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The Origins of Contemporary France, Volume 1 (of 6) - The Ancient Regime
by Hippolyte A. Taine
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V. The Analytical Method.

The analytical method.—Its principle.—The conditions requisite to make it productive.—These conditions wanting or inadequate in the 18th century.—The truth and survival of the principle.

Such is the course to be pursued with all the sciences, and especially with the moral and political sciences. To consider in turn each distinct province of human activity, to decompose the leading notions out of which we form our conceptions, those of religion, society and government, those of utility, wealth and exchange, those of justice, right and duty. To revert to manifest facts, to first experiences, to the simple circumstances in which the elements of our ideas are included; to extricate from these the precious lode without omission or mixture; to recompose our idea with these, to define its meaning and determine its value; to substitute for the vague and vulgar notion with which we started out the precise scientific definition we arrive at, and for the impure metal we received the refined metal we recovered, constituted the prevalent method taught by the philosophers under the name of analysis, and which sums up the whole progress of the century.—Up to this point, and not farther, they are right; truth, every truth, is found in observable things, and only from these can it be derived; there is no other pathway leading to discovery.-The operation, undoubtedly, is productive only when the vein is rich, and we possess the means of extracting the ore. To obtain a just notion of government, of religion, of right, of wealth, a man must be a historian beforehand, a jurisconsult and economist, and have gathered up myriad of facts; and, besides all this, he must possess a vast erudition, an experienced and professional perspicacity. If these conditions are only partially complied with, the result will only be a half finished product or a doubtful alloy, a few rough drafts of the sciences, the rudiments of pedagogy as with Rousseau, of political economy with Quesnay, Smith, and Turgot, of linguistics with Des Brosses, and of arithmetical morals and criminal legislation with Bentham. Finally, if none of these conditions are complied with, the same efforts will, in the hands of philosophical amateurs and oratorical charlatans, undoubtedly only produce mischievous compounds and destructive explosions.—Nevertheless good procedure remains good even when ignorant and the impetuous men make a bad use of it; and if we of to day resume the abortive effort of the eighteenth century, it should be within the guidelines they set out.

*****

NOTES:

[Footnote 3101: "Philosophioe naturalis principia," 1687; "Optics," 1704.]

[Footnote 3102: See concerning this development Comte's "Philosophie Positive," vol. I.—At the beginning of the eighteenth century, mathematical instruments are carried to such perfection as to warrant the belief that all physical phenomena may be analyzed, light, electricity, sound, crystallization, heat, elasticity, cohesion and other effects of molecular forces.—See "Whewell's History of the Inductive Sciences. II., III.]

[Footnote 3103: The travels of La Condamine in Peru and of Maupertuis in Lapland.]

[Footnote 3104: Buffon, "Theorie de la terre," 1749; "Epoques de la Nature," 1788.—"Carte geologique de l'Auvergne," by Desmarets, 1766.]

[Footnote 3105: See a lecture by M. Lacaze-Duthier on Lamarck, "Revue Scientifique," III. 276-311.]

[Footnote 3106: Buffon, "Histoire Naturelle, II. 340: "All living beings contain a vast quantity of living and active molecules. Vegetal and animal life seem to be only the result of the actions of all the small lives peculiar to each of the active molecules whose life is primitive." Cf. Diderot, "Revue d'Alembert."]

[Footnote 3108: "Philosophie de Newton," 1738, and "Physique," by Voltaire.—Cf. du Bois-Raymond, "Voltaire physician," (Revue des Cours Scientifique, V. 539), and Saigey, "la Physique de Voltaire,"—"Had Voltaire," writes Lord Brougham, "continued to devote himself to experimental physics he would undoubtedly have inscribed his name among those of the greatest discoverers of his age."]

[Footnote 3109: See his "Langue des Calculs," and his "Art de Raisonner."]

[Footnote 3110: For a popular exposition of these ideas see Voltaire, passim, and particularly the "Micromegas" and "Les Oreilles du Comte de Chesterfield."]

[Footnote 3111: Cf. Buffon, ibid.. I. 31: "Those who imagine a reply with final causes do not reflect that they take the effect for the cause. The relationship which things bear to us having no influence whatever on their origin, moral convenience can never become a physical explanation."—Voltaire, "Candide": "When His High Mightiness sends a vessel to Egypt is he in any respect embarrassed about the comfort of the mice that happen to be aboard of it?"]

[Footnote 3112: Buffon, ibid. . "Supplement," II. 513; IV. ("Epoques de la Nature"), 65, 167. According to his experiments with the cooling of a cannon ball he based the following periods: From the glowing fluid mass of the planet to the fall of rain 35,000 years. From the beginning of life to its actual condition 40,000 years. From its actual condition to the entire congealing of it and the extinction of life 93,000 years. He gives these figures simply as the minima. We now know that they are much too limited.]

[Footnote 3113: Buffon, Histoire Naturelle, ib. I. 12: "The first truth derived from this patient investigation of nature is, perhaps, a humiliating truth for man, that of taking his place in the order of animals."]

[Footnote 3114: Voltaire, "Philosophie, Du principe d'action:" "All beings, without exception, are subject to invariable laws."]

[Footnote 3115: Voltaire "Essay sur les Moeurs,", chap. CXLVII., the summary; "The intelligent reader readily perceives that he must believe only in those great events which appear plausible, and view with pity the fables with which fanaticism, romantic taste and credulity have at all times filled the world."]

[Footnote 3116: Note this expression," exegetical methods". (Chambers defines an exegetist as one who interprets or expounds.) Taine refers to methods which should allow the Jacobins, socialists, communists, and other ideologists to, from an irrefutable idea or expression, to deduct, infer, conclude and draw firm and, to them, irrefutable conclusions. (SR.)]

[Footnote 3117: "Traite de Metaphysique," chap. I. "Having fallen on this little heap of mud, and with no more idea of man than man has of the inhabitants of Mars and Jupiter, I set foot on the shore of the ocean of the country of Caffraria and at once began to search for a man. I encounter monkeys, elephants and Negroes, with gleams of imperfect intelligence, etc"—The new method is here clearly apparent.]

[Footnote 3118: "Introduction a l'Essay sur les Moeurs: Des Sauvages."—Buffon, in "Epoques de la nature," the seventh epoch, precedes Darwin in his ideas on the modifications of the useful species of animals.]

[Footnote 3119: Voltaire, "Remarques de l'essay sur les Moeurs." "We may speak of this people in connection with theology but they are not entitled to a prominent place in history."—"Entretien entre A, B, C," the seventh.]

[Footnote 3120: Franklin defined man as a maker of tools.]

[Footnote 3121: Condorcet, "Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progres de l'esprit humain."]

[Footnote 3122: Montesquieu: "Esprit des Lois," preface. "I, at first, examined men, thinking that, in this infinite diversity of laws and customs, they were not wholly governed by their fancies. I brought principles to bear and I found special cases yielding to them as if naturally, the histories of all nations being simply the result of these, each special law being connected with another law or depending on some general law."]

[Footnote 3123: Pinel, (1791), Esquirol (1838), on mental diseases.—Prochaska, Legallois (1812) and then Flourens for vivisection.—Hartley and James Mill at the end of the eighteenth century follow Condillac on the same psychological road; all contemporary psychologists have entered upon it. (Wundt, Helmholz, Fechner, in Germany, Bain, Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer and Carpenter, in England).]

[Footnote 3124: Condillac, passim, and especially in his last two works the "Logique," and the "Langue des Calculs."]



CHAPTER II. THE CLASSIC SPIRIT, THE SECOND ELEMENT.

This grand and magnificent system of new truths resembles a tower of which the first story, quickly finished, at once becomes accessible to the public. The public ascends the structure and is requested by its constructors to look about, not at the sky and at surrounding space, but right before it, towards the ground, so that it may at last become familiar with the country in which it lives. Certainly, the point of view is good, and the advice is well thought-out. The conclusion that the public will have an accurate view is not warranted, for the state of its eyes must be examined, to ascertain whether it is near or far-sighted, or if the retina naturally, or through habit, is sensitive to certain colors. In the same way the French of the eighteenth century must be considered, the structure of their inward vision, that is to say, the fixed form of their intelligence which they are bringing with them, unknowingly and unwillingly, up upon their new tower.



I. Through Colored Glasses.

Its signs, duration and power.—Its origin and public supporters.—Its vocabulary, grammar and style.—Its method, merits and defects.

