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Title: The Double Garden
Author: Maeterlinck, Maurice
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 "The Double Garden" ***

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_By the Same Author_:


     WISDOM AND DESTINY. Translated by ALFRED SUTRO. 12mo. $1.75.

     THE LIFE OF THE BEE. Translated by ALFRED SUTRO. 12mo. $1.40 _net_.

     MIALL. 12mo. $1.20 _net_.

     THE BURIED TEMPLE. Translated by ALFRED SUTRO. 12mo. $1.40 _net_.

     THOUGHTS FROM MAETERLINCK. Arranged by E. S. S. 12mo. $1.20 _net_.

     12mo. $1.40 _net_.

The Double Garden


_Translated by_

[Illustration: Decoration]






_Published May, 1904_



_Of the sixteen essays in this volume, some have appeared in London: in
the_ International Library of Famous Literature, _the_ Fortnightly
Review, _the_ Daily Mail _and_ London Opinion; _some in the following
American Reviews: the_ Century Magazine, _the_ Bookman, _the_ Critic,
_the_ Smart Set, Ainslee's Magazine, _the_ Metropolitan Magazine,
Harper's Magazine _and_ Harper's Bazar. _The author's thanks are due to
the respective proprietors of these publications for their permission to
republish in the present volume._


OUR FRIEND, THE DOG                 11

THE TEMPLE OF CHANCE                47

IN PRAISE OF THE SWORD!             67

DEATH AND THE CROWN                 83

UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE                  99

THE MODERN DRAMA                   115


IN AN AUTOMOBILE                   171

NEWS OF SPRING                     189

THE WRATH OF THE BEE               205

FIELD FLOWERS                      219

CHRYSANTHEMUMS                     233

OLD-FASHIONED FLOWERS              251

SINCERITY                          279

PORTRAIT OF A LADY                 295

THE LEAF OF OLIVE                  317




I have lost, within these last few days, a little bull-dog. He had just
completed the sixth month of his brief existence. He had no history. His
intelligent eyes opened to look out upon the world, to love mankind,
then closed again on the cruel secrets of death.

The friend who presented me with him had given him, perhaps by
antiphrasis, the startling name of Pelléas. Why rechristen him? For how
can a poor dog, loving, devoted, faithful, disgrace the name of a man or
an imaginary hero?

Pelléas had a great bulging, powerful forehead, like that of Socrates
or Verlaine; and, under a little black nose, blunt as a churlish assent,
a pair of large hanging and symmetrical chops, which made his head a
sort of massive, obstinate, pensive and three-cornered menace. He was
beautiful after the manner of a beautiful, natural monster that has
complied strictly with the laws of its species. And what a smile of
attentive obligingness, of incorruptible innocence, of affectionate
submission, of boundless gratitude and total self-abandonment lit up, at
the least caress, that adorable mask of ugliness! Whence exactly did
that smile emanate? From the ingenuous and melting eyes? From the ears
pricked up to catch the words of man? From the forehead that unwrinkled
to appreciate and love, or from the stump of a tail that wriggled at the
other end to testify to the intimate and impassioned joy that filled his
small being, happy once more to encounter the hand or the glance of the
god to whom he surrendered himself?

Pelléas was born in Paris, and I had taken him to the country. His bonny
fat paws, shapeless and not yet stiffened, carried slackly through the
unexplored pathways of his new existence his huge and serious head,
flat-nosed and, as it were, rendered heavy with thought.

For this thankless and rather sad head, like that of an overworked
child, was beginning the overwhelming work that oppresses every brain at
the start of life. He had, in less than five or six weeks, to get into
his mind, taking shape within it, an image and a satisfactory conception
of the universe. Man, aided by all the knowledge of his own elders and
his brothers, takes thirty or forty years to outline that conception,
but the humble dog has to unravel it for himself in a few days: and yet,
in the eyes of a god, who should know all things, would it not have the
same weight and the same value as our own?

It was a question, then, of studying the ground, which can be scratched
and dug up and which sometimes reveals surprising things; of casting at
the sky, which is uninteresting, for there is nothing there to eat, one
glance that does away with it for good and all; of discovering the
grass, the admirable and green grass, the springy and cool grass, a
field for races and sports, a friendly and boundless bed, in which lies
hidden the good and wholesome couch-grass. It was a question, also, of
taking promiscuously a thousand urgent and curious observations. It was
necessary, for instance, with no other guide than pain, to learn to
calculate the height of objects from the top of which you can jump into
space; to convince yourself that it is vain to pursue birds who fly away
and that you are unable to clamber up trees after the cats who defy you
there; to distinguish between the sunny spots where it is delicious to
sleep and the patches of shade in which you shiver; to remark with
stupefaction that the rain does not fall inside the houses, that water
is cold, uninhabitable and dangerous, while fire is beneficent at a
distance, but terrible when you come too near; to observe that the
meadows, the farm-yards and sometimes the roads are haunted by giant
creatures with threatening horns, creatures good-natured, perhaps, and,
at any rate, silent, creatures who allow you to sniff at them a little
curiously without taking offence, but who keep their real thoughts to
themselves. It was necessary to learn, as the result of painful and
humiliating experiment, that you are not at liberty to obey all nature's
laws without distinction in the dwelling of the gods; to recognize that
the kitchen is the privileged and most agreeable spot in that divine
dwelling, although you are hardly allowed to abide in it because of the
cook, who is a considerable, but jealous power; to learn that doors are
important and capricious volitions, which sometimes lead to felicity,
but which most often, hermetically closed, mute and stern, haughty and
heartless, remain deaf to all entreaties; to admit, once and for all,
that the essential good things of life, the indisputable blessings,
generally imprisoned in pots and stew-pans, are almost always
inaccessible; to know how to look at them with laboriously-acquired
indifference and to practise to take no notice of them, saying to
yourself that here are objects which are probably sacred, since merely
to skim them with the tip of a respectful tongue is enough to let loose
the unanimous anger of all the gods of the house.

And then, what is one to think of the table on which so many things
happen that cannot be guessed; of the derisive chairs on which one is
forbidden to sleep; of the plates and dishes that are empty by the time
that one can get at them; of the lamp that drives away the dark?... How
many orders, dangers, prohibitions, problems, enigmas has one not to
classify in one's overburdened memory!... And how to reconcile all this
with other laws, other enigmas, wider and more imperious, which one
bears within one's self, within one's instinct, which spring up and
develop from one hour to the other, which come from the depths of time
and the race, invade the blood, the muscles and the nerves and suddenly
assert themselves more irresistibly and more powerfully than pain, the
word of the master himself, or the fear of death?

Thus, for instance, to quote only one example, when the hour of sleep
has struck for men, you have retired to your hole, surrounded by the
darkness, the silence and the formidable solitude of the night. All is
asleep in the master's house. You feel yourself very small and weak in
the presence of the mystery. You know that the gloom is peopled with
foes who hover and lie in wait. You suspect the trees, the passing wind
and the moonbeams. You would like to hide, to suppress yourself by
holding your breath. But still the watch must be kept; you must, at the
least sound, issue from your retreat, face the invisible and bluntly
disturb the imposing silence of the earth, at the risk of bringing down
the whispering evil or crime upon yourself alone. Whoever the enemy be,
even if he be man, that is to say, the very brother of the god whom it
is your business to defend, you must attack him blindly, fly at his
throat, fasten your perhaps sacrilegious teeth into human flesh,
disregard the spell of a hand and voice similar to those of your master,
never be silent, never attempt to escape, never allow yourself to be
tempted or bribed and, lost in the night without help, prolong the
heroic alarm to your last breath.

There is the great ancestral duty, the essential duty, stronger than
death, which not even man's will and anger are able to check. All our
humble history, linked with that of the dog in our first struggles
against every breathing thing, tends to prevent his forgetting it. And
when, in our safer dwelling-places of to-day, we happen to punish him
for his untimely zeal, he throws us a glance of astonished reproach, as
though to point out to us that we are in the wrong and that, if we lose
sight of the main clause in the treaty of alliance which he made with us
at the time when we lived in caves, forests and fens, he continues
faithful to it in spite of us and remains nearer to the eternal truth of
life, which is full of snares and hostile forces.

But how much care and study are needed to succeed in fulfilling this
duty! And how complicated it has become since the days of the silent
caverns and the great deserted lakes! It was all so simple, then, so
easy and so clear. The lonely hollow opened upon the side of the hill,
and all that approached, all that moved on the horizon of the plains or
woods, was the unmistakable enemy.... But to-day you can no longer
tell.... You have to acquaint yourself with a civilization of which you
disapprove, to appear to understand a thousand incomprehensible
things.... Thus, it seems evident that henceforth the whole world no
longer belongs to the master, that his property conforms to
unintelligible limits.... It becomes necessary, therefore, first of all
to know exactly where the sacred domain begins and ends. Whom are you to
suffer, whom to stop?... There is the road by which every one, even the
poor, has the right to pass. Why? You do not know; it is a fact which
you deplore, but which you are bound to accept. Fortunately, on the
other hand, here is the fair path which none may tread. This path is
faithful to the sound traditions; it is not to be lost sight of; for by
it enter into your daily existence the difficult problems of life.

Would you have an example? You are sleeping peacefully in a ray of the
sun that covers the threshold of the kitchen with pearls. The
earthenware pots are amusing themselves by elbowing and nudging one
another on the edge of the shelves trimmed with paper lace-work. The
copper stew-pans play at scattering spots of light over the smooth white
walls. The motherly stove hums a soft tune and dandles three saucepans
blissfully dancing; and, from the little hole that lights up its inside,
defies the good dog who cannot approach, by constantly putting out at
him its fiery tongue. The clock, bored in its oak case, before striking
the august hour of meal-time, swings its great gilt navel to and fro;
and the cunning flies tease your ears. On the glittering table lie a
chicken, a hare, three partridges, besides other things which are called
fruits--peaches, melons, grapes--and which are all good for nothing. The
cook guts a big silver fish and throws the entrails (instead of giving
them to you!) into the dust-bin. Ah, the dust-bin! Inexhaustible
treasury, receptacle of windfalls, the jewel of the house! You shall
have your share of it, an exquisite and surreptitious share; but it does
not do to seem to know where it is. You are strictly forbidden to
rummage in it. Man in this way prohibits many pleasant things, and life
would be dull indeed and your days empty if you had to obey all the
orders of the pantry, the cellar and the dining-room. Luckily, he is
absent-minded and does not long remember the instructions which he
lavishes. He is easily deceived. You achieve your ends and do as you
please, provided you have the patience to await the hour. You are
subject to man, and he is the one god; but you none the less have your
own personal, exact and imperturbable morality, which proclaims aloud
that illicit acts become most lawful through the very fact that they are
performed without the master's knowledge. Therefore, let us close the
watchful eye that has seen. Let us pretend to sleep and to dream of the

Hark! A gentle tapping at the blue window that looks out on the garden!
What is it? Nothing; a bough of hawthorn that has come to see what we
are doing in the cool kitchen. Trees are inquisitive and often excited;
but they do not count, one has nothing to say to them, they are
irresponsible, they obey the wind, which has no principles.... But what
is that? I hear steps!... Up, ears open; nose on the alert!... It is the
baker coming up to the rails, while the postman is opening a little gate
in the hedge of lime-trees. They are friends; it is well; they bring
something: you can greet them and wag your tail discreetly twice or
thrice, with a patronizing smile....

Another alarm! What is it now? A carriage pulls up in front of the
steps. The problem is a complex one. Before all, it is of consequence to
heap copious insults on the horses, great, proud beasts, who make no
reply. Meantime, you examine out of the corner of your eye the persons
alighting. They are well-clad and seem full of confidence. They are
probably going to sit at the table of the gods. The proper thing is to
bark without acrimony, with a shade of respect, so as to show that you
are doing your duty, but that you are doing it with intelligence.
Nevertheless, you cherish a lurking suspicion and, behind the guests'
backs, stealthily, you sniff the air persistently and in a knowing way,
in order to discern any hidden intentions.

But halting footsteps resound outside the kitchen. This time it is the
poor man dragging his crutch, the unmistakable enemy, the hereditary
enemy, the direct descendant of him who roamed outside the bone-crammed
cave which you suddenly see again in your racial memory. Drunk with
indignation, your bark broken, your teeth multiplied with hatred and
rage, you are about to seize the irreconcilable adversary by the
breeches, when the cook, armed with her broom, the ancillary and
forsworn sceptre, comes to protect the traitor, and you are obliged to
go back to your hole, where, with eyes filled with impotent and slanting
flames, you growl out frightful, but futile curses, thinking within
yourself that this is the end of all things, and that the human species
has lost its notion of justice and injustice....

Is that all? Not yet; for the smallest life is made up of innumerous
duties, and it is a long work to organize a happy existence upon the
borderland of two such different worlds as the world of beasts and the
world of men. How should we fare if we had to serve, while remaining
within our own sphere, a divinity, not an imaginary one, like to
ourselves, because the offspring of our own brain, but a god actually
visible, ever present, ever active and as foreign, as superior to our
being as we are to the dog?

We now, to return to Pelléas, know pretty well what to do and how to
behave on the master's premises. But the world does not end at the
house-door, and, beyond the walls and beyond the hedge, there is a
universe of which one has not the custody, where one is no longer at
home, where relations are changed. How are we to stand in the street, in
the fields, in the market-place, in the shops? In consequence of
difficult and delicate observations, we understand that we must take no
notice of passers-by; obey no calls but the master's; be polite, with
indifference, to strangers who pet us. Next, we must conscientiously
fulfil certain obligations of mysterious courtesy toward our brothers
the other dogs; respect chickens and ducks; not appear to remark the
cakes at the pastry-cooks, which spread themselves insolently within
reach of the tongue; show to the cats, who, on the steps of the houses,
provoke us by hideous grimaces, a silent contempt, but one that will not
forget; and remember that it is lawful and even commendable to chase and
strangle mice, rats, wild rabbits and, generally speaking, all animals
(we learn to know them by secret marks) that have not yet made their
peace with mankind.

All this and so much more!... Was it surprising that Pelléas often
appeared pensive in the face of those numberless problems, and that his
humble and gentle look was often so profound and grave, laden with cares
and full of unreadable questions?

Alas, he did not have time to finish the long and heavy task which
nature lays upon the instinct that rises in order to approach a brighter
region.... An ill of a mysterious character, which seems specially to
punish the only animal that succeeds in leaving the circle in which it
is born; an indefinite ill that carries off hundreds of intelligent
little dogs, came to put an end to the destiny and the happy education
of Pelléas. And now all those efforts to achieve a little more light;
all that ardour in loving, that courage in understanding; all that
affectionate gaiety and innocent fawning; all those kind and devoted
looks, which turned to man to ask for his assistance against unjust
death; all those flickering gleams which came from the profound abyss of
a world that is no longer ours; all those nearly human little habits lie
sadly in the cold ground, under a flowering elder-tree, in a corner of
the garden.


Man loves the dog, but how much more ought he to love it if he
considered, in the inflexible harmony of the laws of nature, the sole
exception, which is that love of a being that succeeds in piercing, in
order to draw closer to us, the partitions, every elsewhere impermeable,
that separate the species! We are alone, absolutely alone on this chance
planet; and, amid all the forms of life that surround us, not one,
excepting the dog, has made an alliance with us. A few creatures fear
us, most are unaware of us, and not one loves us. In the world of
plants, we have dumb and motionless slaves; but they serve us in spite
of themselves. They simply endure our laws and our yoke. They are
impotent prisoners, victims incapable of escaping, but silently
rebellious; and, so soon as we lose sight of them, they hasten to betray
us and return to their former wild and mischievous liberty. The rose and
the corn, had they wings, would fly at our approach like the birds.

Among the animals, we number a few servants who have submitted only
through indifference, cowardice or stupidity: the uncertain and craven
horse, who responds only to pain and is attached to nothing; the passive
and dejected ass, who stays with us only because he knows not what to do
nor where to go, but who nevertheless, under the cudgel and the
pack-saddle, retains the idea that lurks behind his ears; the cow and
the ox, happy so long as they are eating, and docile because, for
centuries, they have not had a thought of their own; the affrighted
sheep, who knows no other master than terror; the hen, who is faithful
to the poultry-yard because she finds more maize and wheat there than in
the neighbouring forest. I do not speak of the cat, to whom we are
nothing more than a too large and uneatable prey: the ferocious cat,
whose sidelong contempt tolerates us only as encumbering parasites in
our own homes. She, at least, curses us in her mysterious heart; but all
the others live beside us as they might live beside a rock or a tree.
They do not love us, do not know us, scarcely notice us. They are
unaware of our life, our death, our departure, our return, our sadness,
our joy, our smile. They do not even hear the sound of our voice, so
soon as it no longer threatens them; and, when they look at us, it is
with the distrustful bewilderment of the horse, in whose eye still
hovers the infatuation of the elk or gazelle that sees us for the first
time, or with the dull stupor of the ruminants, who look upon us as a
momentary and useless accident of the pasture.

For thousands of years, they have been living at our side, as foreign to
our thoughts, our affections, our habits as though the least fraternal
of the stars had dropped them but yesterday on our globe. In the
boundless interval that separates man from all the other creatures, we
have succeeded only, by dint of patience, in making them take two or
three illusory steps. And, if, to-morrow, leaving their feelings toward
us untouched, nature were to give them the intelligence and the weapons
wherewith to conquer us, I confess that I should distrust the hasty
vengeance of the horse, the obstinate reprisals of the ass and the
maddened meekness of the sheep. I should shun the cat as I should shun
the tiger; and even the good cow, solemn and somnolent, would inspire me
with but a wary confidence. As for the hen, with her round, quick eye,
as when discovering a slug or a worm, I am sure that she would devour me
without a thought.


Now, in this indifference and this total want of comprehension in which
everything that surrounds us lives; in this incommunicable world, where
everything has its object hermetically contained within itself, where
every destiny is self-circumscribed, where there exist among the
creatures no other relations than those of executioners and victims,
eaters and eaten, where nothing is able to leave its steel-bound
sphere, where death alone establishes cruel relations of cause and
effect between neighbouring lives, where not the smallest sympathy has
ever made a conscious leap from one species to another, one animal
alone, among all that breathes upon the earth, has succeeded in breaking
through the prophetic circle, in escaping from itself to come bounding
toward us, definitely to cross the enormous zone of darkness, ice and
silence that isolates each category of existence in nature's
unintelligible plan. This animal, our good familiar dog, simple and
unsurprising as may to-day appear to us what he has done, in thus
perceptibly drawing nearer to a world in which he was not born and for
which he was not destined, has nevertheless performed one of the most
unusual and improbable acts that we can find in the general history of
life. When was this recognition of man by beast, this extraordinary
passage from darkness to light, effected? Did we seek out the poodle,
the collie, or the mastiff from among the wolves and the jackals, or did
he come spontaneously to us? We cannot tell. So far as our human annals
stretch, he is at our side, as at present; but what are human annals in
comparison with the times of which we have no witness? The fact remains
that he is there in our houses, as ancient, as rightly placed, as
perfectly adapted to our habits as though he had appeared on this earth,
such as he now is, at the same time as ourselves. We have not to gain
his confidence or his friendship: he is born our friend; while his eyes
are still closed, already he believes in us: even before his birth, he
has given himself to man. But the word "friend" does not exactly depict
his affectionate worship. He loves us and reveres us as though we had
drawn him out of nothing. He is, before all, our creature full of
gratitude and more devoted than the apple of our eye. He is our
intimate and impassioned slave, whom nothing discourages, whom nothing
repels, whose ardent trust and love nothing can impair. He has solved,
in an admirable and touching manner, the terrifying problem which human
wisdom would have to solve if a divine race came to occupy our globe. He
has loyally, religiously, irrevocably recognized man's superiority and
has surrendered himself to him body and soul, without after-thought,
without any intention to go back, reserving of his independence, his
instinct and his character only the small part indispensable to the
continuation of the life prescribed by nature. With an unquestioning
certainty, an unconstraint and a simplicity that surprise us a little,
deeming us better and more powerful than all that exists, he betrays,
for our benefit, the whole of the animal kingdom to which he belongs
and, without scruple, denies his race, his kin, his mother and his

But he loves us not only in his consciousness and his intelligence: the
very instinct of his race, the entire unconsciousness of his species, it
appears, think only of us, dream only of being useful to us. To serve us
better, to adapt himself better to our different needs, he has adopted
every shape and been able infinitely to vary the faculties, the
aptitudes which he places at our disposal. Is he to aid us in the
pursuit of game in the planes? His legs lengthen inordinately, his
muzzle tapers, his lungs widen, he becomes swifter than the deer. Does
our prey hide under wood? The docile genius of the species, forestalling
our desires, presents us with the basset, a sort of almost footless
serpent, which steals into the closest thickets. Do we ask that he
should drive our flocks? The same compliant genius grants him the
requisite size, intelligence, energy and vigilance. Do we intend him to
watch and defend our house? His head becomes round and monstrous, in
order that his jaws may be more powerful, more formidable and more
tenacious. Are we taking him to the south? His hair grows shorter and
lighter, so that he may faithfully accompany us under the rays of a
hotter sun. Are we going up to the north? His feet grow larger, the
better to tread the snow; his fur thickens, in order that the cold may
not compel him to abandon us. Is he intended only for us to play with,
to amuse the leisure of our eyes, to adorn or enliven the home? He
clothes himself in a sovereign grace and elegance, he makes himself
smaller than a doll to sleep on our knees by the fireside, or even
consents, should our fancy demand it, to appear a little ridiculous to
please us.

You shall not find, in nature's immense crucible, a single living being
that has shown a like suppleness, a similar abundance of forms, the
same prodigious faculty of accommodation to our wishes. This is because,
in the world which we know, among the different and primitive geniuses
that preside over the evolution of the several species, there exists not
one, excepting that of the dog, that ever gave a thought to the presence
of man.

It will, perhaps, be said that we have been able to transform almost as
profoundly some of our domestic animals: our hens, our pigeons, our
ducks, our cats, our horses, our rabbits, for instance. Yes, perhaps;
although such transformations are not comparable with those undergone by
the dog and although the kind of service which these animals render us
remains, so to speak, invariable. In any case, whether this impression
be purely imaginary or correspond with a reality, it does not appear
that we feel in these transformations the same unfailing and preventing
good will, the same sagacious and exclusive love. For the rest, it is
quite possible that the dog, or rather the inaccessible genius of his
race, troubles scarcely at all about us and that we have merely known
how to make use of various aptitudes offered by the abundant chances of
life. It matters not: as we know nothing of the substance of things, we
must needs cling to appearances; and it is sweet to establish that, at
least in appearance, there is on the planet where, like unacknowledged
kings, we live in solitary state, a being that loves us.

However the case may stand with these appearances, it is none the less
certain that, in the aggregate of intelligent creatures that have
rights, duties, a mission and a destiny, the dog is a really privileged
animal. He occupies in this world a pre-eminent position enviable among
all. He is the only living being that has found and recognizes an
indubitable, tangible, unexceptionable and definite god. He knows to
what to devote the best part of himself. He knows to whom above him to
give himself. He has not to seek for a perfect, superior and infinite
power in the darkness, amid successive lies, hypotheses and dreams. That
power is there, before him, and he moves in its light. He knows the
supreme duties which we all do not know. He has a morality which
surpasses all that he is able to discover in himself and which he can
practise without scruple and without fear. He possesses truth in its
fulness. He has a certain and infinite ideal.


And it was thus that, the other day, before his illness, I saw my little
Pelléas sitting at the foot of my writing-table, his tail carefully
folded under his paws, his head a little on one side, the better to
question me, at once attentive and tranquil, as a saint should be in the
presence of God. He was happy with the happiness which we, perhaps,
shall never know, since it sprang from the smile and the approval of a
life incomparably higher than his own. He was there, studying, drinking
in all my looks; and he replied to them gravely, as from equal to equal,
to inform me, no doubt, that, at least through the eyes, the most
immaterial organ that transformed into affectionate intelligence the
light which we enjoyed, he knew that he was saying to me all that love
should say. And, when I saw him thus, young, ardent and believing,
bringing me, in some wise, from the depths of unwearied nature, quite
fresh news of life and trusting and wonder-struck, as though he had been
the first of his race that came to inaugurate the earth and as though
we were still in the first days of the world's existence, I envied the
gladness of his certainty, compared it with the destiny of man, still
plunging on every side into darkness, and said to myself that the dog
who meets with a good master is the happier of the two.



I sacrificed--for it is a sacrifice to forsake the incomparable play of
the stars and moon on the divine Mediterranean--I sacrificed a few
evenings of my stay in the land of the sun to the consulting of the most
mystic god of this world of ours in the busiest, the most gorgeous and
the most individual of his temples.

