1. Some people cannot afford nobility.
There are some who, if they had been granted six months' respite by their creditors, would be noblemen.
Certain others go to bed commoners and wake up noblemen.
We see plenty of noblemen whose fathers and elder brothers are commoners!
2. One man will disown his father, who is well known as a clerk or a tradesman, and fall back on his grandfather, long dead, who is unknown and thus beyond reproach; he can boast a large income, an important function, fine marriage connexions: all he needs for nobility is to be entitled to it.
3. Rehabilitation, a word current in the law courts, has made the familiar French term letters-patent of nobility seem old-fashioned and barbarous; to get oneself rehabilitated implies that a man who has grown rich was of noble origin, and that he has more than a moral right to nobility; that his father may indeed have lost caste either by wielding the plough or the hoe, or by carrying a pedlar's pack, or by wearing livery; but that for him, it's merely a matter of recovering the original rights of his ancestors and bearing the arms of his house, arms which, in fact, he has invented and which are quite different from those on his pewter plate; that in a word, letters-patent of nobility are no longer what befits him, since they serve only to honour the commoner, namely the man who is still trying to find out how to get rich.
4. An uneducated person, by dint of asserting that he has seen a prodigy, deludes himself that he has seen a prodigy. The man who persists in concealing his age ends by believing himself to be as young as he pretends to others that he is. In the same way, the commoner who habitually claims as his ancestor some ancient baron or knight, from whom in fact he is not descended, has the pleasure of believing that he is.
5. What commoner, once he has successfully made his way, is without his coat of arms, and one moreover that includes pieces of the first order, with supporters, a crest, a device, and possibly a motto? What has become of the old distinction between different sorts of helm? The name and use of these have been abolished; there's no question of displaying them full face or side face, open or closed, with a greater or lesser number of bars; such minutiae are unwelcome, and it's simpler to adopt a coronet without more ado; one fancies oneself entitled to this, and one assumes it by right. The better sort of bourgeois still retain a certain modesty which prevents them from flaunting a marquis's coronet, a count's is good enough; some don't even look far afield for their crest, but transfer their shop-sign to their carriage.
6. A man only needs to have been born not in a town, but in a thatched cottage buried in the country, or a ruined manor-house standing in a bog, to declare himself a nobleman, and to be believed.
7. A worthy gentleman wants to pass for a minor nobleman, and he succeeds. A great noble longs for a princedom; and he goes about it so carefully, that by dint of impressive names, arguments about rank and precedence, new coats of arms and a genealogy that was not provided by Hozier, he finally becomes a minor prince.
8. Great nobles model themselves in every respect on those who are greater still, and these, for their part, in order to have nothing in common with their inferiors, willingly renounce all the conventional formulae of honour and distinction with which people of their rank are encumbered, and prefer a freer and easier way of life to such bondage. Those who follow in their footsteps have begun to emulate this simplicity and modesty: so they will all be reduced, out of pride, to living naturally, like the common people. What a terrible state of affairs!
9. Some people bear three names, for fear of lacking one: they have one name in the country, another in the town, and a third in the place where they are employed. Others have a single dissyllabic name, which they ennoble with a de as soon as their fortune improves. One man, by suppressing a syllable, turns his own name, which is an obscure one, into an illustrious name; another, by changing one letter into another, disguises himself, and instead of Syrus becomes Cyrus. Many men drop their own names, which they need not have been ashamed to bear, and adopt finer ones, which inevitably puts them at a disadvantage by suggesting a comparison with the great men who bore those names of old. There are others, finally, who, born in the shadow of the steeples of Paris, make themselves out to be Flemings, or Italians, as though foreigners could not be commoners, and add a foreign ending to their French names, believing that remoteness implies distinction .
10. Lack of money has reconciled the aristocracy with the common people, and has done away with the heraldic proofs of nobility.
11. How many children would gain by a law deciding that rank was inherited through the mother's side! but how many others would lose by it!
12. There are few families in the world which are not connected with the greatest princes at one end and the common people at the other.
13. There's nothing to be lost by being noble: every sort of franchise, immunity, exemption and privilege belong to those who bear a title. Did you think it was for the sake of belonging to the nobility that certain recluses have got themselves ennobled? They are not so vain; it's for the profit they gain from it. Surely it becomes them better than entering the salt-tax administration? I don't mean as individuals, their vows would prevent that, but even as a community.
14. I declare openly, so that men may be prepared for it and nobody will be taken by surprise: if it should ever happen that some great noble may think me worthy of his attentions, if I should ever make a fine fortune, there was once a certain Geoffroy de la Bruyère, whom all the chronicles include among the greatest of the French nobles who followed Godefroy de Bouillon in his conquest of the Holy Land: in such a case, it's from him that I shall be directly descended.