This fixed intelligence consists of the classic spirit, which applied to the scientific acquisitions of the period, produces the philosophy of the century and the doctrines of the Revolution. Various signs denote its presence, and notably its oratorical, regular and correct style, wholly consisting of ready-made phrases and contiguous ideas. It lasts two centuries, from Malherbe and Balzac to Delille and de Fontanes, and during this long period, no man of intellect, save two or three, and then only in private memoirs, as in the case of Saint-Simon, also in familiar letters like those of the marquis and bailly de Mirabeau, either dares or can withdraw himself from its empire. Far from disappearing with the ancient regime it forms the matrix out of which every discourse and document issues, even the phrases and vocabulary of the Revolution. Now, what is more effective than a ready-made mold, enforced, accepted, in which by virtue of natural tendency, of tradition and of education, everyone can enclose their thinking? This one, accordingly, is a historic force, and of the highest order; to understand it let us consider how it came into being.—It appeared together with the regular monarchy and polite conversation, and it accompanies these, not accidentally, but naturally and automatically. For it is product of the new society, of the new regime and its customs: I mean of an aristocracy left idle due the encroaching monarchy, of people well born and well educated who, withdrawn from public activity, fall back on conversation and pass their leisure sampling the different serious or refined pleasures of the intellect.[3201] Eventually, they have no other role nor interest than to talk, to listen, to entertain themselves agreeably and with ease, on all subjects, grave or gay, which may interest men or even women of society, that's their great affair. In the seventeenth century they are called "les honnetes gens"[3202] and from now on a writer, even the most abstract, addresses himself to them. "A gentleman," says Descartes, "need not have read all books nor have studiously acquired all that is taught in the schools;" and he entitles his last treatise, "A search for Truth according to natural light, which alone, without aid of Religion or Philosophy, determines the truths a gentleman should possess on all matters forming the subjects of his thoughts."[3203] In short, from one end of his philosophy to the other, the only qualification he demands of his readers is "natural good sense" added to the common stock of experience acquired by contact with the world.—As these make up the audience they are likewise the judges. "One must study the taste of the court," says Moliere,[3204] "for in no place are verdicts more just. . . With simple common sense and intercourse with people of refinement, a habit of mind is there obtained which, without comparison, forms a more accurate, judgment of things than the rusty attainments of the pedants." From this time forth, it may be said that the arbiter of truth and of taste is not, as before, an erudite Scaliger, but a man of the world, a La Rochefoucauld, or a Treville.[3205] The pedant and, after him, the savant, the specialist, is set aside. "True honest people," says Nicole after Pascal, "require no sign. They need not be divined; they join in the conversation going on as they enter the room. They are not styled either poets or surveyors, but they are the judges of all these."[3206] In the eighteenth century they constitute the sovereign authority. In the great crowd of blockheads sprinkled with pedants, there is, says Voltaire, "a small group apart called good society, which, rich, educated and polished, forms, you might say, the flower of humanity; it is for this group that the greatest men have labored; it is this group which accords social recognition."[3207] Admiration, favor, importance, belong not to those who are worthy of it but to those who address themselves to this group. "In 1789," said the Abbe Maury, "the French Academy alone enjoyed any esteem in France, and it really bestowed a standing. That of the Sciences signified nothing in public opinion, any more than that of Inscriptions. . . The languages is considered a science for fools. D'Alembert was ashamed of belonging to the Academy of Sciences. Only a handful of people listen to a mathematician, a chemist, etc. but the man of letters, the lecturer, has the world at his feet."[3208]—Under such a strong pressure the mind necessarily follows a literary and verbal route in conformity with the exigencies, the proprieties, the tastes, and the degree of attention and of instruction of its public.[3209] Hence the classic mold,—formed out of the habit of speaking, writing and thinking for a drawing room audience.[3210]

This is immediately evident in its style and language. Between Amyot, Rabelais and Montaigne on the one hand, and Chateaubriand, Victor Hugo and Honore de Balzac on the other, classic French comes into being and dies. From the very first it is described at the language of "honest people." It is fashioned not merely for them, but by them, and Vaugelas,[3211] their secretary, devotes himself for thirty years to the registry of decisions according to the usages only of good society. Hence, throughout, both in vocabulary and in grammar, the language is refashioned over and over again, according to the cast of their intellects, which is the prevailing intellect.—

In the first place the vocabulary is diminished:

* Most of the words specially employed on erudite and technical subjects, expressions that are too Greek or too Latin, terms peculiar to the schools, to science, to occupations, to the household, are excluded from discourse;

* those too closely denoting a particular occupation or profession are not considered proper in general conversation.

* A vast number of picturesque and expressive words are dropped, all that are crude, gaulois or naifs, all that are local and provincial, or personal and made-up, all familiar and proverbial locutions,[3212] many brusque, familiar and frank turns of thought, every haphazard, telling metaphor, almost every description of impulsive and dexterous utterance throwing a flash of light into the imagination and bringing into view the precise, colored and complete form, but of which a too vivid impression would run counter to the proprieties of polite conversation.

"One improper word," said Vaugelas, "is all that is necessary to bring a person in society into contempt,"

and, on the eve of the Revolution, an objectionable term denounced by Madame de Luxembourg still consigns a man to the rank of "especes," because correct expression is ever an element of good manners.—Language, through this constant scratching, is attenuated and becomes colorless: Vaugelas estimates that one-half of the phrases and terms employed by Amyot are set aside.[3213] With the exception of La Fontaine, an isolated and spontaneous genius, who reopens the old sources, and La Bruyere, a bold seeker, who opens a fresh source, and Voltaire an incarnate demon who, in his anonymous and pseudonymous writings, gives the rein to the violent, crude expressions of his inspiration,[3214] the terms which are most appropriate fall into desuetude. One day, Gresset, in a discourse at the Academy, dares utter four or five of these,[3215] relating, I believe, to carriages and head-dresses, whereupon murmurs at once burst forth. During his long retreat he had become provincial and lost the touch.—By degrees, discourses are composed of "general expressions" only. These are even employed, in accordance with Buffon's precept, to designate concrete objects. They are more in conformity with the polished courtesy which smoothes over, appeases, and avoids rough or familiar expressions, to which some views appear gross or rude unless partly hidden by a veil. This makes it easier for the superficial listener; prevailing terms alone will immediately arouse current and common ideas; they are intelligible to every man from the single fact that he belongs to the drawing-room; special terms, on the contrary, demand an effort of the memory or of the imagination. Suppose that, in relation to Franks or to savages, I should mention "a battle-ax," which would be at once understood; should I mention a "tomahawk," or a "francisque,"[3216] many would imagine that I was speaking Teuton or Iroquois.[3217] In this respect the more fashionable and refined the style, the more punctilious the effort. Every appropriate term is banished from poetry; if one happens to enter the mind it must be evaded or replaced by a paraphrase. An eighteenth century poet can hardly permit himself to employ more than one-third of the dictionary, poetic language at last becomes so restricted as to compel a man with anything to say not to express himself in verse.[3218]

On the other hand the more you prune the more you thin out. Reduced to a select vocabulary the Frenchman deals with fewer subjects, but he describes them more agreeably and more clearly. "Courtesy, accuracy", (Urbanite, exactitude!), these two words, born at the same time with the French Academy, describes in a nutshell the reform of which it is the tool, and which the drawing-room, by it, and alongside of it, imposes on the public. Grand seigniors in retirement, and unoccupied fine ladies, enjoy the examination of the subtleties of words for the purpose of composing maxims, definitions and characters. With admirable scrupulousness and infinitely delicate tact, writers and people society apply themselves to weighing each word and each phrase in order to fix its sense, to measure its force and bearing, to determine its affinities, use and connections This work of precision is carried on from the earliest academicians, Vaugelas, Chapelain and Conrart, to the end of the classic epoch, in the Synonymes by Bauzee and by Girard, in the Remarque by Duclos, in the Commentaire by Voltaire on Corneille, in the Lycee by la Harpe,[3219] in the efforts, the example, the practice and the authority of the great and the inferior writers of which all are correct. Never did architects, obliged to use ordinary broken highway stones in building, better understand each piece, its dimensions, its shape, its resistance, its possible connections and suitable position.—Once this was learned, the task was to construct with the least trouble and with the utmost solidity; the grammar was consequently changed at the same time and in the same way as the dictionary. Hence no longer permitting the words to reflect the way impressions and emotions were felt; they now had to be regularly and rigorously assigned according to the invariable hierarchy of concepts. The writer may no longer begin his text with the leading figure or the main purpose of his story; the setting is given and the places assigned beforehand. Each part of the discourse has its own place; no omission or transposition is permitted, as was done in the sixteenth century[3220]. All parts must be included, each in its definite place: at first the subject of the sentence with its appendices, then the verb, then the object direct, and, finally, the indirect connections. In this way the sentence forms a graduated scaffolding, the substance coming foremost, then the quality, then the modes and varieties of the quality, just as a good architect in the first place poses his foundation, then the building, then the accessories, economically and prudently, with a view to adapt each section of the edifice to the support of the section following after it. No sentence demands any less attention than another, nor is there any in which one may not at every step verify the connection or incoherence of the parts.[3221]—The procedure used in arranging a simple sentence also governs that of the period, the paragraph and the series of paragraphs; it forms the style as it forms the syntax. Each small edifice occupies a distinct position, and but one, in the great total edifice. As the discourse advances, each section must in turn file in, never before, never after, no parasitic member being allowed to intrude, and no regular member being allowed to encroach on its neighbor, while all these members bound together by their very positions must move onward, combining all their forces on one single point. Finally, we have for the first time in a writing, natural and distinct groups, complete and compact harmonies, none of which infringe on the others or allow others to infringe on them. It is no longer allowable to write haphazard, according to the caprice of one's inspiration, to discharge one's ideas in bulk, to let oneself be interrupted by parentheses, to string along interminable rows of citations and enumerations. An end is proposed; some truth is to be demonstrated, some definition to be ascertained, some conviction to be brought about; to do this we must march, and ever directly onward. Order, sequence, progress, proper transitions, constant development constitute the characteristics of this style. To such an extent is this pushed, that from the very first, personal correspondence, romances, humorous pieces, and all ironical and gallant effusions, consist of morsels of systematic eloquence.[3222] At the Hotel Rambouillet, the explanatory period is displayed with as much fullness and as rigorously as with Descartes himself. One of the words most frequently occurring with Mme. de Scudery is the conjunction for (in French car). Passion is worked out through close-knit arguments. Drawing room compliments stretch along in sentences as finished as those of an academical dissertation. Scarcely completed, the instrument already discloses its aptitudes. We are aware of its being made to explain, to demonstrate, to persuade and to popularize. Condillac, a century later, is justified in saying that it is in itself a systematic means of decomposition and of recomposition, a scientific method analogous to arithmetic and algebra. At the very least it possesses the incontestable advantage of starting with a few ordinary terms, and of leading the reader along with facility and promptness, by a series of simple combinations, up to the loftiest.[3223] By virtue of this, in 1789, the French tongue ranks above every other. The Berlin Academy promises a prize to for anyone who best can explain its pre-eminence. It is spoken throughout Europe. No other language is used in diplomacy. As formerly with Latin, it is international, and appears that, from now on, it is to be the preferred tool whenever men are to reason.