This temple stands down there, at Monte Carlo, on a rock bathed in the
dazzling light of the sea and sky. Enchanted gardens, where blossom in
January all the flowers of spring, summer and autumn, sweet-scented
thickets that borrow nothing from the hostile seasons but their perfume
and their smiles lie before its porch. The orange, most lovable of all
trees, the palm, the lemon-tree, the mimosa wreathe it with gaiety. The
crowds approach it by royal stairways. But, mark you, the building is
not worthy of the admirable site which it commands, of the delicious
hills, the azure and emerald gulf, the happy meadows that surround it.
Nor is it worthy either of the god whom it shelters or of the idea which
it represents. It is insipidly emphatic and hideously blatant. It
suggests the low insolence, the overweening conceit of the flunkey who
has grown rich but remains obsequious. Examination shows it to be
solidly built and very large; nevertheless, it wears the mean and sadly
pretentious air of the ephemeral palaces of our great exhibitions. The
august father of Destiny has been housed in a sort of meringue covered
with preserved fruits and sugar castles. Perhaps the residence was
purposely made ridiculous. The builders may have feared lest they
should warn or alarm the crowd. They probably wished to make it believe
that the kindliest, the most frivolous, the most harmlessly capricious,
the least serious of the gods awaited his worshippers on a throne of
cakes inside this confectioner's master-piece. Ah, no; a mysterious and
grave divinity reigns here, a wise and sovereign force, harmonious and
sure. He should have been throned in a bare marble palace, severe,
simple and colossal, high and vast, cold and spiritual, rectangular and
rigid, positive and overwhelming.


The interior corresponds with the exterior. The rooms are spacious, but
decorated with hackneyed magnificence. The acolytes of Chance, the
bored, indifferent, monotonous croupiers, look like shop-assistants in
their Sunday clothes. They are not the high-priests, but the
office-clerks of Hazard. The rites and implements of the cult are vulgar
and commonplace: a few tables, some chairs; here, a sort of bowl or
cylinder that turns in the centre of each table, with a tiny ivory ball
that rolls in the opposite direction; there, a few packs of cards; and
that is all. It needs no more to evoke the immeasurable power that holds
the stars in suspense.


Around the tables crowd the faithful. Each of them carries within
himself hopes, belief, different and invisible tragedies and comedies.
This, I think, is the spot in which more nervous force and more human
passions are accumulated and absolutely squandered than in any other in
the world. This is the ill-omened spot where the peerless and, perhaps,
divine substance of substances, which, in every other place, works
pregnant miracles, prodigies of strength, of beauty and of love, this is
the fatal spot where the flower of the soul, the most precious fluid on
the planet, leaks away into nothingness!... No more criminal waste can
be conceived. This unprofitable force, which knows neither whither to go
nor what work to do, which finds no door nor window, no direct object
nor manner of transmission, hovers over the table like a mortal shadow,
falls back upon itself and creates a particular atmosphere, a sort of
sweating silence which somehow suggests the fever of true silence. In
this unwholesome stillness, the voice of Fate's little book-keeper
snuffles out the sacred formula:

"_Faites vos jeux, messieurs, faites vos jeux!_"

That is to say, make to the hidden god the sacrifice which he demands
before he shows himself. Then, somewhere from the crowd, a hand bright
with certainty places imperiously the fruit of a year's work on numbers
that cannot fail. Other adorers, more cunning, more circumspect, less
confident, compound with luck, distribute their chances, compute
illusive probabilities and, having studied the mood and peculiarities of
the genius of the table, lay complex and knowing traps for it. Others,
again, hand over a considerable portion of their happiness or their
life, at random, to the caprice of numbers.

But now the second formula resounds:

"_Rien ne va plus!_"

That is to say, the god is about to speak! At this moment, an eye that
could pierce the easy veil of appearances would distinctly see scattered
on the plain green cloth (if not actually, then at least potentially;
for a single stake is rare, and he who plays of his superfluity to-day
will risk his all to-morrow) a corn-field ripening in the sun a
thousand miles away; or, again, in other squares, a meadow, a wood, a
moonlit country-house, a shop in some little market-town, a staff of
book-keepers and accountants bending over ledgers in their gloomy
offices, peasants labouring in the rain, hundreds of work-girls slaving
from morn to night in deadly factories, miners in the mines, sailors on
their ship; the jewels of debauchery, love or glory; a prison, a
dockyard; joy, misery, injustice, cruelty, avarice; crimes, privations,
tears. All this lies there, very peacefully, in those little heaps of
smiling gold, in those flimsy scraps of paper which ordain disasters
which even a life-time would be powerless ever to efface. The slightest
timid and hesitating movements of these yellow counters and blue notes
will rebound and swell out in the distance, in the real world, in the
streets, in the plains, in the trees, in men's blood and in their
hearts. They will demolish the house that saw the parents die, carry off
the old man's chair, give a new squire to the astonished village, close
a workshop, take away the bread from the children of a hamlet, divert
the course of a river, stay or break a life and, through an infinity of
time and space, burst the links of an uninterrupted chain of cause and
effect. But none of these resounding truths utters an indiscreet whisper
here. There are here more sleeping Furies than on the purple steps of
the palace of the Atridæ; but their cries of waking and of pain lie
hidden at the bottom of men's hearts. Nothing betrays, nothing foretells
that there are definite ills hovering over those present and choosing
their victims. Only, the eyes stare a little, while hands shiftily
finger a pencil, a bit of paper. Not an unaccustomed word or gesture.
Clammy expectation sits motionless. For this is the place of voiceless
pantomime, of stifled fighting, of unblinking despair, of tragedy masked
in silence, of dumb destiny sinking in an atmosphere of lies that
swallows up every sound.


Meanwhile, the little ball spins on the cylinder, and I reflect upon all
that is destroyed by the formidable power conferred on it through a
monstrous compact. Each time that it thus starts in search of the
mysterious answer, it annihilates all around it the last essential
remnants of our social morality: I mean, the value of money. To abolish
the value of money and substitute for it a higher ideal would be an
admirable achievement; but to abolish it and leave in its place simply
nothing is, I conceive, one of the gravest crimes that can be committed
against our scheme of evolution. If we look at it from a certain point
of view and purify it of its incidental vices, money is essentially a
very worthy symbol: it represents human effort and labour; it is, for
the most part, the fruit of laudable sacrifice and noble toil. Whereas
here, this symbol, one of the last that was left to us, is daily
subjected to public mockery. Suddenly, at the caprice of a little thing
as insignificant as a child's toy, ten years of striving, of
conscientious thought, of tasks patiently endured lose all importance.
If this hideous phenomenon were not isolated on this one rock, no social
organization but would have fallen victim to the injury spreading from
it. Even now, in its leprous isolation, this devastating influence makes
itself felt at a distance that never could have been estimated. We feel
that this influence, so inevitable, so malevolent and so profound, is
such that, when we leave this cursed palace where gold clinks
incessantly against the human conscience, we wonder how it is that the
everyday life goes on, that patient gardeners consent to keep up the
flower-beds in front of the fatal building, that wretched guardians can
be found to watch over its precincts for a contemptible wage and that a
poor little old woman, at the bottom of its marble stairs, amid the
coming and going of lucky or ruined gamblers, for years persists in
earning a laborious livelihood by selling pennyworths of oranges,
almonds, nuts and matches to the passers-by.


While we are making these reflections, the ivory ball slackens its
course and begins to hop like a noisy insect over the thirty-seven
compartments that allure it. This is the irrevocable judgment. O strange
infirmity of our eyes, our ears and that brain of which we are so proud!
O strange secrets of the most elementary laws of this world! From the
second at which the ball was set in motion to the second at which it
falls into the fateful hole, on the battle-field three yards long, in
this childish and mocking form, the mystery of the Universe inflicts a
symbolical, incessant and disheartening defeat upon human power and
reason. Collect around this table all the wise men, all the divines, all
the seers, all the sages, all the prophets, all the saints, all the
wonder-workers, all the mathematicians, all the geniuses of every time
and every country; ask them to search their reason, their soul, their
knowledge, their Heaven for the number so close at hand, the number
already almost part of the present at which the little ball will end its
race; beg them, so that they may foretell that number to us, to invoke
their gods that know all, their thoughts that govern the nations and
aspire to penetrate the worlds: all their efforts will break against
this brief puzzle which a child could take in its hand and which no
longer fills the smallest moment's space. No one has been able to do it,
no one will ever do it. And all the strength, all the certainty of the
"bank," which is the impassive, stubborn, determined and ever-victorious
ally of the rhythmical and absolute wisdom of Chance, lies solely in the
establishment of man's powerlessness to foresee, were it but for the
third of a second, that which is about to happen before his eyes. If, in
the span of nearly fifty years during which these formidable experiments
have been made on this flower-clad rock, one single being had been found
who, in the course of an afternoon, had torn the veil of mystery that
covers, at each throw, the tiny future of the tiny ball, the bank would
have been broken, the undertaking wrecked. But that abnormal being has
not appeared; and the bank well knows that he will never come to sit at
one of its tables. We see, therefore, how, in spite of all his pride and
all his hopes, man knows that he can know nothing.


In truth, Chance, in the sense in which the gamblers understand it, is a
god without existence. They worship only a lie, which each of them
pictures to himself in a different shape. Each of them ascribes to it
laws, habits, preferences that are utterly contradictory, as a whole,
and purely imaginary. According to some, it favours certain numbers.
According to others, it obeys certain rhythms that are easily grasped.
According to others again, it contains within itself a sort of justice
that ends by giving an equal value to each group of chances. According
to others, lastly, it cannot possibly favour indefinitely any particular
series of simple chances for the benefit of the bank. We should never
come to an end if we tried to review the whole illusory _corpus juris_
of roulette. It is true that, in practice, the indefinite repetition of
the same limited accidents necessarily forms groups of coincidences in
which the gambler's deluded eye seems to discern some phantom laws. But
it is no less true that, upon trial, at the moment when you rely upon
the assistance of the surest phantom, it vanishes abruptly and leaves
you face to face with the unknown which it was masking. For the rest,
most gamblers bring to the green cloth many other illusions, conscious
or instinctive, and infinitely less justifiable. Almost all persuade
themselves that Chance reserves for them special and premeditated
favours or misfortunes. Almost all imagine some undefined but plausible
connection to exist between the little ivory sphere and their presence,
their passions, their desires, their vices, their virtues, their merits,
their intellectual or moral power, their beauty, their genius, the
enigma of their being, their future, their happiness and their life. Is
it necessary to say that there is no such connection; that there could
be none? That little sphere whose judgment they implore, upon which they
hope to exercise an occult influence, that incorruptible little ball has
something else to do than to occupy itself with their joys and sorrows.
It has but thirty or forty seconds of movement and of life; and, during
those thirty or forty seconds, it has to obey more eternal rules, to
resolve more infinite problems, to accomplish more essential duties than
would ever find place in man's consciousness or comprehension. It has,
among other enormous and difficult things, to reconcile in its brief
course those two incomprehensible and immeasurable powers which are
probably the biform soul of the Universe: centrifugal force and
centripetal force. It has to reckon with all the laws of gravitation,
friction, the resistance of the air, all the phenomena of matter. It has
to pay attention to the smallest incidents of the earth or sky; for a
gambler who leaves his seat and imperceptibly disturbs the floor of the
room, or a star that rises in the firmament, compels it to modify and
begin anew the whole of its mathematical operations. It has no time to
play the part of a goddess either well or ill-disposed towards mortals;
it is forbidden to neglect a single one of the numberless formalities
which infinity demands of all that moves within it. And, when, at last,
it attains its goal, it has performed the same incalculable work as the
moon or the other cold and indifferent planets that, outside, above, in
the transparent azure, rise majestically over the sapphire and silver
waters of the Mediterranean. This long work we call Chance, having no
other name to give to that which we do not as yet understand.



Man, greedy of justice, tries in a thousand various manners, often
empirical, sometimes wise, whimsical at other times and superstitious,
to conjure up the shade of the great goddess necessary to his existence.
A strange, elusive and yet most living goddess! An immaterial divinity
that cannot stand upright save in our secret heart; one of which we may
say that, the more visible temples that it has, the less real power it
possesses. A day will break, perhaps, when it shall have no other
palaces than our several consciences; and, on that day, it will reign
really in the silence that is the sacred element of its life. In the
meanwhile, we multiply the organs through which we hope that it will
make itself heard. We lend it human and solemn voices; and when it is
silent in others and even in ourselves, we proceed to question it beyond
our own conscience, on the uncertain confines of our being, where we
become a part of chance and where we believe that justice blends with
God and our own destiny.


It is this insatiable need which, on those points where human justice
remained dumb and declared itself powerless, appealed in former days to
the judgment of God. To-day, when the idea which we have conceived of
the divinity has changed its form and nature, the same instinct
persists, so deep, so general, that it is perhaps but the
half-transparent veil of an approaching truth. If we no longer look to
God to approve or condemn that which men are unable to judge, we now
confide that mission to the unconscious, incognizable and, so to speak,
future part of ourselves. The duel invokes no longer the judgment of
God, but that of our future, our luck or our destiny, composed of all
that is indefinite within us. It is called upon, in the name of our good
or evil possibilities, to declare whether, from the point of view of
inexplicable life, we are wrong or right.

There we have the indelibly human thing that is disengaged from amid all
the absurdities and puerilities of our present encounters. However
unreasonable it may appear, this sort of supreme interrogation, this
question put in the night which is no longer illumined by intelligible
justice, can hardly be waived so long as we have not found a less
equivocal manner of weighing the rights and wrongs, the essential hopes
and inequalities of two destinies that wish to confront each other.


For the rest, to descend to the practical point of view from these
regions haunted by more or less dangerous phantoms, it is certain that
the duel, that is to say the possibility of securing justice for one's
self outside the law and yet according to rule, responds to a need of
which we cannot deny the existence. For we live in the midst of a
society that does not protect us enough to deprive us, in all
circumstances, of the right dearest to man's instinct.

It is unnecessary, I think, to enumerate the cases in which the
protection afforded by society is insufficient. It would take less long
to name those in which it suffices. Doubtless, for men who are lawfully
weak and defenceless, it would be desirable that things were different;
but for those who are capable of defending themselves it is most
salutary that things should be as they are, for nothing suppresses
initiative and personal character so greatly as does a too-zealous and
too-constant protection. Remember that, before all, we are beings of
prey and strife; that we must be careful not completely to extinguish
within ourselves the qualities of primitive man, for it was not without
reason that nature placed them there. If it is wise to restrain their
excess, it is prudent to preserve their principle. We do not know the
offensive tricks which the elements or the other forces of the universe
have in store for us; and woe be to us, in all likelihood, if one day
they find us entirely devoid of the spirit of vengeance, mistrust,
anger, brutality, combativeness, and of many other faults, which are all
very blameworthy from the human point of view, but which, far more than
the most loudly-extolled abstemious virtues, have helped us to conquer
the great enemies of our kind.


It behoves us, therefore, in general, to praise those who do not allow
themselves to be offended with impunity. They keep up among us an idea
of extra-legal justice by which we all profit and which would soon
become exhausted without their aid. Let us rather deplore that they are
not more numerous. If there were not quite so many good-natured souls,
capable of chastising, but too ready to forgive, we should find far
fewer evil-doers too ready to do wrong; for three-quarters of the wrong
that is committed springs from the certainty of impunity. In order to
maintain the vague fear and respect that allow the unfortunate unarmed
to live and breathe almost freely in a society teeming with knaves and
dastards, it is the strict duty of all who are able to resist
unpunishable injustice by means of an act of violence never fail to do
so. They thus restore the level of immanent justice. Thinking that they
are defending only themselves, they defend in the aggregate the most
precious heritage of mankind. I do not contend that it would not be
better, in the greater number of cases, that the courts should
intervene; but, until our laws become simpler, more practical, less
costly and more familiar, we have no other remedy than the fist or the
sword against a number of iniquities that are very real, although not
provided for by our codes.


The fist is quick, immediate; but it is not conclusive enough; when the
offence is at all grave, we see that it is really too lenient and
ephemeral; and, besides, it has always movements that are a little
vulgar and effects that are somewhat repugnant. It brings only a brutal
faculty into play. It is the blindest and most unequal of weapons; and,
since it evades all the conditions that adjust the chances of two
ill-matched adversaries, it involves exaggerated reprisals on the part
of the beaten combatant, which end by arming him with the stick, the
knife or the revolver.

It is allowable in certain countries, in England, for instance. There
the science of boxing forms part of the elementary education and its
general practice tends in a curious way to remove natural inequalities;
moreover, a whole organism of clubs, paternal juries and tribunals easy
of access confirms or forestalls its exploits. But in France it would be
a pity to return to it. The sword, which has there replaced it since
immemorial days, is an incomparably more sensitive, serious, graceful
and delicate instrument of justice. It is reproached with being neither
equitable nor probative. But it proves first of all the quality of our
attitude in the face of danger; and that already is a proof which is not
without its value. For our attitude in the face of danger is exactly our
attitude in the face of the reproaches or encouragements of the various
consciences that lie hidden within us, of those which are both below and
above our intelligible conscience and which mingle with the essential
and, so to speak, universal elements of our being. Next, it depends only
upon ourselves that it should become as equitable as any human
instrument, ever subject to chance, error and weakness, can be. Its art
is certainly accessible to every healthy man. It demands neither
abnormal muscular strength nor exceptional agility. The least gifted of
us need devote to it no more than two or three hours of every week. He
will acquire a suppleness and a precision sufficient soon to discover
what the astronomers call his "personal equation," to attain his
individual average, which is at the same time a general average that
only a few fire-eaters, a few idlers succeed in surpassing, at the cost
of long, painful and very ungrateful efforts.


Having attained this average, we can entrust our lives to the point of
the frail but formidable sword. It is the magician that at once
establishes new relations between two forces which none would have
dreamt of comparing. It allows the pigmy who is in the right to confront
the colossus who is in the wrong. It gracefully leads enormous violence,
horned like the bull, to lighter and brighter summits; and behold, the
primitive animal is obliged to stand still before a power that has
nothing left in common with the mean, shapeless, tyrannical virtues of
earth: I mean weight, mass, quantity, the stupid cohesion of matter.
Between the sword and the fist lie the breadth of a universe, an ocean
of centuries and almost as great a distance as separates beast from man.
The sword is iron and wit, steel and intelligence. It makes the muscles
subservient to thought and compels thought to respect the muscles that
serve it. It is ideal and practical, chimerical and full of good sense.
It is dazzling and clear as lightning, insinuating, elusive and
multiform as a ray of the sun or moon. It is faithful and capricious,
nobly guileful, loyally false. It decks rancour and hatred with a smile.
It transfigures brutality. Thanks to the sword, reason, courage,
rightful assurance, patience, contempt of danger, man's sacrifice to
love, to an idea, a whole moral world, in short, as by a fairy bridge
swung over the abyss of darkness, enters as the master into the original
chaos, reduces and organizes it. The sword is man's pre-eminent weapon,
that weapon which, were all the others tried and itself unknown, would
have to be invented, because it best serves his most various, his most
purely human faculties and because it is the most direct, the most
tractable and the most loyal instrument of his defensive intelligence,
strength and justice.


But what is most admirable is that its decisions are not mechanical nor
mathematically pre-established. In this it resembles those pastimes in
which chance and knowledge are marvellously mingled in order to question
our fortune: pastimes almost mystical and always enthralling, in which
man delights to sound his luck on the confines of his existence.

Bring face to face two adversaries of manifestly unequal powers: it is
not inevitable, it is not even certain that the more vigorous and the
more skilful will gain the day over the other. Once that we have
conquered our personal mastership, our sword becomes ourself, with our
qualities and our defects. It is our firmness, our devotion, our will,
our daring, our conviction, our justice, our hesitation, our impatience,
our fear. We have cultivated it with care. We have risen to the height
of the possibilities which it was able to offer us. We have given it all
that we were able to dispose of; it restores to us integrally all that
we entrusted to it. We have nothing wherewith to reproach ourselves; we
are in accord with the instinct and duty of self-preservation. But the
sword represents something more, and exactly that part of us which we
are compelled to risk at the graver moments of existence. It personifies
an unknown portion of our being and personifies it in the most
favourable and solemn conjuncture that man can imagine wherein to call
upon his destiny, that is to say, in circumstances in which the
mysterious entity that lives within him is directly seconded by all the
faculties subjected to his consciousness.

It thus brings face to face not only two forces, two intelligences and
two liberties, but also two chances, two fortunes, two mysteries, two
destinies, which, over and above the rest, like the gods of Homer,
preside over the combat, run, flash, dart and meet upon its blade. When
it seems to be striking before us in space, it is really knocking at the
doors of our fate; and, while death hovers around it, he who handles it
feels that it is escaping from its previous bondage and suddenly obeying
other laws than those which used to guide it in the fencing-school. It
fulfils a secret mission; before pronouncing sentence, it judges us; or
rather, by the mere fact that we are wielding it distractedly in the
presence of the great and formidable enigma, it forces our destiny to
judge ourselves.



The months of June and July of the year 1902 set for the meditation of
men one of those tragic spectacles which, to speak truly, we encounter
every day in the little life that surrounds us, although, like so many
great things, they there pass unperceived. They do not assume their full
significance, nor finally capture our gaze, except when performed on one
of those enormous stages on which are heaped, so to speak, all the
thoughts of a people and on which the latter loves to behold its own
existence made greater and more solemn by royal actors.

As is said in a modern play, "We must add something to ordinary life
before we can understand it." Fate added, in this case, the power and
the pomp of one of the most glorious thrones on earth. Thanks to the
resplendency of that pomp and that power, we saw exactly what a man is
in himself and what he remains when the imposing laws of nature strip
him cruelly naked before their tribunal. We learnt also--the force of
love, pity, religion and science having been suddenly exerted to the
utmost--we learnt also to know better the value of the aid which all
that we have acquired since we inhabited this planet can give in our
distress. We assisted at a struggle, ever confused, but as fierce as
though it were doomed to be supreme, between the different powers,
physical and moral, visible and invisible, that to-day guide mankind.


Edward VII. King of England, the illustrious victim of a whim of fate,
lay pitifully hovering between the crown and death. This fate, with one
hand, held to his brow one of the most magnificent diadems that the
revolutions have spared; and, with the other, it forced that same brow,
moist with the sweat of the death-agony, to bend down towards a
wide-open tomb. In sinister fashion, it prolonged this game for more
than two months.

If we contemplate the event from a point a little higher than the
elevation of the humble hills on which life's numberless anecdotes
unfold themselves, it is here not only a question of the tragedy of an
opulent monarch stricken by nature at the very moment when thousands of
men are aspiring to place some small portion of their hopes and of their
fairest dreams in his person, beyond the reach of destiny and above
humanity. Neither is it a question of appreciating the irony of that
moment in which they would assert and establish something supernatural
that declined upon something most normally natural; something that
should be contradictory to the pitiless levelling laws of the
indifferent planet which we all inhabit with a sort of heedless
tolerance; something that should reassure them and console them as an
admirable exception to their misery and frailty. No, it is here a
question of the essential tragedy of man, of the universal and perpetual
drama enacted between his feeble will and the enormous unknown force
that encompasses him, between the little flame of his mind or soul, that
inexplicable phenomenon of nature, and vast matter, that other, equally
inexplicable, phenomenon of the same nature. This drama, with its
thousand undetermined catastrophes, has not ceased to unfold itself for
a single day since a portion of blind and colossal life conceived the
somewhat strange idea of taking in us a sort of consciousness of
itself. This time, a more resplendent accident than the others came to
display the drama on a loftier height, which was illumined for an
instant by all the longings, all the wishes, all the fears, all the
uncertainties, all the prayers, all the doubts, all the illusions, all
the wills, all the looks, lastly, of the inhabitants of our globe
hastening in thought to the foot of the solemn mountain.


Slowly, then, it unfolded itself up there; and we were able to compute
our resources. We had the opportunity to weigh in luminous scales our
illusions and our realities. All the confidence and all the wretchedness
of our kind were symbolically concentrated in a single hour and in a
single being. Would it be proved once more that the longings, the most
ardent wishes, the will and the most imperious love of a prodigious
assembly of men are powerless to cause the most insignificant of
physical laws to swerve by one line's breadth? Would it be established
once more that, when standing in the face of nature, we must seek our
defensive laws not in the moral or sentimental, but in another world? It
is salutary therefore to look at that which happened upon that summit
firmly and with an eye that no longer attributes things to spells.


Some beheld in it the mighty manifestation of a jealous and all-powerful
God, Who holds us in His hand and laughs at our poor glory; the scornful
gesture of a Providence too long neglected and incensed because man does
not recognize with greater docility Its hidden existence nor fathom more
easily Its enigmatic will. Were they mistaken? And who are they that
are never mistaken in the darkness that is over us? But why does this
God, more perfect than men, ask of us what a perfect man would not ask?
Why does He make a too willing, an almost blindly accepted faith the
first, the most necessary and indeed the only virtue? If He is incensed
because He is not understood, because He is disobeyed, would it not be
just that He should manifest Himself in such a manner that human reason,
which He Himself created with its admirable demands, should not have to
surrender the most precious, the most essential of its privileges in
order to approach His throne? Now was this gesture, like so many others,
clear enough, significant enough to force reason to its knees? And yet,
if He loves that man should adore Him, as those who speak in His name
proclaim, it would be easy for Him to constrain us all to adore Him
alone. We only await an unexceptionable sign. In the name of that
direct reflection of His light which He has set at the topmost point of
our being, where burns, with an ardour, with a purity that grow fairer
day by day, the single passion for certainty and truth, does it not seem
that we have a right to it?


Others contemplated this King gasping for breath on the steps of the
most splendid throne that still remains standing, this almost infinite
power, shattered, broken, a prey to the dreadful enemies that assail
suffering flesh, flesh destroyed under the most dazzling crown that the
invisible and mocking hand of chance has ever suspended over a confused
heap of anguish and distress....