15. If nobility implies virtue, any lapse from virtue destroys it; if it does not imply virtue, it is of little account.
16. Some things are strange and incomprehensible when considered in relation to their origin. It is difficult, in fact, to realize that certain abbes, who have their full share of the love of finery, self-indulgence and vanity of both sexes and divers social conditions, who are as assiduous in pursuit of women as the marquis and the financier, and eclipse both of these, were originally, and according to the etymology of their title, the fathers and leaders of holy monks and humble recluses, to whom they ought to set an example. Such is the power, the sway, the tyranny of custom! And, not to mention even more shocking improprieties, may we not expect to see some day a young abbe wearing grey figured velvet like any cardinal, or rouge and patches like a lady of fashion?
17. The Palazzo Farnese bears witness to the fact that the indecent figures of the pagan gods, Venus, Ganymede and Carraccio's other nudes were painted for princes of the Church, who claim to be successors to the Apostles.
18. Beautiful things lose some of their beauty when out of place; propriety gives them perfection, and reason lays down the rules of propriety. Thus we do not want to hear a jig in chapel, nor a sermon declaimed in theatrical tones; we do not expect to see profane images in a church, the Judgement of Paris, for instance, in the same sanctuary as the figure of Christ; nor yet persons dedicated to religion dressed and equipped like cavaliers.
19. Shall I say what I think of those services that society admires, where the decoration is too often profane, where places are reserved and paid for, and the book of the words sold as in a theatre, where interviews and assignations are frequent and the buzz of talk is deafening; where someone climbs on to a rostrum and speaks in a curt, informal way, without more religious ardour than is needed to keep people together and entertain them until it's time to hear an orchestra and a long-rehearsed chorus? Is it for me to declare my burning zeal for the Lord's house, and draw the veil over the holy of holies, in whose presence these improprieties take place? What, because there's no dancing yet at the TT—'s ceremony, must I call this theatrical business a Church service?
20. We see no one making vows, or going on a pilgrimage, in the hope that some saint will grant him a gentler spirit and a more grateful heart, will make him juster and less unkind, will cure him" of vanity, dissatisfaction or a spiteful tongue.
21. Can any stranger sight be imagined than that of a crowd of Christians of both sexes forgathering on certain days in a public hall to be entertained by a band of people who have been excommuni-cated solely on account of the pleasure they give them, and which has been paid for in advance? It seems to me that we ought either to close the theatres or to pass a less harsh judgement on the acting profession.
22. On so-called holy days a monk hears confession, while the parish priest in his pulpit inveighs against the monk and his partisans; a pious woman leaves the communion table, and is then told in a sermon that she has just committed a sacrilege. Is there no authority in the Church that can either make the preacher hold his peace, or suspend for a while the power of the Barnabites?
23. The charge is higher in a parish church for a marriage than for a christening, and higher for a christening than for confession; there seems to be a scale of charges for the various sacraments, on which a price is thus set. This custom means very little; those who take money for the things of the spirit do not think they are selling them, and those who give money have no intention of buying them; but simple people, and those who are not pious, might well be spared such a wrong impression.
24. A hale and hearty parish priest, in a fine linen surplice trimmed with Venetian lace, sits in the front bench beside Councillors and Doctors of Divinity, digesting his dinner, while some Bernardine or Franciscan monk, who has left the cell and the seclusion to which his vows and the rules of propriety should confine him, preaches to him and his flock, and is paid for his sermon as for a piece of cloth. You interrupt me to say:
'What a strange and unexpected censure! do you want to deprive this pastor and his flock of God's word and the bread of the Gospel?'
On the contrary, I should like that priest to distribute it himself, morning and night, in churches, in houses, in the streets, on the roof tops, and I should like no one to profess so great and so demanding an office unless he had the will, the talent and the lung-power to earn the generous gifts and rich remuneration belonging to it. I am obliged, it's true, to excuse such behaviour in a parish priest on account of an established custom which he has inherited, and which he will pass on to his successor; but this bizarre, baseless and irrational custom is what I cannot approve of, and I dislike it even more than the custom of paying the priest four times over for the same funeral service: for himself, for his dues, for his presence and for his assistance.
25. Titus, after twenty years of service in a secondary post, is not yet deemed worthy of a principal one, which has fallen vacant: neither his talents, nor his learning, nor an exemplary life, nor the wishes of his parishioners can secure it for him. Another ecclesiastic emerges from somewhere underground to fill it. Titus is passed by, or dismissed: he does not complain; it's the custom.
26. 'I direct the choir,' says the precentor, 'who can force me to go to matins? my predecessor never went: am I lower than he? am I to let the dignity of my office be debased, or to maintain it as it was handed down to me?'
'It's not my own interest that guides me,' says the prebendary, 'but that of the prebend; it would be very hard if a major Canon had to sing in the choir while the Keeper of the Treasure, the Archdeacon, the Penitentiary and the Grand Vicar all consider themselves exempt from this duty.'
