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Joubert : The Author, Drawn by Himself

Portrait of the French writer Joseph Joubert


Joseph Joubert

A Selection from His Thoughts


The Author, Drawn by Himself

. I FIND it hard to leave Paris, because I must part from my friends; and the country, because I must part from myself.

. I have a loving head and an obstinate heart ! All that I admire is dear to me, and to nothing that is dear to me can I ever become indifferent.

. In many ways I am like the butterfly; I love the light and burn away my life in the flame; also I need, for the spreading of my wings, that my world should be sunny, and that my soul should feel surrounded, and as though penetrated by a balmy temperature — called indulgence; I have a shivery nature and mind.

. I need that favourable eyes should shine upon me. Of me it is true to say: ‘He that pleases is king, he that no longer pleases is nothing.’ I go where I can give pleasure, at least as willingly as where I can obtain it.

. There is no high breeding without a touch of scorn for others. I, myself, find it impossible to scorn a stranger.

. The turns of phrase that express confidence are familiar to me, but not those that express familiarity.

. When I break the windows, I want people to be inclined to reward me for it.

. The trouble of a dispute is out of all proportion to its utility. All contention deafens the mind, and when others are deaf, I am dumb.

. A will not allow the name of reason to that brutal kind of reason that crushes holy and sacred things with its weight; to that malignant reason that rejoices over the errors that it lays bare; to that unfeeling and scornful reason which insults faith.

. My discoveries—and every one has made some—have brought me back to my prejudices.

. But, after all, what is my art ? By what name can it be distinguished from other arts ? What end has it in view ? What does it produce ? And what is my intention and desire in practising it ? Is it to write in general, and be sure of being read — the sole ambition of so many writers ? Is that all I wish for ? Do I only accumulate knowledge, or have I ideas of a kind that can be easily classified, of a definite nature, character, merit and usefulness ? This I must examine attentively, at length, and until I know the answer.

. I shall have dreamed of the beautiful, as others say they dream of happiness. But mine is the better dream, for even death, and the prospect of death, far from troubling the continuity, only prolongs the vista of my dream. No absence and no loss can irremediably interrupt this dream that mingles itself with all our night-watches, and all our hours of calm, and gains strength from every meditation.

. I can sow, but I cannot build or found. [M.A.]

. As for my intelligence, heaven has only allowed a few sunbeams to shine through me, and for eloquence has given me but a few apt words. I have only strength to lift myself up; and my virtue is but a kind of incorruptibility.

. I am like Montaigne, unfit for sustained discourse.

. I am like an Æolian harp, that can sound a few beautiful notes but cannot play an air. No constant wind has ever breathed upon me.

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. You aim at truth through poetry, and I reach poetry through truth.

. One may have tact very early in life and taste very late; this is what has happened to me.

. Ah ! if I could express myself in music, dancing or painting, as I do in speech, how many ideas I should have, that now I have not, and how many feelings that will remain for ever unknown to me !

. In giving light — I burn myself away.

. I can only do good work slowly, and with extreme fatigue. Behind my weakness there is strength; the weakness is in the instrument. Behind many people’s strength there is weakness — and this weakness is in the heart, in the reason, in the lack of frank good-will.

. I have wished to do without words and have disdained them: words avenge themselves by their difficulty.

. If there be a man tormented by the cursed ambition to put a whole book into a page, a whole page into a phrase, and that phrase into a word, I am that man.

. Some things with me are born in so finished a state, that I cannot refrain from finishing the rest to match them. I know too well what I am going to say before I write.

. Verse sustains the attention by beguiling the ear. Prose has not this help; but could she not have it ? I am experimenting; but I think not.

. I should wish to gain all my effects by the meaning of my words, as you gain yours by their sound; by their selection, as you do by their multitude; by their very isolation, as you do by their harmony; desiring nevertheless that they should harmonise, but with a natural and fitting harmony, not by mere skill of combination and sequence.

. I like to see two truths at once. Every just comparison achieves this for the mind.

. I have always an image to render, an image and a thought — two things for one, and double work for me.

. I do not polish my phrase, but my idea. I wait, until the drop of light that I need is formed, and drops from my pen.

. I long to make wisdom current coin, that is to say to stamp it into maxims, proverbs, sentences, easy to retain, and to hand on. Oh! that I might discredit, and banish from the language of men, like debased coin, the words that they misuse, and that deceive them !

. I long to blend a choicer meaning with the common meaning of words, or to make the choice meaning common.

. I needed age to learn what I wished to know, and now I ought to have youth to give good expression to my knowledge.

. Most men are accountable for their actions; but it will be my thoughts of which I shall have to render an account — They are to me the foundation, not only of my work, but of my life.

. My thoughts ! — It is the building a house for them that troubles me.

. The silk-worm spins her cocoons and I spin mine; but the world will not unwind them. As God wills !

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