They saw in it a new and terrifying proof of wretchedness, of human
uselessness. They went about repeating to themselves what the wisdom of
antiquity had already so well said, to wit that we are, that we probably
always shall be, despite all our efforts, "but a grain in the proportion
of substance and but the turning of a wimble in respect of time."
Unbelieving in God, but believing in His shadow, they discovered in
this, perhaps, a mysterious decree of that mysterious Justice which
sometimes comes to place a little order in the shapeless history of men
and to take vengeance on the kings for the iniquity of the nations....

They found in it many other things besides. They were not mistaken; all
those things were there, because they are in ourselves and because the
sense that we give to the incomprehensible actions of unknown forces
soon becomes the sole human reality and peoples with more or less
fraternal spectres the indifference and the nothingness that surround


As for us, without rejecting those seductive or terrible spectres, which
perhaps represent interventions of which our instinct has a
presentiment, though our senses do not perceive them, let us, before
all, fix our eyes on the really human and certain parts of that great
accomplished drama. In the centre of the obscure cloud wherein were
amplified, until they exceeded the confines of this terrestrial world,
the acts of the power that, turn by turn, brought nearer and separated a
solemn death and an illusive crown, we distinguish a man who is at last
about to attain the sole object, the essential moment of his life.
Suddenly, an unseen enemy attacks him and lays him low. Forthwith, other
men run up. They are the princes of Science. They do not ask if it be
God, Destiny, Chance, Justice that comes to obstruct the road of the
victim whom they raise. Believers or unbelievers in other spheres or at
other moments, they put no questions to the murky cloud. They are here
the qualified envoys of the reason of our kind, of naked reason,
abandoned to itself as it wanders alone in a monstrous universe.
Deliberately, they cast off from it sentiment, imagination, all that
does not properly belong to it. They use only the purely human, almost
animal portion of its flame, as though they had the certainty that every
being can vanquish a force of nature only by the, so to speak, specific
force which nature has set within him. Thus handled, this flame is
perhaps narrow and weak, but precise, exclusive, invincible as that of
the blow-pipe of the enameller or the chemist. It is fed with facts,
with minute, but sure and innumerable observations. It lights only
insignificant and successive points in the immense unknown; but it does
not stray, it goes where it is directed by the keen eye that guides it,
and the point which it reaches is screened from the influences once
called supernatural. Humbly it interrupts or diverts the order
pre-established by nature. Scarce two or three years ago, it would have
been deranged and scattered before the same enigma. Its luminous ray had
not yet settled with sufficient rigidity and obstinacy on that dark
point; and we should have once more said that Fatality is invincible.
But, now, it held history and destiny in suspense for several weeks and
ended by casting them without the brassbound track which they reckoned
to follow to the end. Henceforth, if God, Chance, Justice, or whatever
name we may give to the hidden idea of the universe, wish to attain
their object, to go their way and triumph as before, they can follow
other roads; but this one remains forbidden to them. In future, they
will have to avoid the imperceptible but insuperable cleft where will
always watch the little jet of flame that turned them back.

It is possible that this royal tragedy has definitely proved to us that
wishes, love, pity, prayers, a whole portion of man's finest moral
forces, are powerless in the face of one exercise of the will of nature.
Immediately, as though to make good the loss and to maintain the rights
of mind over matter at the necessary level, another moral force, or
rather the same flame assuming another form, shoots up, shines forth and
triumphs. Man loses an illusion to gain a certainty. Far from
descending, he rises by one step among the unconscious forces. We have
here, in spite of all the misery that surrounds it, a great and noble
spectacle and something wherewith to arrest the attention of those who
would lose confidence in the destinies of our kind.



It seems that gradually all is tending with one accord to prove that the
last truths are at the extreme points of thoughts which man has hitherto
refused to explore. This may be stated with regard to both moral and
positive science; nor is there any reason against adding to these the
science of politics, which is only a prolongation of moral science.

For centuries, mankind has, in a measure, lived in a half-way house. A
thousand prejudices and, above all, the enormous prejudices of religion
hid from it the summits of its reason and of its feelings. Now that the
greater number of the artificial mountains that rose between its eyes
and the real horizon of its mind have, in a marked manner, subsided, it
takes stock at once of itself, of its position in the midst of the
worlds and of the aim which it wishes to attain. It is beginning to
understand that all that does not go as far as the logical conclusions
of its intelligence is but a useless game by the way-side. It says to
itself that it will have to cover to-morrow the road which it did not
travel to-day and that, in the meantime, by thus wasting its time
between every stage, it has nothing to gain but a little delusive peace.

It is written in our nature that we are extreme beings; that is our
force and the cause of our progress. We necessarily and instinctively
fly to the utmost limits of our being. We do not feel ourselves to live
and we are unable to organize a life that shall satisfy us, except upon
the confines of our possibilities. Thanks to that self-enlightening
instinct, there is a more and more unanimous tendency to stop no longer
at intermediate solutions, to avoid henceforth all half-way experiments
or at least to hurry through them as rapidly as possible.


This does not mean that our tendency towards extremes is enough to guide
us to definite certainties. There are always two extremes between which
we have to choose; and it is often difficult to decide which is the
starting-point and which the final goal. In morals, for instance, we
have to choose between absolute egotism or altruism and in politics
between the best-organized government that it is possible to imagine,
directing and protecting the smallest acts of our life, or the absence
of all government. The two questions are still insoluble. Nevertheless,
we are free to believe that absolute altruism is more extreme and
nearer to our end than absolute egotism, in the same way as anarchy is
more extreme and nearer to the perfection of our kind than the most
minutely and irreproachably organized government, such as, for instance,
one might imagine to prevail at the last limits of integral socialism.
We are free to believe this, because absolute altruism and anarchy are
the extreme forms that demand the most perfect man. Now it is towards
perfect man that we must turn our gaze; for it is in that direction that
we must hope that mankind is moving. Experience still shows that we risk
less by keeping our eyes before us than by keeping them behind us, less
by looking too high than by not looking high enough. All that we have
obtained so far has been announced and, so to speak, called forth by
those who were accused of looking too high. It is wise, therefore, when
in doubt, to attach one's self to the extreme that implies the most
perfect, the most noble and the most generous form of mankind. Thus it
was that this reply could be given to one who asked whether it were well
to grant to men, in spite of their present imperfections, the most
complete possible liberty:

"Yes, it is the duty of all whose thoughts go before the inconscient
mass to destroy all that trammels the liberty of men, as if all men
deserved to be free, even though we know that they will not deserve to
be so until long after their deliverance. The harmonious use of liberty
is acquired only by a long misuse of its benefits. By proceeding at the
first to the most distant and highest ideal we have the greatest chance
of afterwards discovering the best."

And what is true of liberty is also true of the other rights of man.


In order to apply this principle to universal suffrage, let us recall
the political evolution of modern nations. It follows a uniform and
inflexible curve. One by one, these nations escape from tyranny. A more
or less aristocratic or plutocratic government, elected by a restricted
suffrage, replaces the autocrat. This government, in its turn, makes
way, or is almost everywhere on the point of making way for the
government of all by universal suffrage. Where will the latter end? Will
it bring us back to tyranny? Will it turn into a graduated suffrage?
Will it become a sort of mandarinate, the government of a chosen few, or
an organized anarchy? We can not yet tell, no nation having hitherto
gone beyond the phase of the suffrage of all.


Almost everywhere, in obedience to the now so active law that carries us
to extremes, men are hurrying along at full speed the sooner to reach
what appears to be the last political ideal of the nations, universal
suffrage. Since this ideal still completely masks the better ideal that
probably lies hidden behind it and since it does not appear what it
perhaps is, a provisional solution, it will, until we have exhausted all
the illusions which it contains, hold the gaze and wishes of humanity.
It is the necessary goal, good or bad, towards which the nations are
advancing. It is indispensable to the instinctive justice of the mass
that the evolution should be accomplished. Anything that trammels it is
but an ephemeral obstacle. Anything that pretends to improve that ideal
before it has been attained drives it back towards the error of the
past. Like every universal and imperious ideal, like every ideal formed
in the depth of anonymous life, it has first of all the right to see
itself realized. If, after its realization, it should become apparent
that the ideal does not fulfil its promise, it will then be meet that we
should think of perfecting or replacing it. In the meantime, this fact
is inscribed in the instinct of the mass, as indestructibly as in
bronze, that all nations have the natural right to pass through this
phase of the political evolution of the human polypier and, each in its
turn, each in its own language, with its particular virtues and faults,
to interrogate the possibilities of happiness which it brings.

That is why, full of the duty of living, this ideal is most justly
jealous, intolerant and unreasonable. Like every youthful organism, it
violently eliminates all that can impair the purity of its blood. It is
possible that the elements borrowed from monarchy and aristocracy which
men endeavour to introduce into its adolescent veins are excellent in
themselves; but they are injurious to it because they inoculate it with
the ill of which it has first to be cured. Before the government of all
can be made wiser, more limpid and more harmonious by the admixture of
other systems, it must have purified itself by its own fermentation.
After it has rid itself of every trace, of every memory of the past,
after it has reigned in the certainty and integrity of its force, then
will be the time to invite it to choose in the past that which concerns
its future. It will take of this according to its natural appetite,
which, like the natural appetite of every living being, knows with a
sure knowledge what is indispensable to the mystery of life.


The nations are right therefore in provisionally rejecting that which
is, perhaps, better than universal suffrage. It is possible that the
crowd will eventually admit that the more highly intelligent discern and
govern the common weal better than the others. It will then grant them a
lawful preponderance. For the moment, it does not give them a thought.
It has not had time to learn to know itself. It has not had time to
exhaust experiments which appear absurd, but which are necessary because
they clear the place in which the last truths without doubt lie hidden.

It is with nations as with individuals: that which tells is what they
learn by themselves, at their own cost; and their mistakes form the
heritage of the future. It serves no purpose to say to a man in his
childhood or in his youth:

"Do not lie, do not deceive, cause no suffering."

Those precepts of wisdom, which are at the same time precepts of
happiness, do not impress him, do not feed his thoughts, do not become
beneficent realities until after the moment when life has revealed them
to him as new and magnificent truths which no one ever suspected. In the
same way, it is useless to repeat to a nation that is seeking out its

"Do not believe that the multitude is right, that a lie stated by a
hundred mouths ceases to be a lie, that an error proclaimed by a band of
blind men becomes a truth which nature will sanction. Do not believe,
either, that, by setting yourselves to the number of ten thousand who do
not know against one who knows, you will come to know anything, or that
you will compel the humblest of the eternal laws to follow you, to
abandon him who recognized it. No, the law will remain in its place,
with the wise man who discovered it, and so much the worse for you if
you go away without accepting it! You will one day come across it on
your road, and all that you have done while you thought that you were
avoiding it will turn and rise up against you."

Such words as these, addressed to the crowd, are very true; but it is no
less true that all this becomes efficacious only after it has been
experienced and lived through. In those problems in which all life's
enigmas converge, the crowd which is wrong is almost always justified as
against the wise man who is right. It refuses to believe him on his
word. It feels dimly that behind the most evident abstract truths there
are numberless living truths which no brain can foresee, for they need
time, reality and men's passions to develop their work. That is why,
whatever warning we may give it, whatever prediction we may make to it,
the crowd insists before all that the experiment shall be tried. Can we
say that, in cases where the crowd has obtained the experiment, it was
wrong to insist upon it?

A special study would be needed to examine all that universal suffrage
has added to the general intelligence, to the civic conscience, dignity
and solidarity of the nations that have practised it; but, even if it
had done no more than to create, as in America and France, that sense of
real equality which is there breathed as a more human and purer
atmosphere and which seems new and almost prodigious to those who come
from elsewhere, that in itself would be a boon that would cause its
gravest errors to be forgiven. In any case, it is the best preparation
for that which must inevitably come.



When I speak of the modern drama, I naturally refer only to those
regions of dramatic literature that, sparsely inhabited as they may be,
are yet essentially new. Down below, in the ordinary theatre, ordinary
and traditional drama is doubtless yielding slowly to the influence of
the vanguard; but it were idle to wait for the laggards when we have the
pioneers at our call.

The first thing that strikes us in the drama of the day is the decay,
one might almost say the creeping paralysis, of external action. Next we
note a very pronounced desire to penetrate deeper and deeper into human
consciousness, and place moral problems upon a high pedestal; and
finally the search, still very timid and halting, for a kind of new
beauty, that shall be less abstract than was the old.

It is certain that, on the actual stage, we have far fewer extraordinary
and violent adventures. Bloodshed has grown less frequent, passions less
turbulent; heroism has become less unbending, courage less material and
less ferocious. People still die on the stage, it is true, as in reality
they still must die, but death has ceased--or will cease, let us hope,
very soon--to be regarded as the indispensable setting, the _ultima
ratio_, the inevitable end, of every dramatic poem. In the most
formidable crises of our life--which, cruel though it may be, is cruel
in silent and hidden ways--we rarely look to death for a solution; and
for all that the theatre is slower than the other arts to follow the
evolution of human consciousness, it will still be at last compelled,
in some measure, to take this into account.

When we consider the ancient and tragical anecdotes that constitute the
entire basis of the classical drama; the Italian, Scandinavian, Spanish
or mythical stories that provided the plots, not only for all the plays
of the Shakespearian period, but also--not altogether to pass over an
art that was infinitely less spontaneous--for those of French and German
romanticism, we discover at once that these anecdotes are no longer able
to offer us the direct interest they presented at a time when they
appeared highly natural and possible, at a time, when, at any rate, the
circumstances, manners and sentiments they recalled were not yet extinct
in the minds of those who witnessed their reproduction.


To us, however, these adventures no longer correspond with a living and
actual reality. Should a youth of our own time love, and meet obstacles
not unlike those which, in another order of ideas and events, beset
Romeo's passion, we need no telling that his adventure will be
embellished by none of the features that gave poetry and grandeur to the
episode of Verona. Gone beyond recall is the entrancing atmosphere of a
lordly, passionate life; gone the brawls in picturesque streets, the
interludes of bloodshed and splendour, the mysterious poisons, the
majestic, complaisant tombs! And where shall we look for that exquisite
summer's night, which owes its vastness, its savour, the very appeal
that it makes to us, to the shadow of an heroic, inevitable death that
already lay heavy upon it? Divest the story of Romeo and Juliet of
these beautiful trappings, and we have only the very simple and ordinary
desire of a noble-hearted, unfortunate youth for a maiden whose obdurate
parents deny him her hand. All the poetry, the splendour, the passionate
life of this desire, result from the glamour, the nobility, tragedy,
that are proper to the environment wherein it has come to flower; nor is
there a kiss, a murmur of love, a cry of anger, grief or despair, but
borrows its majesty, grace, its heroism, tenderness--in a word, every
image that has helped it to visible form--from the beings and objects
around it; for it is not in the kiss itself that the sweetness and
beauty are found, but in the circumstance, hour and place wherein it was
given. Again, the same objections would hold if we chose to imagine a
man of our time who should be jealous as Othello was jealous, possessed
of Macbeth's ambition, unhappy as Lear; or, like Hamlet, restless and
wavering, bowed down beneath the weight of a frightful and unrealisable


These conditions no longer exist. The adventure of the modern Romeo--to
consider only the external events which it might provoke--would not
provide material for a couple of acts. Against this it may be urged that
a modern poet, who desires to put on the stage an analogous poem of
youthful love, is perfectly justified in borrowing from days gone by a
more decorative setting, one that shall be more fertile in heroic and
tragical incident. Granted; but what can the result be of such an
expedient? Would not the feelings and passions that demand for their
fullest, most perfect expression and development the atmosphere of
to-day (for the passions and feelings of a modern poet must, in despite
of himself, be entirely and exclusively modern) would not these
suddenly find themselves transplanted to a soil where all things
prevented their living? They no longer believe, yet are charged with the
fear and hope of eternal judgment. In their hours of distress they have
discovered new forces to cling to, that seem trustworthy, human and
just; and behold them thrust back to a century wherein prayer and the
sword decide all! They have profited, unconsciously perhaps, by every
moral advance we have made--and they are suddenly flung into abysmal
days when the least gesture was governed by prejudices at which they can
only shudder or smile. In such an atmosphere, what can they do; how hope
that they truly can live there?


But we need dwell no further on the necessarily artificial poems that
arise from the impossible marriage of past and present. Let us rather
consider the drama that actually stands for the reality of our time, as
Greek drama stood for Greek reality, and the drama of the Renaissance
for the reality of the Renaissance. Its scene is a modern house, it
passes between men and women of to-day. The names of the invisible
protagonists--the passions and ideas--are the same, more or less, as of
old. We see love, hatred, ambition, jealousy, envy, greed; the sense of
justice and idea of duty; pity, goodness, devotion, piety, selfishness,
vanity, pride, etc. But although the names have remained more or less
the same, how great is the difference we find in the aspect and quality,
the extent and influence, of these ideal actors! Of all their ancient
weapons not one is left them, not one of the marvellous moments of olden
days. It is seldom that cries are heard now; bloodshed is rare, and
tears not often seen. It is in a small room, round a table, close to
the fire, that the joys and sorrows of mankind are decided. We suffer,
or make others suffer, we love, we die, there in our corner; and it were
the strangest chance should a door or a window suddenly, for an instant,
fly open, beneath the pressure of extraordinary despair or rejoicing.
Accidental, adventitious beauty exists no longer; there remains only an
external poetry, that has not yet become poetic.--And what poetry, if we
probe to the root of things--what poetry is there that does not borrow
nearly all of its charm, nearly all of its ecstasy, from elements that
are wholly external?--Last of all, there is no longer a God to widen, or
master, the action; nor is there an inexorable fate to form a
mysterious, solemn and tragical background for the slightest gesture of
man; nor the sombre and abundant atmosphere, that was able to ennoble
even his most contemptible weaknesses, his least pardonable crimes.

There still abides with us, it is true, a terrible unknown; but it is
so diverse and elusive, it becomes so arbitrary, so vague and
contradictory, the moment we try to locate it, that we cannot evoke it
without great danger; cannot even, without the mightiest difficulty,
avail ourselves of it, though in all loyalty, to raise to the point of
mystery the gestures, actions and words of the men we pass every day.
The endeavour has been made; the formidable, problematic enigma of
heredity, the grandiose but improbable enigma of inherent justice, and
many others besides, have each in their turn been put forward as a
substitute for the vast enigma of the Providence or Fatality of old. And
it is curious to note how these youthful enigmas, born but of yesterday,
already seem older, more arbitrary, more unlikely, than those whose
places they took in an access of pride.


Where are we to look, then, for the grandeur and beauty that we find no
longer in visible action, or in words, stripped as these are of their
attraction and glamour? For words are only a kind of mirror which
reflects the beauty of all that surrounds it; and the beauty of the new
world wherein we live does not seem as yet able to project its rays on
these somewhat reluctant mirrors. Where shall we look for the horizon,
the poetry, now that we no longer can seek it in a mystery which, for
all that it still exists, does yet fade from us the moment we endeavour
to give it a name?

The modern drama would seem to be vaguely conscious of this. Incapable
of outside movement, deprived of external ornament, daring no longer to
make serious appeal to a determined divinity or fatality, it has fallen
back on itself, and seeks to discover, in the regions of psychology and
of moral problems, the equivalent of what once was offered by exterior
life. It has penetrated deeper into human consciousness; but has
encountered difficulties there no less strange than unexpected.

To penetrate deeply into human consciousness is the privilege, even the
duty, of the thinker, the moralist, the historian, novelist, and to a
degree, of the lyrical poet; but not of the dramatist. Whatever the
temptation, he dare not sink into inactivity, become mere philosopher or
observer. Do what one will, discover what marvels one may, the sovereign
law of the stage, its essential demand, will always be _action_. With
the rise of the curtain, the high intellectual desire within us
undergoes transformation; and in place of the thinker, psychologist,
mystic or moralist there stands the mere instinctive spectator, the man
electrified negatively by the crowd, the man whose one desire it is to
see something happen. This transformation or substitution is
incontestable, strange as it may seem; and is due, perhaps, to the
influence of the _human polypier_, to some undeniable faculty of our
soul, which is endowed with a special, primitive, almost unimprovable
organ, whereby men can think, and feel, and be moved, _en masse_. And
there are no words so profound, so noble and admirable, but they will
soon weary us if they leave the situation unchanged, if they lead to no
action, bring about no decisive conflict, or hasten no definite


But whence is it that action arises in the consciousness of man? In its
first stage it springs from the struggle between diverse conflicting
passions. But no sooner has it raised itself somewhat--and this is true,
if we examine it closely, of the first stage also--than it would seem
to be solely due to the conflict between a passion and a moral law,
between a duty and a desire. Hence the eagerness with which modern
dramatists have plunged into all the problems of contemporary morality;
and it may safely be said that at this moment they confine themselves
almost exclusively to the discussion of these different problems.

This movement was initiated by the dramas of Alexandre Dumas fils,
dramas which brought the most elementary of moral conflicts on to the
stage; dramas, indeed, whose entire existence was based on problems such
as the spectator, who must always be regarded as the ideal moralist,
would never put to himself in the course of his whole spiritual
existence, so evident is their solution. Should the faithless husband or
wife be forgiven? Is it well to avenge infidelity by infidelity? Has
the illegitimate child any rights? Is the marriage of inclination--such
is the name it bears in those regions--preferable to the marriage for
money? Have parents the right to oppose a marriage for love? Is divorce
to be deprecated when a child has been born of the union? Is the sin of
the adulterous wife greater than that of the adulterous husband? etc.,

Indeed, it may be said here that the entire French theatre of to-day,
and a considerable proportion of the foreign theatre, which is only its
echo, exist solely on questions of this kind, and on the entirely
superfluous answers to which they give rise.

On the other hand, however, the highest point of human consciousness is
attained by the dramas of Björnson, of Hauptmann, and, above all, of
Ibsen. Here we touch the limit of the resources of modern dramaturgy.
For, in truth, the further we penetrate into the consciousness of man,
the less struggle do we discover. It is impossible to penetrate far into
any consciousness unless that consciousness be very enlightened; for,
whether we advance ten steps, or a thousand, in the depths of a soul
that is plunged in darkness, we shall find nothing there that can be
unexpected, or new; for darkness everywhere will only resemble itself.
But a consciousness that is truly enlightened will possess passions and
desires infinitely less exacting, infinitely more peaceful and patient,
more salutary, abstract and general, than are those that reside in the
ordinary consciousness. Thence, far less struggle--or at least a
struggle of far less violence--between these nobler and wiser passions;
and this for the very reason that they have become vaster and loftier;
for if there be nothing more restless, destructive and savage than a
dammed-up stream, there is nothing more tranquil, beneficent and silent
than the beautiful river whose banks ever widen.


Again, this enlightened consciousness will yield to infinitely fewer
laws, admit infinitely fewer doubtful or harmful duties. There is, one
may say, scarcely a falsehood or error, a prejudice, half-truth or
convention, that is not capable of assuming, that does not actually
assume, when the occasion presents itself, the form of a duty in an
uncertain consciousness. It is thus that honour, in the chivalrous,
conjugal sense of the word (I refer to the honour of the husband, which
is supposed to suffer by the infidelity of the wife) that revenge, a
kind of morbid prudishness, pride, vanity, piety to certain gods, and a
thousand other illusions, have been, and still remain, the unquenchable
source of a multitude of duties that are still regarded as absolutely
sacred, absolutely incontrovertible, by a vast number of inferior
consciousnesses. And these so-called duties are the pivot of almost all
the dramas of the Romantic period, as of most of those of to-day. But
not one of these sombre, pitiless duties, that so fatally impel mankind
to death and disaster, can readily take root in the consciousness that a
healthy, living light has adequately penetrated; in such there will be
no room for honour or vengeance, for conventions that clamour for blood.
It will hold no prejudices that exact tears, no injustice eager for
sorrow. It will have cast from their throne the gods who insist on
sacrifice, and the love that craves for death. For when the sun has
entered into the consciousness of him who is wise, as we may hope that
it will some day enter into that of all men, it will reveal one duty,
and one alone, which is that we should do the least possible harm and
love others as we love ourselves; and from this duty no drama can


Let us consider what happens in Ibsen's plays. He often leads us far
down into human consciousness, but the drama remains possible only
because there goes with us a singular flame, a sort of red light, which,
sombre, capricious--unhallowed, one almost might say--falls only on
singular phantoms. And indeed nearly all the duties which form the
active principle of Ibsen's tragedies are duties situated no longer
within, but without, the healthy, illumined consciousness; and the
duties we believe we discover outside this consciousness often come
perilously near an unjust pride, or a kind of soured and morbid madness.

Let it not be imagined, however--for indeed this would be wholly to
misunderstand me--that these remarks of mine in any way detract from my
admiration for the great Scandinavian poet. For, if it be true that
Ibsen has contributed few salutary elements to the morality of our time,
he is perhaps the only writer for the stage who has caught sight of, and
set in motion, a new, though still disagreeable poetry, which he has
succeeded in investing with a kind of age, gloomy beauty and grandeur
(surely too savage and gloomy for it to become general or definitive);
as he is the only one who owes nothing to the poetry of the violently
illumined dramas of antiquity or of the Renaissance.

But, while we wait for the time when human consciousness shall recognise
more useful passions and less nefarious duties, for the time when the
world's stage shall consequently present more happiness and fewer
tragedies, there still remains, in the depths of every heart of loyal
intention a great duty of charity and justice that eclipses all others.
And it is perhaps from the struggle of this duty against our egoism and
ignorance that the veritable drama of our century shall spring. When
this goal has been attained--in real life as on the stage--it will be
permissible perhaps to speak of a new theatre, a theatre of peace, and
of beauty without tears.