'I have every right,' says the Dean, 'to claim remuneration without being present at the service; for the past twenty years I've enjoyed my sleep at nights; I want to end as I have begun, and I am not going to renounce my rights; what advantage would I gain from being the Head of the Chapter? my example makes no difference.'
So they vie with one another in their reluctance to praise God, and in proving by old-established custom that they are not obliged to do so: competition not to attend divine service could scarcely be keener nor more zealous. The bells ring out in the quiet night; and their melody, which awakens cantors and choristers, lulls the canons to sleep, immerses them in an easy, gentle slumber that brings them only pleasant dreams; they rise late, and go to church to get paid for having slept.
27. Could we imagine, if we did not see it with our own eyes, how hard men find it to accept felicity of their own free will, and how they need people dressed in a certain habit, who by means of a set speech, full of tenderness and pathos, with certain inflexions of the voice, with tears, and with gestures which leave them sweating and exhausted, finally succeed in persuading a rational man and a Christian, whose illness is beyond cure, to escape perdition and to save his soul?
28. Aristippus's daughter is dangerously sick; she sends a message to her father, seeking to be reconciled with him and to die in his good graces. Will this man, whose wisdom is such that the whole town consults him, take so reasonable a step of his own accord? will he persuade his wife to do so? or will it require the intervention of a spiritual director to lever them both into action?
29. A mother who, far from resignedly yielding to her daughter's vocation, actually forces her to become a nun, is taking on the responsibility for another soul as well as her own; she will be answerable for it to God himself, and must stand surety for it. In order that such a mother's soul should not be lost, the daughter must save her own.
30. A man ruins himself at play; none the less he marries the elder of his two daughters with what he has been able to salvage from the hands of a ruffian; the younger is about to take vows, her only vocation being her father's passion for gambling.
31. There have been girls endowed with virtue, health, religious zeal and a sound vocation, but not wealth enough to take vows of poverty in a wealthy nunnery.
32. That woman who debates whether to enter an Abbey or a simple convent is raising the old question of democracy versus despotism.
33. You'll be acting like a lovesick fool if you marry Melita, who is young, beautiful, virtuous, thrifty, attractive, who loves you, but who is not so rich as Aegina, whom the matchmakers offer you, and who will bring you a considerable dowry, together with a considerable capacity for squandering it and all your capital into the bargain.
34. Getting married used to be a critical affair; it was a lasting arrangement, a serious business and one which deserved forethought; a man would remain all his life long his wife's husband, be she good or bad; they would share one table, one home, one bed; he could not get rid of her with a pension; nor, once saddled with children and household, could he enjoy the appearances and pleasures of a bachelor existence.
35. To avoid being seen alone with a woman who is not one's wife shows a commendable discretion: to feel some embarrassment at being seen in society with people of dubious reputation is not incomprehensible. But what false shame can make a man blush for his own wife, and prevent him from appearing in public with the woman he has chosen for his inseparable partner, who should provide his entire happiness, delight and companionship, the woman whom he loves and respects, who is an ornament to him, whose mind, merit, virtue and connexions do him honour? Is he ashamed of being married?
I know the force of custom, and the extent to which it governs men's minds and compels their behaviour, even where there is least reason and foundation; I feel nevertheless that I should be brazen enough to walk along the Cours and run the gauntlet of men's eyes with one who was my wife.
36. It is not wrong or shameful for a young man to marry an elderly woman; it is sometimes a wise precaution. The shameful thing is to cheat one's benefactress by unkindness, which shows her that she is the victim of hypocrisy or ingratitude. If pretence is ever excusable, it is so where affection must be simulated; if deceit is ever permissible, it is in a case where sincerity would be cruel. 'But she goes on living so long.' Did you stipulate that she must die after having signed the contract that made your fortune and settled your debts? Was there nothing left for her, after this great achievement, but to take opium or hemlock? Is it wrong of her to go on living? And if you should die yourself before the person whose obsequies you had already planned, complete with a full peal of bells and the finest funeral ornaments, is she responsible for that?
37. There has long been current in society a way of increasing one's wealth which is still practised by respectable people and condemned by learned theologians.
38. There have always been in the State certain charges which seem to have been originally invented solely to enrich one person at the expense of many, and which swallow up the fortune of private individuals unendingly and without interruption. Dare I assert that it is never recovered, or recovered only belatedly? This is a yawning abyss, a sea that swallows up rivers and never gives their waters back; or if it does so, it is through secret underground channels, with no visible sign, and no lessening of its own inflated bulk; and only after it has enjoyed them for a long time and can no longer contain them.
39. Money invested in a life annuity used to be safe, sacred and inviolable; with the passage of time, and through the good offices of those responsible, it has become money wasted. What other secret method can I find to double my income and pile up wealth? Shall I become a tax-collector in the huitième denier or in the aides? shall I be a miser, a partisan, or an administrator?
