« PreviousContinue »
tation, in which we have a glimpse and foretaste of the contemplative joys of Paradise. Desire and fear, sadness and care, are done away. Existence is reduced to the simplest form, the most ethereal mode of being, that is, to pure self-consciousness. It is a state of harmony, without tension and without disturbance, the dominical state of the soul, perhaps the state which awaits it beyond the grave. It is happiness as the Orientals understand it, the happiness of the anchorite, who neither struggles nor wishes any more, but simply adores and enjoys. It is difficult to find words in which to express this moral situation, for our languages can only render the particular and localised vibrations of life; they are incapable of expressing this motionless concentration, this divine quietude, this state of the resting ocean, which reflects the sky, and is master of its own profundities. Things are then re-absorbed into their principles ; memories are swallowed up in memory; the soul is only soul, and is no longer conscious of itself in its individuality and separateness. It is something which feels the universal life, a sensible atom of the Divine, of God. It no longer appropriates anything to itself, it is conscious of
no void. Only the Yoghis and Soufis perhaps have known in its profundity this humble and yet voluptuous state, which combines the joys of being and of nonbeing, which is neither reflection nor will, which is above both the moral existence and the intellectual existence, which is the return to unity, to the pleroma, the vision of Plotinus and of Proclus, – Nirvana in its most attractive form.
It is clear that the western nations in general, and especially the Americans, know very little of this state of feeling. For them life is devouring and incessant activity. They are eager for gold, for power, for dominion; their aim to crush men and to enslave nature. They show an obstinate interest in means, and have not a thought for the end. They confound being with individual being, and the expansion of the self with happiness, — that is to say, they do not live by the soul; they ignore the unchangeable and the eternal; they live at the periphery of their being, because they are unable to penetrate to its axis. They are excited, ardent, positive, because they are superficial. Why so much effort, noise, struggle, and greed ? — it is all a mere stunning and deafening of the self. When death comes they recognise that it is so, why not then admit it sooner ? Activity is only beautiful when it is holy – that is to say, when it is spent in the service of that which passeth not away.
6th February 1880. — A feeling article by Edmond Schérer on the death of Bersot, the director of the · École Normale,' a philosopher who bore like a stoic a terrible disease, and who laboured to the last without a complaint. ... I have just read the four orations delivered over his grave. They have brought the tears to my eyes. In the last days of this brave man everything was manly, noble, moral, and spiritual. Each of the speakers paid homage to the character, the devotion, the constancy, and the intellectual elevation of the dead. . Let us learn from him how to live and how to die.' The whole funeral ceremony had an antique dignity.
7th February 1880. — Hoar-frost and fog, but the general aspect is bright and fairylike, and has nothing in common with the gloom in Paris and London, of which the newspapers tell us.
This silvery landscape has a dreamy grace,
a fanciful charm, which is unknown both to the countries of the sun and to those of coal-smoke. The trees seem to belong to another creation, in which white has taken the place of green. As one gazes at these alleys, these clumps, these groves and arcades, these lace-like garlands and festoons, one feels no wish for anything else; their beauty is original and self-sufficing, all the more because the ground powdered with snow, the sky dimmed with mist, and the smooth soft distances, combine to form, a general scale of colour, and a harmonious whole, which charms the eye. No harshness anywhere - all is velvet. My enchantment beguiled me out both before and after dinner. The impression is that of a fête, and the subdued tints are, or seem to be, a mere coquetry of winter which has set itself to paint something without sunshine, and yet to charm the spectator.
9th February 1880. — Life rushes on so much the worse for the weak and the stragglers.
as a man's tendo Achillis gives way he finds himself trampled under foot by the young, the eager, the voracious. • Vae victis, vae debilibus !' yells the crowd, which in its turn is storming the goods of this world. Every man is always in some other man's way, since, however small he may make himself, he still occupies some space, and however little he may envy or possess, he is still sure to be envied and his goods coveted by some one else. Mean world ! — peopled by a mean race! To console ourselves we must think of the exceptions - of the noble and generous souls. There are such. What do the rest matter ! — The traveller crossing the desert feels himself surrounded by creatures thirsting for his blood; by day vultures fly about his head; by night scorpions creep into his tent, jackals prowl around his camp-fire, mosquitoes prick and torture him with their greedy sting; everywhere menace, enmity, ferocity. But far beyond the horizon, and the barren sands peopled by these hostile hordes, the wayfarer pictures to himself a few loved faces and kind looks, a few true hearts which follow him in their dreams and smiles. When all is said, indeed, we defend ourselves a greater or lesser number of years, but we are always conquered and devoured in the end ; there is no escaping the grave and its worm.