« PreviousContinue »
suffers for the salvation of the multitude. It is the austere, bitter, and mysterious law of solidarity. Perdition and redemption in and through each other is the destiny of
18th March 1869 (Thursday). - Whenever I come back from a walk outside the town I am disgusted and repelled by this cell of mine. Out of doors sunshine, birds, spring, beauty, and life ; in here, ugliness, piles of paper, melancholy, and death. And yet my walk was one of the saddest possible. I wandered along the Rhone and the Arve, and all the memories of the past, all the disappointments of the present, and all the anxieties of the future, laid siege to my heart like a whirlwind of phantoms. i took account of my faults, and they ranged themselves in battle against me. The vulture of regret gnawed at my heart, and the sense of the irreparable choked me like the iron collar of the pillory. It seemed to me that I had failed in the task of life, and that now life was failing me. — Ah! how terrible spring is to the lonely! All the needs which had been lulled to sleep start into life again, all the sorrows which had disappeared are reborn, and the old man
which had been gagged and conquered rises once more and makes his groans heard. It is as though all the old wounds opened and bewailed themselves afresh. Just when one had ceased to think, when one had succeeded in deadening feeling by work or by amusement, all of a sudden the heart, solitary captive that it is, sends a cry from its prison depths, a cry which shakes to its foundations the whole surrounding edifice.
Even supposing that one had freed oneself from all other fatalities, there is still one yoke left from which it is impossible to escape - that of Time. I have succeeded in avoiding all other servitudes, but I had reckoned without the last - the servitude of age. Age comes, and its weight is equal to that of all other oppressions taken together. Man, under his mortal aspect, is but a species of ephemera. As I looked at the banks of the Rhone, which have seen the river flowing past them some ten or twenty thousand years, or at the trees forming the avenue of the cemetery, which, for two centuries, have been the witnesses of so many funeral processions; as I recognised the walls, the dykes, the paths, which saw me playing as a child, and watched other children running over that grassy
plain of Plain Palais which bore my own childish steps, - I had the sharpest sense of the emptiness of life and the flight of things. I felt the shadow of the upas tree darkening over me. I gazed into the great implacable abyss in which are swallowed up all those phantoms which call themselves living beings. I saw that the living are but apparitions hovering for a moment over the earth, made out of the ashes of the dead, and swiftly re-absorbed by eternal night, as the will-o'-the-wisp sinks into the marsh. The nothingness of our joys, the emptiness of our existence, and the futility of our ambitions, filled me with a quiet disgust. From regret to disenchantment I floated on to Buddhism, to universal weariness. — Ah, the hope of blessed immortality would be better worth having !
With what different eyes one looks at life at ten, at twenty, at thirty, at sixty ! Those who live alone are specially conscious of this psychological metamorphosis. Another thing, too, astonishes them ; it is the universal conspiracy which exists for hiding the sadness of the world, for making men forget suffering, sickness, and death, for smothering the wails and sobs which issue from every house, for painting
and beautifying the hideous face of reality. Is it out of tenderness for childhood and youth, or is it simply from fear, that we are thus careful to veil the sinister truth ? Or is it from a sense of equity ? and does life contain as much good as evil — perhaps more? However it may be, men feed themselves rather upon illusion than upon truth. Each one unwinds his own special reel of hope, and as soon as he has come to the end of it he sits him down to die, and lets his sons and his grandsons begin the same experience over again. We all pursce happiness, and happiness escapes the pursuit of all.
The only viaticum which can help us in the journey of life is that furnished by a great duty and some serious affections. And even affections die, or at least their objects are mortal ; a friend, a wife, a child, a country, a church, may precede us in the tomb; duty alone lasts as long as we.
This maxim exorcises the spirits of revolt, of anger, discouragement, vengeance, indignation, and ambition, which rise one after another to tempt and trouble the heart, swelling with the sap of the spring. -- () all ye saints of the East, of antiquity, of Chris
tianity, phalanx of heroes ! - Ye too drank deep of weariness and agony of soul, but ye triumphed over both. Ye who have come forth victors from the strife, shelter us under your palms, fortify us by your example !
6th April 1869. — Magnificent weather. The Alps are dazzling under their silver haze. Sensations of all kinds have been crowding upon me; the delights of a walk under the rising sun, the charms of a wonderful view, longing for travel, and thirst for joy, hunger for work, for emotion, for life, dreams of happiness and of love. A passionate wish to live, to feel, to express, stirred the depths of my heart. It was a sudden re-awakening of youth, a flash of poetry, & renewing of the soul, a fresh growth of the wings of desire. I was overpowered by a host of conquering, vagabond, adventurous aspirations. I forgot my age, my obligations, my duties, my vexations, and youth leapt within me as though life were beginning again. It was as though something explosive had caught fire, and one's soul were scattered to the four winds; in such a mood one would fain devour the whole world, experience everything, see