It is the organ only of a certain kind of reasoning, la raison raisonnante, that requiring the least preparation for thought, giving itself as little trouble as possible, content with its acquisitions, taking no pains to increase or renew them, incapable of, or unwilling to embrace the plenitude and complexity of the facts of real life. In its purism, in its disdain of terms suited to the occasion, in its avoidance of lively sallies, in the extreme regularity of its developments, the classic style is powerless to fully portray or to record the infinite and varied details of experience. It rejects any description of the outward appearance of reality, the immediate impressions of the eyewitness, the heights and depths of passion, the physiognomy, at once so composite yet absolute personal, of the breathing individual, in short, that unique harmony of countless traits, blended together and animated, which compose not human character in general but one particular personality, and which a Saint-Simon, a Balzac, or a Shakespeare himself could not render if the rich language they used, and which was enhanced by their temerities, did not contribute its subtleties to the multiplied details of their observation.[3224] Neither the Bible, nor Homer, nor Dante, nor Shakespeare[3225] could be translated with this style. Read Hamlet's monologue in Voltaire and see what remains of it, an abstract piece of declamation, with about as much of the original in it as there is of Othello in his Orosmane. Look at Homer and then at Fenelon in the island of Calypso; the wild, rocky island, where "gulls and other sea-birds with long wings," build their nests, becomes in pure French prose an orderly park arranged "for the pleasure of the eye." In the eighteenth century, contemporary novelists, themselves belonging to the classic epoch, Fielding, Swift, Defoe, Sterne and Richardson, are admitted into France only after excisions and much weakening; their expressions are too free and their scenes are to impressive; their freedom, their coarseness, their peculiarities, would form blemishes; the translator abbreviates, softens, and sometimes, in his preface, apologizes for what he retains. Room is found, in this language, only for a partial lifelikeness, for some of the truth, a scanty portion, and which constant refining daily renders still more scanty. Considered in itself, the classic style is always tempted to accept slight, insubstantial commonplaces for its subject materials. It spins them out, mingles and weaves them together; only a fragile filigree, however, issues from its logical apparatus; we may admire the elegant workmanship; but in practice, the work is of little, none, or negative service.

From these characteristics of style we divine those of the mind for which it serves as a tool.—Two principal operations constitute the activity of the human understanding.—Observing things and events, it receives a more or less complete, profound and exact impression of these; and after this, turning away from them, it analyses its impressions, and classifies, distributes, and more or less skillfully expresses the ideas derived from them.—In the second of these operations the classicist is superior. Obliged to adapt himself to his audience, that is to say, to people of society who are not specialists and yet critical, he necessarily carries to perfection the art of exciting attention and of making himself heard; that is to say, the art of composition and of writing.—With patient industry, and multiplied precautions, he carries the reader along with him by a series of easy rectilinear conceptions, step by step, omitting none, beginning with the lowest and thus ascending to the highest, always progressing with steady and measured peace, securely and agreeably as on a promenade. No interruption or diversion is possible: on either side, along the road, balustrades keep him within bounds, each idea extending into the following one by such an insensible transition, that he involuntarily advances, without stopping or turning aside, until brought to the final truth where he is to be seated. Classic literature throughout bears the imprint of this talent; there is no branch of it into which the qualities of a good discourse do not enter and form a part.—They dominate those sort of works which, in themselves, are only half-literary, but which, by its help, become fully so, transforming manuscripts into fine works of art which their subject-matter would have classified as scientific works, as reports of action, as historical documents, as philosophical treatises, as doctrinal expositions, as sermons, polemics, dissertations and demonstrations. It transforms even dictionaries and operates from Descartes to Condillac, from Bossuet to Buffon and Voltaire, from Pascal to Rousseau and Beaumarchais, in short, becoming prose almost entirely, even in official dispatches, diplomatic and private correspondence, from Madame de Sevigne to Madame du Deffant; including so many perfect letters flowing from the pens of women who were unaware of it.—Such prose is paramount in those works which, in themselves, are literary, but which derive from it an oratorical turn. Not only does it impose a rigid plan, a regular distribution of parts[3226] in dramatic works, accurate proportions, suppressions and connections, a sequence and progress, as in a passage of eloquence, but again it tolerates only the most perfect discourse. There is no character that is not an accomplished orator; with Corneille and Racine, with Moliere himself, the confidant, the barbarian king, the young cavalier, the drawing room coquette, the valet, all show themselves adepts in the use of language. Never have we encountered such adroit introductions, such well-arranged evidence, such just reflections, such delicate transitions, such conclusive summing ups. Never have dialogues borne such a strong resemblance to verbal sparring matches. Each narration, each portrait, each detail of action, might be detached and serve as a good example for schoolboys, along with the masterpieces of the ancient tribune. So strong is this tendency that, on the approach of the final moment, in the agony of death, alone and without witnesses, the character finds the means to plead his own frenzy and die eloquently.



II. Its Original Deficiency.

Its original deficiency.—Signs of this in the 17th century.—It grows with time and success.—Proofs of this growth in the 18th century.—Serious poetry, the drama, history and romances.—Short-sighted views of man and of human existence.

This excess indicates a deficiency. In the two operations which the human mind performs, the classicist is more successful in the second than in the first. The second, indeed, stands in the way of the first, the obligation of always speaking correctly makes him refrain from saying all that ought to be said. With him the form is more important than abundant contents, the firsthand observations which serve as a living source losing, in the regulated channels to which they are confined, their force, depth and impetuosity. Real poetry, able to convey dream and illusion, cannot be brought forth. Lyric poetry proves abortive, and likewise the epic poem.[3227] Nothing sprouts on these distant fields, remote and sublime, where speech unites with music and painting. Never do we hear the involuntary scream of intense torment, the lonely confession of a distraught soul,[3228] pouring out his heart to relieve himself. When a creation of characters is imperative, as in dramatic poetry, the classic mold fashions but one kind, that which through education, birth, or impersonation, always speak correctly, in other words, like so many people of high society. No others are portrayed on the stage or elsewhere, from Corneille and Racine to Marivaux and Beaumarchais. So strong is the habit that it imposes itself even on La Fontaine's animals, on the servants of Moliere, on Montesquieu's Persians, and on the Babylonians, the Indians and the Micromegas of Voltaire.—It must be stated, furthermore, that these characters are only partly real. In real persons two kinds of characteristics may be noted; the first, few in number, which he or she shares with others of their kind and which any reader readily may identify; and the other kind, of which there are a great many, describing only one particular person and these are much more difficult to discover. Classic art concerns itself only with the former; it purposely effaces, neglects or subordinates the latter. It does not build individual persons but generalized characters, a king, a queen, a young prince, a confidant, a high-priest, a captain of the guards, seized by some passion, habit or inclination, such as love, ambition, fidelity or perfidy, a despotic or a yielding temper, some species of wickedness or of native goodness. As to the circumstances of time and place, which, amongst others, exercise a most powerful influence in shaping and diversifying man, it hardly notes them, even setting them aside. In a tragedy the scene is set everywhere and any time, the contrary, that the action takes place nowhere in no specific epoch, is equally valid. It may take place in any palace or in any temple,[3229] in which, to get rid of all historic or personal impressions, habits and costumes are introduced conventionally, being neither French nor foreign, nor ancient, nor modern. In this abstract world the address is always "you"(as opposed to the familiar thou),[3230] "Seigneur" and "Madame," the noble style always clothing the most different characters in the same dress. When Corneille and Racine, through the stateliness and elegance of their verse, afford us a glimpse of contemporary figures they do it unconsciously, imagining that they are portraying man in himself; and, if we of the present time recognize in their pieces either the gentleman, the duelists, the bullies, the politicians or the heroines of the Fronde, or the courtiers, princes and bishops, the ladies and gentlemen in waiting of the regular monarchy, it is because they have inadvertently dipped their brush in their own experience, some of its color having fallen accidentally on the bare ideal outline which they wished to trace. We have simply a contour, a general sketch, filled up with the harmonious gray tone of correct diction.—Even in comedy, necessarily employing current habits, even with Moliere, so frank and so bold, the model is unfinished, all individual peculiarities being suppressed, the face becoming for a moment a theatrical mask, and the personage, especially when talking in verse, sometimes losing its animation in becoming the mouth-piece for a monologue or a dissertation.[3231] The stamp of rank, condition or fortune, whether gentleman or bourgeois, provincial or Parisian, is frequently overlooked.[3232] We are rarely made to appreciate physical externals, as in Shakespeare, the temperament, the state of the nervous system, the bluff or drawling tone, the impulsive or restrained action, the emaciation or obesity of a character.[3233] Frequently no trouble is taken to find a suitable name, this being either Chrysale, Orgon, Damis, Dorante, or Valere. The name designates only a simple quality, that of a father, a youth, a valet, a grumbler, a gallant, and, like an ordinary cloak, fitting indifferently all forms alike, as it passes from the wardrobe of Moliere to that of Regnard, Destouche, Lesage or Marivaux.[3234] The character lacks the personal badge, the unique, authentic appellation serving as the primary stamp of an individual. All these details and circumstances, all these aids and accompaniments of a man, remain outside of the classic theory. To secure the admission of some of them required the genius of Moliere, the fullness of his conception, the wealth of his observation, the extreme freedom of his pen. It is equally true again that he often omits them, and that, in other cases, he introduces only a small number of them, because he avoids giving to these general characters a richness and complexity that might interfere with the story. The simpler the theme the clearer its development, the first duty of the author throughout this literature being to clearly develop the restricted theme of which he makes a selection.

