Optimism And Pessimism
( Originally Published 1914 )
I. What was termed, toward 1830, the disease of the age is, in truth, the disease of all the ages. Like the bigot who dreams of Paradise and labours only for the damnation, of his soul, mankind craves solely happiness and creates along its path nothing but misery.
The human mind is often only a place of torture where all who enter are crucified. Religion, philosophy, and literature, sisters who are frequently at odds, affectionately clasp hands, when the object is to crush the joy and happiness of their faithful friends. The futile tears which religions have made men shed would form an ocean capable of drowning our contemporaries. Philosophy and literature second them to the best of their ability. All sow sadness.
Then we harvest their fruits only to fill our hearts with bitterness. Sons of ancestors with withered souls, we inherit their evil inclinations, and add to these the sorrowful products of our now lives.
II. The condition of mind which the Germans expressively define by the word Katzenjammer has become the normal state of the human race. We are in the situation of people on the morning after nights of debauchery and insomnia. Like Poland which was intoxicated when Augustus had been drinking, we are suffering from the excesses of our forefathers.
Let us consider with .what eagerness the intellectual guides of mankind devote themselves to the task of barring the way by establishing all sorts of mental "no thoroughfares." One would say that they see only the darkest, the most dismal corners of the mind. After having diligently hunted them out, they take delight in imprisoning us within. The despair and dissatisfaction with life assume such varied forms that there are some for every taste. Alluring and subtle ones for delicate souls; repugnant and depressing ones for coarser souls; melancholy ones for dreamy souls; those with a slight make-up for feminine souls; profound ones for virile souls—dull, disturbed, or limpid, they are coloured with every shade. As vice assumes different aspects, including that of virtue, the desolation of life often disguises itself under the charms of gaiety. And the scholarly person of our day, stifling under the dense smoke poured forth by the intellectual bonfire, finds himself infinitely wretched.
III. Our minds are the legitimate or illegitimate children of those that have preceded them. Products of their predecessors, they preserve visible or mysterious traits of these forerunners. Cerebral labour begins with appropriation and not with creation. Pedagogy aims only at facilitating intellectual digestion. The thoughts of our lives are often only the products of well or badly performed digestion.
We are often ignorant of our ancestors, but they exist nevertheless. Our sensations, and sometimes our feelings, are, therefore, only the sensations and the feelings of our masters.
IV. Here is a gay people, with a pleasant philosophy. It is regarded as a generous provider of remedies for the embittered moods from which its neighbours are suffering. We attribute to this people the most cheerful, the most harmonious conception of life. This people is the French nation. Yet we need only pause before its re-presentative minds to see that they are corroded by every evil, beginning with that of thought and ending with that of love. Whether it is Taine, Baudelaire, Maupassant, the younger Dumas, Renan, Zola, the Goncourts, Leconte de Lisle, Anatole France, or Sully-Prudhomme; Parisians, provincials, cosmopolitans; poets, thinkers, or Paytone+Ones,—all show us, behind their melodious phrases and conventional smile, a soul convulsed by profound contradictions. Their elders —Chateaubriand, Sainte-Beuve, or Lamartinealso give evidence that similar dramas were being enacted in their minds.
Finally, what shall be said of Bossuet, of Racine, of Corneille, and of so many other famous authors? Yet these are the men who have formed our understanding and nourished the emotions of our youth.
From all the heights of French intellect escapes the dreariness of desolation. Almost always present, it is not always visible.
Voltaire, the most well-poised, the most attached to life, states gravely somewhere: "Happiness is only a dream, and sorrow is real." And else-where he says : "Flies are born to be devoured by spiders, and men to be devoured by troubles." True, at this period, Voltaire had suffered from many acts of treachery. Again he tells us: "I do not know what the eternal life is, but I do know that it is a bad jest. " According to Diderot,
" We exist only in the bosom of grief and tears."—"We are the sport of uncertainty, of errors, of necessity, of illness, of wickedness, of passions, and we live among knaves and charlatans of every description."
The moralists chime in with those who are disgusted with life. La Rochefoucauld, Charron, La Bruyère, Chamfort, and Vauvenargues, all utter the same heart-rending cry, " Life is not worth living." ' The writers of other countries are distinguished, perhaps, by despondency that is less harmonious and more noisy. The German mind resembles most closely that of the Hindoos. This remark is derived from Taine. The banks of the Ganges and the banks of the Spree have a certain resemblance, or let us say with Jacquemont,
Charron's Sagesse, the source of inspiration of nearly all of our writers of aphorisms and maxims, is an incessant lamentation concerning the woes of life. The "beasts," he affirms, "have great reason to thank nature, that they have not so much mind. The first proof of human wretchedness is that its entrance into the world is vilc and shameful. There is shame in creating it, honour in its destruetion. There is eoneealment, the lights are put out while ereating it; there is glory and display in destroying it—the lamps are lighted to sec it die." "The two greatcst men," we are told elsewhere, " Caesar and Alexander, each killed more than a million men, and did not leave one to succeed them."
What would Charron say, if he were living in our days? The condemnation of organised massacres, the glory of a Pasteur making that of Napoleon pale, would doubtless have spared him the mournful sentences whose essence taints his Sagesse.
"The absurdity of Benares and the absurdity of Germany have an air of kinship." Sorrow is everywhere the same; " it is only its grimaces which vary.
V. The supreme expression of the melancholy which leaves its impress upon contemporary works, like the autumn twilight upon the sky, is incarnated in this never-to-be-forgotten line of Leconte de Lisle:
Maya! Maya! Torrent of changing chimeras!
This sadness is mingled with a horror of the universal death. Like the flow of the tide, "it swells, mutters, rolls, and goes from beach to beach morning and evening." Pantheist and deist, sceptic and believer, lover and contemptuous scorner of life, poets and realists, optimists and pessimists, all seem profoundly saddened by the ever changing and ever uniform aspects of the dream which constantly shapes and reshapes itself. The flesh, tortured while living or dead and flung into the earth, the grass of oblivion which grows over all that we have loved, these are the monotonous and heart-rending sighs which nevertheless lull and do not cease to lull humanity.
Even those who speak of the ceasing of life with love, desire thus to hide their fears of death, as Baudelaire pretends to be enraptured in the presence of the final decay, which causes him deadly shuddering. The cry of anguish of the author of Meditations (7th, "Despair") mournfully sums up the inmost sensations of all those wounded in the battle of life.
What crime have we committed, to deserve to be born?
And when we reflect upon the genesis of this lamentation which, like the dominant melody in a Wagnerian opera, goes through the literature and the philosophy of these latter centuries, we discover in the first place a baleful heritage bequeathed by the Christian religion,. or rather by all the religions united.
VI. Buddhism expresses a limitless pessimism. It begins by denying the creative principle and ends by condemning life. All that it accepts from the latter is its disappearance, its extinction, Nirvana. Death becomes the blessed and ardently desired crown of existence. Our life is filled with sorrows, and these result from longing. Must longing then be debarred? Yet how can this be done, while abandoning existence? Reflective minds need not wait for its final disappearance to enjoy the delights of nonentity. We can, or rather we ought, to hasten the arrival of death by freeing ourselves from the troublesome demands of life. The ears should be stuffed, in order not to hear its commands, its desires, its aspirations.
"The fivefold attachment to terrestrial things is sorrow, " Buddha teaches.
