The Origins of Contemporary France, Volume 1 (of 6) - The Ancient Regime
by Hippolyte A. Taine
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[Footnote 3416: My father's cousin, a black-smith issue from a long line of country black-smiths, born in 1896, used to say that the basic principle elevating children was to ensure "that the child never should be able to exclude the possibility of good thrashing." (SR).]

[Footnote 3417: Rousseau, "Contrat social," I, ch. 7; III. ch. 13, 14, 15, 18; IV. ch. 1.—Cf. Condorcet, ninth epoch.]

[Footnote 3418: Rousseau, "Contrat social," III, 1, 18; IV, 3.]

[Footnote 3419: De Tocqueville, "L'Ancien regime," book II. entire, and book III. ch. 3.]

[Footnote 3420: Rousseau, "Contrat social." I.6.]

[Footnote 3421: Ibidem I. 9. "The State in relation to its members is master of all their possessions according to the social compact. . . possessors are considered as depositaries of the public wealth."]

[Footnote 3422: Rousseau, "Discours sur l'Economie politique," 308.]

[Footnote 3423: Ibid. "Emile," book V. 175.]

[Footnote 3424: Rousseau, "Discours sur l'Economie politique," 302]

[Footnote 3425: Rousseau, on the "Government de Pologne," 277, 283, 287.]

[Footnote 3426: Ibid. "Emile," book I.]

[Footnote 3427: Morelly, "Code de la nature." "At the age of five all children should be removed their families and brought up in common, at the charge of the State, in a uniform manner." A similar project, perfectly Spartan, was found among the papers of St.-Just.]

[Footnote 3428: Rousseau, "Contrat social," II. 3; IV.8.]

[Footnote 3429: Cf. Mercier, "L'an 2240," I. ch. 17 and 18. From 1770 on, he traces the programme of a system of worship similar to that of the Theophilanthropists, the chapter being entitled: "Pas si eloigne qu'on pense."]



Several similar theories have in the past traversed the imagination of men, and similar theories are likely do so again. In all ages and in all countries, it sufficed that man's concept of his own nature changed for, as an indirect consequence, new utopias and discoveries would sprout in the fields of politics and religion.[4101]—But this does not suffice for the propagation of the new doctrine nor, more important, for theory to be put into practice. Although born in England, the philosophy of the eighteenth century could not develop itself in England; the fever for demolition and reconstruction remained but briefly and superficial there. Deism, atheism, materialism, skepticism, ideology, the theory of the return to nature, the proclamations of the rights of man, all the temerities of Bolingbroke, Collins, Toland, Tindal and Mandeville, the bold ideas of Hume, Hartley, James Mill and Bentham, all the revolutionary doctrines, were so many hotbed plants produced here and there, in the isolated studies of a few thinkers: out in the open, after blooming for a while, subject to a vigorous competition with the old vegetation to which the soil belonged, they failed[4102].—On the contrary, in France, the seed imported from England, takes root and spreads with extraordinary vigor. After the Regency it is in full bloom[4103]. Like any species favored by soil and climate, it invades all the fields, appropriating light and air to itself, scarcely allowing in its shade a few puny specimens of a hostile species, a survivor of an antique flora like Rollin, or a specimen of an eccentric flora like Saint-Martin. With large trees and dense thickets, through masses of brushwood and low plants, such as Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Diderot, d'Alembert and Buffon, or Duclos, Mably, Condillac, Turgot, Beaumarchais, Bernadin de Saint-Pierre, Barthelemy and Thomas, such as a crowd of journalists, compilers and conversationalists, or the elite of the philosophical, scientific and literary multitude, it occupies the Academy, the stage, the drawing room and the debate. All the important persons of the century are its offshoots, and among these are some of the grandest ever produced by humanity.—This was possible because the seed had fallen on suitable ground, that is to say, on the soil in the homeland of the classic spirit. In this land of the raison raisonnante[4104] it no longer encounters the antagonists who impeded its growth on the other side of the Channel, and it not only immediately acquires vigor of sap but the propagating organ which it required as well.

I. The Propagating Organ, Eloquence.

Causes of this difference.—This art of writing in France.— Its superiority at this epoch.—It serves as the vehicle of new ideas.—Books are written for people of the world.— This accounts for philosophy descending to the drawing room.

This organ is the "talent of speech, eloquence applied to the gravest subjects, the talent for making things clear." [4105]"The great writers of this nation," says their adversary, "express themselves better than those of any other nation. Their books give but little information to true savants," but "through the art of expression they influence men" and "the mass of men, constantly repelled from the sanctuary of the sciences by the dry style and bad taste of (other) scientific writers, cannot resist the seductions of the French style and method." Thus the classic spirit that furnishes the ideas likewise furnishes the means of conveying them, the theories of the eighteenth century being like those seeds provided with wings which float and distribute themselves on all soils. There is no book of that day not written for people of the high society, and even for women of this class. In Fontenelle's dialogues on the Plurality of worlds the principal person age is a marchioness. Voltaire composes his "Metaphysique" and his "Essai sur les Moeurs" for Madame du Chatelet, and Rousseau his "Emile" for Madame d'Epinay. Condillac wrote the "Traite des Sensations" from suggestions of Mademoiselle Ferrand, and he sets forth instructions to young ladies how to read his "Logique." Baudeau dedicates and explains to a lady his "Tableau Economique." Diderot's most profound work is a conversation between Mademoiselle de l'Espinasse and d'Alembert and Bordeu[4106]. Montesquieu had placed an invocation to the muses in the middle of the "Esprit des Lois." Almost every work is a product of the drawing-room, and it is always one that, before the public, has been presented with its beginnings. In this respect the habit is so strong as to last up to the end of 1789; the harangues about to be made in the National Assembly are also passages of bravura previously rehearsed before ladies at an evening entertainment. The American Ambassador, a practical man, explains to Washington with sober irony the fine academic and literary parade preceding the political tournament in public[4107].

"The speeches are made beforehand in a small society of young men and women, among them generally the fair friend of the speaker is one, or else the fair whom he means to make his friend,; and the society very politely give their approbation, unless the lady who gives the tone to that circle chances to reprehend something, which is of course altered, if not amended."

It is not surprising, with customs of this kind, that professional philosophers should become men of society. At no time or in any place have they been so to the same extent, nor so habitually. The great delight of a man of genius or of learning here, says an English traveler, is to reign over a brilliant assembly of people of fashion[4108]. Whilst in England they bury themselves morosely in their books, living amongst themselves and appearing in society only on condition of "doing some political drudgery," that of journalist or pamphleteer in the service of a party, in France they dine out every evening, and constitute the ornaments and amusement of the drawing-rooms to which they resort to converse[4109]. There is not a house in which dinners are given that has not its titular philosopher, and, later on, its economist and man of science. In the various memoirs, and in the collections of correspondence, we track them from one drawing room to another, from one chateau to another, Voltaire to Cirey at Madame du Chatelet's, and then home, at Ferney where he has a theater and entertains all Europe; Rousseau to Madame d'Epinay's, and M. de Luxembourg's; the Abbe Barthelemy to the Duchesse de Choiseul's; Thomas, Marmontel and Gibbon to Madame Necker's; the encyclopedists to d'Holbach's ample dinners, to the plain and discreet table of Madame Geoffrin, and to the little drawing room of Mademoiselle de L'Espinasse, all belonging to the great central state drawing-room, that is to say, to the French Academy, where each newly elected member appears to parade his style and obtain from a polished body his commission of master in the art of discourse. Such a public imposes on an author the obligation of being more a writer than a philosopher. The thinker is expected to concern himself with his sentences as much as with his ideas. He is not allowed to be a mere scholar in his closet, a simple erudite, diving into folios in German fashion, a metaphysician absorbed with his own meditations, having an audience of pupils who take notes, and, as readers, men devoted to study and willing to give themselves trouble, a Kant, who forms for himself a special language, who waits for a public to comprehend him and who leaves the room in which he labors only for the lecture-room in which he delivers his lectures. Here, on the contrary, in the matter of expression, all are experts and even professional. The mathematician d'Alembert publishes a small treatise on elocution; Buffon, the naturalist pronounces a discourse on Style; the legist Montesquieu composes an essay on Taste; the psychologist Condillac writes a volume on the art of writing. In this consists their greatest glory; philosophy owes its entry into society to them. They withdrew it from the study, the closed-society and the school, to introduce it into company and into conversation.

II. Its Method.

Owing to this method it becomes popular.

