, and the friendship of the party seemed to be
strengthened by their common sorrow for the woes of the dead sister. But
Diderot had been taken in his own trap. His imagination, which he had
set to work in jest, was caught by the figure and the situation. One day
while he was busy about the tale, a friend paid him a visit, and found
him plunged in grief and his face bathed in tears. "What in the world
can be the matter with you?" cried the friend. "What the matter?"
answered Diderot in a broken voice; "I am filled with misery by a story
that I am writing!" This capacity of thinking of imaginary personages as
if they were friends living in the next street, had been stirred by
Richardson. His acquaintances would sometimes notice anxiety and
consternation on his countenance, and would ask him if anything had
befallen his health, his friends, his family, his fortune. "O my
friends," he would reply, "Pamela, Clarissa, Grandison ...!" It was in
their world, not in the Rue Taranne, that he really lived when these
brooding moods overtook him. And while he was writing _The Nun_, Sister
Susan and Sister Theresa, the lady superior of Longchamp, and the
libertine superior of Saint Eutropius, were as alive to him as Clarissa
was alive to the score of correspondents who begged Richardson to spare
her honour, not to let her die, to make Lovelace marry her, or by no
means to allow Lovelace to marry her.

_The Nun_ professes to be the story of a young lady whose family have
thrust her into a convent, and her narrative, with an energy and
reality that Diderot hardly ever surpassed, presents the odious sides of
monastic life, and the various types of superstition, tyranny, and
corruption that monastic life engenders. Yet Diderot had far too much
genius to be tempted into the exaggerations of more vulgar assailants of
monkeries and nunneries. He may have begun his work with the purpose of
attacking a mischievous and superstitious system that mutilates human
life, but he certainly continued it because he became interested in his
creations. Diderot was a social destroyer by accident, but in intention
he was a truly scientific moralist, penetrated by the spirit of
observation and experiment; he shrunk from no excess in dissection, and
found nothing in human pathology too repulsive for examination. Yet _The
Nun_ has none of the artificial violences of the modern French school,
which loves moral disease for its own sake. The action is all very
possible, and the types are all sufficiently human and probable. The
close realistic touches which flowed from the intensity of the writer's
illusion, naturally convey a certain degree of the same illusion to the
mind of the reader.

Existence as it goes on in these strange hives is caught with what one
knows to be true fidelity; its dulness, its littleness, its goings and
comings, its spite, its reduction of the spiritual to the most purely

     "The first moments passed in mutual praises, in questions about the
     house that I had quitted, in experiments as to my character, my
     inclinations, my tastes, my understanding. They feel you all over;
     there is a number of little snares that they set for you, and from
     which they draw the most just conclusions. For example, they throw
     out some word of scandal, and then they look at you; they begin a
     story, and then wait to see whether you will ask for the end or
     will leave it there; if you make the most ordinary remark, they
     declare that it is charming, though they know well enough that it
     is nothing; they praise or they blame you with a purpose; they try
     to worm out your most hidden thoughts; they question you as to what
     you read; they offer you religious books and profane, and carefully
     notice your choice; they invite you to some slight infractions of
     the rule; they tell you little confidences, and throw out hints
     about the foibles of the Lady Superior. All is carefully gathered
     up and told over again. They leave you, they take you up again;
     they try to sound your sentiments about manners, about piety, about
     the world, about religion, about the monastic life, about
     everything. The result of all these repeated experiments is an
     epithet that stamps your character, and is always added by way of
     surname to the name that you already bear. I was called Sister
     Susan the Reserved."[12]

    [12] _La Religieuse._ _Oeuv._, v. 110.

The portraits we feel to be to the life. The strongest of them all is
undoubtedly the most disagreeable, the most atrocious; it is, if you
will, the most infamous. We can only endure it as we endure to traverse
the ward for epileptics in an hospital for the insane. It is appalling,
it fills you with horror, it haunts you for days and nights, it leaves a
kind of stain on the memory. It is a possibility of character of which
the healthy, the pure, the unthinking have never dreamed. Such a
portrait is not art, that is true; but it is science, and that delivers
the critic from the necessity of searching his vocabulary for the cheap
superlatives of moral censure. Whether it be art or science, however,
men cannot but ask themselves how Diderot came to think it worth while
to execute so painful a study. The only answer is that the
irregularities of human nature--those more shameful parts of it, which
in some characters survive the generations of social pressure that have
crushed them down in civilised communities--had an irresistible
attraction for the curiosity of his genius. The whole story is full of
power; it abounds in phrases that have the stamp of genius; and
suppressed vehemence lends to it strength. But it is fatally wanting in
the elements of tenderness, beauty, and sympathy. If we chance to take
it up for a second or for a tenth time, it infallibly holds us; but
nobody seeks to return to it of his own will, and it holds us under

If Richardson created one school in France, Sterne created another. The
author of _Tristram Shandy_ was himself only a follower of one of the
greatest of French originals, and a follower at a long distance. Even
those who have the keenest relish for our "good-humoured, civil,
nonsensical, Shandean kind of a book," ought to admit how far it falls
behind Rabelais in exuberance, force, richness of extravagance, breadth
of colour, fulness of blood. They may claim, however, for Sterne what,
in comparison with these great elements, are the minor qualities of
simplicity, tenderness, precision, and finesse. These are the qualities
that delighted the French taste. In 1762 Sterne visited Paris, and found
_Tristram Shandy_ almost as well known there as in London, and he
instantly had dinners and suppers for a fortnight on his hands. Among
them were dinners and suppers at Holbach's, where he made the
acquaintance of Diderot, and where perhaps he made the discovery that
"notwithstanding the French make such a pother about the word
_sentiment_, they have no precise idea attached to it."[13] The
_Sentimental Journey_ appeared in 1768, and was instantly pronounced by
the critics in both countries to be inimitable. It is no wonder that a
performance of such delicacy of literary expression, united with so much
good-nature, such easy, humane, amiable feeling, went to the hearts of
the French of the eighteenth century. "My design in it," said Sterne,
"was to teach us to love the world and our fellow-creatures better than
we do, so it runs most upon those gentle passions and affections which
aid so much to it."[14] This exactly fell in with the reigning Parisian
modes, and with such sentiment as that of Diderot most of all. There
were several French imitations of the _Sentimental Journey_,[15] but the
only one that has survived in popular esteem, if indeed this can be said
to have survived, is Diderot's _Jacques le Fataliste_.

    [13] Sterne's Letters, May 23, 1765.

    [14] Nov. 12, 1767.

    [15] E.g. _Le Voyageur Sentimental_ of Vernes (Grimm, _Corr. Lit._,
    xiii. 227).

It seems to have been composed about the time (1773) of Diderot's
journey to Holland and St. Petersburg, of which we shall have more to
say in a later chapter. Its history is almost as singular as the history
of _Rameau's Nephew_. A contemporary speaks of a score of copies as
existing in different parts of Germany, and we may conjecture that they
found their way there from friends whom Diderot made in Holland, and
some of them were no doubt sent by Grimm to his subscribers. The first
fragment of it that saw the light in print was in a translation that
Schiller made of its most striking episode, in the year 1785. This is
another illustration of the eagerness of the best minds of Germany to
possess and diffuse the most original products of French intelligence
and hardihood. Diderot, as we have said, stands in the front rank along
with Rousseau, along also with Richardson, Sterne, and Goldsmith, among
those who in Germany kindled the glow of sentimentalism, both in its
good and its bad forms. It was in Germany that the first complete
version of the whole of _Jacques le Fataliste_ appeared, in 1792. Not
until four years later did the French obtain an original transcript.
This they owed to the generosity of Prince Henri of Prussia, the brother
of Frederick the Great; he presented it to the Institute.

"There is going about here," wrote Goethe in 1780, while Diderot was
still alive, "a manuscript of Diderot's called _Jacques le Fataliste et
son Maître_, and it is really first-rate--a very fine and exquisite
meal, prepared and dished up with great skill, as if for the palate of
some singular idol. I set myself in the place of this Bel, and in six
uninterrupted hours swallowed all the courses in the order, and
according to the intentions, of this excellent cook and _maître
d'hôtel_."[16] He goes on to say that when other people came to read it,
some preferred one story, and some another. On the whole, one is
strongly inclined to judge that few modern readers will equal Goethe's
unsparing appetite. The reader sighs in thinking of the brilliant and
unflagging wit, the verve, the wicked graces of _Candide_, and we long
for the ease and simplicity and light stroke of the _Sentimental
Journey_. Diderot has the German heaviness. Perhaps this is because he
had too much conscience, and laboured too deeply under the burdensome
problems of the world. He could not emancipate himself sufficiently from
the tumult of his own sympathies. At many a page both of _Jacques le
Fataliste_, and of others of his pieces, we involuntarily recall the
writer's own contention that excess of sensibility makes a mediocre
actor. The same law is emphatically true of the artist. Diderot never
writes as if his spirit were quite free--and perhaps it never was free.
If we are to enjoy these reckless outbursts of all that is bizarre and
grotesque, these defiances of all that is sane, coherent, and rational,
we must never feel conscious of a limitation, or a possibility of stint
or check. The draught must seem to come from an exhaustless fountain of
boisterous laughter, irony, and caprice. Perfect fooling is so rare an
art, that not half a dozen men in literature have really possessed it;
perhaps only Aristophanes, Rabelais, Shakespeare. _Candide_, wonderful
as it is, has many a stroke of malice, and _Tristram Shandy_, wonderful
as that is too, is not without tinges of self-consciousness; and neither
malice nor self-consciousness belongs to the greater gods of buffoonery.
Cervantes and Molière, those great geniuses of finest temper, still have
none of the reckless buffoonery of such scenes as that between Prince
Henry and the drawer, or the mad extravagances of the _Merry Wives_;
still less of the wild topsy-turvy of the _Birds_ or the _Peace_. They
have not the note of true Pantagruelism. Most critics, again, would find
in Swift a truculence, sometimes latent and sometimes flagrant, that
would deprive him, too, of his place among these great masters of free
and exuberant farce. Diderot, at any rate, must rank in the second class
among those who have attempted to tread a measure among the whimsical
zigzags of unreason. The sincere sentimentalist makes a poor reveller.

    [16] Quoted in Rosenkranz, ii. 326.

We have spoken, as many others have done before us, of Diderot as
imitating our two English celebrities, and in one sense that is a
perfectly true description. In _Jacques le Fataliste_ whole sentences
are transcribed in letter and word from _Tristram Shandy_. Yet imitation
is hardly the right word for the process by which Diderot showed that an
author had seized and affected him. _La Religieuse_ would not have been
written if there had been no Richardson, nor _Jacques le Fataliste_ if
there had been no Sterne; yet Diderot's work is not really like the work
of either of his celebrated contemporaries. They gave him the suggestion
of a method and a sentiment to start from, and he mused and brooded over
it until, from among the clouds of his imagination, there began to loom
figures of his own, moving along a path which was also his own. This was
the history of his adaptation of _The Natural Son_ from Goldoni. We can
only be sure that nothing became blithe in its passage through his mind.
He was too much of a preacher to be an effective humorist.

There is in _Jacques le Fataliste_ none of that gift of true creation
which produced such figures as Trim, and my Uncle Toby, and Mr. Shandy.
Jacques's master is a mere lay figure, and Jacques himself, with his
monotonous catchword, "_Il était écrit là-haut_," has no real
personality; he has none of the naturalness that wins us to Corporal
Trim, still less has he any touch of the profound humour of the immortal
Sancho. The book is a series of stories, rather than Sterne's subtle
amalgam of pathos, gentle irony, and frank buffoonery; and the stories
themselves are for the most part either insipid or obscene. There is
perhaps one exception. The longest and the most elaborate of them, that
which Schiller translated, is more like one of the modern French novels
of a certain kind, than any other production of the eighteenth century.
The adventure of Madame de Pommeraye and the Marquis d'Arcis is a crude
foreshadowing of a style that has been perfected by M. Feydeau and M.
Flaubert. The Marquis has been the lover of Madame de Pommeraye; he
grows weary of her, and in time the lady discovers the bitter truth.
Resignation is not among her virtues, and in her rage and anguish she
devises an elaborate plan of revenge, which she carries out with the
utmost tenacity and resolution. It consists in leading him on, by
skilful incitements, to marry a woman whom he supposes to be an angel of
purity, but whom Madame de Pommeraye triumphantly reveals to him on the
morning after his marriage as a creature whose past history has been one
of notorious depravity. This disagreeable story, of which Balzac would
have made a masterpiece, is told in an interesting way, and the
humoristic machinery by which the narrative is managed is less tiresome
than usual. It is at least a story with meaning, purpose, and character.
It is neither a jumble without savour or point, nor is it rank and gross
like half the pages in the book. "Your _Jacques_," Diderot supposes some
one to say to him, "is only a tasteless rhapsody of facts, some real,
others imaginary, written without grace, and distributed without order.
How can a man of sense and conduct, who prides himself on his
philosophy, find amusement in spinning out tales so obscene as
these?"[17] And this is exactly what the modern critic is bound to ask.
In Rabelais there is at least puissant laughter; in Montaigne, when he
dwells on such matters, there is _naïveté_. In Diderot we do not even
feel that he is having any enjoyment in his grossnesses; they have not
even the bad excuse of seeming spontaneous and coming from the fulness
of his heart. "Reader," he says, "I amuse myself in writing the follies
that you commit; your follies make me laugh; and my book puts you out of
humour. To speak frankly to you, I find that the more wicked of us two
is not myself." Unhappily, he does not convey the impression of
amusement to his readers; it has no infection in it, and if his book
puts us out of humour, it is not by its satire on mankind, but by its
essential want of point and want of meaning, either moral or æsthetic.
The few masters of this style have known how to bind the heterogeneous
elements together, if not by some deep-lying purpose, at least by some
pervading mood of rich and mellow feeling. In _Jacques le Fataliste_ is

    [17] vi. 221, 222.

That men of the stamp of Goethe and Schiller should have found such a
book of delicious feast, naturally makes the disparaging critic pause.
In truth, we can easily see how it was. Like all the rest of Diderot's
work, it breaks roughly in upon that starved formalism which had for
long lain so heavily both on art and life. Its hardihood, its very
license, its contempt of conventions, its presentation of common people
and coarse passions and rough lives, all made it a dissolvent of the
thin, dry, and frigid rules which tyrannised over the world, and
interposed between the artist or the thinker and the real existence of
man on the earth. When we think of what European literature was, it
ceases to be wonderful that Goethe should have been unable for six whole
hours to tear himself away from a book that so few men to-day, save
under some compulsion, could persuade themselves to read through. On
great wholesome minds the grossness left no stain, and the interest of
Diderot's singularities worked as a stimulus to a happier originality in
men of more disciplined endowments. And let us add, of more poetic
endowments. It is the lack of poetry in _Jacques_ that makes its irony
so heavy to us. We only willingly suffer those to take us down into the
depths who can also raise us on the wings of a beautiful fancy. Even
Rabelais has his poetic moments, as in the picture of Cupid
self-disarmed before the industrious serenity of the Muses. A single
lovely image, like Sterne's figure of the recording angel, reconciles us
to many a miry page. But in _Jacques le Fataliste_, Diderot never raises
his eye for an instant to the blue æther, his ear catches no harmony of
awe, of hope, nor even of a noble despair. With a kind of clumsy
jubilancy he holds us fast in the ways and language of thick and clogged
sense. The _fatrasie_ of old France has its place in literature, but it
can never be restored in ages when a host of moral anxieties have laid
siege to men's souls. The uncommon is always welcome to the lover of
art, but it must justify itself. _Jacques_ has the quality of the
uncommon; it is a curiously prepared dish, as Goethe said; but it lacks
the pinch of salt and the handful of herbs with sharp diffusive



In 1759 Diderot wrote for Grimm the first of his criticisms on the
exhibition of paintings in the Salon. At the beginning of the reign of
Lewis XV. these exhibitions took place every year, as they take place
now. But from 1751 onwards, they were only held once in two years.
Diderot has left his notes on every salon from 1759 to 1781, with the
exception of that of 1773, when he was travelling in Holland and Russia.

We have already seen how Grimm made Diderot work for him. The nine
_Salons_ are one of the results of this willing bondage, and they are
perhaps the only part of Diderot's works that has enjoyed a certain
measure of general popularity. Mr. Carlyle describes them with emphatic
enthusiasm: "What with their unrivalled clearness, painting the picture
over again for us, so that we too _see_ it, and can judge it; what with
their sunny fervour, inventiveness, real artistic genius, which wants
nothing but a _hand_, they are with some few exceptions in the German
tongue, the only Pictorial Criticisms we know of worth reading."[18] I
only love painting in poetry, Madame Necker said to Diderot, and it is
into poetry that you have found out the secret of rendering the works of
our modern painters, even the commonest of them. It would be a truly
imperial luxury, wrote A. W. Schlegel, to get a collection of pictures
described for oneself by Diderot.

    [18] _Essays_, iv. 303. (Ed. 1869.)

There is a freshness, a vivacity, a zeal, a sincerity, a brightness of
interest in his subject, which are perhaps unique in the whole history
of criticism. He flings himself into the task with the perfection of
natural abandonment to a joyous and delightful subject. His whole
personality is engaged in a work that has all the air of being
overflowing pleasure, and his pleasure is contagious. His criticism
awakens the imagination of the reader. Not only do we see the picture;
we hear Diderot's own voice in ecstasies of praise and storms of
boisterous wrath. There is such mass in his criticism; so little of the
mincing and niggling of the small virtuoso. In facility of expression,
in animation, in fecundity of mood, in fine improvisation, these pieces
are truly incomparable. There is such an _impetus animi et quædam artis
libido_. Some of the charm and freedom may be due to the important
circumstance that he was not writing for the public. He was not exposed
to the reaction of a large unknown audience upon style; hence the
absence of all the stiffness of literary pose. But the positive
conditions of such success lay in the resources of Diderot's own

The sceptic, the dogmatist, the dialectician, and the other personages
of a heterogeneous philosophy who existed in Diderot's head, all
disappear or fall back into a secondary place, and he surrenders himself
with a curious freedom to such imaginative beauty as contemporary art
provided for him. Diderot was perhaps the one writer of the time who was
capable on occasion of rising above the strong prevailing spirit of the
time; capable of forgetting for a season the passion of the great
philosophical and ecclesiastical battle. No one save Diderot could have
been moved by sight of a picture to such an avowal as this:

     "Absurd rigorists do not know the effect of external ceremonies on
     the people; they can never have seen the enthusiasm of the
     multitude at the procession of the _Fête Dieu_, an enthusiasm that
     sometimes gains even me. I have never seen that long file of
     priests in their vestments; those young acolytes clad in their
     white robes, with broad blue sashes engirdling their waists, and
     casting flowers on the ground before the Holy Sacrament; the crowd
     as it goes before and follows after them hushed in religious
     silence, and so many with their faces bent reverently to the
     ground; I have never heard that grave and pathetic chant, as it is
     led by the priests and fervently responded to by an infinity of
     voices of men, of women, of girls, of little children, without my
     inmost heart being stirred, and tears coming into my eyes. There is
     in it something, I know not what, that is grand, solemn, sombre,
     and mournful."

Thus to find the material of religious reaction in the author of
_Jacques le Fataliste_ and the centre of the atheistic group, completes
the circle of Diderot's immense and deep-lying versatility. And in his
account of such a mood, we see how he came to be so great and poetical a
critic; we see the sincerity, the alertness, the profound mobility, with
which he was open to impressions of colour, of sound, of the pathos of
human aspiration, of the solemn concourses of men.

France has long been sovereign in criticism in its literary sense. In
that department she has simply never had, and has not now, any serious
rival. In the profounder historic criticism, Germany exhibits her one
great, peculiar, and original gift. In the criticism of art Germany has
at least three memorable names; but save where history is concerned most
modern German æsthetics are so clouded with metaphysical speculation as
to leave the obscurity of a very difficult subject as thick as it was
before. In France the beginnings of art-criticism were literary rather
than philosophic, and with the exception of Cousin's worthless
eloquence, and of the writers whose philosophy Cousin dictated, and of
M. Taine's ingenious paradoxes, Diderot is the only writer who has
deliberately brought a vivid spirit and a philosophic judgment to the
discussion of the forms of Beauty, as things worthy of real elucidation.
As far back as the time of the English Restoration, Dufresnoy had
written in bad Latin a poem on the art of Painting, which had the signal
honour of being translated into good English by no less illustrious a
master of English than Dryden, and it was again translated by Mason, the
friend of Reynolds and of Gray. Imitations, applied to the pictorial
art, of the immortal Epistle to the Pisos, came thick in France in the
eighteenth century.[19] But these effusions are merely literary, and
they are very bad literature indeed. The abbé Dubos published in 1719 a
volume of Critical Reflections on Poetry and Painting, including
observations also on the relations of those arts to Music. Lessing is
known to have made use of this work in his _Laocöon_, and Diderot gave
it a place among the books which he recommended in his Plan of a
University.[20] This, as it is the earliest, seems to have been the best
contribution to æsthetic thought before Lessing and Diderot. Daniel
Webb, the English friend of Raphael Mengs, published an Enquiry into the
Beauties of Painting (1760), and Diderot wrote a notice of it,[21] but
it appears to have made no mark on his mind. André, a Jesuit father,
wrote an Essay on the Beautiful (1741), which distributed the kinds of
art with precision, but omitted to say in what the Beautiful consists.
The abbé Batteux wrote a volume reducing the fine arts to a single
principle, and another volume attempting a systematic classification of
them. The first of these was the occasion of Diderot's Letter on Deaf
Mutes, and Diderot described their author as a good man of letters, but
without taste, without criticism, and without philosophy; _à ces
bagatelles près, le plus joli garçon du monde_.[22]

    [19] _E.g._ Watelet's poem, _Sur l'Art de Peindre_, 1760; Le
    Mierre's _Sur la Peinture_, 1769; Marsy's _Pictura Carmen_, 1736.
    See Diderot's works, xiii. 17, etc.

    [20] _Oeuv._, iii. 486. Guhrauer, ii. 15. Also Blümner's admirable
    edition of the _Laocöon_, p. 173.

    [21] xiii. 33.

    [22] Grimm, _Corr. Lit._, iv. 136. In another place in the same work
    either Grimm or Diderot makes a remark about Batteux, which is worth
    remembering in our own age of official vindications of orthodoxy.
    The abbé had written a book about first causes. "I venture to
    observe moreover to M. l'abbé Batteux that when in this world a man
    has put on the dress of any sort of harlequin, red or black, with a
    pair of bands or a frill, he ought to give up once for all every
    kind of philosophic discussion, because it is impossible for him to
    speak according to his faith and his conscience; and a writer of bad
    faith is all the more odious, as nothing compelled him to break
    silence." _Ib._ vi. 120.

Travellers to the land where criticism of art has been so slight, and
where production has been so noble, so bounteous, so superb, published
the story of what Italy had shown to them. Madame de Pompadour designed
to make her brother the Superintendent of fine arts, and she despatched
Cochin, the great engraver of the day, to accompany him in a studious
tour through the holy land of the arts. Cochin was away nearly two
years, and on his return produced three little volumes (1758), in which
he deals such blows to some vaunted immortalities as made the idolators
by convention not a little angry. The abbé Richard (1766) published six
very stupid volumes on Italy, and such criticism on art as they contain
is not worthy of serious remark. The President de Brosses spent a year
in Italy (1739-40), and wrote letters to his friends at home, which may
be read to-day with interest and pleasure for their graphic picture of
Italian society; but the criticisms which they contain on the great
works of art are those of a well-informed man of the world, taking many
things for granted, rather than of a philosophical critic industriously
using his own mind. His book recalls to us how true the eighteenth
century was to itself in its hatred of Gothic architecture, that symbol
and associate of mysticism, and of the age which the eighteenth century
blindly abhorred as the source of all the tyrannical laws and cruel
superstitions that still weighed so heavily on mankind. "You know the
Palace of Saint Mark at Venice," says De Brosses: "_c'est un vilain
monsieur, s'il eu fut jamais, massif, sombre, et gothique, du plus
méchant goût_!"[23]

    [23] _Lettres Familières_, i. 174. (Ed. 1869.)

Dupaty, like De Brosses, an eminent lawyer, an acquaintance of Diderot
and an early friend of a conspicuous figure of a later time, the
ill-starred Vergniaud, travelled in Italy almost immediately before the
Revolution (1785), and his letters, when read with those of De Brosses,
are a curious illustration of the change that had come over the spirit
of men in the interval. He leaves the pictures of the Pitti collection
at Florence, and plunges into meditation in the famous gardens behind
the palace, rejoicing with much expansion in the glories of light and
air, in greenery and the notes of birds, and finally sums all up in one
rapturous exclamation of the vast superiority of nature over art.[24]

    [24] Dupaty's _Lettres sur l'Italie_, No. 40. In talking of Rome, he
    complains in a very Diderotian spirit of the want of _le beau
    moral_. "On ne trouve ici dans les moeurs ni des hommes privés ni
    des hommes publics, cette moralité, cette bienséance, dont les
    moeurs françoises sont pleines. _Le beau moral est absolument
    inconnu._ Or, c'est pour atteindre à ce beau moral dans tous les
    genres que la sensibilité est la plus tourmentée; qu'elle est en
    proie aux contentions de l'esprit, aux émulations de l'âme ...
    qu'elle pare avec tant de raffinement et de peine, les écrits, les
    discours, les passions, enfin toute la vie publique et privée.'

It is impossible, in reading how deeply Diderot was affected by
fifth-rate paintings and sculpture, not to count it among the great
losses of literature that he saw few masterpieces. He never made the
great pilgrimage. He was never at Venice, Florence, Parma, Rome. A
journey to Italy was once planned, in which Grimm and Rousseau were to
have been his travelling companions;[25] the project was not realised,
and the strongest critic of art that his country produced never saw the
greatest glories of art. If Diderot had visited Florence and Rome, even
the mighty painter of the Last Judgment and the creator of those sublime
figures in the New Sacristy at San Lorenzo, would have found an
interpreter worthy of him. But it was not to be. "It is rare," he once
wrote, "for an artist to excel without having seen Italy, just as a man
seldom becomes a great writer or a man of great taste without having
given severe study to the ancients."[26] Diderot at least knew what he

    [25] x. 514, _n._

    [26] xi. 241.

French art was then, as art usually is, the mirror of its time,
reproducing such imaginative feeling as society could muster. When the
Republic and the Empire came, and twenty years of battle and siege, then
the art of the previous generation fell into a degree of contempt for
which there is hardly a parallel. Pictures that had been the delight of
the town and had brought fortunes to their painters, rotted on the quays
or were sold for a few pence at low auctions. Fragonard, who had been
the darling of his age, died in neglect and beggary. David and his
hideous art of the Empire utterly effaced what had thrown the
contemporaries of Diderot into rapture.[27] Every one knows all that can
be said against the French paintings of Diderot's time. They are
executed hastily and at random; they abound in technical defects of
colour, of drawing, of composition; their feeling is light and shallow.
Watteau died in 1721--at the same premature age as Raphael,--but he
remained as the dominating spirit of French art through the eighteenth
century. Of course the artists went to Rome, but they changed sky and
not spirit. The pupils of the academy came back with their portfolios
filled with sketches in which we see nothing of the "lone mother of dead
empires," nothing of the vast ruins and the great sombre desolate
Campagna, but only Rome turned into a decoration for the scenes of a
theatre or the panels of a boudoir. The Olympus of Homer and of Virgil,
as has been well said, becomes the Olympus of Ovid. Strength, sublimity,
even stateliness disappeared, unless we admit some of the first two
qualities in the landscapes of Vernet. Not only is beauty replaced by
prettiness, but by prettiness in season and out of season. The common
incongruity of introducing a spirit of elegance and literature into the
simplicities of the true pastoral, was condemned by Diderot as a mixture
of Fontenelle with Theocritus. We do not know what name he would have
given to that still more curious incongruity of taste, which made a
publisher adorn a treatise on Differential and Integral Calculus with
amusing plates by Cochin, and introduce dainty little vignettes into a
Demonstration of the Properties of the Cycloid.

    [27] Goncourt's _L'Art au 18ième Siècle_, i.

There is one true story that curiously illustrates the spirit of French
art in those equivocal days. When Madame de Pompadour made up her mind
to play pander to the jaded appetites of the king, she had a famous
female model of the day introduced into a _Holy Family_, which was
destined for the private chapel of the queen. The portrait answered its
purpose; it provoked the curiosity and desire of the king, and the model
was invited to the Parc-aux-Cerfs.[28] This was typical of the service
that painting was expected to render to the society that adored it and
paid for it. "All is daintiness, delicate caressing for delicate senses,
even down to the external decoration of life, down to the sinuous lines,
the wanton apparel, the refined commodity of rooms and furniture. In
such a place and in such company, it is enough to be together to feel
at ease. Their idleness does not weigh upon them; life is their

    [28] Goncourt's _Art au 18ième Siècle_, i. 213.

    [29] Taine's _Ancien Régime_, p. 186.

Only let us not, while reserving our serious admiration for Titian,
Rembrandt, Raphael, and the rest of the gods and demigods, refuse at
least a measure of historic tolerance to these light and graceful
creations. Boucher, whose dreams of rose and blue were the delight of
his age, came away from Rome saying: "Raphael is a woman, Michael Angelo
is a monster; one is paradise, the other is hell; they are painters of
another world; it is a dead language that nobody speaks in our day. We
others are the painters of our own age: we have not common sense, but we
are charming." This account of them was not untrue. They filled up the
space between the grandiose pomp of Le Brun and the sombre
pseudo-antique of David, just as the incomparable grace and sparkle of
Voltaire's lighter verse filled up the space in literature between
Racine and Chénier. They have a poetry of their own; they are cheerful,
sportive, full of fancy, and like everything else of that day, intensely
sociable. They are, at any rate, even the most sportive of them, far
less unwholesome and degrading than the acres of martyrdoms,
emaciations, bad crucifixions, bad pietas, that make some galleries more
disgusting than a lazar-house.[30]

    [30] "Si tous les tableaux de martyrs que nos grands peintres ont si
    sublimement peints, passaient à une postérité reculée, pour qui nous
    prendrait-elle? Pour des bêtes féroces ou des
    anthropophages."--Diderot's _Pensées sur la Peinture_.

For Watteau himself, the deity of the century, Diderot cared very
little. "I would give ten Watteaus," he said, "for one Teniers." This
was as much to be expected, as it was characteristic in Lewis XIV., when
some of Teniers's pictures were submitted to him, imperiously to command
"_ces magots là_" to be taken out of his sight.

Greuze (_b. 1725, d. 1805_) of all the painters of the time was
Diderot's chief favourite. Diderot was not at all blind to Greuze's
faults, to his repetitions, his frequent want of size and amplitude, the
excess of gray and of violet in his colouring. But all these were
forgotten in transports of sympathy for the sentiment. As we glance at a
list of Greuze's subjects, we perceive that we are in the very heart of
the region of the domestic, the moral, "_l'honnête_," the homely pathos
of the common people. The Death of a father of a family, regretted by
his children; The Death of an unnatural father, abandoned by his
children; The beloved mother caressed by her little ones; A child
weeping over its dead bird; A Paralytic tended by his family, or the
Fruit of a Good Education:--Diderot was ravished by such themes. The
last picture he describes as a proof that compositions of that kind are
capable of doing honour to the gifts and the sentiments of the
artist.[31] The _Girl bewailing her dead bird_ throws him into raptures.
"O, the pretty elegy!" he begins, "the charming poem! the lovely idyll!"
and so forth, until at length he breaks into a burst of lyric
condolence addressed to the weeping child, that would fill four or five
of these pages.[32]

    [31] x. 143.

    [32] x. 343.

No picture of the eighteenth century was greeted with more enthusiasm
than Greuze's _Accordée de Village_, which was exhibited in 1761. It
seems to tell a story, and therefore even to-day, in spite of its dulled
pink and lustreless blue, it arrests the visitor to one of the less
frequented halls of the Louvre.[33] Paris, weary of mythology and sated
with pretty indecencies, was fascinated by the simplicity of Greuze's
village tale. "_On se sent gagner d'une émotion douce en le regardant_,"
said Diderot, and this gentle emotion was dear to the cultivated classes
in France at that moment of the century. It was the year of the _New

    [33] No. 260 of the French School.

The subject is of the simplest: a peasant paying the dower-money of his
daughter. "The father"--it is prudent of us to borrow Diderot's
description--"is seated in the great chair of the house. Before him his
son-in-law standing, and holding in his left hand the bag that contains
the money. The betrothed, standing also, with one arm gently passed
under the arm of her lover, the other grasped by her mother, who is
seated. Between the mother and the bride, a younger sister standing,
leaning on the bride and with an arm thrown round her shoulders. Behind
this group, a child standing on tiptoes to see what is going on. To the
extreme left in the background, and at a distance from the scene, two
women-servants who are looking on. To the right a cupboard with its
usual contents--all scrupulously clean.... A wooden staircase leading to
the upper floor. In the foreground near the feet of the mother, a hen
leading her young ones, to whom a little girl throws crumbs of bread; a
basin full of water, and on the edge of it, one of the small chickens
with its beak up in the air so as to let the water go down." Diderot
then proceeds to criticise the details, telling us the very words that
he hears the father addressing to the bridegroom, and as a touch of
observation of nature, that while one of the old man's hands, of which
we see the back, is tanned and brown, the other, of which we see the
palm, is white. "To the bride the painter has given a face full of
charm, of seemliness, of reserve. She is dressed to perfection. That
apron of white stuff could not be better; there is a trifle of luxury in
her ornament; but then it is a wedding-day. You should note how true are
the folds and creases in her dress, and in those of the rest. The
charming girl is not quite straight; but there is a light and gentle
inflexion in all her figure and her limbs that fills her with grace and
truth. Indeed she is pretty and very pretty. If she had leaned more
towards her lover, it would have been unbecoming; more to her mother and
her father, and she would have been false. She has her arm half passed
under that of her future husband, and the tips of her fingers rest
softly on his hand; that is the only mark of tenderness that she gives
him, and perhaps without knowing it herself: it is a delicate idea in
the painter."[34]

    [34] x. 151-156. Dr. Waagen pronounces this picture to be as truly
    an expression of _das Nationalfranzösiche_ as Wilkie's paintings are
    of _das Englische_. See his _Kunstwerke und Künstler in Paris_, p.

"Courage, my good Greuze," he cries, "_fais de la morale en peinture_.
What, has not the pencil been long enough and too long consecrated to
debauchery and vice? Ought we not to be delighted at seeing it at last
unite with dramatic poetry in instructing us, correcting us, inviting us
to virtue?"[35] It has been sometimes said that Diderot would have
exulted in the paintings of Hogarth, and we may admit that he would have
sympathised with the spirit of such moralities as the Idle and the
Industrious Apprentice, the Rake's Progress, and Mariage à la Mode. The
intensity and power of that terrible genius would have had their
attraction, but the minute ferocities of Hogarth's ruthless irony would
certainly have revolted him. Such a scene as Lord Squanderfield's visit
to the quack doctor, or as the Rake's debauch, would have filled him
with inextinguishable horror. He could never have forgiven an artist
who, in the ghastly pathos of a little child straining from the arms of
its nurse towards the mother, as she lies in the very article of death,
could still find in his heart to paint on it the dark patches of foul
disease. He would have fled with shrieks from those appalling scenes of
murder, torture, madness, bestial drunkenness, rapacity, fury--from
that delirium of scrofula, palsy, entrails, the winding-sheet, and the
grave-worm. Diderot's method was to improve men, not by making their
blood curdle, but by warming and softening the domestic affections.

    [35] x. 208.

Diderot, as a critic, seems always to have remembered a pleasant
remonstrance once addressed at the Salon by the worthy Chardin to
himself and Grimm: "Gently, good sirs, gently! Out of all the pictures
that are here seek the very worst; and know that two thousand unhappy
wretches have bitten their brushes in two with their teeth, in despair
of ever doing even as badly. Parrocel, whom you call a dauber, and who
for that matter is a dauber, if you compare him to Vernet, is still a
man of rare talent relatively to the multitude of those who have flung
up the career in which they started with him." And then the artist
recounts the immense labours, the exhausting years, the boundless
patience, attention, tenacity, that are the conditions even of a
mediocre degree of mastery. We are reminded of the scene in a famous
work of art in our own day, where Herr Klesmer begs Miss Gwendolen
Harleth to reflect, how merely to stand or to move on the stage is an
art that requires long practice. "_O le triste et plat métier que celui
de critique!_" Diderot cries on one occasion: "_Il est si difficile de
produire une chose même médiocre; il est si facile de sentir la
médiocrité._"[36] No doubt, as experience and responsibility gather upon
us, we learn how hard in every line is even moderate skill. The wise
are perhaps content to find what a man can do, without making it a
reproach to him that there is something else which he cannot do.

    [36] x. 177.

But Diderot knew well enough that Chardin's kindly principle might
easily be carried too far. In general, he said, criticism displeases me;
it supposes so little talent. "What a foolish occupation, that of
incessantly hindering ourselves from taking pleasure, or else making
ourselves blush for the pleasure that we have taken! And that is the
occupation of criticism!"[37] Yet in one case he writes a score of pages
of critical dialogue, in which the chief interlocutor is a painter who
avenges his own failure by stringent attacks on the work of happier
rivals of the year. And speaking in his own proper person, Diderot knows
how to dismiss incompetence with the right word, sometimes of scorn,
more often of good-natured remonstrance. Bad painters, a Parrocel, a
Brenet, fare as ill at his hands as they deserved to do. He remarks
incidentally that the condition of the bad painter and the bad actor is
worse than that of the bad man of letters: the painter hears with his
own ears the expressions of contempt for his talent, and the hisses of
the audience go straight to the ears of the actor, whereas the author
has the comfort of going to his grave without a suspicion that you have
cried out at every page: "_The fool, the animal, the jackass!_" and have
at length flung his book into a corner. There is nothing to prevent the
worst author, as he sits alone in his library, and reads himself over
and over again, from congratulating himself on being the originator of a
host of rare and felicitous ideas.[38]

    [37] xii. 8, 79.

    [38] xi. 149.

The one painter whom Diderot never spares is Boucher, who was an idol of
the time, and made an income of fifty thousand livres a year out of his
popularity. He laughs at him as a mere painter of fans, an artist with
no colours on his palette save white and red. He admits the fecundity,
the _fougue_, the ease of Boucher, just as Sir Joshua Reynolds admits
his grace and beauty and good skill in composition.[39] Boucher, says
Diderot, is in painting what Ariosto is in poetry, and he who admires
the one is inconsistent if he is not mad for the other. What is wanting
is disciplined taste, more variety, more severity. Yet he cannot refuse
to concede about one of Boucher's pictures that after all he would be
glad to possess it. Every time you saw it, he says, you would find fault
with it, yet you would go on looking at it.[40] This is perhaps what the
severest modern amateur, as he strolls carelessly through the French
school at his leisure, would not in his heart care to deny.

    [39] See Reynolds's Twelfth Discourse, p. 106.

    [40] x. 102.

Fragonard, whose picture of Coresus and Callirrhoë made a great
sensation in its day, and still attracts some small share of attention
in the French school, was not a favourite with Diderot. The Callirrhoë
inspired an elaborate but not very felicitous criticism. Then the
painter changed his style in the direction of Boucher, and as far away
as possible from _l'honnête_ and _le beau moral_, and Diderot turned
away from him; at last describing an oval picture representing groups of
children in heaven as "_une belle et grande omelette d'enfants_," heads,
legs, thighs, arms, bodies, all interlaced together among yellowish
clouds--"_bien omelette, bein douillette, bein jaune, et bien

    [41] xi. 296. For the Callirrhoë, see x. 397.

On the whole, we cannot wonder either that painters hold literary talk
about their difficult and complex art so cheap, or that the lay public
prizes it so much above its intrinsic worth. It helps the sluggish
imagination and dull sight of the one, while it is apt to pass
ignorantly over both the true difficulties and the true successes of the
other. Diderot, unlike most of those who have come after him, had
carefully studied the conditions prescribed to the painter by the
material in which he works. Although he was a master of the literary
criticism of art, he had artists among his intimate companions, and was
too eager for knowledge not to wring from them the secrets of technique,
just as he extorted from weavers and dyers the secrets of their
processes and instruments. He makes no ostentatious display of this
special knowledge, yet it is present, giving a firmness and accuracy to
what would otherwise be too like mere arbitrary lyrics suggested by a
painting, and not really dealing with it. His special gift was the
transformation of scientific criticism into something with the charm of
literature. Take, for instance, a picture by Vien:

     "_Psyche approaching with her lamp to surprise Love in his
     sleep._--The two figures are of flesh and blood, but they have
     neither the elegance, nor the grace, nor the delicacy that the
     subject required. Love seems to me to be making a grimace. Psyche
     is not like a woman who comes trembling on tiptoe. I do not see on
     her face that mixture of surprise, fear, love, desire, and
     admiration, which ought all to be there. It is not enough to show
     in Psyche a curiosity to see Love; I must also perceive in her the
     fear of awakening him. She ought to have her mouth half open, and
     to be afraid of drawing her breath. 'Tis her lover that she
     sees--that she sees for the first time, at the risk of losing him
     for ever. What joy to look upon him, and to find him so fair! Oh,
     what little intelligence in our painters, how little they
     understand nature! The head of Psyche ought to be inclined towards
     Love; the rest of her body drawn back, as it is when you advance
     towards a spot where you fear to enter, and from which you are
     ready to flee back; one foot planted on the ground and the other
     barely touching it. And the lamp; ought she to let the light fall
     on the eyes of Love? Ought she not to hold it apart, and to shield
     it with her hand to deaden its brightness? Moreover, that would
     have lighted the picture in a striking way. These good people do
     not know that the eyelids have a kind of transparency; they have
     never seen a mother coming in the night to look at her child in the
     cradle, with a lamp in her hand, and fearful of awakening it."[42]

    [42] x. 121.

There have been many attempts to imitate this manner since Diderot. No
less a person than M. Thiers tried it, when it fell to him as a young
writer for the newspapers to describe the Salon of 1822. One brilliant
poet, novelist, traveller, critic, has succeeded, and Diderot's
art-criticism is at least equalled in Théophile Gautier's pages on
Titian's Assunta and Bellini's Madonna at Venice, or Murillo's Saint
Anthony of Padua at Seville.[43]

    [43] _Voyage en Italie_, 230. _Voyage en Espagne_, 330. See the same
    critic's _Abécédaire du Salon de 1861_.

Just as in his articles in the Encyclopædia, here too Diderot is always
ready to turn from his subject for a moral aside. Even the modern reader
will forgive the discursive apostrophe addressed to the judges of the
unfortunate Calas, the almost lyric denunciation of an atrocity that
struck such deep dismay into the hearts of all the brethren of the
Encyclopædia.[44] But Diderot's asides are usually in less tragic
matter. A picture of Michael Van Loo's reminds him that Van Loo had once
a friend in Spain. This friend took it into his head to equip a vessel
for a trading expedition, and Van Loo invested all his fortune in his
friend's vessel. The vessel was wrecked, the fortune was lost, and the
master was drowned. When Van Loo heard of the disaster, the first word
that came to his mouth was--_I have lost a good friend_. And on this
Diderot sails off into a digression on the grounds of praise and blame.

    [44] xi. 309.

Here are one or two illustrations of the same moralising:

     "The effect of our sadness on others is very singular. Have you not
     sometimes noticed in the country the sudden stillness of the
     birds, if it happens that on a fine day a cloud comes and lingers
     over the spot that was resounding with their music? A suit of deep
     mourning in company is the cloud that, as it passes, causes the
     momentary silence of the birds. It goes, and the song is resumed."

     "We should divide a nation into three classes: the bulk of the
     nation, which forms the national taste and manners; those who rise
     above these are called madmen, originals, oddities; those who fall
     below are noodles. The progress of the human mind causes the level
     to shift, and a man often lives too long for his reputation.... He
     who is too far in front of his generation, who rises above the
     general level of the common manners, must expect few votes; he
     ought to be thankful for the oblivion that rescues him from
     persecution. Those who raise themselves to a great distance above
     the common level are not perceived; they die forgotten and
     tranquil, either like everybody else, or far away from everybody
     else. That is my motto."[45]

     "But Vernet will never be more than Vernet, a mere man. No, and for
     that very reason all the more astonishing, and his work all the
     more worthy of admiration. It is, no doubt, a great thing, is this
     universe; but when I compare it with the energy of the productive
     cause, if I had to wonder at aught, it would be that its work is
     not still finer and still more perfect. It is just the reverse when
     I think of the weakness of man, of his poor means, of the
     embarrassments and of the short duration of his life, and then of
     certain things that he has undertaken and carried out."[46]

    [45] xi. 294.

    [46] xi. 102.

These digressions are one source of the charm of Diderot's criticism.
They impart ease and naturalness to it, because they evidently reproduce
the free movement of his mind as it really was, and not as the supposed
dignity of authorship might require him to pretend. There is no
stiffness nor sense, as we have said, of literary strain, and yet there
is no disturbing excess of what is random, broken, _décousu_. The
digression flows with lively continuity from the main stream and back
again into it, leaving some cheerful impression or curious suggestion
behind it. Something, we cannot tell what, draws him off to wonder
whether there is not as much verve in the first scene of Terence and in
the Antinoüs as in any scene of Molière or any work of Michael Angelo?
"I once answered this question, but rather too lightly. Every moment I
am apt to make a mistake, because language does not furnish me with the
right expression for the truth at the moment. I abandon a thesis for
lack of words that shall supply my reasons. I have one thing in the
bottom of my heart, and I find myself saying another. There is the
advantage of living in retirement and solitude. There a man speaks, asks
himself questions, listens to himself, and listens in silence. His
secret sensation develops itself little by little." Then when he is
about to speak of one of Greuze's pictures, he bethinks himself of
Greuze's vanity, and this leads him to a vein of reflection which it is
good for all critics, whether public or private, to hold fast in their
minds. "If you take away Greuze's vanity, you will take away his verve,
you will extinguish his fire, his genius will undergo an eclipse. _Nos
qualités tiennent de prés à nos défauts._" And of this important truth,
the base of wise tolerance, there follow a dozen graphic examples.[47]

    [47] x. 342. He says elsewhere of Greuze (xviii. 247) that he is _un
    excellent artiste, mais une bien mauvaise téte_.

Grétry, the composer, more than once consulted Diderot in moments of
perplexity. It was not always safe, he says, to listen to the glowing
man when he allowed his imagination to run away with him, but the first
burst was of inspiration divine.[48] Painters found his suggestions as
potent and as hopeful as the musician found them. He delighted in being
able to tell an artist how he might change his bad picture into a good
one.[49] "Chardin, La Grenée, Greuze, and others," says Diderot, "have
assured me (and artists are not given to flattering men of letters) that
I was about the only one whose images could pass at once to canvas,
almost exactly as they came into my head." And he gives illustrations,
how he instantly furnished to La Grenée a subject for a picture of
Peace; to Greuze, a design introducing a nude figure without wounding
the modesty of the spectator; to a third, a historical subject.[50] The
first of the three is a curious example of the difficulty which even a
strong genius like Diderot had in freeing himself from artificial
traditions. For Peace, he cried to La Grenée, show me Mars with his
breastplate, his sword girded on, his head noble and firm. Place
standing by his side a Venus, full, divine, voluptuous, smiling on him
with an enchanting smile; let her point to his casque, in which her
doves have made their nest. Is it not singular that even Diderot
sometimes failed to remember that Mars and Venus are dead, that they can
never be the source of a fresh and natural inspiration, and that neither
artist nor spectator can be moved by cold and vapid allegories in an
extinct dialect? If Diderot could have seen such a treatment of La
Grenée's subject as Landseer's _Peace_, with its children playing at the
mouth of the slumbering gun, he would have been the first to cry out how
much nearer this came to the spirit of his own æsthetic methods, than
all the pride of Mars and all the beauty of Venus. He is truer to
himself in the subject with which he met Greuze's perplexity in the
second of his two illustrations. He bade Greuze paint the Honest Model;
a girl sitting to an artist for the first time, her poor garments on the
ground beside her; her head resting on one of her hands, and a tear
rolling down each cheek. The mother, whose dress betrays the extremity
of indigence, is by her side, and with her own hands and one of the
hands of her daughter covers her face. The painter, witness of the
scene, softened and touched, lets his palette or his brush fall from his
hand. Greuze at once exclaimed that he saw his subject; and we may at
least admit that this pretty bit of commonplace sentimentalism is more
in Diderot's vein than pagan gods and goddesses.

    [48] Quoted in Diderot's _Oeuv._, v. 460, _n._

    [49] E.g. _Oeuv._, xi. 258.

    [50] xi. 74.

Diderot is never more truly himself than when he takes the subject of a
picture that is before him, and shows how it might have been more
effectively handled. Thus:

     "The Flight into Egypt is treated in a fresh and piquant manner.
     But the painter has not known how to make the best of his idea. The
     Virgin passes in the background of the picture, bearing the infant
     Jesus in her arms. She is followed by Joseph and the ass carrying
     the baggage. In the foreground are the shepherds prostrating
     themselves, their hands upturned towards her, and wishing her a
     happy journey. Ah, what a fine painting, if the artist had known
     how to make mountains at the foot of which the Virgin had passed;
     if he had known how to make the mountains very steep, escarped,
     majestic; if he had covered them with moss and wild shrubs; if he
     had given to the Virgin simplicity, beauty, grandeur, nobleness; if
     the road that she follows had led into the paths of some forest,
     lonely and remote; if he had taken his moment at the rise of day,
     or at its fall!"[51]

    [51] x. 115.

The picture of Saint Benedict by Deshays--whom at one moment Diderot
pronounces to be the first painter in the nation--stirs the same spirit
of emendation. Diderot thinks that in spite of the pallor of the dying
saint's visage, one would be inclined to give him some years yet to

     "I ask whether it would not have been better that his legs should
     have sunk under him; that he should have been supported by two or
     three monks; that he should have had the arms extended, the head
     thrown back, with death on his lips and ecstasy on his brow. If the
     painter had given this strong expression to his Saint Benedict,
     consider, my friend, how it would have reflected itself on all the
     rest of the picture. That slight change in the principal figure
     would have influenced all the others. The celebrant, instead of
     being upright, would in his compassion have leaned more forward;
     distress and anguish would have been more strongly depicted in all
     the bystanders. There is a piece from which you could teach young
     students that, by altering one single circumstance, you alter all
     others, or else the truth disappears. You could make out of it an
     excellent chapter on the _force of unity_: you would have to
     preserve the same arrangement, the same figures, and to invite them
     to execute the picture according to the different changes that were
     made in the figure of the communicant."[52]

    [52] x. 125.

The admirable Salons were not Diderot's only contributions to æsthetic
criticism. He could not content himself with reproductions, in eloquent
language upon paper, of the combinations of colour and form upon canvas.
No one was further removed from vague or indolent expansion. He returns
again and again to examine with keenness and severity the principles,
the methods, the distinctions of the fine arts, and though he is often a
sentimentalist and a declaimer, he can also, when the time comes,
transform himself into an accurate scrutiniser of ideas and phrases, a
seeker after causes and differences, a discoverer of kinds and classes
in art, and of the conditions proper to success in each of them. In
short, the fact of being an eloquent and enthusiastic critic of
pictures, did not prevent him from being a truly philosophical thinker
about the abstract laws of art, with the thinker's genius for analysis,
comparison, classification. Who that has read them can ever forget the
dialogues that are set among the landscapes of Vernet in the Salons of
1767?[53] The critic supposes himself unable to visit the Salon of the
year, and to be staying in a gay country-house amid some fine landscapes
on the sea-coast. He describes his walks among these admirable scenes,
and the strange and varying effects of light and colour, and all the
movements of the sky and ocean; and into the descriptions he weaves a
series of dialogues with an abbé, a tutor of the children of the house,
upon art and landscape and the processes of the universe. Nothing can be
more excellent and lifelike: it is not until the end that he lets the
secret slip that the whole fabric has been a flight of fancy, inspired
by no real landscape, but by the sea-pieces sent to the exhibition by

    [53] xi. 98-149.

This is an illustration of the variety of approach which makes Diderot
so interesting, so refreshing a critic. He never sinks into what is
mechanical, and the evidence of this is that his mind, while intent on
the qualities of a given picture, yet moves freely to the outside of the
picture, and is ever cordially open to the most general thoughts and
moods, while attending with workmanlike fidelity to what is particular
in the object before him.[54]

    [54] _E.g._ xi. 223.