"This, 0 monks, is the truth concerning sorrow: Birth is suffering, old age is suffering, disease is . suffering, death is suffering, union with aught unloved is suffering, separation from the beloved is suffering, and failure to obtain the object of desire is suffering. . . . "
Nothing except pain is produced in life, and pain will remain on the earth as long as consciousness endures. When we go to the source from which disgust with life has come to us,' it is surprising to find how pale and even colourless the Schopenhauers of all the ages remain in comparison with their revered master. A feeling of intense disgust with everything that constitutes the essence of life animates the prophet. No-thing finds favour in the presence of his disappointment, which penetrates the joys and the sorrows of life; man's triumphs and experiences; love and pleasures.
"This, 0 monks, is the sacred truth concerning the suppression of pain. We must utterly crush desire, renounce it, free ourselves from it and allow it no room. . . . "
"From joy is born suffering; therefore, whoever is liberated from joy, no longer suffers."
"From love is born suffering; whoever is re-leased from love has no anguish. . . . "
And the true Brahmin is he who, "liberated from life, has found extinction," that is, finds himself freed from every desire, every weakness.
The negative principle of Buddhism is also transported into the doctrine of Cakya-Mouni. Contemplation is the object of life. Everything that constitutes the joy and the charm of existence is rejected, and men merely vegetate. The supreme ideal is the unconscious crumbling of the years, which vanish in the gulf of emptiness, without leaving any traces upon our personality. Man should aim to resemble granite, over whose surface the tempests and the rains glide without leaving any trace. By dint of seeking to render the soul insensible, it is killed. Reduced to the state of a corpse, it no longer feels anything, and thus ceases to exist.
The good sense of the unprejudiced man re-mains perplexed in the presence of this multitude of mystic formulas behind which is concealed a truth so simple—life is a misfortune which benefits no one. But why cultivate it under mountains of verbiage, instead of simply giving it a dismissal. Suicide being within the reach of all, it is surprising that it should not have been accomplished by all who have preached the incurable evil inherent in human life.
Brahminism regards the world and life as regrettable accidents.
Judaism has rendered this life very sombre, while forgetting to illuminate that of the world beyond.
The predominant care of Christianity is to poison the little joys of life. Of all the things in the world, says Pascal, the Christian shares only the sorrows, not the pleasures. Yet Christianity has taken care to kindle the fires of hope in these vague and uncertain skies. But the scepticism of our times has breathed pitilessly upon these, and the scattered dreams have left behind only the desolation of empty space. To the privileged faithful followers whom doubt has spared, remains the divine luxury of souls. But those who can still enjoy this luxury are rare. So much the better for the onward march of humanity, for this delight of souls is the death of bodies. It is the sentence of life. Already, under the Fathers of the Church, civil society had been compelled to rebel against this form of happiness. Like Buddhism, it threatened to destroy life.
VII. From all religions proceeds a breath of despair. It blows through the world like a tempest. It also blows in the form of gentle, scarcely perceptible currents of air. It filters into the most mysterious circumvolution of our brains. The emancipated thought, which appears to be most hostile to it, is also imbued. The pessimists have inherited the living or dead religions. The German pessimists, who have left an almost indelible imprint upon modern philosophy and literature, only illumine with a Buddhist torch troubles which are often utterly alien to our latitudes. And like the deliverers of olden times, the pessimists of the present day are toiling for the weakening of the vital foundations necessary to the prosperity of the individual and of the community.
VIII. The rare principles of serenity preserved in the Christian dogmas are compromised in our time. This is chiefly due to the solvent influence of the German Paytone+Ones. Hartmann even goes so far as to base the birth of Christianity upon sin and evil. Without these two roots, Christianity, he says, would not have lived. And since evil remains the eternal attribute of man, only suicide could deliver us. Bahnsen and his co-religionists preach the benefits of suicide for the help of others.
IX. I have never understood why we speak of the serenity of the Greek religion. Its conceptions of death, and its threats in regard to souls in torment, appear inhuman. They lack beauty and proportion. If the ancients did not suffer too keenly from them, it is because their minds, still young, less trained, had more resistance than ours. After all, we know less of their life than we know of the life of our country neighbours. Yet let us admit that the ideas of their dramatists and their historians are deeply tinctured by apprehensions of a cruel and unjust fate.
The gods laugh at the arrogant man, says AEschylus. Cassandra laments over human affairs, for if they prosper, a shadow annihilates them. The gods are evil by nature; they envy man and mankind. The chorus of Antigone wails: "There is no way for mortals to elude the misfortunes of destiny." Sophocles has given utterance to some thoughts which are worthy of the most bitter pessimists. "The most reasonable thing is never to be born; but when we have seen the light, the next best thing is to return whence we came."
Where shall we turn? From every direction we hear only mournful cries. The gift of penetrating the mysteries of the other life has been bestowed upon Greek genius, but what it brings back freezes us with terror. Alcestes (Euripides) returns from the realm of shades, pale and exhausted, almost dead himself from having witnessed so many horrors.
Theognis (Elegies) also tells us that "it would be better not to be born, but once born, the best thing would be to pass the gates of Hades as soon as possible." According to Plutarch, "life is a punishment and man's greatest misfortune is to be born."
The apprehensions of the Hellenes reappear among the Romans. Pliny the Elder enumerates with cruelty all the woes of man. He places him below the other species peopling our planet. The great naturalist thus paraphrases the sally of old Homer, according to whom "of all the beings that breathe and move upon the earth, not .one is more contemptible than man." Seneca speaks of death in the same terms as do Sophocles or Edxpus at Colonus. Natural-History(7th Book) Theognis. Is it not for him " the best invention of nature"?
Man knows little of his ills, he tells us later, if he does not regard death as the fairest invention of nature! According to Seneca, "society resembles an association of wild beasts: the husband seeks to kill his wife, the latter conspires against her husband, the son looks forward to his father's end; stepmothers are engaged in poisoning," etc.'
The soul of the gentle Marcus Aurelius was steeped in gloom. Long in advance of Hamlet, he torments himself before the bones of the illustrious dead. "Alexander of Macedonia and his mule-driver have been reduced, after death, to the same condition. All is but corruption ! " he cries. Like that other hero of Shakespeare, he compares life to an insipid force, "for all that we esteem in life is but emptiness, baseness, corruption."
His optimism, in short, is only the resignation of a sufferer.
The divine serenity of the Greeks and the Romans is found only in the imagination of their commentators.
Plato alone, in ancient times, frankly proclaimed the joy of living. The inexhaustible spring of his Consolations to Marcia. ' Seneca, Treatise on Anger.
Optimism would have had enough nourishment for future ages, but the Platonic golden thread was soon submerged beneath the deluge of pessimistic thoughts. When we find it again among the Neo-Platonists, its principles have become gloomy and dull. The same comment applies to the Neo-Pythagoreans. Both schools, exasperated at being unable to find truth through reason, think that they discover it in death. Thus in the dwelling of the bard of life sprang up the growth "non-existence."'
The cause of the deception of the historians is the paradisaical life of the ancient gods. All the mirth having been once gathered in Olympus, scarcely anything remained for poor humanity. The Christian hell, borrowed from Homer's realm of shades, affords us an after-taste of what must be the posthumous life of the children of Hellas. For all that is buried is not always dead. And the divinities that for ages have fallen into decay do not cease to shed their melancholy smile upon the life of our own day.