"Madame la Marechale," says one of Diderot's personages,[4110]. "I must consider things from a somewhat higher point of view."—"As high as you please so long as I understand you."—"If you do not understand me it will be my fault."—"You are very polite, but you must know that I have studied nothing but my prayer book."—That makes no difference; the pretty woman, ably led on, begins to philosophize without knowing it, arriving without effort at the distinction between good and evil, comprehending and deciding on the highest doctrines of morality and religion.—Such is the art of the eighteenth century, and the art of writing. People are addressed who are perfectly familiar with life, but who are commonly ignorant of orthography, who are curious in all directions, but ill prepared for any; the object is to bring truth down to their level[4111]. Scientific or too abstract terms are inadmissible; they tolerate only those used to ordinary conversation. And this is no obstacle; it is easier to talk philosophy in this language than to use it for discussing precedence and clothes. For, in every abstract question there is some leading and simple conception on which the rest depends, those of unity, proportion, mass and motion in mathematics; those of organ, function and being in physiology; those of sensation, pain, pleasure and desire in psychology; those of utility, contract and law in politics and morality; those of capital, production, value, exchange in political economy, and the same in the other sciences, all of these being conceptions derived from passing experience; from which it follows that, in appealing to common experience by means of a few familiar circumstances, such as short stories, anecdotes, agreeable tales, and the like, these conceptions are fashioned anew and rendered precise. This being accomplished, almost everything is accomplished; for nothing then remains but to lead the listener along step by step, flight by flight, to the remotest consequences.

"Will Madame la Marechale have the kindness to recall my definition?"—"I remember it well-do you call that a definition?"—"Yes."—"That, then, is philosophy!"—"Admirable!"—"And I have been philosophical?"—"As you read prose, without being aware of it."

The rest is simply a matter of reasoning, that is to say, of leading on, of putting questions in the right order, and of analysis. With the conception thus renewed and rectified the truth nearest at hand is brought out, then out of this, a second truth related to the first one, and so on to the end, no other obligation being involved in this method but that of carefully advancing step by step, and of omitting no intermediary step.—With this method one is able to explain all, to make everything understood, even by women, and even by women of society. In the eighteenth century it forms the substance of all talents, the warp of all masterpieces, the lucidity, popularity and authority of philosophy. The "Eloges" of Fontenelle, the "Philosophe ignorant et le principe d'action" by Voltaire, the "Lettre a M. de Beaumont," and the "Vicaire Savoyard" by Rousseau, the "Traite de l'homme" and the "Epoques de la Nature" by Buffon, the "Dialogues sur les bles" by Galiani, the "Considerations" by d'Alembert, on mathematics, the "Langue des Calculs" and the "Logique" by Condillac, and, a little later, the "Exposition du systeme du Monde" by Laplace, and "Discours generaux" by Bichat and Cuvier; all are based on this method[4112]. Finally, this is the method which Condillac erects into a theory under the name of ideology, soon acquiring the ascendancy of a dogma, and which then seems to sum up all methods. At the very least it sums up the process by which the philosophers of the century obtained their audience, propagated their doctrine and achieved their success.

III. Its Popularity.

Owing to style it becomes pleasing.—Two stimulants peculiar to the 18th century, coarse humor and irony.

Thanks to this method one can be understood; but, to be read, something more is necessary. I compare the eighteenth century to a company of people around a table; it is not sufficient that the food before them be well prepared, well served, within reach and easy to digest, but it is important that it should be some choice dish or, better still, some dainty. The intellect is Epicurean; let us supply it with savory, delicate viands adapted to its taste; it will eat so much the more owing to its appetite being sharpened by sensuality. Two special condiments enter into the cuisine of this century, and, according to the hand that makes use of them, they furnish all literary dishes with a coarse or delicate seasoning. In an Epicurean society, to which a return to nature and the rights of instinct are preached, voluptuous images and ideas present themselves involuntarily; this is the appetizing, exciting spice-box. Each guest at the table uses or abuses it; many empty its entire contents on their plate. And I do not allude merely to the literature read in secret, to the extraordinary books Madame d'Audlan, governess to the French royal children, peruses, and which stray off into the hands of the daughters of Louis XV,[4113] nor to other books, still more extraordinary,[4114] in which philosophical arguments appear as an interlude between filth and the illustrations, and which are kept by the ladies of the court on their toilet-tables, under the title of "Heures de Paris." I refer here to the great men, to the masters of the public intellect. With the exception of Buffon, all put pimento into their sauces, that is to say, loose talk or coarseness of expression. We find this even in the" Esprit des Lois;" there is an enormous amount of it, open and covered up, in the "Lettres Persanes." Diderot, in his two great novels, puts it in by handfuls, as if during an orgy. The teeth crunch on it like so many grains of pepper, on every page of Voltaire. We find it, not only piquant, but strong and of burning intensity, in the "Nouvelle Heloise," scores of times in "Emile," and, in the "Confessions," from one end to the other. It was the taste of the day. M. de Malesherbes, so upright and so grave, committed "La Pucelle" to memory and recited it. We have from the pen of Saint-Just, the gloomiest of the "Mountain," a poem as lascivious as that of Voltaire, while Madame Roland, the noblest of the Girondins, has left us confessions as venturesome and specific as those of Rousseau[4115].—On the other hand there is a second box, that containing the old Gallic salt, that is to say, humor and raillery. Its mouth is wide open in the hands of a philosophy proclaiming the sovereignty of reason. Whatever is contrary to Reason is to it absurd and therefore open to ridicule. The moment the solemn hereditary mask covering up an abuse is brusquely and adroitly torn aside, we feel a curious spasm, the corners of our mouth stretching apart and our breast heaving violently, as at a kind of sudden relief, an unexpected deliverance, experiencing a sense of our recovered superiority, of our revenge being gratified and of an act of justice having been performed. But it depends on the mode in which the mask is struck off whether the laugh shall be in turn light or loud, suppressed or unbridled, now amiable and cheerful, or now bitter and sardonic. Humor (la plaisanterie) comports with all aspects, from buffoonery to indignation; no literary seasoning affords such a variety, or so many mixtures, nor one that so well enters into combination with that above-mentioned. The two together, from the middle ages down, form the principal ingredients employed by the French cuisine in the composition of its most agreeable dainties,—fables, tales, witticisms, jovial songs and waggeries, the eternal heritage of a good-humored, mocking people, preserved by La Fontaine athwart the pomp and sobriety of the seventeenth century, and, in the eighteenth, reappearing everywhere at the philosophic banquet. Its charm is great to the brilliant company at this table, so amply provided, whose principal occupation is pleasure and amusement. It is all the greater because, on this occasion, the passing disposition is in harmony with hereditary instinct, and because the taste of the epoch is fortified by the national taste. Add to all this the exquisite art of the cooks, their talent in commingling, in apportioning and in concealing the condiments, in varying and arranging the dishes, the certainty of their hand, the finesse of their palate, their experience in processes, in the traditions and practices which, already for a hundred years, form of French prose the most delicate nourishment of the intellect. It is not strange to find them skilled in regulating human speech, in extracting from it its quintessence and in distilling its full delight.

IV. The Masters.

The art and processes of the masters.—Montesquieu.— Voltaire.—Diderot.—Rousseau.—"The Marriage of Figaro."

In this respect four among them are superior, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau. It seems sufficient to mention their names. Modern Europe has no greater writers. And yet their talent must be closely examined to properly comprehend their power.—In tone and style Montesquieu is the first. No writer is more master of himself, more outwardly calm, more sure of his meaning. His voice is never boisterous; he expresses the most powerful thoughts with moderation. There is no gesticulation; exclamations, the abandonment of impulse, all that is irreconcilable with decorum is repugnant to his tact, his reserve, his dignity. He seems to be always addressing a select circle of people with acute minds, and in such a way as to render them at every moment conscious of their acuteness. No flattery could be more delicate; we feel grateful to him for making us satisfied with our intelligence. We must possess some intelligence to be able to read him, for he deliberately curtails developments and omits transitions; we are required to supply these and to comprehend his hidden meanings. He is rigorously systematic but the system is concealed, his concise completed sentences succeeding each other separately, like so many precious coffers or caskets, now simple and plain in aspect, now superbly chased and decorated, but always full. Open them and each contains a treasure; here is placed in narrow compass a rich store of reflections, of emotions, of discoveries, our enjoyment being the more intense because we can easily retain all this for a moment in the palm of our hand. "That which usually forms a grand conception," he himself says, "is a thought so expressed as to reveal a number of other thoughts, and suddenly disclosing what we could not anticipate without patient study." This, indeed, is his manner; he thinks with summaries; he concentrates the essence of despotism in a chapter of three lines. The summary itself often bears the air of an enigma, of which the charm is twofold; we have the pleasure of comprehension accompanying the satisfaction of divining. In all subjects he maintains this supreme discretion, this art of indicating without enforcing, these reticences, the smile that never becomes a laugh.

