Jean de La Bruyère (1645–1696). Characters. 1885.
(1.)IT is very foolish, and betrays what a small mind we have, to allow fashion to sway us in everything that regards taste, in our way of living, our health, and our conscience. Game is out of fashion, and therefore insipid, and fashion forbids to cure a fever by bleeding. This long while it has also not been fashionable to depart this life shriven by Theotimus; now none but the common people are saved by his pious exhortations, and he has already beheld his successor.
(2.)To have a hobby is not to have a taste for what is good and beautiful, but for what is rare and singular, and for what no one else can match; it is not to like things which are perfect, but those which are most sought after and fashionable. It is not an amusement but a passion, and often so violent that in the meanness of its object it only yields to love and ambition. Neither is it a passion for everything scarce and in vogue, but only for some particular object which is rare, and yet in fashion.
The lover of flowers has a garden in the suburbs, where he spends all his time from sunrise till sunset. You see him standing there, and would think he had taken root in the midst of his tulips before his “Solitaire;” he opens his eyes wide, rubs his hands, stoops down and looks closer at it; it never before seemed to him so handsome; he is in an ecstasy of joy, and leaves it to go to the “Orient,” then to the “Veuve,” from thence to the “Cloth of Gold,” on to the “Agatha,” and at last returns to the “Solitaire,” where he remains, is tired out, sits down, and forgets his dinner; he looks at the tulip and admires its shade, shape, colour, sheen, and edges, its beautiful form and calix; but God and nature are not in his thoughts, for they do not go beyond the bulb of his tulip, which he would not sell for a thousand crowns, though he will give it to you for nothing when tulips are no longer in fashion, and carnations are all the rage. This rational being, who has a soul and professes some religion, comes home tired and half-starved, but very pleased with his day’s work; he has seen some tulips.
Talk to another of the healthy look of the crops, of a plentiful harvest, of a good vintage, and you will find he only cares for fruit, and understands not a single word you say; then turn to figs and melons; tell him that this year the pear-trees are so heavily laden with fruit that the branches almost break, that there are abundance of peaches, and you address him in a language he completely ignores, and he will not answer you, for his sole hobby is plum-trees. Do not even speak to him of your plum-trees, for he only is fond of a certain kind, and laughs and sneers at the mention of any others; he takes you to his tree and cautiously gathers this exquisite plum, divides it, gives you one half, keeps the other himself, and exclaims: “How delicious! do you like it? is it not heavenly? You cannot find its equal anywhere;” and then his nostrils dilate, and he can hardly contain his joy and pride under an appearance of modesty. What a wonderful person, never enough praised and admired, whose name will be handed down to future ages! Let me look at his mien and shape whilst he is still in the land of the living, that I may study the features and the countenance of a man who, alone amongst mortals, is the happy possessor of such a plum.
Visit a third, and he will talk to you about his brother collectors, but especially of Diognetes. He admits that he admires him, but that he understands him less than ever. “Perhaps you imagine,” he continues, “that he endeavours to learn something of his medals, and considers them speaking evidences of certain facts that have happened, fixed and unquestionable monuments of ancient history. If you do, you are wholly wrong. Perhaps you think that all the trouble he takes to become master of a medallion with a certain head on it is because he will be delighted to possess an uninterrupted series of emperors. If you do, you are more hopelessly wrong than ever. Diognetes knows when a coin is worn, when the edges are rougher than they ought to be, or when it looks as if it had been newly struck; all the drawers of his cabinet are full, and there only is room for one coin; this vacancy so shocks him that in reality he spends all his property and literally devotes his whole lifetime to fill it.”
“Will you look at my prints?” asks Democedes, and in a moment he brings them out and shows them to you. You see one among them neither well printed nor well engraved, and badly drawn, and, therefore, more fit on a public holiday to be stuck against the wall of some house on the “Petit-Pont” or in the “Rue Neuve” than to be kept in a collection. He allows it to be badly engraved and worse drawn; but assures you it was done by an Italian who produced very little, and that hardly any of these prints have been struck off, so that he has the only one in France, for which he paid a very heavy price, and would not part with it for the very best print to be got. “I labour under a very serious affliction,” he continues, “which will one day or other cause me to give up collecting engravings; I have all Callot’s etchings, except one, which, to tell the truth, so far from being the best, is the worst he ever did, but which would complete my collection; I have hunted after this print these twenty years, and now I despair of ever getting it; it is very trying!”
