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Suffering, Sorrow and Serenity (Maurice de Guérin, Journal)

Dernière mise à jour : 29 juin

Journal of Maurice de Guérin

30th. — When suffering has passed away, and life remains, pale, enfeebled, but full of confidence and of calm enjoyment in watching the extinction of the last symptoms of disease, then even the most self-centred soul is in a mood for lengthy and somewhat vague disquisitions, a mingling of sad memories and a thousand pleasing schemas. With the entrance of the first rays of returning health, there flock in languishing dreams, and visions sweet and indefinite, like atoms swimming in their waves of light. This condition is dearer to the soul than health. It is in these moments that from various sides of my being, as from the quiet fields beneath a gray, cloudless sky, rise gentle sounds, signs of a life which returns from afar. These sounds are made by my thoughts, which, as they come out of their sad torpor, give a gentle flutter of timid joy, and begin a converse full of reminiscences or of hopes.

At other times, when slower to awaken, I hear within me, during these hours of calm, only slight and infrequent rustlings, as in a wood where birds are sleeping on the topmost branches. To-day, released from their torpor, they speak connectedly and with tranquillity of the sorrows they have endured. They are awaiting life, the future, the coming of the successive mysteries of existence, while strengthening each other with the eloquence of inward exhortations, or by hushing themselves at times to listen to the rushing of the secret torrent of philosophy which flows beneath some lives, like those which swept through medieval cloisters.

The greater part of those faculties which constitute mental power are either entirely wanting in me or are merely indicated, as, on the trees, dead or barren buds represent those branches which were to shoot forth. Coordination, comparison, deduction, are for me processes so momentous, and so rapidly exhaustive of my intellectual powers, that, even though I am not entirely prevented from strong mental exercise, the faculty for it that is still left to me is almost useless. When I want to connect one truth with another, I resemble a man who, with his half-paralyzed arm, strives to fasten together two objects : he raises his arm with difficulty ; it falters, shakes, and always misses its aim.

Many causes, in both my internal and external natures, turned me early toward introspection. My soul was my first horizon. For a long time I have been contemplating it. I watch, as they corne up from the depths of my being, vapours which rise as from a deep valley, and take on form only at the breath of chance, — indescribable phantoms which ascend slowly and continuously. The powerful fascination exercised upon the soul, as well as upon the senses, by the monotonous and continuous passing of some wandering thing, whatever it may be, holds possession of me and does not allow my eyes to turn aside for one moment from this spectacle.

I make my living by the help of the little Latin which I learned at college and have not since lost, I know not why. The courses are so long, the tasks so varied. that they occupy the best part of my days. I suflfer great loss through these material occupations ; my stream is lost in the sands. I can reserve scarcely anything from this excessive usurpation of daily subsistence over the time of thought ; and I foresee that during my whole life I shall always be forced to throw this divine prey a sacrifice to cruel necessity.

I am persuaded that the time must corne when we shall pass our days in perpetual contemplation, with a surety as to our peace ; but, here below, to toil, to exhaust ourselves for the sake of mere raiment in the future, to despoil the spirit so as to buy for it a place among men (too highly considered, alas, were I to call them strangers) engrossed in their everlasting petty affairs and of a depressing mediocrity, — all this is a mighty trial to the soul, and one which strangely reverses the meaning of this word, "Life".

May 7th. — You are suffering to-day from the poetry which fills your being and has no outlet. This sorrow is terrible, but so beautiful ! Console yourself in the noble and rare nature of your torments : there are so many men who for trifles suflfer as much as you do ! You are privileged in sorrow ; what more do you wish for here below ? What every man of a nature apart rather than superior guards with the greatest vigilance, is the secret of his soul and of the inner workings of his thoughts. I love that god Harpocrates, his index-finger on his lips.

14th. — Who can say that he has found a haven of rest unless he has reached some height. the loftiest he is able to attain ? I have been for some time gazing toward those temples of serene wisdom erected by ancient philosophy upon summits so lofty that few can reach them. Would that I could storm these heights ! When shall I find my rest ? In olden times the gods, willing to reward the virtue of certain mortals, would envelop them in the clasp of some vegetable growth, which, as it sprang up, absorbed in its embrace their worn-out bodies and substituted for their life, exhausted by old âge, a life strong and silent, such as throbs beneath the bark of the oaks. These mortals, become stationary, moved only at the tips of their boughs swaying in the winds.