"In my defense of the 'Esprit des Lois,"' he says, "that which gratifies me is not to see venerable theologians crushed to the ground but to see them glide down gently."

He excels in tranquil irony, in polished disdain,[4116] in disguised sarcasm. His Persians judge France as Persians, and we smile at their errors; unfortunately the laugh is not against them but against ourselves, for their error is found to be a verity[4117]. This or that letter, in a sober vein, seems a comedy at their expense without reflecting upon us, full of Muslim prejudices and of oriental conceit;[4118] reflect a moment, and our conceit, in this relation, appears no less. Blows of extraordinary force and reach are given in passing, as if thoughtlessly, against existing institutions, against the transformed Catholicism which "in the present state of Europe, cannot last five hundred years," against the degenerate monarchy which causes useful citizens to starve to fatten parasite courtiers[4119]. The entire new philosophy blooms out in his hands with an air of innocence, in a pastoral romance, in a simple prayer, in an artless letter[4120]. None of the gifts which serve to arrest and fix the attention are wanting in this style, neither grandeur of imagination nor profound sentiment, vivid characterization, delicate gradations, vigorous precision, a sportive grace, unlooked-for burlesque, nor variety of representation. But, amidst so many ingenious tricks, apologues, tales, portraits and dialogues, in earnest as well as when masquerading, his deportment throughout is irreproachable and his tone is perfect. If; as an author, he develops a paradox it is with almost English gravity. If he fully exposes indecency it is with decent terms. In the full tide of buffoonery, as well as in the full blast of license, he is ever the well-bred man, born and brought up in the aristocratic circle in which full liberty is allowed but where good-breeding is supreme, where every idea is permitted but where words are weighed, where one has the privilege of saying what he pleases, but on condition that he never forgets himself.

A circle of this kind is a small one, comprising only a select few; to be understood by the multitude requires another tone of voice. Philosophy demands a writer whose principal occupation is a diffusion of it, who is unable to keep it to himself; who pours it out like a gushing fountain, who offers it to everybody, daily and in every form, in broad streams and in small drops, without exhaustion or weariness, through every crevice and by every channel, in prose, in verse, in imposing and in trifling poems, in the drama, in history, in novels, in pamphlets, in pleadings, in treatises, in essays, in dictionaries, in correspondence, openly and in secret, in order that it may penetrate to all depths and in every soil; such was Voltaire.—"I have accomplished more in my day," he says somewhere, "than either Luther or Calvin," in which he is mistaken. The truth is, however, he has something of their spirit. Like them he is desirous of changing the prevailing religion, he takes the attitude of the founder of a sect, he recruits and binds together proselytes, he writes letters of exhortation, of direction and of predication, he puts watchwords in circulation, he furnishes "the brethren" with a device; his passion resembles the zeal of an apostle or of a prophet. Such a spirit is incapable of reserve; it is militant and fiery by nature; it apostrophizes, reviles and improvises; it writes under the dictation of impressions; it allows itself every species of utterance and, if need be, the coarsest. It thinks by explosions; its emotions are sudden starts, and its images so many sparks; it lets the rein go entirely; it gives itself up to the reader and hence it takes possession of him. Resistance is impossible; the contagion is too overpowering. A creature of air and flame, the most excitable that ever lived, composed of more ethereal and more throbbing atoms than those of other men; none is there whose mental machinery is more delicate, nor whose equilibrium is at the same time more shifting and more exact. He may be compared to those accurate scales that are affected by a breath, but alongside of which every other measuring apparatus is incorrect and clumsy.—But, in this delicate balance only the lightest weights, the finest specimen must be placed; on this condition only it rigorously weighs all substances; such is Voltaire, involuntarily, through the demands of his intellect, and in his own behalf as much as in that of his readers. An entire philosophy, ten volumes of theology, an abstract science, a special library, an important branch of erudition, of human experience and invention, is thus reduced in his hands to a phrase or to a stanza. From the enormous mass of riven or compact scorioe he extracts whatever is essential, a grain of gold or of copper as a specimen of the rest, presenting this to us in its most convenient and most manageable form, in a simile, in a metaphor, in an epigram that becomes a proverb. In this no ancient or modern writer approaches him; in simplification and in popularization he has not his equal in the world. Without departing from the usual conversational tone, and as if in sport, he puts into little portable phrases the greatest discoveries and hypotheses of the human mind, the theories of Descartes, Malebranche, Leibnitz, Locke and Newton, the diverse religions of antiquity and of modern times, every known system of physics, physiology, geology, morality, natural law, and political economy,[4121] in short, all the generalized conceptions in every order of knowledge to which humanity had attained in the eighteenth century.—Voltaire's inclination is so strong that it carries him too far; he belittles great things by rendering them accessible. Religion, legend, ancient popular poesy, the spontaneous creations of instinct, the vague visions of primitive tunes are not thus to be converted into small current coin; they are not subjects of amusing and lively conversation. A piquant witticism is not an expression of all this, but simply a travesty. But how charming to Frenchmen, and to people of the world! And what reader can abstain from a book containing all human knowledge summed up in piquant witticisms? For it is really a summary of human knowledge, no important idea, as far as I can see, being wanting to a man whose breviary consisted of the "Dialogues," the "Dictionary," and the "Novels." Read them over and over five or six times, and we then form some idea of their vast contents. Not only do views of the world and of man abound in them, but again they swarm with positive and even technical details, thousands of little facts scattered throughout, multiplied and precise details on astronomy, physics, geography, physiology, statistics, and on the history of all nations, the innumerable and personal experiences of a man who has himself read the texts, handled the instruments, visited the countries, taken part in the industries, and associated with the persons, and who, in the precision of his marvelous memory, in the liveliness of his ever-blazing imagination, revives or sees, as with the eye itself, everything that he states and as he states it. It is a unique talent, the rarest in a classic era, the most precious of all, since it consists in the display of actual beings, not through the gray veil of abstractions, but in themselves, as they are in nature and in history, with their visible color and forms, with their accessories and surroundings in time and space, a peasant at his cart, a Quaker in his meeting-house, a German baron in his castle, Dutchmen, Englishmen, Spaniards, Italians, Frenchmen, in their homes,[4122] a great lady, a designing woman, provincials, soldiers, prostitutes,[4123] and the rest of the human medley, on every step of the social ladder, each an abridgment of his kind and in the passing light of a sudden flash.