[1] Translated by Alfred Sutro.



It is, in certain respects, quite inexplicable that we should not know
the Future. Probably a mere nothing, the displacement of a cerebral
lobe, the resetting of Broca's convolution in a different manner, the
addition of a slender network of nerves to those which form our
consciousness: any one of these would be enough to make the future
unfold itself before us with the same clearness, the same majestic
amplitude as that with which the past is displayed on the horizon not
only of our individual life, but also of the life of the species to
which we belong. A singular infirmity, a curious limitation of our
intellect causes us not to know what is going to happen to us, when we
are fully aware of all that has befallen us. From the absolute point of
view to which our imagination succeeds in rising, although it cannot
live there, there is no reason why we should not see that which does not
yet exist, considering that that which does not yet exist in its
relation to us must needs already have its being and manifest itself
somewhere. If not, it would have to be said that, where Time is
concerned, we form the centre of the world, that we are the only
witnesses for whom events wait so that they may have the right to appear
and to count in the eternal history of causes and effects. It would be
as absurd to assert this for Time as it would be for Space, that other
not quite so incomprehensible form of the two-fold infinite mystery in
which our whole life floats.

Space is more familiar to us, because the accidents of our organism
place us more directly in relation with it and make it more concrete. We
can move in it pretty freely, in a certain number of directions before
and behind us. That is why no traveller would take it into his head to
maintain that the towns which he has not yet visited will become real
only at the moment when he sets his foot within their walls. Yet this is
very nearly what we do when we persuade ourselves that an event which
has not yet happened does not yet exist.


But I do not intend, in the wake of so many others, to lose myself in
the most insoluble of enigmas. Let us say no more about it, except this
alone, that Time is a mystery which we have arbitrarily divided into a
Past and a Future, in order to try to understand something of it. In
itself we may be almost certain that it is but an immense eternal,
motionless Present, in which all that takes place and all that will take
place takes place immutably, in which To-Morrow, save in the ephemeral
mind of man, is indistinguishable from Yesterday or To-Day.

One would say that man had always the feeling that a mere infirmity of
his mind separates him from the Future. He knows it to be there, living,
actual, perfect, behind a kind of wall around which he has never ceased
to turn since the first days of his coming on this earth. Or rather, he
feels it within himself and known to a part of himself: only, that
importunate and disquieting knowledge is unable to travel, through the
too narrow channels of his senses, to his consciousness, which is the
only place where knowledge acquires a name, a useful strength and, so to
speak, the freedom of the human city. It is only by glimmers, by casual
and passing infiltrations that future years of which he is full, of
which the imperious realities surround him on every hand, penetrate to
his brain. He marvels that an extraordinary accident should have closed
almost hermetically to the Future that brain which plunges into it
entirely, even as a sealed vessel plunges, without mixing with it, into
the depths of a monstrous sea that overwhelms it, entreats it, teases it
and caresses it with a thousand billows.

At all times, man has tried to find crannies in that wall, to provoke
infiltrations into that vessel, to pierce the partitions that separate
his reason, which knows scarcely anything, from his instinct, which
knows all, but cannot make use of its knowledge. It seems as though he
must have succeeded more than once. There have been visionaries,
prophets, sibyls, pythonesses, in whom a distemper, a spontaneously or
artificially hypertrophied nervous system permitted unwonted
communications to be established between consciousness and
unconsciousness, between the life of the individual and that of the
species, between man and his hidden god. They have left evidences of
this capacity which are as irrefutable as any other historical evidence.
On the other hand, as those strange interpreters, those great mysterious
hysterics, along whose nerves thus circulated and mingled the Present
and the Past, were rare, men discovered, or thought that they
discovered, empirical processes to enable them almost mechanically to
read the ever-present and irritating riddle of the Future. They
flattered themselves that, in this manner, they could consult the
unconscious knowledge of things and beasts. Thence came the
interpretation of the flight of birds, of the entrails of victims, of
the course of the stars, of fire, water, dreams and all the methods of
divination that have been handed down to us by the authors of antiquity.


I thought it curious to inquire where this science of the Future stands
to-day. It no longer has the splendour nor the hardihood of old. It no
longer forms part of the public and religious life of nations. The
Present and the Past reveal so many prodigies to us that these suffice
to amuse our thirst for marvels. Absorbed as we are in what is or was,
we have almost given up asking what might be or will be. However, the
old and venerable science, so deeply rooted in man's infallible
instinct, is not abandoned. It is no longer practised in broad daylight.
It has taken shelter in the darkest corners, in the most vulgar,
credulous, ignorant and despised environments. It employs innocent or
childish methods; nevertheless, it, too, has in a certain measure
evolved, like other things. It neglects the majority of the processes of
primitive divination; it has found others, often eccentric, sometimes
ludicrous, and has been able to profit by some few discoveries that were
by no means intended for it.

I have followed it into its dark retreats. I wished to see it, not in
books, but at work, in real life, and among the humble faithful who have
confidence in it and who daily apply to it for advice and encouragement.
I went to it in good faith: unbelieving, but ready to believe; without
prejudice and without a predetermined smile: for, if we must admit no
miracle blindly, it is worse blindly to laugh at it; and in every
obstinate error there lurks, usually, an excellent truth that awaits the
hour of birth.


Few towns would have offered me a wider or more fruitful field of
experiment than Paris. I therefore made my investigations there. I began
by selecting a moment at which a certain project, whose realization
(which did not depend upon myself alone) was to be of great importance
to me, was hanging in suspense. I will not enter into the details of the
business, which has very little interest in itself. It is enough to know
that around this project were a crowd of intrigues and many powerful and
hostile wills, fighting against my own. The forces were evenly balanced,
and it was impossible, according to human logic, to foresee which would
win the day. I therefore had very precise questions to put to the
Future: a necessary condition; for, if many people complain that it
tells them nothing, this is often because they consult it at a moment
when nothing is preparing on the horizon of their existence.

I went successively to see the astrologers, the palmists, the fallen and
familiar sibyls who flatter themselves that they can read the Future in
the cards, in coffee-grounds, in the inflorescence of white of egg
dissolved in a glass of water, and so on (for nothing must be neglected,
and, though the apparatus be sometimes singular, it may happen that a
particle of truth lies concealed under the absurdest practices). I went,
above all, to see the most famous of the prophetesses who, under the
names of clairvoyants, seers, mediums, and the rest, are able to
substitute for their own consciousness the consciousness and even a
portion of the unconsciousness of their interrogators and who are, in
the main, the most direct heiresses of the pythonesses of old. In this
ill-balanced world, I met with much knavery, simulation and gross lying.
But I had also the occasion to study certain incontestable phenomena
close at hand. These are not enough to decide whether it be given to man
to rend the tissue of illusions that hides the Future from him; but they
throw a somewhat strange light upon that which passes in the place which
to us seems the most inviolable, I mean the holy of holies of the
"Buried Temple," in which our most intimate thoughts and the forces that
lie beneath them and are unknown to us go in and out without our
knowledge and grope in search of the mysterious road that leads to
future events.


It would be wearisome to relate what happened to me with those prophets
and seers. I will content myself with briefly telling one of the most
curious experiences, which, moreover, sums up most of the others: the
psychology of them all is very nearly identical.

The seer in question is one of the most famous in Paris. She claims to
incarnate, in her hypnotic state, the spirit of an unknown little girl
called Julia. Having made me sit down at a table that stood between us,
she begged me to _tutoyer_ Julia and to speak to her gently, as one
speaks to a child of seven or eight years. Thereupon, her features, her
eyes, her hands, her whole body were for some seconds unpleasantly
convulsed; her hair came untied; and the expression of her face changed
completely and became artless, puerile. The voice, shrill and clear, of
a small child next came from that great, ripe woman's body and asked
with a little lisp:

"What do you want? Are you troubled? Is it for yourself or for some one
else that you have come to see me?"

"For myself."

"Very well; will you help me a little? Lead me in thought to the place
where your troubles are."

I concentrated my attention on the project in which I was engrossed and
on the different actors in the, as yet, hidden little drama. Then,
gradually, after some preliminary gropings, and without my helping her
with a word or gesture, she really penetrated into my thoughts, read
them, so to speak, as a slightly veiled book, placed the situation of
the scene most accurately, recognized the principal characters and
described them summarily, with hopping and childish, but quaintly
correct and precise little touches.

"That's very good, Julia," I then said, "but I know all that; what you
ought to tell me is what is going to happen later."

"What is going to happen, what is going to happen ... you want to know
all that is going to happen, but it's very difficult...."

"But still? How will the business end? Shall I win?"

"Yes, yes, I see; don't be afraid, I'll help you; you will be

"But the enemy of whom you told me; the one who is resisting me and who
wishes me ill...."

"No, no, he wishes you no ill, it's because of some one else.... I can't
see why.... He hates him.... Oh, he hates him, he hates him! And it is
because you like the other one so much that he does not want you to do
for him what you wish to do."

What she said was true.

"But tell me," I insisted, "will he go on to the end, will he not

"Oh, do not fear him.... I see, he is ill; he will not live long."

"You are mistaken, Julia; I saw him two days ago; he is quite well."

"No, no, he is ill.... It doesn't show, but he is very ill ... he must
die soon...."

"But how, in that case, and why?"

"There is blood upon him, around him, everywhere...."

"Blood? Is it a duel?" (I had thought, for a moment, that I might be
called upon to fight my adversary.) "An accident, a murder, a revenge?"
(He was an unjust and unscrupulous man, who had done much harm to many

"No, no, ask me no more, I am very tired.... Let me go...."

"Not before I know...."

"No, I can tell you nothing more.... I am too tired.... Let me go.... Be
good, I will help you...."

The same attack as at first then convulsed the body, in which the little
voice had ceased; and the mask of forty years again covered the face of
the woman, who seemed to be waking from a long sleep.

Is it necessary to add that we had never seen each other before this
meeting and that we knew as little of each other as though we had been
born on different planets?


Similar in the main, with less characteristic and less convincing
details, were the results of most of the experiments in which the
clairvoyants were unfeignedly asleep. In order to make a sort of
counter-test, I sent two persons of whose intelligence and good faith I
was assured, to see the woman whom Julia had chosen as her interpreter.
Like myself, they had to put to the Future a precise and important
question, which chance or destiny alone could solve. To one of them, who
consulted her on a friend's illness, Julia foretold the near death of
that friend, and the event verified her prediction, although, at the
moment when she made it, a cure seemed infinitely more probable than
death. To the other, who asked her how a law-suit would end, she replied
somewhat evasively on that point; by way of compensation she
spontaneously revealed the spot where lay a certain object which had
been very precious to the person consulting her, but which had been so
long lost and so often looked for in vain that this person was persuaded
that he had ceased to think about it.

In so far as I am concerned, Julia's prophecy was realized in part, that
is to say, although I did not triumph in respect of the main point, the
affair was nevertheless arranged in a satisfactory manner. As for the
death of my adversary, it has not yet occurred; and gladly do I dispense
the Future from keeping the promise which it made me by the innocent
mouth of the child of an unknown world.


It is very astonishing that others can thus penetrate into the last
refuge of our being and there, better than ourselves, read thoughts and
sentiments at times forgotten or rejected, but always long-lived, or as
yet unformulated. It is really disconcerting that a stranger should see
further than ourselves into our own hearts. That sheds a singular light
on the nature of our inner lives. It is vain for us to keep watch upon
ourselves, to shut ourselves up within ourselves: our consciousness is
not watertight, it escapes, it does not belong to us; and, though it
requires special circumstances for another to instal himself there and
take possession of it, nevertheless it is certain that, in normal life,
our spiritual tribunal, our _for intérieur_--as the French have called
it, with that profound intuition which we often discover in the
etymology of words--is a kind of _forum_, or spiritual market-place, in
which the majority of those who have business there come and go at will,
look about them and pick out the truths, in a very different fashion and
much more freely than we would have believed.

But let us leave this point, which is not the object of our study. What
I should like to unravel in Julia's predictions is the unknown part
foreign to myself. Did she go beyond what I knew? I do not think so.
When she spoke to me of the fortunate issue of the affair, this was,
upon the whole, the issue which I anticipated and which the selfish and
unavowed part of my instinct desired more keenly than the complete
triumph which another and more generous sentiment made it incumbent on
me to pursue and hope for, although I knew it to be, in its essence,
impossible. When she foretold the death of my adversary, she was but
revealing a secret wish of that same instinct, one of those dastardly
and shameful wishes which we hide from ourselves and which never rise to
the surface of our thought. There would be no real prophecy in this,
except if, against all expectation, against all likelihood, that death
should occur, suddenly, within a short time hence. But, even if it were
shortly to occur, it would not, I think, be the Pythian that would have
fathomed the Future, but I, my instinct, my unconscious being, that
would have foreseen an event with which it was connected. It would have
read the pages of Time, not absolutely and as though in an universal
book where all that is to take place is written, but by me, through me,
in my private intuition, and would but have translated what my
unconsciousness was unable to communicate to my thought.

It was the same, I imagine, with the two persons who went to consult
her. That one to whom she foretold the death of a friend probably, in
spite of the assurance which reason gave to friendship, had the inner
conviction, either natural or conjectural, but violently suppressed,
that the sick man would die; and it was this conviction which the
clairvoyant discerned amid the sweet hopes that strove to deceive it. As
for the second, who unexpectedly recovered a mislaid object, it is
difficult to know the state of another's mind with sufficient exactness
to decide whether this was a case of second sight, or simply of
recollection. Was he who had lost the object absolutely ignorant of the
place and circumstances in which he had lost it? He says so; he declares
that he never had the least notion: that, on the contrary, he was
persuaded that the object had been not mislaid, but stolen, and that he
had never ceased to suspect one of his servants. But it is possible
that, while his intelligence, his waking _ego_, paid no attention to it,
the unconscious and as though sleeping portion of himself may very well
have remarked and remembered the place where the object had been put.
Thence, by a miracle no less surprising, but of a different order, the
seer would have found and awakened the latent and almost animal memory
and brought it to human light which it had vainly tried to reach.


Could this be the case with all predictions? Were the prophecies of the
great prophets, the oracles of the sibyls, witches, pythonesses content
thus to reflect, translate, raise to the level of the intelligible world
the instinctive clairvoyance of the individuals or peoples that listened
to them? Let each accept the reply or the hypothesis which his own
experience suggests to him. I have given mine with the simplicity and
sincerity which a question of this nature demands.[2]

To resume my inquiry. In so far, then, as concerns that formidable
unknown which stretches before us, I found nothing conclusive, nothing
decisive; and yet, I repeat, it is almost incredible that we should not
know the Future. I can imagine that we stand opposite to it as though
opposite to a forgotten past. We might try to remember it. It would be a
question of inventing or re-discovering the road taken by that memory
which precedes us.

I can conceive that we are not qualified to know beforehand the
disturbances of the elements, the destiny of the planets of the earth,
of empires, peoples and races. All this does not touch us directly, and
we know it in the past thanks only to the artifices of history. But that
which regards us, that which is within our reach, that which is to
unfold itself within the little sphere of years, a secretion of our
spiritual organism, that envelops us in Time, even as the shell or the
cocoon envelops the mollusc or the insect in Space; that, together with
all the external events relating to it, is probably recorded in that
sphere. In any case, it would be much more natural that it were so
recorded than comprehensible that it were not. There we have realities
struggling with an illusion; and there is nothing to prevent us from
believing that, here as elsewhere, realities will end by overcoming
illusion. Realities are what will happen to us, having already happened
in the history that overhangs our own, the motionless and superhuman
history of the universe. Illusion is the opaque veil woven with the
ephemeral threads called Yesterday, To-day and To-Morrow, which we
embroider on those realities. But it is not indispensable that our
existence should continue the eternal dupe of that illusion. We may even
ask ourselves whether our extraordinary unfitness for knowing a thing so
simple, so incontestable, so perfect and so unnecessary as the Future,
would not form one of the greatest subjects for astonishment to an
inhabitant of another star who should visit us.

To-day, all this appears to us so profoundly impossible that we find it
difficult to imagine how the certain reality of the Future would refute
the objections which we make to it in the name of the organic illusion
of our minds. We say to it, for instance: If, at the moment of
undertaking an affair, we could know that its outcome would be
unfortunate, we should not undertake it; and, since it must be written
somewhere, in Time, before our question has been put, that the affair
will not take place, seeing that we abandon it, we could not, therefore,
foresee the outcome of that which will have no beginning.

So as not to lose ourselves in this road, which would lead us whither
nothing calls us, it will be enough for us to say that the Future, like
all that exists, is probably more coherent and more logical than the
logic of our imagination and that all our hesitations and uncertainties
are included in its provisions.

Moreover, we must not believe that the march of events would be
completely upset if we knew it beforehand. First, only they would know
the Future, or a part of the Future, who would take the trouble to learn
it; even as only they know the Past, or a part of their own Present, who
have the courage and the intelligence to examine it. We should quickly
accommodate ourselves to the lessons of this new science, even as we
have accommodated ourselves to those of history. We should soon make
allowance for the evils which we could not escape and for inevitable
evils. The wiser among us, for themselves, would lessen the sum total of
the latter; and the others would meet them half-way, even as now they go
to meet many certain disasters which are easily foretold. The amount of
our vexations would be somewhat decreased, but less than we hope; for
already our reason is able to foresee a portion of our Future, if not
with the material evidence that we dream of, at least with a moral
certainty that is often satisfying: yet we observe that the majority of
men derive hardly any profit from this easy foreknowledge. Such men
would neglect the counsels of the Future, even as they hear, without
following it, the advice of the Past.


[2] Other subjects of my inquiries gave me less curious, but often
analogous results. I visited, for instance, a certain number of
palmists. On seeing the sumptuous apartments of several of those
prophets of the hand, who revealed to me nothing but nonsense, I was
admiring the ingenuousness of their patrons, when a friend pointed out
to me, in a lane near the Mont-de-Piété, the abode of a practitioner
who, according to him, had most effectively cultivated and developed the
great traditions of the science of Desbarolles and d'Arpentigny.

On the sixth floor of a hideous rabbit-warren of a house, in a loft that
served as both living-room and bed-room, I found an unpretending, gentle
and vulgar old man, whose manner of speech suggested the hall-porter
rather than the prophet. I did not obtain much from him; but, in the
case of some more nervous persons whom I brought to him, particularly
two or three women with whose past and character I was fairly
well-acquainted, he revealed with rather astonishing precision the
essential preoccupations of their minds and hearts, discerned very
cleverly the chief curves of their existence, stopped at the cross-roads
where their destinies had really swerved or wavered, and discovered
certain strikingly exact and almost anecdotical particulars, such as
journeys, love-affairs, influences undergone, or accidents. In a word,
and taking into consideration the sort of auto-suggestion that causes
our imagination, more or less inflamed by the contact of mystery,
immediately and precisely to state the most shapeless clue, he traced,
on a somewhat conventional and symbolical plan, a clearly-established
scheme of their past and present, in which they were obliged, in spite
of their distrust, to recognize the special track of their lives. In so
far as his predictions are concerned, I must say, in passing, that not
one of them was realized.

Certainly there was in his intuition something more than a fortunate
coincidence. It was, in a lesser degree, a sort of nervous communication
between one unconsciousness and another of the same class, as with the
clairvoyant. I have met the same phenomenon in the case of a woman who
read coffee-grounds, but accompanied by more venturesome and less
certain manifestations: I will, therefore, not pause to consider it.



The first trips--the initiation, with the master's eye upon you--count
for but little. One is not in direct communication with the wonderful
beast. Its veritable character is hidden, for there is a tiresome
intermediary between, a reticent, cunning interpreter--the responsible
tamer. With your foot on the brake, even when you hold the levers and
handles between your fingers, you are far from possessing the monster.
By your side sits the master, whose sovereignty it has too long
acknowledged; to him it is as obsequious, as submissively attached, as a
faithful dog. For the thing is half human. You feel somewhat like a
lion-tamer's apprentice when he enters the cage with his father, and
sees the cowed brutes prostrate themselves humbly before the commanding
eye and the lash. One has a great desire to be alone, in Space, with
this unknown animal, that dates but from yesterday; we burn to discover
what it is in itself, what it demands and withholds, what obedience it
will vouchsafe to its unexpected master; as also what new lessons the
new horizons will teach us, the new horizons into which we shall be
plunged to our very soul by a force that, issuing now, and for the first
time, from the inexhaustible reservoir of undisciplined forces, permits
us to absorb, in one day, as many sights, as much landscape and sky, as
would formerly have been granted to us in a whole life-time.


Yesterday the master drove us from Paris to Rouen. This morning he left
me, having first taken me outside the gates of the old, many-steepled
city. There I was, alone with the dreadful hippogriff; alone in the open
country, the horizon of immaculate blue on the left, on the right still
faintly pink; alone on the desolate road that winds between oceans of
corn, with islands of trees that turn into blue in the distance.

I am many miles from a station, far from garage or repairers. And at
first I am conscious of a vague uneasiness, that is not without its
charm. I am at the mercy of this mysterious force, that is yet more
logical than I. A caprice of its hidden life--one of those caprices
that, mysterious as they may seem to us, are yet never wrong, and put
our arrogant reason to shame--and I should be solitary in this
illimitable vastness of green, chained to the enigmatic mass that my
arms cannot move. But the monster, I say to myself, has no secrets that
I have not learned. Before placing myself in its power, I took it to
pieces, and examined its organs. And, now that it snorts at my feet, I
can recall its physiology. I know its infallible wheelwork, its delicate
points; I have studied its infantile maladies, and learned what diseases
are fatal. I have had its heart and soul laid bare, I have looked into
the profound circulation of its life. Its soul is the electric spark,
which, seven or eight hundred times to the minute, sends fiery breath
through the veins. And the terrible, complex heart is composed, first of
all, of the carburetter, with its strange double face: the carburetter,
which prepares, proportions and volatilizes the petrol--subtle fairy
that has slumbered ever since the world began, and is now recalled to
power, and united to the air that has torn her from sleep. This
redoubtable mixture is eagerly swallowed by the mighty viscera close by,
which contain the explosion chamber, the piston, all the live force of
the motor. And around these, which form one mass of flame, pure water
circulates always, restraining the passionate ardour that else would
devour them and turn them into a flow of lava, calming with its long and
icy caress the mortal frenzy of toil--vigilant, untiring water, that the
radiator posted in front of the car keeps cool, and freshens with all
the sweetness of valley and plain. Next comes the trembler-blade which
governs the spark, and is in its turn controlled by the movement of the
motor. The soul obeys what is properly the body, and the body, in most
ingenious harmony, obeys the soul. But so strangely elastic is this
preordained harmony that it is open to a more independent or more
intelligent will--that of the driver, which stands here for the will of
the gods--to improve still further this admirable equilibrium of two
alien forces; and by means of the "advance ignition" lever, to
precipitate the spark at the moment that the accidental aid or
resistance of the road may render most favourable.


Let us pause for an instant to admire this strange terminology, so
spontaneous and withal so sensible, which is, in a measure, the language
of a new force. "Advance ignition," for instance, is a most adequate
term, and we should find it vastly difficult to express more tersely and
clearly what it was needful to say. The ignition is the inflammation of
the explosive gases by the electric spark. And this explosion can be
hastened or retarded in accordance with the requirements of the motor.
When the "advance ignition" valve is opened, the spark springs forth
some thousandth part of a second before the moment when it would
logically produce itself; in other words, before the piston, attaining
the end of its journey, shall have completely compressed the gas and
utilized all the energy of the previous explosion. One would think, at
first, that this premature explosion would counteract the ascending
movement. Far from it; experience proves that one benefits by the
infinitesimal time that the inflamed gases take to dilate themselves; as
also probably by other causes no less obscure. In any event, we find
that the pace of the machine is curiously accelerated. It is a device,
like the glass of wine to the labourer, to procure a spell of abnormal
strength. But whence does the term come, and who is its father? Whence
do these words spring forth, at the given moment, to fix in life
creatures of whose existence we were yesterday unaware? They escape
from the factory, foundry or warehouse; they are the last echoes of that
anonymous, universal voice that has given a name to trees and flowers,
to bread and wine, to life and death; and fortunately it usually happens
that by the time the pedant has begun to regard and question, it has
become too late to make any change.


