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ed by means of man's esteem. So that human life is a perpetual delusion,-nothing goes on but mutual flattery and mutual deceit: no one speaks of us in our presence, as he does in our absence. The degree of union that there is among men, is founded on this mutual deception; and few friendships would subsist, if each one knew what his friend says of him when he is not present, although at the time he speaks sincerely and without prejudice.
Man, then, is nothing but disguise, falsehood, and hypocrisy, both towards himself and others. He does not wish them to tell him the truth,-he will not tell it to them: and all these dispositions, so far removed from justice and sound reason, have their root naturally in his heart.
THE WEAKNESS OF MAN.
That which astonishes me most is, that no astonished at his own weakness. Men act seriously; and each one follows his occupation, not because it is actually good to follow it, since that is the custom; but as if each one knew precisely where to find reason and truth. Each one however finds himself deceived repeatedly, and yet by a foolish humility thinks that the failure is in his own conduct, and not in the facility of discerning the truth, of which he continually boasts. It is well that there are so many of these persons in the world, since they serve to show that man is capable of holding the most extravagant opinions; inasmuch as he can believe that he is not naturally and inevitably in a state of moral weakness; but that on the contrary, he has naturally wisdom adequate to his circumstances.
2. The weakness of human reason appears more evidently in those who know it not, than in those who know it.
He who is too young will not judge wisely; no more will he that is too old. If we think too little or too much on a subject, we are equally bewildered, and cannot discover truth. If a man reviews his work directly after he has done it, he is pre-occupied by the lively impression of it; if he reviews it a long time after, he can scarcely get into the spirit of it again.
There is but one indivisible point from which we should look at a picture ; all others are too near, too distant, too high, or too low. Perspective fixes this point precisely in the art of painting; but who shall fix it in regard to truth and morals ?
3. That queen of error, whom we call fancy and opinion, is the more deceitful because she does not deceive always.
She would be the infallible rule of truth if she were the infallible rule of falsehood: but being only most frequently in error, she gives no evidence of her real quality, for she marks with the same character both that which is true and that which is false.
This haughty power, the enemy of reason, and whose delight is to keep reason in subjection, in order to shew what influence she has in all things, has established in man a second nature. She has her happy and her unhappy, her sick and her healthy, her rich and her poor, her fools and her sages; and nothing is more distressing than to see that she fills her guests -with a far more ample satisfaction than reason gives ; since those who think themselves wise have a delight in themselves, far beyond that in which the really prudent dare to indulge. They treat other men imperiously; they dispute with fierceness and assurance,whilst others do so with fear and caution ; and this satisfied air often gives them advantage in the opinion of the hearers : so much do the imaginary wise find favor among judges of the same kind. Opinion cannot make fools wise, but she makes them content, to the great disparagement of reason, who can only make her friends wretched. The one covers har votaries with glory, the other with shame.
Who confers reputation? who gives respect and veneration to persons, to books, to great men ? Who but opinion? How utterly insufficient are all the riches of the world without her approbation !
Opinion settles every thing. She constitutes beauty, justice, happiness, which is the whole of this world. I would like much to see that Italian work, of which I have only heard the title. It is called “ Opinion, the Queen of the World.” It is worth many other books. I subscribe to it without knowing it, error excepted.
4. The most important concern in life, is the choice of an occupation ; yet chance seems to decide it. Custom makes masons, soldiers, bricklayers, &c. They say,
- That's a capital workman,” or when speaking of soldiers, “ What fools those men are:” others again say, 66 There is nothing noble but war, all men but soldiers are contemptible.” And according as men, during their childhood, have heard those several occupations praised and others vilified, they make their choice ;
for naturally we love wisdom and hate folly. It is these words that influence us; we err only in the application of them; and the force of custom is such; that in some countries, the whole population are sons ; in others, soldiers. Now we do not conceive that nature is so uniform. It is custom which does this, and carries nature with it. There are cases however in which nature prevails, and binds man to his specific object, in defiance of custom, whether bad or good.
5. We think very little of time present; we anticipate the future, as being too slow, and with a view to hasten it onward; we recall the past to stay it as too swiftly gone.
We are so thoughtless, that we thus wander through the hours which are not here, regardless only of the moment that is actually our own :so vain, that we dream of the times which are not, and suffer that only which does exist, to escape us without a thought. This is because, generally, the present gives us pain ; we hide it from our sight, it afflicts us; and even if it ministers pleasure, wé grieve to see
it flying: and hence we bring up the future to sustain it, and speculate on doing things which are not in our power, at a time which we can have no that we shall ever see.
Let any man examine his thoughts; he will find them ever occupied with the past or the future. We scarcely think at all of the present; or if we do, it is only to borrow the light which it gives, for regulating the future. The present is never our object; the past and the present we use as means; the future only is our object. Thus in fact we never live, we only hope to live; and thus ever doing nothing, but preparing to be happy, it is certain that we never shall. be so, unless we seek a higher felicity than this short life can yield.
6. Our imagination so magpifies this present exis. tence, by the power of continual reflection on it; and so attenuates eternity, by not thinking of it at all, that we reduce an eternity to nothingness, and expand a mere nothing to an eternity; and this habit is so inveterately rooted in us, that all the force of reason cannot induce us to lay it aside.
7. Cromwell would have laid desolate all Christen--dom. The royal family was ruined; bis own was completely established: but for a small grain of sand, which entered the urethra, even Rome would have trembled before him; but when only this atom of gravel, which elsewhere was as nothing, was placed in that spot, behold he dies, his family is degraded, and the king restored!
8. We see scarcely any thing, just or unjust, that does not change its quality with its climate. Three degrees of latitude upset all the principles of jurisprudence; a meridian determines what is truth, or a few years of settled authority. Fundamental laws may vary. Right has its epochs. Droll justice indeed, that a river or a mountain limits! Truth on one side of the Pyrenees is error on the other.
9. Theft, incest, parricide, infanticide, each has been ranked among virtuous actions. Is, there any thing
more ridiculous, than that a man has the right to kill me, because he lives across the water, and that his prince has a quarrel with mine, though I have none with him?
There are certainly natural laws, but this corrupted reason has corrupted every thing, Nihil amplius nostri est ; quod nostruin dicimus, artis est ; ex senatusconsultis et plebiscitis crimina exercentur, ut olim vitiis sic nunc legibus laboramus.
From this contusion it arises, that one affirms, that the essential principle of justice is the authority of the legislature; another, the convenience of the sovereign; another, present custom: and this is the safest. There is nothing, if we follow the light of reason only, that is in itself, independently just. Time alters every thing ; custom makes equity, simply because it is received. That is the mystic basis of its authority, and he who traces it to its origin, annihilates it. Nothing is so faulty as those laws which redress faults. He who obeys them because they are just, obeys that which be has conceived to be justice, but not the essence of the law. Its whole force lies in this:- It is law and nothing more. He who looks into the principle will find it so weak and flimsy, that if he is not accustomed to the prodigies of the human imagination, he would wonder how a century could have nourished it with so much pomp and veneration.
The secret for overturning a state, is to shake to their foundation established customs, by going back to their origin, and shewing the defect of the authority or the principle on which they rest.
66 We must return,” say they, “ to those fundamental and primitive laws of the state, which corrupt custom has abolished.” This is a sure play for losing every thing. In such a balance nothing will appear right: yet the people listen eagerly to such discourses. They throw off the yoke as soon as they perceive it; and the great make their advantage of this to ruin both them and these curious inspectors of established customs. Yet there is an error directly the reverse of this, and there are