There is, accordingly, a radical defect in the classic spirit, the defect of its qualities, and which, at first kept within proper bounds, contributes towards the production of its purest master-pieces, but which, in accordance with the universal law, goes on increasing and turns into a vice through the natural effect of age, use, and success. Contracted at the start, it is to become yet more so. In the eighteenth century the description of real life, of a specific person, just as he is in nature and in history, that is to say, an undefined unit, a rich plexus, a complete organism of peculiarities and traits, superposed, entangled and co-ordinated, is improper. The capacity to receive and contain all these is wanting. Whatever can be discarded is cast aside, and to such an extent that nothing is left at last but a condensed extract, an evaporated residuum, an almost empty name, in short, what is called a hollow abstraction. The only characters in the eighteenth century exhibiting any life are the off-hand sketches, made in passing and as if contraband, by Voltaire, Baron de Thundertentronk and Milord Watthen, the lesser figures in his stories, and five or six portraits of secondary rank, Turcaret, Gil Blas, Marianne, Manon Lescaut, Rameau, and Figaro, two or three of the rough sketches of Crebillon the younger and of Colle, all so many works in which sap flows through a familiar knowledge of things, comparable with those of the minor masters in painting, Watteau, Fragonard, Saint-Aubin, Moreau, Lancret, Pater, and Beaudouin, and which, accepted with difficulty, or as a surprise, by the official drawing room are still to subsist after the grander and soberer canvases shall have become moldy through their wearisome exhalations. Everywhere else the sap dries up, and, instead of blooming plants, we encounter only flowers of painted paper. What are all the serious poems, from the "la Henriade" of Voltaire to the "Mois" by Roucher or the "l'Imagination" by Delille, but so many pieces of rhetoric garnished with rhymes? Examine the innumerable tragedies and comedies of which Grimm and Colle gives us mortuary extracts, even the meritorious works of Voltaire and Crebillon, and later, those of authors of repute, Du Belloy, Laharpe, Ducis, and Marie Chenier? Eloquence, art, situations, correct verse, all exist in these except human nature; the personages are simply well-taught puppets, and generally mere mouthpieces by which the author makes his declamation public; Greeks, Romans, Medieval knights, Turks, Arabs, Peruvians, Giaours, or Byzantines, they have all the same declamatory mechanisms. The public, meanwhile, betrays no surprise. It is not aware of history. It assumes that humanity is everywhere the same. It establishes the success alike of the "Incas" by Marmontel, and of "Gonsalve" and the "Nouvelles" by Florian; also of the peasants, mechanics, Negroes, Brazilians, Parsees, and Malabarites that appear before it churning out their exaggerations. Man is simply regarded as a reasoning being, alike in all ages and alike in all places; Bernardin de Saint-Pierre endows his pariah with this habit, like Diderot, in his Tahitians. The one recognized principle is that every human being must think and talk like a book.—And how inadequate their historical background! With the exception of "Charles XII.," a contemporary on whom Voltaire, thanks to eye eye-witnesses, bestows fresh life, also his spirited sketches of Englishmen, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Italians and Germans, scattered through his stories, where are real persons to be found? With Hume, Gibbon and Robertson, belonging to the French school, and who are at once adopted in France, in the researches into our middle ages of Dubos and of Mably, in the "Louis XI" of Duclos, in the "Anarcharsis" of Barthelemy, even in the "Essai sur les Moeurs," and in the "Siecle de Louis XIV" of Voltaire, even in the "Grandeur des Romains," and the "Esprit des Lois" of Montesquieu, what peculiar deficiency! Erudition, criticism, common sense, an almost exact exposition of dogmas and of institutions, philosophic views of the relationships between events and on the general run of these, nothing is lacking but the people! On reading these it seems as if the climates, institutions and civilizations which so completely modifies the human intellect, are simply so many outworks, so many fortuitous exteriors, which, far from reflecting its depths scarcely penetrate beneath its surface. The vast differences separating the men of two centuries, or of two peoples, escape them entirely.[3235] The ancient Greek, the early Christian, the conquering Teuton, the feudal man, the Arab of Mahomet, the German, the Renaissance Englishman, the puritan, appear in their books as in engravings and frontispieces, with some difference in costume, but the same bodies, the same faces, the same countenances, toned down, obliterated, proper, adapted to the conventionalities of good manners. That sympathetic imagination by which the writer enters into the mind of another, and reproduces in himself a system of habits and feelings so different from his own, is the talent the most absent in the eighteenth century. With the exception of Diderot, who uses it badly and capriciously, it almost entirely disappears in the last half of the century. Consider in turn, during the same period, in France and in England, where it is most extensively used, the romance, a sort of mirror everywhere transportable, the best adapted to reflect all phrases of nature and of life. After reading the series of English novelists, Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, Smollett, Sterne, and Goldsmith down to Miss Burney and Miss Austen, I have become familiar with England in the eighteenth century; I have encountered clergymen, country gentlemen, farmers, innkeepers, sailors, people of every condition in life, high and low; I know the details of fortunes and of careers, how much is earned, how much is expended, how journeys are made and how people eat and drink: I have accumulated for myself a file of precise biographical events, a complete picture in a thousand scenes of an entire community, the amplest stock of information to guide me should I wish to frame a history of this vanished world. On reading a corresponding list of French novelists, the younger Crebillon, Rousseau, Marmontel, Laclos, Restif de la Breton, Louvet, Madame de Stael, Madame de Genlis and the rest, including Mercier and even Mme. Cottin, I scarcely take any notes; all precise and instructive little facts are left out; I find civilities, polite acts, gallantries, mischief-making, social dissertations and nothing else. They carefully abstain from mentioning money, from giving me figures, from describing a wedding, a trial, the administration of a piece of property; I am ignorant of the situation of a curate, of a rustic noble, of a resident prior, of a steward, of an intendant. Whatever relates to a province or to the rural districts, to the bourgeoisie or to the shop,[3236] to the army or to a soldier, to the clergy or to convents, to justice or to the police, to business or to housekeeping remains vaguely in my mind or is falsified; to clear up any point I am obliged to recur to that marvelous Voltaire who, on laying aside the great classic coat, finds plenty of elbow room and tells all. On the organs of society of vital importance, on the practices and regulations that provoke revolutions, on feudal rights and seigniorial justice, on the mode of recruiting and governing monastic bodies, on the revenue measures of the provinces, of corporations and of trade-unions, on the tithes and the corvees,[3237] literature provides me with scarcely any information. Drawing-rooms and men of letters are apparently its sole material. The rest is null and void. Outside the good society that is able to converse France appears perfectly empty.—On the approach of the Revolution the elimination increases. Look through the harangues of the clubs and of the tribune, through reports, legislative bills and pamphlets, and through the mass of writings prompted by passing and exciting events; in none of them do we see any sign of the human creature as we see him in the fields and in the street; he is always regarded as a simple robot, a well known mechanism. Among writers he was a moment ago a dispenser of commonplaces, among politicians he is now a pliable voter; touch him in the proper place and he responds in the desired manner. Facts are never apparent; only abstractions, long arrays of sentences on nature, Reason, and the people, on tyrants and liberty, like inflated balloons, uselessly conflicting with each other in space. Were we not aware that all this would terminate in terrible practical effects then we could regard it as competition in logic, as school exercises, academic parades, or ideological compositions. It is, in fact, Ideology, the last product of the century, which will stamp the classic spirit with its final formula and last word.



III. The Mathematical Method.

The philosophic method in conformity with the Classic Sprit. —Ideology.—Abuse of the mathematical process.—Condillac, Rousseau, Mably, Condorcet, Volney, Sieyes, Cabanis, and de Tracy.—Excesses of simplification and boldness of organization.

