« AnteriorContinuar »
must take such different courses, according as there are or are not eternal blessings for which to hope, that it is impossible to take a single step with sense or judgment, save in view of that point which ought to be our end and aim.1
We need no great elevation of soul to understand that here is no true and solid satisfaction, that all our pleasures are but vanity, our evils infinite, and lastly that death, which threatens us every moment, must infallibly and within a few years place us in the dread alternative of being for ever either annihilated or wretched.
Nothing is more real than this, nothing more terrible. Brave it out as we may, that is yet the end which awaits the fairest life in the world. Let us reflect on this, and then say if it be not certain that there is no good in this life save in the hope of another, that we are happy only in proportion as we approach it, and that as there is no more sorrow for those who have an entire assurance of eternity, so there is no happiness for those who have not a ray of its light.2
Between us and hell or heaven there is nought but life, the frailest thing in all the world. 3
When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and after, the small space which I fill, or even can see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing, and which know nothing of me, I am terrified, and
1 From the Thoughts of Blaise Pascal (trans. by Kegan Paul).
wonder that I am here rather than there, for there is no reason why here rather than there, or now rather than then. Who has set me here? By whose order and design have this place and time been destined for me ?-Memoria hospitis unius dici praetereuntis.?
This is what I see and what troubles me. I look on all sides, and see nothing but obscurity; nature offers me nothing but matter for doubt and disquiet. Did I see nothing there which marked a Divinity I should decide not to believe in him. Did I see everywhere the marks of a Creator, I should rest peacefully in faith. But seeing too much to deny, and too little to affirm, my state is pitiful, and I have a hundred times wished that if God upheld nature, he would mark the fact unequivocally, but that if the signs which she gives of a God are fallacious, she would wholly suppress them, that she would either say all or say nothing, that I might see what part I should take. Instead of this, in my present state, ignorant of what I am and of what I ought to do, I know neither my condition nor my duty. My heart is wholly bent to know where is the true good in order to follow it; nothing would seem to me too costly for eternity.?
Having no certainty apart from faith, whether man was created by a good God, by an evil demon, or by chance, it may be doubted whether these principles within us are true or false or uncertain, according to our origin.
And more than this : that no one has any certainty, apart from faith, whether he wake or sleep, seeing that 1 From the Thoughts of Blaise Pascal (trans. by Kegan Paul).
in sleep we firmly believe we are awake, we believe that we see space, figure, and motion, we are aware of the lapse and measure of time; in a word, we act as though we were awake. So that half of our life being passed in sleep, we have, by our own avowal, no idea of truth, whatever we may suppose. Since, then, all our sentiments are illusions, who can tell but that the other half of life wherein we fancy ourselves awake be not another sleep somewhat different from the former, from which we wake when we fancy ourselves asleep ? word, as we often dream that we dream, and heap vision upon vision, it may well be that this life itself is but a dream, on which the others are grafted, from which we wake at death; having in our lifetime as few principles of what is good and true as during natural sleep, the different thoughts which agitate us being perhaps only illusions, like those of the flight of time and the vain fantasies of our dreams.1
I love poverty because he [Jesus] loved it. I love wealth because it gives the powerof helping the miserable. I keep my troth to every one, rendering not evil to those who do me wrong; but I wish them a lot like mine, in which I receive neither good nor evil from men. to be just, true, sincere, and faithful to all men; I have a tender heart for those to whom God has more closely bound me; and whether I am alone or seen of men I place all my actions in the sight of God, who shall judge them, and to whom I have consecrated them all.
Such are my opinions, and each day of my life I bless my Redeemer who has implanted them in me, who has 1 From the Thoughts of Blaise Pascal (trans. by Kegan Paul).
transformed me, a man full of weakness, misery, and lust, of pride and ambition, into a man exempt from all these evils, by the power of his grace, to which all the glory is due ; since of myself I have only misery and
MADAME DE SÉVIGNÉ
(1626–1696) N reality it [old age] is not at all what one expects.
Providence leads us with so much goodness through the different stages of our life, that we hardly are conscious as they pass by. This loss is effected with such gentleness, that it is imperceptible: it is the hand on the dial which we do not see moving. If at twenty they were to give us the position in the family, and to show us in a looking-glass the countenance which we have or should have at sixty, comparing it with that of twenty, we should be quite overcome and horrified at that face; but it is day by day that we grow older: to-day we are as we were yesterday, and to-morrow as to-day; and thus we go on without feeling it,—and this is one of the miracles of that Providence that I adore.
How foolish it is not to enjoy with gratitude the consolations which God sends us, after the afflictions which He sometimes causes us to feel! There is, it seems to me, great wisdom in enduring storms with resignation, and in enjoying the calm when it pleases Him to restore it to us, for this is to follow the ordinances of Providence. Life is too short to halt too long
1 From the Thoughts of Blaise Pascal (trans. by Kegan Paul).
in one frame of mind; one must take the days as they come, and I feel that I am of this happy temperament.1
BENEDICT BARUCH SPINOZA
ENJOY life, and endeavour to pass it not in
weeping and sighing, but in peace, joy, and cheerfulness, and from time to time climb thereby a step higher. I know, meanwhile (which is the highest pleasure of all), that all things happen by the power and unchangeable decree of the most perfect Being.
Between derision and laughter I mark a great difference. For laughter, like jesting, is mere pleasure; and therefore is in itself good, so it be not excessive. Surely 'tis but an ill-favoured and sour superstition that forbids rejoicing. For why is it a better deed to quench thirst and hunger than to drive out melancholy? This is my way of life, and thus I have attuned my mind. No deity, nor any one but an envious churl, hath delight in my infirmity and inconvenience, nor reckons towards our virtues weeping, sobs, fear, and other such matters which are tokens of a feeble mind; but contrariwise the more we are moved with pleasure the more we pass to greater perfection—that is, the more must we needs partake of the divine nature. Therefore it is the wise man's part to use the world and delight himself in it as he best may, not indeed to satiety, for that is no delight. . .
1 Trans. by Miss Thackeray (Mrs. Ritchie). 2 From letter written to W. Van Blyenburgh (about 1664). 3 From the Ethic (trans. by F. Pollock), Part iv., Prop. 45, Schol.