Over and above such matters as compression, carburation, oiling,
circulation of the water, etc., the trembler-blade and the sparking-plug
are the driver's especial cares. Should the regulating screw of the one
displace itself by the breadth of a hair, should the two opposed wires
of the other be touched by a drop of oil or a trace of oxide, the
miraculous horse will die on the spot. And around these are still many
organs whereof I dare scarcely permit myself to think. Yonder,
concealed in its case, like a furious genie confined in a narrow cell,
is the mysterious apparatus for the change of speed; and this, if you
give a turn to the lever when you come to the foot of a hill, will
produce repeated explosions, urging the piston to movement so frantic,
that every vertebra of the creature will tremble and give to the
slackening wheels a quadruple force before which each mountain will bend
its back, and carry the conqueror humbly to its very crown. Further
there is the enigmatic mechanism of the live axle which, dispensing with
chains and straps, transmits directly to the two back wheels all the
extraordinary power generated in its delirious heart. And still lower,
beneath the brake, there rests, in its almost inviolable box, the
transcendent secret of the _differentiator_, which, by means of a recent
miracle, permits two wheels of the same dimensions, revolving on the
same axle and moved by the same motor, to perform an unequal number of


But at present I have no concern with these mighty mysteries. Beneath my
tremulous hand the monster is alert and docile; and on either side of
the road the cornfields flow peacefully onward, true rivers of green.
The time has now come to try the power of esoteric action. I touch the
magical handles. The fairy horse obeys. It stops abruptly. One short
moan, and its life has all ebbed away. It is now nothing more than a
vast, inert mass of metal. How to resuscitate it? I descend, and eagerly
inspect the corpse. The plains, whose submissive immensity I have been
braving, begin to contemplate revenge. Now that I have ceased to move,
they fling themselves further and wider around me. The blue distance
seems to recede, the sky to recoil. I am lost among the impassable
cornfields, whose myriad heads press forward, whispering softly, craning
to see what I am proposing to do; while the poppies, in the midst of
that undulating crowd, nod their red caps and burst into thousandfold
laughter. But no matter. My recent science is sure of itself. The
hippogriff revives, gives its first snort of life, and then departs once
more, singing its song. I reconquer the plains, which again bow down
before me. I give a slow turn to the mysterious "advance ignition"
lever, and regulate carefully the admission of the petrol. The pace
grows faster and faster, the delirious wheels cry aloud in their
gladness. And at first the road comes moving towards me, like a bride
waving palms, rhythmically keeping time to some joyous melody. But soon
it grows frantic, springs forward, and throws itself madly upon me,
rushing under the car like a furious torrent, whose foam lashes my face;
it drowns me beneath its waves, it blinds me with its breath. Oh, that
wonderful breath! It is as though wings, as though myriad wings no eye
can see, transparent wings of great supernatural birds that have their
homes on invisible mountains swept by eternal snow, have come to refresh
my eyes and my brow with their overwhelming fragrance! Now the road
drops sheer into the abyss, and the magical carriage rushes ahead of it.
The trees, that for so many slow-moving years have serenely dwelt on its
borders, shrink back in dread of disaster. They seem to be hastening one
to the other, to approach their green heads, and in startled groups to
debate how to bar the way of the strange apparition. But as this rushes
onward, they take panic, and scatter and fly, each one quickly seeking
its own habitual place; and as I pass they bend tumultuously forward,
and their myriad leaves, quick to the mad joy of the force that is
chanting its hymn, murmur in my ears the voluble psalm of Space,
acclaiming and greeting the enemy that hitherto has always been
conquered but now at last triumphs: Speed.


Space and Time, its invisible brother, are perhaps the two great enemies
of mankind. Could we conquer these, we should be as the gods. Time seems
invincible, having neither body nor form, no organs by which we can
seize it. It passes, leaving traces that nearly always are sad, like the
baleful shadow of some inevitable being we never have seen face to face.
In itself doubtless it has no existence, but is only in relation to us;
nor shall we ever succeed in bending to our will this necessary phantom
of our organically false imagination. But Space, its magnificent
brother, Space that decks itself with the green robe of the plains, the
yellow veil of the desert, the blue mantle of the sea, and spreads over
all the azure of the ether and the gold of the stars--Space, it may be,
has already known many defeats; but never as yet has man seized it, as
it were, round the body, grappled with it, alone, face to face. The
monsters he has hitherto launched against its gigantic mass might
conquer, but only to be conquered again in their turn.

On the sea great steamers subdue it day after day; but the sea is so
vast that the extreme speed our frail lungs were able to endure could
achieve no more than a kind of motionless triumph. And again, as we
travel by rail, and Space flies submissive before us, it is still far
away--we do not touch it, we do not enjoy it--it is like a captive
adorning the triumph of a foreign king, and we ourselves the feeble
prisoners of the power that has dethroned it. But here, in this little
chariot of fire, that is so light and so docile, so gloriously untiring;
here, beneath the unfolded wings of this bird of flame that flies low
down over the earth in the midst of the flowers, greeting cornfields and
rivulets, inviting the shade of the trees; passing village on village,
glancing in at the open doors and watching the tables spread for the
meal, counting the harvesters at work in the meadows, skirting the
church, half hidden by lime-trees, and taking its rest at the inn on the
stroke of noon--then setting forth once more, singing its song, to see
at one bound what is happening among men at three days' march from the
last place of halt, and surprising the very same hour in quite a new
world--here Space does indeed become human, in the line of our eye, in
accordance with the needs of our insatiable, exacting soul, that craves
at once for the small and the mighty, the quick and the slow; here it is
of us at last, it is ours, and offers at every turn glimpses of beauty
that, in former days, we could only enjoy when the tedious journey was

Now, however, it is not the arrival alone that causes our eyes to open,
that revives the eagerness so precious to life, and invites admiration;
now the entire road is one long succession of arrivals. The joys of the
journey's end are multiplied, for all things adopt the admirable form of
the end; the eyes are idle no longer, no longer indifferent; and memory,
simplest of all the fairies whose touch of the wand brings
happiness--memory, pondering silently on the less happy days that await
every man, treasures the beauties of good mother earth; and fixes for
ever, among those possessions of which none can deprive us, the
unexpected gifts that have been so abundantly offered by the glad hours
and the enfranchised roads.


[3] Translated by Alfred Sutro.



I have seen the manner in which Spring stores up sunshine, leaves and
flowers and makes ready, long beforehand, to invade the North. Here, on
the ever-balmy shores of the Mediterranean--that motionless sea which
looks as though it were under glass--where, while the months are dark in
the rest of Europe, Spring has taken shelter from the wind and the snows
in a palace of peace and light and love, it is interesting to detect its
preparations for travelling in the fields of undying green. I can see
clearly that it is afraid, that it hesitates once more to face the great
frost-traps which February and March lay for it annually beyond the
mountains. It waits, it dallies, it tries its strength before resuming
the harsh and cruel way which the hypocrite Winter seems to yield to it.
It stops, sets out again, revisits a thousand times, like a child
running round the garden of its holidays, the fragrant valleys, the
tender hills which the frost has never brushed with its wings. It has
nothing to do here, nothing to revive, since nothing has perished and
nothing suffered, since all the flowers of every season bathe here in
the blue air of an eternal summer. But it seeks pretexts, it lingers, it
loiters, it goes to and fro like an unoccupied gardener. It pushes aside
the branches, fondles with its breath the olive-tree that quivers with a
silver smile, polishes the glossy grass, rouses the corollas that were
not asleep, recalls the birds that had never fled, encourages the bees
that were workers without ceasing; and then, seeing, like God, that all
is well in the spotless Eden, it rests for a moment on the ledge of a
terrace which the orange-tree crowns with regular flowers and with
fruits of light and, before leaving, casts a last look over its labour
of joy and entrusts it to the sun.


I have followed it, these past few days, on the banks of the Borigo,
from the torrent of Careï to the Val de Gorbio, in those little rustic
towns, Ventimiglia, Tende, Sospello, in those curious villages, perched
upon rocks, Sant' Agnese, Castellar, Castillon, in that adorable and
already quite Italian country which surrounds Mentone. You go through a
few streets quickened with the cosmopolitan and somewhat hateful life of
the Riviera, you leave behind you the band-stand, with its everlasting
town music, around which gather the consumptive rank and fashion of
Mentone, and behold, at two steps from the crowd that dreads it as it
would a scourge from Heaven, you find the admirable silence of the
trees, all the goodly Virgilian realities of sunk roads, clear springs,
shady pools that sleep on the mountain-sides, where they seem to await a
goddess's reflection. You climb a path between two stone walls
brightened by violets and crowned with the strange brown cowls of the
arisarum, with its leaves of so deep a green that one might believe them
to be created to symbolize the coolness of the well, and the
amphitheatre of a valley opens like a moist and splendid flower. Through
the blue veil of the giant olive-trees that cover the horizon with a
transparent curtain of scintillating pearls, gleams the discreet and
harmonious brilliancy of all that men imagine in their dreams and paint
upon scenes that are thought unreal and unrealizable, when they wish to
define the ideal gladness of an immortal hour, of some enchanted
island, of a lost paradise, or the dwelling of the gods.


All along the valleys of the coast are hundreds of these amphitheatres
which are as stages whereon, by moonlight or amid the peace of the
mornings and afternoons, are acted the dumb fairy-plays of the world's
contentment. They are all alike, and yet each of them reveals a
different happiness. Each of them, as though they were the faces of a
bevy of equally happy and equally beautiful sisters, wears its
distinguishing smile. A cluster of cypresses, with its pure outline, a
mimosa that resembles a bubbling spring of sulphur, a grove of
orange-trees with dark and heavy tops symmetrically charged with golden
fruits that suddenly proclaim the royal affluence of the soil that feeds
them, a slope covered with lemon-trees, where the night seems to have
heaped up on a mountain-side, to await a new twilight, the stars
gathered by the dawn, a leafy portico which opens over the sea like a
deep glance that suddenly discloses an infinite thought, a brook hidden
like a tear of joy, a trellis awaiting the purple of the grapes, a great
stone basin drinking in the water that trickles from the tip of a green
reed: all and yet none modify the expression of the restfulness, the
tranquillity, the azure silence, the blissfulness that is its own


But I am looking for Winter and the print of its footsteps. Where is it
hiding? It should be here; and how dares this feast of roses and
anemones, of soft air and dew, of bees and birds display itself with
such assurance during the most pitiless month of Winter's reign? And
what will Spring do, what will Spring say, since all seems done, since
all seems said? Is it superfluous, then, and does nothing await it? No;
search carefully: you shall find amid this life of unwearying youth the
work of its hand, the perfume of its breath which is younger than life.
Thus, there are foreign trees yonder, taciturn guests, like poor
relations in ragged clothes. They come from very far, from the land of
fog and frost and wind. They are aliens, sullen and distrustful. They
have not yet learned the limpid speed, not adopted the delightful
customs of the azure. They refused to believe in the promises of the sky
and suspected the caresses of the sun which, from early dawn, covers
them with a mantle of silkier and warmer rays than that with which July
loaded their shoulders in the precarious summers of their native land.
It made no difference: at the given hour, when snow was falling a
thousand miles away, their trunks shivered, and, despite the bold
averment of the grass and a hundred thousand flowers, despite the
impertinence of the roses that climb up to them to bear witness to life,
they stripped themselves for their winter sleep. Sombre and grim and
bare as the dead, they await the Spring that bursts forth around them;
and, by a strange and excessive reaction, they wait for it longer than
under the harsh, gloomy sky of Paris, for it is said that in Paris the
buds are already beginning to shoot. One catches glimpses of them here
and there amid the holiday throng whose motionless dances enchant the
hills. They are not many and they conceal themselves: they are gnarled
oaks, beeches, planes; and even the vine, which one would have thought
better-mannered, more docile and well-informed, remains incredulous.
There they stand, black and gaunt, like sick people on an Easter Sunday
in the church-porch made transparent by the splendour of the sun. They
have been there for years and some of them, perhaps, for two or three
centuries; but they have the terror of winter in their marrow. They will
never lose the habit of death. They have too much experience, they are
too old to forget and too old to learn. Their hardened reason refuses to
admit the light when it does not come at the accustomed time. They are
rugged old men, too wise to enjoy unforeseen pleasures. They are wrong.
For here, around the old, around the grudging ancestors, is a whole
world of plants that know nothing of the future, but give themselves to
it. They live but for a season; they have no past and no traditions and
they know nothing, except that the hour is fair and that they must enjoy
it. While their elders, their masters and their gods, sulk and waste
their time, they burst into flower; they love and they beget. They are
the humble flowers of dear solitude: the Easter daisy that covers the
sward with its frank and methodical neatness; the borage bluer than the
bluest sky; the anemone, scarlet or dyed in aniline; the virgin
primrose; the arborescent mallow; the bell-flower, shaking its bells
that no one hears; the rosemary that looks like a little country maid;
and the heavy thyme that thrusts its grey head between the broken

But, above all, this is the incomparable hour, the diaphanous and liquid
hour of the wood-violet. Its proverbial humility becomes usurping and
almost intolerant. It no longer cowers timidly among the leaves: it
hustles the grass, overtowers it, blots it out, forces its colours upon
it, fills it with its breath. Its unnumbered smiles cover the terraces
of olives and vines, the tracks of the ravines, the bend of the valleys
with a net of sweet and innocent gaiety; its perfume, fresh and pure as
the soul of the mountain spring, makes the air more translucent, the
silence more limpid and is, in very deed, as a forgotten legend tells
us, the breath of Earth, all bathed in dew, when, a virgin yet, she
wakes in the sun and yields herself wholly in the first kiss of early


Again, in the little gardens that surround the cottages, the bright
little houses with their Italian roofs, the good vegetables,
unprejudiced and unpretentious, have known no fear. While the old
peasant, who has come to resemble the trees he cultivates, digs the
earth around the olives, the spinach assumes a lofty bearing, hastens to
grow green nor takes the smallest precaution; the garden bean opens its
eyes of jet in its pale leaves and sees the night fall unmoved; the
fickle peas shoot and lengthen out, covered with motionless and
tenacious butterflies, as though June had entered the farm-gate; the
carrot blushes as it faces the light; the ingenuous strawberry-plants
inhale the flavours which noontide lavishes upon them as it bends
towards earth its sapphire urns; the lettuce exerts itself to achieve a
heart of gold wherein to lock the dews of morning and night.

The fruit-trees alone have long reflected: the example of the vegetables
among which they live urged them to join in the general rejoicing, but
the rigid attitude of their elders from the North, of the grandparents
born in the great dark forests, preached prudence to them. But now they
awaken: they too can resist no longer and at last make up their minds to
join the dance of perfumes and of love. The peach-trees are now no more
than a rosy miracle, like the softness of a child's skin turned into
azure vapour by the breath of dawn. The pear and plum and apple and
almond-trees make dazzling efforts in drunken rivalry; and the pale
hazel-trees, like Venetian chandeliers, resplendent with a cascade of
gems, stand here and there to light the feast. As for the luxurious
flowers that seem to possess no other object than themselves, they have
long abandoned the endeavour to solve the mystery of this boundless
summer. They no longer score the seasons, no longer count the days, and,
knowing not what to do in the glowing disarray of hours that have no
shadow, dreading lest they should be deceived and lose a single second
that might be fair, they have resolved to bloom without respite from
January to December. Nature approves them and, to reward their trust in
happiness, their generous beauty and amorous excesses, grants them a
force, a brilliancy and perfumes which she never gives to those which
hang back and show a fear of life.

All this, among other truths, was proclaimed by the little house that I
saw to-day on the side of a hill all deluged in roses, carnations,
wall-flowers, heliotrope and mignonette, so as to suggest the source,
choked and overflowing with flowers, whence Spring was preparing to pour
down upon us; while, upon the stone threshold of the closed door,
pumpkins, lemons, oranges, limes and Turkey figs slumbered in the
majestic, deserted, monotonous silence of a perfect day.



Since the publication of "The Life of the Bee," I have often been asked
to throw light upon one of the most dreaded mysteries of the hive,
namely, the psychology of its inexplicable, sudden and sometimes mortal
wrath. A crowd of cruel and unjust legends, in fact, hovers around the
abode of the yellow fairies of the honey. The bravest among the guests
who visit the garden slacken their pace and lapse into involuntary
silence as they approach the enclosure, blooming with clover and
mignonette, where buzz the daughters of the light. Doting mothers keep
their children away from it, as they would keep them away from a
smouldering fire or a nest of adders; nor does the bee-keeping novice,
gloved in leather, veiled in gauze, surrounded by clouds of smoke, face
the mystic citadel without that little unavowed shiver which men feel
before a great battle.

How much reason is there at the bottom of these traditional fears? Is
the bee really dangerous? Does she allow herself to be tamed? Is there a
risk in approaching the hives? Ought we to flee or to face their wrath?
Has the bee-keeper some secret or some talisman that preserves him from
being stung? These are the questions that are anxiously put by all those
who have started a timid hive and who are beginning their


The bee, in general, is neither ill-disposed nor aggressive, but appears
somewhat capricious. She has an unconquerable antipathy to certain
people; she also has days of enervation--for instance, when a storm is
at hand--on which she shows herself extremely irritable. She has a most
subtle and susceptible sense of smell; she tolerates no perfume and
detests, above all, the scent of human sweat and of alcohol. She is not
to be tamed, in the proper sense of the word; but, whereas the hives
which we seldom visit become crabbed and distrustful, those which we
surround with our daily cares soon grow accustomed to the discreet and
prudent presence of man. Lastly, to enable us to handle the bees almost
without impunity, there exist a certain number of little expedients
which vary according to circumstances and which can be learnt by
practice alone. But it is time to reveal the great secret of their


The bee, essentially so pacific, so long-suffering, the bee, which never
stings (unless you crush her) when looting among the flowers, once she
has returned to her kingdom with the waxen monuments, retains her mild
and tolerant character, or grows violent and deadly dangerous, according
as her maternal city be opulent or poor. Here again, as often happens
when we study the manners of this spirited and mysterious little people,
the provisions of human logic are utterly at fault. It would be natural
that the bees should defend desperately treasures so laboriously
amassed, a city such as we find in good apiaries, where the nectar,
overflowing the numberless cells that represent thousands of casks piled
from cellar to garret, streams in golden stalactites along the rustling
walls and sends far afield, in glad response to the ephemeral perfumes
of calyces that are opening, the more lasting perfume of the honey that
keeps alive the memory of calyces which time has closed. Now this is
not the case. The richer their abode, the less eagerness they display to
fight around it. Open or turn over a wealthy hive; if you take care to
drive the sentries from the entrance with a puff of smoke, it will be
extremely rare for the other bees to contend with you for the liquid
booty conquered from the smiles, from all the charms of the beautiful
azure months. Try the experiment; I promise you impunity, if you touch
only the heavier hives. You can turn them over and empty them; those
throbbing flagons are perfectly harmless. What does it mean? Have the
fierce amazons lost courage? Has abundance unnerved them, and have they,
after the manner of the too fortunate inhabitants of luxurious towns,
delegated the dangerous duties to the unhappy mercenaries who keep watch
at the gates? No, it has never been observed that the greatest good
fortune relaxes the valour of the bee. On the contrary, the more the
republic prospers, the more harshly and severely are its laws applied,
and the worker in a hive where superfluity accumulates labours much more
zealously than her sister in an indigent hive. There are other reasons
which we cannot wholly fathom, but which are likely reasons, if only we
take into account the wild interpretation which the poor bee must needs
place upon our monstrous doings. Seeing suddenly her huge dwelling-place
upheaved, overturned, half-opened, she probably imagines that an
inevitable, a natural catastrophe is occurring against which it were
madness to struggle. She no longer resists, but neither does she flee.
Admitting the ruin, it looks as though already, in her instinct, she saw
the future dwelling which she hopes to build with the materials taken
from the gutted town. She leaves the present defenceless in order to
save the hereafter. Or else, perhaps, does she, like the dog in the
fable, "the dog that carried his master's dinner round his neck,"
knowing that all is irreparably lost, prefer to die taking her share of
the pillage and to pass from life to death in one prodigious orgy? We do
not know for certain. How should we penetrate the motives of the bee,
when those of the simplest actions of our brothers are beyond our ken?


Still, the fact is that, at each great proof to which the city is put,
at each trouble that appears to the bees to possess an inevitable
character, no sooner has the infatuation spread from one to the other
among the densely quivering people than the bees fling themselves upon
their combs, violently tear the sacred lids from the provisions for the
winter, topple head foremost and plunge their whole bodies into the
sweet-smelling vats, imbibe with long draughts the chaste wine of the
flowers, gorge themselves with it, intoxicate themselves with it, till
their bronze-ringed forms lengthen and distend like compressed leather
bottles. Now the bee, when swollen with honey, can no longer curve her
abdomen at the angle required to draw her sting. She becomes, so to
speak, mechanically harmless from that moment. It is generally imagined
that the beekeeper employs the fumigator to stun, to half-asphyxiate the
warriors that gather their treasure in the blue and thus to effect an
entrance by favour of a defenceless slumber into the palace of the
innumerous sleeping amazons. This is a mistake: the smoke serves first
to drive back the guardians of the threshold, who are ever on the alert
and extremely quarrelsome; then, two or three puffs come to spread panic
among the workers: the panic provokes the mysterious orgy, and the orgy
helplessness. Thus is the fact explained that, with bare arms and
unprotected face, one can open the most populous hives, examine their
combs, shake off the bees, spread them at one's feet, heap them up, pour
them out like grains of corn and quietly gather the honey, in the midst
of the deafening cloud of ousted workers, without having to suffer a
single sting.


But woe to whoso touches the poor hives! Keep away from the abodes of
want! Here, smoke has lost its spell, and you shall scarce have emitted
the first puffs before twenty thousand acrid and enraged demons will
dart from within the walls, overwhelm your hands, blind your eyes and
blacken your face. No living being, except, they say, the bear and the
Sphinx Atropos, can resist the rage of the mailed legions. Above all, do
not struggle: the fury would overtake the neighbouring colonies; and
the smell of the spilt venom would enrage all the republics around.
There is no means of safety other than instant flight through the
bushes. The bee is less rancorous, less implacable than the wasp and
rarely pursues her enemy. If flight be impossible, absolute immobility
alone might calm her or put her off the scent. She fears and attacks any
too sudden movement, but at once forgives that which no longer stirs.

The poor hives live, or rather die from day to day, and it is because
they have no honey in their cellars that smoke makes no impression on
them. They cannot gorge themselves like their sisters that belong to
happier tribes; the possibilities of a future city are not there to
divert their ardour. Their only thought is to perish on the outraged
threshold, and, lean, shrunk, nimble, unrestrained, they defend it with
unheard-of heroism and desperation. Therefore, the cautious beekeeper
never displaces the indigent hives without making a preliminary
sacrifice to the hungry Furies. His offering is a honey-comb. They come
hastening up and then, the smoke assisting, they distend and intoxicate
themselves: behold them reduced to helplessness like the rich burgesses
of the plentiful cells.


One could find much more to tell of the wrath of the bees and their
singular antipathies. These antipathies are often so strange that they
were for long attributed, that they are still attributed, by the
peasants, to moral causes, to profound and mystic intuitions. There is
the conviction, for instance, that the vestal vintagers cannot endure
the approach of the unchaste, above all of the adulterous. It would be
surprising if the most rational beings that live with us on this
incomprehensible globe were to attach so much importance to a trespass
that is often very harmless. In reality, they give it no thought; but
they, whose whole life sways to the nuptial and sumptuous breath of the
flowers, abhor the perfumes which we steal from them. Are we to believe
that chastity exhales fewer odours than love? Is this the origin of the
rancour of the jealous bees and of the legend that avenges virtues as
jealous as they? Be this as it may, the legend must be classed with the
many others that pretend to do great honour to the phenomena of nature
by ascribing human feelings to them. It would be better, on the
contrary, to mix our petty human psychology as little as possible with
all that we do not easily understand, to seek our explanations only
without, on this side of man or on that side; for it is probably there
that lie the positive revelations which we are still awaiting.



They welcome our steps without the city gates, on a gay and eager carpet
of many colours, which they wave madly in the sunlight. It is evident
that they were expecting us. When the first bright rays of March
appeared, the Snowdrop, or Amaryllis, the heroic daughter of the
hoar-frost, sounded the reveille. Next sprang from the earth efforts, as
yet shapeless, of a slumbering memory: vague ghosts of flowers; pale
flowers that are scarcely flowers at all: the three-fingered Saxifrage,
or Samphire; the almost invisible Shepherd's Pouch; the two-leaved
Squill; the Stinking Hellebore, or Christmas Rose; the Colt's Foot; the
gloomy and poisonous Spurge Laurel: all plants of frail and doubtful
health, pale-blue, pale-pink, undecided attempts, the first fever of
life in which nature expels her ill humours, anæmic captives set free by
winter, convalescent patients from the underground prisons, timid and
unskilful endeavours of the still buried light.

But soon this light ventures forth into space; the nuptial thoughts of
the earth become clearer and purer; the rough attempts disappear; the
half-dreams of the night lift like a fog dispelled by the dawn; and the
good rustic flowers begin their unseen revels under the blue, all around
the cities where man knows them not. No matter, they are there, making
honey, while their proud and barren sisters, who alone receive our care,
are still trembling in the depths of the hot-houses. They will still be
there, in the flooded fields, in the broken paths, and adorning the
roads with their simplicity, when the first snows shall have covered
the country-side. No one sows them and no one gathers them. They survive
their glory, and man treads them under foot. Formerly, however, and not
so long ago, they alone represented Nature's gladness. Formerly,
however, a few hundred years ago, before their dazzling and chilly
kinswomen had come from the Antilles, from India, from Japan, or before
their own daughters, ungrateful and unrecognizable, had usurped their
place, they alone enlivened the stricken gaze, they alone brightened the
cottage porch, the castle precincts, and followed the lovers' footsteps
in the woods. But those times are no more; and they are dethroned. They
have retained of their past happiness only the names which they received
when they were loved.