In the light of modern speculation upon the philosophy of the fine arts,
Diderot makes no commanding figure, because he is so egregiously
unsystematic. But as Goethe said, in a piece where he was withstanding
Diderot to the face, _die höchste Wirkung des Geistes ist, den Geist
hervorzurufen_--the highest influence of mind is to call out mind. This
stimulating provocation of the intelligence was the master faculty in
Diderot. For the sake of that men are ready to pardon all excesses, and
to overlook many offences against the law of Measure. From such a point
of view, Goethe's treatment of Diderot's Essay on Painting (written in
1765, but not given to the world until 1796) is an instructive lesson.
"Diderot's essay," he wrote to Schiller, "is a magnificent work, and it
speaks even more usefully to the poet than to the painter, though for
the painter, too, it is a torch of powerful illumination." Yet Diderot's
critical principle in the essay was exactly opposite to Goethe's; and
when Goethe translated some portions of it, he was forced to add a
commentary of stringent protest. Diderot, as usual, energetically extols
nature, as the one source and fountain of true artistic inspiration.
Even in what looks to us like defect and monstrosity, she is never
incorrect. If she inflicts on the individual some unusual feature, she
never fails to draw other parts of the system into co-ordination and a
sort of harmony with the abnormal element. We say of a man who passes in
the street that he is ill-shapen. Yes, according to our poor rules; but
according to nature, it is another matter. We say of a statue that it is
of fine proportions. Yes, according to our poor rules; but according to

    [55] x. 481, 462.

In the same vein, he breaks out against the practice of drawing from
the academic model. All these academic positions, affected, constrained,
artificial, as they are; all these actions coldly and awkwardly
expressed by some poor devil, and always the same poor devil, hired to
come three times a week, to undress himself, and to play the puppet in
the hands of the professor--what have these in common with the positions
and actions of nature? What is there in common between the man who draws
water from the well in your courtyard, and the man who pretends to
imitate him on the platform of the drawing-school? If Diderot thought
the seven years passed in drawing the model no better than wasted, he
was not any more indulgent to the practice of studying the minutiæ of
the anatomy of the human frame. He saw the risk of the artist becoming
vain of his scientific acquirement, of his eye being corrupted, of his
seeking to represent what is under the surface, of his forgetting that
he has only the exterior to show. A practice that is intended to make
the student look at nature most commonly tends to make him see nature
other than she really is. To sum up, mannerism would disappear from
drawing and from colour, if people would only scrupulously imitate
nature. Mannerism comes from the masters, from the academy, from the
school, and even from the antique.[56]

    [56] x. 467. For a more respectful view of the antique, and of
    Winckelmann's position, see _Salon de 1765_, x. 418.

We may easily believe how many fallacies were discerned in such lessons
as these by the author of _Iphigenie_, and the passionate admirer of
the ancient marbles. Diderot's fundamental error, said Goethe, is to
confound nature and art, completely to amalgamate nature with art. "Now
Nature organises a living, an indifferent being, the Artist something
dead, but full of significance; Nature something real, the Artist
something apparent. In the works of Nature the spectator must import
significance, thought, effect, reality; in a work of Art he will and
must find this already there. A perfect imitation of Nature is in no
sense possible; the Artist is only called to the representation of the
surface of an appearance. The outside of the vessel, the living whole
that speaks to all our faculties of mind and sense, that stirs our
desire, elevates our intelligence--that whose possession makes us happy,
the vivid, potent, finished Beautiful--for all this is the Artist
appointed." In other words, art has its own laws, as it has its own
aims, and these are not the laws and aims of nature. To mock at rules is
to overthrow the conditions that make a painting or a statue possible.
To send the pupil away from the model to the life of the street, the
gaol, the church, is to send him forth without teaching him for what to
look. To make light of the study of anatomy in art, is like allowing the
composer to forget thorough bass in his enthusiasm, or the poet in his
enthusiasm to forget the number of syllables in his verse. Again, though
art may profit by a free and broad method, yet all artistic significance
depends on the More and the Less. Beauty is a narrow circle in which
one may only move in modest measure. And of this modest measure the
academy, the school, the master, above all the antique, are the
guardians and the teachers.[57]

    [57] Diderot's _Versuch über die Malerei_. Goethe's _Werke_, xxv.
    309, etc.

It is unnecessary to labour the opposition between the two great masters
of criticism. Goethe, as usual, must be pronounced to have the last word
of reason and wisdom, the word which comprehends most of the truth of
the matter. And it is delivered in that generous and loyal spirit which
nobody would have appreciated more than the free-hearted Diderot
himself. The drift of Goethe's contention is, in fact, the thesis of
Diderot's Paradox on the Comedian. But the state of painting in
France--and Goethe admits it--may have called for a line of criticism
which was an exaggeration of what Diderot, if he had been in Goethe's
neutral position, would have found in his better mind.[58]

    [58] And of course on occasion did actually find. See xi. 101. Sir
    Joshua Reynolds, who was too sincere a lover of his art not to be
    above mere patriotic prejudice, describes the condition of things.
    "I have heard painters acknowledge that they could do better without
    nature than with her, or, as they expressed themselves, it only put
    them out. Our neighbours, the French, are much in this practice of
    extempore invention, and their dexterity is such as even to excite
    admiration, if not envy; but how rarely can this praise be given to
    their finished pictures!" Twelfth Discourse, p. 105.

There is a passage in one of the Salons which sheds a striking
side-light on the difference between these two great types of genius.
The difference between the mere virtuoso and the deep critic is that, in
the latter, behind views on art we discern far-reaching thoughts on
life. And in Diderot, no less than in Goethe, art is ever seen in its
associations with character, aspiration, happiness, and conduct.

     "The sun, which was on the edge of the horizon, disappeared; over
     the sea there came all at once an aspect more sombre and solemn.
     Twilight, which is at first neither day nor night--an image of our
     feeble thoughts, and an image that warns the philosopher to stay in
     his speculations--warns the traveller too to turn his steps towards
     home. So I turned back, and as I continued the thread of my
     thoughts, I began to reflect that if there is a particular morality
     belonging to each species, so perhaps in the same species there is
     a different morality for different individuals, or at least for
     different kinds and collections of individuals. And in order not to
     scandalise you by too serious an example, it came into my head that
     there is perhaps a morality peculiar to artists or to art, and that
     this morality might well be the very reverse of the common
     morality. Yes, my friend, I am much afraid that man marches
     straight to misery by the very path that leads the imitator of
     nature to the sublime. To plunge into extremes--that is the rule
     for poets. To keep in all things the just mean--there is the rule
     for happiness. One must not make poetry in real life. The heroes,
     the romantic lovers, the great patriots, the inflexible
     magistrates, the apostles of religion, the philosophers _à toute
     outrance_--all these rare and divine insensates make poetry in
     their life, and that is their bane. It is they who after death
     provide material for great pictures. They are excellent to paint.
     Experience shows that nature condemns to misery the man to whom she
     has allotted genius, and whom she has endowed with beauty; it is
     they who are the figures of poetry. Then within myself I lauded
     the mediocrity that shelters one alike from praise and blame; and
     yet why, I asked myself, would no one choose to let his sensibility
     go, and to become mediocre? O vanity of man!"[59]

    [59] x. 124, 125.

Goethe's _Tasso_, a work so full of finished poetry and of charm, is the
idealised and pathetic version of the figure that Diderot has thus
conceived for genius. The dialogues between the hapless poet and
Antonio, the man of the world, are a skilful, lofty, and impressive
statement of the problem that often vexed Diderot. Goethe sympathised
with Antonio's point of view; he had in his nature so much of the spirit
of conduct, of saneness, of the common reason of the world. And in art
he was a lover of calm ideals. In Diderot, as our readers by this time
know, these things were otherwise.

The essay on Beauty in the Encyclopædia is less fertile than most of
Diderot's contributions to the subject.[60] It contains a careful
account of two or three other theories, especially that of Hutcheson.
The object is to explain the source of Beauty. Diderot's own conclusion
is that this is to be found in "relations." Our words for the different
shades of the beautiful are expressive of notions (acquired by
experience through the senses) of order, proportion, symmetry, unity,
and so forth. But, after all, the real question remains unanswered--what
makes some relations beautiful, and others not so; and the same objects
beautiful to me, and indifferent to you; and the same object beautiful
to me to-day, and indifferent or disgusting to me to-morrow? Diderot
does, it is true, enumerate twelve sources of such diversity of
judgment, in different races, ages, individuals, moods, but their force
depends upon the importation into the conception of beauty of some more
definite element than the bare idea of relation. Some sentences show
that he came very near to the famous theory of Alison, that beauty is
only attributed to sounds and sights, where, and because, they recall
what is pleasing, sublime, pathetic, and set our ideas and emotions
flowing in one of these channels. But he does not get fairly on the
track of either Alison's or any other decisive and marking adjective,
with which to qualify his _rapports_. He wastes some time, moreover, in
trying to bring within the four corners of his definition some uses of
the terms of beauty, which are really only applied to objects by way of
analogy, and are not meant to predicate the beautiful in any literal or
scientific sense.

    [60] _Oeuv._, x.

There is no more interesting department of æsthetic inquiry than the
relations of the arts to one another, and the nature of the
delimitations of the provinces of poetry, painting, sculpture, music.
Diderot, from the very beginning of his career, had turned his thoughts
to this intricate subject. In his letter on Deaf Mutes (1751) he had
stated the problem--to collect the common beauties of poetry, painting,
and music; to show their analogies; to explain how the poet, the
painter, and the musician render the same image; to seize the fugitive
emblems of their expression. Why should a situation that is admirable in
a poem become ridiculous in a painting?[61] For instance, what is it
that prevents a painter from reproducing the moment when Neptune raises
his head above the tossing waters, as he is represented in Virgil:

          Interea magno misceri murmure pontum.
    Emissamque hiemem sensit Neptunus, et imis
    Stagna refusa vadis; graviter commotus, et alto
    Prospiciens, summâ placidum caput extulit undâ.

    [61] It is to be observed also that he shows true perspicacity in
    connecting the difficulty of transforming a poetic into a pictorial
    description, with the kindred difficulty of translating a finished
    poem in one language into another language. See also xi. 107.

Diderot's answer to the question is an anticipation of the main position
of the famous little book which appeared fifteen years afterwards, and
which has been well described as the Organum of æsthetic cultivation. In
_Laocoön_ Lessing contends against Spence, the author of _Polymetis_
against Caylus, and others of his contemporaries, that poetry and
painting are divided from one another in aim, in effects, in reach, by
the limits set upon each by the nature of its own material.[62] So
Diderot says that the painter could not seize the Virgilian moment,
because a body that is partially immersed in water is disfigured by an
effect of refraction, which a faithful painter would be bound to
reproduce; because the image of the body could not be seen
transparently through the stormy waters, and therefore the god would
have the appearance of being decapitated; because it is indispensable,
if you would avoid the impression of a surgical amputation, that some
visible portion of hidden limbs should be there to inform us of the
existence of the rest.[63] He takes another instance, where a
description that is admirable in poetry would be insupportable in
painting. Who, he asks, could bear upon canvas the sight of Polyphemus
grinding between his teeth the bones of one of the companions of
Ulysses? Who could see without horror a giant holding a man in his
enormous mouth, with blood dripping over his head and breast?

    [62] Lessing appears to have been directly led to this by Aristotle.
    See Gotschlich's _Lessing's Aristotelische Studien_, p. 120.

    [63] _Oeuv._, i. 382, 403.

Among the many passages in which Diderot touches on the differences
between poetry and painting, none is more just and true than that in
which he implores the poet not to attempt description of details: "True
taste fastens on one or two characteristics, and leaves the rest to
imagination. 'Tis when Armida advances with noble mien in the midst of
the ranks of the army of Godfrey, and when the generals begin to look at
one another with jealous eyes, that Armida is beautiful to us. It is
when Helen passes before the old men of Troy, and they all cry out--it
is then that Helen is beautiful. And it is when Ariosto describes Alcina
from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet, that
notwithstanding the grace, the facility, the soft elegance of his verse,
Alcina is not beautiful. He shows me everything; he leaves me nothing to
do; he makes me wearied and impatient. If a figure walks, describe to
me its carriage and its lightness; I will undertake the rest. If it is
stooping, speak to me only of arms and shoulders; I will take all else
on myself. If you do more, you confuse the kinds of work; you cease to
be a poet, and become a painter or sculptor. One single trait, a great
trait; leave the rest to my imagination. That is true taste, great
taste."[64] And then he quotes with admiration Ovid's line of the
goddess of the seas:

                    Nec brachia longo
    Margine terrarum porrexerat Amphitrite.

    [64] _Oeuv._, xi. 328.

Quel image! Quels bras! Quel prodigieux mouvement! Quelle figure! and so
forth, after Diderot's manner.

Nobody will compare these detached and fragmentary deliverances with the
full and easy mastery which Lessing, in _Laocöon_ and its unfinished
supplements, exhibits over the many ramifications of his central idea.
We can only notice that Diderot had a foot on the track along which
Lessing afterwards made such signal progress. The reader who cares to
measure the advantage of Lessing's more serious and concentrated
attention to his subject, may compare the twelfth chapter of _Laocöon_
with Diderot's criticism on Doyen's painting of the Battle between
Diomede and Aeneas.[65] As we see how near Diderot came to the real and
decisive truths of all these matters, and yet how far he remains from
the full perception of what a little consecutive study must have
revealed to his superior genius, we can only think painfully of his
avowal--"I have not the consciousness of having employed the half of my
strength: _jusqu'à présent je n'ai que baguenaudé_."

    [65] _Salon de 1761_; _Oeuv._, v. 140.

On the great art of music Diderot has said little that is worth
attending to. Bemetzrieder, a German musician, who taught Diderot's
daughter to play on the clavecin, wrote an elementary book called
Lessons on the Clavecin and Principles of Harmony. This is pronounced by
the modern teachers to be not less than contemptible. Diderot, however,
with his usual boundless good nature, took the trouble to set the book
in a series of dialogues, in which teacher, pupil, and a philosopher
deal in all kinds of elaborate amenities, and pay one another many
compliments. It reminds one of the old Hebrew grammar which is couched
in the form of Conversations with a Duchess--"Your Grace having kindly
condescended to approve of the plan that I have sketched. All this your
Grace probably knows already, but your Grace has probably never
attempted," and so forth.

The unwise things that men of letters have written from a good-natured
wish to help their friends, are not so numerous that we need be afraid
of extending to them a good-natured pardon. The beauty of Diderot's
Salons is remarkable enough to cover a multitude of sins in other arts.
There are few other compositions in European literature which show so
well how criticism of art itself may become a fine art.



"What would you say of the owner of an immense palace, who should spend
all his life in going up from the cellars to the attics, and going down
from attics to cellar, instead of sitting quietly in the midst of his
family? That is the image of the traveller." Yet Diderot, whose words
these are, resolved at the age of sixty to undertake no less formidable
a journey than to the remote capital on the shores of the Neva. It had
come into his head, or perhaps others had put it into his head, that he
owed a visit to his imperial benefactress whose bounty had rendered life
easier to him. He had recently made the acquaintance of two Russian
personages of consideration. One of them was the Princess Dashkow, who
was believed to have taken a prominent part in that confused conspiracy
of 1762, which ended in the murder of Peter III. by Alexis Orloff, and
the elevation of Catherine II. to the throne. Her services at that
critical moment had not prevented her disgrace, if indeed they were not
its cause, and in 1770 the Princess set out on her travels. Horace
Walpole has described the curiosity of the London world to see the
Muscovite Alecto, the accomplice of the northern Athaliah, the amazon
who had taken part in a revolution when she was only nineteen. In
England she made a pleasant impression, in spite of eyes of "a very
Catiline fierceness." She was equally delighted with England, and when
she went on from London to Paris, she took very little trouble to make
friends in the capital of the rival nation. Diderot seems to have been
her only intimate. The Princess (1770) called nearly every afternoon at
his door, carried him off to dinner, and kept him talking and declaiming
until the early hours of the next morning. The "hurricanes of his
enthusiastic nature" delighted her, and she remembered for years
afterwards how on one occasion she excited him to such a pitch that he
sprang from his chair as if by machinery, strode rapidly up and down the
room, and spat upon the floor with passion.[66]

    [66] _Memoirs of Princess Dashkoff_ (vol. ii.). By Mrs. Bradford, an
    English companion and friend of the Princess. (London, 1840.) See
    Diderot's account of her, _Oeuv._, xvii. 487. Compare Horace
    Walpole's _Letters_, v. 266.

The Prince Galitzin was a Russian friend of greater importance. Prince
Galitzin was one of those foreigners, like Holbach, Grimm, Galiani, who
found themselves more at home in Paris than anywhere else in the world.
Living mostly among artists and men of letters, he became an established
favourite. With Diderot's assistance (1767) he acquired for the Empress
many of the pictures that adorn the great gallery at St. Petersburg,
and Diderot praises his knowledge of the fine arts, the reason being
that he has that great principle of true taste, the _belle âme_.[67] He
wrote eclogues in French, and he attempted the more useful but more
difficult task of writing in the half-formed tongue of his own country
an account of the great painters of Italy and Holland.[68] Diderot makes
the pointed remark about him, that he believed in equality of ranks by
instinct, which is better than believing in it by reflection.[69] It was
through the medium of this friendly and intelligent man that the Empress
had acted in the purchase of Diderot's library. In 1769 he was appointed
Russian minister at the Hague, and his chief ground for delight at the
appointment was that it brought him within reach of his friends in

    [67] _Oeuv._, xviii. 239.

    [68] Grimm, _Cor. Lit._, xv. 18. Diderot, xviii. 251.

    [69] _Oeuv._, xix. 250.

Diderot set out on his expedition some time in the summer of 1773--the
date also of Johnson's memorable tour to the Hebrides--and his first
halt was at the Dutch capital, then at the distance of a four days'
journey from Paris. Here he remained for many weeks, in some doubt
whether or not to persist in the project of a more immense journey. He
passed most of his time with the Prince and Princess Galitzin, as
between a good brother and a good sister. Their house, he notices, had
once been the residence of Barneveldt. Men like Diderot are the last
persons to think of their own historic position, else we might have
expected to find him musing on the saving shelter which this land of
freedom and tolerance had given to more than one of his great precursors
in the literature of emancipation. Descartes had found twenty years of
priceless freedom (1629-1649) among the Dutch burghers. The ruling ideas
of the Encyclopædia came in direct line from Bayle (_d. 1706_) and Locke
(_d. 1704_), and both Bayle and Locke, though in different measures,
owed their security to the stout valour with which the Dutch defended
their own land, and taught the English how to defend theirs, against the
destructive pretensions of Catholic absolutism. Of these memories
Diderot probably thought no more than Descartes thought about the
learning of Grotius or the art of Rembrandt. It was not the age, nor was
his the mind, for historic sentimentalism. "The more I see of this
country," he wrote to his good friends in Paris, "the more I feel at
home in it. The soles, fresh herrings, turbot, perch, are all the best
people in the world. The walks are charming; I do not know whether the
women are all very sage, but with their great straw hats, their eyes
fixed on the ground, and the enormous fichus spread over their bosoms,
they have the air of coming back from prayers or going to confession."
Diderot did not fail to notice more serious things than this. His
remarks on the means of travelling with most profit are full of sense,
and the account which he wrote of Holland shows him to have been as
widely reflective and observant as we should have expected him to
be.[70] It will be more convenient to say something on this in
connection with the stay which he again made at the Hague on his return
from his pilgrimage to Russia.

    [70] _Oeuv._, xviii. 365, 471.

After many hesitations the die was cast. Nariskin, a court chamberlain,
took charge of the philosopher, and escorted him in an excellent
carriage along the dreary road that ended in the capital reared by Peter
the Great among the northern floods. It is worth while to digress for a
few moments, to mark shortly the difference in social and intellectual
conditions between the philosopher's own city and the city for which he
was bound, and to touch on the significance of his journey. We can only
in this way understand the position of the Encyclopædists in Europe, and
see why it is interesting to the student of the history of Western
civilisation to know something about them. It is impossible to have a
clear idea of the scope of the revolutionary philosophy, as well as of
the singular pre-eminence of Paris over the western world, until we have
placed ourselves, not only at Ferney and Grandval, and in the parlours
of Madame Geoffrin and Mademoiselle Lespinasse, but also in palaces at
Florence, Berlin, Vienna, and St. Petersburg.

From Holland with its free institutions, its peaceful industry, its
husbanded wealth, its rich and original art, its great political and
literary tradition, to go to Russia was to measure an arc of Western
progress, and to retrace the steps of the genius of civilisation. The
political capital of Russia represented a forced and artificial union
between old and new conditions. In St. Petersburg, says an onlooker,
were united the age of barbarism and the age of civilisation, the tenth
century and the eighteenth, the manners of Asia and the manners of
Europe, the rudest Scythians and the most polished Europeans, a
brilliant and proud aristocracy and a people sunk in servitude. On one
side were elegant fashions, magnificent dresses, sumptuous repasts,
splendid feasts, theatres like those which gave grace and animation to
the select circles of London or Paris: on the other side, shopkeepers in
Asiatic dress, coachmen, servants, and peasants clad in sheepskins,
wearing long beards, fur caps, and long fingerless gloves of skin, with
short axes hanging from their leathern girdles. The thick woollen bands
round their feet and legs resembled a rude cothurnus, and the sight of
these uncouth figures reminded one who had seen the bas-reliefs on
Trajan's column at Rome, of the Scythians, the Dacians, the Goths, the
Roxolani, who had been the terror of the Empire.[71] Literary
cultivation was confined to almost the smallest possible area. Oriental
as Russia was in many respects, it was the opposite of oriental in one:
women were then, as they are still sometimes said to be in Russia, more
cultivated and advanced than men. Many of them could speak half a dozen
languages, could play on several instruments, and were familiar with
the works of the famous poets of France, Italy, and England. Among the
men, on the contrary, outside of a few exceptional families about the
court, the vast majority were strangers to all that was passing beyond
the limits of their own country. The few who had travelled and were on
an intellectual level with their century, were as far removed from the
rest of their countrymen as Englishmen are removed from Iroquois.

    [71] Ségur's _Mem._, ii. 230.

To paint the court of Catherine in its true colours it has been said
that one ought to have the pen of Procopius. It was a hot-bed of
corruption, intrigue, jealousy, violence, hatred. One day, surrounded by
twenty-seven of her courtiers, Catherine said: "If I were to believe
what you all say about one another, there is not one of you who does not
richly deserve to have his head cut off." A certain princess was
notorious for her inhuman barbarity. One day she discovered that one of
her attendants was with child; in a frenzy she pursued the hapless
Callisto from chamber to chamber, came up with her, dashed in her skull
with a heavy weapon, and finally in a delirium of passion ripped up her
body. When two nobles had a quarrel, they fell upon one another then and
there like drunken navvies, and Potemkin had an eye gouged out in a
court brawl. Such horrors give us a measure of the superior humanity of
Versailles, and enable us also in passing to see how duelling could be a
sign of a higher civilisation. The reigning passions were love of money
and the gratification of a coarse vanity. Friendship, virtue, manners,
delicacy, probity, said one witness, are here merely words, void of all
meaning. The tone in public affairs was as low as in those of private
conduct. I might as well, says Sir G. Macartney, quote Clarke and
Tillotson at the divan of Constantinople, as invoke the authority of
Puffendorf and Grotius here.

The character of the Empress herself has been more disputed than that of
the society in which she was the one imposing personage. She stands in
history with Elizabeth of England, with Catherine de' Medici, with Maria
Theresa, among the women who have been like great men. Of her place in
the record of the creation of that vast empire which begins with Prussia
and ends with China, we have not here to speak. The materials for
knowing her and judging her are only in our own time becoming
accessible.[72] As usual, the mythic elements that surrounded her like
a white fog from the northern seas out of which she loomed like a
portent, are rapidly disappearing, and are replaced by the outlines of
ordinary humanity, with more than the ordinary human measure of
firmness, resolution, and energetic grasp of the facts of her position
in the world.

    [72] The Imperial Historical Society are publishing a _Recueil
    Général_ of documents, many of which shed an interesting light on
    Catherine's intercourse with the men of letters. In the Archives of
    the House of Woronzow (especially vol. xii.), amid much of what for
    our purpose is chaff, are a few grains of what is interesting. M.
    Rambaud, the author of the learned work on the Greek Empire in the
    Tenth Century, gave interesting selections from these sources in two
    articles in the _Revue des deux Mondes_ for February and April,
    1877. Besides what is to be gathered from such well-known
    authorities as William Tooke, Ségur, Dashkoff, there are many
    interesting pages in the memoirs of that attractive and interesting
    person, the Prince de Ligne. The passages from English and French
    despatches I have taken from an anonymous but authentic work
    published at Berlin in 1858, _La Cour de la Russie il y a cent ans:
    1725-83: extraits des dépêches des Ambassadeurs anglais et
    français_. Catherine's own Memoirs, published in London in 1859 by
    Alexander Herzen, are perhaps too doubtful.

We must go from the philosophers to the men of affairs for a true
picture. These tell us that she offered an unprecedented mixture of
courage and weakness, of knowledge and incompetence, of firmness and
irresolution; passing in turn from the most opposite extremes, she
presented a thousand diverse surfaces, until at last the observer had to
content himself with putting her down as a consummate comedian. She had
no ready apprehension. Too refined a pleasantry was thrown away upon
her, and there was always a chance of her reversing its drift. No
playful reference to the finances, or the military force, or even to the
climate of her empire, was ever taken in good part.[73] The political
part was the serious part of her nature. Catherine had the literary
tastes, but not the literary skill, of Frederick. She is believed, on
good evidence, to have written for the use of her grandsons not only an
Abridgment of Russian History, but a volume of Moral Tales.[74] The
composition of moral tales was entirely independent of morality. Just
as Lewis XV. had a long series of Châteauroux, Pompadours, Dubarrys, so
Catherine had her Orloffs and Potemkins, and a countless host of obscure
and miscellaneous Wassiltchikows, Zavadowskys, Zoriczes, Korsaks. On the
serious side, Lewis XIV. was her great pattern and idol. She resented
criticism on that renowned memory, as something personal to herself. To
her business as sovereign--_mon petit ménage_, as she called the control
of her huge formless empire--she devoted as much indefatigable industry
as Lewis himself had done in his best days. Notwithstanding all her
efforts to improve her country, she was not popular, and never won the
affection of her subjects; but she probably cared less for the opinion
and sentiment of Russia than for the applause of Europe. Tragedy
displeases her, writes the French Minister, and comedy wearies her; she
does not like music; her table is without any sort of exquisiteness; in
a garden she cares only for roses; her only taste is to build and to
drill her court, for the taste that she has for reigning, and for making
a great figure in the universe, is really not so much taste as a
downright absorbing passion.

    [73] _Mém. du Prince de Ligne_, p. 101.

    [74] Ségur, 219.

Gunning, the English chargé d'affaires, insists that the motive of all
her patriotic labours was not benevolence, but an insatiable and
unbounded thirst for fame. "If it were not so, we must charge her with
an inconsistency amounting to madness, for undertaking so many immense
works of public utility, such as the foundation of colleges and
academies on a most extensive plan and at an enormous outlay, and then
leaving them incomplete, not even finishing the buildings for them."
They had served the purpose of making foreigners laud the glory of the
Semiramis of the north, and that was enough. The arts and sciences, said
the French Minister, have plenty of academies here, but the academies
have few subjects and fewer pupils. How could there be pupils in a
country where there is nobody who is not either a courtier, a soldier,
or a slave? The Princess Sophie of Anhalt, long before she dreamed of
becoming the Czarina Catherine II., had been brought up by a French
governess, and the tastes that her governess had implanted grew into a
passion for French literature, which can only be compared to the same
passion in Frederick the Great. Catherine only continued a movement that
had already in the reign of her predecessor gone to a considerable
length. The social reaction against German political predominance had
been accompanied by a leaning to France. French professors in art and
literature had been tempted to Moscow, the nobles sent to Paris for
their clothes and their furniture, and a French theatre was set up in
St. Petersburg, where the nobles were forced to attend the performances
under pain of a fine. Absentees and loiterers were hurried to their
boxes by horse-patrols.

Catherine was more serious and intelligent than this in her pursuit of
French culture. She had begun with the books in which most of the salt
of old France was to be found, with Rabelais, Scarron, Montaigne; she
cherished Molière and Corneille; and of the writers of the eighteenth
century, apart from Voltaire, the author of Gil Blas was her favourite.
Such a list tells its own tale of a mind turned to what is masculine,
racy, pungent, and thoroughly sapid. "I am a Gauloise of the north," she
said, "I only understand the old French; I do not understand the new. I
made up my mind to get something out of your gentry, the learned men in
_ist_: I have tried them; I made some of them come here; I occasionally
wrote to them; they wearied me to death, and never understood me; there
was only my good protector, Voltaire. Do you know it was Voltaire who
made me the fashion?"[75] This was a confidential revelation, made long
after most of the philosophers were dead. We might have penetrated the
secret of her friendship for such a man as Diderot, even with less
direct evidence than this. It was the vogue of the philosophers, and not
their philosophy that made Catherine their friend. They were the great
interest of Europe at this time, just as Greek scholars had been its
interest in one century, painters in another, great masters of religious
controversy in a third. "What makes the great merit of France," said
Voltaire, "what makes its unique superiority, is a small number of
sublime or delightful men of genius, who cause French to be spoken at
Vienna, at Stockholm, and at Moscow. Your ministers, your intendants,
your chief secretaries have no part in all this glory." This vogue of
the philosophers brought the whole literature of their country into
universal repute. In the depths of the Crimea a khan of the Tartars took
a delight in having Tartufe and the Bourgeois Gentilhomme read aloud to

    [75] To the Prince de Ligne.

    [76] Rambaud, p. 573.

As soon as Catherine came into power (1762), she at once applied herself
to make friends in this powerful region. It was a matter of course that
she should begin with the omnipotent pontiff at Ferney. Graceful verses
from Voltaire were as indispensable an ornament to a crowned head as a
diadem, and Catherine answered with compliments that were perhaps more
sincere than his verses. She wonders how she can repay him for a bundle
of books that he had sent to her, and at last bethinks herself that
nothing will please the lover of mankind so much as the introduction of
inoculation into the great empire; so she sends for Dr. Dimsdale from
England, and submits to the unfamiliar rite in her own sacred person.
Presents of furs are sent to the hermit of the Alps, and he is told how
fortunate the imperial messenger counts himself in being despatched to
Ferney. What flattered Voltaire more than furs was Catherine's
promptitude and exactness in keeping him informed of her military and
political movements against Turkey. It made him a centre of European
intelligence in more senses than one, and helped him in his lifelong
battle to pose, in his letters at least, as the equal of his friend, the
King of Prussia. For D'Alembert the Empress professed an admiration only
less than she felt for Voltaire. She was eager that he should come to
Russia to superintend the instruction of the young Grand Duke. But
D'Alembert was too prudent to go to St. Petersburg, as he was too
prudent to go to Berlin. Montesquieu had died five years before her
accession, but his influence remained. She habitually called the Spirit
of Laws the breviary of kings, and when she drew up her Instruction for
a new code, she acknowledged how much she had pillaged from Montesquieu.
"I hope," she said, "that if from the other world he sees me at work, he
will forgive my plagiarism for the sake of the twenty millions of men
who will benefit by it." In truth the twenty millions of men got very
little benefit indeed by the code. Montesquieu's own method might have
taught her that not even absolute power can force the civil system of
free labour into a society resting on serfdom. But it is not surprising
that Catherine was no wiser than more democratic reformers who had drunk
from the French springs. Or probably she had a lower estimate in her own
heart of the value of her code for practical purposes than it suited her
to disclose to a Parisian philosopher.

Catherine did not forget that, though the French at this time were
pre-eminent in the literature of new ideas, yet there were meritorious
and useful men in other countries. One of her correspondents was
Zimmermann of Hanover, whose essay on Solitude the shelves of no
second-hand bookseller's shop is ever without. She had tried hard to
bribe Beccaria to leave Florence for St. Petersburg. She succeeded in
persuading Euler to return to a capital whither he had been invited many
years before by the first Catherine, and where he now remained.

Both Catherine's position and her temperament made the society of her
own sex of little use or interest to her. "I don't know whether it is
custom or inclination," she wrote, "but somehow I can never carry on
conversation except with men. There are only two women in the world with
whom I can talk for half an hour at once." Yet among her most intimate
correspondents was one woman well known in the Encyclopædic circle. She
kept up an active exchange of letters with Madame Geoffrin--that
interesting personage, who though belonging to the bourgeoisie, and
possessing not a trace of literary genius, yet was respectfully courted
not only by Catherine, but by Stanislas, Gustavus, and Joseph II.[77]

    [77] See M. Mouy's Introduction to her Correspondence with

On the whole then we must regard Catherine's European correspondence as
at least in some measure the result of political calculation. Its
purposes, as has been said, were partly those to which in our own times
some governments devote a Reptile-fund. There is a letter from the
Duchesse de Choiseul to Madame du Deffand, her intimate friend, and the
friend of so many of the literary circle, in which the secret of the
relations between Catherine and the men of letters is very plainly told.
"All that," she writes--protection of arts and sciences--"is mere luxury
and a caprice of fashion in our age. All such pompous jargon is the
product of vanity, not of principles or of reflection.... The Empress of
Russia has another object in protecting literature; she has had sense
enough to feel that she had need of the protection of the men of
letters. She has flattered herself that their base praises would cover
with an impenetrable veil in the eyes of her contemporaries and of
posterity, the crimes with which she has astonished the universe and
revolted humanity.... The men of letters, on the other hand, flattered,
cajoled, caressed by her, are vain of the protection that they are able
to throw over her, and dupes of the coquetries that she lavishes on
them. These people who say and believe that they are the instructors of
the masters of the world, sink so low as actually to take a pride in the
protection that this monster seems in her turn to accord to them, simply
because she sits on a throne."[78]

    [78] _Corresp. Complète de Mdme. du Deffand_, i. 115. (Ed. 1877.)
    June, 1767.

In short, the monarchs of the north understood and used the new forces
of the men of letters, whom their own sovereign only recognised to
oppress. The contrast between the liberalism of the northern sovereigns,
and the obscurantism of the court of France, was never lost from sight.
Marmontel's _Belisarius_ was condemned by the Sorbonne, and burnt at
the foot of the great staircase of the Palace of Justice; in Russia a
group of courtiers hastened to translate it, and the Empress herself
undertook one chapter of the work. Diderot, who was not allowed to enter
the French Academy, was an honoured guest at the Russian palace. For all
this Catherine was handsomely repaid. When Diderot visited St.
Petersburg, Voltaire congratulated the Empress on seeing that unique
man; but Diderot is not, he added, "the only Frenchman who is an
enthusiast for your glory. We are lay missionaries who preach the
religion of Saint Catherine, and we can boast that our church is
tolerably universal."[79] We have already seen Catherine's generosity in
buying Diderot's books, and paying him for guarding them as her
librarian. "I should never have expected," she says, "that the purchase
of a library would bring me so many fine compliments; all the world is
bepraising me about M. Diderot's library. But now confess, you to whom
humanity is indebted for the strong support that you have given to
innocence and virtue in the person of Calas, that it would have been
cruel and unjust to separate a student from his books."[80] "Ah, madam,"
replies the most graceful of all courtiers, "let your imperial majesty
forgive me; no, you are not the aurora borealis; you are assuredly the
most brilliant star of the north, and never was there one so beneficent
as you. Andromeda, Perseus, Callisto are not your equals. All these
stars would have left Diderot to die of starvation. He was persecuted in
his own country, and your benefactions came thither to seek him! Lewis
XIV. was less munificent than your majesty: he rewarded merit in foreign
countries, but other people pointed it out to him, whereas you, madame,
go in search of it and find it for yourself. Your generous pains to
establish freedom of conscience in Poland are a piece of beneficence
that the human race must ever celebrate."[81]

    [79] November 1, 1773.

    [80] November 1766.

    [81] December 22, 1766.

When the first Partition of Poland took place seven years later,
Catherine found that she had not cultivated the friendship of the French
philosophers to no purpose. The action of the dominant party in Poland
enabled Catherine to take up a line which touched the French
philosophers in their tenderest part. The Polish oligarchy was Catholic,
and imposed crushing disabilities on the non-Catholic part of the
population. "At the slightest attempt in favour of the non-Catholics,"
King Stanislas writes to Madame Geoffrin, of the Diet of 1764, "there
arose such a cry of fanaticism! The difficulty as to the naturalisation
of foreigners, the contempt for _roturiers_ and the oppression of them,
and Catholic intolerance, are the three strongest national prejudices
that I have to fight against in my countrymen; they are at bottom good
folk, but their education and ignorance render them excessively stubborn
on these three heads."[82] Poland in short reproduced in an aggravated
and more barbaric form those evils of Catholic feudalism, in which the
philosophers saw the arch-curse of their own country. Catherine took the
side of the Dissidents, and figured as the champion of religious
toleration. Toleration was chief among the philosophic watchwords, and
seeing that great device on her banners, the Encyclopædic party asked no
further questions. So, with the significant exception of Rousseau, they
all abstained from the cant about the Partition which has so often been
heard from European liberals in later days. And so with reference to
more questionable transactions of an earlier date, no one could guess
from the writings of the philosophers that Catherine had ever been
suspected of uniting with her husband in a plot to poison the Empress
Elizabeth, and then uniting with her lover in a plot to strangle her
husband. "I am quite aware," said Voltaire, "that she is reproached with
some bagatelles in the matter of her husband, but these are family
affairs with which I cannot possibly think of meddling."

    [82] _Corresp._, pp. 135, 144, etc.

One curious instance of Catherine's sensibility to European opinion is
connected with her relations to Diderot. Rulhière, afterwards well known
in literature as a historian, began life as secretary to Breteuil, in
the French embassy at St. Petersburg. An eyewitness of the tragedy which
seated Catherine on the throne, he wrote an account of the events of the
revolution of 1762. This piquant narrative, composed by a young man who
had read Tacitus and Sallust was circulated in manuscript among the
salons of Paris (1768). Diderot had warned Rulhière that it was
infinitely dangerous to speak about princes, that not everything that is
true is fit to be told, that he could not be too careful of the feelings
of a great sovereign who was the admiration and delight of her people.
Catherine pretended that a mere secretary of an embassy could know very
little about the real springs and motives of the conspiracy. Diderot had
described the manuscript as painting her in a commanding and imperious
attitude. "There was nothing of that sort," she said; "it was only a
question of perishing with a madman, or saving oneself with the
multitude who insisted on coming to the rescue." What she saw was that
the manuscript must be bought, and she did her best first to buy the
author and then, when this failed, to have him locked up in the
Bastille. She succeeded in neither. The French government were not sorry
to have a scourge to their hands. All that Diderot could procure from
Rulhière was a promise that the work should not be published during the
Empress's lifetime. It was actually given to the world in 1797. When
Diderot was at St. Petersburg, the Empress was importunate to know the
contents of the manuscript, which he had seen, but of which she was
unable to procure a copy. "As far as you are concerned," he said, "if
you attach great importance, Madame, to the decencies and virtues, the
worn-out rags of your sex, this work is a satire against you; but if
large views and masculine and patriotic designs concern you more, the
author depicts you as a great princess." The Empress answered that this
only increased her desire to read the book. Diderot himself truly enough
described it as a historic romance, containing a mixed tissue of lies
and truths that posterity would compare to a chapter of Tacitus.[83]
Perhaps the only piece of it that posterity will really value is the
page in which the writer describes Catherine's personal appearance; her
broad and open brow, her large and slightly double chin, her hair of
resplendent chestnut, her eyes of a brilliant brown into which the
reflections of the light brought shades of blue. "Pride," he says, "is
the true characteristic of her physiognomy. The amiability and grace
which are there too only seem to penetrating eyes to be the effect of an
extreme desire to please, and these seductive expressions somehow let
the design of seducing be rather too clearly seen."

    [83] _Satire I. sur les caractères, etc. Oeuv._, vi. 313.

The first Frenchman whom Catherine welcomed in person to her court was
Falconet, of whose controversy with the philosopher we shall have a few
words to say in a later chapter. This introduction to her was due to
Diderot. She had entreated him to find for her a sculptor who would
undertake a colossal statue of Peter the Great. Falconet was at the
height of his reputation in his own country; in leaving it he seems to
have been actuated by no other motive than the desire of an opportunity
of erecting an immense monument of his art, though Diderot's eloquence
was not wanting. Falconet had the proverbial temperament of artistic
genius. Diderot called him the Jean Jacques of sculpture. He had none of
the rapacity for money which has distinguished so many artists in their
dealings with foreign princes, but he was irritable, turbulent,
restless, intractable. He was a chivalrous defender of poorer brethren
in art, and he was never a respecter of persons. His feuds with Betzki,
the Empress's faithful factotum, were as acrid as the feuds between
Voltaire and Maupertuis. Betzki had his own ideas about the statue that
was to do honour to the founder of the Empire, and he insisted that the
famous equestrian figure of Marcus Aurelius should be the model.
Falconet was a man of genius, and he retorted that what might be good
for Marcus Aurelius would not be good for Peter the Great. The courtly
battle does not concern us, though some of its episodes offer tempting
illustrations of biting French malice. Falconet had his own way, and
after the labour of many years, a colossus of bronze bestrode a charger
rearing on a monstrous mass of unhewn granite. Catherine took the
liveliest interest in her artist's work, frequently visiting his studio,
and keeping up a busy correspondence. With him, as with the others, she
insisted that he should stand on no ceremony, and should not spin out
his lines with epithets on which she set not the smallest value. She may
be said to have encouraged him to pester her with a host of his obscure
countrymen in search of a living, and a little colony of Frenchmen whose
names tell us nothing, hung about the Russian capital. Diderot's
account of this group of his countrymen at St. Petersburg recalls the
picture of a corresponding group at Berlin. "Most of the French who are
here rend and hate one another, and bring contempt both on themselves
and their nation: 'tis the most unworthy set of rascals that you can

    [84] _Oeuv._, xx. 58.

Diderot reached St. Petersburg towards the end of 1773, and he remained
some five months, until the beginning of March, 1774. His impulsive
nature was shocked by a chilly welcome from Falconet, but at the palace
his reception was most cordial, as his arrival had been eagerly
anticipated. The Empress always professed to detest ceremony and state.
In a letter to Madame Geoffrin she insists, as we have already seen her
doing with Falconet, on being treated to no oriental prostrations, as if
she were at the court of Persia. "There is nothing in the world so ugly
and detestable as greatness. When I go into a room, you would say that I
am the head of Medusa: everybody turns to stone. I constantly scream
like an eagle against such ways; yet the more I scream, the less are
they at their ease.... If you came into my room, I should say to
you,--Madame, be seated; let us chatter at our ease. You would have a
chair in front of me; there would be a table between us. _Et puis des
bâtons rompus, tant et plus, c'est mon fort._"

This is an exact description of her real behaviour to Diderot. On most
days he was in her society from three in the afternoon until five or
six. Etiquette was banished. Diderot's simplicity and vehemence were as
conspicuous and as unrestrained at Tsarskoe-selo as at Grandval or the
Rue Taranne. If for a moment the torrent of his improvisation was
checked by the thought that he was talking to a great lady, Catherine
encouraged him to go on. "_Allons_," she cried, "_entre hommes tout est
permis_." The philosopher in the heat of exposition brought his hands
down upon the imperial knees with such force and iteration, that
Catherine complained that he made them black and blue. She was sometimes
glad to seek shelter from such zealous enforcement of truth, behind a
strong table. Watchful diplomatists could not doubt that such interviews
must have reference to politics. Cathcart, the English ambassador,
writes to his government that M. Diderot is still with the Empress at
Tsarskoe-selo, "pursuing his political intrigues." And, amazing as it
may seem, the French minister and the French ambassador both of them
believed that they had found in this dreaming rhapsodical genius a
useful diplomatic instrument. "The interviews between Catherine and
Diderot follow one another incessantly, and go on from day to day. He
told me, and I have reasons for believing that he is speaking the truth,
that he has painted the danger of the alliance of Russia with the King
of Prussia, and the advantage of an alliance with us. The Empress, far
from blaming this freedom, encouraged him by word and gesture. 'You are
not fond of that prince,' she said to Diderot. 'No,' he replied, 'he is
a great man, but a bad king, and a dealer in counterfeit coin.' 'Oh,'
said she laughing, 'I have had my share of his coin.'"

The first Partition of Poland had been finally consummated in the Polish
Diet in the autumn of 1773, a few weeks before Diderot's arrival at St.
Petersburg. Lewis XV., now drawing very near to his end, and
D'Aiguillon, his minister, had some uneasiness at this opening of the
great era of territorial revolution, and looked about in a shiftless way
for an ally against Russia and Prussia. England sensibly refused to
stir. Then France, as we see, was only anxious to detach Catherine from
Frederick. All was shiftless and feeble, and the French government can
have known little of the Empress, if they thought that Diderot was the
man to affect her strong and positive mind. She told Ségur in later
years what success Diderot had with her as a politician.

"I talked much and frequently with him," said Catherine, "but with more
curiosity than profit. If I had believed him, everything would have been
turned upside down in my kingdom; legislation, administration,
finances--all to be turned topsy-turvy to make room for impracticable
theories. Yet as I listened more than I talked, any witness who happened
to be present, would have taken him for a severe pedagogue, and me for
his humble scholar. Probably he thought so himself, for after some time,
seeing that none of these great innovations were made which he had
recommended, he showed surprise and a haughty kind of dissatisfaction.
Then speaking openly, I said to him: _Mr. Diderot, I have listened with
the greatest pleasure to all that your brilliant intelligence has
inspired; and with all your great principles, which I understand very
well, one would make fine books, but very bad business. You forget in
all your plans of reform the difference in our positions; you only work
on paper, which endures all things; it opposes no obstacle either to
your imagination or to your pen. But I, poor Empress as I am, work on
the human skin, which is irritable and ticklish to a very different
degree._ I am persuaded that from this moment he pitied me as a narrow
and vulgar spirit. For the future he only talked about literature, and
politics vanished from our conversation."[85]

    [85] Ségur, iii. 34.

Catherine was mistaken, as we shall see, in supposing that Diderot ever
thought her less than the greatest of men. Cathcart, the English
ambassador, writes in a sour strain: "All his letters are filled with
panegyrics of the Empress, whom he depicts as above humanity. His
flatteries of the Grand Duke have been no less gross, but be it said to
the young prince's honour, he has shown as much contempt for such
flatteries as for the mischievous principles of this pretended

Frederick tells D'Alembert that though the Empress overwhelms Diderot
with favours, people at St. Petersburg find him tiresome and
disputatious, and "talking the same rigmarole over and over again." In
her letters to Voltaire, Catherine lets nothing of this be seen. She
finds Diderot's imagination inexhaustible, and ranks him among the most
extraordinary men that have ever lived; she delights in his
conversation, and his visits have given her the most uncommon pleasure.
All this was perhaps true enough. Catherine probably rated the
philosopher at his true worth as a great talker and a singular and
original genius, but this did not prevent her, any more than it need
prevent us, from seeing the limits and measure. She was not one of the
weaker heads who can never be content without either wholesale
enthusiasm or wholesale disparagement.

Diderot had a companion who pleased her better than Diderot himself.
Grimm came to St. Petersburg at this time to pay his first visit, and
had a great success. "The Empress," wrote Madame Geoffrin to King
Stanislas, "lavished all her graces on Grimm. And he has everything that
is needed to make him worthy of them. Diderot has neither the fineness
of perception, nor the delicate tact that Grimm has, and so he has not
had the success of Grimm. Diderot is always in himself, and sees nothing
in other people that has not some reference to himself. He is a man of a
great deal of understanding, but his nature and turn of mind make him
good for nothing, and, more than that, would make him a very dangerous
person in any employment. Grimm is quite the contrary."[86]

    [86] Mouy's _Corresp. du roi Stanislas_, p. 501.

In truth, as we have said before, Grimm was one of the shrewdest heads
in the Encyclopædic party; he had much knowledge, a judgment both solid
and acute, and a certain easy fashion of social commerce, free from
raptures and full of good sense. Yet he was as devoted and ecstatic in
his feelings about the Empress as his more impetuous friend. "Here," he
says, "was no conversation of leaps and bounds, in which idleness
traverses a whole gallery of ideas that have no connection with one
another, and weariness draws you away from one object to skim a dozen
others. They were talks in which all was bound together, often by
imperceptible threads, but all the more naturally, as not a word of what
was to be said had been led up to or prepared beforehand." Grimm cannot
find words to describe her verve, her stream of brilliant sallies, her
dashing traits, her eagle's _coup d'oeil_. No wonder that he used to
quit her presence so electrified as to pass half the night in marching
up and down his room, beset and pursued by all the fine and marvellous
things that had been said. How much of all this is true, and how much of
it is the voice of the bewildered courtier, it might be hard to decide.
But the rays of the imperial sun did not so far blind his prudence, as
to make him accept a pressing invitation to remain permanently in
Catherine's service. When Diderot quitted St. Petersburg, Grimm went to
Italy. After an interlude there, he returned to Russia and was at once
restored to high favour. When the time came for him to leave her, the
Empress gave him a yearly pension of two thousand roubles, or about ten
thousand livres, and with a minute considerateness that is said not to
be common among the great, she presently ordered that it should be paid
in such a form that he should not lose on the exchange between France
and Russia. Whether she had a special object in keeping Grimm in good
humour, we hardly know. What is certain is that from 1776 until the fall
of the French monarchy she kept up a voluminous correspondence with him,
and that he acted as an unofficial intermediary between her and the
ministers at Versailles. Every day she wrote down what she wished to say
to Grimm, and at the end of every three months these daily sheets were
made into a bulky packet and despatched to Paris by a special courier,
who returned with a similar packet from Grimm. This intercourse went on
until the very height of the Revolution, when Grimm at last, in
February, 1792, fled from Paris. The Empress's helpful friendship
continued to the end of her life (1796).[87]

    [87] _Mémoire Historique_, printed in vol. i. of the new edition
    (1877) of the Correspondence of Grimm and Diderot, by M. Maurice

Diderot arrived at the Hague on his return from Russia in the first week
of April (1774), after making a rapid journey of seven hundred leagues
in three weeks and a day. D'Alembert had been anxious that Frederick of
Prussia should invite Diderot to visit him at Berlin. Frederick had told
him that, intrepid reader as he was, he could not endure to read
Diderot's books. "There reigns in them a tone of self-sufficiency and
an arrogance which revolt the instinct of my freedom. It was not in such
a style that Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Gassendi, Bayle, and
Newton wrote." D'Alembert replied that the king would judge more
favourably of the philosopher's person than of his works; that he would
find in Diderot, along with much fecundity, imagination, and knowledge,
a gentle heat and a great deal of amenity.[88] Frederick, however, did
not send the invitation, and Diderot willingly enough went homeward by
the northern route by which he had come. He passed Königsberg, where, if
he had known it, Kant was then meditating the Critic of Pure Reason. It
is hardly probable that Diderot met the famous worthy who was destined
to deal so heavy a blow to the Encyclopædic way of thinking, and to
leave a name not less illustrious than Frederick or Catherine. A court
official was sent in charge of the philosopher. The troubles of posting
by the sea-road between Königsberg and Memel had moved him to the
composition of some very bad verses on his first journey; and the horror
of crossing the Dwina inspired others that were no better on his return.
The weather was hard; four carriages were broken in the journey. He
expected to be drowned as the ice creaked under his horses' feet at
Riga, and he thought that he had broken an arm and a shoulder as he
crossed the ferry at Mittau. But all ended well, and he found himself
once more under the roof of Prince Galitzin at the Hague. Hence he
wrote to his wife and his other friends in Paris, that it must be a
great consolation to them to know that he was only separated from them
by a journey of four days. That journey was not taken, however, for
nearly four months. Diderot had promised the Empress that he would
publish a set of the regulations for the various institutions which she
had founded for the improvement of her realm. This could only be done,
or could best be done, in Holland. His life there was spent as usual in
the slavery of proof-sheets, tempered by daily bursts of conversation,
rhapsody, discussion, and dreamy contemplation. He made the acquaintance
of a certain Björnstähl, a professor of oriental languages at the
university of Lund in Sweden, and a few pages in this obscure writer's
obscure book contain the only glimpse that we have of the philosopher on
his travels.[89] Diderot was as ecstatic in conversation, as we know him
to have been in his correspondence, in praise of the august friend whom
he had left. The least of his compliments was that she united the charms
of Cleopatra to the soul of Cæsar, or sometimes it was, to the soul of

    [88] D'Alembert au Roi de Prusse. Feb. 14, 1774.

    [89] _Briefe aus seinen ausländischen Reisen_, iii. 217-233.
    (Leipsic, 1780--a German translation from the Swedish.)