For, the most striking feature of this style is the prodigious rapidity, the dazzling and bewildering stream of novelties, ideas, images, events, landscapes, narratives, dialogues, brief little pictures, following each other rapidly as if in a magic-lantern, withdrawn almost as soon as presented by the impatient magician who, in the twinkling of an eye, girdles the world and, constantly accumulating one on top of the other, history, fable, truth and fancy, the present time and times past, frames his work now with a parade as absurd as that of a country fair, and now with a fairy scene more magnificent than all those of the opera. To amuse and be amused, "to diffuse his spirit in every imaginable mode, like a glowing furnace into which all substances are thrown by turns to evolve every species of flame, sparkle and odor," is his first instinct. "Life," he says again, "is an infant to be rocked until it goes to sleep." Never was a mortal more excited and more exciting, more incapable of silence and more hostile to ennui,[4124] better endowed for conversation, more evidently destined to become the king of a sociable century in which, with six pretty stories, thirty witticisms and some confidence in himself, a man could obtain a social passport and the certainty of being everywhere welcome. Never was there a writer possessing to so high a degree and in such abundance every qualification of the conversationalist, the art of animating and of enlivening discourse, the talent for giving pleasure to people of society. Perfectly refined when he chose to be, confining himself without inconvenience to strict decorum, of finished politeness, of exquisite gallantry, deferential without being servile, fond without being mawkish,[4125] and always at his ease, it suffices that he should be before the public, to fall naturally into the proper tone, the discreet ways, the winning half-smile of the well-bred man who, introducing his readers into his mind, does them the honors of the place. Are you on familiar terms with him, and of the small private circle in which he freely unbends himself, with closed doors? You never tire of laughing. With a sure hand and without seeming to touch it, he abruptly tears aside the veil hiding a wrong, a prejudice, a folly, in short, any human idolatry. The real figure, misshapen, odious or dull, suddenly appears in this instantaneous flash; we shrug our shoulders. This is the risibility of an agile, triumphant reason. We have another in that of the gay temperament, of the droll improvisator, of the man keeping youthful, a child, a boy even to the day of his death, and who "gambols on his own tombstone." He is fond of caricature, exaggerating the features of faces, bringing grotesques on the stage,[4126] walking them about in all lights like marionettes, never weary of taking them up and of making them dance in new costumes; in the very midst of his philosophy, of his propaganda and polemics, he sets up his portable theater in full blast, exhibiting oddities, the scholar, the monk, the inquisitor, Maupertuis, Pompignan, Nonotte, Freron, King David, and countless others who appear before us, capering and gesticulating in their harlequin attire.—When a farcical talent is thus moved to tell the truth, humor becomes all-powerful; for it gratifies the profound and universal instincts of human nature: to the malicious curiosity, to the desire to mock and belitte, to the aversion to being in need or under constraint, those sources of bad moods which task convention, etiquette and social obligation with wearing the burdensome cloak of respect and of decency; moments occur in life when the wisest is not sorry to throw this half aside and even cast it off entirely.—On each page, now with the bold stroke of a hardy naturalist, now with the quick turn of a mischievous monkey, Voltaire lets the solemn or serious drapery fall, disclosing man, the poor biped, and in which attitudes![4127] Swift alone dared to present similar pictures. What physiological crudities relating to the origin and end of our most exalted sentiments! What disproportion between such feeble reason and such powerful instincts! What recesses in the wardrobes of politics and religion concealing their foul linen! We laugh at all this so as not to weep, and yet behind this laughter there are tears; he ends sneeringly, subsiding into a tone of profound sadness, of mournful pity. In this degree, and with such subjects, it is only an effect of habit, or as an expedient, a mania of inspiration, a fixed condition of the nervous machinery rushing headlong over everything, without a break and in full speed. Gaiety, let it not be forgotten, is still a incentive of action, the last that keeps man erect in France, the best in maintaining the tone of his spirit, his strength and his powers of resistance, the most intact in an age when men, and women too, believed it incumbent on them to die people of good society, with a smile and a jest on their lips[4128].

When the talent of a writer thus accords with public inclinations it is a matter of little import whether he deviates or fails since he is following the universal tendency. He may wander off or besmirch himself in vain, for his audience is only the more pleased, his defects serving him as advantageously as his good qualities. After the first generation of healthy minds the second one comes on, the intellectual balance here being equally inexact. "Diderot," says Voltaire, "is too hot an oven, everything that is baked in it getting burnt." Or rather, he is an eruptive volcano which, for forty years, discharges ideas of every order and species, boiling and fused together, precious metals, coarse scorioe and fetid mud; the steady stream overflows at will according to the roughness of the ground, but always displaying the ruddy light and acrid fumes of glowing lava. He is not master of his ideas, but his ideas master him; he is under submission to them; he has not that firm foundation of common practical sense which controls their impetuosity and ravages, that inner dyke of social caution which, with Montesquieu and Voltaire, bars the way to outbursts. Everything with him rushes out of the surcharged crater, never picking its way, through the first fissure or crevice it finds, according to his haphazard reading, a letter, a conversation, an improvisation, and not in frequent small jets as with Voltaire, but in broad currents tumbling blindly down the most precipitous declivities of the century. Not only does he descend thus to the very depths of anti-religious and anti-social doctrines, with logical and paradoxical rigidity, more impetuously and more obstreperously than d'Holbach himself; but again he falls into and sports himself in the slime of the age, consisting of obscenity, and into the beaten track of declamation. In his leading novels he dwells a long time on salacious equivocation, or on a scene of lewdness. Crudity with him is not extenuated by malice or glossed over by elegance. He is neither refined nor pungent; is quite incapable, like the younger Crebillon, of depicting the scapegrace of ability. He is a new-comer, a parvenu in standard society; you see in him a commoner, a powerful reasoner, an indefatigable workman and great artist, introduced, through the customs of the day, at a supper of fashionable livers. He engrosses the conversation, directs the orgy, or in the contagion or on a wager, says more filthy things, more "gueulees," than all the guests put together[4129]. In like manner, in his dramas, in his "Essays on Claudius and Nero," in his "Commentary on Seneca," in his additions to the "Philosophical History" of Raynal, he forces the tone of things. This tone, which then prevails by virtue of the classic spirit and of the new fashion, is that of sentimental rhetoric. Diderot carries it to extremes in the exaggeration of tears or of rage, in exclamations, in apostrophes, in tenderness of feeling, in violences, indignation, in enthusiasms, in full-orchestra tirades, in which the fire of his brains finds employment and an outlet.—On the other hand, among so many superior writers, he is the only genuine artist, the creator of souls, within his mind objects, events and personages are born and become organized of themselves, through their own forces, by virtue of natural affinities, involuntarily, without foreign intervention, in such a way as to live for and in themselves, safe from the author's intentions, and outside of his combinations. The composer of the "Salons," the "Petits Romans," the "Entretien," the "Paradoxe du Comedien," and especially the "Reve de d'Alembert" and the "Neveu de Rameau "is a man of an unique species in his time. However alert and brilliant Voltaire's personages may be, they are always puppets; their action is derivative; always behind them you catch a glimpse of the author pulling the strings. With Diderot, the strings are severed; he is not speaking through the lips of his characters; they are not his comical loud-speakers or puppets, but independent and detached persons, with an action of their own, a personal accent, with their own temperament, passions, ideas, philosophy, style and spirit, and occasionally, as in the "Neveu de Rameau," a spirit so original, complex and complete, so alive and so deformed that, in the natural history of man, it becomes an incomparable monster and an immortal document. He has expressed everything concerning nature,[4130] art morality and life[4131] in two small treatises of which twenty successive readings exhaust neither the charm nor the sense. Find elsewhere, if you can, a similar stroke of power and a greater masterpiece, "anything more absurd and more profound!"[4132]—Such is the advantage of men of genius possessing no control over themselves. They lack discernment but they have inspiration. Among twenty works, either soiled, rough or nasty, they produce a creation, and still better, an animated being, able to live by itself, before which others, fabricated by merely intellectual people, resemble simply well-dressed puppets.—Hence it is that Diderot is so great a narrator, a master of dialogue, the equal in this respect of Voltaire, and, through a quite opposite talent, believing all he says at the moment of saying it; forgetful of his very self, carried away by his own recital, listening to inward voices, surprised with the responses which come to him unexpectedly, borne along, as if on an unknown river, by the current of action, by the sinuosities of the conversation inwardly and unconsciously developed, aroused by the flow of ideas and the leap of the moment to the most unexpected imagery, extreme in burlesque or extreme in magnificence, now lyrical even to providing Musset with an entire stanza,[4133] now comic and droll with outbursts unheard of since the days of Rabelais, always in good faith, always at the mercy of his subject, of his inventions, of his emotions; the most natural of writers in an age of artificial literature, resembling a foreign tree which, transplanted to a parterre of the epoch, swells out and decays on one side of its stem, but of which five or six branches, thrust out into full light, surpass the neighboring underwood in the freshness of their sap and in the vigor of their growth.

Rousseau also is an artisan, a man of the people, ill-adapted to elegant and refined society, out of his element in a drawing room and, moreover, of low birth, badly brought up, sullied by a vile and precocious experience, highly and offensively sensual, morbid in mind and in body, fretted by superior and discordant faculties, possessing no tact, and carrying the contamination of his imagination, temperament and past life into his austere morality and into his purest idylls;[4134] besides this he has no fervor, and in this he is the opposite of Diderot, avowing himself" that his ideas arrange themselves in his head with the utmost difficulty, that certain sentences are turned over and over again in his brain for five or six nights before putting them on paper, and that a letter on the most trifling subject costs him hours of fatigue," that he cannot fall into an easy and agreeable tone, nor succeed otherwise than "in works which demand application."[4135] As an offset to this, style, in this ardent brain, under the influence of intense, prolonged meditation, incessantly hammered and rehammered, becomes more concise and of higher temper than is elsewhere found. Since La Bruyere we have seen no more ample, virile phrases, in which anger, admiration, indignation, studied and concentrated passion, appear with more rigorous precision and more powerful relief. He is almost the equal of La Bruyere in the arrangement of skillful effects, in the aptness and ingenuity of developments, in the terseness of impressive summaries, in the overpowering directness of unexpected arguments, in the multiplicity of literary achievements, in the execution of those passages of bravura, portraits, descriptions, comparisons, creations, wherein, as in a musical crescendo, the same idea, varied by a series of yet more animated expressions, attains to or surpasses, at the last note, all that is possible of energy and of brilliancy. Finally, he has that which is wanting in La Bruyere; his passages are linked together; he is not a writer of pages but of books; no logician is more condensed. His demonstration is knitted together, mesh by mesh, for one, two and three volumes like a great net without an opening in which, willingly or not, we remain caught. He is a systematizer who, absorbed with himself; and with his eyes stubbornly fixed on his own reverie or his own principle, buries himself deeper in it every day, weaving its consequences off one by one, and always holding fast to the various ends. Do not go near him. Like a solitary, enraged spider he weaves this out of his own substance, out of the most cherished convictions of his brain and the deepest emotions of his heart. He trembles at the slightest touch; ever on the defensive, he is terrible,[4136] beside himself;[4137] even venomous through suppressed exasperation and wounded sensibility, furious against an adversary, whom he stifles with the multiplied and tenacious threads of his web, but still more redoubtable to himself than to his enemies, soon caught in his own meshes,[4138] believing that France and the universe conspire against him, deducing with wonderful subtlety the proofs of this chimerical conspiracy, made desperate, at last, by his over-plausible romance, and strangling in the cunning toils which, by dint of his own logic and imagination, he has fashioned for himself.