The natural process of the classic spirit is to pursue in every research, with the utmost confidence, without either reserve or precaution, the mathematical method: to derive, limit and isolate a few of the simplest generalized notions and then, setting experience aside, comparing them, combining them, and, from the artificial compound thus obtained, by pure reasoning, deduce all the consequences they involve. It is so deeply implanted as to be equally encountered in both centuries, as well with Descartes, Malebranche[3238] and the partisans of innate ideas as with the partisans of sensation, of physical needs and of primary instinct, Condillac, Rousseau, Helvetius, and later, Condorcet, Volney, Sieyes, Cabanis and Destutt de Tracy. In vain do the latter assert that they are the followers of Bacon and reject (the theory of) innate ideas; with another starting point than the Cartesians they pursue the same path, and, as with the Cartesians, after borrowing a little, they leave experience behind them. In this vast moral and social world, they only remove the superficial bark from the human tree with its innumerable roots and branches; they are unable to penetrate to or grasp at anything beyond it; their hands cannot contain more. They have no suspicion of anything outside of it; the classic spirit, with limited comprehension, is not far-reaching. To them the bark is the entire tree, and, the operation once completed, they retire, bearing along with them the dry, dead epidermis, never returning to the trunk itself. Through intellectual incapacity and literary pride they omit the characteristic detail, the animating fact, the specific circumstance, the significant, convincing and complete example. Scarcely one of these is found in the "Logique" and in the "Traite des Sensations" by Condillac, in the "Ideologie" by Destutt de Tracy, or in the "Rapports du Physique et du Morale" by Cabanis.[3239] Never, with them, are we on the solid and visible ground of personal observation and narration, but always in the air, in the empty space of pure generalities. Condillac declares that the arithmetical method is adapted to psychology and that the elements of our ideas can be defined by a process analogous "to the rule of three." Sieyes holds history in profound contempt, and believes that he had "perfected the science of politics"[3240] at one stroke, through an effort of the brain, in the style of Descartes, who thus discovers analytic geometry. Destutt de Tracy, in undertaking to comment on Montesquieu, finds that the great historian has too servilely confined himself to history, and attempts to do the work over again by organizing society as it should be, instead of studying society as it is.—Never were such systematic and superficial institutions built up with such a moderate extract of human nature.[3241] Condillac, employing sensation, animates a statue, and then, by a process of pure reasoning, following up its effects, as he supposes, on smell, taste, hearing, sight and touch, fashions a complete human soul. Rousseau, by means of a contract, founds political association, and, with this given idea, pulls down the constitution, government and laws of every balanced social system. In a book which serves as the philosophical testament of the century,[3242] Condorcet declares that this method is the "final step of philosophy, that which places a sort of eternal barrier between humanity and its ancient infantile errors." "By applying it to morals, politics and political economy the moral sciences have progressed nearly as much as the natural sciences. With its help we have been able to discover the rights of man." As in mathematics, they have been deduced from one primordial statement only, which statement, similar to a first principle in mathematics, becomes a fact of daily experience, seen by all and therefore self-evident.—This school of thought is to endure throughout the Revolution, the Empire and even into the Restoration,[3243] together with the tragedy of which it is the sister, with the classic spirit their common parent, a primordial, sovereign power, as dangerous as it is useful, as destructive as it is creative, as capable of propagating error as truth, as astonishing in the rigidity of its code, the narrow-mindedness of its yoke and in the uniformity of its works as in the duration of its reign and the universality of its ascendancy.[3244]

*****

NOTES:

[Footnote 3201: Voltaire, "Dict. Phil.," see the articles on Language. "Of all the languages in Europe the French is most generally used because it is the best adapted to conversation. Its character is derived from that of the people who speak it. For more than a hundred and fifty years past, the French have been the most familiar with (good) society and the first to avoid all embarrassment. . . It is a better currency than any other, even if it should lack weight."]

[Footnote 3202: HIST: honnete homme means gentleman. (SR.)]

[Footnote 3203: Descartes, ed. Cousin, XI. 333, I. 121,. . . Descartes depreciates "simple knowledge acquired without the aid of reflection, such as languages, history, geography, and, generally, whatever is not based on experience. . . . It is no more the duty of an honest man to know Greek or Latin than to know the Swiss or Breton languages, nor the history of the Romano-Germanic empire any more than of the smallest country in Europe."]

[Footnote 3204: Moliere, "Les Femmes Savantes," and "La Critique de l'ecole des femmes." The parts of Dorante with Lycidas and of Clitandre with Trissotin.]

[Footnote 3205: The learned Huet, (1630-1721), true to the taste of the sixteenth century, describes this change very well from his point of view. "When I entered the world of letters these were still flourishing; great reputations maintained their supremacy. I have seen letters decline and finally reach an almost entire decay. For I scarcely know a person of the present time that one can truly call a savant." The few Benedictines like Ducange and Mabillon, and later, the academician Freret, the president Bouhier of Dijon, in short, the veritable erudites exercise no influence.]

[Footnote 3206: Nicole, "Oeuvres morales," in the second essay on Charity and Self-love, 142.]

[Footnote 3207: Voltaire, "Dialogues," "L'intendant des menus et l'abbe Grizel," 129.]

[Footnote 3208: Maury adds with his accustomed coarseness, "We, in the French Academy, looked upon the members of the Academy of Sciences as our valets."—These valets at that time consisted of Lavoisier, Fourcroy, Lagrange, Laplace, etc. (A narrative by Joseph de Maistre, quote by Sainte-Beuve, "Causeries du lundi," IV. 283.)]

[Footnote 3209: This description makes me think of the contemporary attitudes pejoratively called "politically correctness." Thus the drawings-room audience of the 18th century have today been replaced by the "political correct" elite holding sway in teacher training schools, schools of journalism, the media and hence among the television public. The same mechanism which moved the upper class in the 18th century moves it in the 20th century.. (S.R.)]

[Footnote 3210: Today in 1999 we may speak of the TV mold forced by the measured popularity or "ratings" of the programs. (SR.]

[Footnote 3211: Vaugelas, "Remarques sur la langue francaise:" "It is the mode of speech of the most sensible portion of the court, as well as the mode of writing of the most sensible authors of the day. It is better to consult women and those who have not studied than those who are very learned in Greek and in Latin."]

[Footnote 3212: One of the causes of the fall and discredit of the Marquis d'Argenson in the eighteenth century, was his habit of using these.]

[Footnote 3213: Vaugelas, ibid.. "Although we may have eliminated one-half of his phrases and terms we nevertheless obtain in the other half all the riches of which we boast and of which we make a display."—Compare together a lexicon of two or three writers of the sixteenth century and one of two or three writers of the seventeenth. A brief statement of the results of the comparison is here given. Let any one, with pen in hand, note the differences on a hundred pages of any of these texts, and he will be surprised at it. Take, for examples, two writers of the same category, and of secondary grade, Charron and Nicole.]

[Footnote 3214: For instance, in the article "Ignorance," in the "Dict. Philosophique."]

[Footnote 3215: La Harpe, "Cours de Litterature," ed. Didot. II. 142.]

[Footnote 3216: A battle-axe used by the Franks.—TR.]

[Footnote 3217: I cite an example haphazard from the "Optimiste" (1788), by Colin d'Harleville. In a certain description, "The scene represents a bosquet filled with odoriferous trees."—The classic spirit rebels against stating the species of tree, whether lilacs, lindens or hawthorns.—In paintings of landscapes of this era we have the same thing, the trees being generalized,—of no known species.]

[Footnote 3218: This evolution is seen today as well, television having the same effect upon its actors as the 18th century drawing-room. (SR.)]

[Footnote 3219: See in the "Lycee," by la Harpe, after the analysis of each piece, his remarks on detail in style.]

[Footnote 3220: The omission of the pronouns, I, he, we, you, they, the article the, and of the verb, especially the verb to be.—Any page of Rabelais, Amyot or Montaigne, suffices to show how numerous and various were the transpositions.]

[Footnote 3221: Vaugelas, ibid. "No language is more inimical to ambiguities and every species of obscurity."]

[Footnote 3222: See the principal romances of the seventeenth century, the "Roman Bourgeois," by Furetiere, the "Princess de Cleves," by Madame de Lafayette, the "Clelie," by Mme. de Scudery, and even Scarron's "Roman Comique."—See Balzac's letters, and those of Voiture and their correspondents, the "Recit des grands jours d'Auvergne," by Flechier, etc. On the oratorical peculiarities of this style cf. Sainte-Beuve, "Port-Royal," 2nd ed. I. 515.]

[Footnote 3223: Voltaire, 'Esay sur le poeme epique', "Our nation, regarded by strangers as superficial is, with the pen in its hand, the wisest of all. Method is the dominant quality of all our writers."]

[Footnote 3224: Milton's works are built up with 8,000. "Shakespeare, who displayed a greater variety of expression than probably any writer in any language, produced all his plays with about 15,000 words and the Old Testament says all it has to say with 5,642 words." (Max Mueller, "Lectures on the Science of language," I. 309.)—It would be interesting to place alongside of this Racine's restricted vocabulary. That of Mme. de Scudery is extremely limited. In the best romance of the XVIIth century, the "Princesse de Cleves," the number of words is reduced to the minimum. The Dictionary of the old French Academy contains 29,712 words; the Greek Thesaurus, by H. Estienne, contains about 150,000.]