Another man criticises those people who make long voyages either through nervousness or to gratify their curiosity; who write no narrative or memoirs, and do not even keep a journal; who go to see and see nothing, or forget what they have seen; who only wish to get a look at towers or steeples they never saw before, and to cross other rivers than the Seine or the Loire; who leave their own country merely to return again, and like to be absent, so that one day it may be said they have come from afar; so far this critic is right and is worth listening to.
But when he adds that books are more instructive than travelling, and gives me to understand he has a library, I wish to see it. I call on this gentleman, and at the very foot of the stairs I almost faint with the smell of the Russia leather bindings of his books. In vain he shouts in my ears, to encourage me, that they are all with gilt edges and hand-tooled, that they are the best editions, and he names some of them one after another, and that his library is full of them, except a few places painted so carefully that everybody takes them for shelves and real books, and is deceived. He also informs me that he never reads nor sets foot in this library, and now only accompanies me to oblige me. I thank him for his politeness, but feel as he does on the subject, and would not like to visit the tan-pit which he calls a library.
Some people immoderately thirst after knowledge, and are unwilling to ignore any branch of it, so they study them all and master none; they are fonder of knowing much than of knowing somethings well, and had rather be superficial smatterers in several sciences than be well and thoroughly acquainted with one. They everywhere meet with some person who enlightens and corrects them; they are deceived by their idle curiosity, and often, after very long and painful efforts, can but just extricate themselves from the grossest ignorance.
Other people have a master-key to all sciences, but never enter there; they spend their lives in trying to decipher the Eastern and Northern languages, those of both the Indies, of the two poles, nay, the language spoken in the moon itself. The most useless idioms, the oddest and most hieroglyphical-looking characters, are just those which awaken their passion and induce them to study; they pity those persons who ingenuously content themselves with knowing their own language, or, at most, the Greek and Latin tongues. Such men read all historians and know nothing of history; they run through all books, but are not the wiser for any; they are absolutely ignorant of all facts and principles, but they possess as abundant a store and garner-house of words and phrases as can well be imagined, which weighs them down, and with which they overload their memory, whilst their mind remains a blank.
A certain citizen loves building, and had a mansion erected so handsome, noble, and splendid that no one can live in it. The proprietor is ashamed to occupy it, and as he cannot make up his mind to let it to a prince or a man of business, he retires to the garret, where he spends his life, whilst the suite of rooms and the inlaid floors are the prey of travelling Englishmen and Germans, who come to visit it after having seen the Palais-Royal, the palace L… G… and the Luxembourg. There is a continual knocking going on at these handsome doors, and all visitors ask to see the house, but none the master.
There are other persons who have grown-up daughters, but they cannot afford to give them a dowry, nay, these girls are scarcely clothed and fed; they are so poor that they have not even a bed to lie upon nor a change of linen. The cause of their misery is not very far to seek; it is a collection crowded with rare busts, covered with dust and filth, of which the sale would bring in a goodly sum; but the owners cannot be prevailed upon to part with them.
Diphilus is a lover of birds, he begins with one and ends with a thousand; his house is not enlivened, but infested by them; the courtyard, the parlour, the staircase, the hall, all the rooms, and even the private study are so many aviaries; we no longer hear warbling, but a perfect discord; the autumnal winds and the most rapid cataracts do not produce so shrill and piercing a noise; there is no hearing one another speak but in those apartments set apart for visitors, where people will have to wait until some little curs have yelped, before there is a chance of seeing the master of the house. These birds are no longer an agreeable amusement for Diphilus, but a toilsome fatigue, for which he can scarcely find leisure; he spends his days—days which pass away and never come back—in feeding his birds and cleaning them; he pays a man a salary for teaching his birds to sing with a bird-organ, and for attending to the hatching of his young canaries. It is true that what he spends on the one hand he spares on the other, for his children have neither teachers nor education. In the evening, worn out by his hobby, he shuts himself up, without being able to enjoy any rest until his birds have gone to roost, and these little creatures, on which he dotes only for their song, have ceased to warble. He dreams of them whilst asleep, and imagines he is himself a tufted bird, chirping on his perch; during the night he even fancies he is moulting and brooding.
