Happiness Accessible To All
( Originally Published 1914 )
I. Nature has always been calumniated. A systematic disparagement conceals from man its beauties and its benefits. We are all under an invincible inclination to slander its objects, to disfigure its course. Certain systems of morality, which should glorify it, only degrade it to the level of the ill-humour of mankind. Man, forgetful of the privileged part which he has been made to play in the progress of the world, has always shown himself ungrateful toward his destiny. Instead of thinking of the risks of the evolution which has placed him at the head of created beings, he does nothing but lament over his fate. Yet all that the gods had in their possession, they have relinquished in favour of men. Strength and intelligence, the domination and the comprehension of environment, the adaptation to external conditions, how many divine gifts, including the mind, in which the deity itself is born and vanishes! Dissatisfied man constantly asks more; he asks chiefly the impossible.
Does he not resemble the lucky gambler who, after breaking the bank, grumbles because it is empty?
II. Kind nature has permitted men to appropriate for private use certain of her elements. We might say, however, that, solicitous for the happiness of the species, she has reserved for the advantage of all her essential benefits. Inalienable and never alienated, these serve to benefit every human being, for all are equally dear to the eternal principle of matter.
Wherever we turn our eyes, we find inexhaustible elements of happiness. We have only to will, and they are ours.
Among their number are the Beauties of Nature. Let us but try to understand these. To do so we have only to love them. This is all nature asks to enable her to console, embellish, and strengthen our life. The source of lofty pleasures, she multi-plies and places these within our reach. To idlers, she furnishes a pleasant pastime. We need only gaze, and the soul is filled with unutterable charms. To the toilers, and the wearied ones of life, she affords restorative relaxation; to all, the joy of living. Equally tender and beneficent to the entire world, she knows neither the privileges of birth nor of fortune. Those most abandoned by fate have the same right and the same possibility of warming and renewing themselves within her bosom. Mountain or sea, field or forest, all incarnate the infinite aspects of beauty, the causes of various joys. It would be difficult to enumerate the sources of pleasure which the contemplation of nature affords. They are innumerable: sun-rise and sunset, fair weather and rain, the moon with its varied changes, sea and mountain, forest or plain, rivers or lakes, the clouded or the starry sky, azure or impenetrable space, the melancholy of the eternal passing of things which will never give the integral expression of their infinite aspects, their repercussions upon man, mysterious, fugitive, and indiscernible.
Are not the mountains, the waves, and the sky a part of me and of my soul, as Manfred said?'
For earth is full of Paradise. Insensate man persists in seeking it where there is no chance that it will be found.
When, wearied by terrestrial landscapes, we raise our eyes toward the sky, what an illimitable spectacle of wealth and grandeur is presented to our admiration!
The clouds driven by the wind afford an infinite variety of forms of beauty, whose observation gives us pleasures of rare intensity. And what-ever the poverty of our life may be, whatever may be the latitude that shelters us, the view of the heavens will be presented with the same freedom to every man and to every woman.
We admire art, but we do not sufficiently admire nature. Yet is there a painter who is capable of rendering the innumerable shades of her beauty? There is not one, as there is no architect qualified to imitate her structures of unrivalled boldness, of grandeur surpassing our imagination, of an art more sublime than all the arts living or vanished. Before, beside, above, and below us, there are worlds of beauty, more vast and rich than those gathered in the most famous museums.
III. Mankind is only a theatre offered to the eyes of human beings. Each one of us is at the same time actor and spectator.
The part which we play often does not depend upon ourselves, but that of looking, judging, laughing, applauding, hissing, filling our souls with ecstasy or bitterness, vibrating or suffering with the actors, constitutes our indestructible privilege, a privilege possessed in the same degree by the king and the farm-labourer and exercised according to the greatness of their souls. Whoever ac-customs himself to look around him creates sources of solid pleasure. Monarchs themselves confess that they are our subjects,—subjects of our reasoning, of our judgment. We summon them before our minds, we admire or despise them, we applaud or hiss them. The most dreaded autocrats are thus transformed into prisoners whom we summon before the bar of our consideration. Vainly do they desire to rule, to humble us. We succeed through our reason in subjecting to our judgments our haughtiest masters.