"At the Hague," says Björnstähl, "we go about every day with M. Diderot.
He has views extending over an incredibly wide field, possesses a
vivacity that I cannot describe, is pleasant and friendly in
intercourse, and has new and unusual observations to make on every
subject.... Who could fail to prize him? He is so bright, so full of
instruction, has so many new thoughts and suggestions, that nobody can
help admiring him. But willingly as he talks when one goes to him, he
shows to little advantage in large companies, and that is why he did not
please everybody at St. Petersburg. You will easily see the reason why
this incomparable man in such companies, where people talk of fashion,
of clothes, of frippery, and all other sorts of triviality, neither
gives pleasure to others nor finds pleasure himself." And the friendly
Swede rises to the height of generalisation in the quaint maxim, Where
an empty head shines, there a thoroughly cultivated man comes too short.

Björnstähl quotes a saying of Voltaire, that Diderot would have been a
poet if he had not wished to be a philosopher--a remark that was rather
due perhaps to Voltaire's habitual complaisance than to any serious
consideration of Diderot's qualities. But if he could not be a poet
himself, at least he knew Pindar and Homer by heart, and at the Hague he
never stirred out without a Horace in his pocket. And though no poet, he
was full of poetic sentiment. Scheveningen, the little bathing-place a
short distance from the Hague, was Diderot's favourite spot. "It was
there," he writes, "that I used to see the horizon dark, the sea covered
with white haze, the waves rolling and tumbling, and far out the poor
fishermen in their great clumsy boats; on the shore a multitude of women
frozen with cold or apprehension, trying to warm themselves in the sun.
When the work was at an end and the boats had landed, the beach was
covered with fish of every kind. These good people have the simplicity,
the openness, the filial and fraternal piety of old time. As the men
come down from their boats, their wives throw themselves into their
arms, they embrace their fathers and their little ones; each loads
himself with fish; the son tosses his father a codfish or a salmon,
which the old man carries off in triumph to his cottage, thanking heaven
that it has given him so industrious and worthy a son. When he has gone
indoors, the sight of the fish rejoices the old man's mate; it is
quickly cut in pieces, the less lucky neighbours invited, it is speedily
eaten, and the room resounds with thanks to God, and cheerful

    [90] xvii. 449.

These scenes, with their sea-background, their animation, their broad
strokes of the simple, tender, and real in life, may well have been
after Diderot's own heart. He often told me, says Björnstähl, that he
never found the hours pass slowly in the company of a peasant, or a
cobbler, or any handicraftsman, but that he had many a time found them
pass slowly enough in the society of a courtier. "For of the one," he
said, "one can always ask about useful and necessary things, but the
other is mostly, so far as anything useful is concerned, empty and

The characteristics of the European capitals a century ago were believed
to be hit off in the saying, that each of them would furnish the proper
cure for a given defect of character. The over-elegant were to go to
London, savages to Paris, bigots to Berlin, rebels to St. Petersburg,
people who were too sincere to Rome, the over-learned to Brussels, and
people who were too lively to the Hague. Yet the dulness thus charged
against the Hague was not universally admitted. Impartial travellers
assigned to the talk of cultivated circles there a rank not below that
of similar circles in France and England. Some went even farther, and
declared Holland to have a distinct advantage, because people were never
embarrassed either by the levity and sparkling wit of France on the one
hand, nor by the depressing reserve and taciturnity of England on the
other.[91] Yet Holland was fully within the sphere of the great
intellectual commonwealth of the west, and was as directly accessible to
the literary influences of the time as it had ever been. If Diderot had
inquired into the vernacular productions of the country, he would have
found that here also the wave of reaction against French conventions,
the tide of English simplicity and domestic sentimentalism, had passed
into literature. The _Spectator_ and _Clarissa Harlowe_ inspired the
writers of Holland, as they had inspired Diderot himself.[92]

    [91] George Forster's _Ansichten vom Niederrhein_, etc. ii. 396

    [92] Jonckbloet's _Gesch. d. Niederland. Lit._ (German trans.) ii.
    502, etc.

In erudition, it was still what, even after the death of Scaliger, it
had remained through the seventeenth century, the most learned state of
Europe; and the elder Hemsterhuys, with such pupils as Ruhnken and
Valckenaer, kept up as well as he could the scholarly tradition of
Gronovius and Grævius. But the eighteenth century was not the century of
erudition. Scholarship had given way to speculation.

Among the interesting persons whom Diderot saw at the Hague, the most
interesting is the amiable and learned son of the elder Hemsterhuys,
himself by the way not Dutch, but the son of a Frenchman. Hemsterhuys
had been greatly interested in what he had heard of Diderot's
character,[93] though we have no record of the impression that was made
by personal acquaintance. If Diderot was playfully styled the French
Socrates, the younger Hemsterhuys won from his friends the name of the
Dutch Plato. The Hollanders pointed to this meditative figure, to his
great attainments in the knowledge of ancient literature and art, to his
mellowed philosophising, to his gracious and well-bred style, as a proof
that their country was capable of developing both the strength and the
sensibility of human nature to their highest point.[94] And he has a
place in the history of modern speculation. As we think of him and
Diderot discussing, we feel ourselves to be placed at a point that seems
to command the diverging streams and eddying currents of the time. In
this pair two great tides of thought meet for a moment, and then flow
on in their deep appointed courses. For Hemsterhuys, born a Platonist to
the core, became a leader of the reaction against the French philosophy
of illumination--of sensation, of experience, of the verifiable. He
contributed a marked current to the mysticism and pietism which crept
over Germany before the French revolution, and to that religious
philosophy which became a point of patriotic honour both in Germany and
at the Russian Court, after the revolutionary war had seemed to identify
the rival philosophy of the Encyclopædists with the victorious fury of
the national enemy. Jacobi, a chief of the mystic tribe, had begun the
attack on the French with weapons avowedly borrowed from the
sentimentalism of Rousseau, but by and by he found in Hemsterhuys more
genuinely intellectual arguments for his vindication of feeling and the
heart against the Encyclopædist claim for the supremacy of the

    [93] _Oeuv. Phil. de Fr. Hemsterhuys_, iii. 141. (Ed. Meyboom.)

    [94] Forster, ii. 398. Galiani, _Corresp._ ii. 189.

Diderot's hostess at the Hague is a conspicuous figure in the history of
this movement. Prince Galitzin had married the daughter of Frederick's
field-marshal, Schmettau. Goethe, who saw her (1797) many years after
Diderot was dead, describes her as one of those whom one cannot
understand without seeing; as a person not rightly judged unless
considered not only in connection, but in conflict, with her time. If
she was remarkable to Goethe when fifty years had set their mark upon
her, she was even more so to the impetuous Diderot in all the flush and
intellectual excitement of her youth. It was to the brilliance and
versatility of the Princess Galitzin that her husband's house owed its
consideration and its charm. "She is very lively," said Diderot, "very
gay, very intelligent; more than young enough, instructed and full of
talents; she has read; she knows several languages, as Germans usually
do; she plays on the clavecin, and sings like an angel; she is full of
expressions that are at once ingenuous and piquant; she is exceedingly
kind-hearted."[95] But he could not persuade her to take his philosophy
on trust. Diderot is said, by the Princess's biographer, to have been a
fervid proselytiser, eager to make people believe "his poems about
eternally revolving atoms, through whose accidental encounter the
present ordering of the world was developed." The Princess met his
brilliant eloquence with a demand for proof. Her ever-repeated _Why?_
and _How?_ are said to have shown "the hero of atheism his complete
emptiness and weakness."[96] In the long run Diderot was completely
routed in favour of the rival philosophy. Hemsterhuys became bound to
the Princess by the closest friendship, and his letters to her are as
striking an illustration as any in literature of the peculiar devotion
and admiration which a clever and sympathetic woman may arouse in
philosophic minds of a certain calibre--in a Condillac, a Joubert, a
D'Alembert, a Mill. Though Hemsterhuys himself never advanced from a
philosophy of religion to the active region of dogmatic professions, his
disciple could not find contentment on his austere heights. In the very
year of Diderot's death (1784) the Princess Galitzin became a catholic,
and her son became not only a catholic but a zealous missionary of the
faith in America.

    [95] _Oeuv._, xix. 342.

    [96] Dr. Katerkamp's _Denkwürdigkeiten aus dem Leben der Furstinn
    Amalie von Gallitzin_, p. 45.

This, however, was not yet. The patriotic Björnstähl was very anxious
that Diderot should go to Stockholm, to see for himself that the
Holstein blood was as noble in Sweden as it was in Russia. Diderot
replied that he would greatly have liked to see on the throne the
sovereign (Gustavus III.) who was so nearly coming to pay him a visit on
his own fourth storey in Paris. But he confessed that he was growing
homesick, and Stockholm must remain unvisited. In September (1774)
Diderot set his face homewards. "I shall gain my fireside," he wrote on
the eve of his journey, "never to quit it again for the rest of my life.
The time that we count by the year has gone, and the time that we must
count by the day comes in its stead. The less one's income, the more
important to use it well. I have perhaps half a score of years at the
bottom of my wallet. In these ten years, fluxions, rheumatisms, and the
other members of that troublesome family will take two or three of them;
let us try to economise the seven that are left, for the repose and the
small happinesses that a man may promise himself on the wrong side of
sixty." The guess was a good one. Diderot lived ten years more, and
although his own work in the world was done, they were years of great
moment both to France and the world. They witnessed the establishment of
a republic in the American colonies, and they witnessed the final stage
in the decay of the old monarchy in France. Turgot had been made
controller-general in the months before Diderot's return, and Turgot's
ministry was the last serious experiment in the direction of orderly
reform. The crash that followed resounded almost as loudly at St.
Petersburg and in Holland as in France itself, and Catherine, in 1792,
ordered all the busts of Voltaire that had adorned the saloons and
corridors of her palace to be thrust ignominiously down into the



Before proceeding to the closing chapter of Diderot's life, I propose to
give a short account of three remarkable books, of all of which he was
commonly regarded as the inspirer, which were all certainly the direct
and natural work of the Encyclopædic school, and which all play a
striking part in the intellectual commotions of the century.

The great attack on the Encyclopædia was made, as we have already seen,
in 1758, after the publication of the seventh volume. The same
prosecution levelled an angrier blow at Helvétius's famous treatise,
_L'Esprit_. It is not too much to say, that of all the proscribed books
of the century, that excited the keenest resentment. This arose partly
because it came earliest in the literature of attack. It was an
audacious surprise. The censor who had allowed it to pass the ordeal of
official approval was cashiered, and the author was dismissed from an
honorary post in the Queen's household.[97] The indictment described the
book as "the code of the most hateful and infamous passions," as a
collection into one cover of everything that impiety could imagine,
calculated to engender hatred against Christianity and Catholicism. The
court condemned the book to be burnt, and, as if to show that the motive
was not mere discontent with Helvétius's paradoxes, the same fire
consumed Voltaire's fine poem on Natural Religion. Less prejudiced
authorities thought nearly as ill of the book, as the lawyers of the
parliament and the doctors of the Sorbonne had thought. Rousseau
pronounced it detestable, wrote notes in refutation of its principles,
and was inspired by hatred of its doctrine to compose some of the most
fervid pages in the Savoyard Vicar's glowing Profession of Faith.[98]
Even Diderot, though his friendly feeling for the writer and his general
leaning to speculative hardihood warped his judgment so far as to make
him rank _L'Esprit_ along with Montesquieu's _Spirit of Laws_, and
Buffon's _Natural History_, among the great books of the century, still
perceived and showed that the whole fabric rested on a foundation of
paradox, and that, though there might be many truths of detail in the
book, very many of its general principles are false.[99] Turgot
described it as a book of philosophy without logic, literature without
taste, and morality without goodness.[100]

    [97] Barbier, vii. 137.

    [98] _Oeuv._, xii. 301.

    [99] _Ib._ ii. 267-274.

    [100] _Ib._ ii. 795.

In the same weighty piece of criticism, which contains in two or three
pages so much permanently valuable truth, Turgot proceeds:--"When people
wish to attack intolerance and injustice, it is essential in the first
place to rest upon just ideas, for inquisitors have an interest in being
intolerant, and viziers and subviziers have an interest in maintaining
all the abuses of the government. As they are the strongest, you only
give them a good excuse by sounding the tocsin against them right and
left. I hate despotism as much as most people; but it is not by
declamations that despotism ought to be attacked. And even in despotism
there are degrees; there is a multitude of abuses in despotism, in which
the princes themselves have no interest; there are others which they
only allow themselves to practise, because public opinion is not yet
fixed as to their injustice, and their mischievous consequences. People
deserve far better from a nation for attacking these abuses with
clearness, with courage, and above all by interesting the sentiment of
humanity, than for any amount of eloquent reproach. Where there is no
insult, there is seldom any offence.... There is no form of government
without certain drawbacks, which the governments themselves would fain
have it in their power to remedy, or without abuses which they nearly
all intend to repress at least at some future day. We may therefore
serve them all by treating questions of the public good in a calm and
solid style; not coldly, still less with extravagance, but with that
interesting warmth which springs from a profound feeling for justice and
love of order."[101]

    [101] _Oeuv._, ii. 795-798.

Of course it is a question whether, even in 1758, a generation before
the convulsion, it was possible for the French monarchy spontaneously to
work out the long list of indispensable improvements; still, at that
date, Turgot might be excused for thinking that the progress which he
desired might be attained without the violence to which Helvétius's
diatribes so unmistakably pointed. His words, in any case, are worth
quoting for their own grave and universal sense, and because they place
us exactly at the point of view for regarding _L'Esprit_ rightly. He
seizes on its political aspect, its assault on government, and the
social ordering of the time, as containing the book's real drift. In
this, as in the rest of the destructive literature of the first sixty
years of the century, the church was no doubt that part of the social
foundations against which the assault was most direct and most
vindictive, and it was the church, in the case of Helvétius's book, that
first took alarm. Indeed, we may say that, from the very nature of
things, in whatever direction the revolutionary host moved, they were
sure to find themselves confronted by the church. It lay across the
track of light at every point. Voltaire pierced its dogma. Rousseau
shamed its irreligious temper. Diderot brought into relief the vicious
absoluteness of its philosophy. Then came Helvétius and Holbach, not
merely with criticism, but with substitutes. Holbach brought a new dogma
of the universe, matter and motion, and fortuitous shapes. Helvétius
brought a theory of human character, and a new analysis of
morals--interest the basis of justice, pleasure the true interpretation
of interest, and character the creature of education and laws.

To press such positions as these, was to recast the whole body of
opinions on which society rested. As the church was the organ of the old
opinions, Helvétius's book was instantly seized by the ecclesiastical
authorities in accordance with a perfectly right instinct, and was made
the occasion for the first violent raid upon a wholesale scale. When,
however, we look beyond the smoke of the ecclesiastical battle, and
weigh _L'Esprit_ itself on its own merits, we see quite plainly that
Helvétius was thinking less of the theological disputes of the day than
of bringing the philosophy of sensation, the philosophy of Locke and
Condillac, into the political field, and of deriving from it new
standards and new forces for social reconstruction. And in spite of its
shallowness and paradoxes, his book did contain the one principle on
which, if it had been generally accepted, the inevitable transition
might have taken place without a Reign of Terror.

It was commonly said, by his enemies and by his alarmed friends, that
vanity and a restless overweening desire for notoriety was the inspiring
motive of Helvétius. He came from a German stock. His great-grandfather
settled in Holland, where he cured his patients by cunning elixirs, by
the powder of ground stag's horn, and the subtle virtues of crocodiles'
teeth. His grandfather went to push his fortunes in Paris, where he
persuaded the public to accept the healing properties of ipecacuanha,
and Lewis XIV. (1689) gave him a short patent for that drug.[102] The
medical tradition of the family was maintained in a third generation,
for Helvétius's father was one of the physicians of the Queen, and on
one occasion performed the doubtful service to humanity of saving the
life of Lewis XV. Helvétius, who was born in 1715, turned aside from the
calling of his ancestors, and by means of the favour which his father
enjoyed at court, obtained a position as farmer-general. This at once
made him a wealthy man, but wealth was not enough to satisfy him without
fame. He made attempts in various directions, in each case following the
current of popularity for the hour. Maupertuis was the hero of a day,
and Helvétius accordingly applied himself to become a geometer.
Voltaire's brilliant success brought poetry into fashion, and so
Helvétius wrote half a dozen long cantos on Happiness. Montesquieu
caught and held the ear of the town by _The Spirit of Laws_ (1748), and
Helvétius was acute enough to perceive that speculation upon society
would be the great durable interest of his time.[103] He at once set to
work, and this time he set to work without hurry. In 1751 he threw up
his place as farmer-general, and with it an income of between two or
three thousand pounds a year,[104] and he then devoted himself for the
next seven years to the concoction of a work that was designed to bring
him immortal glory. "Helvétius sweated a long time to write a single
chapter," if we may believe one of his intimates. He would compose and
recompose a passage a score of times. More facile writers looked at him
with amazement in his country-house, ruminating for whole mornings on a
single page, and pacing his room for hours to kindle his ideas, or to
strike out some curious form of expression.[105] The circle of his
friends in Paris amused themselves in watching his attempts to force the
conversation into the channel of the question that happened to occupy
him for the moment. They gave him the satisfaction of discussion, and
then they drew him to express his own views. "Then," says Marmontel, "he
threw himself into the subject with warmth--as simple, as natural, as
sincere as he is systematic and sophistic in his works. Nothing is less
like the ingenuousness of his character and ordinary life, than the
artificial and premeditated simplicity of his works. Helvétius was the
very opposite in his character of what he professes to believe; he was
liberal, generous, unostentatious, and benevolent."[106]

    [102] See Jal's _Dict. Crit._, p. 676. There is a comparison in
    _L'Esprit_, which we may assume to have been due to family
    reminiscence: "Like those Physicians who, in their jealousy of the
    discovery of the emetic, abused the credulity of a few prelates, to
    excommunicate a remedy of which the service is so prompt and so
    salutary," etc.--ii. 23.

    [103] Hume, however, tells a story to the effect that Helvétius
    tried to dissuade Montesquieu from publishing his great book, as
    being altogether unworthy of his previous reputation.

    [104] Barbier v. 57.

    [105] Morellet, i. 71.

    [106] Marmontel, ii, 116.

As it happens, there is a very different picture in one of Diderot's
writings. While Diderot was on a journey he fell in with a lady who
knew Helvétius's country. "She told us that the philosopher at his
country seat was the unhappiest of men. He is surrounded by peasants and
by neighbours who hate him. They break the windows of his mansion; they
ravage his property at night; they cut his trees, and break down his
fences. He dares not sally out to shoot a rabbit without an escort. You
will ask me why all this? It comes of an unbridled jealousy about his
game. His predecessors kept the estate in order with a couple of men and
a couple of guns. Helvétius has four-and-twenty, and yet he cannot guard
his property. The men have a small premium for every poacher that they
catch, and they resort to every possible vexation in order to multiply
their sorry profit. They are, for that matter, no better than so many
poachers who draw wages. The border of his woods was peopled with the
unfortunate wretches who had been driven from their homes into pitiful
hovels. It is these repeated acts of tyranny that have raised up against
him enemies of every kind, and all the more insolent, as Madame N. said,
for having found out that the good philosopher is a trifle
pusillanimous. I cannot see what he has gained by such a way of managing
his property; he is alone on it, he is hated, he is in a constant state
of fright. Ah, how much wiser our good Madame Geoffrin, when she said of
a trial that tormented her: 'Finish my case. They want my money? I have
some; give them money. And what can I do better with money than buy
tranquillity with it?' In Helvétius's place, I should have said: 'They
kill a few hares, or a few rabbits; let them kill. The poor creatures
have no shelter save my woods, let them remain there.'"[107]

    [107] Voyage à Bourbonne. _Oeuv._, xvii. 344.

On the other hand, there are well-attested stories of Helvétius's
munificence. There is one remarkable testimony to his wide renown for
good-nature. After the younger Pretender had been driven out of France,
he had special reasons on some occasion for visiting Paris. He wrote to
Helvétius that he had heard of him as a man of the greatest probity and
honour in France, and that to Helvétius, therefore, he would trust
himself. Helvétius did not refuse the dangerous compliment, and he
concealed the prince for two years in his house.[108] He was as
benevolent where his vanity was less pleasantly flattered. More than one
man of letters, including Marivaux, was indebted to him for a yearly
pension, and his house was as open to the philosophic tribe as
Holbach's. Morellet has told us that the conversation was not so good
and so consecutive as it was at the Baron's. "The mistress of the house,
drawing to her side the people who pleased her best, and not choosing
the worst of the company, rather broke the party up. She was no fonder
of philosophy than Madame Holbach was fond of it; but the latter, by
remaining in a corner without saying a word, or else chatting in a low
voice with her friends, was in nobody's way; whereas Madame Helvétius,
with her beauty, her originality, and her piquant turn of nature, threw
out anything like philosophic discussion. Helvétius had not the art of
sustaining or animating it. He used to take one of us to a window, open
some question that he had in hand, and try to draw out either some
argument for his own view or some objection to it, for he was always
composing his book in society. Or more frequently still, he would go out
shortly after dinner to the opera or elsewhere, leaving his wife to do
the honours of the house."[109] In spite of all this, Helvétius's social
popularity became considerable. This, however, followed his attainment
of celebrity, for when _L'Esprit_ was published, Diderot scarcely met
him twice in a year, and D'Alembert's acquaintance with him was of the
slightest. And there must, we should suppose, have been some difficulty
in cordially admitting even a penitent member of the abhorred class of
farmers-general among the esoteric group of the philosophic opposition.
There was much point in Turgot's contemptuous question, why he should be
thankful to a declaimer like Helvétius, who showers vehement insults and
biting sarcasms on governments in general, and then makes it his
business to send to Frederick the Great a whole colony of revenue
clerks. It was the stringent proceedings against his book that brought
to Helvétius both vogue with the public and sympathy from the
Encyclopædic circle.

    [108] Burton's _Hume_, ii. 464.

    [109] Morellet, i. 141. A peculiarly graphic account of Madame
    Helvétius in her later years is to be found in Mrs. Adam's
    _Letters_, quoted in Parton's _Life of Franklin_, ii. 429.

To us it is interesting to know that Helvétius had a great admiration
for England. Holbach, as we have already seen (above, vol. i. p. 270),
did not share this, and he explained his friend's enthusiasm by the
assumption that what Helvétius really saw in our free land was the
persecution that his book had drawn upon him in France.[110] Horace
Walpole, in one of his letters, announced to Sir Horace Mann that
Helvétius was coming to England, bringing two Miss Helvétiuses with
fifty thousand pounds a-piece, to bestow on two immaculate members of
our most august and incorruptible senate, if he could find two in this
virtuous age who would condescend to accept his money. "Well," he adds,
in a spirit of sensible protest against these unprofitable international
comparisons, "we may be dupes to French follies, but they are ten times
greater fools to be the dupes of our virtues."[111] Gibbon met Helvétius
(1763), and found him a sensible man, an agreeable companion, and the
worthiest creature in the world, besides the merits of having a pretty
wife and a hundred thousand livres a year. Warburton was invited to dine
with him at Lord Mansfield's, but he could not bring himself to
countenance a professed patron of atheism, a rascal, and a

    [110] _Oeuv._, xix. 187.

    [111] _Corresp._, iv. 119.

    [112] Walpole's _Corresp._, iv. 217.

Let us turn to the book which had the honour of bringing all this
censure upon its author. Whether vanity was or was not Helvétius's
motive, the vanity of an author has never accounted for the interest of
his public, and we may be sure that neither those who approved, nor
those who abhorred, would have been so deeply and so universally
stirred, unless they had felt that he touched great questions at the
very quick. And, first, let a word be said as to the form of his book.

Grimm was certainly right in saying that a man must be without taste or
sense to find either the morality or the colouring of Diderot in
_L'Esprit_. It is tolerably clear that Helvétius had the example of
Fontenelle before his eyes--Fontenelle, who had taught astronomical
systems in the forms of elegant literature, and of whom it was said that
_il nous enjôle à la vérité_, he coaxes us to the truth. _L'Esprit_ is
perhaps the most readable book upon morals that ever was written, for
persons who do not care that what they read shall be scientifically
true. Hume, who, by the way, had been invited by Helvétius to translate
the book into English, wrote to Adam Smith that it was worth reading,
not for its philosophy, which he did not highly value, but for its
agreeable composition.[113] Helvétius intended that it should be this,
and accordingly he stuffed it with stories and anecdotes. Many of them
are very poor, many are inapposite, some are not very decent, others are
spoiled in telling, but still stories and anecdotes they remain, and
they carry a light-minded reader more or less easily from page to page
and chapter to chapter. But an ingenuous student of ethics who should
take Helvétius seriously, could hardly be reconciled by lively anecdotes
to what, in his particular formula, seems a most depressing doctrine.
Madame Roland read the celebrated book in her romantic girlhood, and her
impression may be taken for that of most generous natures. "Helvétius
made me wretched: he annihilated the most ravishing illusions; he showed
me everywhere repulsive self-interest. Yet what sagacity!" she
continues. "I persuaded myself that Helvétius painted men such as they
had become in the corruption of society: I judged that it was good to
feed one's self on such an author, in order to be able to frequent what
is called the world, without being its dupe. But I took good care not to
adopt his principles, merely in order to know man properly so-called. I
felt myself capable of a generosity which he never recognises. With what
delight I confronted his theories with the great traits in history, and
the virtues of the heroes that history has immortalised."[114]

    [113] Burton, ii. 57.

    [114] _Oeuv. de Mdme. Roland_, i. 108.

We have ventured to say that _L'Esprit_ contained the one principle
capable of supplying such a system of thinking about society as would
have taught the French of that time in what direction to look for
reforms. There is probably no instance in literature of a writer coming
so close to a decisive body of salutary truth, and then losing himself
in the by-ways of the most repulsive paradox that a perverse ingenuity
could devise. We are able to measure how grievous was this miscarriage
by reflecting that the same instrument which Helvétius actually held in
his hand, but did not know how to use, was taken from him by a man of
genius in another country, and made to produce reforms that saved
England from a convulsion. Nobody pretends that Helvétius discovered
Utilitarianism. Hume's name, for instance, occurs too often in his pages
for even the author himself to have dreamed that his principle of
utility was a new invention of his own. It would, as Mill has said,
imply ignorance of the history of philosophy and of general literature
not to be aware that in all ages of philosophy one of its schools has
been utilitarian, not only from the time of Epicurus, but long before.
But what is certain, and what would of itself be enough to entitle
Helvétius to consideration, is that from Helvétius the idea of general
utility as the foundation of morality was derived by that strong and
powerful English thinker, who made utilitarianism the great reforming
force of legislation and the foundation of jurisprudence. Bentham
himself distinctly avowed the source of his inspiration.[115]

    [115] "To that book [_L'Esprit_], Mr. Bentham has often been heard
    to say, he stood indebted for no small portion of the zeal and
    ardour with which he advocated his happiness-producing theory. It
    was from thence he took encouragement ... it was there he learned to
    persevere," etc. etc.--_Deontology_, i. 296.

A fatal discredit fastened upon a book which yet had in it so much of
the root of the matter, from the unfortunate circumstance that
Helvétius tacked the principle of utility on to the very crudest farrago
to be found in the literature of psychology. What happened, then, was
that Rousseau swept into the field with a hollow version of a philosophy
of reform, so eloquently, loftily, and powerfully enforced as to carry
all before it. The democracy of sentimentalism took the place that ought
to have been filled in the literature of revolutionary preparation by
the democracy of utility. Rousseau's fiction of the Sovereignty of the
People was an arbitrary and intrinsically sterile rendering of the real
truth in Helvétius's ill-starred book.

To establish the proper dependence of laws upon one another, says
Helvétius, "it is indispensable to be able to refer them all to a single
principle, such as that of _the Utility of the Public, that is to say,
of the greatest number of men submitted to the same form of government:
a principle of which no one realises the whole extent and fertility; a
principle that contains all Morality and Legislation_."[116]

    [116] _Disc._ ii. chap. xvii.

A man is just when all his actions tend to the public good. "To be
virtuous, it is necessary to unite nobleness of soul with an enlightened
understanding. Whoever combines these gifts conducts himself by _the
compass of public utility_. This utility is the principle of all human
virtues, and the foundation of all legislations. It ought to inspire the
legislator, and to force the nations to submit to his laws."[117]

    [117] _Ib._ ii. 6.

The principle of public utility is invariable, though it is pliable in
its application to all the different positions in which, in their
succession, a nation may find itself.[118]

    [118] _Disc._ ii. 17.

The public interest is that of the greatest number, and this is the
foundation on which the principles of sound morality ought invariably to

    [119] _Ib._ ii. chap. xxiii.

These extracts, and extracts in the same sense might easily be
multiplied, show us the basis on which Helvétius believed himself to be
building. Why did Bentham raise upon it a fabric of such value to
mankind, while Helvétius covered it with useless paradox? The answer is
that Bentham approached the subject from the side of a practical lawyer,
and proceeded to map out the motives and the actions of men in a
systematic and objective classification, to which the principle of
utility gave him the key. Helvétius, on the other hand, instead of
working out the principle, that actions are good or bad according as
they do or do not serve the public interest of the greatest number,
contented himself with reiterating in as many ways as possible the
proposition that self-love fixes our measure of virtue. The next thing
to do, after settling utility as the standard of virtue, and defining
interest as a term applied to whatever can procure us pleasures and
deliver us from pains,[120] was clearly to do what Bentham did,--to
marshal pleasures and pains in logical array. Instead of this,
Helvétius, starting from the proposition that "to judge is to feel,"
launched out into a complete theory of human character, which laboured
under at least two fatal defects. First, it had no root in a
contemplation of the march of collective humanity, and second, it
considered only the purely egoistic impulses, to the exclusion of the
opposite half of human tendencies. Apart from these radical
deficiencies, Helvétius fell headlong into a fallacy which has been
common enough among the assailants of the principle of utility; namely,
of confounding the standard of conduct with its motive, and insisting
that because utility is the test of virtue, therefore the prospect of
self-gratification is the only inducement that makes men prefer virtue
to vice.

    [120] _Ib._ ii. 1, _note_ (_b_).

This was what Madame du Deffand called telling everybody's secret. We
approve conduct in proportion as it conduces to our interest.
Friendship, _esprit-de-corps_, patriotism, humanity, are names for
qualities that we prize more or less highly in proportion as they come
more or less close to our own happiness; and the scale of our
preferences is in the inverse ratio of the number of those who benefit
by the given act. If it affects the whole of humanity or of our country,
our approval is less warmly stirred than if it were an act specially
devoted to our own exclusive advantage. If you want therefore to reach
men, and to shape their conduct for the public good, you must affect
them through their pleasures and pains.

To this position, which roused a universal indignation that amazed the
author, there is no doubt a true side. It is worth remembering, for
instance, that all penal legislation, in so far as deterrent and not
merely vindictive, assumes in all who come whether actually or
potentially within its sphere, the very doctrine that covered Helvétius
with odium. And there is more to be said than this. As M. Charles Comte
has expressed it: If the strength with which we resent injury were not
in the ratio of the personal risk that we run, we should hardly have the
means of self-preservation; and if the acts which injure the whole of
humanity gave us pain equal to that of acts that injure us directly, we
should be of all beings the most miserable, for we should be incessantly
tormented by conduct that we should be powerless to turn aside. And
again, if the benefits of which we are personally the object did not
inspire in us a more lively gratitude than those which we spread over
all mankind, we should probably experience few preferences, and extend
few preferences to others, and in that case egoism would grow to its
most overwhelming proportions.[121]

    [121] _Traité de Législation_, i. 243.

This aspect of Helvétius's doctrine, however, is one of those truths
which is only valid when taken in connection with a whole group of
different truths, and it was exactly that way of asserting a position,
in itself neither indefensible nor unmeaning, which left the position
open to irresistible attack. Helvétius's errors had various roots, and
may be set forth in as many ways. The most general account of it is that
even if he had insisted on making Self-love the strongest ingredient in
our judgment of conduct, he ought at least to have given some place to
Sympathy. For, though it is possible to contend that sympathy is only an
indirect kind of self-love, or a shadow cast by self-love, still it is
self-love so transformed as to imply a wholly different set of
convictions, and to require a different name.

_L'Esprit_ is one of the most striking instances in literature of the
importance of care in choosing the right way of presenting a theory to
the world. It seems as if Helvétius had taken pains to surround his
doctrine with everything that was most likely to warn men away from it.
For example, he begins a chapter of cardinal importance with the
proposition that personal interest is the only motive that could impel a
man to generous actions. "It is as impossible for him to love good for
good's sake as evil for the sake of evil." The rest of the chapter
consists of illustrations of this; and what does the reader suppose that
they are? The first is Brutus, of all the people in the world. He
sacrificed his son for the salvation of Rome, because his passion for
his country was stronger than his passion as a father; and this passion
for his country, "enlightening him as to the public interest," made him
see what a service his rigorous example would be to the state. The other
instances of the chapter point the same moral, that true virtue consists
in suppressing inducements to gratify domestic or friendly feeling, when
that gratification is hostile to the common weal.[122]

    [122] _Disc._ ii. 5.

It may be true that the ultimate step in a strictly logical analysis
reduces the devotion of the hero or the martyr to a deliberate
preference for the course least painful to himself, because religion or
patriotism or inborn magnanimity have made self-sacrifice the least
painful course to him. But to call this heroic mood by the name of
self-love, is to single out what is absolutely the most unimportant
element in the transaction, and to insist on thrusting it under the
onlooker's eye as the vital part of the matter. And it involves the most
perverse kind of distortion. For the whole issue and difference between
the virtuous man and the vicious man turns, not at all upon the fact
that each behaves in the way that habit has made least painful to him,
but upon the fact that habit has made selfishness painful to the first,
and self-sacrifice painful to the second; that self-love has become in
the first case transformed into an overwhelming interest in the good of
others, and in the second not so. Was there ever a greater perversity
than to talk of self-interest, when you mean beneficence, or than to
insist that because beneficence has become bound up with a man's
self-love, therefore beneficence _is_ nothing but self-love in disguise?
As if the fruit or the flower not only depends on a root as one of the
conditions among others of its development, but is itself actually the
root! Apart from the error in logic, what an error in rhetoric, to
single out the formula best calculated to fill a doctrine with odious
associations, and then to make that formula the most prominent feature
in the exposition. Without any gain in clearness or definiteness or
firmness, the reader is deliberately misled towards a form that is
exactly the opposite of that which Helvétius desired him to accept.

In other ways Helvétius takes trouble to wound the generous sensibility
and affront the sense of his public. Nothing can be at once more
scandalously cynical and more crude than a passage intended to show
that, if we examine the conduct of women of disorderly life from the
political point of view, they are in some respects extremely useful to
the public. That desire to please, which makes such a woman go to the
draper, the milliner, and the dressmaker, draws an infinite number of
workmen from indigence. The virtuous women, by giving alms to mendicants
and criminals, are far less wisely advised by their religious directors
than the other women by their desire to please; the latter nourish
useful citizens, while the former, who at the best are useless, are
often even downright enemies to the nation.[123] All this is only a
wordy transcript of Mandeville's coarse sentences about "the sensual
courtier that sets no limits to his luxury, and the fickle strumpet that
invents new fashions every week." We cannot wonder that all people who
were capable either of generous feeling or comprehensive thinking turned
aside even from truth, when it was mixed in this amalgam of destructive
sophistry and cynical illustration.

    [123] _Disc._ ii. 15.

We can believe how the magnanimous youth of Madame Roland and others
was discouraged by pages sown with mean anecdote. Helvétius tells us,
with genuine zest, of Parmenio saying to Philotas at the court of
Alexander the Great--"My son, make thyself small before Alexander;
contrive for him now and again the pleasure of setting thee right; and
remember that it is only to thy seeming inferiority that thou wilt owe
his friendship." The King of Portugal charged a certain courtier to draw
up a despatch on an affair with which he had himself dealt. Comparing
the two despatches, the King found the courtier's much the better of the
two: the courtier makes a profound reverence, and hastens to take leave
of his friends: "_It is all over with me_," he said, "_the King has
found out that I have more brains than he has_."[124] Only mediocrity
succeeds in the world. "Sir," said a father to his son, "you are getting
on in the world, and you suppose you must be a person of great merit. To
lower your pride, know to what qualities you owe this success: you were
born without vices, without virtues, without character; your knowledge
is scanty, your intelligence is narrow. Ah, what claims you have, my
son, to the goodwill of the world."[125]

    [124] See Diderot's truer version, _Oeuv._, ii. 482.

    [125] _Disc._ iv. 13, etc.

It lies beyond the limits of our task to enter into a discussion of
Helvétius's transgressions in the region of speculative ethics, from any
dogmatic point of view. Their nature is tolerably clear. Helvétius
looked at man individually, as if each of us came into the world naked
of all antecedent predispositions, and independent of the medium around
us. Next, he did not see that virtue, justice, and the other great words
of moral science denote qualities that are directly related to the
fundamental constitution of human character. As Diderot said,[126] he
never perceived it to be possible to find in our natural requirements,
in our existence, in our organisation, in our sensibility, a fixed base
for the idea of what is just and unjust, virtuous and vicious. He clung
to the facts that showed the thousand different shapes in which justice
and injustice clothed themselves; but he closed his eyes on the nature
of man, in which he would have recognised their character and origin.
Again, although his book was expressly written to show that only good
laws can form virtuous men, and that all the art of the legislator
consists in forcing men, through the sentiment of self-love, to be just
to one another,[127] yet Helvétius does not perceive the difficulty of
assuming in the moralising legislator a suppression of self-love which
he will not concede to the rest of mankind. The crucial problem of
political constitutions is to counteract the selfishness of a governing
class. Helvétius vaulted over this difficulty by imputing to a
legislator that very quality of disinterestedness whose absence in the
bulk of the human race he made the fulcrum of his whole moral

    [126] _Oeuv._, ii. 270.

    [127] _Disc._ ii. 24.

    [128] As Mr. Henry Sidgwick has put this:--"Even the indefatigable
    patience and inexhaustible ingenuity of Bentham will hardly succeed
    in defeating the sinister conspiracy of self-preferences. In fact,
    unless a little more sociality is allowed to an average human being,
    the problem of combining these egoists into an organisation for
    promoting their common happiness, is like the old task of making
    ropes of sand. The difficulty that Hobbes vainly tried to settle
    summarily by absolute despotism, is hardly to be overcome by the
    democratic artifices of his more inventive successor."

Into this field of criticism it is not, I repeat, our present business
minutely to enter. The only question for us, attempting to study the
history of opinion, is what Helvétius meant by his paradoxes, and how
they came into his mind. No serious writer, least of all a Frenchman in
the eighteenth century, ever sets out with anything but such an
intention for good, as is capable of respectable expression. And we ask
ourselves what good end Helvétius proposed to himself. Of what was he
thinking when he perpetrated so singular a misconstruction of his own
meaning as that inversion of beneficence into self-love of which we have
spoken? We can only explain it in one way. In saying that it is
impossible to love good for good's sake, Helvétius was thinking of the
theologians. Their doctrine that man is predisposed to love evil for
evil's sake, removes conduct from the sphere of rational motive, as
evinced in the ordinary course of human experience. Helvétius met this
by contending that both in good and bad conduct men are influenced by
their interest and not by mystic and innate predisposition either to
good or to evil. He sought to bring morals and human conduct out of the
region of arbitrary and superstitious assumption, into the sphere of
observation. He thought he was pursuing a scientific, as opposed to a
theological spirit, by placing interest at the foundation of conduct,
both as matter of fact and of what ought to be the fact, instead of
placing there the love of God, or the action of grace, or the authority
of the Church.

We may even say that Helvétius shows a positive side, which is wanting
in the more imposing names of the century. Here, for instance, is a
passage which in spite of its inadequateness of expression, contains an
unmistakable germ of true historical appreciation:--"However stupid we
may suppose the Peoples to be, it is certain that, being enlightened by
their interests, it was not without motives that they adopted the
customs that we find established among some of them. The bizarre nature
of these customs is connected, then, with the diversity of interests
among these Peoples. In fact, if they have always understood, in a
confused way, by the name of virtue the desire of public happiness; if
they have in consequence given the name of good to actions that are
useful to the country; and if the idea of utility has always been
privately associated with the idea of virtue, then we may be sure that
their most ridiculous, and even their most cruel, customs have always
had for their foundation the real or seeming utility of the public

    [129] _Disc._ ii. 13.

If we contrast this with the universal fashion among Helvétius's
friends, of denouncing the greater portion of the past history of the
race, we cannot but see that, crude as is the language of such a
passage, it contains the all-important doctrine which Voltaire,
Rousseau, and Diderot alike ignored, that the phenomena of the conduct
of mankind, even in its most barbarous phases, are capable of an
intelligible explanation, in terms of motive that shall be related to
their intellectual forms, exactly as the motives of the most polished
society are related to the intellectual forms of such a society. There
are not many passages in all the scores of volumes written in France in
the eighteenth century on the origin of society where there is such an
approach as this to the modern view.

Helvétius's position was that of a man searching for a new basis for
morals. It was hardly possible for any one in that century to look to
religion for such a base, and least of all was it possible to Helvétius.
"It is fanaticism," he says in an elaborately wrought passage, "that
puts arms into the hands of Christian princes; it orders Catholics to
massacre heretics; it brings out upon the earth again those tortures
that were invented by such monsters as Phalaris, as Busiris, as Nero; in
Spain it piles and lights up the fires of the Inquisition, while the
pious Spaniards leave their ports and sail across distant seas, to plant
the Cross and spread desolation in America. Turn your eyes to north or
south, to east or west; on every side you see the consecrated knife of
Religion raised against the breasts of women, of children, of old men,
and the earth all smoking with the blood of victims immolated to false
gods or to the Supreme Being, and presenting one vast, sickening,
horrible charnel-house of intolerance. Now what virtuous man, what
Christian, if his tender soul is filled with the divine unction that
exhales from the maxims of the Gospel, if he is sensible of the cries of
the unhappy and the outcast, and has sometimes wiped away their
tears--what man could fail at such a sight to be touched with compassion
for humanity, and would not use all his endeavour to found probity, not
on principles so worthy of respect as those of religion, but on
principles less easily abused, such as those of personal interest would

    [130] _Disc._ ii. 24.

This, then, is the point best worth seizing in a criticism of Helvétius.
The direction of morality by religion had proved a failure. Helvétius,
as the organ of reaction against asceticism and against mysticism,
appealed to positive experience, and to men's innate tendency to seek
what is pleasurable and to avoid what is painful. The scientific
imperfection of his attempt is plain; but that, at any rate, is what the
attempt signified in his own mind.

The same feeling for social reform inspired the second great paradox of
_L'Esprit_. This is to the effect that of all the sources of
intellectual difference between one man and another, organisation is the
least influential. Intellectual differences are due to diversity of
circumstance and to variety in education. It is not felicity of
organisation that makes a great man. There is nobody, in whom passion,
interest, education, and favourable chance, could not have surmounted
all the obstacles of an unpromising nature; and there is no great man
who, in the absence of passion, interest, education, and certain
chances, would not have been a blockhead, in spite of his happier
organisation. It is only in the moral region that we ought to seek the
true cause of inequality of intellect. Genius is no singular gift of
nature. Genius is common; it is only the circumstances proper to develop
it that are rare. The man of genius is simply the product of the
circumstances in which he is placed. The inequality in intelligence
(_esprit_) that we observe among men, depends on the government under
which they live, on the times in which their destiny has fallen, on the
education that they have received, on the strength of their desire to
achieve distinction, and finally on the greatness and fecundity of the
ideas which they happen to make the object of their meditations.[131]

    [131] _Disc._ iii.

Here again it would be easy to show how many qualifications are needed
to rectify this egregious overstatement of propositions that in
themselves contain the germ of a wholesome doctrine. Diderot pointed out
some of the principal causes of Helvétius's errors, summing them up
thus: "The whole of this third discourse seems to imply a false
calculation, into which the author has failed to introduce all the
elements that have a right to be there, and to estimate the elements
that are there at their right value. He has not seen the insurmountable
barrier that separates a man destined by nature for a given function,
from a man who only brings to that function industry, interest, and
attention."[132] In a work published after his death (1774), and
entitled _De l'Homme_, Helvétius re-stated at greater length, and with a
variety of new illustrations, this exaggerated position. Diderot wrote
an elaborate series of minute notes in refutation of it, taking each
chapter point by point, and his notes are full of acute and vigorous
criticism.[133] Every reader will perceive the kind of answers to which
the proposition that character is independent of organisation lies open.
Yet here, as in his paradox about self-love, Helvétius was looking, and
looking, moreover, in the right direction, for a rational principle of
moral judgment, moral education, and moral improvement. Of the two
propositions, though equally erroneous in theory, it was certainly less
mischievous in practice to pronounce education and institutions to be
stronger than original predisposition than to pronounce organisation to
be stronger than education and institutions. It was all-important at
that moment in France to draw people's attention to the influence of
institutions on character; to do that was both to give one of the best
reasons for a reform in French institutions, and also to point to the
spirit in which such a reform should be undertaken. If Helvétius had
contented himself with saying that, whatever may be the force of
organisation in exceptional natures, yet in persons of average
organisation these predispositions are capable of being indefinitely
modified by education, by laws, and by institutions, then he would not
only have said what could not be disproved, but he would have said as
much as his own object required. William Godwin drew one of the most
important chapters of his once famous treatise on _Political Justice_
from Helvétius, but what Helvétius exaggerated into a paradox which
nobody in his senses could seriously accept, Godwin expressed as a
rational half-truth, without which no reformer in education or
institutions could fairly think it worth while to set to work.[134]

    [132] _Oeuv._ ii. 271.

    [133] _Ib._ ii. 275-456.

    [134] _Political Justice_, bk. i. chap. iv.--"_The characters of men
    originate in their external circumstances._"

The reader of Benjamin Constant's _Adolphe_, that sombre little study of
a miserable passion, may sometimes be reminded of Helvétius. It begins
with the dry surprise of youth at the opening world, for we need time,
he says, to accustom ourselves to the human race, such as affectation,
vanity, cowardice, interest have made it. Then we soon learn only to be
surprised at our old surprise; we find ourselves very well off in our
new conditions, just as we come to breathe freely in a crowded theatre,
though on entering it we were almost stifled. Yet the author of this
parching sketch of the distractions of an egoism that just fell short
of being complete, suddenly flashes on us the unexpected but penetrating
and radiant moral, _La grande question dans la vie, c'est la douleur que
l'on cause_--the great question in life is the pain that we strike into
the lives of others. We are not seldom refreshed, when in the midst of
Helvétius's narrowest grooves, by some similar breath from the wider
air. Among the host of sayings, true, false, trivial, profound, which
are scattered over the pages of Helvétius, is one subtle and
far-reaching sentence, which made a strong impression upon Bentham. "_In
order to love mankind_," he writes, "_we must expect little from them_."
This might, on the lips of a cynic, serve for a formula of that kind of
misanthropy which is not more unamiable than it is unscientific. But in
the mouth of Helvétius it was a plea for considerateness, for
indulgence, and, above all, it was meant for an inducement to patience
and sustained endeavour in all dealings with masses of men in society.
"Every man," he says, "so long as his passions do not obscure his
reason, will always be the more indulgent in proportion as he is
enlightened." He knows that men are what they must be, that all hatred
against them is unjust, that a fool produces follies just as a wild
shrub produces sour berries, that to insult him is to reproach the oak
for bearing acorns instead of olives.[135] All this is as wise and
humane as words can be so, and it really represents the aim and temper
of Helvétius's teaching. Unfortunately for him and for his generation,
his grasp was feeble and unsteady. He had not the gift of accurate
thinking, and his book is in consequence that which, of all the books of
the eighteenth century, unites most of wholesome truth with most of
repellent error.

    [135] _Disc._ ii. 10.



The _System of Nature_ was published in 1770, eight years before the
death of Voltaire and of Rousseau, and it gathered up all the scattered
explosives of the criticism of the century into one thundering engine of
revolt and destruction. It professed to be the posthumous work of
Mirabaud, who had been secretary to the Academy. This was one of the
common literary frauds of the time. Its real author was Holbach. It is
too systematic and coherently compacted to be the design of more than
one man, and it is too systematic also for that one man to have been
Diderot, as has been so often assumed. At the same time there are good
reasons for believing that not only much of its thought, but some of the
pages, were the direct work of Diderot. The latest editor of the
heedless philosopher has certainly done right in placing among his
miscellanea the declamatory apostrophe which sums up the teachings of
this remorseless book. The rumour imputing the authorship to Diderot was
so common, and Diderot himself was so disquieted by it, that he actually
hastened away from Paris to his native Langres and to the Baths of
Bourbonne, in order to be ready to cross the frontier at the first hint
of a warrant being out against him.[136] Diderot has recorded his
admiration of his friend's work. "I am disgusted," he said, "with the
modern fashion of mixing up incredulity and superstition. What I like is
a philosophy that is clear, definite, and frank, such as you have in the
_System of Nature_. The author is not an atheist in one page, and a
deist in another. His philosophy is all of one piece."[137]

    [136] _Oeuv._, xvii. 329.

    [137] _Ib._ ii. 398.

No book has ever produced a more widespread shock. Everybody insisted on
reading it, and almost everybody was terrified. It suddenly revealed to
men, like the blaze of lightning to one faring through darkness, the
formidable shapes, the unfamiliar sky, the sinister landscape, into
which the wanderings of the last fifty years had brought them
unsuspecting. They had had half a century of such sharp intellectual
delight as had not been known throughout any great society in Europe
since the death of Michael Angelo, and had perhaps north of the Alps
never been known at all. And now it seemed to many of them, as they
turned over the pages of Holbach's book, as if they stood face to face
with the devil of the mediæval legend, come to claim their souls. Satire
of Job and David, banter about Joshua's massacres and Solomon's
concubines, invective against blind pastors of blinder flocks, zeal to
place Newton on the throne of Descartes and Locke upon the pedestal of
Malebranche, wishes that the last Jansenist might be strangled in the
bowels of the last Jesuit--all this had given zest and savour to life.
In the midst of their high feast, Holbach pointed to the finger of their
own divinity, Reason, writing on the wall the appalling judgments that
there is no God; that the universe is only matter in spontaneous
movement; and, most grievous word of all, that what men call their souls
die with the death of the body, as music dies when the strings are

Galiani, the witty Neapolitan, who had so many good friends in the
philosophic circle, anticipated the well-known phrase of a writer of our
own day. "The author of the _System of Nature_," he said, "is the Abbé
Terrai of metaphysics: he makes deductions, suspensions of payment, and
causes the very Bankruptcy of knowledge, of pleasure, and of the human
mind. But you will tell me that, after all, there were too many rotten
securities; that the account was too heavily overdrawn; that there was
too much worthless paper on the market. That is true, too, and that is
why the crisis has come."[138] Goethe, then a student at Strasburg, has
told us what horror and alarm the _System of Nature_ brought into the
circle there. "But we could not conceive," he says, "how such a book
could be dangerous. It came to us so gray, so Cimmerian, so corpse-like,
that we could hardly endure its presence; we shuddered before it as if
it had been a spectre. It struck us as the very quintessence of musty
age, savourless, repugnant."[139]

    [138] _Corresp. de Galiani_, i. 142.

    [139] _Wahrheit und Dichtung_, bk. xi.

If this was the light in which the book appeared to the young man who
was soon to be the centre of German literature, the brilliant veteran
who had for two generations been the centre of the literature of France
was both shocked by the audacity of the new treatise, and alarmed at the
peril in which it involved the whole Encyclopædic brotherhood, with the
Patriarch at their head. Voltaire had no sooner read the _System of
Nature_ than he at once snatched up his ever-ready pen and plunged into
refutation.[140] At the same time he took care that the right persons
should hear what he had done. He wrote to his old patron and friend
Richelieu, that it would be a great kindness if he would let the King
know that the abused Voltaire had written an answer to the book that all
the world was talking about. I think, he says, that it is always a good
thing to uphold the doctrine of the existence of a God who punishes and
rewards; society has need of such an opinion. There is a curious
disinterestedness in the notion of Lewis the Fifteenth and Richelieu,
two of the wickedest men of their time, being anxious for the
demonstration of a _Dieu vengeur_. Voltaire at least had a very keen
sense of the meaning of a court that rewarded and punished. The author
of the _System of Nature_, he wrote to Grimm, ought to have felt that he
was undoing his friends, and making them hateful in the eyes of the king
and the court.[141] This came true in the case of the great
philosopher-king himself. Frederick of Prussia was offended by a book
which spared political superstitions as little as theological dogma, and
treated kings as boldly as it treated priests. Though keenly occupied in
watching the war then waging between Russia and Turkey, and already
revolving the partition of Poland, he found time to compose a defence of
theism. 'Tis a good sign, Voltaire said to him, when a king and a plain
man think alike: their interests are often so hostile, that when their
ideas do agree, they must certainly be right.[142]

    [140] See the article _Dieu_ in the _Dict. Philosophique_.

