« PreviousContinue »
read a series of scientific books (Bronn on the Laws of Palæontology, Karl Ritter on the Law of Geographical Forms). Are they the cause of this depression ? or is it the majesty of this immense landscape, the splendour of this setting sun, which brings the tears to my eyes ?
Créature d'un jour qui t'agites une heure,' what weighs upon thee — I know it wellis the sense of thine utter nothingness !... The names of great men hover before my eyes like a secret reproach, and this grand impassive nature tells me that to-morrow I shall have disappeared, butterfly that I am, without having lived. Or perhaps it is the breath of eternal things which stirs in me the shudder of Job. What is man - this weed which a sunbeam withers? What is our life in the infinite abyss ? I feel a sort of sacred terror, not only for myself, but for my race, for all that is mortal. Like Buddha, I feel the great wheel turning, the wheel of universal illusion, - and the dumb stupor which enwraps me is full of anguish. Isis lifts the corner of her veil, and he who perceives the great mystery beneath is struck with giddiness. I can scarcely breathe. It seems to me that I am hanging by a thread above the fathomless abyss of destiny. Is this the Infinite face to face, an intuition of the last great death ?
•Créature d'un jour qui t'agites une heure, Ton âme est immortelle et tes pleurs vont
Finir ? When depths of ineffable desire are opening in the heart, as vast, as yawning as the immensity which surrounds us ? Genius, self-devotion, love, — all these cravSings quicken into life and torture me at
Like the shipwrecked sailor about to sink under the waves, I am conscious of a mad clinging to life, and at the same time of a rush of despair and repentance, which forces from me a cry for pardon. And then all this hidden agony dissolves in wearied submission. “Resign yourself to the inevitable ! Shroud away out of sight the flattering delusions of youth! Live and die in the shade! Like the insects humming in the darkness, offer up your evening prayer. Be content to fade out of life without a murmur whenever the Master of life shall breathe upon your tiny flame! It is out of myriads of unknown lives that every clod of earth is built up. The infusoria do not count until they are millions upon millions. Accept your nothingness.' Amen!
But there is no peace except in order, in law. Am I in order ? Alas, no ! My changeable and restless nature will torment me to the end. I shall never see plainly what I ought to do. The love of the better will have stood between me and the good. Yearning for the ideal will have lost me reality. Vague aspiration and undefined desire will have been enough to make my talents useless, and to neutralise my powo ers. Unproductive nature that I am, tortured by the belief that production was required of me, may not my very remorse be a mistake and a superfluity ?
Scherer's phrase comes back to me, “We must accept ourselves as we are.'
8th September 1870 (Zurich). — All the exiles are returning to Paris — Edgar Quinet, Louis Blanc, Victor Hugo. By the help of their united experience will they succeed in maintaining the Republic ? It is to be hoped so. But the past makes it lawful to doubt. While the Republic is in reality a fruit, the French look upon it as a seed-sowing. Elsewhere such a form
of government presupposes free men; in France it is and must be an instrument of instruction and protection. France has once more placed sovereignty in the hands of universal suffrage, as though the multitude were already enlightened, judicious, and reasonable, and now her task is to train and discipline the rce which, by a fiction, is master.
The ambition of France is set upon selfgovernment, but her capacity for it has still to be proved. For eighty years she has confounded revolution with liberty ; will she now give proof of amendment and of wisdom ? Such a change is not impossible. Let us wait for it with sympathy, but also with caution.
12th September 1870 (Basle). - The old Rhine is murmuring under my window. The wide gray stream rolls its great waves along and breaks against the arches of the bridge, just as it did ten years or twenty years ago; the red cathedral shoots its arrow-like spires towards heaven; the ivy on the terraces which fringe the left bank of the Rhine hangs over the walls like a green mantle; the indefatigable ferry-boat goes and comes as it did of yore; in a word, things seem to be eternal, while man's hair turns gray and his heart grows old. I came here first as a student, then as a professor. Now I return to it at the downward turn of middle age, and nothing in the landscape has changed except myself.
The melancholy of memory may be commonplace and puerile, — all the same it is true, it is inexhaustible, and the poets of all times have been open to its attacks.
At bottom, what is individual life ? A variation of an eternal theme - to be born, to live, to feel, to hope, to love, to suffer, to weep, to die. Some would add to these, to grow rich, to think, to conquer; but in fact, whatever frantic efforts one may make, however one may strain and excite oneself, one can but cause a greater or slighter undulation in the line of one's destiny. Supposing a man renders the series of fundamental phenomena a little more evident to others or a little more distinct to himself, what does it matter? The whole is still nothing but a fluttering of the infinitely little, the insignificant repetition of an invariable theme. In truth, whether the individual exists or no, the difference is so absolutely imperceptible in the whole of things that every complaint and every de