After having taken a seat at the performance of life, we have a right to listen to the finest, the most famous among the artists. We follow them in the smallest details of their career. In case of need, we abandon them, choosing at our pleasure more attractive actors.
A delightful spectacle, which we attend or leave with absolute independence, a performance as changeful as the colour of the sky, never twice the same: enveloping, impressing, thrilling! It presents itself in everything that is said and done. Does not the point in question principally concern human beings and ideas which touch us most closely: whom we love or abhor, whose triumph we desire or fear?
IV. The progress of education and of the modern press have singularly enlarged the stage of life. The rarest, the most foreign, the most varied actors are thus introduced into the performance presented to our curiosity. Our distant ancestors were shut within the precincts of a narrow building which only the members of their tribe could enter. Gradually the widened edifice has served to shelter actors belonging to larger and larger groups. Now the entire world is contributing to make our individual life more interesting.
We profit by certain pleasures, just as we derive benefit from sleep unconsciously. Vainly do they adorn existence and obtain for us unexpected de-lights. We ignore these pleasvres by not giving them our attention. But let us try to pause before the spectacle observed in a sort of lethargy. Let us reflect for an instant upon the varied pleasures which we obtain by reading a paper that publishes for our perusal the most curious facts, collected from every quarter of the globe. Moreover, if a phenomenon becomes especially interesting, the paper will take pains to present its most striking, most dramatic, most exciting sides.
Seated in an arm-chair, we follow all the vicissitudes of the world-theatre. Unknown people are thus working in distant countries to arouse, to maintain, and to satisfy our curiosity. How many varied sensations, how many intense pleasures, how many noble and lofty thoughts spring up within us at the contact of this life of the human race presenting itself in a palace dazzling with light! Our pleasure increases in proportion as we grasp the meaning of this complex spectacle. What a source of joys, of pleasures, and of thoughts lies in the lives of other people which seem to be enacted for our diversion.
To enjoy the sweetness of the open air, we need only think of the unpleasant consequences when it is foul. To grasp intelligently the value of this human intimacy which the perfection of means of communication and of the printing-press bestows upon modern society, think what it would have meant to the great intellects of the past. Imagine Dante, Montaigne, or Shakespeare living under conditions making possible the ceaseless contact of mankind through space, sharing the festivals accessible to the humblest among us, and we shall better understand the worth and the interest of our surroundings.
V. A fairy is visiting man. In her kindness, she offers him a remedy for isolation, lassitude of mind, the vexations of life.
"Whenever you feel unhappy and need forgetfulness of your troubles; when, wounded by life, you desire a supreme comforter; when, harassed by the dulness of your environment, you aspire to the society of a superior being; when you desire to laugh or to weep over the miseries here below in company with a brother spirit, you have merely to take this mysterious talisman and who-ever you call will come at your summons."
The fairy, having thus spoken, gave to man the book.
The book which, thanks to its modest price and the increasing number of libraries, has be-come as accessible as the newspaper, affords an inexhaustible source for augmenting the intensity of our existence! It is not the book of one country, it is the book of every country which, responding to the closer and closer bonds uniting the human intelligence, is presented to us. The supreme thought of all minds is thus lavished upon every man! We enjoy this privilege, as we enjoy the benefits of oxygen, and pay no heed.
VI. Men are not very interesting. They resemble one another, we are told, like two leaves of the same tree. Observe them more closely, and you will learn that what we term similitude, is frequently the result of our ignorance of things.
When we think that fifteen persons can be seated around a table in 1,350 thousand millions of ways, it becomes more than paradoxical to talk about the uniformity of men.
Because blindness prevents us from seeing all that there is to see of the external world, it should not be inferred that the latter has vanished.
Men, with their physiological and intellectual varieties, should present myriads and myriads of dissimilar beings.
What is more agitating than a human life which is developing in our immediate vicinity? There can be nothing more dramatic than the human groups which, above and below us, are struggling against their destinies!