    [141] Voltaire's _Corr._, Nov. 1, 1770.

    [142] July 27, 1770.

The philosophic meaning of Holbach's propositions was never really
seized by Voltaire. He is, as has been justly said, the representative
of ordinary common sense which, with all its declamations and its
appeals to the feelings, is wholly without weight or significance as
against a philosophic way of considering things, however humble the
philosophy may be.[143] He hardly took more pains to understand Holbach
than Johnson took to understand Berkeley. In truth it was a
characteristic of Voltaire always to take the social, rather than the
philosophic view of the great issues of the theistic controversy. One
day, when present at a discussion as to the existence of a deity, in
which the negative was being defended with much vivacity, he astonished
the company by ordering the servants to leave the room, and then
proceeding to lock the door. "Gentlemen," he explained, "I do not wish
my valet to cut my throat to-morrow morning." It was not the truth of
the theistic belief in itself that Voltaire prized, but its supposed
utility as an assistant to the police. D'Alembert, on the other hand,
viewed the dispute as a matter of disinterested speculation. "As for the
existence of a supreme intelligence," he wrote to Frederick the Great,
"I think that those who deny it advance far more than they can prove,
and scepticism is the only reasonable course." He goes on to say,
however, that experience invincibly proves both the materiality of the
soul, and a material deity--like that which Mr. Mill did not
repudiate--of limited powers, and dependent on fixed conditions.[144]

    [143] Lange's _Gesch. d. Materialismus_, i. 369; where the author
    shows how entirely Voltaire failed to touch Holbach's position as to
    the meaning of Order in the universe.

    [144] _Oeuv._, v. 296, 303, etc.

Let us now turn to the book itself. And first, as to its author. The
reader of the _New Heloïsa_ will remember that the heroine, after her
repentance and her marriage, has only one chagrin in the world; that is
the blank disbelief of her husband in the two great mysteries of a
Supreme Being and another world. Wolmar, the husband, has always been
supposed to stand for Rousseau's version of Holbach, and Holbach would
hardly have complained of the portrait. The Wolmar of the novel is
benevolent, active, patient, tranquil, friendly, and trustful. The
nicely combined conjunction of the play of circumstance with the action
of men pleases him, just as the fine symmetry of a statue or the
skilful contrivance of dramatic effects would please him. If he has any
dominant passion, it is a passion for observation; he delights in
reading the hearts of men.[145]

    [145] _Nouvelle Héloise_, IV. xii.

All this seems to have been as true of the real Holbach as of the
imaginary Wolmar. We have already seen him as the intimate friend and
constant host of Diderot. He was one of the best-informed men of his
time (1723-89). He had an excellent library, a collection of pictures,
and a valuable cabinet of natural history; and his poorer friends were
as freely welcome to the use of all of them as the richest. His manners
were cheerful, courteous, and easy; he was a model of simplicity, and
kindliness was written on every feature. His hospitality won him the
well-known nickname of the maître d'hôtel of philosophy, and his house
was jestingly called the Café de l'Europe. On Sundays and Thursdays,
without prejudice to other days, from ten to a score of men of letters
and eminent foreign visitors, including Hume, Wilkes, Shelburne,
Garrick, Franklin, Priestley, used to gather round his good dishes and
excellent wine. It was noted, as a mark of the attractiveness of the
company, that the guests, who came at two in the afternoon, constantly
remained until as late as seven and eight in the evening. To one of
those guests, who afterwards became the powerful enemy of the
Encyclopædic group, the gaiety, the irreverence, the hardihood of
speculation and audacity of discourse, were all as gall and wormwood.
Rousseau found their atheistic sallies offensive beyond endurance. Their
hard rationalism was odious to the great emotional dreamer, and after he
had quarrelled with them all, he transformed his own impressions of the
dreariness of atheism into the passionate complaint of Julie. "Conceive
the torment of living in retirement with the man who shares our
existence, and yet cannot share the hope that makes existence dear; of
never being able with him either to bless the works of God, or to speak
of the happy future that is promised us by the goodness of God; of
seeing him, while doing good on every side, still insensible to
everything that makes the delight of doing good; of watching him, by the
most bizarre of contradictions, think with the impious, and yet live
like a Christian. Think of Julie walking with her husband; the one
admiring in the rich and splendid robe of the earth the handiwork and
the bounteous gifts of the author of the universe; the other seeing
nothing in it all save a fortuitous combination, the product of blind
force! Alas! she cries, the great spectacle of nature, for us so
glorious, so animated, is dead in the eyes of the unhappy Wolmar, and in
that great harmony of being where all speaks of God in accents so mild
and so persuasive, he only perceives eternal silence."[146]

    [146] _Nouvelle Héloise_, V. v.

Yet it is fair to the author of this most eloquent Ignoratio Elenchi, to
notice that he honestly fulfilled the object with which he professed to
set out--namely, to show to both the religious and philosophical
parties that their adversaries were capable of leading upright, useful,
and magnanimous lives. Whether he would have painted the imaginary
Wolmar so favourably if he could have foreseen what kind of book the
real Holbach had in his desk, is perhaps doubtful. For Holbach's
opinions looked more formidable and sombre in the cold deliberateness of
print than they had sounded amid the interruptions of lively discourse.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is needless to say, to begin with, that the writer has the most
marked of the philosophic defects of the school of the century. Perhaps
we might put it more broadly, and call the disregard of historic opinion
the natural defect of all materialistic speculation from Epicurus
downwards.[147] Like all others of his school, Holbach has no perception
nor sense of the necessity of an explanation how the mental world came
to be what it is, nor how men came to think and believe what they do
think and believe. He gives them what he deems unanswerable reasons for
changing their convictions, but he never dreams of asking himself in
what elements of human character the older convictions had their root,
and from what fitness for the conduct of life they drew the current of
their sap. Yet unless this aspect of things had been well considered,
his unanswerable reasons were sure to fall wide of the mark. Opinions,
as men began to remember, after social movement had thrown the logical
century into discredit, have a history as well as a logic. They are
bound up with a hundred transmitted prepossessions, and they have become
identified with a hundred social customs that are the most dearly
cherished parts of men's lives. Nature had as much to do with the
darkness of yesterday as with the light of to-day; she is as much the
accomplice of superstition as she is the oracle of reason. It was
because they forgot all this that Holbach's school now seem so shallow
and superficial. The whole past was one long working of the mystery of
iniquity. "The sum of the woes of the human race was not diminished--on
the contrary, it was increased by its religions, by its governments, by
its opinions, in a word, by all the institutions that _it was led to
adopt_ on the plea of ameliorating its lot."[148] _On lui fit adopter!_
But who were the _on_, and how did they work? With what instruments and
what fulcrum? Never was the convenience of this famous abstract
substantive more fatally abused. And if religion, government, and
opinion had all aggravated the miseries of the human race, what had
lessened them? For the Encyclopædic school never attempted, as Rousseau
did, to deny that the world had, as a matter of fact, advanced towards
happiness. It was because the Holbachians looked on mankind as slaves
held in an unaccountable bondage, which they must necessarily be eager
to throw off, that their movement, after doing at the Revolution a
certain amount of good in a bad way, led at last to a mischievous
reaction in favour of Catholicism.

    [147] See Lange, i. 85.

    [148] _Syst. de la Nat._, I. xvi.

Far more immediately significant than the philosophy of the _System of
Nature_ were the violence, directness, and pertinacity of its assault
upon political government. Voltaire, as has so often been noticed, had
always abstained from meddling with either the theory or the practical
abuses of the national administration. All his shafts had been levelled
at ecclesiastical superstition. Rousseau, indeed, had begun the most
famous of his political speculations by crying that man, who was born
free, is now everywhere in chains. But Rousseau was vague, abstract, and
sentimental. In the _System of Nature_ we have a clear presage of the
trenchant and imperious invective which, twenty years after its
publication, rang in all men's ears from the gardens of the Palais Royal
and the benches of the Jacobins' Hall. The writer has plainly made up
his mind that the time has at last come for dropping all the discreet
machinery of apologue and parable, and giving to his words the edge of a
sharpened sword. The vague disguises of political speculation, and the
mannered reservations of a Utopia or New Atlantis, are exchanged for a
passionate, biting, and loudly practical indictment. All over the world
men are under the yoke of masters who neglect the instruction of their
people, or only seek to cheat and deceive them. The sovereigns in every
part of the globe are unjust, incapable, made effeminate by luxury,
corrupted by flattery, depraved by license and impunity, destitute of
talent, manners, or virtue. Indifferent to their duties, which they
usually know nothing about, they are scarcely concerned for a single
moment of the day with the well-being of their people; their whole
attention is absorbed by useless wars, or by the desire to find at each
instant new means of gratifying their insatiable rapacity. The state of
society is a state of war between the sovereign and all the rest of its
members. In every country alike the morality of the people is wholly
neglected, and the one care of the government is to render them timorous
and wretched. The common man desires no more than bread; he wins it by
the sweat of his brow; joyfully would he eat it, if the injustice of the
government did not make it bitter in his mouth. By the insanity of
governments, those who are swimming in plenty, without being any the
happier for it, yet wring from the tiller of the soil the very fruits
that his arms have won from it. Injustice, by reducing indigence to
despair, drives it to seek in crime resources against the woes of life.
An iniquitous government breeds despair in men's souls; its vexations
depopulate the land, the fields remain untilled, famine, contagion, and
pestilence stalk over the earth. Then, embittered by misery, men's minds
begin to ferment and effervesce, and what inevitably follows is the
overthrow of a realm.[149]

    [149] _Syst. de la Nat._, I. xiv., xvi., etc. etc.

If France had been prosperous, all this would have passed for the empty
declamation of an excited man of letters. As it was, such declamation
only described, in language as accurate as it was violent and stinging,
the real position of the country. In the urgency of a present material
distress, men were not over-careful that the basis of the indictment
should be laid in the principles of a sound historical philosophy of
society. We can hardly wonder at it. What is interesting, and what we do
not notice earlier in the century, is that in the _System of Nature_ the
revolt against the impotence of society, and the revolt against the
omnipotence of God, made a firm coalition. That coalition came to a
bloody end for the time, four-and-twenty years after Holbach's book
proclaimed it, when the Committee of Public Safety despatched Hébert,
and better men than Hébert, to the guillotine for being atheists.
Atheism, as Robespierre assured them, was aristocratic.

Holbach's work may be said to spring from the doctrine that the social
deliverance of man depends on his intellectual deliverance, and that the
key to his intellectual deliverance is only to be found in the
substitution of Naturalism for Theism. What he means by Naturalism we
shall proceed shortly to explain. The style, we may remark,
notwithstanding the energy and coherence of the thought, is often
diffuse and declamatory. Some one said of the _System of Nature_, that
it contained at least four times too many words. Yet Voltaire, while
professing extreme dislike of its doctrine, admitted that the writer had
somehow caught the ear of the learned, of the ignorant, and of women.
"He is often clear," said Voltaire, "and sometimes eloquent, yet he may
justly be reproached with declamation, with repeating himself, and with
contradicting himself, like all the rest of them."[150] Galiani made an
over-subtle criticism on it, when he complained of the want of coolness
and self-possession in the style, and then said that it looked as if the
writer were pressed less to persuade other people than to persuade
himself. This was a crude impression. Nobody can have any doubt of the
writer's profound sincerity, or of his earnest desire to make
proselytes. He knows his own mind, and hammers his doctrines out with a
hard and iterative stroke that hits its mark. Yet his literary tone, in
spite of its declamatory pitch, not seldom sinks into a drone. Holbach's
contemporaries were in too fierce contact with the tusks and hooked
claws of the Church, to have any mind for the rhythm of a champion's
sentences or the turn of his periods. But now that the efforts of the
heterodox have taught the Churches to be better Christians than they
were a hundred years ago, we can afford to admit that Holbach is hardly
more captivating in style, and not always more edifying in temper, than
some of the Christian Fathers themselves.

    [150] _Dict. Phil._, s. v. Dieu, § 4.

What then is the system of Nature, and what is that Naturalism which is
to replace the current faith in the deities outside of observable
nature? The writer makes no pretence of feeling a tentative way towards
an answer. From the very outset his spirit is that of dogmatic
confidence. He is less a seeker than an expounder; less a philosopher
than a preacher; and he boldly dismisses proof in favour of exhortation.

"Let man cease to search outside the world in which he dwells for beings
who may procure him a happiness that nature refuses to grant; let him
study that nature, let him learn her laws, and contemplate the energy
and the unchanging fixity with which she acts; let him apply his
discoveries to his own felicity, and submit in silence to laws from
which nothing can withdraw him; let him consent to ignore the causes,
surrounded as they are for him by an impenetrable veil; let him undergo
without a murmur the decrees of universal force."

_Science derived from experience is the source of all wise action._ It
is physical science (_la physique_), and experience, that man ought to
consult in religion, morals, legislature, as well as in knowledge and
the arts. It is by our senses that we are bound to universal nature; it
is by our senses that we discover her secrets. The moment that we first
experience them we fall into a void where our imagination leads us
endlessly astray.

_Movement is what establishes relations between our organs and external
objects._ Every object has laws of movement that are peculiar to itself.
Everything in the universe is in movement; no part of nature is really
at rest.[151]

    [151] Holbach confesses his obligation on this head to Toland's
    _Letters to Serena_ (1704).

_Whence does nature receive this movement?_ From herself, since she is
the great whole, outside of which consequently nothing can exist. Motion
is a fashion of being which flows necessarily from the essence of
matter; matter moves by its own energy; its motion is due to forces
inherent in it; the variety of its movements, and of the phenomena
resulting from them, comes from variation of the properties, the
qualities, the combinations, originally found in the different primitive
matters of which nature is the assemblage.

_Whence came matter?_ Matter has existed from all eternity, and a motion
is one of the inherent and constitutive qualities of matter; motion also
has existed from eternity.

_The abstract idea of matter must be decomposed._ Instead of regarding
matter as a unique existence, rude, passive, incapable of moving itself,
of combining itself, we ought to look upon it as a Kind of existence, of
which the various individual members comprising the Kind, in spite of
their having some common properties, such as extension, divisibility,
figure, etc., still ought not to be ranged in a single class, nor
comprised in a single denomination.

_What is nature's process? Continual movement._ From the stone which is
formed in the bowels of the earth by the intimate combination, as they
approach one another, of analogous and similar molecules, up to the sun,
that vast reservoir of heated particles that gives light to the
firmament; from the numb oyster up to man--we observe an uninterrupted
progression, a perpetual chain of combination and movements, from which
there result beings that only differ among one another by the variety of
their elementary matters, and of the combination and proportion of these
elements. From this variety springs an infinite diversity of ways of
existing and acting. In generation, nutrition, preservation, we can see
nothing but different sorts of matter differently combined, each of them
endowed with its own movements, each of them regulated by fixed laws
that cause them to undergo the necessary changes.

Let us notice here three of the author's definitions. (1.) _Motion is an
effort, by which a body changes or tends to change its place._ (2.) Of
the ultimate composition of Matter, Holbach says nothing definite,
though he assumes molecular movement as its first law. He contents
himself, properly enough perhaps in view of the destination of his
treatise, with a definition "relatively to us." Relatively to us, then,
_Matter in general is all that affects our senses in any fashion
whatever; and the qualities that we attribute to different kinds of
matter, are founded on the different impressions that they produce on
us_. (3.) "When I say that Nature produces an effect, I do not mean to
personify this Nature, which is an abstraction; I mean that the effect
of which I am speaking is the necessary result of the properties of some
one of those beings that compose the great whole under our eyes. Thus,
when I say that Nature intends man to work for his own happiness, I mean
by this that it is of the essence of a being who feels, thinks, wills,
and acts, to work for his own happiness. By Essence I mean that which
constitutes a being what it is, the sum of its properties, or the
qualities according to which it exists and acts as it does."

_All phenomena are necessary._ No creature in the universe, in its
circumstances and according to its given property, can act otherwise
than as it does act. Fire necessarily burns whatever combustible matter
comes within the sphere of its action. Man necessarily desires what
either is, or seems to be, conducive to his comfort and wellbeing. There
is no independent energy, no isolated cause, no detached activity, in a
universe where all beings are incessantly acting on one another, and
which is itself only one eternal round of movement, imparted and
undergone, according to necessary laws. In a storm of dust raised by a
whirlwind, in the most violent tempest that agitates the ocean, not a
single molecule of dust or of water finds its place by _chance_; or is
without an adequate cause for occupying the precise point where it is
found. So, again, in the terrible convulsions that sometimes overthrow
empires, there is not a single action, word, thought, volition, or
passion in a single agent of such a revolution, whether he be a
destroyer or a victim, which is not necessary, which does not act
precisely as it must act, and which does not infallibly produce the
effects that it is bound to produce, conformably to the place occupied
by the given agent in the moral whirlwind.[152]

    [152] Almost the very words of this passage are to be found in
    Diderot. See above, vol. i. p. 237.

_Order and disorder are abstract terms, and can have no existence in a
Nature, where all is necessary and follows constant laws._ Order is
nothing more than necessity viewed relatively to the succession of
actions. Disorder in the case of any being is nothing more than its
passage to a new order; to a succession of movements and actions of a
different sort from those of which the given being was previously
susceptible. Hence there can never be either monsters or prodigies,
either marvels or miracles, in nature. By the same reasoning, we have no
right to divide the workings of nature into those of Intelligence and
those of Chance. Where all is necessary, Chance can mean nothing save
the limitation of man's knowledge.

The writer next has a group of chapters (vi.-x.) on Man, his
composition, relations, and destiny. The chief propositions are in
rigorous accord with the general conceptions that have already been set
forth. All that man does, and all that passes in him, are effects of the
energy that is common to him with the other beings known to us. But,
before a true and comprehensive idea of the unity of nature was possible
to him, he was so seized by the variety and complication of his organism
and its movements that it never came into his mind to realise that they
existed in a chain of material necessity, binding him fast to all other
forces and modes of being. Men think that they remedy their ignorance of
things by inventing words; so they explained the working of matter, in
man's case, by associating with matter a hypothetical substance, which
is in truth much less intelligible than matter itself. They regarded
themselves as double; a compound of matter and something else
miraculously united with it, to which they give the name of _mind_ or
_soul_, and then they proudly looked on themselves as beings apart from
the rest of creation. In plain truth, Mind is only an _occult force_,
invented to explain occult qualities and actions, and really explaining
nothing. By Mind they mean no more than the unknown cause of phenomena
that they cannot explain naturally, just as the Red Indians believed
that it was spirits who produced the terrible effects of gunpowder, and
just as the ignorant of our own day believe in angels and demons. How
can we figure to ourselves a form of being, which, though not matter,
still acts on matter, without having points of contact or analogy with
it; and on the other hand itself receives the impulsions of matter,
through the material organs that warn it of the presence of external
objects? How can we conceive the union of body and soul, and how can
this material body enclose, bind, constrain, determine a fugitive form
of being, that escapes every sense? To resolve these difficulties by
calling them mysteries, and to set them down as the effects of the
omnipotence of a Being still more inconceivable than the human Soul
itself, is merely a confession of absolute ignorance.

It is worth noticing that with the characteristic readiness of the
French materialist school to turn metaphysical and psychological
discussion to practical uses, Holbach discerned the immense new field
which the materialist account of mind opened to the physician. "If
people consulted experience instead of prejudice, medicine would furnish
morality with the key of the human heart; and in curing the body, it
would be often assured of curing the mind too.... The dogma of the
spirituality of the soul has turned morality into a conjectural science,
which does not in the least help us to understand the true way of acting
on men's motives.... Man will always be a mystery for those who insist
on regarding him with the prejudiced eyes of theology, and on
attributing his actions to a principle of which they can never have any
clear ideas" (ch. ix.). It is certainly true as a historical fact that
the rational treatment of insane persons, and the rational view of
certain kinds of crime, were due to men like Pinel, trained in the
materialistic school of the eighteenth century. And it was clearly
impossible that the great and humane reforms in this field could have
taken place before the decisive decay of theology. Theology assumes
perversity as the natural condition of the human heart, and could only
regard insanity as an intolerable exaggeration of this perversity.
Secondly, the absolute independence of mind and body which theology
brought into such overwhelming relief naturally excluded the notion
that, by dealing with the body, you might be doing something to heal the
mind. Perhaps we are now in some danger of overlooking the potency of
the converse illustration of what Holbach says: namely, the efficacy of
mental remedies or preventives in the case of bodily disease.

If you complain--to resume our exposition--that the mechanism is not
sufficient to explain the principle of the movements and faculties of
the soul, the answer is, that it is in the same case with all the bodies
in nature. In them the simplest movements, the most ordinary phenomena,
the commonest actions, are inexplicable mysteries, whose first
principles are for ever sealed to us. How shall we flatter ourselves
that we know the first principle of gravity, by virtue of which a stone
falls? What do we know of the mechanism that produces the attraction of
some substances, and the repulsion of others? But surely the
incomprehensibility of natural effects is no reason for assigning to
them a cause that is still more incomprehensible than any of those
within our cognisance.

It is not given to man to know everything; it is not given to him to
know his own origin, nor to penetrate into the essence of things, nor to
mount up to the first principle of things. What is given to him is to
have reason, to have good faith, to concede frankly that he is ignorant
of what he cannot know, and not to supplement his lack of certainty by
words that are unintelligible, and suppositions that are absurd.

Suns go out and planets perish; new suns are kindled, and new planets
revolve in new paths; and man--infinitely small portion of a globe that
is itself only a small point in immensity--dreams that it is for him
that the universe has been made, imagines that he must be the confidant
of nature, and proudly flatters himself that he must be eternal! O man,
wilt thou never conceive that thou art but an insect of a day? All
changes in the universe; nature contains not a form that is constant;
and yet thou wouldst claim that thy species can never disappear, and
must be excepted from the great universal law of incessant change!

We may pause for a moment to notice how, in their deliberate humiliation
of the alleged pride of man, the orthodox theologian and the atheistic
Holbach use precisely the same language. But the rebuke of the latter
was sincere; it was indispensable in order to prepare men's minds for
the conception of the universe as a whole. With the theologian the
rebuke has now become little more than a hollow shift, in order to
insinuate the miracle of Grace. The preacher of Naturalism replaces a
futile vanity in being the end and object of the creation, by a fruitful
reverence for the supremacy of human reason, and a right sense of the
value of its discreet and disciplined use. The theologian restores this
absurd and misleading egoism of the race, by representing the Creator as
above all else concerned to work miracles for the salvation of a
creature whose understanding is at once pitifully weak and odiously
perverse, and whose heart is from the beginning wicked, corrupt, and
given over to reprobation. The difference is plainly enormous. The
theologian discourages men; they are to wait for the miracle of
conversion, inert or desperate. The naturalist arouses them; he supplies
them with the most powerful of motives for the energetic use of the most
powerful of their endowments. "Men would always have Grace," says
Holbach, with excellent sense, "if they were well educated and well
governed." And he exclaims on the strange morality of those who
attribute all moral evil to Original Sin, and all the good that we do to
Grace. "No wonder," he says, "that a morality founded on hypotheses so
ridiculous should prove to be of no efficacy."[153]

    [153] Ch. xi.

This brings us to Holbach's treatment of Morals. The moment had come to
France, which was reached at an earlier period in English speculation,
when the negative course of thought in metaphysics drove men to consider
the basis of ethics. How were right and wrong to hold their own against
the new mechanical conception of the Universe? The same question is
again urgent in men's minds, because the Darwinian hypothesis, and the
mass of evidence for it, have again given a tremendous shake to
theological conceptions, and startled men into a sense of the
precariousness of the official foundations of virtue and duty.

Holbach begins by a most unflinching exposure of the inconsistency with
all that we know of nature, of the mysterious theory of Free Will. This
remains one of the most effective parts of the book, and perhaps the
work has never been done with a firmer hand. The conclusion is
expressed with a decisiveness that almost seems crude. There is declared
to be no difference between a man who throws himself out of the window
and the man whom I throw out, except this, that the impulse acting on
the second comes from without, and that the impulse determining the fall
of the first comes from within his own mechanism. You have only to get
down to the motive, and you will invariably find that the motive is
beyond the actor's own power or reach. The inexorable logic with which
the author presses the Free-Willer from one retreat to another, and from
shift to shift, leaves his adversary at last exactly as naked and
defenceless before Holbach's vigorous and thoroughly realised Naturalism
as the same adversary must always be before Jonathan Edwards's vigorous
theism. "The system of man's liberty," Holbach says (II. ii.), with some
pungency, "seems only to have been invented in order to put him in a
position to offend his God, and so to justify God in all the evil that
he inflicted on man, for having used the freedom which was so
disastrously conferred upon him."

If man be not free, what right have we to punish those who cannot help
committing bad actions, or to reward others who cannot help committing
good actions? Holbach gives to this and the various other ways of
describing fatalism as dangerous to society, the proper and perfectly
adequate answer. He turns to the quality of the action, and connects
with that the social attitude of praise and blame. Merit and demerit
are associated with conduct, according as it is thought to affect the
common welfare advantageously or the reverse. My indignation and my
approval are as necessary as the acts that excite these sentiments. My
feelings are neither more nor less spontaneous than the deciding motives
of the actor. Whatever be the necessitating cause of our actions, I have
a right to do my best by praise and blame, by reward and punishment, to
strengthen or to weaken, to prolong or to divert, the motives that are
the antecedents of the action; exactly as I have a right to dam up a
stream, or to divert its course, or otherwise deal with it to suit my
own convenience. Penal laws, for instance, are ways of offering to men
strong motives, to weigh in the scale against the temptation of an
immediate personal gratification. Holbach does not make it quite
distinct that the object of penal legislation is in some cases to give
the offender, as well as other people, a strong reason for thinking
twice before he repeats the offence; yet in other cases, where the
punishment is capital, the legislation does not aim at influencing the
mind of the offender at all, but the minds of other people only. This is
only a side illustration of a common weakness in most arguments on this
subject. A thorough vindication of the penal laws, on the principles of
a systematic fatalism, can only be successful, if we think less of the
wrongdoer in any given case, than of affecting general motives, and
building up a right habit of avoiding or accepting certain classes of

The writer then justly connects his scientific necessarianism in
philosophy with humanity in punishment. He protests against excessive
cruelty in the infliction of legal penalties, and especially against the
use of torture, on two grounds; first, that experience demonstrates the
uselessness of these superfluous rigours; and, second, that the habit of
witnessing atrocious punishments familiarises both criminals and others
with the idea of cruelty. The acquiescence of Paris for a few months in
the cruelties of the Terror was no doubt due, on Holbach's perfectly
sound principle, to the far worse cruelties with which the laws had
daily made Paris familiar down to the last years of the monarchy. And
Holbach was justified in expecting a greater degree of charitable and
considerate judgment from the establishment in men's minds of a
Necessarian theory. We are no longer vindictive against the individual
doer; we wax energetic against the defective training and the
institutions which allowed wrong motives to weigh more heavily with him
than right ones. Punishment on the theory of necessity ought always to
go with prevention, and is valued just because it is a force on
prevention, and not merely an element in retribution.

Holbach answers effectively enough the common objection that his
fatalism would plunge men's souls into apathy. If all is necessary, why
shall I not let things go, and myself remain quiet? As if we _could_
stay our hands from action, if our feelings were trained to proper
sensibility and sympathy. As if it were possible for a man of tender
disposition not to interest himself keenly in all that concerns the lot
of his fellow-creatures. How does our knowledge that death is necessary
prevent us from deploring the loss of a beloved one? How does my
consciousness that it is the inevitable property of fire to burn,
prevent me from using all my efforts to avert a conflagration?

Finally, when people urge that the doctrine of necessity degrades man by
reducing him to a machine, and likening him to some growth of abject
vegetation, they are merely using a kind of language that was invented
in ignorance of what constitutes the true dignity of man. What is nature
itself but a vast machine, in which our human species is no more than
one weak spring? The good man is a machine whose springs are adapted so
to fulfil their functions as to produce beneficent results for his
fellows. How could such an instrument not be an object of respect and
affection and gratitude?

In closing this part of Holbach's book, while not dissenting from his
conclusions, we will only remark how little conscious he seems of the
degree to which he empties the notions of praise and blame of the very
essence of their old contents. It is not a modification, but the
substitution of a new meaning under the old names. Praise in its new
sense of admiration for useful and pleasure-giving conduct or motive, is
as powerful a force and as adequate an incentive to good conduct and
good motives, as praise in the old sense of admiration for a deliberate
and voluntary exercise of a free-acting will. But the two senses are
different. The old ethical association is transformed into something
which usage and the requirements of social self-preservation must make
equally potent, but which is not the same. If Holbach and others who
hold necessarian opinions were to perceive this more frankly, and to
work it out fully, they would prevent a confusion that is very
unfavourable to them in the minds of most of those whom they wish to
persuade. It is easy to see that the work next to be done in the region
of morals, is the readjustment of the ethical phraseology of the
volitional stage, to fit the ideas proper to the stage in which man has
become as definitely the object of science as any of the other phenomena
of the universe.

The chapter (xiii.) on the Immortality of the Soul examines this
memorable growth of human belief with great vigour, and a most
destructive penetration. As we have seen, the author repudiates the
theory of a double energy in man, one material and the other spiritual,
just as he afterwards repudiates the analogous hypothesis of a double
energy in nature, one of the two being due to a spiritual mover outside
of the external phenomena of the universe. Consistently with this
renunciation of a separate spiritual energy in man, Holbach will listen
to no talk of a spiritual energy surviving the destruction of the
mechanical framework. To say that the soul will feel, think, enjoy,
suffer, after the death of the body, is to pretend that a clock broken
into a thousand pieces can continue to strike or to mark the hours. And
having emphatically proclaimed his own refusal to share the common
belief, he proceeds with good success to carry the war into the country
of those who profess that belief, and defend it as the safeguard of
society. We need not go through his positions. They are substantially
those which are familiar to everybody who has read the Third Book of
Lucretius's poem, and remembers those magnificent passages which are not
more admirable in their philosophy than they are noble and moving in
their poetic expression:--

    Nam veluti pueri trepidant atque omnia caecis
    In tenebris metuunt, sic nos in luce timemus
    Interdum, nilo quae sunt metuenda magis quam
    Quae pueri in tenebris pavitant finguntque futura.
    Hunc igitur terrorem animi tenebrasque necessest
    Non radii solis neque lucida tela diei
    Discutiant, sed naturae species ratioque.

And so forth, down to the exquisite lines--

    "Jam jam non domus accipiet te laeta, neque uxoi
    Optima nec dulces occurrent oscula nati
    Praeripere, et tacita pectus dulcedine tangent.
    Non poteris factis florentibus esse, tuisque
    Praesidium. Misero misere," aiunt, "omnia ademit
    Una dies infesta tibi tot praemia vitae."
    Illud in his rebus non addunt, "nec tibi earum
    Jam desiderium rerum super insidet una."
    Quod bene si videant animo dictisque sequantur,
    Dissolvant animi magno se angore metuque.
    "Tu quidem ut es leto sopitus, sic eris aevi
    Quod superest cunctis privatu' doloribus aegris:
    At nos horrifico cinefactum te prope busto
    Insatiabiliter deflevimus, aeternumque
    Nulla dies nobis maerorem e pectore demet."
    Illud ab hoc igitur quaerendum est, quid sit amari
    Tanto opere, ad somnum si res redit atque quietem,
    Cur quisquam æterno possit tabescere luctu.

We may regret that Holbach, in dealing with these solemn and touching
things, should have been so devoid of historic spirit as to buffet
David, Mahomet, Chrysostom, and other holy personages, as superstitious
brigands. And we may believe that he has certainly been too sweeping in
denying any deterrent efficacy whatever to the fires of hell. But where
Holbach found one person in 1770, he would find a thousand in 1880, to
agree with him, that it is possible to think of commendations and
inducements to virtue, that shall be at least as efficacious as the
fiction of eternal torment, without being as cruel, as wicked, as
infamous to the gods, and as degrading to men.

From his attack on Immortality, Holbach naturally turns with new energy,
as do all who have passed beyond that belief, to the improvement of the
education, the laws, the institutions, which are to strengthen and
implant the true motives for turning men away from wrong and inspiring
them to right. He draws a stern and prolonged indictment against the
kings of the earth, in words that we have already quoted above, as
unjust, incapable, depraved by license and impunity. One passage in this
chapter is the scripture of a terrible prophecy, the very handwriting on
the wall, which was to be so accurately fulfilled almost in the lifetime
of the writer:--"The state of society is now a state of war of the
Sovereign against all, and of each of its members against the other. Man
is bad, not because he was born bad, but because he is made so; the
great and the powerful crush with impunity the needy and the
unfortunate, and these in turn seek to repay all the ill that has been
done to them. They openly or privily attack a native land that is a
cruel stepmother to them; she gives all to some of her children, while
others she strips of all. Sorely they punish her for her partiality;
they show her that the motives borrowed from another life are powerless
against the passions and the bitter wrath engendered by a corrupt
administration in the life here; and that all the terror of the
punishments of this world is impotent against necessity, against
criminal habits, against a dangerous organisation that no education has
ever been applied to correct" (ch. xiv.). In another place: "A society
enjoys all the happiness of which it is susceptible so soon as the
greater number of its members are fed, clothed, housed; are able, in a
word, without an excessive toil, to satisfy the wants that nature has
made necessities to them. Their imagination is content so soon as they
have the assurance that no force can ravish from them the fruits of
their industry, and that they labour for themselves. By a sequence of
human madness, whole nations are forced to labour, to sweat, to water
the earth with their tears, merely to keep up the luxury, the fancies,
the corruption of a handful of insensates, a few useless creatures. So
have religious and political errors changed the universe into a valley
of tears." This is an incessant refrain that sounds with hoarse
ground-tone under all the ethics and the metaphysics of the book. There
are scores of pages in which the same idea is worked out with a sombre
vehemence, that makes us feel as if Robespierre were already haranguing
in the National Assembly, Camille Desmoulins declaiming in the gardens
of the Palais Royal, and Danton thundering at the Club of the
Cordeliers. We already watch the smoke of the flaming châteaux, going up
like a savoury and righteous sacrifice to the heavens.

From this point to the end of the first part of the book, it is not so
much philosophy as the literature of a political revolution. There is a
curious parenthesis in vindication not only of a contempt for death, but
even of suicide; the writer pointing out with some malice that Samson,
Eleazar, and other worthies caused their own death, and that Jesus
Christ himself, if really the Son of God, dying of his own free grace,
was a suicide, to say nothing of the various ascetic penitents who have
killed themselves by inches.[154] "The fear of death, after all," he
says, summing up his case, "will only make cowards; the fear of its
alleged consequences will only make fanatics or melancholy pietists, as
useless to themselves as to others. Death is a resource that we do ill
to take away from oppressed virtue, reduced, as many a time it is, by
the injustice of men to desperation." This was the doctrine in which the
revolutionary generation were brought up, and the readiness with which
men in those days inflicted death on themselves and on others showed how
profoundly it had entered their souls.[155] We think, as we read, of
Vergniaud and Condorcet carrying their doses of poison, of Barbaroux
with his pistol, and Valazé with his knife, of Roland walking forth from
Rouen among the trees on the Paris road, and there driving a cane-sword
into his breast, as calmly as if he had been throwing off a useless

    [154] This is not original in Holbach. Diderot's article on Suicide
    in the Encyclopædia (_Oeuv._, xvii. 235) contains the usual
    arguments of the Church against suicide, with some casuistic
    illustrations, but it also contains an account of Dr. Donne's
    vindication of Suicide, called _Bia-thanatos_, 1651, in which these
    remarks of Holbach occur verbatim. Hallam found Donne's book so dull
    and pedantic that he declares no one would be induced to kill
    himself by reading such a book unless he were threatened with
    another volume.

    [155] Hume's suppressed Essay on Suicide (see the edition by Mr.
    Green and Mr. Grose, 1875, vol. ii. 405) is a much more exhaustive
    argument than Holbach's, though the language of the two pieces is
    sometimes curiously alike. Rousseau in this, as in so many other
    moralities--marriage, for instance--was on the side of the Church,
    only allowing suicide where a man happens to be stricken by a
    painful and incurable disease. See the two famous letters in the
    _New Heloïsa_, Pt. iii. 21, 22.

Holbach has been accused of reducing virtue to a far-sighted
egoism,[156] and detached and crude propositions may be quoted, that
perhaps give a literal warrant for the charge. Nominally he bases
morality on happiness, but his real base is the happiness of the
greatest number. To borrow Mr. Sidgwick's classification, Holbach is a
universalistic and not an egoistic Hedonist. The spirit of what he says
is, in fact, not individualist but social. "The good man is he to whom
true ideas have shown his own interest or his own happiness to lie in
such a way of acting, that others are forced to love and approve for
their own interest.... It is man who is most necessary to the well-being
of man.... Merit and virtue are founded on the nature of man, on his
needs.... It is by virtue that we are able to earn the goodwill, the
confidence, the esteem, of all those with whom we have relations; in a
word, no man can be happy alone.... To be virtuous is to place one's
interest in what accords with the interest of others; it is to enjoy the
benefits and the delights that one is the means of diffusing among
them.... The sentiments of self-love become a hundred times more
delicious when we see them shared by all those with whom our destiny
binds us. The habit of virtue excites wants within us that only virtue
can satisfy; thus it is that virtue is ever its own recompense, and pays
itself with the blessings that it procures for others" (ch. xv.)

    [156] Taine's _Ancien Régime_, p. 287.

Surely it is a childish or pedantic misinterpretation to represent this
as egoism, whether armed or not with keen sight; and still worse to talk
of it as over-throwing the barriers that keep in the throng of selfish
appetites. "Every citizen should be made to feel that the section of
which he is a member is a Whole, that cannot subsist and be happy
without virtue; experience should teach him at every moment that the
wellbeing of the members can only result from that of the whole body"
(ch. xv.) To say of such a doctrine as this, that it is to invite every
individual to make himself happy after his own will and fashion, and to
pull down the barriers of the selfish appetites, is the very absurdity
of philosophic prejudice. It is for us to look at Holbach's ethical
doctrine in its widest practical application, and if we place ourselves
at a social point of view, we cannot but perceive that the principle
laid down in the words that we have just quoted, was the indispensable
weapon against the anti-social selfishness of the oppressive privileged
class. These words represent the ethical side of every popular and
democratic movement. You may class Holbach's morality as the morality of
self-interest, if you please; but its true base lay in social sympathy.
To proclaim happiness as the test of virtue was to develop the doctrine
of naturalism; for happiness is the outcome of a conformity to the
natural condition of things. On the other hand, to insist that virtue
lies in promoting the happiness of the body social as a whole, was to
preach the most sovereign of all truths, in a state of things where the
body social as a whole was kept distracted and miserable by the
selfishness of a scanty few of its members. The Church, nominally built
upon the morality of the Golden Rule, was perverted into being the great
organ of sinister self-interest. The Atheists, apparently formulating
the morality of the Epicureans, were in effect the teachers of public
spirit and beneficence. And, taught in such circumstances, public
spirit could only mean revolution. We may doubt whether Holbach had
thought out the very different questions that may be fused under the
easy phrase of a basis for morals. What are the sanctions of moral
precepts? Why ought each to seek the happiness of all? What is the mark
of the difference between right and wrong? What is the foundation of
Conscience, or that habit of mind which makes right as such seem
preferable to wrong? Clearly these are all entirely separate topics. Yet
Holbach, it is obvious, had not divided them in his own mind, and he
seems to think that one and the same answer will serve for what he
mistook for one and the same question. He found it enough to say that
every individual wishes to be happy, and that he cannot be happy unless
he is on good terms with his neighbours; this reciprocity of needs and
services he called the basis of morals. For a rough and common-sense
view of the matter, such as Holbach sought to impress on his readers,
this perhaps will do very well; but it is not the product of accurate
and scientific thinking.

It is not necessary, again, to point out how Holbach, while expounding
the System of Nature, left out of sight the great natural process by
which the moral acquisition of one generation becomes the starting-point
of further acquisitions in the next. He forgot the stages. He talks of
Man as if all the races and eras of man were alike, and also as if each
individual deliberately worked out sums in happiness on his own
account. It would not only have been more true, according to modern
opinions, but more in accordance with Holbach's own view of necessity,
and of the irremovable chain that binds a man's conduct fast to a series
of conditions that existed before he was born, if he had recognised
conscience, moral preferences, interest in the public good, and all that
he called the basis of morals, as coming to a man with the rest of the
apparatus that the past imposes on the present, and not as due to any
process of personal calculation.

Holbach had not clearly thought out the growth, the changes, varieties,
and transformations among moral ideals. He was, of course, far too much
in the full current of the eighteenth century not to feel that
exultation in life and its most exuberant manifestations, which the
conventional moralists of the theological schools had set down and
proscribed as worldliness and fleshliness. "_Action_," he says in this
very chapter; "_action is the true element of the human mind_; no sooner
does man cease to act, than he falls into pain and weariness of spirit."
No doubt this is too absolutely stated, if we are to take some millions
of orientals into our account of the human mind, but it has been true of
the nations of the west. Yet the recognition of this law did not prevent
the writer from occasionally falling into some of the old canting
commonplaces about people being happiest who have fewest wants. As if,
on the contrary, that action which he describes as the true element of
man, were not directly connected with the incessant multiplication of
wants. We may take this, however, as a casual lapse into the common form
of moralists of ascetic ages. In substance the _System of Nature_ is
essentially a protest against ascetic and quietist ideals.

       *       *       *       *       *

The second half of the _System of Nature_ treats of the Deity; the
proofs of his existence; his attributes; the manner in which he
influences the happiness of men. What is remarkable is that here we have
an onslaught, not merely on the Church with its overgrowth of abuses,
nor on Christianity with its overgrowth of superstitions, but on that
great conception which is enthroned on unseen heights far above any
Church and any form of Christianity. It is theism, in its purest as in
its impurest shape, that the writer condemns. No more elaborate,
trenchant, and unflinching attack on the very fundamental propositions
of theology, natural or revealed, is to be found in literature. Pure
rationalism has nothing to add to this destructive onslaught. The tone
is not truly philosophic, because the writer habitually regards the
notion of a God as an abnormal and morbid excrescence, and not as a
natural growth in human development. He takes no trouble, and it would
have been an incredible departure from the mental fashion of the time if
he had taken any trouble, to explain theology, or to penetrate behind
its forms to those needs, aspirations, and qualities of human
constitution in which theology had its best justification, if not its
earliest source. He regards it as an enemy to be mercilessly routed,
not as a force with which he has to make his account. Still, as a piece
of rough and remorseless polemic, the second part of the _System of
Nature_ remains full of remarkable energy and power. The most eager
Nescient or Denier to be found in the ranks of the assailants of
theology in our own day is timorous and moderate compared with this
direct and on-pressing swordsman. And the attack, on its own purely
rationalistic ground, is thoroughly comprehensive. It is not made on an
outwork here, or an outwork there; it encircles the whole compass of the
defence. The conception of God is examined and resisted from every
possible side--cosmological, ethical, metaphysical. To say that the
argument is one-sided, is only to say that it is an attack. But the fact
that the writer omits the contributions made under the temporal shelter
of theology to morality and civilisation, does not alter the other fact
that he states with unsurpassed vigour all that can be said against the
intellectual absurdities and moral obliquities that theology has
nourished and approved, and only too firmly planted.

Of the elaborate examination of the proofs of the existence of a God
adduced by Descartes, Samuel Clarke, Malebranche, and Newton (ch. iv.
and v.), we need only say that its whole force might have been summed up
in the single proposition that the author once for all repudiates any _à
priori_ basis for any beliefs whatever. It would have been sufficient
for philosophic purposes if he had contented himself with justifying
and establishing that position. The fabric of orthodox demonstration
would have fallen to the ground after the destruction of its
foundations. Holbach rejected the whole _à priori_ system; it was a
matter of course therefore that he rejected each one of the twelve
propositions which Clarke had invented by the _à priori_ method. Holbach
held that experience is the source and limit of knowledge, reasoning,
and belief, and rejected as a fantastic impertinence of dreamy
metaphysicians the assumption that our conceptions measure the
necessities of objective existence. From that point of view, merely to
state was to empty of all demonstrating quality such assertions as that
something has existed from all eternity; an independent and immutable
Being has existed from all eternity; this immutable and independent
Being exists by himself, and is incomprehensible; the Being existing
necessarily is necessarily single and unique--and so forth. Even if we
accept this _à priori_ method, and accept the first assumption that
something must have existed from all eternity, it was open to Holbach to
say, as Locke said on setting himself to examine Descartes' proof of a
God: "I found that, by it, senseless matter might be the first eternal
being and cause of all things, as well as an immaterial intelligent
spirit." But what we feel is that the whole controversy is being
conducted between two disputants on two different planes of thought,
between two creatures dwelling in different elements. To apply to
Clarke's propositions, or to the slightly different propositions of
Malebranche, the test of experience, to measure them by the principle of
relativity, must be fatal in the minds of such persons as already accept
experience as the only right test in such a matter. It is exactly as if
the action of an Italian opera should be criticised in the light of the
conditions of real life: the whole performance must in an instant figure
as an absurdity. No partisan of the lyric drama would consent to have it
so judged, and the philosophic partisans of theology would perhaps have
been wiser to keep clear of pretensions to _prove_ their master thesis.
They might have been content to keep it as an emotional creation, an
imaginative hypothesis, a noble simplification of the chimeras of the
primitive consciousness of the race.

As it was, neither side could be convinced by the other, for they had no
common criterion. They had hardly even a common language. The only
effect of Holbach's blows was to persuade the bystanders who thronged
round the lists in that eager time, that the so-called proofs with which
the high philosophic names were associated, were only proofs to those
who accepted a way of thinking which it was the very characteristic of
that age decisively to reject. The controversial force of this part of
the attack simply lay in the piercing thoroughness with which the
irreconcilable discrepancies between the seventeenth century notion of
demonstration, and that notion in the eighteenth, were forced upon the
reader's attention.

One other remark may be made. Whatever we may think of the success of
the author's assault on the theistic hypothesis of the universe, it is
impossible to deny that he at least succeeds in repelling the various
assaults levelled on what is vulgarly termed atheism. He rightly urges
the unreasonableness of taxing those who have formed to themselves
intelligible notions of the moving power of the universe, with denying
the existence of such a power; the absurdity of charging the very men
who found everything that comes to pass in the world on fixed and
constant laws, with attributing everything to chance. If by Atheist, he
says, you mean a man who would deny the existence of a force inherent in
matter, and without which you cannot conceive nature, and if to this
moving force you give the name of God, then an Atheist would be a
madman. Holbach then describes the sense in which Atheists both exist
and, as he thinks, may well justify their existence. Their qualities are
as follows: To be guided only by experience and the testimony of their
senses, and to perceive nothing in nature except matter, essentially
active and mobile and capable of producing all the beings that we see;
to forego all search for a chimerical cause, and not to mistake for
better knowledge of the moving force of the universe, merely a separate
attribution of it to a Being placed outside of the great whole; to
confess in good faith that their mind can neither conceive nor reconcile
the negative attributes and theological abstractions with the human and
moral qualities that are ascribed to the Divinity.

The chapter (ix.) on the superiority of Naturalism over Theism as a
basis for the most wholesome kind of Morality, is still worth reading by
men in search of weapons against the presumptuous commonplaces of the
pulpit. In this sphere Holbach is as earnest and severe as the most
rigorous moralist that ever wrote. People who talk of the moral levity
of the destructive literature of the eighteenth century would be
astonished, if they could bring themselves to read the books about which
they talk, by the elevation of the _System of Nature_. The writer points
out the necessarily evil influence upon morals of a Book popularly taken
to be inspired, in which the Divinity is represented as now prescribing
virtue, but now again prescribing crime and absurdity; who is sometimes
the friend, and sometimes the enemy, of the human race; who is sometimes
pictured as reasonable, just, and beneficent, and at other times as
insensate: unjust, capricious, and despotic. Such divinities, and the
priests of such divinities, are incapable of being the models, types,
and arbiters of virtue and righteousness. No; we must seek a base for
morality in the necessity of things. Whatever the Cause that placed man
in the abode in which he dwells, and endowed him with his
faculties--whether we regard the human species as the work of Nature, or
of some intelligent Being distinct from Nature--the existence of man,
such as we see him to be, is a fact. We see in him a being who feels,
thinks, has intelligence, has self-love, who strives to make life
agreeable to himself, and who lives in society with beings like
himself; beings whom by his conduct he may make his friends or his
enemies. It is on these universal sentiments that you ought to base
morality, which is nothing more nor less than the science of the duties
of man living in society. The moment you attempt to find a base for
morals outside of human nature, you go wrong; no other is solid and
sure. The aid of the so-called sanctions of theology is not only
needless, but mischievous. The alliance of the realities of duty with
theological phantoms exposes duty to the same ruin which daylight brings
to the superstition that has been associated with duty. It sets up the
arbitrary demands of a varying something, named Piety, in place of the
plain requirements of Right. As for saying that without God man cannot
have moral sentiments, or, in other words, cannot distinguish between
vice and virtue, it is as if one said that, without the idea of God, man
would not feel the necessity of eating and drinking.

The writer then breaks out into a long and sustained contrast, from
which we may make a short extract to illustrate the heat to which the
battle had now come:

"Nature invites man to love himself, incessantly to augment the sum of
his happiness: Religion orders him to love only a formidable God who is
worthy of hatred; to detest and despise himself, and to sacrifice to his
terrible idol the sweetest and most lawful pleasures. Nature bids man
consult his reason, and take it for his guide: Religion teaches him that
this reason is corrupted, that it is a faithless, truthless guide,
implanted by a treacherous God, to mislead his creatures. Nature tells
man to seek light, to search for the truth: Religion enjoins upon him to
examine nothing, to remain in ignorance. Nature says to man: 'Cherish
glory, labour to win esteem, be active, courageous, industrious:'
Religion says to him: 'Be humble, abject, pusillanimous, live in
retreat, busy thyself in prayer, meditation, devout rites; be useless to
thyself, and do nothing for others.' Nature proposes for her model, men
endowed with noble, energetic, beneficent souls, who have usefully
served their fellow-citizens: Religion makes a show and a boast of the
abject spirits, the pious enthusiasts, the phrenetic penitents, the vile
fanatics, who for their ridiculous opinions have troubled empires....
Nature tells children to honour, to love, to hearken to their parents,
to be the stay and support of their old age: Religion bids them prefer
the oracle of their God, and to trample father and mother under foot,
when divine interests are concerned. Nature commands the perverse man to
blush for his vices, for his shameless desires, his crimes: Religion
says to the most corrupt: 'Fear to kindle the wrath of a God whom thou
knowest not: but if against his laws thou hast committed crime, remember
that he is easy to appease and of great mercy: go to his temple, humble
thyself at the feet of his ministers, expiate thy misdeeds by
sacrifices, offerings, prayers; these will wash away thy stain in the
eyes of the Eternal.'"

Of course, philosophical criticism would have much to say about this
glowing mass of furious propositions; for the first voice of Nature
hardly whispers into the ear of the primitive man all these high and
generous promptings. But if by Nature we here understand the
Encyclopædists, and by Religion the Catholic Church in France at that
moment, then Holbach's fiery antitheses are a tolerably fair account of
the matter. And the political side of the indictment was hardly less
just, though its hardihood appalled men like Voltaire.

"Nature says to man, 'Thou art free, and no power on earth can lawfully
strip thee of thy rights:' Religion cries to him that he is a slave
condemned by God to groan under the rod of God's representatives. Nature
bids man to love the country that gave him birth, to serve it with all
loyalty, to bind his interests to hers against every hand that might be
raised upon her: Religion commands him to obey without a murmur the
tyrants that oppress his country, to take their part against her, to
chain his fellow-citizens under their lawless caprices. Yet if the
Sovereign be not devoted enough to his priests, Religion instantly
changes her tone; she incites the subjects to rebellion, she makes
resistance a duty, she cries aloud that we must obey God rather than
man.... If the nature of man were consulted on Politics, which
supernatural ideas have so shamefully depraved, it would contribute far
more than all the religion in the world to make communities happy,
powerful, and prosperous under reasonable authority.... This nature
would teach princes that they are men and not gods; that they are
citizens charged by their fellow-citizens with watching over the safety
of all.... Instead of attributing to the divine vengeance all the wars,
the famines, the plagues that lay nations low, would it not have been
more useful to show them that such calamities are due to the passions,
the indolence, the tyranny of their princes, who sacrifice the nations
to their hideous delirium? Natural evils demand natural remedies; ought
not experience, therefore, long ago to have undeceived mortals as to
those supernatural remedies, those expiations, prayers, sacrifices,
fastings, processions, that all the peoples of the earth have so vainly
opposed to the woes that overwhelmed them?... Let us recognise the plain
truth, then, that it is these supernatural ideas that have obscured
morality, corrupted politics, hindered the advance of the sciences, and
extinguished happiness and peace even in the very heart of man."