40. You have one silver coin, or even a gold one; that's not enough, it's the number that counts: collect a great pyramid-shaped pile of them if you can, and I'll see to the rest. You have no birth, no wit, no talent, no experience, what does that matter? so long as you don't let your heap dwindle, I will place you so high that you shall keep your hat on in your master's presence, if you have one; and he'll have to be someone very eminent if, thanks to your precious metal which multiplies from day to day, I don't arrange things so that he will take off his hat to you.
41. Orante has been pleading her cause for the past ten years, before two separate tribunals; it is a just cause, the matter is of capital importance and involves her whole fortune; she may perhaps learn in another five years who are to be her judges, and before which tribunal she is to plead for the rest of her life.
42. There has been much praise for the custom, recently introduced into tribunals, of interrupting a counsel in the middle of his speech, restraining his eloquence and wit, and bringing him back to the facts, and the plain evidence that proves his case and justifies his clients; and this strict practice, which leaves orators regretting the omission of the finest passages in their speeches, which banishes eloquence from the only place where it is suitable, mid is likely to reduce our High Court to silent jurisdiction, is authorized by a sound and unanswerable reason, namely expeditiousness: one could merely wish that this aim were not so totally disregarded on all other occasions, that it might be the rule in lawyers' offices as well as at public hearings, and that litigation on paper should be cut short, as well as lawyers' speeches.
43. The duty of judges is to dispense justice; their profession is to delay it. Some of them know their duty, and practise their profession.
44. A man who solicits his judge does him no honour; for either he mistrusts his intelligence and even his integrity, or he tries to influence him, or he incites him to injustice.
45. There are certain judges who are prejudiced against a good cause when favour, authority, the rights of friendship and family connexions are used to press its claims; through their extreme desire to be held incorruptible, they run the risk of being unjust.
46. A magistrate who is a fop or a ladies' man is more liable to corruption than one who is dissolute; the latter hides his affairs and his liaisons, and one often does not know how to approach him; the former is vulnerable through countless weak points which are well known, and can be got at through all the women whom he seeks to please.
47. Religion and the Law are nearly on an equal footing in the State today, and the magistracy is almost as holy a profession as the priesthood. A man of law cannot dance at a ball, show himself at the play, or give up a plain and modest way of dress without deliberately degrading himself; and it is strange that it needed a law to determine his outward appearance, and thus constrain him to be grave and to earn greater respect.
I dare almost assert: 'I shall never be a thief or a murderer.' It would be very rash to say: 'I shall never be punished for such crimes.'
Dreadful indeed is the position of an innocent man, found guilty of a crime through hasty judgement and formal procedure; can that of his judge be even more dreadful?
Paragraphs 48 to 52 were missing from this 1970 translation so were added from another translation.
48. There exists no profession in which an apprenticeship is not necessary ; and in considering the various stations of men, it is manifest that, from the highest to the lowest, some time has been allowed to every person for qualifying himself by practice and experience for his profession, when his errors have been of no importance, but, on the contrary, led to perfection. War itself, which seems to owe its origin to confusion and disorder, and to be fostered by them, has its own rules; people do not destroy one another in the open field, in platoons, and in bands, without having been taught it, for killing is practised methodically. There is a school for military men; then why should magistrates not have one? There are established practices, laws, and customs, but no time is allowed, or at least not sufficient time, for digesting and studying them. The first attempt and apprenticeship of a youth who, fresh from school, dons red garments, and has been made a judge on account of his money, is to decide arbitrarily of the lives and fortunes of men.
49. The chief qualification of an orator is probity; without it he is no more than a declaimer, and disguises or exaggerates matters of fact, makes use of falsified quotations, slanders, adopts all the injustice and malice of his client, and may be ranked among those advocates of whom the proverb says, "that they are hired to insult people."
50. I have heard it said: "It is true I owe a certain sum to such and such a person, and his claim is indisputable ; but I wait to see if he will execute a small matter of form, and if he omits it, he can never retrieve his error; consequently he will then lose his debt, and his claim will be undoubtedly superseded. Now, he is pretty sure to forget it!" The man who utters such words has a real pettifogger's conscience.
An excellent, useful, sensible, wise, and just maxim for all courts of judicature would be the reverse of that which prefers form to equity.
51. Torture is an admirable invention, and infallibly destroys an innocent man who has a weak constitution, whilst it saves a guilty man who is hardy.
52. The punishment of a villain is an example for his fellows; in the condemnation of an innocent man all honest men are concerned.
Speaking of myself, I would almost affirm never to become a thief or murderer, but I would not be so bold as to infer that I might never be punished as such.
Deplorable is the condition of an innocent person whose trial has been hurried, and who is found guilty. Can even that of his judge be more lamentable?