VII. Fatigued by the drama of men, we have before us that of the animals. What a harvest of vast sensations this domain also affords! We have ripened. In our enlarged comprehension of created beings we know the unity of soul that pervades Nature. It is no longer solely the scholars or the Paytone+Ones who proclaim this unity; the poets and novelists are also imbued with the idea. Balzac tells us that the Creator has used one and the same pattern for every organised being. The animals form a portion of the Infinite Spirit animating the universe. In contemplating and studying the inferior kindred of man, we feel a singular delight, which makes us descend into the lowest depths of the formation of our "ego." We thus glide to the eternally young source of aged humanity.
Whether it is the dog, the cat, the horse, or mere insects with their infinite variations, observing these affords treasures of enjoyment. Read again the touching chapters which lovers of the brute creation have devoted to their friends, the animals, and you will see, if you observe intelligently, to what an extent the life of a horse, a dog, a cat, a bird, is filled with thought, with duty, with joy, with love, all the attributes of the conscious life of man. The pages of Romanes, Lubbock, Darwin, or those of Magaud d'Aubusson reveal to us animals, birds, insects, rich in numberless attractions and endowed with an intelligence that is full of charm. Man thus discovers around him a series of groups living for his service, offering rare sensations to his soul, ever seeking something new, harmonious prospects which cast subtle rays upon the great shadow in which our future is lost.
How many examples of tenderness and of primordial virtues do we not encounter among the animals? The family affections, which we appreciate so highly in human beings, flourish equally among our inferior brothers. These animals even attain a degree of heroism. Whether mammals or fish, all offer us examples of the sublime love of parents for their offspring.
Schweinfurth relates a curious incident of a female elephant, a typical incident in the animal world. Hunters, to capture her, set fire to the jungle. The anxious mother tried to save her little ones from the approaching fire. Constantly drawing water into her trunk, she threw it over the baby elephants; she covered them with her own body and uttered cries of despair when her efforts became futile.
Seeley, Cuvier, Lacépède, and Valenciennes found similar virtues among the fish. The chromis, nicknamed paterfamilias, shelters the fertilised eggs in his jaws. Among the amphibia and the reptiles, if the female is the guardian of the eggs, the male is their defender. As for birds, Toussenel affirms, they have the sentiment of family and paternity more strongly implanted than has even man. Two species of paroquets do not survive their husbands. Who of us has not witnessed the heart-rending sorrow which seizes upon turtle-doves that have lost their mates?
Monogamy, so much admired among men, and so rarely practised, is found far more frequently among the animals. Darwin affirms that he has never observed cases of polygamy among the rodents or the insectivora. Even the common rats, whose reputation is so bad, have, according to many naturalists, only one companion. And if the lions give themselves up to polygamy, they are the only ones to practise it in the family of the carnivora.
Birds, ordinarily monogamous, become polygamous only when domesticated. This is also the case with ducks or wild geese, that afterward live in captivity. It is the rearing and domestication of animals practised by man that turn them aside from their family virtues.
Lastly, what is to be said of the intelligence of animals! How charming is that quip of La Mettrie, asserting that "if the brutes could talk, they would prove that there is no bigger fool than the human being. May they have the inclination to keep silent!" But they do not speak. Yet who knows what the future has in store for us?
The animals, according to Haeckel, are in the position of deaf-mutes who are unable to articulate their cries on account of an imperfection of their vocal cords.
But since we know how to make these deaf-mutes speak, perhaps we shall succeed in educating also the animals. Then what a revolution there will be in the relations between organised beings!
The miracles wrought by the sciences render this hypothesis plausible. But while awaiting its realisation, which will require a few dozens of centuries or of years, let us console ourselves by thinking of the infinite testimonials with which we are furnished by the relative observations of the affectionate and intellectual life of our inferior brothers.
The world of plants and flowers! Do we know any delight more unusual than that which beautiful flowers afford to him who has learned to love them? How true is the page of La Bruyère about the man who is satisfied with his day because he has seen beautiful tulips, or concerning the happy mortal who possesses a rare variety of plums!
These flowers, at which we glance with an absent eye, enshrine numberless and endless mysteries. The little withered rose which we fling to the winds is animated by problems of tremendous gravity. There are laws of floral architecture more exact and more implacable than those which govern our buildings.