With such weapons one might accidentally kill oneself, but one is strongly armed. Rousseau was well equipped, at least as powerful as Voltaire; it may be said that the last half of the eighteenth century belongs to him. A foreigner, a Protestant, original in temperament, in education, in heart, in mind and in habits, at once misanthropic and philanthropic, living in an ideal world constructed by himself, entirely opposed to the world as it is, he finds himself standing in a new position. No one is so sensitive to the evils and vices of actual society. No one is so affected by the virtues and happiness of the society of the future. This accounts for his having two holds on the public mind, one through satire and the other through the idyll.—These two holds are undoubtedly slighter at the present day; the substance of their grasp has disappeared; we are not the auditors to which it appealed. The famous discourse on the influence of literature and on the origin of inequality seems to us a collegiate exaggeration; an effort of the will is required to read the "Nouvelle Heloise." The author is repulsive in the persistency of his spitefulness or in the exaggeration of his enthusiasm. He is always in extremes, now moody and with knit brows, and now streaming with tears and with arms outstretched to Heaven. Hyperbole, prosopopaeia, and other literary machinery are too often and too deliberately used by him. We are tempted to regard him now as a sophist making the best use of his arts, now as a rhetorician cudgeling his brains for a purpose, now as a preacher becoming excited, that is to say, an actor ever maintaining a thesis, striking an attitude and aiming at effects. Finally, with the exception of the "Confessions" his style soon wearies us; it is too studied, and too constantly overstrained. The author is always the author, and he communicates the defect to his personages. His Julie argues and descants for twenty successive pages on dueling, on love, on duty, with a logical completeness, a talent and phrases that would do honor to an academical moralist. Commonplace exists everywhere, general themes, a raking fire of abstractions and arguments, that is to say, truths more or less empty and paradoxes more or less hollow. The smallest detail of fact, an anecdote, a trait of habit, would suit us much better, and hence we of to day prefer the precise eloquence of objects to the lax eloquence of words. In the eighteenth century it was otherwise; to every writer this oratorical style was the prescribed ceremonial costume, the dress-coat he had to put on for admission into the company of select people. That which seems to us affectation was then only proper; in a classic epoch the perfect period and the sustained development constitute decorum, and are therefore to be observed.—It must be noted, moreover, that this literary drapery which, with us of the present day, conceals truth did not conceal it to his contemporaries; they saw under it the exact feature, the perceptible detail no longer detected by us. Every abuse, every vice, every excess of refinement and of culture, all that social and moral disease which Rousseau scourged with an author's emphasis, existed before them under their own eyes, in their own breasts, visible and daily manifested in thousands of domestic incidents. In applying satire they had only to observe or to remember. Their experience completed the book, and, through the co-operation of his readers, the author possessed power which he is now deprived of. If we were to put ourselves in their place we should recover their impressions. His denunciations and sarcasms, the harsh things of all sorts he says of the great, of fashionable people and of women, his rude and cutting tone, provoke and irritate, but are not displeasing. On the contrary, after so many compliments, insipidities and petty versification all this quickens the blunted taste; it is the sensation of strong common wine after long indulgence in orgeat and preserved citron. Accordingly, his first discourse against art and literature "lifts one at once above the clouds." But his idyllic writings touch the heart more powerfully than his satires. If men listen to the moralist that scolds them they throng in the footsteps of the magician that charms them; especially do women and the young adhere to one who shows them the promised land. All accumulated dissatisfactions, weariness of the world, ennui, vague disgust, a multitude of suppressed desires gush forth, like subterranean waters, under the sounding line that for the first time brings them to light. Rousseau with his soundings struck deep and true through his own trials and through genius. In a wholly artificial society where people are drawing room puppets, and where life consists in a graceful parade according to a recognized model, he preaches a return to nature, independence, earnestness, passion, and effusion, a manly, active, ardent and happy existence in the open air and in sunshine. What an opening for restrained faculties, for the broad and luxurious fountain ever bubbling in man's breast, and for which their nice society provides no issue!—woman of the court is familiar with love as then practiced, simply a preference, often only a pastime, mere gallantry of which the exquisite polish poorly conceals the shallowness, coldness and, occasionally, wickedness; in short, adventures, amusements and personages as described by Crebillion jr. One evening, about to go out to the opera ball, she finds the "Nouvelle Heloise" on her toilet-table; it is not surprising that she keeps her horses and footmen waiting from hour to hour, and that at four o'clock in the morning she orders the horses to be unharnessed, and then passes the rest of the night in reading, and that she is stifled with her tears; for the first time in her life she finds a man that loves[4139]. In like manner if you would comprehend the success of "Emile," call to mind the children we have described, the embroidered, gilded, dressed-up, powdered little gentlemen, decked with sword and sash, carrying the chapeau under the arm, bowing, presenting the hand, rehearsing fine attitudes before a mirror, repeating prepared compliments, pretty little puppets in which everything is the work of the tailor, the hairdresser, the preceptor and the dancing-master; alongside of these, little ladies of six years, still more artificial, bound up in whalebone, harnessed in a heavy skirt composed of hair and a girdle of iron, supporting a head-dress two feet in height, so many veritable dolls to which rouge is applied, and with which a mother amuses herself each morning for an hour and then consigns them to her maids for the rest of the day[4140]. This mother reads "Emile." It is not surprising that she immediately strips the poor little thing, and determines to nurse her next child herself.—It is through these contrasts that Rousseau is strong. He revealed the dawn to people who never got up until noon, the landscape to eyes that had thus far rested only on palaces and drawing-rooms, a natural garden to men who had never promenaded outside of clipped shrubs and rectilinear borders, the country, the family, the people, simple and endearing pleasures, to townsmen made weary by social avidity, by the excesses and complications of luxury, by the uniform comedy which, in the glare of hundreds of lighted candles, they played night after night in their own and in the homes of others[4141]. An audience thus disposed makes no clear distinction between pomp and sincerity, between sentiment and sentimentality. They follow their author as one who makes a revelation, as a prophet, even to the end of his ideal world, much more through his exaggerations than through his discoveries, as far on the road to error as on the pathway of truth.

These are the great literary powers of the century. With inferior successes, and through various combinations, the elements which contributed to the formation of the leading talents also form the secondary talents, like those below Rousseau,—Bernardin de St. Pierre, Raynal, Thomas, Marmontel, Mably, Florian, Dupaty, Mercier, Madame de Stael; and below Voltaire,—the lively and piquant intellects of Duclos, Piron, Galiani, President Des Brosses, Rivarol, Champfort, and to speak with precision, all other talents. Whenever a vein of talent, however meager, peers forth above the ground it is for the propagation and carrying forward of the new doctrine; scarcely can we find two or three little streams that run in a contrary direction, like the journal of Freron, a comedy by Palissot, or a satire by Gilbert. Philosophy winds through and overflows all channels public and private, through manuals of impiety, like the "Theologies portatives," and in the lascivious novels circulated secretly, through epigrams and songs, through daily novelties, through the amusements of fairs,[4142] and the harangues of the Academy, through tragedy and the opera, from the beginning to the end of the century, from the "OEdipe" of Voltaire, to the "Tarare" of Beaumarchais. It seems as if there was nothing else in the world. At least it is found everywhere and it floods all literary efforts; nobody cares whether it deforms them, content in making them serve as a conduit. In 1763, in the tragedy of Manco-Capac[4143] the "principal part," writes a contemporary, "is that of a savage who utters in verse all that we have read, scattered through 'Emile' and the 'Contrat Social,' concerning kings, liberty, the rights of man and the inequality of conditions." This virtuous savage saves a king's son over whom a high-priest raises a poniard, and then, designating the high-priest and himself by turns, he cries,

"Behold the civilized man; here is the savage man!"