Who can describe all the different kinds of hobbies? Can you imagine when you hear a certain person speak of his “Panther Cowry,” his “Pen Shell,” and his “Music Shell,” and brag of them as something very rare and marvellous, that he intends to sell these shells? Why not? He has bought them for their weight in gold.
Another is an admirer of insects, and augments his collection every day; in Europe he is the best judge of butterflies, and has some of all sizes and colours. What an unfortunate time you have chosen to pay him a visit! He is overwhelmed with grief, and in a fearful temper, which he vents on his family; he has suffered an irreparable loss; draw near him and observe what he shows you on his finger; it is a caterpillar, but such a caterpillar, lifeless, and but just expired.
(3.)Duelling is the triumph of fashion, which it sways tyrannically and most conspicuously. This custom does not allow a coward to live, but compels him to go and be killed by a man of more valour than himself, and to be mistaken for a man of courage. The maddest and most absurd action has been called honourable and glorious; it has been sanctioned by the presence of kings; in some cases it has even been considered a sort of duty to countenance it; it has decided the innocence of some persons, and the truth or falsity of certain accusations of capital crimes; it was so deeply rooted in the opinion of all nations, and had obtained such a complete possession of the feelings and minds of men, that to cure them of this folly has been one of the most glorious actions of the greatest of monarchs.
(4.)Some persons were formerly in high repute for commanding armies, for diplomacy, for pulpit eloquence, or for poetry, and now they are no longer fashionable. Do certain men degenerate from what they formerly were, and have their merits become antiquated, or is our liking for them worn out?
(5.)A fashionable man is not long the rage, for fashions are ephemeral; but if he happens to be a man of merit, he is not totally eclipsed, but something or other of him will still survive; he is as estimable as he formerly was, but only less esteemed.
Virtue is fortunate enough to be able to do without any help, and can exist without admirers, partisans, and protectors; lack of support and approbation does not harm it, but, on the contrary, strengthens, purifies, and perfects it; whether in or out of fashion, it is still virtue.
(6.)If you tell some men, and especially the great, that a certain person is virtuous, they will say to you, “they trust he may long remain so;” that he is very clever, and above all, agreeable and entertaining, they will answer you, “that it is so much the better for him;” that he is a man of culture and knows a great deal, they will ask you “what o’clock it is, or what sort of weather we have?” But if you inform them that a Tigellinus has been gulping down a glass of brandy, and, wonderful to relate, that he has repeated this several times during his repast, they will ask where he is, and tell you to bring him with you the next day, or that same evening, if possible. We bring him with us, and that very man, only fit for a fair or to be shown for money, is treated by them as a familiar acquaintance.
(7.)Nothing brings a man sooner into fashion and renders him of greater importance than gambling; it is almost as good as getting fuddled. I should like to see any polished, lively, witty gentleman, even if he were Catullus himself or his disciple, dare to compare himself with a man who loses eight hundred pistoles at a sitting.
(8.)A fashionable person is like a certain blue flower which grows wild in the fields, chokes the corn, spoils the crops, and takes up the room of something better; it has no beauty nor value but what is owing to a momentary caprice, which dies out almost as soon as sprung up. To-day it is all the rage, and the ladies are decked with it; to-morrow it is neglected and left to the common herd.
A person of merit, on the contrary, is a flower we do not describe by its colour, but call by its name, which we cultivate for its beauty or fragrance, such as a lily or a rose; one of the charms of nature, one of those things which beautify the world, belonging to all times, admired and popular for centuries, valued by our fathers, and by us in imitation of them, and not at all harmed by the dislike or antipathy of a few.
(9.)Eustrates is seated in his small boat, delighted with the fresh air and a clear sky; he is seen sailing with a fair wind, likely to last for some time, but a lull comes on all of a sudden, the sky becomes overcast, a storm bursts forth, the boat is caught by a whirlwind, and is upset. Eustrates rises to the surface of the waters and exerts himself; it is to be hoped he will at least save himself and get hold of the boat; but another wave sinks him, and he is considered lost: a second time he appears above the water, and hope revives, when a billow all of a sudden swallows him up; he is never more seen again, he is drowned.
