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in me withal some confused but ineradicable flicker of belief that there is a “particular providence.” Sincerely I do, as it were, believe this, to my own surprise.1
My strength is faded nearly quite away, and it begins to be more and more evident to me that I shall not long have to struggle under this burden of life, but soon go to the refuge that is appointed for us all. For a long time back I have been accustomed to look at the Ernster Freund as the most merciful and indispensable refuge appointed by the Great Creator for His wearied children whose work is done. Alas, alas! the final mercy
of God, it in late years always appears to me, is that He delivers us from life which has become a task too hard for us.2
SIR CHARLES LYELL
(1797–1875) YOUR articles on a “Future State” in the Theo
logical Review have interested me much, but they confirm my opinion that we are so much out of our depth when we attempt to treat of this subject, that we gain little but doubt in such speculation. I am told that the same philosophy which is opposed to a belief in a future state undertakes to prove
every one of our acts and thoughts are the necessary result of antecedent events and conditions, and that there can be no such thing as free-will in man. I am quite content that both doctrines should stand on the same founda
1 From Journal, December 28, 1870.
2 Ibid. November 7, 1878.
tion, for as I cannot help being convinced that I have the power of exerting free-will, however great a mystery the possibility of this may be, so the continuance of a spiritual life may be true, however inexplicable or incapable of proof. ... I am told by some that if any of our traditionary beliefs make us happier and lead us to estimate humanity more highly, we ought to be careful not to endeavour to establish any scientific truths which would lessen and lower our estimate of man's place in nature; in short, we should do nothing to disturb any man's faith, if it be a delusion which increases his happiness. But I hope and believe that the discovery and propagation of every truth, and the dispelling of every error, tends to improve and better the condition of man, though the act of reforming old opinions and institutions causes so much pain and misery
HONORÉ DE BALZAC
(1799–1850) OR the soul there arises every day a fresh spring
time and a beautiful fresh morning. . . . You cannot judge of what your future life will be by that which is past. How many have begun to lead a fresh, lovely, and peaceful life at a much more advanced age than yours! We exist only in our souls. You cannot be sure that your soul has come to its highest development.2
Upon what foundation is religious belief grounded ?
1 From letter to Miss F. P. Cobbe, 1873.
Upon the consciousness of the infinite that is within us, which proves that there exists something beyond us, and that leads us by severe induction to religionto hope.
Sixteen hours a day dedicated to the making of a literary monument which will be gigantic, leave no time at my disposal. This privation of the pleasures of the affections is the heaviest tax I can pay to futurity. As to the pleasures of the world or of life, Art has killed them all, without regret on my part.2
My friend, . . . all good fortune is built up by courage and industry. I have seen many evil days; but by dint of courage, and especially by hope, I have always struggled through.3
HEINRICH HEINE (1799–1856)
ET others enjoy the thought of the loved one
wreathing their tombstone with flowers and moistening it with faithful tears. O women! hate me, laugh at me, mock me !—but let me live! Life is all too merrily sweet, and the world is all too lovingly confused. It is the dream of a wine-drunk divinity, who has slipped out without leave-taking from the symposium of the gods and laid himself to sleep in a lonesome star, and knows not that he himself creates what he dreams. His dream-pictures take now madly
1 From letter to Louise, about 1836–37. 2 From letter to Théodore Dablin, Paris,
January 1845. 3 From letter to M. Laurant-Fan, Paris, December 1849.
mingled shapes, now shapes harmoniously reasonable, the Iliad, Plato, the Battle of Marathon, Moses, the Venus de Medici, Strasburg Cathedral, the French Revolution, Hegel, Steamboats, are individual happy thoughts in this creating god-dream; but it will not last long. The god will awake, will rub his drowsy eyes, will laugh, and our world will relapse into nothingness—nay, it will not even have existed.
But yet I live. Though only the shadow in a dream, still this is better than the cold, blank emptiness of death. Life is the highest of earth's good; its bitterest evil is Death.1
All my reason, all my knowledge tells me that the belief in a personal continuance after death is an illusion. There is no trace of this in the Old Testament. Moses was much too healthy a man for this. That sickly sect who proceeded from Christ to Christianity, and subsequently to asceticism, invented immortality. In my understanding I am thoroughly convinced of our cessation of existence. I cannot seize or comprehend it because I still exist. I only understand that with egotists the thought of a cessation of existence is a consoling one. To a loving heart it is, in spite of all science, inconceivable.2
For four years now I have renounced all philosophic pride and am returned back to religious ideas and feelings. I die in the belief of one only God, the eternal creator of the world, whose pity I implore for my immortal soul. I lament that I have at times spoken of sacred things without due reverence, but I was carried away more by the spirit of the time than
1 From Book le Grand (trans. Snodgrass).
2 Said to Adolph Stahr.
by my own inclinations. If I unwittingly have violated good manners and morality, which is the true essence of all monotheism, I pray both God and man for pardon.
SIR HENRY TAYLOR
(1800—1886) I QUITE agree with
you that it is very disagreeable to grow old; and I have always thought that if I had been Providence I would have made life begin with dotage and decrepitude, and go on freshening and improving to a primal death. . . . After fifty, one has not the loss of youth to look forward to, and that is one source of sadness removed. And to me it used to be, thirty or forty years ago, a chief source of sadness : for I was very fond of my youth, and cared more for it than for eyes, ears, brains, stomach, and all the rest. Now they have a fair share of my regard, and I shall be sorry
for their decay. My main resource is in my business. Acting with a purpose, with steadiness, and regularity is the best support to the spirits, and the surest protection against sad thoughts. . . . Sydney Smith's precept is, “ Take short views of life.” I had felt the same thing when I said that
Foresight is a melancholy gift,
1 From the seventh clause of his Will.