In the primary order, specialists tell us, the flower puts the five parts of a whorl upon a compact spiral, and this arrangement is made in such a manner that two turns of the spire receive the series of five parts. Plants developing under the influence of mathematical laws, what a world of enigmas of which our ancestors were wholly ignorant!
We may add that they never had the opportunity to admire so many species of plants as we see in our days. The smallest garden plot of the workingman often contains more varieties, and more beautiful specimens, than the ancient gardens of the palace of Versailles. The modern man enjoys the plants more easily, loves them more, and also understands them better. The plants to our comprehending eyes are animated with a new life. We understand and admire their sensitiveness, which is almost equal to that of the animals. In watching the smallest plant we see it stirred by the cares of life. The plasmodium of a mucilaginous mushroom, placed upon a wet paper, draws into itself at once if the dampness evaporates. Moisten the paper, and the cryptogam will return. It will even ascend several millimetres if a bit of board covered with gelatine is placed there. But wet a piece of paper with salted water and the mush-room will avoid it, as an animal turns away from a disagreeable or dangerous food. When we see the mimosas defending themselves from the rapacity of herbivorous animals by folding back their leaves and simulating a dry, dead bush; the pa-pill of the Drosera seize as food the living insect; the leaves of the Dionaea (muscipula) close for digestion when a bit of meat or egg is placed upon them, and remain open if a stone or a scrap of paper is put there, we feel moved by a sense of tenderness toward these mysterious existences blooming or fading around us.
The artificial sleep to which plants are subjected and the forcing caused by this method, present numberless surprises to plant lovers, in the trans-formations produced in the vegetable world!
Under Francis I. France possessed about fifty varieties of apples, she now has several hundreds. It is the same with other fruits, vegetables, or flowers.
Where will this multiplicity of forms and qualities end? Mendel has demonstrated that, with three kinds of sweet-peas, each possessing a special characteristic which distinguishes it from the two others, eight perfectly stable types may be created, and afterward, through successive hybridations, twenty-seven more or less unstable forms. With four specimens, we reach the large number of thirty-two and eighty!
We may add the spontaneous variations, such as Vries has formulated, and infinite horizons open for our delight. Have we not succeeded in altering the perfume of flowers and the flavour of fruits, as in the singular case of Sahlies, releasing the fragrance of magnolias, or producing apples with the taste of strawberries?
Science, that worker of miracles, has reanimated the world of plants. In their beauty, long regarded as lifeless, it has recovered the soul of things. According to vegetable physiology, plants feel, act, and live. They even possess memory. Prudent, they work for the future. Notice a young plant that is placed between two sources of light. It will turn in the direction of the most intense, the most brilliant. And it stores the light it seeks, as man economises for days of need.
The difference which separates plants from men is often that of degree, not of kind. Certain botanists treat them with tender solicitude, like sisters sleeping in infancy.
Be kind to them, and sweetness will flow into your own soul. We need not possess a garden or trees to enjoy the pleasures of plant life. Nor is it necessary to possess a portion of the sky to enjoy its beauties.
VIII. If we lack love for or interest in our fellow-beings or the humble brothers of our life, let us look within ourselves. What a rich spectacle of unexpected sensations! A world is hidden in each individual. We are not, as the ancients believed, a single and indivisible being. We are multiple beings. Man varies, it is said. It would be more accurate to say that men succeed each other within us. During the course of our existence, numerous persons have lived and died in every one of us. The child that is born does not resemble the being that he will become in five or six years. The lad is unlike the child, as the youth is unlike the lad. The man of mature years differs from the adult, as the old man differs from the one of middle age.
When, on the threshold of death, we cast a glance backward, we are astonished to see that our moral and intellectual life has been only a successive passage of beings born within ourselves. They were dear to us, because they formed a portion of our successive personality. Nevertheless, the spectacle of the simultaneous multiplicity of our being impresses us least. In the presence of deeds and crystallised sensations, we forget the causes which have given them birth as, in naming a battle, we neglect the obscure heroes by whom it was fought. Yet our conscience, nay, even the guiding ideas of our life, are often the fruit of a competition between the various beings which constitute our " ego."