       *       *       *       *       *

Holbach was a vigorous propagandist. Two years after the appearance of
his master-work he drew up its chief propositions in a short and popular
volume, called _Good sense; or Natural Ideas opposed to Supernatural_.
His zeal led him to write and circulate a vast number of other tractates
and short volumes, the bare list of which would fill several of these
pages, all inciting their readers to an intellectual revolt against the
reigning system in Church and State. He lived to get a glimpse of the
very edge and sharp bend of the great cataract. He died in the spring of
1789. If he had only lived five years longer, he would have seen the
great church of Notre Dame solemnly consecrated by legislative decree to
the worship of Reason, bishops publicly trampling on crosier and ring
amid universal applause, and vast crowds exulting in processions whose
hero was an ass crowned with a mitre.



"Since Montesquieu's _Esprit des Lois_," says Grimm in his chronicle,
"our literature has perhaps produced no monument that is worthier to
pass to the remotest posterity, and to consecrate the progress of our
enlightenment and diligence for ever, than Raynal's _Philosophical and
Political History of European settlements and commerce in the two
Indies_." Yet it is perhaps safe to say that not one hundred persons now
living have ever read two chapters of the book for which this immortal
future was predicted.

When the revolutionary floods gradually subsided, some of the monuments
of the previous age began to show themselves above the surface of the
falling waters. They had lost amid the stormy agitation of the deluge
the shining splendour of their first days; still men found something to
attract them after the revolution, as their grandfathers had done before
it, in the pages of the _Spirit of Laws_, of the _New Heloïsa_, and the
endless satires, romances, and poems of the great Voltaire. Raynal's
book was not among these dead glories that came to life again. It
disappeared utterly. Nor can it be said that it deserved a kinder fate.
Its only interest now is for those who care to know the humour of men's
minds in those præ-revolutionary days, when they could devour a long
political and commercial history as if it had been a novel or a play,
and when the turn of men's interests made of such a book "the Bible of
two worlds for nearly twenty years."

Raynal is no commanding figure. Born in 1711, he came to Paris from
southern France, and joined the troop of needy priests who swarmed in
the great city, hopefully looking out for the prizes of the Church.
Raynal is the hero of an anecdote which is told of more than one abbé of
the time; whether literally true or not, it is probably a correct
illustration of the evil pass to which ecclesiastical manners had come.
He had, it was said, nothing to live upon save the product of a few
masses. The Abbé Prévost received twenty sous for saying a mass; he paid
the Abbé Laporte fifteen sous to be his deputy; the Abbé Laporte paid
eight sous to Raynal to say it in his stead. But the adventurer was not
destined to remain in this abject case, parasite humbly feeding on
parasite. He turned bookmaker, and wrote a history of the
Stadtholderate, a volume about the English Parliament, and, of all
curious subjects for a man of letters of that date, an account of the
divorce of King Henry the Eighth of England. He visited this country
more than once, and had the honour in 1754 of being chosen a fellow of
the Royal Society of London.[157] We have some difficulty in
understanding how he came by such fame, just as we cannot tell how the
man who had been glad to earn a few pence by saying masses, came shortly
to be rich and independent. He is believed to have engaged in some
colonial ventures, and to have had good luck. His enemies spread the
dark report that he had made money in the slave trade, but in those days
of incensed party spirit there was no limit to virulent invention. It is
at least undeniable that Raynal put his money to generous uses. Among
other things, he had the current fancy of the time, that the world could
be made better by the copious writing of essays, and he delighted in
founding prizes for them at the provincial academies. It was at Lyons
that he proposed the famous thesis, not unworthy of consideration even
at this day: _Has the discovery of America been useful or injurious to
the human race?_

    [157] The _Biographie Universelle_, followed by the Encyclopædia
    Britannica, tells a story of Raynal visiting the House of Commons;
    the Speaker, says the writer, learning that he was in the gallery,
    "suspended the discussion until a distinguished place had been found
    for the French philosopher." This must be set down as a myth. The
    journals have been searched, and there is no official confirmation
    of the statement, improbable enough on the face of it.

Raynal was one of the most assiduous of the guests at the philosophic
meals of Baron Holbach and Helvétius; he was very good-humoured, easy to
live with, and free from that irritable self-consciousness and self-love
which is too commonly the curse of the successful writer, as of other
successful persons. He did not go into company merely to make the hours
fly. With him, as with Helvétius, society was a workshop. He pressed
every one with questions as to all matters, great or small, with which
the interlocutor was likely to be familiar.[158] Horace Walpole met him
at "dull Holbach's," and the abbé at once began to tease him across the
table as to the English colonies. Walpole knew as little about them as
he knew about Coptic, so he made signs to his tormentor that he was
deaf. On another occasion Raynal dined at Strawberry Hill, and mortified
the vanity of his host by looking at none of its wonders himself, and
keeping up such a fire of talk and cross-examination as to prevent
anybody else from looking at them. "There never was such an impertinent
and tiresome old gossip," cried our own gossip.[159]

    [158] Morellet, i. 221.

    [159] _Walpole's Corresp._, vi. 147 and 445.

Raynal failed to give better men than Horace Walpole the sense of power.
When his greatest work took the public by storm, nobody would believe
that he had written it. Just as in the case of the _System of Nature_,
so people set down the _History of the Indies_ to Diderot, and even the
most moderate critics insisted that he had at any rate written not less
than one-third of it. Many less conspicuous scribes were believed to
have been Raynal's drudges. We can have no difficulty in supposing that
so bulky a work engaged many hands. There is no unity of composition, no
equal scale, no regularity of proportion; on the contrary, rhapsody and
sober description, history and moral disquisition, commerce, law,
physics, and metaphysics are all poured in, almost as if by hazard. We
seem to watch half a dozen writers, each dealing with matters according
to his own individual taste and his own peculiar kind of knowledge.

Indeed, it is a curious and most interesting feature in the literary
activity of France in the eighteenth century, that the egoism and vanity
of authorship were reduced by the conditions of the time to a lower
degree than in any other generation since letters were invented. The
suppression of self by the Jesuits was hardly more complete than the
suppression of self by the most brilliant and effective of the
insurgents against Jesuitry. Such intimate association as exists in our
day between a given book and a given personality, was then thoroughly
shaken by the constant necessity for secrecy. As we have seen, people
hardly knew who set up that momentous landmark, the _System of Nature_.
Voltaire habitually and vehemently denied every one of his most
characteristic pieces, and though in the buzz of Parisian gossip the
right name was surely hit upon for such unique performances as
Voltaire's, yet the fame was far too broken and uncertain to reward his
vanity, if the better part of himself had not been fully and sincerely
engaged in public objects in which vanity had no part. Rousseau was an
exception, but then Rousseau was in truth a reactionist, and not a loyal
member of the great company of reformers. As for Diderot, he valued the
author's laurel so cheaply, as we have seen, that with a gigantic
heedlessness and Saturnian weariness of the plaudits or hisses of the
audience, while supremely interested in the deeper movements of the
tragi-comic drama of the world, he left some of his masterpieces lying
unknown in forgotten chests. Again, in the case of the Encyclopædia, as
we have also seen, Turgot as well as less eminent men bargained that
their names should not be made public. Wherever a telling blow was to be
dealt with the sword, or a new stone to be laid with the trowel, men
were always found ready to spend themselves and be spent, without taking
thought whether their share in the work should be nicely measured and
publicly identified, or absorbed and lost in the whole of which it was a

Whatever may have been the secret of the authorship of Raynal's book,
and whether or no even the general conception of such a performance was
due to Raynal, it is at least certain that the original author, whoever
he may have been, divined a remarkable literary opportunity. This
divination is in authorship what felicity of experiment is to the
scientific discoverer. The book came into immediate vogue. It was
published in 1772; a second edition was demanded within a couple of
years, and it is computed that more than twenty editions, as well as
countless pirated versions, were exhausted before the universal
curiosity and interest were satisfied. As the subject took the writer
over the whole world, so he found readers in every part of the habitable
globe. And among them were men for whom destiny had lofty parts in
store. Zeal carried one young reader so far that he collected all the
boldest passages into a single volume, and published it as _L'Esprit de
Raynal_; an achievement for which, as he was a member of a religious
congregation, he afterwards got into some trouble.[160] Franklin read
and admired the book in London. Black Toussaint Louverture in his
slave-cabin at Hayti laboriously spelled his way through its pages, and
found in their story of the wrongs of his race and their passionate
appeal against slavery, the first definite expression of thoughts which
had already been dimly stirred in his generous spirit by the brutalities
that were every day enacted under his eyes. Gibbon solemnly immortalised
Raynal by describing him, in one of the great chapters of the _Decline
and Fall_, as a writer who "with a just confidence had prefixed to his
own history the honourable epithets of political and
philosophical."[161] Robertson, whose excellent _History of America_,
covering part of Raynal's ground, was not published until 1777,
complimented Raynal on his ingenuity and eloquence, and reproduced some
of Raynal's historical speculations.[162]

    [160] Hédouin by name.

    [161] Ch. xxi.

    [162] _Works_, xii. 189 (edition of 1822).

Frederick the Great began to read it, and for some days spoke
enthusiastically to his French satellites at dinner of its eloquence and
reason. All at once he became silent, and he never spoke a word about
the book again. He had suddenly come across half a dozen pages of
vigorous rhapsodising, delivered for his own good:

"Oh Frederick, Frederick! thou wast gifted by nature with a bold and
lively imagination, a curiosity that knew no bounds, a passion for
industry. Humanity, everywhere in chains, everywhere cast down, wiped
away her tears at the sight of thy earliest labours, and seemed to find
a solace for all her woes in the hope of finding in thee her avenger. On
the dread theatre of war thy swiftness, skill, and order amazed all
nations. Thou wast regarded as the model of warrior-kings. There exists
a still more glorious name: the name of citizen-king.... Once more open
thy heart to the noble and virtuous sentiments that were the delight of
thy young days." He then rebukes Frederick for keeping money locked up
in his military chest, instead of throwing it into circulation, for his
violent and arbitrary administration, and for the excessive imposts
under which his people groaned. "Dare still more; give rest to the
earth. Let the authority of thy mediation, and the power of thy arms,
force peace on the restless nations. The universe is the only country of
a great man, and the only theatre for thy genius; become then the
benefactor of nations."[163]

    [163] Book v. § 31.

In after days, when Raynal visited Berlin, overflowing with vanity and
self-importance, he succeeded with some difficulty in procuring an
interview with the King, and then Frederick took his revenge. He told
Raynal that years ago he had read the history of the Stadtholderate, and
of the English Parliament. Raynal modestly interposed that since those
days he had written more important works. "_I don't know them_," said
the king, in a tone that closed the subject.[164]

    [164] _Thiébault_, iii. 172; where there is a long and most
    disparaging account of Raynal, by no means incredible, though we
    must remember that a competent judge has pronounced Thiébault to be
    "stupid, incorrect, and the prey of stupidities."

More disinterested persons than Frederick set as low a value on Raynal's
performance. One writer even compares the book to a quack mounted on a
waggon, retailing to the gaping crowd a number of commonplaces against
despotism and religion, without a single curious thing about them except
their hardihood.[165] But the instinct of the gaping crowd was sound.
Measured by the standard and requirements of modern science, Raynal's
history is no high achievement. It may perhaps be successfully contended
that the true conception of history has on the whole gone back, rather
than advanced, within the last hundred years. There have been many signs
in our own day of its becoming narrow, pedantic, and trivial. It
threatens to degenerate from a broad survey of great periods and
movements of human societies into vast and countless accumulations of
insignificant facts, sterile knowledge, and frivolous antiquarianism, in
which the spirit of epochs is lost, and the direction, meaning, and
summary of the various courses of human history all disappear.
Voltaire's _Essai sur les Moeurs_ shows a perfectly true notion of what
kind of history is worth either writing or reading. Robertson's _View of
the Progress of Society in Europe from the Fall of the Roman Empire to
the Sixteenth Century_ is--with all its imperfections--admirably just,
sensible, and historic in its whole scope and treatment. Raynal himself,
though far below such writers as Voltaire and Robertson in judgment and
temper, yet is not without a luminous breadth of outlook, and does not
forget the superior importance of the effect of events on European
development, over any possible number of minute particularities in the
events themselves. He does not forget, for instance, in describing the
Portuguese conquests in the East Indies, to point out that the most
remarkable and momentous thing about them was the check that they
inflicted on the growth of the Ottoman Power, at a moment in European
history when the Christian states were least able to resist, and least
likely to combine against the designs of Solyman.[166] This is really
the observation best worth making about the Portuguese conquests, and it
illustrates Raynal's habit, and the habit of the good minds of that
century, of incessantly measuring events by their consequences to
western enlightenment and freedom, and of dropping out of sight all
irrelevancies of detail.

    [165] Sénac de Meilhan, 123.

    [166] Book i. § 7. Robertson works out this reflection in his
    _Historical Disquisition concerning Ancient India_, iv. § 8.

This signal merit need not blind us to Raynal's shortcomings in the
other direction. There are very few dates. The total absence of
references and authorities was condemned by Gibbon as "the unpardonable
blemish of what is otherwise a most entertaining book." There is no
criticism. As Raynal was a mere literary compiler, it was not to be
expected that he should rise above the common deficiencies in the
thought and methods of his time. It was not to be expected that he
should deal with the various groups of phenomena among primitive races,
in the scientific spirit of modern anthropology. It is true that he was
contemporary with De Brosses, who ranks among the founders of the study
of the origins of human culture. One sentence of De Brosses would have
warned Raynal against a vicious method, which made nearly all that was
written about primitive men by him and everybody else of the same
school, utterly false, worthless, and deluding. "It is not in
possibilities," said De Brosses, "it is in man himself that we must
study man: it is not for us to imagine what man might have done, or
ought to have done, but to observe what he did." Of the origin and
growth of a myth, for example, Raynal had no rational idea. When he
found a myth, what he did was to reduce it to the terms of human action,
and then coolly to describe it as historical. The ancient Peruvian
legend that laws and arts had been brought to their land by two divine
children of the Sun, Manco-Capac and his sister-wife Manca-Oello, is
transformed into a grave and prosaic narrative, in which Manco-Capac's
achievements are minutely described with as much assurance as if that
sage had been Frederick the Great, or Pombal, or any statesman living
before the eyes of the writer. Endless illustrations, some of them
amusing enough, might be given of this Euhemeristic fashion of dealing
with the primitive legends of human infancy.

On the other hand, if Raynal turns myth into history, he constantly
resorts to the opposite method, and turns the hard prose of real life
into doubtful poetry. If he reduces the demi-gods to men, he delights
also in surrounding savage men with the joyous conditions of the
pastoral demi-gods. He can never resist an opportunity of introducing an
idyll. It was the fashion of the time, begun by Rousseau and perfected
by the author of _Paul and Virginia_. The taste for idylls of savage
life had at least one merit; it was a way of teaching people that the
life of savages is something normal, systematic, coherent, and not mere
chaos, formless, and void, unrelated to the life of civilisation. A
recent traveller had given an account of an annual ceremony in China,
which Raynal borrowed without acknowledgment.[167] M. Poivré had
described how the Emperor once every year went forth into the fields,
and there with his own hand guided the plough as it traced the long
furrows. Raynal elaborated this formality into a characteristic rhapsody
on peace, simplicity, plenty, and the father of his people. As a
caustic critic of M. Poivré remarked, if a Chinese traveller had arrived
at Versailles on the morning of Holy Thursday, he would have found the
King of France humbly washing the feet of twelve poor and aged men, yet,
as Frenchmen knew, this would be no occasion for rapturous exultation
over the lowliness and humanity of the French court.

    [167] _Voyage d'un Philosophe, etc._; a work published in 1768, and
    in great vogue for some time, partly because it furnished material
    for the speculations of Raynal, Helvétius, and the rest. See _De
    l'Homme_, II. xiii., etc. Grimm, v. 450.

In the same spirit Raynal made no scruple in filling his pages with the
sentimental declamations in which the reaction of that day against the
burden of a decaying system of social artifice found such invariable
relief and satisfaction. None of these imaginary pieces of high
sentiment was more popular than the episode of Polly Baker. It occurs in
the chapters which describe the foundation of New England.[168] The
fanaticism and intolerance of the Puritan Fathers of that famous land
are set forth with the holy rage that always moved the reformers of the
eighteenth century against the reformers of the seventeenth. Religion is
boldly spoken of as a dreadful malady, whose severity extended even to
the most indifferent objects. It may be admitted that the cruel
persecution of the Quakers, and the grotesque horrors of witch-finding
in New Salem, gave Raynal at least as good a text against Protestantism
as he had found against Catholicism in the infernal doings in the West
Indian Islands or in Peru. Even after this bloody fever had abated, says
Raynal, the inhabitants still preserved a kind of rigorism that savours
of the sombre days in which the Puritan colonies had their rise. He
illustrates this by the case of a young woman who was brought before the
authorities for the offence of having given birth to a child out of
wedlock. It was her fifth transgression. Raynal, conceiving history
after the manner of the author of the immortal speeches of Pericles, put
into the mouth of the unfortunate sinner a long and eloquent apology. At
the risk of her life, she cries, she has brought five children into
existence. "I have devoted myself with all the courage of a mother's
solicitude to the painful toil demanded by their weakness and their
tender years. I have formed them to virtue, which is only another name
for reason. Already they love their country, as I love it.... Is it a
crime, then, to be fruitful, as the earth is fruitful, the common mother
of us all?... And how am I not to cry out against the injustice of my
lot, when I see that he who seduced and ruined me, after being the cause
of my destruction, enjoys honour and power, and is actually seated in
the tribunal where they punish my misfortune with rods and with infamy?
Who was that barbarous lawgiver who, deciding between the two sexes,
kept all his wrath for the weaker; for that luckless sex which pays for
a single pleasure by a thousand dangers,"--and so forth. It need hardly
be said that this is far too much in the vein, and almost in the words
of Diderot, to have any authenticity. And as it happens, there is a
piece of external evidence on the matter, which illustrates Raynal's
curious lightheartedness as to historic veracity. Franklin and Silas
Deane were one day talking together about the many blunders in Raynal's
book, when the author himself happened to step in. They told him of what
they had been speaking. "Nay," says Raynal, "I took the greatest care
not to insert a single fact for which I had not the most unquestionable
authority." Deane then fell on the story of Polly Baker, and declared of
his own certain knowledge that there had never been a law against
bastardy in Massachusetts. Raynal persisted that he must have had the
whole case from some source of indisputable trustworthiness, until
Franklin broke in upon him with a loud laugh, and explained that when he
was a printer of a newspaper, they were sometimes short of news, and to
amuse his customers he invented fictions that were as welcome to them as
facts. One of these fictions was the legend of Raynal's heroine. The
abbé was not in the least disconcerted. "Very well, Doctor," he replied,
"I would rather relate your stories than other men's truths."[169]

    [168] Book xvii.

    [169] Jefferson, quoted in Parton's _Life of Franklin_, ii. 418.

When all has been said that need be said about the glaring shortcomings
of the _History of the Indies_, its popularity still remains to be
accounted for. If we ask for the causes of this striking success, they
are perhaps not very far to seek. For one thing, the book is remarkable
both for its variety and its animation. Horace Walpole wrote about it to
Lady Aylesbury in terms that do not at all overstate its liveliness: "It
tells one everything in the world; how to make conquests, invasions,
blunders, settlements, bankruptcies, fortunes, etc.; tells you the
natural and historical history of all nations; talks commerce,
navigation, tea, coffee, china, mines, salt, spices; of the Portuguese,
English, French, Dutch, Danes, Spaniards, Arabs, caravans, Persians,
Indians, of Louis XIV. and the King of Prussia, of La Bourdonnais,
Dupleix, and Admiral Saunders; of rice, and women that dance naked; of
camels, gingham, and muslin; of millions of millions of lires, pounds,
rupees, and cowries; of iron cables and Circassian women; of Law and the
Mississippi; and against all governments and religions."[170]

    [170] _Walpole's Letters_, v. 421.

All this is really not too highly coloured. And Raynal's cosmorama
exactly hit the tastes of the hour. The readers of that day were full of
a new curiosity about the world outside of France, and the less known
families of the human stock. It was no doubt more like the curiosity of
keen-witted children than the curiosity of science. Montesquieu first
stirred this interest in the unfamiliar forms of custom, institution,
creed, motive, and daily manners. But while Montesquieu treated such
matters fragmentarily, and in connection with a more or less abstract
discussion on polity, Raynal made them the objects of a vivid and
concrete picture, and presented them in the easier shape of a systematic
history. Again, if the reading class in France were intelligently
curious, it must be added, we fear, that they were not without a
certain lubricity of imagination, which was pleasantly tickled by
sensuous descriptions of the ways of life that were strange to the iron
restraints of civilisation. Finally, the public of that day always chose
to veil and confuse the furtive voluptuousness of the time by moral
disquisition, and a light and busy meddling with the insoluble
perplexities of philosophy. Here too the dexterous Raynal knew how to
please the fancies of his patrons, and whether Diderot was or was not
the writer of those pages of moral sophism and paradox, there is
something in them which incessantly reminds us of his _Supplement to
Bougainville's Voyages_.

Among the superficial causes of the popularity of Raynal's _History_, we
cannot leave out the circumstance that it was composed after a very
interesting and critical moment in the colonial relations of France. The
Seven Years' War ended in the expulsion of the French from Canada and
from their possessions in the East Indies. When the peace of 1763 was
made, this was counted the most disastrous part of that final record and
sealing of misfortune. When we see with what attachment the ordinary
Frenchman of to-day regards what is as yet the thankless possession of
Algeria, we might easily have guessed, even if the correspondence of the
time had set it forth less distinctly than it does, with what deep
concern and mortification the French of that day saw the white flag and
its lilies driven for ever from the banks of the St. Lawrence in the
west, and the coast of Coromandel in the east. Raynal himself tells us
with what zealous impatience the government attempted to make the nation
forget its calamities, by stirring the hope of a better fortune in the
region to which they gave the magnificent name of Equinoctial France.
The establishment of a free and national population among the scented
forests and teeming swamps of Guiana, was to bring rich compensation for
the icy tracts of Canada. This utopia of a brilliant settlement in
Guiana has steadily invested the minds of French statesmen from Choiseul
down to Louis Napoleon, and its history is a striking monument of
perversity and folly. But from 1763 to 1770, while Raynal was writing
his book, men's minds were full of the heroic design, and this augmented
their interest in the general themes which Raynal handled--colonisation,
commerce, and the overthrow and settlement of new worlds by the old.

However much all these things may have quickened the popularity of
Raynal's _History_, yet the true source of it lay deeper; lay in the
fuel which the book supplied to the two master emotions of the hour--the
hatred and contempt for religion, and the passion for justice and
freedom. The subject easily lent itself to these two strong currents. Or
we may say that hatred of religion, and passion for justice and freedom,
were in fact the subjects, and that the commercial establishments and
political relations of the new worlds in the east and west were only the
setting and framework. Raynal was perhaps the first person to see that
the surest way of discrediting Catholicism was to write some chapters of
its history. Gibbon resorted to the same device shortly afterwards, and
found in the contemptuous analysis of heresies, and the selfish and
violent motives of councils and prelates, as good an occasion of
piercing the Church as Raynal found in painting the abominable fraud and
cruelty that made the presence of Christians so dire a curse to the
helpless inhabitants of the new lands. And the same reproachful
background which Gibbon so artistically introduced, in the humane,
intelligent, and happy epoch of the pagan Antonines, Raynal invented for
the same purpose of making Christianity seem uglier, in the imaginary
simplicity and unbroken gladness of the native races whose blood was
shed by Christian aggressors as if it had been water.

It would perhaps have been singular at a moment when men were looking
round on every side for such weapons as might come to their hand, if
they had missed the horrible action of Catholicism when brought into
contact with the lower races of mankind. There is no more deplorable
chapter in the annals of the race, and there is none which the historian
of Christianity should be less willing to pass over lightly. The
ruthless cruelty of the Spanish conquerors in the new world is a
profoundly instructive illustration of the essential narrowness of the
papal Christianity, its pitiful exclusiveness, its low and bad morality,
and, above all, its incurable unfitness for dealing with the spirit and
motives of men in face of the violent temptations with which the wealth
of the new world now assailed and corrupted them. Catholicism had held
triumphant possession of the conscience of Europe for a dozen centuries
and more. The stories of the American Archipelago, of Mexico, of Peru,
even if told by calmer historians than Raynal, show how little power,
amid all this triumph of the ecclesiastical letter, had been won by the
Christian spirit over the rapacity, the lust, the bloody violence of the
natural man. They show what a superficial thing the professed religion
of the ages of faith had been, how enormous a task remained, and how
much the most arduous part of this task was to make Catholicism itself
civilised and moral. For it is hardly denied that Christianity had done
worse than merely fail to provide an effective curb on the cruel
passions of men. The Spanish conquerors showed that it had nursed a
still more cruel passion than the rude interests of material selfishness
had ever engendered, by making the extermination or enslavement of these
hapless people a duty to the Catholic Church, and a savoury sacrifice in
the nostrils of the Most High.

It is true that a philosophic historian will have to take into account
the important consideration that the reckless massacres perpetrated by
the subjects of the Most Catholic King were less horrible and less
permanently depraving than the daily offering of the bleeding hearts of
human victims in the temples of Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipuk. He
would have to remember, as even Raynal does, that if the slave-drivers
and murderers were Catholics, so also was Las Casas, the apostle of
justice and mercy. Still the fact remains, that the doctrine of moral
obligations towards the lower races had not yet taken its place in
Europe, any more than the doctrine of our obligation to the lower
animals, our ministers and companions, has yet taken its place among
Italians and Spaniards. The fact remains, that the old Christianity in
the sixteenth century was unable to deal effectively with the new
conditions in which the world found itself. As Catholicism now in France
in the eighteenth century proved itself unable to harmonise the new
moral aspirations and new social necessities of the time with the
ancient tradition, Raynal was right in telling over again the afflicting
story of her earlier failure, and in identifying the creed that murdered
Calas and La Barre before their own eyes, with the creed that had
blasted the future of the fairest portion of the new world two centuries

The mere circumstance, however, that the book was one long and powerful
innuendo against the Church, would not have been enough to secure its
vast popularity. Attacks on the Church had become cheap by this time.
The eighteenth century, as it is one of the chief aims of these studies
to show, had a positive side of at least equal importance and equal
strength with its negative side. As we have so often said, its writers
were inspired by zeal for political justice, for humanity, for better
and more equal laws, for the amelioration of the common lot,--a zeal
which in energy, sincerity, and disinterestedness, has never been
surpassed. Raynal's work was perhaps, on the whole, the most vigorous
and sustained of all the literary expressions that were given to the
great social ideas of the century. It wholly lacked the strange and
concentrated glow that burned in the pages of the Social Contract; on
the other hand, it was more full of movement, of reality, of vivid and
picturesque incident. It was popular, and it was concrete. Raynal's
story went straight to the hearts of many people, to whom Rousseau's
arguments were only half intelligible and wholly dreary. It was that
book of the eighteenth century which brought the lower races finally
within the pale of right and duty in the common opinion of France. The
engravings that face the title-page in each of the seven volumes give
the keynote to the effect that the seven volumes produced. In one we see
a philosopher writing on a column those old words of dolorous pregnancy,
_Auri sacra fames_, while in the distance Spanish and Portuguese ships
ride at anchor, and on the shore white men massacre blacks. In another
we see a fair woman, typifying bounteous Nature, giving her nourishment
to a white infant at one breast, and to a black infant at the other,
while she turns a pitiful eye to a scene in the background, where a gang
of negro slaves work among the sugar-canes, under the scourge and the
goad of ruthless masters. A third frontispiece gives us the story of
Inkle and Yarico, which Raynal sets down to some English poet, but as no
English poet is known to have touched that moving tale until the
younger Colman dramatised it in 1787, we may suspect that Raynal had
remembered it from Steele's paper in the _Spectator_. The last of these
pieces represents a cultivated landscape, adorned with villages, and its
ports thronged with shipping; in the foreground are two Quakers, one of
them benignly embracing some young Indians, the other casting
indignantly away from him a bow and its arrows, the symbols of division
and war.

The most effective chapters in the book were, in truth, eloquent sermons
on these simple and pathetic texts. They brought Negroes and Indians
within the relations of human brotherhood. They preached a higher
morality towards these poor children of bondage, they inspired a new
pity, they moved more generous sympathies, and they did this in such a
way as not merely to affect men's feelings about Indians and Negroes,
slave-labour, and the yet more hateful slave-trade, but at the same time
to develop and strengthen a general feeling for justice, equality, and
beneficence in all the arrangements and relations of the social union
all over the world. The same movement which brought the suffering blacks
of the new world within the sphere of moral duty, and invested them with
rights, intensified the same notion of rights and duties in association
with the suffering people of France. This was the sentiment that reigned
during the boyhood and youth of those who were destined, some twenty
years after Raynal's book was first placed in their hands, to carry
that sentiment out into a fiery and victorious reality.

Montesquieu had opened the various questions connected with slavery. We
can have no better measure of the increased heat in France between 1750
and 1770 than the difference in tone between two authors so equal in
popularity, if so unequal in merit, as Raynal and Montesquieu. The
latter, without justifying the abuses or even the usage of slavery in
any shape, had still sought to give a rational account of its growth as
an institution.[171] Raynal could not read this with patience. He
typifies all the passion of the revolt against the historic method.
"Montesquieu," he says, "could not make up his mind to treat the
question of slavery seriously. In fact, it is a degradation of reason to
employ it, I will not say in defending, but even in combating an abuse
so contrary to all reason. Whoever justifies so odious a system deserves
from the philosopher the deepest contempt, and from the negro a
dagger-stroke. 'If you put a finger on me, I will kill myself,' said
Clarissa to Lovelace. And I would say to the man that should assail my
freedom: If you come near me, I poniard you.... Will any one tell me
that he who seeks to make me a slave, is only using his rights? Where
are they, these rights? Who has stamped on them a mark sacred enough to
silence mine? If thou thinkest thyself authorised to oppress me, because
thou art stronger and craftier than I--then do not complain when my
strong arms shall tear thy breast open to find thy heart; do not
complain when in thy spasm-riven bowels thou feelest the deadly doom
which I have passed into them with thy food. Be thou a victim in thy
turn, and expiate the crime of the oppressor."[172]

    [171] Book xv. of the _Esprit des Lois_.

    [172] Book xi. § 30.

Raynal then asks the political question, how we can hope to throw down
an edifice that is propped up by universal passion, by established laws,
by the rivalries of powerful nations, and by the force of prejudices
more powerful still. To what tribunal, he cries, shall we carry the
sacred appeal? He can find no better answer than that of Turgot and the
Economists. It is to Kings that we must look for the redress of these
monstrous abominations. It is for Kings to carry fire and sword among
the oppressors. "Your armies," he cries, anticipating the famous
expression of a writer of our own day, "will be filled with the holy
enthusiasm of humanity." In a more practical vein, Raynal then warns his
public of the terrible reckoning which awaits the whites, if the blacks
ever rise to avenge their wrongs. The Negroes only need a chief
courageous enough to lead them to vengeance and carnage. "Where is he,
that great man, whom Nature owes to the honour of the human race? Where
is he, that new Spartacus who will find no Crassus? Then the Black Code
will vanish; how terrible will the White Code be!" We may easily realise
the effect which vehement words like these had upon Toussaint, and upon
those for whom Toussaint reproduced them.

Men have constantly been asking themselves what the great literary
precursors of the Revolution would have thought, and how they would have
acted, if they could have survived to the days of the Terror. What would
Voltaire have said of Robespierre? How would Rousseau have borne himself
at the Jacobin Club? Would Diderot have followed the procession of the
Goddess of Reason? To ask whether these famous men would have sanctioned
the Terror, is to insult great memories; but there is no reason to
suppose that their strong spirits would have faltered. One or two of the
younger generation of the famous philosophic party did actually see the
break-up of the old order. Condorcet faced the storm with a heroism of
spirit that has never been surpassed: disgust at the violent excesses of
bad men could never make him unfaithful to the beneficence of the
movement which their frenzy distorted.

Raynal was of weaker mould, and showed that there had been a stratum of
cant and borrowed formulas in his eloquence. He lived into the very
darkest days, and watched the succession of events with a keen eye. His
heart began to quail very early. Long before the bloodier times of the
internecine war between the factions, and on the eve of the attempted
flight of the king, he addressed a letter to the National Assembly (May
31, 1791). The letter is not wanting in firm and courageous phrases. "I
have long dared," he began, "to tell kings of their duties. Let me
to-day tell the people of its errors, and the representatives of the
people of the perils that menace us all." He then proceeded to inveigh
in his old manner, but with a new purpose and a changed destination.
This time it was not kings and priests whom he denounced, but a
government enslaved by popular tyranny, soldiers without discipline,
chiefs without authority, ministers without resources, the rudest and
most ignorant of men daring to settle the most difficult political
questions. How comes it, he asks, that after declaring the dogma of the
liberty of religious opinions, you allow priests to be overwhelmed by
persecution and outrage because they do not follow your religious
opinions? In the same energetic vein he protests against the failure of
the Constituent Assembly to found a stable and vigorous government, and
to put an end to the vengeances, the seditions, the outbreaks, that
filled the air with confusion and menace. It was in short a vigorous
pamphlet, written in the interest of Malouet and the constitutional
royalists. The Assembly listened, but not without some rude
interruptions. Robespierre hastened to the tribune. After condemning the
tone of Raynal's letter, he disclaimed any intention of calling down the
severity either of the Assembly or of public opinion upon a man who
still preserved a great name; he thought that a sufficient excuse for
the writer's apostasy might be found in his advanced age. The Assembly
agreed with Robespierre, and passed to the order of the day.[173]

    [173] Hamel's _Robespierre_ i. 456-458.

Raynal lived to see his predictions fulfilled with a terrible bitterness
of fulfilment. In spite of the anger which he had roused in the breasts
of powerful personages, the aged man was not guillotined; he was not
even imprisoned. All his property was taken from him, and he died in
abject poverty in the spring of 1796. Let us hope that the misery of his
end was assuaged by the recollection that he had once been a powerful
pleader for noble causes.



At the end of a long series of notes and questions on points in anatomy
and physiology, which he had been collecting for many years, Diderot
wound up with a strange outburst:

"I shall not know until the end what I have lost or gained in this vast
gaming-house, where I shall have passed some threescore years, dice-box
in hand, _tesseras agitans_.

"What do I perceive? Forms. And what besides? Forms. Of the substance I
know nothing. We walk among shadows, ourselves shadows to ourselves and
to others.

"If I look at a rainbow traced on a cloud, I can perceive it; for him
who looks at it from another angle, there is nothing.

"A fancy common enough among the living is to dream that they are dead,
that they stand by the side of their own corpse, and follow their own
funeral. It is like a swimmer watching his garments stretched out on the

"Philosophy, that habitual and profound meditation which takes us away
from all that surrounds us, which annihilates our own personality, is
another apprenticeship for death."[174]

    [174] _Elémens de Physiologie_, _Oeuv._, ix. 428.

This was now to be seen. Diderot, as we have said, came back from his
expedition to Russia in the autumn of 1744, tranquilly counting on half
a score more years to make up the tale of his days. He remained in
temper and habit through this long evening of his life what he had been
in its morning and noontide--friendly, industrious, cheerful, exuberant
in conversation, keenly interested in the march of liberal and
progressive ideas. On his return his wife and daughter found him thin
and altered. A few months of absence so often suffice to reveal that our
friend has grown old, and that time is casting long shadows. Age seems
to have come in a day, like sudden winter. He was as gay and as kindly
as ever. Some of his friends had declared that he would never bethink
himself of returning at all. "Time and space in his eyes," said Galiani,
"are as in the eyes of the Almighty; he thinks that he is everywhere,
and that he is eternal."[175] They had predicted for Diderot at St.
Petersburg the fate of Descartes at the court of Queen Christina. But
the philosopher triumphantly vindicated his character. "My good wife,"
said he, when he had reached the old familiar fourth floor, "prithee,
count my things; thou wilt find no reason for scolding; I have not lost
a single handkerchief."[176]

    [175] _Corresp._, ii. 180.

    [176] _Oeuv._, i. 54

This cheerfulness, however, did not hide from his friends that he was
subject to a languor which had been unknown before his journey to
Russia. It was not the peevish fatigue that often brings life to an
unworthy close. He remained true to the healthy temper of his prime, and
found himself across the threshold of old age without repining. As the
veteran Cephalus said to Socrates, regrets and complaints are not in a
man's age, but in his temper; and he who is of a happy nature will
scarcely feel the burden of the years.

In 1762 Diderot had written to Mdlle. Voland a page of affecting musings
on the great pathetic theme:

     "You ask me why, the more our life is filled up and busy, the less
     are we attached to it? If that is true, it is because a busy life
     is for the most part an innocent life. We think less about Death,
     and so we fear it less. Without perceiving it, we resign ourselves
     to the common lot of all the beings that we watch around us, dying
     and being born again in an incessant, ever renewing circle. After
     having for a season fulfilled the tasks that nature year by year
     imposes on us, we grow weary of them, and release ourselves.
     Energies fade, we become feebler, we crave the close of life, as
     after working hard we crave the close of the day. Living in harmony
     with nature, we learn not to rebel against the orders that we see
     in necessary and universal execution.... There is nobody among us
     who, having worn himself out in toil, has not seen the hour of rest
     approach with supreme delight. Life for some of us is only one long
     day of weariness, and death a long slumber, and the coffin a bed of
     rest, and the earth only a pillow where it is sweet, when all is
     done, to lay one's head, never to raise it again. I confess to you
     that, when looked at in this way, and after the long endless
     crosses that I have had, death is the most agreeable of prospects.
     I am bent on teaching myself more and more to see it so."[177]

    [177] Letter to Mdlle. Voland, Sept. 23, 1762. xix. 136, 137.

Again, we are reminded by Diderot's words on this last gentle epilogue
to a harassing performance, of Plato's picture of aged Cephalus sitting
in a cushioned chair, with the garland round his brows. "I was in the
country almost alone, free from cares and disquiet, letting the hours
flow on, with no other object than to find myself by the evening as
sometimes one finds one's self in the morning, after a night that has
been busy with a pleasant dream. The years had left me none of the
passions that are our torment, none of the weariness that follows them;
I had lost my taste for all the frivolities that are made so important
by our hope that we shall enjoy them long. I said to myself: If the
little that I have done, and the little that is left for me to do,
should perish with me, what would the human race be the loser? What
should I be the loser myself?"[178]

    [178] The dedication of the _Règnes de Claude et de Néron_ to
    Naigeon, iii. 9.

This was the mood in which Diderot wrote his singular apology for the
life and character of Seneca. Rosenkranz makes the excellent reflection
that though Diderot attained to a more free comprehension of Greek art,
and especially of Homer, than most of his contemporaries, yet even with
him the Roman element was dominant. It was Horace, Terence, Lucretius,
Tacitus, Seneca, who to the very end came closer to him than any of the
Greeks. The moralising reflection, the satirical tendency, the
declamatory form of the Romans, all had an irresistible attraction for
him.[179] Both Roger Bacon and Francis Bacon had preceded him in
admiration for Seneca, and Montaigne found Cicero tiresome and
unprofitable compared with the author of the Epistles to Lucilius. "When
there comes any misfortune to a European," says the imaginary oriental
of Montesquieu's _Persian Letters_, "his only resource is the reading of
a philosopher called Seneca."[180]

    [179] Diderot's _Leben_, ii. 357.

    [180] See Mr. Brewer's preface to Roger Bacon, p. 73.; Montaigne's
    chapter _Des Livres_, and the _Defense de Sénèque et de Plutarque._;
    _Let. Pers._, 33.

But Diderot was not a man to admire by halves, and to literary praise of
Seneca's writings he added a thoroughgoing vindication of his career. In
his early days he had referred disparagingly to Seneca,[181] but
reflection or accident had made him change his mind. The cheap severity
of abstract ethics has always abounded against Seneca, and this severity
was what Diderot had all his life found insupportable. Holbach had
induced Lagrange, a young man of letters whom he had rescued from want,
to undertake the translation of Seneca, and when Lagrange died, Holbach
prevailed on Naigeon, Diderot's fervid disciple, to complete and revise
the work, which still remains the best of the French versions. That
done, then both Holbach and Naigeon urged Diderot to write an account
of the philosopher.

    [181] _Essai sur le Mérite et la Vertu._ _Oeuv._, i. 118, _note_.

The Essay on the Reigns of Claudius and Nero[182] is marked by as much
vehemence, as much sincerity of enthusiasm, as if Seneca had been
Diderot's personal friend. There is a flame, a passion, about it, an
ingenuous air of conviction, which are not common in historical
apologies. It is inevitable, as the composition is Diderot's, that it
should have many a rambling and declamatory page. His paraphrases of
Tacitus are the most curious case in literature of the expansion of a
style of sombre poetic concentration into the style of exuberant
rhetoric. Both Grimm and a Russian princess of the blood urged him even
to translate the whole of Tacitus's works, but it is certain that nobody
in the world had ever less of Tacitean quality. Still the history is
alive. "_I do not compose_," Diderot said in the dedication. "_I am no
author; I read or I converse; I ask questions and I give answers._" The
writer throws himself into the historic situation with the vivid
freshness of a contemporary, and if the criticism is sophistical, at
least the picture is admirably dramatic. Seneca's position as the
minister of Nero seemed exactly one of those cases which always excited
Diderot's deepest interest--a case, we mean, in which the general rules
of morality condemn, but common sense acquits.

    [182] The first edition (1778) was entitled _Essai sur la Vie de
    Sénèque le philosophe, sur ses écrits, et sur le règne de Claude et
    de Néron_. In the second edition (1782) this was changed into _Essai
    sur les règnes de Claude et de Néron, et sur la vie et les écrits de

Diderot, as we have already pointed out,[183] was always very near to
the position that there is no such thing as an absolute rule of right
and wrong, defining classes of acts unconditionally, but each act must
be judged on its merits with reference to all the circumstances of the
given case. Seneca's career tests this way of looking at things very
severely. His connivance with the minor sensualities of Nero's youth, as
a means of restraining him from downright crime, and of keeping a
measure of order in the government, will perhaps be pardoned by most of
those who realise the awful perils of the Empire. As Diderot says,
nobody blames Fénelon or Bossuet for remaining at the court of Lewis
XIV. in its days of license. But connivance with a king's amours,
however degrading it may be from a certain point of view, is a very
different thing from acquiescence in a king's murder of his mother. Even
here Diderot's impetuosity carries him in two or three bounds over every
obstacle. The various courses open to the minister, after the murder of
Agrippina, are discussed and dismissed. What, after Nero had slain his
mother, was there nothing left to be done by a firm, just, and
enlightened man, with an immense burden of affairs on his back, and
capable by his courage and benevolence, of bearing succour, repairing
misfortunes, hindering depredations, removing the incompetent, and
giving power to men of virtue, knowledge, and ability? If he had only
saved the honour of a single good woman, or the life or fortune of a
single good citizen; if he could bring a day of tranquillity to the
provinces, or cross for a week the designs of the miscreants by whom the
emperor was surrounded, then Seneca would have been blamed, and would
have deserved blame, if he had either retired from court or put an end
to his life.[184] This is all true enough, and if Seneca had been only a
statesman, the world would probably have applauded him for clinging to
the helm at all cost. Unhappily, he was not only a statesman, but a
moralist. The two characters are always hard to reconcile, as perhaps
any parliamentary candidate might tell us. The contrast between lofty
writing and slippery policy has been too violent for Seneca's good fame,
as it was for Francis Bacon's. It is ever at his own proper risk and
peril that a man dares to present high ideals to the world.

    [183] Above, vol. ii. chap. i.

    [184] iii. 110, 111.

One of the strangest of the many strange digressions in which the Essay
on Claudius and Nero abounds, brings us within the glare of the great
literary quarrel of the century. Soon after Rousseau settled in Paris
for the last time, on his return from England and the subsequent
vagabondage, it was known that he had written the _Confessions_, dealing
at least as freely with the lives of others as with his own. He had even
in 1770 and 1771 given readings of certain passages from them, until
Madame d'Epinay, and perhaps also the Maréchale de Luxemburg, prevailed
on the authorities to interfere. No one was angrier than Diderot, and
in the first edition of the Essay, published in the year of Rousseau's
death (1778), he incongruously placed in the midst of his disquisitions
on the philosopher of the first century, a long and acrimonious note
upon the perversities of the reactionary philosopher of the eighteenth.
He was believed by those who talked to him to be in dread of the
appearance of the _Confessions_, and we may accept this readily enough,
without assuming that Diderot was conscious of hidden enormities which
he was afraid of seeing publicly uncovered. Rousseau, as Diderot well
knew, was so wayward, so strangely oblique both in vision and judgment,
that innocence was no security against malice and misrepresentation.

Rousseau's name has never lacked fanatical partisans down to our own
day, and Diderot was attacked by some of the earliest of them for his
note of disparagement. The first part of the _Confessions_--all that
Diderot ever saw--appeared in 1782, and in the same year Diderot
published a second edition of the Essay on Claudius and Nero, so
augmented by replies, inserted in season and out of season, to the
diatribes of the party of Rousseau, that as it now stands the reader may
well doubt whether the substance and foundation of the book is an
apology for Seneca or a vindication of Denis Diderot. As Grimm said, we
have to make up our minds to see the author suddenly pass from the
palace of the Cæsars to the garret of MM. Royou, Grosier, and company;
from Paris to Rome, and from Rome back again to Paris; from the reign
of Claudius to the reign of Lewis XV.; from the college of the Sorbonne
to the college of the augurs; to turn now to the masters of the world,
and now to the yelping curs of literature; to see him in his dramatic
enthusiasm making the one speak and the others answer; apostrophising
himself and apostrophising his readers, and leaving them often enough in
perplexity as to the personage who is speaking and the personage whom he
addresses.[185] We may agree with Grimm that this gives an air of
originality to the performance, but such originality is of a kind to
displease the serious student, without really attracting the few readers
who have a taste for rebelling against the pedantries of literary form.
We become confused by the long strain of uncertainty whether we are
reading about the Roman Emperor or the French King; about Seneca,
Burrhus, and Thrasea, or Turgot, Malesherbes, and Necker.

    [185] Grimm, _Corr. Lit._, xi. 77.

Diderot's candour, simplicity, happy bonhommie, and sincerity in real
interests raised him habitually above the pettiness, the bustling
malice, the vain self-consciousness, the personalities that infest all
literary and social cliques. It is surprising at first that Diderot, who
had all his life borne the sting of the gnats of Grub Street with decent
composure, should have been so moved by Rousseau, or by meaner
assailants, whom Rousseau himself would have rudely disclaimed. The
explanation seems to lie in this fact of human character, that a man of
Diderot's temperament, while entirely heedless of criticism directed
against his opinions or his public position, is specially sensitive to
innuendoes against his private benevolence and loyalty. An insult to the
force of his understanding was indifferent to him, but an affront to
one's _belle âme_ is beyond pardon. It was hard that a man who had
prodigally thrown away the forces of his life for others should be
charged with malignity of heart and an incapacity for friendship. This
was the harder, because it was the moral fashion of that day to place
friendliness, amiability, the desire to please and to serve, at the very
head of all the virtues. The whole correspondence of the time is
penetrated to an incomparable degree by a caressing spirit; it is
sometimes too elaborate and far-fetched in expression, but it marks a
vivid sociability, and even a true humanity, that softens and harmonises
the sharpness of men's egotism.

Again, though Diderot himself is not ungenerously handled in the
_Confessions_, there are passages about Madame d'Epinay and Madame
d'Houdetot which not only stamp Rousseau with ingratitude towards two
women who had treated him kindly, but which were calculated to make
practical mischief among people still living. All this was atrocious in
itself, and the atrocity seemed more black to Diderot than to others,
because he had for some years known Madame d'Epinay as a friendly
creature, and, above all, because Grimm was her lover. Perhaps we may
add among the reasons that stirred him to pen these diatribes, a
consciousness of the harm that Rousseau's sentimentalism had done to
sound and positive thinking. But this, we may be sure, would be
infinitely less potent than the motives that sprang from Diderot's own
sentimentalism. The quarrel, for all save a few foolish partisans, is
now dead, and we may leave the dust once more to settle thick upon it.
Diderot's own way of reading history is not unworthy of imitation, and
it is capable of application in spirit to private conduct no less than
to the history of great public events. "Does the narrative present me
with some fact that dishonours humanity? Then I examine it with the most
rigorous severity; whatever sagacity I may be able to command, I employ
in detecting contradictions that throw suspicion on the story. It is not
so when an action is beautiful, lofty, noble. Then I never think of
arguing against the pleasure that I feel in sharing the name of man with
one who has done such an action. I will say more; it is to my heart, and
perhaps too it is only conformable to justice, to hazard an opinion that
tends to whiten an illustrious personage, in the face of authorities
that seem to contradict the tenour of his life, of his doctrine, and of
his general repute."[186]

    [186] _Oeuv._, iii. 57.

The elaborate outbreak against Rousseau is perhaps Diderot's only breach
of what ought thus to be a rule for all magnanimous men. Diderot, or his
shade, paid the penalty. La Harpe retaliated for some slight wound to
pitiful literary vanity, by a lecture on Seneca in which he raked up
all the old accusations against Seneca's champion. La Harpe, for various
reasons into which we need not now more particularly enter, got the ear
of the European public in the years of reaction after he had himself
deserted his old philosophic friends, and gone over to the conservative
camp. He found the world eager to listen to all that could be said
against men who were believed to have corrupted their age; and his
bitter misrepresentations, not seldom invigorated by lies, were the
origin of much of the vulgar prejudice that has only begun to melt away
in our own generation.

Rousseau died in 1778. The more versatile literary genius of the century
had died a couple of months earlier in the same year. It was not until
the occasion of Voltaire's triumphant visit to Paris, after an absence
of seven-and-twenty years, that he and Diderot at length met. Their
correspondence had been less constant and less cordial than was common
where Voltaire was concerned; but though their sympathy was imperfect,
there was no lack of mutual goodwill and admiration. The poet is said to
have done his best to push Diderot into the Academy, but the king was
incurably hostile, and Diderot was not anxious for an empty distinction.
He had none of that vanity nor eagerness for recognition--pardonable
enough, for that matter--which such distinctions gratify. And he perhaps
agreed with Voltaire himself, who said of academies and parliaments
that, when men come together, their ears instantly become elongated.
After Diderot's return from Russia Voltaire wrote to him: "I am
eighty-three years of age, and I repeat that I am inconsolable at the
thought of dying without ever having seen you. I have tried to collect
around me as many of your children as possible, but I am a long way from
having the whole family.... We are not so far apart, at bottom, and it
only needs a conversation to bring us to an understanding."[187]

    [187] Dec. 8, 1776.

Of such conversations we have almost nothing to tell. No sacred bard has
commemorated the salutation of the heroes. We only know that at the end
of their first interview Diderot's facility of discourse had been so
copious that, after he had taken his leave, Voltaire said: "The man is
clever, assuredly; but he lacks one talent, and an essential
talent--that of dialogue." Diderot's remark about Voltaire was more
picturesque. "He is like one of those old haunted castles, which are
falling into ruins in every part; but you easily perceive that it is
inhabited by some ancient sorcerer."[188] They had a dispute as to the
merits of Shakespeare, and Diderot displeased the patriarch by repeating
the expression that we have already quoted (vol. i. p. 330) about
Shakespeare being like the statue of St. Christopher at Notre Dame,
unshapely and rude, but such a giant that ordinary men could pass
between his legs without touching him.[189]

    [188] Métra's _Corresp. Secrète_, vi. 292.

    [189] See Diderot's _Oeuv._, xix. 465, _note_.

There was one man who might have told us a thousand interesting things
both about Diderot's conversations with Voltaire, and his relations
with other men. This man was Naigeon, to whom Diderot gave most of his
papers, and who always professed, down to his death in 1814, to be
Diderot's closest adherent and most authoritative expounder. Diderot
was, as he always knew and said, less an author than a talker; not a
talker like Johnson, but like Coleridge. If Naigeon could only have
contented himself with playing reporter, and could have been blessed by
nature with the rare art of Boswell. "We wanted," as Carlyle says, "to
see and know how it stood with the bodily man, the working and warfaring
Denis Diderot; how he looked and lived, what he did, what he said."
Instead of which, nothing but "a dull, sulky, snuffling, droning,
interminable lecture on Atheistic Philosophy," delivered with the
vehemence of some pulpit-drumming Gowkthrapple, or "precious Mr. Jabesh
Rentowel." Naigeon belonged to the too numerous class of men and women
overabundantly endowed with unwise intellect. He was acute, diligent,
and tenacious; fond of books, especially when they had handsome margins
and fine bindings; above all things, he was the most fanatical atheist,
and the most indefatigable propagandist and eager proselytiser which
that form of religion can boast. We do not know the date of his first
acquaintance with Diderot;[190] we only know that at the end of
Diderot's days he had no busier or more fervent disciple than Naigeon.
To us, at all events, whatever it may have been to Diderot, the
acquaintance and discipleship have proved good for very little.