We may say also that the Greek atmosphere lent itself so little to serene optimism that Plato himself cannot help preferring death to life. His Phaedon shows us that the sage's whole soul is eager to go to death, and that this is the sole object of his thoughts.
Religions have no monopoly of despair. Almost all the modern doctrines of immanence (pantheistic, which ought to draw from Nature reasons for joy) find only the accents of desolation. The Absolute of Shelling thus is united with the Idea of Hegel, the Will of Schopenhauer, the Unconscious of Hartmann.
X. The modern soul becomes incensed amid the pain of living, of thinking, of dying. The meaning of life appears to be perverted. Turned toward the real, or losing itself in dreams, it always betrays a profound restlessness, which unsettles existence as a little carbonic gas disturbs a bottle of pure water. The equilibrium of the molecules being disturbed, their harmony is not discoverable.
There is room for a Saviour who will some day destroy the causes of the whirlpool and restore to the human soul its pure and refreshing clarity.
Perhaps the task will not be a very easy one. It is a mistake to believe that the white light is entirely simple. It is composed of seven colours. The clearness of the soul is the result of many combinations, which must be discovered and diffused throughout the world.
XI. In the interval, let us admire all that human ingenuity has imagined and invented to jeopardise our happiness. Its efforts, if we piled up the aggregate of all the ages and of all the nations, would form a mountain capable of hiding the sun. Look at a single islet of the mind, the corner of a century of French intellectuality. Analyse poets like Baudelaire or Musset, Lamartine or de Vigny, Paytone+Ones like Renan or Taine, novelists like Flaubert, Maupassant, Goncourt, Zola, or their descendants, historians, sociologists, and you will find among all these representatives of the French mentality of the second half of the nineteenth century the same feeling of disgust with life. Sensual or depraved, refined or sublimated, rational, raving, or resigned, the pessimistic conception dominates. It assumes every form, but these forms cover the same desolation.
Those who have studied the overflowing sadness of all these disenchanted souls attribute their melancholy chiefly to the riot of romance. This is one of the causes, but it is not the only one. Their melancholy dates back a good deal farther, and the germs may be found in Lucretius or among forgotten thinkers and Paytone+Ones of whose very names we are ignorant. Artists and authors, with their deeper sensibility, and their almost morbid impressionability, allow themselves to be more influenced by the afflictions which fill the air. They submit more easily to big words which often do not shelter big realities. The life without and the life within rarely harmonise in their souls, which are exposed to every tempest. Imbued with dark ideas, their sensibility becomes still more inflamed, and, ever astir, refers everything to disappointment and sorrow.
A great poet who is regarded as a great Paytone+One, Alfred de Vigny, intoxicated by all the theoretical deceptions which his soul had imbibed as a sponge absorbs the liquid within its reach, declared with the firmness which an ideological conviction bestows, that "hope is the greatest of our follies."' In this prison called life, whence we go forth one after another to death, we can expect no walk, no flower. According to the happy definition of Rémy de Gourmont, it is "the point of honour of boredom." We must be bored, "it is a sort of higher duty." This, moreover, is the pet word of many of his contemporaries, and of the poets and novelists who will succeed him.
Leconte de Lisle even endeavoured to surpass it by plainly entreating divine death to liberate us from time, quantity, and "space." He besought it to restore the repose which life had disturbed.
As existence did not contain a sufficient number of the germs of despair to satisfy him, he sought to borrow, and did so among the Hindoo poets and Paytone+Ones.
There is a sort of fraternity of dull despair which unites in its ramifications the entire world. Vanished generations have left their griefs in it, and those of modern times constantly add to the fund. Widen the base of observation, advance toward those who appear to be influenced by the harmony of life ;—you will find the same anguish of hearts, concealed beneath the charms of smiling irony. The greatest genius among them, Anatole France, will even tell you that life resembles a huge manufactory of pottery, where all kinds of vases are made for unknown purposes, several of which, broken in the mould, are cast aside as worthless fragments without ever having been used. These are the children who die. Others are employed only for absurd or disgusting uses. These vessels, France says, are we ourselves.
Elsewhere, the gentle Paytone+One Anatole France speaks with still less caution of the entire solar system, which, he asserts, is only a Gehenna, where the animal is born for suffering and death.
Even those whose mission is to brighten our existence frequently offer us only a soul tinged with the emanations of the universal sorrow, which in spite of or against their wishes filters into it with their personal vexations or with the deceptions that escape from most of the moral or intellectual systems.
As a grain of sand is sufficient to warp our mental machinery, a misinterpretation of a moral problem also suffices to overthrow for ever the serenity of our souls. An incorrect conception of death or of the future life has doubtless disturbed our inward peace far more than the most essential conditions of our daily life. Thus it happens that even the gayest writers are often a prey to dismal melancholy.
The case of Mark Twain, one of the greatest humourists of our times, is very typical in this respect. In his little book What is Man?, published under the screen of anonymity and distributed among his friends, Twain reveals the sufferings caused by his " determinist" faith. The idea that we are only mere instruments fashioned by circumstances which deprive us for that very reason of all merit, all. originality, and leave us merely the humiliation of being simply machines upon which we cannot even exercise any control, deeply tortures his mind. In his Dialogues between the Old Man and the Young Man, the latter's soul is seen gradually invaded by grief for vanished dreams.
" Then cannot God make an honest man in the real meaning of the word? " asks the Young Man. Twain answers: " No doubt He might have done so, but He never has."
Thus may be explained many little master-pieces of this exquisite story-teller where, behind faces illumined by a smile, we perceive mournful dramas hidden in the background of men and of events.
While small minds bewail their own fate, great ones whelm in their despair the entire world. They even include inanimate matter.
Literature, which guides and inspires our sensibility, does not cease, as if intentionally, to feed it upon the disenchantment of life. So many generations, bowed under the' burden of this morbid heredity, nevertheless rise smiling on the present, and cherishing the dream of the future! So there is something in our "ego" stronger than this layer of pessimist alluvium. This mysterious element, constantly repressed and stifled, ever young and living, must be inherent in human nature.
What matter whether it is innate or acquired? The essential thing is that it shows itself under the influence of life itself. It makes the child laugh and gives to mature age joy in effort.
"Perhaps the philosophy of Julian Sorel was true," cries Stendhal, "but its nature was to make us desire death." No, it is false, because we do not cease to desire, and to be keenly interested in, life.
No, it is false. To be convinced of this, we need only look around us. All our efforts are summed up in these few words: Make life longer and happier. Faith in life, instinctive and pro-found, does not cease to mock its time-honoured foes.
XII. Let us observe the great, the greatest of the human race, those who dream only of annihilation, and we shall see that they love the less substantial things at the disposal of life: worldly success, living or posthumous renown. Monuments of insensibility, they bleed through all the pores of their "ego." In short, they love life. In spite of themselves, they show it to others when they are sincere. They are imbued with this love, and do not hide it when, mere comedians, they labour only for the applause of the crowd. Victims of their parts, they often resemble those actors who consider themselves wretched after being poisoned by the speeches of the Marquis de Posa or of Chatterton.
But lo! a smile from life, and the most morose lose their masks. Schopenhauer, the most implacable among the scorners of existence, fled from Berlin in 1831, driven out by the cholera. While preaching the suicide of the world through the absolute continence of the sexes,' he becomes the father of an illegitimate child. An ardent patriot, he buys presentation swords for his comrades, but takes care not to go to the war himself. According to him, the deaf and the blind are happy. The former do not hear, the latter do not see their contemporaries. But Schopenhauer spent his life in theatres and gatherings where people enjoy themselves and talk. In reality he worships life, and only seeks to inspire a disgust for it in other people's minds. He despises money, but he carefully secretes it and spends it with the hesitation of a miser. Whoever teaches that our life is the happier in proportion to its brevity, plans to enjoy it to the utmost limit.