(10.)Voiture and Sarrazin just suited the age they lived in, and appeared at the right time, when it seems they were expected; if they had not made such haste they would have come too late; and I question if, at present, they would have been what they were then. Light conversation, literary society, delicate raillery, lively and familiar epistolary interchange, and a select circle of friends, where intelligence was the only passport of admittance, have all disappeared. To say that these authors would have revived them is too much; all I can venture to admit in favour of their intellect is, that perhaps they might have excelled in another way. But the ladies of the present time are either devotees, coquettes, fond of gambling, or ambitious, and some of them all these together; court favour, gambling, gallants, and spiritual directors, have taken their places, and they defend them against men of culture.
(11.)A coxcomb, who makes himself ridiculous as well, wears a tall hat, a doublet with puffs on the shoulders, breeches with ribbons or tags, and jack-boots; at night he dreams what he shall do to be taken notice of the following day. A wise man leaves the fashion of his clothes to his tailor; it shows as much weakness to run counter to the fashion as to affect to follow it.
(12.)We blame a fashion that divides the shape of a man into two equal parts, and takes one of it for the waist, whilst leaving the other for the rest of the body; we condemn the fashion of making of a lady’s head the basis of an edifice of several heights, the build and shape of which change according to fancy; which removes the hair from the face, though Nature designed it to adorn it; and ties it up and makes it bristle so that the ladies look like Bacchantes; this fashion seems to have been intended to make the fair sex change its mild and modest air for one much more haughty and bold. People exclaim against certain fashions as ridiculous; but they adopt them as long as they last, to adorn and embellish themselves, and they derive from them all the advantages they can expect, namely, to please. Methinks the inconstancy and fickle-mindedness of men is to be admired; for they successively call agreeable and ornamental things directly opposed to one another; they use in plays and masquerades those same dresses and ornaments which, until then, were considered as denoting gravity and sedateness; a short time makes all the difference.
(13.)N… is wealthy; she eats and sleeps well; but the fashion of head-dresses alters, and whilst she does not think anything at all about it, and believes herself quite happy, her head-dress has quite grown out of fashion.
(14.)Iphis attends church, and sees there a new-fashioned shoe; he looks upon his own with a blush, and no longer believes he is well dressed. He only comes to hear mass to show himself, but now he refuses to go out, and keeps his room all day on account of his foot. He has a soft hand, which he preserves so by scented paste, laughs often to show his teeth, purses up his mouth, and is perpetually smiling; he looks at his legs and surveys himself in the glass, and no man can have a better opinion of his personal appearance than he has; he has adopted a clear and delicate voice, but fortunately lisps; he moves his head about and has a sort of sweetness in his eyes which he does not forget to use to set himself off; his gait is indolent, and his attitudes are as pretty as he can contrive them; he sometimes rouges his face, but not very often, and does not do so habitually. In truth, he always wears breeches and a hat, but neither earrings nor a pearl necklace; therefore I have not given him a place in my chapter “Of Women.”
(15.)Those very fashions which men so willingly adopt to adorn themselves are apt to be laid aside when their portraits are taken, as if they felt and foresaw how crude and ridiculous these would look when they had lost the bloom and charm of novelty; they prefer to be depicted with some fancy ornaments, some imaginary drapery, just as it pleases the artist, and which often are as little suited to their air and face as they recall their character and personage. They affect strained or indecent attitudes, harsh, uncultivated, and foreign manners, which transform a young abbé into a swaggerer, and a magistrate into a swashbuckler, a Diana into a woman of the town, an amazon or a Pallas into a simple and timid woman, a Laïs into a respectable girl, and a Scythian, an Attila, into a just and magnanimous prince.
Such is our giddiness, that one fashion has hardly destroyed another, when it is driven away by a newer one, again to make way for its successor, which will not be the last. Whilst these changes are going on, a century elapses, and all these gewgaws are ranked amongst things of the past, and exist no longer. Then the oldest fashion becomes again the most elegant, and charms the eye the most, it pleases as much in portraits as the sagum or the Roman dress on the stage, as a long black veil, an ordinary veil, and a tiara do on our hangings and our pictures.
Our fathers have transmitted to us the history of their lives as well as a knowledge of their dresses, their arms, and their favourite ornaments; a benefit for which we can make no other return than by doing our posterity the same service.