53. If I were told that there was once a Provost, or one of those magistrates specially appointed to pursue thieves and put an end to them, who had known them all by name and by face for a long time, was acquainted with the kind, number and quantity of their thefts, and had gone so deeply into all these matters, was so fully initiated into these dreadful mysteries, that he was able to return to a respectable gentleman a jewel which had been taken from him as he left some gathering, and about which he was about to create a scandal, and that the High Court intervened in the affair and indicted this officer; I should consider this story as one of those things that are recorded in history, but which in course of time lose their credibility: how could I accept the evidence of recent facts, well known and circumstantiated, that so pernicious a form of connivance still goes on, even that it is practised as a game and has become an established custom?
54. How many men we find who are strong towards the weak, firm and inflexible against the pleas of simple people, devoid of consideration for the lowly, rigorous and severe in minutiae, who refuse small gifts, who will not be moved by their kindred or friends, and whom women, alone, can corrupt!
55. It is not absolutely impossible that a person who enjoys high favour should lose a lawsuit.
56. Dying men, who speak their last words in their wills, can expect to be listened to like oracles; everyone turns these words to his own advantage and interprets them in his own way, according to his own desires or interests.
57. There are some men, indeed, for whom death does not so much determine their last wishes, as put an end to their lifelong irresolution and instability. A fit of pique, while they lived, made them write their will; when they recovered, they tore up the document and consigned it to the flames. They have as many wills in their desk as almanacs on their table; they reckon them by years. A second is cancelled by a third, which is itself annulled by another more carefully drawn up, and that again by a fifth, a holograph. But if opportunity, or spite, or authority is lacking to the man in whose interest it is to suppress such a will, he must put up with its clauses and conditions: for can one be better cognizant of the intentions of even the most inconstant of men than through a last act, signed with his own hand, and after which he lacked time, at any rate, to will the exact opposite?
58. If there were no wills to determine the rights of heirs, I don't know whether we should need tribunals to settle the disputes between men: judges would almost be reduced to the gloomy function of sending robbers and incendiaries to the gallows. Who do we see in the private galleries or in the well of the court, at the doors or inside the magistrate's office? the claimants to an intestate's property? No, for the laws have provided for their share. We see there the heirs under a will, disputing the meaning of some clause or article, we see disinherited persons, and those who contest a will made deliberately, after due reflection, by a serious, intelligent and conscientious man, with the aid of a good counsellor, an act in which the lawyer has omitted nothing of his usual jargon and subtlety, which has been signed by the testator and by public witnesses, with all the necessary flourishes: and it is under these circumstances that it is set aside and declared null and void.
59. Titius is present at the reading of a will, his eyes red from weeping, bitterly distressed at the loss of one whose estate he hopes to inherit. One clause bequeaths him the function, another the income from city property, a third makes him master of a country estate; there is a clause, which, properly interpreted, provides him with a house in the middle of Paris, just as it stands, fully furnished; his grief increases, the tears pour from his eyes. How can he restrain them? He sees himself an official, with a town house and a country house, and the furniture in both; he sees himself enjoying good fare and riding in his own carriage: Was there ever a more worthy man than the deceased, a better fellow? There is a codicil, which has to be read: it makes Maevius sole legatee, and sends Titius back to his suburb, without an income or a position, and on foot. He wipes away his tears: let Maevius mourn.
60. Does not the law that forbids us to kill our fellows include in this prohibition the sword, poison, fire, water, ambush, open violence, in short all the means that may be used for murder? And does the law which deprives husbands and wives of the right to make gifts or bequests to one another recognize only the direct and immediate ways of doing so? has it failed to consider indirect means? does it allow, or even tolerate, trusteeship? When a beloved wife survives a man, does he bequeath his wealth to a faithful friend out of a feeling of gratitude towards him, or rather because he trusts him completely and is confident that he will make a right use of what is bequeathed to him? Would he leave it to a man whom he might suspect of not transmitting it to the person to whom, in fact, he wishes to leave it? Are discussions and letters needed, must an agreement and solemn promises be made, to establish this collusion? Surely men feel, under these circumstances, what they can expect from one another? And if on the contrary the possession of such property should devolve on the trustee, why does he lose his reputation if he retains it? Why is such conduct a theme for satire and lampoon? Should he be compared to a depositary who betrays what has been entrusted to him, a servant who steals the money he is carrying on his master's behalf? This would be quite wrong: is there any shame in failing to do a generous act, and in keeping for oneself what is one's own? What a painful embarrassment, what a shocking burden a trust can prove! If, out of reverence for the laws, one appropriates one's heritage, one is no longer considered an upright man; if, out of respect for one's dead friend, one carries out his intentions by restoring it to his widow, one offends the law. - So the law conflicts with men's opinions? That may be so; and it is not for me to say here: 'The law is wrong,' or: 'Men are mistaken.'