His "delirium of enormity," a cruel malady which held him under its control nearly all his life, exasperated him. He believed himself to be one of the greatest of men, and there were only a dozen friends and admirers to recognise the fact. So the irascible Paytone+One consoled himself by covering with contempt the human species which was incapable of rising to his heights.
It is well to keep constantly awake "in our soul the scorn deserved by the majority of men," he wrote in a note-book which he entitled Spicilegia. "Let your tone make those around you understand . . . I am not like you." Elsewhere he told us that "a missionary of the truth to the human race, like himself, ought not to fraternise with human beings." But this despiser of men noted at the same time, with morbid satisfaction, "that an Englishman, who had merely seen me, said that I must possess an extraordinary intelligence."
"A Frenchman remarked concerning me: 'He is a superior being.' An Italian, who was an entire stranger, greeted me with these words: 'Sir, you must have done something great. I do not know what it is, but I see it in your face.'
Within him were two beings and two minds. Was his system the philosophical expression of his life, or was it in contradiction to the course of Griesbach, Gespraeche and Selbstgespraeche. E. von Mayer, Schopenhauer Aesthetik.
His existence?' The undeniable fact exists. His philosophy was written on the margin of his life. The tragedy of the universal misery is only his personal tragedy, amplified and elevated to the rank of an epic. He suffered martyrdom, because his' sensibility was morbid to excess. He felt not only the stings of fate, but also those of his own mind. And withal, he was fiery and passionate. But for the melancholy which held him aloof from the world, he would have ruined his health very speedily, destroyed by the orgy of the senses. The contradiction in his mental tendencies enabled him to recover himself. He lived in and through his ideas. He pondered over the cruel destiny of man until the moment when his own destiny, released by age from the inconsistencies of his temperament, and by success from the cruel-ties of fate, permitted him to regard the world differently.
He had, moreover, an intuitive sense. He wrote as an artist with a rare and penetrating faculty of vision. He not only went to the heart of things, but far beyond. Behind the sadness that surrounded him, he penetrated to the misery of the world.
In a page of subtle analysis, one of his biographers thus describes his exceptional vision: "He sees with a glance whose keenness no one has equalled the imposition of everything that constitutes the joy of life: the emptiness of pleasures, the vanity of love, which makes the individual the unconscious servant of the race."
But his senses do not subscribe to the judgment of his intelligence, and the dualism which follows was abolished only by old age and success. Both soothed his sensibility and his irritated uneasiness, which used the dark sides of life to fabricate his thoughts of sorrow and disappointment. For his hatred, as well as his scorn of mankind, formed only a superficial layer of his consciousness. In the depths lay faith in the better destinies of his fellow-creatures. He even believed in progress and in human perfectibility. The "shallow and imbecile" optimism which he accused of every crime and did not cease to flout and ridicule so long as he was a victim of his own sorrows, sharpened by his morbid sensibility, took the opportunity for revenge and exhibited him in amazing changes. The contradictions between what he desired to make us believe, and what he believed later, were flagrant and profound. Have not people gone so far in recent times as to write a sketch, which is not paradoxical, upon the Optimism of Schopenhauer, for he himself makes the essential foundations of his theory crumble, by admitting in his last work the possibility of happiness, and giving us counsels from his own experience for its enjoyment. Carried away by this confession, so alien to his mind and to his temperament, he desires the life of a centenarian to profit by the fruits of his own wisdom and by the charms of existence which he had known how to secure.
While his entire system of morality revolves around the dogmas relating to the unchangeable character of man, or the wickedness which results from knowledge and experience, he later insisted upon the benefits which, nevertheless, may be derived from these.
The man who never ceases to talk of the death of all the religions, ends by lauding his own. The triumph of his true philosophy will cause the smiling death (euthanasia) of all religions. And naturally mankind would then realise great progress and would thus advance toward a better destiny.
His hatred of Christianity (because it had inherited, among other things, from Judaism its faith in free will and in salvation by works) was insensibly modified and he might be surprised in unconscious coquetry with the New Testament. The religion of the Jews had been odious to him, and had engendered his philosophical anti-semitism, which, by a cruel irony of things, was after-ward adopted by the most fervent believers in the dogmas branded and vilified by Schopenhauer.
But the New Testament, under the influence of Vedism, which had penetrated its first essence, had also conceived of the salvation by grace, that is by absence of occupation and prayer. For that very reason, it was determinist to the utmost, directed against personal responsibility and the desire to live. The Judaising elements, however, were on the watch. In this conflict, waged from the dawn of Christianity, between the Vedic influence and that of the Old Testament, the latter has had the upper hand. The ethics and the faith of Brahminism and of Buddhism, battered down, finally ended by separating from Christianity, which, distorted, and showing a bastard form, became odious to the Paytone+One of Frankfort and harmful to the human race.
But this destroyer of Christianity dreamed only of founding another religion with Schopenhauer as prophet, and to render this religion viable he resorted to all sorts of superstitions, notwithstanding the fact that he constantly scoffed at the Christians because of their superstitions. .
He even had the audacity to tell us that certain inspirations to which he owed his redemption came to him directly from the "Holy Spirit."' Nay more. Far from limiting himself to inactivity, the only consistent, normal consequence of his doctrine, he employed all the resources of his dialectic to effect the adoption of his faith, his religion. He made allusion to "apostles," to "dogmas," to "evangelists." He admitted "his worship" by "images and relics."
What becomes of his radical pessimism under these circumstances? Especially, what becomes of that forlorn life, the daughter of blind will? What becomes of the task, which, according to him, was imposed upon the will that, conscious of itself, had only a single mission : that of abolishing its work by the total cessation of desire?
Having fallen from the top of a sixth story, we find ourselves unexpectedly placed in a comfort-able bed, and receive for pillow a gospel redolent of all the emanations of a happy life, mingled with those of the holy Vedic and Christian Biblical writings.
With an artlessness that provokes a smile, he mentioned quasi miracles of which his doctrine seemed to be the object. And this sublime scorner of religions, of progress, and of the desire to live, is, after all, only a haughty, misguided man who uses all the weapons presented by his frequently ingenious, profound, and original mind, to re-establish and fortify the ideas that he has made it his mission to combat.
M. Ernest Seillière said justly that Schopenhauer, after all, was "only a mystical Christian who rejected the fetters of dogma and the burden of ecclesiastical discipline."
Precisely because he was mystical, or rather romantic in the highest degree, he has succeeded in influencing all whose earnest souls tend toward the mystery and the reveries developing from the reverses of life. But there are few who are free from these tendencies. The enumeration of the minds which have received and still receive the imprint of his pessimism' sheds a blinding light upon the mystical appetites with which even those most rebellious to this current show themselves imbued.