(16.)Formerly a courtier wore his own hair, breeches, and doublet, as well as large canions, and was a freethinker; but this is no longer becoming; now he wears a wig, a tight suit, plain stockings, and is devout. All this because it is the fashion.
(17.)Any man who, after having dwelt for a considerable time at court, remains devout, and contrary to all reason, narrowly escapes being thought ridiculous, can never flatter himself with becoming the fashion.
(18.)What will not a courtier do for the sake of advancing his interests? Rather than not advance them he will turn pious.
(19.)The colours are all prepared, and the canvas is stretched, but how shall I fix this restless, giddy, and variable man, who adopts so many thousand different shapes? I depict him as devout, and I think I have caught his likeness; but I have missed it, and he is already a freethinker. Let him remain even in this bad position, and I shall succeed in portraying his irregularity of heart and mind so that he will be known; but another fashion is in vogue, and again he becomes devout.
(20.)A man who thoroughly knows the court is well aware what virtue and what piety is; there is no imposing upon him.
(21.)To neglect going to vespers as obsolete and not fashionable; to keep one’s place for morning service; to know all the ins and outs of the chapel at Versailles, and who sits in the seats next to the royal tribune, and what is the best place where a man can be seen or remain unobserved; to be thinking at church of God and business; to receive visits there; to order people about and send them on messages or wait for answers; to trust more to the advice of a spiritual director than to the teachings of the Gospel; to derive all sanctity and notoriety from the reputation of our director; to despise all people whose director is not fashionable, and scarcely allow them to be in a state of salvation; to like the word of God only when preached at home or from the mouth of our own director; to prefer hearing a mass said by him to any other mass, and the sacraments administered by him to any others, which are considered of less value; to satiate ourselves with mystical books, as if there were neither Gospels, Epistles of the Apostles, nor morals of the fathers; to read or speak a jargon unknown in the early centuries; to be very circumstantial in amplifying the sins of others and in palliating our own; to enlarge on our own sufferings and patience; to lament our small progress in heroism as a sin; to be in a secret alliance with some persons against others; to value only ourselves and our own set; to suspect even virtue itself; to enjoy and relish prosperity and favour, and to wish to keep them only for ourselves; never to assist merit; to make piety subservient to ambition; to obtain our salvation through fortune and dignities; these are, at least in our days, the greatest efforts of the piety of this age.
A pious person is one who, under an atheistical king, would be an atheist.
(22.)Devout people know no other crime but incontinence, or, to speak more exactly, the scandal and appearance of incontinence. If Pherecides passes for a man who is cured of his fondness for women, or Pherenicia for a wife who is faithful to her husband, they are quite satisfied; allow these devotees to continue a game that finally will be their undoing; it is their business to ruin their creditors, to rejoice at the misfortunes of other people and take advantage of it, to idolise the great, to despise their inferiors, to get intoxicated with their own merit, to pine away with vexation, to lie, slander, intrigue, and do as much harm as they can. Would you like them to usurp the functions of those honest men who avoid pride and injustice as well as the more latent vices?
(23.)When a courtier shall be humble, divested of pride and ambition, cease to advance his own interests by ruining his rivals, be just and relieve the misery of his vassals, pay his creditors, be neither a knave nor a slanderer, shall abandon luxurious feasting and unlawful amours, pray not only with his lips, and even when the prince is not present, shall not be morose and inaccessible, not show an austere countenance and a sour mien, shall not be lazy and buried in thought, reconcile a multiplicity of employments by conscientious application, shall be able and willing to devote his whole mind and all his attention to those great and arduous affairs which especially concern the welfare of the people and of the entire state; when his character shall make me afraid of mentioning him in this paragraph, and his modesty prevent him from knowing himself, if I should not give his name; then I shall say of such a man that he is devout, or rather that he is a man given to this age as an example of sincere virtue as well as to detect hypocrites.