At this line the applause breaks forth, and the success of the piece is such that it is demanded at Versailles and played before the court.

The same ideas have to be expressed with skill, brilliancy, gaiety, energy and scandal, and this is accomplished in "The Marriage of Figaro." Never were the ideals of the age displayed under a more transparent disguise, nor in an attire that rendered them more attractive. Its title is the "Folle journee," and indeed it is an evening of folly, an after-supper like those occurring in the fashionable world, a masquerade of Frenchmen in Spanish costumes, with a parade of dresses, changing scenes, couplets, a ballet, a singing and dancing village, a medley of odd characters, gentlemen, servants, duennas, judges, notaries, lawyers, music-masters, gardeners, pastoureaux; in short, a spectacle for the eyes and the ears, for all the senses, the very opposite of the prevailing drama in which three pasteboard characters, seated on classic chairs, exchange didactic arguments in an abstract saloon. And still better, it is an imbroglio displaying a superabundance of action, amidst intrigues that cross, interrupt and renew each other, through a pele-mele of travesties, exposures, surprises, mistakes, leaps from windows, quarrels and slaps, and all in sparkling style, each phrase flashing on all sides, where responses seem to be cut out by a lapidary, where the eyes would forget themselves in contemplating the multiplied brilliants of the dialogue if the mind were not carried along by its rapidity and the excitement of the action. But here is another charm, the most welcome of all in a society passionately fond of Parny; according to an expression of the Comte d'Artois, which I dare not quote, this appeals to the senses, the arousing of which constitutes the spiciness and savor of the piece. The fruit that hangs ripening and savory on the branch never falls but always seems on the point of falling; all hands are extended to catch it, its voluptuousness somewhat veiled but so much the more provoking, declaring itself from scene to scene, in the Count's gallantry, in the Countess's agitation, in the simplicity of Fanchette, in the jestings of Figaro, in the liberties of Susanne, and reaching its climax in the precocity of Cherubino. Add to this a continual double sense, the author hidden behind his characters, truth put into the mouth of a clown, malice enveloped in simple utterances, the master duped but saved from being ridiculous by his deportment, the valet rebellious but preserved from acrimony by his gaiety, and you can comprehend how Beaumarchais could have the ancient regime played before its head, put political and social satire on the stage, publicly attach an expression to each wrong so as to become a by-word, and ever making a loud report,[4144] gather up into a few traits the entire polemics of the philosophers against the prisons of the State, against the censorship of literature, against the venality of office, against the privileges of birth, against the arbitrary power of ministers, against the incapacity of people in office, and still better, to sum up in one character every public demand, give the leading part to a commoner, bastard, bohemian and valet, who, by dint of dexterity, courage and good-humor, keeps himself up, swims with the tide, and shoots ahead in his little skiff, avoiding contact with larger craft and even supplanting his master, accompanying each pull on the oar with a shower of wit cast broadside at all his rivals.

After all, in France at least, the chief power is intellect. Literature in the service of philosophy is all-sufficient. The public opposes but a feeble resistance to their complicity, the mistress finding no trouble in convincing those who have already been won over by the servant



[Footnote 4101: How right Taine was. The 20th century should see a rebirth of violent Jacobinism in Russia, China, Cambodia, Korea, Cuba, Germany, Italy, Yugoslavia and Albania and of soft and creeping Jacobinism in the entire Western world. (SR.)]

[Footnote 4102: "Who, born within the last forty years, ever read a word of Collins, and Toland, and Tindal, or of that whole race who called themselves freethinkers?" (Burke, "Reflexions on the French Revolutions," 1790).]

[Footnote 4103: The "Oedipe," by Voltaire, belongs to the year 1718, and his "Lettres sur les Anglais," to the year 1728. The "Lettres Persanes," by Montesquieu, published in 1721, contain the germs of all the leading ideas of the century.]

[Footnote 4104: "Raison" (cult of). Cult proposed by the Hebertists and aimed at replacing Christianity under the French Revolution. The Cult of Reason was celebrated in the church of Notre Dame de Paris on the 10th of November 1793. The cult disappeared with the Hebertists (March 1794) and Robespierre replaced it with the cult of the Superior Being. (SR.)]

[Footnote 4105: Joseph de Maistre, Oeuvres inedites," pp. 8, 11.]

[Footnote 4106: Diderot's letters on the Blind and on the Deaf and Dumb are addressed in whole or in part to women.]

[Footnote 4107: "Correspondence of Gouverneur Morris," (in English), II, 89. (Letter of January 24, 1790)]

[Footnote 4108: John Andrews in "A comparative view," etc. (1785).—Arthur Young, I. 123. "I should pity the man who expected, without other advantages of a very different nature, to be well received in a brilliant circle in London, because he was a fellow of the Royal Society. But this would not be the case with a member of the Academy of Sciences at Paris, he is sure of a good reception everywhere."]

[Footnote 4109: "I met in Paris the d'Alemberts, the Marmontels, the Baillys at the houses of duchesses, which was an immense advantage to all concerned. . . . When a man with us devotes himself to writing books he is considered as renouncing the society equally of those who govern as of those who laugh. . . Taking literary vanity into account the lives of your d'Alemberts and Baillys are as pleasant as those of your seigniors." (Stendhal, "Rome, Naples et Florence," 377, in a narrative by Col. Forsyth).]

[Footnote 4110: "Entretien d'un philosophe avec la Marechale—."]

[Footnote 4111: The television audience today cannot threaten never again to invite the boring "philosopher" to dinner, but will zap away, a move that the system accurately senses. The rules that Taine describes are, alas, therefore once more valid. (SR.)]

[Footnote 4112: The same process is observable in our day in the "Sophismes economiques" of Bastiat, the "Eloges historiques" of Flourens, and in "Le Progres," by Edmond About.]

[Footnote 4113: The "Portier de Chartreux." (An infamous pornographic book. (SR.))]

[Footnote 4114: "Therese Philosophe." There is a complete literature of this species.]

[Footnote 4115: See the edition of M. Dauban in which the suppressed passages are restored.]

[Footnote 4116: "Esprit des Lois," ch. XV. book V. (Reasons in favor of slavery). The "Defence of the Esprit des Lois," I. Reply to the second objection. II. Reply to the fourth objection.]

[Footnote 4117: Letter 24 (on Louis XIV.)]

[Footnote 4118: Letter 18 (on the purity and impurity of things). Letter 39 (proofs of the mission of Mohammed).]

[Footnote 4119: Letters 75 and 118.]

[Footnote 4120: Letters 98 (on the modern sciences), 46 (on a true system of worship), 11 and 14 (on the nature of justice).]

[Footnote 4121: Cf "Micromegas," "L'homme aux quarantes ecus," "Dialogues entre A, B, C," Dic. Philosophique," passim.—In verse, "Les systemes," "La loi naturelle," "Le pour et le countre,", "Discours sur l'homme," etc.]

[Footnote 4122: "Traite de metaphysique," chap. I. p.1 (on the peasantry).—"Lettres sur les Anglais," passim.—"Candide," passim.—"La Princesse de Babylone," ch. VII. VIII. IX. and XI.]

[Footnote 4123: "Dict. Phil." articles, "Maladie," (Replies to the princess).—"Candide," at Madame de Parolignac. The sailor in the wreck. Narrative of Paquette.—The "Ingenu," the first chapters.]

[Footnote 4124: "Candide," the last chapter. When there was no dispute going on, it was so wearisome that the old woman one day boldly said to him: "I should like to know which is worse to be ravished a hundred times by Negro pirates, to have one's rump gashed, or be switched by the Bulgarians, to be scourged or hung in an auto-da-fe, to be cut to pieces, to row in the galleys, to suffer any misery through which we have passed, or sit still and do nothing?"—"That is the great question," said Candide.]

[Footnote 4125: For example, in the lines addressed to the Princess Ulrique in the preface to "Alzire," dedicated to Madame du Chatelet:

"Souvent un peu de verite," etc.]