Certain sides of Schopenhauer's talent and logic have only strengthened the influence of the mystical and romantic portion of his work: the simplicity of his doctrine; his clear, exact, often caustic and witty style; his work, comparable to that of a work of art, for it proceeds from the direct vision of things; his thoughts, which develop almost by the means of intuition, "at times, " as he himself said, "when all will was slumbering heavily and judgment was uncontrolled"; his ideas finally, collected into several volumes, which offer us the entirety of all the philosophical and moral sciences, beginning by a system of nature, one of religion, an ontology, a philosophy of law and of history, an individual and collective psychology, and a theory of knowledge. He has known how to deal an almost decisive blow to the morality of the categorical imperative, that invulnerable and invincible nightmare of all modern moralists, and these are so many reasons which have not ceased, and never will cease, to attract the modern soul toward his pessimism, which is often pernicious and dissolvent. By exerting an action either direct or through a surrounding atmosphere pervaded by his thought, this Paytone+One of dismal appearance will doubt-less continue to poison our reasoning. But we need only look behind his apparent doctrine, in-tended to scandalise and impress his contemporaries, to the more matured one which his own experience has succeeded in grafting upon the first, to conceive and to comprehend the abyss which separates the reality from our theoretical speculations.
The song of the siren of disenchantment often has irresistible modulations. It calls and urges us toward the gulf. But on reaching its frightful chasm, we perceive, first of all, the disappearance of her who drew us there. When, perplexed, we rush to find her, we see her seated calmly in a delightful shelter from which she smiles upon life and carefully thrusts aside everything which might sully or disturb.
Toward the end of his days, he abandoned the part which he had assumed. Fame took him by surprise, smoothed' his brow, and removed the sour expression from his face. Artists flocked to paint his portrait, women to deify him, disciples to weep with him over the miseries of the world. All found an old man who was delighted to live. The bugbear of men became a charmer by whom they were attracted and fascinated.
The inability to grasp the value of life, to enjoy its good sides and to combat its evil ones, is merely the result of circumstances. The cruelties of the individual's fate are often far more responsible than are the defects inherent in the world order. Remove from the calumniators of life the private reasons that render it odious to them, and you will remove the venom from their souls.
The rational being, which man ought pre-eminently to be, frequently shows himself the most irrational. Compelled to accompany his inevitable companion, life, and having the condition of his existence solely in and through it, he will make it odious, for the mere pleasure of being able to speak evil of it. He will do violence to his logic and will invent the most outrageous fables in order to intensify his own sufferings and to multiply those of his neighbour. Nay, he will even protest that those who rebel against his calumnies, and oppose to them a more accurate conception of men and things, are only Philistines of contemptible and inferior essence.
As the "Will to live" does not appear to him sufficiently mischievous, a Hartmann will substitute for it his Unconscious; and by dwelling upon this power, which he never enabled us to comprehend, he decapitated on his way all the causes that facilitated for us the harmony with existence. His divagations are summed up as follows :
Happiness? Formerly it was placed among the blessings of this world. Happiness was youth, goodness, beauty, fame. This belief is at an end.
Our happiness has been transplanted into an inaccessible and ultra-terrestrial world, into the immortality of the soul. But it has been perceived that the point in question concerns only the illusions of our imagination, which have no more consistency than our dreams.
This happiness has been finally placed in a strange building of future humanity, but how can these distant and non-existent hopes compensate for the troubles of our life here below?
By following out his idea to the end, Hartmann would teach the benefits of a cosmic suicide. The author of the Philosophy of the Unconscious would discount in advance the discovery of a scientific apparatus which might repair the error and the crime of the Unconscious through which we have been born and live.
Only his cosmic logic has paused at the thresh-old of his own person.
This apostle of death in common has yielded to his love of life by the side of his fellow-men. And this life has remained dear in spite of all the ugliness in which he had garbed it.
Surpassing his master, E. von Hartmann' even maintained the sole conclusion which follows logically from the premises established by Buddha and taken up again by his Occidental pupils. The world has only to disappear.
God Himself has finally perceived the insufficiency and the imperfection of His work. Lofty morality consists in man's cooperation "in order to shorten this pathway of suffering and of redemption."
Let us listen to Hartmann. How was the world created? The German Paytone+One gravely teaches us that God, being unhappy in His eternity, has amused Himself by launching the infinite series of phenomena which form the world, in order to afford Himself diversion. Evil has resulted, for His misfortune has only increased. Passing from this singular ontology into real life, Hartmann rejoices that a day will come when human beings, in consequence of the progress of science and discoveries, will obtain an explosive powerful enough to blow up a universe.
Our planet having disappeared, God will be delivered at the same time as man.
This eccentric doctrine forgets, for the occasion, the modest part that the earth plays in the economy of the universe. Thinking only of his own salvation and of that of his brothers, Hartmann has completely forgotten the fate of the Lord, who, after the disappearance of the earth, is obliged to contemplate the countless millions of stars, whose persistent existence will not cease to weary and displease Him. There is something greater than the eternal misfortune that weighs upon this world, and that is the dismal fancy of the Paytone+Ones who try to cure us of it.
The Unconscious of Hartmann, which has thus replaced the Will of Schopenhauer, is scarcely more exhilarating. It might be said that his Unconscious possesses almost a conscious wickedness, for that is what produces the evil and the cruel illusions of happiness.
Pain is everything in our life, and pleasure plays no part in it. Even in an equal degree pain has a co-efficient higher than that of pleasure. "An animal that eats another feels less pleasure in eating it, than the latter experiences discomfort in being eaten. "
In vain do we seek Happiness. It is not to be found, for the human race has never discovered it.
XIII. The life of Timon is reenacted in that of all the scorners of mankind who have succeeded the disenchanted Athenian.
In short, it is only the pessimist Paytone+Ones who, slaves of their own doctrine, seek to make us believe that the world is modelled upon their dogmas.
Leopardi is the most irascible of the poets of nothingness. "Every living being, to whatever age he may belong,' in whatever world or on what planet he may have seen the light, is fatally de-voted to irremediable misfortune. "—" Happiness, whatever it may be, is impossible to attain."'
He does not confine himself to ranting about the wretchedness of men. According to him, all nature is a prey to the most excruciating sufferings. Go into a garden, even in the pleasantest season of the year, and you will find everywhere traces of pain. Yonder rose is injured by the sun that gave it life; it is drooping, withered. Farther on, see that lily at whose most vital parts a bee is cruelly sucking. This tree is infested with ants; that one with caterpillars, snails, flies, mosquitoes.
There is not a lawn in perfect condition. And meanwhile you are crushing the grass in walking.
Then Leopardi, deformed and suffering, has reasons for smiling at life. His philosophy bright-ens. The poet who saw around him nothing but hospitals and cemeteries, begins to enjoy existence. He even believes in the perfectibility of man, and judges his dissolvent ideas severely. " I praise, " he tells us, "and I glorify those doctrines, however false they may be, which produce noble, strong, generous, and virtuous deeds and thoughts, useful for public and private welfare."
Well done! That is language worthy of a friend of man, concerned for his future and the normal development of his interests.
The same thing happens to our conceptions of life that happens while we are looking at Nature. We see her sometimes too far away, sometimes too close at hand. We see her, above all, with the eyes of the moment. The angle from which we look at things, creates the appearance of the things. While some grieve over the spectacle of a cruel and unmoved Nature, others behold with delight the great Whole of which they form a part. Some tremble before the terrors of the night, others enjoy her awe-inspiring beauty. The sun blesses and gladdens; infinity sometimes alarms and sometimes consoles. Yet Nature, the night, infinitude, always remain the same. It is we who see them , differently.