61. I hear it said of certain individuals or societies:
'They are quarrelling, over precedence: the High Court Presidents and the Peers each seek to take first place.'
It seems to me that of the two contestants, that body which refuses to attend assemblies is the weaker party, and by its consciousness of its own weakness passes judgement in favour of its rival.
62. Typho provides a great noble with dogs and horses, indeed with everything one can think of. Thus protected, he grows daring; in his own province, he can be what he pleases with impunity, a murderer, a perjurer; he can burn down the neighbourhood, and has no need of asylum. The monarch himself must at last see to his punishment.
63. Ragoûts, liqueurs, entrées, entremets, all such words should be outlandish and unintelligible in our language; and if it is true that they should not be used even in time of peace, when they serve only to promote luxury and greed, how can they be understood in time of war and national distress, in sight of the enemy, on the eve of battle, during a siege? Where is there any mention of Scipio's or Marius' good fare? Have I read anywhere that Miltiades, Epaminondas or Agesilas were fastidious eaters? I wish there might be no reference to the luxury, elegance and sumptuous living of our generals until there was nothing else to be said about them, and all the details of battle won and towns captured were exhausted; I would prefer, indeed, that they should choose to do without such praise.
64. Hermippus is the slave of what he calls his little comforts; to these he sacrifices established custom, fashion and propriety. He cultivates them in ever), sphere, he gives up a lesser comfort for a greater, he neglects none of those that are within his reach, he studies the question and not a day passes without his making some discovery in this field. Other men may eat dinner and supper, he will scarcely even acknowledge these terms; he eats when he is hungry, and only such dishes as he feels inclined for.
He watches his bed being made: who is deft-handed or lucky enough to enable him to sleep as he likes to sleep? He seldom leaves home; he likes his own room, where he is neither idle nor industrious, where he does nothing in particular but potters about, dressed like an invalid. We are slavishly dependent on locksmiths and carpenters when we need things done; but Hermippus has a file, if there's filing to be done; a saw, if there's sawing to be done; and pincers, if there's something to be pulled out. You can hardly imagine any tools that he hasn't got, better and more convenient tools than those the workmen use: he has new, unknown ones, which have no name, inven tions of his own, and the purpose of which he has almost forgotten. Nobody can equal him at performing quickly and with case a perfectly useless task. He formerly took ten steps to go from his bed to his closet; now he takes only mile, thanks to the way he has rearranged his room: what a vast number of steps saved in the course of a lifetime! Other people have to turn a key, push or pull, and the door opens: how wearisome ! he knows how to spare himself such unnecessary movements; but how? that's a mystery he will not reveal. Truly-, he's a great adept at mechanical devices, at any rate of the sort other people do without. The daylight, in Hermippus' house, does not come in through the window; he has found out the secret of going up and down without using the stairs, and is now wondering how to go in and out more conveniently than through the door.
65. We have been criticizing doctors for a long time, and we go on using them; comedy and satire do not affect their income; they give their daughters dowries, their soils become judges and bishops, and the mockers themselves provide the money. Healthy men fall ill; they need people whose profession it is to assure them that they won't die. As long as men are liable to die, and love life, doctors will be satirized and well paid.
66. A good doctor is one who has specific remedies, or if he lacks these, allows those who have them to cure his patient.
67. The temerity of quacks, and the deplorable results that ensue from it, make one appreciate medicine and its practitioners: they merely let you die, whereas quacks kill you.
68. Carro Carri lands in our country with a prescription which he calls a swift remedy, and which sometimes proves a slow poison; it is a family secret which he himself has improved: once a specific against colic, it now cures the quartain fever, pleurisy, dropsy, apoplexy and epilepsy. Search your memory, name some disease, the first that comes to your mind: did you mention a haemorrhage? this remedy can cure that. It cannot resurrect anyone, it's true, it does not restore men to life; but it inevitably brings them to decrepitude, and if Carri's father and grandfather, who knew this secret, died very young, that was a pure accident. Doctors accept what fee you offer them for their visits, some are content with your thanks; Carro Carri is so sure of his remedy and of the effect it must produce that he has no hesitation in demanding payment in advance, and in getting before he gives. If the sickness is incurable, so much the better; it's all the more deserving of his care and of his remedy. Begin by handing over a few bags of a thousand francs, sign a contract to pay him a pension, give him one of your lands, just a little one, and then worry about your cure no more than he does. The wish to emulate this man has filled society with names ending in O and I, impressive names that strike awe into the hearts of men and of their maladies. Admit it, Fagon, your doctors, and those of all other faculties, don't always, or inevitably, cure a man; on the contrary those who have inherited from their fathers the practice of empirical medicine, and got their experience by direct succession, invariably promise, with solemn oaths, that one is going to recover. How sweet men find it to cherish every sort of hope when their illness is fatal, and to be still keeping fairly well, when on the point of death! Death takes them pleasantly by surprise, unheralded by any fear; they feel it before they have thought of preparing themselves for it, or resigning themselves to it. O Fagon Aesculapius! establish over all the earth the reign of quinine and antimony; bring to perfection the science of herbs, which are given to men to prolong their lives; observe in your treatment, more precisely and judiciously than anyone has yet done, the climate, the season, the symptoms and temperaments of your patients; cure each one in the only way that is right for him; drive out the most obscure and inveterate diseases from men's bodies, in whose economy you are so deeply versed; but do not attempt those of the mind, which are incurable; leave Corinna, Lesbia, Canidia, Trimalcion and Carpus to indulge their passion, or their rage, for quacks.