Is not this a type of the wise man and his serenity ? Does he not continually inwrap himself in this metamorphosis of the few men beloved of the gods ? To fill one's self with a self-chosen elemental life ; to enshroud one's self ; to seem to men as firmly rooted and grounded, and as full of grave unconcern, as some great forest tree-trunks ; to give forth on occasion only responses undefined but deep, as when some heavy tree-tops re-echo the murmurs of the sea, — this is a condition of existence which seems to me worthy of endeavour, and one well suited to be a bulwark against men and the vicissitudes of fortune.

June 4th. — Why should I be so saddened by the sight of mediocre productions ? Never do I chance to open a book of the kind we looked through yesterday that I do not leave it with my mind ailing and my imagination cast down. Is it mournful pity for such a spectacle of powerless vanity, one of the saddest I know of, or is it caused by self-consciousness and introspection ? What matters it which it is ? The beauty of man does not lie in such feelings. Great would be the mediocrity of the soul could it not endure that of the mind. I understand ail this, and yet I linger in my weakness. Great God, what kind of moral education is given to-day ! I am twenty-five years old ; ten years were spent in schools, and as yet I have not opened the elementary textbook of inward strength and guidance of the moral sense !

Never a word was said to me of the great things of the soul. It is only since yesterday that, old child that I am, I am beginning to get a glimpse of man, but at a great distance and on those serene heights which can scarcely be reached by a step already feeble. Inveterately weak and all crippled by baneful habits, I drag myself along and progress with pain. But I understand, I see ; and if during my life I may not attain to moral beauty, I shall at least die with my eyes fîxed upon it.

Still there is in me a very untoward sign : it is that on the morrow I do not find myself above the acts of the day before, and that my soul seems to remain at the level of these same acts, — of acts that belong to days long past. My mind, on the contrary, sees all that it does fast growing old. What happiness to rise above one's past, and what joy to be able to despise one's self from day to day in one's own actions ! What a destiny were I to remain co-eternal with myself in the moral condition I am in at the present !

5th. — My God, how I suffer in life is not in its accidents (a little philosophy is sufficient for these), but in itself, in its substance, apart from all phenomena. I am advancing in age ; my mind casts off a thousand relies on its way ; bonds are broken ; prejudices fall away ; I am beginning to raise my head above the waters : but existence itself remains fettered, — ever the same sad point, marking the centre of the circumference. Is there a philosophy and are there rules that touch this evil ? I am getting to know less and less about this groundwork of life and what I ought to do. Oh Stoicism, appointed to fight sorrow by strength and constancy of soul, thou knewest not how to fîght life except by death, and we are no farther advanced than thou wert !

12th. — I do not commit my bad actions impetuously. In my inmost depths there lie I know not what dead and fatal waters like that deep pool in which perished the poet Stenio.

22nd. — What makes me at moments despair of myself is the intensity of my sufferings in small things, and the always blind and mistaken use of my moral powers. I sometimes put forth, in turning over a few grains of sand, an amount of energy sufficient to roll a rock to a mountain top. I could bear enormous burdens better than this light and almost impalpable dust which clings to me. Each day I perish imperceptibly ; my life slips away through invisible pin-holes. Not long ago I was told that contempt of men vvould carry me a long way ; yes, and especially if it be mingled with bitterness. My surroundings weary me. I know not where I would like to live, nor in what profession ; but I detest my own, which lowers me and makes me miserable. At every turn it places me at variance with the little philosophy which I have acquired during my serious and leisure hours ; it irritates me against men who are still chlldren. How I hate myself in the midst of these trifles, and how vehemently do I long to leap onto a free shore, and to thrust back with my foot the odious boat which bears me along !

July 11th. — "Who is the true God, — the God of the city or the God of the desert ? To which should we turn ? Tastes long fostered, impulses of the heart, accidents of life, decide the choice. We carry within ourselves a thousand fatalities. What knowledge have we of the powers which urge us on, and which is the best among all these ? The man of the cities laughs to himself at the lonely dreams of the recluse ; and the recluse rejoices in his séparation and at finding himself, like an island of the great ocean, far away from the continents and bathed by unknown waters. Most to be pitied are those who, thrown between these two contraries, stretch out their arms to both.

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