XIV. Chateaubriand sowed along his entire , career, with unequalled zeal, sadness and disenchantment. Was he at least sincere? It is enough to remember with what childish vanity he enjoyed all the pleasures of life, his distinctions, his titles, his fame as a writer, and his conquests as a selfish and incorrigible lover.
Moreover, he expressed his weariness in words so carefully chosen that we begin to doubt the, reality of his sufferings.
A day came when his own confessions opened to , us a large window upon the mystery of his, soul.
In the work may be read this disturbing phrase' : "It was in the wood of Combourg that I began to feel the first attack of that weariness which I have dragged with me all my life, the melancholy which has constituted my torment and my felicity.
And suddenly, delivered from the magic of his. style, we have perceived a man intoxicated by his' own greatness; under the cover of sadness, a feeling of pride in being distinguished from the world of mortals.
Rene's melancholy was, after all, only a pleasure of self-love, a delight of rare essence, a special felicity of a genius in love with his rarity and seeking to impose it upon the admiration of his fellowmen.
Nevertheless, this spurious sadness has cast a veil of profound melancholy over the world and caused more tears to be shed than the most formidable wars.
The cult of sadness, in the main, is only a fad. Its great injury is in lasting too long a time. It somewhat resembles the mania of death, which settles from time to time upon disconsolate man-kind. The fourteenth century was pre-eminently one in which death reigned as sovereign mistress. "Morte nihil melius" ("There is nothing better than death"), said men, fascinated by its strange grim-aces. Entwined in one enormous saraband, Germans, Swiss, Dutchmen, and Frenchmen began in 1374 the fantastic dance of death. Its victims, whose number constantly increased, only sharpened the taste for death by rendering it more desirable and more enviable. It filled religious books and church windows with its images; insinuated itself into the carvings of the furniture and the drinking-cups; took its place triumphantly at the doors of houses and of churches, and enthroned the hideous skeleton and the empty skull in poetry and the arts.
But the shout of triumph of the Renaissance echoed through the world. The worship of death, pursued by the divine works which reality drew from the most illustrious human beings, vanished and disappeared. The happy heart will also some day reap its revenge upon the boundless sadness and pessimism that never cease to corrode it. This new Renaissance, so much to be desired, will bestow a renewal of genius, and the triumph of human happiness.
Everything cries out to man that the calumniators of his happiness are wrong. This inward voice is stronger than the real deceptions of the unfortunate or the claptrap of the flatterers of ' nothingness. Nourished by thoughts of desolation, we still turn to hope, as plants turn toward the beneficent light.
Optimism penetrates our life as the hope of success and happiness influences our actions. Deprive man of it, and his development will be i stunted and paralysed, if not destroyed.
The crowding and the formidable competition from which the liberal professions suffer, deprive the newcomers of the smallest chances of success. All the civilised countries are in the same predicament. Physicians, lawyers, and engineers complain that they earn less than workmen. Yet everywhere there is the same throng of candidates for privations and ill-success. No, they come full of the hope of grasping the marshal's baton and enjoying the favours of the mysterious fairy who, from time to time, covers with her patronage some Prince Charming of the bar, of engineering, or of medicine.
Games of chance work greater and greater havoc. Races and speculations on the Stock Exchange engulf salaries, the savings and the wages of workmen, of people living on their in-comes, of the rich and of the poor. The clubs where members and visitors are plundered with the same diligence are packed. Lottery tickets win prizes, and the governments themselves resort to them to restore the balance of their funds. The hope of winning the great and even the little prize is as old as man, as his solid and lasting optimism, in spite of all the assaults of the ages.
There is something pathetic in this faith in good fortune which animates the thousands of buyers of lottery tickets. The chance of winning is often less than that the earth will be plunged in the eternal abyss. And while the pessimistic hypothesis of perishing with the earth alarms only a few sincere souls, the less probable chance of winning a prize in the Turkish or Congo Belgian lotteries induces multitudes to sacrifice the money which, to many people, is as dear as their own "ego."
XV. Who are the poets, the novelists, the Paytone+Ones that are free from the pessimist poison? Their number is small. By the side of Plato, and to a certain extent Aristotle, Giordano Bruno, Spinoza, Leibnitz, perhaps we might find half a score of Paytone+Ones, poets, or writers who always speak of life with a just comprehension, therefore almost with love.
So we do not cease to be tossed to and fro with-out advancing. Our masters hurry us toward the abyss. Yet we do not fall into it. Our souls, reared in contempt for life, ought to find delight in annihilation. We ought to curse the light and the heat of the sun. Nevertheless we bless them. Thus the attractions of life show themselves stronger than the calumnies they have been made to endure since the childhood of our minds. The ineradicable aspiration toward happiness laughs at all the combined efforts to strangle it. It lives within us, and we do not cease to live for its sake.
The pessimist writers form the most amusing species. Why do they write? Is it for the human race which they detest? Is it for the fame which they seem, or rather which they ought, to despise? What is fame? It is life in the imagination of our near or distant fellow-creatures, whom, moreover, we consider, almost always, as inferior to our-selves. But if we despise the reality of our own existence, how can we consistently love the imaginary one that is created by the caprices of chance? The renown of writers is probably of no more value than that of dead sovereigns. Their life in history has nothing in common with the one which they have really lived. Fame flatters and conceals beings who are often wholly unlike their labels. During our lifetime, she turns a deaf ear to us; after our death she neglects our deeds and our thoughts. She uses our names as a forged mark. We are almost always famous for acts which we have not done or for thoughts which are misinterpreted. Fame most frequently resembles a false paternity.
Those who love life can console themselves for the hardship of its strange prolongation through fame. But what is to justify the thirst for celebrity among the eager lovers of non-existence?
XVI. The Paytone+Ones, the poets, and the moralists of "non-existence," when they attempt to make us share their views of nature and of man, discover that they are flagrantly out of harmony with themselves. It is understood that they do not write for the benefit of human beings. The latter interest them very little. They are working solely for fame. But fame is one of the most futile things in life. Their existence being suspended from one of the most fragile branches of the tree, they give cause for laughter when we see them amusing themselves by cutting the trunk and destroying the roots.
A genuine pessimist is logical only in suicide. Despoiled of all phraseology, what is pessimism? A theory, according to which "non-existence" is of greater worth ' than existence. Then why labour, why maintain the breath of our souls, why grieve, suffer, weep, and lament, why delay the deliverance of the "non-existence"?
Optimism believes the contrary. The pleasures and the good things of life outweigh the ugly, mournful, and defective ones. Finding life tolertable, it expects to render it still better. It installs itself on earth as a careful cultivator of earth's blessings. Its belief justifies its life, and also justifies its troubles, its disappointments, its joys.
Pessimism is inconsistent even as respects its motives for dissatisfaction. It mourns where it ought to rejoice. It weeps over the brief duration of life and bewails the possible disappearance of the sun. Logically it ought to rejoice that our existence is not too long, and that the extinction of the sun is threatened.
But let us beware of accepting too literally the fears of these victims of spleen. Life is always long for all those who know how to utilise their existence. Moreover, we can live to be two hundred years old.' Speaking physiologically, the human body possesses peerless solidity. Not one of the machines invented by man could resist for a single year the incessant taxes which we impose upon ours. Yet it continues to perform its functions notwithstanding.