    [190] The _Biographie Universelle_, after giving 1738 as the date of
    Naigeon's birth, absurdly attributes to him the article on _Âme_ in
    the Encyclopædia, which was published in 1752, when Naigeon was
    fourteen years old.

Our last authentic glimpse of Diderot is from the pen of a humane and
enlightened Englishman, whose memory must be held in perpetual honour
among us. Samuel Romilly, then a young man of four-and-twenty, visited
Paris in 1781. He made the acquaintance of the namesake who had written
the articles on watch-making in the Encyclopædia, and whose son had
written the more famous articles on Toleration and Virtue. By this
honest man Romilly was introduced to D'Alembert and Diderot. The former
was in weak health and said very little. Diderot, on the contrary, was
all warmth and eagerness, and talked to his visitor with as little
reserve as if he had been long and intimately acquainted with him. He
spoke on politics, religion, and philosophy. He praised the English for
having led the way to sound philosophy, but the adventurous genius of
the French, he said, had pushed them on before their guides. "You
others," he continued, "mix up theology with your philosophy; that is to
spoil everything, it is to mix up lies with truth; _il faut sabrer la
théologie_--we must put theology to the sword." He was ostentatious,
Romilly says, of a total disbelief in the existence of a God. He quoted
Plato, "the author of all the good theology that ever existed in the
world, as saying that there is a vast curtain drawn over the heavens,
and that men must content themselves with what passes beneath that
curtain, without ever attempting to raise it; and in order to complete
my conversion from my unhappy errors, he read me all through a little
work of his own"--of which we shall presently speak. On politics he
talked very eagerly, "and inveighed with great warmth against the
tyranny of the French government. He told me that he had long meditated
a work upon the death of Charles the First; that he had studied the
trial of that prince; and that his intention was to have tried him over
again, and to have sent him to the scaffold if he had found him guilty,
but that he had at last relinquished the design. In England he would
have executed it, but he had not the courage to do so in France.
D'Alembert, as I have observed was more cautious; he contented himself
with observing what an effect philosophy had in his own time produced on
the minds of the people. The birth of the Dauphin (known afterwards as
Lewis XVII., the unhappy prisoner of the Temple) afforded him an
example. He was old enough, he said, to remember when such an event had
made the whole nation drunk with joy (1729), but now they regarded with
great indifference the birth of another master."[191]

    [191] _Memoirs of Sir Samuel Romilly_, i. 63, 179, etc.

It was thus clear to the two veterans of the Encyclopædia that the
change for which they had worked was at hand. The press literally teemed
with pamphlets, treatises, poems, histories, all shouting from the
house-tops open destruction to beliefs which fifty years before were
actively protected against so much as a whisper in the closet. Every
form of literary art was seized and turned into an instrument in the
remorseless attack on _L'Infâme_. The conservative or religious
opposition showed a weakness that is hardly paralleled in the long
history of the mighty controversy. Ability, adroitness, vigour, and
character were for once all on one side. Palissot was perhaps, after
all, the best of the writers on the conservative side.[192] With all his
faults, he had the literary sense. Some of what he said was true, and
some of the third-rate people whom he assailed deserved the assault. His
criticism on Diderot's drama, _The Natural Son_, was not a whit more
severe than that bad play demanded.[193] Not seldom in the course of
this work we have wished with Palissot that the excellent Diderot were
less addicted to prophetic and apocalyptical turns of speech, that there
were less of chaos round his points of burning and shining light, and
that he had less title to the hostile name of the Lycophron of
philosophy.[194] But the comedy of _The Philosophers_ was a scandalous
misrepresentation, introducing Diderot personally on the stage, and
putting into his mouth a mixture of folly and knavery that was as
foreign to Diderot as to any one else in the world. In 1782 the satirist
again attacked his enemy, now grown old and weary. In _Le Satyrique_,
Valère, a spiteful and hypocritical poetaster, is intended partially at
least for Diderot. A colporteur, not ill-named as M. Pamphlet, comes to
urge payment of his bill.

    [192] See above, vol. i. p. 362.

    [193] _Petites Lettres sur de Grands Philosophes_, ii.

    [194] _Oeuv. de Palissot_, i. 445. iv. 244.

      Daignez avoir égard à mes vives instances.
    Je suis humilié d'y mettre tant de feu:
    Mais les temps sont si durs! le comptoir rend si peu!
    Imprimeur, Colporteur, Relieur, et Libraire,
    Avec tous ces métiers, je suis dans la misère:
    Mais j'ai toujours grand soin, malgré ma pauvreté,
    De ne peser mon gain qu'au poids de l'équité.
    Vous en allez juger par le susdit mémoire.

        [_Il prend ses lunettes comme pour lire._

    VALÈRE. (_Avec humeur._) Eh, monsieur, finissez.

    M. PAMPHLET. C'est trahir votre gloire
    Que de vouloir caeher les immortels écrits

        [_Il lit._

    Dont vous êtes l'auteur. _Les Boudoirs de Paris,_
    _On Journal des Abbés._ _L'Espion des Coulisses,_
    Ouvrage assez piquant sur les moeurs des actrices.

And the intention of the pleasantry is pointed by a malicious footnote,
to the effect that people who might be surprised that a serious man like
Valère should have written works of this licentious and frivolous kind,
will conceive that in a moment of leisure a philosopher should write
_Les Bijoux Indiscrèts_, for instance, and the next day follow it by a
treatise on morality,[195]--as Diderot unhappily had done.

    [195] _Le Satyrique_, iii. p. 84. _note_.

Palissot was not so good as Molière, Boileau, and Pope, as he was
fatuous enough to suppose; but he was certainly better than the
scribbler who asked--

    Mais enfin de quoi se glorifie
    Ce siècle de mollesse et de Philosophie?
    Dites-moi: le Français a-t-il un coeur plus franc
    Plus prodigue à l'état de son généreux sang,
    Plus ardent à venger la plaintive innocence
    Contre l'iniquité que soutient la puissance?
    Le Français philosophe est-il plus respecté
    Pour la foi, la candeur, l'exacte probité?
    Où sont-ils ces Héros, ces vertueux modèles
    Que l'Encyclopédie a couvé sous ses ailes?[196]

    [196] Métra, vi. 128.

Tiresome doggrel of this kind was the strongest retort that the party of
obscurantism could muster against the vigour, grace, and sparkle of

The great official champions of the old system were not much wiser than
their hacks in the press. The churchmen were given over to a blind mind.
The great edition of Voltaire's works which Beaumarchais was printing
over the frontier at Kehl, excited their anger to a furious pitch. The
infamous Cardinal de Rohan, archbishop of Strasburg (1781), denounced
the publication as sacrilege. The archbishop of Paris (1785) thundered
against the monument of scandal and the work of darkness. The archbishop
of Vienne forbade the faithful of his diocese to subscribe to it under
pain of mortal sin. In the general assembly of the clergy which opened
in the summer of 1780, the bishops, in memorials to the king, deplored
the homage paid to the famous writer who was "less known for the beauty
of his genius and the superiority of his talents, than for the
persevering and implacable war which for sixty years he had waged
against the Lord and his Christ." They cursed in solemn phrase the
"revolting blasphemies" of Raynal's _History of the Indies_, and
declared that the publication of a new edition of that celebrated book
with the name and the portrait of its author, showed that the most
elementary notions of shame and decency lay in profound sleep.

In the midst of those prolonged cries of distress, we have no word of
recognition that the only remedy for a moral disease is a moral remedy.
The single resource that occurred to their debilitated souls was the
familiar armoury of suppression, menace, violence, and tyranny. "Sire,"
they cried, "it is time to put a term to this deplorable lethargy." They
reminded the king of the declaration of 1757, which inflicted on all
persons who printed or circulated writings hostile to religion, the
punishment of death. But "their paternal bowels shuddered at the sight
of these severe enactments;" all that they sought was plenty of rigorous
imprisonment, ruinous fining, and diligent espionage.[197] If the reader
is revolted by the rashness of Diderot's expectation of the speedy decay
of the belief in a God,[198] he may well be equally revolted by the
obstinate infatuation of the men who expected to preserve the belief in
a God by the spies of the department of police. Much had no doubt been
done for the church in past times by cruelty and oppression, but the
folly of the French bishops, after the reign of Voltaire and the
apostolate of the Encyclopædia, lay exactly in their blindness to the
fact that the old methods were henceforth impossible in France, and
impossible for ever. How can we wonder at the hatred and contempt felt
by men of the social intelligence of Diderot and D'Alembert for this
desperate union of impotence and malignity?

    [197] See for abundant matter of the same kind, M. Rocquain's
    _L'Esprit Révolutionnaire avant la Révolution_, bk. x. pp. 382, 390,

    [198] Montesquieu more sensibly had given the Church not more than
    five hundred years to live. _Let. Pers._, 117. One hundred and fifty
    of them have already passed.

The band of the precursors was rapidly disappearing. Grimm and Holbach,
Catherine and Frederick, still survived.[199] D'Alembert, tended to the
last hour by Condorcet with the lovable reverence of a son, died at the
end of October 1783. Turgot, gazing with eyes of astonished sternness on
a society hurrying incorrigibly with joyful speed along the path of
destruction, had passed away two years before (1781). Voltaire, the
great intellectual director of Europe for fifty years, and Rousseau, the
great emotional reactionist, had both, as we know, died in 1778. The
little companies in which, from Adrienne Lecouvreur, the Marquise de
Lambert, and Madame de Tencin, in the first half of the century, groups
of intelligent men and women had succeeded in founding informal schools
of disinterested opinion, and in finally removing the centre of
criticism and intellectual activity from Versailles to Paris, had now
nearly all come to an end. Madame du Deffand died in 1780, Madame
Geoffrin in 1779, and in 1776 Mdlle. Lespinasse, whose letters will long
survive her, as giving a burning literary note to the vagueness of
suffering and pain of soul. One of Diderot's favourite companions in
older days, Galiani, the antiquary, the scholar, the politician, the
incomparable mimic, the shrewdest, wittiest, and gayest of men after
Voltaire, was feeling the dull grasp of approaching death under his
native sky at Naples. Galiani's _Dialogues on the Trade in Grain_
(1769-70) contained, under that most unpromising title, a piece of
literature which for its verve, rapidity, wit, dialectical subtlety, and
real strength of thought, has hardly been surpassed by masterpieces of a
wider recognition. Voltaire vowed that Plato and Molière must have
combined to produce a book that was as amusing as the best of romances,
and as instructive as the best of serious books. Diderot, who had a hand
in retouching the _Dialogues_ for the press,[200] went so far as to
pronounce them worthy of a place along with the _Provincial Letters_ of
Pascal, and declared that, like those immortal pieces, Galiani's
dialogues would remain as a model of perfection in their own kind, long
after both the subject and the personages concerned had lost their
interest.[201] The prophecy has not come quite true, for the world is
busy, and heedless, and much the prey of accident and capricious
tradition in the books that it reads. Yet even now, although Galiani
was probably wrong on the special issue between himself and the
economists, it would be well if people would turn to his demolition, as
wise as witty, of the doctrine of absolute truths in political economy.
Galiani's constant correspondent was Madame d'Epinay, the kindly
benefactress of Rousseau a quarter of a century earlier, the friend of
Diderot, the more than friend of Grimm. In 1783 she died, and either in
that year or the next, Mademoiselle Voland, who had filled so great a
space in the life of Diderot. The ghosts and memories of his friends
became the majority, and he consoled himself that he should not long

    [199] Grimm died in 1807, Holbach in 1789, Catherine in 1796, and
    Frederick in 1786.

    [200] See _Oeuv._, xix. 317, 326.

    [201] _Oeuv._, vi. 442, where Diderot gives a sketch of this
    interesting man.

The days of intellectual excitement and philanthropic hope seemed at
their very height, but in fact they were over. "Nobody," said
Talleyrand, "who has not lived before 1789, knows how sweet life can
be." The old world had its last laugh over the _Marriage of Figaro_
(April 1784), but in the laugh of Figaro there is a strange ring. Under
all its gaiety, its liveliness, its admirable _naïveté_, was something
sombre. It was pregnant with menace. Its fooling was the ironical
enforcement of Raynal's trenchant declaration that "the law is nothing,
if it be not a sword gliding indistinctly over the heads of all, and
striking down whatever rises above the horizontal plane along which it

Diderot himself is commonly accused of having fomented an atrocious
spirit by the horrible couplet--

    Et ses mains ourdiraient les entrailles du prêtre,
    Au défaut d'un cordon pour étrangler les rois.[202]

    [202] "Is it not possible that the virtuous and moderate proposal to
    strangle the last Jesuit in the bowels of the last Jansenist might
    do something towards reconciling matters?"--Voltaire to Helvétius,
    May 11, 1761.

That the verses could have actually excited the spirit of the Terrorists
is impossible, for they were not given to the world until 1795. And in
the second place, so far as Diderot's intention is concerned, any one
who reads the piece from which the lines are taken, will perceive that
the whole performance is in a vein of playful phantasy, and that the
particular verses are placed dramatically in the mouth of a proclaimed
Eleutheromane, or maniac for liberty.[203] Diderot was not likely to
foresee that what he designed for an illustration of the frenzy of the
Pindaric dithyramb, would so soon be mistaken for a short formula of
practical politics.[204]

    [203] _Les Eleutheromanes, ou les Furieux de la Liberté._ _Oeuv._,
    ix. 16.

    [204] It is a curious illustration of the carelessness with which
    the so-called negative school have been treated, that so
    conscientious a writer as M. Henri Martin (_Hist. de France_, xvi.
    146) should have taxed Diderot, among other sinister maxims, with
    this, that "the public punishment of a king changes the spirit of a
    nation for ever." Now the words occur in a collection of
    observations on government, which Diderot wrote on the margin of his
    copy of Tacitus, and which are entitled _Principes de Politique des
    Souverains_ (1775). Some of the most pungent maxims are obviously
    intended for irony on the military and Machiavellian policy of
    Frederick the Great, while others on the policy of the Roman
    emperors are shrewd and sagacious. The maxim from which M. Martin
    quotes is the 147th, and in it the sombre words of his quotation
    follow this:--"_Let the people never see royal blood flow for any
    cause whatever._ The public punishment of a king," etc.! See
    _Oeuv._, ii. 486.

In 1780 his townsmen of Langres paid him a compliment, which showed that
the sage was not without honour in his own country. They besought him to
sit for his portrait, to be placed among the worthies in the town hall.
Diderot replied by sending them Houdon's bronze bust, which was received
with all distinction and honour. Naigeon hints that in the last years of
his life Diderot paid more attention to money than he had ever done
before;[205] not that he became a miser, but because, like many other
persons, he had not found out until the close of a life's experience
that care of money really means care of the instrument that procures
some of the best ends in life. For a moment we may regret that he was
too much occupied in attending to his affairs to take the unwise
Naigeon's wise counsel, that he should devote himself to a careful
revision of all that he had written. Perhaps Diderot's instinct was
right. Among the distractions of old age, he had turned back to his
Letter on the Blind, and read it over again without partiality. He
found, as was natural, some defects in a piece that was written
three-and-thirty years before, but he abstained from attempting to
remove them, for fear that the page of the young man should be made the
worse by the retouching of the old man. "There comes a time," he
reflects, "when taste gives counsels whose justice you recognise, but
which you have no longer strength to follow. It is the pusillanimity
that springs from consciousness of weakness, or else it is the idleness
that is one of the results of weakness and pusillanimity, which disgusts
me with a task that would be more likely to hurt than to improve my

    Solve senescentem mature sanus equum, ne
    Peccet ad extremum ridendus et ilia ducat."

And so he contented himself with some rough notes of phenomena that were
corroborative of the speculation of his youth.[206]

    [205] _Mém. sur la Vie et les Ouvrages de Diderot_, p. 412.

    [206] Grimm, _Corr. Lit._, xi. 120.

In the early spring of 1784 Diderot had an attack which he knew to be
the presage of the end. Dropsy set in, and he lingered until the summer.
The priest of Saint Sulpice, the centre of the philosophic quarter, came
to visit him two or three times a week, hoping to achieve at least the
semblance of a conversion. Diderot did not encourage conversation on
theology, but when pressed he did not refuse it. One day when they
found, as two men of sense will always find, that they had ample common
ground in matters of morality and good works, the priest ventured to
hint that an exposition of such excellent maxims, accompanied by a
slight retractation of Diderot's previous works, would have a good
effect on the world. "I daresay it would, monsieur le curé, but confess
that I should be acting an impudent lie." And no word of retractation
was ever made. As the end came suddenly, the priest escaped from the
necessity of denying the funeral rites of the Church.

For thirty years Diderot had been steadfast to his quarters on an upper
floor in the Rue Taranne, and even now, when the physicians told him
that to climb such length of staircase was death to him, he still could
not be induced to stir. It would have been easier, his daughter says, to
effect a removal from Versailles itself. Grimm at length asked the
Empress of Russia to provide a house for her librarian, and when the
request was conceded, Diderot, who could never be ungracious, allowed
himself to be taken from his garret to palatial rooms in the Rue de
Richelieu. He enjoyed them less than a fortnight. Though visibly growing
weaker every day, he did all that he could to cheer the people around
him, and amused himself and them by arranging his pictures and his
books. In the evening, to the last, he found strength to converse on
science and philosophy to the friends who were eager as ever for the
last gleanings of his prolific intellect. In the last conversation that
his daughter heard him carry on, his last words were the pregnant
aphorism that _the first step towards philosophy is incredulity_.

On the evening of the 30th of July 1784 he sat down to table, and at the
end of the meal took an apricot. His wife, with kindly solicitude,
remonstrated. _Mais quel diable de mal veux-tu que cela me fasse?_ he
said, and ate the apricot. Then he rested his elbow on the table,
trifling with some sweetmeats. His wife asked him a question; on
receiving no answer, she looked up and saw that he was dead. He had died
as the Greek poet says that men died in the golden age--[Greek: thnêskon
d' hôs hypnô dedmêmenoi], _they passed away as if mastered by sleep_. It
had always been his opinion that an examination of the organs after
death is a useful practice, and his wish that the operation should take
place in his own case was respected. Nothing interesting or remarkable
was revealed, and his remains were laid in the vaults of the church of
Saint Roche.

So the curtain fell upon this strange tragi-comedy of a man of letters.
There is no better epilogue than words of his own:--"We fix our gaze on
the ruins of a triumphal arch, of a portico, a pyramid, a temple, a
palace, and we return upon ourselves. All is annihilated, perishes,
passes away. It is only the world that remains; only time that endures.
I walk between two eternities. To whatever side I turn my eyes, the
objects that surround me tell of an end, and teach me resignation to my
own end. What is my ephemeral existence in comparison with that of the
crumbling rock and the decaying forest? I see the marble of the tomb
falling to dust, and yet I cannot bear to die! Am I to grudge a feeble
tissue of fibres and flesh to a general law, that executes itself
inexorably even on very bronze!"



A few more pages must be given to one or two of Diderot's writings which
have not hitherto been mentioned. An exhaustive survey of his works is
out of the question, nor would any one be repaid for the labour of
criticism. A mere list of the topics that he handled would fill a long
chapter. A redaction of a long treatise on harmony, a vast sheaf of
notes on the elements of physiology, a collection of miscellanea on the
drama, a still more copious collection of miscellanea on a hundred
points in literature and art, a fragment on the exercise of young
Russians, an elaborate plan of studies for a proposed Russian
University,--no less panurgic and less encyclopædic a critic than
Diderot himself could undertake to sweep with ever so light a wing over
this vast area. Everybody can find something to say about the collection
of tales, in which Diderot thought that he was satirising the manners of
his time, after the fashion of Rabelais, Montaigne, La Mothe-le-Vayer,
and Swift. But not everybody is competent to deal, for instance, with
the five memoirs on different subjects in mathematics (1748), with
which Diderot hoped to efface the scandal of his previous performance.


Decidedly the most important of the pieces of which we have not yet
spoken must be counted the _Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature_
(1754). His study of Bacon and the composition of the introductory
prospectus of the Encyclopædia had naturally filled Diderot's mind with
ideas about the universe as a whole. The great problem of man's
knowledge of this universe,--the limits, the instruments, the meaning of
such knowledge, came before him with a force that he could not evade.
Maupertuis had in 1751, under the assumed name of Baumann, an imaginary
doctor of Erlangen, published a dissertation on the _Universal System of
Nature_, in which he seems to have maintained that the mechanism of the
universe is one and the same throughout, modifying itself, or being
modified by some vital element within, in an infinity of diverse
ways.[207] Leibnitz's famous idea, of making nature invariably work with
the minimum of action, was seized by Maupertuis, expressed as the Law of
Thrift, and made the starting-point of speculations that led directly to
Holbach and the _System of Nature_.[208] The _Loi d'Epargne_ evidently
tended to make unity of all the forces of the universe the keynote or
the goal of philosophical inquiry. At this time of his life, Diderot
resisted Maupertuis's theory of the unity of vital force in the
universe, or perhaps we should rather say that he saw how open it was to
criticism. His resistance has none of his usual air of vehement
conviction. However that may be, the theory excited his interest, and
fitted in with the train of meditation which his thoughts about the
Encyclopædia had already set in motion, and of which the _Pensées
Philosophiques_ of 1746 were the cruder prelude.

    [207] As to the precise drift of Maupertuis's theme, see Lange,
    _Gesch. d. Materialismus_, i. 413, _n._ 37. Also Rosenkranz, i. 134.

    [208] In 1765 Grimm describes the principle of Leibnitz and
    Maupertuis as "gaining on us on every side."--_Corr. Lit._, iv. 186.

The _Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature_ are, in form as in title,
imitated from those famous _Aphorismi de Interpretatione Naturæ et Regni
Hominis_, which are more shortly known to all men as Bacon's _Novum
Organum_.[209] The connection between the aphorisms is very loosely
held. Diderot began by premising that he would let his thoughts follow
one another under his pen, in the order in which the subjects came up in
his mind; and he kept his word. Their general scope, so far as it is
capable of condensed expression, may be described as a reconciliation
between the two great classes into which Diderot found thinkers upon
Nature to be divided; those who have many instruments and few ideas, and
those who have few instruments and many ideas,--in other words, between
men of science without philosophy, and philosophers without knowledge
of experimental science.

    [209] Palissot, in the _Philosophers_, concocted some very strained
    satire on the too pompous opening of the _Interpretation of Nature_.
    Act I. sc. 2.

In the region of science itself, again, Diderot foresees as great a
change as in the relations between science and philosophy. "We touch the
moment of a great revolution in the sciences. From the strong
inclination of men's minds towards morals, literature, the history of
nature and experimental physics, I would almost venture to assert that
before the next hundred years are over, there will not be three great
geometers to be counted in Europe. This science will stop short where
the Bernouillis, the Eulers, the Maupertuis, the Clairauts, the
Fontaines, the D'Alemberts, the Lagranges have left it. They will have
fixed the Pillars of Hercules. People will go no further." Those who
have read Comte's angry denunciations of the perversions of geometry by
means of algebra, and of the waste of intellectual force in modern
analysis,[210] will at least understand how such a view as Diderot's was
possible. And no one will be likely to deny that, whether or not the
pillars of the geometrical Hercules were finally set a hundred years
ago, the great discoveries of the hundred years since Diderot have been,
as he predicted, in the higher sciences. The great misfortune of France
was that the supremacy of geometry coincided with the opening of the
great era of political discussion. The definitions of Montesquieu's
famous book, which opened the political movement in literature, have
been shown to be less those of a jurisconsult than of a geometer.[211]
Social truths, with all their profound complexity, were handled like
propositions in Euclid, and logical deductions from arbitrary premises
were treated as accurate representations of real circumstance. The
repulse of geometry to its proper rank came too late.

    [210] Comte's _System of Positive Polity_, i. 380, etc. English
    translation, 1875.

    [211] By F. Sclopis, quoted in M. Vian's _Hist. de Montesquieu_, p.

Comte always liberally recognised Diderot's genius, and any reader of
Comte's views on the necessities of subjective synthesis will discern
the germ of that doctrine in the following remarkable section:

     "When we compare the infinite multitude of the phenomena of nature
     with the limits of our understandings and the weakness of our
     organs, can we ever expect anything else from the slowness of our
     work, from the long and frequent interruptions, and from the rarity
     of creative genius than a few broken and separated pieces of the
     great chain that binds all things together? Experimental philosophy
     might work for centuries of centuries, and the materials that it
     had heaped up, finally reaching in their number beyond all
     combination, would still be far removed from an exact enumeration.
     How many volumes would it not need to contain the mere terms by
     which we should designate the distinct collections of phenomena, if
     the phenomena were known? When will the philosophic language be
     complete? If it were complete, who among men would be able to know
     it? If the Eternal, to manifest his power still more plainly than
     by the marvels of nature, had deigned to develop the universal
     mechanism on pages traced by his own hand, do you suppose that this
     great book would be more comprehensible to us than the universe
     itself? How many pages of it all would have been intelligible to
     the philosopher who, with all the force of head that had been
     conferred upon him, was not sure of having grasped all the
     conclusions by which an old geometer determined the relation of the
     sphere to the cylinder? We should have in such pages a fairly good
     measure of the reach of men's minds, and a still more pungent
     satire on our vanity. We should say, Fermat went to such a page,
     Archimedes went a few pages further.

     "What then is our end? The execution of a work that can never be
     achieved, and which would be far beyond human intelligence if it
     were achieved. Are we not more insensate than the first inhabitants
     of the plain of Shinar? We know the immeasurable distance between
     the earth and the heavens, and still we insist on rearing our

     "But can we presume that there will not come a time when our pride
     will abandon the work in discouragement? What appearance is there
     that, narrowly lodged and ill at its ease here below, our pride
     should obstinately persist in constructing an uninhabitable palace
     beyond the earth's atmosphere? Even if it should so insist, would
     it not be arrested by the confusion of tongues, which is already
     only too perceptible and too inconvenient in natural history?
     Besides, it is utility that circumscribes all. It will be utility
     that in a few centuries will set bounds to experimental physics, as
     it is on the eve of setting bounds to geometry. I grant centuries
     to this study, because the sphere of its utility is infinitely more
     extensive than that of any abstract science, and it is without
     contradiction the base of our real knowledge."[212]

    [212] _Oeuv._, ii. 12, 13, § 6. See the same idea in the
    Encyclopædia, above, vol. i. pp. 225-227.

We cannot wonder that when Comte drew up his list of the hundred and
fifty volumes that should form the good Positivist's library in the
nineteenth century, he should have placed Diderot's _Interpretation of
Nature_ on one side of Descartes' _Discourse on Method_, with Bacon's
_Novum Organum_ on the other.

The same spirit finds even stronger and more distinct expression in a
later aphorism:--"Since the reason cannot understand everything,
imagination foresee everything, sense observe everything, nor memory
retain everything; since great men are born at such remote intervals,
and the progress of science is so interrupted by revolution, that whole
ages of study are passed in recovering the knowledge of the centuries
that are gone,--to observe everything in nature without distinction is
to fail in duty to the human race. Men who are beyond the common run in
their talents ought to respect themselves and posterity in the
employment of their time. What would posterity think of us if we had
nothing to transmit to it save a complete insectology, an immense
history of microscopic animals? No--to the great geniuses great objects,
little objects to the little geniuses" (§ 54).

Diderot, while thus warning inquirers against danger on one side, was
alive to the advantages of stubborn and unlimited experiment on the
other. "When you have formed in your mind," he says, "one of those
systems which require to be verified by experience, you ought neither to
cling to it obstinately nor abandon it lightly. People sometimes think
their conjectures false, when they have not taken the proper measures to
find them true. Obstinacy, even, has fewer drawbacks than the opposite
excess. By multiplying experiments, if you do not find what you want, it
may happen that you will come on something better. _Never is time
employed in interrogating nature entirely lost_" (§ 42). The reader will
not fail to observe that this maxim is limited by the condition of
verifiableness. Of any system that could not be verified by experience
Diderot would have disdained to speak in connection with the
interpretation of nature.

This, of course, did not prevent him from hypothesis and prophecy which
he himself had not the means of justifying. For example, he said that
just as in mathematics, by examining all properties of a curve we find
that they are one and the same property presented under different faces,
so in nature when experimental physics are more advanced, people will
recognise that all the phenomena, whether of weight, or elasticity, or
magnetism, or electricity, are only different sides of the same
affection (§ 44). But he was content to leave it to posterity, and to
build no fabric on unproved propositions.

In the same scientific spirit he penetrated the hollowness of every
system dealing with Final Causes:

     "The physicist, whose profession is to instruct and not to edify,
     will abandon the _Why_, and will busy himself only with the
     _How_.... How many absurd ideas, false suppositions, chimerical
     notions in those hymns which some rash defenders of final causes
     have dared to compose in honour of the Creator? Instead of sharing
     the transports of admiration of the prophet, and crying out at the
     sight of the unnumbered stars that light up the midnight sky, _The
     heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his
     handiwork_, they have given themselves up to the superstition of
     their conjectures. Instead of adoring the All-Powerful in the
     creation of nature, they have prostrated themselves before the
     phantoms of their imagination. If any one doubts the justice of my
     reproach, I invite him to compare Galen's treatise on the use of
     parts of the human body, with the physiology of Boerhaave, and the
     physiology of Boerhaave with that of Haller; I invite posterity to
     compare the systematic or passing views of Haller with what will be
     the physiology of future times. Man praises the Eternal for his own
     poor views; and the Eternal who hears from the elevation of his
     throne, and who knows his own design, accepts the silly praise and
     smiles at man's vanity" (§ 56).

The world has advanced rapidly along this path since Diderot's day, and
has opened out many new and unsuspected meanings by the way. Perhaps the
advance has been less satisfactory in working out, in a scientific way,
the philosophy that is implied in the following adaptation of the
Leibnitzian and Maupertuisian suggestion of the law of economy in
natural forces:--"Astonishment often comes from our supposing several
marvels, where in truth there is only one; from our imagining in nature
as many particular acts as we can count phenomena, whilst _nature has
perhaps in reality never produced more than one single act_. It seem
even that, if nature had been under the necessity of producing several
acts, the different results of such acts would be isolated; that there
would be collections of phenomena independent of one another, and that
the general chain of which philosophy assumes the continuity, would
break in many places. _The absolute independence of a single fact is
incompatible with the idea of an All; and without the idea of a Whole,
there can be no Philosophy_" (§ 11).

At length Diderot concludes by a series of questions which he thinks
that philosophers may perhaps count worthy of discussion. What is the
difference, for example, between living matter and dead? Does the energy
of a living molecule vary by itself, or according to the quantity, the
quality, the forms of the dead or living matter with which it is united?
We need not continue the enumeration, because Diderot himself suddenly
brings them to an end with a truly admirable expression of his sense of
how unworthy they are of the attention of serious men, who are able to
measure the difference between a wise and beneficent use of
intelligence, and a foolish and wasteful misuse of it. "When I turn my
eyes," he says, "to the works of men, and see the cities that are built
on every side, all the elements yoked to our service, languages fixed,
nations civilised, harbours constructed, lands and skies measured--then
the world seems to me very old. When I find man uncertain as to the
first principles of medicine and agriculture, as to the properties of
the commonest substances, as to knowledge of the maladies that afflict
him, as to the pruning of trees, as to the best form for the plough,
then it seems as if the earth had only been inhabited yesterday. And if
men were wise, they would at last give themselves up to such inquiries
as bear on their wellbeing, and would not take the trouble to answer my
futile questions for a thousand years at the very soonest; or perhaps,
even, considering the very scanty extent that they occupy in space and
time, they would never deign to answer them at all."


In 1769 Diderot composed three dialogues, of which he said that, with a
certain mathematical memoir, they were the only writings of his own with
which he was contented. The first is a dialogue between himself and
D'Alembert; the second is D'Alembert's Dream, in which D'Alembert in his
sleep continues the discussion, while Mdlle. Lespinasse, who is watching
by his bedside, takes down the dreamer's words; in the third, Mdlle.
Lespinasse and the famous physician, Bordeu, conclude the matter.[213]
It is impossible, Diderot said to Mdlle. Voland, to be more profound and
more mad: it is at once a supreme extravagance, and the most
deep-reaching philosophy. He congratulated himself on the cleverness of
placing his ideas in the mouth of a man who dreams, on the ground that
we must often give to wisdom the air of madness, in order to secure
admittance. Mdlle. Lespinasse was not so complacent. She made D'Alembert
insist that the dialogue should be destroyed, and Diderot believed that
he had burned the only existing copy. As a matter of fact, the
manuscript was not published until 1830, when all the people concerned
had long been reduced to dust. There are five or six pages, Diderot said
to Mdlle. Voland, which would make your sister's hair stand on end. A
man may be much less squeamish than Mdlle. Voland's sister, and still
pronounce the imaginative invention of D'Alembert's Dream, and the
sequel, to be as odious as anything since the freaks of filthy Diogenes
in his tub. Two remarks may be made on this strange production. First,
Diderot never intended the dialogues for the public eye. He would have
been as shocked as the Archbishop of Paris himself, if he had supposed
that they would become accessible to everybody who knows how to read.
Second, though they are in form the most ugly and disgusting piece in
the literature of philosophy, they testify in their own way to Diderot's
sincerity of interest in his subject. Science is essentially unsparing
and unblushing, and D'Alembert's Dream plunged exactly into those parts
of physiology which are least fit to be handled in literature. The
attempt to give an air of polite comedy to functions and secretions must
be pronounced detestable, in spite of the dialectical acuteness and
force with which Diderot pressed his point.

    [213] _Oeuv._, ii.

It would be impossible, in a book not exclusively designed for a public
of professors, to give a full account of these three dialogues. It is
indispensable to describe their drift, because it is here that Diderot
figures definitely as a materialist. Diderot was in no sense the
originator of the French materialism of the eighteenth century. He was
preceded by Maupertuis, by Robinet, and by La Mettrie; and we have
already seen that when he composed the Thoughts on the Interpretation of
Nature (1754), he did not fully accept Maupertuis's materialistic
thesis. Lange has shown that at a very early period in the movement the
most consistent materialism was ready and developed, while such leaders
of the movement as Voltaire and Diderot still leaned either on deism, or
on a mixture of deism and scepticism.[214] The philosophy of
D'Alembert's Dream is definite enough, and far enough removed alike from
deism and scepticism.

    [214] _Gesch. d. Materialismus_, i. 309, 310, etc.

"The thinking man is like a musical instrument. Suppose a clavecin to
have sensibility and memory, and then say whether it would not repeat of
itself the airs that you have played on its keys. We are instruments
endowed with sensibility and memory. Our senses are so many keys,
pressed by the nature that surrounds them, and they often press one
another; and this, according to my judgment, is all that passes in a
clavecin organised as you and I are organised.

"There is only one substance in the world. The marble of the statue
makes the flesh of the man, and conversely. Reduce a block of marble to
impalpable powder; mix this powder with humus, or vegetable earth; knead
them well together; water the mixture; let it rot for a year, two
years--time does not count. In this you sow the plant, the plant
nourishes the man, and hence the passage from marble to tissue.

"Do you see this egg? With that you overturn all the schools of theology
and all the temples of the earth. It is an insensible mass before the
germ is introduced into it; and, after the germ is introduced, there is
still an insensible mass, for the germ itself is only an inert fluid.
How does this mass pass to another organisation, to life, to
sensibility? By heat. What will produce heat? Movement. What will be the
successive effects of movement? First, an oscillating point, a thread
that extends, the flesh, the beak, and so forth."

Then follows the application of the same ideas to the reproduction of
man--a region whither it is not convenient to follow the physiological
inquirer. The result as to the formation of the organic substance in man
is as unflinching as the materialism of Büchner.

     But doctor, cries Mdlle. Lespinasse, what becomes of vice and
     virtue? Virtue, that word so holy in all languages, that idea so
     sacred among all nations?

     BORDEU. We must transform it into beneficence, and its opposite
     into the idea of maleficence. A man is happily or unhappily born;
     people are irresistibly drawn on by the general torrent that
     conducts one to glory, the other to ignominy.

     MDLLE. LESPINASSE. And self-esteem, and shame, and remorse?

     BORDEU. Proclivities, founded on the ignorance or the vanity of a
     being who imputes to himself the merit or the demerit of a
     necessary instant.

     MDLLE. LESPINASSE. And rewards and punishments?

     BORDEU. Means of correcting the modifiable being that we call bad,
     and encouraging the other that we call good.[215]

    [215] _Oeuv._, ii. 176.

The third dialogue we must leave. The fact that German books are written
for a public of specialists allows Dr. Rosenkranz to criticise these
dialogues with a freedom equal to Diderot's own, and his criticism is as
full as usual of candour, patience, and weight. An English writer must
be content to pass on, and his contentment may well be considerable, for
the subject is perhaps that on which, above all others, it is most
difficult to say any wise word.


The Plan of a University for the Government of Russia was the work of
Diderot's last years, but no copy of it was given to the public before
1813-14, when M. Guizot published extracts from an autograph manuscript
confided to him by Suard. Diderot, with a characteristic respect for
competence, with which no egotism can ever interfere in minds of such
strength and veracity as his, began by urging the Empress to consult
Ernesti of Leipsic, the famous editor of Cicero, and no less famous in
his day (1707-1781) for the changes that he introduced into the system
of teaching in the German universities. Of Oxford and Cambridge Diderot
spoke more kindly than they then deserved.

The one strongly marked idea of the plan is what might have been
expected from the editor of the Encyclopædia, namely, the elevation of
what the Germans call real or technological instruction, and the
banishment of pure literature as a subject of study from the first to
the last place in the course. In the faculty of arts the earliest course
begins with arithmetic, algebra, the calculation of probabilities, and
geometry. Next follow physics and mechanics. Then astronomy. Fourthly,
natural history and experimental physics. In the fifth class, chemistry
and anatomy. In the sixth, logic and grammar. In the seventh, the
language of the country. And it was not until the eighth, that Greek and
Latin, eloquence and poetry, took their place among the objects or
instruments of education. Parallel with this course, the student was to
follow the first principles of metaphysics, of universal morality, and
of natural and revealed religion. Here, too, history and geography had a
place. In a third parallel, perspective and drawing accompanied the
science of the first, and the philosophy and history of the second.

In the thorny field of religious instruction, Diderot expresses no
opinion of his own, beyond saying that it is natural for the Empress's
subjects to conform to her way of thinking. As her majesty thinks that
the fear of pains to come has much influence on men's actions, and is
persuaded that the total of small daily advantages produced by belief
outweighs the total of evils wrought by sectarianism and intolerance,
therefore students ought to be instructed in the mystery of the
distinction of the two substances, in the immortality of the soul, and
so forth.[216]

    [216] _Oeuv._, iii. 490.

There is a story that one evening at St. Petersburg, Diderot was
declaiming with stormy eloquence against the baseness of those who
flatter kings; for such, he said, there ought to be a deeper and a
fiercer hell. "Tell me, Diderot," said the Empress by and by, "what they
say in Paris about the death of my husband." Instead of telling her the
plain truth that everybody said that Peter had been murdered by her
orders, the philosopher poured out a stream of the smoothest things.
"Come now," said Catherine suddenly, "confess, if you are not walking
along the path that leads to your deep hell, you are certainly coming
very close to purgatory." Diderot's elaborate concessions to her
majesty's political religion would, it is to be feared, have brought him
still further in the same sulphureous track.

As we have often had to bewail Diderot's diffuseness, it is as well to
remark that a long passage in the sketch of which we are speaking shows
how close and concentrated he could be upon occasion. The two pages in
which he demolishes the incorrigible superstition about Latin and
Greek,[217] contain a thoroughly exhaustive summary of all the arguments
and the answers. In the immense discussion about Latin and Greek that
has taken place in the hundred years since Diderot's time, it is
tolerably safe to say that not a single point has been brought forward
which Diderot did not in these most pithy and conclusive pages attempt
to deal with. He winds up with the position that, even for the man of
letters, the present system of teaching Latin and Greek is essentially
sterile. I am perfectly sure, he says, that Voltaire, who is not exactly
a mediocrity as a man of letters, knows extremely little Greek, and that
he is not twentieth nor even hundredth among the Latinists of the

    [217] _Ib._ iii. 469-471.

    [218] _Oeuv._, iii. 473.

Following this sketch is printed a letter to the Countess of Forbach on
the education of children. It is full of rich wisdom on its special
subject. Nobody can read it without feeling that quality in Diderot
which made his friends love him. And we see how, when he was called to
practical counsel, he banished into their own sphere the explosive
paradoxes with which he delighted to amuse his hours of speculative


Romilly has told us that Diderot was bent on converting him from the
error of his religious ways, and with that intention read to him a
Conversation with the Maréchale de----.[219] It is believed to be an
idealised version of a real conversation with Madame de Broglie, and was
first printed, almost as soon as written (1777), in the correspondence
in which Métra, in imitation of Grimm, informed a circle of foreign
subscribers what was going on in Paris. The admirers of Diderot profess
to look on this Conversation as one of the most precious pearls in his
philosophic casket. It turns upon the conditions of belief and unbelief,
represented by the two interlocutors respectively, and is a terse and
graphic summary of the rationalistic objections to the creed of the
church. The most conspicuous literary passage in it is a parable which
has been attributed to Rousseau, but with which Rousseau had really
nothing to do, beyond reproducing the spirit of its argument in the ever
famous creed of the Savoyard Vicar.

    [219] _Ib._ ii. 505-528.

     A young Mexican, tired of his work, was sauntering one day on the
     seashore. He spied a plank, with one end resting on the land, and
     the other dipping into the water. He sat down on the plank, and
     there gazing over the vast space that lay spread out before him, he
     said to himself: "It is certain that my old grandmother is talking
     nonsense, with her history of I know not what inhabitants, who, at
     I know not what time, landed here from I know not where, from some
     country far beyond our seas. It is against common sense: do I not
     see the ocean touch the line of the sky? And can I believe, against
     the evidence of my senses, an old fable of which nobody knows the
     date, which everybody arranges according to his fancy, and which is
     only a tissue of absurdities, about which people are ready to tear
     out one another's eyes." As he was reasoning in this way, the
     waters rocked him gently on his plank, and he fell asleep. As he
     slept, the wind rose, the waves carried away the plank on which he
     was stretched out, and behold our youthful reasoner embarked on a

     _La Maréchale._--Alas, that is the image of all of us; we are each
     on our plank; the wind blows, and the flood carries us away.

     _C._--He was already far from the mainland when he awoke. No one
     was ever so surprised as our young Mexican, to find himself out on
     the open sea, and he was mightily surprised, too, when having lost
     from sight the shore on which he had been idly walking only an
     instant before, he saw the sea touching the line of the sky on
     every side. Then he began to suspect that he might have been
     mistaken, and that, if the wind remained in the same quarter,
     perhaps he would be borne to that very shore and among those
     dwellers on it, about whom his grandmother had so often told him.

     _La Maréchale._--And of his anxiety you say nothing.

     _C._--He had none. He said to himself: "What does it matter,
     provided that I find land? I have reasoned like a giddy-pate,
     granted; but I have been sincere with myself, and that is all that
     can be required of me. If it is no virtue to have understanding, at
     any rate it is no crime to be without it." Meanwhile the wind
     continued, the man and the plank floated on, and the unknown shore
     came into sight. He touched it, and behold him again on land.

     _La Maréchale._--Ah, we shall all of us see one another there, one
     of these days.

     _C._--I hope so, madam; wherever it may be, I shall always be very
     proud to pay you my homage. Hardly had he quitted his plank, and
     put his foot on the sand, when he perceived a venerable old man
     standing by his side. He asked him where he was, and to whom he had
     the honour of speaking. "I am the sovereign of the country,"
     replied the old man; "you have denied my existence?"--"Yes, it is
     true."--"And that of my empire?"--"It is true!"--"I forgive you,
     because I am he who sees the bottom of all hearts, and I have read
     at the bottom of yours that you are of good faith; but the rest of
     your thoughts and your actions are not equally innocent." Then the
     old man, who held him by the ear, recalled to him all the errors
     of his life; and as each was mentioned, the young Mexican bowed
     himself upon the ground, beat his breast, and besought forgiveness.


Of Falconet,[220] we have already spoken, as a sculptor of genius, and
as one of Diderot's most intimate friends. Writing to Sophie Voland
(Nov. 21, 1765), Diderot informs her that some pleasantries of
Falconet's have induced him to undertake very seriously the defence of
the sentiment of immortality and respect for posterity.[221] This
apology was carried on in an energetic correspondence which lasted from
the end of 1765 to 1767. Falconet's letters were burned by his
grand-daughter for reasons unknown, and we have only such passages from
them as are more specially referred to by Diderot himself. Falconet
flattered himself that he had the best of the argument, and was eager
that they should be published, but Diderot was sluggish or busy. The
correspondence was imparted to Catherine of Russia, who took a lively
interest in it, and to some others, but it was not given to the
public--and then only partially--until 1830.

    [220] Above, vol. ii. p. 104.

    [221] xix. 200.

Diderot's position in these twelve letters may be described in general
terms as being that the sentiment of immortality and respect for
posterity move the heart and elevate the soul; they are two germs of
great things, two promises as solid as any other, and two delights as
real as most of the delights of life, but more noble, more profitable,
and more virtuous. What Diderot means by immortality is not the
religious dogma, that the individual personality will be objectively
preserved and prolonged in some other mode of existence. On the
contrary, it was his disbelief in this dogma of the churches that gave a
certain keenness to his pleading for that other kind of immortality,
which prolongs our personality only in the grateful and admiring
memories of other people who come after us. He intended by the sentiment
of immortality "the desire to surround one's name with lustre among
posterity; to be the admiration and the talk of centuries to come; to
obtain after death the same honours as we pay to those who have gone
before us; to furnish a fine line to the historian; to inscribe one's
own name by the side of those which we never pronounce without shedding
a tear, heaving a sigh, or being touched by regret; to secure for
ourselves the blessings that we have such a thrill in bestowing on
Sully, Henry IV., and all the other benefactors of the human race."[222]
The sphere that surrounds us, and in which the world admires us, the
time in which we exist and listen to praise, the number of those who
directly address to us the eulogy that we have deserved of them--all
this is too small for the capacity of our ambitious souls. By the side
of those whom we see prostrated before us, we place those who are not
yet in the world. It is only this uncounted throng of adorers that can
satisfy a mind whose impulses are ever towards the infinite. At night it
is sweet to hear a distant concert, of which only snatches reach the
ear, all to be bound into a melodious whole by the imagination, which is
all the more charmed as the work is in the main its own. Even if all
this were but the sweetness of a lovely dream, is then the sweetness of
a dream as nothing? And am I to count for nothing a sweet dream that
lasts as long as my life, and holds me in perpetual intoxication?

    [222] xviii. 94.

Falconet's answer was hard and positive. Contemporary glory suffices.
What is fame, if I am not there to enjoy? The fear of contempt and
disgrace is as strong a motive as you need, to incite men to great work.
Glory after death is chimerical and uncertain. Think of all the great
names that are clean forgotten, of all the great workers whose
achievements are lost or effaced, of all the others whose works are
attributed to those who did not execute them! Your posterity is no
better than a lottery.

No, cries Diderot, with redoubled eloquence, rising to his noblest
height,[223] "the present is an indivisible point that cuts in two the
length of an infinite line. It is impossible to rest on this point and
to glide gently along with it, never looking on in front, and never
turning the head to gaze behind. The more man ascends through the past,
and the more he launches into the future--the greater he will be....
And all these philosophers, and ministers, and truth-telling men, who
have fallen victims to the stupidity of nations, the atrocities of
priests, the fury of tyrants, what consolation was left for them in
death? This, that prejudice would pass, and that posterity would pour
out the vial of ignominy upon their enemies. O posterity, holy and
sacred! Stay of the unhappy and the oppressed, thou who art just, thou
who art incorruptible, who avengest the good man, who unmaskest the
hypocrite, who draggest down the tyrant, may thy sure faith, thy
consoling faith, never, never abandon me! Posterity is for the
philosopher what the other world is for the devout!"

    [223] xviii. pp. 113 and 100.



[See vol. i. p. 348.]

[I have omitted such pages in the following translation as refer simply
to personages who have lost all possibility of interest for our
generation; nor did any object seem to be served by reproducing the
technical points of the musical discussion. Enough is given, and given
as faithfully as I know how, to show the reader what _Rameau's Nephew_

     In all weathers, wet or fine, it is my practice to go, towards five
     o'clock in the evening, to take a turn in the Palais Royal. I am he
     whom you may see any afternoon sitting by himself and musing in
     D'Argenson's seat. I keep up talk with myself about politics, love,
     taste, or philosophy; I leave my mind to play the libertine
     unchecked; and it is welcome to run after the first idea that
     offers, sage or gay, just as you see our young beaux in the Foy
     passage following the steps of some gay nymph, with her saucy mien,
     face all smiles, eyes all fire, and nose a trifle turned up; then
     quitting her for another, attacking them all, but attaching
     themselves to none. My thoughts,--these are the wantons for me. If
     the weather be too cold or too wet, I take shelter in the Regency
     coffee-house. There I amuse myself by looking on while they play
     chess. Nowhere in the world do they play chess so skilfully as in
     Paris, and nowhere in Paris as they do at this coffee-house; 'tis
     here you see Légal the profound, Philidor the subtle, Mayot the
     solid; here you see the most astounding moves, and listen to the
     sorriest talk, for if a man may be at once a wit and a great
     chess-player, like Légal, you may also be a great chess-player and
     a sad simpleton, like Joubert and Mayot.

     One day I was there after dinner, watching intently, saying little,
     and hearing the very least possible, when there approached me one
     of the most eccentric figures in the country, where God has not
     made them lacking. He is a mixture of elevation and lowness, of
     good sense and madness; the notions of good and bad must be mixed
     up together in strange confusion in his head, for he shows the good
     qualities that nature has bestowed on him without any ostentation,
     and the bad ones without the smallest shame. For the rest, he is
     endowed with a vigorous frame, a particular warmth of imagination,
     and an astonishing strength of lungs. If you ever meet him, and if
     you are not arrested by his originality, you will either stuff your
     fingers into your ears, or else take to your heels. Heavens, what a
     monstrous pipe! Nothing is so little like him as himself. One time
     he is lean and wan, like a patient in the last stage of
     consumption; you could count his teeth through his cheeks; you
     would say he must have passed several days without tasting a
     morsel, or that he is fresh from La Trappe. A month after, he is
     stout and sleek, as if he had been sitting all the time at the
     board of a financier, or had been shut up in a Bernardine
     monastery. To-day in dirty linen, his clothes torn or patched, with
     barely a shoe to his foot, he steals along with a bent head; you
     are tempted to hail him and fling him a shilling. To-morrow all
     powdered, curled, in a fine coat, he marches past with head erect
     and open mien, and you would almost take him for a decent worthy
     creature. He lives from day to day, from hand to mouth, downcast or
     sad, just as things may go. His first care in a morning, when he
     gets up, is to know where he will dine; and after dinner, he begins
     to think where he may pick up a supper. Night brings disquiets of
     its own. Either he climbs to a shabby garret that he has, unless
     the landlady, weary of waiting for her rent, has taken the key away
     from him; or else he slinks to some tavern on the outskirts of the
     town, where he waits for daybreak over a piece of bread and a mug
     of beer. When he has not threepence in his pocket, as sometimes
     happens, he has recourse either to a hackney carriage belonging to
     a friend, or to the coachman of some man of quality, who gives him
     a bed on the straw beside the horses. In the morning, he still has
     bits of his mattress in his hair. If the weather is mild, he
     measures the Champs Elysées all night long. With the day he
     reappears in the town, dressed over night for the morrow, and from
     the morrow sometimes dressed for the rest of the week.

