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humanity as it was, and did not intimate that it could be altered in any other than a moral way. La Bruyère brings this view to an end, and begins another. The passive contemplation of man ceases in the Caractères, and the active commences. The intellectual, moral or spiritual conception of the great subject yields to the social. Unlike his predecessors in the field, La Bruyère had felt the inequalities of rank and wealth. He was not content to rest under the established social conditions, and he uses his study of man to give relief to his sufferings as an individual. Of course sparingly. It would not have been prudent, under Louis XIV, to attack the existing order of things. Yet we find that in this passage La Bruyère expresses indignation at the precedence of birth over brains (“ Des Grands,” No. 3, page 234); in the other he cries out against a government which sacrifices the many to the few (« Des Biens de Fortune,” No. 26, page 223), while a glimpse of the privations which were to culminate in the ferocity of the French Revolution is afforded by his well-known picture of the peasants of France (“ De l'Homme,” No. 128, page 243). In such outspoken lines as these there is no direct appeal to altruistic sentiments. La Bruyère does not suggest that the social fabric is faulty. He merely calls attention to certain hardships which its construction and continuance involves. But his words are sufficient to show that another standpoint of looking at man had been reached. To call attention to the sufferings which arise from certain conditions is to lead to the suggestion that the sufferings may be remedied by changing those conditions. The study of man, as conceived by the eighteenth century, will be directed to this end. The Caractères mark the place where the old merges into the new. And the new is mainly concerned with man's happiness on earth. It has no desire for a Pascal or a Bossuet.
The style of the Caractères testifies to the presence of these new ideas. Their sentences are of a different construction from those we have studied. They often lack that easy progression from subject to predicate. They object to syntactical simplicity. The artifice of the builder is quite frequently evident. He tries every method, for the purpose of varying his expression. Inversion, apostrophe, exclamation, interrogation, are called upon. Oratorical and conversational styles are employed. The words are unexpectedly juxtaposed, surprising comparisons are made, while the periods frequently end with a paradox or witticism. This manner is the rule, but instances of the harmonious classical phrase are not wanting. Voltaire has well expressed La Bruyère's composition : “Un style rapide, concis, nerveux, des expressions pittoresques ; un usage tout nouveau de la langue, mais qui n'en blesse pas les règles ” (Siècle de Louis XIV, c. 32).