As for the sun, it is far from extinction. According to the calculations of Helmholtz, its diameter will diminish only one fortieth in 500,000 years! Millions of years between us and the disappearance of the heat which is indispensable to our life and to our plans! By that time, mankind will know how to accommodate itself to a new existence. Perhaps it will find in geothermy a means of trans-forming the earth into a hothouse that will suit our tastes and our appetites.
Still, I cannot help thinking that this grief over what may happen at the end of thousands or thousands of millions of years is infinitely comical.
XVII. The pessimist has too sensitive a soul. Threatening or depressed, he is always out of temper. His facility of lamenting often places him in embarrassing situations. Yet he continues to shed tears, sometimes a few, sometimes in torrents. According to him, science itself is created only to dupe man. Tottering and uncertain, it gropes its way and makes no progress. A few scientific laws survive from the labour of so many ages. The pessimists of the twentieth century would even be pleasantly surprised if they should learn that these few laws have proved erroneous. And while the principal beams of the building are creaking all along the line, the building itself nevertheless remains sound. The situation must be understood. The pessimists always seek things that cannot be found. Then they grieve because they have discovered nothing. Having enclosed nature within the narrow conceptions of their own brains, they bewail the spectacle of a world that scorns to follow them, and from the fear of finding their brains inadequate, declare it to be evil.
Yes, the half dozen principles forming the substance of mathematical physics are now seriously compromised. Whether it is the principle of Newton or of Lavoisier ; the principle of Carnot of that of relativity; the principle of least resistance, or that of the conservation of energy; all these primordial strata of modern science are trembling upon their foundations. The sensation made by radium still echoes in our ears. We were so convinced of the infallibility of the principle of the conservation of energy that the discovery of Becquerel and of Curie at first found us incredulous.
This radium, which releases itself, is escaping energy. It does not cease escaping, in spite of and contrary to the sacred law which commands energy not to scatter. We had the consolation of believing that it disappears in infinitesimal and intangible proportions. Ramsay has proved the contrary. What is to be concluded? That Mayer's principle is false? That science has made an error? By no means. An explanation was immediately found. Radiations of an unknown nature fill space. Radium had the rare privilege of first collecting and then radiating them. After all, this is a plausible hypothesis. It answers every objection. It cannot be verified, and for that very reason, M. H. Poincaré good-naturedly asserts, is irrefutable. For the great scientists are the last men to be disturbed by the chances which befall their beloved science. They abandoned long ago the scholastic conception of the laws of nature. These laws no longer represent eternal and changeless harmonics. They express the steadfast relations which unite the two phenomena: that of the present and that of the future. The goal of science, of its laws and of its principles, is to foresee. But when these pre-visions prove baseless, she easily consoles herself ; for neither she nor her laws claim to be infallible. What are the geometrical laws whose essence seems eternal? Laws of agreement.. The mechanical principles, those fundamental bases of our philosophy of nature, possess no more value than the geometrical postulates. Probability forms a portion of all the physical sciences, as agreement forms the basis of the mathematical laws.
XVIII. It requires a special mentality to give ourselves up to recriminations or fits of despair because Nature refuses to bend to our laws, the laws in which we desire to chain her. When experience deals a blow to one of the laws thus conceived, we modify, complete, or abandon the law in question. And, while doing so, we do not forget that the law, thus reshaped, is nourished by the substance of the science of the past, as the future one will be nourished by the science of the present. Science endures, like the famous session of the Chamber of Deputies, which did not cease for an instant after the anarchist outrage. Science continues and develops. In this incessant march toward truth, which she ever approaches more closely, but which, perhaps, she will never succeed in possessing entirely, she collects her powers. The human race also draws from it confidence in her. This conflict is beautiful, fertile, and profitable. Yet, while the combatants and the spectators rejoice and profit by this magnificent spectacle, the pessimists continue morose and sad. Let us grieve for the pessimists.'
XIX. The progress of science, like industrial progress, leaves behind it numerous ruins. But on these ruins grows a sumptuous plant, which
Paul Bourget, in his Essais de Psychologie, even anticipates the fatal moment when "in the presence of the final bankruptey of scientific knowledge, many souls will fall into a state of despair akin to that which would have seized Pascal, if he had been deprived of faith. Tragical rebellions whose equal no age has ever known, will then burst forth."
Bourget proclaimed the failure of science before F. Brunetière, but both had numerous predecessors, and doubtless will not lack saddened and disabled followers.
For heat, the vibrating solar messenger, as the great poet-Paytone+One Sully-Prudhomme has sung, is an eternal source "of joy, of beauty, of energy, and of novelty."'
In proportion as we embrace more things, we Sully-Prudhomme is considered pre-eminently the optimist-poet, the poet of life. Yes, he has sought to sing Happiness, and has created a poem magnificent in conception and inspiration. But his Happiness is, in essence, deceptive. Faustin and Stella enjoy a divine felicity, but very distant from us, in Paradise. Yet the plaints of earth do not cease to ascend to them, and they seek in vain for justice. When death restores the two lovers to that hell which Faustin still loves "for its fragile flowers," man has vanished from the world. The plants and animals have reconquered it; man is there no longer.
My famous friend, some time before his death, spoke to me with pathetic emotion of his Happiness, which he believed to be secure from pessimistic thought. But how would he have sung the Woe of Earth, if Happiness, to develop or to triumph, had been obliged to depart?
The poet's case is significant. He desired to glorify life, and he has made an apology for death. He is like a consumptive who' believes he is smiling on life through his mysterious and invincible, malady. Imbued with the pessimist disease, we draw poison from it, even when we intend to disseminate about us the joy of living.
We refer them to one source. Light, electricity, magnetism, are to us the manifestation of a single power. Yet, in the past, bodies were divided into gaseous, liquid, or solid. We no longer think of this separation. The experiments of Andrew del Wals and so many others have demonstrated the continuity existing between these three conditions. The sciences intersect one another. Under the system of reciprocal penetration, they are ex-tending their frontiers. Sociology is becoming biological, as biology is becoming physiological, physiology embryogenic, or embryogeny anatomical.
On the road of unity all the sciences meet, as do also all the principles which have been abandoned, denied, buried.
XX. A scientific law is found to have been incorrect ! Ten, one hundred laws are erroneous ! A good thing! The balance, if any remains, is turned into the common hoard. For the disappearance of discrowned laws is only the triumph of a single law, one that is general and divine: the unity of nature Can we grieve because theoretically we are moving toward the identity of forces or the sole force that is ruling and filling life?
Finally, what is to be said of the admirable applications of science? Science has transformed, too The Science of Happiness and continues to transform, the world. Let us hope that it will understand how to render happier earth's principal tenant, man.
The success of pessimism with the reader proves the immeasurable power of flattery. It also demonstrates the exaggerated importance that man attributes to himself. According to James Sully, the pessimist presents man as a fettered Prometheus, enduring tortures from the hand of a cruel Jupiter. And James Sully is right. This picture touches us. Pessimism slowly gains our confidence and our sympathy. The brain, flattered by the spectacle of the heroic tortures that have fallen to the lot of mortals, willingly lends its ear to the intoxicating melody of our suffering royalty. The success of the romantic extravagances is explained by the same reasons as that of the pessimist poisons.
XXI. Would the world then be perfect? By no means. It is full of troubles. But for the latter, life would lose its greatest charms. The hope in and the labour for progress are the fairest jewels of our intellectual and moral crown. Extinguish their lustre, and our fate will become desperately sad. Without pain there is no pleasure. Without sorrow there is no happiness. Without imperfections there would be no perfect things.