     I do not rate these originals very highly. Other people make
     familiar acquaintances, and even friends, of them. They detain me
     perhaps once in a twelvemonth, if I happen to fall in with them.
     Their character stands out from the rest of the world, and breaks
     that wearisome uniformity which our bringing-up, our social
     conventions, and our arbitrary fashions have introduced. If one of
     them makes his appearance in a company, he is a piece of leaven
     which ferments and restores to each a portion of his natural
     individuality. He stirs people up, moves them, invites to praise or
     blame; he is the means of bringing out the truth, he gives honest
     people a chance of showing themselves, he unmasks the rogues; this
     is the time when a man of sense listens, and distinguishes his

     I had known my present man long ago. He used to frequent a house to
     which his clever parts had opened the door. There was an only
     daughter. He swore to the father and mother that he would marry
     their daughter. They shrugged their shoulders, laughed in his face,
     told him he was out of his senses, and I saw in an instant that his
     business was done. He wanted to borrow a few crowns from me, which
     I gave him. He worked his way, I cannot tell how, into some houses
     where he had his plate laid for him, but on condition that he
     should never open his lips without leave. He held his tongue and
     ate away in a towering rage: it was excellent to watch him in this
     state of constraint. If he could not resist breaking the treaty,
     and ever began to open his mouth, at the first word all the guests
     called out _Rameau!_ Then fury sparkled in his eyes, and he turned
     to his plate in a worse passion than ever. You were curious to know
     the man's name, and now you know it: 'tis Rameau, pupil of the
     famous man who delivered us from the plain-song that we had been
     used to chant for over a hundred years; who wrote so many
     unintelligible visions and apocalyptic truths on the theory of
     music, of which neither he nor anybody else understood a word; and
     from whom we have a certain number of operas that are not without
     harmony, refrains, random notions, uproar, triumphs, glories,
     murmurs, breathless victories, and dance-tunes that will last to
     all eternity; and who, after burying Lulli, the Florentine, will be
     himself buried by the Italian virtuosi,--a fate that he had a
     presentiment of, which made him gloomy and chagrined; for nobody is
     in such ill-humour, not even a pretty woman who awakes with a
     pimple on her nose, as an author threatened with loss of his

     He comes up to me. Ah, ah! here you are, my philosopher! And what
     are you doing among this pack of idlers? Can it be possible that
     you too waste your time in pushing the wood?...

     _I._--No, but when I have nothing better to do, I amuse myself by
     watching people who push it well.

     _He._--In that case you are amusing yourself with a vengeance.
     Except Philidor and Légal, there is not one of them who knows
     anything about it.

     _I._--What of M. de Bussy?

     _He._--He is as a chess-player what Mademoiselle Clairon is as an
     actress; they know of their playing, one and the other, as much as
     anybody can learn.

     _I._--You are hard to please, and I see you can forgive nothing
     short of the sublimities.

     _He._--True, in chess, women, poetry, eloquence, music, and all
     such fiddle-faddle. What is the use of mediocrity in these matters?

     _I._--Little enough, I agree. But the thing is that there must be a
     great number of men at work, for us to make sure of the man of
     genius: he is one out of a multitude. But let that pass. 'Tis an
     age since I have seen you. Though I do not often think about you
     when you are out of sight, yet it is always a pleasure to me to
     meet you. What have you been about?

     _He._--What you, I, and everybody else are about--some good, some
     bad, and nothing at all. Then, I have been hungry, and I have eaten
     when opportunity offered; after eating, I have been thirsty, and
     now and then have had something to drink. Besides that, my beard
     grew, and as it grew I had it shaved.

     _I._--There you were wrong; it is the only thing wanting to make a
     sage of you.

     _He._--Ay, ay; I have a wide and furrowed brow, a glowing eye, a
     firm nose, broad cheeks, a black and bushy eyebrow, a clean cut
     mouth, a square jaw. Cover this enormous chin with amplitude of
     beard, and I warrant you it would look vastly well in marble or in

     _I._--By the side of a Cæsar, a Marcus Aurelius, a Socrates.

     _He._--Nay, I should be better between Diogenes, Laïs, and Phryne.
     I am brazenfaced as the one, and I am happy to pay a visit to the

     _I._--Are you always well?

     _He._--Yes, commonly; but I am no great wonders to-day.

     _I._--Why, you have a paunch like Silenus, and a face like....

     _He._--A face you might take for I don't know what. The ill humour
     that dries up my dear master seems to fatten his dear pupil.

     _I._--And this dear master, do you ever see him now?

     _He._--Yes, passing along the street.

     _I._--Does he do nothing for you?

     _He._--If he has done anything for anybody, it is without knowing
     it. He is a philosopher after his fashion. He thinks of nobody but
     himself. His wife and his daughter may die as soon as they please;
     provided the church bells that toll for them continue to sound the
     _twelfth_ and the _seventeenth_, all will be well. It is lucky for
     him, and that is what I especially prize in your men of genius.
     They are only good for one thing; outside of that, nothing. They do
     not know what it is to be citizens, fathers, mothers, kinsfolk,
     friends. Between ourselves, it is no bad thing to be like them at
     every point, but we should not wish the grain to become common. We
     must have men; but men of genius, no; no, on my word; of them we
     need none. 'Tis they who change the face of the globe; and in the
     smallest things folly is so common and so almighty, that you cannot
     mend it without an infinite disturbance. Part of what they have
     dreamt comes to pass, and part remains as it was; hence two
     gospels, the dress of a harlequin. The wisdom of Rabelais's moral
     is the true wisdom both for his own repose and that of other
     people: to do one's duty so so, always to speak well of the prior,
     and to let the world go as it lists. It must go well, for most
     people are content with it. If I knew history enough, I should
     prove to you that evil has always come about here below through a
     few men of genius, but I do not know history, no more than I know
     anything else. The deuce take me, if I have learnt anything, or if
     I find myself a pin the worse for not having learnt anything. I was
     one day at the table of the minister of the King of----, who has
     brains enough for four, and he showed as plain as one and one make
     two, that nothing was more useful to people than falsehood, nothing
     more mischievous than truth. I don't remember his proofs very
     clearly, but it evidently followed from them that men of genius are
     detestable, and that if a child at its birth bore on its brow the
     mark of that dangerous gift of nature, it ought to be smothered or
     else thrown to the ducks.

     _I._--Yet such people, foes as they are to genius, all lay claim to

     _He._--I daresay they think so in their own minds, but I doubt if
     they would venture to admit it.

     _I._--Ah, that is their modesty. So you conceived from that a
     frightful antipathy to genius.

     _He._--One that I shall never get over.

     _I._--Yet I have seen the time when you were in despair at the
     thought of being only a common man. You will never be happy if the
     pro and the con distress you alike. You should take your side, and
     keep to it. Though people will agree with you that men of genius
     are usually singular, or as the proverb says, _there are no great
     wits without a grain of madness_, yet they will always look down on
     ages that have produced no men of genius. They will pay honour to
     the nations among whom they have existed; sooner or later, they
     rear statues to them, and regard them as the benefactors of the
     human race. With all deference to the sublime minister whom you
     have cited, I still believe that if falsehood may sometimes be
     useful for a moment, it is surely hurtful in the long-run; and so,
     on the other hand, truth is surely useful in the long-run, though
     it may sometimes chance to be inconvenient for the moment. Whence I
     should be tempted to conclude that the man of genius who cries down
     a general error, or wins credit for a great truth, is always a
     creature that deserves our veneration. It may happen that such an
     one falls a victim to prejudice and the laws; but there are two
     sorts of laws, the one of an equity and generality that is
     absolute, the other of an incongruous kind, which owe all their
     sanction to the blindness or exigency of circumstance. The latter
     only cover the culprit who infringes them with passing ignominy, an
     ignominy that time pours back on the judges and the nations, there
     to remain for ever. Whether is Socrates, or the authority that bade
     him drink the hemlock, in the worst dishonour in our day?

     _He._--Not so fast. Was he any the less for that condemned? Or any
     the less put to death? Or any the less a bad citizen? By his
     contempt for a bad law did he any the less encourage blockheads to
     despise good ones? Or was he any the less an audacious eccentric?
     You were close there upon an admission that would have done little
     for men of genius.

     _I._--But listen to me, my good man. A society ought not to have
     bad laws, and if it had only good ones, it would never find itself
     persecuting a man of genius. I never said to you that genius was
     inseparably bound up with wickedness, any more than wickedness is
     with genius. A fool is many a time far worse than a man of parts.
     Even supposing a man of genius to be usually of a harsh carriage,
     awkward, prickly, unbearable; even if he be thoroughly bad, what
     conclusion do you draw?

     _He._--That he ought to be drowned.

     _I._--Gently, good man. Now I will not take your uncle Rameau for
     an instance; he is harsh, he is brutal, he has no humanity, he is a
     miser, he is a bad father, bad husband, bad uncle; but it has never
     been settled that he is particularly clever, that he has advanced
     his art, or that there will be any talk of his works ten years
     hence. But Racine, now? He at any rate had genius, and did not pass
     for too good a man. And Voltaire?

     _He._--Beware of pressing me, for I am not one to shrink from

     _I._--Which of the two would you prefer; that he should have been a
     worthy soul, identified with his till, like Briasson, or with his
     yard measure, like Barbier, each year producing a lawful babe, good
     husband, good father, good uncle, good neighbour, decent trader,
     but nothing more; or that he should have been treacherous,
     ambitious, envious, spiteful, but the author of _Andromaque_,
     _Britannicus_, _Iphigenie_, _Phèdre_, _Athalie_?

     _He._--For his own sake, on my word, perhaps of the two men it
     would have been a great deal better that he should have been the

     _I._--That is even infinitely more true than you think.

     _He._--Ah, there you are, you others! If we say anything good and
     to the purpose, 'tis like madmen or creatures inspired, by a
     hazard; it is only you wise people who know what you mean. Yes, my
     philosopher, I know what I mean as well as you do.

     _I._--Let us see. Now why did you say that of him?

     _He._--Because all the fine things he did never brought him twenty
     thousand francs, and if he had been a silk merchant in the Rue
     Saint Denis or Saint Honoré, a good wholesale grocer, an apothecary
     with plenty of customers, he would have amassed an immense fortune,
     and in amassing it, he could have enjoyed every pleasure in life;
     he would have thrown a pistole from time to time to a poor devil of
     a droll like me; we should have had good dinners at his house,
     played high play, drunk first-rate wines, first-rate liqueurs,
     first-rate coffee, had glorious excursions into the country. Now
     you see I know what I meant. You laugh? But let me go on. It would
     have been better for everybody about him.

     _I._--No doubt it would, provided that he had not put to unworthy
     use what gain he had made in lawful commerce, and had banished from
     his house all those gamesters, all those parasites, all those idle
     flatterers, all those depraved ne'er-do-wells, and had bidden his
     shop-boys give a sound beating to the officious creature who offers
     to play pander.

     _He._--A beating, sir, a beating! No one is beaten in any
     well-governed town. It is a decent enough trade; plenty of people
     with fine titles meddle with it. And what the deuce would you have
     him do with his money, if he is not to have a good table, good
     company, good wines, handsome women, pleasures of every colour,
     diversion of every sort? I would as lief be a beggar as possess a
     mighty fortune without any of these enjoyments. But go back to
     Racine. He was only good for people who did not know him, and for a
     time when he had ceased to exist.

     _I._--Granted, but weigh the good and bad. A thousand years from
     now he will draw tears, he will be the admiration of men in all the
     countries of the earth; he will inspire compassion, tenderness,
     pity. They will ask who he was, and to what land he belonged, and
     France will be envied. He brought suffering on one or two people
     who are dead, and in whom we take hardly any interest; we have
     nothing to fear from his vices or his foibles. It would have been
     better, no doubt, that he should have received from nature the
     virtues of a good man, instead of the talents of a great one. He is
     a tree which made a few other trees planted near him wither up, and
     which smothered the plants that grew at his feet; but he reared his
     height to the clouds, and his branches spread far; he lends his
     shadow to all who came, or come now, or ever shall come, to repose
     by his majestic trunk; he brought forth fruits of exquisite savour
     which are renewed again and again without ceasing.

     We might wish that Voltaire had the mildness of Duclos, the
     ingenuousness of the Abbé Trublet, the rectitude of the Abbé
     d'Olivet. But as that cannot be, let us look at the thing on the
     side of it that is really interesting; let us forget for an instant
     the point we occupy in space and time, and let us extend our
     vision over centuries to come, and peoples yet unborn, and distant
     lands yet unvisited. Let us think of the good of our race: if we
     are not generous enough, at least let us forgive nature for being
     wiser than ourselves. If you throw cold water on Greuze's head,
     very likely you will extinguish his talent along with his vanity.
     If you make Voltaire less sensitive to criticism, he will lose the
     art that took him to the inmost depths of the soul of Merope, and
     will never stir a single emotion in you more.

     _He._--But if nature be as powerful as she is wise, why did she not
     make them as good as she made them great?

     _I._--Do you not see how such reasoning as that overturns the
     general order, and that if all were excellent here below, then
     there would be nothing excellent.

     _He._--You are right. The important point is that you and I should
     be here; provided only that you and I are you and I, then let all
     besides go as it can. The best order of things, in my notion, is
     that in which I was to have a place, and a plague on the most
     perfect of worlds, if I don't belong to it! I would rather exist,
     and even be a bad hand at reasoning, than not exist at all.

     _I._--There is nobody but thinks as you do, and whoever brings his
     indictment against the order of things, forgets that he is
     renouncing his own existence.

     _He._--That is true.

     _I._--So let us accept things as they are; let us see how much they
     cost us and how much they give us, and leave the whole as it is,
     for we do not know it well enough either to praise or blame it; and
     perhaps after all it is neither good nor ill, if it is necessary,
     as so many good folk suppose.

     _He._--Now you are going beyond me. What you say seems like
     philosophy, and I warn you that I never meddle with that. All that
     I know is that I should be very well pleased to be somebody else,
     on the chance of being a genius and a great man; yes, I must agree.
     I have something here that tells me so. I never in my life heard a
     man praised, that his eulogy did not fill me with secret fury. I am
     full of envy. If I hear something about their private life that is
     a discredit to them, I listen with pleasure: it brings us nearer to
     a level; I bear my mediocrity more comfortably. I say to myself:
     Ah, thou couldst never have done _Mahomet_, nor the eulogy on
     Maupeou. So I have always been, and I always shall be, mortified at
     my own mediocrity. Yes, I tell you I am mediocre, and it provokes
     me. I never heard the overture to the _Indes galantes_ performed,
     nor the _Profonds abîmes de Ténare, Nuit, eternelle nuit_, sung
     without saying to myself: That is what thou wilt never do. So I was
     jealous of my uncle.

     _I._--If that is the only thing that chagrins you, it is hardly
     worth the trouble.

     _He._--'Tis nothing, only a passing humour. [Then he set himself to
     hum the overture and the air he had spoken of, and went on:]

     The something which is here and speaks to me says: Rameau, thou
     wouldst fain have written those two pieces: if thou hadst done
     those two pieces, thou wouldst soon do two others; and after thou
     hadst done a certain number, they would play thee and sing thee
     everywhere. In walking, thou wouldst hold thy head erect, thy
     conscience would testify within thy bosom to thy own merit; the
     others would point thee out, There goes the man who wrote the
     pretty gavottes [and he hummed the gavottes. Then with the air of a
     man bathed in delight and his eyes shining with it, he went on,
     rubbing his hands:] Thou shalt have a fine house [he marked out its
     size with his arms], a famous bed [he stretched himself luxuriously
     upon it], capital wines [he sipped them in imagination, smacking
     his lips], a handsome equipage [he raised his foot as if to mount],
     a hundred varlets who will come to offer thee fresh incense every
     day [and he fancied he saw them all around him, Palissot,
     Poinsinet, the two Frérons, Laporte, he heard them, approved of
     them, smiled at them, contemptuously repulsed them, drove them
     away, called them back; then he continued:] And it is thus they
     would tell thee on getting up in a morning that thou art a great
     man; thou wouldst read in the _Histoire des Trois Siècles_ that
     thou art a great man, thou wouldst be convinced of an evening that
     thou art a great man, and the great man Rameau would fall asleep to
     the soft murmur of the eulogy that would ring in his ears; even as
     he slept he would have a complacent air; his chest would expand,
     and rise, and fall with comfort; he would move like a great man ...
     [and as he talked he let himself sink softly on a bench, he closed
     his eyes, and imitated the blissful sleep that his mind was
     picturing. After relishing the sweetness of this repose for a few
     instants he awoke, stretched his arms, yawned, rubbed his eyes, and
     looked about him for his pack of vapid flatterers].

     _I._--You think, then, the happy mortal has his sleep?

     _He._--Think so! A sorry wretch like me! At night when I get back
     to my garret, and burrow in my truckle-bed, I shrink up under my
     blanket, my chest is all compressed, and I can hardly breathe; it
     seems like a moan that you can barely hear. Now a banker makes the
     room ring and astonishes a whole street. But what afflicts me
     to-day, is not that I snore and sleep meanly and shabbily, like a
     paltry outcast.

     _I._--Yet that is a sorry thing enough.

     _He._--What has befallen me is still more so.

     _I._--What is that?

     _He._--You have always taken some interest in me, because I am a
     _bon diable_, whom you rather despise at bottom, but who diverts

     _I._--Well, that is the plain truth.

     _He._--I will tell you. [Before beginning he heaved a profound
     sigh, and clasped his brow with his two hands. Then he recovers his
     tranquillity and says:]

     You know that I am an ignoramus, a fool, a madman, an impertinent,
     a sluggard, a glutton....

     _I._--What a panegyric!

     _He._--'Tis true to the letter, there is not a word to take away;
     prithee, no debate on that. No one knows me better. I know myself
     and I do not tell the whole.

     _I._--I have no wish to cross you, and I will agree to anything.

     _He._--Well, I used to live with people, who took a liking for me,
     plainly because I was gifted with all these qualities to such a
     rare degree.

     _I._--That is curious. Until now I always thought that people hid
     these things even from themselves, or else that they granted
     themselves pardon, while they despised them in others.

     _He._--Hide them from themselves! Can men do that? You may be sure
     that when Palissot is all alone and returns upon himself, he tells
     a very different tale; you may be sure that when he talks quietly
     with his colleague, they candidly admit that they are only a pair
     of mighty rogues. Despise such things in others! My people were far
     more equitable, and they took my character for a perfect nonesuch;
     I was in clover; they feasted me, they did not lose me from their
     sight for a single instant without sighing for my return. I was
     their excellent Rameau, their dear Rameau, their Rameau the mad,
     the impertinent, the lazy, the greedy, the merry-man, the lout.
     There was not one of these epithets which did not bring me a smile,
     a caress, a tap on the shoulder, a cuff, a kick; at table, a titbit
     tossed on to my plate; away from the table, a freedom that I took
     without consequences, for, do you see, I am a man without
     consequence. They do with me and before me and at me whatever they
     like, without my standing on any ceremony. And the little presents
     that showered on me! The great hound that I am, I have lost all! I
     have lost all for having had common sense once, one single time in
     my life. Ah! if that ever chances again!

     _I._--What was the matter, then?

     _He._--Rameau, Rameau, did they ever take you for that? The folly
     of having had a little taste, a trifle of wit, a spice of reason;
     Rameau, my friend, that will teach you the difference between what
     God made you, and what your protectors wanted you to be. So they
     took you by the shoulder, they led you to the door, and cried: "Be
     off, rascal; never appear more. He would fain have sense, reason,
     wit, I declare! Off with you; we have all these qualities and to
     spare!" You went away biting your thumb; it was your infernal
     tongue, that you ought to have bitten before all this. For not
     bethinking you of that, here you are in the gutter without a
     farthing, or a place to lay your head. You were well housed, and
     now you will be lucky if you get your garret again; you had a good
     bed, and now a truss of straw awaits you between M. de Soubise's
     coachman and friend Robbé. Instead of the gentle quiet slumber that
     you had, you will have the neighing and stamping of horses all
     night long--you wretch, idiot, possessed by a million devils!

     _I._--But is there no way of setting things straight? Is the fault
     you committed so unpardonable? If I were you, I should go find my
     people again. You are more indispensable to them than you suppose.

     _He._--Oh, as for that, I know that now they have me no longer to
     make fun for them, they are dull as ditch-water.

     _I._--Then I should go back: I would not give them time enough to
     learn how to get on without me, or to turn to some more decent
     amusement. For who knows what may happen?

     _He._--That is not what I am afraid of: that will never come to

     _I._--But sublime as you may be, some one else may replace you.


     _I._--Hardly, it is true. Still I would go with that lacklustre
     face, those haggard eyes, that open breast, that tumbled hair, in
     that downright tragic state in which you are now. I would throw
     myself at the feet of the divinity, and without rising I would say
     with a low and sobbing voice: "Forgive me, madam! Forgive me! I am
     the vilest of creatures. It was only one unfortunate moment, for
     you know I am not subject to common sense, and I promise you, I
     will never have it again so long as I live."

     [The diverting part of it was that, while I discoursed to him in
     this way, he executed it pantomimically, and threw himself on the
     ground; with his eyes fixed on the earth, he seemed to hold between
     his two hands the tip of a slipper, he wept, he sobbed, he cried:
     "Yes, my queen, yes, I promise, I never will, so long as I live, so
     long as ever I live...." Then recovering himself abruptly, he went
     on in a serious and deliberate tone:]

     _He._--Yes, you are right; I see it is the best. Yet to go and
     humiliate one's self before a hussy, cry for mercy at the feet of a
     little actress with the hisses of the pit for ever in her ears! I,
     Rameau, son of Rameau, the apothecary of Dijon, who is a good man
     and never yet bent his knee to a creature in the world! I, Rameau,
     who have composed pieces for the piano that nobody plays, but which
     will perhaps be the only pieces ever to reach posterity, and
     posterity will play them--I, I, must go! Stay, sir, it cannot be
     [and striking his right hand on his breast, he went on:] I feel
     here something that rises and tells me: Never, Rameau, never. There
     must be a certain dignity attached to human nature that nothing can
     stifle; it awakes _à propos des bottes_; you cannot explain it; for
     there are other days when it would cost me not a pang to be as vile
     as you like, and for a halfpenny there is nothing too dirty for me
     to do.

     _I._--Then if the expedient I have suggested to you is not to your
     taste, have courage enough to remain a beggar.

     _He._--'Tis hard being a beggar, while there are so many rich
     fools at whose expense one can live. And the contempt for one's
     self, it is insupportable.

     _I._--Do you know that sentiment?

     _He._--Know it! How many times have I said to myself: What, Rameau,
     there are ten thousand good tables in Paris, with fifteen or twenty
     covers apiece, and of these covers not one for thee! There are
     purses full of gold which is poured out right and left, and not a
     crown of it falls to thee! A thousand witlings without parts and
     without worth, a thousand paltry creatures without a charm, a
     thousand scurvy intriguers, are all well clad, while thou must go
     bare! Canst thou be such a nincompoop as all this? Couldst thou not
     flatter as well as anybody else? Couldst thou not find out how to
     lie, swear, forswear, promise, keep or break, like anybody else?
     Couldst thou not favour the intrigue of my lady, and carry the
     love-letter of my lord, like anybody else? Couldst thou not find
     out the trick of making some shopkeeper's daughter understand how
     shabbily dressed she is, how two fine earrings, a touch of rouge,
     some lace, and a Polish gown would make her ravishing; that those
     little feet were not made for trudging through the mud; that there
     is a handsome gentleman, young, rich, in a coat covered with lace,
     with a superb carriage and six fine lackeys, who once saw her as he
     passed, who thought her charming and wonderful, and that ever since
     that day he has taken neither bite nor sup, cannot sleep at nights,
     and will surely die of it?... He comes, he pleases, the little maid
     vanishes, and I pocket my two thousand crowns. What, thou hast a
     talent like this, and yet in want of bread? Shame on thee, wretch!
     I recalled a crowd of scoundrels who were not a patch upon me, and
     yet were rolling in money. There was I in serge, and they in
     velvet; they leaned on gold-headed canes, and had fine rings on
     their fingers. And what were they? Wretched bungling strummers, and
     now they are a kind of fine gentlemen. At such times I felt full of
     courage, my soul inflamed and elevated, my wits alert and subtle,
     and capable of anything in the world. But this happy turn did not
     last, it would seem, for so far I have not been able to make much
     way. However that may be, there is the text of my frequent
     soliloquies, which you may paraphrase as you choose, provided you
     are sure that I know what self-contempt is, and that torture of
     conscience which comes of the usefulness of the gifts that heaven
     has bestowed on us; that is the cruellest stroke of all. A man
     might almost as well never have been born.

     [I had listened to him all the time, and as he enacted the scene
     with the poor girl, with my heart moved by two conflicting
     emotions, I did not know whether to give myself up to the longing I
     had to laugh, or to a transport of indignation. I was distressingly
     perplexed between two humours; twenty times an uncontrollable burst
     of laughter kept my anger back, and twenty times the anger that was
     rising from the bottom of my soul suddenly ended in a burst of
     laughter. I was confounded by so much shrewdness and so much
     vileness, by ideas now so just and then so false, by such general
     perversity of sentiments, such complete turpitude, and such
     marvellously uncommon frankness. He perceived the struggle going on
     within me:] What ails you? said he.


     _He._--You seem to be disturbed.

     _I._--And I am.

     _He._--But now, after all, what do you advise me to do?

     _I._--To change your way of talking. You unfortunate soul, to what
     abject state have you fallen!

     _He._--I admit it. And yet, do not let my state touch you too
     deeply; I had no intention, in opening my mind to you, to give you
     pain. I managed to scrape up a few savings when I was with the
     people. Remember that I wanted nothing, not a thing, and they made
     me a certain allowance for pocket-money.

     [He again began to tap his brow with one of his fists, to bite his
     lips, and to roll his eyes towards the ceiling, going on to say:]

     But 'tis all over; I have put something aside; time has passed, and
     that is always so much gained.

     _I._--So much lost, you mean.

     _He._--No, no; gained. People grow rich every moment; a day less to
     live, or a crown to the good, 'tis all one. When the last moment
     comes, one is as rich as another; Samuel Bernard, who by pillaging
     and stealing and playing bankrupt, leaves seven and twenty million
     francs in gold, is just like Rameau, who leaves not a penny, and
     will be indebted to charity for a shroud to wrap round him. The
     dead man hears not the tolling of the bell; 'tis in vain that a
     hundred priests bawl dirges for him, and that a long file of
     blazing torches go before: his soul walks not by the side of the
     master of the ceremonies. To moulder under marble, or to moulder
     under clay, 'tis still to moulder. To have around one's bier
     children in red and children in blue, or to have not a creature,
     what matters it? And then, look at this wrist, it was stiff as the
     devil; the ten fingers, they were so many sticks fastened into a
     metacarpus made of wood; and these muscles were like old strings of
     catgut, drier, stiffer, harder to bend than if that they had been
     used for a turner's wheel; but I have so twisted and broken and
     bent them. What, thou wilt not go? And I say that thou shalt....

     [And at this, with his right hand he seized the fingers and wrist
     of his left hand, and turned them first up and then down. The
     extremity of the fingers touched the arm, till the joints cracked
     again. I was afraid every instant that the bones would remain

     _I._--Take care, you will do yourself a mischief.

     _He._--Don't be afraid, they are used to it. For ten years I have
     given it them in a very different style. They had to accustom
     themselves to it, however they liked it, and to learn to find their
     place on the keys and to leap over the strings. So now they go
     where they must.

     [At the same moment he threw himself into the attitude of a
     violin-player; he hummed an allegro of Locatelli's; his right arm
     imitated the movement of the bow; his left hand and his fingers
     seemed to be feeling along the handle. If he makes a false note, he
     stops, tightens or slackens his string, and strikes it with his
     nail, to make sure of its being in tune, and then takes up the
     piece where he left off. He beats time with his foot, moves his
     head, his feet, his hands, his arms, his body, as you may have seen
     Ferrari or Chiabran, or some other virtuoso in the same
     convulsions, presenting the image of the same torture, and giving
     me nearly as much pain; for is it not a painful thing to watch the
     torture of a man who is busy painting pleasure for my benefit? Draw
     a curtain to hide the man from me, if he must show me the spectacle
     of a victim on the rack. In the midst of all these agitations and
     cries, if there occurred one of those harmonious passages where the
     bow moves slowly over several of the strings at once, his face put
     on an air of ecstasy, his voice softened, he listened to himself
     with perfect ravishment; it is undoubted that the chorus sounded
     both in his ears and mine. Then replacing his imaginary instrument
     under his left arm with the same hand by which he held it, and
     letting his right hand drop with the bow in it, said:]

     Well, what do you think of it?


     _He._--Not bad, I fancy; it sounds pretty much like the others....
     [And then he stooped down, like a musician placing himself at the

     _I._--Nay, I beg you to be merciful both to me and to yourself.

     _He._--No, no; now that I have got you, you shall hear me. I will
     have no vote that is given without your knowing why. You will say a
     good word for me with more confidence, and that will be worth a
     new pupil to me.

     _I._--But I am so little in the world, and you will tire yourself
     all to no purpose.

     _He._--I am never tired.

     [As I saw that it was useless to have pity on my man, for the
     sonata on the violin had bathed him in perspiration, I resolved to
     let him do as he would. So behold him seated at the piano, his legs
     bent, his head thrown back towards the ceiling, where you would
     have thought he saw a score written up, humming, preluding, dashing
     off a piece of Alberti's or Galuppi's, I forget which. His voice
     went like the wind, and his fingers leapt over the imaginary keys.
     The various passions succeeded one another on his face; you
     observed on it tenderness, anger, pleasure, sorrow; you felt the
     piano notes, the forte notes, and I am sure that a more skilful
     musician than myself would have recognised the piece by the
     movement and the character, by his gestures, and by a few notes of
     airs which escaped from him now and again. But the absurd thing was
     to see him from time to time hesitate and take himself up as if he
     had gone wrong.]

     Now, you perceive, said he, rising and wiping away the drops of
     sweat which rolled down his cheeks, that we know how to place our
     third, our superfluous fifth, and that we know all about our
     dominants. Those enharmonic passages, about which the dear uncle
     makes such fuss, they are not like having the sea to swallow; we
     can manage them well enough.

     _I._--You have given yourself a great deal of trouble to show me
     that you are uncommonly clever; but I would have taken your word
     for it.

     _He._--Uncommonly clever; oh no! For my trade, I know it decently,
     and that is more than one wants; for in this country is one obliged
     to know all that one shows?

     _I._--No more than to know all that one teaches.

     _He._--That is true, most thoroughly true. Now, sir philosopher,
     your hand on your conscience, speak the truth; there was a time
     when you were not a man of such substance as you are to-day.

     _I._--I am not so very substantial even now.

     _He._--But you would not go now to the Luxembourg in
     summer-time.... You remember?

     _I._--No more of that. Yes, I do remember.

     _He._--In an overcoat of gray shag?

     _I._--Ay, ay.

     _He._--Terribly worn at one side, with one of the sleeves torn; and
     black woollen stockings mended at the back with white thread.

     _I._--Yes, anything you like.

     _He._--What were you doing in the alley of Sighs?

     _I._--Cutting a shabby figure enough, I daresay.

     _He._--You used to give lessons in mathematics?

     _I._--Without knowing a word about them. Is not that what you want
     to come to?

     _He._--Exactly so.

     _I._--I learnt by teaching others, and I turned out some good

     _He_--That may be; but music is not like algebra or geometry. Now
     that you are a substantial personage....

     _I._--Not so substantial, I tell you.

     _He._--And have a good lining to your purse....

     _I._--Not so good.

     _He._--Let your daughter have masters.

     _I._--Not yet; it is her mother who looks to her education, for one
     must have peace in one's house.

     _He._--Peace in one's house? You have only that, when you are
     either master or servant, and it should be master. I had a
     wife--may heaven bless her soul--but when it happened sometimes
     that she played malapert, I used to mount the high horse, and bring
     out my thunder. I used to say like the Creator: Let there be light,
     and there was light. So for four years we had not ten times in all
     one word higher than another. How old is your child?

     _I._--That has nothing to do with the matter.

     _He._--How old is your child, I say?

     _I._--The devil take you, leave my child and her age alone, and
     return to the master she is to have.

     _He._--I know nothing so pig-headed as a philosopher. In all
     humility and supplication, might one not know from his highness the
     philosopher, about what age her ladyship, his daughter, may be?

     _I._--I suppose she is eight.

     _He._--Eight! Then four years ago she ought to have had her fingers
     on the keys.

     _I._--But perhaps I have no fancy for including in the scheme of
     her education a study that takes so much time and is good for so

     _He._--And what will you teach her, if you please?

     _I._--To reason justly, if I can; a thing so uncommon among men,
     and more uncommon still among women.

     _He._--Oh, let her reason as ill as she chooses, if she is only
     pretty, amusing, and coquettish.

     _I._--As nature has been unkind enough to give her a delicate
     organisation with a very sensitive soul, and to expose her to the
     same troubles in life as if she had a strong organisation and a
     heart of bronze, I will teach her, if I can, to bear them

     _He._--Let her weep and give herself airs, and have nerves all on
     edge like the rest, if only she is pretty, amusing, and coquettish.
     What, is she to learn no dancing nor deportment?

     _I._--Yes, just enough to make a curtsey, to have a good carriage,
     to enter a room gracefully, and to know how to walk.

     _He._--No singing?

     _I._--Just enough to pronounce her words well.

     _He._--No music?

     _I._--If there were a good teacher of harmony, I would gladly
     entrust her to him two hours a day for two or three years, not any

     _He._--And instead of the essential things that you are going to

     _I._--I place grammar, fables, history, geography, a little
     drawing, and a great deal of morality.

     _He._--How easy it would be for me to prove to you the uselessness
     of all such knowledge in a world like ours? Uselessness, do I say?
     Perhaps even the danger! But I will for the moment ask you a single
     question, will she not require one or two masters?

     _I._--No doubt.

     _He._--And you hope that these masters will know the grammar, the
     fables, the history, the geography, the morality, in which they
     will give her lessons? Moonshine, my dear mentor, sheer moonshine!
     If they knew these things well enough to teach them to other
     people, they never would teach them?

     _I._--And why?

     _He._--Because they would have spent all their lives in studying
     them. It is necessary to be profound in art and science, to know
     its elements thoroughly. Classical books can only be well done by
     those who have grown gray in harness; it is the middle and the end
     which light up the darkness of the beginning. Ask your friend
     D'Alembert, the coryphæus of mathematics, if he thinks himself too
     good to write about the elements. It was not till after thirty or
     forty years of practice that my uncle got a glimpse of the
     profundities and the first rays of light in musical theory.

     _I._--O madman, arch-madman, I cried, how comes it that in thine
     evil head such just ideas go pell-mell with such a mass of

     _He._--Who on earth can find that out? 'Tis chance that flings them
     to you, and they remain. If you do not know the whole of a thing,
     you know none of it well; you do not know whither one thing leads,
     nor whence another has come, where this and that should be placed,
     which ought to pass the first, and where the second would be best.
     Can you teach well without method? And method, whence comes that? I
     vow to you, my dear philosopher, I have a notion that physics will
     always be a poor science, a drop of water raised by a needle-point
     from the vast ocean, a grain loosened from an Alpine chain. And
     then, seeking the reasons of phenomena! In truth, one might every
     whit as well be ignorant, as know so little and know it so ill; and
     that was exactly my doctrine when I gave myself out for a
     music-master. What are you musing over?

     _I._--I am thinking that all you have told me is more specious than
     solid. But that is no matter. You taught, you say, accompaniment
     and composition.


     _I._--And you knew nothing about either.

     _He._--No, i' faith; and that is why there were worse than I was,
     namely those who fancied they knew something. At any rate, I did
     not spoil either the child's taste or its hands. When they passed
     from me to a good master, if they had learnt nothing, at all events
     they had nothing to unlearn, and that was always so much time and
     so much money saved.

     _I._--What did you do?

     _He._--What they all do! I got there, I threw myself into a chair.
     "What shocking weather! How tiring the streets are!" Then some
     gossip: "Mademoiselle Lemierre was to have taken the part of Vestal
     in the new opera, but she is in an interesting condition for the
     second time, and they do not know who will take her place.
     Mademoiselle Arnould has just left her little Count: they say she
     is negotiating with Bertin.... That poor Dumesnil no longer knows
     either what he is saying or what he is doing.... Now, Miss, take
     your book." While Miss, who is in no hurry, is looking for her
     book, which is lost, while they call the housemaid and scold and
     make a great stir, I continue--"The Clairon is really
     incomprehensible. They talk of a marriage which is outrageously
     absurd: 'tis that of Miss ... what is her name? a little creature
     that used to live with so and so, etcetera, etcetera:--Come,
     Rameau, you are talking nonsense; it is impossible.--I don't talk
     nonsense at all; they even say it is done. There is a rumour that
     Voltaire is dead, and so much the better.--And pray, why so much
     the better?--Because he must be going to give us something more
     laughable than usual; it is always his custom to die a fortnight
     before." What more shall I tell you? I used to tell certain
     naughtinesses that I brought from houses where I had been, for we
     are all of us great fetchers and carriers. I played the madman,
     they listened to me, they laughed, they called out: How charming he
     is! Meanwhile Missy's book had been found under the sofa, where it
     had been pulled about, gnawed, torn by a puppy or a kitten. She sat
     down to the piano. At first she made a noise on it by herself; then
     I went towards her, after giving her mother a sign of approbation.
     The mother: "That is not bad; people have only to be in earnest,
     but they are not in earnest; they would rather waste their time in
     chattering, in disarranging things, in gadding hither and thither,
     and I know not what besides. Your back is no sooner turned, M.
     Rameau, than the book is shut up, not to be opened until your next
     visit; still you never scold her." Then, as something had to be
     done, I took hold of her hands and placed them differently; I got
     out of temper, I called out "_Sol, Sol, Sol_, Miss, it is a _Sol_."
     The mother: "Have you no ear? I am not at the piano, and I can't
     see your book, yet I know it ought to be a _Sol_. You are most
     troublesome to your teacher; I can't tell how he is so patient; you
     do not remember a word of what he says to you; you make no
     progress...." Then I would lower my tone rather, and throwing my
     head on one side, would say: "Pardon me, madam, all would go very
     well if the young lady liked, if she only studied a little more;
     but it is not bad." The mother: "If I were you, I should keep her
     at one piece for a whole year." "Oh, as for that, she shall not
     leave it before she has mastered every difficulty, and that will
     not be as long as you may think." "Monsieur Rameau, you flatter
     her, you are too good. That is the only part of the lesson which
     she will keep in mind, and she will take care to repeat it to me
     upon occasion...." And so the time got over; my pupil presented me
     my little fee, with the curtsey she had learnt from the dancing
     master. I put it into my pocket while the mother said: "Very well
     done, mademoiselle; if Favillier were here, he would applaud you."
     I chattered a moment or two for politeness' sake, and behold, that
     was what they call a music lesson.

     _I._--Well, and now it is quite another thing?

     _He._--Another thing! I should think so, indeed. I get there. I am
     deadly grave; I take off my cuffs hastily, I open the piano, I run
     my fingers over the keys, I am always in a desperate hurry. If they
     keep me waiting a moment, I cry out as if they were robbing me of a
     crown piece: in an hour from now I must be so and so; in two hours,
     with the duchess of so and so; I am expected to dine with a
     handsome marchioness, and then, on leaving her, there is a concert
     at the baron's....

     _I._--And all the time nobody is expecting you anywhere at all?


     _I._--What vile arts!

     _He._--Vile, forsooth! Why vile? They are customary among people
     like me; I don't lower myself in doing like everybody else. I was
     not the inventor of them, and it would be most absurd and stupid in
     me not to conform to them. Of course, I know very well that if you
     go to certain principles of some morality or other, which all the
     world have in their mouths, and which none of them practise, you
     will find black is white, and white will become black. But, my
     philosopher, there is a general conscience, just as there is a
     general grammar; and then the exceptions in each language that you
     learned people call--what is it you call them?


     _He._--Ah, exactly; well, each condition of life has its exceptions
     to the general conscience, to which I should like to give the title
     of idioms of vocation.

     _I._--I understand. Fontenelle speaks well, writes well, though his
     style swarms with French _idioms_.

     _He._--And the sovereign, the minister, the banker, the magistrate,
     the soldier, the man of letters, the lawyer, the merchant, the
     artisan, the singing master, the dancing master, are all most
     worthy folk, though their practice strays in some points from the
     general conscience, and abounds in moral idioms. The older the
     institution, the more the idioms; the worse the times, the more do
     idioms multiply. The man is worth so much, his trade is worth the
     same; and reciprocally. At last, the trade counts for so much, the
     man for the same. So people take care to make the trade go for as
     much as they can.

     _I._--All that I gather clearly from this twisted stuff is, that
     there are very few callings honestly carried on, and very few
     honest men in their callings.

     _He._--Good, there are none at all; but in revenge, there are few
     rogues out of their own shops; and all would go excellently but for
     a certain number of persons who are called assiduous, exact,
     fulfilling their strict duty most rigorously, or, what comes to the
     same thing, for ever in their shops, and carrying on their trade
     from morning until night, and doing nothing else in the world. So
     they are the only people who grow rich and are esteemed.

     _I._--By force of idioms.

     _He._--That is it; I see you understand me. Now, an idiom that
     belongs to nearly all conditions--for there are some that are
     common to all countries and all times, just as there are follies
     that are universal--a common idiom, is to procure for one's self as
     many customers as one possibly can; a common folly is to believe
     that he is cleverest who has most of them. There are two
     exceptions to the general conscience, with which you must comply.
     There is a kind of credit; it is nothing in itself, but it is made
     worth something by opinion. They say, _good character is better
     than golden girdle_: yet the man who has a good character has not a
     golden girdle, and I see nowadays that the golden girdle hardly
     stands in much need of character. One ought, if possible, to have
     both girdle and character, and that is my object when I give myself
     importance by what you describe as vile arts, and poor unworthy
     tricks. I give my lesson and I give it well; behold the general
     rule. I make them think I have more lessons to give than the day
     has hours; behold the idiom.

     _I._--And the lesson; you do give it well?

     _He._--Yes, not ill; passably. The thorough bass of the dear master
     has simplified all that. In old days I used to steal my pupil's
     money. Yes, I stole it, that is certain; now I earn it, at least
     like my neighbours.

     _I._--And did you steal it without remorse?

     _He._--Oh, without remorse. They say that if one thief pilfers from
     another, the devil laughs. The parents were bursting with a
     fortune, which had been got the Lord knows how. They were people
     about the court, financiers, great merchants, bankers. I helped to
     make them disgorge, I and the rest of the people they employed. In
     nature, all species devour one another; so all ranks devour one
     another in society. We do justice on one another, without any
     meddling from the law. The other day it was Deschamps, now it is
     Guimard, who avenges the prince of the financier; and it is the
     milliner, the jeweller, the upholsterer, the hosier, the draper,
     the lady's-maid, the cook, the saddler, who avenge the financier of
     Deschamps. In the midst of it all, there is only the imbecile or
     the sloth who suffers injury without inflicting it. Whence you see
     that these exceptions to the general conscience, or these moral
     idioms about which they make such a stir, are nothing, after all,
     and that you only need to take a clear survey of the whole.

     _I._--I admire yours.

     _He._--And then misery! The voice of conscience and of honour is
     terribly weak, when the stomach calls out. Enough to say that if
     ever I grow rich I shall be bound to restore, and I have made up my
     mind to restore in every possible fashion, by eating, drinking,
     gambling, and whatever else you please.

     _I._--I have some fears about your ever growing rich.

     _He._--I have suspicions myself.

     _I._--But if things should fall so, what then?

     _He._--I would do like all other beggars set on horseback: I would
     be the most insolent ruffler that has ever been seen. Then I should
     recall all that they have made me go through, and should pay them
     back with good interest all the advances that they have been good
     enough to make me. I am fond of command, and I will command. I am
     fond of praise, and I will make them praise me. I will have in my
     pay the whole troop of flatterers, parasites, and buffoons, and
     I'll say to them, as has been said to me: "Come, knaves, let me be
     amused," and amused I shall be; "Pull me some honest folk to
     pieces," and so they will be, if honest folk can be found. We will
     be jolly over our cups, we will have all sorts of vices and
     whimsies; it will be delicious. We will prove that Voltaire has no
     genius; that Buffon, everlastingly perched upon his stilts, is only
     a turgid declaimer; that Montesquieu is nothing more than a man
     with a touch of ingenuity; we will send D'Alembert packing to his
     fusty mathematics. We will welcome before and behind all the pigmy
     Catos like you, whose modesty is the prop of pride, and whose
     sobriety is a fine name for not being able to help yourselves.

     _I._--From the worthy use to which you would put your riches, I
     perceive what a pity it is that you are a beggar. You would live
     thus in a manner that would be eminently honourable to the human
     race, eminently useful to your countrymen, and eminently glorious
     for yourself.

     _He._--You are mocking me, sir philosopher. But you do not know
     whom you are laughing at. You do not suspect that at this moment I
     represent the most important part of the town and the court. Our
     millionaires in all ranks have, or have not, said to themselves
     exactly the same things as I have just confided to you; but the
     fact is, the life that I should lead is precisely their life. What
     a notion you people have; you think that the same sort of happiness
     is made for all the world. What a strange vision! Yours supposes a
     certain romantic spirit that we know nothing of, a singular
     character, a peculiar taste. You adorn this incongruous mixture
     with the name of philosophy; but now, are virtue and philosophy
     made for all the world? He has them who can get them, and he keeps
     them who can. Imagine the universe sage and philosophical; agree
     that it would be a most diabolically gloomy spot. Come, long live
     philosophy! The wisdom of Solomon for ever! To drink good wines, to
     cram one's self with dainty dishes, to rest in beds of down: except
     that, all, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.

     _I._--What, to defend one's native land?

     _He._--Vanity; there is native land no more; I see nought from pole
     to pole but tyrants and slaves.

     _I._--To help one's friends?

     _He._--Vanity; has one any friends? If one had, ought we to turn
     them into ingrates? Look well, and you will see that this is all
     you get by doing services. Gratitude is a burden, and every burden
     is made to be shaken off.

     _I._--To have a position in society and fulfil its duties?

     _He._--Vanity; what matters it whether you have a position or not,
     provided you are rich, since you only seek a position to become
     rich? To fulfil one's duties, what does that lead to? To jealousy,
     trouble, persecution. Is that the way to get on? Nay, indeed: to
     see the great, to court them, study their taste, bow to their
     fancies, serve their vices, praise their injustice--there is the

     _I._--To watch the education of one's children?

     _He._--Vanity; that is a tutor's business.

     _I._--But if this tutor, having picked up his principles from you,
     happens to neglect his duties, who will pay the penalty?

     _He._--Not I, at any rate, but most likely the husband of my
     daughter, or the wife of my son.

     _I._--But suppose that they both plunge into vice and debauchery?

     _He._--That belongs to their position.

     _I._--Suppose they bring themselves into dishonour?

     _He._--You never come into dishonour, if you are rich, whatever you

     _I._--Suppose they ruin themselves?

     _He._--So much the worse for them.

     _I._--You will not pay much heed to your wife?

     _He._--None whatever, if you please. The best compliment, I think,
     that a man can pay his dearer half, is to do what pleases himself.
     In your opinion, would not society be mightily amusing if everybody
     in it was always attending to his duties?

     _I._--Why not? The evening is never so fair to me as when I am
     satisfied with my morning.

     _He._--And to me also.

     _I._--What makes the men of the world so dainty in their
     amusements, is their profound idleness.

     _He._--Pray do not think that; they are full of trouble.

     _I._--As they never tire themselves, they are never refreshed.

     _He._--Don't suppose that either. They are incessantly worn out.

     _I._--Pleasure is always a business for them, never the
     satisfaction of a necessity.

     _He._--So much the better; necessity is always a trouble.

     _I._--They wear everything out. Their soul gets blunted, weariness
     seizes them. A man who should take their life in the midst of all
     their crushing abundance would do them a kindness. The only part of
     happiness that they know is the part that loses its edge. I do not
     despise the pleasures of the senses: I have a palate, too, and it
     is tickled by a well-seasoned dish or a fine wine; I have a heart
     and eyes, and I like to see a handsome woman. Sometimes with my
     friends, a gay party, even if it waxes somewhat tumultuous, does
     not displease me. But I will not dissemble from you that it is
     infinitely pleasanter to me to have succoured the unfortunate, to
     have ended some thorny business, to have given wholesome counsel,
     done some pleasant reading, taken a walk with some man or woman
     dear to me, passed instructive hours with my children, written a
     good page, fulfilled the duties of my position, said to the woman
     that I love a few soft things that bring her arm round my neck. I
     know actions which I would give all that I possess to have done.
     _Mahomet_ is a sublime work; I would a hundred times rather have
     got justice for the memory of the Calas. A person of my
     acquaintance fled to Carthagena; he was the younger son in a
     country where custom transfers all the property to the eldest.
     There he learns that his eldest brother, a petted son, after having
     despoiled his father and mother of all that they possessed, had
     driven them out of the castle, and that the poor old souls were
     languishing in indigence in some small country town. What does he
     do--this younger son who in consequence of the harsh treatment he
     had received at the hand of his parents had gone to seek his
     fortune far away? He sends them help; he makes haste to set his
     affairs in order, he returns with his riches, he restores his
     father and mother to their home, and finds husbands for his
     sisters. Ah, my dear Rameau, that man looked upon this period as
     the happiest in his life; he had tears in his eyes when he spoke to
     me of it, and even as I tell you the story, I feel my heart beat
     faster, and my tongue falter for sympathy.

     _He._--Singular beings, you are!

     _I._--'Tis you who are beings much to be pitied, if you cannot
     imagine that one rises above one's lot, and that it is impossible
     to be unhappy under the shelter of good actions.

     _He._--That is a kind of felicity with which I should find it hard
     to familiarise myself, for we do not often come across it. But,
     then, according to you, we should be good.

     _I._--To be happy, assuredly.

     _He._--Yet I see an infinity of honest people who are not happy,
     and an infinity of people who are happy without being honest.

     _I._--You think so.

     _He._--And is it not for having had common sense and frankness for
     a moment, that I don't know where to go for a supper to-night?

     _I._--Nay, it is for not having had it always; it is because you
     did not perceive in good time that one ought first and foremost to
     provide a resource independent of servitude.

     _He._--Independent or not, the resource I had provided is at any
     rate the most comfortable.

     _I._--And the least sure and least decent.

     _He._--But the most conformable to my character of sloth, madman,
     and good-for-nought.

     _I._--Just so.

     _He._--And since I can secure my happiness by vices which are
     natural to me, which I have acquired without labour, which I
     preserve without effort, which go well with the manners of my
     nation, which are to the taste of those who protect me, and are
     more in harmony with their small private necessities than virtues
     which would weary them by being a standing accusation against them
     from morning to night, why, it would be very singular for me to go
     and torment myself like a lost spirit, for the sake of making
     myself into somebody other than I am, to put on a character
     foreign to my own, and qualities which I will admit to be highly
     estimable, in order to avoid discussion, but which it would cost me
     a great deal to acquire, and a great deal to practise, and would
     lead to nothing, or possibly to worse than nothing, through the
     continual satire of the rich among whom beggars like me have to
     seek their subsistence. We praise virtue, but we hate it, and shun
     it, and know very well that it freezes the marrow of our bones--and
     in this world one must have one's feet warm. And then all that
     would infallibly fill me with ill-humour; for why do we so
     constantly see religious people so harsh, so querulous, so
     unsociable? 'Tis because they have imposed a task upon themselves
     which is not natural to them. They suffer, and when people suffer,
     they make others suffer too. That is not my game, nor that of my
     protectors either; I have to be gay, supple, amusing, comical.
     Virtue makes itself respected, and respect is inconvenient; virtue
     insists on being admired, and admiration is not amusing. I have to
     do with people who are bored, and I must make them laugh. Now it is
     absurdity and madness which make people laugh, so mad and absurd I
     must be; and even if nature had not made me so, the simplest plan
     would still be to feign it. Happily, I have no need to play
     hypocrite; there are so many already of all colours, without
     reckoning those who play hypocrite with themselves.... If your
     friend Rameau were to apply himself to show his contempt for
     fortune, and women, and good cheer, and idleness, and to begin to
     Catonise, what would he be but a hypocrite? Rameau must be what he
     is--a lucky rascal among rascals swollen with riches, and not a
     mighty paragon of virtue, or even a virtuous man, eating his dry
     crust of bread, either alone, or by the side of a pack of beggars.
     And, to cut it short, I do not get on with your felicity, or with
     the happiness of a few visionaries like yourself.

     _I._--I see, my friend, that you do not even know what it is, and
     that you are not even made to understand it.

     _He._--So much the better, I declare; so much the better. It would
     make me burst with hunger and weariness, and may be, with remorse.

     _I._--Very well, then, the only advice I have to give you, is to
     find your way back as quickly as you can into the house from which
     your impudence drove you out.

     _He._--And to do what you do not disapprove absolutely and yet is a
     little repugnant to me relatively?

     _I._--What a singularity!

     _He._--Nothing singular in it at all; I wish to be abject, but I
     wish to be so without constraint. I do not object to descend from
     my dignity.... You laugh?

     _I._--Yes, your dignity makes me laugh.