And these names show all that they were to man: all his gratitude, his
studious fondness, all that he owed them, all that they gave him are
there contained, like a secular aroma in hollow pearls. And so they bear
names of queens, shepherdesses, virgins, princesses, sylphs and fairies,
which flow from the lips like a caress, a lightning-flash, a kiss, a
murmur of love. Our language, I think, contains nothing that is better,
more daintily, more affectionately named than these homely flowers. Here
the word clothes the idea almost always with care, with light precision,
with admirable happiness. It is like an ornate and transparent stuff
that moulds the form which it embraces and has the proper shade, perfume
and sound. Call to mind the Easter Daisy, the Violet, the Bluebell, the
Poppy, or, rather, Coquelicot: the name is the flower itself. How
wonderful, for instance, that sort of cry and crest of light and joy:
"Coquelicot!" to designate the scarlet flower which the scientists crush
under this barbarous title: _Papaver rhoeas!_ See the Primrose, or,
rather, the Cowslip, the Periwinkle, the Anemone, the Wild Hyacinth, the
blue Speedwell, the Forget-me-not, the Wild Bindweed, the Iris, the
Harebell: their name depicts them by equivalents and analogies which the
greatest poets but rarely light upon. It represents all their ingenuous
and visible soul. It hides itself, it bends over, it rises to the ear
even as those who bear it lie concealed, stoop forward, or stand erect
in the corn and in the grass.

These are the few names that are known to all of us; we do not know the
others, though their music describes with the same gentleness, the same
happy genius, flowers which we see by every wayside and upon all the
paths. Thus, at this moment, that is to say, at the end of the month in
which the ripe corn falls beneath the reaper's sickle, the banks of the
roads are a pale violet: it is the Sweet Scabious, who has blossomed at
last, discreet, aristocratically poor and modestly beautiful, as her
title, that of a mist-veiled precious stone, proclaims. Around her, a
treasure lies scattered: it is the Ranunculus, or Buttercup, who has two
names, even as he has two lives; for he is at once the innocent virgin
that covers the grass with sun-drops, and the redoubtable and venomous
wizard that deals out death to heedless animals. Again we have the
Milfoil and the St. John's Wort, little flowers, once useful, that march
along the roads, like silent school-girls, clad in a dull uniform; the
vulgar and innumerous Bird's Groundsel; her big brother, the Hare's
Lettuce of the fields; then the dangerous black Nightshade; the
Bitter-sweet, who hides herself; the creeping Knotweed, with the patient
leaves: all the families without show, with the resigned smile, wearing
the practical grey livery of autumn, which already is felt to be at


But, among those of March, April, May, June, July, remember the glad and
festive names, the springtime syllables, the vocables of azure and dawn,
of moonlight and sunshine! Here is the Snowdrop, or Amaryllis, who
proclaims the thaw; the Stitchwort, or Lady's Collar, who greets the
first-communicants along the hedges, whose leaves are as yet
indeterminate and uncertain, like a diaphanous green lye. Here are the
sad Columbine and the Field Sage, the Jasione, the Angelica, the Field
Fennel, the Wallflower, dressed like a servant of a village-priest; the
Osmond, who is a king fern; the Luzula, the Parmelia, the Venus'
Looking-glass; the Esula or Wood Spurge, mysterious and full of sombre
fire; the Physalidis, whose fruit ripens in a lantern; the Henbane, the
Belladonna, the Digitalis, poisonous queens, veiled Cleopatras of the
untilled places and the cool woods. And then, again, the Camomile, the
good-capped Sister with a thousand smiles, bringing the health-giving
brew in an earthenware bowl; the Pimpernel and the Coronilla, the pale
Mint and the pink Thyme, the Sainfoin and the Euphrasy, the Ox-eye
Daisy, the mauve Gentian and the blue Verbena, the Anthemis, the
lance-shaped Horse-Thistle, the Cinquefoil or Potentilla, the Dyer's
Weed ... to tell their names is to recite a poem of grace and light. We
have reserved for them the most charming, the purest, the clearest
sounds and all the musical gladness of the language. One would think
that they were the persons of a play, dancers and choristers of an
immense fairy-scene, more beautiful, more startling and more
supernatural than the scenes that unfold themselves on Prospero's
Island, at the Court of Theseus, or in the Forest of Arden. And the
comely actresses of this silent, never-ending comedy--goddesses, angels,
she-devils, princesses and witches, virgins and courtezans, queens and
shepherd-girls--carry in the folds of their names the magic sheens of
innumerous dawns, of innumerous springtimes contemplated by forgotten
men, even as they also carry the memory of thousands of deep or fleeting
emotions which were felt before them by generations that have
disappeared, leaving no other trace.


They are interesting and incomprehensible. They are vaguely called the
"Weeds." They serve no purpose. Here and there, a few, in very old
villages, retain the spell of contested virtues. Here and there, one of
them, right at the bottom of the apothecary's or herbalist's jars, still
awaits the coming of the sick man faithful to the infusions of
tradition. But sceptic medicine will have none of them. No longer are
they gathered according to the olden rites; and the science of "Simples"
is dying out in the housewife's memory. A merciless war is waged upon
them. The husbandman fears them; the plough pursues them; the gardener
hates them and has armed himself against them with clashing weapons: the
spade and the rake, the hoe and the scraper, the weeding-hook, the
grubbing-axe. Along the high-roads, their last refuge, the passerby
crushes them, the waggon bruises them. In spite of all, they are there:
permanent, assured, abundant, peaceful; and not one but answers the
summons of the sun. They follow the seasons without swerving by an hour.
They take no account of man, who exhausts himself in conquering them,
and, so soon as he rests, they spring up in his footsteps. They live on,
audacious, immortal, untamable. They have peopled our flower-baskets
with extravagant and unnatural daughters; but they, the poor mothers,
have remained similar to what they were a hundred thousand years ago.
They have not added a fold to their petals, reordered a pistil, altered
a shade, invented a perfume. They keep the secret of a mysterious
mission. They are the indelible primitives. The soil is theirs since its
origin. They represent, in short, an essential smile, an invariable
thought, an obstinate desire of the Earth.

That is why it is well to question them. They have evidently something
to tell us. And, then, let us not forget that they were the first--with
the sunrises and sunsets, with the springs and autumns, with the song of
the birds, with the hair, the glance and the divine movements of
women--to teach our fathers that there are useless and beautiful things
upon this globe.



Every year, in November, at the season that follows on the hour of the
dead, the crowning and majestic hour of autumn, reverently I go to visit
the chrysanthemums in the places where chance offers them to my sight.
For the rest, it matters little where they are shown to me by the good
will of travel or of sojourn. They are, indeed, the most universal, the
most diverse of flowers; but their diversity and surprises are, so to
speak, concerted, like those of fashion, in I know not what arbitrary
Edens. At the same moment, even as with silks, laces, jewels and curls,
a mysterious voice gives the pass-word in time and space; and, docile as
the most beautiful women, simultaneously, in every country, in every
latitude, the flowers obey the sacred decree.

It is enough, then, to enter at random one of those crystal museums in
which their somewhat funereal riches are displayed under the harmonious
veil of the days of November. We at once grasp the dominant idea, the
obtrusive beauty, the unexpected effort of the year in this special
world, strange and privileged even in the midst of the strange and
privileged world of flowers. And we ask ourselves if this new idea is a
profound and really necessary idea on the part of the sun, the earth,
life, autumn, or man.


Yesterday, then, I went to admire the year's gentle and gorgeous floral
feast, the last which the snows of December and January, like a broad
belt of peace, sleep, silence and night, separate from the delicious
festivals that commence again with the germination (powerful already,
though hardly visible) that seeks the light in February.

They are there, under the immense transparent dome, the noble flowers of
the month of fogs; they are there, at the royal meeting-place, all the
grave little autumn fairies, whose dances and attitudes seem to have
been struck motionless with a single word. The eye that recognizes them
and has learned to love them perceives, at the first pleased glance,
that they have actively and dutifully continued to evolve towards their
uncertain ideal. Go back for a moment to their modest origin: look at
the poor buttercup of yore, the humble little crimson or damask rose
that still smiles sadly, along the roads full of dead leaves, in the
scanty garden-patches of our villages; compare with them these enormous
masses and fleeces of snow, these disks and globes of red copper, these
spheres of old silver, these trophies of alabaster and amethyst, this
delirious prodigy of petals which seems to be trying to exhaust to its
last riddle the world of autumnal shapes and shades which the winter
entrusts to the bosom of the sleeping woods; let the unwonted and
unexpected varieties pass before your eyes; admire and appraise them.

Here, for instance, is the marvellous family of the stars: flat stars,
bursting stars, diaphanous stars, solid and fleshly stars, milky ways
and constellations of the earth that correspond with those of the
firmament. Here are the proud plumes that await the diamonds of the dew;
here, to put our dreams to shame, the fascinating poem of unreal
tresses: wise, precise and meticulous tresses; mad and miraculous
tresses; honeyed moonbeams, golden bushes and flaming whirlpools; curls
of fair and smiling maidens, of fleeing nymphs, of passionate
bacchantes, of swooning sirens, of cold virgins, of frolicsome children,
whom angels, mothers, fauns, lovers have caressed with their calm or
quivering hands. And then, here, pell-mell, are the monsters that cannot
be classed: hedgehogs, spiders, curly endives, pine-apples, pompons,
Tudor roses, shells, vapours, breaths, stalactites of ice and falling
snow, a throbbing hail of sparks, wings, flashes, fluffy, pulpy, fleshy
things, wattles, bristles, funeral piles and sky-rockets, bursts of
light, a stream of fire and sulphur.


Now that the shapes have capitulated comes the question of conquering
the region of the proscribed colours, of the reserved shades, which the
autumn, as we can see, denies to the flowers that represent it.
Lavishly it bestows on them all the wealth of the twilight and the
night, all the riches of the harvest-time: it gives them all the
mud-brown work of the rain in the woods, all the silvery fashionings of
the mist in the plains, of the frost and the snow in the gardens. It
permits them, above all, to draw at will upon the inexhaustible
treasures of the dead leaves and the expiring forest. It allows them to
deck themselves with the golden sequins, the bronze medals, the silver
buckles, the copper spangles, the elfin plumes, the powdered amber, the
burnt topazes, the neglected pearls, the smoked amethysts, the calcined
garnets, all the dead but still dazzling jewellery which the North Wind
heaps up in the hollows of ravines and foot-paths; but it insists that
they shall remain faithful to their old masters and wear the livery of
the drab and weary months that give them birth. It does not permit them
to betray those masters and to don the princely, changing dresses of the
spring and the dawn; and, if, sometimes, it suffers a pink, this is only
on condition that it be borrowed from the cold lips, the pale brow of
the veiled and afflicted virgin praying on a tomb. It forbids most
strictly the tints of summer, of too youthful, ardent and serene a life,
of a health too joyous and expansive. In no case will it consent to
hilarious vermilions, impetuous scarlets, imperious and dazzling
purples. As for the blues, from the azure of the dawn to the indigo of
the sea and the deep lakes, from the periwinkle to the borage and the
corn-flower, they are banished on pain of death.


Nevertheless, thanks to some forgetfulness of nature, the most unusual
colour in the world of flowers and the most severely forbidden--the
colour which the corolla of the poisonous euphorbia is almost the only
one to wear in the city of the umbels, petals and calyces--green, the
colour exclusively reserved for the servile and nutrient leaves, has
penetrated within the jealously-guarded precincts. True, it has slipped
in only by favour of a lie, as a traitor, a spy, a livid deserter. It is
a forsworn yellow, steeped fearfully in the fugitive azure of the
moonbeam. It is still of the night and false, like the opal depths of
the sea; it reveals itself only in shifting patches at the tips of the
petals; it is vague and anxious, frail and elusive, but undeniable. It
has made its entrance, it exists, it asserts itself; it will be daily
more fixed and more determined; and, through the breach which it has
contrived, all the joys and all the splendours of the banished prism
will hurl themselves into their virgin domain, there to prepare
unaccustomed feasts for our eyes. This is a great tiding and a memorable
conquest in the land of flowers.

We must not think that it is puerile thus to interest one's self in the
capricious forms, the unwritten shades of a humble, useless flower, nor
must we treat those who seek to make it more beautiful or more strange
as La Bruyère once treated the lover of the tulip or the plum. Do you
remember the charming page?

     "The lover of flowers has a garden in the suburbs, where he spends
     all his time from sunrise to sunset. You see him standing there and
     would think that he had taken root in the midst of his tulips
     before his 'Solitaire;' he opens his eyes wide, rubs his hands,
     stoops down and looks closer at it; it never before seemed to him
     so handsome; he is in an ecstasy of joy, and leaves it to go to the
     'Orient,' then to the 'Widow,' from thence to the 'Cloth of Gold,'
     on to the 'Agatha,' and at last returns to the 'Solitaire,' where
     he remains, is tired out, sits down, and forgets his dinner; he
     looks at the tulip and admires its shade, shape, colour, sheen and
     edges, its beautiful form and calyc; but God and nature are not in
     his thoughts, for they do not go beyond the bulb of his tulip,
     which he would not sell for a thousand crowns, though he will give
     it to you for nothing when tulips are no longer in fashion and
     carnations are all the rage. This rational being, who has a soul
     and professes some religion, comes home tired and half starved, but
     very pleased with his day's work: he has seen some tulips.

     "Talk to another of the healthy look of the crops, of a plentiful
     harvest, of a good vintage, and you will find that he cares only
     for fruit and understands not a single word that you say; then turn
     to figs and melons; tell him that this year the pear-trees are so
     heavily laden with fruit that the branches almost break, that there
     are abundance of peaches, and you address him in a language which
     he completely ignores, and he will not answer you, for his sole
     hobby is plum-trees. Do not even speak to him of your plum-trees,
     for he is fond of only a certain kind and laughs and sneers at the
     mention of any others; he takes you to his tree and cautiously
     gathers this exquisite plum, divides it, gives you one half, keeps
     the other himself and exclaims, 'How delicious! Do you like it? Is
     it not heavenly? You cannot find its equal anywhere;' and then his
     nostrils dilate, and he can hardly contain his joy and pride under
     an appearance of modesty. What a wonderful person, never enough
     praised and admired, whose name will be handed down to future ages!
     Let me look at his mien and shape, while he is still in the land of
     the living, that I may study the features and the countenance of a
     man who, alone among mortals, is the happy possessor of such a

Well, La Bruyère is wrong. We readily forgive him his mistake, for the
sake of the marvellous window, which he, alone among the authors of his
time, opens upon the unexpected gardens of the seventeenth century. The
fact none the less remains that it is to his somewhat bigoted florist,
to his somewhat frenzied horticulturist that we owe our exquisite
flower-beds, our more varied, more abundant, more luscious vegetables,
our even more delicious fruits. Contemplate, for instance, around the
chrysanthemums, the marvels that ripen nowadays in the meanest gardens,
among the long branches wisely subdued by the patient and generous
espaliers. Less than a century ago, they were unknown; and we owe them
to the trifling and innumerable exertions of a legion of small seekers,
all more or less narrow, all more or less ridiculous.

It is thus that man acquires nearly all his riches. There is nothing
that is puerile in nature; and he who becomes impassioned of a flower, a
blade of grass, a butterfly's wing, a nest, a shell, wraps his passion
around a small thing that always contains a great truth. To succeed in
modifying the appearance of a flower is insignificant in itself, if you
will; but reflect upon it for however short a while, and it becomes
gigantic. Do we not violate, or deviate, profound, perhaps essential
and, in any case, time-honoured laws? Do we not exceed too easily
accepted limits? Do we not directly intrude our ephemeral will on that
of the eternal forces? Do we not give the idea of a singular power, a
power almost supernatural, since it inverts a natural order of things?
And, although it is prudent to guard against over-ambitious dreams,
does not this allow us to hope that we may perhaps learn to elude or to
transgress other laws no less time-honoured, nearer to ourselves and
important in a very different manner? For, in short, all things touch,
all things go hand to hand; all things obey the same invisible
principles, the identical exigencies; all things share in the same
spirit, in the same substance, in the terrifying and wonderful problem;
and the most modest victory gained in the matter of a flower may one day
disclose to us an infinity of the untold....


Because of these things I love the chrysanthemum; because of these
things I follow its evolution with a brother's interest. It is, among
familiar plants, the most submissive, the most docile, the most
tractable and the most attentive plant of all that we meet on life's
long way. It bears flowers impregnated through and through with the
thought and will of man: flowers already human, so to speak. And, if the
vegetable world is some day to reveal to us one of the words that we are
awaiting, perhaps it will be through this flower of the tombs that we
shall learn the first secret of existence, even as, in another kingdom,
it is probably through the dog, the almost thinking guardian of our
homes, that we shall discover the mystery of animal life.



This morning, when I went to look at my flowers, surrounded by their
white fence, which protects them against the good cattle grazing in the
field beyond, I saw again in my mind all that blossoms in the woods, the
fields, the gardens, the orangeries and the green-houses and I thought
of all that we owe to the world of marvels which the bees visit.

Can we conceive what humanity would be if it did not know the flowers?
If these did not exist, if they had all been hidden from our gaze, as
are probably a thousand no less fairy sights that are all around us, but
invisible to our eyes, would our character, our faculties, our sense of
the beautiful, our aptitude for happiness be quite the same? We should,
it is true, in nature have other splendid manifestations of luxury,
exuberance and grace; other dazzling efforts of the superfluous forces:
the sun, the stars, the varied lights of the moon, the azure and the
ocean, the dawns and twilights, the mountain, the plain, the forest and
the rivers, the light and the trees and, lastly, nearer to us, birds,
precious stones and woman. These are the ornaments of our planet. Yet,
but for the last three, which belong to the same smile of nature, how
grave, austere, almost sad would be the education of our eye, without
the softness which the flowers give! Suppose for a moment that our globe
knew them not: a great region, the most enchanted in the joys of our
psychology, would be destroyed, or rather would not be discovered. All
of a delightful sense would sleep for ever at the bottom of our harder
and more desert hearts and in our imagination stripped of worshipful
images. The infinite world of colours and shades would have been but
incompletely revealed to us by a few rents in the sky. The miraculous
harmonies of light at play, ceaselessly inventing new gaieties,
revelling in itself, would be unknown to us; for the flowers first broke
up the prism and made the most subtle portion of our sight. And the
magic garden of perfumes: who would have opened its gate to us? A few
grasses, a few gums, a few fruits, the breath of the dawn, the smell of
the night and the sea would have told us that beyond our eyes and ears
there existed a shut paradise where the air which we breathe changes
into delights for which we could have found no name. Consider also all
that the voice of human happiness would lack! One of the blessed heights
of our soul would be almost dumb, if the flowers had not, since
centuries, fed with their beauty the language which we speak and the
thoughts that endeavour to crystallize the most precious hours of life.
The whole vocabulary, all the impressions of love, are impregnate with
their breath, nourished with their smile. When we love, all the flowers
that we have seen and smelt seem to hasten within us to people with
their known charms the consciousness of a sentiment whose happiness, but
for them, would have no more form than the horizons of the sea or sky.
They have accumulated within us, since our childhood, and even before
it, in the soul of our fathers, an immense treasure, the nearest to our
joys, upon which we draw each time that we wish to make more real the
clement minutes of our life. They have created and spread in our world
of sentiment the fragrant atmosphere in which love delights.


That is why I love above all the simplest, the commonest, the oldest and
the most antiquated; those which have a long human past behind them, a
large array of kind and consoling actions; those which have lived with
us for hundreds of years and which form part of ourselves, since they
reflect something of their grace and their joy of life in the soul of
our ancestors.

But where do they hide themselves? They are becoming rarer than those
which we call rare flowers to-day. Their life is secret and precarious.
It seems as though we were on the point of losing them, and perhaps
there are some which, discouraged at last, have lately disappeared, of
which the seeds have died under the ruins, which will no more know the
dew of the gardens and which we shall find only in very old books, amid
the bright grass of the Illuminators or along the yellow flower-beds of
the Primitives.

They are driven from the borders and the proud baskets by arrogant
strangers from Peru, the Cape of Good Hope, China, Japan. They have two
pitiless enemies in particular. The first of these is the encumbering
and prolific Begonia Tuberosa, that swarms in the beds like a tribe of
turbulent fighting-cocks, with innumerous combs. It is pretty, but
insolent and a little artificial; and, whatever the silence and
meditation of the hour, under the sun and under the moon, in the
intoxication of the day and the solemn peace of the night, it sounds its
clarion cry and celebrates its victory, monotonous, shrill and
scentless. The other is the Double Geranium, not quite so indiscreet,
but indefatigable also and extraordinarily courageous. It would appear
desirable were it less lavished. These two, with the help of a few more
cunning strangers and of the plants with coloured leaves that close up
those turgid mosaics which at present debase the beautiful lines of most
of our lawns, these two have gradually ousted their native sisters from
the spots which these had so long brightened with their familiar smiles.
They no longer have the right to receive the guest with artless little
cries of welcome at the gilded gates of the mansion. They are forbidden
to prattle near the steps, to twitter in the marble vases, to hum their
tune beside the lakes, to lisp their dialect along the borders. A few of
them have been relegated to the kitchen-garden, in the neglected and,
for that matter, delightful corner occupied by the medicinal or merely
aromatic plants, the Sage, the Tarragon, the Fennel and the Thyme, old
servants, too, dismissed and nourished through a sort of pity or
mechanical tradition. Others have taken refuge by the stables, near the
low door of the kitchen or the cellar, where they crowd humbly like
importunate beggars, hiding their bright dresses among the weeds and
holding their frightened perfumes as best they may, so as not to attract

But, even there, the Pelargonium, red with indignation, and the Begonia,
crimson with rage, came to surprise and hustle the unoffending little
band; and they fled to the farms, the cemeteries, the little gardens of
the rectories, the old maid's houses and the country convents. And now
hardly anywhere, save in the oblivion of the oldest villages, around
tottering dwellings, far from the railways and the nursery-gardener's
overbearing hot-houses, do we find them again with their natural smile:
not wearing a driven, panting and hunted look, but peaceful, calm,
restful, plentiful, careless and at home. And, even as in former times,
in the coaching-days, from the top of the stone wall that surrounds the
house, through the rails of the white fence, or from the sill of the
windows enlivened by a caged bird, on the motionless road where none
passes, save the eternal forces of life, they see spring come and
autumn, the rain and the sun, the butterflies and the bees, the silence
and the night followed by the light of the moon.


Brave old flowers! Wall-flowers, Gilly-flowers, Stocks! For, even as the
field-flowers, from which a trifle, a ray of beauty, a drop of perfume,
divides them, they have charming names, the softest in the language; and
each of them, like tiny, artless ex-votos, or like medals bestowed by
the gratitude of men, proudly bears three or four. You Stocks, who sing
among the ruined walls and cover with light the grieving stones, you
Garden Primroses, Primulas or Cowslips, Hyacinths, Crocuses, Crown
Imperials, Scented Violets, Lilies of the Valley, Forget-me-nots,
Daisies and Periwinkles, Poet's Narcissuses, Pheasant's Eyes, Bear's
Ears, Alyssums, Saxifrage, Anemones: it is through you that the months
that come before the leaf-time--February, March, April--translate into
smiles which men can understand the first news and the first mysterious
kisses of the sun! You are frail and chilly and yet as bold-faced as a
bright idea. You make young the grass; you are fresh as the water that
flows in the azure cups which the dawn distributes over the greedy buds,
ephemeral as the dreams of a child, almost wide still and almost
spontaneous, yet already marked by the too-precocious brilliancy, the
too-flaming nimbus, the too-pensive grace that overwhelm the flowers
which yield obedience to man.


But here, innumerous, disordered, many-coloured, tumultuous, drunk with
dawns and noons, come the luminous dances of the daughters of Summer!
Little girls with white veils and old maids in violet ribbons,
school-girls home for the holidays, first-communicants, pale nuns,
dishevelled romps, gossips and prudes. Here is the Marigold, who breaks
up with her brightness the green of the borders. Here is the Camomile,
like a nosegay of snow, beside her unwearying brothers, the Garden
Chrysanthemums, whom we must not confuse with the Japanese
Chrysanthemums of autumn. The Annual Helianthus, or Sunflower, towers
like a priest raising the monstrance over the lesser folk in prayer and
strives to resemble the luminary which he adores. The Poppy exerts
himself to fill with light his cup torn by the morning wind. The rough
Larkspur, in his peasant's blouse, who thinks himself more beautiful
than the sky, looks down upon the Dwarf Convolvuluses, who reproach him
spitefully with putting too much blue into the azure of his flowers. The
Virginia Stock, arch and demure in her gown of jaconet, like the little
servant-maids of Dordrecht or Leyden, washes the borders of the beds
with innocence. The Mignonette hides herself in her laboratory and
silently distils perfumes that give us a foretaste of the air which we
breathe on the threshold of Paradise. The Peonies, who have drunk their
imprudent fill of the sun, burst with enthusiasm and bend forward to
meet the coming apoplexy. The Scarlet Flax traces a blood-stained furrow
that guards the walks; and the Portulaca, creeping like a moss, studies
to cover with mauve, amber or pink taffeta the soil that has remained
bare at the foot of the tall stalks. The chub-faced Dahlia, a little
round, a little stupid, carves out of soap, lard or wax his regular
pompons, which will be the ornament of a village holiday. The old,
paternal Phlox, standing amid the clusters, lavishes the loud laughter
of his jolly, easygoing colours. The Mallows, or Lavateras, like demure
misses, feel the tenderest blushes of fugitive modesty mount to their
corollas at the slightest breath. The Nasturtium paints his water
colours, or screams like a parakeet climbing up the bars of its cage;
and the Rose-mallow, Althæa Rosea, Hollyhock, riding the high horse of
her many names, flaunts her cockades of a flesh silkier than a maiden's
breast. The Snapdragon and the almost transparent Balsam are more
timorous and awkward and fearfully press their flowers against their

Next, in the discreet corner of the old families, are crowded the
long-leaved Veronica; the red Potentilla; the African Marigold; the
ancient Lychnis, or Maltese Cross; the Mournful Widow, or Purple
Scabious; the Foxglove, or Digitalis, who shoots up like a melancholy
rocket; the European Aquilegia, or Columbine; the Viscaria, who, on a
long, slim neck, lifts a small, ingenuous, quite round face to admire
the sky; the lurking Lunaria, who secretly manufactures the "Pope's
money," those pale, flat crown-pieces with which, no doubt, the elves
and fairies by moonlight carry on their trade in spells; lastly, the
Pheasant's Eye, the red Valerian, or Jupiter's Beard, the Sweet William
and the old Carnation, that was cultivated long ago by the Grand Condé
in his exile.