[Footnote 3225: Compare together the translations of the Bible made by de Sacy and Luther; those of Homer by Dacier, Bitaube and Lecomte de Lisle; those of Herodotus, by Larcher and Courrier, the popular tales of Perrault and those by Grimm, etc.]

[Footnote 3226: See the "Discours academique," by Racine, on the reception of Thomas Corneille: "In this chaos of dramatic poetry your illustrious brother brought Reason on the stage, but Reason associated with all the pomp and the ornamentation our language is capable of."]

[Footnote 3227: Voltaire, "Essay sur le poeme epique," 290. "It must be admitted that a Frenchman has more difficulty in writing an epic poem than anybody else. . . . Dare I confess it? Our own is the least poetic of all polished nations. The works in verse the most highly esteemed in France are those of the drama, which must be written in a familiar style approaching conversation."]

[Footnote 3228: Except in "Pensees," by Pascal, a few notes dotted down by a morbidly exalted Christian, and which certainly, in the perfect work, would not have been allowed to remain as they are.]

[Footnote 3229: See in the Cabinet of Engravings the theatrical costumes of the middle of the XVIIIth century.—Nothing could be more opposed to the spirit of the classic drama than the parts of Esther and Brittannicus, as they are played nowadays, in the accurate costumes and with scenery derived from late discoveries at Pompeii or Nineveh.]

[Footnote 3230: The formality which this indicates will be understood by those familiar with the use of the pronoun thou in France, denoting intimacy and freedom from restraint in contrast with ceremonious and formal intercourse.—Tr.]

[Footnote 3231: See the parts of the moralizers and reasoners like Cleante in "Tartuffe," Ariste in "Les Femmes Savantes," Chrysale in "L'Ecole des Femmes," etc. See the discussion between the two brothers in "Le Festin de Pierre," III. 5; the discourse of Ergaste in "L'Ecole des Maris"; that of Eliante, imitated from Lucretius in the "Misanthrope," II. 5; the portraiture, by Dorine in "Tartuffe," I. 1.—The portrait of the hypocrite, by Don Juan in "Le Festin de Pierre," V. 2.]

[Footnote 3232: For instance the parts of Harpagon and Arnolphe.]

[Footnote 3233: We see this in Tartuffe, but only through an expression of Dorine, and not directly. Cf. in Shakespeare, the parts of Coriolanus, Hotspur, Falstaff, Othello, Cleopatra, etc.]

[Footnote 3234: Balzac passed entire days in reading the "Almanach des cent mille adresses," also in a cab in the streets during the afternoons, examining signs for the purpose of finding suitable names for his characters. This little circumstance shows the difference between two diverse conceptions of mankind.]

[Footnote 3235: "At the present day, whatever may be said, there is no such thing as Frenchmen, Germans, Spaniards, and Englishmen, for all are Europeans. All have the same tastes, the same passions, the same habits, none having obtained a national form through any specific institution." Rousseau, "Sur le gouvernement de Pologne," 170.]

[Footnote 3236: Previous to 1750 we find something about these in "Gil-Blas," and in "Marianne," (Mme. Dufour the sempstress and her shop).—Unfortunately the Spanish travesty prevents the novels of Lesage from being as instructive as they might be.]

[Footnote 3237: Interesting details are found in the little stories by Diderot as, for instance, "Les deux amis de Bourbonne." But elsewhere he is a partisan, especially in the "Religieuse," and conveys a false impression of things.]

[Footnote 3238: "To attain to the truth we have only to fix our attention on the ideas which each one finds within his own mind." (Malebranche, "Recherche de la Verite," book I. ch. 1.)—"Those long chains of reasoning, all simple and easy, which geometers use to arrive at their most difficult demonstrations, suggested to me that all things which come within human knowledge must follow each other in a similar chain." (Descartes, "Discours de la Methode," I. 142).—In the seventeenth century In the 17th century constructions a priori were based on ideas, in the 18th century on sensations, but always following the same mathematical method fully displayed in the "Ethics" of Spinoza.]

[Footnote 3239: See especially his memoir: "De l'influence du climat sur les habitudes morales," vague, and wholly barren of illustrations excepting one citation from Hippocrates.]

[Footnote 3240: These are Sieyes own words.—He adds elsewhere, "There is no more reality in assumed historical truths than in assumed religious truths." ("Papiers de Sieyes," the year 1772, according to Sainte-Beuve, "Causeries du lundi," V. 194).—Descartes and Malebranche already expressed this contempt for history.]

[Footnote 3241: Today, in 1998, we know that Taine was right. The research on animal and human behavior, on animal and human brain circuitry, and the behavior of the cruel human animal during the 20th century, confirmed his views. Still mankind persists in preferring simple solutions and ideas to complex ones. This is the way our brains and our nature as gregarious animals make us think and feel. This our basic human nature make ambitious men able to appeal to and dominate the crowd. (SR.)]

[Footnote 3242: Condorcet, "Esquisse d'un tableau historique de l'esprit humain," ninth epoch.]

[Footnote 3243: See the "Tableau historique," presented to the Institute by Chenier in 1808, showing by its statements that the classic spirit still prevails in all branches of literature.—Cabanis died in 1818, Volney in 1820, de Tracy and Sieyes in 1836, Daunou in 1840. In May, 1845, Saphary and Valette are still professors of Condillac's philosophy in the two lycees in Paris.]

[Footnote 3244: The world did not heed Taine's warnings. The leaders and the masses of the Western world were to be seduced by the terrible new ideologies of the 20th century. The ideology of socialism persists making good use of the revised 20th century editions of the Rights of Man, enlarged to cover the physical well-being and standard of living of man, woman, child and animal and in this manner allowing the state to replace all individual responsibility and authority, thus, as Taine saw, dealing a death blow to the family, to individual responsibility and enterprise and to effective local government. (SR.).]



CHAPTER III. COMBINATION OF THE TWO ELEMENTS.



I. Birth Of A Doctrine, A Revelation.

The doctrine, its pretensions, and its character.—A new authority for Reason in the regulation of human affairs.— Government thus far traditional.

OUT of the scientific acquisitions thus set forth, elaborated by the spirit we have just described, is born a doctrine, seemingly a revelation, and which, under this title, was to claim the government of human affairs. On the approach of 1789 it is generally admitted that man is living in "a century of light," in "the age of Reason;" that, previously, the human species was in its infancy and that now it has attained to its "majority." Truth, finally, is made manifest and, for the first time, its reign on earth is apparent. The right is supreme because it is truth itself. It must direct all things because through its nature it is universal. The philosophy of the eighteenth century, in these two articles of faith, resembles a religion, the Puritanism of the seventeenth century, and Islam in the seventh century. We see the same outburst of faith, hope and enthusiasm, the same spirit of propaganda and of dominion, the same rigidity and intolerance, the same ambition to recast man and to remodel human life according to a preconceived type. The new doctrine is also to have its scholars, its dogmas, its popular catechism, its fanatics, its inquisitors and its martyrs. It is to speak as loudly as those preceding it, as a legitimate authority to which dictatorship belongs by right of birth, and against which rebellion is criminal or insane. It differs, however, from the preceding religions in this respect, that instead of imposing itself in the name of God, it imposes itself in the name of Reason.

The authority, indeed, was a new one. Up to this time, in the control of human actions and opinions, Reason had played but a small and subordinate part. Both the motive and its direction were obtained elsewhere; faith and obedience were an inheritance; a man was a Christian and a subject because he was born Christian and subject.—Surrounding the nascent philosophy and the Reason which enters upon its great investigation, is a system of recognized laws, an established power, a reigning religion; all the stones of this structure hold together and each story is supported by a preceding story. But what does the common cement consist of, and where is the basic foundation?—Who sanctions all these civil regulations which control marriages, testaments, inheritances, contracts, property and persons, these fanciful and often contradictory regulations? In the first place immemorial custom, varying according to the province, according to the title to the soil, according to the quality and condition of the person; and next, the will of the king who caused the custom to be inscribed and who sanctioned it.—Who authorizes this will, this sovereignty of the prince, this first of public obligations? In the first place, eight centuries of possession, a hereditary right similar to that by which each one enjoys his own field and domain, a property established in a family and transmitted from one eldest son to another, from the first founder of the State to his last living successor; and, in addition to this, a religion directing men to submit to the constituted powers.—And who, finally, authorizes this religion? At first, eighteen centuries of tradition, the immense series of anterior and concordant proofs, the steady belief of sixty preceding generations; and after this, at the beginning of it, the presence and teachings of Christ, then, farther back, the creation of the world, the command and the voice of God.—Thus, throughout the moral and social order of things the past justifies the present; antiquity provides its title, and if beneath all these supports which age has consolidated, the deep primitive rock is sought for in subterranean depths, we find it in the divine will.—During the whole of the seventeenth century this theory still absorbs all souls in the shape of a fixed habit and of inward respect; it is not open to question. It is regarded in the same light as the heart of the living body; whoever would lay his hand upon it would instantly draw back, moved by a vague sentiment of its ceasing to beat in case it were touched. The most independent, with Descartes at the head, "would be grieved" at being confounded with those chimerical speculators who, instead of pursuing the beaten track of custom, dart blindly forward "in a direct line across mountains and over precipices." In subjecting their belief to systematic investigation not only do they leave out and set apart "the truths of faith,"[3301] but again the dogma they think they have thrown out remains in their mind latent and active, to guide them on unconsciously and to convert their philosophy into a preparation for, or a confirmation of, Christianity.[3302]—Summing it all up, faith, the performance of religious duties, with religious and political institutions, are at base of all thought of the seventeenth century. Reason, whether she admits it or is ignorant of it, is only a subaltern, an oratorical agency, a setter-in-motion, forced by religion and the monarchy to labor in their behalf. With the exception of La Fontaine, whom I regard as unique in this as in other matters, the greatest and most independent, Pascal, Descartes, Bossuet, La Bruyere, borrows from the established society their basic concepts of nature, man, society, law and government.[3303] So long as Reason is limited to this function its work is that of a councilor of State, an extra preacher dispatched by its superiors on a missionary tour in the departments of philosophy and of literature. Far from proving destructive it consolidates; in fact, even down to the Regency, its chief employment is to produce good Christians and loyal subjects.