69. The State puts up with palmists and soothsayers, those who cast horoscopes and read the configuration of the stars, those who discover past events by the movements of a sieve, those who reveal the truth in a mirror or a bowl of water; and such people do indeed serve some purpose; they predict to men that they will make their fortunes, to girls that they will marry their suitors, console sons whose fathers refuse to die, and pacify young women who have old husbands; in short, for a trifling fee they will deceive anyone who wants to be deceived.
70. What is one to think about magic and spells? The theory of these is obscure, their principles are vague and uncertain, akin to the visionary; but there are certain puzzling facts, sworn to by serious persons who have witnessed them or have learnt them from other people of the same sort; it is equally difficult, in my opinion, to accept them all or to deny them all; and I venture to assert that in this matter, as in all extraordinary things that cannot be explained by the usual rules, there is a mean to be found between credulity and unbelief.
71. In childhood, one can scarcely acquire too many languages, and in my opinion we should seek assiduously to instruct children in these; they are useful to all conditions of men, providing them with access to a profound or to an easy and agreeable erudition. If this laborious study is postponed to a slightly later age, which we call youth, one lacks either the strength to undertake it willingly or that which is required to persevere in it; and perseverance means spending on the study of a language the time that should be devoted to the use one can make of it; it means being restricted to the knowledge of words at an age when we want to go beyond that, and seek to know things; it means, at least, having wasted the first and finest years of one's life. This great store of knowledge can only be properly acquired at a time when everything makes a profound and natural impression on the mind; when the memory is fresh, quick and faithful; when the intelligence and the heart are still free from passions, cares and desires, and when one is directed to undertake long tasks by those on whom one is dependent. I am convinced that the scarcity of learned men, and the large number of superficial ones, are due to neglect of this practice.
72. The study of texts can never be sufficiently recommended; it is the shortest, surest and pleasantest way to acquire any sort of learning. Get things at first hand; draw from the Source; go over and over the text; learn it by heart; quote it on occasion; above all, strive to understand the meaning of it, in its fullest extent and in all its detail; collate an original author, extract his principles, draw the conclusions yourself. The earliest commentators were in just the position I should wish you to be in; borrow their lights and follow their interpretations only when your own prove inadequate; their explanations are not your own, and may easily slip your memory; your observations on the other hand are born from your own mind and will remain in it; you more easily recover them in conversation, in consultation and in argument. Have the pleasure of seeing that you are only held up in your reading by difficulties that are insuperable, which have baffled commentators and scholiasts themselves, although elsewhere they show themselves so prolific, so abundant, so laden with empty and ostentatious erudition over obvious passages, which present no difficulty either to themselves or to others. You may thus finally convince yourself by this method of study that it is men's indolence that has encouraged pedantry to swell libraries rather than to enrich them, and to kill the text under the weight of its commentaries; and which in so doing has acted against its own interests by increasing the amount of reading, research and toil which it sought to avoid.
73. What governs men in their way of living and the use they make of foodstuffs? Health and diet? That's doubtful. A whole nation eats meat after fruit, another does just the contrary; some people start their meal with certain fruit and end it with others: is it for any reason, or from custom? Is it out of concern for their health that men dress right up to the chin, wear ruffs and collars, whereas for so long they went bare-chested? It could scarcely be for decency's sake, particularly at a time when they had discovered the secret of appearing naked while fully dressed. And moreover are women, who show their bosoms and shoulders, less delicately constituted than men, or less subject than them to the laws of propriety? What sort of modesty can it be that makes them cover their legs, indeed almost their feet, while allowing them to bare their arms above the elbow? Who, formerly, put it into men's heads that one went to war either to defend oneself or to attack, and taught them by degrees the use of offensive and defensive weapons? Who forces them, today, to renounce the latter, so that whereas they wear boots to go to a ball, they remain unarmed and protected only by their doublets while sustaining their troops under fire from a counterscarp? And was it wise or senseless of our forefathers to consider such behaviour of little service to their Prince or to their country? And what heroes do we ourselves honour in our history? Men like Guesclin, Foix, Boucicaut, who a11 wore helmets and cuirasses.