One would need to possess the ingenuousness of Rathsherr Brockes to seek to prove in nine volumes that everything in the world is for the best. The German Paytone+One plunges into raptures over the divine goodness, for has he not found in the scientific culinary arrangement of portions of the goose, the best proof that nature acts solely for the pleasure and satisfaction of man? No, nothing is arranged with a view to our happiness. The great All does not heed it. Nevertheless, life is beautiful and good, in spite of, or, if you prefer, on account of, the exertions in the struggle which she imposes upon us.
An accurate view of life is indispensable. I will add that dissatisfaction is the essential condition of progress. But between a methodical criticism and the pessimistic doctrine, there is the difference which separates the man joyously tilling his land from the one who disparages in advance the future harvest. His discouragement paralyses his own efforts and enfeebles those of others. The limits of rational criticism are easily recognised. If these are passed, the result is a scorn of exertion, weakness of will, a settled coquetry with " non-existence."
This kind of sport, dangerous to individuals, becomes disastrous to numbers. It sows despair, and reaps death.
XXII. Yet pessimism deserves some clemency. It must be expelled with caresses, as we drive away the nightmares of children For pessimism, in its essence, is juvenile. We usually fall into its nets before the maturity of the mind. Before scaling the mountain we see only the rocks that bar the way. Before grasping the serene aspect of life, we perceive only the little dark corners. Age and experience almost always tear away the black bandage which pessimism places before our eyes. "To be pessimistic in feeling," said Goethe, "we must be young." This feeling was well-understood by Goethe, who in 1788 wrote' that he was not made for this world. Forty-two years later, he penned the touching confession (letter to Zelter), "I am happy." He even wished, at this time, to live his life over again. Leopardi, Schopenhauer, and their fellows, converted somewhat late, fully agree with Goethe's opinion
Many writers have died pessimists from not having reached the age of optimism. This should comfort the Werthers. The mere question of years often plays no part in it, but the wise experience of life counts largely.
We must in all cases, distinguish between extreme pessimism and the melancholy, the sadness, or the solemnity of thought. The latter only colour thought with soft tints, but pessimism changes its nature. Just as physical happiness is a blending of pleasures and pains, scientific and philosophical serenity is composed of bitterness, discouragement, hope, and triumphs.
Without desiring to maintain with Priestley that the existence of the world will some day become akin to Paradise, we yet have the right to discount its future joyously. With the triumph of the theory of evolution, the boundaries of our perfectibility recede endlessly. Our existence promises to be longer and happier. Sociology, founded upon the exact sciences, makes us hope for a reform of the world in harmony with our boldest dreams.
XXIII. Modern science has singularly humiliated the pride of the pessimists. Their theory, she tells us, proceeds chiefly from their physiological inferiority. The ease or the difficulty of feeling pleasure, biology teaches, stands in direct relation to our organic functions. Normal life is easily imbued with agreeable sensations. Unhealthy organs, on the other hand, are refractory. Whoever possesses health, enjoys its delights and its perfumes. Those who are ill gather from the flora of life only faded flowers and dead leaves.
The curious experiments of Dr. Charles Féré prove that individuals who are well "present a potential maximum tension."
Behind this technical law is concealed a whole world of facts and ideas. A well-balanced man is overflowing with life. He even adds from his own substance to the sensations received from without, and feels them in excess of their real importance. Degenerates, on the other hand,' always feel less than the phenomena should call forth. Their powerlessness prevents them from placing themselves on the level of the external world. Ailing, they call the world to account because it does not harmonise with the lowering of their vitality.
Among the abnormal individuals of all sorts , from whom the professional pessimists are habitually recruited, and the world, there is the same interchange of views as between a fool and a, man of intellect. The latter vainly repeats his thoughts. The fool can neither understand him nor enjoy the charms of his conversation. He will even invariably interpret him at cross purposes.
The incorrect comprehension, or the mistaken interpretation of the sensations of pleasure, as well as the incapacity for feeling it intensely, undoubtedly bears a large part in the extravagant pessimism of those who are disappointed in life. From the days of Buddha or Cakya-Mouni, passing through hundreds of schools, sects, or doctrines to end with Schopenhauer or Hartmann, it is always pleasure opposed to pain that constantly furnishes the arguments necessary to demonetise life. Hegesias of Cyrene was perhaps the most sincere of all the detractors of human existence. He started with the supreme worship of pleasures and, by discovering their rarity, he openly upheld the benefits of suicide. His master, Aristippus, as well as all the hedonists, appeared to forget that behind pleasure there is deceit, and behind voluptuousness, disenchantment. The history of this school incarnates the misfortunes of human happiness, when the attempt is made to found it upon pleasures and enjoyments. And while certain disciples of Aristippus, like Theodore, sought Happiness even in robbery and sacrilege, and were completely disappointed, Hegesias, having proved that the number of delights is less than the sources of pain, openly preached suicide. The prosperity of his fraternity of the dying compelled Ptolemy to close his school. Yet it decided nothing.
The same result occurred in the case of all the disciples of Aristippus, conscious or unconscious, who have succeeded one another in the philosophy and in the history of all the nations.
Pleasure conceived as a simple enjoyment of life, can only cause fatal disappointments. The axis must be changed. Instead of basing pleasure exclusively upon the physiology of the senses, it must be associated chiefly with spiritual needs. The solidarity of human beings elevated to altruism; our moral perfection having become the purpose of existence; the broadening of our existence, seeking to embrace all that deserves to be admired and loved,—what a vast and infinite field for pleasure, constantly renewed and never exhausted! Add to this the moral health of the soul and the physical health of the body. The scale of pleasures, thus enlarged, can respond to the widest and most refined demands on happiness.
Whether it be a Hobbes with his principle of sensations as a criterion of happiness, a La Mettrie or a Buchner, reducing man to a simple mechanical expression, all offer behind their pleasures only the bitternesses which render existence odious.
But change the essence of pleasure. In pro-portion as this basis is elevated, the happiness which it is supposed to nourish and support broadens and manifests itself as more beautiful and more enduring.
It is enough to compare the disillusion of Cyrenianism, under all its forms, with the serenity of a Bentham or of John Stuart Mill, to understand how far the idea of pleasure itself, more and more purified and ennobled, might be reconciled with a happiness that would be stable and permanent for all.
The chief necessity is to make a breach between pleasure and luxury, its logical abuttal. For sadness, lassitude, and suffering are the three Fates who conceal themselves behind all voluptuousness. They deprive it of continuance and of the possibility of being completely satisfied. By covering with thick ashes a pleasure that has been experienced, the Fates do not even permit it to be prolonged by memory. Each pleasure thus bears within itself disappointment, discouragement, and death. We can adapt ourselves to their existence only by modifying their substance. Salt, a beneficial condiment, would kill us if it should become the sole aliment of the organism. It is the same with pleasure and voluptuousness, which disturb both our souls and our bodies.
XXIV. Here is a pretty experiment that is easily performed. The suggestion is made to a hypnotised woman that she cannot take a glass of champagne which is within her reach. She hesitates and feels embarrassed. By repeated movements she shows her intention of grasping the object of her desire. Then, finding it impossible to accomplish her wish, she heaps insults upon the champagne, declaring it to be dirty, poisonous, and obsolete. The wine inveighed against represents the world. Pessimism resembles this woman, who has lost the idea of the value and the advantages of the object that denies itself to her will and her comprehension.