[Footnote 4126: The scholar in the dialogue of "Le Mais," (Jenny).—The canonization of Saint Cucufin.—Advice to brother Pediculuso.—The diatribe of Doctor Akakia.—Conversation of the emperor of China with brother Rigolo, etc.]

[Footnote 4127: "Dict. Philosophique," the article "Ignorance."—"Les Oreilles du Comte de Chesterfied."—"L'homme au quarante ecus," chap. VII. and XI.]

[Footnote 4128: Bachaumont, III, 194. (The death of the Comte de Maugiron).]

[Footnote 4129: "The novels of the younger Crebillon were in fashion. My father spoke with Madame de Puisieux on the ease with which licentious works were composed; he contended that it was only necessary to find an arousing idea as a peg to hang others on in which intellectual libertinism should be a substitute for taste. She challenged him to produce on of this kind. At the end of a fortnight he brought her 'Les bijoux indiscrets' and fifty louis." (Memoires of Diderot, by his daughter).—"La Religieuse," has a similar origin, its object being to mystify M. de Croismart.]

[Footnote 4130: "Le Reve de d'Alembert."]

[Footnote 4131: "Le neveau de Rameau."]

[Footnote 4132: The words of Diderot himself in relation to the "Reve de d'Alembert."]

[Footnote 4133: One of the finest stanzas in "Souvenir" is almost literally transcribed (involuntarily, I suppose), from the dialogue on Otaheite (Tahiti).]

[Footnote 4134: "Nouvelle Heloise," passim., and notably Julie's extraordinary letter, second part, number 15.—"Emile," the preceptor's discourse to Emile and Sophie the morning after their marriage.—Letter of the comtesse de Boufflers to Gustavus III., published by Geffroy, ("Gustave III. et la cour de France"). "I entrust to Baron de Lederheim, though with reluctance, a book for you which has just been published, the infamous memoirs of Rousseau entitled 'Confessions.' They seem to me those of a common scullion and even lower than that, being dull throughout, whimsical and vicious in the most offensive manner. I do not recur to my worship of him (for such it was) I shall never console myself for its having caused the death of that eminent man David Hume, who, to gratify me, undertook to entertain that filthy animal in England."]

[Footnote 4135: "Confessions," part I, book III.]

[Footnote 4136: Letter to M, de Beaumont.]

[Footnote 4137: "Emile," letter IV. 193. "People of the world must necessarily put on disguise; let them show themselves as they are and they would horrify us," etc.]

[Footnote 4138: See, especially, his book entitled "Rousseau juge de Jean-Jacques," his connection with Hume and the last books of the "confessions."]

[Footnote 4139: "Confessions," part 2. book XI. "The women were intoxicated with the book and with the author to such an extent that there were few of them, even of high rank, whose conquest I could not have made if I had undertaken it. I possess evidence of this which I do not care, to publish, and which, without having been obliged to prove it by experience, warrant, my statement." Cf. G. Sand, "Histoire de ma vie," I.73.]

[Footnote 4140: See an engraving by Moreau called "Les Petits Parrains."—Berquin, passim., and among others "L'epee."—Remark the ready-made phrases, the style of an author common to children, in Berquin and Madame de Genlis.]

[Footnote 4141: See the description of sunrise in "Emile," of the Elysee (a natural garden), in "Heloise." And especially in "Emile," at the end of the fourth book, the pleasures which Rousseau would enjoy if he were rich.]

[Footnote 4142: See in Marivaux, ("La double inconstance,") a satire on the court, courtiers and the corruptions of high life, opposed to the common people in the country.]

[Footnote 4143: Bachmaumont, I. 254.]

[Footnote 4144: "A calculator was required for the place but a dancer got it."—"The sale of offices is a great abuse."—"Yes, it would he better to give them for nothing."—"Only small men fear small literature."—"Chance makes the interval, the mind only can alter that!"—"A courtier?—they say it is a very difficult profession."—"To receive, to take, and to ask, is the secret in three words," etc,—Also the entire monologue by Figaro, and all the scenes with Bridoisin.]


I. The Nobility.

The Aristocracy.—Novelty commonly repugnant to it.— Conditions of this repugnance.—Example in England.

This public has yet to be made willing to be convinced and to be won over; belief occurs only when there is a disposition to believe, and, in the success of books, its share is often greater than that of their authors. On addressing men about politics or religion their opinions are, in general already formed; their prejudices, their interests, their situation have confirmed them beforehand; they listen to you only after you have uttered aloud what they inwardly think. Propose to them to demolish the great social edifice and to rebuild it anew on a quite an opposite plan: ordinarily you auditors will consist only of those who are poorly lodged or shelterless, who live in garrets or cellars, or who sleep under the stars, on the bare ground in the vicinity of houses. The common run of people, whose lodgings are small but tolerable, dread moving and adhere to their accustomed ways. The difficulty becomes much greater on appealing to the upper classes who occupy superior habitations; their acceptance of your proposal depends either on their great delusions or on their great disinterestedness. In England they quickly foresee the danger.

In vain is philosophy there indigenous and precocious; it does not become acclimatized. In 1729, Montesquieu writes in his memorandum-book: "No religion in England; four or five members of the House of Commons attend mass or preaching in the House. . . . When religion is mentioned everybody begins to laugh. A man having said: I believe that as an article of faith, everybody laughed. A committee is appointed to consider the state of religion, but it is regarded as absurd." Fifty years later the public mind undergoes a reaction; all with a good roof over their heads and a good coat on their backs[4201] see the consequence of the new doctrines. In any event they feel that closet speculations are not to become street preaching. Impiety seems to them an indiscretion; they consider religion as the cement of public order. This is owing to the fact that they are themselves public men, engaged in active life, taking a part in the government, and instructed through their daily and personal experience. Practical life fortifies them against the chimeras of theorists; they have proved to themselves how difficult it is to lead and to control men. Having had their hand on the machine they know how it works, its value, its cost, and they are not tempted to cast it aside as rubbish to try another, said to be superior, but which, as yet, exists only on paper. The baronet, or squire, a justice on his own domain, has no trouble in discerning in the clergyman of his parish an indispensable co-worker and a natural ally. The duke or marquis, sitting in the upper house by the side of bishops, requires their votes to pass bills, and their assistance to rally to his party the fifteen hundred curates who influence the rural conscience. Thus all have a hand on some social wheel, large or small, principal or accessory, and this endows them with earnestness, foresight and good sense. On coming in contact with realities there is no temptation to soar away into the imaginary world; the fact of one being at work on solid ground of itself makes one dislike aerial excursions in empty space. The more occupied one is the less one dreams, and, to men of business, the geometry of the 'Contrat Social' is merely intellectual gymnastics.

II. Conditions In France.

The opposite conditions found in France.—Indolence of the upper class.—Philosophy seems an intellectual drill.— Besides this, a subject for conversation.—Philosophic conversation in the 18th century.—Its superiority and its charm.—The influence it exercises.

It is quite the reverse in France. "I arrived there in 1774,"[4202] says an English gentleman, "having just left the house of my father, who never came home from Parliament until three o'clock in the morning, and who was busy the whole morning correcting the proofs of his speech for the newspapers, and who, after hastily kissing us, with an absorbed air, went out to a political dinner. . . . In France I found men of the highest rank enjoying perfect leisure. They had interviews with the ministers but only to exchange compliments; in other respects they knew as little about the public affairs of France as they did about those of Japan; and less of local affairs than of general affairs, having no knowledge of their peasantry other than that derived from the accounts of their stewards. If one of them, bearing the title of governor, visited a province, it was, as we have seen, for outward parade; whilst the intendant carried on the administration, he exhibited himself with grace and magnificence by giving receptions and dinners. To receive, to give dinners, to entertain guests agreeably is the sole occupation of a grand seignior; hence it is that religion and government only serve him as subjects of conversation. The conversation, moreover, occurs between him and his equals, and a man may say what he pleases in good company. Moreover the social system turns on its own axis, like the sun, from time immemorial, through its own energy, and shall it be deranged by what is said in the drawing-room? In any event he does not control its motion and he is not responsible. Accordingly there is no uneasy undercurrent, no morose preoccupation in his mind. Carelessly and boldly he follows in the track of his philosophers; detached from affairs he can give himself up to ideas, just as a young man of family, on leaving college, lays hold of some principle, deduces its consequences, and forms a system for himself without concerning himself about its application[4203].