Besides these, above, all around, on the walls, in the hedges, among the
arbours, along the branches, like a people of sportive monkeys and
birds, the climbing plants make merry, perform feats of gymnastics, play
at swinging, at losing and recovering their balance, at falling, at
flying, at looking up at space, at reaching beyond the treetops to kiss
the sky. Here we have the Spanish Bean and the Sweet Pea, quite proud at
being no longer included among the vegetables; the modest Volubilis; the
Honeysuckle, whose scent represents the soul of the dew; the Clematis
and the Glycine; while, at the windows, between the white curtains,
along the stretched string, the Campanula, surnamed Pyramidalis, works
such miracles, throws out sheaves and twists garlands formed of a
thousand uniform flowers so prodigiously immaculate and transparent that
they who see it for the first time, refusing to believe their eyes, want
to touch with their finger the bluey marvel, cool as a fountain, pure as
a source, unreal as a dream.

Meanwhile, in a blaze of light, the great white Lily, the old lord of
the gardens, the only authentic prince among all the commonalty issuing
from the kitchen-garden, the ditches, the copses, the pools and the
moors, among the strangers come from none knows where, with his
invariable six-petalled chalice of silver, whose nobility dates back to
that of the gods themselves: the immemorial Lily raises his ancient
sceptre, august, inviolate, which creates around it a zone of chastity,
silence and light.


I have seen them, those whom I have named and as many whom I have
forgotten, all thus collected in the garden of an old sage, the same
that taught me to love the bees. They displayed themselves in beds and
clusters, in symmetrical borders, ellipses, oblongs, quincunxes and
lozenges, surrounded by box hedges, red bricks, earthenware tiles or
brass chains, like precious matters contained in ordered receptacles
similar to those which we find in the discoloured engravings that
illustrate the works of the old Dutch poet, Jacob Cats. And the flowers
were drawn up in rows, some according to their kinds, others according
to their shapes and shades, while others, lastly, mingled, according to
the happy chances of the wind and the sun, the most hostile and
murderous colours, in order to show that nature acknowledges no
dissonance and that all that lives creates its own harmony.

From its twelve rounded windows, with their shining panes, their muslin
curtains, their broad green shutters, the long, painted house, pink and
gleaming as a shell, watched them wake at dawn and throw off the brisk
diamonds of the dew and then close at night under the blue darkness that
falls from the stars. One felt that it took an intelligent pleasure in
this gentle, daily fairy-scene, itself solidly planted between two
clear ditches that lost themselves in the distance of the immense
pasturage dotted with motionless cows, while, by the roadside, a proud
mill, bending forward like a preacher, made familiar signs with its
paternal sails to the passers-by from the village.


Has this earth of ours a fairer ornament of its hours of leisure than
the care of flowers? It was beautiful to see thus collected for the
pleasure of the eyes, around the house of my placid friend, the splendid
throng that tills the light to win from it marvellous colours, honey and
perfumes. He found there translated into visible joys, fixed at the
gates of his house, the scattered, fleeting and almost intangible
delights of summer: the voluptuous air, the clement nights, the
emotional sunbeams, the glad hours, the confiding dawn, the whispering
and mysterious azured space. He enjoyed not only their dazzling
presence: he also hoped--probably unwisely, so deep and confused is that
mystery--he also hoped, by dint of questioning them, to surprise, with
their aid, I know not what secret law or idea of nature, I know not what
private thought of the universe, which perhaps betrays itself in those
ardent moments in which it strives to please other beings, to beguile
other lives and to create beauty.


Old flowers, I said. I was wrong; for they are not so old. When we study
their history and investigate their pedigrees, we learn with surprise
that most of them, down to the simplest and commonest, are new beings,
freedmen, exiles, new-comers, visitors, foreigners. Any botanical
treatise will reveal their origins. The Tulip, for instance (remember La
Bruyère's "Solitary," "Oriental," "Agate," and "Cloth of Gold"), came
from Constantinople in the sixteenth century. The Ranuncula, the
Lunaria, the Maltese Cross, the Balsam, the Fuchsia, the African
Marigold, or Tagetes Erecta, the Rose Campion, or Lychnis Coronaria, the
two-coloured Aconite, the Amaranthus Caudatus, or Love-lies-bleeding,
the Hollyhock and the Campanula Pyramidalis arrived at about the same
time from the Indies, Mexico, Persia, Syria and Italy. The Pansy appears
in 1613; the Yellow Alyssum in 1710; the Perennial Flax in 1775; the
Scarlet Flax in 1819; the Purple Scabious in 1629; the Saxifraga
Sarmentosa in 1771; the long-leaved Veronica in 1713; the Perennial
Phlox is a little older. The Indian Pink made its entrance into our
gardens about 1713. The Garden Pink is of modern date. The Portulaca did
not make her appearance till 1828; the Scarlet Sage till 1822. The
Ageratum, or Coelestinum, now so plentiful and so popular, is not two
centuries old. The Helichrysum, or Everlasting, is even younger. The
Zinnia is exactly a centenarian. The Spanish Bean, a native of South
America, and the Sweet Pea, an immigrant from Sicily, number a little
over two hundred years. The Anthemis, whom we find in the least-known
villages, has been cultivated only since 1699. The charming blue Lobelia
of our borders came to us from the Cape of Good Hope at the time of the
French Revolution. The China Aster, or Reine Marguerite, is dated 1731.
The Annual or Drummond's Phlox, now so common, was sent over from Texas
in 1835. The large-flowered Lavatera, who looks so confirmed a native,
so simple a rustic, has blossomed in our gardens only since two
centuries and a half; and the Petunia since some twenty lustres. The
Mignonette, the Heliotrope--who would believe it?--are not two hundred
years old. The Dahlia was born in 1802; and the Gladiolus is of


What flowers, then, blossomed in the gardens of our fathers? Very few,
no doubt, and very small and very humble, scarce to be distinguished
from those of the roads, the fields and the glades. Before the sixteenth
century, those gardens were almost bare; and, later, Versailles itself,
the splendid Versailles, could have shown us only what is shown to-day
by the poorest village. Alone, the Violet, the Garden Daisy, the Lily of
the Valley, the Marigold, the Poppy, a few Crocuses, a few Irises, a
few Colchicums, the Foxglove, the Valerian, the Larkspur, the
Cornflower, the Clove, the Forget-me-not, the Gilly-flower, the Mallow,
the Rose, still almost a Sweetbriar, and the great silver Lily, the
spontaneous finery of our woods and of our snow-frightened,
wind-frightened fields: these alone smiled upon our forefathers, who,
for that matter, were unaware of their poverty. Man had not yet learnt
to look around him, to enjoy the life of nature. Then came the
Renascence, the great voyages, the discovery and invasion of the
sunlight. All the flowers of the world, the successful efforts, the
deep, inmost beauties, the joyful thoughts and wishes of the planet rose
up to us, borne on a shaft of light that, in spite of its heavenly
wonder, issued from our own earth. Man ventured forth from the cloister,
the crypt, the town of brick and stone, the gloomy stronghold in which
he had slept. He went down into the garden, which became peopled with
azure, purple and perfumes, opened his eyes, astounded like a child
escaping from the dreams of the night; and the forest, the plain, the
sea and the mountains and, lastly, the birds and the flowers, that speak
in the name of all a more human language which he already understood,
greeted his awakening.


Nowadays, perhaps, there are no more unknown flowers. We have found all
or nearly all the forms which nature lends to the great dream of love,
to the yearning for beauty that stirs within her bosom. We live, so to
speak, in the midst of her tenderest confidences, of her most touching
inventions. We take an unhoped-for part in the most mysterious festivals
of the invisible force that animates us also. Doubtless, in appearance,
it is a small thing that a few more flowers should adorn our beds. They
only scatter a few impotent smiles along the paths that lead to the
grave. It is none the less true that these are new and very real smiles,
which were unknown to those who came before us; and this
recently-discovered happiness spreads in every direction, even to the
doors of the most wretched hovels. The good, the simple flowers are as
happy and as gorgeous in the poor man's strip of garden as in the broad
lawns of the great house, and they surround the cottage with the supreme
beauty of the earth; for the earth has till now produced nothing more
beautiful than the flowers. They have completed the conquest of the
globe. Foreseeing the days when men shall at last have long and equal
leisure, already they promise an equality in sane enjoyments. Yes,
assuredly it is a small thing; and everything is a small thing, if we
look at each of our little victories one by one. It is a small thing,
too, in appearance, that we should have a few more thoughts in our
heads, a new feeling at our hearts; and yet it is just that which slowly
leads us where we hope to win.

After all, we have here a very real fact, namely, that we live in a
world in which flowers are more beautiful and more numerous than
formerly; and perhaps we have the right to add that the thoughts of men
are more just and greedier of truth. The smallest joy gained and the
smallest grief conquered should be marked in the Book of Humanity. It
behoves us not to lose sight of any of the evidence that we are
mastering the nameless powers, that we are beginning to handle some of
the mysterious laws that govern the created, that we are making our
planet all our own, that we are adorning our stay and gradually
broadening the acreage of happiness and of beautiful life.



Love contains no complete and lasting happiness save in the transparent
atmosphere of perfect sincerity. Until we attain this sincerity, our
love is but an experiment: we live in expectation, and our words and
kisses are only provisional. But sincerity is not possible except
between lofty and trained consciences. Moreover, it is not enough that
the consciences should be that: if sincerity is to become natural and
essential, this is requisite besides, that the consciences shall be
almost equal, of the same extent, of the same quality, and that the love
that unites them shall be deep-laid. And thus it is that the lives glide
away of so many men who never meet the soul with which they could have
been sincere.

But it is impossible to be sincere with others before learning to be
sincere with one's self. Sincerity is only the consciousness and
analysis of the motives of all life's actions. It is the expression of
this consciousness that one is able, later to lay before the eyes of the
being with whom one is seeking the happiness of sincerity.

Thus understood, sincerity's aim is not to lead to moral perfection. It
leads elsewhere, higher if we will: in any case to more human and more
fertile regions. The perfection of a character, as we generally
understand it, is too often but an unproductive abstention, a sort of
ataraxy, an abatement of instinctive life which is, when all is said,
the one source of all the other lives that we succeed in organizing
within us. This perfection tends to suppress our too ardent desires:
ambition, pride, vanity, egoism, the craving for enjoyment, in short,
all the human passions, that is to say, all that constitutes our
primitive vital force, the very groundwork of our energy of existence,
which nothing can replace. If we stifle within ourselves all the
manifestations of life, to substitute for them merely the contemplation
of their defeat, soon we shall have nothing left to contemplate.

Wherefore, it is not of importance to have no more passions, vices or
faults: that is impossible, so long as one is a man in the midst of men,
since we make the mistake to describe as passion, vice or fault that
which is the very basis of human nature. But it is of importance to
recognize, in their details and in their secrets, those which we possess
and to watch them at work from a standpoint so high that we may look
upon them without fearing lest they should overthrow us or escape from
our control to go and heedlessly to harm us or those around us.

So soon as, from that stand-point, we see our instincts, even the lowest
and the most selfish, at work, provided that we are not wilfully
wicked--and it is difficult to be that when our intelligence has
acquired the lucidity and the force which this faculty of observation
implies--so soon as we see them thus at work, they become harmless, like
children under their parents' eyes. We can even lose sight of them,
forget to watch them for a time; they will commit no serious misdeeds;
for the obligation that lies upon them to repair the evil which they
have done renders them naturally circumspect and soon makes them lose
the habit of doing harm.


When we have achieved a sufficient sincerity with ourselves, it does not
follow that we must deliver it to the first-comer. The frankest and
most loyal man has the right to hide from others the greater part of
what he thinks or feels. If it be uncertain whether the truth which you
propose to speak will be understood, do not utter it. It would appear in
others quite different from that which it is in you; and, taking in them
the appearance of a lie, it would do the same harm as a real lie.
Whatever the absolute moralists may say, so soon as one is no longer
among equal consciences, every truth, to produce the effect of truth,
requires focussing; and Jesus Christ Himself was obliged to focus the
greater part of those which He revealed to His disciples, for, had He
been addressing Plato or Seneca instead of speaking to fishers of
Galilee, He would probably have said to them things different from those
which He did say.

It is, therefore, right that we should present to each man only the
truth for which he has room in the hut or the palace which he has built
to admit the truths of his life. But let us, nevertheless, give ten or
twenty times as many truths as we are offered in exchange; for in this,
as in all circumstances, it behoves the more conscient to take the lead.

The reign of instinct begins only when this focussing is no longer
necessary. We then enter the privileged region of confidence and love,
which is like a delightful shore where we meet in our nakedness and
bathe together under the rays of a kindly sun. Until this hour, man had
lived on his guard, like a culprit. He did not yet know that every man
has the right to be what he is; that there is no shame in his mind or in
his heart, any more than in his body. He soon learns, with the feeling
of relief of an acquitted prisoner, that that which he thought it his
duty to conceal is just the most radical portion of the force of life.
He is no longer alone in the mystery of his conscience; and the most
pitiful secrets which he discovers there, far from saddening him as of
yore, cause him to love better the firm and gentle light which two
united hands turn upon it in concert.

All the evil, all the meannesses, all the weaknesses which we thus
disclose in ourselves change their nature so soon as they are disclosed;
"and the greatest fault," as the heroine of a recent drama says, "when
confessed in a loyal kiss, becomes a truth more beautiful than
innocence." More beautiful? I do not know; but younger, more vivid, more
visible, more active and more loving.

In this state, the idea no longer comes to us to hide a secret thought
or a secret sentiment, however vulgar or contemptible. They can no
longer make us blush, seeing that, in owning them, we disown them, we
separate them from ourselves, we prove that they no longer belong to us,
no longer take part in our lives, no longer spring from the active,
voluntary and personal side of our strength, but from the primitive,
formless and enslaved being that affords us an entertainment as amusing
as are all those in which we detect the play of the instinctive powers
of nature. A movement of hatred, of selfishness, of silly vanity, of
envy or disloyalty, when examined in the light of perfect sincerity,
becomes nothing more than an interesting and singular flower. This
sincerity, like fire, purifies all that it embraces. It sterilizes the
dangerous leaven and turns the greatest injustice into an object of
curiosity as harmless as a deadly poison in the glass case of a museum.
Imagine Shylock capable of knowing and confessing his greed: he would
cease to be greedy, and his greed would change its shape and no longer
be odious and hurtful.

For the rest, it is not indispensable that we should correct our
acknowledged faults; for there are faults that are, so to speak,
necessary to our existence and our character. Many of our defects are
the very roots of our good qualities. But the knowledge and admission of
these faults and defects chemically precipitates their venom, which
becomes no more than a salt, lying inactive at the bottom of the heart,
whose innocent crystals we can study at leisure.


The purifying force of the avowal depends upon the quality of the soul
that makes it and of the soul that receives it. Once that the balance is
established, avowals raise the level of happiness and love. So soon as
they are confessed, old lies or new, the most serious weaknesses change
into unexpected ornaments and, like beautiful statues in a park, become
the smiling witnesses and placid demonstrations of the clearness of the

We all desire to attain that blissful sincerity; but we are long fearful
lest those who love us should love us less if we revealed to them that
which we scarcely dare reveal to ourselves. It seems to us as though
certain avowals would disfigure for ever the image which they have
formed of us. If it were true that the avowals would disfigure it, that
would be a proof that we are not loved on the same scale as that on
which we love. If he who receives the avowal cannot rise to the height
of loving us the more for that avowal, there is a misunderstanding in
our love. It is not he who makes the avowal that should blush, but he
who does not yet understand that we have overcome a wrong by the very
act of confessing it. It is not we but a stranger who now stands in the
place where we committed a fault. The fault itself we have eliminated
from our being. It no longer sullies any save him who hesitates to admit
that it sullies us no longer. It has nothing more in common with our
real life. We are no longer anything but the accidental witness of it
and no more responsible for it than a good soil is responsible for an
ill weed or a mirror for an ugly reflection that passes across it.


Let us not fear any the more that this absolute sincerity, this double
transparent life of two beings who love each other, will destroy the
background of shadow and mystery that must exist at the bottom of any
lasting affection, nor that it will dry up the great unknown lake which,
at the summit of every love, feeds the desire for mutual knowledge, the
desire which itself is merely the most passionate form of the desire
for greater love. No, that background is only a sort of movable and
provisional scenery that serves to give to provisional loves the
illusion of infinite space. Remove it, and behind it there will at last
appear the genuine horizon, with the real sky and sea. As for the great
unknown lake, we soon perceive that, until this day, we had drawn from
it only a few drops of troubled water. It does not open on to love its
healing springs until the moment of sincerity; for the truth in two
beings is incomparably richer, deeper and less exhaustible than their
appearance, reticence and lies.


Lastly, let us not fear that we shall exhaust our sincerity nor imagine
that it will not be possible for us to attain its furthest limits. When
we believe and wish it absolute, it is never more than relative; for it
can manifest itself only within the borders of our conscience, and those
borders are shifted every day, so that the act or thought which we
present under the colours which we see in it at the moment of avowal may
have an import quite different from that which we attribute to it
to-day. In the same way, the act, thought or feeling which we do not
avow, because we do not yet perceive it, may become to-morrow the object
of a more urgent and graver avowal than all those which we have made to
this hour.



     ... He said that the intelligence of this fair lady was like a
     diamond in a handsome setting.--LA BRUYÈRE.


"She is beautiful," he said, "with that beauty which the years most
slowly change. They transform it without diminishing it and in order to
replace too fragile graces by charms that appear a little more grave and
a little less touching only because we feel them to be more lasting. Her
body promises to retain for long, until the first shock of old age, the
pure and supple lines that dignify desire; and, without knowing why, we
are sure that it will keep its promise. Her flesh, intelligent as a
glance, is incessantly renewed by the mind that quickens it and dares
not assume a wrinkle, displace a flower nor disturb a curve admired by


"It was not enough that she should be the one virile friend, the equal
comrade, the nearest and deepest companion of the life which she had
linked to her own. The star which would have her perfect and which she
had learnt not to resist would also have her remain the lover of whom
one wearies not. Friendship without love, like love without friendship,
is but a half-happiness that makes men sad. They enjoy the one only to
regret the other; and, finding but a mutilated joy on life's two fairest
hill-tops, they persuade themselves that the human soul can never be
perfectly happy.


"Around her summit, reason, the purest that can illumine a being, keeps
watch; but it displays only the grace and not the effort of light.
Nothing appeared to me colder than reason, until I had seen it thus play
around the brow of a young woman like the lamp of the sanctuary in the
hands of a laughing, innocent child. The lamp leaves nothing in the
shade; but the harshness of its rays does not pass the inner circle of
life, whereas their smiles beautify all that they touch without.

"Her conscience is so natural and so sound that we do not hear it
breathe and that she appears unaware of its existence. She is inflexible
towards the activity which she directs, but with such ease that she
seems to be stopping to rest or to bend over a flower when she is with
all her strength resisting an unjust feeling or thought. A movement, an
ingenuous and sprightly phrase, a tear that laughs, dissembles the
secret of the deep struggle. All that she has acquired has the grace of
instinct; and all that is instinctive has become innocent. Of all the
feminine passions, none has perished, none is a prisoner, for all are
needed, the humblest and most futile and the greatest and most dangerous
alike, to form the perfume that love loves to breathe. But, although not
held in bondage, they live in a sort of enchanted garden, whence they do
not dream of escaping, where they lose the desire to do harm and where
the smaller and more useless, unable to remain inactive, amuse and
divert the greater.


"She has, therefore, by way of an adornment, all the passions and all
the weaknesses of womankind; and, thanks to the gods, she does not
present that still-born perfection which possesses all the virtues
without being vivified by a single fault. In what imaginary world do we
find a virtue that is not grafted upon a defect? A virtue is but a vice
that raises instead of lowering itself; and a good quality is but a
defect that has turned itself to use.

"How should she have the necessary energy if she were deprived of
ambition and pride? How could she thrust aside unjust obstacles if she
did not possess a reserve of selfishness proportionate to the lawful
exigencies of her life? How should she be ardent and fond if she were
not sensual? How should she be kind if she were not a little weak? How
should she be trustful if she were not often too credulous? How should
she be beautiful if she knew not mirrors and did not seek to please? How
should she preserve her feminine grace if she had no innocent vanities?
How should she be generous if she were not a little improvident? How
should she be just if she were unable to be hard, how brave if she were
not rash? How should she be devoted and capable of sacrifice if she
never escaped from the control of icy reason? What we call virtues and
vices are the same forces passing along a life. They change their name,
according to the direction in which they go: to the left, they fall into
the shallows of ugliness, selfishness and folly; to the right, they
climb to the high lands of nobleness, generosity and intelligence. They
are good or bad according to what they do and not according to the title
which they bear.


"When a man's virtues are depicted for us, they are represented in the
effort of action; but those which are admired in a woman always infer a
model as motionless as a beautiful statue in a marble gallery. She is an
inconsistent image, a tissue of vices quiescent, of inert qualities, of
slumbering epithets, of passive movements, of negative forces. She is
chaste because she has no senses, she is kind because she does harm to
none, she is just because she does not act, she is patient and resigned
because she is devoid of energy, she is indulgent because none offends
her or forgiving because she has not the courage to resist, she is
charitable because she allows herself to be stripped or because her
charity deprives her of nothing, she is faithful, she is loyal, she is
submissive, she is devoted because all these virtues can live in
emptiness and can blossom on a dead woman's body. But what shall happen
if the image takes life and comes forth from her retreat to enter upon
an existence in which all that does not take part in the movement that
surrounds it becomes a pitiful or dangerous wreck? Is it still a virtue
to keep faithful to an ill-chosen or morally extinguished love, or to
remain subject to an unintelligent or unjust master? Is to refrain from
harming enough to make one kind, to refrain from lying enough to make
one true? There is the morality of those who keep to the banks of the
great river and the morality of those who ascend the stream. There is
the morality of sleep and that of action, the morality of shadow and
that of light; and the virtues of the first, which may be described as
concave virtues, must needs arise, stand up and become virtues in
relief, if they are to remain virtues in the second. The matter and the
lines perhaps remain identical, but the values are exactly reversed.
Patience, mildness, submissiveness, confidence, renunciation,
resignation, devotion, sacrifice, all fruits of passive goodness,
become, if we remove them, such as they are, into the stern outer life,
no more than weakness, servility, indifference, unconsciousness,
indolence, unconstraint, folly or cowardice and must, in order to keep
at the necessary level the source of goodness from which they spring, be
able to develop into energy, firmness, obstinacy, prudence, indignation
and revolt. Loyalty, which has scarce anything to fear so long as it
does not stir, must be careful lest it be duped and surrender its arms
to the enemy. Chastity, which sat waiting with eyes closed and hands
folded, has the right to change into passion, which shall decide and
settle destiny. And the same consecutively with all the virtues which
have a name as with those which are as yet unnamed. Next, it is a
problem to know which is preferable, active or passive life, that which
mingles with men and events or that which shuns them. Is there a moral
law that imposes the one or the other, or has each the right to make
his choice according to his tastes, his character, his aptitudes? Is it
better or worse that the active or the passive virtues should stand in
the foreground? It may, I think, be declared that the former always
imply the second, but that the converse is not true. Thus, the woman of
whom I speak is the more capable of devotion and sacrifice in that she
has the strength to ward off their overwhelming necessity longer than
any others. She will not cultivate sadness or suffering vaguely, as a
means of expiation or purification; but she is able to accept and go in
search of them with ingenuous ardour in order to save those whom she
loves a small affliction or a great sorrow which she feels herself
strong enough to face alone and to overcome in silence in her secret
heart. How often have I not seen her force back tears ready to gush
forth under unjust reproaches, while her lips, on which flickered a
fevered smile, held back, with almost invisible courage, the word which
would have justified her, but which would have crushed him who misjudged
her. For, like all just and good beings, she had naturally to undergo
the petty injustice and the petty wickedness of those who hover
indeterminately between good and evil and who hasten to abuse the
indulgence or forgiveness too frequently obtained. There you have that
which, better than any slack and weeping acquiescence, shows an ardent
and potent reserve of love.


"Iphigenia, Antigone or sister of charity, like every woman, if need be,
she will not ask Fate to wound her to the death, as though in order to
be able at last, in the final struggle, to weigh the perhaps wonderful
powers of an unexplored heart. She has learnt to know their number and
their weight in the peace and certainty of her conscience. Apart from
one of those tests in which life brings us to a standstill at the
relentless barriers of a fatality or an inexorable natural law, she will
instinctively take another road to reach the end pointed out by duty. In
any case, her devotion and sacrifice will never be resigned, will never
abandon themselves to the perfidious sweetness of sorrow. Ever upon the
watch, upon the defensive, and full of strenuous confidence, she will to
the last moment seek the weak spot in the event that is crushing her.
Her tears will be as pure, as gentle as the tears of those who do not
resist the insults of chance; but, instead of dimming her gaze, they
will summon to it and multiply in it the light that consoles or saves.