(24.)Onuphrius’ bed has only grey serge valances, but he sleeps on flock and down; he also wears plain but comfortable clothes, I mean, made of a light material in summer, and of very soft cloth in winter; his body-linen is very fine, but he takes very good care not to show it; he does not call out for his “hair-shirt and scourge,” for then he would show himself in his true colours, as a hypocrite, whilst he intends to pass for what he is not, for a religious man; however, he acts in such a way that people believe, without his telling it them, that he wears a hair-shirt and scourges himself. Several books lie about his apartments, such as the “Spiritual Fight,” the “Inward Christian,” the “Holy Year;” his other books are under lock and key; if he goes along the streets and perceives from afar a man to whom he ought to seem devout, downcast looks, a slow and demure gait, and a contemplative air are at his command; he plays his part. If he enters a church, he observes whose eyes are upon him, and accordingly kneels down and prays, or else, never thinks of kneeling down and praying; if he sees an honest man and a man of authority approach him, by whom he is sure to be perceived, and who, perhaps, may hear him, he not only prays but meditates, has outbursts of devotion, and sighs aloud; but as soon as this honest man is gone, he becomes calm, and does not say a single word more. Another time he enters a chapel, rushes through the crowd, and chooses a spot to commune with himself, and where everybody may see how he humbles himself; if he hears any courtiers speaking or laughing loud, and behave in chapel more boisterously than they would in an ante-chamber, he makes a greater noise than they to silence them, and returns to his meditations, in which he always disdainfully compares those persons to himself, to his own advantage. He avoids an empty church where he could hear two masses one after another, as well as a sermon, vespers, and compline, with no one between God and himself, without any other witnesses, and without any one thanking him for it; but he likes his own parish, and frequents those churches where the greatest number of people congregate, for there he does not labour in vain and is observed He chooses two or three days of the year to fast in or to abstain from meat, without any occasion; but at the end of the winter he coughs; there is something wrong with his chest, he is more or less splenetic, and feels very feverish; people entreat him, urge him, and even quarrel with him to compel him to break his fast as soon as it has begun, and he obeys them out of politeness. If Onuphrius is chosen as an umpire by relatives who have quarrelled, or in a lawsuit amongst members of one and the same family, he always takes the side of the strongest, I mean the wealthiest, and cannot be convinced that any person of property can ever be in the wrong. If he is comfortable at the house of a rich man whom he can deceive, whose parasite he is, and from whom he may derive great advantages, he never cajoles his patron’s wife, nor makes the least advances to her, nor declares his love; but rather avoids her, and will leave his cloak behind, unless he is as sure of her as he is of himself; still less will he make use of devotional cant to flatter and seduce her, for he does not employ it habitually, but intentionally, when it suits him, and never when it would only make him ridiculous. He knows where to find ladies more sociable and pliable than his friend’s wife; and very seldom absents himself from these ladies for any length of time, if it were only to have it publicly stated that he has gone into religious retirement; for who can doubt the truth of this report, when people see him reappear quite emaciated, like one who has not spared himself? Moreover, those women who improve and thrive under the shelter of piety suit him, but with this trifling difference, that he neglects those who are declining in years, and courts the young, and amongst these is only attracted by the best looking and the finest shape; he goes where they go, and returns when they return, and if they stay anywhere he stays there also; he has the consolation of seeing them at all times and places, and nobody needs be shocked about this, for they are devout, and so is he. Onuphrius is sure to make the best use he can of his friend’s cecity and of his prepossession; sometimes he borrows money of him; at other times he acts so artfully that his friend offers to lend him some; people are very angry with him because he does not apply to his other friends when he needs money; now and then he refuses to receive a small sum unless he gives his note of hand for it, though he is quite certain never to take it up; at another time he says, with a certain air, he is not in want of anything, and that is, when he only needs a trifling amount; and on a certain occasion he publicly extols the generosity of his friend, on purpose to induce him to give him a considerable sum. He does not expect to succeed to the whole of the real estate of his friend, nor to get a deed of gift of all his property, especially if the son, the right and lawful heir, has to be set aside. A pious man is neither a miser, nor prejudiced, unjust, nor selfish; and, though Onuphrius is not a pious man, he wishes to be thought one, and perfectly to imitate piety, though he does not feel it, in order secretly to forward his interests; he, therefore, would never aim at robbing the direct heirs of any family, nor insinuate himself where there is a daughter to portion, and a son to establish; he knows their rights are too strong and inviolable to be upset without loud clamours, which he dreads, and without such an undertaking coming to the ears of the prince, from whom he conceals his intrigues for fear of his true character being discovered. He selects collateral heirs, whom he can attack with greater impunity, and is the terror of male and female cousins, nephews and nieces, and of the flatterers and professed friends of all rich uncles; he gives himself out to be the legitimate heir of every wealthy old man who dies without issue, and who will have to disinherit him, if he wishes his relatives to get possession of his estate. If Onuphrius does not find means to deprive them of the whole, he will, at least, rob them of a good share of it; a trifling calumny or even the slightest slander are sufficient for this pious purpose, and, indeed, Onuphrius is a perfect master of the art of slandering, and considers it sometimes his duty not to let it lie dormant, for there are men and women whom, according to him, he must decry for conscience’ sake; and these are the people he does not like, whom he wishes to harm, and whose spoils he desires to get hold of. He compasses his ends without so much as opening his mouth; some persons talk to him of Eudoxus, he smiles or he weeps; they ask him why he does so, and they ask him again and again, but he does not reply; and he is right, for he has said quite enough.