Who can account for the success of certain words and the banishment of others? Ains has perished: its opening vowel, so convenient for elision, could not save it; it has been replaced by another monosyllable, which is merely its anagram. Certes has beauty in its old age, and can still show strength as it decays; poetry needs it, and our language owes much to those writers who say it in prose, and who risk using it in their works. Maint is a word which should never have been abandoned, both on account of the easy way it slipped into one's sentence and because of its origin, which is French. Moult, although Latin, was equally considered in its day, and I don't see in what respect beaucoup is superior to it. What persecution the word car has endured! and had it not found protection in polite society, it might have been shamefully banished from a language to which it had rendered service for so long, without any substitute being provided. Cil in its heyday was the prettiest word in the French language; it is sad for poets that it has become obsolete. Douloureux is not more naturally derived from douleur than chaleureux or chaloureux from chaleur; the latter adjective is dying out, although it enriched the language and could be used properly where chaud would be inappropriate. Valeur should have preserved for us valeureux; haine, haineux; peine, peineux; fruit, fiuctueux; pitié, piteux; joie, jovial; foi, féal; cour, courtois; gîte, gisant; haleine, halené; vanterie, vantard; mensonge, mensonger; coutume, coutumier; just as from part we still have partial; from point, pointu and pointilleux; from ton, tonnant; from son, sonore; from frein, effrene; from front, effronté; from ris, ridicule; from loi, loyal; from coeur, cordial; from bien, bénin; from mal, malicieux. Heur could be used where bonheur would be out of place; it gave us heureux, which is excellent French, but its own fate has not been happy; if certain poets have made use of it, they have done so less by choice than from metrical necessity. Issue flourishes, and comes from issir, which has vanished. Fin persists, but not finer, which comes from it, whereas cesse and cesser are both in common use. Verd no longer gives us verdoyer, nor féte, fetoyer, nor larme larmoyer, nor deuil se douloir, se condouloir, nor joie s'éjouir, although we still have se réjouir, se conjouir, as well as s'enorgueillir from orgueil. There was an old word gent, graceful: this easy and convenient word has been dropped, and has even involved gentil in its disgrace. We say diffarmé, derived from fame, which we no longer understand. We say curieux, derived from cure, which is obsolete. There was something to be said for using si que instead of de sorte que or de manière que, de moi instead of pour moi or quant à moi, and je sais que c'est qu'un mal rather than je sais ce que c'est qu'un mal, both because of the analogy with Latin and because it is often an advantage to have one word less in one's sentence. Custom has preferred par conséquent to par conséquence, en conséquence to en conséqnent, façons de faire to manières de faire and manières d'agir to façons d'agir . . .; among verbs, travailler to ouvrer, être accoutume to souloir, convenir to duire, faire du bruit to bruire, injurierto vilainer, piquer to poindre, faire ressouvenir to ramentevoir . . .; and among nouns, pensées to pensers, which was such a beautiful word, and fitted so well into our verse, grandes actions to pronesses, louanges to loz, méchanceté to mauvaistié, porto to lruis, navire to nef, armée toost, monastere to moustier, prairies to prées ... all words which were equally beautiful and should have lasted as long, and thus enriched our language. Custom, by the addition, suppression, alteration or rearrangement of certain letters, has made frelater out of fralater, prouver out of prenver, profit out of proufit, froment out of froument, profil out of pourfil, provision from pourveoir, promener from pourmener, promenade from pourmenade. The same custom enables us to use habile, utile, facile, docile, mobile and fertile for either gender, according to circumstances, without alteration: whereas vil, vile, subtil, subtile are masculine or feminine according to their endings. Custom has altered certain old endings: it has turned scel into sceau, mantel into manteau, capel into chapeau, coutel into couteau, hamel into hameau, damoisel into damoiseau, jouvencel into jouvenceau, without any obvious gain to the French language from these differences and changes. Does this deference to custom contribute anything to the progress of a language? Would it be better to shake off the yoke of its despotic rule? Should we not, in a living language, listen only to reason, which averts misunderstandings, follows the roots of words and their relation to the original language from which they sprang, if moreover reason requires us to follow accepted custom?
Whether our forefathers wrote better than we do, or whether we surpass them in our choice of words, elegance of expression, clarity and economy of writing, is a question often discussed and never settled. It can scarcely be concluded by comparing, as is sometimes done, an uninspired writer of the last century with the most famous writers of our own day, or the verse of Laurent, who was paid to stop writing, with those of Marot and Desportes. To pass a right judgement in this matter one should compare the best work of one century with that of another; for instance the finest rondeaux of Benserade or Voiture with these, preserved by tradition, although their date and author remain unknown.
|« NEXT »||« Characters »||« Classics »||« Library »|