     _He._--Everybody has his own dignity. I do not object to come down
     from mine, but it must be in my own way, and not at the bidding of
     others. Must they be able to say to me, Crawl--and behold me,
     forced to crawl? That is the worm's way, and it is mine; we both of
     us follow it--the worm and I--when they leave us alone, but we turn
     when they tread on our tails. They have trodden on my tail, and I
     mean to turn. And then you have no idea of the creature we are
     talking about. Imagine a sour and melancholy person, eaten up by
     vapours, wrapped twice or thrice round in his dressing-gown,
     discontented with himself, and discontented with every one else;
     out of whom you hardly wring a smile, if you put your body and soul
     out of joint in a hundred different ways; who examines with a cold
     considering eye the droll grimaces of my face, and those of my
     mind, which are droller still. I may torment myself to attain the
     highest sublime of the lunatic asylum, nothing comes of it. Will he
     laugh, or will he not? That is what I am obliged to keep saying to
     myself in the midst of my contortions; and you may judge how
     damaging this uncertainty is to one's talent. My hypochondriac,
     with his head buried in a night-cap that covers his eyes, has the
     air of an immovable pagod, with a string tied to its chin, and
     going down under his chair. You wait for the string to be pulled,
     and it is not pulled; or if by chance the jaws open, it is only to
     articulate some word that shows he has not seen you, and that all
     your drolleries have been thrown away. This word is the answer to
     some question which you put to him four days before; the word
     spoken, the mastoid muscle contracts, and the jaw sticks.

     [Then he set himself to imitate his man. He placed himself on a
     chair, his head fixed, his hat coming over his eyebrows, his eyes
     half-shut, his arms hanging down, moving his jaw up and down like
     an automaton:] Gloomy, obscure, oracular as destiny itself--such is
     our patron.

     At the other side of the room is a prude who plays at importance,
     to whom one could bring one's self to say that she is pretty,
     because she is pretty, though she has a blemish or two upon her
     face. _Item_, she is more spiteful, more conceited, and more silly
     than a goose. _Item_, she insists on having wit. _Item_, you have
     to persuade her that you believe she has more of it than anybody
     else in the world. _Item_, she knows nothing, and she has a turn
     for settling everything out of hand. _Item_, you must applaud her
     decisions with feet and hands, jump for joy, and scream with
     admiration:--"How fine that is, how delicate, well said, subtly
     seen, singularly felt! Where do women get that? Without study, by
     mere force of instinct, and pure light of nature! That is really
     like a miracle! And then they want us to believe that experience,
     study, reflection, education, have anything to do with the
     matter!..." And other fooleries to match, and tears and tears of
     joy; ten times a day to kneel down, one knee bent in front of the
     other, the other leg drawn back, the arms extended towards the
     goddess, to seek one's desire in her eyes, to hang on her lips, to
     wait for her command, and then start off like a flash of lightning.
     Where is the man who would subject himself to play such a part, if
     it is not the wretch, who finds there two or three times a week the
     wherewithal to still the tribulation of his inner parts?

     _I._--I should never have thought you were so fastidious.

     _He._--I am not. In the beginning I watched the others, and I did
     as they did, even rather better, because I am more frankly
     impudent, a better comedian, hungrier, and better off for lungs. I
     descend apparently in a direct line from the famous Stentor....

     [And to give me a just idea of the force of his organ, he set off
     laughing, with violence enough to break the windows of the
     coffee-house, and to interrupt the chess-players.]

     _I._--But what is the good of this talent?

     _He._--You cannot guess?

     _I._--No; I am rather slow.

     _He._--Suppose the debate opened, and victory uncertain; I get up,
     and, displaying my thunder, I say: "That is as mademoiselle
     asserts.... That is worth calling a judgment. There is genius in
     the expression." But one must not always approve in the same
     manner; one would be monotonous, and seem insincere, and become
     insipid. You only escape that by judgment and resource; you must
     know how to prepare and place your major and most peremptory tones,
     to seize the occasion and the moment. When, for instance, there is
     a difference in feeling, and the debate has risen to its last
     degree of violence, and you have ceased to listen to one another,
     and all speak at the same time, you ought to have your place at the
     corner of the room which is farthest removed from the field of
     battle, to have prepared the way for your explosion by a long
     silence, and then suddenly to fall like a thunder-clap over the
     very midst of the combatants. Nobody possesses this art as I do.
     But where I am truly surprising is in the opposite way--I have low
     tones that I accompany with a smile, and an infinite variety of
     approving tricks of face; nose, lips, brow, eyes, all make play; I
     have a suppleness of reins, a manner of twisting the spine, of
     shrugging the shoulders, extending the fingers, inclining the head,
     closing the eyes, and throwing myself into a state of stupefaction,
     as if I had heard a divine angelic voice come down from heaven;
     that is what flatters. I do not know whether you seize rightly all
     the energy of that last attitude. I did not invent it, but nobody
     has ever surpassed me in its execution. Behold, behold!

     _I._--Truly, it is unique.

     _He._--Think you there is a woman's brain that could stand that?

     _I._--It must be admitted that you have carried the talent of
     playing the madman, and of self-debasement, as far as it can
     possibly be carried.

     _He._--Try as hard as they will, they will never touch me--not the
     best of them. Palissot, for instance, will never be more than a
     good learner. But if this part is amusing at first, and if you have
     some relish in inwardly mocking at the folly of the people whom you
     are intoxicating, in the long run that ceases to be exciting, and
     then after a certain number of discoveries one is obliged to repeat
     one's self. Wit and art have their limits. 'Tis only God Almighty
     and some rare geniuses, for whom the career widens as they advance.

     _I._--With this precious enthusiasm for fine things, and this
     facility of genius of yours, is it possible that you have invented

     _He._--Pardon me; for instance, that admiring attitude of the back,
     of which I spoke to you; I regard it as my own, though envy may
     contest my claim. I daresay it has been employed before: but who
     has felt how convenient it was for laughing in one's sleeve at the
     ass for whom one was dying of admiration! I have more than a
     hundred ways of opening fire on a girl under the very eyes of her
     mother, without the latter suspecting a jot of it; yes, and even of
     making her an accomplice. I had hardly begun my career before I
     disdained all the vulgar fashions of slipping a _billet-doux_; I
     have ten ways of having them taken from me, and out of the number I
     venture to flatter myself there are some that are new. I possess in
     an especial degree the gift of encouraging a timid young man; I
     have secured success for some who had neither wit nor good looks.
     If all that was written down, I fancy people would concede me some

     _I._--And would do you singular honour.

     _He._--I don't doubt it.

     _I._--In your place, I would put those famous methods on paper. It
     would be a pity for them to be lost.

     _He._--It is true; but you could never suppose how little I think
     of method and precepts. He who needs a protocol will never go far.
     Your genius reads little, experiments much, and teaches himself.
     Look at Cæsar, Turenne, Vauban, the Marquise de Tencin, her brother
     the cardinal, and the cardinal's secretary, the Abbé Trublet, and
     Bouret! Who is it that has given lessons to Bouret? Nobody; 'tis
     nature that forms these rare men.

     _I._--Well, but you might do this in your lost hours, when the
     anguish of your empty stomach, or the weariness of your stomach
     overloaded, banishes slumber.

     _He._--I'll think of it. It is better to write great things than to
     execute small ones. Then the soul rises on wings, the imagination
     is kindled; whereas it shrivels in amazement at the applause which
     the absurd public lavishes so perversely on that mincing creature
     of a Dangeville, who plays so flatly, who walks the stage nearly
     bent double, who stares affectedly and incessantly into the eyes of
     every one she talks to, and who takes her grimaces for finesse, and
     her little strut for grace; or on that emphatic Clairon, who
     becomes more studied, more pretentious, more elaborately heavy,
     than I can tell you. That imbecile of a pit claps hands to the
     echo, and never sees that we are a mere worsted ball of
     daintinesses ('Tis true the ball grows a trifle big, but what does
     it matter?), that we have the finest skin, the finest eyes, the
     prettiest bill; little feeling inside, in truth; a step that is not
     exactly light, but which for all that is not as awkward as they
     say. As for sentiment, on the other hand, there is not one of these
     stage dames whom we cannot cap.

     _I._--What do you mean by all that? Is it irony or truth?

     _He._--The worst of it is that this deuced sentiment is all
     internal, and not a glimpse of it appears outside; but I who am now
     talking to you, I know, and know well, that she has it. If it is
     not that, you should see, if a fit of ill-humour comes on, how we
     treat the valets, how the waiting-maids are cuffed and trounced,
     what kicks await our good friend, if he fails in an atom of that
     respect which is our due. 'Tis a little demon, I tell you, full of
     sentiment and dignity. Ah, you don't quite know where you are, eh?

     _I._--I confess I can hardly make out whether you are speaking in
     good faith or in malice. I am a plain man. Be kind enough to be a
     little more outspoken, and to leave your art behind for once....

     _He._--What is it? why it is what we retail before our little
     patroness about the Dangeville or the Clairon, mixed up here and
     there with a word or two to put you on the scent. I will allow you
     to take me for a good-for-nothing, but not for a fool; and 'tis
     only a fool, or a man eaten up with conceit, who could say such a
     parcel of impertinences seriously.

     _I._--But how do people ever bring themselves to say them?

     _He._--It is not done all at once, but little by little you come to
     it. _Ingenii largitor venter._

     _I._--Then hunger must press you very hard.

     _He._--That may be; yet strong as you may think them, be sure that
     those to whom they are addressed are much more accustomed to listen
     to them than we are to hazard them.

     _I._--Is there anybody who has courage to be of your opinion?

     _He._--What do you mean by anybody? It is the sentiment and
     language of the whole of society.

     _I._--Those of you who are not great rascals must be great fools.

     _He._--Fools! I assure you there is only one, and that is he who
     feasts us to cheat him.

     _I._--But how can people allow themselves to be cheated in such
     gross fashion? For surely the superiority of the Dangeville and the
     Clairon is a settled thing.

     _He._--We swallow until we are full to the throat any lie that
     flatters us, and take drop by drop a truth that is bitter to us.
     And then we have the air of being so profoundly penetrated, so

     _I._--Yet you must once, at any rate, have sinned against the
     principles of art, and let slip, by an oversight, some of those
     bitter truths that wound; for, in spite of the wretched, abject,
     vile, abominable part you play, I believe you have at bottom some
     delicacy of soul.

     _He._--I! not the least in the world. Deuce take me if I know what
     I am! In a general way, I have a mind as round as a ball, and a
     character fresh as a water-willow. Never false, little interest as
     I have in being true; never true, little interest as I have in
     being false. I say things just as they come into my head; sensible
     things, then so much the better; impertinent things, then people
     take no notice. I let my natural frankness have full play. I never
     in all my life gave a thought, either beforehand, what to say, or
     while I was saying it, or after I had said it. And so I offend

     _I._--Still that did happen with the worthy people among whom you
     used to live, and who were so kind to you.

     _He._--What would you have? It is a mishap, an unlucky moment, such
     as there always are in life; there is no such thing as unbroken
     bliss: I was too well off, it could not last. We have, as you
     know, the most numerous and the best chosen company. It is a school
     of humanity, the renewal of hospitality after the antique. All the
     poets who fall, we pick them up; all decried musicians, all the
     authors who are never read, all the actresses who are hissed, a
     parcel of beggarly, disgraced, stupid, parasitical souls, and at
     the head of them all I have the honour of being the brave chief of
     a timorous flock. It is I who exhort them to eat the first time
     they come, and I who ask for drink for them--they are so shy. A few
     young men in rags who do not know where to lay their heads, but who
     have good looks; a few scoundrels who bamboozle the master of the
     house, and put him to sleep, for the sake of gleaning after him in
     the fields of the mistress of the house. We seem gay, but at bottom
     we are devoured by spleen and a raging appetite. Wolves are not
     more famishing, nor tigers more cruel. Like wolves when the ground
     has been long covered with snow, we raven over our food, and
     whatever succeeds we rend like tigers. Never was seen such a
     collection of soured, malignant, venomous beasts. You hear nothing
     but the names of Buffon, Duclos, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Voltaire,
     D'Alembert, Diderot; and God knows the epithets that bear them
     company! Nobody can have any parts if he is not as stupid as
     ourselves. That is the plan on which Palissot's play of _The
     Philosophers_ has been conceived. And you are not spared in it, any
     more than your neighbours.

     _I._--So much the better. Perhaps they do me more honour than I
     deserve. I should be humiliated if those who speak ill of so many
     clever and worthy people took it into their heads to speak well of

     _He._--Everybody must pay his scot. After sacrificing the greater
     animals, then we immolate the others.

     _I._--Insulting science and virtue for a living, that is
     dearly-earned bread!

     _He._--I have already told you, we are without any consistency; we
     insult all the world, and afflict nobody. We have sometimes the
     heavy Abbé d'Olivet, the big Abbé Le Blanc, the hypocrite Batteux.
     The big abbé is only spiteful before he has had his dinner; his
     coffee taken, he throws himself into an arm-chair, his feet against
     the ledge of the fireplace, and sleeps like an old parrot on its
     perch. If the noise becomes violent he yawns, stretches his arms,
     rubs his eyes, and says: "Well, well, what is it?" "It is whether
     Piron has more wit than Voltaire." "Let us understand; is it wit
     that you are talking about, or is it taste? For as to taste, your
     Piron has not a suspicion of it." "Not a suspicion of it?" "No."
     And there we are, embarked in a dissertation upon taste. Then the
     patron makes a sign with his hand for people to listen to him, for
     if he piques himself upon one thing more than another, it is taste.
     "Taste," he says, "taste is a thing...." But, on my soul, I don't
     know what thing he said that it was, nor does he.

     Then sometimes we have friend Robbé. He regales us with his
     equivocal stories, with the miracles of the convulsionnaires which
     he has seen with his own eyes, and with some cantos of a poem on a
     subject that he knows thoroughly. His verses I detest, but I love
     to hear him recite them--he has the air of an energumen. They all
     cry out around him: "There is a poet worth calling a poet!..."

     Then there comes to us also a certain noodle with a dull and stupid
     air, but who has the keenness of a demon, and is more mischievous
     than an old monkey. He is one of those figures that provoke
     pleasantries and sarcasms, and that God made for the chastisement
     of those who judge by appearances, and who ought to have learnt
     from the mirror that it is as easy to be a wit with the air of a
     fool as to hide a fool under the air of a wit. 'Tis a very common
     piece of cowardice to immolate a good man to the amusement of the
     others; people never fail to turn to this man; he is a snare that
     we set for the new-comers, and I have scarcely known one of them
     who was not caught ...

     [I was sometimes amazed at the justice of my madman's observations
     on men and characters, and I showed him my surprise.] That is, he
     answered, because one derives good out of bad company, as one does
     out of libertinism. You are recompensed for the loss of your
     innocence by that of your prejudices; in the society of the bad,
     where vice shows itself without a mask, you learn to understand
     them. And then I have read a little.

     _I._--What have you read?

     _He._--I have read, and I read, and I read over and over again
     Theophrastus and La Bruyère and Molière.

     _I._--Excellent works, all of them.

     _He._--They are far better than people suppose; but who is there
     who knows how to read them?

     _I._--Everybody does, according to the measure of his intelligence.

     _He._--No; hardly anybody. Could you tell me what people look for
     in them?

     _I._--Amusement and instruction.

     _He._--But what instruction, for that is the point?

     _I._--The knowledge of one's duties, the love of virtue, the hatred
     of vice.

     _He._--For my part, I gather from them all that one ought to do,
     and all that one ought not to say. Thus, when I read the _Avare_, I
     say to myself: "Be a miser if thou wilt, but beware of talking like
     the miser." When I read _Tartufe_, I say: "Be a hypocrite if thou
     wilt, but do not talk like a hypocrite. Keep the vices that are
     useful to thee, but avoid their tone and the appearances that would
     make thee laughable." To preserve thyself from such a tone and such
     appearances, it is necessary to know what they are. Now these
     authors have drawn excellent pictures of them. I am myself, and I
     remain what I am, but I act and I speak as becomes the character. I
     am not one of those who despise moralists; there is a great deal
     of profit to be got from them, especially with those who have
     applied morality to action. Vice only hurts men from time to time;
     the characteristics of vice hurt them from morning to night.
     Perhaps it would be better to be insolent than to have an insolent
     expression. One who is insolent in character only insults people
     now and again; one who is insolent in expression insults them
     incessantly. And do not imagine that I am the only reader of my
     kind. I have no other merit in this respect than having done on
     system, from a natural integrity of understanding, and with true
     and reasonable vision, what most others do by instinct. And so
     their readings make them no better than I am, and they remain
     ridiculous in spite of themselves, while I am only so when I
     choose, and always leave them a vast distance behind me; for the
     same art which teaches me how to escape ridicule on certain
     occasions teaches me also on certain others how to incur it
     happily. Then I recall to myself all that the others said, and all
     that I read, and I add all that issues from my own originality,
     which is in this kind wondrous fertile.

     _I._--You have done well to reveal these mysteries to me, for
     otherwise I should have thought you self-contradictory.

     _He._--I am not so in the least, for against a single time when one
     has to avoid ridicule, happily there are a hundred when one has to
     provoke it. There is no better part among the great people than
     that of fool. For a long time there was the king's fool; at no time
     was there ever the king's sage, officially so styled. Now I am the
     fool of Bertin and many others, perhaps yours at the present
     moment, or perhaps you are mine. A man who meant to be a sage would
     have no fool, so he who has a fool is no sage; if he is not a sage
     he is a fool, and perhaps, even were he the king himself, the fool
     of his fool. For the rest, remember that in a matter so variable as
     manners, there is nothing absolutely, essentially, and universally
     true or false; if not that one must be what interest would have us
     be, good or bad, wise or mad, decent or ridiculous, honest or
     vicious. If virtue had happened to be the way to fortune, then I
     should either have been virtuous, or I should have pretended
     virtue, like other persons. As it was, they wanted me to be
     ridiculous, and I made myself so; as for being vicious, nature
     alone had taken all the trouble that was needed in that. When I use
     the term vicious, it is for the sake of talking your language; for,
     if we came to explanations, it might happen that you called vice
     what I call virtue, and virtue what I call vice.

     Then we have the authors of the Opéra Comique, their actors and
     their actresses, and oftener still their managers, all people of
     resource and superior merit. And I forget the whole clique of
     scribblers in the gazettes, the _Avant Coureur_, the _Petites
     Affiches_, the _Année littéraire_, the _Observateur littéraire_.

     _I._--The _Année littéraire_, the _Observateur littéraire_! But
     they detest one another.

     _He._--Quite true, but all beggars are reconciled at the porringer.
     That cursed _Observateur littéraire_, I wish the devil had had both
     him and his sheet! It was that dog of a miserly priest who caused
     my disaster. He appeared on our horizon for the first time; he
     arrived at the hour that drives us all out of our dens, the hour
     for dinner. When it is bad weather, lucky the man among us who has
     a shilling in his pocket to pay for a hackney-coach! He is free to
     laugh at a comrade for coming besplashed up to his eyes and wet to
     the skin, though at night he goes to his own home in just the same
     plight. There was one of them some months ago who had a violent
     brawl with the Savoyard at the door. They had a running account;
     the creditor insisted on being paid, and the debtor was not in
     funds, and yet he could not go upstairs without passing through the
     hands of the other.

     Dinner is served; they do the honours of the table to the
     abbé--they place him at the upper end. I come in and see this.
     "What, abbé, you preside? That is all very well for to-day, but
     to-morrow you will come down, if you please, by one plate; the day
     after by another plate, and so on from plate to plate, now to right
     and now to left, until from the place that I occupied one time
     before you, Fréron once after me, Dorat once after Fréron, Palissot
     once after Dorat, you become stationary beside me, poor rascal as
     you are--_che siedo sempre come_"--[an Italian proverb not to be
     decently reproduced].

     The abbé, who is a good fellow, and takes everything in good part,
     bursts out laughing; Mademoiselle, struck by my observation and by
     the aptness of my comparison, bursts out laughing; everybody to
     right and left burst out laughing, except the master of the house,
     who flies into a huff, and uses language that would have meant
     nothing if we had been by ourselves--

     "Rameau, you are an impertinent."

     "I know I am, and it is on that condition that I was received

     "You are a scoundrel."

     "Like anybody else."

     "A beggar."

     "Should I be here, if I were not?"

     "I will have you turned out of doors."

     "After dinner I will go of my own will."

     "I recommend you to go."

     We dined: I did not lose a single toothful. After eating well and
     drinking amply, for after all Messer Gaster is a person with whom I
     have never sulked, I made up my mind what to do, and I prepared to
     go; I had pledged my word in presence of so many people that I was
     bound to keep it. For a considerable time I hunted up and down the
     room for my hat and cane in every corner where they were not likely
     to be, reckoning all the time that the master of the house would
     break out into a new torrent of injuries, that somebody would
     interpose, and that we should at last make friends by sheer dint of
     altercation. I turned on this side and that, for I had nothing on
     my heart; but the master, more sombre and dark-browed than Homer's
     Apollo as he lets his arrows fly among the Greeks, with his cap
     plucked farther over his head than usual, marched backwards and
     forwards up and down the room. Mademoiselle approaches me: "But,
     mademoiselle," say I, "what has happened beyond what happens every
     day? Have I been different from what I am on other days?"

     "I insist on his leaving the house."--"I am leaving.... But I have
     given no ground of offence."--"Pardon me; we invite the abbé
     and...." It was he who was wrong to invite the abbé, while at the
     same time he was receiving me, and with me so many other creatures
     of my sort.--"Come, friend Rameau, you must beg the abbé's
     pardon."--"I shall not know what to do with his pardon."--"Come,
     come, all will be right."--They take me by the hand, and drag me
     towards the abbé's chair; I look at him with a kind of admiring
     wonder, for who before ever asked pardon of the abbé? "All this is
     very absurd, abbé; confess, is it not?" And then I laugh, and the
     abbé laughs too. So that is my forgiveness on that side; but I had
     next to approach the other, and that was a very different thing. I
     forget exactly how it was that I framed my apology.--"Sir, here is
     the madman...."--"He has made me suffer too long; I wish to hear no
     more about him."--"He is sorry."--"Yes, I am very sorry."--"It
     shall not happen again."--"Until the first rascal...."--I do not
     know whether he was in one of those days of ill-humour when
     mademoiselle herself dreads to go near him, or whether he
     misunderstood what I said, or whether I said something wrong:
     things were worse than before. Good heavens, does he not know me?
     Does he not know that I am like children, and that there are some
     circumstances in which I let anything and everything escape me? And
     then, God help me, am I not to have a moment of relief? Why, it
     would wear out a puppet made of steel, to keep pulling the string
     from night to morning, and from morning to night! I must amuse
     them, of course, that is the condition; but I must now and then
     amuse myself. In the midst of these distractions there came into my
     head a fatal idea, an idea that gave me confidence, that inspired
     me with pride and insolence: it was that they could not do without
     me, and that I was indispensable.

     _I._--Yes, I daresay that you are very useful to them, but that
     they are still more useful to you. You will not find as good a
     house every day; but they, for one madman who falls short, will
     find a hundred to take his place.

     _He._--A hundred madmen like me, sir philosopher; they are not so
     common, I can tell you! Flat fools--yes. People are harder to
     please in folly than in talent or virtue. I am a rarity in my own
     kind, a great rarity. Now that they have me no longer, what are
     they doing? They find time as heavy as if they were dogs. I am an
     inexhaustible bagful of impertinences. Every minute I had some
     fantastic notion that made them laugh till they cried; I was a
     whole Bedlam in myself.

     _I._--Well, at any rate you had bed and board, coat and breeches,
     shoes, and a pistole a month.

     _He._--That is the profit side of the account; you say not a word
     of the cost of it all. First, if there was a whisper of a new piece
     (no matter how bad the weather), one had to ransack all the garrets
     in Paris, until one had found the author; then to get a reading of
     the play, and adroitly to insinuate that there was a part in it
     which would be rendered in a superior manner by a certain person of
     my acquaintance.--"And by whom, if you please?"--"By whom? a pretty
     question! There are graces, finesse, elegance."--"Ah, you mean
     Mademoiselle Dangeville? Perhaps you know her?"--"Yes, a little;
     but 'tis not she."--"Who is it, then?"--I whispered the name very
     low. "She?"--"Yes, she," I repeated with some shame, for sometimes
     I do feel a touch of shame; and at this name you should have seen
     how long the poet's face grew, if indeed he did not burst out
     laughing in my face. Still, whether he would or not, I was bound to
     take my man to dine; and he, being naturally afraid of pledging
     himself, drew back, and tried to say "No, thank you." You should
     have seen how I was treated, if I did not succeed in my
     negotiation! I was a blockhead, a fool, a rascal; I was not good
     for a single thing; I was not worth the glass of water which they
     gave me to drink. It was still worse at their performance, when I
     had to go intrepidly amid the cries of a public that has a good
     judgment of its own, whatever may be said about it, and make my
     solitary clap of the hand audible, draw every eye to me, and
     sometimes save the actress from hisses, and hear people murmur
     around me--"He is one of the valets in disguise belonging to the
     man who.... Will that knave be quiet?" They do not know what brings
     a man to that; they think it is stupidity, but there is one motive
     that excuses anything.

     _I._--Even the infraction of the civil laws.

     _He._--At length, however, I became known, and people used to say:
     "Oh, it is Rameau!" My resource was to throw out some words of
     irony to save my solitary applause from ridicule, by making them
     interpret it in an opposite sense.

     Now agree that one must have a mighty interest to make one thus
     brave the assembled public, and that each of these pieces of hard
     labour was worth more than a paltry crown? And then at home there
     was a pack of dogs to tend, and cats for which I was responsible. I
     was only too happy if Micou favoured me with a stroke of his claw
     that tore my cuff or my wrist. Criquette is liable to colic; 'tis I
     who have to rub her. In old days mademoiselle used to have the
     vapours; to-day, it is her nerves. She is beginning to grow a
     little stout; you should hear the fine tales they make out of this.

     _I._--You do not belong to people of this sort, at any rate?

     _He._--Why not?

     _I._--Because it is indecent to throw ridicule on one's

     _He._--But is it not worse still to take advantage of one's
     benefits to degrade the receiver of them?

     _I._--But if the receiver of them were not vile in himself, nothing
     would give the benefactor the chance.

     _He._--But if the personages were not ridiculous in themselves they
     would not make subjects for good tales. And then, is it my fault if
     they mix with rascaldom? Is it my fault if, after mixing themselves
     up with rascaldom, they are betrayed and made fools of? When people
     resolve to live with people like us, if they have common sense,
     there is an infinite quantity of blackness for which they must make
     up their minds. When they take us, do they not know us for what we
     are, for the most interested, vile, and perfidious of souls. Then
     if they know us, all is well. There is a tacit compact that they
     shall treat us well, and that sooner or later we shall treat them
     ill in return for the good that they have done us. Does not such an
     agreement subsist between a man and his monkey or his parrot?... If
     you take a young provincial to the menagerie at Versailles, and he
     takes it into his head for a freak to push his hands between the
     bars of the cage of the tiger or the panther, whose fault is it? It
     is all written in the silent compact, and so much the worse for the
     man who forgets or ignores it. How I could justify by this
     universal and sacred compact the people whom you accuse of
     wickedness, whereas it is in truth yourselves whom you ought to
     accuse of folly.... But while we execute the just decrees of
     Providence on folly, you who paint us as we are, you execute its
     just decrees on us. What would you think of us, if we claimed, with
     our shameless manners, to enjoy public consideration? That we are
     out of our senses. And those who look for decent behaviour from
     people who are born vicious and with vile and bad characters--are
     they in their senses? Everything has its true wages in this world.
     There are two Public Prosecutors, one at your door, chastising
     offences against society; nature is the other. Nature knows all the
     vices that escape the laws. Give yourself up to debauchery, and you
     will end with dropsy; if you are crapulous, your lungs will find
     you out; if you open your door to ragamuffins, and live in their
     company, you will be betrayed, laughed at, despised. The shortest
     way is to resign, one's self to the equity of these judgments, and
     to say to one's self: That is as it should be; to shake one's ears
     and turn over a new leaf, or else to remain what one is, but on the
     conditions aforesaid....

     _I._--You cannot doubt what judgment I pass on such a character as

     _He._--Not at all; I am in your eyes an abject and most despicable
     creature; and I am sometimes the same in my own eyes, though not
     often: I more frequently congratulate myself on my vices than blame
     myself for them; you are more constant in your contempt.

     _I._--True; but why show me all your turpitude?

     _He._--First, because you already know a good deal of it, and I saw
     that there was more to gain than to lose, by confessing the rest.

     _I._--How so, if you please?

     _He._--It is important in some lines of business to reach
     sublimity; it is especially so in evil. People spit upon a small
     rogue, but they cannot refuse a kind of consideration to a great
     criminal; his courage amazes you, his atrocity makes you shudder.
     In all things, what people prize is unity of character.

     _I._--But this estimable unity of character you have not quite got:
     I find you from time to time vacillating in your principles; it is
     uncertain whether you get your wickedness from nature or study, and
     whether study has brought you as far as possible.

     _He._--I agree with you, but I have done my best. Have I not had
     the modesty to recognise persons more perfect in my own line than
     myself. Have I not spoken to you of Bouret with the deepest
     admiration? Bouret is the first person in the world for me.

     _I._--But after Bouret you come.


     _I._--Palissot, then?

     _He._--Palissot, but not Palissot alone.

     _I._--And who is worthy to share the second rank with him?

     _He._--The Renegade of Avignon.

     _I._--I never heard of the Renegade of Avignon, but he must be an
     astonishing man.

     _He._--He is so, indeed.

     _I._--The history of great personages has always interested me.

     _He._--I can well believe it. This hero lived in the house of a
     good and worthy descendant of Abraham, promised to the father of
     the faithful in number equal to the stars in the heavens.

     _I._--In the house of a Jew?

     _He._--In the house of a Jew. He had at first surprised pity, then
     goodwill, then entire confidence, for that is how it always
     happens: we count so strongly on our kindness, that we seldom hide
     our secrets from anybody on whom we have heaped benefits. How
     should there not be ingrates in the world, when we expose this man
     to the temptation of being ungrateful with impunity? That is a just
     reflection which our Jew failed to make. He confided to the
     renegade that he could not conscientiously eat pork. You will see
     the advantage that a fertile wit knew how to get from such a
     confession. Some months passed, during which our renegade redoubled
     his attentions; when he believed his Jew thoroughly touched,
     thoroughly captivated, thoroughly convinced that he had no better
     friend among all the tribes of Israel ... now admire the
     circumspection of the man! He is in no hurry; he lets the pear
     ripen before he shakes the branch; too much haste might have
     ruined his design. It is because greatness of character usually
     results from the natural balance between several opposite

     _I._--Pray leave your reflections, and go straight on with your

     _He._--That is impossible. There are days when I cannot help
     reflecting; 'tis a malady that must be allowed to run its course.
     Where was I?

     _I._--At the intimacy that had been established between the Jew and
     the renegade.

     _He._--Then the pear was ripe.... But you are not listening; what
     are you dreaming about?

     _I._--I am thinking of the curious inequality in your tone, now so
     high, now so low.

     _He._--How can a man made of vices be one and the same?... He
     reaches his friend's house one night, with an air of violent
     perturbation, with broken accents, a face as pale as death, and
     trembling in every limb. "What is the matter with you?"--"We are
     ruined." "Ruined, how?"--"Ruined, I tell you, beyond all
     help."--"Explain."--"One moment, until I have recovered from my
     fright."--"Come, then, recover yourself," says the Jew.... "A
     traitor has informed against us before the Holy Inquisition, you as
     a Jew, me as a renegade, an infamous renegade...." Mark how the
     traitor does not blush to use the most odious expressions. It needs
     more courage than you may suppose to call one's self by one's right
     name; you do not know what an effort it costs to come to that.

     _I._--No, I daresay not. But "the infamous renegade----"

     _He._--He is false, but his falsity is adroit enough. The Jew takes
     fright, tears his beard, rolls on the ground, sees the officers at
     his door, sees himself clad in the _Sanbenito_, sees his
     _auto-da-fè_ all made ready. "My friend," he cries, "my good,
     tender friend, my only friend, what is to be done?"

     "What is to be done? Why show ourselves, affect the greatest
     security, go about our business just as we usually do. The
     procedure of the tribunal is secret but slow; we must take
     advantage of its delays to sell all you have. I will hire a boat,
     or I will have it hired by a third person--that will be best; in it
     we will deposit your fortune, for it is your fortune that they are
     most anxious to get at; and then we will go, you and I, and seek
     under another sky the freedom of serving our God, and following in
     security the law of Abraham and our own consciences. The important
     point in our present dangerous situation is to do nothing

     No sooner said than done. The vessel is hired, victualled, and
     manned, the Jew's fortune put on board; on the morrow, at dawn,
     they are to sail, they are free to sup gaily and to sleep in all
     security; on the morrow they escape their prosecutors. In the
     night, the renegade gets up, despoils the Jew of his portfolio, his
     purse, his jewels, goes on board, and sails away. And you think
     that this is all? Good: you are not awake to it. Now when they told
     me the story, I divined at once what I have not told you, in order
     to try your sagacity. You were quite right to be an honest man; you
     would never have made more than a fifth-rate scoundrel. Up to this
     point the renegade is only that; he is a contemptible rascal whom
     nobody would consent to resemble. The sublimity of his wickedness
     is this, that he was himself the informer against his good friend
     the Israelite, of whom the Inquisition took hold when he awoke the
     next morning, and of whom a few days later they made a famous
     bonfire. And it was in this way that the renegade became the
     tranquil possessor of the fortune of the accursed descendant of
     those who crucified our Lord.

     _I._--I do not know which of the two is most horrible to me--the
     vileness of your renegade, or the tone in which you speak of it.

     _He._--And that is what I said: the atrocity of the action carries
     you beyond contempt, and hence my sincerity. I wished you to know
     to what a degree I excelled in my art, to extort from you the
     admission that I was at least original in my abasement, to rank me
     in your mind on the line of the great good-for-noughts, and to hail
     me henceforth--_Vivat Mascarillus, fourbum imperator_!

[Here the discussion is turned aside, by Rameau's pantomimic performance
of a fugue, to various topics in music.[224]]

    [224] Vol. v. pp. 457-468.

     _I._--How does it happen that with such fine tact, such great
     sensibility for the beauties of the musical art, you are so blind
     to the fine things of morality, so insensible to the charms of

     _He._--It must be because there is for the one a sense that I have
     not got, a fibre that has not been given to me, a slack string that
     you may play upon as much as you please, but it never vibrates. Or
     it may be because I have always lived with those who were good
     musicians but bad men, whence it has come to pass that my ear has
     grown very fine, and my heart has grown very deaf. And then there
     is something in race. The blood of my father and the blood of my
     uncle is the same blood; my blood is the same as that of my father;
     the paternal molecule was hard and obtuse, and that accursed first
     molecule has assimilated to itself all the rest.

     _I._--Do you love your child?

     _He._--Do I love it, the little savage! I dote on it.

     _I._--Will you not then seriously set to work to arrest in it the
     consequences of the accursed paternal molecule?

     _He._--I shall labour in vain, I fancy. If he is destined to grow
     into a good man, I shall not hurt him; but if the molecule meant
     him for a ne'er-do-well like his father, then all the pains that I
     might have taken to make a decent man of him would only be very
     hurtful to him, Education incessantly crossing the inclination of
     the molecule, he would be drawn as it were by two contrary forces,
     and would walk in zigzags along the path of life, as I see an
     infinity of other people doing, equally awkward in good and evil.
     These are what we call _espèces_, of all epithets the most to be
     dreaded, because it marks mediocrity and the very lowest degree of
     contempt. A great scoundrel is a great scoundrel, but he is not an
     _espèce_. Before the paternal molecule had got the upper hand, and
     had brought him to the perfect abjection at which I have arrived,
     it would take endless time, and he would lose his best years. I do
     not meddle at present; I let him come on. I examine him; he is
     already greedy, cunning, idle, lying, and a cheat; I'm much afraid
     that he is a chip of the old block.

     _I._--And you will make him a musician, so that the likeness may be

     _He._--A musician! Sometimes I look at him and grind my teeth,
     saying: If thou wert ever to know a note of music, I believe I
     would wring thy neck.

     _I._--And why so, if you please?

     _He._--Music leads to nothing.

     _I._--It leads to everything.

     _He._--Yes, when people are first-rate. But who can promise himself
     that his child shall be first-rate. The odds are ten thousand to
     one that he will never be anything but a wretched scraper of
     catgut. Are you aware that it would perhaps be easier to find a
     child fit to govern a realm, fit to be a great king, than one fit
     for a great violin player.

     _I._--It seems to me that agreeable talents, even if they are
     mediocre, among a people who are without morals, and are lost in
     debauchery and luxury, get a man rapidly on in the path of fortune.

     _He._--No doubt, gold and gold; gold is everything, and all the
     rest without gold is nothing. So instead of cramming his head with
     fine maxims which he would have to forget, on pain of remaining a
     beggar all the days of his life, what I do is this: when I have a
     louis, which does not happen to me often, I plant myself in front
     of him, I pull the louis out of my pocket, I show it to him with
     signs of admiration, I raise my eyes to heaven, I kiss the louis
     before him, and to make him understand still better the importance
     of the sacred coin, I point to him with my finger all that he can
     get with it, a fine frock, a pretty cap, a rich cake; then I thrust
     the louis into my pocket, I walk proudly up and down, I raise the
     lappet of my waistcoat, I strike my fob; and in that way I make him
     see that it is the louis in it that gives me all this assurance.

     _I._--Nothing could be better. But suppose it were to come to pass
     that, being so profoundly penetrated by the value of the louis, he
     were one day....

     _He._--I understand you. One must close one's eyes to that; there
     is no moral principle without its own inconvenience. At the worst
     'tis a bad quarter of an hour, and then all is over.

     _I._--Even after hearing views so wise and so bold, I persist in
     thinking that it would be good to make a musician of him. I know no
     other means of getting so rapidly near great people, of serving
     their vices better, or turning your own to more advantage.

     _He._--That is true; but I have plans for a speedier and surer
     success. Ah, if it were only a girl! But as we cannot do all that
     we should like, we must take what comes, and make the best of it,
     and not be such idiots as most fathers, who could literally do
     nothing worse, supposing them to have deliberately planned the
     misery of their children--namely, give the education of Lacedæmon
     to a child who is destined to live in Paris. If the education is
     bad, the morals of my country are to blame for that, not I. Answer
     for it who may; I wish my son to be happy, or what is the same
     thing, rich, honoured, and powerful. I know something about the
     easiest ways of reaching this end, and I will teach them to him
     betimes. If you blame me, you sages, the multitude and success
     will acquit me. He will put money in his purse, I can tell you. If
     he has plenty of that, he will lack nothing else, not even your
     esteem and respect.

     _I._--You may be mistaken.

     _He._--Then perhaps he will do very well without it, like many
     other people.

            *       *       *       *       *

     [There was in all this a good deal of what passes through many
     people's minds, and much of the principle according to which they
     shape their own conduct; but they never talk about it. There, in
     short, is the most marked difference between my man and most of
     those about us. He avowed the vices that he had, and that others
     have; but he was no hypocrite. He was neither more nor less
     abominable than they; he was only more frank, and more consistent,
     and sometimes he was profound in the midst of his depravity. I
     trembled to think what his child might become under such a master.
     It is certain that after ideas of bringing-up, so strictly traced
     on the pattern of our manners, he must go far, unless prematurely
     stopped on the road.]

     _He._--Oh, fear nothing. The important point, the difficult point,
     to which a good father ought to attend before everything else, is
     not to give to his child vices that enrich, or comical tricks such
     as make him valuable to people of quality--all the world does that,
     if not on system as I do, at least by example and precept. The
     important thing is to impress on him the just proportion, the art
     of keeping out of disgrace and the arm of the law. There are
     certain discords in the social harmony that you must know exactly
     how to place, to prepare, and to hold. Nothing so tame as a
     succession of perfect chords; there needs something that
     stimulates, that resolves the beam, and scatters its rays.

     _I._--Quite so; by your image you bring me back from morals to
     music, and I am very glad, for, to be quite frank with, you, I
     like you better as musician than as moralist.

     _He._--Yet, I am a mere subaltern in music, and a really superior
     figure in morals.

     _I._--I doubt that; but even if it were so, I am an honest man, and
     your principles are not mine.

     _He._--So much the worse for you. Ah, if I only had your talents!

     _I._--Never mind my talents; let us return to yours.

     _He._--If I could only express myself like you! But I have an
     infernally absurd jargon--half the language of men of the world and
     of letters, half of Billingsgate.

     _I._--Nay, I am a poor talker enough. I only know how to speak the
     truth, and that does not always answer, as you know.

     _He._--But it is not for speaking the truth--on the contrary, it is
     for skilful lying that I covet your gift. If I knew how to write,
     to cook up a book, to turn a dedicatory epistle, to intoxicate a
     fool as to his own merits, to insinuate myself into the good graces
     of women!

     _I._--And you do know all that a thousand times better than I. I
     should not be worthy to be so much as your pupil.

     _He._--How many great qualities lost, of which you do not know the

     _I._--I get the price that I ask.

     _He._--If that were true, you would not be wearing that common
     suit, that rough waistcoat, those worsted stockings, those thick
     shoes, that ancient wig.

     _I._--I grant that; a man must be very maladroit not to be rich, if
     he sticks at nothing in order to become rich. But the odd thing is
     that there are people like me who do not look on riches as the most
     precious thing in the world; bizarre people, you know.

     _He._--Bizarre enough. A man is not born with such a twist as that.
     He takes the trouble to give it to himself, for it is not in

     _I._--In the nature of man?

     _He._--No; for everything that lives, without exception, seeks its
     own wellbeing at the expense of any prey that is proper to its
     purpose; and I am perfectly sure that if I let my little savage
     grow up without saying a word to him on the matter, he would wish
     to be richly clad, sumptuously fed, cherished by men, loved by
     women, and to heap upon himself all the happiness of life.

     _I._--If your little savage were left to himself, let him only
     preserve all his imbecility, and add to the scanty reason of the
     child in the cradle the violent passions of a man of thirty--why he
     would strangle his father and dishonour his own mother.

     _He._--That proves the necessity of a good education, and who
     denies it? And what is a good education but one that leads to all
     sorts of enjoyments without danger and without inconvenience?

     _I._--I am not so far from your opinion, only let us keep clear of


     _I._--Because I am afraid that we only agree in appearance, and
     that if we once begin to discuss what are the dangers and the
     inconveniences to avoid, we should cease to understand one another.

     _He._--What of that?

     _I._--Let us leave all this, I tell you; what I know about it I
     shall never get you to learn, and you will more easily teach me
     what I do not know, and you do know, in music. Let us talk about
     music, dear Rameau, and tell me how it has come about that with the
     faculty for feeling, retaining, and rendering the finest passages
     in the great masters, with the enthusiasm that they inspire in you,
     and that you transmit to others, you have done nothing that is

     Instead of answering me, he shrugged his shoulders, and pointing to
     the sky with his finger, he cried: The star! the star! When Nature
     made Leo, Vinci, Pergolese, Duni, she smiled. She put on a grave
     and imposing air in shaping my dear uncle Rameau, who for half a
     score years they will have called the great Rameau, and of whom
     very soon nobody will say a word. When she tricked up his nephew,
     she made a grimace, and a grimace, and again a grimace. [And as he
     said this, he put on all sorts of odd expressions: contempt,
     disdain, irony; and he seemed to be kneading between his fingers a
     piece of paste, and to be smiling at the ridiculous shapes that he
     gave it; that done, he flung the incongruous pagod[225] away from
     him, and said:] It was thus she made me, and flung me by the side
     of the other pagods, some with huge wrinkled paunches, and short
     necks, and great eyes projecting out of their heads, stamped with
     apoplexy; others with wry necks; some again with wizened faces,
     keen eyes, hooked noses. All were ready to split with laughing when
     they espied me, and I put my hands to my sides and split with
     laughter when I espied them, for fools and madmen tickle one
     another; they seek and attract one another. If when I got among
     them, I had not found ready-made the proverb about _the money of
     fools being the patrimony of people with wits_, they would have
     been indebted to me for it. I felt that nature had put my lawful
     inheritance into the purses of the pagods, and I devised a thousand
     means of recovering my rights.

    [225] These little china images of gods, with nodding heads, were
    then a fashionable toy in Paris.

     _I._--Yes, I know all about your thousand means; you have told me
     of them, and I have admired them vastly. But with so many
     resources, why not have tried that of a fine work?...

     _He._--When I am alone I take up my pen and intend to write; I bite
     my nails and rub my brow; your humble servant, good-bye, the god is
     absent. I had convinced myself that I had genius; at the end of the
     time I discover that I am a fool, a fool, and nothing but a fool.
     But how is one to feel, to think, to rise to heights, to paint in
     strong colours, while haunting with such creatures as those whom
     one must see if one is to live; in the midst of such talk as one
     has to make and to hear, and such idle gossip: "How charming the
     boulevard was to-day!" "Have you heard the little Marmotte? Her
     playing is ravishing." "Mr. So-and-so had the handsomest pair of
     grays in his carriage that you can possibly imagine." "The
     beautiful Mrs. So-and-so is beginning to fade; who at the age of
     five-and-forty would wear a headdress like that?" "Young
     Such-and-such is covered with diamonds, and she gets them cheap."

     "You mean she gets them dear."

     "No, I do not."

     "Where did you see her?"

     "At the play."

     "The scene of despair was played as it had never been played
     before." "The Polichinelle of the Fair has a voice, but no
     delicacy, no soul." "Madame So-and-so has produced two at a birth;
     each father will have his own child...." And yet you suppose that
     this kind of thing, said and said again, and listened to every day
     of the week, sets the soul aglow and leads to mighty things.

     _I._--Nay, it were better to turn the key of one's garret, drink
     cold water, eat dry bread, and seek one's true self.

     _He._--Maybe, but I have not the courage. And then the idea of
     sacrificing one's happiness for the sake of a success that is
     doubtful! And the name that I bear? Rameau! It is not with talents
     as it is with nobility; nobility transmits itself, and increases in
     lustre by passing from grandfather to father, and from father to
     son, and from son to grandson, without the ancestor impressing a
     spark of merit on his descendant; the old stock ramifies into an
     enormous crop of fools; but what matter? It is not so with talents.
     Merely to obtain the renown of your father, you must be cleverer
     than he was; you must have inherited his fibre. The fibre has
     failed me, but the wrist is nimble, the fiddle-bow scrapes away,
     and the pot boils; if there is not glory, there is broth.

     _I._--If I were in your place, I would not take it for granted; I
     would try.... Whatever it be that a man applies himself to, nature
     meant him for it.

     _He._--She makes mighty blunders. For my part, I do not look down
     from heights, whence all seems confused and blurred,--the man who
     prunes a tree with his knife, all one with the caterpillar who
     devours its leaf; a couple of insects, each at his proper task. Do
     you, if you choose, perch yourself on the epicycle of the planet
     Mercury, and thence distribute creation, in imitation, of Réaumur;
     he, the classes of flies into seamstresses, surveyors, reapers;
     you, the human species into joiners, dancers, singers, tilers. That
     is your affair, and I will not meddle with it. I am in this world,
     and in this world I rest. But if it is in nature to have an
     appetite--for it is always to appetite that I come back, and to the
     sensation that is ever present to me--then I find that it is by no
     means consistent with good order not to have always something to
     eat. What a precious economy of things! Men who are over-crammed
     with everything under the sun, while others, who have a stomach
     just as importunate as they, a hunger that recurs as regularly as
     theirs, have not a bite. The worst is the constrained posture to
     which want pins us down. The needy man does not walk like anybody
     else; he jumps, he crawls, he wriggles, he limps, he passes his
     whole life in taking and executing artificial postures.

     _I._--What are postures?

     _He._--Ask Noverre.[226] The world offers far more of them than his
     art can imitate.

     [226] A famous dancing-master of the time.

     _I._--Ah, there are you too--to use your expression or
     Montaigne's--_perched on the epicycle of Mercury_, and eyeing the
     various pantomimes of the human race.

     _He._--No, no, I tell you; I'm too heavy to raise myself so high.
     No sojourn in the fogs for me. I look about me, and I assume my
     postures, or I amuse myself with the postures that I see others
     taking. I am an excellent pantomime as you shall judge.

            *       *       *       *       *

     [Then he set himself to smile, to imitate the admirer, the
     suppliant, the fawning complaisant; he expects a command, receives
     it, starts off like an arrow, returns, the order is executed, he
     reports what he has done; he is attentive to everything; he picks
     up something that has fallen; he places a pillow or a footstool; he
     holds a saucer; he brings a chair, opens a door, closes a window,
     draws the curtains, gazes on the master and mistress; he stands
     immovable, his arms hanging by his side, his legs exactly straight;
     he listens, he seeks to read their faces, and then he adds:--That
     is my pantomime, very much the same as that of all flatterers,
     courtiers, valets, and beggars.

     The buffooneries of this man, the stories of the abbé Galiani, the
     extravagances of Rabelais, have sometimes thrown me into profound
     reveries. They are three stores whence I have provided myself with
     ridiculous masks that I place on the faces of the gravest
     personages, and I see Pantaloon in a prelate, a satyr in a
     president, a pig in a monk, an ostrich in a minister, a goose in
     his first clerk.]

            *       *       *       *       *

     _I._--But according to your account, I said to my man, there are
     plenty of beggars in the world, and yet I know nobody who is not
     acquainted with some of the steps of your dance.

     _He._--You are right. In a whole kingdom there is only one man who
     walks, and that is the sovereign.

     _I._--The sovereign? There is something to be said on that. For do
     you suppose that one may not from time to time find even by the
     side of him, a dainty foot, a pretty neck, a bewitching nose, that
     makes him execute his pantomime. Whoever has need of another is
     indigent, and assumes a posture. The king postures before his
     mistress, and before God he treads his pantomimic measure. The
     minister dances the step of courtier, flatterer, valet, and beggar
     before his king. The crowd of the ambitious cut a hundred capers,
     each viler than the rest, before the minister. The abbé, with his
     bands and long cloak, postures at least once a week before the
     patron of livings. On my word, what you call the pantomime of
     beggars is only the whole huge bustle of the earth....

     _He._--But let us bethink ourselves what o'clock it is, for I must
     go to the opera.

     _I._--What is going on?

     _He._--Dauvergne's _Trocqueurs_. There are some tolerable things in
     the music; the only pity is that he has not been the first to say
     them. Among those dead, there are always some to dismay the living.
     What would you have? _Quisque suos patimur manes._ But it is
     half-past five, I hear the bell ringing my vespers. Good day, my
     philosopher; always the same, am I not?

     _I._--Alas, you are; worse luck.

     _He._--Only let me have that bad luck for forty years to come! Who
     laughs last has the best of the laugh.

     THE END.

_Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, LIMITED, _Edinburgh._

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  |                                                              |
  | Transcriber's Notes & Errata                                 |
  |                                                              |
  | Italic text is enclosed in underscores (_).                  |
  |                                                              |
  | Bold text is enclosed in 'equals' signs (=).                 |
  |                                                              |
  | 'OE' and 'oe' ligatures have been transcribed as 'o' and     |
  | 'e', and 'O' and 'e'.                                        |
  |                                                              |
  | The following words were found in both unhyphenated and      |
  | hyphenated forms. The number of instances of each are given  |
  | in parentheses.                                              |
  |                                                              |
  | |apiece (1)    |a-piece (1)    |                             |
  | |demigods (1)  |demi-gods (2)  |                             |
  | |nightcap (1)  |night-cap (1)  |                             |
  | |wellbeing (4) |well-being (3) |                             |
  |                                                              |
  | The following typographical errors have been corrected.      |
  |                                                              |
  | |Error                        |Correction                   ||
  | |                             |                             ||
  | |sociey                       |society                      ||
  | |                             |                             ||
  | |It would, as Mill has said,  |It would, as Mill has said,  ||
  | |  imply ignorance of the     |  imply ignorance of the     ||
  | |  history of philosophy and  |  history of philosophy and  ||
  | |  of general literature not  |  of general literature not  ||
  | |  to be aware that in all    |  to be aware that in all    ||
  | |  ages of philosophy and of  |  ages of philosophy one of  ||
  | |  general literature, not    |  its schools has been       ||
  | |  to be aware that in all    |  utilitarian, not only from ||
  | |  ages of philosophy one of  |  the time of Epicurus, but  ||
  | |  its schools has been       |  long before.               ||
  | |  utilitarian, not only      |                             ||
  | |  from the time of Epicurus, |                             ||
  | |  but long before.           |                             ||
  | |                             |                             ||
  | |beween                       |between                      ||
  | |                             |                             ||
  | |sense how                    |sense of how                 ||
  | |                             |                             ||
  | |arbitary                     |arbitrary                    ||
  |                                                              |

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