(25.)“Laugh, Zelia, be gay and frolicsome as you used to be. What has become of your mirth?” “I am wealthy,” you reply, “I can do as I please, and I begin to breathe freely.” “Laugh louder, Zelia, and louder still; what is the use of more riches if it makes you thoughtful and sad? Imitate the great, who are born in the lap of luxury; they laugh sometimes, and yield to their inclination; follow therefore yours, and do not let it be said that a new place, or a few thousand livres a year more or less, drive you from one extreme to another.” “I only value favour because I can be thoughtful and sad,” you answer. “I thought so, Zelia; but, believe me, do not leave off laughing, and smile on me, when I pass, as you did formerly: fear nothing; I shall not have a worse opinion of you and your post; I shall as firmly believe that you are wealthy and a favourite as well.” “I have decided religious opinions,” you answer. “That’s quite enough, Zelia; and I ought to remember that persons whose conscience is at rest no longer care to show a calm and joyful countenance; gloomy and austere feelings are in the ascendancy and outwardly displayed; but such feelings proceed still further, and we are no longer surprised to observe that piety makes a woman still more proud and disdainful than beauty and youth.”
(26.)Arts and sciences have been greatly improved during this century, and have become highly refined; even salvation has now been reduced to rule and method, and to it have been added the most beautiful and sublime inventions of the human understanding. Devotion and geometry have each their own phraseology, or what are called “artistic expressions,” and a person who ignores them is neither devout nor a mathematician. The first devout men, even those who were taught by the apostles, did not know them; those simple-minded people only had faith, practised good works, merely believed, and led righteous lives.
(27.)It is a delicate thing for a prince to reform his court and to introduce piety; for knowing to what extent courtiers will carry their complaisance, and that they will make any sacrifices to advance their interests, he manages them with prudence, bears with them and dissembles, lest they should be driven to hypocrisy or sacrilege; he expects that Providence and time will be more successful than his zeal and his activity are.
(28.)Already in ancient times courts granted pensions and bestowed favours on musicians, dancing-masters, buffoons, flute-players, flatterers, and sycophants; they possess undoubted merits, and their talents are recognised and well known, for they amuse the great and give them a little breathing-time during the intervals of grandeur. It is well known that Fabien is a fine dancer, and that Lorenzani composes beautiful anthems; but who can tell if a pious man be really virtuous? There is no pension to be got for him from the king’s private purse, nor from the public treasury; and this is quite right, for piety is easy to counterfeit; and if it were rewarded, it would expose the prince to honour dissimulation and knavery, and to pension a hypocrite.
(29.)It is to be hoped the piety of the court, such as it is, will at least oblige prelates to reside in their dioceses.
(30.)I am convinced that true piety is the source from which repose flows; it renders life bearable and death without sting; hypocrisy does not possess such advantages.
(31.)Every hour in itself, and in respect to us, is unique; when once it is gone, it is entirely lost, and millions of ages will not bring it back again; days, months, and years, are swallowed up and irrevocably lost in the abyss of time; time itself shall be destroyed; it is but a point in the immense space of eternity, and will be erased. There are several slight and frivolous periods of time which are unstable, pass away, and may be called fashions, such as grandeur, favour, riches, power, authority, independence, pleasure, joy and superfluities. What will become of such fashions when time itself shall have disappeared? Virtue alone, now so little in fashion, will last longer than time.