But now the roles are reversed; tradition descends from the upper to the lower ranks, while Reason ascends from the latter to the former.—On the one hand religion and monarchy, through their excesses and misdeeds under Louis XIV, and their laxity and incompetence under Louis XV, demolish piece by piece the basis of hereditary reverence and filial obedience so long serving them as a foundation, and which maintained them aloft above all dispute and free of investigation; hence the authority of tradition insensibly declines and disappears. On the other hand science, through its imposing and multiplied discoveries, erects piece by piece a basis of universal trust and deference, raising itself up from an interesting subject of curiosity to the rank of a public power; hence the authority of Reason augments and occupies its place.—A time comes when, the latter authority having dispossessed the former, the fundamental ideas tradition had reserved to itself fall into the grasp of Reason. Investigation penetrates into the forbidden sanctuary. Instead of deference there is verification, and religion, the state, the law, custom, all the organs, in short, of moral and practical life, become subject to analysis, to be preserved, restored or replaced, according to the prescriptions of the new doctrine.



II. Ancestral Tradition And Culture.

Origin, nature and value of hereditary prejudice.—How far custom, religion and government are legitimate.

Nothing could be better had the new doctrine been complete, and if Reason, instructed by history, had become critical, and therefore qualified to comprehend the rival she replaced. For then, instead of regarding her as an usurper to be repelled she would have recognized in her an elder sister whose part must be left to her. Hereditary prejudice is a sort of Reason operating unconsciously. It has claims as well as reason, but it is unable to present these; instead of advancing those that are authentic it puts forth the doubtful ones. Its archives are buried; to exhume these it is necessary to make researches of which it is incapable; nevertheless they exist, and history at the present day is bringing them to light.—Careful investigations shows that, like science, it issues from a long accumulation of experiences; a people, after a multitude of gropings and efforts, has discovered that a certain way of living and thinking is the only one adapted to its situation, the most practical and the most salutary, the system or dogma now seeming arbitrary to us being at first a confirmed expedient of public safety. Frequently it is so still; in any event, in its leading features it is indispensable; it may be stated with certainty that, if the leading prejudices of the community should suddenly disappear, Man, deprived of the precious legacy transmitted to him by the wisdom of ages, would at once fall back into a savage condition and again become what he was at first, namely, a restless, famished, wandering, hunted brute. There was a time when this heritage was lacking; there are populations to day with which it is still utterly lacking.[3304] To abstain from eating human flesh, from killing useless or burdensome aged people, from exposing, selling or killing children one does not know what to do with, to be the one husband of but one woman, to hold in horror incest and unnatural practices, to be the sole and recognized owner of a distinct field, to be mindful of the superior injunctions of modesty, humanity, honor and conscience, all these observances, formerly unknown and slowly established, compose the civilization of human beings. Because we accept them in full security they are not the less sacred, and they become only the more sacred when, submitted to investigation and traced through history, they are disclosed to us as the secret force which has converted a herd of brutes into a society of men. In general, the older and more universal a custom, the more it is based on profound motives, on physiological motives on those of hygiene, and on those instituted for social protection. At one time, as in the separation of castes, a heroic or thoughtful stock must be preserved by preventing the mixtures by which inferior blood introduces mental debility and low instincts.[3305] At another, as in the prohibition of spirituous liquors, and of animal food, it is necessary to conform to the climate prescribing a vegetable diet, or to the race-temperament for which strong drink is pernicious.[3306]At another, as in the institution of the right of first-born to inherit title and castle, it was important to prepare and designate beforehand the military commander who the tribe would obey, or the civil chieftain that would preserve the domain, superintend its cultivation, and support the family.[3307]—If there are valid reasons for legitimizing custom there are reasons of higher import for the consecration of religion Consider this point, not in general and according to a vague notion, but at the outset, at its birth, in the texts, taking for an example one of the faiths which now rule in society, Christianity, Hinduism, the law of Mohammed or of Buddha. At certain critical moments in history, a few men, emerging from their narrow and daily routine of life, are seized by some generalized conception of the infinite universe; the august face of nature is suddenly unveiled to them; in their sublime emotion they seem to have detected its first cause; they have at least detected some of its elements. Through a fortunate conjunction of circumstances these elements are just those which their century, their people, a group of peoples, a fragment of humanity is in a state to comprehend. Their point of view is the only one at which the graduated multitudes below them are able to accept. For millions of men, for hundreds of generations, only through them is any access to divine things to be obtained. Theirs is the unique utterance, heroic or affecting, enthusiastic or tranquilizing; the only one which the hearts and minds around them and after them will heed; the only one adapted to profound cravings, to accumulated aspirations, to hereditary faculties, to a complete intellectual and moral organism; Yonder that of Hindostan or of the Mongolian; here that of the Semite or the European; in our Europe that of the German, the Latin or the Slave; in such a way that its contradictions, instead of condemning it, justify it, its diversity producing its adaptation and its adaptation producing benefits.—This is no barren formula. A sentiment of such grandeur, of such comprehensive and penetrating insight, an idea by which Man, compassing the vastness and depth of things, so greatly oversteps the ordinary limits of his mortal condition, resembles an illumination; it is easily transformed into a vision; it is never remote from ecstasy; it can express itself only through symbols; it evokes divine figures.[3308]Religion in its nature is a metaphysical poem accompanied by faith. Under this title it is popular and efficacious; for, apart from an invisible select few, a pure abstract idea is only an empty term, and truth, to be apparent, must be clothed with a body. It requires a form of worship, a legend, and ceremonies in order to address the people, women, children, the credulous, every one absorbed by daily cares, any understanding in which ideas involuntarily translate themselves through imagery. Owing to this palpable form it is able to give its weighty support to the conscience, to counterbalance natural egoism, to curb the mad onset of brutal passions, to lead the will to abnegation and devotion, to tear Man away from himself and place him wholly in the service of truth, or of his kind, to form ascetics, martyrs, sisters of charity and missionaries. Thus, throughout society, religion becomes at once a natural and precious instrumentality. On the one hand men require it for the contemplation of infinity and to live properly; if it were suddenly to be taken away from them their souls would be a mournful void, and they would do greater injury to their neighbors. Besides, it would be vain to attempt to take it away from them; the hand raised against it would encounter only its envelope; it would be repelled after a sanguinary struggle, its germ lying too deep to be extirpated.

And when, at length, after religion and custom, we regard the State, that is to say, the armed power possessing both physical force and moral authority, we find for it an almost equally noble origin. It has, in Europe at least, from Russia to Portugal and from Norway to the two Sicilies, in its origin and essence, a military foundation in which heroism constitutes itself the champion of right. Here and there in the chaos of tribes and crumbling societies, some man has arisen who, through his ascendancy, rallies around him a loyal band, driving out intruders, overcoming brigands, re-establishing order, reviving agriculture, founding a patrimony, and transmitting as property to his descendants his office of hereditary justiciary and born general. Through this permanent delegation a great public office is removed from competition, fixed in one family, sequestered in safe hands; thenceforth the nation possesses a vital center and each right obtains a visible protector. If the sovereign confines himself to his traditional responsibilities, is restrained in despotic tendencies, and avoids falling into egoism, he provides the country with the best government of which the world has any knowledge. Not alone is it the most stable, capable of continuation, and the most suitable for maintaining together a body of 20 or 30 million people, but again one of the most noble because devotion dignifies both command and obedience and, through the prolongation of military tradition, fidelity and honor, from grade to grade, attaches the leader to his duty and the soldier to his commander.—Such are the strikingly valid claims of social traditions which we may, similar to an instinct, consider as being a blind form of reason. That which makes it fully legitimate is that reason herself, to become efficient, is obliged to borrow its form. A doctrine becomes inspiring only through a blind medium. To become of practical use, to take upon itself the government of souls, to be transformed into a spring of action, it must be deposited in minds given up to systematic belief, of fixed habits, of established tendencies, of domestic traditions and prejudice, and that it, from the agitated heights of the intellect, descends into and become amalgamated with the passive forces of the will; then only does it form a part of the character and become a social force. At the same time, however, it ceases to be critical and clairvoyant; it no longer tolerates doubt and contradiction, nor admits further restrictions or nice distinctions; it is either no longer cognizant of, or badly appreciates, its own evidences. We of the present day believe in infinite progress about the same as people once believed in original sin; we still receive ready-made opinions from above, the Academy of Sciences occupying in many respects the place of the ancient councils. Except with a few special savants, belief and obedience will always be unthinking, while Reason would wrongfully resent the leadership of prejudice in human affairs, since, to lead, it must itself become prejudiced.



