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NEITHER know nor much care how it happens
that I find myself sinking more rapidly than hitherto. All I know is that I am fully satisfied with my share of the interest and amusement of life, and of the value of the knowledge which has come to me by means of the Brain, which is worth all the rest of us.1
My household believe that the end is not far off. Meantime I have no cares or troubles beyond the bodily uneasiness (which, however, I don't deny to be an evil). I cannot think of any future as at all probable, except the “annihilation ” from which some people recoil with so much horror. I find myself here in the universe—I know not how, whence, or why. I see everything in the universe go out and disappear, and I see no reason for supposing that it is not an actual and entire death. And for my part, I have no objection to such an extinction. .. Now that the event draws near, and that I see how fully my household expect my death pretty soon, the universe opens so widely before my view, and I see the old notions of death and scenes to follow to be so merely human-so impossible to be true, when one glances through the range of science—that I see nothing to be done but to wait, without fear or hope or ignorant prejudice, for the expiration of life. I have no wish for further experience, nor have I any fear of it. Under the weariness of illness I long to be asleep, but I have not set my mind on any state.?
1 From letter to a friend, January 25, 1876.
VICTOR HUGO (1802–1885) YOU say, “Where goest thou?"
“Where goest thou ?” I cannot tell, And still go on. If but the way be straight, It cannot
amiss! before me lies
TO-DAY is a thought, a fear is to-morrow,
THOMAS LOVELL BEDDOES
Where the body's the tomb,
Is buried alive in its hideous gloom.
In the stealing earth, and the heavy bier.
Then we weep for ourselves, and wish thee good-bye.2 Life was too great a bore on one peg, and that a bad one.3
1 “The Poet's Simple Faith” (trans. by Edward Dowden).
3 From note, written in pencil, found folded on the poet's bosom, as he lay insensible after taking poison.
2 66 A Dirge.”
HECTOR BERLIOZ (1803–1867) IT T seems to me that I am going down hill with fearful
velocity ; life is so short, and the thought of its approaching end appears to have occurred to me very often for some time past, and so it comes to pass
that I snatch with fierce avidity, rather than gather, the flowers within my reach as I glide down the slope of the bitter incline.1
I am in a hurry to untie or cut all the bonds which chain me to art, so that I may be at any time ready to say to death, “Whenever you please!” I dare not complain when I think of your intolerable sufferings.
Are such sufferings the compulsory consequences of our organisations ? Must we be punished for having throughout our lives adored the beautiful ? Probably
We have drunk too deeply of the intoxicating cup; we have run too far after the ideal.2
True it is that this adoration of art renders us cruelly exacting, and makes everyday life, which, alas ! is the real life, press twice as heavily upon us.
What are we to do? To hope ? To despair ? To resign ourselves ? To sleep? To die? Not so. After all, by faith alone we are saved; by faith only we are lost. “All the world's a stage.” What world? The earth ? The world of fashion ? And are there players, too, in the other worlds ? Are the dramas there as sad or as visible as among us ? Are their theatres as tardy in
1 From letter to Humbert, October 3, 1841.
2 From letter written August 26, 1862.
enlightenment, and have their audiences time to grow old before their eyes are opened so that they see clearly ?1
RALPH WALDO EMERSON
(1803–1882) I ASK constantly of all men whether life may not
My whole philosophy—which is very real-teaches acquiescence and optimism.3
To live too long is the capital misfortune, and I sometimes think, if we shall not parry it by better art of living, we shall learn to include in our morals some bolder control of the facts. 4
Let a man learn to look for the permanent in the mutable and fleeting ; let him learn to bear the disappearance of things he was wont to reverence, without losing his reverence; let him learn that he is here, not to work, but to be worked upon; and that, though abyss open under abyss, and opinion displace opinion, all are at last contained in the Eternal Cause
If my bark sink, 'tis to another sea.5
All the comfort I have found teaches me to confide
1 From letter written November 10, 1864.
3 From letter to same, July 31, 1841.
that I shall not have less in times and places that I do not yet know. I have known admirable persons without feeling that they exhaust the possibilities of virtue and talent. I have seen what glories of climate, of summer mornings and evenings, of midnight sky,—I have enjoyed the benefits of all this complex machinery of arts and civilisation, and its results of comfort. The good Power can easily provide me millions more as good. Shall I hold on with both hands to every paltry possession ? All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen. Whatever it be which the great Providence prepares for us, it must be something large and generous, and in the great style of his works. The future must be up to the style of our faculties,—of memory, of hope, of imagination, of reason. I have a house, a closet which holds my books, a table, a garden, a field; are these, any or all, a reason for refusing the angel who beckons me away, as if there were no room or skill elsewhere that could reproduce for me as my like or my enlarging wants may require? We wish to live for what is great, not for what is mean.
I do not wish to live for the sake of my warm house, my orchard, or my pictures.
Of immortality, the soul, when well employed, is incurious. It is so well that it is sure it will be well. It asks no questions of the Supreme Power. The son of Antiochus asked his father when he would join battle? “Dost thou fear,” replied the King, “ that thou only in all the army wilt not hear the trumpet ? ” "Tis a higher thing to confide, that, if it is best we should live, we shall live,—'tis higher to have this con
1 From essay on “ Immortality.”