Page images

not been a familiar one to me. I have endeavoured to give conscientious lectures, and I have discharged all the subsidiary duties of my post to the best of my ability ; but I have never been able to bend myself to a struggle with hostile opinion, for all the while my heart has been full of sadness and disappointment, and I have known and felt that I have been systematically and deliberately isolated. Premature despair and the deepest discouragement have been my constant portion. Incapable of taking any interest in my talents for my own sake, I let everything slip as soon as the hope of being loved for them and by them had forsaken me. A hermit against my will,

I have not even found peace in solitude, because my inmost conscience has not been any better satisfied than my heart.

Does not all this make up a melancholy lot, a barren failure of a life ?

What use have I made of my gifts, of my special circumstances, of my half-century of exist

What have I paid back to my country ? Are all the documents I have produced, taken together, my correspondence, these thousands of journal pages, my lectures, my articles, my poems, my notes of different kinds, anything better than

ence ?

withered leaves ? To whom and to what have I been useful ? Will my name survive me a single day, and will it ever mean anything to anybody ? A life of no account ! A great many comings and goings, a great many scrawls, - for nothing. When all is added up, — nothing! And worst of all, it has not been a life used up in the service of some adored object, or sacrificed to any future hope. Its sufferings will have been vain, its renunciations useless, its sacrifices gratuitous, its dreariness without reward. ... No, I am wrong; it will have had its secret treasure, its sweetness, its reward. It will have inspired a few affections of great price; it will have given joy to a few souls ; its hidden existence will have had some value. Besides, if in itself it has been nothing, it has understood much. If it has not been in harmony with the great order, still it has loved it. If it has missed happiness and duty, it has at least felt its own nothingness, and implored its pardon.

Later on. — There is a great affinity in me with the Hindoo genius — that mind, vast, imaginative, loving, dreamy, and speculative, but destitute of ambition, personality, and will. Pantheistic disinterestedness, the effacement of the self in the great whole, womanish gentleness, a horror of slaughter, antipathy to action,

- these are all present in my nature, in the nature at least which has been developed by years and circumstances. Still the West has also had its part in me.- - What I have found difficult is to keep up a prejudice in favour of any form, nationality, or individuality whatever. Hence my indifference to my own person, my own usefulness, interest, or opinions of the moment. What does it all matter? Omnis determinatio est negatio. Grief localises us, love particularises us, but thought delivers us from personality. ... To be a man is a poor thing, to be a man is well ; to be the man — man in essence and in principle — that alone is to be desired.

Yes, but in these Brahmanic aspirations what becomes of the subordination of the individual to duty ? Pleasure may lie in ceasing to be individual, but duty lies in performing the microscopic task allotted to us. The problem set before us is to bring our daily task into the temple of contemplation and ply it there, to act as in the presence of God, to interfuse one's little part with

religion. So only can we inform the detail of life, all that is passing, temporary, and insignificant, with beauty and nobility. So may we dignify and consecrate the meanest of occupations. So may we feel that we are paying our tribute to the universal work and the eternal will. So are we reconciled with life and delivered from the fear of death. So are we in order and at peace.

1st September 1875. — I have been working for some hours at my article on Mme. de Staël, but with what labour, what painful effort! When I write for publication every word is misery, and my pen stumbles at every line, so anxious am I to find the ideally best expression, and so great is the number of possibilities which open before me at every step.

Composition demands a concentration, decision, and pliancy which I no longer pos

I cannot fuse together materials and ideas. If we are to give anything a form, we must, so to speak, be the tyrants of it.16 We must treat our subject brutally, and not be always trembling lest we are doing it a wrong. We must be able to transmute and absorb it into our own substance. This sort of confident effrontery is beyond me: my whole nature tends to that impersonality which respects and subordinates itself to the object; it is love of truth which holds me back from concluding and deciding. — And then I am always retracing my steps : instead of going forwards I work in a circle : I am afraid of having forgotten a point, of having exaggerated an expression, of having used a word out of place, while all the time I ought to have been thinking of essentials and aiming at breadth of treatment. I do not know how to sacrifice anything, how to give up anything whatever. Hurtful timidity, unprofitable conscientiousness, fatal slavery to detail !


In reality I have never given much thought to the art of writing, to the best way of making an article, an essay, a book, nor have I ever methodically undergone the writer's apprenticeship ; it would have been useful to me, and I was always ashamed of what was useful. I have felt, as it were, a scruple against trying to surprise the secret of the masters of literature, against picking chef-d'ouvres to pieces. When I think that I have always postponed the serious study of the art of writing, from a sort of awe it, and a secret love of its

« PreviousContinue »