"For the rest," he added, in conclusion, "the Arténice whom I have
endeavoured to depict to you will, under the features which I have given
her, appear either perfectly hateful or perfectly beautiful according to
the ideal which each of you carries within himself or believes himself
to have met. There is no agreeing except on passive virtues. These have,
from the point of view of painting, an advantage which the others do not
enjoy. It is easy to evoke resignation, abnegation, submissiveness,
virginal modesty, humility, piety, renunciation, devotion, the spirit of
sacrifice, simplicity, ingenuousness, candour, the whole silent and
often desolate group of woman's powers scared away into life's dim
corners. The eye recognizes with emotion the familiar colours faded by
the centuries; and the picture is always full of a plaintive grace. It
would seem as if those virtues could not be mistaken, and their very
excesses make them more touching. But what an unusual and ungrateful
face is worn by those which stand out, which assert themselves and which
struggle without the gates! A mere nothing, a stray lock, a fold of a
garment that is not in its customary place, a tense muscle, makes them
unpleasing or suspicious, pretentious or hard. Woman has so long lived
kneeling in the shadow that our prejudiced eyes find it difficult to
seize the harmony of the first movements which she risks when rising to
her feet in the light of day. But all that one can say when striving to
paint the intimate portrait of a being bears but a very imperfect
resemblance to the more precise image which our thoughts form in our
minds at the moment when we are speaking of him; and this last image, in
its turn, is but a sketch of the great likeness, living, profound, but
incommunicable, which his presence has imprinted in our heart, like the
light on the sensitized plate. Compare the last proof with the first
two: however exact, however well impressed we may think these to be,
they no longer offer more than the garlands and arabesques of frames
more or less appropriate to the subject which they await; but the
genuine face, the authentic and integral being, with the only real good
and evil which he contains beneath his apparently real vices and
virtues, emerges from the shadow only at the immediate contact of two
lives. The finest energies and the worst weaknesses add hardly anything
to the mysterious entity that asserts itself, take hardly anything from
it; and what is revealed is the very quality of its destiny. We then
become aware that the existence which we have before us, all the hidden
possibilities of which only pass through our eyes to reach our soul, is
really that which it would wish to become, or will never be that which
it loyally strives not to remain.


"If it matters much to friendship and love, it matters but little to our
instinctive sympathy that some one should be good or bad, do good or
ill, provided that we accept the secret force that animates him. That
secret force often reveals itself at the first meeting; sometimes also
we learn to know it only after long habit. It has scarce anything in
common with the outward acts or even with the thoughts of the real
person, who does not seem to be its exact representative, but its chance
interpreter, by means of whom it manifests itself as best it may. Thus
we have all of us, among those whom the see-saw of our days mingles with
our existence, friends or associates whom we scarcely esteem, who have
done us more than one ill office and in whom we know that we can have no
confidence. Nevertheless, we do not bring ourselves to despise them as
they deserve and to thrust them from our path. Across and in spite of
all that separates us and all that disfigures them, an averment in which
we place a more solid and more organic belief than in all the experience
and all the arguments of reason, an obscure but invincible averment
testifies to us that that man, were he to precipitate us into the most
real and most grave misfortunes, is not our enemy in the general and
eternal plan of life. It may be that there is no sanction for these
sympathies and antipathies, and that nothing answers to them either
among the visible or invisible phenomena of which our existence is made
up, or among the known or unknown fluids that form and maintain our
physical or moral health, our feelings of joy or sadness and the mobile
and most impressionable medium in which our destiny floats. The fact
none the less remains that there is here an undeniable force which plays
a decisive part in the accomplishment of our happiness, both in
friendship and in love. This third power has regard to neither age nor
sex, neither beauty nor ugliness; it is independent of physical or
sexual attraction and of affinities of mind and character. It is, as it
were, the beneficent and generous atmosphere in which that attraction
and those affinities bathe. To the absence of this third power, this
vivifying atmosphere, from love are due all the misunderstandings, all
the griefs, all the deceptions that disunite two beings who esteem,
understand and passionately love each other. Since the nature of this
power is unknown, it is given various obscure names. It is called the
soul, the instinct, the unconscious or the subconscious, the divine
even. It probably emanates from the undefined organ that binds us to
all that does not directly concern our individuality, to all that
extends beyond it in time and space, in the past and in the future."



Let us not forget that we live in pregnant and decisive times. It is
probable that our descendants will envy us the dawn through which,
without knowing it, we are passing, just as we envy those who took part
in the age of Pericles, in the most glorious days of Roman greatness and
in certain hours of the Italian Renascence. The splendid dust that
clouds the great movements of men shines brightly in the memory, but
blinds those who raise it and breathe it, hiding from them the direction
of their road and, above all, the thought, the necessity or the instinct
that leads them.

It concerns us to take account of this. The web of daily life varies
little throughout the centuries in which men have attained a certain
facility of existence. This web, in which the surface occupied by boons
and evils remains much the same, shows through it either light or dark
according to the predominant idea of the generation that unfolds it.
And, whatever its form or its disguise may be, this idea always reduces
itself, in the ultimate issue, to a certain conception of the universe.
Private or public calamity and prosperity have but a fleeting influence
on the happiness and unhappiness of mankind, so long as they do not
modify the general ideas with which it is nurtured and enlightened on
the subject of its gods, of infinity, of the great unknown and of the
world's economy. Hence, we must seek there, rather than in wars and
civil troubles, if we would know whether a generation have passed in
darkness or in light, in distress or in joyfulness. There we see why one
people, which underwent many reverses, has left us numberless evidences
of beauty and of gladness, whereas another, which was naturally rich or
often victorious, has bequeathed to us only the monuments of a dull and
awe-struck life.


We are emerging (to speak only of the last three or four centuries of
our present civilization), we are emerging from the great religious
period. During this period, despite the hopes laid beyond the tomb,
human life stood out against a somewhat gloomy and threatening
background. This background allowed the thousand mobile and diversely
shaded curtains of art and metaphysics to intervene pretty freely
between the last men and its faded folds. Its existence was to some
extent forgotten. It no longer appeared in view save at the hour of the
great rifts. Nevertheless, it always existed in the immanent state,
giving a uniform colour to the atmosphere and the landscape and giving
to human life a diffuse meaning which proposed a sort of provisional
patience upon questions that were too pressing.

To-day, this background is disappearing in tatters. What is there in its
place to give a visible form, a new meaning to the horizon?

The fallacious axis upon which humanity believed itself to revolve has
suddenly snapped in two; and the huge platform which carries mankind,
after swaying for some time in our alarmed imaginations, has quietly
settled itself again to turning on the real pivot that had always
supported it. Nothing is changed except one of those unexplained phrases
with which we cover the things which we do not understand. Hitherto, the
pivot of the world seemed to us to be made up of spiritual forces;
to-day, we are convinced that it is composed of purely material
energies. We flatter ourselves that a great revolution has been
accomplished in the kingdom of truth. As a matter of fact, there has
been, in the republic of our ignorance, but a permutation of epithets, a
sort of verbal _coup d'État_, the words "mind" and "matter" being no
more than the interchangeable attributes of the same unknown.


But if it be true that, in themselves, these epithets should have merely
a literary value, since both are probably inaccurate and no more
represent reality than the epithet "Atlantic" or "Pacific" represents
the ocean to which it is applied, they do, nevertheless, according as we
adhere exclusively to the first or to the second, exercise a prodigious
influence over our future, over our morality and, consequently, over
our happiness. We wander round the truth, with no other guide than
hypotheses which light, by way of torches, some famous, but magic
phrases, and soon those phrases become for us so many living entities,
which place themselves at the head of our physical, intellectual and
moral activity. If we believe that mind directs the universe, all our
researches and all our hopes are concentrated upon our own mind, or
rather upon its verbal and imaginative faculties and we become addicted
to theology and metaphysics. If we are persuaded that the last word of
the riddle lies in matter, we apply ourselves exclusively to
interrogating this and we place our confidence in experimental science
only. We are beginning, however, to recognize that "materialism" and
"spiritualism" are merely the two opposite, but identical names of our
impotent labour after comprehension. Nevertheless, each of the two
methods drags us into a moral world that seems to belong to a different


Let us pass over the accessory consequences. The great advantage of the
spiritualistic interpretation is that it gives to our life a morality,
an aim and a meaning that are imaginary, but very much superior to those
which our cultivated instincts proffer to it. The more or less
unbelieving spiritualism of to-day still draws light from the reflection
of that advantage and preserves a deep, though somewhat shapeless faith
in the final supremacy and the indeterminate triumph of the mind.

The other interpretation, on the contrary, offers us no morality, no
ideal superior to our instinct, no aim situate outside ourselves and no
horizon other than space. Or else, if we could derive a morality from
the only synthetic theory that has sprung from the innumerable
experimental and fragmentary statements which form the imposing but dumb
mass of the conquests of science, I mean the theory of evolution, it
would be the horrible and monstrous morality of nature, that is to say,
the adaptation of the species to the environment, the triumph of the
strongest and all the crimes necessary to the struggle of life. Now this
morality, which does, in the meanwhile, appear to be another certainty,
the essential morality of all earthly life, since it inspires the
actions of agile and ephemeral man as well as the slow movements of the
undying crystals: this morality would soon become fatal to mankind if it
were practised to an extreme. All religions, all philosophies, the
counsels of gods and wise men have had no other object than to introduce
into this overheated environment, which, if it were pure, would
probably dissolve our species, elements that should reduce its
virulence. These were, more particularly, a belief in just and dread
gods, a hope of reward and a fear of eternal punishment. There were also
neutral matters and antidotes, for which, with a somewhat curious
foresight, nature had reserved a place in our own hearts: I mean
goodness, pity, a sense of justice.

Wherefore, this intolerant and exclusive environment, which was to be
our natural and normal environment, was never and probably never will be
pure. Be this as it may, the state in which it is to-day offers a
strange and noteworthy spectacle. It is fretting, bubbling and being
precipitated like a fluid into which chance has let fall a few drops of
some unknown reagent. The compensating principles which religion had
added to it are gradually evaporating and being eliminated at the top,
while at the bottom they are coagulating into a thick and inactive
mass. But, in proportion as these disappear, the purely human antidotes,
although oxydized through and through by the elimination of the
religious elements, gain greater vigour and seem to exert themselves to
maintain the standard of the mixture in which the human species is being
cultivated by an obscure destiny. Pending the arrival of as yet
mysterious auxiliaries, they occupy the place abandoned by the
evaporating forces.


Is it not surprising, at the outset, that, in spite of the decrease of
religious feeling and the influence which this decrease must needs have
upon human reason, which no longer sees any supernatural interest in
doing good, while the natural interest in doing good is fairly
disputable: is it not surprising that the sum of justice and goodness
and the quality of the general conscience, far from diminishing, have
incontestably, increased? I say incontestably, although doubtless the
fact will be contested. To establish it, we should have to review all
history, or, at the very least, that of the last few centuries, compare
the position of those who were unhappy formerly with that of those who
are unhappy now, place beside the sum total of the injustice of
yesterday the sum total of the injustice of to-day, contrast the state
of the serf, the semi-serf, the peasant, the labourer, under the old
systems of government, with the condition of our working-man, set the
indifference, the unconsciousness, the easy and harsh certainty of those
who possessed the land in former days against the sympathy, the
self-reproachful restlessness, the scruples of those who possess the
land to-day. All this would demand a detailed and very long study; but
I think that any fair mind will, without difficulty, allow that there
is, notwithstanding the existence of too much real and widespread
wretchedness, a little more justice, solidarity, sympathy and hope, not
only in the wishes of men--for thus much seems certain--but in very

To what religion, to what thoughts, to what new elements are we to
attribute this illogical improvement in our moral atmosphere? It is
difficult to state precisely; for, though it is certain that they are
beginning to act in a very perceptible manner, they are still too
recent, too shapeless, too unsettled for us to qualify them.


Let us, nevertheless, try to pick out a few clues; and let us state, in
the first place, that our conception of the universe has been greatly
and most effectively modified and, above all, that it is tending to
become modified more and more rapidly. Without our accounting for it,
each of the numerous discoveries of science--whether affecting history,
anthropology, geography, geology, medicine, physics, chemistry,
astronomy or the rest--changes our accustomed atmosphere and adds some
essential thing to an image which we do not yet distinguish, but which
we see looming above us, occupying the whole horizon, and which we feel,
by a presentiment, to be enormous. Its features are straggling, like
those illuminations which we see at evening fêtes. A frontal, colonnade,
cupola and portico, all incoherent, appear abruptly in the sky. We do
not know what they mean, to what they belong. They hang absurdly in the
motionless ether; they are inconsistent dreams in the still firmament.
But, suddenly, a little line of light meanders across the blue, and, in
the twinkling of an eye, connects the cupola with the columns, the
portico with the frontal, the steps with the ground; and the unexpected
edifice, as though flinging aside a mask of darkness, stands affirmed
and explicit in the night.

It is this little line of light, this deciding undulation, this flash of
general and complementary fire that is still lacking in the night of our
intelligence. But we feel that it exists, that it is there, outlined in
shadow in the darkness, and that a mere nothing, a spark issuing from we
know not what science will be enough to light it and to give an
infallible and exact sense to our immense presentiments and to all the
scattered notions that seem to stray through unfathomable space.


Meanwhile, this space--the abode of our ignorance--which, after the
disappearance of the religious ideas, had appeared frightfully empty,
is gradually becoming peopled with vague, but enormous figures. Each
time that one of these new forms uprises, the boundless extent in which
it comes to move increases in proportions that are boundless in their
turn; for the limits of boundlessness evolve in our imagination without
ceasing. Assuredly, the gods who conceived certain positive religions
were sometimes very great. The Jewish and Christian God, for instance,
declared Himself incommensurable, containing all things, and His first
attributes were eternity and infinity. But the infinite is an abstract
and tenebrous notion which assumes life and is explained only by the
displacing of frontiers which we thrust back further and further into
the finite. It constitutes a formless extent of which we can acquire a
consciousness only with the aid of a few phenomena that start up on
points more or less distant from the centre of our imagination. It is
efficacious only through the multiplicity of the, so to speak, tangible
and positive faces of the unknown which it reveals to us in its depths.
It does not become comprehensible and perceptible to us until it shows
animation and movement and kindles on the several horizons of space
questions more and more distant, more and more foreign to all our
uncertainties. For our life to take part in its life, the infinite must
question us incessantly and incessantly place us in the presence of the
infinity of our ignorance, which is the only visible garment beneath
which it allows us to conjecture the infinity of its existence.

Now the most incommensurable gods hardly put questions similar to those
which are endlessly put to us by that which their adorers call the void,
which is, in reality, nature. They were content to reign in a dead
space, without events and without images, consequently without points
of reference for our imagination, and having only an immutable and
immobile influence over our thoughts and feelings. Thus, our sense of
the finite, which is the source of all higher activity, became atrophied
within us. Our intelligence, in order to live on the confines of itself,
where it accomplishes its loftiest mission, our thought, in order to
fill the whole space of our brain, needs to be continually excited by
fresh recallings of the unknown. So soon as it ceases to be daily
summoned to the extremity of its own strength by some new fact--and
there are hardly any new facts in the reign of the gods--it falls
asleep, contracts, gives way and sinks into decay. One thing alone is
capable of dilating equally, in all their parts, all the lobes of our
head, and that is the active idea which we conceive of the riddle in the
midst of which we have our being. Is there danger of error in declaring
that never was the activity of this idea comparable with that of
to-day? Never before, neither at the time when the Hindoo, Jewish or
Christian theology flourished, nor in the days when Greek or German
metaphysics were engaging all the forces of human genius, was our
conception of the universe enlivened, enriched and broadened by proofs
so unexpected, so laden with mystery, so energetic, so real. Until now,
it was fed on indirect nourishment, so to speak, or rather it fed
illusively on itself. It inflated itself with its own breath, sprinkled
itself with its own waters, and very little came to it from without.
To-day, the universe itself is beginning to penetrate into the
conception which we form of it. The diet of our thought is changed. That
which it takes comes from outside itself and adds to its substance. It
borrows instead of lending. It no longer sheds around itself the
reflection of its own greatness, but absorbs the greatness around it.
Until now, we had been prosing, with the aid of our infirm logic or our
idle imagination, on the subject of the riddle; to-day, issuing from our
too inward abode, we are trying to enter into relations with the riddle
itself. It questions us, and we stammer as best we may. We put questions
to it, and, in reply, it unmasks, at moments, a luminous and boundless
perspective in the immense circle of darkness amid which we move. We
were, it might be said, like blind men who should imagine the outer
world from inside a shut room. Now, we are those same blind men whom an
ever-silent guide leads by turns into the forest, across the plain, on
the mountain and beside the sea. Their eyes have not yet opened; but
their shaking and eager hands are able to feel the trees, to rumple the
spikes of corn, to gather a flower or a fruit, to marvel at the ridge
of a rock or to mingle with the cool waves, while their ears learn to
distinguish, without needing to understand, the thousand real songs of
the sun and the shade, the wind and the rain, the leaves and the waters.


If our happiness, as we said above, depends upon our conception of the
universe, this is, in a great measure, because our morality depends upon
it. And our morality depends much less upon the nature than upon the
size of that conception. We should be better, nobler, more moral in the
midst of a universe proved to be without morality, but conceived on an
infinite scale, than in a universe which attained the perfection of the
human ideal, but which appeared to us circumscribed and devoid of
mystery. It is, before all, important to make as vast as possible the
place in which are developed all our thoughts and all our feelings; and
this place is none other than that in which we picture the universe. We
are unable to move except within the idea which we create for ourselves
of the world in which we move. Everything starts from that, everything
flows from it; and all our acts, most often unknown to ourselves, are
modified by the height and the breadth of that immense well of force
which exists at the summit of our conscience.


I think that we may say that never was that well larger nor more highly
placed. Certainly, the idea which we shape for ourselves of the
organization and government of the infinite powers is less precise than
heretofore; but this is for the good and noble reason that it no longer
admits of falsely-defined conventional limits. It no longer contains
any fixed morality, any consolation, any promise, any certain hope. It
is bare and almost empty, because nothing subsists in it that is not the
very bedrock of some primitive facts. It no longer has a voice, it no
longer has images, except to proclaim and illustrate its immensity.
Outside that, it no longer tells us anything; but this immensity, having
remained its sole imperious and irrefutable attribute, surpasses in
energy, nobility and eloquence all the attributes, all the virtues and
perfections with which we had hitherto peopled our unknown. It lays no
duty upon us, but it maintains us in a state of greatness that will
permit us more easily and more generously to perform all those duties
which await us on the threshold of a coming future. By bringing us
nearer to our true place in the system of the worlds, it adds to our
spiritual and general life all that it takes away from our material and
individual importance. The more it makes us recognize our littleness,
the greater grows that within us which recognizes this littleness. A new
being, more disinterested and probably closer to that which is one day
to proclaim itself the last truth, is gradually taking the place of the
original being which is being dissolved in the conception that
overwhelms it.


To this new being, itself and all the men around it now represent only
so inconsiderable a speck in the infinity of the eternal forces that
they are no longer able to fix its attention and its interests. Our
brothers, our immediate descendants, our visible neighbour, all that but
lately marked the limit of our sympathies, are gradually yielding
precedence to a more inordinate and loftier being. We are almost
nothing; but the species to which we belong occupies a place that can
be recognized in the boundless ocean of life. Though we no longer count,
the humanity of which we form a part is acquiring the importance of
which we are being stripped. This feeling, which is only beginning to
make its way in the accustomed atmosphere of our thoughts and of our
unconsciousness, is already fashioning our morality and is doubtless
preparing revolutions as great as those wrought in it by the most
subversive religions. It will gradually displace the centre of most of
our virtues and vices. It will substitute for an illusory and individual
ideal a disinterested, unlimited and yet tangible ideal, of which it is
not yet possible to foresee the consequences and the laws. But, whatever
these may be, we can state even now that they will be even more general
and more decisive than any of those which preceded them in the superior
and, so to speak, astral history of mankind. In any case, it can hardly
be denied that the object of this ideal is more lasting and, above all,
more certain than the best of those which lightened our darkness before
it, since it coalesces on more than one point with the object of the
universe itself.


And we are just at the moment when a thousand new reasons for having
confidence in the destinies of our kind are being born around us. For
hundreds and hundreds of centuries we have occupied this earth; and the
greatest dangers seem past. They were so threatening that we have
escaped them only by a chance that cannot occur more than once in a
thousand times in the history of the worlds. The earth, still too young,
was poising its continents, its islands and its seas before fixing them.
The central fire, the first master of the planet, was at every moment
bursting from its granite prison; and the globe, hesitating in space,
wandered among greedy and hostile stars ignorant of their laws. Our
undetermined faculties floated blindly in our bodies, like the nebulæ in
the ether; a mere nothing could have destroyed our human future at the
groping hours when our brain was forming itself, when the network of our
nerves was branching out. To-day, the instability of the seas and the
uprisings of the central fire are infinitely less to be feared; in any
case, it is unlikely that they will bring about any more universal
catastrophes. As for the third peril, collision with a stray star, we
may be permitted to believe that we shall be granted the few centuries
of respite necessary for us to learn how to ward it off. When we see
what we have done and what we are on the point of doing, it is not
absurd to hope that one day we shall lay hold of that essential secret
of the worlds which, for the time being and to soothe our ignorance
(even as we soothe a child and lull it to sleep by repeating to it
meaningless and monotonous words), we have called the law of
gravitation. There is nothing mad in supposing that the secret of this
sovereign force lies hidden within us, or around us, within reach of our
hand. It is perhaps tractable and docile, even as light and electricity;
it is perhaps wholly spiritual and depends upon a very simple cause
which the displacing of an object may reveal to us. The discovery of an
unexpected property of matter, analogous to that which has just
disclosed to us the disconcerting qualities of radium, may lead us
straight to the very sources of the energy and the life of the stars;
and from that moment man's lot would be changed and the earth,
definitively saved, would become eternal. It would, at our pleasure,
draw closer to or further from the centres of heat and light, it would
flee from worn-out suns and go in search of unsuspected fluids, forces
and lives in the orbit of virgin and inexhaustible worlds.


I grant that all this is full of questionable hopes and that it would be
almost as reasonable to despair of the destinies of man. But, already,
it is much that the choice remains possible and that, hitherto, nothing
has been decided against us. Every hour that passes increases our
chances of holding out and conquering. It may be said, I know, that,
from the point of view of beauty, enjoyment and the harmonious
understanding of life, some nations--the Greeks and the Romans of the
commencement of the Empire, for instance--were superior to ourselves.
The fact none the less remains that the sum total of civilization
spread over our globe was never to be compared with that of to-day. An
extraordinary civilization, such as that of Athens, Rome or Alexandria,
formed but a luminous islet which was threatened on every side and which
ended by being swallowed up by the savage ocean that surrounded it.
Nowadays--apart from the Yellow Peril, which does not seem serious--it
is no longer possible for a barbarian invasion to make us lose in a few
days our essential conquests. The barbarians can no longer come from
without: they would issue from our fields and our cities, from the
shallow waters of our own life; they would be saturated with the
civilization which they would lay claim to destroy; and it is only by
making use of its conquests that they would succeed in depriving us of
its fruits. There would, therefore, at the worst, be but a halt,
followed by a redistribution of riches.

Since we have a choice of two interpretations, forming a background of
light or of shade for our existence, it would be unwise to hesitate.
Even in the most trivial circumstances ... of life, our ignorance very
often offers us only a choice of the same kind, and one which does not
impose itself more strongly. Optimism thus understood is in no way
devout or childish; it does not rejoice stupidly like a peasant leaving
the inn; but it strikes a balance between what has taken and what can
take place, between hopes and fears, and, if the last be not heavy
enough, it throws in the weight of life.

For the rest, this choice is not even necessary: it is enough that we
should feel conscious of the greatness of our expectation. For we are in
the magnificent state in which Michael Angelo painted the prophets and
the just men of the Old Testament, on that prodigious ceiling of the
Sistine Chapel: we are living in expectation and perhaps in the last
moments of expectation. Expectation, in fact, has degrees which begin
with a sort of vague resignation and which do not yet hope for the
thrill aroused by the nearest movements of the expected object. It seems
as though we heard those movements: the sound of superhuman footsteps,
an enormous door opening, a breath caressing us, or light coming; we do
not know; but expectation at this pitch is an ardent and marvellous
state of life, the fairest period of happiness, its youth, its

I repeat, we never had so many good reasons for hope. Let us cherish
them. Our predecessors were sustained by slighter reasons when they did
the great things that have remained for us the best evidence of the
destinies of mankind. They had confidence when they found none but
unreasonable reasons for having it. To-day, when some of those reasons
really spring from reason, it would be wrong to show less courage than
did those who derived theirs from the very circumstances whence we
derive only our discouragements.

We no longer believe that this world is as the apple of the eye of one
God who is alive to our slightest thoughts; but we know that it is
subjected to forces quite as powerful, quite as alive to laws and duties
which it behoves us to penetrate. That is why our attitude in the face
of the mystery of these forces has changed. It is no longer one of fear,
but one of boldness. It no longer demands that the slave shall kneel
before the master or the creator, but permits a gaze as between equals,
for we bear within ourselves the equal of the deepest and greatest


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ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.