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HENRI PASTEUR (1822–1895)
Y philosophy is of the heart and not of the mind,
and I give myself up, for instance, to those feelings about eternity which come naturally at the bedside of a cherished child drawing its last breath. At those supreme moments there is something in the depths of our souls which tells us that the world
be more than a mere combination of phenomena proper
to a mechanical equilibrium brought out of the chaos of the elements simply through the gradual action of the forces of matter. I admire them all, our philosophers ! We have experiments to straighten and modify our ideas, and we constantly find that nature is other than we had imagined. They, who are always guessing, how can they know !1
There are two men in each one of us: the scientist, he who starts with a clear field and desires to rise to the knowledge of Nature through observation, experimentation, and reasoning, and the man of sentiment, the man of belief, the man who mourns his dead children and who cannot, alas, prove that he will see them again, but who believes that he will, and lives in that hope; the man who will not die like a vibrio, but who feels that the force that is within him cannot die. The two domains are distinct, and woe to him who tries to let them trespass on each other in the so imperfect state of human knowledge. 2
1 From letter to Sainte-Beuve, 1865.
WILLIAM (JOHNSON) CORY
(1823–1892) YOU OU promise heavens free from strife,
Pure truth, and perfect change of will ; But sweet, sweet is this human life,
So sweet, I fain would breathe it still ;
there is no substance here, One great reality above: Back from that void I shrink in fear,
And child-like hide myself in love : Show me what angels feel. Till then, I cling, a mere weak man, to men.
my mean desires
From faltering lips and fitful veins
Unwearied voices, worldless strains :
Forsooth the present we must give
To that which cannot pass away ;
By laws of time and space decay.
1 “ Mimnermus in Church.”
ERNEST RENAN (1823–1892) MY
experience of life has . .. been very pleasant,
and I do not think that there are many human beings happier than I am. I have a keen liking for the universe. There may have been moments when subjective scepticism has gained a hold upon me, but it never made me seriously doubt of the reality, and the objections which it has evoked are sequestered by me as it were within an inclosure of forgetfulness; I never give them any thought, my peace of mind is undisturbed. Then, again, I have found a fund of goodness in nature and in society. Thanks to the remarkable good luck which has attended me all my life, and always thrown me into communication with very worthy men, I have never had to make sudden changes in my attitudes. Thanks, also, to an almost unchangeable good temper, the result of moral healthiness, which is itself the result of a well-balanced mind, and of tolerably good bodily health, I have been able to indulge in a quiet philosophy, which finds expression either in grateful optimism or playful irony.
The infinite goodness which I have experienced in this world inspires me with the conviction that eternity is pervaded by a goodness not less infinite, in which I repose unlimited trust.
All that I have now to ask of the good genius which has so often guided, advised, and consoled me is a calm and sudden death at my appointed hour, be it near or distant. . . . Suffering degrades, humiliates, and leads to blasphemy. .
God's will be done! I have little chance of adding much to my store of knowledge; I have a pretty accurate idea of the amount of truth which the human mind can, in the present stage of its development, discern. I should be very grieved to have to go through one of those periods of enfeeblement during which the man once endowed with strength and virtue is but the shadow and ruin of his former self, and often, to the delight of the ignorant, sets himself to demolish the life which he has so laboriously constructed. Such an old age is the worst gift which the gods can give to
The existence which was given me without my
haying asked for it has been a beneficent one for me. Were it offered to me, I would gladly accept it over again. The age in which I have lived will not probably count as the greatest, but it will doubtless be regarded as the most amusing. Unless my closing years have some very cruel trials in store, I shall have, in bidding farewell to life, to thank the cause of all good for the delightful excursion through reality which I have been enabled to make. 1
S usual I have to congratulate myself, every birth
day, on finding myself happier than I was on the last. The more unnecessary everything becomes to one, the more one's capacity for enjoying everything is increased, and the more one returns to a childish pleasure in life. At sixty-seven I begin again to see
1 From Recollections of My Youth (conclusion).
the daisies as I saw them sixty years ago. But besides this increase of capacity for happiness, I have more circumstantial blessings than ever I had—better health, freedom from worldly anxieties, two or three friendsyourself not least—whose dearness grows with time, innocent and loving wife and children, with plenty of leisure to enjoy them, and innumerable other blessings, -all doubled by a readiness to part with them all, when the unknown season comes.1
... Life, with the happiest of us, unless we get out of it early, is a deep tragedy, or a succession of tragedies, and the end of each of us is to be the subject of a tragedy. There is nothing so consoling about such evils as their inevitability.2
FREDERICK MAX MÜLLER
(1823–1890) MY practical religion was what I had learnt from
my mother; that remained unshaken in all storms, and in its extreme simplicity and childishness answered all the purposes for which religion is meant. Then followed, in the Universities of Leipzig and Berlin, the purely historical and scientific treatment of religion, which, while it explained many things and destroyed many things, never interfered with my early ideas of right and wrong, never disturbed my life with God and in God, and seemed to satisfy all my religious wants. I never was frightened or shaken by the critical
1 From letter to Mrs. Jackson, July 25, 1890.