We will not go as far as Claude Bernard. This scientist was convinced that each spinal nervous centre was the seat of the principle which feels, understands, moves, and wills. Our ego, consequently, would be composed of millions of psychic individualities, graded from the encephalic ganglions and the elongated marrow to the lower end of the spinal tree.
Let us be content with a few subconsciousnesses which lie, think, suffer, and rejoice in the depths of our ego.
IX. At the present day we know that there are within us at least two or three psychical beings. The name, frequently unattractive, by which they are christened, such as subliminary or second consciousness, is of small importance. These double, triple, or even quadruple beings—as certain psychologists admit—dwell within us, side by side. The desire to observe is enough to make their life burst forth before our eyes, luminous in its clearness and disturbing in its manifestations. Thus, in each one of us, different beings elbow each other. Their entirety forms our ego. It requires only a conflict of passions, an act of energy bringing contradictory motives into play, to enable us to perceive these various beings rushing forward and taking part in the fray. The more the passions clash against our acquired morality, the more evident this inward battle becomes. One might think it a duel between beings of flesh and blood fighting over a coveted prize. In the presence of the passionate love inspired by the wife of a friend dear to our heart, our second self suddenly awakes. With eloquence generous in its impetuosity, this second self will show us the moral gulf to which our conduct is dragging us. Shocked and indignant at the wiles of our desire, it will not even hesitate to overwhelm its rival with the utmost contempt. Whether victor or vanquished, it will struggle and will do its duty. Indefatigable, it will resist for months the invading passion. Often, bruised and exhausted, it keeps silence. But it will make its presence felt by the remorse which it will not cease to lavish. As victor it will be gentle. It will surround our moral hesitations with its solicitude. It will emphasise the benefits of triumphant duty and will labour for the entire perfection of the being of which it is only a simple emanation.
The ancient Guebers saw the principles of good and evil, their Ormuzd and Ahriman, without. We behold these multiplied and living within ourselves.
Try to observe the birth of the decisive actions of your life. Endeavour to surprise your passions red-handed in the act of inward strife, and you will readily perceive that behind the facts seen, there are facts more curious that are not seen.
Few are those who feel within themselves the existence of these "subliminal" beings. But how numerous are those who hear the voice of their conscience and obey its summons!
X. We have within us certain dream companions. They are gay or sorrowful. They are commonplace or lofty in character. They are often in harmony with our tastes and with the condition of our soul. We need only associate and talk with these and we shall improve ourselves while perfecting them. The man who has learned to converse with these subconscious beings will have within his reach pleasures which the society of human personalities could rarely afford.
The return into ourselves, the contemplation of our own ego, seems to constitute a part of the modern conscience. Follow the development of the literature of our day. Never, at any period, has our inner life played a similar part in letters. Whether it is the psychological, analytical, romantic, or even historical romance, the author will always try to delve into the souls of his heroes. What impresses us in the classic authors is the implacable and violent action which drags along, as if in a mad dance, fatality and its victims.
Analysis, so dear to our modern mentality, seeks to conquer wider and wider domains over unconsciousness.
The private journal and memoirs are at a premium. What constitutes their interest, unless it is the windows that they open to us upon the soul and upon souls?
To see with what eager curiosity we follow the lives of others and shun our own "ego," makes one think of a man who would desert his own children to interest himself in the fate of those who were strangers.
XI. The world overflows with complaints of the wickedness of man. Irony and distrust wound our sharpened, often even morbid, sensibility. Against the wounds of self-love, what shield is more efficacious than that of our inward life?
In each one of us dwell what psychologists term our subconsciousnesses. Human negligence does not grant them even special names, which might facilitate the investigation of our "ego." The latter should thus be taught to turn them to account. In case of moral anguish, the support of the chosen being, of the subconsciousness that is best suited to assuage our sorrows, would more easily calm our apprehensions. For lack of a technical term, let us say simply consciousness No. I, No. 2, or No. 3. The name is a trivial matter.'