Nothing is more enjoyable than this speculative inspiration. The mind soars among the summits as if it had wings; it embraces vast horizons in a glance, taking in all of human life, the economy of the world, the origin of the universe, of religions and of societies. Where, accordingly, would conversation be if people abstained from philosophy? What circle is that in which serious political problems and profound criticism are not admitted? And what motive brings intellectual people together if not the desire to debate questions of the highest importance?—For two centuries in France the conversation has been related to all that, and hence its great charm. Strangers find it irresistible; nothing like it is found at home; Lord Chesterfield sets it forth as an example:

"It always turns, he says, on some point in history, on criticism or even philosophy which is much better suited to rational beings than our English discussions about the weather and whist."

Rousseau, so querulous, admits "that a moral subject could not be better discussed in a society of philosophers than in that of a pretty woman in Paris." Undoubtedly there is a good deal of idle talk, but with all the chattering "let a man of any authority make a serious remark or start a grave subject and the attention is immediately fixed on this point; men and women, the old and the young, all give themselves up to its consideration on all its sides, and it is surprising what an amount of reason and good sense issues, as if in emulation, from these frolicsome brains." The truth is that, in this constant holiday which this brilliant society gives itself philosophy is the principal amusement. Without philosophy the ordinary ironical chit-chat would be vapid. It is a sort of superior opera in which every grand conception that can interest a reflecting mind passes before it, now in comic and now in sober attire, and each in conflict with the other. The tragedy of the day scarcely differs from it except in this respect, that it always bears a solemn aspect and is performed only in the theaters; the other assumes all sorts of physiognomies and is found everywhere because conversation is everywhere carried on. Not a dinner nor a supper is given at which it does not find place. One sits at a table amidst refined luxury, among agreeable and well-dressed women and pleasant and well-informed men, a select company, in which comprehension is prompt and the company trustworthy. After the second course the inspiration breaks out in the liveliest sallies, all minds flashing and scintillating. When the dessert comes on what is to prevent the gravest of subjects from being put into witticisms? On the appearance of the coffee questions on the immortality of the soul and on the existence of God come up.

To form any idea of this attractive and bold conversation we must consult the correspondence of the day, the short treatises and dialogues of Diderot and Voltaire, whatever is most animated, most delicate, most piquant and most profound in the literature of the century; and yet this is only a residuum, a lifeless fragment. The whole of this written philosophy was uttered in words, with the accent, the impetuosity, the inimitable naturalness of improvisation, with the versatility of malice and of enthusiasm. Even to day, chilled and on paper, it still excites and seduces us. What must it have been then when it gushed forth alive and vibrant from the lips of Voltaire and Diderot? Daily, in Paris, suppers took place like those described by Voltaire,[4204].at which "two philosophers, three clever intellectual ladies, M. Pinto the famous Jew, the chaplain of the Batavian ambassador of the reformed church, the secretary of the Prince de Galitzin of the Greek church, and a Swiss Calvinist captain," seated around the same table, for four hours interchanged their anecdotes, their flashes of wit, their remarks and their decisions "on all subjects of interest relating to science and taste." The most learned and distinguished foreigners daily visited, in turn, the house of the Baron d'Holbach,—Hume, Wilkes, Sterne, Beccaria, Veri, the Abbe Galiani, Garrick, Franklin, Priestley, Lord Shelburne, the Comte de Creutz, the Prince of Brunswick and the future Elector of Mayence. With respect to society in general the Baron entertained Diderot, Rousseau, Helvetius, Duclos, Saurin, Raynal, Suard, Marmontel, Boulanger, the Chevalier de Chastellux, the traveler La Condamine, the physician Barthez, and Rouelle, the chemist. Twice a week, on Sundays and Thursdays, "without prejudice to other days," they dine at his house, according to custom, at two o'clock; a significant custom which thus leaves to conversation and gaiety a man's best powers and the best hours of the day. Conversation, in those days, was not relegated to night and late hours; a man was not forced, as at the present day, to subordinate it to the exigencies of work and money, of the Assembly and the Exchange. Talking is the main business. "Entering at two o'clock," says Morellet,[4205] "we almost all remained until seven or eight o'clock in the evening. . . . Here could be heard the most liberal, the most animated, the most instructive conversation that ever took place. . . . There was no political or religious temerity which was not brought forward and discussed pro and con. . . . Frequently some one of the company would begin to speak and state his theory in full, without interruption. At other times it would be a combat of one against one, of which the rest remained silent spectators. Here I heard Roux and Darcet expose their theory of the earth, Marmontel the admirable principles he collected together in his 'Elements de La Litterature,' Raynal, telling us in livres, sous and deniers, the commerce of the Spaniards with Vera-Crux and of the English with their colonies." Diderot improvises on the arts and on moral and metaphysical subjects, with that incomparable fervor and wealth of expression, that flood of logic and of illustration, those happy hits of style and that mimetic power which belonged to him alone, and of which but two or three of his works preserve even the feeblest image. In their midst Galiani, secretary of the Neapolitan Embassy, a clever dwarf; a genius, "a sort of Plato or Machiavelli with the spirit and action of a harlequin," inexhaustible in stories, an admirable buffoon, and an accomplished skeptic, "having no faith in anything, on anything or about anything,"[4206] not even in the new philosophy, braves the atheists of the drawing-room, beats down their dithyrambs with puns, and, with his perruque in his hand, sitting cross-legged on the chair on which he is perched, proves to them in a comic apologia that they raisonnent (reason) or resonnent (resound or echo) if not as cruches (blockheads) at least as cloches (bells);" in any event almost as poorly as theologians. One of those present says, "It was the most diverting thing possible and worth the best of plays."

How can the nobles, who pass their lives in talking, refrain from the society of people who talk so well? They might as well expect their wives, who frequent the theater every night, and who perform at home, not to attract famous actors and singers to their receptions, Jelyotte, Sainval, Preville, and young Mole who, quite ill and needing restoratives, "receives in one day more than 2,000 bottles of wine of different sorts from the ladies of the court," Mlle. Clairon, who, consigned to prison in Fort l'Eveque, attracts to it "an immense crowd of carriages," presiding over the most select company in the best apartment of the prison[4207]. With life thus regarded, a philosopher with his ideas is as necessary in a drawing room as a chandelier with its lights. He forms a part of the new system of luxury. He is an article of export. Sovereigns, amidst their splendor, and at the height of their success, invite them to their courts to enjoy for once in their life the pleasure of perfect and free discourse. When Voltaire arrives in Prussia Frederic II. is willing to kiss his hand, fawning on him as on a mistress, and, at a later period, after such mutual fondling, he cannot dispense with carrying on conversations with him by letter. Catherine II. sends for Diderot, and, for two or three hours every day, she plays with him the great game of the intellect. Gustavus III., in France, is intimate with Marmontel, and considers a visit from Rousseau as the highest honor[4208]. It is said with truth of Voltaire that "he holds the four kings in his hand," those of Prussia, Sweden, Denmark and Russia, without mentioning lower cards, the princes, princesses, grand dukes and markgraves. The principal role in this society evidently belongs to authors; their ways and doings form the subject of gossip; people never weary of paying them homage. Here, writes Hume to Robertson,[4209] "I feed on ambrosia, drink nothing but nectar, breathe incense only and walk on flowers. Every man I meet, and especially every woman, would consider themselves as failing in the most indispensable duty if they did not favor me with a lengthy and ingenious discourse on my celebrity." Presented at court, the future Louis XVI, aged ten years, the future Louis XVIII, aged eight years, and the future Charles X, aged four years, each recites a compliment to him on his works. I need not narrate the return of Voltaire, his triumphant entry, [4210] the Academy in a body coming to welcome him, his carriage stopped by the crowd, the thronged streets, the windows, steps and balconies filled with admirers, an intoxicated audience in the theater incessantly applauding, outside an entire population carrying him off with huzzahs, in the drawing-rooms a continual concourse equal to that of the king, grand seigniors pressed against the door with outstretched ears to catch a word, and great ladies standing on tiptoe to observe the slightest gesture. "To form any conception of what I experienced," says one of those present, "one should breathe the atmosphere of enthusiasm I lived in. I spoke with him." This expression at that time converted any new-comer into an important character. He had, in fact, seen the wonderful orchestra-leader who, for more than fifty years, conducted the tumultuous concert of serious or court-vetues ideas, and who, always on the stage, always chief, the recognized leader of universal conversation, supplied the motives, gave the pitch, marked the measure, stamped the inspiration, and drew the first note on the violin.

III. French Indolence.

Further effects of indolence.—The skeptical, licentious and seditious spirit.—Previous resentment and fresh discontent at the established order of things.—Sympathy for the theories against it.—How far accepted.

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