III. Reason At War With Illusion.

The classic intellect incapable of accepting this point of view.—The past and present usefulness of tradition are misunderstood.—Reason undertakes to set them aside.

Unfortunately, in the eighteenth century, reason was classic; not only the aptitude but the documents which enable it to comprehend tradition were absent. In the first place, there was no knowledge of history; learning was, due to its dullness and tediousness, refused; learned compilations, vast collections of extracts and the slow work of criticism were held in disdain. Voltaire made fun of the Benedictines. Montesquieu, to ensure the acceptance of his "Esprit des lois," indulged in wit about laws. Reynal, to give an impetus to his history of commerce in the Indies, welded to it the declamation of Diderot. The Abbe Barthelemy covered over the realities of Greek manners and customs with his literary varnish. Science was expected to be either epigrammatic or oratorical; crude or technical details would have been objectionable to a public composed of people of the good society; correctness of style therefore drove out or falsified those small significant facts which give a peculiar sense and their original relief to ancient personalities.—Even if writers had dared to note them, their sense and bearing would not have been understood. The sympathetic imagination did not exist[3309]; people were incapable of going out of themselves, of betaking themselves to distant points of view, of conjecturing the peculiar and violent states of the human brain, the decisive and fruitful moment during which it gives birth to a vigorous creation, a religion destined to rule, a state that is sure to endure. The imagination of Man is limited to personal experiences, and where in their experience, could individuals in this society have found the material which would have allowed them to imagine the convulsions of a delivery? How could minds, as polished and as amiable as these, fully adopt the sentiments of an apostle, of a monk, of a barbarian or feudal founder; see these in the milieu which explains and justifies them; picture to themselves the surrounding crowd, at first souls in despair and haunted by mystic dreams, and next the rude and violent intellects given up to instinct and imagery, thinking with half-visions, their resolve consisting of irresistible impulses? A speculative reasoning of this stamp could not imagine figures like these. To bring them within its rectilinear limits they require to be reduced and made over; the Macbeth of Shakespeare becomes that of Ducis, and the Mahomet of the Koran that of Voltaire. Consequently, as they failed to see souls, they misconceived institutions. The suspicion that truth could have been conveyed only through the medium of legends, that justice could have been established only by force, that religion was obliged to assume the sacerdotal form, that the State necessarily took a military form, and that the Gothic edifice possessed, as well as other structures, its own architecture, proportions, balance of parts, solidity, and even beauty, never entered their heads.—Furthermore, unable to comprehend the past, they could not comprehend the present. They knew nothing about the mechanic, the provincial bourgeois, or even the lesser nobility; these were seen only far away in the distance, half-effaced, and wholly transformed through philosophic theories and sentimental haze. "Two or three thousand"[3310] polished and cultivated individuals formed the circle of ladies and gentlemen, the so-called honest folks, and they never went outside of their own circle. If they fleeting had a glimpse of the people from their chateaux and on their journeys, it was in passing, the same as of their post-horses, or of the cattle on their farms, showing compassion undoubtedly, but never divining their anxious thoughts and their obscure instincts. The structure of the still primitive mind of the people was never imagined, the paucity and tenacity of their ideas, the narrowness of their mechanical, routine existence, devoted to manual labor, absorbed with the anxieties for daily bread, confined to the bounds of a visible horizon; their attachment to the local saint, to rites, to the priest, their deep-seated rancor, their inveterate distrust, their credulity growing out of the imagination, their inability to comprehend abstract rights, the law and public affairs, the hidden operation by which their brains would transform political novelties into nursery fables or into ghost stories, their contagious infatuations like those of sheep, their blind fury like that of bulls, and all those traits of character the Revolution was about to bring to light. Twenty millions of men and more had scarcely passed out of the mental condition of the middle ages; hence, in its grand lines, the social edifice in which they could dwell had necessarily to be mediaeval. It had to be cleaned up, windows put in and walls pulled down, but without disturbing the foundations, or the main building and its general arrangement; otherwise after demolishing it and living encamped for ten years in the open air like savages, its inmates would have been obliged to rebuild it on the same plan. In uneducated minds, those having not yet attained to reflection, faith attaches itself only to the corporeal symbol, obedience being brought about only through physical restraint; religion is upheld by the priest and the State by the policeman.—One writer only, Montesquieu, the best instructed, the most sagacious, and the best balanced of all the spirits of the age, made these truths apparent, because he was at once an erudite, an observer, a historian and a jurisconsult. He spoke, however, as an oracle, in maxims and riddles; and every time he touched matters belonging to his country and epoch he hopped about as if upon red hot coals. That is why he remained respected but isolated, his fame exercising no influence. The classic reason refused[3311] to go so far as to make a careful study of both the ancient and the contemporary human being. It found it easier and more convenient to follow its original bent, to shut its eyes on man as he is, to fall back on its stores of current notions, to derive from these an idea of man in general, and build in empty space.—Through this natural and complete state of blindness it no longer heeds the old and living roots of contemporary institutions; no longer seeing them makes it deny their existence. Custom now appears as pure prejudice; the titles of tradition are lost, and royalty seems based on robbery. So from now on Reason is armed and at war with its predecessor to wrench away its control over the minds and to replace a rule of lies with a rule of truth.



IV. Casting Out The Residue Of Truth And Justice.

Two stages in this operation.—Voltaire, Montesquieu, the deists and the reformers represent the first one.—What they destroy and what they respect.

In this great undertaking there are two stages. Owing to common sense or timidity many stop half-way. Motivated by passion or logic others go to the end.—A first campaign results in carrying the enemy's out-works and his frontier fortresses, the philosophical army being led by Voltaire. To combat hereditary prejudice, other prejudices are opposed to it whose empire is as extensive and whose authority is not less recognized. Montesquieu looks at France through the eyes of a Persian, and Voltaire, on his return from England, describes the English, an unknown species. Confronting dogma and the prevailing system of worship, accounts are given, either with open or with disguised irony, of the various Christian sects, the Anglicans, the Quakers, the Presbyterians, the Socinians, those of ancient or of remote people, the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Muslims, and Guebers, of the worshippers of Brahma, of the Chinese and of pure idolaters. In relation to established laws and customs, expositions are made, with evident intentions, of other constitutions and other social habits, of despotism, of limited monarchy, of a republic, here the church subject to the state, there the church free of the state, in this country castes, in another polygamy, and, from country to country, from century to century, the diversity, contradiction and antagonism of fundamental customs which, each on its own ground, are all equally consecrated by tradition, all legitimately forming the system of public rights. From now on the charm is broken. Ancient institutions lose their divine prestige; they are simply human works, the fruits of the place and of the moment, and born out of convenience and a covenant. Skepticism enters through all the breaches. With regard to Christianity it at once enters into open hostility, into a bitter and prolonged polemical warfare; for, under the title of a state religion this occupies the ground, censuring free thought, burning writings, exiling, imprisoning or disturbing authors, and everywhere acting as a natural and official adversary. Moreover, by virtue of being an ascetic religion, it condemns not only the free and cheerful ways tolerated by the new philosophy but again the natural tendencies it sanctions, and the promises of terrestrial felicity with which it everywhere dazzles the eyes. Thus the heart and the head both agree in their opposition.—Voltaire, with texts in hand, pursues it from one end to the other of its history, from the first biblical narration to the latest papal bulls, with unflagging animosity and energy, as critic, as historian, as geographer, as logician, as moralist, questioning its sources, opposing evidences, driving ridicule like a pick-ax into every weak spot where an outraged instinct beats against its mystic walls, and into all doubtful places where ulterior patchwork disfigures the primitive structure.—He respects, however, the first foundation, and, in this particular, the greatest writers of the day follow the same course. Under positive religions that are false there is a natural religion that is true. This is the simple and authentic text of which the others are altered and amplified translations. Remove the ulterior and divergent excesses and the original remains; this common essence, on which all copies harmonize, is deism.—The same operation is to be made on civil and political law. In France, where so many survive their utility, where privileges are no longer paid for with service, where rights are changed into abuses, how incoherent is the architecture of the old Gothic building! How poorly adapted to a modern nation! Of what use, in an unique and compact state, are those feudal compartments separating orders, corporations and provinces? What a living paradox is the archbishop of a semi-province, a chapter owning 12,000 serfs, a drawing room abbe well supported by a monastery he never saw, a lord liberally pensioned to figure in antechambers, a magistrate purchasing the right to administer justice, a colonel leaving college to take the command of his inherited regiment, a Parisian trader who, renting a house for one year in Franche-Comte, alienates through this act alone the ownership of his property and of his person. Throughout Europe there are others of the same character. The best that can be said of "a civilized nation" [3312] is that its laws, customs and practices are composed "one-half of abuses and one-half of tolerable usage".—But, underneath these concrete laws, which contradict each other, and of which each contradicts itself, a natural law exists, implied in the codes, applied socially, and written in all hearts.

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