When I think of the internal colloquies between these subconsciousnesses, a sort of tender emotion takes possession of me. I see under these silent conflicts between two, or often three, entities equally dear to my being, the formation of the guiding principles of my life. You smile, my friend. Laugh, if you choose, at the outbursts, but try this method notwithstanding. Enter your own personality. Try to witness, as a disinterested spectator, a battle between the passionate appeals of life, and your moral and religious principles. Listen to the voices of some, and the answers of the others. Note their successive arguments. Repeat the same experiment ten, fifteen, twenty times. A day will come when, charmed in your turn, you will be rapturously interested in the scenes of the life kindling or dying in the home of your "ego."
We are accustomed to admit, without too much contradiction, the successive variations of our personality. It will be necessary, we may believe, to thrust farther back the true progress of the metaphysical person, and consider the idea even of a personal unity as a semblance . . . (See Pierre Janet, Psychological Automatism.) In short, by the side of the successive psychologleal existences, we must admit the simultaneous psychological existences which experience discovers, but does not create. . . .
XII. Does not the pause before our consciousness, as we watch it live, think, feel, enjoy, suffer, increase the intensity or the range of our existence?
To lovers of life who complain of its brief duration, this contemplation affords an attractive means of soothing their regret. Our purely external life, too much absorbed in the worship of money, might perhaps find its balance in this mental pilgrimage. The soul and the mind would soften all the acerbity of the outward life, directed and inspired by de-sires and instincts for which we often blush and yet always endure.
We pass close by the wealth scattered within and around us by the primeval force of things. We have more riches within our souls than outside of our personalities. Everything depends on our desire to use this wealth. But, in many respects, we resemble the gold-seeker, who abandons the best veins to engage in a search for diamonds that are not to be found. The mission of education and of people of intelligence would be to check the unfortunate man in his foolish enterprise. We should point out to him the unappreciated treasures lying at his feet. Above all, we ought to open the eyes of those who, while closing them, weep because unable to see anything before and around them.
XIII. Plato had already discovered that the contemplation of pure beauty gives value to life. Leonardo da Vinci sought in it consolation for the soul's imprisonment in the body. Kant observes that "the beautiful prepares us for loving some-thing." Superior human beings have always drawn from beauty a state of ideal happiness.
Modern education ought to render this happiness accessible to all. From the top to the bottom of the human ladder, all should enjoy the divine music which fills the universe. Man has been taught many wearisome things. Why has he not been taught to look around him? Above all, why is he not taught to look within himself?
To render this emotion accessible to all will bring to every one a fragment of this heavenly firmament which charms and attracts. Suffer life to be penetrated by it, and existence will become a work of art. We shall be tempted to establish harmony between our acts and to harmonise our acts with life. Beauty and happiness will find in this readjustment an equal share.
The worship of the beautiful in nature suggests to us the worship of the good. A soul elevated and purified by the sight of the beautiful, becomes better. Above all, it becomes intolerant of the littlenesses and meannesses of life. Moralists, and not the least important among these, for in-stance, Guyau, have desired to base morality upon beauty. According to these moral Paytone+Ones, Art should form an integral part of existence. Our joys ought to be joys of beauty. Passion for the beautiful has doubtless carried them too far. The impressions of beauty being only the result of individual sensations, one can-not see clearly how we could deduce from these a government of life, or a duty obligatory upon every one. Yet it is beyond question that if beauty reigned as sovereign of the world, goodness would become the co-director of human lives.
Let us also teach man to enjoy the beauties hidden in the depths of his own being. Young people should be accustomed to make pilgrimages within their souls, as they are taken to external spectacles.
What is poesy? It is not the art of singing in the moonlight, the hand quivering on an instrument of several strings. Nor is it the art of rhyming strange or harmonious words. Poesy is the power of our soul to raise itself above life and make it commune with the invisible genius or the visible beauties of nature. This poesy ought to be enjoyed by every one, for every one might feel its charm. We are born with a talent for garbing in beauty, with the pen or the brush, attractive or ugly things. But all can delight in the joy and the beauty diffused throughout nature. All can be poets !
The pedagogy of the future will toil to accomplish this ascent, and will labour, above all, to make the sons unlike their fathers.